Category Archives: Insects

Caterpillar Rescue – Dagger in Distress!

Saturday, September 19, 2020. San Juan Island, WA – Caterpillar rescue!

Acronita impleta – Yellow-haired Dagger Moth caterpillar. San Juan Island, WA 09.19.2020


I found one of these several years ago (September 20, 2017 to be exact), so I recognized it immediately when I saw it squirming in the spider webbing along the house this morning. My husband said I should just leave it alone. “Nature is ugly sometimes and you can’t interfere.” Well, when it was still there four hours later, suspended mid air, and still squirming, my tendency to SAVE things kicked in. The spider living above that web was actually dead. I’m not feeling very guilty about stealing food from a dead spider.

Acronita impleta – Yellow-haired Dagger Moth caterpillar. San Juan Island, WA 09.19.2020
Acronita impleta – Yellow-haired Dagger Moth caterpillar. San Juan Island, WA 09.19.2020


I got a cup and gently pulled at the web and began the process of freeing this caterpillar. It took finding my reading glasses and getting some fine-pointed tools to gently ply away the sticky bonds and clean the strands off the caterpillar hairs.

Acronita impleta – Yellow-haired Dagger Moth caterpillar. San Juan Island, WA 09.19.2020
Yellow-haired Dagger Moth (Acronita impleta)


I think it looks pretty good! I even picked it some dinner and we’ll see if I can keep it healthy through pupation and adulthood.

Yellow-haired Dagger Moth (Acronita impleta)

More about Yellow-haired Dagger Moths here:

The Three Banded Lady Beetle (Coccinella trifasciata subversa)

Coccinella trifasciata subversa on clover

I found my first Three Banded Lady Beetle (Coccinella trifasciata subversa) this morning in the patch of clover in front of my home. At least I believe it is the subspecies ‘subversa’ according to the information I found online and referencing the distribution map. While I did not find much information about this particular species pertaining to life in the Pacific Northwest, I did find that according to the Lost Ladybug Project, this species (Coccinella trifasciata) is considered a species of greatest conservation need in the state of New York.

Coccinella trifasciata subversa on clover Photo by Cynthia Brast-Bormann San Juan Island, WA 07.06.2020
Distribution map of Coccinella trifasciata subversa

So, because I’m interested in Lady Beetles and conservation, I submitted my photos today to the Lost Ladybug Project. They’re keeping records of sightings and I believe it’s important to collect and share data that help us understand more about the lives all of all the amazing critters we share the planet with.

If you see a Lady Beetle you are interested in knowing more about, take a look at the Lost Ladybug Project here – http://www.lostladybug.org/index.php

If you have time, check out my Facebook Page, Bugs of the San Juan Islands at https://www.facebook.com/buggingyoufromSJI/

Thanks for reading! 🐞🐞🐞

Second Post in the Series: “NOT A MURDERER! JUST BECAUSE WE WEAR STRIPES, WE DIDN’T ESCAPE FROM PRISON AND WE AREN’T OUT TO KILL YOU!” I’m not BAAAAd, I’m A Wool Carder BEE 🐝

Meet Woolly Wool Carder. Woolly gets a bad rep because Woolly LOOKS like a Yellowjacket Wasp. All Woolly wants to do is find that patch of Lambswool in your garden or flower bed and take enough to make a nice cozy bed for its babies.

Wool Carder Bee (Anthidium manicatum) on Nepeta spp. (Catmint)

The European Wool Carder Bee (Anthidium manicatum) at first glance, looks like a somewhat chubby Yellowjacket. While these stouter and hairy-bodied bees mimic the barbed stingers everyone wants to avoid, they aren’t going to harm you at all. They don’t even have stingers, though the males do have some spines at the end of their abdomen they can use defensively against other flying insects that might be perceived as a threat to their food source or territory.

Wool Carders are smaller than most Yellowjackets. They are about the size of honey bees or between 11 and 17 mm. They are very brightly colored with yellow and black markings, but again, the distinguishing features to differentiate them from Yellowjackets are 1) they’re hairy and 2) they’re stout!

Other than sipping nectar from flowers, these solitary, cavity nesters are all about finding wool to make a cozy bed for their babies. Actually, aside from the uhm…deed, the female is the one doing all the provisioning for a nest. She will card “wool,” using her mandibles to scrape bits of trichomes (or hairs) from lambs ears or other fuzzy plants (especially those in the mint family) to make a cushioned bed on which to lay her egg. Each egg is provisioned with enough nectar and pollen to supply the developing larva with nutrients to reach pupation.

Wool Carder Bee nest – Illustration by Samantha Gallagher, University of Florida

The European Wool Carder Bee is native to Europe, Northern Africa, and Western Asia, but has become cosmopolitan in distribution. While non-native, it has become widely adapted to various habitats in North America. These bees are not dangerous to humans or pets. They are effective pollinators, but sometimes outcompete native bees for resources.

Human or Pet Risk factor NONE

References and Additional Reading:

  1. Species Anthidium manicatum – European Woolcarder http://Species Anthidium manicatum – European Woolcarder

2. Featured Creatures http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/MISC/BEES/Anthidium_manicatum.html

3. Campion, A. European Wool Carder Bees: Likable Bullies The World’s Best Gardening Blog

4. Bumblebee Conservation Trust Wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum) https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/woolcarderbee/

Happy Hour and Bug Beer!

For all you foodies out there, here’s a new one for you. Beer brewers are isolating yeast from insects, including bees, wasps, and even crickets. Don’t worry, no actual bug parts are going to be in your drink. Drink up and enjoy the buzz!

https://www.foodandwine.com/drinks/researchers-brewing-beer-bug-yeast

Gold and Brown Rove Beetle (Ontholestes cingulatus)

I only saw a handful of insects yesterday when I went out to look along the road near my home. The most remarkable of these (and the easiest to see) without magnifying tools, was the slender, brown rove beetle with the sunshine tail!

Gold and Brown Rove Beetles are fairly small, slender, and typically pretty agile. They have a brown body with little yellow hairs (setae) at the end of their “tail.” Another patch of this golden setae wraps around their “belly,” like a little yellow ‘belt,’ This one was indeed on the smaller side at about 12 mm. However, given the outdoor temperature was still pretty low, it wasn’t agile enough to escape a short photo session.

Ontholestes cingulatus (Gold and Brown Rove Beetle) 2.19.2020
Three Corner Lake Road, San Juan Island, WA

I’ll admit, I poked it (very gently) to see if I could get a photo of it with its tail up. When threatened, they have defense glands that emit a chemical fluid. I found out (after reading through the Journal of Chemical Ecology from 1990) that researchers found this defense fluid is made up primarily of a chemical called iridodial (Huth and Dettner, 1990).

Here’s a photo of my beetle exuding the defense fluid! Note the little white bubble at the end of its tail.

Ontholestes cingulatus Gold and Brown Rove Beetle emitting defense fluid
2.19.2020
San Juan Island, WA

Here in the next photo, you can see it without the defense fluid.

Ontholestes cingulatus Gold and Brown Rove Beetle
2.19.2020
San Juan Island, WA

Being curious, I had to investigate a bit about the chemical properties of iridoids. I was intrigued to learn that “iridoids are secondary metabolites present in various plants, especially in species belonging to the Apocynaceae, Lamiaceae, Loganiaceae, Rubiaceae, Scrophulariaceae and Verbenaceae families, Viljoen et al., (2012).” Tundis et. al., (2008) found that “iridoids exhibit a wide range of bioactivity, such as neuroprotective, antinflammatory and immunomodulator, hepatoprotective and cardioprotective effects.” Findings also included iridoid compounds also possessed anticancer, antioxidant, antimicrobic, hypoglycaemic, hypolipidemic, choleretic, antispasmodic and purgative properties (Tundis et al., 2008).

While I didn’t find much information (yet) utilizing iridoid secretions from insects, I did begin to wonder if that tiny drop of fluid could have provided some anti-inflammatory benefit for the migraine headache I’d been suffering from for days. I’ve been working with a friend of mine who is a research pharmacokineticist, helping to edit his papers and those of some associates he has in China. Probably, I’ll pass this along since they’re always looking for ideas on how to develop/synthesize new pharmaceuticals and biomimicry seems to be the new frontier.

Ontholestes cingulatus Gold and Brown Rove Beetle
2.19.2020
San Juan Island, WA

References:

Huth, A. and K. Dettner. 1990. Defense chemicals from abdominal glands of 13 rove beetle species of sub tribe Staphylinia (Coleoptera:Staphylinidae, Staphylininae). Journal of Chemical Ecology, 16:9, pp 2691-2711.

Tundis, R., Loizzo, M.R., Menichini, F., Statti, G.A., and F. Menichini. 2008. Biological and Pharmacological Activities of Iridoids: Recent Developments, Mini-Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry. 8: 399. https://doi.org/10.2174/138955708783955926

Viljoen A., Mncwangi N., Vermaak I. Anti-inflammatory iridoids of botanical origin. 2012. Curr. Med. Chem. 19:2104–2127. doi: 10.2174/092986712800229005

A Blistery Spring Day

I walked down the road last Tuesday (April 9, 2019) with my husband.  It was late afternoon and although it rained a bit earlier that morning, the sun was peeking out.   The wind wasn’t blowing, but it was soon to be a Blistery Spring day!

If you know any entomologists, you’ll understand rule #1 about going on ANY walk is to take a collection jar and a camera.  Last week, I failed to do this and missed an opportunity to identify and document this very cool bumble bee mimicking fly (genus Laphria ~ a bee-like robber fly).  This time I made certain to take my phone.  Sure enough, at the bottom of the hill, I see a black beetle crawling about on the chip-sealed road.  Fortunately, I refrained from my very bad habit of grabbing things with my bare hands. This is one beetle you do NOT want to pick up!  It was a BLISTER BEETLE.

Lucky me! I came home with some great photos and some video footage instead of a dermatological eruption that would have landed me in the doctor’s office.  I left the beetle in the road to continue whatever it was doing.

Back at home, I used my reference books to compare the photos and video I took of the beetle and narrowed down an ID to the genus Meloe.  I would need more help figure out the species.  I sent some photos off to Merrill Peterson at WSU with the suggestion that it might be a male Meloe niger.  Merrill wrote back that he thought it was M. strigulosus, but hard to confirm with only a photo.  He agreed it was indeed a male.

Meloe niger Black Meloe Blister Beetle

Meloe strigulosus (male)

You might ask how one goes about determining whether a particular beetle is male or female.  Often, as in this case, the male antennal segments are larger or varied in shape from the female.  This beetle’s antennae had a distinctive kinked platform on their fifth segment.  I would learn later that this kinked part enables them to grasp the antennae of the female during mating.

Meloe strigulosus (male)

Meloe strigulosus photo by Cynthia Brast April 9, 2019 Three Corner Lake Road San Juan Island, WA

Antennae

kink in antennal segment of M. strigulosus (male)

Merrill also sent me a link to what I will refer to as the Blister Beetle bible.  Published in 1970, this research was compiled by the legendary systematics entomologist, John D. Pinto, currently professor emeritus at U.C. Riverside with Richard B. Selander.  Hopeful, I sent off my photos in an email to Dr. Pinto and felt really privileged when I got an almost immediate response.

According to Dr. Pinto, the specimen I photographed was indeed a male Meloe strigulosus.  If you’re interested, you can read “The bionomics of blister beetles of the genus Meloe and a classification of the New World species”by linking here https://archive.org/details/bionomicsofblist42pint  Aside from the wealth of information published in this book, I love the artistic rendering of the female beetle on the cover.

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Illustration from Pinto and Selander’s “The bionomics of blister beetles of the genus Meloe and a classification of the New World species.” 

According to Dr. Pinto, there are 22 species of Meloidae in North America.  They are named Blister Beetles because they release a toxic terpenoid blistering agent called cantharadin when they are threatened or handled.  Sometimes people call them “Oil Beetles” because it’s oily. You can find the chemical profile of cantharadin here ~ https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/cantharidin#section=Drug-Indication

Curiously, this toxic secretion has been utilized to treat various medical conditions.  Among these was the topical application of the “oil” to treat rheumatism or to remove warts and lesions of Molluscum contagiosum, a contagious, viral infection of the skin (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/molluscum-contagiosum/symptoms-causes/syc-20375226).  Cantharidin is also famously known for its use as an aphrodisiac (Spanish Fly).   This substance was historically used as a treatment for hydrophobia (rabies).  Male beetles were preserved in honey, mixed with other equally toxic ingredients then administered in an attempt to cure the patient. Maybe dying from cantharadin poisoning was less traumatic than dying of rabies.

Blister beetles are economically important because they contaminate alfalfa hay and they are highly toxic to livestock, especially horses.  There are instances where a horse has died from ingesting just ONE beetle. According to this Colorado State Extension publication (https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/insects/blister-beetles-in-forage-crops-5-524/), just the release of cantharadin oil from the beetle can contaminate the hay.  Although reports of cantharadin poisoning in livestock are rare in the West, here’s one case where someone’s goat became very sick from ingesting hay contaminated with cantharidin ~ https://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/news/uc-davis-veterinarians-discover-blister-beetle-toxicity-goat

Another interesting fact about these beetles is that the larvae are phoretic parasites of solitary bees and grasshopper egg pods.  The first instar larvae, called triungulins” crawl onto flowers to await a visiting bee, then hitch a ride back to the nest where they will consume the pollen, nectar, and even the bee larvae.  Check out this link from National Geographic to view some extraordinary images of bees covered with blister beetle larvae ~ https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2018/09/bees-blister-beetles-evolution-parasites-pheromones-news/

This was the first blister beetle I’ve seen on San Juan Island, but I do know of one other sighting by San Juan County Land Bank steward, Doug. M. from April of 2016.  I sent the photo of Doug’s beetle to Dr. Pinto as well and this was his reply, “Very likely M. niger – tho the photo is a little fuzzy for positive ID.”  Doug’s photo of the “likely” M. niger below.   

Meloe niger 2016-04-07 14.38.37

Meloe niger Mount Ben, San Juan Island, WA, April 2016                                                                     Photo by Doug. M. San Juan County Land Bank

If you’d like to read more about the particular species of blister beetle I found, I’m including the taxonomic key and geographic distribution data from Dr. Pinto’s book below.

                                               Meloe (Meloe) strigulosus Mannerheim


 Direct Key To The New World Subgenera of Meloe

Key to New World Subgenera of Meloe

Key to New World Subgenera of Meloe Pinto and Selander, 1970

Direct Key to the New World Subgenera page 104.

Direct Key to the New World Subgenera of Meloe page 104 Pinto and Selander, 1970

Key to Groups

Key to Groups p. 124

Key to Groups Bionomics of Blister Beetles Pinto and Selander, 1970

Direct Key to Groups page 157

Key to Groups Bionomics of Blister Beetles Pinto and Selander, 1970

 Geographic distribution

Geographic.distribution of M. strigulosus  p. 159

Geographic Distribution of Meloe strigulosus Pinto and Selander, 1970

Larval Key Meloe strigulosus

Larval.key.1

Larval key Meloe strigulosus Pinto and Selander, 1970

Larval.key.2

Larval key for M. strigulosus Pinto and Selander 1970

Antennal illustrations for male Meloe strigulosus, Figure 125 a. Dorsal view of segments V-VII, and b. Posterior view of segments V-VII

Male Antennae

Male antennae M. strigulosus Pinto and Selander, 1970

Antennal illustrations for female Meloe strigulosus, Figure 140

Female Antennae

Female Antennae M. strigulosus Pinto and Selander, 1970

References

Bittell, J. 2018.  Sex, Lies, and Grappling Hooks: How Parasitic Beetles Trick Bees. Animals Weird and Wild. National Geographic.  https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2018/09/bees-blister-beetles-evolution-parasites-pheromones-news/

Hafernik, John and Saul-Gershenz, Leslie. 2000. Beetle larvae cooperate to mimic bees. Nature. 405. 35-6. 10.1038/35011129.

Kinney, K.K., F.B. Peairs and A.M. Swinker. 2010.  Blister Beetles in Forage Crops. Colorado State University Extension Publication 5.524. https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/insects/blister-beetles-in-forage-crops-5-524/

Mayo Clinic. Mulluscum contagiosum. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/molluscum-contagiosum/symptoms-causes/syc-20375226(accessed on Apr. 16, 2019)

National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Database. Cantharidin, CID=5944, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/5944 (accessed on Apr. 16, 2019)

Peterson, M. A. 2018. Pacific Northwest insectshttps://www.amazon.com/Pacific-Northwest-Insects-Merrill-Peterson/dp/0914516183

Pinto, J.D. and R.B. Selander. 1970. The bionomics of blister beetles of the genus Meloe and a classification of the New World species. Illinois Biological Monographs 42: 1-222.  https://archive.org/details/bionomicsofblist42pint

Piuser, J. 2017. UC Davis Veterinarians Discover Blister Beetle Toxicity in Goat. U.C. Davis Veterinary Medicine.  https://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/news/uc-davis-veterinarians-discover-blister-beetle-toxicity-goat

Quinn, M. Blister Beetles of Texas. Texas Beetle Resources. http://texasento.net/TXMeloidae.html#Meloe  (accessed on Apr. 16, 2019)

Biston betularia cognataria (Pepper and Salt Moth)

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Last September, I found this little caterpillar on a fruitless cherry tree outside our home.   I may have spent a few hours watching it munch on leaves as I searched through literature and images in order to identify it.  The twig-like larva is in the Geometridae moth family.  Sometimes coming to a conclusion about a species takes a bit longer…and having an adult specimen can help, so I kept my caterpillar fed with an assortment of cherry, willow, maple, and alder leaves, watched it as it grew, then pupated…and waited over the winter months to see what would emerge.

Biston betalaria larva

Bilobed head of Biston betularia larva

I noticed last night when I went to brush my teeth that there was a little moth against the window of my insect habitat, watching me…and probably wanting out.  It’s good to check the critter-keeper (that’s what I call my bug house) daily because otherwise you might leave the poor soul stuck inside and that never ends very well.  In this moth’s case, I took a few pictures and then released him outside to fly away into the night.

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Biston betularia (newly-emerged adult)

Biston betalaria cognataria

Newly-emerged adult (male) Biston betularia cognataria

This is a quick post, since I am always short on time, but please enjoy my photos.  I do love the ones of the caterpillar most.  The little cat ears are quite distinct!

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Little “cat” ears

I’ve enlarged one to show you the spiracles, the little breathing holes that are along the sides of the caterpillar body.

Biston betularia larva

Biston betularia cognataria

 

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Showing spiracles near bi-lobed head

 

Many insecticides work by clogging up these holes with oils or soaps that are sprayed on the tree.  Although the caterpillars do eat leaves, the aren’t really an economic pest at all.  In fact, this species is quite remarkable in that it represents the fascinating study of natural selection and industrial melanism.  Widely distributed across the world, Biston betularia or Pepper and Salt Moths became recognized for their adaptation of darkening pigment, allowing them to become more cryptic on trees in woodlands in Britain polluted by soot around the turn of the century.  Check out my references for more information!

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Newly-emerged adult with pupal case (on left)

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Enlarged view of newly-emerged adult Biston betularia cognataria and pupal case

 

 

For further reading: 

Asami, T. and Grant, B. 1995. Melanism has not evolved in Japanese Biston betularia (Geometridae). Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society, 49: 88-91. https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/41142188#page/94/mode/1up
Furniss, R.L. and Carolin, V.M. 1977. U.S.D.A. Forest Service Misc. Publ. 1339, 1977. 
GRANT, B. and HOWLETT, R. J. (1988), Background selection by the peppered  moth (Biston betularia Linn.): individual differences. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 33: 217-232. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8312.1988.tb00809.x

 

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Sheep Moth Larvae (Hemileuca eglanterina)

These were on the trail at American Camp, San Juan Island National Historical Park. One had unfortunately been stepped on. I recommend looking down at the trail when you’re on a hike as lots of insects seem to travel along it too! These are larvae of the Sheep Moth (Hemileuca eglanterina). Check out this link if you’d like to see what they’ll be as adults! http://pnwmoths.biol.wwu.edu/…/hemil…/hemileuca-eglanterina/Photos taken 08-VII-2017.

Image may contain: plant, outdoor and nature

Sheep Moth larva (Hemileuca eglanterina)

Sheep Moth Larva (Hemileuca eglanterina)

Sheep moth larva (Hemileuca eglanterina), American Camp, San Juan Island National Historical Park. This one had unfortunately been stepped on. I recommend looking down at the trail when you’re on a hike as lots of insects seem to travel along it too! Check out this link if you’d like to see what they’ll be as adults! http://pnwmoths.biol.wwu.edu/…/hemil…/hemileuca-eglanterina/ Photos taken 08-VII-2017. Image may contain: plant, outdoor and nature

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