Category Archives: Uncategorized

Biting Black Flies on San Juan Island

This little critter landed on me the morning of August 14, 2021 (with a few friends). I managed to collect the specimen for a photo op session. AND, I let it bite me. It felt like it was sawing into my skin. I have a pretty high pain tolerance though, so it wasn’t so awful. My husband suggested I save the specimen in case I came down with any weird disease!

I have it in a vial on my desk. ID…for starters, it’s a fly (Diptera). This is a black fly (Simulium sp.) and I’ve found the larvae in the seasonal stream near our house before. At some point, I’ll write up a better post for you about these, but for today, you can watch as this female uses her serrated mouthparts to cut through my skin and take a blood meal. She’ll use the protein to help her with egg development.

Black Fly (Simulium sp) – San Juan Island August 14, 2021
Black Fly (Simulium sp) – San Juan Island August 14, 2021
Black fly (Simulium sp) biting my finger
April 8, 2020 – San Juan Island, WA – Black Fly larvae in stream
April 8, 2020 – San Juan Island, WA – Black Fly larvae in stream

My recommendation if you’re visiting or planning to visit the San Juan Islands in summertime is to bring long sleeves and wear long pants. With climate change, my guess is we will have more biting flies out in the summer evenings.

More about black flies on BugGuide – https://bugguide.net/node/view/16613

Thanks for reading!

Green Bean leaf Grabs Miss Fly Snuffleupagus

Every once in awhile you observe something in nature that makes a story to share. I hope you will enjoy this one.

I have a love hate relationship with my climbing green beans. First of all, I don’t really like eating greens beans that much. The leaves are pretty to look at, but they are lethal to my poor bugs!!!


This morning when I was watering my bean vines, I noticed a teeny little fly, seemingly stuck to one of the leaves. My eyesight is terrible up close, so I had to use both my reading glasses AND my clip on macro lens attached to my Iphone camera to take a closer look.

Not only was the little fly stuck, but it looked like the green bean had somehow glued her to the leaf by her proboscis. I swear that poor little fly LOOKED at me with a plea for help.


Of course I was going to help, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to go about it without causing further injury or accidentally amputating her mouthpart (the proboscis), which looks like a teeny little trunk and reminded me of the character, Mr. Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street.


Finding the tiniest piece of straw on the ground, I gently pried her free. She flew away, filled with relief and maybe a wee bit of gratitude for my efforts in helping her.

Be kind to all living beings.

Two Tints! Araneus spiders – Araneus diadematus

I wanted to share with you photos of two spiders I photographed recently. Location: San Juan Island, WA. Both are in the family Araneidae or what we know as Orb Weavers. The first (orangey one), was observed on a tomato plant July 31, 2021, and the 2nd (brown one) was observed yesterday evening, August 10, 2021, on some sort of wetland grass near my home.

While I knew the orangey one was a Cross Orb Weaver, Araneus diadematus, I wasn’t certain of the brown one’s ID beyond genus Araneus, so I reached out to Seattle Burke Museum’s arachnologist, Rod Crawford to see what he’d say. He responded to my query this afternoon and offered that both are Araneus diadematus spiders. There can be variability in color tint (many of us know the Cross Orb Weaver A. diadematus as pumpkin orange).

Rod continued with, “the ventral view of the brown one shows it is penultimate (still one molt to go). Once they mature they will be more noticeable. Seattle specimens are at this same stage now.” He also offered in terms of color variants among spiders, …”I imagine there is a genetic component to this variation, at least in most cases, but I’ve never looked into the details. I have found situations where spiders living amidst a population explosion of green leafhoppers all tended to be greenish in color, presumably derived from their food.”

It’s all so very interesting, isn’t it! I’m glad we have scientists who are willing to share their knowledge and experience. Thanks to Rod for his help!

Araneus diadematus (San Juan Island 07.31.2021)
Araneus diadematus (San Juan Island 07.31.2021)
Araneus diadematus (San Juan Island 07.31.2021)
Ventral View – penultimate molt – Araneus diadematus (San Juan Island 08.10.2021)
Araneus diadematus (San Juan Island 08.10.2021)

To learn more about spiders, be sure to stop by Rod’s website, Spider Myths – Everything that ‘everybody knows’ about spiders is wrong! https://www.burkemuseum.org/collections-and-research/biology/arachnology-and-entomology/spider-myths

Thanks for reading!

Physocephala burgessi (Thick-Headed Fly)

Found this cool Thick-headed Fly in the family Conopidae on my daisies while I was watering this morning. I believe this one to be Physocephala burgessi.

Thick headed flies are known for a behavior called “hilltopping” where flies will aggregate to find a mate. Adults are wasp mimics and seek out Hymenoptera species (bees/wasps) for development of their offspring.

A parasitoid of bees and wasps, Conopid flies will target an unsuspecting host typically while it is leaving its nest or nectaring on floral sources. The adult fly grabs the host and oviposits into the body of the individual.

The fly’s eggs hatch and migrate into the abdominal cavity of the bee/wasp where development continues as the fly larvae consume the contents within the abdominal cavity of the host. The bee or wasp host continues to live, and is able to fly throughout the duration of the larval development period.

Just before the end of larval development and transition to pupation, the host dies. The death of the host usually occurs somewhere near the entrance to its nest or within the nest itself. Pupation occurs in the abdomen of the now deceased bee or wasp host.

The adult fly typically emerges after overwintering in the abdominal puparium of the bee.

Note*** Typically, populations of these flies are fairly low. In twelve years on San Juan Island, this is the 2nd specimen I have ever seen. I photographed my first Conopid fly at American Camp, on the bluff overlooking Grannies Cove in 2010. In reviewing records on iNaturalist, it looks like my two are the only ones reported in San Juan County. This past year (2021), another resident sent in a photograph, bringing the total, that I know of, to 3.

References and Further Reading

https://bugguide.net/node/view/7190

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3014735/

https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/2700384#page/126/mode/1up

http://staff.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Gibson_JESBC_2017.pdf

https://curve.carleton.ca/system/files/etd/6ab4c500-3013-43c0-aa9e-9f94353f1ff5/etd_pdf/139b167a8dbbb1d5ba97e1cd968dda3c/gibson-theevolutionarybiologyofconopidaedipteraa.pdf

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00114-019-1634-9

https://uwm.edu/field-station/tricks-of-the-trade-thick-headed-flies/

http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~legneref/identify/conopid.htm

Deleted.

Well, today hasn’t started off all that well. Checked email this morning to find out someone had reported me on Facebook for violating community standards. Facebook won’t tell me who complained or what the violation was. Someone has reviewed my appeal and the decision CANNOT be reversed. 😦

I’m not sure what happens next, aside from the fact that I lost lots of personal photos, contacts of friends, and my bug page took a hit along with this, so please bear with me as I will likely have to reconstruct my social media life from scratch. I’m going to have to think long and hard about whether I even want to.

I suspect this was a deliberate hit, but I won’t say more because I’m not certain and hate speculating. We live in a world where there are lots of opinions and disagreements are bound to happen. Assumptions are made and sometimes they are wrong.

Today, I’m going to enjoy my time with Drago and my two lovely cats.

You can email me at cynthiabrast@icloud.com if you need to reach me.

Have a nice week!

Nodding Thistle Rhinoceros Beetle

I found a “new-to-me” bug the other day when I put on my heavy duty gloves and reached to pull out some bull thistle growing in a pile of dirt near our home.  I was being extra careful because the thistle has spines and they kind of hurt when you get them stuck in your hand.   The beetle was right in front of me when I pushed apart some leaves to get a better grasp on the stem.  

Nodding Thistle Receptacle Weevil (Rhinocycyllus conicus) or, The Nodding Rhinoceros Beetle

As I looked a bit more closely, I saw there were quite a few of these beetles on the thistle, especially on the buds.  I went back to the house to get my camera, took some photos, then went about figuring out what this was.  Definitely a beetle. 

It was weevil-like, and pretty hairy.  There were quite a few of them paired up.  They have spring fever like a lot of other bugs I’ve seen of late.  That’s how we get more bugs though, and we need them, whether we like all of them or not.  

(Rhinocyllus conicus) on Bull Thistle

Identification took me about an hour.  I am getting better at piecing bits of information collected over the years.  Bull Thistle is not exactly a popular plant.  It’s managed to get itself on the noxious weed list.  No one seems to want this plant in their garden, aside from Eeyore, who really loves thistle, right?  

Noxious weed made me think of biocontrol.  That narrowed things down a bit and I learned this is the Nodding Thistle Receptacle weevil (Rhinocyllus conicus).  Personally, I’m calling it the Nodding Thistle Rhinoceros Beetle because being in the family Curculionidae, it has the appearance of a nodding rhinoceros. 

 So, the beetle was introduced to control thistle in the US because thistle isn’t welcome, at least the non-native species like bull thistle aren’t.  The part that got me reading to find out more was the adjective used to describe this beetle as “controversial.”  Well, what I found is that the beetle doesn’t just eat non-native thistles.  It eats NATIVE thistles too (Cirsium edule and Cirsium brevistylum).  

Ventral view of my Nodding Thistle Receptacle Beetle – It’s kinda cute!

Why does that matter?  Well, disrupting native ecosystems can have ripple effects.  I found out another reason the beetle is controversial is because there are native pollinators that depend on thistle, like the beautiful Painted Lady Butterflies that we love.  Thistles also produce seed and flax used by our very own state bird, the American Goldfinch. Which brings me to the question, “If the butterflies and birds have begun to utilize the non-native species, are we making the problem worse by introducing another non-native species?”

In my continued reading , I actually began to connect the fact that I buy bags of expensive thistle seed at the store to attract the goldfinches, but I’ve got LIVING food for them in my yard that is free (and also free of pesticides), and here I am pulling it out.   Am I going to waste my energy trying to eradicate a small patch of bull thistle?  Nope.  If it starts to get out of control, we can just mow it down. For now, I am leaving it for the birds and the butterflies…and all the other little creatures I’ve seen living on it.  There were lots of super cute little jumping spiders all over it yesterday!

I’ll leave you with a question. Should we have introduced this hairy little beetle that isn’t native?  I don’t have a good answer.  Maybe it will just help control the spread of thistle and won’t eradicate it entirely.  I’d like to be able to have Painted Lady’s, Goldfinches, and lots of jumping spiders in my garden, even if I occasionally get pricked by the spines of those thistles.  For now, I’m going to stick to improving my drawing skills!

https://sanjuanislander.com/news-articles/environment-science-whales/1898/noxious-weed-alert-thistle

http://biology.burke.washington.edu/herbarium/imagecollection/taxon.php?Taxon=Cirsium%20edule

https://www.wnps.org/native-plant-directory/88-cirsium-edule

https://uwm.edu/field-station/thistle-head-weevil/

Twenty-spotted Lady Beetle (Psyllobora vigintimaculata)

Twenty-spotted Lady Beetle (Psyllobora vigintimaculata) on daisy. This tiny ladybug almost went unnoticed when I was watering flowers the other day. It wasn’t easy to get a photo and she crawled down headfirst into the flower bud. I suppose she was feeling shy!

After reading a bit more about these, I discovered the best place to look for them is at the base of skunk cabbage in early spring. AND, this is the best part. Later in the season, these little beetles switch to plants that have powdery mildew. They eat it. Definitely a garden friend!

Twenty-spotted Lady Beetle (Psyllobora vigintimaculata) on Daisy – May 30, 2021 San Juan Island, WA
Twenty-spotted Lady Beetle (Psyllobora vigintimaculata) on Daisy – May 30, 2021 San Juan Island, WA

References/Further Reading

https://bugguide.net/node/view/39631

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233687670_Biology_and_Co-Occurrence_of_Psyllobora_vigintimaculata_taedata_Coleoptera_Coccinellidae_and_Powdery_Mildews_in_an_Urban_Landscape_of_California

It’s all connected! Know your Ecosystem – Butterflies and Moths Love Ocean Spray (Holodiscus discolor)

We all love butterflies and moths, right?

Did you know Ocean spray is one of our native plants? Lots of folks don’t even know this and label it as “invasive,” or a “fire hazard,” then rip it out of the ground to replace it with non-native ornamentals or worse, leaving the formerly healthy, forested understory devoid of vegetation.

Image from – http://nativeplantspnw.com/ocean-spray-holodiscus-discolor/

Did you know?

Here’s a bit of historical trivia – Ocean spray is sometimes called Indian arrowwood because Native Americans made use of its straight hardwood branches for arrow shafts. They also used oceanspray for treating viral and skin diseases. Other names for this plant are Holodiscus discolor, ironwood or creambush. There is actually a novel phenolic component in the plant called Stilbene a Xyloside that has been associated with varied biological and medicinal activities.

Some reasons I’d like you to appreciate Ocean Spray….

  1. It is a larval host plant to some of our native butterflies and moths. These include the beautiful Pale Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon), Spring Azure (Celastrina sp.), Lorquin’s Admiral (Limenitis lorquini), and Gray Hairstreaks (Strymon melinus). One particularly notable one here on our island is the delicate Fairy Moth (Adela septentrionella). Calscape (California Native Plant Society) lists 14 confirmed species of Lepidoptera associated with Ocean Spray (and 23 as likely) for a total of 37 species native to the state of CA. I could not find published studies for this in WA state, but link the Calscape page here https://calscape.org/plantleps.php?hostsloc=california&species=Holodiscus+discolor
  2. Ocean spray provides cover and forage for wildlife. Birds, small amphibians, and deer rely on native plant species like Ocean Spray that make up part of the forest understory and are a component of a healthy ecosystem. Fire-scaping may be on your mind, but one way around this is to look at installing adequate water cachement around your home to help keep vegetation from drying out and dying in late summer and fall. We want to live in the forest, but if we remove the native understory, we risk altering the landscape even more and losing these beautiful creatures!
  3. Ocean Spray flowers provide pollen and nectar for native bees! 🐝
Fairy Moth – https://bugguide.net/node/view/26749

Read more about Ocean Spray here:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/222005193_A_stilbene_xyloside_from_Holodiscus_discolor_bark

http://nativeplantspnw.com/ocean-spray-holodiscus-discolor/

https://blogs.oregonstate.edu/treetopics/2016/07/14/shrubs-wildlife-oceanspray/

Thanks for reading!

Melvin is not a Meanie!

(Malacosoma californicum pluvialis)

Look at this little moth- (Malacosoma californicum pluvialis). He’s got such a fuzzy hair-do and you might even think he’s cute. But he’s not a popular fella. Why? Because no one likes him when he’s a baby. He has way too many brothers and sisters and they are all really hungry and like to eat lots of leaves. Keep reading though. I want to tell you a bit more about “Melvin.”

Melvin did indeed have lots of siblings in his tent crib high up in the tree. They were awfully crowded and terribly hungry. Folks looked up in that tree and shook their heads. What ARE we going to do about them. They are going to eat our whole tree. They went to the store to get the pesticides.

(Malacosoma californicum pluvialis)

But what would happen if those same folks sat under that tree for a few days and watched the nursery full of Melvin’s siblings? They’d see the bat 🦇 fly through in the dark of night to carry off some of them for dinner. In the early morning, they’d find more disappear when the hungry woodpecker and nuthatch stopped to peck at the crib and take away caterpillars to feed their hungry chicks. In the panic, some of Melvin’s siblings slipped out of the crib and fell to the ground. That afternoon, a lizard and garter snake found those and ate them right away. Near dusk, a few more dropped out of the nursery web, and little miss mouse carried those off to feed to her babies.

This was actually a good year for those caterpillars. Last year, the wasps came and laid eggs in them. They felt fine for a bit and even kept growing and eating, but then the wasp babies hatched and ate them from the inside out. Gross right? Well, that was a lucky year for Melvin. He was the only one who survived to fly off and tell me this story. ❤️

*Note – “According to research conducted at the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station 60 birds species have been documented to eat tent caterpillars including cuckoos, orioles, jays, chickadees and nuthatches. This same study also found that tent caterpillar outbreaks are controlled by native predators and parasites including 127 insect parasites, 28 insect predators, frogs, mice, bats, reptiles, squirrels, skunks, and bears. By sifting through one day’s worth of bear poop (fun job) researchers found that a single bear on average ate around 25,000 caterpillars in a one day.” Conservation Research Alliance – https://www.rivercare.org/…/tent-caterpillars-are-for…https://www.oregonlive.com/…/the_western_tent…

What people find unsightly and annoying for a few months some years is a welcome gift of easy food for many species of wildlife and the species that in turn feed on them. Another thing to consider. (Malacosoma californicum pluvialis) is actually native to our region! If you can, refrain from spraying, which harms our pollinators and native insects that are predators of the caterpillars. Clipping affected areas is one acceptable alternative. Just leave the clippings on the ground. The birds, and other insects will thank you.

Who wants to steal dinner from a baby chickadee?

Read more here – http://pnwmoths.biol.wwu.edu/browse/family-lasiocampidae/subfamily-lasiocampinae/malacosoma/malacosoma-californicum/

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