Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Little Weevil House

Key Words: masting, Curculio, Quercus, mast seeding, acorn weevil, diapause

I picked up these acorns (Quercus sp.) when I visited my folks recently in Texas. They have several oak trees on their property and there was an abundance of acorns all over the ground this year, so I brought a few home with me in a ziplock bag. I like acorns. My mom used to draw little faces on them and I had acorn “people” to play with when I was a child.

Acorn “person”

I also found a very cool bug under one of those oak trees while I was there. This strange looking creature is one of the Nut and Acorn Weevils (Curculio sp). It has an extremely long snout. When you find out how this weevil uses it to DRILL, you may be amazed. The adult female weevil will use this drill on her very long snout to make a hole in those acorns!

Nut and Acorn Weevil (Curculio sp).
Nut and Acorn Weevil (Curculio sp).
Nut and Acorn Weevil (Curculio sp).

Keep reading. It really is amazing.

A female weevil will make a hole in the acorn so she can put her eggs inside it!

Hole drilled by Nut and Acorn Weevil

Because I like word games, I thought I’d point out to you that rearranging the letters in the word weevil will make the words “we live?” Well, those eggs hatch into baby weevils who LIVE in a little house that is an acorn (and sometimes in other nuts too). Some folks call them grubs or worms. They are actually the larvae of the adult weevil mom who selected the acorn for her nursery.

If you are assessing this situation from an agricultural perspective (say that nut is a pecan), invested in harvesting a profitable crop, you might be feeling very worried. Sometimes the worry may indeed be justified, but in many cases, like with these acorns, the tree has evolved a strategy to deal with occasional waves of weevils and other insects we consider pests. In actuality, they are just utilizing the resources of the tree like we do when WE (the humans) eat the nut or fruit.

Larvae of Nut and Acorn Weevil (Curculio sp).

I’m going to name the trees’ strategy of dealing with this bug FEAR NO WEEVIL. However, the actual scientific moniker for this strategy (and it applies to other pests and adverse weather stressors as well) is MASTING. The word mast has been used since way back in the Middle Ages to refer to the acorns and seeds of forest trees that drop and accumulate on the ground. It comes from Old English, mæst. Essentially, masting is an ecological term referring to the highly variable and often synchronized periodic cycles of fruiting/seeding in the reproductive processes of trees (both forest and fruit trees).

How is it a strategy for circumventing the deleterious affects of pests? Well, the idea is that in some years, bumper crops of nuts and seeds are produced in order to satiate the predators, so some are left to germinate and continue new generations. In this particular case, you could think of it as the oak trees sacrificing some of their offspring to the weevil gods. When there are more acorns than there are adult female weevils, some of those acorns will escape the weevil drill and makeover into little bug nurseries.

In reality, this relationship is much more complicated. In some cases, acorns parasitized by only a few weevil larvae will germinate, while those acorns with many larvae will not. The trees’ bumper crops of seeds and nuts will also cycle with years of low production, where resources are scarce for the weevil (and other organisms). Nature is incredibly dynamic though. Studies show some species of weevils have adapted a counter mechanism to circumvent the trees’ strategy of masting. It’s called prolonged diapause. This means these weevils are able to sleep longer (more than one year) as they develop in order to synchronize adult emergence with years when the trees’ seed/nut production is high.

If you are interested in reading more about the history and MYSTERY of masting, I encourage you to delve into the literature I’ve listed in the references below. It’s quite fascinating – especially going back in history to the link between masting and pannage. Way more than I can cover here. Check it out.

References

Baldwin, M. 2021. Pigging out in the forest: the Common of Mast (Pannage) in Britain https://www.wildlifeonline.me.uk/blog/post/pigging-out-in-the-forest-the-common-of-mast-in-britain

Bugguide 2021. Curculio. https://bugguide.net/node/view/6682

Higaki M (2016) Prolonged diapause and seed predation by the acorn weevil, Curculio robustus, in relation to masting of the deciduous oak Quercus acutissima. Entomol Exp Appl 159:338–346. https://doi.org/10.1111/eea.12444

Jefferson, R. 2006. Why Are More Acorns Falling? Excessive Drops of Nuts from Oak Trees Is Part of Normal ‘Mast Year’ Phenomenon. Scientific Times. https://www.sciencetimes.com/articles/33795/20211006/why-more-acorns-falling-excessive-drops-nuts-oak-trees-part.htm and https://youtu.be/EQ748TZcuqs

Jesse, L. No date. The dark side of collecting acorns. Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. https://www.extension.iastate.edu/news/2007/sep/072107.htm

Koenig WD. 2021 A brief history of masting research. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 376: 20200423. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2020.0423 Koenig, W. D., & Knops, J. M. H. (2005). The Mystery of Masting in Trees: Some trees reproduce synchronously over large areas, with widespread ecological effects, but how and why? American Scientist93(4), 340–347. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27858609

Nut Leaf Weevil

I found a’nutter weevil! They’ve been everywhere this week! Looks like this may be the Nut Leaf Weevil (Strophosoma melanogrammum). These weevils feed on the leaves of broad leafed shrubs. I saw it on a chunk of rotting alder. It was pretty small and tough to photograph in low light. Probably about 3.2 mm in size. San Juan Island, WA October 13, 2021.

Strophosoma melanogrammum 

“Spider Bites Woman’s Lip”

The headline, Spider Bites Woman’s Lip popped out in my news feed yesterday. As an entomologist, these bizarre reports are click bait for me. I bit. As I read through the linked piece, my first thought was, “Yes!” Someone was definitely hallucinating!”

My other knee jerk conclusion is we have doctors who have absolutely no diagnostic skills whatsoever. In reconsidering, he may not be the one at fault though, or at least not entirely. In fact, it would be interesting to hear the physician’s side of this story. Did he definitively state it was a Brown Recluse Bite? Or, did he suggest it “might be?” Are the patient and the Newsweek reporter the ones guilty of the hyperbole here?

It’s got to be fantastic to be featured in Newsweek, right? Please note my sarcasm! The media is a huge problem when it comes to sensationalizing stories and egging on the screaming fear folks have around spiders. You’re welcome to take a look at this story yourself, but please come back because I’m gonna tell you what’s wrong with it!

https://www.newsweek.com/spider-bite-womans-lip-brown-recluse-hospitalized-hallucinate-virginia-kayaking-1636005

First off, there is NO spider. No one collected a spider. No one brought a spider to the doctor to ID. Even if there had been an actual spider, since when have physicians become expert taxonomists and actually have the skills to identify arachnids or insects. Strangely, the story reports the woman didn’t even think much about the bite when it happened. Her words. Not mine. I really wonder about this mystery “spider.”

Secondly, the bite occurred, I presume, when she was paddling her kayak through a waterway. Brown Recluse spiders don’t make webs in the air, and certainly not over the water like that. Of course, I suppose it is possible for a spider to have been in the kayak, crawled up her legs and torso, and then crawled all the way up to her face where it bit her on the lip. You’d think she would have seen it. Also, Brown Recluse spiders like to live with other Brown Recluse spiders, so it’s difficult to imagine not finding a spider somewhere in the kayak to bring to the doctor.

Third. Lots of things can cause spider bite-looking lesions. I’m surprised the doctor declared it a Brown Recluse bite. There is no test to diagnose that someone has been bitten by a Brown Recluse. Again, no spider was brought in, so why was this deemed a spider bite when it could have been numerous other things? For instance, UC Riverside’s Department of Entomology webpage about Brown Recluse Spiders states,

The following can cause lesions similar to the lesion from a bite of a Brown Recluse spider …mites, bedbugs, a secondary Staphylococcus or Streptococcus bacterial infection and “Three different tick-inflicted maladies have been misdiagnosed as brown recluse bite: Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and the bite of the soft tick, Ornithodoros coriaceus. “

If you want to read more about this, you can check it out here – https://spiders.ucr.edu For a complete list of look-a-like medical conditions, I’ll refer you to this chart https://spiders.ucr.edu/causes-necrotic-wounds-other-brs-bites And, I’ll add my own too, “Various species of bees, wasps, and even thrips can cause lesions that appear to be the feared spider bite.” https://buggingyoufromsanjuanisland.com/category/thrips/

What about her hallucinations? My first thought was she has had an outbreak of a herpes lesion and could have developed herpes simplex encephalitis. Please DO look this up! I did. It’s one of the side effects of getting a nasty cold sore. https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/encephalitis-herpes-simplex/

Now, I’m not a doctor. I didn’t take this woman’s medical history. I’m just pointing out some OTHER possibilities. Possibilities that are actually much more likely than the sensationalized over-reaching claim it was a Brown Recluse spider. Hmmmm… Hysteria and hyperbole. I hope she recovers, and I hope she will be able to kayak again soon. I just wish there was a way to stop the inevitable slaughter of innocent spiders that will ensue. It’s a shame.

***Note*** We do NOT have Brown Recluse Spiders in the San Juan Islands. Please take a look at the attached distribution map and show it to anyone who tries to convince you otherwise. https://spiders.ucr.edu/spiders-map

Thanks for reading!

References:

A complete list of publications about the Brown Recluse Spider (Loxosceles reclusa) can be found here: https://spiders.ucr.edu/publications

https://www.amazon.com/Brown-Recluse-Spider-Richard-Vetter/dp/0801479851

https://bugguide.net/node/view/3349

Mystery Eggs Hatch

They hatched!

Well, I was wrong in my theory about these possibly being Nepytia phantasmaria or Phantom Hemlock Looper eggs, so my next steps will be to review all my moth photos from early September to try and thread out any other possibilities. That may take some time. Initial observation (date eggs laid) was Sept. 12, 2021. Today is Oct. 7, 2021. They are indeed pretty tiny and if you look closely, you can see the caterpillar body rolled up in the eggs that haven’t hatched. The tree is a Caucasian Fir (Abies nordmanniana).

eggs on Caucasian Fir, San Juan Island, WA 09.12.2021
eggs on Caucasian Fir, San Juan Island, WA 09.12.2021
Eggs darkening – September 18, 2021 San Juan Island
They hatched! Oct. 7, 2021

Mystery moth eggs hatch – October 7, 2021

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for further updates. I’ll do my best to figure out an ID for these. 🙂

Autumn is for Arachnids!

Last month I held my 2nd annual virtual event, “September Spider Sleuthing in the San Juans.” Little did I know it would turn out to be so popular. Even the Journal of the San Juan Islands interviewed me. One of the questions asked was, “What led me to create the event in the first place?” Let me answer that for you.

Well, I happen to be an entomologist (someone who studies insects), but after living here for twelve years, I’ve come to LOVE the diversity of spiders that share our islands. I want to help others understand how important spiders are in our ecosystem and dispel some of the unfortunate and undeserved myths associated with our eight-legged friends.

This week, the spider sleuthing continues, albeit informally. I received some emails about spiders, and actually had two folks drop off spiders at my husband’s office in little cups for me to take a look at. “What ARE these?” inquiring minds wanted to know.

One was a suspected Black Widow that turned out to be a look-a-like False Widow (Steatoda grossa). While instinctively protective of the little sack of clustered eggs laid in a matrix of messy web in the plastic cup, I could sense she was alarmed. I was able to remove the lid and take a few photos without disturbing her too much. For now, she remains in the plastic cup. I may relocate her and her egg sack to our greenhouse tomorrow. Steatoda grossa spiders are not medically significant to humans. She’s a friend. Her presence helps keep the actual black widow spiders from colonizing our homes.

Steatoda grossa spider with egg sack
Steatoda grossa spider with egg sack
Steatoda grossa spider with egg sack
Steatoda grossa ventral view

The other cup held two spiders. All I knew ahead of picking them up was they were presumed deceased. One of those two spiders moved ever so slightly when I opened the lid. Where there is movement, there is LIFE! I was mesmerized with this spider, a Woodlouse hunter (Dysdera crocata). After photographing this beauty, I set it free in our stack of cut wood that doubles as a fence along the edge of our property. It will find plenty of isopods in the forest floor and the wood will double as a nice winter home with all its nooks and crevices. Woodlouse hunters are also harmless to humans. Consider them friendly!

Woodlouse Hunter (Dysdera crocata)

The last poor little soul was unfortunately frozen after it was collected. Yes, I opened the lid knowing this, but imagining movement, and hoping that maybe it hadn’t been frozen long enough to kill it. I don’t personally enjoy killing bugs. They’re much more interesting to me alive. I took the post mortem photos, but I’d have preferred being able to resurrect it.

Callobius severus

This sweet little dude is a Hackelmesh Weaver. His scientific name is Callobius severus. He’s harmless (a friend). He was only trying to find a mate. Male spiders often wander this time of year in search of a female. Look at those little palps! Those are the organs the male spider uses to transfer sperm to the female. They looks like little paws…or maybe tiny furry boxing gloves. I’m sorry this fella didn’t find a friend. May he R.I.P.

Callobius severus
Callobius severus

Thanks for reading!

Spider Vivarium DIY

It’s wet and rainy out today, so I thought I’d share an indoor spider post for you to view. This isn’t my own, but I just watched it and it’s an informative, short, DIY on how to set up a vivarium for a jumping spider. Yes! Sometimes having a dog or a cat is impractical or impossible. Time, space, and affordability can impact our choice of animal companion. There’s also the environmental impact. 🤔 Hmmm, how many of us really consider that? On the enviro-scale, keeping a spider is far greener than probably any other pet you could choose. No greenhouse gases!

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

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