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September Spider Sleuthing in the San Juans – Day 10 – A Home with Folding Doors

I found this spider in our barn in August and thought it was dead, so I did what I often do – grab it and pick it up! Hmmm. This spider moved. It was alive.

This is a Folding Door Spider, Antrodiaetus pacificus. While I’m not 100% certain, I do believe this is a male since there was no burrow nearby and it’s “wandering” season. Most of the time, females are inside or near the entrance to their burrow.

Folding door spiders are the “tarantulas” of the Pacific Northwest. Their scientific name comes from Greek antrodiaitos (αντροδιαιτος)- “living in caves”, from antron (αντρον)- “cave” + diaita (διαιτα)- “way of life, dwelling” – according to https://bugguide.net/node/view/23442 They build their homes (burrows) in rotting or decaying wood or moss, living in moist, forested areas where they are rarely seen.

Females are approximately 13mm in size, with males a bit smaller at 11mm. They are classified as Mygalomorph spiders, the more primitive spiders with one pair of book lungs.

Occasionally, they become victims of spider hunting wasps. These wasps sting and paralyze the spider, then drag them into a burrow. The wasp lays her eggs on the spider, then leaves. The developing larvae feast on the poor spider while it is still alive.

Please be kind to these harmless, gentle giants!

Antrodiaetus pacificus – San Juan Island, WA 08.10.2020
Antrodiaetus pacificus – San Juan Island, WA 08.10.2020
Antrodiaetus pacificus – San Juan Island, WA 08.10.2020

Sleuthing Spiders in the San Juans – Day 3 – Classifying Spiders, the Very Beginner Basics!

Spider Sleuthing Day 3 – Classifying Spiders. The (VERY) Beginner Basics. Spider classification (for North America) consists basically of two different groups. These are the infraorders: Araneomorphae (the “true” spiders) and Mygalomorphae (the tarantulas and trapdoor spiders).

What are “true” spiders? Why those are the ones that aren’t Mygalomorphs! What??? I confess, I’m having to read up on this as I type this post. I DID, however, disclose that I am an entomologist and not an arachnologist in my DAY 2 post, and I can count to 6 (if you read my earlier post, you’ll get my joke), and that is high enough to tell you that these groups are partially differentiated by the number of book lungs a spider has.

Book lungs are the main respiratory organ in arachnids. Mygalomorphs have 4 book lungs and Araneomorphs have only 2. See, we got to SIX! 😁

The other difference between these two spider groups has to do with how they chew. Well, sort of. A more scientific description would be to say the directionality of movement of their chelicerae.

Yep. Let’s just make it easy today and say, Mygalomorph’s mouthparts move in a parallel direction (move your first two fingers towards each other like you’re making air quotes) and Araneomorph’s mouthparts are oriented in an opposing way (touch your forefinger to your thumb in a pincer-like way). For more about this, you’re welcome to delve into the deep world of spider systematics here – https://www.jstor.org/stable/2097274?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

Sorting spiders involves numerous other factors including morphological differences such as eye arrangement, hairs, body shape, number of claws and even what type of web they make or whether they make a web at all!

As to webs, well that’s going to be a post of its own. There are ALL sorts of webs and knowing their names and being able to identify them will be a tool for figuring out what sort of spider you may have.

I have run out of time for my post today, but I will leave you with a few links to check out so you can learn more of the basic morphology that all spiders share: 8 legs, head or (cephalothorax region), abdomen…Oh, and the cutie on my finger is one of my house spider friends. She’s a jumping spider (Salticus scenicus) and her name is Skipper.

(Salticus scenicus)

More on Spider Anatomy here – https://www.earthlife.net/chelicerata/s-anatomy.htmlhttp://biologyandbiodiversityinspiders.weebly.com/spider-anatomy.html

***Hint to remembering the Mygalomorphs – *The majority of species in the Mygalomorphae are tarantulas, in the family Theraphosidae (in French, a tarantula is called a ‘mygale’

September Spider Sleuthing in the San Juans

Today is the first day of September Spider Sleuthing in the San Juans. I’m excited about seeing those “spidee” photos and learning together about some of the very cool things that spiders do. We’re also going to conquer any FEARS of spiders and to start off, I’m going to post a link so you can discover Lucas the Spider. If you don’t know about Lucas, he is the cutest spider in the world, AND he wants to be your friend. *Kid and Adult Friendly!

Check out the event on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/events/2753071885020278?active_tab=about

Is our fear of murder hornets turning us into the real murderers?

A neighbor sent me this video footage late last night.  She asks, “Why are all the black and yellow bumble bees on the ground dying?”  This occurred locally at an island lavender farm where the bumble bees are LOVED and no one is applying any pesticides.  In the video you can certainly see the bees she refers to.  Why only those?  

The dying bees are the lovely Yellow-Faced bumble bees, Bombus vosnesenskii.  I personally appreciate these because not only are they avid tomato pollinators, but they have such adorably chubby and fuzzy bodies with a yellow face and a yellow band around their little black bottom. 

Bombus vosnesenskii, Yellow-faced Bumble Bee

Bumble bees are cavity nesters.  Many will select an empty mouse burrow in the ground to create their nest. The fertilized queen overwinters and begins her colony in late March or early April, foraging for herself and the eggs she laid that would soon hatch into larvae needing to be fed.  

Bumble bee nest on San Juan Island, WA 2010

In order to obtain nutrients necessary for survival, bumble bee foragers can travel long distances (up to 11 miles), especially here as our growing season ends in summer.  Right now, they are visiting the lavender in bloom.

These poor bees are most likely victims of pesticide.  The fact that all of them are the same species, at the same location, indicates to me that someone applied pesticide at their nest site, likely a property owner within foraging distance of the worker bees visiting the lavender farm.  The workers dispersed from the nest to try to do what they are programmed to do (forage for food), but simply succumbed to the toxic residues that some fearful homeowner applied.  

“I can’t have bees in my yard!”  “I’m allergic.”  “I have pets.”  “I hate insects.” “It could be murder hornets.”  

Do you want to have food? 

If you, as a homeowner, continue spraying your yard every time you see a bee and can’t learn to live with them, you are going to be the end of all of us.  Bumble bees are some of our most important agricultural pollinators.  More important than honey bees!  

The dying bees in this video are native bees.  “Native” means they are adapted to this environment.  They have the ability to survive here better than European honey bees (Apis mellifera) which are not native.  Honey bees were transported to North America by Europeans who brought sheep, cattle, swine, and other domesticated species to this continent.  

Back to the over-sensationalized “murder hornets.”  This term makes me angry!  😡 The media hype is much like the hype over the mantids that are going to eat our hummingbirds !  Just because it is printed in the paper doesn’t mean it is the whole truth or entirely accurate.  The primary reason the Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia) is of concern is their ability to kill European honey bees (Apis mellifera), an agricultural commodity.  To read some of the news stories, you’d think we were dealing with Africanized Bees…remember those? 

It is possible Vespa mandarinia will not survive here.  They aren’t native.  They will be susceptible to parasites, and viral, bacterial, and fungal diseases (not unlike the same problems our non-native European honey bees face) potentially making it difficult for populations to establish themselves.   We could also, as many Asians do, learn to eat them. Yes, do read the publication about them in my references section!

Please put that can of pesticide away.  Don’t spray.  If you are truly afraid of bees, then educate yourself about how to live alongside them.  First off, don’t wear shades of blue or black colors when you’re near an area that has bees.  Bumble bees and honey bees are attracted to these colors.  Avoid wearing fragrances.  Wash your clothing in unscented detergent and avoid using those noxious, heavily scented dryer sheets.  Finally, if you do see an insect that you believe is the Asian Giant Hornet, take a photo or collect the specimen if it is already dead and contact WSU following these guidelines. 

In Washington State only, people should report potential sightings of the AGH through the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s website. Outside of Washington, contact your state apiary inspector. If it is safe to do so, take a photo or collect a dead specimen of the pest to help experts identify the insect.

In the meantime, please don’t fall victim to media hype and do your best not to murder innocent bumble bees!   

References and further reading: 

Bombus vosnesenskii. Bugguide.net https://bugguide.net/node/view/19538

John M. Mola, Neal M. Williams. (2019) A review of methods for the study of bumble bee movement. Apidologie 56. 

Jha, Shalene, and Claire Kremen. (2019) Resource diversity and landscape-level homogeneity drive native bee foraging. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America vol. 110,2: 555-8. doi:10.1073/pnas.1208682110

Sujaya Rao, George Hoffman, Julie Kirby & Danielle Horne (2019) Remarkable long-distance returns to a forage patch by artificially displaced wild bumble bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae), Journal of Apicultural Research, 58:4, 522-530, DOI: 10.1080/00218839.2019.1584962

(Vespa mandarinia) Asian giant hornet. New Pest Response Guidelines. (2020) USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Plant Protection and Quarantine. https://cms.agr.wa.gov/WSDAKentico/Documents/PP/PestProgram/Vespa_mandarinia_NPRG_10Feb2020-(002).pdf

We don’t just have covid here, BETTY BOTFLY VISITS SAN JUAN ISLAND. Another reason to Wear that Mask!


I made a video of one of my favorite insects you will see here in the San Juan Islands. This is a bumble bee mimic, but it’s not a bee at all. It’s a fly. Not only is it not your ordinary fly, it’s a fly with a very interesting life cycle that requires a host. This particular host relationship has evolved between the fly and our local black-tailed deer. It’s not feeding on the deer because these adult flies don’t even have mouthparts to eat. Their sole mission is to reproduce and they need an incubator for their “babies.” If you see a deer and notice it coughing, watch the video to find out why. **Edit *** Update to post… I misspoke in the video and state that the fly oviposits onto the deer which is incorrect. The eggs actually hatch inside the fly body and the fly larviposits onto the deer muzzle. Either way it’s got to be pretty terrifying to the deer! 🦌

Cephenemyia apicata 07.07.2020 video by Cynthia Brast-Bormann
Cephenemyia apicata 07.07.2020 photo by Cynthia Brast-Bormann
Cephenemyia apicata
San Juan Island, WA
07.07.2020
Photo by Cynthia Brast-Bormann
Cephenemyia apicata
San Juan Island, WA
07.07.2020
Photo by Cynthia Brast-Bormann

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/

NOT A Murderer! Just Because We Wear Stripes, We Didn’t escape from Prison and we aren’t out to Kill you!

Menacing Murder Hornets are making headlines everywhere these days and giving many of our beneficial wasps a bad rap.  Before you grab that can of bug spray, follow along for the next week or two while I profile the good guys and give you tips on how to ID the ones you’ll see on the San Juan Islands.  

Wasp #1 – The Western Sand Wasp (Bembix americana)

Bembix americana – Western Sand Wasp – San Juan Island, WA

On San Juan Island, if you’re out along the beach bluffs on the west side or anywhere at American Camp, Eagle Cove, or Jackson’s Beach and the nearby quarry, you may notice them hovering and darting about above the sand or spots of bare earth.  Western Sand Wasps are solitary digger wasps in the family Crabronidae.  Males and females emerge simultaneously and their entire adult life is to sip nectar from flowers, mate, and reproduce.  

After mating, it is the female who will provision her nest.  She scours the sand and nearby areas, hunting insects and arachnids to supply her developing offspring in underground burrows.  She will oviposit one egg in a single burrow, leaving it with a zombied insect, continuing until all her eggs are laid.  But her work is not over.  She must continue to check and feed each of her larvae in their individual burrows after the eggs hatch, making sure that they do not starve as they develop.   Fast fact…a single larva can eat more than 20 flies before it pupates!  

So she digs…and digs…and digs!  These wasps are able to dig so fast, they can disappear under the sand in a matter of seconds.  

video by Cynthia Brast-Bormann, San Juan Island, WA

Human or Pet Risk factor LOW  

Unless you are walking barefoot in the sand and mange to step on one of these, you are highly unlikely to be stung.  Wear foot coverings and enjoy your hike or picnic.  They’re not going to murder you!

References and other interesting reading:

Bugguide: https://bugguide.net/node/view/79847

Eaton, E. 2015. Sand Wasps, Genus Bembix. Bug Eric. http://bugeric.blogspot.com/2015/01/sand-wasps-genus-bembix.html

Garvey, K. 2016. An Insect You May Overlook. The Bug Squad. UC Davis. https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=21912

Malinek, J. 2016. Bembix americana. Janamalinekphotoblogspot. http://janamalinekphoto.blogspot.com/2016/08/western-sand-wasp-bembix-americana.html

Thatch Ants Attack Caterpillar

I had my bearded dragon outdoors the other afternoon to get his 20 minutes of sunshine (me too!) when I spied something unusual moving in the grass. The object of my attention was a fairly large caterpillar lying in the middle of 25-30 voracious Thatching Ants (Formica obscuripes), intent on relocating the caterpillar (their dinner), even if they had to do it one bite at a time.

Observing them at work, I thought of how the Egyptian pyramids were built. Humans. Lots of them. Carrying those giant blocks and stacking them required formidable effort. Perhaps these ants in their orchestrated labor efforts would successfully lug this lepidopteran larvae back to their nest.

I did not stay and watch to the end. I watched just long enough and filmed this clip. I felt a bit sad for the caterpillar, wondered about the butterfly or moth it might have become, and I marveled a little about these industrious ants that cooperate for the collective benefit of the colony.

Ants are pretty amazing. 🐜🐜🐜

Stay tuned for more on Thatch Ants!

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