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/

Mayfly

I love Mayflies! ❤️

April showers bring Mayfly’ers! This tiny creature spent the night on the glass window of my greenhouse. When I found my very first mayfly on San Juan Island, I used a key on this site ~ http://ibis.geog.ubc.ca/…/FamiliesofEphemeropteraofBC.html to help me with ID. I’ve been able to narrow the taxonomy down to family Baetidae or “minnow” mayfly.

Mayflies are in the insect order Ephemeroptera which comes from the greek words “epi” (upon), “hemera” (day), and “pteron” (wing). Put this all together and you get something like “wing upon a day!” It just describes the ephemeral quality or brief lifespan of the mayfly adult.

The adult, or imago stage of this insect, does not eat. They will emerge in large numbers typically in the month of May. The Baetidae are among the smallest in size (hence the name “minnow”) within mayfly families, but there are over 520 species described in this family worldwide. The Baetidae have only two caudal filaments and the hindwings are reduced in size. All mayfly larvae develop in water and as they are very sensitive to pollutants, their presence (or absence) can be a good indicator of water quality. They’re also favorites of fishermen because they make great bait!

Mayfly (Baetidae sp.)

Some people want to build homes too close or even in fill in these streams and wetland areas. Destroying wetlands for homes, driveways, and barns is devastating to delicate ecosystems, ruining them forever. Humans aren’t supposed to live in wetlands….but mayflies, many other species of invertebrates, and creatures like newts, salamanders, and birds thrive in them.

Mayfly (Baetidae sp.)
Mayfly (Baetidae sp.)

Some other amazing creatures that need clean wetlands and streams to live and reproduce include this alien-like Northwestern Salamander (Ambystoma gracile) I found a few weeks ago, slowly making its way across the road.

Northwestern Salamander (Ambystoma gracile)
Northwestern Salamander (Ambystoma gracile)
Rough Skinned Newt (Taricha granulosa)

And we won’t leave out the Rough skinned newt either! These little guys also call wetlands their home.

Thanks for reading!

Northern Carrion Beetle – Thanatophilus lapponicus

This is a Northern Carrion Beetle – Thanatophilus lapponicus, one of the carrion beetles in the family Silphidae. The origin of the name Thanatophilus is from Greek thanatos (θανατος)- “death” + philos (φιλος)- “loving, liking” (Bugguide.net, 2003-2021).

Northern Carrion Beetle (Thanatophilus lapponicus)

Death is part of a biological process that can be unsettling for many of us. That said, death makes way for new life. This past February, a small fawn died on our property.

February 17, 2021

We left the body where it lay. First the eagles came, then a pair of ravens. I believe a fox visited too (tracks in the snow).

Bald Eagle 2.18.2021

Fox (?) tracks in snow

Over the course of the past 12 weeks, I’ve found some very cool bugs developing in the carcass, even now in the bits of hide and bones that remain.

Did you know?

There is actually an entire field of scientific study (Forensic Entomology) where time of death of a body can be estimated by the presence and developmental stage of certain insects involved in the decomposition process. This is called determining the Post Mortem Interval or PMI. Forensic entomologists can aid law enforcement in crime investigations by surveying for species of arthropods on a corpse, and determining stages of development and feeding behavior of the arthropods present (Barnes, 2000).

Carrion beetles in the family Silphidae fall into two subfamilies: the Nicrophorinae and Silphinae. While both feed on the remains of animals, the Nicrophorinae or Burying Beetles are associated with smaller corpses like birds, mice, voles, etc., weighing under 300g, while the Silphinae utilize larger cadavers (Watson & Carlton, 2005). This preference or niche, makes them ideal for investigations related to human death or death of larger species of wildlife (as in poaching or other crimes against animals).

Northern Carrion Beetle (Thanatophilus lapponicus)
Northern Carrion Beetle (Thanatophilus lapponicus)

From Ratcliffe, 1996.

Distribution. Thanatophilus lapponicus ranges broadly throughout Canada and Alaska, across the norther United States from coast to coast, and south to Southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico (Anderson and Peck 1985, Peck and Kaulbars 1987). It is also found in Northern Europe and Asia (Hatch 1928, Schwaller 1982).

Remarks. Thanatophilus lapponicus is readily identified because of the presence of a row of small tubercles on each of the elytra intervals (Figs. 31-32, 62); it is the only silphid in North America with this distinctive form of elytra sculpturing.

https://museum.unl.edu/file_download/inline/1bde566e-27c3-4c55-9345-59057400e350

The larval stage was described by Dorsey (1940) , and a brief synopsis was given by Anderson and Peck (1985). The larva of this species is characterized by a dark brown to black color on the dorsal surface, urogomphi that are about two times the length of the 10th abdominal segment, and antennae with a large sense cone on the second segment (as in Fig. 40).

Anderson and Peck (1985) reported that individual females lay about ten eggs in the soil surrounding a carcass. The egg stage lasts 5-6 days, the first instar about 7 days, the second instar 8-10 days, and the third instar 10-12 days. While Anderson and Peck did not observe pupae, they did note that T. lapponicus is a cold-adapted species that occurs at higher elevations in the western Mountains of North America. It is often the only silphid present in some of these areas. Thanatophilus lapponicus shows a strong preference for open areas (Anderson 1982c).

Clark (1895) observed extensive predation on fly larvae by adult beetles.

Size. 9-14mm

Time of Year Seen. March-October

References:

Anderson, R.S. and Peck, S.B. (1985) The carrion beetles of Canada and Alaska. The insects and arachnids of Canada, part 13, 1–121.

Barnes, S. 2000. Forensic entomological case study and comparison of burned and unburned Sus scrofa specimens in the biogeoclimatic zone of northwestern Montana. Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers. 4655. https://scholarworks.umt.edu/etd/4655/?utm_source=scholarworks.umt.edu/etd/4655&utm_medium=PDF&utm_campaign=PDFCoverPages

Bugguide.net. https://bugguide.net/node/view/37875

Ratcliffe, B.C. 1996. The Carrion Beetles (Coleoptera: Silphidae) of Nebraska. Bull Univ. Nebr State Mus 13:1-100 https://museum.unl.edu/file_download/inline/1bde566e-27c3-4c55-9345-59057400e350

Watson, E., & Carlton, C. 2005. Succession of Forensically Significant Carrion Beetle Larvae on Large Carcasses (Coleoptera: Silphidae). Southeastern Naturalist, 4(2), 335-346. Retrieved April 27, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3877967

TreeHugger Soldier

This little guy got into my pants yesterday! 😁 What is it? This is a Treehugger Soldier Beetle (Dichelotarsus piniphilus) in the family Cantharidae or soldier beetles ( because their wings resemble military uniforms). More interesting though is the Greek translation of Cantharis or κανθαρισ, translating to ‘blister beetle.’

Treehugger Soldier Beetle (Dichelotarsus piniphilus)


I’m pointing this out because this little Treehugger got confused yesterday and when it was hugging my leg and my pants were hugging back a bit too tightly, it either bit me or exuded some of the defensive chemicals that they use to repel would-be predators . In either case, I was fine aside from a bit of a temporary stinging sensation.

Treehugger Soldier Beetle


This species is common in the west. Surprisingly, very little is known about the life histories of these beetles. I’ve spotted them on nettle this time of year. Adults are known to feed on insects (including aphids), nectar, and pollen.


I wondered if there is some uptake of the chemical constituents of the nettle to produce the defense secretions in the beetle, either via consuming pollen from the nettle, or via feeding on another insect feeding on the nettle. A literature search failed to yield any supporting information, though I did find an older publication listing insects found in association with nettle. Quite a few were some of our lovely Lepidoptera, so you might want to leave those nettle patches instead of clearing them away 🦋

Treehugger Soldier Beetle

Read more here:


https://bugguide.net/node/view/279953?fbclid=IwAR2meHyQsnxdeb94MKL3YEpRMWo29-4oBmuSsru0M5nkX_aaMDN_Vxe639I


https://biologicalsurvey.ca/ejournal/ph_25/ph_25.pdf


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cantharidin

The Phoenix Rises

Hermetia illucens

In the middle of January, nothing excites me quite like finding a bug on the floor in the house. Yesterday, I found this rather beautiful creature on the floor in our sunroom. At first I thought I had a mud dauber type of wasp, but in fact, I have become a fly momma. An adult soldier fly emerged from the cup of pupated larva or phoenix worms I had ordered for Drago. The name soldier fly really doesn’t do it justice. Given its transition from the dark, drab pupal case, the adult indeed appears to have risen from the ashes into an exquisite new form.

Hermetia illucens
Hermetia illucens
Hermetia illucens pupal case

This particular soldier fly is Hermetia illucens. If you look closely, you will notice the fly-like eyes and the tell-tale halteres just below the attachment point of the single pair of wings. Those little fan-like tufts above the haltere aren’t fluffy shoulder pads or pseudo wings, but are called calypters. They are one of the distinguishing features of this group of flies. You can read more about calypters here – https://bugguide.net/node/view/114118

Hermetia illucens with calypter above haltere
Robin’s egg blue haltere with calypter above

How did soldier flies get their name? Well, they are in the family Stratiomyidae and these flies are so named because they are “armed” with some spines on their thorax. Check out this link to read more about that – https://uwm.edu/field-station/soldier-fly/ . Personally, I think the part that caused me to hesitate before picking it up was wondering if it could sting me since I thought it was a wasp. The mimicry serves it well!

Hermetia illucens (calypter above haltere)

What is cool about these flies? Well, aside from all the beautiful blue accent coloring and the pretty bands on their legs, these flies do some amazing jobs for us. They are so great at eating poop and recycling food waste that they are now being utilized in commercial operations. Hermetia lllucens Black soldier fly larvae (BSFL) are also being reared commercially as food for fish, pets, livestock, and for humans. The larvae are said to outcompete other fly species that are pests to humans and livestock. They don’t transmit diseases like houseflies and blowflies, and they actually reduce the levels of Salmonella and E coli found in manure. Even more astounding is their application in the field of Entoremediation. This means they are effective at reducing harmful contaminants in biomass.

I will be ordering some to add to our compost pile this spring!

Hermetia illucens with sponging mouthpart
Newly emerged Black Soldier Fly (Hermetia illucens)

Thanks for reading!

References and further reading:

http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/livestock/black_soldier_fly.htm

https://bugguide.net/node/view/6994

https://www.eatcrickster.com/blog/black-soldier-fly

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/5503265_Development_of_Black_Soldier_Fly_Diptera_Stratiomyidae_Larvae_Fed_Dairy_Manure

https://wiki.nus.edu.sg/display/TAX/Hermetia+illucens+-+Black+Soldier+Fly

Bill the Beetle, aka Zeke the Greek

I thought I’d post about something new I discovered today when reading about the Darkling Beetle species Zophobas morio.  These are beetles that some folks will know by the common name for their larval form, Superworms.  

First off, the beetle I’ll be using as my representative here is named “Bill.” I discovered Bill one day in my bin of feeder roaches for my Bearded Dragon (Drago).  When I first met Bill, he was a weird waxy, mummy-looking mutant lying motionless amongst the frass (roach poo) at the bottom of the plastic bin. 

He almost got dumped into the trash, but I gently picked him out recognizing the wax museum-like form as the pupal stage of some sort of bug.  It definitely was NOT a roach since roaches have hemimetabolous development.  This means their intermediary stages or nymphs, basically look like mini replicas of their adult parents. 

Zophabus morio, “Bill”

Bill didn’t stay red for very long and in fact, the next day he was pretty BLACK.  While investigating a bit about the meaning of his scientific or Latin name, I couldn’t find much in the entomological references I checked.  I delved a bit deeper and came up with this and thought you might find it interesting.  

In Greek, Zophos refers to “black” or “black darkness of the nether world.”  Mori refers to “death.”   

I think I like the name Bill if he’s going to hang out on my kitchen counter, but maybe for Halloween he can be scary Zeke the Greek, herald of black death of the netherworld.  

Bill is also going to be a family member for about as long as Drago.  I’m not sure how my husband will feel about this.  He asked me when I got Drago how long Bearded Dragons live.  I said “about 15 years with good care.”  Wow!  That means we will be in our 60’s.  

Drago was 3 when he came to live with us in March 2020, so if he lives to be 15, I will be the very old age of 68.  Well, BILL can live for about the exact same amount of time!  FIFTEEN years.  That’s right!  I read it here -https://sciencing.com/superworm-life-cycle-5347598.html

Bill in his habitat

If you’re interested in a pet beetle like mine, here’s a link to a care sheet. They are easy to keep, low maintenance, and don’t bite! https://beta-static.fishersci.com/content/dam/fishersci/en_US/documents/programs/education/technical-documents/data-sheets/carolina-biological-darkling-beetle-data-sheet.pdf

Thanks for reading! 🐞🦋🐝🐛🐜🦗🦟

Sparrow Bee

Doodles

I find doodling is a great way to reduce stress. Here are my morning doodles (and Japanese interpretation) of the most scary insect in the news in the United States.

They say laughter is another good way to reduce stress and I admit I chuckled a bit watching the sensationalized CBS video of the kevlar?-suited team taking on the “Murder Hornets.” https://www.cbsnews.com/news/murder-hornets-85-killed-13-captured-alive-washington-state/

These hornets INVADING North America (hyperbole here), are native to Asia. It’s also very likely they’ve entered the US illegally in someone’s suitcase. At least that’s what I think! My sense of this came from reading the US Dept of Agriculture bulletin titled New Pest Response Guidelines linked here – https://cms.agr.wa.gov/WSDAKentico/Documents/PP/PestProgram/Vespa_mandarinia_NPRG_10Feb2020-(002).pdf Note page 16 of the guide where it reviews how Asian cultures place a high value on the wasps as a delicacy, especially how expensive the market price for the wasps are in Japan. Hmmm.

Yesterday I thought I’d do some research on how the Japanese live amongst these giant wasps, known to entomologists as Vespa mandarinia or the Asian Giant Hornet (AGH).

What I found out was pretty interesting!

First off, the Japanese name for the wasps is Suzumebachi. Say “Sue zoom eh ba chee” and you’re close. Suzumebachi translates into “sparrow-bee.”

In my quest to uncover the history of these insects in Japanese culture, I found they are actually revered. The Japanese bee hunters climb into the mountains to dig up the subterranean nests and collect the adults, larvae, and pupae. Check out this bloggers adventure as she hikes into the mountain to help her guide dig up a subterranean nest http://www.libertyruth.com/blog/vespa-mandarinia-finally-finally-i-can-write-about-the-venom?fbclid=IwAR30J9hbyB6xtRx5zqVZrodcfG6U2DFKdPPDlV9CGolOBc1HwR7CbAV5S5c

Japanese anime’ has a character based on the “bee sparrow,” and you can buy a variety of costume garments to dress just like her if you’re inclined. If you can believe it, many of the online stores selling these costumes are SOLD OUT! You can read about the anime’ character of Suzumebachi here https://naruto.fandom.com/wiki/Suzumebachi

The Japanese eat these highly prized wasps. I found one story online originally published in Munchies. It’s titled, I Got Buzzed on Japanese Hornet Cocktails and takes place in a bar in Japan. Guess what the bar is named? Suzumebachi! According to the blogger, the owner has gone all out and even has a giant hornet nest displayed behind the bar. Read more here – https://www.vice.com/amp/en/article/aeyp4k/i-got-buzzed-on-killer-japanese-hornet-cocktails

More about hornet sake here – https://youtu.be/r6k60yo_nZo

While some hornets are kept in captivity and bred because of their great value, in rural village communities, you can still find traditional Suzumebachi hunters and attend annual festivals themed around the collection of the hornets https://travel.gaijinpot.com/edible-wasp-festival/ and https://www.splendidtable.org/story/2019/02/08/the-japanese-tradition-of-raising-and-eating-wasps

It’s pretty incredible how prized these hornets are for their medicinal and culinary properties. Japanese athletes are even touting increased energy after drinking hornet juice https://youtu.be/sfdSPW-cwgM or using bee protein powder.

While I don’t discount the intimidation factor of these wasps, we may be missing something in our eradication efforts.

Eating insects is in our future. It could be a lucrative investment!

Thanks for reading.

Author’s note: I am in no way encouraging the importation of exotic species, or species deemed invasive, but only writing this to present an alternate perspective as a means of balancing the extraordinary sensationalization of the Asian Giant Hornet. They aren’t the Winged Horsemen of the Apocalypse!

Aphodiine Dung Beetle – October 21, 2020

I found this tiny (approx 4.5mm) Scarab yesterday when I went out to pick the remaining few tomatoes in the garden. It came in with me just long enough to get a few photos so I could attempt an ID. If I’d kept it long enough to realize what I had, I might have tried for better pics. Instead, I returned it to a sunny spot outdoors and let it go about its business in the garden.

After an internet search, I came up with a preliminary ID to subfamily Aphodiinae, but I believe this specimen to be in the tribe Aphodiini and possibly (Agoliinus sigmoideus). This is where my frustration begins as I definitely need my specimen back for further examination in order to confirm. For now, we’ll leave it at Aphodiinae.

The Aphodiinae are dung beetles that feed on detritus and more. Bugguide references the work of Skelley (2008) and states, “many feed on dung, some are detritivores, psammophiles, saprophages, inquilines with ants or termites, or may potentially be predators; adults with reduced mandibles are suspected to feed primarily on bacteria or yeast-rich fluids in dung or decaying materials.”

Reading about dung beetles in general, I came across an interesting publication in Biological Control that examined how some species of coprophagous dung beetles can reduce the contamination of bacteria like Escherichia coli in agricultural systems when flies, livestock, or wildlife are present. Aside from providing other important ecosystem services like feces removal and nutrient recycling, the aspect that they also help with food safety by reducing harmful bacteria is another reason we need to invest in organic agricultural systems that do not rely on harmful pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides which alter the natural biological processes at work. In short, nature does it best!

Aphodiini San Juan Island, WA 10.21.2020
Aphodiini San Juan Island, WA 10.21.2020
Aphodiini San Juan Island, WA 10.21.2020

References

Bugguide.net – https://bugguide.net/node/view/13137

Skelley P.E. (2008) Aphodiinae. In: Generic guide to New World scarab beetles

Key to genera of New World Aphodiini (Scarabaeidae: Aphodiinae) http://unsm-ento.unl.edu/Guide/Scarabaeoidea/Scarabaeidae/Aphodiinae/AphodiinaeTribes/Aphodiini/Key/AphodiiniK.html

SWD – Can You Guess What That Stands For?

I found another “new-to-me” bug on the island the other afternoon. This fly was a surprise. It is really small at about 3mm, with big red eyes, and clear wings with a little black dot on each one . Guess what? It’s a SWD! That’s the abbreviated form of Spotted-Wing-Drosophila or Drosophila suzukii (also sometimes called the Vinegar Fly). I’m attaching an info. sheet here for you to reference http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/fruit/flies/drosophila_suzukii.htm

It’s amazing how quickly the SWD fly can reproduce. I’m curious as to whether they’ve been seen out and about by other folks on San Juan. We have an apple orchard, but honestly, I didn’t check the fruit this year for pests and I wouldn’t use spray anyway because I love our birds. We’ve had lots of chickadees, nuthatches, and juncos in our trees, as well as gorgeous round orb weaver spiders in the garden and around the house, so I’m banking on them keeping these (and other) insects categorized as pests in check.

Drosophila suzukii – Spotted Wing Drosophila or (SWD)

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