This fly was in my yard last week. San Juan Island, WA. 06.19.2021. It’s taken me about a week to get around to ID, but I believe this to be Eupeodes fumipennis (the Western Aphideater, a syrphid fly that happens to be a bee mimic.
In case you are wondering about that name. The Western Aphideater does actually eat aphids in the larval stage. To see what a syrphid fly larva looks like in action, check out my blog post with more video footage here –https://buggingyoufromsanjuanisland.com/…/honeysuckle…/ – also viewable in the photo below. While I have not been able to identify the species name of the syrphid fly larva in that post, you can definitely see where the Western Aphideater fly might get its name.
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.
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.
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).
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!
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.
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….
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
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!
Ocean Spray flowers provide pollen and nectar for native bees! 🐝
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).
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
Time of Year Seen. March-October
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.
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
Eek! There’s a spider in the bathtub! Do you really want to turn on the water and drown it? Hopefully you are not nodding your head “yes,” but instead finding courage to overcome your arachnophobia and finding a tiny bit of compassion. Just take a deep breath. Get a towel, or a cup and a card, and find your brave inner self to save this poor little eight-legged individual to live out its life. Say this mantra with me….”Be NICE to spiders!” Then say it over and over and over to yourself. It will make you a much more confident person. You can tell your friends and co-workers about how YOU got a spider out of the BATHTUB!
At my house, the number one threat to spiders is my cat. Millhouse is determined his job is to be spider exterminator. He squashes them. He used to eat them! Once he ate one. He fainted. I had to rush him to the vet. He revived on the way. The next time, he bit one and spit it out. I don’t know if the spider was foaming from being punctured or if the cat was foaming because well….maybe cats foam at the mouth sometimes when they eat something they shouldn’t. In any case, he’s evolving his kill techniques. Now he eats too much cat food and uses his massive body weight (he thinks it’s muscle) to flatten them.
I’m on the other side. My job is to save them. It was a good thing I saw this one before Millhouse did. You see, Millhouse loves to drink his water out of the bathtub. I have to leave the water dripping for him. That’s why you’ll note the stain on the tub. It’s from hard well water. One day I will scrub off the yellowing, but for now, pretend it’s not there.
The first thing I recommend to get the spider out is to grab something like a hand towel or a plastic cup and some sort of paper (mailer, index card, envelop, etc.). I used a towel. Watch my video and see how easy it is! The spider isn’t going to bite you. It just wants OUT of the tub. Probably it was thirsty. See my post from October 27, and you can read all about how to give a dehydrated spider a drink. At this point, it needs your help. It is stuck. The sides of the tub are too slippery for it to crawl out. It’s really easy! Here goes…
The general idea is to be extremely gentle. You don’t want to injure the spider. Keep chanting your mantra…”Be nice to spiders!” Over and over and over!
See! It’s not that hard. The spider didn’t attack me. Isn’t it so cute! By the way, this spider is a Hackelmesh weaver (Callobius severus) https://bugguide.net/node/view/7018. I checked later today and it has crawled off somewhere. Happy to escape the cat!