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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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
I posted back in April about an encounter with Blister Beetles not far from my house. You can read about that here ~ (https://cynthiabrast.wordpress.com/2019/04/16/a-blistery-spring-day/ ). Over the weekend of November 2-3, I came across quite a few more of these in the exact same spot as in April. This time I didn’t see any live beetles, but there were at least 25-30 dead in the road.
Ever the opportunist, I scraped up as many that weren’t quite so smushed into a container and brought them home. Out of the 5 I collected, 2 were male, 2 were female, and one missed antennae altogether. Given the number of beetles in the road in this one spot, I believe this was a mating aggregation.
So, I’ve been reading about them and communicating with a two experts on blister beetles. If you don’t know what these are, they are significant because of a defensive chemical in them called Cantharidin. Cantharidin is quite toxic and it’s a blistering agent. This is where they got the name Blister Beetles in the first place.
Since my first sighting of these beetles back in April, I’ve learned quite a bit about them. The ones here (Meloe strigulosus) are black, flightless, tanker-like beetles, carrying around a cargo of toxic brew. They are sometimes a hazard to livestock (actually almost all mammals) that might eat them because the Cantharidin is toxic. Horses, goats, cows, and sheep that eat alfalfa hay can get really sick with colic if there are even parts of dead beetles in the hay.
While we don’t really know exactly how Cantharidin is produced in the beetle, we do know these two things: 1) it’s produced in the male and transferred to the female during mating. 2) the female transfers Cantharidin as a protective coating for her eggs during oviposition. It’s believed that the first instar larvae (called triungulin) are equipped with a supply of Cantharidin as well.
After hatching, the triungulin crawl up onto flowers to hang out and wait to attach to the hairs of a visiting bee, riding back to its nesting site. The later developmental stages of larvae are protected underground or in holes in wood where native bees are developing. They consume the developing bee eggs, larvae and nest provisions (pollen and nectar).
Is there anything good about blister beetles? Well, strangely, the populations of some species of blister beetles are timed to coincide with grasshopper abundance. Adult blister beetles feed on grasshopper eggs. That’s good, right?
What else? Humans have used Cantharidin for years to remove warts and to remove tattoos as well. For ages, it has been used as a sexual stimulant. Even birds called Great Bustards have picked up on this! Read more here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6521026/
Blister beetles seem to be beneficial to some other species of beetles too. There is one beetle that actually has been found to chew on the blister beetle as a means of obtaining Cantharidin for its own protection. Other animals like toads, frogs, and armadillos are known to eat these beetles or use them in some way to confer protection. There is even a nuthatch that uses the beetle to “sweep” the wood where it wants to build a nest to protect it from parasites.
Back to my weekend sighting and collection of a few of these specimens. I had two that were intact enough to pin for my collection. I wore nitrile gloves to make sure I didn’t come into contact with any blistering agent. It’s a good thing I did. Some fluid made contact with one of the fingers of my gloved hand and actually started eating through it. That’s pretty caustic!
If you’re interested in more information about them, I’m happy to email some of my collected literature. There are also links you can check out in my previous post from April.