This amazing little creature is a Tiger Fly in the genus Coenosia, and I believe C. tigrina. Photographed on May 30, 2021 with prey that appears to be a spittlebug nymph.
This particular tiger fly is a European native, introduced to North America in the 1800’s. It is now found throughout the northeastern and western United States and adjacent Canada.
Tiger flies, also sometimes known as hunter or killer flies, are indeed fantastic predators of other pest insects, including Drosophila sp. flies. Even the larval stage of this fly is predatory on other organisms. Because of their success in hunting, they are often used as biological control of pests in greenhouses.
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
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.’
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.
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 🦋
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
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 forthe 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.”
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
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!
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!
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.