Tag Archives: Cynthia Brast

A Little Weevil House

Key Words: masting, Curculio, Quercus, mast seeding, acorn weevil, diapause

I picked up these acorns (Quercus sp.) when I visited my folks recently in Texas. They have several oak trees on their property and there was an abundance of acorns all over the ground this year, so I brought a few home with me in a ziplock bag. I like acorns. My mom used to draw little faces on them and I had acorn “people” to play with when I was a child.

Acorn “person”

I also found a very cool bug under one of those oak trees while I was there. This strange looking creature is one of the Nut and Acorn Weevils (Curculio sp). It has an extremely long snout. When you find out how this weevil uses it to DRILL, you may be amazed. The adult female weevil will use this drill on her very long snout to make a hole in those acorns!

Nut and Acorn Weevil (Curculio sp).
Nut and Acorn Weevil (Curculio sp).
Nut and Acorn Weevil (Curculio sp).

Keep reading. It really is amazing.

A female weevil will make a hole in the acorn so she can put her eggs inside it!

Hole drilled by Nut and Acorn Weevil

Because I like word games, I thought I’d point out to you that rearranging the letters in the word weevil will make the words “we live?” Well, those eggs hatch into baby weevils who LIVE in a little house that is an acorn (and sometimes in other nuts too). Some folks call them grubs or worms. They are actually the larvae of the adult weevil mom who selected the acorn for her nursery.

If you are assessing this situation from an agricultural perspective (say that nut is a pecan), invested in harvesting a profitable crop, you might be feeling very worried. Sometimes the worry may indeed be justified, but in many cases, like with these acorns, the tree has evolved a strategy to deal with occasional waves of weevils and other insects we consider pests. In actuality, they are just utilizing the resources of the tree like we do when WE (the humans) eat the nut or fruit.

Larvae of Nut and Acorn Weevil (Curculio sp).

I’m going to name the trees’ strategy of dealing with this bug FEAR NO WEEVIL. However, the actual scientific moniker for this strategy (and it applies to other pests and adverse weather stressors as well) is MASTING. The word mast has been used since way back in the Middle Ages to refer to the acorns and seeds of forest trees that drop and accumulate on the ground. It comes from Old English, mæst. Essentially, masting is an ecological term referring to the highly variable and often synchronized periodic cycles of fruiting/seeding in the reproductive processes of trees (both forest and fruit trees).

How is it a strategy for circumventing the deleterious affects of pests? Well, the idea is that in some years, bumper crops of nuts and seeds are produced in order to satiate the predators, so some are left to germinate and continue new generations. In this particular case, you could think of it as the oak trees sacrificing some of their offspring to the weevil gods. When there are more acorns than there are adult female weevils, some of those acorns will escape the weevil drill and makeover into little bug nurseries.

In reality, this relationship is much more complicated. In some cases, acorns parasitized by only a few weevil larvae will germinate, while those acorns with many larvae will not. The trees’ bumper crops of seeds and nuts will also cycle with years of low production, where resources are scarce for the weevil (and other organisms). Nature is incredibly dynamic though. Studies show some species of weevils have adapted a counter mechanism to circumvent the trees’ strategy of masting. It’s called prolonged diapause. This means these weevils are able to sleep longer (more than one year) as they develop in order to synchronize adult emergence with years when the trees’ seed/nut production is high.

If you are interested in reading more about the history and MYSTERY of masting, I encourage you to delve into the literature I’ve listed in the references below. It’s quite fascinating – especially going back in history to the link between masting and pannage. Way more than I can cover here. Check it out.

References

Baldwin, M. 2021. Pigging out in the forest: the Common of Mast (Pannage) in Britain https://www.wildlifeonline.me.uk/blog/post/pigging-out-in-the-forest-the-common-of-mast-in-britain

Bugguide 2021. Curculio. https://bugguide.net/node/view/6682

Higaki M (2016) Prolonged diapause and seed predation by the acorn weevil, Curculio robustus, in relation to masting of the deciduous oak Quercus acutissima. Entomol Exp Appl 159:338–346. https://doi.org/10.1111/eea.12444

Jefferson, R. 2006. Why Are More Acorns Falling? Excessive Drops of Nuts from Oak Trees Is Part of Normal ‘Mast Year’ Phenomenon. Scientific Times. https://www.sciencetimes.com/articles/33795/20211006/why-more-acorns-falling-excessive-drops-nuts-oak-trees-part.htm and https://youtu.be/EQ748TZcuqs

Jesse, L. No date. The dark side of collecting acorns. Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. https://www.extension.iastate.edu/news/2007/sep/072107.htm

Koenig WD. 2021 A brief history of masting research. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 376: 20200423. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2020.0423 Koenig, W. D., & Knops, J. M. H. (2005). The Mystery of Masting in Trees: Some trees reproduce synchronously over large areas, with widespread ecological effects, but how and why? American Scientist93(4), 340–347. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27858609

Araneus diadematus, My Cross Orb Weaver friend named “Louisa.”

I first spotted this beauty on October 1, 2021 while I was taking a walk along our road on San Juan Island. There was a cluster of sun loving mullein (Verbascum thapsus) mixed with one or two thistles (probably Canada thistle) growing along the road. The glistening silk threads woven between them drew me over to investigate. There were several Cross Orb Weavers sharing the space here, but one of these was not like the other. The spider that caught my attention was quite a bit darker than the others. Describing it as brown just doesn’t do it justice. Brown sounds much too plain. She was a lovely brunette amongst a few redheads!

~ After you’re done reading, come back and check out this link to learn more about pigmentation in arachnids – https://www.bio.fsu.edu/~miller/Spider%20photos/spider_literature/color%20in%20spiders%20papers/Oxford_Gillespie_20xx.pdf

Since I often enjoy walking on our road on sunny days, I started looking for her when I passed her home – the Mullein “apartments.” It wasn’t just the spiders enjoying the sunny housing complex, but these units housed a few other species as well. I found some Stilt Bugs (Neoneides sp.) and some Pentatomidae hiding in the fuzzy star shaped trichomes (little hairs) of the Mullein leaves.

Now that autumn has ushered in falling leaves, falling temperatures, and a good bit of rain, I thought of my friend Louisa, the Orb Weaver out in the cold. Had she managed to find a sheltered spot to survive the recent storms? Several times over the past two weeks I’ve looked for her, but she was just gone. Since the lifespan for this species is only a year or less, I suspected she’d reached her end with our last dip in temperatures, gusty winds, and precipitation. I held out a tiny bit of hope though. Just a bit!

Today (November 6, 2021), my husband and I walked our road. It was sprinkling and the precipitation was cold. When we got down to the point on the road to turn around, shortening our walk to just the point where the old cabin used to be, I asked him to wait one second while I looked one more time at that patch of Mullein and the drying stand of thistles.

As I bent down to look closely, I saw a single strand of silk. Examining the attachment and following closely, it led me to Louisa. She was tucked under the dried nodding inflorescence of the thistle. Once a purply-pink sugar treat for pollinators, the now nodding blooms have been repurposed into a thatch roof to keep this little spider dry.

I’ve thought about relocating her so the county doesn’t mow her when they scalp the roadside vegetation. It is bound to happen at some point. For now, I’m going to leave her be, and just keep a close eye on her. Maybe I’ll make a sign! Be Nice to Spiders. ❤️ Louisa lives here!

Fun Fact! Did you know that 25% of the diet of Orb Weaver spiderlings is pollen? Check it out. Article linked in my list of sources below.

Araneus diadematus (Cross Orb Weaver) October 1, 2021 – San Juan Island, WA

Araneus diadematus (Cross Orb Weaver) October 1, 2021 – San Juan Island, WA

Araneus diadematus (Cross Orb Weaver) October 1, 2021 – San Juan Island, WA

Araneus diadematus (Cross Orb Weaver) October 13, 2021 – San Juan Island, WA
Araneus diadematus (Cross Orb Weaver) October 16, 2021 – San Juan Island, WA

This is “Louisa,” the Land Bank Orb Weaver Spider. She lives on a Mullein plant alongside the road. I’ve been watching her since October 1, 2021. Hoping she will not become a casualty of San Juan County’s pre-winter roadside mowing. She’s also an expecting mom!

This is “Louisa,” the Land Bank Orb Weaver Spider. She lives on a Mullein plant alongside the road. I’ve been watching her since October 1, 2021. Hoping she will not become a casualty of San Juan County’s pre-winter roadside mowing. She’s also an expecting mom!

Araneus diadematus (Cross Orb Weaver) November 6, 2021 – San Juan Island, WA
Araneus diadematus (Cross Orb Weaver) November 6, 2021 – San Juan Island, WA
Araneus diadematus (Cross Orb Weaver) November 6, 2021 – San Juan Island, WA

References and further Reading –

Eggs B, Sanders D (2013) Herbivory in Spiders: The Importance of Pollen for Orb-Weavers. PLoS ONE 8(11): e82637. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0082637

Gucker, Corey L. 2008. Verbascum thapsus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/forb/vertha/all.html [2021, November 6]. 

Horton DR, Lewis TM (2003) Numbers and types of arthropods overwintering on common mullein, Verbacsum thapsus L. (Scrophulariacae), in a central Washington fruit-growing region. Journal of the Entomology Society of British Columbia 100, 79–87.

Oxford, Geoff & Gillespie, Rosemary. (1998). Evolution and ecology of spider coloration. Annual review of entomology. 43. 619-43. 10.1146/annurev.ento.43.1.619.

Riaz, Muhammad, Zia-Ul-Haq, Muhammad and Jaafar, Hawa Z.E.Common mullein, pharmacological and chemical aspects. Revista Brasileira de Farmacognosia [online]. 2013, v. 23, n. 6 [Accessed 6 November 2021] , pp. 948-959. Available from: <https://doi.org/10.1590/S0102-695X2013000600012&gt;. ISSN 1981-528X. https://doi.org/10.1590/S0102-695X2013000600012.

Turker AU, Gurel E. Common mullein (Verbascum thapsus L.): recent advances in research. Phytother Res. 2005 Sep;19(9):733-9. doi: 10.1002/ptr.1653. PMID: 16222647. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ptr.1653

Nut Leaf Weevil

I found a’nutter weevil! They’ve been everywhere this week! Looks like this may be the Nut Leaf Weevil (Strophosoma melanogrammum). These weevils feed on the leaves of broad leafed shrubs. I saw it on a chunk of rotting alder. It was pretty small and tough to photograph in low light. Probably about 3.2 mm in size. San Juan Island, WA October 13, 2021.

Strophosoma melanogrammum 

Mystery Eggs Hatch

They hatched!

Well, I was wrong in my theory about these possibly being Nepytia phantasmaria or Phantom Hemlock Looper eggs, so my next steps will be to review all my moth photos from early September to try and thread out any other possibilities. That may take some time. Initial observation (date eggs laid) was Sept. 12, 2021. Today is Oct. 7, 2021. They are indeed pretty tiny and if you look closely, you can see the caterpillar body rolled up in the eggs that haven’t hatched. The tree is a Caucasian Fir (Abies nordmanniana).

eggs on Caucasian Fir, San Juan Island, WA 09.12.2021
eggs on Caucasian Fir, San Juan Island, WA 09.12.2021
Eggs darkening – September 18, 2021 San Juan Island
They hatched! Oct. 7, 2021

Mystery moth eggs hatch – October 7, 2021

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for further updates. I’ll do my best to figure out an ID for these. 🙂

The Teeny Tiny “Trashline Orb Weaver” – Yes, that’s really the name!

Trashline Orb Weaver (Cyclosa sp.) San Juan Island, WA 09.06.2021

I am very nearly blind when I try to see things up close, so it truly surprises me how I SEE things like the tiny “laundry” line of dead bugs this little orb weaver had strewn along a filmy thread between the boughs of our fir tree. At first, I thought it was just debris, stuck to the remnant of a spider thread, long abandoned. Upon closer inspection, I saw more threads and then my attention focused on the center, where I was able to discern what looked like teeny legs curled up around a body.

Trashline Orb Weaver

I used my clip on macro lens to get a better look. Indeed, there was a tiny spider in the center. I thought it was dead. That’s EXACTLY what the spider was hoping I’d think, and then I’d move on and the spider could enjoy the morning sun, and maybe a tiny bug for breakfast too.

Trashline Orb Weaver

Trashline Orb Weaver

I had a hard time getting decent photos. Even with the macro lens, focusing was tough. The wind would blow at just the WRONG second and I’d have to start all over again. I couldn’t find my tripod, but finally got a decent pole to help me balance, and went out to take photos at different times over a period of 2 days. I even went out last night and took a picture.

Awake or Sleeping? Trashline Orb Weaver (Cyclosa sp.) at night. San Juan Island 09.07.2021

It was fairly easy to identify the spider to Genus (Cyclosa), but species ???? . After going through the literature I had, I narrowed it to 2 possibilities, but reached out to Rod Crawford for help. Rod is the curator of arachnids at Seattle’s Burke Museum and this is what he says,

“Yes, it’s a Cyclosa. This time of year all Cyclosa are juvenile, and I for one cannot distinguish between our 2 species (C. conica, C. turbinata) as juveniles. However, C. conica is more common.”

So, my little spider with a laundry line of bugs is either Cyclosa conica or Cyclosa turbinata.

Why exactly do they string the debris along their web lines? Well, again, this debris is usually made up of dead bugs and other tiny bits of debris attached to the silk line. Typically, the spider is positioned somewhere in the middle, using the debris as camouflage against predators. Often, the female spiders’ egg sacks are attached to this “laundry line” too. I think laundry line sounds better than trash line, but I don’t think I get to rename the spider.

There are five species of Cyclosa spiders in North America, north of Mexico. I believe we only have the two mentioned by Rod here. I’m going back out to check on my new friend after I finish my post. Enjoy the day and remember to Be Nice to Spiders!

Thanks for reading.

References and Fun Reading

Eaton, E. 2012. Spider Sunday: Trashline Orb Weavers. Bug Eric Blogspot. http://bugeric.blogspot.com/2012/06/spider-sunday-trashline-orb-weavers.html

Bugguide.net. 2021. Genus Cyclosa – Trashline Orb Weavers. https://bugguide.net/node/view/1989

Trashline Orb Weavers. Missouri Department of Conservation. https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/trashline-orbweavers

Nicrophorus Burying Beetle Powerpoint – Grave to Cradle

The links here are for a project I worked on in grad school about Burying Beetles. I was having some trouble getting the code to share it on WordPress, so if you have trouble viewing, let me know. Powerpoint link is via OneDrive at https://1drv.ms/b/s!AnuXRWM_ynxHcba_40yxFvTJCgw?e=toCNNE but I also have it on Slideshare.net at https://www.slideshare.net/CyndiBormann/burying-beetles-powerpoint?qid=e930baf4-87e9-4553-a366-0044098db422&v=&b=&from_search=1

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

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