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! 🦌
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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!
I really enjoy the days when I have an opportunity to go over insect images I’ve taken, but haven’t yet had the chance to identify. This small (approx 7-8mm), metallic beetle is a leaf beetle in the family Chrysomelidae. It’s a Long-horned Leaf Beetle (Plateumaris germari). They are associated with aquatic habitats and this specimen was found near a wetland habitat on San Juan Island, WA., May 12, 2015. Yes. I’m slow at getting around to sorting things, but was happy to share this one today.
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.
I found this specimen ready to hitch a ride on the car window when I was leaving a dinner on Sunday evening, August 25, 2019. Time of sighting was 7:32 pm. It managed to stay on the window glass as we pulled out of the driveway, but blew off as we began our drive home.
This is a Brownlined Looper moth, Neoalcis californica in the family Geometridae and is the single species in its genus in North America. Its distribution ranges from Southern California to British Columbia. Adults can be found flying between March and October in the Pacific Northwest, but has been documented flying as late as December in California. Larvae of this species feed mostly on conifers, including Douglas-Fir, Western Hemlock, Western Red Cedar, Grand Fir, Lodgepole Pine (Canadian Forest Service) as well as many broadleaf trees and shrubs (USGS).
First described by American Entomologist, Alphaeus Spring Packard in 1871, this rather nondescript moth was initially named Boarmiacaliforniaria. A description by Packard is found in the Proceedings of the Boston Society of Natural History. Volume 13 https://archive.org/details/proceedingsbost07histgoog/page/n39 or view description attached below.
I found this on the kitchen floor the other morning (August 20, 2019). It looked like a piece of tree bark had been tracked in. When I reached down to pick it up, I realized it was some sort of moth and one I’d not seen before.
After taking photos of it (it was expired when I found it), I thumbed through my reference books, trying to see if I could identify it. After about an hour of skimming literature and photos, I finally grew frustrated and emailed Merrill Peterson at Western WA University to see if he’d seen it before.
That afternoon, I did indeed hear back from Merrill. He’s fantastic about responding and said he had to reach out to someone he knew, but finally got an answer for me.
Here’s what Merrill said, “It’s a strange Hypena decorata, like this one. I had to get some help to figure it out!” I was glad Merrill helped solve the mystery and now I can share what I found out about this moth.
Hypena decorata is in the family Eribidae, within the superfamily Noctuoidea, the (Owlet Moths and kin). Hypena is Greek for “beard.” When you look at the fuzzy, long labial palms that project to form the moth’s snout, it does indeed look a bit like a beard.
According to the Bugguide reference, Lafontaine & Schmidt (2010) list 29 species of the genus Hypena in America north of Mexico. The moth is relatively rare to uncommon West of the Cascades, but found in southwestern British Columbia and western Oregon and Washington. Distribution records also show the species ranges to Southern California. Larvae are food plant specialists, feeding on nettles (Urtica spp.).
The sun is out today! We’ve had almost a whole month of gloomy weather that many on the island have dubbed the month “June-u-ary!” Perhaps the next few weeks will be warmer and the overcast skies will clear.
Last week when I checked my hive, I noticed I had the dreaded varroa mites. My new queen is doing fine though and the bees have cleared out all of the old drone brood that was the result of my first queen. I have no idea what became of her, but the operation in place now looks healthy…except for those mites!
My day today is a full one. I have been baking and preparing food for my daughter’s high school graduation potluck supper this evening. While in the kitchen though, I thought I’d take care of some bee hive tasks as well. Since the jar of sugar syrup I have inside the hive was looking low, I made up a new batch. This one I made with a teaspoon of Honey B Healthy, a feeding stimulant that contains essential oils that “helps your hives to thrive!” Did I mention that the lemongrass oil in it made my kitchen smell ten times better than the brownies I was baking? No wonder my friend and bee mentor, Colleen, who recommended it, said that it makes the bees go crazy. This stuff smells so good I’d take a bath in it if I could! Maybe I’m turning into a bee? They say you end up looking like your pets. I suppose I might look like a bee when I get my new glasses!
I also got something called Hopguard from Colleen as well. Hopguard is a miticide made from organic acids in the hop plant, Humulus lupulus. It contains 16% potassium salt of hop beta acids and comes in these long gooey strips that are made from food-grade products. It is safe for my bees and the bee brood, so I don’t have to worry about dangerous chemicals. All you do is take a sticky strip and hang it over one of your frames draped like this:
I only hung one strip in my hive since I only have about 5 frames that have been drawn out. I plan to put in a new strip in about ten days, as the one I put in today won’t work as well as it dries out. You can read more and watch a video about controlling varroa mites with Hopguard when you visit these sites:
I also put a sheet of sticky paper under the screen in my bottom board. The mites will fall off the bees and stick to the paper. It has a grid that makes it easier to count the number of mites, so I can see how heavily infested my bees are as well as an idea of how well the Hopguard strips are working. I will try a quick check perhaps tomorrow and then again before I put in a new strip.