Tag Archives: entomology

Radar Love

Hello Everyone!  Meet my new bug friend, Radar Love ❤️  He must have crashed the wrong party.  Radar gone wrong!  I found him floating in our pool, in the midst of those raucous “dippers” (the Diplotaxis beetles).  Radar Love was so happy I didn’t let him drown, and even happier that I didn’t stick him with a pin and add him to the bug equivalent of a stamp collection.  We hung out together for a bit and I took some photos and video to remember him by.  Radar Love was released into the forest so he can make more of his kind.  

Odonteus obesus
Odonteus obesus

Odonteus obesus
Odonteus obesus
Odonteus obesus

Location:  San Juan Island

ID: Geotruipidae (Odonteus obsesus)

Special thanks to my friend, Michelle Sloan Bos and Tyler Hedlund for ID assistance with this.  I was rushing to get ready for my special spider outing.  More about that later.  For now, enjoy this rare and exciting  sighting of a most special little beetle that calls San Juan Island his home.  

More Info: https://bugguide.net/node/view/160586

Odonteus obesus

What are extrafloral nectaries?

Ants (Lasius sp.) on Big Leaf Maple Extra-Floral Nectary – May 17, 2022, San Juan Island, WA

When you study insects, or even birds for that matter, you start to understand you have to get to know plants a bit too.  It’s all connected.  

Plants (including trees and shrubs) provide food and shelter for many different species of animals.  Admittedly, I just don’t know a lot about the parts of plants, beyond things like a tree trunk, bark, limbs, branches, leaves, or stems or flowers, nuts, fruit.  The obvious parts.  

There are some not so obvious parts.  Like these extrafloral nectaries.  Huh? Sounds weird.  Keep reading. 

Extrafloral nectaries (EFN’s) are glands occurring on more than 2000 plant species in 64 families.  Extrafloral literally means outside of the flower. When we think of nectar, we usually think of little bees and hummingbirds flying around, visiting pretty flowers to sip nectar and in the process, pollinate all of our plants.  It’s just that plants are a bit more complex.  These glands are located in various places on plants (including trees and shrubs), and may be found on the laminae of leaves, petioles, rachids, bracts, stipules, pedices, fruit, etc.  (Mizell, 2019).  

These glandular secretions are a fascinating part of how plants attract and sustain a diverse, ecological community, providing sustenance for a multitude of species, including both pests and predators.  You can find ants, aphids, beetles (including ladybugs), bees, wasps, and possibly even birds utilizing this excretory faucet to sip what consists of mostly carbohydrate-rich sugar, but also comprised of a wide array of amino acids and other nutrients.  

Why are these important? Well, scientists are still trying to fully understand all of the diverse relationships around extra-floral nectaries. It is thought perhaps, beyond attracting organisms to a food source, they play a role in orchestrating a plant’s defense strategy against predators. They also are believed to provide a source of food and/or beneficial nutrients for various organisms during the off-season – when flowering and pollen sources are not available. They may also reduce conflict between ants and other pollinators by partitioning resources (Villamil & Stone, 2019).

Lasius sp. Ants at Extra-floral nectaries on Big Leaf Maple, 05.17.2022, San Juan Island, WA

Ant and aphid hanging out on extrafloral nectaries on Cherry Tree, San Juan Island, 05.17.2022

References

Bentley, B. L. (1977). Extrafloral nectaries and protection by pugnacious bodyguards. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics8(1), 407-427.

Holopainen JK, Blande JD, Sorvari J. Functional Role of Extrafloral Nectar in Boreal Forest Ecosystems under Climate Change. Forests. 2020; 11(1):67. https://doi.org/10.3390/f11010067

Mizell, R. 2019. MANY PLANTS HAVE EXTRAFLORAL NECTARIES HELPFUL TO BENEFICIALS.  UF IFAS Extension Bulletin. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/IN175

Villamil, N., Boege, K., & Stone, G. N. (2019). Testing the Distraction Hypothesis: Do extrafloral nectaries reduce ant-pollinator conflict?. The Journal of ecology107(3), 1377–1391. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2745.13135

No Clowning Around in the Pool Without a Life Jacket.

Yesterday I was the lifeguard. And, I had swimmers needing saving!

Hister Beetle (Genus Margarinotus I believe) – April 7, 2022 San Juan Island, WA

Here’s one of the species I used a piece of cardboard to rescue from drowning. This is a beetle in the family Histeridae, also known as a Clown Beetle. I told him no more clowning around without a life jacket. 🤣 Watch as it wrings its hindwings out, rolling them in under the leathery elytra (the outer wings).

I believe this beetle is in the genus Margarinotus. For ID beyond this, I’d need more time and a lot of patience. However, I can tell you I’ve learned some species of Hister beetles are associated with the nests of rodents, birds, and even ants and termites. They are pest predators, meaning they eat other insects at all life stages. They also are especially adept predators of fly eggs. You can often find them in leaf litter, dung, carrion, and under tree bark, or living in those ant mounds where they may be fed by ants, eat the leftovers the ants discard, or in some cases, they eat the ants!

Some other curious tidbits about these beetles include their acting ability. They play dead (Thanatosis) to deter predators. The word Hister is derived from Latin and means “Actor.”

Hister Beetle (I believe Margarinotus sp) – San Juan Island, WA

References:

Caterino, M. S. (2010). A review of California Margarinotus Marseul (Coleoptera: Histeridae: Histerinae: Histerini), with descriptions of two new species. The Coleopterists Bulletin64(1), 1-12. https://bioone.org/journals/The-Coleopterists-Bulletin/volume-64/issue-1/0010-065X-64.1.1/A-Review-of-California-Margarinotus-Marseul-Coleoptera–Histeridae/10.1649/0010-065X-64.1.1.pdf?casa_token=FFQE6VfrPhwAAAAA:6hS4kWWWX-lGeUPQFiU-7Dc2atg_nhsgP0almrxzvWjgwhxDLMShzekiAS7HWEKT5_AL2n4i

Wenzel, R. L. (1960). Three new histerid beetles from the Pacific Northwest, with records and synonymies of additional species (Coleoptera: Histeridae). https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/2847194

Dolerus sp. Sawfly

I found another species of Sawfly in our above ground pool today. This one is entirely black. Size is approximately 7-8mm. This looks to be in the genus Dolerus. From what I’ve found about host plants, it looks like the larvae feed on most grasses and horsetail. Females deposit eggs into the plant tissue where they hatch and the larvae will feed for approximately one month before exiting and pupating overwinter in the surrounding soil. There is one generation (univoltine) per year and adults emerge in early spring. Adults are recorded as feeding on tree sap from Maple (Acer), Apple (Malus), and Pear (Pyrus). They also take nectar from Willow (Salix) flowers, and from Cherry and Plum (Prunus) flowers. This means they do provide some pollination activity.

Looks like WWU Biology Department is working on a web page for Sawfly identification, but it’s not up and running yet. You can find their link below and bookmark it to check out at a later date.

Dolerus sp. Sawfly
Dolerus sp. Sawfly – San Juan Island, WA 03.29.2022
Dolerus Sawfly – Specimen #2

References and Further Reading

Baine Q, Looney C (2019) Plant associations for three sawfly species (Hymenoptera, Tenthredinidae) in the Pacific Northwest. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 74: 27–33. https://doi.org/10.3897/jhr.74.46795

bugguide.net https://bugguide.net/node/view/13561

Looney C, Smith DR, Collman SJ, Langor DW, Peterson MA (2016) Sawflies (Hymenoptera, Symphyta) newly recorded from Washington State. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 49: 129–159. doi: 10.3897/JHR.49.7104

Sawfly GenUS https://idtools.org/id/sawfly/factsheet.php?name=17498

WWU Biology PNW Sawflies http://pnwsawflies.biol.wwu.edu/accounts/login/

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

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 

“Spider Bites Woman’s Lip”

The headline, Spider Bites Woman’s Lip popped out in my news feed yesterday. As an entomologist, these bizarre reports are click bait for me. I bit. As I read through the linked piece, my first thought was, “Yes!” Someone was definitely hallucinating!”

My other knee jerk conclusion is we have doctors who have absolutely no diagnostic skills whatsoever. In reconsidering, he may not be the one at fault though, or at least not entirely. In fact, it would be interesting to hear the physician’s side of this story. Did he definitively state it was a Brown Recluse Bite? Or, did he suggest it “might be?” Are the patient and the Newsweek reporter the ones guilty of the hyperbole here?

It’s got to be fantastic to be featured in Newsweek, right? Please note my sarcasm! The media is a huge problem when it comes to sensationalizing stories and egging on the screaming fear folks have around spiders. You’re welcome to take a look at this story yourself, but please come back because I’m gonna tell you what’s wrong with it!

https://www.newsweek.com/spider-bite-womans-lip-brown-recluse-hospitalized-hallucinate-virginia-kayaking-1636005

First off, there is NO spider. No one collected a spider. No one brought a spider to the doctor to ID. Even if there had been an actual spider, since when have physicians become expert taxonomists and actually have the skills to identify arachnids or insects. Strangely, the story reports the woman didn’t even think much about the bite when it happened. Her words. Not mine. I really wonder about this mystery “spider.”

Secondly, the bite occurred, I presume, when she was paddling her kayak through a waterway. Brown Recluse spiders don’t make webs in the air, and certainly not over the water like that. Of course, I suppose it is possible for a spider to have been in the kayak, crawled up her legs and torso, and then crawled all the way up to her face where it bit her on the lip. You’d think she would have seen it. Also, Brown Recluse spiders like to live with other Brown Recluse spiders, so it’s difficult to imagine not finding a spider somewhere in the kayak to bring to the doctor.

Third. Lots of things can cause spider bite-looking lesions. I’m surprised the doctor declared it a Brown Recluse bite. There is no test to diagnose that someone has been bitten by a Brown Recluse. Again, no spider was brought in, so why was this deemed a spider bite when it could have been numerous other things? For instance, UC Riverside’s Department of Entomology webpage about Brown Recluse Spiders states,

The following can cause lesions similar to the lesion from a bite of a Brown Recluse spider …mites, bedbugs, a secondary Staphylococcus or Streptococcus bacterial infection and “Three different tick-inflicted maladies have been misdiagnosed as brown recluse bite: Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and the bite of the soft tick, Ornithodoros coriaceus. “

If you want to read more about this, you can check it out here – https://spiders.ucr.edu For a complete list of look-a-like medical conditions, I’ll refer you to this chart https://spiders.ucr.edu/causes-necrotic-wounds-other-brs-bites And, I’ll add my own too, “Various species of bees, wasps, and even thrips can cause lesions that appear to be the feared spider bite.” https://buggingyoufromsanjuanisland.com/category/thrips/

What about her hallucinations? My first thought was she has had an outbreak of a herpes lesion and could have developed herpes simplex encephalitis. Please DO look this up! I did. It’s one of the side effects of getting a nasty cold sore. https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/encephalitis-herpes-simplex/

Now, I’m not a doctor. I didn’t take this woman’s medical history. I’m just pointing out some OTHER possibilities. Possibilities that are actually much more likely than the sensationalized over-reaching claim it was a Brown Recluse spider. Hmmmm… Hysteria and hyperbole. I hope she recovers, and I hope she will be able to kayak again soon. I just wish there was a way to stop the inevitable slaughter of innocent spiders that will ensue. It’s a shame.

***Note*** We do NOT have Brown Recluse Spiders in the San Juan Islands. Please take a look at the attached distribution map and show it to anyone who tries to convince you otherwise. https://spiders.ucr.edu/spiders-map

Thanks for reading!

References:

A complete list of publications about the Brown Recluse Spider (Loxosceles reclusa) can be found here: https://spiders.ucr.edu/publications

https://www.amazon.com/Brown-Recluse-Spider-Richard-Vetter/dp/0801479851

https://bugguide.net/node/view/3349

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

Blister Beetles

Meloe strigulosus
Ventral view
San Juan Island, WA 11/2/2019

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.

Meloe strigulosus
San Juan Island, WA
11/2/2019

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.

Meloe strigulosus (male)
San Juan Island, WA
11/2/2019

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.

antennal segmentation of male Meloe strigulosus
San Juan Island, WA
11/2/2019

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.

Thanks for reading!

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