I’ve been home on San Juan Island, WA for 4 days now and clearly I picked up a bug traveling home. Not exactly the sort of bug I wanted, but it was inevitable given the crowded airplane and traveling stress. My husband came down with the BUG first. Then it hopped over to a new host – ME.
So, I’ve spent the afternoon on the couch labeling and sorting photos from one of our nature walks in Texas. This was the first of two hikes we took at the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area Nature Preserve https://www.llela.org/about-llela/mission-and-vision. This area (approximately 2000 acres, I believe) has been conserved in conjunction with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the University of North Texas, the City of Lewisville, Lewisville ISD, the University of Texas in Arlington, and Texas A & M Agrilife Extension. It is a true jewel in the madness of the DFW metropolis where over 6.7 million people are displacing wildlife and native ecosystems are lost in the process. The BEST part of these hikes for me is the fact they do not allow dogs. NOT ANY! I am thrilled that the focus is on wildlife and habitat conservation and preservation instead of human recreation. I could actually be outdoors, enjoying nature AND viewing wildlife.
We’ve been to this preserve in prior trips to Texas. This year, we focused on hiking some trails we hadn’t been on before. Here is the gallery of some of the bugs I photographed, along with a few wonderful landscape scenes we viewed on the Redbud Trail – map here: https://www.llela.org/home/showdocument?id=9417
Please support environmental conservation wherever you are. This habitat may seem large at 2000 acres, but the former Blackland Prairie once covered 12 MILLION acres in the state of Texas. We need to set aside more if we are to weather the changes coming ahead.
Stay tuned for Bugging You From Texas, Part 3. I have more wonderful photos to share with you.
I sat outside today in the sunshine, forced convalescence if you will, exhausted and achey after getting my Covid Omicron Variant booster vaccine yesterday at the San Juan County Fairgrounds. My outdoor time was unfortunately cut short because we have been inundated with construction development noise. I’m fairly certain I will be forever challenged to have an amiable relationship with our newest neighbors. In part, because they sited their VACATION home, right in front of our view. Mind you, they could have moved over 100 feet and we would not have to look across the top of our driveway at their newly constructed 2nd home. It has definitely impacted us. We’ve lost a lot of our privacy out here in the woods. It was never my desire to have close neighbors. I am a bit of a recluse….which is what the new neighbor said about his wife, yet, it begs me to ask again, WHY DID YOU BUILD YOUR HOUSE RIGHT ON TOP OF US?
Oh, and the jackhammering! That noise is enough to make a person homicidal. We had an entire summer of jackhammering from the former owners of that property. Really, truly, that property should never have been zoned for development. Not any development. It’s partly (half) wetland, and the other half is bedrock. Imagine the task of trying to excavate enough to bury your septic lines down the hill when you have solid bedrock! Also, our house is on that same shelf of bedrock, so the hammering shakes the walls and vibrates the floors of our home in the process of all this construction. The development on this lot has gone on for multiple years. I’m really tired of the disruption.
I digress. Sorry, I just had to vent. San Juan Island would be a much friendlier place for wildlife and bugs and such if we didn’t allow anyone to build a 2nd, or 3rd home here. We are outgrowing our space and it isn’t pretty.
Here’s my bug of the day. This beauty is a Western Calligrapher Fly (Toxomerus occidentalis). I was mesmerized watching it rest on the mint leaf. The patterning on the dorsal side of the abdomen reminds me of some sort of totem design.
The adults of this fly species are pollinators. They lay eggs on plants near aphids and when larvae emerge they are predatory on the aphids. It is believed that late instar larvae overwinter, pupation takes place in the soil cavities in the spring and adults emerge later in summer. The name for this group of flies comes from Greek toxon ‘bow’ + meron ‘thigh’ (refers to the bow-shaped hind femur). You can see the curve in the first photo below, circled in red. Something else interesting pertaining to the adult coloration I found on bugguide.net: “Colors vary with overall temperature during pupation: if it was hot, the yellow/orange increases and the background becomes lighter, but if it was cold, the dark/black increases and the yellow/orange becomes darker like the background.”
Enjoy the last few days of sunshine and embrace our native pollinators. We are heading into the dark part of the year. For those of us who live here year round, you know what to expect. Lots and lots of rain.
Here’s my “Bug of the day” (for Saturday, October 15, 2022). I spied it on our wood table outside. It’s a Diurnal Firefly in the genus Ellychnia. The Latin name, Ellychnia, comes from Greek, lychnos, translating into ‘lamp’ or ‘lamp wick.’ Obviously, lamps are something associated with the nighttime or darkness. However, the common name of this genus, diurnal, means “day.” It’s only a bit confusing, right? Also, this is a beetle in the family Lampyridae and not a fly at all. The adults of this genus don’t light up at night or in the day either. However, they are closely related to the fireflies that DO light up, or luminesce, at night found on the East Coast. Since this genus, the Ellychnia, don’t have nighttime blinkers, they find their mates by detecting each other’s pheromones. Lloyd (2002), notes however that all species of Lampyrid beetle larvae have an organ at the end of their abdominal segment 8 that bioluminesces. I’ve never found an Ellychnia larva myself, but these are referred to colloquially as “glow worms.”
In our area, the genus Ellychnia are also known as winter fireflies. This is because they spend the winter as adults, and are equipped to tolerate cold temperatures. You might even see them on days when we have snow. Larvae of this beetle genus hatch in early summer and live in leaf litter or under bark in decaying trees. They are carnivorous predators of organisms like snails, slugs, earthworms, and soft-bodied insects.
Do we have any blinking species of fireflies in the PNW? That’s an interesting question. I found some literature that says we do, but I’m not certain this applies to the San Juan Islands, although a few sparse (and unsubstantiated) records from Vancouver Island, BC exist. However, western records for flashing fireflies are known from interior B.C. (Cannings et al., 2010) and throughout the western U.S. as reported by Larry Buschman (2016).
While fireflies that flash or bioluminesce are well known on the eastern side of the U.S. and North America, it is not exactly known how they moved all the way over to the western side. There is an interesting commentary in the paper by Cannings et al. 2010, with the thought that perhaps at least one of the species of flashing fireflies reported in B.C., (Photinus obscurellus), may have arrived via the railways.
Because luminescing fireflies are associated with wetlands, it would have been difficult for them to have crossed over the dry Rocky Mountain system without help. Cannings et al. (2010) report sightings across B.C. in association with railways, in fact, with most of these sightings falling within a 30 km distance from a railway. The thought is that even going across the mountains in drier areas, most railways wound through low lying valleys where the topography is more likely to cross through wetlands. Even the presence of railroad berms can create areas of new wetland habitat which may also have attributed to the westward distribution of these fireflies.
Sadly, we have, and continue to degrade, pollute, drain, and lose wetlands in our continued (horrific) adherence to the destructive and entitled ideology of Manifest Destiny. Development, ranching, hobby farms, and suburban sprawl have eliminated more than 50% of wetlands that previously existed in North America (Fallon et al., 2021). The remainder have been seriously impacted by chemical pollutants, light pollution, and overall climate change, contributing to further declines to remaining populations. We may lose all of the species of these iconic and charismatic summertime blinking lanterns without taking special steps to conserve and protect their habitat. We will have no one to blame but ourselves either.
Please support environmental conservation and protection in your community – wherever you live. It is important to reduce our human footprint in order to preserve the natural world, its beauty, and our life support system to perpetuate for future generations.
How can you help? Live minimally. Turn off outdoor lights at night. Plant native vegetation. Switch to use of non-toxic household products. Don’t use lawn fertilizers or chemicals. Better yet, get rid of your lawn and landscape with native plants. Eat less meat. It all adds up. 💡
Cannings, Robert & Branham, Marc & McVickar, R.H. 2010. The fireflies (Coleoptera: Lampyridae) of British Columbia, with special emphasis on the light-flashing species and their distribution, status and biology. Journal of the Entomological Society of British Columbia. 107. 33-41.
Fallon CE, Walker AC, Lewis S, Cicero J, Faust L, Heckscher CM, et al. 2021. Evaluating firefly extinction risk: Initial red list assessments for North America. PLoS ONE 16(11): e0259379. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0259379
Fender, K.M. 1970. Ellychnia of western North America. (Coleoptera-Lampyridae). Northwest Science 44: 31-43.
Lloyd, J.E. 2002. Lampyridae Latreille 1817. Pp 187-196 in R.H. Arnett, Jr., M.C. Thomas, P.E. Skelly and. J.H. Frank (Eds.). American Beetles. Volume 2.
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.
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.
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).
Bentley, B. L. (1977). Extrafloral nectaries and protection by pugnacious bodyguards. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 8(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
Villamil, N., Boege, K., & Stone, G. N. (2019). Testing the Distraction Hypothesis: Do extrafloral nectaries reduce ant-pollinator conflict?. The Journal of ecology, 107(3), 1377–1391. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2745.13135
Yesterday I was the lifeguard. And, I had swimmers needing saving!
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.”
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.
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
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
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.
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!
Keep reading. It really is amazing.
A female weevil will make a hole in the acorn so she can put her eggs inside it!
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.
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.
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
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 Scientist, 93(4), 340–347. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27858609
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.
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!
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. “
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