Tag Archives: insect

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

Is He Stuck or Just Sleeping?

I found this tiny bee who looked to be stuck to a thorn on my Bois D’Arc tree this afternoon. At first glance, I thought perhaps a March fly, and a dead one at that, but it turned out this is a most likely a “he” Nomad bee, and he wasn’t stuck at all, but just sleeping.

Nomad Bee – Stuck or Just Sleeping (March 26, 2022)

I learned something new today about bees that I did not know. My friend, Eric Eaton’s wife (link to Eric’s book about wasps in my Read More section) , shared with me that some bees will often sleep in this manner, attached to a substrate like this thorn or a twig, by their mandibles. Thanks Heidi! 🙂

Nomad Bee – Stuck or Just Sleeping (March 26, 2022)

Nomad Bee – Stuck or Just Sleeping (March 26, 2022)
Nomad Bee (March 26, 2022)

My bee was definitely gripping the end of the thorn with its mandibles. Before I found out my bee was only napping, I wasn’t certain what was going on. I worried maybe the bee had fallen victim to some weird fungus and was now locked in a death vise. Worries unfounded! The little bee released his grip as I was about to clip the end of the twig (with bee attached) and take it into the house to view under the microscope.

Nomad bees are pretty cool. They are cuckoo bees, cleptoparasites of other bees (usually Andrena bees or Melitta bees) and target the nest provisions gathered by the host bees for their own young. Nomad bees will find the nests of host bees using olfactory and visual cues. The fertilized female will lay her eggs in these nests, where her offspring will develop after devouring the offspring of the host bee, and eating the food the host parent had provisioned.

Nomad Bee (March 26, 2022)

Check out the video footage of this little bee as he woke up this afternoon and read more about Nomad bees in the attached links in my Read More section.

Read More About Nomad Bees Here

  1. Bugguide.net – Nomada https://bugguide.net/node/view/5211
  2. Alexander, B. A. 1994. Species-groups and cladistic analysis of the cleptoparasitic bee genus Nomada (Hymenoptera: Apoidea). University of Kansas Science Bulletin 55: 175-238. (Full Text)
  3. Eaton, Eric. 2021. Wasps: The Astonishing Diversity of a Misunderstood Insect. Princeton University Press. https://press.princeton.edu/books/hardcover/9780691211428/wasps
  4. Rankin, C. 2021. Introducing the Nomad Bees. Natural History Society of Northumbria. https://www.nhsn.org.uk/nomad-bees/

Thanks for reading!

Cynthia Brast is an independent entomologist living on San Juan Island. Check out her YouTube Channel, Bugging You From San Juan Island to see more amazing 6 and 8-legged creatures found in the San Juans. https://www.youtube.com/user/buggingyoufromsji/featured

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 

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

Enchoria lacteata

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Enchoria lacteata

Enchoria lacteata (Packard) is a relatively small moth with forewings measuring only 0.9-1.1 cm in length.    Adults have a remarkable zig-zag pattern on forewings made up of various shades of brown and buff.  They are diurnal (daytime) fliers and emerge from late February to May.  Sightings are often in grassy areas or edges of moist woodlands.  Larval host plants are various species of miner’s lettuce, Claytonia (Portulacaceae).  Check out the following link for more information on miner’s lettuce.  It’s edible! https://www.ediblewildfood.com/miners-lettuce.aspx

Enchoria lacteata

Enchoria lacteata crawling onto my pruning tool.

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Enchoria lacteata between my work glove and pruning tool

 

References:

POWELL, JERRY A., and PAUL A. OPLER. Moths of Western North America. 1st ed., University of California Press, 2009.

https://bugguide.net/node/view/46115

http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=7403

 

Itchy-Scratchy!

Just in time for Halloween!  Yesterday I was using the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) at Friday Harbor Marine Labs.  I got to take some really cool photos but in order to use the SEM, your specimen has to be dried out.  Well, I had some specimens that are really tiny and very delicate and they weren’t dried out because it is a complicated process that takes a certain chemical called Hexamethyldisilazane (HMDS).  Also, drying out your specimen for viewing under the SEM renders it useless for viewing under a light microscope and you’ve lost the ability to preserve it in a collection.

So I’m going to share how I took images of some of my specimens at home with a pretty old compound microscope, an iPhone, and a clip-on macro lens from Amazon.   First, I’ll tell you a bit about the compound microscope image posted here.  This specimen is in the genus Damalinia, most likely the exotic chewing louse, Damalinia (Cervicola).

IMG_7536

Chewing louse Damalinia spp

It lives on black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) in Washington, Oregon and California, and has been indicated in what is called HLS (Hair-loss syndrome).  They build up in large numbers on deer at certain times of the year.  One factor thought to contribute to this is lack of adequate nutrition in the deers’ diet, particularly an absence or deficiency of Selenium.

In a nutshell, these lice can reproduce at high numbers in vulnerable deer (typically old, young, and those with weakened immune systems due to nutritional deficiencies or internal parasites).  The lice cause extreme itching, irritation, and hair loss.  The deer respond to the itchiness by excessive licking and grooming.   Why hair loss? Well, these lice are called “chewing lice” because they munch on hair, skin fragments and secretions, and in some cases will feed on blood from skin wounded from scratching.  It’s a miserable condition to have.  This is what a deer looks like that is suffering from HLS caused by the chewing lice.

hairloss

Photo by Brian Murray  https://www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/health_program/hairloss/index.asp

Here is a larger version of my photo.  It’s not as clear as I’d like, but I’m certainly going to practice to improve. Happy Halloween and I hope you don’t spend the night scrrraatching in bed!

IMG_7537

Chewing louse Damalinia spp.

Further reading and references:

Protocol for drying insects with HDMS: https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/plant/ppd/entomology/HMDS.html

Link to Amazon clip on iPhone lens set ~

Robinson, J. (2007). Transmission of the chewing louse, Damalinia (Cervicola) sp., from Columbian black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) to Rocky Mountain mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus hemionus) and its role in deer hair-loss syndrome. Masters Thesis. Oregon State University. https://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/1v53k0068?locale=en

Roug, A., Swift, P., Puschner, B., Gerstenberg, G., Mertins, JW, Johnson, CK, et al. (2016). Exotic pediculosis and hair-loss syndrome in deer (Odocoileus hemionus) populations in California. Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation, 28(4), 399-407. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1040638716647154

Maude, R. J., Koh, G. C., & Silamut, K. (2008). Taking photographs with a microscope. The American journal of tropical medicine and hygiene, 79(3), 471-2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2843439/

Smartphone Microscopy by Annie Morrison.  Youtube.

 

 

 

 

 

Scanning Electron Images of a Cerambycid Beetle

Yesterday I had the extreme good fortune to be able to use the scanning electron microscope (SEM) at University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Labs (San Juan Island).  We put a Cerambycid beetle under the SEM and “WOW,” the photos were phenomenal!  Here’s a few for you to see.  Below is a photo of the beetle’s compound eye.  Just think of all the information each of those facets receives and processes.

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Cerambycid beetle compound eye, imaged under scanning electron microscope at Friday Harbor Labs, San Juan Island, WA

Next, you see an image of the beetle head.  It shows the antennal insertion points, the compound eyes, frons, clypeus, labrum, mandibles, and bristly setae.

IMG_7526

SEM anterior, dorsal view of cerambycid head.

If you’re interested in learning more about the morphological features, here’s a pretty good diagram below for reference.

morph12

image from http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~legneref/biotact/bc-51b.htm

The last image for you is of the beetle’s tarsi (the foot).  This is an important identification feature for many insects.  Imagine that!  When I was working on my masters degree from the University of Florida, I had an amazing taxonomy professor who was an expert on Coleoptera (the beetles).   He created identification keys for Florida beetles and you can take a look at them here:  http://www.entnemdept.ufl.edu/choate/beetles.pdf IMG_7525.JPGWell, I’m looking forward to using the SEM again and my next imaging will hopefully include the sponging mouthparts of a fly.   Stay tuned!

Revenge of the Mantids

clip mantis Check out my story about praying mantids on San Juan Island!  They’ve been a victim of hyper-sensationalism.  Seriously.  Read my article before you squish one.

https://sanjuanislander.com/news-articles/environment-science-whales/environment/28146/revenge-of-the-mantids

Merlin.mantid

Let me know if you have questions about these or other insects you come across!  I’m always interested and do my best to answer emails.  Thanks!

 

Lophocampa roseata (Rosy aemilia)

I spent a good part of the day combing through my insect photos from the past 9 years. There are thousands. Finally, I found the ones I was searching for. I credit Victoria Compton on San Juan Island, WA  for helping me out on this one. She sent a photo the other day to my email with a caterpillar and had suggested an ID. Not only was she correct, but in ID’ing the caterpillar, it enabled me to match up one of my adult moth photos that had been sitting around nameless since 2016. The photos I found today were of the same caterpillar that had been a mystery to me since 2013. It’s a nice “aha” moment when you connect the dots! Below are the pics for you to see.

Lophocampa.roseata.July10,2016IMG_3310

Lophocampa roseata Photographed July 10, 2016 San Juan Island, WA


Photo0092

Lophocampa roseata larva Photographed October 6, 2013 San Juan Island, WA

This is a Tiger moth in the family Erebidae, subfamily Arctiinae. The scientific name is Lophocampa roseata (also known as the Rosy aemilia). It was first described by Francis Walker in 1868.  They are found in Western Oregon and Washington as well as in Southwestern B.C. and are associated with habitats of conifer forests and maple trees. The sources I checked list them as somewhat rare and Natureserve lists them as “critically imperiled.” So, I guess we have another beautiful Lepidoptera on San Juan Island to care for along with the Marble Butterfly!

***Critically imperiled Tiger Moth. Please post/email photos if you live in San Juan County, WA and come across one in the adult or larval stage.  Thanks! 

Photo0091

Lophocampa roseata larva Photographed October 6, 2013 by Cynthia Brast San Juan Island, WA


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Lophocampa roseata larva Photographed September 26, 2018by Victoria Compton San Juan Island, WA 

Helpful links:

http://explorer.natureserve.org/servlet/NatureServe?searchName=Lophocampa+roseata

https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/224121-Lophocampa-roseata

https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Lophocampa-roseata

https://bugguide.net/node/view/247272

Lophocampa roseata larva
October 27, 2019
Three Corner Lake Road
Lophocampa roseata pupal case
Pupated 10-29-19

Lophocampa roseata larva
Found wandering in search of pupation site – October 27, 2019
San Juan Island, WA
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