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! 🦌
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.
This little creature was photographed on February 28, 2020 by Trever Santora on San Juan Island, WA.
It’s a Pseudoscorpion! Found on the windowsill of his house and no larger than a tiny sesame seed, I believe it to be an immature House Pseudoscorpion (Cheliferidae cancroides).
Keep an eye out for these. They’re quite harmless to humans and can’t sting or bite you. Pseudoscorpions are predacious and beneficial because they eat other organisms that are pests. Some live in birds’ nests and eat the mites that can build up and harm nestlings.
Since they don’t have wings and can’t fly, pseudoscorpions move around by phoresy. That means they’ll hitch a ride on someone who can! Not just birds, but bees, wasps, and flies can also provide a free lift.
Here’s another spider for you. I photographed this one yesterday, February 22, 2019, on the dirt road near my home on San Juan Island, WA. There were two of them, but in the past, I’ve seen up to twenty crawling around (and they move extremely fast) in this (usually sunny) spot. My ID attempt here is that it’s some type of wolf spider. Size is approximately 3-4mm. The photos were taken with a macro clip on lens for iPhone.
The short video clip below is from the same spot in the road on April 20, 2019. On this occasion, there were LOTS of these long-legged wanderers and they are super fast!
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 photographed and filmed these tiny white “lambs” over the weekend (Sept. 21, 2019). There is a patch of Reed canary grass growing in a wetland area near my house and I wanted to see what sort of insects I might find associated with this particular plant.
These “lambs” are actually Honeysuckle aphids (Rhopalomyzus lonicerae). The species epithet, lonicerae refers to honeysuckle. These particular aphids live on honeysuckle in the winter and in grasses (as in the Reed Canary grass) in summer (4,5). The creamy white form (pictured above) are wingless, sub-adults, the apterae (without-wings) ~ Aphid glossary here: https://influentialpoints.com/aphid/Aphid-glossary.htm . There were quite a few of them and they were huddled together somewhat herd-like (see video below) on the grass stems. I did spot an adult or two (photo below), dispersed in other patches of grass, but absent from the groups of young.
The most amazing part to me was the “wolf” disguised in my herd of aphid lambs. This big bad wolf was actually a syrphid fly larva devouring one little lamb after another. It surprised me that they all waited, rather obediently, without resistance, as one after another was sucked dry by the fly-wolf. Note the dried out skins remaining on the leaf when you view the videos of the little lambs I found in the grass below. 🐑
Baaad or Good? Give me a thumbs up or down and let me know what you think! Thanks for reading.
Reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea) is in the plant family Poacea. Historically, reed canary grass has been considered good fodder for livestock, especially in areas too wet to grow traditional hay crops (3). In Washington State, it is now considered a non-native, noxious weed by the Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board (1). However in further review of literature about this plant, I came across one publication contradicting this view. This one cites published research that, in the Pacific Northwest there is evidence that some varieties of this widespread “circumboreal” grass are native to Western North America (2) .
Native? Noxious? Invasive? If you want to read more about Reed Canary grass, please do take a minute to check out the referenced links below.
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.