Tag Archives: San Juan County

The Three Banded Lady Beetle (Coccinella trifasciata subversa)

Coccinella trifasciata subversa on clover

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.

Coccinella trifasciata subversa on clover Photo by Cynthia Brast-Bormann San Juan Island, WA 07.06.2020
Distribution map of Coccinella trifasciata subversa

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.

If you see a Lady Beetle you are interested in knowing more about, take a look at the Lost Ladybug Project here – http://www.lostladybug.org/index.php

If you have time, check out my Facebook Page, Bugs of the San Juan Islands at https://www.facebook.com/buggingyoufromSJI/

Thanks for reading! 🐞🐞🐞

The House Pseudoscorpion (Cheliferidae cancroides)

I got the coolest picture of a bug on Friday! 

House Pseudoscorpion (Cheliferidae cancroides)
2/28/2020
San Juan Island
photo by T. Santora
House Pseudoscorpion (Cheliferidae cancroides)
2/28/2020
San Juan Island
photo by T. Santora

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.

Check out https://bugguide.net/node/view/728962 for more information.

Thanks for reading 🌻

Long-horned Leaf Beetle (Plateumaris germari)

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.

Long-horned Leaf Beetle
Plateumaris germari
San Juan Island, WA
May 12, 2015
photo by Cynthia Brast
Long-horned Leaf Beetle
Plateumaris germari
Long-horned Leaf Beetle
Plateumaris germari
Long-horned Leaf Beetle
Plateumaris germari
Long-horned Leaf Beetle
Plateumaris germari

References: https://bugguide.net/node/view/601794

Corona-bug

Coronavirus

Someone in San Juan County is being tested by the CDC for possible infection with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The person’s ID and island of residence has not been released. If confirmed, this would be the first instance of the virus in San Juan County and the second case in WA state. https://www.sanjuanjournal.com/news/person-under-investigation-for-novel-coronavirus/

The Coronavirus is named after the crown-like spikes found on the surface of the virus. In Latin, “corona” means ‘crown.’ You can view microscopic images of the virus on NPR’s site here ~ https://www.npr.org/2020/02/13/805837103/images-what-new-coronavirus-looks-like-under-the-microscope

Information about the virus, symptoms, etc. can be found on the CDC website here ~ https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/about/index.html , with further information on the virus, published by the Coronavirus Study Group (CSG) of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses found here – https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.02.07.937862v1.full Researchers have also found that the coronavirus can live on fomites (surfaces) for 9 days https://eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-02/rb-hlc020720.php Pharmaceutical treatment of this virus is sketchy at best. Read about the difficulty of treating viruses and what research is happening here ~ https://www.livescience.com/possible-treatments-new-coronavirus.html

Lots of folks think living on an island is some sort of safe haven. I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about this and I just don’t believe that to be true. First off, if everyone got sick, we definitely do NOT have the capacity to care for people in hospitals. Probably we would quickly run out of supplies. It’s really doubtful that anyone would want to deliver things to the island if we had some type of epidemic. We could easily run out of food and fuel.

Image result for The Scream

If I’ve learned anything in the ten-plus years I’ve lived here, it’s that you should be prepared to care for yourself. Whether it’s an earthquake or other natural disaster, government breakdown (that could certainly happen given our current administration), or disease outbreak, a plan is essential! While I know we have some truly dedicated medical professionals on our island, they are limited. There’s also not any prescription drug that will cure you of coronavirus if you get it. This links to the limited treatment options that may be available or under development https://www.livescience.com/possible-treatments-new-coronavirus.html

So, my plan (if anyone in my household gets sick) is to have my self-treatment items in order. Here’s my list:

  1. Elderberry syrup. Elderberry contains Sambucol which has been clinically proven to reduce the severity and duration of viruses. For more information, see my extensive reference list below. I keep this brand for myself. Natures Answer Elderberry Syrup ~ https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0007CSCIS/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
  2. Vitamin C. Vitamin C helps oxygenate your blood and supports your immune system. I take about 6000 mg of American Health Ester C in divided doses daily. I like this brand because it’s easier on my stomach ~ https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000MMWJHI/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o05_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
  3. Quercetin. https://www.amazon.com/Thorne-Research-Quercetin-Antioxidant-Supplement/dp/B0797DQTVZ/ref=sr_1_1_sspa?keywords=Quercetin+Thorne&qid=1581704516&s=hpc&sr=1-1-spons&psc=1&spLa=ZW5jcnlwdGVkUXVhbGlmaWVyPUFON1Y3M0VRWDk4VFImZW5jcnlwdGVkSWQ9QTAzMjYzNTkxWVpCM1NZNThNRlpMJmVuY3J5cHRlZEFkSWQ9QTAzMjc0MTcxT1FNODRVOVJKR04wJndpZGdldE5hbWU9c3BfYXRmJmFjdGlvbj1jbGlja1JlZGlyZWN0JmRvTm90TG9nQ2xpY2s9dHJ1ZQ==
  4. Pedialyte, Gatorade, and Ginger Ale. For rehydration!
  5. Lemon Balm. Strong antiviral properties. Use a tincture or make a tea.
  6. Ginger. Also strong antiviral properties.
  7. Saltine Crackers
  8. White rice
  9. Licorice Tea
  10. Lysine
  11. Saline Spray
  12. Motrin/Tylenol
  13. Vick’s Vapor Rub

If you can think of anything I might have left off, please feel free to write and let me know! P.S. I’m not a doctor. These are my own HOME remedies. Use your own good judgement and wash your hands a lot!

References:

Barak, Vivian & Halperin, T & Kalickman, I. (2001). The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines. European cytokine network. 12. 290-6.

Castillo-Maldonado I, Moreno-Altamirano MMB, Serrano-Gallardo LB (2017) Anti-dengue serotype-2 activity effect of Sambucus nigra leaves-and flowers-derived compounds. Virol Res Rev 1: DOI: 10.15761/VRR.1000117

Chen, C., Zuckerman, D.M., Brantley, S. et al. Sambucus nigra extracts inhibit infectious bronchitis virus at an early point during replication. BMC Vet Res 10, 24 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1186/1746-6148-10-24

Ganjhu RK, Mudgal PP, Maity H, et al. Herbal plants and plant preparations as remedial approach for viral diseases. Virusdisease. 2015 Dec;26(4):225-236. DOI: 10.1007/s13337-015-0276-6.

Golnoosh Torabian, Peter Valtchev, Qayyum Adil, Fariba Dehghani (2019)
Anti-influenza activity of elderberry (Sambucus nigra), Journal of Functional Foods, Volume 54: 353-360, ISSN 1756-4646, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2019.01.031.
(http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464619300313)

Karimi, S., Mohammadi, A.A., & Dadras, H. (2014). The effect of Echinacea purpurea and Sambucus nigra L. on H9N2 avian influenza virus in infected chicken embryo.

Krawitz, C., Mraheil, M. A., Stein, M., Imirzalioglu, C., Domann, E., Pleschka, S., & Hain, T. (2011). Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B viruses. BMC complementary and alternative medicine11, 16. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6882-11-16

Porter, R. S., and  Bode, R. F. ( 2017)  A Review of the Antiviral Properties of Black Elder (Sambucus nigra L.) Products. Phytother. Res.,  31:  533– 554. doi: 10.1002/ptr.5782.

Roschek, Bill & Fink, Ryan & Mcmichael, Matthew & Li, Dan & Alberte, Randall. (2009). Elderberry Flavonoids Bind to and Prevent H1N1 Infection in-vitro. Phytochemistry. 70. 1255-61. 10.1016/j.phytochem.2009.06.003.

Zakay-Rones, Z., Varsano, N., Zlotnik, M., Manor, O., Regev, L., Schlesinger, M., & Mumcuoglu, M. (1995). Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.)1(4), 361–369. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.1995.1.361

Z ZAKAY-RONES1, E THOM2, T WOLLAN3 AND J WADSTEIN4. (2004). Randomized Study of the Efficacy and Safety of Oral Elderberry Extract in the Treatment of Influenza A and B Virus Infections. The Journal of International Medical Research. 32: 132 – 140. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/147323000403200205

Slime WHAT? I’m flux-moxed!

I knew the headline would be catchy! I was indeed flummoxed (or greatly bewildered) when I saw the foam blobs on our Douglas fir trees today after the rain subsided enough for me to walk around outside. We’ve had a DELUGE of rain in the Pacific Northwest this year. Rumor has it, the rain is record-setting!

Back to the giant spit-wad looking blobs of bubbles on those trees…. Here’s what I saw.

Pseudotsuga menziesii Douglas fir trunk with foam blob

I’m an entomologist, so when I saw this I thought, “it sure looks a lot like the foamy froth that spittle bugs make.” However, I quickly discounted this possibility (unless there was some sort of really LARGE undiscovered species hiding out on San Juan Island that is) because it’s way too early in the season for them.

What WOULD we do without Google? Seriously! I typed in a search. My first query was “what do Pacific tree frog eggs look like?” I was skeptical, but since I heard tree frogs around me in the woods and since it is REALLY wet outside, I thought maybe one or two of these frogs got confused and used the tree instead of one of the thousands of water puddles I was trying to avoid stepping in. Nope. Not tree frogs. My next query read like this…”weird, foam mass on Douglas fir tree trunk.” I got a few things, but quickly narrowed the possibility to the sites that had photos that looked like mine.

I discovered these oozing foamy spots are called SLIME FLUX, also known as a condition of the tree called WETWOOD. Sounds bad. Might be.

I’ve not had a chance to read through all of this material. It sure seems like there is a link between harmful bacteria, water, possibly insects, and the resulting foam. but will share it here for you to reference. https://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/pnw_gtr112.pdf

While scanning this document, the term that popped out at me was “slime-flux insects” on page 8. I’ll have to do some more reading to investigate this. If you beat me to it, please feel free to share your comments. Curious minds want to know!

***Update

I’ve been doing a bit more reading about slime flux and foamy trees this evening (check out this site http://www.wonderofeverydaynature.com/2016/03/26/155/) and found an alternative and possibly more probable cause. While the foam can be caused by bacterial infections, it also is known to form after periods of heavy rain when a chemical reaction of sorts occurs. The rain interacts with soap-like components found in the sap from pine trees (and probably this includes fir trees as well), creating foam similar to what I observed today. It can also form from air pollutants that land on the trees after dry periods and create foam when rain hits the tree bark.

Fi Fi Fo Foam! I learned the best way to tell the difference between friend or foe foam is to take a whiff. Bacterial infections produce a foul-smelling foam that bubbles out as tree tissue is broken down, forming alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. This foam will often attract insects like bees, flies, wasps, and ants.

The most-detailed explanation about what happens during this process I found on the Penn State Extension Website, and I’ve copied below from their site (found here ~ https://extension.psu.edu/bacterial-wetwood-or-slime-flux

“Bacteria, commonly found in soil and water, take up residence in young trees or gain entrance to older trees through wounds. The bacteria, including species of Clostridium, Bacillus, Enterobacter, Klebsiella, and Pseudomonas, grow within the tree using the sap as a nutrient source. As the sap is used, oxygen in the heartwood is depleted (creating anaerobic conditions), methane is produced, the pH of the sap is increased (pH 6 in healthy trees to pH 7 to 8 in wetwood), and a high pressure develops in the wood (60 psi in affected trees vs. 5-10 psi in wetwood-free trees). The resulting environment greatly inhibits the growth of fungi that can cause interior rots. The liquid kills grass and other herbaceous plants that it contacts at the base of the tree. The wood of affected trees has greatly reduced value as lumber because of the unsightly discoloration. Affected wood dries much more slowly than wood taken from wetwood-free trees.”

Another good page to check out if you want to read more about slime flux or Wetwood is found at forestpathology.org ~ https://forestpathology.org/bacterial-viral-diseases/wetwood/

P.S. Post YOUR best slime flux photos here! Thanks for reading.

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!

Neophasia menapia – Pine White Butterfly

It was breezy earlier this afternoon when I spotted this beauty feeding on my daisies. This is a Neophasia menapia – or the Pine White Butterfly. I’ve been worried since we’ve put up deer fencing that the butterflies wouldn’t be able to find their way through the fence into my flower garden, but I shouldn’t have worried. The butterflies ever-so-gracefully float over the top.

I’m sure the butterflies and other pollinators appreciate that my daisies aren’t headless amputees this year, courtesy of our resident deer who now can only gaze at them. It’s hard to understand why the deer would even want to eat those flowers because they’re kind of stinky. To my nose, they smell a bit of cat urine. Lots of insects seem to like those sorts of smells though. These daisies can stay outside. I won’t be displaying them in a vase on my dining table.

Pine White Butterfly on Daisy
Neophasia menapia 
July 26, 2019
San Juan Island, WA

The Pine White Butterfly larvae feed on Ponderosa Pine and Douglas fir. Adults emerge typically between the months of July and October. Look for little green eggs on the needles of pines and firs sometime beginning in October. The eggs will overwinter and hatch sometime in June the following summer, coinciding with the emergence of new foliage on the trees. Larvae typically only feed on old needles, but can become a “pest” when they feed on the new needles and/or population levels are high and the tree is repeatedly defoliated. Natural controls help keep caterpillar populations balanced. Larvae pupate in late July for about 15-20 days before emerging as adults to begin a new cycle.

Pine White Butterfly (Neophasia menapia ) on Daisy
July 26, 2019
San Juan Island, WA

Would you like to read more? Check out the links I’ve added below.

https://bugguide.net/node/view/69083

https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5347775.pdf

http://web.forestry.ubc.ca/fetch21/FRST308/lab5/neophasia_menapia/pine.html

Xestoleptura crassipes

Xestoleptura crassipes
San Juan Island, WA
July 16, 2019

Xestoleptura crassipes is a species of flower longhorn beetle. Taxonomically it is placed in order Coleoptera, family Cerambycidae. The species name “crassipes” means “thick-legged.” Adults are attracted to flowers (June-September) and larvae are wood borers, found in forested areas and associated with firs and oaks. Adult body length approximately 10-17mm.

I photographed this specimen on July 16, 2019. It was the only one on the daisy plant by my front door. On the morning of July 18, there remained the single beetle (or I believed it to be the same one). That evening, I observed a 2nd beetle feeding on an adjacent flower. This morning (July 19th, 2019), they were both gone. Perhaps this was a successful meetup for finding a mate. 🌼

Xestoleptura crassipes feeding on daisy pollen

Harmonia axyridis, The Asian-Spotted Ladybird Beetle

I found this weird little creature stuck to a leaf on a rose bush by the picket fence in front of the San Juan County Land Bank office on Monday, June 24, 2019 when I walked down Argyle and rounded the corner onto Caines (does anyone on the island actually use street names? Where the heck is Caines, right?) 

Ladybird pupal case, June 24, 2019

Brought it home because I couldn’t resist the mystery of figuring out what it might be.  What on earth are those spiny things at the end? Is it some sort of pest insect?   

Ladybird pupal case
June 24, 2010

After taking a few photos, I did what drives my husband crazy sometimes.  I left the leaf with this little spiny-ended thing on the table, in a cup, without a lid.  Yep.  Just like when I left the really fat deer tick I had on my desk.  The one that laid eggs…that hatched when I wasn’t paying attention.  This is when it’s really handy to have sticky tape nearby, otherwise you have to vacuum every 10 minutes for about a month to finally sleep at night without feeling like things are crawling all over you and burrowing into your skin. This link should take you to my facebook page post about “Big Bertha.” https://www.facebook.com/buggingyoufromSJI/posts/2375866245969416

This morning, after my cat got me up with incessant meowing right in my ear, I sat down at the table with a cup of coffee. Millhouse (the cat) isn’t supposed to be on the table, but when my husband isn’t around, anything goes!  He was staring something down that was m.o.v.i.n.g!  Fortunately, I reacted faster than he did.  I tipped over the little medicine cup I’d put the leaf in to thwart this little creature’s attempt at a fast getaway.  

Asian Spotted Ladybird Beetle (Harmonia axyridis)
July 27, 2019
San Juan Island, WA

Carefully sliding a piece of paper under the cup, I could see it looked like a ladybug.  Ladybugs come in different colors, with different spots, and there are quite a few species one could encounter on San Juan Island.  This beetle goes by an assortment of names.  It’s often referred to as the Multi-colored Asian Lady Beetle or sometimes the Halloween Beetle because in some places they show up in large numbers at Halloween! 🎃😱

This beetle’s scientific name is Harmonia axyridis (The Asian-spotted Ladybird Beetle).  It was imported to the United States as early as 1916 to help control pests as a biocontrol agent.  While “Miss Harmonia” eats aphids, thrips, and scale insects (and manages these pests fantastically in soybean crops), she isn’t native and these pest insects aren’t all she eats.  Asian-spotted Ladybird Beetles also eat native coccinellid beetles (native lady bugs) and even butterfly eggs.  In the winter, she can bring her friends and invade your home.  When handled, the ladybird beetles can excrete a stinky defensive chemical from their leg joints.  This makes removal of large numbers of them from inside homes somewhat problematic.  You don’t want to have them discharging this awful odor that will linger….all…winter! 

Newly emerged adult (Harmonia axyridis)
June 27, 2019
San Juan Island, WA

Another unfortunate consequence of importing these beetles is their love of wine grapes.  🍇 🍷 Asian-spotted ladybirds will eat grapes and then the grapes end up contaminated with an awful smell lingering on them.  While I personally don’t drink wine, I know lots of people do and they’d be very unhappy if it tasted like essence of ladybug…a twist on a new aromatic bitter perhaps! 

Did I squish her? Nope.  I put her in the tree near our bird feeder.  It’s possible she will become part of the food chain.  While not all birds eat these beetles, some do. Insects and arachnids like robber flies, dragonflies, ants, various ground beetles, and cellar spiders also eat them.   

If you see them, should you squish them?  That’s up to you and how confident you are that you’ve identified it correctly. I wouldn’t want to mistake a helpful native ladybug as an invader.  I recommend that instead of buying ladybird beetles at the garden store to release in your garden you establish native habitat to attract and support native species of ladybugs.

As I looked a bit more into the literature about Harmonia axyridis, I was intrigued with the publication of some research about the biochemistry of the liquid they secrete.  It has been found to have strong antimicrobial action against strains of bacteria that are pathogenic to humans. This fluid has even been examined for its action against malaria.  Perhaps these beetles don’t belong in the garden, but in your medicine cabinet instead.  

empty pupal case
Asian spotted Ladybird Beetle (Harmonia axyridis)
July 27 2019
San Juan Island, WA

References and further reading

  1. https://plunketts.net/blog/ladybugs-vs-asian-lady-beetles/
  2. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rsbl.2011.0760?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%3Dpubmed&
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC524671/
  4. https://bugguide.net/node/view/397

A Blistery Spring Day

I walked down the road last Tuesday (April 9, 2019) with my husband.  It was late afternoon and although it rained a bit earlier that morning, the sun was peeking out.   The wind wasn’t blowing, but it was soon to be a Blistery Spring day!

If you know any entomologists, you’ll understand rule #1 about going on ANY walk is to take a collection jar and a camera.  Last week, I failed to do this and missed an opportunity to identify and document this very cool bumble bee mimicking fly (genus Laphria ~ a bee-like robber fly).  This time I made certain to take my phone.  Sure enough, at the bottom of the hill, I see a black beetle crawling about on the chip-sealed road.  Fortunately, I refrained from my very bad habit of grabbing things with my bare hands. This is one beetle you do NOT want to pick up!  It was a BLISTER BEETLE.

Lucky me! I came home with some great photos and some video footage instead of a dermatological eruption that would have landed me in the doctor’s office.  I left the beetle in the road to continue whatever it was doing.

Back at home, I used my reference books to compare the photos and video I took of the beetle and narrowed down an ID to the genus Meloe.  I would need more help figure out the species.  I sent some photos off to Merrill Peterson at WSU with the suggestion that it might be a male Meloe niger.  Merrill wrote back that he thought it was M. strigulosus, but hard to confirm with only a photo.  He agreed it was indeed a male.

Meloe niger Black Meloe Blister Beetle

Meloe strigulosus (male)

You might ask how one goes about determining whether a particular beetle is male or female.  Often, as in this case, the male antennal segments are larger or varied in shape from the female.  This beetle’s antennae had a distinctive kinked platform on their fifth segment.  I would learn later that this kinked part enables them to grasp the antennae of the female during mating.

Meloe strigulosus (male)

Meloe strigulosus photo by Cynthia Brast April 9, 2019 Three Corner Lake Road San Juan Island, WA

Antennae

kink in antennal segment of M. strigulosus (male)

Merrill also sent me a link to what I will refer to as the Blister Beetle bible.  Published in 1970, this research was compiled by the legendary systematics entomologist, John D. Pinto, currently professor emeritus at U.C. Riverside with Richard B. Selander.  Hopeful, I sent off my photos in an email to Dr. Pinto and felt really privileged when I got an almost immediate response.

According to Dr. Pinto, the specimen I photographed was indeed a male Meloe strigulosus.  If you’re interested, you can read “The bionomics of blister beetles of the genus Meloe and a classification of the New World species”by linking here https://archive.org/details/bionomicsofblist42pint  Aside from the wealth of information published in this book, I love the artistic rendering of the female beetle on the cover.

Screen Shot 2019-04-15 at 11.53.12 AM.png

Illustration from Pinto and Selander’s “The bionomics of blister beetles of the genus Meloe and a classification of the New World species.” 

According to Dr. Pinto, there are 22 species of Meloidae in North America.  They are named Blister Beetles because they release a toxic terpenoid blistering agent called cantharadin when they are threatened or handled.  Sometimes people call them “Oil Beetles” because it’s oily. You can find the chemical profile of cantharadin here ~ https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/cantharidin#section=Drug-Indication

Curiously, this toxic secretion has been utilized to treat various medical conditions.  Among these was the topical application of the “oil” to treat rheumatism or to remove warts and lesions of Molluscum contagiosum, a contagious, viral infection of the skin (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/molluscum-contagiosum/symptoms-causes/syc-20375226).  Cantharidin is also famously known for its use as an aphrodisiac (Spanish Fly).   This substance was historically used as a treatment for hydrophobia (rabies).  Male beetles were preserved in honey, mixed with other equally toxic ingredients then administered in an attempt to cure the patient. Maybe dying from cantharadin poisoning was less traumatic than dying of rabies.

Blister beetles are economically important because they contaminate alfalfa hay and they are highly toxic to livestock, especially horses.  There are instances where a horse has died from ingesting just ONE beetle. According to this Colorado State Extension publication (https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/insects/blister-beetles-in-forage-crops-5-524/), just the release of cantharadin oil from the beetle can contaminate the hay.  Although reports of cantharadin poisoning in livestock are rare in the West, here’s one case where someone’s goat became very sick from ingesting hay contaminated with cantharidin ~ https://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/news/uc-davis-veterinarians-discover-blister-beetle-toxicity-goat

Another interesting fact about these beetles is that the larvae are phoretic parasites of solitary bees and grasshopper egg pods.  The first instar larvae, called triungulins” crawl onto flowers to await a visiting bee, then hitch a ride back to the nest where they will consume the pollen, nectar, and even the bee larvae.  Check out this link from National Geographic to view some extraordinary images of bees covered with blister beetle larvae ~ https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2018/09/bees-blister-beetles-evolution-parasites-pheromones-news/

This was the first blister beetle I’ve seen on San Juan Island, but I do know of one other sighting by San Juan County Land Bank steward, Doug. M. from April of 2016.  I sent the photo of Doug’s beetle to Dr. Pinto as well and this was his reply, “Very likely M. niger – tho the photo is a little fuzzy for positive ID.”  Doug’s photo of the “likely” M. niger below.   

Meloe niger 2016-04-07 14.38.37

Meloe niger Mount Ben, San Juan Island, WA, April 2016                                                                     Photo by Doug. M. San Juan County Land Bank

If you’d like to read more about the particular species of blister beetle I found, I’m including the taxonomic key and geographic distribution data from Dr. Pinto’s book below.

                                               Meloe (Meloe) strigulosus Mannerheim


 Direct Key To The New World Subgenera of Meloe

Key to New World Subgenera of Meloe

Key to New World Subgenera of Meloe Pinto and Selander, 1970

Direct Key to the New World Subgenera page 104.

Direct Key to the New World Subgenera of Meloe page 104 Pinto and Selander, 1970

Key to Groups

Key to Groups p. 124

Key to Groups Bionomics of Blister Beetles Pinto and Selander, 1970

Direct Key to Groups page 157

Key to Groups Bionomics of Blister Beetles Pinto and Selander, 1970

 Geographic distribution

Geographic.distribution of M. strigulosus  p. 159

Geographic Distribution of Meloe strigulosus Pinto and Selander, 1970

Larval Key Meloe strigulosus

Larval.key.1

Larval key Meloe strigulosus Pinto and Selander, 1970

Larval.key.2

Larval key for M. strigulosus Pinto and Selander 1970

Antennal illustrations for male Meloe strigulosus, Figure 125 a. Dorsal view of segments V-VII, and b. Posterior view of segments V-VII

Male Antennae

Male antennae M. strigulosus Pinto and Selander, 1970

Antennal illustrations for female Meloe strigulosus, Figure 140

Female Antennae

Female Antennae M. strigulosus Pinto and Selander, 1970

References

Bittell, J. 2018.  Sex, Lies, and Grappling Hooks: How Parasitic Beetles Trick Bees. Animals Weird and Wild. National Geographic.  https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2018/09/bees-blister-beetles-evolution-parasites-pheromones-news/

Hafernik, John and Saul-Gershenz, Leslie. 2000. Beetle larvae cooperate to mimic bees. Nature. 405. 35-6. 10.1038/35011129.

Kinney, K.K., F.B. Peairs and A.M. Swinker. 2010.  Blister Beetles in Forage Crops. Colorado State University Extension Publication 5.524. https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/insects/blister-beetles-in-forage-crops-5-524/

Mayo Clinic. Mulluscum contagiosum. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/molluscum-contagiosum/symptoms-causes/syc-20375226(accessed on Apr. 16, 2019)

National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Database. Cantharidin, CID=5944, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/5944 (accessed on Apr. 16, 2019)

Peterson, M. A. 2018. Pacific Northwest insectshttps://www.amazon.com/Pacific-Northwest-Insects-Merrill-Peterson/dp/0914516183

Pinto, J.D. and R.B. Selander. 1970. The bionomics of blister beetles of the genus Meloe and a classification of the New World species. Illinois Biological Monographs 42: 1-222.  https://archive.org/details/bionomicsofblist42pint

Piuser, J. 2017. UC Davis Veterinarians Discover Blister Beetle Toxicity in Goat. U.C. Davis Veterinary Medicine.  https://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/news/uc-davis-veterinarians-discover-blister-beetle-toxicity-goat

Quinn, M. Blister Beetles of Texas. Texas Beetle Resources. http://texasento.net/TXMeloidae.html#Meloe  (accessed on Apr. 16, 2019)

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