Tag Archives: san juan island

San Juan County, WA Spider Information – Resource Sheet 

Scared of Spiders?  Here’s a go-to info-sheet (that I plan to update as time allows) with links to verifiable, research-backed Spider Information/Literature.  Let’s end all the misinformation and our arachnophobia.  Too often people buy into false reports.  Don’t listen to someone’s tall tale of horror.  These stories are sensationalized and inaccurate.  Know the facts.  Dispel the rumors.  Spiders are not out to kill you.  It’s just not true. 

YOU have to do the reading!  These are scientifically based, accurate studies with information related to spider bites.  

Hobo Spiders (Tegenaria agrestis) ****Medically insignificant 

*Bennett RG, Vetter RS. An approach to spider bites. Erroneous attribution of dermonecrotic lesions to brown recluse or hobo spider bites in Canada. Can Fam Physician. 2004 Aug;50:1098-101. PMID: 15455808; PMCID: PMC2214648 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2214648/pdf/15455808.pdf.

*Melissa M. Gaver-Wainwright, Richard S. Zack, Matthew J. Foradori, Laura Corley Lavine, Misdiagnosis of Spider Bites: Bacterial Associates, Mechanical Pathogen Transfer, and Hemolytic Potential of Venom From the Hobo Spider, Tegenaria agrestis (Araneae: Agelenidae), Journal of Medical Entomology, Volume 48, Issue 2, 1 March 2011, Pages 382–388, https://doi.org/10.1603/ME09224

How to identify and misidentify a Hobo Spiderhttps://s3.wp.wsu.edu/uploads/sites/2210/2015/05/PLS116_1.pdf

Brown Recluse Spiders (Loxoceles sp) – NO! I repeat “NO, none, nada!” established populations in our area.  

In the attached links below, you will find links to information about the Brown Recluse Spider.  Information that comes from a verified, reputable source – from an actual expert.  Brown Recluse spiders do not live in the San Juan Islands.  Caveat: this is not to say that if you move here from an area where there ARE established populations, one might be found hitching on your moving boxes.  It’s possible, BUT – they have not been able to survive and breed here.  If you see a large brown spider in your house – especially on the ceiling, it is most likely (99.99%) going to be a Giant House Spider (Eratigena duellica).  They are very common and harmless.  If you don’t like them, just catch in a cup and take it to a sheltered area outside – preferably another structure where it might have a chance to survive.  They won’t hurt you. 

Map showing distribution of Brown Recluse spiders (Please note that San Juan County is NOT found on this map)  – https://spiders.ucr.edu/spiders-map

Map of Brown Recluse Spider distribution – UC Riverside

Where else can I find reliable information on Spiders?

There are a few sources I’ll list here.  The first two are the ones you should look at first.  They are valuable resources with information from highly credentialed experts in all things arachnid-related.  If you read something written by either Rod Crawford (Seattle Burke Museum curator of the arachnid collection) or by Rick Vetter (UC Riverside Department of Entomology), you can be assured it is correct. 

As a local resource, you can also check out the Facebook Bug Group (Bugs of the San Juan Islands).  There are several group “experts” with experience identifying spiders.  These folks generously volunteer their time and knowledge, so keep that in mind and please refrain if you feel inclined to INSIST they are wrong and there are INDEED Brown Recluse Spiders living in your house in San Juan County.  If you have a spider you’d like identified, it helps to have a couple of clear photos to submit.  Try and get a shot of the dorsal (top) of the spider, and if you’re able, one of its face – showing eye pattern.   You may contact me, Cynthia Brast-Bormann at cynthiabrast@icloud.com to submit live or deceased specimens for identification.  I will help you coordinate a drop off point for collection.  Please don’t indiscriminately KILL a spider though and ask me to ID it.  It will likely make reliable identification more difficult.  Just get a cup and a lid with some air holes punched in the top.  I appreciate your showing kindness to the helpless creature you’ve caught.  I will ID and humanely release.  

Here’s a link to Rod Crawford’s site – http://staff.washington.edu/tiso/

If you’re interested, here’s a link to his blogpost of our 2022 outing on San Juan at Reuben Tarte Park collecting spiders – https://crawford.tardigrade.net/journal/album8630.html

More great links featuring Rod Crawford

  1. Spiders aren’t out to get you – https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/science/seattles-real-spider-man-sets-us-straight-theyre-not-out-to-get-you/

Rick Vetter UCR  

Myth of the Brown Recluse: Fact, Fear, and Loathing

https://spiders.ucr.edu/myth-brown-recluse-fact-fear-and-loathing

Local help: 

Bugs of the San Juan Islands Facebook Group – There are at least 4 spider group experts and folks with entomology degrees or experienced backgrounds in the group who are more than qualified to help you.  https://m.facebook.com/groups/bugsofthesanjuanislands/about/

Bugging You from San Juan Island (Cynthia Brast-Bormann’s entomology blog for the San Juan Islands)  https://buggingyoufromsanjuanisland.com

Great YouTube information and fun links to watch from one of Bugs of the San Juan Island’s group experts, Arlo Pelegrin (entomologist and arachnologist) 

  1. Spiders of the West and their Medical Significance – Arlo Pelegrin at Dept of Health

Musings on the complicated topic of native pollinators, food production, and climate change

Bee Balm, nasturtiums, and Stinky daisies

 

Our native pollinators were slow to emerge this year in the San Juans because of the cool weather. Usually, we can rely on flies, solitary bees and wasps, and even moths, ants, and others to pollinate our fruit trees. I did see some species of flies out this spring, but again, weather conditions were poor. 

We have PLENTY of “pollinators” out in our yard right now. So, in trying to explain to people when they ask me about a decline in native pollinators, I have a few points I like to throw out for consideration.

1) honey bees are poor pollinators to keep on the island. It has to be above 50 degrees for them to come out of the hive.

2) native flies and other insects like moths (which fly at night and we don’t typically see) are better at pollinating in cooler temperatures.  While they also won’t be out if it’s rainy and super cold, they can fly in temperature ranges lower than 50 degrees F.  

3) the critical importance of native pollinators may not be in their “pollination” services – but their role as pest predators and/or role in the food cycle for other organisms, and for creating biodiversity in our ecosystem, which helps keep everything healthier.   I think this part is important.  If you look at some of the plants we put in our gardens (native perennials), they actually do not require pollination to survive and reproduce, but do offer pollen and nectar to many insects, spiders, and hummingbirds.  Looking further at the food web, we need a variety of native insects for more than pollination.  Tachinid flies, syrphid flies, solitary wasps, ants, and even spiders can be pollinators, but also help regulate populations of orchard, garden, and forest pests.  

My take on all of this is as humans, our focus has largely been on how to grow food over environmental conservation and maintaining balanced, functioning ecosystems.  With climate change, many of our food growing operations may fail.  Our fruit trees (at least none that I know of) are not native.  In spite of the best intentions, conditions may decline to a point where we can’t produce great fruit here.  Weather is only one limiting factor.    We have poor soils or no soil in many locations, limited water resources, and the pressures of continuing development resulting in loss of natural habitats.  I don’t have the answers for you when it comes to fruit production or any way to personally mitigate climate change, so we may have to figure out a substitute for growing apples, plums, and such.  

Let’s go back to the importance of native pollinators though.  If you think of our island as a living organism with many different functions, it is important to have all the essential pieces to keep the “body” healthy.  These native pollinators (and the native plants they visit), and all the other myriad species of invertebrates, fungi, birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, soil, water, etc. are all part of the “body,” a body that has to fight off occasional or repeated assaults from being thrown off balance by exposures to external forces.  Just like we need a variety of foods and minerals and other things to keep our body healthy, so does an ecosystem.  We need all of these pieces (and that includes our native pollinators and all the other diverse species) to keep our island home healthy.  

As to the fruit trees and other food crops requiring pollination, for now, some of these issues can be mediated by planting around your orchard and garden with plenty of diverse native species and providing habitat for all of these native species to develop.  Some of our practices of cleaning and sanitizing our orchards and gardens, burning yard clippings, and applying fertilizers and pesticides can adversely affect the biodiversity needed to help our food production thrive.   

I imagine it can be frustrating to see an orchard fail to produce fruit.  My grandparents were tenant farmers and wholly dependent on growing cotton and corn and the bit of garden and livestock they had around the home on the property they did not own.  When it was a drought year, and crops failed, things were utterly miserable.  Destitute would be a better adjective.  I believe we may have an inherent desire to be “part of the land,” and grow our own food, but sometimes, despite our best efforts, conditions aren’t favorable.  Crops fail.  Historically, we have tried (and failed) to control some of these external forces – like applying pesticides in amounts that probably will poison us forever.  

I’ve gone way beyond the “pollinator” topic here, but it is next to impossible for me to see a one-dimensional issue.  We have a much larger and more complex picture before us.  How do we either re-create or maintain a healthy functioning system, navigate the perils of climate change, and feed ourselves?  I like to believe that protecting diversity in our ecosystems is an important facet of this complex, multi-layered crisis we face. 

Resources and Further Reading

Washington Native Plant Society – https://www.wnps.org

Xerces Society – http://www.xerces.org

WSU Extension Master Gardeners of San Juan County – https://extension.wsu.edu/sanjuan/master-gardeners/

Living Jewels of San Juan

Buprestis aurulenta or Golden Buprestid Beetle

I found this little green beetle (and another sad little black and yellow beetle missing its antennae) in the pool yesterday. The black and yellow beetle is alive and… well, sort of living in a special habitat right now because of those missing antennae.

The green one was completely waterlogged and lifeless. I had left it on the table next to Drago’s enclosure last night, thinking I’d pin it and keep it in my collection. I am SO GLAD I DIDN’T stick it with a pin! This morning, I found it moving those little legs around at me. It was alive! RIP woke up.  

Golden Buprestid beetle (Buprestis aurulenta)

Golden Buprestid beetle (Buprestis aurulenta


This is a Golden Buprestid Beetle (Buprestis aurulenta). They are a native species in the Pacific Northwest. I have referred to them often as the Rip Van Winkle beetle because they take such a long time to develop from egg to adult. In fact, the record is 51 years!  


Why so long? Well, the developmental time depends a lot on the quality of what they’re eating (they develop in dead or dying trees) and miscellaneous environmental factors. When they come out as an adult, they leave behind a little oval hole. I think it adds character to your wood trim if you have them “sleeping” in timber used to build your house.

We had one in our door trim that didn’t make it all the way out and probably had been stuck for awhile before I noticed. It became a fascinating object to show anyone who came to visit our home.

Golden Buprestid stuck in door trim (March 20, 2016)

I’m not sure what gives them this beautiful iridescence, but they are undeniably one of nature’s jewels, thus the name “Jewel” Beetle. 

Golden Buprestid Beetle – San Juan Island 07.27.2022
Golden buprestid set free to fly away in the forest.

References and further reading:

Zeng, Y. 1995. University of Florida Book of Insect Records, Chapter 12 Longest Life Cycle. Department of Entomology & Nematology University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611-0620 https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/walker/ufbir/files/pdf/UFBIR_Chapter12.pdf

Bugguide.net https://bugguide.net/node/view/74029

Nelson, D. 2021. Buprestis aurulenta (Golden Buprestid) 10,000 Things of the Pacific Northwest http://10000thingsofthepnw.com/2021/05/19/buprestis-aurulenta-golden-buprestid/

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

Bugs Like the Color Blue

Bugs like Blue. I found a bunch of these little ones yesterday floating on the surface of our above ground pool. They were also all along the outside of the pool (which is blue). I scooped out all the ones that were struggling in the water and watched as this one dried itself off. It reminded me of watching my cats grooming after finishing a meal of Fancy Feast wet cat food.

Listrus Flower Beetle on Side of Pool – April 7, 2022 – San Juan Island, WA

A Soft-Winged Flower Beetle, these are in the family Melyridae (Genus Listrus). At only about 2 mm in size, they were indeed pretty tiny. Listrus beetles feed on both pollen and nectar. They are covered with dense setae (little hairs) that pollen easily adheres to. Check out the paper reference below and learn how they have been recognized as one of the most important pollinators of plants in Western North America.

Listrus sp. flower beetle

Reference: Jonathan R. Mawdsley. (2003). The Importance of Species of Dasytinae (Coleoptera: Melyridae) as Pollinators in Western North America. The Coleopterists Bulletin, 57(2), 154–160 pdf link at Bioone.org *Note* It will directly download the pdf when you click the link. https://bioone.org/journals/the-coleopterists-bulletin/volume-57/issue-2/541/The-Importance-of-Species-of-Dasytinae-Coleoptera–Melyridae-as/10.1649/541.pdf?casa_token=luFq1Z9jff4AAAAA:3-9zCg42504MZ0w5J1bfFu28XAWIA91G8bbrmDfDckmhTGAI6FTAjgcgBQVqCv847ogua3mL

Strawberry Muppets

Orthosia transparens – the Transparent Quaker Moth

I’d really love it if I could rename this moth. Strawberry muppet heart moth is what I’d call it. Check out the little heart-shaped markings on it’s wings.

Orthosia transparens – with heart mark on wing

Orthosia transparens is a medium sized (15-17mm) , brownish red Noctuid moth that flies in our region in early spring. The common name for the species is Transparent Quaker Moth.   Caterpillar food plants include salal (Gaultheria shallon), madrone (Arbutus menziesii), and rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum). This species is native to the PNW region and not considered pests of economic significance. A map of the geographic distribution can be accessed here – http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=10479

Noctuidae is the family with the awful common name, “cutworm,” which leads folks to deem them evil little garden gremlins that should be stomped on or tossed out on the ground for birds to scavenge. Not all cutworms are bad, and certainly many more of us would embrace them if we knew they were going to turn out to be so cute.

I’m fine with a bit of herbivory on our salal, madrone, and rhododendrons. These little Strawberry Muppets are welcome to fly to my porch light any spring night.

Check out the gallery below for more photos and if you’re interested in reading more about this moth, check out my friend, Dan’s nice write up on his blog here – http://10000thingsofthepnw.com/2022/02/03/orthosia-transparens-transparent-quaker-moth/

Thanks for reading!

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

Creepy Evil Cutworms?

What adjective would you use to describe a cutworm? Perhaps pest? Something like the evil caterpillar, Mister Mind, one of Captain Marvel’s archenemies in the DC comic strip series?

If you’re a gardener, the name “cutworm” may conjure up an evil worm that wants to eat your vegetables.

If you have a lawn or own a golf course, cutworms may be the gremlins that destroy turf grass. Now personally, I think five year olds should make policy around cutworms because there aren’t many five year olds who actually WANT to eat their veggies. They’ll see reason in defending the cutworm gremlin.

I’m not a golfer, and don’t have a lawn, so I personally don’t care too much if cutworms munch turf grass. Those sites should be classified as biohazard sites right along with nuclear waste if you ask me. They’ve had so many chemicals dumped on them over the years, they can’t be anything but noxious, environmentally toxic sponges.

Seriously, stop for a moment and Google “cutworm.” What pops up? Ads for every sort of pesticide imaginable. There may a be one or two advertised as “Safer” (yep, that’s a brand name), or natural, but they are designed with the same, single, solitary mission. Nuke the cutworm.

How many average American citizens do you think, can really distinguish between one sort of cutworm or another? Did you know the name, cutworm, is used to describe the larval or caterpillar form of a whole grouping of Lepidoptera that fall into the family Noctuidae?

If you’re really into bugs, or you are an entomologist (like me), then you also might know that the family Noctuidae has another name. These so-called cutworms (some are also called army worms) are the OWLET MOTHS. Why do you think? Well, because when they grow up, they look so unbelievably cute – like owls. Also, like this one! I named him Henry!

Henry is the cutest little dude around. His scientific name is Stretchia muricina. I think that name sounds a little bit Italian to me, but he’s not part of the mafia. Actually, Henry looks more like a teeny little lion or maybe even like Orson the Wheely Bird in Sid and Marty Krofft’s late 60’s TV show, HR PufnStuff.

Seymour the Spider and Orson the Wheely Bird – HR Pufnstuf

Whatever YOU see when you look at Henry, you’ve got to agree that he’s cute.

Henry (Stretchia muricina), an Owlet Moth

Henry used to be a cutworm. People are trying to kill him!

Henry isn’t a horrible garden pest though. When Henry was a caterpillar, he was more interested in eating a bit of your native currants. Sure, we all love to look at the beautiful flowers on our currants in the springtime, but he didn’t eat the flowers. He just ate a few leaves. There aren’t many cutworms like Henry. Just a few. They aren’t the same as the massive hoards of army worms that show up in the grass, or the cutworms that want to enjoy your newly sprouted veggies.

It’s pretty tough for a regular person to positively ID a caterpillar, so Henry recommends resisting the urge to grab that powder, spray, or torch. Don’t judge all cutworms to be evil. There are some tools you can take advantage of to help you sort caterpillars. Take a look at these links below and embrace diversity in the world. Caterpillars have feelings too!

  1. Calscape.org https://calscape.org – Lists plants and invertebrates associated with plants. While some may be out of our region, many do overlap. Extremely useful. I wish WSU had one of these sites!
  2. Caterpillar ID https://www.caterpillaridentification.org
  3. Caterpillar ID Washington State – https://www.caterpillaridentification.org/caterpillars-by-state-listing.php?reach=Washington
  4. Washington Native Plant Society Caterpillars https://www.wnps.org/blog/some-washington-caterpillars
  5. Pacific Northwest Moths http://pnwmoths.biol.wwu.edu
  6. Washington Moths https://www.butterflyidentification.org/moths-by-state-listing.php?reach=Washington
  7. Bugs of the San Juan Islands https://www.facebook.com/groups/bugsofthesanjuanislands
  8. Stretchia muricina species page http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=10473
  9. Stretchia muricina Bugguide species page https://bugguide.net/node/view/134890

Check out the rest of Henry’s adorable photos here. I found him last night hanging out on our deck. He was afraid of me at first and actually played dead (the entomological term for that is Thanatosis, so you can impress your family and friends). Once Henry figured out I had no intent to harm, he decided to pose and show off a bit. After his photoshoot, Henry went back to his spot on the wood siding.

Bugs in the Snow

Jason Shields sent in this photo and granted permission to share. Taken on a snowy hike near Wescott Bay, San Juan Island, WA 2/13 or 2/14 2021. 

The bugs in the snow in this photo are isopods, commonly known as woodlice. Jason sent the photo to me after finding them on top of the snow, scattered about, alive, but moving slowly. He asked if I might know why they were out in such cold weather like this. At the time, I could only speculate, but did some reading and came up with a possibility that could answer this curiosity. 

The literature I sourced suggests that isopods like these can be infected with a helminth parasite capable of altering behavior. Several published scientific papers specifically investigated the Acanthocephalan parasite (Plagiorhynchus cylindraceus), also known as the Spiny or Thorny-head worm parasitizing isopods.  For the curious, the name Ancanthcephalan comes from Greek akantha, and kephale; head, referring to the rows of hooks or spines encircling the head of the worm.  

In this relationship, the acanthocephalan parasitic worm (P. cylindraceus) is what is referred to as an indirect or two-host parasite, meaning it uses two animals to complete its developmental life cycle.  It is also an endoparasite, developing internally in an animal (as opposed to ectoparasite – developing on the outside of the animal). 

The isopod is the initial host in this parasitic cycle. In feeding on terrestrial detritus, the acanthocephalan parasite’s eggs are ingested.  The eggs exist in the environment after being excreted in the feces of songbirds, especially the American Robin (Turdus migratorius), and European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris). 

Within hours of ingestion by the isopod, P.cylindraceus eggs hatch into larvae.  These tiny larvae with spines soon mature into a form called a cystacanth, burrowing through the intestinal cavity of the isopod where they lodge into the body cavity, remaining attached to the intestine by a stalk. This site of attachment is important in that the worms lack their own digestive system and must gain nutrients via the host’s dietary intake.  Over approximately 60-65 days, the cystocanths continue to grow and develop sexual organs.   At the end of this period they are now mature enough to infest the next host (a bird).  

While the exact mechanism remains unknown, the worms alter the behavior of the isopod making it “suicidal” or more susceptible to becoming prey and eaten by a bird.  It is suspected that biochemical cues are responsible for inducing these behavioral changes.  

Scientists have recorded infected individuals of these isopods leaving sheltered leaf litter where they are concealed, and moving into open areas where they are more visible to predators and more likely to be eaten.  Inside the bird host, the worm resides in the small intestine, where it continues to grow, often becoming as long as 15 mm.  At the end of development in the bird host, reproductively mature, fertilized female worms produce eggs that are excreted in the bird’s feces, repeating the cycle.  

Are the isopods Jason found in the snow parasitized?  Possibly.  It may remain a mystery, but an intriguing one indeed.  

References

Amato, José F. R., Amato, Suzana B., Araujo, Paula B., & Quadros, Aline F. (2003). First report of pigmentation dystrophy in terrestrial isopods, Atlantoscia floridana (van Name) (Isopoda, Oniscidea), induced by larval acanthocephalans. Revista Brasileira de Zoologia20(4), 711-716. https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0101-81752003000400026

Frank, Kenneth. (2015). PILLBUGS (Isopods; Armadillidium).

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/309680327_PILLBUGS_Isopods_Armadillidium

Moore, J. (1983). Responses of an Avian Predator and Its Isopod Prey to an Acanthocephalan Parasite. Ecology, 64(5), 1000-1015. doi:10.2307/1937807

https://www.jstor.org/stable/1937807?seq=1

Moore, J. (1984). Parasites That Change the Behavior of Their Host. Scientific American. 250(5). 108-115. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/24969371

Nickol, B., and G. E. Dappen (1982).  Armadillidum vulgare (Isopoda) as an intermediate host of Plagiorhynchus cylindraceus (Acanthocephala) and isopod response to infection. Journal of Parasitology 68(4) 570-575.  https://www.jstor.org/stable/328091

Phillips, Anna. 2010.  March 21 – Plagiorhynchus cylindraceusParasite of the Day.http://dailyparasite.blogspot.com/2010/03/march-21-plagiorhynchus-cylindraceus.html

Wehr, E.E., J.T. Lucker. 1952. Insects and Helminths, in The Year Book of Agriculture. naldc.nal.usda.gov https://naldc.nal.usda.gov/download/IND43894194/PDF

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