Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Colorado Potato Beetle

Colorado Potato Beetles (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) are endemic to Colorado as well as a few neighboring states where they feed on native plants in the genus Solanum. These include horse nettles and nightshade. With the expansion of potato, tomato, and eggplant crops these beetles made a natural jump from their native host to these cultivated, garden favorites in the same genus. With this expansion in the cultivation of food crops in the genus Solanum this beetle also expanded it's reach and now can be found throughout much of the United States and parts of Canada.

They are considered to be a serious pest of potato, tomato, eggplant and pepper crops and their feeding habits can drastically reduce yield or even kill the plants. Because of this potential harm to food crops people are often dependent on insecticides to control them. Unfortunately, this beetle shows an extraordinary ability to develop resistance to insecticides developed to control it. This falls in line with what I have been saying for years and have mentioned numerous times in various posts on this very blog. Insecticides only work for a short period of time, before the insect you are targeting develops resistance and passes that resistance onto their offspring. Within a few generations they will have nearly complete resistance to the chemical cocktail and your spray will have no ill effects on them. Then you have the added concern of the spray you are using causing the unintended death of beneficial bugs like bees, butterflies and ladybugs. Insecticides are not pest specific. They routinely kill all insects they come in contact with. Care should always be exercised when using insecticides, and always follow the directions to the letter. Using more than is necessary causes more harm than good and can actually cause the resistance to insecticides to be exacerbated exponentially.

Larva feeding on potato
CPB overwinter as adults and become active again in the spring when the temperatures warm up. They will feed on weeds, volunteer potatoes and other volunteer plants within the genus Solanum. About 3 or 4 days after feeding they will mate and within days of mating the female will begin laying clusters of up to 24 eggs on the underside of the leaves of the host plant. I've read differing accounts of how many eggs they can produce in their short window of 4 to 5 weeks of ovipositing. Some say 400-500 and still others claim they may lay up to 800 eggs. Whichever number is correct, they obviously lay a tremendous amount of eggs and are quite adept at populating an area where food sources meet their needs.  It takes up to 9 days for the eggs to hatch, depending on how warm the temperatures are. Within 3 weeks they will burrow into the ground to form a pupal chamber and remain there for up to 10 days before emerging as adults. These new females will feed for a few days and seek out mates and the cycle begins again. There may be up to 3 generations per year. With such prolific reproduction it is no wonder there are so many and they can quickly become pests.

Colorado Potato Beetles are also known by other names such as Potato Beetle, Ten-lined Potato Beetle, Ten-Striped Spearman, and Colorado Beetle. They measure up to 1/2 inch in length (or 30 mm)....and their wings are yellow-orange with 10 dark brown stripes. They are often confused with the False Potato Beetle. The false potato beetle has a distinctive brown stripe down the center of their wings. The false potato beetle and the Colorado potato beetle are not able to cross breed. The Colorado potato beetle is the only one considered a pest.

We are familiar with unwanted 6 legged invaders in the United States that have made their way here via cargo shipments from other countries. Think Mutlti-Colored Asian Lady Beetle, or the Japanese Beetle, and a whole host of other destructive little blighters. The Colorado Potato Beetle is native to the US, but has spread it's reach to include Asia, and Europe. It is spreading exponentially and could end up in northern Africa, as well as Japan and other nearby countries sooner rather than later. With so much travel and trade taking place across all borders and with so many different countries its no wonder the entire World experiences an onslaught of 6-legged menaces. Truthfully it's a wonder there isn't more of a problem than there is.

If you find your garden being invaded by this hungry little bug it can be very frustrating. There are options available for organically controlling it, or you can manually remove them from the leaves. Rotating the area where you grow your crops each year can also help control them. Just keep in mind any chemicals you use may not work long term as they are notorious for building up resistance to most all chemicals designed to kill.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Spined Soldier Bug

The spined soldier bug (Podisus maculiventris) are a type of predaceous stink bug found all across the United States and in parts of Canada. They can be identified by the distinct "spiny shoulders" on the pronotum. Body is shield-shape and may be brown, or tan, with yellow legs, and a black streak on the wing membrane. They are about 2/3 of an inch long. You will also notice white spots ringed in black along the wing edges. Their common name is derived from the spines on the legs rather than the spiny shoulders. Although I've read a few reports that say otherwise, so I guess it is anyone's guess where the origin of the name really came from.

They are reported to feed on over 50 different species of insects, many of them injurious to crops, garden plants and ornamentals. Their preference for insects such as corn ear-worm, beet army-worm, fall army-worm, cabbage looper, imported cabbage-worm, Colorado potato beetle, velvet-bean caterpillar, Mexican bean beetle,and

eating a green dock beetle
flea beetles makes them a favorite among gardeners and farmers alike. You will often encounter them in a wide range of crops including alfalfa, apples, asparagus, beans, celery, cotton, crucifers, cucurbits, eggplant, potatoes, onions, soybeans, sweet corn and tomatoes. This species is so good at controlling pest insects that it is commonly used as a biological control species within greenhouses.  The use of them in biological programs in colder climates is not met with much success as they do not overwinter and cannot survive freezing temperatures. The use of them in open field biological control programs is met with mixed results. In some cases they remain in the field where they are placed and feed, but there is some indication they are not able to meet the demand and are often outnumbered by pest-prey. In other cases releasing them in your field only results in them taking flight and going to your neighbors field. At this time it is not cost effective to use them on a large scale and unfortunately chemical control seems to be the most cost effective method of meeting the demands of pest control in large operations.

I've often mentioned in other posts that my husband and I quit using insecticides over 20 years ago. Anywhere from 3 to 5 percent of insects that have been sprayed will survive the chemical onslaught. Those individuals will pass a certain amount of resistance onto their offspring. Each subsequent generation passes more and more resistance onto their offspring until you have a "Super-Bug" that is no longer destroyed by the insecticide designed to kill it. Chemical companies are constantly creating new cocktails of chemicals to try and keep one step ahead of the bugs and their resistance. Not to mention that these insecticides do not JUST target harmful insects, they also kill beneficial insects...think honey bees! We've had no problems with pests. We have great success relying on bats, birds, mammals and insect predators in controlling pest insects. We farm over 500 acres without insecticides and I am very proud of this. I wish more farmers would change their use of massive amounts of these harmful chemicals. The stark reality is that the more chemicals they use the more they HAVE to use. They will continue to be held prisoner to the high cost of chemicals until they make that hard decision to stop. At first they will have a complete imbalance of bad insects compared to good insects. Eventually though the ratio will straighten itself out and the good bugs will outnumber the bad ones...not to mention other predators which will also feed on the pest insects. We are proof it works.

These stink bugs have piercing/sucking mouthparts that they use to jab their insect prey and then inject an enzyme which helps dissolve their prey. They use their mouthparts somewhat like a straw and suck out the bodily fluids of their prey. They may also occasionally pierce nearby plants to drink fluids. This does not appear to hurt the plants in anyway, and may actually help keep them around to feed on the insects which do hurt your fruits and vegetables. If all their dietary needs are being met from moisture to meat----there is no need to go anywhere!

These stink bugs overwinter as adults in leaf litter and emerge in the spring when they will mate. After mating, females will begin depositing eggs on the underside of leaves on the plants where they hang out looking for food. A single female is capable of laying up to 500 eggs, depending upon how plentiful food is, as well as how nutritious her food choices were.
Apparently some insects are better choices than others. Mexican Bean Beetles seem to be on the good side of the nutritional scale, whereas Colorado Potato Beetles are on the bad side. In comparison it would be like humans choosing a Big Mac over a salad. It seems there is some indication that if they overeat their lifespan is greatly reduced, compared to those who ate more moderately which seem to live longer. Again....I can see a definite comparison to humans.

I find these stink bug frequently around out farm and can appreciate the beneficial service they are providing in controlling the harmful insects in our garden and our crop fields.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Green June Beetle

Green June Beetles (Cotinis nitida) are scarabs in the family Scarabaeidae and are very common throughout the Eastern United States. You will first begin to see them in June when the larva, or grubs as they are referred to, complete their final moult and emerge as adults. These are fairly large beetles that reach lengths up to 22 mm, or 1 inch. Their loudly buzzing, clumsy flight sounds very much like a bumble bee. Green June Beetles are beautiful scarabs with green metallic wings, edged in gold with bright green legs, head and underside.

Mating takes place during the morning in mid-summer. The female emits a strong-smelling milky pheromone that the male is attracted to and can smell from great distances. Mating lasts several minutes before the male departs and the female disappears into her burrow or under a nearby clump of grass. If mating was successful she will lay up to 75 eggs over the course of 2 weeks. She typically chooses organically rich soil to lay her eggs. The larva, or grubs as they are called, feed on humus and mold early in their development. In their final instar they move closer to the surface of the ground and their feeding habits switch to roots of turf grass, ornamental plants and garden plants. If these beetles occur in large enough numbers their feeding can cause significant damage to grasses, and plants. The grubs pupate in early spring and finish their development by late May or early June when the first of the adults will begin to appear, the peak emergence is in mid to late June.

The adult beetle uses the horn-like projection on their head to tear into soft skinned fruit like peaches, plums, and grapes. They will feed on the flesh of the fruit making it unmarketable for selling. Although the feeding damage caused by late instar grubs is considered more damaging than the feeding habits of the adults. We encounter them once in awhile in our garden, but never in numbers significant enough to cause damage. This could be in large part because we don't use insecticides of any kind. Instead we have a healthy population of birds, bats, and various mammals that all feed on these beetles. Moles will feed on them in the grub stage underground and we certainly seem to have no shortage of moles around here. There is a species of of digger wasp that will burrow into the tunnel of these beetle larva and sting the grub, paralyzing it. Then she will lay and egg on the grub. When the wasp egg hatches it will feed on the paralyzed grub until it is ready to pupate. By not using insecticides or fungicides the beneficial bugs thrive and help control insects that we may not want around. We farm 86 acres where I live and we haven't used insecticides for well over 20 years and I am very proud of that fact. I can say with all honesty we do not have any trouble with crop pests. Often if we will just let nature take care of itself it will do a great job without our interference.

Unlike their brown cousins the June Bugs or May Beetles, which are active at night, Green June Beetle are day active beetles. The one pictured here was found at my work place in the parking lot in the middle of the afternoon.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmers (Libellula luctuosa) are one of the most common dragonflies found in Missouri. They occur most everywhere in the United States with exception to the highest points of the Rocky Mountains.

Like all dragonflies they begin their life in water as nymphs or naiads, feeding on aquatic insects and tiny minnows. They will emerge from the water and shed their skin in their final instar or molt to their adult form. Adult females vary somewhat in color from adult males. Females look very much like immature males and have yellow stripes on either side of their abdomen and a yellow stripe down the center of their thorax. Adult males eventually lose the yellow stripes on the abdomen and they become a powdery blue. They are medium to large sized dragonflies with a wingspan up to 3 inches.

The species name of luctuosa translates into sorrowful or mournful, and is most likely due to the appearance of being draped with a mourning cloak across the wings. In most species of dragonflies the male will remain with the female, guarding her, as she lays eggs in the water. In this species however the female is "widowed" as the male leaves the female to her own devices to lay eggs without his protection. This activity could also be where they get their common name of Widow Skimmer.

Males are territorial and will fight off other males for the attention and right to mate with nearby females. They will even chase away males of other species which are no direct competition for them. This seems like wasted energy to me, but when in doubt chase any possible suitors away which guarantees your right to mate over any other males in the area. Often this species will form male groups in a territory where there is one dominant male that will most likely mate with the females....unless one of the lesser males can pull one over on the dominant male and manage to mate without him being any the wiser.

They are found in areas near slow moving streams, small lakes, ponds and other still waters. We have them in our backyard koi pond as well as a few other species. It is always entertaining to watch them as they chase other males away and compete for females. Like all dragonflies they are carnivores and feed on other insects and they are welcome guests to the backyard as they feed on moths, flies and mosquitoes.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Japanese Beetle

Japanese Beetles (Popillia japonica) in the family Scarabaeidae are native to Japan and made their way into the United States in a shipment of iris bulbs as early as 1912. It wasn't discovered until 1916 inside a nursery in New Jersey. This beetle is known to feed on over 300 varieties of  plants often destroying them. In their native country there are natural predators that feed on them, however in the United States there are no effective natural predators. Birds, frogs and other animals generally won't eat them when they come across them, so they must taste bad. As adults this beetle typically feeds on the green fleshy part of the leaves of plants, leaving only the veins of the leaves. They can skeletonize leaves very quickly and if they occur in large enough numbers they may kill the plants they are feeding on. They may also feed on the fruits present on plants such as grapes, blueberries, etc. In the larval stage, or as grubs, they feed on the roots of various grasses and plants. This beetle in the grub stage, is highly susceptible to a disease called milky spore and scientists have created a biological control agent, Paenibacillus (formerly Bacillus) popilliae. It comes in a powder form that is applied to lawns, but may take several years of application before it adequately controls the population of beetles present on your property. A wasp in the genus Tiphia and a fly in the genus Istocheta have both been proven as effective bio-control, as they will parasitize the beetle. Certain plants are known to repel them such as chives, catnip, and garlic, but with limited success in helping protect plants adjacent to them from the onslaught of these beetles. The estimated damage to turf and ornamentals each year is $450 million, that isn't counting the damage to row crops, forage or trees.

These beetles are rather bumbling in their flight pattern and rarely fly too far in search of food, but they are capable of flying up to a mile for adequate food sources if need be. They give off a pheromone as they feed which attracts additional beetles in the area and results in large aggregations of these beetles all feeding on your prize roses or other plants. When disturbed they will drop off the plant to the ground to avoid being captured by a predator. 

These beetles are tiny at 15mm (approximately 3/8 of an inch) in length with shiny green head, thorax and midline between the wings. Wings are iridescent and may appear brownish, amber, purple or greenish. At the end of the abdomen is a series of white tufts of hair that is a distinctive characteristic of this beetle.
The one pictured here came into work attached to a guests purse. When she picked her purse up off the counter, the beetle was resting on the counter. My coworker captured it and I photographed it before adding it to my insect collection.

Image from: https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef451
Adults emerge from the ground in late spring and mating takes place soon after emergence. Once mated the females will burrow 2 to 3 inches into the ground to lay their eggs. She may lay up to 60 eggs in her lifetime and once the eggs hatch (in about 10 to 14 days) the young grubs will live underground feeding on roots for 10 months before emerging the following spring and beginning the cycle all over again.

While these are attractive beetles, they should not be tolerated in your garden, yard or agricultural area. The amount of damage they cause is significant enough to create millions of dollars in loss each year to the turf, and agricultural industries alone. Traps are one way advertised to control these beetles, but all indications point to these traps not being effective as the beetles often land on the outside of the trap and very few end up IN the trap. These traps also use pheromones to attract the beetles which can be counterproductive to eliminating the beetles from your area, and may in fact encourage MORE beetles. If your beetle population is small enough you may lay a drop cloth on the ground below the plants and in the morning shake your plants causing the beetles to fall onto the drop cloth where  you can roll them up and destroy them naturally. You can also put a pan of soapy water below your plants and knock them into that. You may also chose to apply insecticides which are  approved for killing them, but be aware these insecticides may also harm beneficial insects such as honey bees.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

American House Spider

This oddly shaped, extremely bulbous spider is a house spider (Parasteatoda tepidariorum). I discovered her on the back of my house resting in the middle of a messy web she had created. I placed her on a rock to photograph her and discovered that she was a contrary specimen to capture an image of. She NEVER stopped moving!!! 

I had never seen a spider like her and submitted an image to Eric Eaton of Bug Eric to ID and within seconds he was able to supply me with a name for this spider. I found the name of "House Spider" to be rather dull and boring for such a stunningly gorgeous spider. He told me they are highly variable in coloration, and I must have one of the above average specimens in the looks department. 

Even though this is the first time I have encountered this particular spider (at least as far as I can recall), they are considered one of the most common spiders within the United States. They typically build their webs near human structures where they provide excellent pest control of many insects considered pests by humans, including wasps, cockroaches, ants, flies and mosquitoes. They are even known to try and capture grasshoppers and other larger prey by casting a line of silk at them...rather like spider-fishing. Some specimens will leave flies or other delicacies within the web to lure tiny juvenile skinks into the web so they can feed on a much larger meal. Once the web is full of discarded carcasses they will clean house by dropping the dead bodies to the ground. This keeps things tidy and allows them to keep using the same web without having to build a new one. 

They somewhat resemble black widows, at least in body shape. Unlike widows, which have toxic venom that poses a potential medical threat to humans, these spiders lack venom of any medical significance to humans. Because they reside near humans structures they are somewhat used to human activity and are not bothered by constant human motion. They aren't even particularly defensive, as evidenced by the this one sitting on my finger. She never reared up or even attempted to bite. That doesn't mean they cannot or will not bite, it just means they prefer not to. If they should bite as a result of being smashed or hurt it is no more painful than a bee sting and may cause some itching or slight swelling at the bite sight. if you are sensitive or hyper allergic to bee venom, then the venom from this spider may be of medical significance. They will usually retreat behind a nearby secluded area close to the web if too terribly disturbed. They may also drop from a line of silk and attempt to escape. Their marbled coloring is drab brown mixed with various shades of tan, gray and black which gives them excellent camouflage and they often blend into their surroundings and may go unnoticed by humans. They may also play dead as a last resort if being harassed too much. 

Females are tolerant of males hanging out in their web and you will often find males and females together. Females will build webs within close proximity to each other....but if they happen to encounter each other they will fight. 
After mating, the female may produce 15 or more egg sacs, each containing up to 400 eggs. The spiderlings will remain within the web near the female for awhile before dispersing into the environment. There is a species of assassin bug that feeds exclusively on the spiderlings of this species, so no worries of 1,000's of these spiders surviving in any given location. There are also a couple of spider species that feed on house spiders. 

This spider is often mistaken for brown widows, as their coloring is similar, but they lack the orange hourglass on the underside of the abdomen like the widow. 

MEANING of Scientific NAME
As reported by: 
 U.S. Spiders

The genus name is a combination of the Greek prefix para-, meaning “beside, near” and the genus Steatoda. Prefixes like that are sometimes added to existing genus names in order to form new names for related genera. The name Steatoda literally means “tallowy” in Greek, but it’s assumed that Carl Sundevall was going for something more like “rotund.” The specific epithet, tepidariorum, is a Latin combination that we believe means something like “from the greenhouse (from the warm house)” or “warm area.” C. L. Koch first noticed this species was common in greenhouses at the botanical garden of the University of Erlangen in Germany, so that must be why he chose that name.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Nursery Web Spider

The nursery web spider (pisaurina mira) is a common spider found throughout the United States and Canada, but is more common in the Eastern portion of its range. They are large spiders with a leg span well over 2 inches. They are highly variable in coloration and may be tan, yellowish or gray. There is a darker midline stripe that runs from the eyes through the cephalothorax and across the abdomen. The stripe on the abdomen is outlined in white. The eyes are distinctive in identifying this species. The bottom row of eyes are in a straight row, and the upper row of eyes have a deep upward curve. They rest with their front legs close together, outstretched in front of them, like pictured above.

I encountered one of these spiders on my front porch the other night and it behaved in a very strange manner. It literally bounced, or hopped in a very erratic, rapid fashion and hid underneath the step to our hot tub. I coaxed it out and it hopped a few feet away and when I moved in front of it, it stopped and then raised one hind leg. It repeated this behavior several times.....hop...hop...hop....stop, then raise a leg. Not sure why it acted like that, if it was some bizarre defense behavior, or if this was an odd behavior that this particular individual exhibited for some unknown reason.

You will find these spiders near woodland edges, in open grassy fields, meadows and near man-made structures. They are wandering spiders and actively seek insect prey. They may also be found near lights at night, and one could assume these are the opportunistic hunters.

Mating takes place while suspended from a dragline of silk that the male uses to approach the female.  The male will bind the front legs of the female together with silk then offer her a fly. If she accepts the fly; mating will take place. During copulation the female will devour the fly instead of him....so the fly is most likely a decoy to distract the female while he passes his genetics on. After mating, the female will produce an egg sac that she carries around with her in her chelicerae. When the egg sac is ready to hatch, she will create a nursery web in a low lying bush or in tall weeds. The egg sac will be placed safely inside the nursery web where the spiderlings will emerge. The spiderlings will remain in the nursery for a week or so while mom stands guard protecting them from predation.

The name "Pisaurina" is the feminine version of Pisaura, and "mira" is Latin for astonishing or wonderful. Eugene Simon bestowed this name upon the spider in honor of Pesaro River in Italy.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Brown Rove Beetle

While flipping rocks today at the farm I found this large rove beetle. At first I thought it was the Gold & Brown Rove Beetle (Ontholestes cingulatus) and tentatively ID'd it as such on Facebook. My good friend Eric Eaton over at Bug Eric corrected me and supplied the correct ID as the Brown Rove Beetle ( Platydracus maculosus). He assured me that these two beetles are often mistaken for each other. I must admit they do look very similar. The P. maculosus is larger and often found under leaf litter, rocks, logs, carrion, etc. whereas O. cingulatus will be found more often in or around fungi. Both may occasionally be found near lights at night.

The Brown Rove Beetle is common throughout much of the United States, but especially in the east. It will also be found in parts of Canada. They are dark brown covered in golden hairs, with a series of darker spots that run down the center of the abdomen. They have blue underwings that give them the appearance of a wasp when in flight. Their wings are short and barely extend onto the abdomen. They are sometimes mistaken for earwigs and at least superficially they resemble them.

Pictured above right is an
earwig for comparison
When alarmed they will curl the tip of their abdomen up and over their back and move erratically to escape potential threats. They move rapidly and are often very difficult to photograph and this one was no exception. It took quite awhile to manage a couple of decent images before I finally gave up and it disappeared underneath another rock.

As larvae and adults they use their strong pincher-like mandibles to feed on other insects especially fly larva, and should be considered beneficial to humans for the pest control they provide. They are also one of the insects collected at crime scenes to aid in determining the time of death of a corpse as they are attracted to carrion and will feed on the fly larva also attracted to rotting flesh. One could say they are opportunistic hunters.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Lance Wolf Spider

One of the things I love most about this time of year is all the insects and spiders that are out and about, or sometimes hiding under rocks, logs and debris. Tonight while flipping stepping stones I encountered this wolf spider. It sat still long enough for me to take a few pictures so I could go back later and identify it. I find wolf spiders quite frequently around my yard and they are always welcome as the apex hunters they are. This one however was new to me, but I finally identified it as the Lance Wolf Spider (Schizocosa avida). They are found throughout the United States, but are more common in the Eastern portion of the country. These spiders are common and are usually found in fields, meadows, pastures and backyards where there is plenty of places for them to hide out during the day, such as under stepping stones. They may also be encountered in forested areas as some people have reported. According to the authors of "Spiders of the Eastern United States" they are frequently found in swimming pools where they drown or may become caught in the pool filter.

These are large spiders with a legspan around 2 inches or more. Legs are not banded and may be gray, brown or yellow. The body is light brown with a blond stripe down the carapace that extends to the abdomen where it opens to form two stripes that will surround a darker lance-like mark where the spider gets its common name.

Like all wolf spiders they do not form webs to capture prey, instead they wander around seeking insects to capture. They do not chase down insects, but rather sit and wait for prey to come within striking distance. Wolf spiders have excellent eyesight like most wandering spiders and are able to see prey as it approaches, once an insect is within striking distance the spider will rush out and overtake the unfortunate victim and inject venom. Like all spiders the hairs on their legs are also extremely sensitive and may also play a part in sensing nearby prey. If the insect is small it will be eaten right away. If the prey is on the large size there may be a wrestling match until the spider can overpower the insect. The spider will hold its prey in place with her powerful legs, and deliver a fatal bite. Venom acts quickly to begin dissolving the soft tissue inside the body of the insect, so that the spider can slurp it up like an insect-slurpee. Crickets, grasshoppers, beetles and other larger insects make up the largest portion of their diet. They will also eat other wolf spiders, including those of their own species.

Maturity is reached in May and mating takes place in June. Males die shortly after mating, females live until the first freeze. The female will lay a drag-line of silk near where she is waiting for prey. This drag-line is easily detected by males of her species and plays an important role in mating courtship. A male wolf spider is able to follow the drag-line to the female and may be able to coerce her into mating. He will wave his legs and will use stridulation on leaf litter to show his interest in making her his mate. If she is interested she will accept his overtures and not use him for her next meal.  She will form an egg sac sometime in the early or mid-summer. She will dig a burrow that she will hide out in and look after the egg sac. When the urge to hunt overtakes her, she will attach the egg sac to her spinnerets located at the tip of her abdomen, and carry it with her while she hunts. Her egg sac will contain up to 200 eggs and will hatch sometime late in the summer or early fall. The spiderlings will crawl onto their mothers abdomen where she will look after them for a short period of time until they are ready to disperse and be on their own. Spiderlings may remain in the area where they were born, still others will climb to a vantage point and balloon on air waves to new locations. Those that survive predation by other spiders and insects will overwinter as juveniles and in the spring begin the cycle all over again.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Marbled Fungus Weevil

While outside walking around my yard yesterday evening I noticed a weevil clinging to the side of our metal garage. I tried photographing it, but could not get the photos to come out, so I moved the weevil to a blade of grass and snapped a few pictures.

Beyond being a weevil, I had no idea what this beetle was. I posted the picture to facebook and in no time my good friend Eric Eaton at Bug Eric was able to ID it as a fungus weevil. That gave me a place to start in getting a positive ID to species and I began my search on bugguide.net. In no time I found a perfect match of Marbled Fungus Weevil (Euparius marmoreus). They range throughout the Eastern United States to Montana and also Arizona.

Weevils in the family Anthribidae are classified as the fungus weevils, they typically have longer antennae than other weevils. Most antennae of weevils have elbows, but the fungus weevils do not. This sets them apart and aids in identification. The marbled fungus weevil is blotchy in appearance in shades of tan, brown and gray. There is a black eyeline from the snout, along the side of the face to the elytra. They are relatively small at 3 to 8 mm in length.

As adults they feed on fungus, and decaying plant matter. As grubs they feed within decaying logs, trees and other wood, especially elm.This one was hanging out on the side of our garage no where near any rotting or decaying wood. So it was a little out of its normal environment, and I'm not quite sure what it was after there, unless it was warming in the sun for some reason.

Thursday, March 31, 2016


Stoneflies in the order Plecoptera are common insects found in and near streams, springs, rivers and some lakes. There are over 3,500 species found Worldwide with the exception of Antarctica, over 600 of these species are found in North America.

The common name of stonefly most likely comes from their preferred habitat among the rocks and stones in and near the water sources where they live.

Adults are one of the first insects found in the spring near streams or rivers, and many species are even known to be winter hardy and will emerge during the coldest months of the year. Almost every month of the year will see some species of stonefly emerging from the water.

Males and females find each other for mating by "Drumming" on substrate (leaf litter, etc). Each species has a particular drumming pattern they use to locate their own kind. The male will drum first and if a female is nearby she can sense the vibrations of his drumming and will answer with her own drumming sound. They will move towards each other, stopping occasionally to drum again. Once they locate each other they will mate. After mating, the female will produce 100's or 1,000's of eggs depending upon species. She will carry the egg mass around with her attached to her abdomen. She will eventually drop the egg mass into the water. As soon as the mass is submerged it will break apart and the eggs disperse and attach themselves to stones, rocks or other underwater surfaces. Newly hatched nymphs look much like the adults and go through an incomplete metamorphosis, and depending upon species it may take up to three years. Most species however complete their lifecycle in one year. They may go through as many as 22 molts before they are ready to transition to their adult form. The nymphs must leave the water and crawl onto some secluded surface to shed their skin for the final time. Typically they emerge at night to avoid predators such as birds who would find them an easy, tasty meal.

As adults they are poor flyers and usually rely on crawling to get around. Although you may find them at lights at night. As nymphs they live for 10 months or more, but as adults their life is very short-lived and most die within 4 or 5 weeks....some species in as few as 3 or 4 days. Their sole purpose as an adult seems to be to find a mate, reproduce and die....or to feed hungry predators. Stoneflies are important to the environment for many reasons. They are considered bio-indicators of water quality as they cannot tolerate polluted water. The presence of stonefly nymphs would suggest good or even excellent water quality.

They are also an important food source for fish in the nymphal stage and for terrestrial animals when they emerge as adults. Frogs, birds, voles, shrews and insects all feed on stoneflies. Some species of stoneflies have developed ways of avoiding predators. as nymphs they will play dead by folding their head into their body and curl into a ball and not move. A fish will often pass them by as something undesirable. Other species, in the family Pteronarcyidae have developed an even more unique way of avoiding predators, they implement a defense mechanism that involves volunteer bleeding or autohemorraging. They force out drops of their blood through pores located on the third set of legs. This blood is thought to smell or taste bad to would-be predators. Or at the very least it could possibly be a distraction allowing the stonefly nymph to make an escape.

Stoneflies are considered a primitive insect and are closely related to cockroaches. In both stages of life they have tails protruding from their abdomen. They are typically tan, brownish-green or grayish. The one pictured here appears more black to me. I had never seen one quite like this one before and therefore it threw me and I wasn't sure what I was looking at. I asked some friends on facebook what this interesting insect was and they all agreed it was a stonefly. It just goes to show, that just because something doesn't look like what you are used to, don't rule out that it might be exactly what you thought it was to begin with. These insects do not bite, sting or cause any harm to humans and they are easily captured. They make great insects for children to handle to introduce them to the world of bugs with risk of being hurt by a nippy bug.

Stonefly nymphs are also a favorite among fly fisherman and fly-tyers. There are examples of hand tied fly's modeled after stonefly nymphs that are over 4 centuries old!!!! Can you imagine a 400 year old trout fly? Fisherman continue to favor this particular insect as an effective lure for trout, as well as salmon. If it's not broke don't fix it appears to be the mantra when concerning stoneflies, if it worked 400 years ago, it will work today! Happy Fishing!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Kudzu Bug

Last summer my husband and I took a trip to Townsend, TN which is one of our favorite vacation destinations. We love the Smoky Mountains and just being outdoors. One day while walking along the Little River looking for spots for my husband to fly fish, I spotted this tiny bug crawling around on a lichen covered twig. I had never seen a bug like it and at first glance it looked like a tiny beetle. I snapped a few pictures and posted them to Facebook and Bugguide.net. It wasn't long and I had an answer. This is the Kudzu Bug (Megacopta cribraria) in the family Plataspidae . So it's not a beetle at all, but rather a true bug in the order Hemiptera and closely related to stink bugs.

Image from: http://www.pioneer.com
They measure 3.5-6 mm (approximately 1/4 inch, or about the size of an adult lady beetle). Their body is a shiny olive-green color covered in mottled brown spots. Their body is not shield-shaped like most stink bugs, instead it is rounded in shape. They go by many different names including Kudzu Bug, LabLab Bug, Kudzu Beetle, Bean Plataspid, and Globular Stink Bug. The name LabLab Bug comes from their native land of China and India where they are pests of the LabLab Bean and other legumes. In 2009 they were discovered in Georgia and since then have spread their range, and as of 2012 includes all of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, and most recently Mississippi, and Maryland.It continues to spread and I imagine it is only a matter of time before it makes its way into Missouri.

How did they get to Georgia in the first place? No one seems to know, but most likely they hitched a ride in some cargo on an airplane from their home country and managed to get past the inspectors. It is believed that a lone pregnant female is the  single ancestor to all generations and populations that have since established such a strong hold in many areas. Like the Asian Lady Beetle, Marmorated Stink Bug, and many many other invasive insects, they have made themselves at home and in some areas are wrecking havoc.

Kudzu, also know as Japanese Arrowroot, is a vine native to Asia. It was first introduced in the United States in 1876 as an ornamental, presented as an easy to grow shade producer. In the 1930's and 1940's it was again promoted as a way for farmers and landowners to control soil erosion and farmers were encouraged to plant the vine. In southern states farmers were paid $8.00 an acre to sow the seeds of this vine, and over 8,000,000.00 was paid out when ultimately a million acres was successfully planted with what later became known as the "vine that ate the south."

Image of Kudzu from  : https://en.wikipedia.org
 When the kudzu bug made it's way into the United States and landed in Georgia, it found a warm climate full of one of its favorite foods...the kudzu vine. No wonder this tiny bug was able to reproduce prolifically and spread its population so quickly. If this bug would have behaved itself and fed only on the kudzu we could probably learn to appreciate it, if not like it....but as non-native insects are wont to do, they did anything BUT behave. They jumped ship as it were and began feeding on other plants like wisteria, peanuts and other legumes. One plant in particular is a favorite, and that is soybeans, much to the horror of farmers who have found themselves faced with yet another tiny, six-legged crop eating monster. It is not uncommon to have a single soybean plant to be infested with up to 100 adult and nymphs of this species.  Like all bugs in the order Hemiptera, they have sucking mouthparts and use their rostrum to pierce the plant stems and suck out the vital juices of the plant, essentially stunting the plant and greatly reducing the crop yield.  It also causes wounds in the plant stems that allow bacteria to grow and makes room for fungus' and mold to take hold which can also reduce yield or kill the plant. These bugs are not known to feed on the bean pods themselves, just the leaves and stems.

After mating, females will deposit their eggs in small masses on the underside of leaves of the host plant. The female will also provide a substance known as symbiotic bacteria in the form of small brownish capsules. The newly hatched nymphs will ingest this beneficial bacteria which allows them to digest the food plants (legumes) that they feed on. Two generations are produced each season in the southwest. It is not known if they can survive in Northern climates, but as winters become warmer and climate change takes place, in all likelihood they will do just fine. It takes them 6 to 8 weeks to complete their lifecycle from egg to adult.

When autumn arrives and the temperatures begin cooling down these little bugs will begin seeking shelter for the winter. Many will overwinter in ground litter in or near soybean fields or kudzu vines. Others will seek human shelters such as our homes. They seem to be attracted to light colors, especially white. They are even known to aggregate on cars, and RV's. This activity is very similar to that of the Multi-colored Asian Lady Beetles, which also aggregate in large numbers each fall and are also attracted to lighter colored homes. They may make their way inside your home, and end up in windowsills, basements and attics and will leave behind a stench if they occur in large numbers. The odor they give off acts as an attractant to other kudzu bugs and may bring more uninvited guests into your home. You can use a vacuum to sweep them up, or bug spray, if you so desire. Don't leave dead bodies laying around though, as they may attract more unwanted guests in the form of ants or other critters that may want to feed on those tasty little morsels. They may also stain furniture, curtains or other surfaces within your home with the secretions they emit from their legs when threatened.
They are not known to harm humans. They don't bite, but the secretions they emit can discolor skin or leave blisters if you are sensitive to the substance they produce.

These bugs are certainly a pest of great interest to farmers, gardeners, greenhouse owners and the agricultural industry in general. The agricultural industry is continuously monitoring their population and possible expansion into new areas. If you think you have spotted one of these bugs, be sure to report it to your local extension office. Especially if you are in a state that is not shown on the above distribution map.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Ragweed Flower Moth

The Ragweed Flower Moth (Schinia rivulosa) is found throughout much of the United States and parts of Canada. They are common where Ragwood is prolific, and anyone who is familiar with ragweed knows, once its established it quickly becomes prolific and wrecks havoc on those with allergies. I find it funny that the genus name for ragweed is Ambrosia, as in "food of the gods" Ragweed is an awful plant that resists all attempts to control it. I'd say that is anything but god-like, in fact one could argue that it is downright evil! Fortunately I am not an allergy sufferer, but I can't help but feel sympathy for those that are.

These moths are usually greenish in color, but can be brown, tan, yellow or even black. There are distinct white lines surrounding darker blotches on both the hindwing and forewing. They are small with a wingspan up to 1.3 inches. The female deposits eggs on or near ragweed and the caterpillars will feed on various parts of the plants, and seem especially fond of the seeds. I'd say these little munchers are every allergy sufferers friend as they help control the spread of this plant to some degree. When the caterpillars are disturbed or feel threatened they will fall from the plant and curl themselves into a tight ball. This would make them virtually impossible to see among leaf litter or weeds.

Adults probably nectar at flowers, but I could not find anything to substantiate that. Adults are frequently found among ragweed and are more active at night. You might also find them at porch lights or other light sources at night.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Hedgehog Gall

This odd looking protrusion was found attached to the leaf of a burr oak tree. I had no idea what it was so I placed a photo of it on facebook and soon had an answer of something called a Hedgehog Gall. The name is very apt considering its appearance. It looks somewhat spikey, but is actually very soft and velvety to touch. Hedgehog galls are formed by a tiny gall-forming insect called a Hedgehog Gall Wasp (Acrapis erinacei). The lifecycle of most gall wasps is interesting and sometimes complex, and hedgehog gall wasps are no different. Mating takes place in the spring and the female will lay eggs on the leaves of various species of white oaks, like our burr oak. When the eggs hatch they irritate the tree causing it to form a gall that essentially protects the young larvae. Each gall may contain up to 5 larval cells. The larvae feed on the nutritious insides of the gall that the tree so kindly created for them.....well kindness probably had nothing to with it, but nonetheless the tiny gall wasps are provided all the nutrients they need as they grow inside the gall. As the insect feeds and grows so does the gall itself. This particular gall is approximately 1/2 inch in diameter and yellow in color with orangish colored hairs covering the surface.

When the larvae are ready to leave the protection of the gall they will emerge as adult females (no males). These unbred females will lay eggs on the leaf buds of the host tree. These eggs overwinter and hatch sometime in April or May. The newly hatched larva will develop inside other galls and emerge many weeks later as both males and females which will mate and begin the cycle over again. See, I told their life cycle was somewhat interesting and complex.

Galls have always fascinated me and I never get tired of finding them and I am always curious what type of insect created them. Most insects that form galls are so tiny as to go unseen by humans. Unlike larger, more defensive wasps, gall wasps are harmless to humans. Most are also harmless to trees, even if the tree is covered in a significant amount of galls it doesn't seem to have any ill effects on the trees overall health. If the tree is young and the number of galls is disproportionate to the size of the tree then it may stunt the tree or possibly kill it, but that would be rare. The wasp depends upon the host plant to survive, so it is not in the best interest of the wasp to destroy the tree by overpopulating it with offspring and galls to the point of damaging or killing the host. This spring as the leaves begin to open look for the many types of galls that are present and see if you can discover who formed them.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Speckled Kingsnake: educator, ambassador, a diagnosis and friend.

Photo provided by: Sean McKinnon
WARNING: The following blogpost depicts graphic surgical procedures in the form of pictures and video. If you are sensitive to this type of thing you may not want to proceed.

Speckled kingsnakes (Lampropeltis getula holbrooki) or Salt & Pepper Snakes as they are sometimes referred to are native species to Missouri and occur statewide, however their population is larger in the Southern portion of our state than up North where I live. They are medium to large snakes that may reach lengths up to 48 inches. There is a World record of 72 inches, which would be quite large for this species. This species is unmistakable in appearance and very easy to identify. They have a shiny black or dark brown background. Each scale contains a cream-colored or yellow spot giving them a "speckled" appearance from which they get their common name.

Like nearly all snakes they consume vast amounts of rodents, but they are also very fond of reptiles, this includes lizards, but most especially other snakes. It is reported they can even kill and consume venomous snakes with no ill affects from the venom. It is believed they are immune to the proteins in the venom, the very same proteins that can cause devastating responses in mammals including humans. Or it could be they are just really good at not getting bit, either way they manage to eat a fair amount of rattlesnakes and copperheads. They will also eat birds, bird eggs and there is even a record that exists of one opportunistic kingsnake consuming turtle eggs.

Most snakes in Missouri mate in the spring (there are a few exceptions), and eggs are laid in April or May shortly after mating. Sometime in late summer or early fall the eggs will hatch. The new born snakes will be on their own and ready to hunt for their first meal. This species is not known to be especially defensive when approached or captured. They may shake their tail in response to being disturbed which sounds very much like a rattlesnake buzzing its tail. If you pick the snake up it may bite or worse yet, musk you in self-defense. Musking is something a snake can and often does to deter a potential predator. Musk is a mixture of feces, and oily musk the snake produces. It smells foul and is near to impossible to wash off your skin (trust me). I guess if a potential predator takes a good dose of musk to the face or mouth it might be enough to cause them to give up on their snakey meal or at the very least be taken aback enough to drop their meal and allow the snake a chance to escape. Generally though they will calm down quite quickly when handled.

Speckled kingsnakes are found in a wide variety of habitats including prairies, grasslands, agricultural areas, rocky timbered hillsides, and near marshes. It is not uncommon to find them under rocks, or old pieces of tin and other debris left out by humans. The one pictured above was found in a timbered area by a friend of mine while he was mushroom hunting with his daughters.

This blog post however is about a very special kingsnake, one that was found, not in it's natural habitat, but rather found in a kitchen in the middle of a large town. This blog post is about Spot, the educational ambassador of her kind.

Photo provided by: Susan Stiles
Our story begins prior to the year 2000, when the Missouri Department of Conservation in St. Joseph received a phone call from a woman who had a snake in her kitchen. As snakes generally don't hang out in kitchens this somewhat shocked our caller and she wanted to know if we could come rescue her (or the snake depending upon your viewpoint). She described the snake in detail and an agent was sent out to help her when it was determined the snake as most likely a speckled kingsnake and NOT a common snake to find in a city much less in a house. The agent returned a short time later with a beautiful speckled kingsnake. The decision was made to keep her and use her as an educational/program snake. She was held continuously and worked with to get her used to crowds and handling. This is important as the vast majority of our programs are done with small children and we can't have a nippy snake biting some unsuspecting child. She proved to be a patient, tolerant and friendly snake and became a permanent fixture at MDC. I became a volunteer in 2003 with MDC and immediately adored this snake. She was so sweet and easy to work with. I did countless programs with her and in 2010 I was hired as the naturalist and continued to use her for programs on a regular basis. She never once offered to bite or musk anyone and was so incredibly tolerant of all the little hands touching her and grabbing at her. Several years ago a group of kids I was doing a program for decided she needed a name and they graced her with the name "Spot." As they explained it...she is covered in SPOTS!

Photo provided by: Susan Stiles
In 2013 I began noticing some changes in her. Whenever I would take her to a program she would defecate all over the place. If you think musking sounds nasty, trust me when I say that is nothing compared to a full-on bowel movement dumped down the front of your shirt or pants. When this occurs in front of dozens of children and adults it takes on a whole new level of nastiness. After several attempts to bring her to programs and her continued bowel issue I finally came to the conclusion she was "over it" and ready to retire. I stopped using her at programs and presentations and she officially retired that year and I must say it was a well earned retirement.

In December of 2015 someone in our office noticed she had a large protrusion coming from her cloaca (vent). This had us concerned as we weren't sure if she had an egg bound up inside her or if she had a bowel blockage. A friend of mine looked at it and said to soak her daily in warm water and keep antibiotic ointment on it and hopefully she would pass whatever was causing the problem. After a week of soaking and using ointment there was no change in her condition. I made the decision to take her to a veterinarian I know named Dr. Roy Wilson at Rafter Cross Veterinary Clinic

He has been our go-to vet for several years whenever I have a snake that needs medical attention. He has helped us with a bullsnake that had mouthrot, an extremely old black snake (40 plus years old) that had cancer and had to be euthanized and a prairie kingsnake that had an upper respiratory infection.

He took one look at the growth and determined it was a fleshy tumor. We had her stretched out on the examining table and I happened to notice that the growth was not at her vent as we originally thought, but rather several inches above it. How in the world me and my friend made that mistake is anyone's guess, but suffice it to say we sure weren't paying attention. I asked Dr. Wilson what exactly he meant by fleshy tumor, and he replied that in most cases it means cancer. I was devastated. He reassured me that he felt confident that he could do surgery to remove the tumor and she would be okay, or at the very least having the tumor removed would ease her pain and would give her a fighting chance.

He took x-rays of the tumor to make sure that it had not spread to her ribs or spine and that surgery was even a viable option. It was determined that the tumor was in the abdominal cavity and had not spread into her bones. This was a good sign.
We scheduled surgery for the following week and he sent me home with pain medicine to give her to keep her comfortable until she had surgery. The following week came and so did a snow storm that dumped 4 inches of snow and ice on us. I had to make the decision to cancel the appointment and reschedule for the following week. Fortunately the weather cooperated for this appointment, and I was able to make the trip up north to his office. Dr. Wilson was kind enough to allow me to sit in on the surgery procedure and take photographs, and help him as his assistant was a little frightened of snakes and preferred to not handle our patient in anyway.

Waiting for the medicine to take effect.
We placed her in a large towel on top of a heating pad to warm her and then 
Dr. Wilson gave her a series of shots that included ketamine-diazepam to get good muscle relaxation with a local lidocaine, and meloxicam for analgesia. After about 20 minutes she was sedated enough to begin the procedure. He worked gently and calmly on her to remove a sizable mass from her abdomen.  We were both shocked at the size of the tumor and opening left behind. He knew sewing her up was going to be tricky as he could not pull her skin closed too tightly as it would constrict blood flow and could potentially cause all the tissue below the incision to die, essentially defeating the purpose of the surgery to begin with. He ultimately closed the four corners and put a few stitches through the center and instructed me to keep it clean and covered in antibiotic ointment and bandages. 


He placed the tumor in formalin and sent me home with it and the contact information to send it to a diagnostic center at MU in Columbia, MO. We were both exceedingly curious if it was indeed cancer or benign. He also provided pain medicine and instructions to keep her warm, and the wound clean. We scheduled a follow up visit for the next week.

I took her home and placed her in a clean cage lined with newspapers, and soft towels with a nice warm heat lamp over her. She was pretty lethargic for a couple of days and didn't move much, but by the third day she was moving from one end of the cage to the other and drinking. I gave her two pain shots over the course of the week before our return trip to Dr. Wilson. He looked at the incision and said all things considered it looked pretty good, but he wasn't ready to remove the stitches yet and we made another appointment for the following week to remove them and I told him he should be hearing from MU about the pathology on the tumor as I had put his contact info down.

He told me I should try and feed her, but I wasn't sure she would eat given what she had been through, plus she had appeared ready to shed her skin prior to the surgery. Generally snakes won't eat when they are ready to shed. I offered her two mice and it took her two days but she ate them both. Then she decided to shed and created a big mess for me. The shed skin got caught on the bandage and she could not slough it off all the way. I had to gently cut the bandage way while she slithered all over the table making it impossible for me to hold onto her. It was like wrangling a bag of cats. This was a sure sign she felt better. After numerous attempts I finally got the bandage cut off, then I had to cut the bunched up shed skin off of her. This also took quite awhile as I chased her all over the table trying to corral her while I cut the old skin and not cut good skin. FINALLY I had her free of that mess and back into a clean cage and fed her an additional mouse which she ate.

Right before removing stitches

Snip snip
I returned to Dr. Wilson the following week during a snowstorm that caused slick roads and blinding snowfall. I slid through a stop sign and spun out more than once and debated whether or not to reschedule, but I was determined to get those stitches out.

A warm place to hide: my sleeve
Whatcha doing back there Doc?
Looking good all things considered

After removing the stitches he gave me the news from MU that the pathology report showed it was indeed cancer. Her prognosis is guarded, which as Dr. Wilson pointed out is better than fair and MUCH better than grave. SO in other words she has a chance. We will keep an eye on her and if we see the beginnings of anymore tumors the difficult decision to euthanyze her may have to be made, but for now we will be glad in the moment that she survived the surgery and has a fighting chance to be with us for a few more years.

Without Dr. Wilson's willingness to perform the surgery our "Spot" would have had no chance at all. I am indebted to him and his dedication to help ALL creatures no matter their species. I've been asked many times since this process began "Why save a snake?" my only answer is "Why not?" To do anything less for this snake is a dishonor to her and all she has done to help people overcome their fear and loathing of snakes. Her gentle, patient, tolerant nature has earned her many fans, even among self-professed snake haters. Thank you Dr. Wilson for giving our friend a chance!