Wednesday, May 25, 2016
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
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.
Pictured above right is anearwig 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
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.
Saturday, May 14, 2016
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
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
|Image from: http://www.pioneer.com|
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|
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
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
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
|Photo provided by: Sean McKinnon|
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|
|Photo provided by: Susan Stiles|
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.|
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 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|
|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.
Thursday, January 7, 2016
Red-Legged Grasshoppers (Melanoplus femurrubrum) are in the sub-family of grasshoppers known as Spur-throated grasshoppers.These are very common grasshoppers and are found throughout all of the United States and parts of Canada and Mexico. They are probably one of the most widespread of all the grasshoppers. They are found in weedy, grassy areas especially near cultivated land, meadows, roadsides, prairies, open woods and backyards. They feed on a wide variety of grasses and forbes. This will include many forage crops like clover and alfalfa. These are not a large grasshopper, in comparison to the much larger differential grasshopper these are rather small to medium sized grasshoppers. They can vary in color from dull reddish to brown. The hind legs have a reddish tint to them, from whence they get their common name. Females will lay eggs within the ground, and these eggs overwinter.
In the spring they hatch and begin feeding on grasses. As they grow to adulthood they will
consume large amounts of grasses and can be very injurious to numerous forage crops. In large numbers they can cause significant financial losses to these agricultural industries. They are a "Boom or Bust" species whose populatoins fluctuate depending on the food sources available to them. In times of food shortages they will grow longer wings made for long distance flying and will travel to new locations where food sources are better. On rare occasions they have shown a tendency to large mass flights, but this is rare. They usually tend to be solitary in their lifestyle. I find these little hoppers all over near our garden and the grassy areas near our old pond. They are secretive and somewhat hard to approach. I find them to be a challenge to take photographs of as they are quick to startle and hop or fly away and are capable of flying for distances up to 40 feet. This past summer and fall was a great grasshopper season with excessive amounts of these hoppers all over the place. The mild winter of last year and the wet mild spring and summer seemed to be conducive to grasshopper populations.
If you raise chickens or other fowl
Poultry tapeworms and other poultry parasites use this species as an intermediate host, so chickens, turkeys and other poultry that eat these grasshoppers can potentially acquire these parasites. Various flies, worms, slugs, snails, ants, beetles and more can be vectors for poultry parasites, too.
In addition wild game birds such as turkey and quail consume these grasshoppers, which can at times be abundant. As with domestic fowl, wild fowl can acquire parasites from eating these grasshoppers. Fortunately, unless the infestation is severe or the bird weakened, the parasites don’t usually cause death.
Monday, November 30, 2015
Many species of sweat bees are attracted to humans and will seek us out to lap up the sweat on our bodies. They glean salt and moisture from the by-product we produce when overexerted. Often these bees will sting with no provocation, and for such a tiny bee they can give a wallop of a sting too. Metallic sweatbees however have little to no preference for lapping at our sweat covered bodies. Although I have been on the receiving end of a few stings by this species when one lands on me for a salty drink and I am unaware that it is there and I inadvertently bend my knee or elbow and POW I am stung for accidentally squishing the poor bee in the crevice of those joints. Why do they always seem to favor those sensitive areas? Usually though they seem to prefer to hang out in our gardens busily visiting flowers. This habit of flying from flower-to-flower provides valuable pollination of many plants. Many people associate pollination with honey bees, and while honey bees are the poster bee for pollination, there are still numerous native bees that provide this service as well, and often times they are as proficient or at least nearly so, as the famous honey bee.
Metallic sweatbees are almost always solitary ground nesters and will dig a tunnel that may have a mound of loose soil or sand at the entrance. Burrows will be created off the main tunnel in which the female provisions with a combination of nectar and pollen in a little pollen-ball. They will lay an egg on this ball of sweetness and then seal up the entrance to the burrow. When the egg hatches it will have enough food to complete it's lifecycle. Some species of metallic sweatbees will nest in a communal nest of sorts......they share the same entrance, but each female (up to 20) will create their own separate burrows to lay their eggs. A. spendens is known to be completely solitary and places single burrows scattered across vast areas, which makes them hard to find.
This species is approximately 3/8-1/2 inch in length making them a medium sized bee and quite large for a sweatbee, which are typically tiny at approximately 1/4 inch or smaller. Males will usually have a striped abdomen and females generally have a solid metallic abdomen like the rest of their body. Some species may be metallic blue, gold or even black, but green seems to be the most common color seen.