Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Peacock Fly

Peacock flies are a type of fruit fly in the family Tephritidae. There are approximately 500 genera, that include over 5,000 described species Worldwide within this family. The one pictured here is Paracantha cultaris and can be found throughout Western North America. This particular species lays its eggs within sunflower stems where the maggots hatch and feed within the head of the sunflower. Adults are typically found around sunflowers or other related plants.
 Some species within this family nectar at flowers and on some level would be considered pollinators because of their feeding habits. By nectaring at flowers which contain high levels of pollen, like sunflowers, they will in turn spread that pollen from plant to plant essentially pollinating them just like bees. We don't always think of flies being pollinators, but many of them are quite good at it.

These flies run the gamut of being beneficial or harmful depending upon the species and their feeding habits. Some feed on crops and cause significant agricultural losses each year. Some are host specific and feed only on one plant species, like the olive fruit fly, which as its name would suggest feeds on olive trees. They cause vast amounts of damage to these trees in areas where they occur in large numbers.  Other species cause no damage at all and instead are beneficial to humans and are being used as a biological control measure against noxious plants like knapweed.

Because of their agricultural importance, fruit flies, might  be the most vastly studied of all insects found throughout the World. Whether they are being studied to learn control measures to keep them from destroying crops, or to learn more about their feeding habits and exploit them to benefit us in biological control measures; one thing is certain they are important enough ecologically to warrant time and money spent on learning more about them.

Flies within the family Tephritidae are small to medium in size and distinctive in coloration. Many are orange, golden, yellow, greenish and any number of other colors. They have beautiful picture-wings and eyes that look almost psychedelic in appearance. Others use Batesian mimicry to mimic bees and wasps, and others are experts at camouflage. Many of  these flies are strikingly handsome and always a fun insect to find among the flowers.

Some species live short lives and die within a weeks time. Other species live a full season or two. Be on the look-out for these flies among the blooming flowers as they feed, lay eggs and spread pollen from flower to flower.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

World Snake Day

To celebrate World Snake Day I thought I would share with you one of my personal favorites, the black rat snake (Pantherophis obsoletus). This particular species is the most widely distributed of all rat snakes in the United States. They are found throughout the Eastern United States, west to Texas, Lousiana, and Mississippi and north into small portions of Southern Canada. In Missouri this is probably the most commonly encountered snake we have, second only to garter snakes. They are found in a wide variety of habitats from rocky hillsides that they share will timber rattlesnakes, to farmlands, backyards, parks, prairies and woodlands. Of these habitat occurrences woodlands is the preferred home of these snakes. They adept at climbing and are often seen high in trees.

Their diet is highly variable, and includes rats, mice, voles, bunnies, birds, and bird eggs, including chicken eggs, which has earned them another common name of Black Chicken Snake.

I've often heard blue jays and other birds raising a loud ruckus in the trees and when I investigate I almost always see a black snake causing all the commotion. I've witnessed on more than one occasion birds pecking at snakes trying to protect their eggs and nestlings from being eaten by this hungry predator. I also know these snakes will frequently invade bird houses for the eggs and nestlings hidden within. While this can be very upsetting to those who love birds and who invite birds into their yards by feeding them or providing housing. I personally find it hard to be mad at the snake. They are only trying to survive and find food like any other animal, and when that food presents itself in such an easily accessible location as a bird house how can we fault the snake for doing what instinct drives it to do? We also raise chickens and once in awhile we encounter a black snake within the nesting boxes feeding on the eggs. Generally we are drawn to the chicken coop by loud clucking and panicked commotion going on inside the coop. I remember a couple of years ago my husband (who is not a fan of snakes) came and got me and told me he needed my help.

I followed him to the hen house and he pointed to a nest box. There was a gorgeous black rat snake feasting on the chicken eggs. I found the situation a little humorous, much to my husbands irritation who just wanted the snake gone. I picked up the snake and placed her outside, after snapping a photo. As soon as I placed her on the ground she turned around and slithered right past my husband and straight into the hen house again!! She disappeared into a crack in the wall inside and wasn't seen again. My husband just looked at me and rolled his eyes and said "Well, that was helpful!"
I'm sure the snake was hanging out in the hen house after the mice who hang out there feeding on the chicken feed. Once in the hen house it discovered the eggs and decided that meal was much easier to catch than a nervous, fast moving mouse that fights back by biting.

Black snakes, like all snakes hibernate over the winter and will often use hibernation sites occupied by rattlesnakes and copperheads. This communal hibernation habit earned them another common name of Black Pilot Snake, because it was believed by many that the black snake led, or piloted, the copperheads and rattlesnakes to the hibernation den. We of course know this is not true, they simply share the same locations.

Several years ago black snakes began using a crawl space in our basement for a hibernation site. Each spring I remove from 5 to 8 black snakes, yellow-bellied racers and garter snakes from the basement and put them outside. I assume they get turned around when trying to find their way back outside and end up in our laundry room where the opening of the crawl space is located. It is not unusual for me to be doing laundry and find a snake peeking back at me.

It is also rumored that black snakes will eat rattlesnakes, and there are videos on the internet claiming this to be true. Black snakes are not known to favor eating other snakes and the video's in question are showing black kingsnakes or indigo snakes which choose snakes as their primary food source. Another rumor involving rat snakes and rattlesnakes is that they will cross breed and create hybrid offspring of both species, this simply is not biologically possible. They are too far removed on the evolutionary scale to accomplish something like that in natural settings.

Black snakes mate in the early spring and lay their eggs sometime in June or July. They often share the same location as other black rat snakes to lay their eggs, creating a rookery of many different clutches. I have such a location in my back yard. Many years ago we cut down a large maple tree that was in danger of falling on our house. We used the stump for many years as an over-sized planter until eventually it began rotting away to such a degree that we could no longer plant flowers in there. Bugs had worked on the stump and it was in an advanced stage of decay. It was at this point it seemed like a preferred site for black snakes to use for a place to lay their eggs. A few years ago I noticed two black snakes laying their eggs under the loose soil around this stump. Two months later I noticed a shed skin of a baby snake on the stump and wondered if the snakes were beginning to hatch and emerge. I dug around in the dirt and found the eggs and they were indeed hatching. Imagine my excitement to witness something like that!!!

All told there were 57 babies that hatched from those eggs. That sounds like a lot of baby snakes, but only about 10% of those babies will survive. While snakes are excellent predators they are also prey for many animals. Foxes, raccoons, coyotes, other snakes, birds and even your house cat will all eat snakes. Juvenile snakes tend to be much more defensive in their behavior and much more apt to bite when faced with a predator, including a human who may want to capture one. This super defensive behavior is in response to the fact that when you are a baby snake everything wants to eat you.

Juvenile rat snakes look entirely different than they do as adults. As juveniles they have a gray or brownish background color with darker blotches or spots along the length of their body. This acts as camouflage to protect them to some degree from predators. The pattern breaks up their shape making them harder to see. Some even speculate that it is also a form of mimicry, because they superficially resemble rattlesnakes. If you look like something venomous it could be assumed a predator might think twice about trying to eat you.

 A couple of weeks ago I discovered the stump was being used again by the black snakes. This time I counted 7 females using the stump over the course of a week all laying eggs. One night there were three snakes at once laying eggs. I was fascinated by them and sat by the stump for over 3 hours watching them. 
Short video of black snakes in the stump.

If two snakes from a few years ago succeeded in leaving 57 or more eggs, I can only imagine the amount of eggs that 7 snakes will leave behind. If they average 20-25 eggs per clutch that's a lot of babies! 

  Predation by animals is not the only thing snakes have to fear in the struggle to survive. Humans are notoriously prone to kill snakes and I've heard uttered on more than one occasion by intolerant people "the only good snake is a dead snake!" This attitude frustrates me and even angers me to some degree. Snakes are excellent rodent control and we all know rodents carry diseases. Just Google Hantavirus! Not to mention rodents are host to ticks which spread many types of deadly diseases to humans and our pets. Snakes help control those disease by controlling the rodents.  Roads and deadly drivers also take a huge toll one snakes. Rodents are also estimated to be responsible for up to 30% of house fires, caused from their habit of chewing on wiring. 

I know many drivers go out of their way to run over snakes, I've witnessed people purposely crossing the dividing line on a highway to run over a snake. Not only are they risking an accident, they are killing an innocent animal using the road as a basking location or as means to get from one location to another. Did the snake deserve that? 

Humans also use glue traps to catch rodents, bugs, spiders and even snakes in their homes. These traps do not kill their captors quickly, instead the animal dies a slow agonizing death by starvation. They cannot move or escape, and they feel fear, hunger and thirst before perishing. These traps are cruel and in my opinion should not be used.
Several times a year people will bring glue traps into my office with a still alive snake attached to it wanting me to ID the snake. Their fear is often that the snake is venomous. So far there has never been a venomous snake brought in, nearly always it is black rat snakes. Once the person leaves I spend sometimes as much as an hour painstakingly and gently removing the snake from the glue board. This involves a lot of dawn dish soap, Avon Skin-so-soft and patience. Once removed then I release them in the timber behind our building.

Another problem is litter. Humans are very messy creatures and we often leave behind trash that we don't give a second thought about. As evidenced by the following pictures. My daughter found this young black rat snake near our back door three years ago. It had somehow slithered through a piece of PVC pipe when it was a juvenile and became stuck. We know we had hired a plumber a few years prior to this and we assume the plumber left behind some small pieces of PVC that he had cut, then the snake unwittingly found them and carried this bracelet around with it for quite some time. Had we not found it when we did, it most likely would have died. My husband helped me and we sawed the plastic off which took about 30 minutes and resulted in the snake biting me, but we were able to release the snake.
Over the years I've often wondered what became of this snake and if it survived and that question was answered this year when I found those snakes laying eggs by the stump. One of them had the tell-tale scar from the PVC pipe it had once worn. I was so happy to know that snake had not only survived, but thrived and went on get bred and leave behind her offspring. She is a true survivor.

Here is the snake with the PVC pipe scar 3 years after her ordeal. 

When I was a kid every black snake we encountered was glossy black with a white belly. That isn't so much the case anymore. I find snakes with red, yellow, white and some orange coloration between the scales and a strong pattern visible more often than not now. This coloration varies from a lot to a little depending upon the specimen and the location. The ones at my house seem to have a lot of color, whereas other locations only a small amount. But I have not seen a completely black black rat snake for many years.
I'm not certain what this color change indicates, or why it has been happening over the past few decades. Is it an adaptation for future survival? Is it a fluke of breeding that produced this color and now breeding is selecting for this as a dominant feature? I don't have the answers, but I can attest to the fact that they are different now.
Notice the red and white coloring between the scales
Many people fear snakes and this fear usually comes from well meaning adults telling children that snakes are nasty, dangerous or will bite. While it is true that a snake will bite, but that is no reason to fear something. Most any animal will bite if threatened or afraid and it cannot escape. Bites happen when we try to handle the snake, or accidentally step on one or inadvertently put our hand on one, like in the hen house when gathering eggs. These bites are not offensive, they are DEFENSIVE. Snakes will not chase you down with the intention of biting or harming you. Snakes are not nasty, vile creatures. They aren't known to spread disease, instead they help control animals that do. The only snakes that could be considered dangerous are the venomous variety, and once again bites only occur when the snake is protecting itself or if you accidentally touch one or step on one. Bites are rare by these snakes, and death is even more rare. We should strive to be more tolerant of all wild animals, especially snakes. They are our friends and provide free rodent control.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Brilliant Jumping Spider

Brilliant Jumping Spiders (Phidippus clarus) are sometimes referred to has Red & Black Jumping Spiders and are common throughout the Eastern United States but also occur throughout much of the remaining portion of the United States and Southern Canada. They are one of approximately 5,000 spiders in the family of spiders called Salticidae, within this family there are 60 or so within the genus Phidippus. Nearly 10% of all spiders fall into this family of spiders making them one of the largest groups of spiders in the natural World. Jumping spiders have very large front facing eyes and excellent eyesight that is reported to be be better than a dragonflies, which is saying a lot! Because of their super eyesight they are excellent hunters, that typically sit on the top of blades of grass or other short growing plants waiting for prey to pass by, or they may actively seek out prey. Capable of jumping 50 times their own body length, they are the Olympic jumpers of the arachnid world. If humans were able to jump like these spiders, we'd be able to jump 300 feet; that is nearly the size of an NFL football field (360 feet)!

 Males and females in this species look entirely different from each other. Males are predominately black with bolder coloration. They have rusty orange side stripes with a black median  stripe and white at the front of the abdomen near the carapace. Females are usually grayish with a burnt orange or orange-yellow abdomen with two black bands each containing 4 pairs of white dots.

Female guarding eggs

 Early in the season males out number females, but by late summer many of the males have died off and the ratio of male to female becomes a little more equal. By late July or August mating is on their mind. Males begin to compete with other males for the right to mate with nearby females. Larger males typically win these competitions which include loud vibrations and some unique footwork. Males choose the larger females to mate with as they produce the most eggs. If a bred female comes in contact with a larger male, she may mate again with this larger more vigorous partner. He may prove to be a better mate and provide stronger offspring and offer her more protection while she guards the eggs within the nest.  Females may lay up to 135 eggs per egg sac and may lay more than one sac. They will guard the eggs within curled leaves held together by a silken nest created by the female. It is also reported that the male will remain near the female standing guard.  This species, unlike other species in this genus will only produce one brood and then die as soon as the spiderlings leave the safety of the nest.

Adult male guarding female

The spiderlings will overwinter after leaving the nest late in the summer or early fall. The cycle will begin all over again the following spring.
These spiders are being used as biological control of the four-lined plant bug within greenhouses. They are excellent hunters and feed on a wide variety of insects including cockroaches, beetles, and moths. They are harmless to humans and not really known to bite unless severely threatened.



Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Horse Fly

I found this beautiful horse fly at Squaw Creek NWR last week and had no idea which horse fly it was, I only knew that I'd never seen one like it. I photographed it and submitted the image to http://bugguide.net for identification. After several days I finally had a name for this fly, Tabanus venustus. Then the real challenge began, where to find information on it. I looked in every field guide I own, which includes well over 20 quality books on general insects, and one specific to flies and could not find this particular fly. So then I embarked on an internet search that lead no where. There were a few hits on the species name, but nothing useful beyond the fact that I now know this species of fly is found as far west as Oklahoma.

The eyes are a striking light blue with darker swirls, the thorax is dark brown with lighter brown streaks and furry in appearance. The abdomen was marked with white margins at each segment and the wings are spotted. It measured approximately 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch in length. Unlike most flies, who see a human approaching, it did not fly away. It sat perfectly still and seemed to be sunning itself on the piece of wood it was sitting on. I noticed several in the same general vicinity of the one I photographed all apparently soaking up the warm sunshine.

Females in this genus are known for biting to gain a blood meal. They have scissor like mouthparts that tear into flesh then they lap up the blood. Blood from warm-blooded animals provide essential nutrients for egg production. Eggs are generally laid near water and when the eggs hatch the larvae fall into the water to complete their lifecycle.

Flies in this genus are sometimes called "Gad Flies" and this might be in reference to their habit of roving to seek out potential victims of a future bite. This particular genus of flies contain numerous species that are capable of vectoring diseases such as anthrax.

Bites from a horse fly can be quite painful to a human and may cause severe itching and swelling that may last hours or even months. My husband was bitten by a "black horse fly" many years ago and the bite was so irritating that it was painful and itchy for nearly 6 months. When seeking a blood meal these flies are relentless and will follow you many hundreds of yards determined to get what they want. I've known of them to chase people on ATV's, and there are reports of them coming after cars, I assume thinking they are giant mammals.

Horse flies are rarely anyone's favorite insect and the sight of them can send grown men running fearing a bite, but as larvae they feed on a wide variety of aquatic insects including mosquito wigglers. This food preference should be considered beneficial to humans, especially on a year like this year when we've had record amounts of rain fall and there is standing water everywhere, providing ample breeding spots for mosquitoes. 

Sometimes we find beauty where we least expect, in this case it is was on the wings of a fly.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Bess Beetles

Bess Beetles (Odontotaenius disjunctus)  in the family Passalidae are one of almost 500 species within this family of beetles. They are found from the Central United States and eastward. Most beetles within this family are found in the tropics, with only a few found within the United States. This particular species goes by many different common names including Peg Beetle, Betsy Beetle, Bess Bug, Patent Leather Beetle, and Horned Passalus. They grow quite large at over an inch in length, and with that horn on their face they can look very intimidating, but they are not known to bite.

These beetles are fond of old rotting stumps, and logs where they feed on the decaying wood. The boring or tunneling action they perform will create chambers where they will mate, lay eggs and rear young. 

These beetles have a unique life cycle, the female will lay eggs within rotting stumps or other decaying wood. Both adults will care for the young larvae. They feed their offspring bits of chewed up wood. It takes up to one year for them to complete their life cycle to adulthood. It is not uncommon for the adults to consume injured larvae.

(Bess Beetle Grub)
 (Bess Beetle Pupa)

 Both adults and larva are capable of making squeaky noises through stridulation, by rubbing their abdomen against their wings. This is a form of communication between adults. If handled they may stridulate loudly.

The newly emerged adults look different from mature adults in that they are reddish-brown in color instead of glossy black. As they age they will begin to look like black patent leather, which is where the common name of patent-leather beetle comes from. They often live in colonies within stumps,and seem to prefer oak, maple and other deciduous trees. The stump where I find them is from an old silver maple that died many years ago. The remnants of that stump have attracted many forms of wildlife from beetles, cockroaches, horntails, and snakes to name just a few of the things I've encountered while exploring. Logs and stumps where these beetles are active will decay rapidly, and nourish the soil with important nutrients. This activity is considered beneficial to humans by providing the necessary nutrients that trees and other plants need to thrive.  Many people would excavated and grind out an old stump. I prefer to leave them and see what shows up.

To learn more details about this beetle and their range be sure to check out this link for the University of Florida and their information page on this beetle. I am proud to say my image of the pupa is featured there.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Eyed-Click Beetle

Eyed Click Beetles (Alaus oculatus)
are some of the craziest looking beetles in the insect world. They are very large at nearly 2 inches in length.  The salt & pepper markings set them apart from other insects, not to mention those large "eyes." The false eyes make them look so intimidating, or funny depending upon your point of view. The first time I ever spotted one of these it gave me a start, I'd never seen anything like it. I scooped it into a jar to show my nephew that was going to be visiting later in the day. I retrieved the jar to show him and discovered the beetle had died! I opened the lid and peered in at the beetle, it was at this exact moment this little faker decided to come back to life. When he flipped his body straight up, narrowly missing my nose which was still in the opening of the jar....I almost had cardiac arrest! Needless to say I screamed, nearly dropped the jar, which in turn made my nephew scream. Then we both had a good laugh at my expense.

This was my first introduction to this beetle. I let the little trouble maker go, deciding I wanted nothing more to do with a beetle that could practically scare me out of my britches.

 My brother-in-law captured one shortly after my heart pounding experience that he had found at the farm. He grabbed it with his hands and discovered that they can give a painful pinch when they feel threatened. Apparently being grabbed by a giant alien causes them to feel sufficiently threatened to give a bite. He said it drew blood and hurt for quite some time. Lesson learned......don't grab with bare hands. So if the eyes don't scare u, the back flip will. If that doesn't work they will nip you if mishandled.

There are many different species of click beetles, and many do not have these distinctive eye spots. In fact most are drab in color like this brown specimen found in my garden hiding on the petal of a purple coneflower. 

There are approximately 800 species of click beetles in North American. All click beetles have a special mechanism on their lower body that allows them to flip themselves over if they find themselves belly up. Flipping over on your back is an effective way to play dead which may deter predators. Once the potential danger has passed they flip themselves back over and away they go about their business.

 Look for the eyed click beetle near decaying wood. They use this as hiding places. The adult females will deposit eggs in the soil near decaying wood. The eggs hatch and the larvae will crawl underneath the bark of rotting wood or burrow into the soft pithy part of old timber. The larvae of click beetles are called wireworms. They get their common name wireworm from their elongated shape and hard exoskeleton. They feed on the grubs of other beetle species. Wireworms may take up to 10 years, depending upon species to complete their lifecycle into adult beetle. 

Many species of wireworms feed on plants, including some crop species, but those of the eyed click beetle are strictly meat eaters and feed  on many harmful wood boring beetle larvae. Since eyed click beetles take two to five years to complete their life cycle, depending upon temperatures and other factors, this gives them much time to consume tons of beetle larvae. These insects are considered highly beneficial to foresters and gardeners. Adults they may take some nectar from plants but don't seem to require much in the way of food. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Western Ribbon Snake

About a week ago my daughter and I visited one of the farms my husbands family owns to look for rattlesnakes. We spent about 2 hours wandering around, flipping rocks and enjoying the beautiful weather. We did not locate any timber rattlesnakes, but we did find plenty of other great herps, including this beautiful Western Ribbon Snake. I was busy flipping rocks when I heard my daughter Shaylyn yell that she had found a garter snake. I was pretty excited by this since we've not found many garter snakes on this particular farm, so I was curious to see what she had found. I must say I was even more excited by her discovery than when I first thought she'd found a garter snake. It turned out she had found a western ribbon snake (hamnophis proximus proximus) which are very closely related to garter snakes. This species was a lifer for both of us and we were happy to have the opportunity to photograph such a neat snake. I document all the species I find on this farm and I was happy to record this one as a first for this farm.

Ribbon snakes tend to be found near water, so it is somewhat puzzling as to why this snake was at this particular location. While we have had a lot of rain this spring, which partially filled a tiny pond that has been dry for the past 3 years, there really isn't much water to be found on this farm. The Nodaway River is about 1/4 mile away, which seems like a long jaunt for a small snake. While I might not understand why this snake chose our farm, it apparently thinks it is a good home.

Ribbon snakes are much more docile than their cousins the garter snakes and have been kept as pets with much success. They require nothing more than fresh water, proper food, heating and a 20 gallon fish tank. They may reach lengths up to 35 inches which makes them a manageable size as a pet. They are common, so there are no worries of pulling a rare or protected species out of the wild, which can result in fines.

 These are very slender snakes with a long tail that makes up 1/3 of its overall length. The body is dark with three stripes running the length of the body. The center stripe is often orange, but may be yellow. The belly is cream colored or may have a greenish cast to it. There may or may not be a yellow or orange dot on its head.
These are very fast moving snakes that are quick to flee when bothered. This one proved difficult to catch, but once we had it caught, it calmed down pretty quickly so we could get a few pictures before letting it go back under the rock where it was found. Like nearly all snakes, when bothered it musked, which is an effective defense that implements a combination of fecal matter and an oily musk that the snake releases from their cloaca (vent). Depending upon the snake, this can be mildly off-putting to outright nauseating. Garter snakes, or in this case the ribbon snake is more on the nauseating end of the that scale. This particular snake gave me a good dose of musk that nearly made my daughter gag and she claimed there was no way she was holding this snake. I had to laugh, because I've been musked so many times in my life that the smell doesn't bother me much anymore. I did have her drive home though, as I did not want the smell of musk to permeate my steering wheel as I drove. No amount of hand sanitizer can wash away that smell....trust me!

Ribbon snakes feed on a wide variety of prey, including earthworms when they are small, then later frogs, toads, salamanders, and small fish like minnows. These snakes are active beginning in April and will remain so until October. During the hottest part of summer they are mainly nocturnal. If the temperatures remain mild they will be active at all times of the day or night. Mating takes place soon after they come out of hibernation in April or May. Like all garter snakes, ribbon snakes bear live young sometime between June and September. Neonates (newborn snakes) are about 10 inches in length and the female may have up to 28 offspring in a single litter, but average is closer to 15.

One of the things I love about being outside and exploring our farms or any natural area is the new discoveries to be made.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Rhubarb Weevil

Rhubarb weevils (Lixus concavus) also known as Rhubarb Curculios are commonly found throughout the Eastern United States and portions of the Western United States such as Utah, Idaho and Texas. There are known populations in Ontario, Canada as well. 

They use plants in the genus Rheum as their host plant, much to the detriment of their offspring (more on this below). This includes Rhubarb, from whence this beetle gets it's common name. But they also use other plants including dock, thistle and sunflower. I find them frequently in May on curly dock that grows near our garden. In March and April when the curly dock is young and tender it attracts a completely different beetle called a Green Dock Beetle. When those beetles leave, the weevils show up and feed on the dock in its much larger state. 

Adult beetles overwinter in leaf litter and become active in May. They will begin laying eggs in host plants, typically one egg per plant. Even though these beetles share a common name with the rhubarb plant, they cannot complete their life cycle within the stalks of rhubarb. Eggs laid within the stalks of rhubarb are quickly consumed by a sticky sap-like substance that the plant produces in response to a foreign object or injury. This destroys the egg(s). Instead the weevil will use sunflower, thistle and dock most often as a suitable host. About 10 days after the eggs are laid the larvae will hatch and begin feeding. They work their way down the stalk to the ground where they will pupate. This process takes approximately 9 weeks. Right before pupating the larvae will chew an exit hole into the plant that the adult can emerge from after completing pupation. The adults will feed for a few weeks on the leaves of the plants before the colder temperatures drive them into sheltered areas where they will spend the winter. 

This species of weevil is one of the largest in North America, reaching up to 1/2 inch in length. They are black beetles covered in a fine golden dust. Like many beetles when they are alarmed they will roll over and play dead often rolling off the leaf or plant that they are feeding on. This must work well for the beetle, as I've had them do this and they virtually disappear once they hit the ground never to be seen again. 

If you have these beetles feeding on your sunflowers or rhubarb, usually handpicking the beetles and destroying them is sufficient to get rid of them as they rarely show up in large numbers. It is also recommended to kill plants like dock or thistle, which may be nearby your garden plants, that are also used as host plants. This can go a long way in reducing their numbers. Make sure to kill the plants in June when the larvae will be inside the plant feeding. Since we do not grow sunflowers or rhubarb I don't worry about them at all. The curly dock they feed on here is a pest plant and they are welcome to it. Plus I find them attractive and interesting beetles.