Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Eastern Pondhawk

Eastern Pondhawk Dragonflies (Erythemis simplicicollis)
are one of the most common dragonflies throughout eastern North America. There are also small populations in New Mexico and Arizona. They are a medium sized dragonfly with a wingspan of 2 1/2 to 3 inches. The overall color is green and black which allows them to blend in with vegetation near ponds, lakes, streams and other watery areas where they will be found. They often hunt for food far away from water so it is not uncommon to find them in fields, meadows, prairies and grasslands where no water is present. Like all dragonflies they feed exclusively on insects which they capture on the fly. They will use their legs to scoop bugs out of the air and bring the unfortunate victim to their mouth and begin feeding. They are the original inventors of "fast food." They will sometimes land on a nearby perch to finish their meal.


Mating takes place near water, and the female will lay her eggs in the vegetation in the water. The eggs hatch and the young nymphs will remain in the water feeding off aquatic insects. In about a year they will be ready to leave the water for the first time and shed their skin to become the gorgeous adult that you see here. They will climb onto a stick, rock or other solid surface. While they cling to this vantage point their skin will split down the back and the dragonfly hidden within will crawl out leaving its shed skin behind. The dragonfly is completely helpless at this point. It cannot swim away, crawl away or fly away. The dragonfly will  begin pumping its wings to allow fluid to reach them. This fluid will engorge the wings and ready them for flight. Once the dragonfly has sufficiently dried itself and its wings are strong enough, it will take flight for the first time. Soon after its maiden voyage it will begin seeking mates. This will begin the cycle all over again.

Immature males will be powdery blue (pictured at right) and as they age they will be mostly green. Females are also green with black spots on their abdomen.
These dragonflies also go by the name "Green Jacket" and "Common Pondhawk". They are typically easier to approach than most other species of dragonflies. With over 30,000 lenses per eye they have excellent eyesight and are next to impossible to sneak up on. With dragonflies it is more about temperament, which can vary by species, as well as individuals within each species. 


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Scooped Scarab

This small black beetle is the Scooped Scarab Beetle (Onthophagus hecate), they are a dung beetle in the family
Scarabaeidae and subfamily Scarabaeinae . They are a small beetle reaching lengths up to 9mm or approximately 1/2 inch. They are uniformly matte black with an excessively pock-marked pronotum. Major males have large horns projecting from their heads. The horns on minor males are much smaller and females lack a horn altogether. It can be presumed that males use the horns for fighting other males to win the affections of nearby females. Many beetles that possess such decoration typically use them to flip their competition over on their backs. Which ever beetle ends up belly-up is the loser and the other wins the right to mate with the nearby female(s). 

They are found on dung, rotting fruit, decaying carcasses and other unsavory substances. Once mated, the female will form dung into a small ball and roll it with her hind legs, which extend far back on the abdomen to allow for such movement. She is trying to locate just the right spot in the dirt that will allow her legs to dig. If the dirt is too compacted her legs are not strong enough to dig into it. Once the right spot is located, she will then dig a small burrow or tunnel around the ball of dung until it is buried under ground. Dung buried in this fashion limit fly resources while providing nutrients for plant growth. She will then deposit eggs on or near the dung ball. When the young hatch they will feed on the dung which contains all the nutrients they need. Rarely is the dung consumed in its entirety which leaves valuable nutrients in the soil to aid in fertilization. These beetles are a dairy farmer, beef farmer and ranchers friend because of the aeration to the soil they provide as well as the nutrients they randomly deposit. 
 
Because these beetles feed on dung, limiting or omitting the use of  Parasiticides to control flies on cattle may be necessary to protect your beetles. Many of these chemicals come out in the waste of the cattle and are consumed by flies which is designed to control their numbers, but this can also kill dung beetles. Do you have dung beetles in your pastures? If you have a long history of using any of the following medications for fly control, abamectin, ivermectin, eprinomectin, doramectin, then most likely you won't have any. Want to encourage the dung beetles back to your farm or ranch, then you may want to consider removing these chemicals from your routine. Flies are the bane of farmers everywhere and cause untold problems for livestock, so controlling them is imperative. However there are chemicals available that will provide fly control, but not release themselves into the cow patty. Do your research and determine the best possible chemical to use that will limit harm to the environment as well as to the dung beetles. Dung beetles show up very quickly to piles of fresh dung and to confirm their presence simply look at the surface of the cow patty. Do you see little holes? If so there may be beetles present. You can use a trowel, shovel or your boot to carefully dig into the patty and look for the beetles. 

You'll notice, if you look closely that the dung beetle pictured below has small reddish colored mites hanging out all over it. These mites do not hurt the beetle, in fact they are aiding the beetle as a beetle-wash by lapping up nasty little hanger-ons from the buffet of dung, rotting fruit, or carcass they just left. The beetle in turn provides transit for the mites by acting like a greyhound bus to transport the mites to other locations. 

They are found throughout most of the United States with exception of the extreme western portion of the country. They are common in most of their range and often show up at porch lights.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Elderberry Borer Beetle

The Elderberry Borer or Cloaked Knotty-Horned Beetle as it is sometimes referred to (Desmocerus palliatus) is found in North America from Oklahoma to the Appalachian Mountains. They are found more often in the northern portion of their range in marshy, swampy areas where their host plant, elderberries, occur. This small to medium sized beetle reaches lengths up to 26 mm without antennae. They are a gorgeous colored beetle with iridescent bluish wings and  a vibrant yellow or yellow-orange band across the upper portion of the wings. The middle segments of the antennae have distinct knobby points which earned them the common name of Knotty-Horned Beetle or Cloaked Knotty-Horned Beetle. They are unmistakable and not to be confused with any other species as no other beetle carries such vibrant, unique colors and pattern.

A couple of years ago I became acquainted with a woman named Annie Ray who did her doctoral work on beetles in this genus. Her project was centered around the pheromones produced by the female of this species and how the male homes in on her scent. As part of the research we had to dig down into the roots of the elderberries and break open the root masses looking for larvae or pupae.

The objective was to find them in this stage, because when they were located as adults they would not work for her research purposes. In essence she needed the virginal females. This all sounds easy in theory, but I assure you in practice it is much more difficult than you would expect. We were working in 90 degree temperatures often in full sun. We had experienced recent rains, which made one of our locations extremely muddy and digging in soppy, water-logged soil was pure torture, especially with the beating sun baking your skin. I became very adept at using shovels, spades, axes and limb loppers.
 Careful was the word of the day. It was all too easy to accidentally cut a larvae or pupae in half. This was enough to bring you to tears, to have worked so hard to find one, only to realize you destroyed it before you could get it out of its pupal chamber. Often we would work for as much as an hour before finding a single specimen.

Each discovery brought excitement. It really is true that the things we work the hardest for bring the greatest joy, because each time we found one of these elusive larvae or pupae you would have thought we struck gold at the amount of excitement we expressed. Annie spent three days here in NW Missouri working at several different locations, including Squaw Creek NWR, where she was given permission through an application process to search for these beetles on the refuge. All told she went home with 7 specimens. Not near the number we were hoping for, but ever the optimist she was grateful to not have been completely skunked. The beetles were safely ensconced in vials and packed for airplane travel to Ohio. From there they were to be shipped to California to her research assistant to begin extracting pheromones from.




Females of this species will begin "calling" for males as soon as they emerge from their underground pupal cell. Males come from great distances drawn by her scent and mating takes place immediately. We were certain that each adult we found had already been mated because of how rapidly this activity takes place once the females leave their pupal chamber. Females lay their eggs at the base of elderberry bushes, and the larvae will burrow into the roots or stem bases to feed. When they are ready to pupate they will travel to the soft, pithy parts of the branches, often near the roots and form a pupal cell. They emerge in early spring. Timing is everything when you are seeking to find these beetles before emergence. Literally it had to be timed so that we were digging and searching a few days prior to when we thought they would be coming out of their underground chambers. Once the adults are plentiful, your window of opportunity is gone.

These beetles are not known to cause any significant damage to the elderberry bushes. They do not occur in large enough numbers to wreck havoc. As adults they feed on the pollen in spring.Finding these beetles is not always easy, but once you've found one they are sure to leave an impression with their beautiful color and substantial size. Look for elderberries in full bloom in the spring and with any luck you will be awarded with the sight of one of these gorgeous beetles.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Mayfly

Mayflies are not actually flies at all. They are insects in the order Ephemeroptera and the family Ephemieridae, which translates into "short-lived" and likely eludes to the very short lifespan of these insects.

How do we know if something is a fly or merely called a fly? Here is an easy way to tell the difference, if the name is all one word like Mayfly, Dobsonfly, Caddisfly, Dragonfly, Damselfly, etc.. then it is definitely NOT a fly, but rather belongs to some other order of insect. If the insect has a first and last name like House Fly, Bot Fly, Flesh Fly, Flower Fly, Robber Fly, Bee Fly....etc. Then it definitely IS a fly.

They are one of the most commonly seen insects at porch lights in early summer or sometimes fall.
 The species I see more often than any other is the Burrowing Mayfly. They are also the largest species of mayfly in Missouri, reaching lengths up to 1 1/2 inches. Most mayflies are found in the Eastern United States, with only few species being found out west. It is not uncommon to have dozens of these at porch light in June, or in the case of this youtube video hundreds of thousands swarming a pole. Check out this Mayfly emergence.

The Burrowing Mayfly, also known as the Golden Mayfly, is a beautiful shade of golden-yellow with pale bands across their abdomen (pictured below).As they age their coloring will become darker.


The lifecycle of a mayfly begins underwater as a nymph with seven pairs of gills. They live in the bottom sediment of streams, slow moving rivers, ponds and lakes. The nymphs feed on sediment, diatoms and several species are predatory and feed on other aquatic insects. After numerous molts (skin sheds), they will emerge approximately one year after hatching in the water. The males typically appear first, as subimago adults,meaning they are not completely formed adults yet, they will shed their skin one more time before completing their lifecycle to adulthood. These subimago's are a favorite food of trout and are often used by fisherman as bait. Trout fishermen also use mayflies as a model for the flies that they tie for bait. Mayflies are the only group of insects to have this subimago stage into adulthood. As a subimago they do not fly well, cannot reproduce and lack the coloring of the adult form that would attract a mate. Within 24 hours after emerging they will shed and become full fledged adults capable of breeding. Females emerge shortly after males and also shed their skin for the final time. Mating occurs within hours of emerging.


Time is of the essence, when you only live a day or two, or perhaps only mere minutes (for some species) there is no time to waste on frivolity. Soon after mating, the female will drop her eggs upstream in the water, the current will softly carry the eggs downstream and deposit them on the substrate in the bottom of the stream. If the eggs are laid in lakes or ponds she will drop them wily-nily on top the water, and the eggs sink to the bottom. In some parts of the world the emergence of mayflies is a sight to behold, they all seem to appear at once in a mass exodus. Millions of mayflies rising up out of the water in one large swarm, landing on every available surface may seem like a nuisance to many humans, but these little insects serve a major role in the lifecycle of other species. Mayflies are not only consumed by trout and other fish, but birds, frogs, toads, and other insect eating creatures get in on the all-u-can-eat buffet of mayflies as well.

                                                         (Jumping spider eating mayfly)

I am not sure of the species of this mayfly pictured below on the Sage, but it is a beautiful shade of russet and is much smaller than the Burrowing Mayfly at only 3/4 of an inch in length. 
Although their large numbers can be intimidating, they are completely harmless to humans. They cannot bite, in fact they do not have functioning mouth parts. This lack of mouth parts, also means they do not feed. Their only reason for existence it would appear is to mate, reproduce, and to be sustenance to other creatures. I did find a website that claimed they eat fruits and flowers, but in my opinion this would be fallacy. I know of no mayfly that has the ability to eat, nor do they live long enough to worry about eating even if they could. I would be curious to see what the experts have to say. This is just one example of how much mixed information is out there on the web and it pays to do numerous searches before settling on the truth about something.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Harvestman



When is a spider not a spider? When it is a Harvestman (a.k.a Daddy Longlegs). These spider-like arthropods are in the order Opiliones. These arachnids are common to abundant in North America as well as worldwide with over 6500 species identified.
Most of us grew up playing with daddy longlegs, after all they were everywhere and easily captured and never tried to bite. Their long legs would tickle your bare skin as they climbed up your arm or leg which
was sure to bring on giggles or squeals depending on your reaction. As a naturalist I am blessed to work with children on a regular basis and I am often transported back to my own childhood when the groups of children who visit our trail are confronted with these charming creatures. Some are frightened, some are unsure, others are excited, but all are enthralled. Oh to be 4 years old again!

They get their common name of Harvestman from their frequency during autumn harvest. Truthfully it is during the fall that they are more easily seen as they are now adults and much larger. They also tend to aggregate in large numbers, sometimes dozens upon dozens along the foundations of homes. The common name of daddy longlegs comes from their protective tendency toward the females and eggs at mating time earning them the name of "daddy", not to mention the "long legs' compared to body size that they possess.
Native Americans referred to them as Grandfather Greybeard which meant Feet of Hairs. One could assume that this was derived from the legs resembling thin strands of hair.

Fossils dating back 400 million years ago have been found of this species in Scotland. Very little has changed in appearance with the daddy longlegs in all that time.
(Fossil image of Harvestman from 50 million years ago
http://en.harunyahya.net/harvestman-fossils-fossil-pictures/)

Harvestmen differ from spiders in several ways, but the most obvious will be the body shape and the eyes. Spiders have two body parts that include an abdomen and a cephalothorax (head and thorax combined into one) and daddy longlegs have one compact body part. Spiders have a cluster of eight or six eyes (depending upon species) whereas daddy longlegs have two eyes. They also have no silk glands, therefore cannot spin silken webs like spiders. Daddy longlegs also possess no fangs or venom unlike spiders which have both.

This lack of venom and fangs brings me to a myth that is commonly associated with this species. It has been said that these "spiders" are the most venomous of all spiders if only their fangs were strong enough and long enough to penetrate human tissue. There is no truth to this myth at all. First we must keep in mind these creatures do not have fangs so biting is an impossibility regardless if we had thin skin or not. They also possess no venom which makes them harmless. Handling them is completely safe and a great way to introduce young children to nature. Encourage your child or grandchild to handle them gently, no pulling off legs.

Other myths associated with this creature include the belief that they could help a cattle rancher locate lost cattle. If a cowboy in search of a wandering cow or calf could pick up a daddy longlegs by 7 of its 8 legs the remaining 8th leg left dangling would point in the direction of the lost cow. 
It was also believed that if you killed a daddy longlegs it would bring rain the next day. This particular myth could be unfortunate for the poor harvestman. Thankfully this belief is not wide spread or passed along generation to generation or the common harvestman may find itself not so common any more.


Without fangs and venom how does this species consume food? Like spiders they have mouth parts, but unlike spiders they do not need to dissolve their food in order to digest it. They can consume their food in small chunks. Their diet also differs from spiders in that they are often scavengers feeding on dead insects, plant matter, and fungi. Spiders are carnivorous and feed exclusively on other arthropods, unless you are a large spider (think tarantula) then you might feed on larger prey like mice, shrews, minnows or even birds. I've witnessed harvestmen feeding on a wide variety of insects, from flies to millipedes. They typically stalk their food using their sensitive second pair of legs to help them feel their environment. This is beneficial to a creature with poor eyesight like the harvestman. They are fastidiously hygienic and will clean their legs after each meal by passing their legs thru their mouth effectively "washing" them. Momma longlegs must be proud.

(Feeding on a dead millipede. You will also notice tiny red mites on the legs of the daddy longlegs)

(This daddy longlegs captured this fly and ate it)


After mating, the female will lay eggs and in many species the males will guard the eggs and protect them from potential predators. The male will clean the eggs  and guard the nest until the eggs hatch. It may take from 20 days to 6 months for them to emerge depending upon species and climate. Once they have hatched the young will go through 6 molts, or instars before reaching adult size. Although some species may go through 8 instars to reach maturity.

Harvestmen have several defenses, including the ability to emit a foul smelling odor from special glands in their legs when disturbed. If bothered by a potential predator many species may also play dead, or detach a leg that will continue twitching which can distract the predator giving the harvestman enough time to escape. Some species will bob their bodies which may also confuse a predator. Escaping a predator is not always that easy and many fall prey to various creatures like other arthropods, birds, and lizards.

 (Five-line skink eating a daddy longlegs)

While daddy longlegs may have some success in warding off potential predators by using distracting measures there are some different types of predators they cannot avoid and those are mites.These mites act as a parasite on the daddy longlegs. They seem to have the same affect on the spider as ticks would have on mammals. In large enough numbers the mite-parasite will destroy the host. The one photographed below was well on its way to deaths door due to mite infestation. It was wobbly and ungainly, unable to keep its balance. It was quickly succumbing to the onslaught of mites.


Each person will have a different reaction to these arachnids. Some will cringe in fear as their arachnophobia is triggered by a creature that looks enough like a spider to be one. Others may find them creepy or disgusting as unfortunately many people do when faced with any 6 or 8 legged creature. Still others may find them comic or fascinating. Whichever category you fall into keep in mind these harmless creatures are beneficial to our yards and gardens. They consume dead or dying arthropods, may even consume the dead flesh of carcasses. They feed on dung, plant matter and fungi, turning their diet into organic matter that benefits soil and garden plants. These endearing spider-like creatures are also reminders to us of a simpler time in our life. The time of lightning bug lanterns, ladybugs, and daddy longlegs the gentle spider of our youth.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Autumn Yellow-Winged Grasshopper

This rather drab-looking grasshopper is the Autumn Yellow-Winged Grasshopper (Arphia xanthoptera), in the family
Acrididae which are the short-horned grasshoppers. They occur throughout the eastern and central United States. They are found in open woodlands, grasslands, dry fields, and prairies. They feed on various grasses and possibly other plants as well. They do not seem to occur in abundance anywhere in their natural habitats therefore they are not considered a pest species. 

I photographed this one on our wood pile. I am still not quite sure how I even noticed it as it nearly camouflaged itself perfectly against the color and grain of the wood. They are distinguished from other grasshoppers in this genus by the noticeable hump on their pronotum (neck).

They are also larger than other grasshoppers in this genus, reaching lengths up to 46mm. Their underwings are nearly always bright yellow, hence the common name. 
When approached they are quick to retreat and fly away with nothing more than a flash of brilliant yellow visible. They often sing while in flight. This sound is made by the by rubbing the underside of the forewings against the veins of the hindwings. This is believed to attract nearby females. 

Once mating has occurred the females will lay their eggs in the ground and they will overwinter in the soil. Young emerge in March or April and reach maturity by mid-summer. Adults are usually seen from August to November.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Smaller Yellow Ant

The Smaller Yellow Ant (Lasius claviger) is one of the many ants in the genus Lasius which are the citronella ants. They get their name from the lemon-like odor they emit when disturbed. They are a pale yellow-orange color which may vary in intensity ant-by-ant. In October these ants depart over-crowded conditions in existing colonies on what is known as maiden flights. Males and females both will develop wings and leave the home colony to mate and begin new colonies. The winged individuals are referred to as Alates, which is derived from the latin word ala which means "wing." Females will mate with several males to insure genetic variation in her offspring. After mating, the males will die and females will locate an existing Lasuis colony. She will invade this nest and begin laying her own eggs. Once her offspring has matured it is reported that they will locate the existing queen of the original colony and kill her. At this point the new queen controls the colony and in time her offspring will dominate the colony. 

The ants pictured here were photographed in my backyard, on the ground near my clothes line. I was outside looking for bugs on an unseasonably warm day in October. As temperatures reached 65 degrees and the sun warmed the ground these ants were swarming all over the place,climbing on the clothesline poles, the plants nearby and all over the ground itself. They crawled all over each other and often used their antennae to smell each other. I spent a considerable amount of time watching them and taking pictures. I finally walked away from them and continued my search around the yard for other insects or possibly a hardy snake out basking. 20 minutes later I returned to the area where the ants were and discovered they had departed. Where once there were literally hundreds of winged ants there were now less than a dozen still hanging around. I was shocked at how quickly they left and where did they all go?



These ants send up vast amounts of alates into the environment and it can be assumed this is because of the large amount of ants that will fall prey to hungry birds and other critters that enjoy eating ants. If you saturate the ecosystem with an over abundance of mature individuals you virtually guarantee the success of the species. 


These ants favor woodlands as their habitat. They are often found under logs, rocks or other natural debris. They tunnel underground among plant roots. Often the roots of the plants or trees have exposed areas that allow for aphids to feed on the sap. It is common for the aphids to share the ant colony where the ants "milk" the aphids for the sweet honeydew they produce. As aphids eat they turn the sap and other plant liquids into a tasty waste product called honeydew that ants savor. They will herd and protect aphids which in turn allow the ants to lap up the honeydew from their anus. 

This particular species is the most commonly found citronella ant in the Eastern United States. Look for winged swarms sometime in October on warm days following a cold snap. For some reason the cooler temperatures followed by a warm day triggers something in the ants to swarm.



Thursday, November 14, 2013

Green Soldier Fly

This lovely little green fly is the Green Soldier Fly (Odontomyia cincta) in the family Stratiomyidae. There are 31 species within the genus Odontomyia in North America.

Average size is approximately 3/4 of in inch. They are bright lime green with a black mark on top of the thorax. The eyes are reddish in color as are the legs.

After mating, females lay eggs near water and the larva live a fully aquatic life where they feed on algae. In order to breathe they will extend the tip of their abdomens thru the surface of the water to gain oxygen. Adults are often found nectaring at flowers or may be found gleaning nutrients from dung.

These flies are most likely bee mimics or perhaps wasp mimics. There is no question that their similarity to many metallic wasps and bees is uncanny.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Four-Spotted Tree Cricket

This pretty, lime green cricket is the Four-Spotted Tree Cricket (Oecanthus quadripunctatus), which is a cricket belonging to the family Gryllidae. There are 17 species of tree crickets within this family and many are difficult to distinguish from one another. All are small, usually 1 inch in length or less. This particular tree cricket is the only known species to occur in all 48 contiguous states. The other day the temperatures warmed to nearly 60 degrees and I kept hearing a cricket calling in a bush outside our front door. I investigated the bush, only to discover the cricket had become quiet. I walked away and then heard the cricket again, back to the bush I went and again it was quiet. I approached the bush no less than a half dozen times only to be rebuffed by this boisterous cricket by sudden silence. I was determined at this point to find this tiny little singer and see if I could identify it. I suspected by its sound that it was a tree cricket, but which one? I sat on the ground next to the bush and did not move, did not make a sound. It worked! The cricket began singing in earnest. I slowly moved my head toward where I thought the sound was coming from and suddenly noticed what appeared to be tiny leaves vibrating against a limb in the bush. Those tiny shivering leaves were the buzzing wings of the little cricket I was searching for. I was in awe of this hearty little insect. We have had numerous heavy frosts and a light freeze up to the day I discovered him in the bush. I could not imagine how he had survived such harsh temperatures. Not only had he survived but seemed invigorated by the cold spell and sudden warm weather. Was he confused? Did he think winter had already passed and it was time for thoughts of love? Was he singing for a lady friend? Was he singing to advertise food? Or was he just happy to be alive? I guess we'll never know, after all how can we know what the tiny little brain of an insect thinks, or even if it thinks at all? 


Once I spotted the cricket and had taken some photographs I was uncertain which species it was. At first I suspected it was a snowy tree cricket, but wasn't 100% convinced, it somehow sounded different than the other snowy's I had previously heard. It didn't look quite the same either. I submitted a series of images to bugguide.net and received an answer within days that this was a Four-spotted tree cricket. Apparently they have a series of dark spots on their antennae that gives them their common name. I however did not notice these spots nor did I even know to look for them as I had never heard of this species before now.

After reading a little about this species I learned that they typically hang out close to the ground in vegetation, usually three feet or less up in a bush, grasses or other plant. The one I photographed here was approximately two feet off the ground in the center of the bush well hidden from prying eyes.
They are found along roadsides, in open fields, old pastures, and in crop ground. 

Mating takes place in autumn, usually in September and October. Males will find a vantage point in a bush or shrub and call loudly a love song that is sure to appeal to any nearby females. She will lay eggs in the ground soon after mating and the eggs overwinter in the soil. Young hatch in June when the soil temperatures signal warmer weather and available food sources. The young are hatched looking very much like the adults only lacking wings. As they age and grow wing pads become visible. By August or early September the offspring are now full grown adults and ready to mate and continue the cycle. 

While I am not a fan of winter and grumble through the cold temperatures like a grumpy old lady.....longing for warmer weather and sunshine. I relish warm winter days when a few hardy insects find the sunshine and warmer temperatures too hard to resist. I don't even mind the wayward Asian lady beetle or boxelder bug that makes its way into my house, at least it is a sign of life on an otherwise dismal landscape. 

Sing on little cricket before the weather becomes more than your little body can endure.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Orange-Banded Checkered Beetle

Checkered beetles in the family Cleridae are common throughout the United States. They can be found in a wide variety of habitats and typically feed on other beetles and their larvae. Some will scavenge for food and still others will feed on pollen.

These little beetles are usually brightly colored like the one pictured here which was photographed in my backyard. This particular species the Orange-Banded Checkered Beetle (Enoclerus coccineus), is very common in Missouri and ranges from New Mexico to Minnesota. Their small size often causes them to be overlooked by the average person. In spite of the fact that they are common, they are still rarely seen. I've only ever encountered three of these beetles in the last 5 or more years. Clerid beetles are small beetles that range in size from 3mm to 24 mm.

Mating takes place while the female is eating. She requires appropriate energy for egg production. After mating, females will lay eggs under the bark of trees. It can take from 3 months to 3 years for the offspring to complete their lifecycle. This is dependent upon species, and weather. Warmer temperatures will speed up development. If temperatures drop below the threshold tolerance it will delay development. The offspring are voracious hunters and capable of finding and feasting on the larva of bark beetles. This appetite has earned them favor among individuals in favor of biological control of pest insects. These beetles are used to control bark beetle populations in certain areas where they are posing problems for woodlands.


Some species may be beneficial to forensic science, even if in a limited capacity, due to their habit of showing up on dead or decaying bodies. Unlike many other insect species that are attracted to decaying flesh which show up in the earliest stages of decay, clerid beetles frequently are found in the later stages of decay.Which may make their appeal somewhat limited to forensic scientists.
Still other clerids are found among dried, smoked and stored meats and can cause infestation issues.


There are somewhere around 3,500 species of clerid beetles found Worldwide, with 500 species found in 37 genera within the United States and Canada. Most are similarly shaped with elongated bodies, covered in bristly hairs and bright colors and patterns.

For another great article about this species visit Beetles in the Bush.






Friday, November 1, 2013

Ridged Carrion Beetle


Ridged Carrion Beetles (Oiceoptoma inaequale) are native to Eastern North America and are usually associated with woodlands, especially near creeks or ponds. They are attracted to the scent of dead animals and show up within a few days after death occurs. As adults these beetles do not feed on the carrion itself, like their common name would suggest. Instead they are there to feed on the maggots that are feeding on the carrion. Blow flies are generally the first insect to show up on a deceased body, typically within hours of death. The larva of this beetle however, does consume carrion. It is not uncommon to find many types of insects sharing a single carcass. Species might include flies, rove beetles, carrion beetles, burying beetles and even butterflies all gleaning some sort of nutrients from the decaying flesh of some unfortunate animal.

(Carrion Beetles feeding on fish)

This species is black with raised (ridged) lines on the elytra. In flight the underside of the elytra are bright blue. Their flattened bodies are designed to allow them to maneuver underneath and through the dead bodies they spend much of their time traversing. 

Mating takes place in the spring or late winter. Males may remain piggy-back on the female long after mating has taken place.


Females will lay eggs on decaying flesh. After eggs hatch the young will feed on the carrion. Once fully developed they will drop to the ground and burrow into the soil to pupate. Several weeks later the adults will emerge. There is usually one generation per season. Adults overwinter under leaf litter, under the bark of trees or in other secluded, sheltered areas.

(Margined carrion beetle---Oiceoptoma novaboracense)

The ridged carrion beetle is probably not as common as other carrion beetles, especially in areas where the margined carrion beetle shares the same habitats (woodlands). The margined carrion beetle can be distinguished from the ridged carrion beetle by looking at the pronotum, it will be edged in pink or blush color on the margined.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Multi-Colored Asian Lady Beetle

For nearly a hundred years the multi-colored Asian lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis has been used as a biological control agent. They are native to Asia from the Altai Mountains in the west to the Pacific coast in the east, and from southern Siberia in the north to southern China in the south. The first reported release of H. axyridis in the United States as a biological control species was in California in 1916. It wasn’t until 1988 that they were considered established within North America. There is speculation as to whether this establishment was from intentional release or from accidental occurrences. Many attempts to release this species as a biological control occurred after 1916 and each attempt seemed to have failed. With the discovery of an established population in 1988 the population of this species has spread exponentially. They now occur throughout most of the United States with exception to parts of the Southwest, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. 


 (Map taken from Bugguide.net)

The multi-colored Asian lady beetle is listed in the family Coccinellidae with other lady beetles. This species went through many name changes beginning as far back as 1773 when it was originally known as Coccinella axyridis. It wasn’t until 1915 that the name H. axyridis was finally decided on by Jacobson, and is still used today. There are nearly 475 species of Coccinellidae in North America, and we can now add H. axyridis to this number as it is now considered an established species.
 
Documentation of descriptions for H. axyridis has not changed since its first description during the 1960s. They vary greatly in coloration from red, orange-red, yellowish to black. They measure 0.19-0.32 inches with a width of 0.16-0.26 inches and are oval in shape. The wings may contain anywhere from 0 to 19 spots, which on the red, orange and yellow species will be black, and on the black species will be red. Coloration is weather dependent. The spots on their wings can actually be a winter weather gauge. Specimens with more spots would indicate a colder or longer winter. This allows the beetle time to produce more melanin to form more black spots. Black specimens are typically found in the western United States and all other color forms are found throughout the eastern United States east of the Rocky Mountains. 

                                               (Photo taken from Wikicommons)

Likely the polymorphism of this species is inherited, each type passing on its own color to its offspring. Diet, temperature and other environmental influences may also contribute to color variations. No other species of lady beetle exhibits this type of polymorphism. This highly variable appearance can make identification difficult; therefore it may be necessary to use other key identification factors when identifying this species. In this species the characteristic to look for is a distinct “M” shape on the pronotum. Sometimes this mark may look more like two lines, or a series of four black spots. This species of lady beetles has more white on its pronotum than any other lady beetle species. All this variance in appearance has earned this species numerous common names including Halloween beetle, Harlequin ladybird, Japanese ladybug, Asian lady beetle, pumpkin ladybird, and the many-named ladybird. 

The larval stage of this species goes through four distinct stages; egg, larval, pupae and adult. The larvae must go through four to five instars to reach adult size. There may be up to five generations per year depending upon region and temperature. 


 
(Photo taken from Wikicommons)

This species occasionally participates in cannibalism during the larval stage. Predominantly it is the eggs that are preyed upon by the larva. In large aggregations of aphid populations where H. axyridis eggs are laid the larvae of non-siblings feed on large amounts of eggs. In areas where aphid populations are reduced feeding on eggs or larvae provides necessary nutrients. However they seem to recognize fellow siblings and are most likely to feed on non-siblings. This practice affects overall population growth in a given area. It may affect populations as much as 16 percent in a given area. 
 
Another factor affecting population growth is a bacterium in the genus Spiroplasma. This bacterium targets the male eggs which reduces the risk of cannibalism of females by siblings. The consumption of nonviable male eggs reduces the risk of starvation of female offspring by infected females. This behavior is so far not reported in North America, but instead is restricted to their native Asian range. 

H. axyridis have a keen ability to track down aphid populations which is the main reason they are favored as biological control. The mating season of H. axyridis corresponds with peak aphid population growth. They must time oviposits with high densities of aphid populations in order to provide enough food sources for their offspring. Low populations of aphids would cause starvation of their offspring. There are indications that sight plays a huge role in larvae locating aphids. Larvae of H. axyridis will climb stems in search of aphids. Studies show that they hunt more frequently during daylight hours rather than nighttime. Females are able to detect aphids by smell from short distances which aid her in finding appropriate food sources for her offspring. Multi-colored Asian lady beetle larvae are voracious eaters and may consume up to 370 aphids during this stage. In their lifetime they may consume up to 4,000 aphids. 
 
Even with their aposematic (warning) coloration and reflex bleeding of alkaloid secretions they still have enemies. Certain species of flies will lay their eggs within H. axyridis as will a parasitic braconid wasp called Dinocampus. These parasitic predators lay their eggs within the lady beetle. The resulting offspring will hatch and feed on the lady beetle from the inside. Once the wasp or fly larvae have reached full size they will pupate. Shortly thereafter the beetle will die. There are also numerous birds that will feed on these beetles as well as certain species of ants. Other lady beetles will also feed on H. axyridis but only if they are smaller. Spiders have also been reported to feed on H. axyridis when they are unfortunate to become ensnared in webs. 
 
The introduction of H. axyridis to the United States was to provide biological control of aphid populations in a wide variety of crops. The first crops designated for release were pecan groves and red pines. Despite the intentional release into the environment during the early to mid-century it wasn’t until the late 1980s and early 1990s that establishment was realized.  They not only controlled aphids in pecans and red pines, they also moved to other areas and exhibited successful control of aphids in a wide variety of crops. These crops include apples, soybeans, citrus, sweet corn, hops, strawberries, peaches, cotton, alfalfa, winter wheat, and tobacco as well as many others.


 
(Multi-Colored Asian Lady Beetle consuming Aphid)

For many years insect supply houses provided H. axyridis for purchase, but fewer supply houses are rearing them now because of the invasive implications now associated with this species. In the larval stage they are an effective control of aphids as well as scale insects in pine groves, this effectiveness comes from their inability to fly at this stage. The effectiveness of this species was questioned in the adult stage because of their ability to fly to other regions. In order to improve control in this species a flightless strain was created and released. This flightless specimen proved effective because of its inability to fly.

They are easy to rear in captivity and can be reared on a wide variety of aphids as well as numerous artificial diets making them excellent candidates for mass rearing and release projects.

Pesticides used to control insect pest populations have little adverse affects on H. axyridis except in the larval stage. Synthetic pyrethroids seem to affect H. axyridis less than it does aphids. The adult beetles are less affected by pesticides, fungicides and other chemicals in the environment than are the larvae. With constant changes being made in the pesticide industry and safer chemicals being developed all the time fewer H. axyridis are falling victim to chemical applications. 

While it is true that H. axyridis is excellent at aphid control, as well as the control of other soft-bodied insects like thrips and scale insects, we must ask ourselves, at what cost? They are not particular about their diet and feed on a wide variety of insect prey including other lady beetle larvae. This can cause a serious decline in native species of coccinellids, and may potentially lead to several species being listed as imperiled. Nine-spotted lady beetles, Coccinella novemnotata are becoming increasingly more difficult to find in their native range. It is suspected that the much larger and more aggressive H. axyridis is at the very least partially responsible for this decline. In addition to native species falling prey to H. axyridis, they are also less able to compete for viable food sources against a much larger and voracious hunter. The result is less food to sustain the population of native species. Monarch butterfly eggs and young caterpillars have even fell victim to H. axyridis.


There is no question that H. axyridis is more than capable of providing excellent aphid control, but the cost may be considered too high. They not only feed on nuisance insects, they also feed on beneficial insects as well as insects that hold a worldwide appeal such as butterflies.  In addition, as with most exotic biological control species that become too abundant, they cause problems for humans. In the fall they form large aggregations on human dwellings, and other structures. This leads to many of these insects finding their way inside homes. It is not uncommon for these beetles to form aggregation populations in the hundreds of thousands. Persons sensitive to their presence have on occasion developed an allergic rhinoconjunctivitis as well as other allergies. As they fly around our homes and land on surfaces they leave behind frass which can trigger allergic responses in individuals that are sensitive, especially if they occur in large numbers.  Many people find it annoying to have these lady beetles accumulate inside their homes and fight an ongoing battle each fall to control their numbers. The secretions of these beetles stain furniture, floors and curtains. Many homeowners use toxic chemicals to kill the lady beetles, others are more tolerant and remove the lady beetles by vacuuming them up and moving them back outside. This species is reported to give off a musky odor when disturbed and may inflict a minor bite. Not only is it homes that face invasion, so do beehives. Beekeepers reportedly fight to keep these lady beetles out of hive boxes. They appear to cause no harm to the bees themselves, but are a nuisance to the beekeeper. 

 
H. axyridis is one of just a few species of lady beetles that form large aggregations in the fall. In their native range of Asia they are known to orient themselves to visual landmarks on the horizon. Often these areas are mountains or large rocky hillsides.  They will use these sights to hide within cracks and crevices to wait out winter’s icy blast. In the United States they incorporate this same orientating technique and often “home” in on our houses and other structures. There are reports of these beetles making their way into hospital operating rooms and into institutes with bio-containment facilities. These are areas with zero tolerance policies in place for possible biological invasion of outside pests. They have also been reported to contaminate food processing plants, making their way into food being processed for human consumption. This destroys large lots of food costing significant financial losses to those companies. It is believed they are more widely attracted to buildings at higher elevations. They are also reported to aggregate on mountain ranges such as the Smoky Mountains. They are also attracted to light colored structures, such as white, tan, yellow, etc. However, this does not mean they won’t be found on other buildings as well. 


  These beetles will hibernate, or enter into a type of diapause beginning about November and ending in March. They are not looking for places to stay warm, as most places where they spend the winter months are not heated. They instead are waiting for winter to end and warm weather to return so their food source will once again be plentiful. They seek areas that protect them from exposure to the outside weather. I’ve found them in basement window wells, behind the bark of trees, and under rocks. H.axyridis use pheromone cues to signal to others of their kind that a suitable location has been found. It is these chemical cues that lead to such large numbers of lady beetles accumulating in a given area. They may also smell feces left behind by previous aggregations of Harmonias indicating that the location is suitable. They prefer areas that are cool with little to no light. Basements or attics are perfect overwintering areas for these beetles. Occasionally during the winter we have a warming of weather, on these days H. axyridis will become active and seek out warmth. It is not uncommon to find them flying into light fixtures or towards windows. This warming of temperatures seems to trigger a chemical response in the beetle that signals them to wake up and become active again. As soon as the temperature drops again however they will once again become dormant. The biggest problem comes in the autumn and spring when the beetles are moving in or out of structures. It is at this time that human contact is the highest and most aggravating. 

 Besides using harsh insecticides to keep these lady beetles out of our homes, the use of DEET and camphor have been used successfully as a deterrent and are much safer alternatives. The beetles find these odors offensive and will avoid areas that are sprayed with these chemicals. One drawback to using DEET is its ability to dissolve paint. Therefore it must be applied to surfaces that will not suffer from its application. There are DEET strips that can be purchased and used and would be a less expensive way to repel these beetles. 4 While the large aggregation of these beetles is no doubt annoying and bothersome, killing them outright may not be the best solution depending upon your viewpoint. If you are a gardener or farmer you may appreciate the biological control of aphids they provide, even if you temporarily forget their importance when trying to keep them out of your home. On the other hand if you prefer native species of lady beetles and are opposed to the much more aggressive newcomer displacing our own lady beetles you may feel differently and have no love for these beetles.
H. axyridis sets itself apart as one of the few lady beetles that will feed on substances other than aphids and soft bodied insects. They will also form aggregations in fruit orchards and gather on the ripening fruit. It has been reported they will feed on apples, pears and grapes thus ruining the fruit meant for human consumption. Vineyards suffer the highest economic impact of the H. axyridis. The beetles are next to impossible to remove from the grape clusters, so many are crushed along with the grapes. The result of this insect contamination is tainted wine with a foul flavor that cannot be consumed. All of these negative impacts of the beetle can cause significant economical losses to fruit growers, homeowners and consumers. More research needs to be done to quantify the annual financial impacts this species is causing to the environment, orchards, and croplands. 

 Ongoing research is being done to further understand the potential impact H. axyridis will have on all native species of coccinellids. Cornell University is a driving force in the research being done on this species. They currently have a citizen science project underway that involves persons from North America. They request that people head outside and photograph lady beetles. Submit your photos, along with data to their website and all information is processed to better understand the impact that H. axyridis is having on the environment. Their website www.lostladybug.org is instrumental in raising awareness of the plight of native lady beetles, and in providing information on H. axyridis.

Exactly why they were imported into the United States for release, beyond the obvious aphid control, is unclear. Apparently persons in the agricultural industry felt the need for a more aggressive aphid predator than our native species. Many attempts to introduce this species into nut groves, pine groves, orchards, croplands and other areas of commerce failed. This continuation of failures did not stop efforts to try and establish this species. One has to wonder if at any time was it seriously questioned the appropriateness of continuing with further releases. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s that an established population was discovered. From this original colony the spread of this species ran rampant. Currently it is found throughout most of North America in large numbers. In Missouri where I live it is the most commonly seen lady beetle. The only other species I find on a regular basis are the convergent lady beetle (Hippodamia convergens) and the pink-spotted lady beetle (Coleomegilla maculate), and their numbers are much lower than in years past. Over the course of a personal 6 year study I’ve found a significant decrease in native species and a large increase in H. axyridis.

In conclusion this species should be considered neither beneficial nor harmful. They provide excellent control of harmful insects such as aphids and scale insects. Their large numbers gives them an advantage in the consumption of large numbers of these harmful insects. On the flip side their prolific breeding and large populations are potentially causing the demise of our own native species of lady beetles. The formation of large aggregations can be an annoyance to humans and potentially cause health problems. Their association with orchards and other fruit crops can lead to destruction of food. To say the good outweighs the bad, or vice versa, would be difficult without further research. I believe it will take time to discover the final verdict on this species.

 

References:


1   1.)  Role of Visual Contrast in the Alighting Behavior of Harmonia axyridis

(Coleoptera: Coccinellidae) at Overwintering Sites

C. A. NALEPA,1 G. G. KENNEDY,2 AND C. BROWNIE3 
2.) The multicolored Asian lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis: A review of its biology, uses in biological control, and non-target impacts R L Koch
3.) The multicolored Asian lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis: A review of its biology, uses in biological control, and non-target impacts R L Koch 
4.) www.bugguide.net (http://www.europe-aliens.org/speciesFactsheet.do?speciesId=50711)
5.) http://www.europe-aliens.org/speciesFactsheet.do?speciesId=50711 
6.) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harmonia_axyridis 
7.) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC524671/ 
8.) http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in361 
9.) www.entomology.ksu.edu/DesktopModules/ViewDocument.aspx?...4521 
10.)linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0022201106002199 
11.) www.lostladybug.org