Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dinner Time

I had to laugh when I spotted this little scene playing out last summer in my back yard. This gorgeous Daring Jumping Spider had "grabbed" herself some dinner. For all intents and purposes it looks as if she had eyes bigger than her stomach. That huge cricket was much larger than her. After watching her for quite sometime she appeared to have things well in hand...or legs. I approached her slowly so as not to disturb her. Very cautiously I inched towards her. Now this whole time she is fixated on her prey and apparently either unaware I was there or unconcerned. Then things suddenly changed, seems I invaded her comfort zone. At about 4 inches away she bolted, cricket and all, around the rock and under it in a matter of seconds. I guess she thought she was going to have to fight to keep her juicy cricket. I tried to reassure her I wasn't hungry, but all to no avail....she refused to come back out. These spiders are some of the most beautiful in the animal kingdom, and with their habit of jumping at you they can be intimidating. Ok....maybe they aren't jumping AT me, but it certainly seems that way. Regardless they get their point across and I beat a hasty retreat. Funny how something so small can make me give up my post, and move on to more friendly surroundings, after all I bought the house! Just let one of these furry little beasts find it's way to the ceiling in my house, my daughter refuses to go to bed until it has been removed. This little spider measuring barely a 1/2 inch in length will have my 5'2" 100 lb. daughter forming a sit-in and not budging until the interloper has been removed from the premises. I admit to being a little skittish when I approach a spider, there is something so darn scary about spiders. In the same token I am fascinated as well and even bought a baby tarantula. I was hoping to overcome my fear. Then the unthinkable happened the darn thing escaped! Now I have a baby tarantula residing in parts unknown in my house, making himself at home. I am waiting for the day when it ends up in the middle of my chest, at night, in bed, all full grown and hairy! (Remember that episode of the Brady Bunch?) As long as it doesn't show up in my daughters room, it will be spider fricase'

Monday, March 30, 2009

Dragons At the Pond

These are very common in Missouri and I often see them at our goldfish pond in the summer months. They tend to be territorial and I see them frequently chase others away as they seek mates. They are graceful hunters and I love to watch them catch their food. They grab insects right out of the sky, sometimes eating on the wing (giving a whole new meaning to fast food) and sometimes landing and consuming it while they rest on a leaf or branch.Top Left: is a Blue-Faced Meadowhawk, Top Right: White-Faced Meadowhawk, Middle Left: Blue Dasher, Middle Right: Widow Skimmer, Third Row Left: Eastern Pondhawk, Third Row Right: 12-Spotted Skimmer Bottom Right: 12-Spotted Skimmer.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Bizzy Buzzy Bees

I can hardly wait for the spring rains and warm sun to bring the flowers back. Soon after the bees will follow. Hundreds of bees visit my garden each year. Many different species work together to pollinate my blooms and provide constant photo ops. This bumble bee is nectaring at a Mountain Bluet flower. My husband is much less enthused about the bees. He has a fear of bees. I suppose I can understand since he has had numerous negative experiences with them. When he was in high school he was stung very badly right between the eyes. Both his eyes swelled shut and were swollen for well over a day. I had to laugh when he related the story to me. He and his family went to a farm they owned. They were mowing and walking around a pond that was on the property. They accidently disturbed a nest of bumble bees. His mom and youngest brother jumped into the pickup and shut the doors. My husband, his father and the middle brother all ran. Now all this did was create a predator prey situation and those bees chased them all over the field stinging them numerous times. I couldn't help but get a mental image of this, and began to laugh. I'm sure at the time it wasn't funny at all.
Then many years later my husband purchased a motorcycle. While out driving one hot summer day, shirt partially unbuttoned and looking all cool for the ladies, a bumble bee went down his shirt. It began stinging him over and over in the chest. Now picture this.....he was trying to impress the girls with his hot studdly self, riding this hot studdly motorcycle. Suddenly it turned into a comedy routine for the girls and a horror story for him, as he tried to keep the bike steady while being stung and trying to get the bee out of his shirt. He said after about 6 stings he finally smashed it! Poor hubby! So I guess I can sympathize with his dislike of these fuzzy little pollinators. He seems to have created a truce of sorts with the bees, he gives them a wide berth and they ignore him. It is a true working relationship...as long as he stays of the motorcycle.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Tiger with Spots?

This gorgeous Tiger Moth is the "Great Leopard Moth" (Hypercompe scribonia) They are one of the largest of the Tiger Moths. They have very distinct coloring. An all white moth with large ringed spots in black, the back of the head features two beautiful blue spots. They have blue antennae, and their abdomen is beautifully marked with orange and blue spotting. The caterpillar is one of the infamous "Woolly Bears" that are often seen in the fall, in the case of this moth the caterpillar is all black with reddish skin. They will overwinter as a caterpillar and become active again in the spring with the return of warmer temperatures like other "woolly bears". They seek out their host which include a large variety of plants, such as cherry, dandelion, plantain, violet, willow, maple as well as numerous others. They will eat for a week or two until their full size is reached then they will pupate. It will take them a few weeks to complete the entire process. These moths are unique in that they have a defense mechanism in the from of a yellow discharge from their eyes. When approached by a would-be predator they will excrete a yellowish substance (pictured), it is distasteful to birds and other animals that would try to dine on this lovely moth. Most moths in this family (Arctiidae) are unappetizing to birds. This one was photographed last summer on a hollyhock bloom. I found several of this species near our timberline where I had a mercury vapor light set up by a large white sheet. When I touched it, it demonstrated its defensive eye discharge and I was able to get a picture of it.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fall Visitors

This little Tachinid Fly (right) was busy hovering about some late blooming flowers last October. In this image he looks so much like he is bowing with his front "hands" outstretched that it made me smile. Perhaps he is paying homage to the "Lord of Flies"
I know he was merely cleaning his face, probably washing off the pollen that had collected there. The warm sun had many species of flies such as the Brightly Colored Tachinid Fly (pictured right) out that day as well as a few butterflies, like this Painted Lady (above right). These tachinid flies and flower flies are some of my favorites. Their color variations and their human friendly habits make them an enjoyable species to have in the garden.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Loss of Oak Trees in Missouri linked to "Long-Horned" Beetle

I came across this article while browsing and found it interesting. I thought I would share it. It still amazes me how something so small in large numbers can cause so much damage. This photo belongs to Don Cadle and was taken from bugguide.net


FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Today the trees of the Ozark Mountains look lush and green, but over the next few months brown, bare patches will develop among the trees-an indication of a small insect that may be responsible for killing an estimated $1 billion worth of timber in Arkansas and Missouri. This insect may also cause long-term change the vegetative landscape of the Ozarks. University of Arkansas researchers are collaborating with the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies to study the life cycle, distribution and abundance of the red oak borer, a middle-sized nocturnal brown "long-horned" beetle native to the Ozarks. The beetle lived in relative obscurity until 1999, when USFS officials noticed a large number of dying oaks near Clarksville. They took a close look and found a possible culprit-an increased number of red oak borers. "In a very short period of time, for unknown reasons, the red oak borer population has reached a remarkably high density," said Fred Stephen, University Professor of entomology. The red oak borers have a two-year life cycle, spent mostly as larvae that bore into the heartwood of the host oaks. The larvae carve out galleries in the wood-chewing through layers of rings in the middle of the tree and creating small holes. Most of the time, the oaks mount a defense that successfully combats the larvae. But the dramatic increase in larval density-from an average three or four to a tree to 30 or 40 in a tree-has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of trees. "It turns the trees into Swiss cheese," Stephen said. Because of the insect's two-year life cycle, Stephen and his colleagues anticipate that the visible evidence of damage done to oaks will be worse this year than last year. Aerial photographs will show large swaths of brown snaking through the green of healthy trees. In the past, the beetles have preyed on less healthy specimens: Trees that are old or stressed from lack of water, trees with root disease or trees living in poor soil. In these cases, the borers usually delivered the final "coup de grace" that killed the tree. Most scientists believe that the advanced age and density of the oaks, the drought stress of the last several years, combined with diseases and secondary insects, have created an "oak decline" event that has weakened trees to the point that red oak borer can easily kill them. In a cut oak forest, sprouts from cut oaks will grow into new trees, but the stumps of borer-killed trees will not produce sprouts. If the red oak borers continue to decimate the Ozarks oak population, they could completely change the make-up of the Ozarks landscape, creating a forest dominated by shade-tolerant understory trees, such as maple and ash trees. This may affect not only the plants and animals that currently live in the Ozarks, but also neotropical migratory birds that use the Ozarks as a stopping point along their flight path. Stephen and researchers at the University's Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies (CAST) plan to map the infested areas this summer using Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and satellite imagery. Using information from CAST, the researchers can gather information about the amount of chlorophyll in a given area, the slope, aspect, vegetation type, soil type and location of ridges and valleys relative to the infestation of a given area. The USFS will send crews to measure forest density, individual tree diameter and vegetative composition in certain areas to corroborate satellite data. They also will use data from previous years to track the borer's spread and to create maps that show high-risk areas so land owners can make informed decisions about their oak trees.

Contact: Fred Stephen, University Professor, entomology, (479) 575-3404, fstephen@uark.edu, Melissa Blouin, science and research communications manager, (479) 575-5555, blouin@uark.edu

Crabs among the Flowers

These lovely little spiders are among my favorites. Their coloration is not only beautiful but serves them well in the form of camouflage. They have the amazing ability to blend in with the flowers, usually hidden among the blooms, when unsuspecting insects come to dine on the nectar or pollen, they in turn become the dinner. The species on the purple flower is White-Banded Crab Spider. The smaller one pictured next to her is her male counterpart. As you can see they look entirely different from each other, with the male being much smaller and very different in coloration. The one on the yellow flower is a Flower Crab Spider. There is another species that is common in Missouri and that is the Ground Crab Spider, their cryptic colors allow them to blend in with the ground on which they live and hunt. Each species has adapted to their specific habitat and they exploit it to the fullest. They are capable of capturing, killing and consuming species many times larger than themselves, including butterflies, large moths and bees. The young hatch in the spring and are so tiny that they often go unnoticed, typically it is the larger adults that we notice in our flower gardens later in the summer. I want to thank Steve Scott for the use of the Ground Crab Spider image and the male White-Banded image. They are lovely.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Toothbrush in the Woods?

This little toothbrush with legs is a Banded Tussock Moth (sometimes called Pale Tussock Moth) They are very common in Missouri. The caterpillars are very bristly with extra long hair strands at the head and tail. As adults they are quite lovely. Overall a pale cream or white with faint black zig-zag like lines across both wings. On the back of the thorax there are bluish-green vertical lines with yellow lines in between. The body is hairy and yellow. They typically will be found in hardwood forests, or edges of timbered areas. There are two generations per year in Missouri. These moths are believed to be toxic unlike most other moths, they gain this toxicity from the alkaloids in plants they consume. Adults will regurgitate on decaying plants then lap up the fluids affording them more toxins as a adult. There are various host plants for the caterpillars, including but not limited to Alder, grape, Ash, Hackberry, Hazel, Oak, Hickory, Poplar, Walnut, and Tulip Tree. Look for these moths at porch lights as they often visit lights at night.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bill opens Gates to Malaria Research

I am taking a detour away from Missouri Insects, this time we are headed to Long Beach. I came across this article on the Internet about Bill Gates releasing mosquitoes at a conference in Long Beach. Perhaps many of you have already read this and I am once again "A day late and a...." well you get it. I have mixed feelings about what I read. While I applaud Mr. Gates dramatic attention getting techniques, he certainly got his point across. I agree with him that we need more research and more funding for that research on Malaria. When you consider that Malaria has killed more people than all the Worlds Wars combined it is something to take very seriously. None of us is completely safe from the possibility of coming in contact with one of these mosquitoes. I still struggle somewhat with what Mr. Gates did, while he did assure the audience that these mosquitoes were Malaria free, what about other possible diseases that these little buggers are known to spread? Not to mention..how wise is it to release more mosquitoes? What is your opinion?

Bill Gates leaves some mosquitoes in Long Beach

11:05 PM | February 4, 2009

Bill Gates made headlines (lots of headlines with puns) today when he let loose mosquitoes a the Techology Entertainment Design (TED) conference in Long Beach.

The Microsoft founder apparently startled some in the audience, who were quickly reassured he was making a point about the spread of malaria.

"Malaria is spread by mosquitoes," he explained. More from AFP:

"I brought some. Here I'll let them roam around. There is no reason only poor people should be infected." Gates waited a minute or so before assuring the audience the liberated insects were malaria-free. TED curator Chris Anderson fired back at the legendary computer software maker, joking that the headline for the video of his talk to be posted online at Ted.com would be "Gates releases more bugs into the world."

A sample of the headlines that followed: "Crowd buzzing after Bill Gates mosquito stunt." "Gates releases mosquitoes to bug people about malaria."

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Ladybug Project

Cornell University is hosting a Citizen Science project entitled "The Ladybug Project" They are asking for people of all ages and photographic skills to take pictures and submit them. They want images of all the lady beetle species you come across. They will use these photographs to document the numbers of individual specimens within each species. As many of you know our native species are in drastic decline due to the introduction of many non-native species (often referred to as exotics). One such species is the Multi-Colored Asian Lady Beetle that I just recently blogged about. Check out this website http://treadwell.cce.cornell.edu/ladybeetles/
for directions on how to participate. This would be a great spring and summer project for families with children and nature lovers in general. Much information needs to be gathered to determine the long term effect that these non-native species will have on our environments. Aiding in projects like these is a wonderful way to feel apart of something important. Thank you Marvin for letting me in on this worth while project, it is a fantastic way for me to tie in my love of photography as well as my love on insects and turn it into something useful.

Asian Invasion

The Multi-Colored Asian Ladybird Beetle (a big name for such a little beetle). What these little beetles lack in size they more than make up for in sheer numbers. In the 1800's some enterprising citizens brought these beetles over from Asia to help control Aphid populations in green houses and nurseries. This plan worked well until some of these lovely little ladybugs escaped their confinements and set out for greener pastures. The habitats they encountered suited them quite nicely and they have taken to their new home with a vengence. In fact it is near to impossible to find a native species these days. These ladybugs come in many different shades of red, orange and reddish-orange. In the west there are some that are black. They have a tendancy to bite and give off a musky odor. Nothing like our sweet native ladybird beetles. In the fall it is common to see these ladybugs in large numbers in warm sunny areas. Presumably they are congregating in massive numbers to hibernate the long cold winter months in groups. Look for them in February and March as they come out of hiding on warmer days. They have become a symbol of fall for me, and even though they are not native and they are usurping our own lovely ladies I still can't help but carry a fondness for them in my heart.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Flower Fly

These pretty little flies are commonly seen throughout the summer months. They visit various flowers seeking nectar. Their eyes seem over-sized for their overall body size. Their bodies are banded with dark brown and yellow very much like a bee which they resemble and are often mistaken for. Bees have two sets of wings whereas flies only have one set. They are in the Syriphidae family in the order Diptera(flies). Look for them in July and August in your flower gardens.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

mantid update

Last Friday was a beautiful day here in our area. I managed to work in one of my flower beds that is in desperate need of cleaning. While trimming bushes and cutting off dead flowers I started noticing Mantid egg sacs. I began counting and discovered I had many more than I originally thought. There are 21 out there in one garden alone. I have no idea how many there is in my entire yard. Obviously a lot! The sad thing is of all the ones I found only one may possibly be from the Carolina Mantid. The entire sum of the rest are Chinese mantids.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Clean-Up Crew

This beetle is the Red-Lined Carrion Beetle. Many of us are not familiar with carrion beetles, but we should give them tremendous consideration. Carrion beetles provide us with a great service. They are natures clean-up crew. There are many different species of carrion beetles, and each has a specialized service they perform. Some will feed directly on the decaying flesh of a corpse, still others feed on the maggots of flies that are present on the corpse. Either way they are aiding us by decomposing the rotting flesh of animal matter, or ridding us of many flies that plague us on hot summer days. Admittedly it is not the most pleasant work they carry out, crawling under putrid flesh in search of ones meal is anything but appetizing to us humans, but it works for them. Thankfully so!