Monday, August 31, 2009

Alfalfa Butterfly

This yellow beauty is the Alfalfa Butterfly, or sometimes referred to as the Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme). They are very common and are found throughout most of North America. Average in size with around 2-2 1/2 inch wingspan they certainly aren't the largest or most impressive of butterflies. What they lack in size, they more than make up for in color and sheer numbers. They have yellowish-orange wings with a distinctive black band outlining the edges of each wing. On the upper wings there is a black spot in the center of each. On the two lower wings there is an orange spot in the center. Mating take place in early spring. After mating, the female will lay eggs singly on the leaves of the host plant. In the case of these butterflies it will be clover, and alfalfa. The female will stay close to the ground (usually within 6 inches) as she flutters around laying her eggs. It takes between 3 to 10 days for the eggs to hatch, depending upon the weather conditions. In about 2 weeks they will reach 2 inches in length, it is at this point they will form their cocoon, that is suspended from the leaves of the host plant. These butterflies are prolific breeders and can have up to 7 generations per year. The last generation will overwinter in the pupal stage and emerge the following spring.

These butterflies can be found in open fields, meadows, prairies, backyards, gardens, and along roadsides. The adults nectar from various flowers, and will also come to mud puddles for minerals. Often they will converge on nearby puddles in large numbers. These little butterflies are quick to fly and are sometimes difficult to approach. It is very difficult to photograph them with their wings spread, as they tend to rest with their wings closed and rarely spread them open. The first photograph was at Happy Holler Conservation Area, it almost went unnoticed by me as it blends in so well with the yellow flower it was nectaring at. The second photo shows one nectaring at sedum. Love the green eyes!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Black-Legged Meadow Katydid

This pretty katydid is the Black-Legged Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum nigripes). They occur west of the Appalachians and are found throughout the mid-west states. This one was photographed in my backyard last night on some blooming 4 O'clock plants. Their coloring is so dramatic, and those black legs make identifying them easy. They reach lengths up to 1 1/2 inches and are various shades of green, bright yellow, and reddish brown. Look for them in meadows, (hence the name), gardens, prairies and wetland areas. The male will sing from low in the vegetation to attract a nearby female. Once the female is mated she will lay eggs within plant tissue or sometimes in the soil. The young nymphs are born looking very much like their adult counterparts, with exception of no wings and being much smaller in size. The adults and the nymphs both feed on a wide variety of grasses and plants. Just like cicadas and other singing insects the black-legged katydid has its own distinct song, and can be identified by melody alone. It can be a challenge to learn all the different songs from each individual specimen that contributes to the nature chorus, but if you want to impress your friends this is a sure way to do it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

More Tennessee Creatures----Molluscs

Now, I realize this site is devoted to Insects and their closely related kin, I just couldn't resist posting about some other interesting creatures that most of us have come in contact with at one time or another. Snails, and slugs fall into the phylum Mollusca. Whereas insects are in the phylum Arthropoda. They are completely unrelated, and the only similarities you are likely to find is their existence in your garden right along with beetles and butterflies.

Many people are completely disgusted by slugs, which I have always found humorous. I remember when I was a little girl my grandmother and grandfather were overwhelmed with a huge population of large slugs in their yard. My grandma would hand me a box of Morton salt and send me outside to dissolve the slugs. I remember thinking how cool it was to poor salt on the slug and watch it shrivel into a mere shell of its former self. I had no idea as a child why this phenomena occurred, only that it fascinated me. As an adult I know that slugs are mostly water, and the salt dries them up. I guess I've grown soft in my old age because I wouldn't pour salt on one of these little critters now, although one day when I become a grandma I might pass the Morton salt to my grandchild and let them be as fascinated as I once was.

The ones pictured here were all photographed in Tennessee. The first two were near the cabin, residing in a pile of wood. The Third picture is of a large snail (almost ping pong ball sized) found in the forest of the Smoky Mountains, it had been feeding on the Caesar's mushroom pictured in the last photo (if you look closely at the photo you can see on the left hand side the little bites taken out of the mushroom, leaving the white meat exposed). Slug is a non-scientific name given to gastropod molluscs that do not have shells, or have greatly reduced shells, or perhaps a tiny internal shell. All slugs are decedents of snails, and have lost their impressive shells for one reason or another. The lack of shell to retreat into leaves them vulnerable to outside influences. Land slugs are prone to drying out, and therefore must remain in moist locations. During times of extreme dryness they will retreat to hiding places where the moisture levels are higher. Slugs produce slime, this is a form of protection. The slime serves several purposes, it makes them slick and hard to grab, which aids them against possible predators which may find them hard to grab a hold of. Two types of slime are produced, one is a thin mucus, this particular slime is produced in the center of the "foot" and spreads to sides. The second mucus is a thicker variety and is spread out from the head to the tail. The slime trail left behind by the slugs helps other slugs identify members of their own species. Which is helpful when mating season begins. Some species are capable of creating a slime cord from which they suspend themselves in the air during copulation. It also aids the slug in traveling, as the slime contains fibers which help them grip vertical surfaces. Slugs are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both male and female organs. Once a mate has been located they will entwine and fertilize each other. The male sex organs are cork screw shaped and sometimes become lodged within the female sex organ during the exchange of sperm. If this should occur one or the other will chew the entangled organ off. As horrible as this sounds, it does not keep the slug from mating. The female organ will still be fully functional and it will continue to mate as a female. In a few days, they will lay 30 eggs in a damp location under logs or vegetation or in a depression in the soil.
Slugs are of economic importance, as they predominantly feed on decaying vegetation, such as leaves, and fungus (the mushroom). Some species are predatory and feed on small land animals like other slugs or snails or even earthworms. They will even dine on carrion. There is a small population of slugs that are harmful to plants and crops, because they feed on green and growing plants, often becoming a pest in greenhouses.
Snails are closely related to slugs but differ from them by having an interesting coiled shell they carry around with them. Large numbers of snails are associated with water and are found near oceans, lakes, ponds and rivers. A few like the ones pictured above reside in moist environments like forests and woodpiles. The shell is made up of calcium carbonate that is secreted from the snails body. Snails require a diet high in calcium to continue producing the chemical that creates the shell and hardens it. Land Snails, like slugs possess both female and male organs and reproduce similarly to slugs. The difference between the species, is that land snails perform a mating ritual beforehand. This ritual varies by species, and can last up to 12 hours. Snails are prolific breeders and may lay clutches up to 100 eggs. Land snails are usually herbivores, and eat bark, leaves, decaying vegetation, fruit, fungus, etc. Some species are carnivorous and will eat other small soft bodied creatures like caterpillars. These creatures are common and easily found, but are truly fascinating in their simplicity. If you can resist the urge to pour salt on them, take a few minutes and just watch them, graceful in their movements and unassuming in their existence.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

6th Tennessee arthropod--Robinson's Cicada

Probably one of the most recognized sounds of summer are the cicadas, droning loudly from the tree tops. These noise makers are the males looking for females. If he sings, loudly and proudly, with any luck he will attract a nearby female who finds his song divine. Once mated, the female will cut slits into trees or twigs and deposit her eggs, often she will lay hundreds of eggs. Once the eggs hatch, the newly born nymphs will drop to the ground and burrow into the soil. They will remain there for as a little as two years to as many as 17 years (for periodical cicadas). They feed on the plant and trees roots. At the final instar they will construct a tunnel to the surface and emerge. They then crawl to a nearby surface and molt for the last time, after shedding this skin they become the adult we are all familiar with. The one pictured here is Robinson's Cicada (Tibicen robinsoniana). This particular species was photographed in Townsend, TN near the cabin where we stayed. They have a patchy, localized distribution. Often found along rivers, they are reported to be hard to find and to collect. I feel fortunate to have found a few, and not knowing for sure what they were, only that they appeared a little different from species I had seen at home in Missouri. I sent an image to Bugguide and Bill Reynolds was able to ID it for me. The one pictured is a male. After looking at their distribution, I discovered that there is a small population of these in Missouri as well, in the southern portion of the state, almost to the Arkansas border. The singing period for Robinson's is shorter than most cicada species, and they will typically stop calling after the first light frost or two in September.
Cicada's in the Genus Tibicen are referred to as the "Dog-Day Cicadas", this comes from their arrival with the hottest days of the summer. As we sit and wilt in the heat, they chant loudly as if they were paying homage to the hot temperatures. They sing to not only find mates, but to confuse predators, after all they have no means of protection, they aren't poisonous, they don't sting, or they sing in large numbers. As many of you know, hundreds of these all singing at once can be brain numbing in its intensity. This large chorus line makes it difficult for predators to locate any single cicada to dine on. Many myths surround cicadas, and they have been revered throughout history. Individuals in ancient Greece and China believed cicadas were the resurrected souls of departed loved ones. This belief came from the life cycle of the cicada, they live the largest portion of their life underground, emerging in the summer. After they shed their exoskeleton and take flight for the first time they are very clumsy and often bounce off objects, including humans who may be standing nearby. This transformation was viewed as being an ethereal reincarnation of deceased loved ones. They were viewed as being immortal. In Taoism the cicada was seen as a symbol of the soul leaving the body after death.
Cicada's are used in medical treatments for common human complaints such as earaches. In China the shed skins of the cicadas are ground up to form a powdered medicine that is used to treat, fevers, skin rashes, pink eye, cataracts, blurred vision, restless sleep, nightmares and various other ailments. Cicadas have been used for thousands of years in art, and were even depicted on coins before the time of Christ.
Cicadas are often called Locusts, but they are in a completely different family of insects. Locusts are related to grasshoppers and crickets in the family of Orthoptera. Locusts often swarm in large numbers and can cause catastrophic damage to grasses and crops, eating everything in sight. Cicada's on the other hand are in the same family as true bugs, Hemiptera, and subfamily Homoptera. Cicada's go by other localized names like "Dry-Fly" from the shed skin they leave behind, and are also called "Jar-Flies". In many parts of the world they are consumed, and the females are prized for their meatiness. They are skewered and stir fried as a delicacy. YUM---stir fried cicada, when do we eat?
Cicada's face other predators besides humans, this includes birds, and cicada killers, as well as our pets. While not known to be poisonous, they can make our pets vomit or give them diarrhea.
Each individual species has their own song, and they can be identified by their song alone. They make these loud noises with specialized organs called Timbols. They vibrate these organs located on the sides of the abdomen by expanding and relaxing the membrane.
For me as for many of us, the true symbol that summer has arrived is the arrival of the Cicada's Song. There is nothing more enjoyable than sitting outside on a muggy summer evening, sipping on a cool drink taking in the sounds of summer.

Friday, August 21, 2009

5th Tennessee Arthropod---American Dagger Moth

This fuzzy little caterpillar is the larval stage of the American Dagger Moth (Acronicta americana). It was photographed in my front yard in Savannah, MO about 2 weeks ago.

While we were in Tennessee I found the adult near the porch light at our cabin in Townsend, TN. These moths belong to the Noctuidae (Owlet Moths) family and are common throughout the Eastern United States. The adults reach wingspans from 2 1/2 - 3 1/4 inches and are mottled gray in color. They are the largest of all the dagger moths in the United States. The caterpillars will reach lengths up to 2 inches and are covered in dense white or pale yellow hairs. There are black "lashes" located at each end that stand up like Alfalfa's spiked hair. They feed on Birch, Oak, Alder, Ash, Willow, Maple, Elm, Poplar, Walnut and many other deciduous trees. It is not reported if the adult feeds. These moths are beautiful in both stages of life.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

4th Tennessee Arthropod--Deep Yellow Euchlaena

This pretty moth is the Deep Yellow Euchlaena (Euchlaena amoenaria). They are a member of the geometer family of moths. They are found throughout Eastern North America. This one was photographed at the porch light of our cabin in Townsend, TN. With a 2 inch wingspan they are fairly large for a geometer moth. It is not known what the adults eat, or even if they do. Very little is reported on the life cycle of these moths, there isn't even a host plant recorded for the caterpillar. It can probably be assumed they feed on any variety of trees like most geometer moths. One identifying characteristic of this species is the light patches near the wing tips. This will help distinguish them from another similar species called the Saw-Wing moth. They both have deeply scalloped wings. The coloring of this species is patches of yellow and reddish-brown. They are quite lovely and would easily be camouflaged against the bark of trees.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

3rd Tennessee Arthropod-Luna Moth

Everyone will recognize this gorgeous moth. The Luna Moth (Actias luna) is universal in its appeal, and arguably the most gorgeous moth in North America. They are found throughout the Eastern portion of the United States, south into Mexico and as far north as Canada. Reaching wingspans up to 4 1/2 inches catagorizes them as a large moth. Their bright lime green color and yellow eye spots make it impossible to mistake them for any other species. The one pictured here was found in Cades Cove along the driving trail. I spotted it hanging on a limb near the ground. I frantically told my husband he needed to find a spot to pull over. Once a safe location was found to pull off the one way road, I walked back about 1/4 of a mile to capture these images. It was a newly emerged female. She was still very damp and weak. The overstuffed abdomen (for egg carrying) and the lack of feathery attennae tells me she is a girl.
Late in the evening, usually after midnight the females will emit a strong pheromone (chemical perfume) that attracts any males within the vicinity. The males are capable of smelling her perfume from great distances, they do this with their specially adapted antennae which are extremely feathered. She will continue to scent until a suitable mate has been located. After mating, she will lay her eggs 4 to 6 at a time on the appropriate host plants, in this case it will be hickory, walnuts, sweet gum or persimmon. The eggs hatch in about 10 days, and the hungry caterpillars will begin feeding immediately. They grow rapidly and are fully grown in about 2 to 3 weeks, or at the length of 3 inches. They will crawl to the ground and pupate. They will spend the winter as a pupae and emerge the following spring as an adult. These moths have a very short lifespan and only live about one week as adults. The adults do not feed, as their sole purpose is to reproduce. Look for them near deciduous hardwood forests, and they will sometimes come to lights at night.
I always get excited each time I see one of these gorgeous moths, no matter how many times I see one, it is like seeing one for the first time.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

2nd Tennessee Arthropod---European Hornet

This impressive looking wasp is the European Hornet (Vespa crabo). We encountered a few of these near the cabin where we stayed in Townsend, TN. One of the neighbors owned a large yellow lab,she visited us often. She was old and as sweet as can be, she had a taste for these wasps and kept capturing them and eating them, even when it was apparent that the wasps were stinging her mouth. We could not figure out why she would endure such a painful sting to eat these little morsels. The one pictured here was chewing on a cicada near the driveway. These large wasps are native to Europe, and were first introduced to North America in 1840 where they made their appearance in New York State. Their numbers are greatly reduced in their native country, especially in Germany where it is illegal to harm them in any way. In fact if you kill one you could face a possible fine of up to 50,000 EURO which translates into $70,520.36 USD, which would be a hefty fine for killing an insect. Their introduction to the United States has given us our only true hornet. They are quite large and reach lengths up to 1 1/4 inches.
Many myths surround this wasp, one in particular hints at it being very aggressive. Some have said "Three stings will kill a human and seven stings will kill a horse" This is a huge exaggeration. While large and fairly loud as they buzz by you, they are not known to be aggressive, except when defending their hive. In fact if approached away from the hive they have the tendency to back away from you until they can safely fly away. Near the nest is another story, they will defend their hive very aggressively. A sting from one of these large wasps would be a nasty experience, it is reported to be terribly painful. Just like other wasps, they can sting numerous times, and the pheromone(chemical perfume) they exude would send up an alarm call to other members of the hive, and before long several of these wasps would be on the scene with one goal---to get you away from the hive (perhaps this is why their species name is crabo?) If you are feeling adventurous and would like to see a hive in action up close, approach slowly, and DO NOT breathe(The carbon dioxide you breathe out would alert them to your presence) towards the hive, you may be able to get within 20 yards of the hive undetected. Good luck.
In the spring, bred females become active with the return of warm weather. They will begin seeking out suitable sites for nest building, once she locates a likely spot she will start building the trademark papery nest. Usually this will be within hollow trees, but often they will build in human structures such as barns, attics and old houses, sometimes even building in the spaces between walls. It would probably be undesirable to have them in your homes as their hive often leak a residue that can be very stinky. This stench would be unwelcome in your home. The queen will begin depositing eggs within cells in the hive. She will feed these larvae herself and care for the hive. Once 5 to 10 newly emerged workers (females, that are incapable of reproducing) appear they will take over the care of the offspring and the hive. At this point the queens only purpose is to lay eggs. The hive usually reaches its full size by September, with a maximum of 1,000 workers, which would be a large hive. An average hive will have around 500 workers. These wasps are typically found in woodland areas, and with more and more people moving to the outskirts of town, and with the expansion of this wasps range, expect that you may come in contact with them. They are attracted to lights at night, and this may be due to the fact that other insects are also attracted to your porch lights. These wasps attack and kill insects, masticating (chewing) them and taking the nourishing substances back to the hive where they feed to the growing larva. The larva are fed exclusively bits of chewed up insects, and cicadas seem to be a favorite of the workers, perhaps because they are easy to capture and provide lots of food in one package. The adult workers need a lot more energy than what eating insects can provide, so they prefer to dine on sugary substances like sap or nectar. They are even known to feed on apples and peaches, often destroying the fruit. The larvae exude a sugary substance that the adult workers are able to feed on. Perhaps this is a thank you for all the hard work they perform in keeping them fed with bug juice. They are not known to favor human garbage or picnic favorites like pop. One interesting fact of these wasps is their relationship with a certain Rove Beetle (Velleius dilatatus). This beetle lives within the hive, feeding on the detritus (Organic matter, which includes fecal matter and the dead wasps). This beetle cannot survive without the wasp, even if there is limited amounts of detritus within the hive. These beetles locate the hive by smell, and there are usually around 10 beetles within each hive. In the fall the queen will lay eggs that are destined to be males and new queens. Shortly afterwards the queen dies. Once these new adults emerge they will seek mates. After mating, the males die, and the new queens will look for areas to overwinter. Usually in leaf litter or in hollow trees. The following spring the bred queens become active and the cycle will start all over.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bug Hunting attracts Police

Last Thursday while we were in Townsend, TN I wasn't having much luck finding insects around the cabin where we were staying, so I asked my husband if he would drive me to the main street in town and look by the businesses with lights. He said he would, so we headed that way. The first likely looking place was a car wash, it had a lot of bright lights around it, we turned into the drive and a police car pulled in behind us. So I told Joey to pretend we were going to vacuum out the van. As soon as we pulled up next to the vacuums the police car did a u-turn and left. We found several really nice insects at the lights, including HUGE Eastern Sawyer Longhorn Beetles, one Eastern Dobsonfly, and an Io Moth. I was so excited I told him we needed to go to another location. We drove down the road to a place called the Heritage Center, we no more and pulled up and shut the van off when a pickup complete with flashing red and blue lights pulled in behind us. I just looked at Joey and smiled. I walked back to the officer, he was on his radio talking to dispatch about our van. When he was done talking he just looked at me and said "Is everything alright?" I just smiled and said "yes sir, everything is fine". I said "I'll tell you why we are here if you promise not to laugh". He said "ok". So I explained that I was bug hunting. He gave me the strangest look, and I certainly can't imagine why. He replied by telling me we weren't breaking any laws. LOL imagine my relief. He left, and I looked over to Joey who was trying real hard to find a rock big enough to hide under....LOL He just said "That was embarrassing". I found the whole thing very humorous.
We returned home Saturday evening from our vacation, and last night was a balmy evening with storms brewing in the area and I thought it would be a good night to hunt bugs. Joey said he would come outside with me and hold the flashlight, he emerged from the house in his Tighty-whitey's and work boots. Boy was he attractive...what a turn-on...or off!
It was so funny though, I teased him and asked him what he would do if someone pulled in the driveway? He laughed and said no one better. We looked around outside for about 20 minutes, and he was ready to go back inside. So I told him I would be in after a bit that I wanted to check one more spot near the highway. He went inside, and I was shining my flashlight around in the trees, when a car pulled in the driveway, and a man got out. Next thing I know I had a spotlight beaming off my eyeballs blinding me. I knew it was a deputy. I hear him say "Oh, it's you" I was thinking Well who else did you expect. I just smiled and he asked me what I was doing, I replied by telling him I was bug hunting and taking pictures. He got the strangest look on his face, I'm sure he thought I was certifiable! He said he got concerned when he saw lights flashing off the trees at 10:30 at night. Fortunately I knew him, he went to school with Joey and was very helpful to us when our son had a bad wreck last October. So...I told him he should have pulled in 5 minutes sooner and he would have seen Joey in his skivvies and hiking boots. He replied "That's what is nice about living in the country" We laughed a little and he left. I couldn't wait to get in the house and tell Joey and our son Joel. I retold the whole story including telling the deputy about Joey's outfit of choice. Joel started laughing as the mental image hit him of his dad outside in nothing but underwear and hiking boots and that deputy shining his spotlight on him. Then it started me to laughing, and I laughed until my sides hurt. Oh how I wish he would have gotten caught with his pants down! So I've come to the conclusion that hunting bugs may end up getting me arrested, and Joey charged with indecent exposure!

Friday, August 14, 2009

1st Tennessee Arthropod--Leach's Millipede

This beauty is the Leach's Millipede (Euryurus leachii). While staying in Townsend, TN I was hoping to find numerous insects, and while I didn't find huge numbers of insects or other arthropods; the ones that I did find were interesting. This gorgeous millipede was crawling across the deck of the cabin we were staying at. I had just reluctantly left the comfort of the hot tub, when I noticed this thing crawling quite rapidly across the porch. At first glance I thought it was a caterpillar, imagine my surprise to discover what it really was. I was little concerned about handling it, as red is usually a warning coloration and I know that many millipedes exude a chemical secretion that can cause burning or skin discoloration. I do not know if this particular species has that ability, but I didn't want to take the chance. I captured him and plan to use him as an exhibit arthropod for our upcoming Insect-O-Rama event. This particular specimen was approximately 3 inches in length, and once again I am unsure if this is as big as they get or if bigger ones can be found. About the only information I could find on them states they prefer the rotting wood of hardwood trees. Rarely associated with pine woods or leaf litter as with many other millipede species. They are common, but this was the only one I could find, and believe me I looked frequently around our cabin.This dark brownish-black millipede was laying on a walking trail near the Cades Cove area of the Smokey Mountains. A Harvestman was munching down on the unfortunate victim. The Harvestmen (a.k.a Daddy Longlegs) were HUGE in this area. WAY bigger than anything we have in NWMO. I am unsure of the species of this Millipede, but I believe it is Narceus americanus. These are one of the biggest millipede, if not the biggest in the Eastern United States.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Green Bottle Blowfly

Green Bottle Blowflies belong to the genus of flies called Lucilia. They are large flies reaching lengths up to a 1/2 inch. They can be metallic blue-green or golden in color with black markings. There are black bristle-like hairs and three cross grooves (visible in the second picture) on the thorax. They have large reddish colored eyes. These flies are very common and can be found almost anywhere, city or country. The adults feed on sweet nectar, and picnic favorites, as well as garbage. They are very fond of sweet treats like pop. After mating, the females will lay eggs in masses of up to 20 eggs on the wounds of animals or on decomposing animal carcasses. Once the eggs hatch the pale yellow maggots will feed on the decaying animal matter on which they reside. It can take as few as two to as many as ten days to reach their full size. Once reaching full size they will fall to the ground and pupate. In a few days the adults will appear and begin the cycle all over again.

This species was raised for their offspring (maggots) for maggot therapy, this was done predominantly before the advent of antibiotics. Maggot therapy is still being used today in some extreme cases where wounds do not respond to antibiotics. Maggots prefer feeding on rotting and dead flesh, and leave living good flesh alone. So for bad wounds that refuse to heal, these maggots can be life saving, even if it does make ones stomach roil at the thought.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Ambush bug

Ambush Bugs in the genus Phymata are little predators measuring about 1/4 to 1/2 inch in length. They are found throughout the Eastern United States. Look for them in meadows, open fields, prairies, almost anywhere there are wildflowers. They seem to be especially abundant late in the summer and early fall when the goldenrod begins to bloom. Ambush bugs prey on insects in all stages of life. After mating, females will lay eggs in small clusters on the leaves and stems of plants. After hatching, the wingless nymphs will begin hunting for tiny insects to feed on. They will complete four molts (instars) before reaching adult size. Some species may take up to seven molts. The adults will overwinter in a secure place, probably among leaf litter or at the base of plants under vegetation. These bugs almost always hunt for their insect prey on flowers. They are able to fly but they rarely do so as they are weak fliers. Because of their coloring in shades of greens and browns they blend in well with their surroundings and are often overlooked. As you can see by the above picture they would be great at "ambushing" their prey. They are capable of sitting completely still, and will remain unmoving until a likely, delectable dining option comes along. They will then reach out with their longer front legs and grab the unsuspecting insect and pull the squirming little morsel into their mouth.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Bess Beetles

Today we made a trip to Tennessee for our family vacation. We are sitting at the Radisson Inn in Nashville, and plan to spend a few days here. We will probably visit the zoo, and the Grand Ole Opry. Tuesday we leave for Townsend, TN where we rented a cabin near the Smoky Mountains. I hope the insect activity at the cabin is good. I plan to take lots of pictures, and post some Tennessee Insects soon.

Tonight as the family watches some crazy comedy show on HBO, I decided to take the time to post about some very large beetles that I found in a hollow, rotting stump in our backyard. I literally tore that stump apart to see what was residing inside it. My husband said he wished he had the camera to get a picture of me. I apparently looked like a crazed woodpecker on crack as the wood flew in all directions in my quest to see what was residing in what was sure to prove to be the ultimate critter hotel. I was excited to find some very large beetles, called Bess Beetles.

This stump contained each life stage of this beetle.

1.) Bess Beetle Grub
2.) Bess Beetle Pupae
3.) Newly emerged Bess Beetle ( they are reddish in color when first hatched from the pupal cell, later turning black)
4.) Close-up of the face
5.) Fully matured adult

Bess Beetles (Odontotaenius disjunctus) are found from the Central United States and eastward. They go by many different common names including Peg Beetle, Betsy Beetle, Bess Bug, Patent Leather Beetle, and Horned Passalus. They grow quite large and with that horn on their face they can look very intimidating, but they are not known to bite. 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. 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 will stridulate loudly. Look for them in or near deciduous woodland. Adults feed on decayed wood or fungus. Larvae feed on the chewed up bits of wood and fungus the adults give them. Both adults and larvae will also feed on their own fecal matter. This is done probably to insure they have the proper intestinal parasites that they need to digest cellulose from the wood fibers they consume. If you want to find these beetles look for a rotten stump or rotting logs and tear them apart, you are sure to find some as they are quite common. If not, well perhaps there will be something else even better.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Gnat Ogre

This super tiny robber fly in the genus Holcocephala is found throughout the eastern portion of the United States. There are three species within this genus and all of them are located East of the Rockies. Measuring 1/2 inch or less they are the smallest robber flies encountered in their range. The wide set eyes is a key characteristic of these flies and distinguishes them from any other robber flies. They are often referred to as Gnat Ogre's because of their diet, which consists almost entirely of gnats. Look for them in grassy open areas where they will perch on small stems or twigs waiting for dinner to pass by, and with the huge populations of gnats I'm sure they have no trouble whatsoever in finding plenty to eat. Start looking for them now during the mid summer months, when their numbers increase. Keep in mind their small diminutive size when searching for them, they would be easy to pass by without ever knowing they are there.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Spider and the Fly

Mary Howitt wrote a poem about the Spider and the Fly that I have always loved. This picture reminded me of it so much I decided to share it will all the readers in case they had never heard it before. It really looks like this tiny spider bite off more than it could chew. The spider was smaller than one wing on that giant horse fly, but that didn't slow him up one bit. Before the fly knew what hit him, he had been bitten, paralyzed and wrapped in silk!

The Spider and the Fly
By: Mary Howitt

Will you walk into my parlor? said the Spider to the Fly.
Tis the prettiest little parlor that you ever did spy,
The way into my parlor is up a winding stair,
And I've many curious things to show when you are there.

Oh no, no said the little Fly, to ask me is in vain,
For whom goes up your winding stair, can ne'er come down again.

I'm sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high
Will you rest upon my little bed? said the Spider to the Fly.
There are pretty curtains drawn around; the sheets are fine and thin,
And if you like to rest awhile, I'll snugly tuck you in!

On no, no, said the little Fly, for I've often heard it said
They never, never wake again, who sleep upon your bed!

Said the cunning Spider to the Fly, Dear friend what can I do,
To prove the warm affection I've always felt for you?
I have within my pantry, good store of all that's nice
I'm sure you're very welcome; will you please take a slice?

On no, no said the little Fly, kind sir, that cannot be,
I've heard what's in your pantry, and I do not wish to see!

Sweet creature! Said the Spider, you're witty and you're wise,
How handsome are your gauzy wings, how brilliant your eyes!
I've a little looking-glass upon my parlor shelf,
If you'll step in one moment, dear, you shall behold yourself.

I thank you, gentle sir, she said, for what you're pleased to say,
And bid you good morning now, I'll call another day.

The Spider turned himself round about, and went into his den,
For well he knew the silly Fly would come back again
So he wove a subtle web, in a little corner sly,
And set his table ready, to dine upon the Fly.

Then he came out to his door again, and merrily did sing,
Come hither, hither, pretty fly, with the pearl and silver wing,
Your robes are green and purple, there's a crest upon your head
Your eyes are like the diamond bright, but mine are dull as lead!

Alas, alas! how very soon this silly Fly,
Hearing his wily, flattering words, came slowly flitting by
With buzzing wings she hung aloft, the near and nearer drew,
thinking only of her brilliant eyes, and green and purple hue.

Thinking only of her crested head, poor foolish thing!
At last, up jumped the cunning spider, and fiercely held her fast.
He dragged her up his winding stair, into his dismal den,
Within his little parlor, but she ne'er came out again!

And now dear little children, who may this story read,
To idle, silly flattering words, I pray you ne'er heed.
Unto an evil counselor, close heart and ear and eye,
And take a lesson from this tale, of the Spider and the Fly.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Eastern Cicada Killer

Eastern Cicada Killers (Sphecius speciosus) are large wasps, reaching lengths up to 1 1/2 inches. They are very common east of the Rockies and are found at woodland edges, in gardens and waste ground. They are easily identified, their head and thorax are rusty colored, and their bodies are black and yellow banded. The wings are a clear amber color. Adults eat very little, but will take nectar occasionally from various flowers. After mating, the female begins looking for a suitable site to dig a burrow. She will then look for food to provision this lair. As their name implies they hunt cicadas. Once an unfortunate victim has been located she will sting the cicada to paralyze it, she then carries it with her massive legs to the burrow. Once entrenched in the burrow she will lay an egg on the very much alive but unmoving cicada. The egg will hatch in a few days and the newly born larvae will feed on the food provided by its mother. After consuming the cicada, and when nothing but a shell remains the larvae will pupate. It will remain in this restive state until the following spring, when it will emerge as a full grown adult and the cycle will repeat itself. These wasps usually become abundant in the mid summer months with the return of the cicadas. They are not known to be aggressive, as with most solitary wasps they have nothing to protect. Colony bees or wasps tend to be much more aggressive as they have a queen, hive and larvae to protect. If you were to swat or otherwise antagonize one of these wasps make no mistake it would defend itself, and a sting from one of these large wasps would be an experience you wouldn't soon forget. The one pictured here was drawn to a sedum and had been hanging around this same plant for over a week. It seemed like unusual behavior, especially since the plant wasn't blooming. It allowed me to approach it to within a foot and take pictures. Occassionally darting out to chase off other wasps. They are beautiful, intimidating looking insects with a fascinating life cycle.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Arabesque Orb Weaver

This gorgeous spider is the Arabesque Orb Weaver (Neoscona arabesca), they are one of the most common orb weavers in North America. They can be found in a wide variety of habitats, but tend to prefer woodlands. It is not uncommon to encounter several of these spiders all within just a few feet of each other. These spiders are very efficient at insect control, with such large populations of them it stands to reason that they consume untold amounts of insects. While they aren't as flashy as some orb weavers such as the Black and Yellow Garden Spiders, they are certainly pretty in their own right. With golden coloring and bright white and golden abdomen they certainly stand out. One distinguishing characteristic of this species is the dark brown comma shapes on their abdomen, which are visible in the second and third picture. Each day they consume their web and build a new one. Silk is a valuable commodity and none goes to waste. Building a new web insures that the silk is strong enough to hold any insects that become ensnared within
it. I have tons of these spiders in my
yard and have to dodge the webs, as they tend to build wherever the mood strikes them. I cannot tell you how many time I've walked directly into their web, this freaks me completely out. I've invented some pretty unique dance moves, as I try to detangle myself from these sticky webs. Then I imagine the spider on me somewhere, which starts the fancy footwork all over again. EWWWW! I like them just fine in their web munching away on insects, but when they invade my space....GAME ON!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

This one is for Caleb---YellowJackets mistaken identity

(Yellow-Jacket Queen)

When I heard about young Caleb's unfortunate encounter with a nest of yellow-jackets I couldn't help but feel sympathy for his experience. His father said he had over a dozen stings and now is very uncomfortable being near any bees, especially the ones near their bird feeders. I can certainly understand how anyone would feel this way after having such a bad experience. His father asked me if I would post an entry about Yellow-Jackets and I am very happy to do so. Caleb my hope is that after you read this you will have a little better understanding as to why those wasps were so angry with you and what prompted them to sting so viciously.
Eastern yellow-jackets belong to a family of wasps called Vespidae, also within this family are the paper wasps. Like paper wasps, yellow-jackets build a papery nest out of chewed up bits of wood and saliva. These nests are most generally found underground, but can also be found in hollow trees or even in hay piles as the one pictured here. In the spring, bred females become active as soon as the weather begins to warm. She will seek a suitable nesting site and begin construction of her new home. She will lay eggs in small chambers (cells) within the nest and feed these young chewed up bits of insects herself. Once these young have grown to adulthood, they will take over the care of the queens offspring, and the queens sole purpose will be to lay eggs. These new wasps are referred to as the workers and their job is to not only care for all their siblings, but to expand the nest and to defend it. It was this defensive nature that Caleb learned about up close and personal. Yellow-Jackets give off a pheromone (chemical perfume) that alerts other members of the hive when danger is near. When one yellow-jacket is alerted, it isn't long before many are also on the defensive. If you happen to wonder too close to their hive they perceive this as a threat and attack accordingly. They are estimated to be responsible for over half of all stings from any wasp or bee. Although it is truly nothing personal, they are doing what nature designed them to do, defend their queen, their siblings and their home. Much like a father would do, if someone threatened his family or home. While he may not possess a stinger on his rear end, he certainly would use whatever was at his disposal if he thought there was a threat to his family or home. (Yellow-Jacket female foraging)

Each hive can contain up to 5,000 members, which sounds like a lot, but really that is a small hive when you consider that honey bees will have up to 50,000-60,000 members.
Late in the summer the male yellow-jackets appear on the scene and begin looking for young females with which to mate. After mating, and when cold weather begins to set in all in the hive will perish except for the bred females. These females are destined to be next years queens. They will spend the winter months in hiding, under leaf litter or in hollow trees.
(Yellow-Jacket Hive)

Fortunately for us Yellow-Jackets aren't always so aggressive, usually while out foraging for food they are docile. If provoked they will defend themselves, and can sting repeatedly. They are attracted to sweet substances and are often encountered at ball games, picnics, etc., where pop and other sweet drinks are plentiful. They are commonly seen crawling all over pop cans or edges of cups sipping up the sugary treats. Because of their resemblance to honey bees, many people mistakenly refer to them as honey bees. It would be very unlikely to encounter a honey bee on your pop can, they instead prefer flower nectar and pollen. Honey bees often get a bad rap because of the yellow-jackets. One thing to remember is: Yellow-Jackets are wasps, Honey Bees are bees. Honey bees can only sting once then they die, not so with yellow-jackets. Honey bees have fur, whereas yellow-jackets are smooth. Honey bees are milder in temperament and aren't as easily provoked. Yellow-jackets are more easily irritated. Another bee that is often mistaken for yellow-jackets is the cuckoo bee, they mimic yellow-jackets so closely it would be very hard to tell the difference. I assume this extreme mimicry offers them protection, after all if you look like a big bad mean wasp, not much will mess with you.

(Cuckoo Bee) (Honey Bee)

Caleb, I hope this helps you better understand these little wasps. Try to not be afraid, the ones that are at your bird feeders are most likely not going to cause you any harm. They are merely looking for something to feed either themselves or their younger siblings. Getting too close to the nest is never a good thing as you found out, but I hope you don't let it discourage you from respecting these amazing insects. While they do tend to be aggressive by nature, they are beneficial in respect to all the insect pests they kill and use to feed their offspring.

1.) Queen yellow-jacket belongs to Steve Scott
2.) Female yellow-jacket nectaring was taken from
3.) Yellow-Jacket hive in hay was taken from
4.) The cuckoo wasp image belongs to Steve Scott
5.) Honey Bee on Dandelion is mine.