Thursday, July 30, 2009


Whirligig Beetles (Gyrinus limbatus) are fascinating insects. They are found throughout the Eastern portion of the United States and are very common in Missouri ponds, lakes and slow moving streams. They are small beetles at about 1/2 inch in length, and they are often found in groups like the ones pictured here. They're shiny black or brown with yellowish colored undersides. They have very unique compound eyes that are divided giving them a "Four-eyed" look. This allows them to see above and below the water simultaneously. Essentially allowing them to hunt for food found in the water and watch for danger from above the water, or vice versa. There is a bubble of air trapped underneath their abdomens which allows them to dive and swim under water for long periods of time. They earned their common name of whirligig from the habit they have of swimming rapidly in random circles when alarmed. Mating between these beetles takes place in the early spring. Mating can take as long as a few hours or as little as a few minutes. After mating, the female will lay her eggs in clusters on the stems of aquatic plants. The adults die shortly after egg laying. In about 2 weeks the new larvae will hatch. They will complete their growth cycle to adulthood in about 3 months. The adult beetles will leave the water and build a pupal cell in the mud near the waters edge. They will remain in this cell for approximately one week, and will emerge as the final matured adult. This typically takes place with a large population of beetles all at once, creating large aggregations of these beetles on the surface of the water. There can be as many as 200,000 beetles in these population explosions. This grouping behavior also aids them in avoiding predation..."safety in numbers". Whirligigs overwinter in the mud or bottom sediment of ponds and lakes. They are completely predacous and feed on other small invertebrates. If you were to handle one of these beetles it is said they give off an apple odor.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina) is common throughout the Eastern portion of North America. They will be found near ponds, marshes and old fields. Like all dragonflies they feed on insects that they catch out of the air. The are very distinctively marked with amber and burnt orange patterns on their wings. Males are highly territorial and perch on vantage points near ponds waiting for receptive females. After mating, the male will stay with the female as she deposits eggs. They are commonly seen in fields perched on flowers or grasses, pivoting their bodies with the wind.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mydas Fly- Wasp Mimic

These large flies are mimics of Spider Wasps. Their common name is Mydas Fly (Mydas clavatus). They can reach lengths up to 1 1/2 inches and wingspans of 2 1/2 inches. With jet black bodies and wings, and an orange band on the second segment of their abdomen they are easily identified. Although they so closely resemble wasps that many people are fooled by the pretence. They are common and widespread throughout the United States and parts of Canada. They are often found in open fields, and shrubby borders near deciduous woodlands. Adults feed on nectar. Some individuals claim they feed on caterpillars, flies, bees and true bugs. With no documented proof of this, it is only theory. I have only ever seen them on flowers in my yard, or perched on the ground or other vantage points sunning themselves. Females lay their eggs in rotting stumps or logs, and the resulting larvae will feed on beetle grubs. The adults are most generally seen in the summer months and very little is known about their mating rituals. It can be intimidating to have these large insects buzzing around you, especially if you make the assumption they are wasps. These are gorgeous flies and I get excited each time I spot one, and I consider myself lucky when I can get a decent picture of one of these fast fliers.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sawfly's---oddball babies

This first image is of an adult sawfly, in the same order as bees and wasps, Hymenoptera. The following four images are of the larval stages of various sawflies.

1.) Adult (unsure of species), Generally called "Common Sawflies"
2.) This one is probably (Dimorphopteryx melanognathus), or very closely related.
3.) This is a Butternut Sawfly, they feed on Walnut and Butternuts. These white "hairs" are waxy filaments. These filaments earn them the nickname of Butternut Woolyworm.
4.) This beautiful purple and orange one is (Arge humeralis). They feed on poison ivy...gotta love that!
5.) This last one I have not been able to identify.
There is some confusion in telling them apart from the caterpillars of moths and butterflies.

According to Abigail Parker from there are ways to distinguish them.
"Sawflies have more prolegs - 6 or more, whereas caterpillars have 5 or fewer. The first pair of prolegs on a sawfly is on the 2nd abdominal segment; on a caterpillar it's the third segment or farther back. Overall, sawflies look "leggy" without much space between the thoracic true legs and the abdominal prolegs.

Sawflies have one eye on each side of the head - caterpillars have 6. Of course, they're tiny and very hard to see, but if the insect has a light-colored head or has just molted, the eyes of sawflies are surprisingly prominent. I notice them even at early instars, while I've never been able to see a caterpillar's eyes without magnification."
There seems to be no shortage of sawflies around our farm, and each is unique and odd looking.
They come in so many different colors and shapes. I actively look for them now. It is much like Christmas, finding those brightly colored packages and trying to figure out what species it is. So now a new hobby is photographing these amazing creatures.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Pretty Picture Saturday

Beautiful bumble bee nectaring at Black Eyed Susan. There has been a huge increase in the number of bumble bees, the males must be on the scene.

Friday, July 24, 2009


Yesterday was a gorgeous day, especially for Missouri in Mid-July. The humidity was low and the temperature topped out at 82. My good friend Lu and I went to Platte City to visit a Conservation area called Platte Falls. We couldn't find many walking trails, but we did find some mowed roadways that we walked. We saw numerous insects, a few herons, and ducks, and thousands of frogs and one Blue racer (that crossed our path twice). At the end of one of the roadways we found this little pond on the verge of drying up. There were three herons, and two ducks sitting in the water. We promptly scared the herons with our presence and they took off for the hills. The little ducks remained behind and we had some difficulty identifying them. Lu thought they were pintails. When we headed back up the roadway to return to the car, her and I were visiting and laughing. I was in the lead and she was about 4 feet behind me.

All of the sudden I got clocked in the eyeball by an insect. It felt like a rock hit me. I let out a few expletives! She said I think it was a dragonfly...I said nope KATYDID! I saw it up close and personal, my eyeball was still throbbing. It landed in a tree about 20 feet away. I told her I felt like going after that Kamikaze Katydid and teaching it a lesson. Lu said "yea!..... it will be a KatyDEAD instead of Katydid"! I was thinking the whole time "Just let me get ahold of that thing" Ever see that moment in Alice in Wonderland where the queen yells "Off with their head?!"
I have no idea why that Katydid came at my face like it was shot out of a cannon, but it definitely got my attention. Katydids in the order Orthoptera are cousins to the grasshoppers and crickets. There are many types of Katydids in Missouri in various types of habitats. Many will be found in grassy areas like meadows, farmlands, pastures, or mowed roadways... Most are bright green and blend in well with blades of grasses and leaves of trees. Some species will have shades of yellow, brown or black on them as well. They feed on the foliage of various plants and trees.
Probably the most familiar aspect of the Katydid is not its looks but its song. They join the nighttime chorus in mid-summer and belt out a lovely melody of Katy-DID-katy-DIDN'T. Each species will have a little variance in their song, this helps them locate mates. After all if all the songs sounded the same it would be a free for all when it came to the mating scene. This individuality in harmony also helps us locate them. It is possible to recognize them by song alone, if you are patient enough to learn them. Just don't get in their way!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Question Mark

Question Mark (Polygonis interrogationis) Butterflies are a medium sized butterfly measuring up to 3 inches. They are found throughout the Eastern 2/3 of the United States, except for central and south Florida, they are also found in South Eastern Canada. Their coloring varies by season, but will always be shades of reddish-orange and black. On the underside of the hindwing they have a white or silvery "Question Mark" from whence they get their name. It is visible in the second picture. They are attracted to parks, gardens, wooded areas and swamps, where they typically feed on sap, dung, and rotting fruit. Or in the case of this one, hummingbird nectar. The host plant for the offspring is nettles, false nettle, hackberry and elm. There are two other species of butterflies in Missouri, the Eastern Comma and the Gray Comma that are very similar in their markings. The question mark butterfly has an extra black dash on the forewing that the Comma does not have. The Eastern Comma and the Gray Comma both have comma shapes on their underside of their hindwings. These are very pretty butterflies and I see them quite frequently in timber clearings.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Robber Fly

The robber flies in the genus (Ommatuis) are fairly small to medium sized predators, measuring up to one inch. A key characteristic of this genus is the slightly feathered antennae, which takes on a moth-like appearance. They also have a very "humped back" quality. Very reminiscent of Quasimodo. Expert hunters that feed on a wide variety of small insects, they are highly beneficial to have around, great fun to photograph too. They are commonly found in open fields, meadows, and grassy areas where they will perch on the tops of grasses or twigs and watch for passing insects, which they will dart out and grab, then carry back to their resting spot to feed.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Milkweed Bugs

Milkweed bugs are in the classification Hemiptera (True Bugs). The first two pictures are the Large Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus). The first picture is of several stages of nymphs, the second is how they appear as adults. The third picture is the Small Milkweed Bug (Lygaeus kalmia).
Large Milkweed bugs measure up to 3/4 of an inch. They are orange and black like the Small Milkweed Bug which measures about 10/16 of inch. One distinguishing characteristic of the Large variety is the black band through the middle of their back. The Small variety lacks this band instead they have a somewhat cross shaped orange marking on their wings. Each species uses milkweed as the host plant for their young. Females lay eggs on milkweed and the nymphs feed on the plant. This makes them toxic for consumption to possible predators. Both species can be found throughout most of the US. The Small variety has a larger range then the Large variety. Look for them in many types of habitats, but always in association with Milkweed.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Momma Spider

I believe this is some sort of Wolf Spider, she was approximately 2 inches long, legs and all. She was carrying around an egg sac attached to the end of her abdomen. She was rapidly moving through the grass when I spotted her. She became very defensive with me as I tried to stop her travels for a picture. She would throw her front legs into the air and rear her head up. After awhile she calmed down and sat for a photo. Does that face not look almost resigned, or bored with the whole affair. I spotted one other species similar to her that was carrying young around on her back, but I was unable to coax her out of the tall grasses for a photo. These are such awesome spiders, great natural bug control.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

In the Spotlight

This long-legged fly is a Robber Fly in the genus Diogmites, they are sometimes referred to as Hanging Thieves. There are over 26 species in North America and I would be hard pressed to ID this one to species. They are very common throughout their range, and I see them quite frequently. Generally speaking they do not allow me to get close, fleeing when I am anywhere within camera range. This one was decidedly cooperative. The way the sun was filtering through the leaves makes him look as if he were in the spotlight for his big debut. These are hugely beneficial insects, with their hungry appetite and aerial abilities they make for great hunters. Often feeding on flies and small wasps. Some have been known to turn cannibalistic and feed on their own kind.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Common Wood Nymph

This chocolate brown butterfly is the Common Wood Nymph (Cercyonis pegala). They are found throughout much of North America. Their coloration is highly variable depending upon where they are encountered. The one pictured here was in NWMO, and they vary from the ones found in Western Missouri or even in the East. They are the only large satyr (measuring up to 2.7 inches) with two large eyespots on the forewing. They go by many different names, but today are considered by many to be one species. This is the only large satyr east of the Mississippi. Usually they prefer sap or fermented fruit, but this one seemed content with coneflower nectar. In the western part of their range they usually nectar at flowers like spiraea and clover. Look for them near woodlands, especially timber contain oak, or pine. They also can be found near streams, roadsides, prairies, meadows and open fields and sometimes backyard gardens like the one here.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Rose Chafer

Rose Chafers (
Macrodactylus) are found throughout Central and Eastern North America. They are a smallish to medium sized beetle in the Scarabaeidae family of beetles. The one pictured here was about 3/8 of an inch long. It was a lovely beetle with an all over tan color and very long reddish colored spiny legs. They can be found in gardens, fields and meadows. This particular one was found near our timber edge next to a soybean field. Adults feed on a wide variety of plants despite their common name. They are know to consume the foliage of grapes, apples, cherries, elder, pear, foxglove, hollyhock, poppy, peonies and of course roses. The larva feed on the roots of grasses and turf, much like all scarab beetles. These beetles are known to be toxic to chickens and other birds. This is the first of this species I had ever seen, so I was very excited to be able to photograph it and later add it to my collection.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Soybean Stem Borer

This small longhorn beetle is the Soybean Stem Borer (Dectes texanus). They are found throughout the Central, Eastern and Southern United States and are a native species. They feed on wild legumes such as Cocklebur, wild sunflower and giant ragweed. In the 1920's many farmers throughout the country began planting soybeans which is an exotic plant in the legumes family. By the 1940's soybeans were fast becoming a staple crop for farmers. It didn't take long for these borers to latch on to this new food source and by the 1960's they were feeding on soybeans much to the frustration of the farmers who feared losing their crops to this little beasty. They also began feeding on cultivated sunflowers. It is estimated by one report I read that 10% of soybean crops can be lost to just one beetle ( is a significant amount, especially if your field has hundreds of these beetles present. In the fall when the larva are ready to settle down for winter (diapause), they will girdle the lower stem of the soybean plant from the inside to make a chamber in which to overwinter. This severely weakens the plant and the slightest touch can break the stalk. Sunflowers are also used for this purpose, but the beetle has a more difficult time girdling larger sunflower stalks. In the wild these beetles are hugely beneficial in keeping invasive weeds in check. With the good also sometimes comes the bad, and in this case it is the harm caused to the agricultural field.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Painted Lady

This pretty butterfly is the Painted Lady (Vanessa Cardui), they are sometimes referred to as the Thistle Butterfly or Cosmopolitan Butterfly. Thistle from it's preference of nectaring at these plants, and the fact that the caterpillar uses it as a host. Caterpillars will also be found on a variety (upwards of 100) of plants including hollyhock, mallow and many legumes. Painted Lady's are one of the most widespread butterflies being found almost Worldwide. This has earned them their other common name of Cosmopolitan Butterfly. They are relatively large with almost a 3 inch wingspan. Their coloring is spectacular, with orange and black and white spotting on the forewings, and a row of black spots on the hindwing they are truly a beautiful sight to behold.
Their mating habits vary somewhat depending upon where they are located in the United States. Out west males will typically perch on shrubs located on hillsides to wait for passing females. In the east (which includes Missouri) they will usually land on the ground and wait for receptive females to pass by. After mating, the females will seek their host plant and deposit eggs one at a time on the tops of leaves. The caterpillars will live inside silken nests and feed on the leaves. These butterflies can be found in a wide variety of habitats, including open fields, roadsides, backyard gardens, old dunes and prairies. Although one of the most commonly seen of all butterflies, I never tire of seeing them.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bugs do more than pollinate

Pictured here is a fungus called a Stinkhorn. I'm unsure of the species. I am having difficulty locating a picture that matches mine. Most of the pictures I located have a green slime coated on the top portion of the spike. These did not have the slime so I am wondering if the slime had washed off in the early morning rain. Or perhaps it had been removed by the insects (flies). These crazy fungi often take people by surprise, often showing up unexpectedly. Some individuals are dismayed to have them in their gardens. It doesn't take much imagination to see how they look very much like a phallus. So several of these penis-shaped appendages sprouting up in your garden can make for entertaining and interesting conversations. Then there is the smell from whence they get their name. As these fungi mature they have a very raunchy smell that in some species can be overpowering. Some people are so offended by the off-putting smell that they go to great lengths to remove them from their gardens. One method used is boiled water mixed with bleach. Pour the hot liquid over the offending fungus on a daily basis until all signs of the mushrooms have disappeared. It is this smell that aides in the distribution of this crazy mushroom.
Flies and other insects are attracted to the smell, they crawl all over the slimey portion of the fungus. It is this slime that contains the spores. The flies pick the spores up on their feet and carry them to another location, where the spores will readily spread. Stinkhorns are noted as being prolific. Many have been brought over from other countries and seem to adapt very easily to their new environments. They are found in moist mulched areas, such as mulched flowers beds, or in timbered areas that have dead or decaying wood, also found near trees where a lot of beetle activity produces sawdust at the base of trees. They will also be found in lawns, meadows, open fields etc. They begin to appear in the mid to late summer months and will be around until fall. They are very common in the Eastern portion of the United States, less so west of the Rockies. This particular species was approximately 5 to 6 inches tall. The top 1/3 of the stalk was bright red and the base was white. From all accounts that I've read the "button" of the fungus is edible. It must be harvested in the early stages of the appearance of the stalk. As the stalk ages it will begin to stink and be unedible. I'm not sure I would want to try them, my bravery extends to morels but when it comes to other fungi I'm a bit less adventurous. Sickness or death by mushrooms doesn't sound too appealing. By late in the evening the flies were covering the entire stalks of these specimens and gave the appearance that it was black instead of red. These were a neat surprise to find in the flowerbed last night, fortunately no offensive odor was present. Nature never ceases to amaze me.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Flying Flowers

Today's weather is anything but perfect. It is hot, humid and cloudy. We have storms predicted for our area with a 30% chance. Most likely we will get hit with something with the way the sky looks and with the fact that walking out side is like trying to breath underwater. The butterflies sure seem to not mind. I'm amazed at how weather that seems to make us wilt will bring these gorgeous creatures out in droves. The coneflowers are blooming and have turned one flower bed into a coneflower bed, choking most everything else out. Some serious control will have to implemented next season if I want any other flowers to flourish. I couldn't resist sharing these photos of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and the Red Admiral. I know I've posted about each before, but these beauties were just to gorgeous to not share.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Wheel Bug--Natures Assassin

Wheel Bugs ( Arilus cristatus) are crazy looking bugs. As a nymph they look nothing like their adult counterpart. The young are shiny black with a bright red abdomen (or butt as was described to me the other day...LOL). As they grow and shed their exoskeletons they begin taking on that trademark gray color. Then as they near adulthood they begin getting that odd looking cog shaped "wheel" on their thorax. This bug cannot be mistaken for any other species. Wheel bug are the largest of all the assassin bugs in the United States, growing up to 2 inches in length. They are throughout most of the United States, Ontario, Canada, Guatemala and Mexico. Look for them in gardens, prairies, along roadsides, or anywhere other insects can be found in ready supply for them to prey upon. Mating takes place in the fall, and the male will guard the female to keep other males from moving in on "his" female. After mating, the female will lay clusters of 42 to 182 eggs on trees, bushes, or other vegetation. The eggs overwinter and hatch in the spring. These newborn nymphs are tiny and vulnerable. They are susceptible to predation even by their own kind. They grow at a very slow rate and usually reach adult size by August in Missouri. The babies are master hunters and will feed on most any insects they can capture. The one pictured in the second photo had just dined on a caterpillar. He injected his piercing "beak" and sucked out the life fluids of the unfortunate caterpillar. These bugs can give a painful bite. It is reported to hurt worse than a hornet sting. I've never handled one, never willing to take the chance. I would say it is best to look but not touch in the case of this odd looking insect.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Metallic Sweat Bee

This pretty green bee is the Metallic Sweat Bee (Agapostemon spendens). These bees are somewhat large for a sweat bee at around 3/8 to 1/2 inch in length. Commonly found throughout all of North America, they are one of the most frequently seen bees of summer. They nectar from flowers and aid in pollinating various plants. The term "Sweat Bee" indicates that they are also attracted to human sweat. They will often land on our exposed body parts to lap up the salty sweat. It is then that stings generally occur. Every time I've been stung by one of these little guys it has been in the crease of my elbow or behind my knee. Apparently unaware that the bee is there I bend my arm or leg and POW! I get stung, and for their size they can give a pretty powerful sting. Fortunately the pain is short lived and causes no lasting effects (Unless of course you are allergic to bee stings, then that would be a different story). These bees burrow underground, colonies are generally small, but as with most colony insects there will be only one queen per hive. Unique among this species is that each colony contains different types of behavior, including bees that exhibit a social way of life that is typical of colony insects, but also present will be solitary specimens that lead a totally different life away from social instincts.
These bees are unmistakable in their appearance, the thorax is very vividly colored in green or dark orange and has a metallic sheen. The abdomen is banded with pale stripes and the wings are smoky to clear in color and have very dark veins. Look for them in gardens, meadows, roadsides, open fields, prairies, parks, etc. Typically anywhere flowers are present for them to be able to gather pollen or nectar.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Eastern Amberwing Dragonfly

These little dragonflies are so dainty and delicate looking. Called the Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera). Their name comes from the lovely amber color of their wings. These are very tiny dragonflies at about one inch. The male has solid colored wings (pictured) the female has darker patches on their wings. Often while perching these dragonflies will move their wings and abdomen up and down, making them look very wasp-like. So it isn't surprising that they are sometimes mistaken for wasps. They occur throughout the Eastern portion of the United States and are very common in Missouri. In fact, at the pond where this one was photographed there were a minimum of 30 fluttering about. Males of this species are very territorial and aggressively defend their territories from other males. Mating takes place in the form of a "mating wheel". Copulation may last from 3 seconds (giving new meaning to the term quicky) to as much as one hour. Very soon after mating the female will look for a suitable spot in nearby water to lay her eggs in bottom sediment. She may lay 1,000's of eggs. Eggs generally will hatch in about 1 to 8 weeks, depending upon the environment and the temperature. In some areas they may even overwinter in the egg stage. They are completely aquatic and live their life as a little water nymph. Once fully developed they will climb out of the water and hang onto a branch, stick or some other perch and shed their exoskeleton for the last time and the newly born adult will emerge. It takes some time for their wings to dry out completely before they are able to fly. Look for them near ponds, lakes and occassionally still streams. Like all dragonflies they are strictly meat eaters and feed on flying insects. they use their legs to "scoop" up unsuspecting insects. They bring the delectible morsal to their mouth and often times feed while in flight. Sometimes they will land and feed while perching. These are a very pretty dragonfly and should be easy to locate.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Hackberry Butterfly

Hackberry Butterflies (Asterocampa celtis) are very common throughout the Central Plains and the Eastern United States. They are not a large butterfly, measuring roughly 2 inches. Their coloring is somewhat cryptic with brownish-yellow wings with white spots near the tips of the forewings. There is a band of darker spots along the margin of the wings.
While at rest they blend in well with the bark of the trees they are commonly found on. This gives them protection from predation. The adults will sip sap from sapflows, suck fluids from carrion (pictured on deer head) and dung, as well as rotting fruit (pictured here on watermelon). The larval host plant is the Hackberry Tree as their name suggests. They are not known to cause any significant damage to the trees. Hackberry butterflies seem to be tolerant of humans and will often times land on your arm or clothing. I presume this is to lap up our salty sweat. After mating, females will lay their eggs either singly or in small clusters on the leaves of the host tree. These butterflies will sometimes overwinter in the egg stage and still others will overwinter in small groups as caterpillars within rolled leaves. In Missouri there are probably two generations per year. Very pretty butterfly in their subtleness.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Eight-Spotted Forester

This lovely caterpillar and moth is the Eight-Spotted Forester (Alypia octomaculata). These are a very common day flying moth found throughout North America. The adult moth has approximately a 1 1/4 inch wingspan and are very beautifully marked. Their body is entirely black with tiny white spotting running down the middle that looks like a line from head to tail. Their wings are also black with 2 yellow spots on each forewing and 2 white spots on each hindwing. One striking feature they have are orange "socks" at the top of the first set of legs. They are commonly mistaken for butterflies, not only because of their habit of flying about during the daylight hours, but their antennae are even very butterfly-like. The caterpillar is bluish-white with orange stripes and black lines with black spots. The head is also orange with black spots. The caterpillar is as striking as the adult. They feed on grapevine, Virginia creeper, and in large numbers can be a pest. The adults sip nectar from various flowers. The caterpillar here was on a Virginia Creeper vine that covers our cellar shed and chicken coop. I've also seen them on a wild grape vine in our yard. So far I haven't noticed them on our domestic grapes. I spotted the first adult this year on Friday (picture 3), she was nectaring in our flower garden and sat very patiently for a picture. The second picture was taken last year on a morning glory vine. They are truly a wonderful little moth and take you by surprise with how colorful they are.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day

May each of you have a Safe and Happy 4th of July celebration.
As we Gather with family and friends may we remember the sacrifices of many so that we may celebrate.