Friday, December 31, 2010

Bean-Leaf Beetles


This tiny beetle is a Bean-Leaf Beetle (Cerotoma trifurcata). They are up to 1/4 of inch in length and can vary in color from red to yellowish-tan as pictured here. They will generally have four rectangular shaped spots on their elytra (wings). 
Because there is so much variation in the appearance of this beetle, including specimens that are free of the rectangular spots, that the most reliable source of identification is the triangular black marking at the base of the thorax where the wings attach. This marking is ALWAYS present on this species and will accurately help you identify them from other species of bean beetles. This particular species is found throughout the Eastern United States, parts of Canada and Mexico.


They overwinter as adults and become active in the spring with the return of warm weather (50-55 degrees). Soon after becoming active again they will begin feeding on the early foliage of soybeans and other legumes. If the spring is wet and cooler and planting of soybean crops is delayed until after June first, the chances of the first generation of these beetles becoming established is greatly reduced. Successfully bred females will deposit their eggs in soil and after hatching will feed on the roots of the plants. A single female is capable of producing up to 200 eggs. This root feeding does not usually cause significant damage to the crops, instead it is the late season feeding of the adults on the plants themselves that causes the biggest problem for soybean farmers. These adult beetles attack the foliage and the pods, and a veritable feeding frenzy will occur once the pods begin to dry out in August and September as the pods are tender and tasty, something any self-respecting adult bean-leaf beetle cannot refuse.


 Originally they were a secondary pest of soybean crops, but by the 1970's their numbers had begun to increase exponentially and they are now tied for second place as an important pest of soybean and other legumes. There are even reports of this species transferring its feeding preference over to pumpkins.

(Damage of feeding adults on soybean pods--picture taken from University of Missouri)

This intensified feeding of the adults can cause moldy beans by enabling infection to spread through micro-organisms present at the feeding sights. These micro-organisms is what leads to moldy beans. This mold may lead to incomplete development of the bean,it may also allow the beans to adhere to the pod which are then lost during the harvest process, and the presence of mold can greatly reduce the quality of the harvest and leads to dockage when selling. They are capable of having up to three generations per year, although there is only two generations in Missouri. The first and second generations are the ones most likely to cause the moldy beans syndrome. Even though late planted fields generally won't be attacked by the feeding of first generation adult beetles, they still are not free from harm as the possibility of first and second generation beetles migrating into these fields from nearby fields is a very real threat.
Early sweep netting of soybean fields can help determine the presence of these beetles and to what extent the infestation is. If there are two or more beetles per sweep and 15% or more of damage to plants, then a rescue treatment may need to be applied to the plants to offset any further damage.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rose-Haired Tarantula


Chilean Rose-Haired Tarantulas do not call Missouri home, except maybe as someones pet; as in this case. I bought the one pictured here several weeks ago from a local pet store for $17.00. They are native to Chili and for many years were imported by the thousands to the United States. Chili ceased all importation of these spiders and now all Rose-Haired Tarantulas are from breeding stock already in the United States.  These  tarantulas are often recommended for people who wish to own a tarantula but have no experience with them. It is relatively easy to locate a breeder and often they are available at your local pet store.  They are generally gentle by nature, relatively slow moving for a spider and beautiful to look at. The cost is low in comparison to other tarantulas, mostly because of their commoniness and their hardiness in captivity.  This is the second species of tarantula that I own, the first being the Oklahoma Brown which is native to Missouri. 

These tarantulas are considered a mid-sized tarantulas with a legspan up to 5 inches. Males will usually have longer legs and furrier bodies than females. Some even claim that the males are more colorful, but this is probably not true, simply because there is so much variation in the breed. In fact the variation is so complex that many say there are three species of Rose-Haired Tarantulas, depending upon color formation.  Grammostola rosea would be the standard Rose-Haired with the black or dark brown body and pinkish colored hairs. Then there is Grammostola cala which has reddish colored hairs, and lastly is Grammostola spatulata, which has brownish colored hairs.
This is consequently one of the most difficult spiders to identify to species. There is so much speculation as to whether or not each color morph should be considered its own individual species, plus the species itself has gone through numerous name changes. 
These tarantulas are one of the easiest to keep in captivity, they  require little room and only moderate humidity levels. They like a little hide to be able to crawl into and a few crickets or grasshoppers each week. They are easy to handle, just place your hand in front of them and gently coax them onto your hand. 

 (Rosy eating her cricket)

They do stress easy so handling should be kept at a minimum. Occasionally if they are feeling particularly cranky they may flick their abdomen hairs. If there is a bald spot on their "rump" it is a pretty good indication that they have recently been stressed. If mine begins flicking hairs I leave her in peace and handle her another day. Just like us humans, they have days where they just don't feel like being messed with. Your spider won't remain bald, it will eventually shed its skin and reveal brand new beautiful hairs where previously there were none. 
Shedding is a difficult time for a tarantula. The process begins many weeks before the actual shedding. It starts by growing new skin underneath the old skin that will be shed. They may act lethargic and stop eating at this time. When they begin molting they will flip onto their back (so don't be alarmed if you see this, your spider hasn't died). From this position it will slough off its old skin, including the inside of its mouth, respiratory organs, sexual organs and stomach. So you can see where this would be an extremely trying time for the spider, but if the humidity level is correct within the enclosure all should go well and within minutes the old skin will be shed. They will be very vulnerable  at this stage. Their new skin is soft and delicate and must harden, which depending upon the size of the spider may take a couple weeks. Smaller spiders require less time to harden their skin than do larger spiders. During this time, the spider will most likely not feed. 
It takes these spiders approximately 3 to 4 years to reach their full adult size. It is at this time that they may breed in the wild. Males will begin by producing sperm webs indicating he is ready to breed. If you have a male and female in captivity you may try placing them together at this time and see if the female is receptive to his attentions. That is if you wish to have little baby tarantulas (more than 500 at a time). Males will seek out the female and tap a little dance with his legs to lure her out, he will then pounce on her and use his front legs to lift her chelicerae out of the way so he doesn't become her next meal. He can also lift her almost completely onto her hind legs from this stance allowing him access to her epigyne so he may deposit his sperm. If she is fertilized; within a few weeks she will produce an egg sac that may contain more than 500 spiderlings. Usually the male will die shortly after a successful mating, unless of course the female kills him first. 

If you have been thinking about owning a tarantula, let me recommend this docile, beautiful creature as your first foray into the world of tarantulas, you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bee Fly

Bee Flies are very unusual looking insects....all legs and beak. Their bodies are covered in dense hair that gives them a fuzzy appearance. They are in the order Diptera and family Bombyliidae. The name Bee Fly is a very apt name for these hovering bee-like insects. They move very rapidly and rarely stay in one place very long. The ones here were photographed on a Bradford Pear that was blooming this past April. All manner of insects were attracted to the tree as nothing else was in bloom yet. Not only were the bee flies eating their fill of nectar, but so were hover flies, honey bees, paper wasps and ladybugs.


There are hundreds of bee fly species Worldwide and many of them live in the United States. I noticed at least two different species nectaring that the pear blooms. They proved quite difficult to photograph. I brought out the 8 foot step ladder and placed it near the tree. I climbed the ladder and sat on the very top rung, right amongst the blooms and buzzing insects. Insects darted and flew past my head on their way to tastier booms. Each time the bee fly would come into camera range, it would dart off before I could line up the shot. After about 2 hours I managed a half dozen decent shots.


These flies can be found in gardens, meadows, parks, prairies, in scrubby areas with native wildflowers, and even near cropland edges. Two years ago I spotted a pair of these flies hovering around in field corn stubble at the edge of the field. I chased them all over the place and never did manage to get a picture. I will be back out next spring trying once again to capture some images of these flies.

After mating, the female will seek the nest of bees and wasps or even the egg pods of grasshoppers to lay her eggs near. When the eggs hatch the larvae must seek the bees, wasp or egg pods on which to attach themselves and feed. Some species feed on blister beetles and even butterflies. This family of flies is considered neither beneficial nor injurious as they feed equally on harmful and helpful insects.


Look closely at what hovers about your flowers and maybe you will find yourself lucky enough to spot these unique and rapid fliers among the blossoms.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Soybean Leafminer


This adorable little red beetle is a Soybean Leafminer (Odontota horni). I had taken this photo last spring and subsequently forgot about. While sorting through photos tonight I came across it and realized I did not have an ID on it. I posted it to Facebook and within minutes Margarethe Brummermann of Arizona provided an accurate identification for me. If you have not visited her blog, please take a few minutes to do so, she is an amazing photographer and artist and has a true passion and knowledge about the natural world.





These little beetles are found throughout Missouri, typically near soybean fields. They are not known to cause an significant damage to soybean crops, and are usually found near the field margins. The adults nibble at the leaf tissue causing a skeletonized appearance to the leaves. The larvae of these beetles "mine" the leaves, creating a blister-like damage between the lower and upper leaf surfaces. The soybeans generally are not adversely affected by the feeding habits of these beetles. There is some risk that they may pass along bean pod mottle virus. In some areas there is as much as 80% damage by this pathogen that is passed on to the plants by these beetles.
(Damage caused to soybean leaf, by soybean leafminer: photo taken from IAState University website)

This species is small at about 1/4 of an inch in length, they are brick-red with a black stripe down their back that does not extend to the wing tips. There is a similar species called the Locust Leafminer (Odontata dorsalis) that is also found in Missouri. They are also reported to sometimes feed on Soybeans, but much more often they feed on the food source they are named after, the locust trees. This beetle is also red, but the black stripe widens and extends all the way to the wing tips. Look at the first two beetle photos and compare it to the last one and the difference are obvious. It would however be easy to mistake one species for the other without having both in hand to compare.

Some of our most beautiful insects are often the easiest to overlook, keep your eyes peeled for the tiny species, as they often are some of the most remarkable in coloration and design.

(Locust Leafminer: photo by Tom Murray)


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Green Bottle Flies


Green Bottle Flies are in the genus Lucilla and range Worldwide. These are small flies measuring up to 3/8 of an inch. They are bright metallic green or golden with black markings. They have three horizontal grooves on the thorax and bright reddish colored eyes. These flies are associated with animals and can be found most anywhere, including farms, stockyards, rural areas, as well as urban and suburban areas.
These flies are prolific breeders and will have numerous generations per year. Mating takes place soon after the flies emerge from their pupal stage. The female will lay eggs on carrion or in the wounds of animals. The eggs hatch in 12 hours or up to 3 days later (depending on the outside temperature). The little maggots feed on carrion and reach full size anywhere from 2 to 10 days. At this time they will drop to the ground and burrow into the soil to pupate. In a few days the newly formed adult will emerge from underground and begin the cycle all over again.
 How do you tell a male fly from a female fly? Males have eyes that touch, females have wide set eyes.  ( Therefore the one pictured in the first and second pictures is a male)


The adults of this fly feed on sweets, especially nectar or picnic favorites like soda pop.
It is best to keep them away from food meant for human consumption. These flies are capable of spreading disease. They crawl around on manure, and dead carcasses, then fly to Aunt Junes' potato salad and bring with them whatever they may have picked up while crawling around on those unsavory piles of poo and carrion. This in turn can spread very nasty germs to our food, then on to us as the consumer of the potato salad. Best to be careful, and keep food covered as much as possible.

This particular species was bred in captivity for "Maggot Therapy". What is maggot therapy, you ask? It is a  very disturbing medical treatment that involves placing the maggots of these flies on necrotic wounds. The idea behind this is the fact that maggots only consume things that are rotting or already dead. Therefore they clean up the dead, unhealthy flesh of a wound that refuses to heal. While it might make our skin crawl (literally) to imagine anything so unsettling, if it meant saving your life I bet you could do it. With todays modern antibiotics the use of maggot therapy only occurs in extreme situations.

Flies are rarely anyone's favorite insects; they can be annoying as they hover around our faces, or our food. They invade our houses and drive us crazy as they fly around and buzz their whining little wings near our ears. They seem to have developed super fast reflexes and can dodge our attempts to swat them with flyswatters. For all the bad that is associated with flies, I need to point out there is much good as well....the maggots aid us by consuming the rotting and dead flesh of animal carcasses, and maggot therapy has saved numerous lives. Overall flies aren't the bad guys that we often make them out to be.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Spotted Apatelodes Moth

This grandfatherly-looking caterpillar is the offspring of a Spotted-Apatelodes Moth(Apatelodes torrefacta). The caterpillars can vary in color from gray (pictured), to yellow or even white. There are tufts of black hairs and black spots along their side, which aren't readily visible because of the fluffy nature of this caterpillar. There are many fuzzy caterpillars crawling around outside and most of them are the larvae of Tiger Moths and we call them Wooly-Bears. So how do we tell the difference? This species has hair that lays flat along its body, rather than sticking up wily-nily all over its body like other caterpillars, this one also features those long black tufts of hair.I read one report that claimed they have bright orange feet; how I wish I would have flipped this one over to see that!

As adults; the puzzle grows even more, whereas the young favor tiger moth caterpillars, the adults favor sphinx moths. When I first spotted this moth on the grass in our front yard I thought it was a Sphinx moth, although I had no idea which one. I sent this image into Bugguide and within minutes it was identified as the Spotted-Apatelodes Moth. They are in the family Bombycidae, which are silkworm moths. These differ from the  Giant Silk Moths like Luna Moths and Cecropia Moths in several ways......

For one thing they are much smaller(wingpan up to 2 3/4 inches), but also one member of this family are the producers of the silk we humans have come to favor.
(Bombyx mori) are native to northern China and have been used extensively in the production of silk for over 4,500 years. These caterpillars are no longer found in the wild and are bred entirely in captivity. They are fed a diet of Mulberry leaves.China continues to be one of the top manufacturers of silk. 

The Spotted-Apatelodes is closely related to the Silkworm Moth that is used in silk production.

The spotted-apatelodes caterpillars feed on Cherry, Ash, Maple and Oak. There is also documentation that they feed on other fruit trees as well.  The adults are not reported to feed, nor could I find any information of their lifecycle beyond one report that stated mating takes place in the summer and the caterpillars will overwinter in the pupal stage. In their Southern most region they may produce up to 3 or more generations per year. In their Northern most range they will only have one generation. They can be found in deciduous forests and nearby areas, presumably where the host plants would be found.

While doing my research on this species, I visited the www.butterfliesandmoths.org (BAMONA) website and discovered that there were no reported sightings for this moth in Missouri. I contacted our regional representative for BAMONA and told him about my finding this particular species in NW Missouri and sent him this picture. He thanked me and assured me it would be added to the data base.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Plant Bugs


This pretty, yet tiny insect is a plant bug called the Two-spotted grass bug (Stenotus binotatus). They are found throughout North America in gardens, grassy areas, and along roadsides. The nymphs feed on a wide variety of grasses, especially Timothy grass. It is not reported if the adults eat. This preference for Timothy grass has also earned them another common name of Timothy plant bug. These bugs are tiny at approximately 1/8 of an inch. They are highly variable in coloration and will range from yellowish to greenish. There are two black spots on the pronotum, from whence they get their common name.


This thinly shaped plant bug is the scentless plant bug (Harmostes refluxulus). These bugs are also found throughout North America, especially in the eastern portion of the the United States. They may reach lengths up to 1/2 inch, and are light green with reddish colored markings. As adults they overwinter until spring. Mating takes place in the spring and the female will lay eggs on various plants. The young feed on the plants, and adults feed on nectar, especially from flowers like asters. The genus name Harmostes has its roots in Greek history and is a form of the word Harmony.


This beautiful lime green plant bug is the spotted green plant bug (Ilnacora staqlii). They are found in scattered populations throughout the Eastern United States in grassy ditches, weedy areas and along roadsides. Both adults and nymphs feed on the juices of various plants. These bugs are average sized at 3/8 of an inch and are uniformly light lime green with black speckling on the wings as well as two widely spaced black spots on either side of the pronotum. Occasionally these bugs will come to porch lights or other outdoor lights at night.


This artfully marked insect is the tarnished plant bug (Lygus lineolarus). They can be found throughout most of the United States, Southern Canada and much of Mexico. They are small at 1/8-1/4 of an inch. The head is yellowish-tan, the pronotum is reddish-brown. The wings are patterned with various shades of tan, brown, yellow and reddish-brown. In many individuals there is a "heart" shape behind the head. The specimens that first appear in the spring will be darker, as the season progresses the specimens will be lighter in color. Adults overwinter in leaf litter or other secluded areas until spring. Once spring arrives they will be very active and seek out nursery stock to feed on, such as fruit trees,ornamental plants. They will also feed on soybeans, cotton, clover, in fact there are 380 reported plants that they will feed on. According to the USDA these are the most common plant bug in the United States and are also classified as one of the most dangerous. These bugs also transmit various plant diseases. Look for them in gardens, grassy roadsides, open fields, meadows, orchards and sometimes woodsy understories.


This black and yellow bug is the four-line plant bug (Poecilocapsus lineatus). They are common throughout the Eastern United States and parts of Southern Canada. These are small bugs at 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch. They are almost always yellowish in color with black markings and an orange head. Occasionally there will be orangish colored specimens. The nymphs are red with a bluish-black saddle (pictured above).The female will lay eggs in the stems of plants, these eggs hatch the following spring. By June they will be adult size and will be seen near gardens, meadows, prairies and agricultural areas. Mating takes place at this time, and the females will lay eggs until August. By the end of August or the first of September the adults will have perished.  These bugs can cause significant damage to plants if they occur in large numbers. There are over 250 plants they are reported to feed on; a few of these are burdock, pea, potato, currant, spinach, raspberry, squash, radish, ginger, alfalfa, catnip, snapdragon, geranium, phlox and carnation.

All plant bugs possess piercing sucking mouthparts. These beak-like mouths will jab into the plant tissue and inject the plant with an enzyme that breaks down plant tissue and turns it to liquid. The bug can then slurp up the plant juices like a plant-slurpee. Plant bugs are in the order Hemiptera, which are the true bugs, also included in this order are assassin bugs, cicadas and leafhoppers.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

"POO", does a body good!


Yes, that is a large cow patty this very beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail has her proboscis dipped into.While this looks very disgusting and is probably something you would never think of doing yourself, this butterfly benefits from it greatly. We as humans can drive to our local pharmacy or all-night super store and buy the vitamins and minerals we need. These lovely creatures obviously have no such luxury, so they have to find them where they may. Scat is loaded with minerals and other nutrients that not only this butterfly relishes, but so do many other insects. Just take a walk, anywhere there is sure to be poop, and each pile will look like an all-night diner after the bars let out...there won't be an empty seat available. Everything from Flies, Butterflies, and Beetles will all be sharing this buffet. I've even seen grasshoppers partake of scat. Mammals rarely digest all their food, and the tasty bits that remain are recycled through the animals body in the form of scat. Sometimes it is very easy to see what the animal had been feeding on, you might find hair, or even bones. Other times you might find berries or corn. All of these leftovers is what the insects are after....there may be as much as 50% of the energy left in this waste product from what was originally consumed.

Mother Nature provides, and sees to it that nothing goes to waste.....so try not to be too grossed out, think of it as a clean-up crew....they consume what we find distasteful or smelly and dispose of it for us, like miniature garbage collectors.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Attack of the Ants

Who says ants aren't vicious, opportunistic creatures? Just look at these ants hauling this much larger spider. These ants exhibited great teamwork, lugging, pushing, pulling, all in the name to climb a giant hill (well giant from their perspective). These are also the same ants that "attack" me each summer when I attempt to sunbathe in my backyard. Not sure if they are territorial or if I just look like a tasty entree'.

My one question is.....Did they FIND this spider already dead?.....or did they do the KILLING?

Here is another situation that I came across of some ants attacking and feeding on a Junebug. Seems they like legs the best, wonder if they taste like chicken?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Blue-Winged Wasp


Blue-Winged Wasps (Scolia dubia) are in the family Scollidae and are found east of the Rocky Mountains. They are very common in Missouri and are usually seen in late summer or early fall. The one pictured here finds the taste of goldenrod much to its liking. These are not large wasp with a total body length up to one inch. They are mostly black with 4 reddish colored segments on their abdomen and two bright yellow spots midway down the abdomen. Their wings are metallic blue just as their common name suggests.

Males and females engage in elaborate mating rituals that involve the male dancing to attract the attention of the female. After mating, the female will dig in the ground searching for the grubs of Green June Beetle grubs, or Japanese Beetle grubs to sting and paralyze. Then she will dig deeper into the soil and create a chamber to place the grub. She will then lay an egg on the beetle larvae. When the egg hatches the young wasp larvae will feed on the paralyzed grub. After consuming the entire grub the wasp larvae are ready to create a pupa and spend the winter underground tucked away all safe and snug out of the winter cold. The following spring, perhaps in May they will emerge from the pupal cell and dig their way out from underground and take flight for the first time. As adults they will feed on the nectar of a wide variety of flowers and can be found along roadsides, in prairies, backyards, meadows, and in gardens.

Because of their preference for using Green June Beetle grubs and Japanese Beetle grubs these wasps are considered beneficial. They do their part to help control the populations of these often times harmful insects.They are also a mild tempered wasp and are not aggressive towards humans. The main reason for this calmer demeanor is the lack of hives, queen and siblings to protect. Because of their solitary lifecycle and lack of parental or offspring care they have nothing to feel aggressive about.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mayflies


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



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


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




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

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

I am not sure of the species of this mayfly pictured below on the Sage, but it is a beautiful shade of russet and is much smaller than the Burrowing Mayfly at only 3/4 of an inch in length.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wolf Spiders

 No other spider has generated as much interest this year than the Wolf Spiders. Beginning in late August people began bringing them into my office wanting to know what they were. Some specimens are very easy to identify, but with so many Wolf Spiders out there many of them can be quite difficult. They range in size and coloration from barely 3/8 of an inch to well over 3 inches (with legspan) and can be light tan to almost black.


The most common species that seemed to show up was this very dark (almost black) species in the genus Hogna. They are certainly one of the larger species of Wolfies. They have very large chelcerae (fangs) and aren't afraid to use them. I've mentioned before my husbands ability to attract insects that bite and sting like poo attracts flies. This September he came into the house in a panic, flushed and sweating. He said he had been bitten on the toe inside his boot. He shook the boot out and found a medium sized spider and had no idea what kind it was. I assured him it wasn't a particularly dangerous species, that it was a wolf spider and their bite is very painful. He said "NO KIDDING!" I felt bad for him, because this particular bite followed a similar bite he received on his back about 3 weeks prior. Something had fallen down his shirt when he went into the chicken house to get the eggs. It bit him HARD before he even knew anything was there. The bite swelled and itched for weeks. He just got over that bite and then according to him was "attacked again." This bite also swelled and bothered him for weeks. He said he now knows what bit him on the back, the bites felt exactly the same and both bites reacted the same. He was on an all out mission to kill each and every spider he found after that. I really couldn't blame him, although I really didn't want him killing them.



Wolf Spider numbers were definitely up in our area this year. I've found no less than 20 in my basement alone. A friend of mine found one on her ceiling, and from the amount of them that were brought into my office this year for ID, I can honestly say there are no shortage of them this year. So I guess the fact that my husband is killing in retaliation to his perceived attacks can be tolerated as acceptable losses.

My daughter is terrified of spiders, yet knows that I am fascinated by them. Her and a friend found one crawling around outside her friends house and decided to try and catch it for me. Her retelling of the story had be in stitches as she describes the two of them screaming and squealing as they corralled this "monster" into a container to give me. I assured her it was the best gift ever, and in fact I kept it. I've been feeding her crickets(Above) and gave her a very nice container to live in. The other day I went downstairs to feed her and discovered she is about to be a mommy herself. She had formed an egg sac and was carrying it around on her spinnerets.


I am assuming that sometime within the next 4 to 28 days the eggs will hatch. Nothing like a broad range to keep you wondering when the big day will be. Now I have no choice but to keep a close eye on her. I really want to get pictures of the babies hatching.  When the egg begins opening the female will help the young spiderlings emerge from the egg sac. The spiders will then crawl on top of their mothers back and ride around with her for several days until they molt for the first time (pictured below).


 Wolf Spiders are in the family Lycosidae, from the Greek word lycosa meaning "wolf." These are very successful predators and are often compared to wolves in their hunting tactics. These spiders are quick and agile hunters and stalk and chase down their insect prey. Their eyes are key identification feature, there are three rows of eyes, the first row contains 4 small eyes that are situated on the front of the face, the second row of two eyes is much larger and aim forward. The last row of two medium-sized eyes sit atop the carapace and give the spider rear and lateral vision. They have exceptionally great eyesight for a spider and most likely can see well at night also.


With over 200 species in North America there is no shortage of wolfies to find and study. Don't count on finding them in webs as they do not build traditional webs like Orb Weaver spiders. They hide out under vegetation, rocks, logs, in sheds, basements and garages and some will even dig holes in the ground to retreat into. They will use silk inside these holes in the ground to help conceal them or to spend time resting or waiting for prey to pass by, and the females use silk to create their egg sacs. Many species have no form of retreat at all and will instead run away from danger. 



I had one gentleman call me about a month ago concerned because he had many of these large spiders hanging out in his front yard underneath a pole light. He said they were very large and there were well over 20 or 30 of them. He was concerned they would bite his children or get into his home. While I could not assure him that they would not make it into his house, I did my best to convince him to not kill them, and told him that the reason they were congregating around his pole light was to eat the insects that were also attracted to the light. 



Thursday, November 11, 2010

Eastern Ribbon Snakes

Every so often I just have to share with you some interesting reptiles....and these adorable little snakes definitely qualify as interesting. These are Eastern Ribbon Snakes (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus). There are several subspecies of this snake and all of them go by the common name of Ribbon Snake. The one native to Missouri is the Western Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis) I bought a pair of these Eastern Ribbons at Petco six weeks ago simply because they are so cute, and they are nearly identical to our very own native species.
I figured they would make great program snakes.This species are fish eaters and live predominantly near water. They will also eat tadpoles, frogs, salamanders, and toads. They have occasionally been seen eating insects. When threatened or disturbed they will glide across the top of the water rather than diving like other water snakes. These little snakes are also comfortable on land and will retreat to bushes or shrubs. They are closely related to Garter Snakes but are more mild tempered and will rarely bite. Reaching lengths up to 38 inches they are not a particularly large snake, and are very thin bodied. They are very similarly marked and colored as the garter snake with olive-black bodies and yellowish stripes down their backs.


I bought them some small feeder fish and watched as they each ate two. If one had a fish the second snake would try to take it away. I had to coax the empty mouthed one to the water dish to "Show" him the remaining fish. They are aggressive eaters and fun to watch. You can see in the picture below
that this snake has a fish in his mouth and has his gaze locked onto another fish. Greedy little snakes!


In the wild they will mate in the fall,but the female will delay fertilization and development until the following spring when she emerges out of hibernation. Gestation take three months and she will give birth to her young later in the summer. Typically they deliver 12 live babies, but litters may vary from 4 to 27. The young are usually 6 to 7 inches in length at birth. These young will be completely on their own at birth. They reach sexual maturity at age 2 years. These snakes are still small and are approximately 9 or 10 inches in length. I would say they are last years litter and won't be ready to breed until next year. I have no idea if I have a male and a female or two of the same sex, but I hope that they are a pair, it would be great to witness their breeding rituals and live birth.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Leaf Cutter Bee

Leafcutter Bees (Megachile) are native pollinators in North America. There are numerous leafcutter bees that call Missouri home and it is often difficult to identify them to species. They are considered important pollinators from their swim-like habit of invading blooms. This effectively "picks" up the pollen and they carry it with them to the next flower. Leafcutter bees very much resemble honey bees in size, and even in color, although they are somewhat darker. They can and do sting, but this rarely occurs. Their sting is mild and rarely is anything more than annoying. Because of their mild temperament they are not prone to sting unless mishandled. Unlike Honey bees which have a colony to protect, leafcutter bees are solitary. This solitary lifestyle lends to an even temperament.

Leaf-Cutter Bee - Megachile

 Females will seek out suitable sites to construct their tunnels that they will use to create nesting cells. They typically use soft, rotted wood; pithy stemmed plants, like roses. Each tunnel may be up to 8 inches in length and contain numerous nesting cells.
These cells are constructed of leaves that are cut by the female. She will visit various plants like Green Ash, Roses, Virginia Creeper and lilacs and "cut" a 3/4 inch half-moon shaped piece of leaf and carry it back to the nesting tunnel. There she will form it into the nesting cell. She keeps adding leaves in a layered fashion until she is satisfied with the results. These cells often end up looking much like the rolled end of a cigar butt.


This cell pictured here was found attached to a Common Milkweed leaf. I had no idea what it was, only that it was very odd looking and perfectly formed. I submitted a picture to bugguide.net and they had no idea what it was either. I told them I would keep it and see what emerged out of it. About 2 months went by and I "remembered" I had this oddity. I checked on it and discovered that there was an exit hole in the tip of this cocoon. I looked all over in the critter keeper and there was not a single insect in there. What could have made this, and where did it go? Apparently this odd little cocoon was on Charley Eiseman's mind as well, as he sent me a comment via bugguide asking me what came out of it. I told him what happened....then offered to mail it to him so he could maybe dissect it and figure out what made it. After acquiring his address it was mailed off for him to hopefully solve the mystery. Here is his response:

I just received and examined this... it’s definitely a leafcutter bee nest cell. It was 22 mm long by 8 mm wide. The exit hole at one end was circular and about 3 mm wide. I took it apart and it was made mostly of oval leaf pieces, averaging 1 cm long, with several circular end pieces about 5 mm wide. No silk at all was used in its construction—I think the female must use her saliva to stick the leaf pieces together—except in the middle I found the remains of the thin, papery cocoon spun by the larva. How the bee escaped from your critter keeper is a mystery to me, as is the fact that you found this in the open, attached by silk to a leaf. There is some precedent for this sort of mystery:

It was so well constructed—so tightly packed—that it’s hard for me to imagine how it could have been constructed in the open, as opposed to in some snug tubular cavity like a wood boring or a hollow stem. Very mysterious. Thanks for sending it—this is the first chance I’ve had to examine one of these in person, though I pretty regularly come across leaves with the hole punches cut out by these bees. Charley Eiseman

I was delighted to know what created this, and to have been able to provide Charley with one of these nesting cells to tear apart and investigate. Insects really are marvels, when you look at the simple perfection of this cell, and then realize it was a mere insect that created it, it boggles the mind.

The female will provide each cell with a mixture of nectar and pollen, then lay an egg within the cell. She then seals up the end and moves onto the next cell. She will repeat this process up to 30 or 40 times. These eggs hatch and feed on the provisions provided by their mother. They will  pupate within this tidy little cell and emerge the following season. These bees rarely occur in significant enough numbers to cause damage to plants. In the rare occasions when they do, you may have to take measures to keep them from cutting the leaves on your prize roses. Pesticides applied to the leaves rarely deter these bees, so about the only solution is to cover the plant with a substance like cheesecloth. The good that these bees provide significantly outweighs any possible damage they may cause. They do not use homes or other human structures to excavate their brood tunnels. Although the aluminum tubed lawn chair in the first picture seemed to suit her purpose just fine. It was very difficult to capture an image of her as she entered the hole of this tube. They disappear out of sight before you can get the camera focused...they are very quick. I only manged the one blurry shot above.

There is one species M.rotundata that was imported from Europe to pollinate Alfalfa used for seed. They can do this much more efficiently than honey bees. Other leafcutter bees are primary pollinators of many other agricultural crops. These bees perform an important service to us as key pollinators. Many people lament the fact that the Honey bees are faced with challenges, namely CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder). I'm no expert, but I am not convinced that our economy and food supplies would be faced with disaster, should the honey bee decline in significant numbers. I thing our native bees could step up their game and do the job quite nicely. I have nothing against honey bees, so don't get me wrong here. In fact I hope to one day soon be raising them myself. I just hate that our native species are being ignored by so many people as a possible solution to a potential problem.