Thursday, February 25, 2010

Great Leopard Moth


This stunning spotted moth is the Great Leopard Moth (Hypercompe scribonia). A very fitting name I might add. Just look at those black circles, are they not reminiscent of a leopard? This moth belongs to the family of moths called Arctiidae, which are the "tiger moths". Great Leopard Moths are found in shrubby areas along roadsides, in gardens and along timbered edges (which is where this one was found) throughout the Eastern United States, west to Texas, north to Michigan and into southern Ontario. I'm not sure how common they are, although I do know they are not as common as many of the other species of tiger moths. In the past 5 years I've only ever seen 2. They are fairly large with a wingspan up to 3 inches. As beautiful as their wings are it is their body that is magnificent. It is a striking combination of bright blue and bright orange.

Females will emit a pheromone (Chemical perfume) to attract males, which are capable of smelling her fragrance from great distances. After mating, the female will lay her eggs on a wide variety of vegetation including Plantain, Maple, Violet, Willow, Dandelion, and Cherry to name but a few. Very likely the female perishes shortly after laying her eggs. The eggs will hatch and the young caterpillars will overwinter in leaf litter. As soon as the temperatures begin to rises the caterpillars will become active and seek food. These little munchers grow rapidly and complete their life cycle in a matter of weeks.
The caterpillars are one of the infamous "wooly bear' caterpillars. Reaching lengths up to 3 inches and covered in dense black hair with a reddish colored skin they are unmistakable.
Most likely the adults do not feed. Instead they consume so much food and nutrients as a caterpillar they merely concentrate on mating and egg laying in their adult stage.
When disturbed these moths have a unique defense mechanism, to deter possible predators they will release a yellowish goo from their eyes. This liquid goo is distasteful to would-be predators and is sure to leave a bad taste in their mouth. This is a trait common to tiger moths. Plus it looks creepy too!
A friend of mine was so enamored of these moths that he was prompted to write a verse about them....I thought I would share it with you.

Great Leopard Moth

If predators will do some screening
And I'm sure they'll give me a bye
In that yellow goop there's a whole new meaning
To the old phrase "evil eye"

By: Richard Lewin

(picture provided by Jkc133---
who found one of these beautiful
moths and is keeping it in a critter keeper. 
She has already laid eggs and the plan to
raise the caterpillars. You can see the eggs attached to the
limb in the critter keeper)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Wolf Spiders are very common in Missouri. I have hundreds of them all around our farm and see them frequently. Some of them get quite large, in fact we had one we dubbed "Hairy", that resided in our hog farrowing house. She was easily the size of my hand . She was straight up creepy! I was terribly afraid of spiders back then and had trepidations about going into the hog house. I would open the door and look around on the floor making sure she was no where in sight. Occasionally she would be sitting right inside the door looking up at me with those 8 beady eyes. I would carefully reach for the shovel (when spiders come the size of small dogs, a shovel is an apt weapon) by the time I had my hand on the shovel she would skitter under a crate or nearby table. DRAT! Now I had to feed those pigs, knowing that darn spider was on the loose. I would get visions of this huge "hairy" spider crawling up my pant leg. I started tucking my pant legs into my slop boots to prevent that from ever happening. 
This little scenario played out several door, find spider staring with beady eyes, reach for shovel, spider scrams! I never did succeed in smashing that devious spider. I am convinced this was a game she played to intimidate me....and let me tell you, it worked. Many years have passed since those days when we farrowed hogs. Now looking back I'm glad I did not succeed in offing that spider. If truth be told I guess I kind of admired her swiftness and ingenuity. She seemed to possess an uncanny ability to read my thoughts, and acted accordingly (or perhaps that is my fanciful mind getting the better of me). 

My phobic-like fears have subsided over the years and now I leave spiders in peace. I guess there is truth in the old saying "that you must face your fears, in order to overcome them". I have certainly been tested to that end many times over where spiders are concerned. Now I just appreciate the insect control they are providing. 

The wolf spider pictured here was found near our Koi pond. I had never before seen one so dark, almost black. She was truly a beautiful spider. I managed to capture a quick picture of her in retreat mode. Perhaps she talked to Hairy, and decided it was time to scoot!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

An Inordinate Fondness is up and off to a great start

If you love arthropods, especially beetles, check out this exciting first issue of An Inordinate Fondness It is jam packed full of exciting, informative, fun and did I mention exciting, beetle mania! One of my beetle blogs even made the list.

New year, New Look

I thought since a new year is upon us, and spring is hopefully fast approaching, that it called for a new look to MObugs.

It has been over a year since I signed onto blogger and made my very first post about insects. 2009 was a hectic year and a productive year. I added numerous species of insects to my "life list". We made a trip to Tennessee where I found interesting insect life in the wilds of the Smoky Mountains. A trip to Truman Lake brought with it my very first sighting of a Brown Recluse and a Black Widow. What are the odds of seeing both venomous spiders indigenous to Missouri on the same weekend? I walked countless miles around our farm in search of new and unique specimens and each outing brought something wonderful to see. If photographs were counted in miles, my camera has walked around the Earth at least twice! I am looking forward to warmer weather and to see what 2010 will bring.

Thank you to my followers for your input, advise and sometimes corrections. Each comment is welcome and happily received. I enjoy learning from each of your experiences and hope that you have a similar feeling while visiting MoBugs.

Your Buggy Friend

Monday, February 15, 2010

Spiders, the stuff of nightmares?

EEEEKKKKKK!!!!! It's ATTACK of the GiAnT SpidErS!!!!

OK...just kidding, but you can see by this closeup of a common wolf spider how movie makers made that leap from harmless garden variety spider, to giant scary monster. For more years than many of us can recall the film industry has had a hey-day creating an unreasonable fear of anything 8-legged, furry and in their summation creepy. While I do agree spiders are not exactly cuddly, they are far from the evil masterminds that perpetrate all sorts of woes against mankind. In fact the exact opposite is true, spiders should be considered a friend to humans.They are insect eating machines and have devised all sorts of unique ways for capturing those nuisance bugs. Many spiders build easily recognized webs that often times hang from the eaves of our homes, or perhaps from the plants in our gardens. Many other spiders stalk their prey, much like a cat stalks a mouse. Pouncing on their victim at the last possible second, and subduing them with great speed and dexterity. Still other spiders build "trap doors" in the ground and pull their victim into their lair to meet an untimely death. There are even spiders that use "lures" to trick their prey into biting, only to discover too late that predator is about to become prey. 

(Wolf Spider)
Spiders come well equipped for hunting, most species possess eight eyes, giving them incredible eyesight. There are a few species, such as the brown recluse that only have six eyes, but this does not deter them in the slightest where hunting is concerned. Almost all spiders have venom, and can deliver this toxic brew through fangs often times much larger than would seem necessary for the job. Look at the fuzzy yellow fur covering the fangs on this girl! Most, but obviously not all spider venom is harmless to humans. The venom is only deadly if you are six or eight legged creature deemed worthy of dinner for one of these master hunters. In fact most spiders have fangs too weak to bite through human skin. Some of the larger spiders would be capable of biting us, but rarely do unless mishandled. Exceptions to this in Missouri would be the Brown Recluse and the Black Widow. 

                 (Brown Recluse)
 Brown Recluses have been given a bad rap for many years. Yes, they do possess venom that can potentially cause necroses (skin rotting).  If left untreated these wounds can become infected and cause a life threatening situation. This would be in EXTREME CASES! Most recluse bites go unnoticed by people, their fangs are so sharp that the bite is generally not felt. The venom typically causes skin irritation and itching at the sight of the bite and nothing more. In about 2-3 % of the cases a severe reaction will occur and medical treatment will be required. The bite itself is not fatal, unless you happen to be incredibly allergic to their venom. It is the secondary infections from leaving the bite untreated that could result in death. My advise when it comes to these spiders, look but don't touch. If they are in your home or somewhere you do not want them to be, try to scoop them into a cup or container and relocate them outside far away from their original location. One key to identifying these spiders is the "violin" shape on the back of the head (cephalothorax). The tricky thing is....not all specimens have this violin. In Missouri I've seen many of these spiders and in each case they have all had the violin shape on their head. Perhaps in Missouri this holds true for most specimens. I know in Missouri they are often called the Fiddler Spider.
Black Widows are the bad girls of the spider realm (at least in Missouri). There are several different species that call Missouri home and they are a secretive lot. They build messy little webs in the rafters or corners of buildings, basements, cellars, under rocks, in wood piles, even in the holes on golf course greens. The bite from one of these spiders is a nasty experience. It is said that their venom is ounce-for-ounce more toxic than a rattlesnakes. I know of no deaths that have occurred in Missouri as a result from a bite of one of these glossy black beauties, but I've heard tales of many painful encounters.
(Black Widow---Photo By: Steve Scott)
The poison of the black widow spider affects nervous system function. The bite causes severe pain in the vicinity of the bite, accompanied later by dizziness, nausea, blurred vision and breathing difficulty. A physician should be contacted immediately. Black widows rarely leave their web, preferring instead to let food come to them. Bites to humans typically occur when coming into direct contact with the web or pinning the spider against your body. Black widows are predominantly a nocturnal species and will rarely be seen during the day, unless you happen to turn over a rock or log and find one. I've only ever encountered one in my lifetime. It was a small female found under a rock while walking and exploring the glades at Truman State Park near Warsaw, Missouri. While moving rocks and trying to corral her for a photo I accidently killed her. I felt terrible....not only had a I killed a beautiful spider that wasn't hurting anyone, I missed a great photo opportunity! I was just a bit too overzealous and excited!

(Ant Mimic Spider)
With over 300 known spider species in Missouri, there is no shortage of interesting and incredible eight-legged creature to study. Spiders can be found most anywhere, and are probably the most encountered of all the arthropods with exception to flies and mosquitoes. I find them in my basement and admittedly used to be scared to death of them and smashed everyone I saw. Fortunately for the spiders I overcame this unreasonable fear and now let them be. I instead appreciate the service they are providing, for free I might add, by killing all sorts of unwanted creatures that make their way into our basement. 
I remember when I was a small girl my grandfather found a very large spider in his basement. He had no idea what the spider was, so he took it to the local college and had the professors look at it in the biology department. They informed him that it was a harmless wolf spider and that he should go place it back in his basement and let it do what they do best, eat bugs. Dutifully my grandpa returned home, and quietly retreated to the basement and secretly let this spider go. Winking at me, he said, "this will be our little secret". Knowing full well if my grandma got wind of there being a spider the size of a silver dollar in the basement, he would never have clean clothes to wear again. I figure my grandpa had the right idea. So all of you borderline arachnid-phobes out there; try not to buy into what the movie producers what you to believe. No giant flesh eating monster spiders are going to attack you while you sleep. You are safe. For now.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bird Dropping Moth

There are many different species of "Bird Dropping Moths" in the family Noctuidae which are the owlet moths. They are small moths, in fact I think this particular species is called "Small Bird Dropping Moth (Tarachidia erastrioides). Usually less than 1/2 inch in length, and various shades of white, brown and olive green; give them the appearance of "bird waste" from which they get their common name. One can assume this resemblance to something so distasteful gives them protection from predation, after all who, or what, would want to eat bird poo? YUCK!

Bird Dropping Moths can be found throughout the United States and Canada. Missouri is home to several species:   Like the one pictured here called the "Exposed Bird Dropping Moth (Acontia aprica). They can be found in gardens, open fields, backyards, and often come to lights at night. They are easily flushed from tall grasses during the day. They nectar at flowers and are often seen during the daytime.

(Photo By: Steve Scott)

Another bird dropping moth, and my personal favorite is the "Beautiful Wood Nymph" (Eudryas grata). It is easy to see where they get their common name, they truly are beautiful. They are a cornucopia of colors, lovely chocolate browns, cream, mustard yellow, olive green and white all combined to give the illusion of bird dung, but I must say this is the prettiest pile of poo out there. Their little legs are even cute and look like they are all covered in fuzzy nylons. I typically see 4 or 5 of these each summer near our porch light or a pole light on the shed. They do not seem to be as plentiful as other species of bird dropping moths, at least not in my general area of NW Missouri.

(Photo By: Steve Scott)

Mother nature has no limitations on her imagination or originality. She will go to great lengths to protect her creatures, even if it means making them look like something the Birds left behind. Many creatures in the insect world implement this strategy as a form of protection, including many butterflies, whose caterpillars look like bird droppings as well. 

Here are a few more photos of examples of bird dropping moths, below each picture it gives the photographers name.

(Photo By: Steve Scott)

(Photo By: Steve Scott)

(Photo By: Shelly Cox)

Monday, February 8, 2010

White-Faced Meadowhawk

White-Faced Meadowhawks (Sympetrum obtrusum) are found throughout much of Canada and the United States, although they are absent from the southern portion of the United States. They can be found in a wide variety of habitats usually near forested areas, including near ponds, lakes, streams, marshes and occasionally boggy areas. The one I photographed here was near an old pond turned wetland on our farm. It was very easy to approach, rarely flying more than a foot away at any given time. It's wings were stunning, they looked like liquid gold shimmering in the sunlight. Like all dragonflies these beauties feed on a wide variety of small insects that they capture while in flight. Their long basket-like legs are perfect for scooping up unsuspecting insects and dining while in flight, giving new meaning to the term "fast food". 

The one pictured here is a female, mature males have a distinctive "white face" and they are the only dragonfly within this genus that does. They also have a bright red abdomen and an amber patch near the base of the wings. Females and immature males are golden in color, some mature females will have a faded reddish abdomen. Instead of the white face of the adult male, they will have a yellow face.

Dragonflies are one of the best forms of insect control we have. Each summer they visit our backyard goldfish pond in large numbers. I can sit and watch them for hours capturing food, competing for mates, and alighting on nearby surfaces warming their wings in the sun. They are the epitome of summer for me. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

White-Margined Burrowing Bug


This tiny black bug is a White-Margined Burrowing Bug (Sehirus cinctus). That is a very large name for such a small bug. They measure up to 1/4 of an inch, and are glossy black, although some specimens may be dark reddish-brown, with a distinctive white border around the body. This is the only species within this genus in North America. Although there are a few sub-species recognized. These are very common bugs found throughout Canada and the United States. Look for them in woodlands, gardens, and yards. They are frequently found on weedy plants like henbit, and dead-nettle. In my own garden I find them on a wide variety of plants, but they seem especially fond of Lambs Ear. They feed on the seeds of plants in the mint family. The adults will overwinter in leaf-litter on the ground and become active again when spring returns. After mating, the female will lay her eggs in a shallow depression that she will provision with the seeds from various plants in the mint family. The females exhibit nurturing and protective tendencies towards the larvae in the early developmental stages. Once the larvae have reached the 3rd molt, this maternal care deminishes. Keep in mind the small size of these bugs when searching for them, close examination of plants within the mint family will surely prove fruitful and you will most likely see numerous individuals.