Monday, May 31, 2010
This beautiful dragonfly is the "Widow Skimmer" (Libellula luctuosa) They are probably the most frequently encountered dragonflies on our farm. These beauties are found throughout most all of the United States, the only exception being the Rocky Mountains. They can even be found in Mexico and Canada.
Males will aggressively defend their territories from other males. They will perch and patrol for females, on constant guard, and ready to give chase to any male that happens to enter his territory. After mating, the female will lay her eggs in the water, either on bottom sediment or on aquatic plants. After hatching the nymphs will live an entirely aquatic life for about one year. They will then crawl out of the water onto a nearby stick or plant and shed their exoskeleton for the final time. The newly emerged dragonfly is very weak and susceptible to predation at this time. It can take several hours for their wings to fill with fluids and for the outer skin to harden, allowing them to take flight.
Look for these dragonflies in a wide variety of habitats, including near lakes, and ponds. They will also be seen in meadows or open fields searching for their insect prey.
Sunday, May 30, 2010
I know this creature is not an insect, but it definitely qualifies as an arthropod, which puts it in the same phylum as insects. I thought it would be fun for a change to feature a new animal with an exoskeleton, that does not have 6 legs or wings.
Crawdad, crayfish, crawfish, or mudbugs are common names for these lobster-like crustaceans. In Missouri the favored name seems to be Crawdad. The ones pictured here I believe are examples of a crawdad called "Northern Crayfish". These guys can vary considerably in their coloration. This particular one had beautiful blue pinchers with reddish-orange tips. The baby in the middle picture is a juvenile example of the same species.
Crawdads are in one of two superfamilies, either Astacoidea or Parastacoidea. They are closely related to the lobsters they resemble, and even taste a bit like them too. They are found in pond, lakes, streams and creeks with sheltered areas that allow them to hide from predators. Looking under rocks submerged near the shore of ponds will almost always produce at least one crawdad. Crawdads generally cannot tolerate polluted waters, and therefore may be considered an indicator species. They can help "Indicate" whether or not the water where they reside is healthy. If there is a lack of crawdads present, or if many dead specimens are found then it may indicate there is a problem with that water source. The study of crayfish is called astacology.
Crawdads are commonly used as bait for catching fish such as catfish, bass, pike and muskie. This preference for using crawdads as bait can cause ecological problems. Many of the crawdads sold as bait in "Bait & Tackle" stores are not native, such as the "Rusty Crayfish". When irresponsible fishermen have leftover bait and throw them out they can reproduce and take over the areas where they are released and push native species out. In some areas they have all but replaced native species of clearwater crayfish. An extended problem from releasing bait crawdads is that sometimes zebra mussels attach themselves to the crawdads and are also released into new areas that allows them to take over. It is always best to bring bait back home with you and dispose of it, never throw it in the waters where you've been fishing.
Crayfish flourish in waters 55 to 60 degrees F. They shed their exoskeletons in proportion to their rate of growth, as often as three or four times a year. The average life expectancy for a crawdad is about three years, but the "granddaddies" may live to be seven or eight.
Crawdads are used as a food source throughout the World. They taste very much like lobster. A common myth is that a crawdads with a straight tail died before it was boiled and is not safe to eat. In reality, crawdads that died before boiling can have curled tails as well as straight, as can those that were alive, and may very well be fine to eat. Boiled crawdads which died before boiling are safe to eat if they were kept chilled before boiling and were not dead for a long time. (This does not mean that a sack of crawdads that are all dead should be boiled.) A much better test than the straight tail as to the edibility of any crawdads is the tail meat itself; if it is mushy, it is usually an indication that it should be avoided.
I have eaten crawdads and can vouch for their tastiness. They are commonly used in Cajun recipes. Anyone who loves seafood will surely love them as well.
Here are some recipes:
The amount of crayfish needed for a serving varies according to the size and variety captured. As a general rule only, 12 medium-sized crayfish (six to seven inches long) are sufficient for one serving; one pound of crayfish; liveweight, is equal to one cup of meat, using tails and claws; and one cup of crawfish meat will usually serve from two to six, depending on the recipe and amount of other ingredients.
2 1/2 lbs. crawfish tails
1 stick margarine
3 large onions, finely chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
Saute onions in margarine about 15 to 20 minutes until soft. Add crawfish fat (from the body cavity) and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until fat comes to the top. Add tail meat and season the taste. Add just enough hot water to etouffee for desired consistency. Simmer
2 cups boiled crawfish meat, diced
1 cup celery, chopped
2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
2 T. dill pickles, chopped
1/2 t. Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper
Combine all ingredients thoroughly and mix with mayonnaise to desired consistency. Season to taste. Serve on bed of shredded lettuce. Serves 4.
2 cups cooked rice
1/2 cup stuffed olives, sliced
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
3 cups cooked crawfish meat
4 T. flour
2 cups milk
3 T. melted butter
Combine rice, olives, onion, green pepper, crayfish meat and most of the grated cheese together in a well-greased casserole. Make a medium white sauce of flour, butter and milk, and season to taste. Pour over casserole and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until top is brown. Serves 6.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Scorpionfly's belong in the order Mecoptera, and this particular specimen is in the genus Panorpa.They get their name from the males odd upward-turned segment at the tip of their abdomen. This bulbous feature resembles the stinger on a scorpion, so hence the name Scorpionfly. They cannot sting, and are completely harmless to people. I believe these pictures are of a female, which lack the bulbous tip that the male possesses. Instead the females have two tiny finger-like cerci, which are visible on the second picture. Most are tan with clearwings that have various black markings on them. Their heads have a distinct "beak" that resembles a miniature elephant trunk. Adults feed on dead or dying insects, and occasionally fruit or nectar.
Mating occurs in the spring; males will attract females by offering a juicy morsel in the form of a tasty bug. They also secrete a pheromone (Chemical perfume). It seems the male has all his bases covered, if the pro-offered meal does nothing for her libido, then the intoxicating smell he emits surely will. After mating, the female will lay clusters of eggs in the soil. The tiny larvae will live in small burrows underground and emerge during the evening hours to feed on insects. They will often feed on underground insect larvae as well. These larvae will remain in these underground homes throughout the winter. In the spring they will pupate within the same burrow and emerge later in the spring.
They can be found in a wide variety of habitats, but are usually associated with grassy areas. They will perch about a foot off the ground on low growing shrubs or grasses. Look for them near woodlands, cultivated fields, grasslands, as well as backyard gardens (Where this one was photographed).
Adults may emit an offensive odor if disturbed. I personally have never smelled this obnoxious odor, but then again I rarely get them to sit still long enough to grab one.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Glad to see something is doing it's part to control the ever growing population of Junebugs in our area. I cannot tell you how many I've had in my hair in the past 7 days, but I can tell you I am getting tired of untangling them from said hair. GO ANTS!!!!
Just look at those ferocious jaws on this very large ant. No wonder it hurts so darn bad when they bite...OUCH!!!
Is it me or is that Junebug missing 6 legs? Perhaps they taste like chicken...and are the first thing to be eaten, much like fried chicken night at our house.
I am just feeling very grateful I am not a Junebug.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Stinks by Name, Stinks by Nature
Never get in a lift with a stink bug
it might just let off a smell
Look around and try to spot the culprit
it won't be hard to tell
The stink bug doesn't care of course
it has no sense of shame
It doesn't care if it's being pointed at
by the finger of blame
And if the stink bug feels under threat
it'll make the lift smell even more
Everyone inside will be holding their noses
and jostling to be first out the door
So next time you're waiting for the lift
and you see a stink bug inside
It'll be a good idea to take the stairs
instead of waiting for a ride!
By: Duncan Hoult
Saturday, May 22, 2010
This crazy looking stick-like insect is NOT a Stick Insect. It is in fact a Water Scorpion in the family Nepidae. They are in the same order as other true bugs, Hemiptera. They are very long and thin just as this picture shows. Their front two front legs are used to grab insect prey and pull it back into their mouth to feed. They will eat tadpoles, tiny fish like minnows or offspring of other fish (in captivity they do well on young guppies), they will also feed on other aquatic insects. Their mouth is much like another group of insects within this order called the assassin bugs. It is a beak-like structure that pierces the outer skeleton of their prey, then they inject them with an enzyme which sedates their prey as well as liquefying the insides of the unfortunate victim. The water scorpion can then slurp up the insides like a n insect slurpee.
The long "tails" that protrude from the backside of the scorpion are actually breathing tubes. They typically float on debris or plants near the waters surface where they will extend their breathing tubes out of the water. They can swim, but seldom do unless disturbed. They will overwinter as adults and lay eggs the following spring. The female will lay her eggs in vegetation near the shore line or on the surface of the water. In about 2 to 4 weeks the eggs hatch and the young begin feeding on tiny insect prey. It takes them about 2 months to reach maturity. It is not uncommon to see one of these crazy looking insect reach lengths up to 5 or 6 inches. These crazy bugs possess wings and will fly.
The one pictured here was captured by a little girl during a field trip to my office. We were hosting a local preschool for a field trip to the pond. We divided the group into two separate groups. One half of the group fished, while the other half mucked around in the pond for aquatic insects. Then we switched the groups. One of the girls in the first group pulled her net into shore and screamed that she caught a water spider. I went to investigate and discovered that she had caught this water scorpion. It was only the second one I've ever seen and certainly the biggest at approximately 3 1/2 inches in length. I made a big deal out of her capture and told her what a special insect she caught. She was thrilled. After the group left I kept the scorpion and placed it in a tank. I've been feeding it freeze dried crickets. Hopefully it will survive.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
There are 11 species of cicadas in Missouri and many of them have no common name other than to be called "Dog-Day Cicada". This moniker is in reference to their appearance during the hottest days (or dog days) of summer. The one pictured in the first two images is Tibicen dorsata and is frequently found in open grassy areas such as prairies or grasslands. They are quite large, topping out at 2 inches in length. This species is one of the most beautiful of the cicadas that call Missouri home, not only is it an impressively large species, but it's coloring is a beautiful shade of caramel-brown with striking black marks. The eyes are a deep reddish-brown and very wide-set in typical cicada fashion. This particular species tends to be difficult to approach and is quick to fly away, although my experience with this one proved otherwise. I was able to capture it, photograph it and later add it to my collection.
Most of the cicadas I see around our farm are this variety pictured above. The olive-green and black coloring of another Dog-Day Cicada genus Tibicen. Nothing says summer like the din of these noisy insects calling loudly from the tree-tops or wherever they happen to be. Cicadas are the loudest of all insects and the males typically begin singing loud and proud in July or August here in NW Missouri. They use a special membrane called a tymbol (much like a cymbol I guess), that is located on their abdomen. These insects can be heard a mile away, and each species has their own unique song and can distinguish each other by sound alone.
A common sight is finding their shed skin stuck to fence posts, porch rails or the sides of trees. The one pictured below is still encased in its final skin. This is what they look like right before shedding for the final time. After ridding themselves of their ill-fitting skin they will be very vulnerable as their skin is moist and has not harden sufficiently to allow for escape from predators. Our cats and dog seem very fond of toying with these insects. They will bat them around the porch to get them to make a noise. This turns into quite a little game until I take mercy on the poor cicada and place it out of harms way.
Cicadas can be found in almost any environment including rural, urban and suburban areas. Typically anywhere there are trees or sufficient plant growth. The larval stage of the cicada feed on the roots of trees and plants. It is not fully known if the adults feed, although they may feed on some plant juices. These insects are often mistakenly called Locusts, but locusts are migratory grasshoppers and are not closely related to cicadas at all, in fact they are in a completely different order of insects. Cicadas are classified with "True Bugs" in the order Hemiptera with other true bugs like stink bugs, assassin bugs and leaf hoppers. Locusts are classified in the order Orthoptera with grasshoppers, crickets and katydids.
Cicadas are completely harmless to humans, they do not bite, sting or spread disease. The only harm they may cause is damage to the root systems of plants or trees if they are present in significantly large numbers.
Once a male has sung his little heart out and attracted a mate the female will lay her eggs near the base of trees on top of the ground. When the eggs hatch the young nymphs will burrow into the ground and remain there to feed. They move around via underground tunnels they form. Depending upon which species of cicada you are talking about they may remain underground from two years to as much as 17 years for the periodical cicada. The periodical cicada is due to make its appearance in Missouri in 2015.
Another Dog-Day Cicada is the Robison Cicada (Tibicen robinsoniana). They are located in a small portion of southern Missouri and are typically associated with River areas. I photographed several while we were in Tennessee last year. They are a beautiful aqua-green color with black markings. They are very easy to approach and to capture.
Besides your local cat or dog many animals prey on cicadas as a tasty choice for a large amount of protein in one package. Mice, other insects, bullfrogs, and birds all dine on these noise makers. I know of at least one species of wasp, the European Hornet that uses cicadas as the meal of choice to feed their growing offspring. After stinging the unfortunate cicada the wasp will chew off bits of the hapless soul and carry it back to their nest and feed the chewed up bits to their larvae.
While it is still spring and early yet to be thinking about cicadas, it certainly won't be long before the deafening noise of the Dog-Day Cicadas mating call will be heard with a vim and vigor to make any Don Juan envious.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
This pretty little beetle is called a Swamp Milkweed Beetle (Labidomera clivicollis).They are found throughout the Eastern United States and into Northern Mexico. These are medium-sized beetles that can vary considerably in their appearance. Typically they will be bluish or bluish-green in color with orangish colored wings. Usually there is a large blackish colored "X" across the midline of the wings. (Pictured below). Although they can have a lot of variance in the pattern, such as the one in the first and third pictures.
(Photo By: Steve Scott)
The adults will overwinter in leaf litter at the base of milkweed plants. In late spring they become active again and begin feeding. Soon they will seek mates and the females will lay her yellowish-colored eggs in small clusters on the underside of the leaves of the milkweed plant. It is not uncommon for females to mate with several males during the breeding season. The adults will die shortly after egg laying. The eggs will hatch in about a week and the young larvae will feed on the leaves of milkweed. Once they reach full size they will drop to the ground and pupate. In the mid-summer months these adults will appear and the cycle begins again. The third generation overwinters and repeats the cycle the following spring.
These beetles can be found almost anywhere there are milkweed plants. They are especially fond of Swamp Milkweed, as their name indicates. It is possible they are attracted to the orange blooming Butterfly Weed that we typically plant in our backyard gardens. The adults will feed on the foliage and flowers of milkweed, whereas the larvae feed on the leaves. Both the adults and the larvae have a habit of cutting side slits into the leaves or stems of milkweed to help drain the sticky milky-white substance of the plant to help reduce it at feeding sites. I can attest to the stickiness of this white goo, I broke open a leaf last summer to partake of the white substance, only to find that my lips had been effectively glued shut. Which is a complete nuisance to someone who likes to talk as much as I do. Although my husband found the whole situation hilarious, and I'm sure was delighted to have a reprieve from my constant chatter....
Friday, May 14, 2010
Long-Legged Sac Spiders in the genus Cheiracanthium are easily recognized by their long front legs and their overall "long-legged" appearance.There are 400 species within the family Muturgidae that are found worldwide. There are approximately 50 genera within Cheiracanthium. In the United States there are two species; "Yellow-Sac Spider" (Cheiracanthium inclusum)is the only species indigenous to the United States and is the most wide spread and can be found throughout most of the United States with exception the northern most states. Another species C. mildei is an introduced species, and originally came from Europe. In the late 1970's it was found throughout most of the northeastern United States. Most likely it's range has increased substantially since then. The yellow-Sac spider is about the size of a nickel and has a beige or yellow abdomen. They have very dark eyes and mouth.Their legs are very long, especially the front legs. It is these long legs that has earned them their common name of Long-legged sac spider.
The yellow-sac spider is often found in homes and is the spider most responsible for household spider bites. There is some indication that they are mildly venomous to humans. The bite is reported to feel much like the sting of a hornet, and causes intense itching and burning at the bite site. In persons sensitive to the venom the reaction may be much like the reaction you would have to a black widow, only less severe. These symptoms may include fever, nausea, intense pain at the bite site, muscle cramps and malaise. Once again though, this would be a severe reaction, certainly not the normal reaction to a bite of this spider.
There is one species in Europe that is reported to cause necrosis of the skin much like a brown recluse can. There are no reports of such reactions to the Yellow-Sac Spider that calls the US home. These spiders are wandering spiders and frequently hunt for the food rather than capturing it in a web. It is during these hunting trips that bites to humans occur. The spider somehow becomes lodged between our skin and the bed sheets, clothing, etc. Of the two species C. mildei is the most aggressive and has been observed biting without provocation. C. inclusum is more often encountered in gardens where bites occur while we are moving wood piles, planting or pulling weeds.
This particular spider pictured here was brought into my work by a woman who was concerned it could be a brown recluse as she has these spiders all over her house. I assured her it wasn't a recluse, and that while I wasn't exactly sure what it was I would find out for her. After doing some research I was able to let her know exactly what it is that has taken up residence in her home.
These spider are also found under leaf litter, under the bark of trees,and stones. Lumber left outside will also attract these spiders. They build a web that looks like a tube or "sac" that can be found in the corners of our homes, cellars, basements, garages as well as outside. These are small webs that they are capable of building in about 10 minutes. These webs may go unnoticed on neutral colored walls. The Yellow-Sac spider is less likely to use your home as an incubation site, and seems to prefer to lay her eggs outside under leaf litter or bark. The species C. mildei almost exclusively lays her eggs within human structures.
The female will lay her eggs in the late spring or early summer. These eggs are in a loosely woven silken sac and guarded by the female. The young remain in the web for a short period of time and will eventually leave to hunt at night. They return to the safety and security of their nursery web. After shedding their skin a time or two they will finally head out on their own. They will crawl to the top of a stem or stick and let down a strand of silk and "balloon" themselves to another location. The female is capable of having a second brood of eggs several weeks after the first.
There have been studies done on their color reaction to the food that they eat. Those that consumed green caterpillars for instance took on a more greenish tint. Those fed red fruit flies, were noticeably reddish-pink in color. Still others were fed common house flies and took on a definite gray tone.
These spiders are very rapid runners and can climb any surface without trouble. This one was quite intimidating as I took pictures of it, he ran "at me" very quickly, and relentlessly. I have an admitted phobia of spiders, and fast spiders are the worst. I am slowly overcoming my fear, but this spider could regress me!
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
This incredibly aggressive wasp is a European Hornet (Vespa crabro), even it's Latin name suggests a crabby beast. Like their common name suggests they originally came from Europe. They were first found in New York in the late 1800's and can now be found throughout the Eastern United States. Sometimes they are referred to as "giant hornets", and with an overall length of 1 1/4 inches it is easy to see how they earned that name. These are very thick bodied wasps with an orange banded abdomen. The head, thorax and parts of the abdomen are reddish-brown. Directly behind the eyes their is a swollen area that is very noticeable.
The first picture was taken in Townsend, TN near the smoky mountains at a cabin we rented. We were getting ready to leave and explore the area, when I discovered this large wasp attacking and eating this Robinson's Cicada. I was able to get within inches of it and take photos without it seeming to disturb the wasp in the slightest. I looked up information about this species and discovered that cicadas are often the food of choice for this wasps offspring. The adults will attack and kill large insects, like the cicada and take bits of it back to the hive for the larvae to feed on. The adults are fond of sap flows, nectar and a sugary substance secreted by the larvae.
You will typically find them in timbered areas. In the spring bred queens become active and will seek areas to build a nest. This may be hollow trees, old honey bee hives, or even in human structures. They will use bits of chewed up wood to form a pulp in which to form their hive. The bred queen will form cells within the hive and lay her eggs. These eggs hatch and she will care for them on her own. Once these new larvae have matured they will take over the care of any future larvae and the expansion of the hive, as well as caring for and protecting their queen. The queen's only job from this point on will be to lay eggs. By mid-summer there may be 500 individual hornets within the hive. A very large hive might contain up to 1,000 wasps. Later in the summer (August) the queen will lay eggs that develop into drones (males) and these drones begin seeking fertile females with which to mate. After mating, the drones die, as does the queen. The newly bred queens will overwinter in secluded areas under leaf litter, or the bark of trees. the following spring the cycle begins again. All the former members of the hive will have perished. It is these large hornets nests that we often find in trees or even in piles of hay in barns. Once the first freeze has hit, these wasps die off and the hive is safe to collect. This is usually sometime in November or December.
Occasionally you will see these wasps at porch lights. Presumably they are there seeking insects to feed the larvae.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
This gorgeous butterfly is a Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus) they are typically found in woodlands where Paw Paw trees are found. Paw Paw's are the host plant for the caterpillars of this species. They are found throughout the Eastern United States as well as the Gulf States. They can even be found in parts of Canada. These butterflies are medium to large in size with wingspans up to 3 1/2 inches. Their distinctive coloring makes them easy to identify and almost impossible to mistake for any other species, especially in the Midwestern states. In the spring the adults tend to be smaller in size and will often times be seen flying in small groups through the timber. In the summer their size is noticeably larger and their coloring is darker and more brilliant. Even with such a large range they rarely leave the timbered areas where the host plants is found. They do not adapt well to suburban growth and development.
After mating, the female will lay her eggs on the Paw Paw Tree. When the caterpillar hatch they will consume their own eggshell for extra nutrients.Occasionally the caterpillars may be cannibalistic and consume their siblings or rival caterpillars on the same tree. Once they reach full size they will form their cocoon and overwinter in this stage. Emergence occurs in early spring here in NW Missouri. I saw the first one this year at Squaw Creek NWR about 2 weeks ago. The adults will nectar at a wide variety of flowers. They are even capable of consuming pollen that they are able to absorb. They turn this pollen into proteins that give them extra nutrition and allows them to live and breed longer.
This butterfly, unlike many other of our swallowtails, do not mimic any poisonous butterflies, nor are they poisonous themselves.
The one pictured here was captured in flight as she mated. I released her and she flew to this elderberry bush and rested. I captured these images before she took flight. The male was kept and added to my collection. I knew she had mated, therefore would have fertile eggs, it only seemed right to let her go to continue her lineage. I am always excited to see these amazingly beautiful butterflies each year. I believe they may just be my favorite flying flower.
AN INDIAN BUTTERFLY LEGEND
Should anyone desire a wish to come true they must
capture a butterfly and whisper that wish to it.
Since they make no sound, they can't tell the wish
to anyone but the Great Spirit
So by making the wish and releasing the butterfly
it will be taken to the heavens and be granted
Sunday, May 9, 2010
This little insect is a sawfly (Dolerus unicolor), this particular species seems to favor various grasses as the plant of choice to lay their eggs. The young larvae look very much like caterpillars. Their feeding habits can cause significant damage if present in large numbers. The name "sawfly" comes from the ovipositor on the female. This saw-like projection is used to saw into the leaves or stems of various plants to deposit their eggs. This process happens very quickly and is oftentimes impossible to see. Most adult sawflies nectar at flowers. There are a few species of sawflies that are carnivorous and will feed on other insects.
I found this one on some dried grasses in between two fields and near a timberline with a creek running through it. Which seems to be the favored habitat for this species. Riparian areas near timber.
Sunday, May 2, 2010
Saturday, May 1, 2010
From the shape of this little moth I would say it is in the family Geometridae with the other Geometer moths.....but I could be completely wrong too.....Pancake moth it is, he was flatter than one that's for sure.