Friday, April 30, 2010

Odd Galls

  The other day while doing a trail hike with a group of children we discovered an unusual red, velvet-like group of masses on the leaves of a young oak tree. Not sure what insect created them, but most likely a midge. After breaking open one of the galls I discovered tiny white worms inside.I kept them, and hopefully will get to see what they turn into.

   For all appearances it looks as if these leaves burst into flames. I assure you though this is not the case, these odd protrusions are the results of a tiny mite. These are most commonly found on Black Cherry trees.  They are called "fingergalls" which is an apt name for these digit-like formations. They do not appear to cause any damage to the Cherry trees at all. It is a good thing too, because almost every cherry tree on our farm is covered with them.

These tiny nodules growing on this leaf are probably the galls from another type of midge. I was unable to find much on this type of gall.

If unusual tracks, or signs left by insects fascinate you, then you will love a new book that came out this year called "Tracks and Signs of Insects & Other Invertebrates" by: Charley Eiseman and Noah Charney. It is available through for around $30.00. Click on this link to order now Insect Tracks & Signs

Monday, April 26, 2010

Conifer Sawfly

  This pretty little Sawfly is a Conifer Sawfly in the genus Monoctenus. I found her on an Eastern Cedar tree in my backyard. I had never seen anything like her before and therefore had no idea what she was exactly. I submitted this image to bugguide and within minutes had an ID ........Conifer Sawfly. Thank you John Ascher for your time in identifying my mystery insect. Another thank you to Dave Smith for identifying it to genus. This particular specimen is a female, and most likely was considering this particular tree as a host for her young. Conifer Sawflies are considered rare to uncommon in the Midwestern States. They are much more common on the Eastern Coast where conifer trees are much more prevalent. In large numbers they can cause significant damage to conifer trees. There are at least 11 species of conifer sawflies in the Eastern United States and most are host specific and will feed on different types of pine trees. Females will lay their eggs within the needles of the pine tree by sawing the needles open with their serrated ovipostior. It is this ovipositor that earns the sawfly their common names, as it is very saw-like in its structure. I feel privileged to have seen this species and will continue to monitor the cedar tree in my yard to see if she laid eggs. Hopefully I will be posting pictures of her offspring soon.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Elephant Mosquito

Elephant Mosquitoes in the genus Toxorhynchites are found throughout the Eastern United States, especially in the southeast. These are very large mosquitoes, which has probably earned them the common name of Elephant Mosquito. They will measure up to 1/2 inch in length and have shiny metallic scales. Their proboscis is very prominent and curved and used for nectaring at flowers. Their legs are extremely long.

(Photo by: Steve Scott)

The females will lay their eggs in small cavities containing water. This could be in trees, old tires, bird baths, etc. They will overwinter as late nearly grown larvae or as very young adults. The larvae feed on other mosquito larvae, making them beneficial to humans. Humans have nothing to fear from these mosquitoes as they do not feed on or bite humans. Which is a very good thing considering the size of their proboscis; that would be some painful bite if they did! 

  (Photo By: Steve Scott)

  A good friend of mine wrote the following verse about this incredible insects:

Elephant Mosquito

He flies around with no regrets-
Oughta keep his name incognito
Although an elephant never forgets
He forgets he's just a mosquito

By: Richard Lewin

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

 I found this tiny crab spider hidden inside a bright red tulip. This is the very first crab spider for me this year. When I first took the picture of the tulip I didn't even see the spider, it wasn't until I pulled the pictures off the camera that I noticed what was hidden inside. I blew the picture up as much as I could and not lose to much of the clarity of the spider. These and Jumping Spiders are my absolute favorite spiders. They are so interesting and fun to look at.

Monday, April 19, 2010

American Oil Beetle

                                                                                                  Oil Beetles are in the family Meloidae which includes the Blister Beetles. Oil beetles are flightless as they lack significant wings, instead they have stubby, shortened wing-pads that do not cover their overly enlarged awkward-looking abdomen. This specimen was found near a shed on my husband's uncles place. It was crawling around on the ground. They move quite rapidly for something so oddly cumbersome looking. We placed the beetle in a container to bring home and within minutes the bottom of the container was coated with a yellowish oily-like substance. I assume it is this substance from which the beetles get their common name. I believe this particular species is the American Oil Beetle (Meloe americanus) which ranges throughout the Eastern United States and parts of Canada. They are relatively large at up to 1 1/2 inches in length. Their bodies are all black, with some iridescence. The oversized abdomen will be very ridged in appearance....these are unmistakable beetles. To see one is to KNOW one. Like other blister beetles this beetle also possess a chemical called cantharidin , this chemical exudes from their legs when threatened. This liquid ooze causes painful blisters. The chemical within this liquid secretion has been used in the production of various "date rape" drugs.

It is not fully known what the adults feed on, but it could be flowers. These beetles have a unique life cycle. The female will lay her eggs near the base of various flowers. When the eggs hatch the newly born larvae must climb up the stalks to the blooming flowers. Then the young larvae will cluster together and form a shape that very much resembles a female solitary ground bee. To make the ruse even more complete they even emit a pheromone that very much smells like the female fact it is so good that male bees are often fooled and come to "mate" with the cluster of larvae. By the time he realizes his mistake the little larvae have climbed on board. The male bee will carry his stowaways along with him as he locates a "real female" to mate with. During mating the larvae transfer to the female who will then carry them to her underground nest. The little interlopers will remain behind in the burrow and feed on the bees offspring and the honey stores she provided to feed them. The beetle larvae will remain in the burrow to pupate and later will emerge as the wingless prodigy of their parents. Mother Nature offers no limitations on deceit.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Green Dock Beetle

 These bright bluish-green metallic beetles are called Green Dock Beetles (Gastrophysa cyanea). They are leaf beetles in the family Chrysomelidae, and feed on plants in the Dock family. I was near our pond dam when I noticed a large cluster of weeds with numerous holes eaten in the leaves. To a bug hunter this means one thing; some 6-legged creature is hungrily munching down on said leaves. This called for an investigation. I discovered dozens of these tiny beetles all over the leaves, most were engaged in mating behavior, and those who weren't were busy eating leaves. What a and eating...eating and sex....! I had no clue what kind of weeds they were, nor did I have a clue what these beetles were. After sending my pictures to bugguide I had an answer in 5 minutes. The beetle is the Green Dock Beetle and the plant is a form of Dock, called Curly Dock.

  This is a picture of the actual Curly Dock (Rumex crispus) plant. If you look closely you can see many of these very tiny beetles on the leaves. Curly Dock is a perennial closely related to buckwheat. It can grow up to five feet tall. This weed prefers moist environments, such as near our pond. It is commonly found near wetlands, hayfields, pastures and some agricultural crops. Curly dock does not survive well during drought years, which explains why we have it such large quantities, this past year as been extremely wet.

 Males (left) are smaller than the females. Barely measuring a 1/4 of an inch. The female is larger, at just over a 1/4 inch. Once mated she far outshine him in the girth department though. Her abdomen is hugely disproportionate to the size of the rest of her body. Which apparently engorges with eggs. Her wings aren't even able to cover her enlarged abdomen. After mating, the female will lay yellow eggs on the underside of the leaves on the plants they feed on.

(Female, notice the engorged abdomen?)
  The munching habits of the adults, and later the larvae is enough to keep the Curly Dock in check, and to control the continued spreading of what many people consider a noxious weed.
 (The larvae, newly hatched and very tiny, approximately 1/10 of an inch)

I am amazed that as long as I've lived here (20 years) this is the first I've ever spotted these beetles. Each year it seems I find something new crawling around on 6 legs.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bowl & Doily Spider

  Bowls and doilies aren't just for grandmas dining room will find them in the woods too. The Bowl & Doily Spider (Frontinella communis) are very common spiders found throughout Central and Eastern United States and parts of Canada. These spiders are members of the Sheetweb Spider family called Linyphiidae. They are often found in tall grassy areas or in wooded areas. These are very small spiders measuring up to 4 mm in length or 1/5 of an inch, a bit larger with the circumference of the legs. Because of their tiny size they are often overlooked, but they are a beautiful spider with chocolate brown and white markings.

 (Internet image by: Daniel)

The web from whence they get their common name is a bit on the complex yet messy side. The top portion of the wed is an inverted dome shaped web (the bowl), the bottom part of the web is a sheet web (the doily). The spider will hang from the bottom of the bowl and when insects fall into the bottom she will reach through and bites them then wraps them in silk.

Photo by: Steve Scott

The naturalist Donald Stokes has described the Bowl and Doily Spider web as " of the most magnificent feats of engineering in the natural world...It will look either like a small circus net, the kind that is suspended under aerial acrobats or a gossamer bowl about five inches in diameter."
The sheet of its web protects the Bowl and Doily Spider from predators. The spider hangs upside down between the bowl and doily. If the web is disturbed, it drops off or rapidly runs away.
The bowl with its many trap lines serves as protection from above and the second web or doily protects the spider from below.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Johnson Jumping Spider

Johnson Jumper (Phidippus johnsoni) are spiders in the family Salticidae which are the jumping spiders. These spiders can be  intimidating, they have incredible eyesight and will follow you with their eyes, always keeping track of where you are. They are capable of jumping, and to have one jumping "at you" can certainly startle you. For some reason I just think these little guys are adorable. Look at those eyes, do they not look like a cartoon come to life?

The Johnson Jumping Spider is black and orange and approximately 3/8 of an inch long. Females will have a dark line running down their abdomen, whereas males have a solid orange abdomen. They have bright teal-colored chelicerae, their fangs are quite large and if provoked they can give a painful bite. The spider pictured here seemed to be very tolerant of me, and even hopped around on my hand. He at no time acted aggressive, even though this particular species is reported to sometimes be vigorously energetic. They are not reported to be harmful to humans, in fact considering all the insects they will stalk and consume I would say the opposite is true. I would consider them quite beneficial.

 With the return of warmer weather here in NW Missouri we are beginning to see an increase in insect activity, I for one am grateful. These jumping spiders are quite common and with 4,000 known species within this family of spiders there is no shortage of unique and beautiful specimens to find.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


June Bugs or May Bugs are one of the most common sights of spring. As early as April in Missouri they will begin showing up at porch lights, pole lights and other light sources. Often annoying us as we try to get past their bombardment to enter our house. Many time they enter right along with us; bouncing off the ceiling, the walls and any other surface looking very much like drunken maniacs that can't find their footing.
They seem to have no destination in mind as they crash into lamps, tables, doors, even ceiling fans (this makes for some interesting entertainment).

Many times I've had their sticky legs get caught up in my hair. Fortunately I'm not scared of these little beasts and merely pull the errant beetle from my hair. Many times though I've seen people scream in fright as they are being "attacked" by Junebugs. Trying to convince someone that it is nothing personal on the beetles part, is near to impossible as they are frantically running around and trying to no avail to remove the little demon from their hair. My husband tells me the story of his uncle Benny who when he was a young boy found himself with one of these beetles inside his ear. Now I must admit I would draw the line when they start entering body cavities! So now my husband is afraid that one will enter his ear....I've suggested ear

Junebugs are in the family of beetles called Scarabaeidae, which are the thick bodied scarab beetles. They have very sticky legs that they use to hold on to most any surface. Try handling one sometimes and see how abrasive their feet feel. This makes them incredibly hard to dislodge from your hair by the way.

Adult Junebugs  feed on the leaves of plants, but the damage they cause is insignificant it is the larvae of these bugs that cause the problem. Much of the nutrients they need they get as grubs living underground feeding on the roots of various plants, these may include turf grass, vegetable plants, ornamentals, weeds and other transparent roots. Sometimes the feeding habits of these grubs can cause significant damage to turf, leaving brown patches of grass on lawns that are heavily infested with them. Large populations of grubs may also attract moles to your yard, which enjoy feeding on fat, tasty grubs.

Females and males come together in the springtime in large numbers, emerging from their earth bound tunnels. After mating, the female will deposit her eggs up to 5 inches in the ground. In a few weeks the eggs hatch and the newborn grubs feed on roots. In approximately 3 weeks they will be fat enough to pupate and will remain a pupa for another 3 to 4 weeks; then another round of adults are born.

Overall they are harmless to humans, they do not spread disease, sting or bite. They can just be a bit frightful as they bumble around trying to find a likely surface to land upon, and often finding your head instead. Try not to scream, remember it's nothing personal.

Friday, April 9, 2010

unknown silk moth cocoon

 This odd cocoon was brought into the conservation department last fall. I kept it to see what will emerge from it. I believe it is a Cecropia moth, but time will tell...hopefully. I will keep you all posted.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Dun Skipper

I believe this tiny brown skipper is a Dun Skipper (Epargyreus clarus) in the family Hesperiidae. These are common butterflies throughout most of the United States, but tend to be more prevalent in the central plains states and eastward. With a wingspan of 1 1/2 inches they are on the small side, and rather drably colored in brown. They do possess a rather impressive afro-like dun colored head and thorax. Females have distinctive cloudy white spots on their forewings.  They are frequently encountered in wet areas such as swamps, stream sides, and damp deciduous hardwood forests. The males will perch low to the ground and wait for passing females. When a likely female is located; mating will occur. The female will seek the host plant, in this case it is various sedges. The female will lay eggs, in a couple weeks the eggs hatch and the young caterpillars begin feeding. They grow rapidly and  will be ready to pupate and will overwinter as cocoons. The following spring they will emerge as adults. Planting various plants such as yarrow, sedum, and other purple or pink blooming flowers will surely attract them to your yard. This species seems to prefer wet conditions and have even been observed  perching and sunning themselves shortly after a rain storm.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Unknown Fly

 I am pretty certain this is a tachinid fly of some kind, but I have no clue which one. 
Any ideas?

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Today's temperature is supposed to reach 65 degrees. Tomorrow even better with mid 70's predicted.
At 2:00 today is is 53 degrees and the bees are making an appearance. The only thing blooming in the yard are daffodils. Vibrant, bright yellow blooms, that the bees seem drawn to. I'm sure the nectar content isn't too significant, but after a long cold winter, beggars can't be choosers. This also explain why my car attracts bees. Seriously, I drive a bright yellow Chevrolet Tracker, and there are bees hovering near it all the time. Does it look like an overgrown daffodil? Do they think they hit the mother-load when they see it?

Another insect that made a showing today were the sawflies. I found several hovering near the daffodils with the bees. They were also on the north side of the house hanging around a bush that bloomed profusely last spring, perhaps they remember this? Are they waiting patiently for the nectar laden blooms?

 From the looks of all the yellow speckling on his dark black body it would appear he was having himself a bit'o the daffodils as well.

 Hidden among the dead foliage from last year was this Multi-Colored Asian Lady Beetle. I found several tucked away in various plants, including the one below hiding among the spikey centers of purple coneflower.

Thankfully winter has finally let go of us here in NW Missouri ( I won't say that too loud). With sunshine, rains, and warmer temperatures, it sure feels like spring. The trees are all budding, the plants are pushing through the soil, the birds have been singing for weeks now. The insects are slowly waking up from their winters nap, what more could a girl ask for? Well.....

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Milkweed-it's whats good for you

  Many insects use milkweed at some point in their life cycle. Many people believe Milkweed to be toxic, so they avoid planting it, especially if they have small children or pets that they fear may try to put the leaves in their mouth. Samuel Thayer wrote an excellent book about wild edibles called the Foragers Harvest. In this book he discusses the common milkweed plant and eludes to it being edible and even quite tasty. To test this theory I pulled a milkweed leaf off of a particularly healthy looking plant. I broke the leaf open to reveal the sticky, milky substance from which this plant gets it's name. I put that leaf in my mouth and the only thing that happened.......I glued my lips closed! That milky stuff is better than superglue! I did not get sick, or even get a tummy ache.  Would I recommend a salad made of this plant, probably not, but I don't believe you have anything to fear in planting it in your yard. The benefits far out weigh any risks. 

I encourage these plants that make it into our garden, most likely seeded there by the wind.   I leave them alone and watch the insect activity all season long.Everything from butterflies (Monarch's), to beetles, aphids, and true bugs) Look below for some of the different species that visit my milkweed.

  (Small Milkweed Bug)

This pretty orange and black bug is the Small Milkweed Bug (Lygaeus kalmii), they belong to the order of insects called Hemiptera (True Bugs). Also called Common Milkweed Bug, which may be more of an accurate name, because they certainly are common. Each year I find them in large numbers on the milkweed growing around our farm.  There is another True Bug called the Large Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) that utilize milkweed, these too are very common, maybe more so than their smaller cousins. Each summer I have hundreds of these bugs in various stages of development. These two species look similar, they are both orange and black. The small milkweed bug has a "heart-shaped" black spot on its back, whereas the large milkweed bug has a broad black  band across it's back. (picture 6)

(Large Milkweed Bug Nymphs)

 (Another Large Milkweed bug nymph....light orange phase)

(Large Milkweed bug nymphs in various stages, normal color phase)

 (Newly molted Large Milkweed Bug)

(Large Milkweed Bug adult)

Probably the most famous of all insects that use milkweed as a host plant are the Monarch Butterflies. These unmistakable orange and black butterflies make their northward journey out of Mexico or Southern California. After stopping in Texas, Arizona and various other southern regions to lay their eggs on milkweed they will perish. The eggs hatch and the tiny caterpillars grow fast on a diet of milkweed. After pupating, the newly emerged adults will once again journey north. This time they will stop in the midwest, leaving their eggs on the milkweed plant and once again perishing soon after. The adults that come from these eggs continue north, some making it as far as Canada. After mating, laying eggs and dying, their offspring will make the long journey to Mexico and Southern California. Miraculously none of these monarchs have ever been to Mexico or California, yet they seem to be pre-programed to know exactly where their ancestors came from.  There are ongoing studies that are trying to make sense of this enormous feat. These adult monarchs will spend the entire winter living in isolated portions of Mexico. This generation will be the longest lived, and are capable of living 6 or more. The cycle will begin again with the return of warmer weather in the spring. No one knows for sure why this last born generation has the capability to live so long, yet subsequent generations will live only a few short weeks. Planting milkweed in your yard will certainly encourage these lovely butterflies to stop off in your yard and make use of this host. Milkweed is the only known host plant of Monarchs. The chemical makeup of the plant gives monarchs a toxicity that sees them through all stages of development. Birds, and other creatures have learned, I'm sure by trial and error, to give monarchs a wide berth. Stomach upset and vomiting are not much fun. 

(Monarch Male)

Another common insect to use milkweed are aphids. Now I know not everyone loves aphids, especially gardeners and green house owners, but there is something that does like aphids, very much in fact. LADYBUGS! Each year tiny yellow aphids make their way to the milkweed and the ladybugs follow suits. It is like an all you can eat buffet of tiny yellow morsels that the ladybugs go gaga over.


Even this differential grasshopper got in on the action and used this milkweed stem as a perching post for shedding it's skin for the final time.

 Hidden in the foliage of the milkweed is this Red Milkweed Beetle. These beetles are also quite common on milkweed plants. They are one of the cutest of all the insects. One very cool feature of this beetle is it's antennae, they grow up right between their eyes! The tiny metallic crab spider hung out on the milkweed for several days scouting for succulent bugs to feast on. I am thinking this much larger beetle may be a bit too much. I think it is a case of your eyes being bigger than your belly.

(Red Milkweed Beetle)

  So this spring when trying to decide what new plants to try in your garden, consider the milkweed, the bugs will thank you.