Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Flower Scarab Beetle

Flower Scarab Beetles in the family Scarabaeidae are common throughout the United States and they are attracted to the fragrant blossoms of a wide variety of plants. They are also attracted to fermenting fruit so are often found on decaying fruit. They can sometimes become pests in orchards or vineyards. Because of their habitat of visiting flowers like the milkweed here, they are also pollinators. Carrying pollen from one plant to another as they bumble around looking for nectar. They are considered bumble bee mimics because of the sound of their wings and their flight pattern. They are somewhat uncoordinated in their landing however and often "crash" into the blooms.

I think the beetle pictured here is the Hairy Flower Scarab or sometimes called a Bumble Bee Mimic Beetle (Trichiotinus assimilis). There are eight species within this genus in North America. As larvae they live and grow in rotting timber.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Elm Cockscomb Aphid Gall

While walking near Rochester Falls Conservation Area near the Platte River Joey found these odd looking formations on an elm tree. The tree was covered with them, almost every leaf had at least one of these projections and many leaves had several. I could tell they were galls, but I had no idea what kind, or for that matter what insect had created them. I did however know who would be able to identify them. I snapped a picture and as soon as we returned home I sent an image via facebook to Charley Eiseman. He is the author of the blog Bug Tracks and the book Tracks and Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates: A Guide to North American Species, which I highly recommend as a field guide. Within a short time he responded and correctly identified these odd looking galls as Elm Cockscomb Aphid Galls. These galls are caused by the aphid Colopha ulmicola. 

 They are found on Red and American Elm trees and do not cause any significant damage to the tree, they just look a bit unsightly in large numbers.  The tiny aphids form the galls and may be seen on underside of the gall. As the gall matures it will change color from a burnished red color to brown that resembles the flower this gall is named after. Each gall measures approximately 1 inch in length X 1/4 inch high. Once the aphids leave the gall, they will begin feeding on grasses.  They will return to the tree and lay eggs between the bud scales that overwinter.Because they do not cause lasting damage to the tree no treatment is recommended to kill them.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Common Whitetail

The common whitetail (Libellula lydia) comes by its name honestly, because it is without a doubt one of the most common of all dragonflies found throughout its range. This species if found throughout all of the United States with exception to the desert southwest where it is replaced by the Desert Whitetail. The males are unmistakable with their powdery blue abdomen and dark brown wing blotches. Females are much duller in appearance and will be all brown with two yellowish colored dotted lines running down the abdomen. The females have a different wing pattern as well. Males are highly territorial and will defend roughly 30 to 60 feet of shoreline from other dragonflies. The males use their powdery blue colored body to ward off potential rivals.

Common whitetails are perching dragonflies and will often be found on low growing vegetation near a pond or other body of water. They can sometimes be found perching on the ground as well. Like all dragonflies they consume other insects by darting out quickly and capturing the insects with their legs. They will often eat their meal while on the wing, but occasionally will land on a nearby surface to eat their prey. This gives a whole new meaning to the term "fast food."

(Female ovipositing)

After mating, the males will stand guard over the females as they deposit their eggs in the water. The female uses her ovipositor located at the very tip of her abdomen to "tap" the surface of the water which releases eggs. The eggs will drop into the water and be all but invisible on the bottom sediment. Once the eggs hatch the tiny nymphs will begin seeking prey in the form of small aquatic insects. It will take them up to a year to complete their lifecycle and become adults. The nymphs do their part to keep other aquatic insects under control, but they aren't without their own enemies. Larger aquatic arthropods, frogs, small turtles and fish will also consume these nymphs. They are therefore an important part of the food chain.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Ground Crab Spider

Crab Spiders in the genus Xysticus are the Ground Crab Spiders. As their common name suggests they are found crawling around on the ground usually under leaf litter, near rocks, or possibly low on vegetation. They are generally larger than the flower crab spiders and more cryptically colored. They vary from gray to brown usually, but there are decidedly black specimens like the one pictured here. While hiking at Sunbridge Hills with my boss, he noticed this crawling on the path in front of him. I suspected it was a crab spider, but did not know for sure which one as I'd never seen one before. Like all crab spiders, this specimen also has extended front legs giving it a crab-like appearance. They are very difficult to identify to species as most look similar and without close inspection of the palps an accurate ID just cannot be obtained. 

This particular spider was very fast moving and difficult to photograph, all it wanted to do was hide away from our prying eyes. I managed a few shots before letting it go about its business. The bulk of the diet of these ground spiders is moths and butterflies, and the occasional beetle or other small arthropod. They do not build webs to capture prey, instead they rely on stealth and stalking to subdue their dinner. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Life Story

The St. Joseph Newspress is doing a new feature article called "Life Story" where they feature noteworthy individuals from the community and surrounding area. I received an email from Ken Newton one of their reporters, asking me if I would be willing to meet with him and be interviewed. He said he found my blog and read my profile and thought I would make an interesting human interest story. I was thrilled to have been chosen and thought of as being noteworthy. Here is the link to the article if you are interested in reading about me and what I do. Shelly Cox--Life Story Please ignore the hideous photo, that makes me look like an overtired, maniac, contemplating murder.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Osage Copperhead

In northwest Missouri there are three venomous snakes. The timber rattlesnake, which I've done a few previous posts about, the Massasauga rattlesnake which occurs in wetlands and marshes like Squaw Creek NWR and then there is the Copperhead. I've spent three years trying to find one of these snakes to photograph and was beginning to give up ever finding one. Each time I mentioned to someone that I was looking for them, I was given all sorts of different places that were guaranteed to have copperheads. I would visit each location with high hopes of seeing one of these elusive snakes and always with the same snake! Then all that changed this past Friday evening. Joey and I decided to hike at a place called Sunbridge Hills Conservation Area located in the Northend of St. Joseph. I knew this place was known for having a healthy population of copperheads, so once again I was hoping my luck would change and I would see one of these snakes.... While hiking the only thing we found was a Great Plains Toad and some snails. We made our way back to the car and left the parking lot, instead of turning right to head home, I turned left down a dead end road. It turned out to be a good decision, because right in the middle of the road was my very first copperhead. I stopped the car and got out to look; worried that the snake might be dead, but thankfully it was very much alive. It never moved, and I was able to get a few pictures of it. The only problem was, I had to take the pictures by the light of the headlights on the car. So they didn't turn out as well as I would have liked. I actually considered taking it home with me, but realized that was not going to go over well with Joey who would have to ride in the same car with a caged copperhead. I can only imagine how that conversation would have went. I finally used my snake stick to coax it off the road so it would not be hit by the next driver.

Osage Copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix phaeogaster) are a magnificently colored snake with shiny coppery colored body and darker colored hourglass shaped bands on the entire length of their body. They get their common name from the adult coloration of the head which looks very much like a shiny new penny. As juvenile snakes they are more gray in color with a yellow tip on their tail. This yellow tip is believed to be a lure designed to attract potential prey like small amphibians which are attracted by the waving of the yellow tail. When they come to investigate, instead of finding food, they find themselves served up for dinner. Adults may reach lengths up to four feet, with 3 feet being more common. They are a thick bodied snake with a triangular shaped head.

The juvenile pictured here actually bit a man in St. Joseph yesterday. The man was visiting one of MDC's shooting ranges and when he reached down to the ground to pick up an empty shell casing, the snake bit him.  It blended in with the gravel and ground so well, the man did not even know the snake was there.The man managed to capture the snake and drove to the hospital. I commend the man for not killing the snake, which would have been the reaction of a lot of individuals. Bites to humans are very uncommon. Symptoms of bites include intense pain, tingling, throbbing, swelling, and severe nausea. A friend of mine describes the pain as feeling as if you're on fire and trying to put the flame out with a hammer. Bites can cause muscle damage. Seek immediate medical attention if bitten. Our office received the phone call to come to the hospital to retrieve the snake. Our wildlife biologist picked it up and placed it in two containers. My boss called me to ask me to photograph it. The picture above was taken inside the container. Then we drove to Sunbridge Hills and released it. I photographed it several times on the gravel and it is remarkable how much it blends in with the rocks. If you did not know it was there, you would have a hard time seeing it.

This snake appears to be a little over a year old, possibly born in the fall of 2009. It's tail is beginning to fade and its size is a bit bigger than a newborn. Its temperament was very docile, even while being moved around with the snake stick it never tried to strike at us. It was remarkably tolerant of our presence and all that we were doing to it in order for me to get some decent photos. The man who was bitten is doing fine, he has a swollen finger and a puncture wound to remind him of his experience. Fortunately for him it was a copperhead and not a rattlesnake that bit him. Our local herpetologist says that if you are going to be bitten by a venomous snake, then the copperhead is the right choice. No one has ever died from their bite in Missouri. It is a painful experience to be sure, but one you are likely to survive to talk about. 

Copperheads are pit vipers, meaning they have pits located on either side of their head between the eyes and the nostrils. This pit is a heat seeking sense, that allows the snake to pick up the heat given off by prey species like mice, rats and other warm blooded creatures. These snakes are efficient hunters, and having this extra sense only aids them further in being the expert predators they are. Juvenile copperheads eat mainly insects, tiny frogs and other small amphibians. Adults eat mice, insects, frogs, lizards and small birds.

Mating between copperheads can take place in the fall or spring. If mated in the fall the female will delay fertilization until the following spring. Once mated, the female will deliver her young in August or September. Unlike the majority of Missouri snakes, copperheads bear live young. They may have as few as one baby, to as many as 15. These newly born snakes are not protected or cared for by the mother in any way. They are armed with all the instincts they will need to be able to survive. They aren't without enemies however, hawks, owls, and other snakes will feed on these snakes, so they are vulnerable at this age. This is where their coloring helps in allowing them to blend in with their surroundings, making it more difficult for potential predators to see them.

When hiking in Missouri, the most common venomous snake you're likely to encounter will be this species. They occur in every county in Missouri. They often go unseen because of their camouflage, they so perfectly blend in with leaf litter that they virtually disappear in their surroundings. It is always best to be aware of where you are walking and keep an eye out for these snakes especially if you know you are in an area where these snakes are reported to occur. These snakes often occur in pairs and seem to prefer to stay in close proximity to each other. They also use the same hibernation site each winter. These hibernation locations may contain numerous species of snakes, venomous and non-venomous alike. They will begin appearing with the first warm days in the spring. Often not moving very far from their winter location.

If you want to see a short video of a copperhead in the wild click this link from MDC.

I feel so incredibly lucky to have been privileged to see not one, but two copperheads in less than a week, especially after lamenting that I will NEVER see one. Goes to show that a person should NEVER say never!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Narrow Searcher

This large ground beetle is called a Narrow Searcher (Calosoma externum) and they are found throughout Eastern North America in forested areas and nearby grasslands. We commonly find them under rock piles on one farm we own in the river bluffs. They also go by the common name of Caterpillar Hunter which eludes to their diet of primarily caterpillars. This preference for caterpillars makes them beneficial to agriculture because of the large amount of harmful moth caterpillars they consume. The caterpillars frequently climb trees in search of their prey. Look out tent caterpillars!

Most species within this genus are all black, with a few exceptions that are metallic in coloration. This particular species is black with metallic purplish-blue wing and pronotum margins. All species within this genus produce a foul smelling chemical from glands near the tip of their abdomen. This is a defense mechanism designed to thwart predators.

These beetles hibernate throughout the cold months and become active again in the spring. During the hottest parts of the summer months these beetles may go unseen and return again with autumns cooler temperatures. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Great Plains Toad

This adorable little amphibian is a Great Plains Toad (Bufo cognatus), they are native to Missouri but only occur in portions of the Missouri River flood plain. While Joey and I were hiking at Sunbridge Hills Conservation Area in the Bluffs of the Missouri River just on the outskirts of St. Joseph last night I found this toad hopping around in some tall grasses. I could tell right away that his coloring and markings were different than the toads I see at home. I captured him and brought him home for a positive ID. Imagine my surprise to learn I'd found a toad that is only found in a scant few counties in Missouri. These are a medium sized species measuring up to 4 inches with the state record being 4 inches. This one measures just under 2 inches. Their coloring is highly variable and can be gray, brown, dark green, green or yellow. This one was a muted olive green color with some gray areas. Males are smaller than females, and I suspect this is a female. In Missouri this particular species has not been studied so little is known about its natural history. In other states of occurrence it is known to favor mixed grasslands and short grass prairies. It is reported to avoid forested areas, which might be refuted in Missouri as this one was definitely caught in a grassy knoll next to a forested area. Since the known habitat preference in Missouri is the Missouri River flood plain, and there are huge stands of forested areas all along the flood plain, perhaps in Missouri its habitat preference varies compared to other parts of its range.

The hopping pattern of this toad is completely different from the more common Eastern American Toad, it is much faster with longer leaps. It took quite an effort to capture this one. There is nothing awkward or slow about this species. They seem to be a little more nervous around people and prone to flee quickly..

They are excellent at burrowing into the ground and frequently do so during dry or cold spells, which in Missouri can be a large portion of the year. With the impending flood of the Missouri River many animals are being pushed to higher ground and that may be the case with this particular specimen as it was found in the bluffs of the Missouri River. In St. Joseph the Missouri River flood stage is 17 feet and we are currently at 23 feet and rising. Up north in Minnesota because of excessive rainfall their reservoir is full and they are being forced to release water, which is causing catastrophic flooding of farm ground, and low lying areas south of the dam. It is guesstimated to reach 33 feet in St. Joseph before it is over, which is a full foot higher than the record breaking flood of 1993 where 1,000's of people were displaced from their homes and billions of dollars in damages occurred, not to mention the injuries and loss to life.

The great plains toad breeds in late spring or early summer when the males begin calling. Their call has been described as sounding very much like an explosive jackhammer-like metallic trill that is deafening when heard up close. These toad breed right after heavy rainfall, which could explain why I found her out in the open, the night before we had a huge rainfall, and it probably put her in the mood for love. Females can lay large amounts of eggs, in fact specimens in Oklahoma were found to lay as many as 45,000 eggs. Males stay near the female to capture the eggs between his legs in a "basket" of sorts. Presumably this is to make sure his sperm is the one who fertilized the eggs. The eggs are then laid in long strands in shallow bodies of water. Many females may chose the same watering hole for egg laying. It takes a week for the eggs to hatch and up to a month for them to reach adult size.

The main enemy of this toad is the plains garter snake. Garter snakes are noted for eating toads and frogs. I even managed to capture a picture a few years ago of a garter snakes trying to eat an Eastern American Toad in my backyard(pictured below). These snakes hang around our goldfish pond waiting for an opportunity to capture and eat the frogs and toads.

Getting outside and exploring is sure to bring with it many cool discoveries. This toad was one of many great finds of our evening yesterday and I will be posting more cool creatures this week from just this one 2 hour outing. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dung Beetles to the Rescue

Lately I've been having a melt down over the fact that my kids think they live in a barn! They are not toddlers anymore, quite the contrary they are officially adults.....and their rooms look like a tornado hit the house, they leave doors open while the air is running, and leave stuff laying all over the house. Now, I realize I am not the first mom to cry out at the injustice of playing maid to ungrateful teenagers and young adults, but seriously even I have my breaking point. Saturday night was just such a moment......after discovering mess after mess and no kids in sight I got on the phone tracked them down and let them have it!

I am sure you are all wondering what in the heck does this have to do with bugs! Well a lot actually...because apparently I am far too easy to figure out.

It was exactly 12:30am when my son came in the back door....woke me up and announced he had a dung beetle for me! This got me right out of bed......I threw on my robe and nearly flew into the kitchen to see what he had found. After exclaiming what a great find he had and thanking suddenly dawned on me. I'd just been played! I looked at him and asked "so you think this is getting you out of trouble for your messy room?" His girlfriend was there and began laughing so hard I thought she was going to cry.....and then said to me "THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT HE SAID TO ME!" "Mom won't be able to stay mad when I give her this" He even informed me that he faced humiliation at the hands of his friends when he captured it. One of his friends was even overheard exclaiming "Who's mom wants a Sh*t beetle!?" He braved the teasing and off-color remarks from his friends to get himself out of the how could I not forgive him?
I had to admit the entire situation and retelling of it was I had no choice but to let him off the hook. The next morning he woke up and cleaned his room and all was in harmony once again.

Am I that transparent? Am I that Ga-ga over bugs? Am I that easy? Or do my kids love me that much and feel that sorry for upsetting me? I think I prefer to believe the last one.

The beetle that saved my son from finding a new residence is a magnificently large black dung beetle that I believe is Dichotomius carolinus in the family scarabaeidae. In the not so distant past these beetles were becoming very difficult to find. I am not sure if it was loss of appropriate food sources, or the use of pesticides in the areas where they occurred. A few years ago their numbers began rebounding much to the relief of cattle farmers around the area.

This beetle is approximately 1 1/4 long with a very thick-bodied appearance. Males have a short, blunt horn on their head. The one pictured here is a male. They have deeply grooved elytra that are often filled with dirt.....or is it poo? These beetles are active from spring to fall and found where large mammals such as cattle or horses occur. They roll little balls of dung and bury them in place. They do not roll their dung balls away to other locations like some species of dung beetles do. These beetles are very beneficial to the environment. They aerate the soil, compete for underground nesting sites with several different flies, and their habits add nutrients  back to the soil which helps prevent pasture fouling. After burying the dung the female will lay eggs on the ball and the resulting larvae will feed on the dung ball. Adult beetles also feed on dung. This constant moving and feeding on dung is excellent for fertilizing the soil and increasing the nutrient content of soil. Consequently pasture grasses will yield better stands and provide more fodder for cattle and horses, thus reducing the amount of hay that needs to be purchased to supplement their diet.

 My son would argue that they are also excellent at saving his skin from the wrath of Mom!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Deer Fly

Few insects cause as much dread as the Deer Fly (Genus--Chrysops), these biting flies can bring a grown man to his knees, or at least send him running out of the infested area. Like many biting or stinging insects, it is only the female who nibbles on us for a blood meal. She needs the blood of warm-blooded mammals in order to produce eggs. She prefers to use deer, horses, cattle and other mammals, but humans will suffice in a pinch. These flies belong to the same family of flies as the Horse Fly, Tabanidae. The bite of a deer fly is painful, at least that is what Joey says. We have one farm in Fillmore, MO that is home to a sizable population of these flies. Each time he gets out of his pickup they begin biting him, almost has if he had a big target painted on him that they home in on and collectively come after him. I on the other hand can be right there next to him and they do not bother me....curious!

They are reported to favor damp areas, which makes perfect since as the ones on our farm are located near a woodland stream and a low lying area that always hold water. The female lays her eggs on plants near the shore line of the water, when they hatch they drop into the water and remain there until they are ready to pupate. They will crawl out of the water and burrow into the mud to form a pupation chamber and emerge later as the adult.

Deer flies have scissor-like mouth parts that they use to lacerate the skin of animals and humans alike. This cut causes blood to flow and the flies will lap it up with their sponge-like mouthparts. Males on the other hand, while having similar mouthparts cannot bite humans or other animals and instead feed on pollen or nectar. Because of their feeding habits these flies have the potential to spread diseases to humans. They have been studied extensively and shown to carry several bacteria, and disease causing agents in their digestive tract and on their mouthparts. Currently, however, there is no substantiated proof that they do indeed transmit these bacteria to humans, just be aware the potential is still there. There is a western species of deer fly that has been shown to spread tuleremia to humans. Tuleremia is commonly spread to humans through horses or rabbits and that is still the most likely culprit in the transmission.
Some people are hyper-sensitive to the saliva of these flies and can develop rashes, fever and other disabilities. Reactions increase the more a person is bitten and exposed to these flies and their biting.

There are over 110 species of deer fly in the United States, but they are not known to occur in Hawaii. Florida has numerous species because of the flies favorable habitat....lots of standing water.
They are easily recognized by their black veined wings and their eyes which are brightly colored with zig-zag stripes. They are actually beautiful little flies, just too bad they have such bad attitudes!
Control measures for this fly are almost non-existent. Bug sprays containing DEET, may be of some help if you are going to be in an area where they occur. Using chemicals in their breeding grounds is not feasible, because of the damage that can occur to other aquatic life forms. Draining wetlands and marshes, while possible is expensive and probably not a good idea as it could displace other wildlife. Fortunately, these flies are only around for a short period of time in the summer from June through July.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Lynx Spiders

Lynx Spiders (Oxyopes) are ambush hunters that are frequently found in grassy areas hidden among the foliage of plants. They are excellent runners and jumpers and will patiently wait for prey to come within reach; then they will jump, run or grab their prey. This ability to pounce onto their prey is what earned them the common name of lynx....just like the cat. Lynx spiders do not build webs, instead they rely totally on stealth and active hunting techniques to find food.

 (lynx spider feeding on candy-striped leafhopper)

These excellent hunters rarely miss their prey and often occur in such large numbers that they can be considered important biological control of many injurious insects that feed on grains, fruits, and other agricultural crops. This is especially true of the striped lynx spider (pictured below).

Striped Lynx Spider----Oxyopes salticus

  Lynx spiders are easy to identify as their eyes are arranged in a distinctive pattern. Six of the eight eyes are arranged in a hexagonal pattern. This pattern is a characteristic of this family of spiders. They also have spine covered legs.

Males will perform an elaborate mating dance to attract a potential female. Once mated the female will spin a silken web-like cocoon that she attaches to a leaf or plant. She will stand guard over her eggs until they hatch. Like most spiderlings they are capable of caring for themselves right after emerging from the egg sac.

These are common, beneficial spiders and should be left alone to carry out their very important service to us in the form of insect control. They are fond of flies, leafhoppers and other potentially harmful insects.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Prairie Ringneck Snake

Prairie Ringneck (Disdophis punctatus arnyi) Snakes are one of the smallest (up to 14 inches) and most commonly found snakes in NW Missouri. One farm our family owns has them under almost every rock you turn over. They seem to vary in color depending upon region. They can be slate gray to brown with a ring color of yellow, orange or red. There is even a sub-species that lacks a ring around its neck entirely. These tiny, unassuming snakes are harmless, in fact their only defense is to flash the red underside of their tail. This is to distract a predator away from their head.

This snake rarely if ever tries to bite, and even if it did you wouldn't feel the bite at all......however it may startle you. Believe it or not though, this snake does have venom and could technically be classified as a venomous snake. However, the fangs they use to administer the venom are located at the back of their mouth and are not likely to ever come in contact with our skin. The venom seems to be a strategy for subduing prey, rather than a defense mechanism. They use a combination of constriction and envenomation to capture and kill prey. They typically feed on tiny salamanders, frogs, earthworms, and even small snakes. The venom poses no threat to humans.

These snakes are secretive and nocturnal. You are unlikely to see one out during the day without actually looking for them under logs, rocks, or other things they can hide under. These snakes are somewhat social and occasionally  will be found in large aggregations of up to 100 snakes. I commonly see as many 4 or 5 together under one rock.

Females are generally larger than males and they reach sexual maturity at the age of 4 or 5. Mating usually takes place in the spring when the female will release a pheromone from her skin that attracts nearby males. The male will rub the female with his closed mouth, and move in such a way as to line up their bodies, he then bites the female around the neck to anchor her.  After mating, the female will lay up to 10 eggs; the young hatch sometime during August or September. Although occasionally mating takes place in the fall, and the female will delay fertilization until the following spring. When the young hatch they are approximately 3 to 4 inches long and will be completely on their own to fend for themselves. These snakes live approximately 10 years in the wild, but are capable of living up to 20 years in the wild. They are becoming increasingly popular in the pet trade because of their mild nature and beautiful coloration although, in my opinion they do not do well in captivity, and may only live up to 5 years. Because of their secretive nature, they are not very exciting animals to keep anyway. They will bury themselves in the containers substrate or hide out under stones or any other hide you provide for them and only come out during feeding time.

Very little is actually known about this snake, and much research still needs to be done to fully understand their lifecyle. I smell a research project!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

False Bombardier Beetle

This halloween-colored insect is a False Bombardier Beetle (Galerita bicolor), there are two similar species within this genus, the other is G. janus and the only real way to tell them apart is the shape of the head and pronotum (thorax area). Based on the info provided by I am going with G. bicolor on this one....but it is difficult to tell with such subtle difference separating them. The name bicolor comes from the two-tone black and orange coloring. These beetles are very common throughout their range of the eastern United States. They are commonly encountered in woodlands within or under decaying or rotting timber. I find them equally as often in my basement however. In fact that is where the one pictured here came from. I found an additional one the very next day, this time in a laundry basket.

Bombardier beetles have a unique defense mechanism; they can spray acid at their potential predator. False bombardier beetles do not have the same chemical defense as real bombardier beetles, but they are not without resources....they can spray "formic acid" from their backside which is exactly what many species of ants use as their defense....and believe me it is a formidable chemical to have sprayed at you. It effectively "burns" the skin and causes irritation that can last for hours depending upon your own bodies reaction to the chemical. The best way to differentiate between "real" and "false" bombardier beetles is that real ones have a red head as well as a red thorax, whereas false ones have a black head. I cannot say that I have seen a real one, since each specimen I find has the black head.

Finding these beetles is easy, simply turning over logs in the timber will almost always yield at least one, and often times several of these beautifully marked beetles....remember though....look but don't touch!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Eight-Spotted Forester

This colorful moth looks like it came straight out of the 1980's with those bright orange leg-warmers it is wearing. Very few moths can compare with the beautiful day-flying Eight Spotted Forester (Alypia octomaculata). They are relatively small with only a 1 1/2 inch wingspan, but what they lack in size they more than make up for in eye appeal. Their body and wings are black, there are two yellow spots on each forewing and two white spots on each hindwings....and of course those gorgeous orange tufts on their legs, that seriously look like stockings. The eight distinctive spots on their wings is where their species name came from....octomaculata literally translates into 8-spotted.  Because of their habit of flying during the day, and they are brightly colored, they are often mistaken for butterflies. The adults of this species begin appearing in May, and are found throughout the summer. The female lays her eggs on grapes or Virgina creeper. I photographed this one near our garden where we have a lot of wild grape vines growing. I will have to keep my eye out for the caterpillars. I've only ever found the caterpillars a few times in the past several years, and each time they were on Virginia creeper.

Once the caterpillars reach full size they will pupate and spend the winter in this stage. They will emerge as adults the following May. This moth occurs throughout the Eastern United States and parts of Canada. The caterpillars can be a pest to grape growers and often have to be controlled chemically. They are very common throughout their range, although I usually only see one or two per year in spite of having adequate food sources around here for them. The adults nectar at various flowers along side the butterflies they are often mistaken for. If you want to attract these beauties to your yard, plant Virginia creeper or grapes and you are almost sure to find the eight-spotted forester.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Rose Curculio

This bright red weevil is a Rose Curculio (Merhynchites bicolor) they are found throughout most of the United States as well as Southern Canada. They get their common name from the  host plant they feed on. The one pictured here was found in the prairie feeding on primrose. I brought it home to add to my collection and placed it on a sunflower to photograph. They are uniformly bright red with black legs and a long black snout it is the two-tone coloration that earned them the species name of bicolor.

These beetles like rose pollen so much that they rarely wait for the bloom to open and give up its delicious treat, instead the beetle will chew a hole through the side of the rose bud to reach the pollen. The female will lay her eggs in the fruit (rose hips) of the plant and the resulting larvae will develop inside. This feeding can cause significant damage to roses, much to the irritation of rose gardeners everywhere. There are over the counter pesticides you can use to treat your roses to eliminate these garden pests. They typically prefer wild roses over cultivars and seem to like white or yellow roses best.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Periodical Cicada

Periodical Cicadas are all the talk among entomologists in the Midwest this year. The 13 year brood has been emerging for several weeks now. The emergence began in Southeast Missouri and has progressed further north. The epicenter is in and around Columbia, MO. There are four species of 13 year cicadas all in the genus Magicicada. 
Their coloration is distinctive: the body is black with red to orangish-red eyes, and yellow-orange wing veins. They are noted for mass-emergence of adults and the formation of choruses of singing males on a 17-year or 13-year period. Unmistakable as a genus---in order to determine species, examination of the underside of the abdomen is necessary.
Joey drove to Columbia, MO yesterday with his friend Doug to help move Doug's daughter back to KC. While he was there he said the noise these cicadas were making was deafening. He even spoke to the woman next door who told him that her dog cannot hear her call to him over the din of the cicadas. He described it as some exotic torture devised by Mother nature, an all out onslaught to the ears of high pitched screaming.  He described seeing thousands of them flying between the trees, and crawling all over the ground. He scooped one up to bring back to me (photographed here). 

I was so excited that he thought of me and brought me one for my insect collection. It still remains to be seen as to whether they will emerge this far north in Missouri. The closest location to me I've heard they've been found is about 35 minutes south of where I live. I may have to investigate that location and see if I can find them. According to this range map they shouldn't be anywhere near me, including the location south of me where they were reportedly we shall see what happens.
Joey hopes they don't emerge here....I on the other hand am praying they do! 

UPDATE: My brother-in-law brought me about a dozen of these cicadas tonight (June 3, 2011). He found them in Fillmore, which is in Andrew County Missouri, in the NW Corner (white area on map). According to this range map they are not reported from there. We can now verify they are definitely in Andrew County.