Sunday, May 27, 2012

Toad Bug

Toad bugs in the family Gelastocoridae comprise approximately 100 species found worldwide but, predominantly they occur in the tropics. These little bugs are in the order Hemiptera, making them true bugs and more closely related to assassin bugs than beetles, although they resemble beetles. They also look superficially like the toads they are named after. They are small at 15 mm in length or less, but hop around like mini-toads. They even have a somewhat warty appearance like toads. Nymphs of some specimens of these bugs will pile sand on their backs which allows them to blend in with their sandy surroundings. They are typically found near rivers, ponds, lakes, creeks, streams and other watery locations with muddy or sandy shorelines. They feed on smaller insects, and capture them by hopping onto them and holding on with their front legs.
These little bugs are easily overlooked because of their cryptic coloring. Next time you visit a pond, stream or other body of water, watch closely and you may see one of these little bugs hopping around the shore. Careful inspection will reveal a 6-legged arthropod and not a toad at all.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bronze Copper

Bronze Copper (Lycaena hyllus) butterflies are one of the prettiest butterflies to call Missouri home. They are the most beautiful coppery orange with spots of black. They aren't large (2 inch wingspan) and flashy like Monarchs or Swallowtails, but what they lack in size they make up for in bold color and approachable dispositions. Underside of the forewings of both sexes is orange with black spots; underside of hindwings is gray-white with black spots and a broad orange outer margin. 

They are typically associated with marshes and wetlands where the females will use curly dock or smartweed as the host plant for her caterpillars. I photographed this one at Squaw Creek NWR which is a large wetland in NW Missouri. 

Males will perch on low lying plants and wait for passing females. Once mated the females will lay their eggs on the underside of the host plant, typically choosing the largest leaves as a prime feeding area. Depending upon your area and the temperatures, they may produce 1 to 3 broods per year. In Missouri I would suspect two broods in the northern half of the state and perhaps three further south. Their numbers seem to be secure, although not common in Missouri. In parts of their range however they are rare or even considered endangered. This is presumably because of loss of habitat. With more and more wetlands, and marshes being drained for stripe malls, housing additions and agricultural ground, prime real estate for these beauties is hard to come by. Even though their host plant is in abundance, there must be other requirements that this species needs in order to survive and be prolific. Second or third generation offspring will overwinter in the egg stage and hatch the following spring. The adults will die soon after mating and laying the eggs of the final generation that season. 

In 1766 the first Bronze Copper was believed to be collected by the Dutch naturalist Pieter Cramer. It wasn't until 1775 that is was officially described and given a name.This species has suffered somewhat of an identity crisis over the years. It has went from being listed as 

Hylloycaena hyllus,  then Lycaena thoe, and Chrysophanus thoe – and finally Lycaena hyllus. That is one of the most difficult things about learning scientific names, all the changes!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Checkered White Butterfly

This sweet little white butterfly is a checkered white butterfly (Pontia protodice). They are common throughout Missouri as well as their entire range. They occur in Mexico and the southern United States throughout the entire year. In the spring, summer and early fall they will be found further north in the Midwest, western United States and Southern Canada. Rarely are they found in the New England states. Look for them in roadside ditches and near gardens where they nectar at a wide variety of flowers including alfalfa, mustard and other roadside composites. Males patrol for females, and once mated the females will lay eggs two at a time on the leaves of mustard plants, capers and Rocky Mountain Bee-plant. Gardeners often complain about these butterflies as a favorite food source for the caterpillars is cabbage plants. They should not be confused though with another white butterfly that often occurs in large numbers and also favors cabbages and that is the Cabbage White Butterfly (Pieris rapae).

Cabbage Whites are not native, they are originally from Europe and arrived in the America's sometime in the 1860's.They are found Worldwide and considered cosmopolitan now.  Both species are similar; both are white, both have black markings, but careful examination of the wings will show the subtle differences.

                                                                                                 (Cabbage White)

Cabbage whites are mostly white with yellowish-green undersides. Females have  two black spots on their upperwings whereas males have one spot on each wing. Checkered White's have much more black pattern on their wings than cabbage whites do and females have more pattern than males. The underside of the wings are yellowish-tan. They are similar in size with up to a 2 1/4 inch wingspan. Both species will be encountered in the same habitats. Look for them in gardens, weedy ditches, waste ground, roadsides, railroad beds, meadows, parks and within the city.