Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Short-Winged Meadow Katydid

The Short-Winged Meadow Katydid (Conocephalus brevipennis) belongs to the family Tettigoniidae and the subfamily Conocephalinae which are the meadow katydids. There are 39 species of meadow katydids in the United States and Canada with 19 species in the genus Conocephalus. They are smaller, slimmer katydids than their cousins in the genus Orchelimum which also has 19 species , the last remaining katydid in this subfamily is the wingless meadow katydid (Odontoxiphidium apterum).

The short-winged meadow katydid is small at about 1/2 to 1 inch in length. What they lack in size they make up for in beauty. Their bodies are a kaleidoscope of of orange, brown, yellow, and greens. As their name suggests their wings are short and barely extend halfway down their bodies. Although there are a few specimens that will have longer wings that extend nearly to the tip of their abdomen.

Males have two little appendages at the tip of their abdomen (shown to the right). Females will have an ovipositor protruding from theirs that is used for depositing eggs in the ground after mating. By August these katydids have reached their adult-size and will begin calling for mates, singing out day and night. Eggs will overwinter in the ground and hatch in the spring. As soon as the ground warms in the spring the eggs hatch and the young katydid nymphs will emerge from the soil and begin feeding. These tiny offspring are almost mirror images of their adult counterparts.

You can find them in grasslands, prairies, meadows and other grassy or weedy areas, especially near swamps, creeks, and other damp areas. They are native to the Eastern and Central North America from South Dakota to Maine.

Friday, September 18, 2015

White-Lined Sphinx Moth

Sphinx moths go by many names, such as Hummingbird Moths, Hawk Moths and Hornworms. The one pictured here is called a White-Lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata). They are an averaged sized sphinx moth with a wingspan up to 3 inches. This particular species is widespread and found throughout most of North America, Central America, West Indies, Eurasia, and Africa. White-Lined Sphinx Moths can be found in a wide variety of habitats, from desert, garden,and meadows, like most sphinx moths they are most active during dusk and nighttime hours. Although they will fly during the day as well. Mating between males and females usually takes place at dusk. Females will lay eggs on a wide variety of plants, which will include, but not limited to, Four O'Clock's (Picture #2), Willow Weed, Evening Primrose, Tomato, Elm, Grape, Purslane, Apple, and Fuschia. 

After reaching full size, like pictured here,  the caterpillar will crawl to the ground and burrow into a shallow depression in the soil and pupate. They will spend the winter in this stage. Massive population buildups occur which encourage them to head north and populate those regions.

Occasional outbreaks of these caterpillars have caused significant damage to tomato, grapes and garden crops in Utah. The adults nectar at a huge variety of flowers including Columbine, Petunia, Larkspur, Honeysuckle, Lilac, Wild Phlox, Moonvine, Jimpson Weed, Clovers, Bouncing Bet and Thistles. They are often attracted to lights at night, sometimes in large numbers. The whirring sound of their wings is what earned them their other common name of Hummingbird Moth. In Missouri there are probably two generations per year, with the last generation overwintering as a pupa.  

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Clouded Grasshopper

Autumn seems to be the season for grasshoppers. Tiny grasshopper nymphs hatch from eggs under the soil sometime in the spring or early summer and emerge from the ground looking almost like their adult counterparts. They of course are much tinier, and lack wings. They will eat and grow their way into mirror images of their parents by late summer and autumn. Agricultural areas, like where I live, seem to be host to a large variety of species and I am always coming across one I don't recognize, like the one pictured here. A very good friend of mine happens to be an entomologist and when I have "buggy" questions and need something ID'd I share images with him. He has tentatively ID'd this grasshopper as the Clouded Grasshopper (Encoptolophus sordidus). Another bug enthusiast thought perhaps it might be Encoptolophus costalis. So, once again I went to bugguide.net, the go-to for all things arthropod and submitted the image, and there is one response in favor of Eric's initial ID of Encoptolophus sordidus. We shall see if anyone else comments to dispute this finding and I will update this post as needed, but for now I am going to agree with the Clouded Grasshopper and thank Eric for helping me figure this one out.

I did a little research on them and discovered they have another common name of Dusky Grasshopper and they occur mainly in the Midwest and eastern United States and parts of Canada. They can be found in grasslands, prairies and meadows. The area where this one was found is on a small tall-grass prairie my brother-in-law has planted on one of our farms. 

This farm is full of Big Blue Stem, Indian Grass and other native species of sedges, grasses, wildflowers and forbs, needless to say the grasshoppers love it there. The preferred food of the clouded grasshopper seems to be grasses, wheatgrass, and sedges, but they will resort to forbs if hungry enough. In times of drought and extreme food shortages they are not beyond turning to cannibalism to stay alive. 

This species and
Encoptolophus costalis (The Dusky Grasshopper) were once considered the same species, which I assume is why the Cloudy grasshopper is still sometimes referred to as the Dusky grasshopper, which can get confusing if we resort to using common names alone. After some research, taxonomists have discovered there are enough differences between the two, that it is warranted to separate them into individual species. One main distinction is their geographic range. E. costalis is primarily a great plains species whereas E. sordidus range is further east. Their breeding habits are completely different as well. 

After looking at geographical maps of both species I am convinced more than ever that this species is E. sordidus, the Clouded Grasshopper. In John Capinera, Ralph Scott, and Thomas Walker's book "The Field Guide to Grasshoppers, Katydids & Crickets the range map for E. costalis does not include Missouri, so there you have it!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Barn Spider

Orb Weavers, Orb Weavers, EVERYWHERE Orb Weavers! It seems every tree, bush, shrub, corn stalk and fence has some sort of orb weaver ensconced in a web busily hunting bugs and getting prepared to create the next generation.

Barn Spiders (Neoscona crucifera formerly N. Hentzii) are one of the most common orb weavers I find in my yard. I literally have dozens of these large females in various locations around the farm.

I found the web of the one pictured here before I actually found her! I walked right into the web and danced around like a maniac hoping the spider wasn't sitting on my shoulder. I'm not scared of spiders but the thought of a large spider hanging out on my person without an invitation, freaks me out! Luckily she was hiding among the leaves of the tree where the web was hanging from. I pulled down the branches to get a better look at her and decided to photograph her. She was a fairly tolerant photographic subject and posed quite nicely for me.

Neoscona crucifera have many common names, including Barn Spider, Hentz's Orbweaver, Dotted Orbweaver and just Orbweaver. The genus name of Neoscona loosely translates into "Spinning among the reeds" and was first described by Eugene Simon, a young French Arachnologist. The species name of crucifera probably refers to the faint cross or crucifix pattern that is visible on the abdomen of many specimens. This species is somewhat variable in coloration, but typically they are beige or rusty orange with banded spiny legs. Males are smaller than females with much longer legs.

Males seek females in the late summer to mate with. Once a female is encountered he will cautiously approach the web and tap out a series of unique moves that identify him as a mate and not a meal. With any luck the female will be in the mood for mating and not dining. If mating is successful she will form an egg sac and place it in a rolled up leaf to help conceal it from predators.
Mating pair, male on the right

 Each egg sac may contain up to a 1,000 eggs. That sounds like a lot of spiders being unleashed on the environment once they hatch in the spring. But the reality is they won't all survive. Many will be preyed upon by insects, birds and other critters that savor tiny spiders. Mud daubers are especially fond of orb weaver spiderlings. I would imagine the percentage of surviving spiders is very low, certainly no where near 100%. The spiderlings will remain clustered together for several days after leaving the shelter of the egg sac. Some may balloon themselves on wind currents to distant locations, others will remain near the area where their mother gave birth to them.

Even as tiny spiderlings they are capable of building elaborate webs that are mini versions of the ones they will create as adults. As adults the webs are much larger, up to 2 feet in diameter at the center with support lines attached to nearby vegetation, or buildings. They will often build near porch lights, one could assume these are the lazy (or smart) hunters. Lights attract bugs, and webs catch bugs---what a perfect set-up.
Webs are built at dusk and in the morning the female will consume the web. Eating the web provides extra protein for egg production in the form of tiny insects that are too small for her to wrap in silk and consume otherwise. She also recycles the silk to reuse later. Silk is a precious commodity that requires a lot of energy to produce, so it only makes sense to conserve what they can.

This species is one of the most wide spread of all the orb weavers. They are found throughout Eastern North America, and as far west as California, as well as Mexico. Like all spiders they have venom, but the venom is harmless to humans. It is designed to subdue and partially dissolve their prey. They rarely come in contact with humans so bites are extremely uncommon, and usually only occur if they are mishandled or if somehow caught in your clothing (when you accidentally walk into a web). If you are bitten it may sting, itch and look a little red for awhile, but is not known to be medically significant. The benefit of these spiders far outweighs any negative feelings we may have towards them.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Two-Striped Planthopper

This time of year tiny leafhoppers, treehoppers, planthoppers and other "hopping" insects seem to be everywhere. Many of them blend in with their surroundings with perfect camouflage in shades of green, brown and combinations of both. This can make them somewhat difficult to see, but if you stand still for a minute and look carefully you will spot one without much trouble. They will often scurry to the other side of a twig, leaf, or blade of grass as soon as they spot you, or they may simply hop away disappearing from view. This strategy works in their favor to avoid any predator that might want to feed on a tiny hopping bug.

The one pictured here is the Two-striped Planthopper (Acanalonia bivittata) and they are considered the most common of all planthoppers in the United States. Worldwide there are 63 species within this genus, 18 of them are found in the United States. They are almost always green with a reddish-brown stripe along the inner edge of the wing. Occasionally you may find a pink specimen. They measure 1/4 to 15/64 inches in length (3 to 6 mm).

They are found throughout the Eastern United States feeding on woody, or herbaceous plants. Look for them in grasslands, woodland edges, open fields and on the leaves of trees.  They rarely occur in large enough aggregations to cause significant damage to plants.


Mating probably takes places in late summer or early fall and the female will use her sharp ovipositor to slice into twigs or the stems of many of the plants they feed on, like blueberries for instance. She will lay her eggs within the slit she creates and the eggs overwinter. When spring arrives the eggs hatch and the nymphs superficially resemble their parents. They reach the adult stage by late summer and the cycle will begin again. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Prairie Vole

Are you wondering why I am featuring a mammal on an insect blog? Just look at this face how could I possibly resist sharing? Plus, they eat insects, so it ties in with the blog theme right?

This adorable little rodent is a Prairie Vole (Microtus ochrogaster) and they are common throughout the midwest. This one was caught in a live trap for rats and wasn't smart enough to figure out he could fit through the holes in the cage. I thought about feeding it to my pet snake, but I just couldn't bring myself to do so because it was too cute. I let it go and it ran into an old pulley we had laying on the porch. I managed to take a few pictures before I placed it inside an old bird house.

Prairie Voles are found in dry, grassy areas where they dig tunnels and burrows that they are quick to retreat to when alarmed. They are known to live in family units and many individuals may share the same burrow and tunnels. They are also known to be monogamous which is unlike most other voles, or even other small rodents like mice for instance. After prairie voles mate, the male will remain by the females side for a period of at least 24 hours then they will become a mated pair and remain together for the remainder of their lives, which is short at about 2 years (if they aren't eaten first). This relationship does not seem to be based on sex, but rather a social behavior, They will groom, cuddle and touch each other continuously while together and share in rearing their offspring. Mating takes place in the spring or fall and about 25 days later she will give birth to about a 1/2 dozen hairless, blind babies. Litter size is dependent upon food sources available. Less food=smaller litters.  She may have up to 4 litters a year. If the females is killed, the male generally does not seek another life partner. Even though they are "monogamous" they will upon occasion seek a little somethin-somethin on the side and mate with an available sexual partner, but will not pair bond with that mate.

The young open their eyes at about one week of age and by two to three weeks are self sufficient. Females are able to reproduce by 40 to 45 days of age. Like all small rodents or rabbits, they reproduce often, and reach maturity at a rapid rate. They are important prey items for many wild animals including snakes, owls, hawks, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, etc. Some consider them a pest because they will get into gardens and feed on seeds, produce and other plants. They will also consume some insects, but seem to prefer vegetation. They may feed on stored grain, but overall the benefit outweighs any negative aspects attributed to these tiny rodents. If however you decide to use poison baits to remove them, be aware that any poison they ingest will make its way into the food chain. The poisoned vole, will be eaten by an owl and consequently the owl will be poisoned. Most of the time if you are tolerant of the predators such as snakes, coyotes, etc they will take care of any voles that are hanging around your garden. Nature has a way of balancing itself if we let it.

In 1994, in Pulaski County, MO a single Prairie Vole was found to be a reservoir for a disease uniquely described to them called Bloodland Lake Virus which is a type of Hantavirus. It was later found in voles in St. Louis County, MO. Hantavirus is a very serious disease spread through the droppings of rodents and bats to humans. High concentrations of virus laden excrement can dry out and the dust off this waste can become airborne and be inhaled by humans. Hantavirus is rare, but can be fatal. While the prairie vole has been shown to harbor this virus in its system there has been no transference to humans to date. All reported cases of Hantavirus in humans have been traced back to bats, mice and rats. I find it fascinating that these little guys carry such a potentially life threatening virus in their system, but it has not found a way to infect humans. Maybe it is largely due to the fact that voles don't generally share our dwellings like other rodents and even bats can and will. We are far more likely to come in contact with these other carriers than with a vole.

They are active year-round and do not hibernate. They will create tunnels in the snow to travel back and forth to burrows and food stores. They will cache food for the winter such as berries, nuts and seeds. During the warmer months they are primarily nocturnal and are rarely encountered in daylight hours.

This little vole was fed an apple wedge and sent on his or her way to continue reproducing and providing necessary nutrition to all the wildlife living in our area.