Thursday, April 30, 2009

Unexpected Camping visitor

This spider is one of two highly venomous spiders in Missouri. it is called the "Brown Recluse". While their bite is rarely fatal, it can cause necrosis to the skin cells and muscle tissue. This necrosis results in large lesions that are slow to heal and can leave scars. This would be an extreme response to a bite. Typically you will get nothing more than a small blister that will heal without any complications at all. Since none of us knows how our bodies will react to a bite from one of these spiders it is always best to err on the side of caution and avoid them. Sometimes this is hard to do. Their hunting habits often put them in contact with people. They are solitary hunters that do not build webs. Instead they roam and stalk their prey. This means they can be anywhere. They like areas that give them hiding spots, garages, basements, attics and sheds are all good places to find these spiders. Brown Recluse spiders are not large, in fact as far as spiders go they are rather small to medium sized spiders. Measuring about the size of a quarter legs and all. Their bodies are uniformly brown. There is really nothing special about their appearance...except the distinguishing mark on their cephalothorax. This is the characteristic fiddle marking. It is this marking that gives this species it's other common name of "Fiddler Spider". The one pictured came with us, quite univited I might add, on a camping trip we took last fall. We unfolded a camping chair to discover her hidden inside the chair guarding a small disc shaped web with tiny spiderlings underneath. These were her offspring. We captured her so I could use her for an upcoming insect event I was helping to host. Her babies were destroyed. This was the first encounter I had ever had with this spider. Later that night at the bathhouse we discovered two more in residence at the park we were staying at. They really are quite lovely to look at, if you can get past the fact that they are an 8 legged creature that can rot your skin with one bite. I believe these spiders are much more common than people realize. It is their somewhat secrative nature that keeps us from seeing them. An exterminator told us that they are near to impossible to destroy. Pesticides do not work on them as they do other spiders and insects. With these spiders you actually have to touch them with the chemical to kill them. They will not carry the bait or chemical back to other spiders to aide in spreading it around for a more effective kill rate. When I hear of people whose homes are infested with these spiders it makes me shiver to think of it. Fortunately for me the spider that showed up camping with us did not come from our home or our chair. It was my mothers. I heard that in Missouri at a barn 40 of these spiders were located in about an hour. This gives you an idea of how plentiful they really are. I will say that even though I get squeamish around spiders, after our insect event we did release this female to the woods to go about her business. I couldn't bring myself to destroy her.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Splendid Earth Boring Beetle

This gorgeous little beetle gave me a surprise while out mushroom hunting last night. My husband and I located a spot with some huge mushrooms, just as I found two right together and announced I'd found some, I noticed something bizarre about one of the mushrooms. It stood about 5 inches tall and approximately 2 inches of the mushroom was missing and something was moving inside the hole. Then this little beetle peeked out. I managed to get a couple of pictures of it. At first I thought it was a Rainbow Scarab beetle but have since found out it is the Splendid Earth Boring Beetle (Geotrupes splendidus). Sometimes they are referred to as dung beetles from their habit of living near cow lots and building underground tunnels right under the piles of dung. They supply these nests with dung and the female will lay eggs on individual piles of poo. The eggs hatch and the young grubs feed on the poo. YUM! Even though this sounds completely gross, it serves a great purpose. They clean up a ton of crap, and what is left over that the young grubs do not eat is left behind to fertilize the soil and plants. You will also find these beetles in timbered areas feeding on decaying vegetation and fungi (like my little friend here), they will even be found eating carrion. They can vary in color from green, blue, bronze, purple to black; but always with a metallic sheen that shimmers in the sunlight. It just goes to show you never know what you will find while mushroom hunting, but I could sure do without the poison ivy!!!!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Eastern Comma Butterfly

The Eastern Comma butterfly is found throughout Eastern North America. They are common in their range and are found in deciduous woodland and nearby edges. They can also be found near water such as wetland, marshes and swamps. This one was near some scrub timber we have on our property. I spotted it while we were mushroom hunting. Fortunately I had my camera with me as I've been trying for 2 years to get a picture of this species. They rarely sit still long enough to allow for a good photo. The adults of this species overwinter and come out of hiding in the spring and begin egg laying. I believe this one pictured is a male that was perching waiting for a female. This color form is the winter form. The summer form will have black hindwings. The females will lay eggs singly on elm or nettles. The young caterpillars feed at night and hide during the day in a self-constructed nest made of leaves and silk. These caterpillars will form cocoons and emerge as the summer form of adults sometime in June. These adults will mate and lay eggs sometime in late summer. These caterpillars will hatch and the adults emerge in September or October. This will be the winter form that will overwinter and hibernate until spring. These are small, but gorgeous butterflies. Long ago the pupae of these butterflies were used to determine the market value of Hops. If the pupae was gold the prices were higher, if silver the prices were lower.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

This tiny grasshopper nymph was hiding on the moss in our timber. If he hadn't of moved I would have never seen it. It was so little, barely 3/8 of an inch. It had very cryptic colors, looked very much like moss or lichen. I managed to snap a few photos of him before he hopped away to be hidden from my sight. I never did find him again. Great camoflauge.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Goatweed Leafwing

This beautiful orange butterfly is the Goatweed Leafwing. They range throughout the eastern and southern Midwest states and Southwest portion of the United States, in New Mexico and Texas. The adults feed on sap flows, dung, bird droppings and rotting fruit. The caterpillars host plants are Goatweed, Texas croton, prairie tea and other plants in the spurge family. They have a very erratic rapid flight. This makes them very difficult to photograph (hence the poor quality of these photos) They land for a mere second then off they go as soon as you get anywhere within camera shot. It is like they do it on purpose. I was able to see this one (pictured) and its mate engaging in their mating behavior. I watched them for quite some time as they spiraled high into the sky together, then quickly plummet back to earth, and separate. Then they would find each other again and repeat the process. I never actually saw them mate, seems they saved that for a more private time when prying eyes weren't around. These butterflies are not commonly seen. I think it is their erratic flight, and the fact that when resting with their wings folded they look so much like a dead leaf it would be hard to see them unless they moved or flew. Their populations are secure throughout most of their range. They are lovely butterflies,and that orange color really is as vivid as it appears in the pictures. I will keep trying to get better pictures, apparently we have a host plant on our property where I took this picture because they never strayed far from the spot where I photographed this one. I will have to try and find the host plant and hopefully with it the caterpillars.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Eyes Have it

These are some of the craziest looking beetles in the insect world. Those large "eyes" make them look so intimidating, or funny depending upon your point of view. The first time I ever spotted one of these it gave me a start, I'd never seen anything like it. I scooped it into a jar to show my nephew that was going to be visiting later in the day. I retrieved the jar to show him and discovered the beetle had died! I opened the lid and peered in at the beetle, it was at this exact moment this little faker decided to come back to life. When he flipped his body straight up, narrowly missing my nose that was still in the opening of the jar....I almost had cardiac arrest! Needless to say I screamed, nearly dropped the jar, which in turn made my nephew scream. This was my introduction to this beetle. I let the little trouble maker go, deciding I wanted nothing more to do with a beetle that could practically scare me out of my britches. The beetle pictured above is only the second of these beetles I've seen in my yard. For all I know it might be the same one from before. This one had hunkered down for the winter inside an old tree stump in our backyard. This one didn't escape the killing jar. He was added to a collection I am compiling for FFA. This particular insect happens to be on their list of insects that they need to be able to identify. I also know that these beetles bite. Last summer my brother-in-law captured one to bring me and it bit into his finger and would not let go. He shook his hand and it still clung to him ferociously. It ended up drawing blood before he finally dislodged it. So if the eyes don't scare u, the back flip will. If that doesn't work they will chew on you. The little brown click beetle pictured on the cone flower seems so different from his big mean bully of a cousin., but he is a click beetle. Much tinier and no distinctive eye spots, but he does have the long slender torpedo shape that is typical of click beetles. All click beetles have a special mechanism on their lower body that allows them to flip themselves over when being disturbed. It is an effective way to play dead. Once the potential danger has passed they flip themselves back over and away they go about their business. Look for the eyed click beetle near decaying wood. They use this as hiding places and to deposit eggs.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Missouri's State Insect

Honey Bees are Missouri's state insect and I can't think of a better insect to have represent our state. They are hard working, industrious, mild mannered and they aid in pollinating over 130 known plants. Including, many fruits, vegetables, grain crops, forage crops and more. With the recent controversy of the Colony Collapse Disorder, there has been much concern about the demise of the Honey Bee. Much research has been done to try and determine what has contributed this apparent mystery disease. Some headway has been made, with the discovery of a mite among many of the bees. Researchers feel this mite is responsible for Colony Collapse Disorder that has effected many hives throughout the country. With the threat of the disappearance of honey bees there has been much concern among many citizens. How would we overcome a crisis such as the loss of such a much needed resource as the Honey Bee? How would the crops we've come to enjoy or even depend upon get pollinated? What insect would be able to step up and take the place of the Honey Bee? These are questions deserving of much thought. Hopefully with the discovery of this mite it will put an end to Colony Collapse Disorder and the Honey Bee will be able to rebound to it's former numbers. In my yard there seems to be no shortage of these bees. I have a mystery bush blooming beside my house that is bringing them out in big numbers. My Bradford Pear is in full bloom and is equally covered in bees. I've found that they are extremely gentle when out foraging for nectar and pollen. I am able to get them to crawl onto my fingers with no fear of being stung. Near the hive would be a different story. When they have a Queen and honey stores to protect you can expect a different and much more aggressive personality to surface. Who can blame them? If someone showed up at my house and took my food and threatened my family I'd probably sting too (if I could). Last September my husband and I made a trip out to Happy Holler Conservation Area near my house. We discovered honey bees and bumble bees nectaring at the thistles and clover. What was so unique about this situation, not that they were nectaring but that the honey bees DID NOT want those bumble bees to be there. The honey bees we literally attacking the bumble bees. They were crawling all over them, biting and toe tapping them. It was actually kind of funny to see. The much larger bumble bee took no notice of them at all. It was as if a mere gnat was pestering them. They went about their business much to the aggravation of the honey bee. They were smart enough to not sting the bumble bees, obviously knowing this would be paying the ultimate price for their greed. No self respecting Honey Bee wants to die, which is exactly what happens when they sting. Their barbed stinger becomes embedded in the skin of their victim and detaches itself, pretty effectively ripping the guts right out of the poor ol' bee, who gives her life either to protect herself or her Queen. All bees found away from the hive gathering nectar and pollen will be female workers. They live about 4 to 6 weeks and work from sunup to sundown at a constant pace to provide for the hive. A Honey Bee's life is a hard one. No time for fun here. The drones or males are the loafers of the hive. They exist only to mate with females. They too pay a big price for their ardour. After mating, they will lose their sexual organs, which remains attached to the female. His guts are removed and he perishes. The drones do not have a stinger, therefore cannot sting. Late in the fall the remaining drones are forced out of the hive by the female workers. They have outlived their usefulness. Their loafing is only tolerated for just so long. They die in the cold while the females form a ball around their queen to guard her and keep her warm. They will rotate position, the bees on the outside moving to the inside of the "ball" to gain warmth, and the ones inside moving to the outside to take their turn where it is cooler. An average hive will need approximately 60 pounds of honey stores to survive the winter temperatures. Honey Bees are capable of flying at speeds of 15 mph, and beat their wings 11,400 times per minute which gives them that distinct "buzzing" sound. I am always so excited when these little gals show up in my yard. I am happy for the service they provide to my plants.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Topsy Turvy

I guess these bugs never had a momma to tell them it is rude to stand on your head while you eat. These quirky little insects went heads down for their food, either that or they are practicing for the next Insect Olympics. Insect gymnastics, the new national sport, you have to admire their technique.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Brown Lacewing

This little lacewing showed for her photo shoot, right on time.
She is quite lovely all decked out in her lace finery. And just look at those eyes, the camera loves her.
Seriously though, these are cool insects. Gardeners love them for the appetite of the offspring. The larva of these tiny little insects have a voracious hunger. They feed on aphids, thrips, leaf hopper eggs, tiny caterpillars and various other injurious insects. It is said that a single lacewing larvae could potentially consume up to 600 aphids in its youth. Earning them the name of "Aphid Lion". They spend approximately 3 weeks as a larvae, pupation occurs in the form of a tiny silken cocoon attached to a leaf. In about 2 weeks the adult will emerge. They are commonly seen at porch lights at night. The adults eat some nectar or possibly plant juices.

In this part of Missouri I typically see this species and one other, the Green Lacewing, which is a lovely shade of light lime green. They are a common sight and are often over looked because they are so ordinary. Look for them this summer, and consider yourself lucky that they are nearby helping rid your garden of all those nasty little pests bent on making a meal of your veggies and plants.

Monday, April 13, 2009

More Flower Flies

Flower flies are some of my favorite subjects to photograph. They tend to sit still long enough to ALLOW for a photo. They have beautiful coloring. Their wings are interesting in the light. Those huge eyes are funny, and captivating. Here are three more I managed to capture an image of. The first image was taken last summer inside a lily. The second one was also captured last year resting on a leaf tip. The last image was photographed this past Saturday on a fragrant bush I have in my yard that is attracting many species right now.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Rotting Log = Critter Hotel

About 5 years ago we had to cut down an old Maple tree in our back yard. This tree was very old, upwards of 50 years. It was approximately 80 feet tall and 19 feet in circumference. I was devastated when it had to be removed. Afterwards we were left with a large stump that was almost completely hollow. It had about 8 inches of good wood all the way around and the rest was rotten. We created a huge flower bed around the stump and left it as a reminder of a tree that I loved so much. Over the past 5 years many creatures have used this stump as a home base. Mice scurry in and out of it. I've even found black rat snake coiled up inside the stump. Probably after the mice. Many insects and other arthropods like the 2 jumping spiders pictured (each a different species) and a tiny millipede, hide under the bark over winter. I even discovered a nest of termites complete with eggs today. I also found a tiny cocoon (pictured), it was barely 3/8 of an inch long. I have no clue what insect created it, but it sure was small. The stump is quickly decomposing and I am sure it won't be long and it will be a mere memory much like the giant maple that gave us shade for many years.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Spring Warmth Brings Visitors

Yesterday the temperature reached 62 degrees. It was sunny and only a slight wind blowing. It was a beautiful day and it was the first day of the year that brought with it a good diversity of insects. I have a bush North of my house that is covered in little blooms that smell like perfume. I have no idea of the species of shrub that it is, but the insects loved it. The bush sounded alive with all the buzzing of little wings. , The 1st image is a Fly, The 2nd image is a Hover Fly, The 3rd image is a Sawfly.The 4th image is a Multi-Colored Lady Beetle, The 5th image is a Honey Bee, And the last two images are of black ants guarding their eggs and a soil centipede. I found them under rocks nearby the bush. I am so glad that spring is finally arriving after such a long cold dreary winter.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Little Bug Packs a Big Punch

This pretty little beetle is a trouble-maker in disguise. Many refer to it as the Spotted Cucumber Beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata), but its other common name of Southern Corn Rootworm hints at its more sinister side. Reaching barely 1/4 of inch as an adult and preferring to nectar at flowers makes this little bug seem harmless enough. Although it will munch on the leaves of many agricultural crops including corn and soybeans and can cause significant damage. It's not the adult we need fear, it is the young grub who recks havoc. (Yes, I know without the adult there would be no babies to fear, but this is my story) These little grubs tunnel into the roots and stems of many crops, and the young plants are either stunted or killed in the process. It's favorite being corn. Huge numbers of these beetles can cause much damage.They are even known vectors of bacterial wilt. Millions each year in crop loss are attributed to these little spotted beetles. There are two other subspecies of this beetle and each are equally problematic to farmers Western cucumber beetle is (Diabrotica undecimpunctata tenell) and the Western spotted cucumber beetle is (Diabrotica undecimpunctata undecimpunctata). They aren't typically found in our region, you will instead find them out west as their names indicate. As a farmers wife I can sympathize with the farmers in their constant battle to stay one step ahead of an often times unseen enemy force. The farmers job is to grow a good healthy crop, and get it to market (hoepfully for a profit) so he and his family can make a living. So when these unwelcome visitors make themselves at home in the crops, often times drastic measures have to be taken. All to often this in the form of pesticides. While I am a farmers wife I am far from an advocate of pesticides. All too often they are used in ways that cause more damage than good. Pesticides do not deferenciate between helpful insects or harmful insects. So many times the insects that actually benefit us are killed in the line of fire. I have no clear cut solution. Only opinions. I love insects, and even these little beetles are appealing to me, their pretty greenish/yellow coloring complete with black spots makes it a favorite to photograph. I rarely find them in large numbers, usually just one here and there on my flowers. I just make sure I don't point them out to my farmer husband.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Monarch Mimic

These orange striped butterflies so closely resemble the Monarch that they are often mistaken for them. They aren't even that closely related to the the monarch. This mimic is called the Viceroy(Limenitis archippus) in the family Nymphalidae. The Monarch (Danaus plexippus) is in the family Danaidae. The Monarch is usually larger than the Viceroy, and the Viceroy has a couple of distinguishing characteristics, one is the curved line on the hindwings, it looks very much like a smile. On the forewings is a black triangular shaped cell that contains two white spots. The caterpillar of the Viceroy looks entirely different from Monarch caterpillar. It is a marbled gray and brown with "horns" on its head. Whereas the monarch is recongnized by everyone as the yellow, black and white banded caterpiller found on milkweed. Viceroys were long thought of as non poisonous mimics of the Monarch and therefore were avoided by predators who also avoided the Monarch. New research indicates that the Viceroy may in fact be poisonous too or at least distasteful to would be predators. Viceroys are found throughout all of the Eastern United States. They will be seen in many types of habitats, including meadows, gardens, prairies, backyards, and open fields. Early adults that first appear in the spring will feed on aphid honeydew, carrion, dung, and decaying fungi. Later generations will feed on nectar from flowers as they begin to bloom. Caterpillars feed on plants in the willow family as well as cottonwoods and poplar.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Garden Spider

These lovely spiders are commonly called Black & Yellow Garden Spiders. They belong to the family of Orb Weavers (Araneidae). This one is in the Genus Argiope, and are sometimes called Argiope Weavers.These are very common in Missouri, hanging out in our gardens. Each year I have several that build their intricate webs in various places in my yard. Their webs are unmistakable, they feature a unique "Zig-Zag" pattern. This zig-zag is called a stadiliamenta, and you will find the female resting upside down on top of the zig-zag. I am always pleased to see them, not only for the insect control they provide, but for their gorgeous coloring. The much smaller and more drably colored male will approach a female with which he is wants to mate. In order to determine if she is receptive of his attentions he will tap out an elaborate little dance on the strings of the web. If she approves of his dance steps she will allow mating to occur, if not he may become dinner. After mating, the female will create an egg sac to house her eggs in. It will contain numerous young spiderlings. This sac will overwinter in a corner of the web near vegetation. In late spring the young will hatch and after their first molt they will diperse to other places. Sometimes the young spiderlings will lose a leg during the molting process. Should this occur they will generate a new leg at the next molt. Even though they are boldly colored they are considered harmless to human. They do have venom just like all spiders, but it is not known to be toxic. If handled inappropriately they would probably bite. Pictured:The 1st picture is of a female using her coloring to her advantage, as you can see even though they are brightly colored it still aids in their ability to camouflage themselves. 2nd picture is the much smaller male. The 3rd picture is a large female wrapping up a small butterfly in a silken cocoon to consume later. The 4th picture is the same large female in the signature pose, hanging out upside down in their web. Look for these wonderful spiders mid-summer in your flower beds and gardens. Be thankful they are there performing a great service.

Friday, April 3, 2009


Many people mistakenly believe that these little prehistoric-looking creatures are insects. Insects possess 6 legs, whereas these little armored tanks have 7 pairs of legs. In fact they are land crustaceans and are more closely related to shrimp, lobster and crayfish. I've heard of people who cook them and say they even have a seafood type smell much like shrimp. As children we often referred to them as "ball bugs" or "Roly Poly's" from the habit they have of rolling themselves into little balls when they feel threatened. Not every species has this unique ability, but the one pictured does. This armored covering gives them a certain amount of protection. Even their Genus name of Armadillium hints at a land mammal we all are familiar with and that is the Armadillo. Just look at the outer shell and you can see without much imagination the similarities. They vary in color from light gray to a very dark gray. Most species of these little creatures are aquatic, but many have adapted well to life on land by hanging out in moist areas, such as under rocks, under leafy vegetation, or bark. They breathe through gills, which means survival without moisture would be impossible for them. Often times they will find their way into our basements, although they pose no health risk to humans, it could mean that you have humidity problem in your basement. Too much moisture is great for them, but bad for our homes. They therefore are an indicator to us of other issues involving our structures. They have an unusual life cycle. After mating, the females will carry the eggs around in a special pouch on her lower abdomen, when the tiny offspring hatch she will "deliver" her babies in what appears to be live birth. They live on dead decaying plant and animal matter, algae, moss, and bark. In greenhouses they will live off the plants, in large numbers they can be detrimental to greenhouses. These bring back fond memories of my childhood. Many a summer day were spent in fascination of these little critters. I used to turn rocks over to see what was living underneath, and was never disappointed by the large numbers of these that were present. Depending upon what part of the country or even the world you are from they go by many different names. One of the most charming is the title of this blog, but many other names are fun as well. Including: Pill Bug (which I assume comes from the fact that these bugs are high calcium carbonate and were used to treat tummy aches in some parts of the world), also sow bug, ball bug, armadillo bug ( I can see that), potato bug, roly poly, and doodle bug. These little creatures are a great way for kids to explore the world of Arthropods, they do not bite, they aren't overly large or intimidating, and when they roll into a little ball they are sure to charm your kids much like they did me so long ago.