Friday, May 29, 2009


Here are some unusual spiders that I have spotted this year. The first one is an orb weaver. It had captured some delectable little insect to dine on. The second one I have no idea of the species or even the genus. It was hiding on the backside of a blade of grass. It was very tiny at around 3/8 of an inch legs and all. It's coloring was very beautiful. I can't help but be a bit freaked out by these eight legged creatures, but even though I have many trepidations about them I am still fascinated by their life styles, shapes, sizes and coloring. I recognize spiders are hugely beneficial and I am grateful for their presence in my yard. I just want to make darn sure I know where they are before they know where I am. Want to see a completely hysterical woman, just let one of these things end up on me without my invitation!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

More Pretty Flower Flies

These are some more images of flower flies and others that I have taken this spring. Their sizes and colors vary so much that they make for interesting subjects to photograph. Some, like the first one resemble yellowjackets. In fact when I first spotted this one I thought it was a wasp. It flew so quickly that the image quality is very poor, but I decided to share it anyway, simply because it is so pretty, and it is a great example of mimicry. The one on the white daisy-like flower has a visitor with it, a very tiny nymph, believed to be a lacewing nymph.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


These images are of the Silver-Spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus). They are one of the most common skippers in Missouri. We see many of them this time of year along the timber edges as well as visiting flowers in my gardens. They grow to about 1.75 to 2.25 inches, making them the largest skipper in our area. Their coloring is not as spectacular as other butterflies, but they are certainly pretty in their own right. Their upperwings are drab brownish-black with orangish colored wing bars. Their underwings feature the white or silvery spots from which they get their name. Look for them at woodland edges, open fields, roadsides, gardens and near streams. Adults prefer nectar from flowers with hues of red, blue, pink or purple. May also be found at white or cream colored flowers. The host plant for the caterpillars varies to include Black Locust, Honey Locust, False Indigo, and many other woody legumes. You will find adults perched upside down on the underside of leaves and night or during the hottest parts of the day.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Unknown Tiger Beetle--Ted this one is for you.

While in Fillmore, MO today I decided to do some bug hunting with the camera. Joey spotted this pretty tiger beetle. I managed to get a few pictures of it before it disappeared. True to their nature they are difficult subjects. Very quick and flighty. Ted this is a shout out to you, do you know which one this is? I thought it was the Six-Spotted Tiger Beetle but there are no visible spots that I can see. It was roughly 1/2 inch long, bright iridescent green and blue legs.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Spittle Bugs

Spittle bugs are a common sight in the spring and summer, and may go unnoticed by many. I've had children ask me during nature hikes "who spit on the grass?" I am always happy to tell them it is an insect, a spittle bug to be exact. Most of the time it takes some convincing, so I will gently sift through the "spit" and show them a tiny insect nymph hiding inside. This fascinates the kids and I must say I find it quite fascinating myself. Without knowing that an insect had created such a clever hideout to grow in; one would never know and would absolutely assume as these children often do that someone had very bad manners and "spit" on the grass. The spittle bugs are from the Cercopidae family of insects in the order Homoptera which means same wing bugs. There 24,000 species of spittle bugs Worldwide, and 54 species are known in North America, but in Missouri there are four that are most commonly seen, two reside in pine or conifer trees and the other two typically are found in meadows or areas with tall grasses. The species Philaenus spumarius is one of the meadow spittle bugs whose juveniles or nymphs are a brown color with spots and known to feed mostly on alfalfa and clover. The species Lepyronia quadrangularis is the second, this species of the meadow spittle bugs. It can be identified by the two oblique bands across its back and its preference for feeding on grass. I believe the mass of spit pictured here is from the first one, spumarius. This species is the most common in the Midwest. These little wads of spit are all over near our garden and along the edges of our fields where the grasses tend to get very high and overgrown. The female lays eggs in late summer or early fall, usually in August or September that overwinter, in the spring. The eggs hatch and the young nymphs climb onto the grasses or conifers, and begin feeding, they will create this frothy mixture of spit from their nether regions. They pump their bodies to create the froth then use their back legs to cover themselves with it. It is believed that this foamy mixture keeps the nymph moist so that is does not dry out, it may also be a form of protection from potential predators, after all who wants to sift through spit to get to your meal? In large numbers these insects can cause significant damage to grass crops like alfalfa and clover. The young nymphs use their piercing sucking mouth parts to puncture plants and extract the juices. The plants will wilt and are often times stunted and this greatly reduces yields. The adults will also feed on these same plants that they grew up on, once the plants begin drying out and dying they will move to fresh plants in another area. The adults are not known to cause significant damage to alfalfa crops. Spittle Bugs feed on over 400 varieties of plants. As a young nymph they are a light green color, when they become adults they turn pale green or yellow, or some species will have bands of color on them. Other species, typically the ones who feed on conifers will be brown as adults. In some areas they are called "Froghoppers" from their ability to hop great distances for their small size and they somewhat resemble frogs. If you don't mind sifting through some sticky wet spit, look and see what is lurking inside.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Missouri Mosquito?

I can recall as a child when these large insects would show up in spring, my brothers and I were convinced they were the largest mosquitoes anyone ever had seen. Even their locally common name of "Mosquito Hawk" implied a mosquito to not be messed with, can you imagine the welt caused from that bite? To this day I know of people who believe them to be mosquitoes. So that gives me some comfort in letting me know I wasn't the only one who thought that. Now I know better, and realize these flying giants are nothing more than a harmless fly, "crane fly" to be exact. Although I do prefer another common name that these flies are known to be called and that is "GollyWhopper" how fun is that name? Crane flies are a common sight this time of year and throughout the early summer. There are so many different species I can't begin to tell one from another with any accuracy, and with over 14,000 species occurring Worldwide it's no wonder. They appear to be gangly, or all legs when one first sees them, their bodies are often impossibly thin and they often rest with their wings outstretched. Some tropical species are known to reach 5 inches across, now that is a big 'GollyWhopper". Most of them in Missouri are around 1 inch but I know I've seen some around here that are pushing the 2 inch mark. They are weak and poor fliers, when disturbed they rarely fly more than a few feet from where they orginally were. They are very delicate, and when captured it is common for a leg to fall off, sometimes even with the most careful of handling this can occur. They are completely harmless to humans. Many of their common names such as the one mentioned above of Mosquito Hawk as well as other names like Skeeter Eater, and Mosquito Eater hint that they may feast on summers most annoying pest, I'm sad to say it isn't so. They do not feed on mosquitoes. Good news is they won't feast on us either. The female crane fly carries eggs in her abdomen which will give her a swollen appearance, she also has an ovipositor that extends from the back of her abdomen which is often mistaken for a stinger. The sole purpose of this appendage is to deposit her eggs in a suitable sight for hatching, she doesn't have the ability to sting you with it. Some crane flies in the larval stage will feed on mosquito larva, and adults feed exclusively on nectar if they feed at all, which many species do not. Most crane fly larva feed on plant roots and can cause some damage to turf and grasses. The young larva have a set of their own interesting nick-names which include "leatherjackets", "leatherbacks", "leatherback bugs" or "leatherjacket slugs", supposedly this comes from the way that they move. Less than 2% of crane fly species have been studied so little is know about the life cycles of many species. Some are aquatic in the larval stage most others are not. These awkward looking, longlegged creatures are fascinating in their own right. We have thousands of them near our timber each evening, fluttering around in the vegetatation clinging to the leaves of plants with those longggg legs. I can see subtle differences between certain individuals which tells me there are many species present, but it is beyond my expertise to give them a name,beyond calling them crane fly. The birds feast on these insects in large numbers, so they become part of the food chain and are a staple for many insect eating birds. Take a walk near some timber I can almost guarantee you will see these guys. Can't go for a walk? Turn on the porch light, they are attracted to light and will be found there as well. Happy hunting, but leave the mosquito repellent at home.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Striped Cucumber Beetle

This is the Striped Cucumber Beetle (Acalymma vittatum). They are found throughout the Eastern United States. These are a small beetle at around 1/4 of an inch in length and very beautifully marked. All over yellow with three black stripes on their elytra (wings), and a black head. They are common in agricultural areas and near gardens. The ones pictured here were near my in-laws garden, in Fillmore, MO. Mating takes place in spring, and the female will lay her eggs in the soil at the base of food plants, the eggs hatch and the young larva feed on the roots of plants. In the case of this beetle the food of preference is melons, cucumbers, squash and other vining plants. The adults will chew holes in the leaves from the underside and leave a "Window Pane" effect. This causes significant damage to the plant and can cause the leaves to wilt and turn brown, often killing the plant. In large numbers these beetles can be detrimental to a garden or agricultural crop of these plants. These beetles are also know to spread bacteria wilt to plants, it is spread through the wounds left b ehind from the beetle feeding. Pretty to look at but frightful in large numbers to the gardner who cherishes his melons.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Northern Green Striped Grasshopper

I believe this little grasshopper is the female "Northern Green Striped Grasshopper" Joey and I made a trip out to Happy Holler to look at the river which was flooded from recent heavy rains. We decided to take pizza with us and have a little picnic. After we were finished eating I explored the grasses and bushes nearby and found this little grasshopper trying pitifully to hop away. Some of her legs were missing and she seemed to be having some difficulty in navigating where she wanted to go. She tended to stay close to the ground under the grasses making it very difficult to capture a picture. I finally placed her on top of this clover bloom and managed to take a few photos before she once again disappeared in the grasses below. This species is quite common in our area. Males are marked very differently from the females. Males will be all brown, and blend in well with dirt and dried grasses. You will find them in moist habitats such as near rivers, where this one was. Also found in prairies, grasslands and grassy slopes. These are not considered a significant pest to agricultural crops as their numbers in any given area are usually not too high. They prefer to eat succulents but will also feed on a variety of low growing grasses. Mating occurs in late summer, with females depositing eggs that hatch late in the season, these young nymphs will overwinter. In the spring the nymphs become active again and begin feeding and finish their growth cycle. Typically these are the first grasshoppers seen in the spring.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Honey Bee Swarm

I've posted about Honey Bees before and they continue to be one of my favorite things to write about. They are fascinating in their lifestyles and habits. Yesterday my husband, Joey and I went to a farm in Fillmore, MO that his family owns. This farm is situated near the Nodaway River and is a favorite place for wildlife viewing. On this particular visit, Joey said he heard bees, and they were loud. After listening closely I too could hear them. We carefully made our way to where the sound was coming from, as we got closer they got louder. I was the first to spot the swarm of bees high in a tree top. It was a fairly large swarm, I estimated it at about 20,000 bees or so. The sound was deafening below the tree. It is unbelievable how loud they are, when we first heard them we were easily 100 yards from them, possibly closer to 150 yards. We could see scouts leaving the swarm a few at a time, and then return a few minutes later. I assume these were reporting to the group if a suitable location had been found to set up home.
Swarming is common behavior among bees. When a hive becomes too over-populated part of the hive will disperse and create new hives. This phenomena usually occurs in the spring. There is an old saying that goes:
A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay;
A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon;
A swarm of bees in July isn't worth a fly.

There is some truth to this, swarming in May will allow the bees time to stock pile honey reserves to survive the cold winter, in June their chances are still good, but in July it is pushing things. They may not be able to gather enough pollen and nectar to create their valuable life source. Swarms are usually not bothersome, and rarely aggressive. It is just a bit intimidating to witness. So many bees in a large concentration can scare a person who does not understand what is going on, or if you are allergic to bee stings it can be frightful thinking about all those bees descending on you at once. This will not happen, these bees are more intent on finding a suitable spot for a new hive, than they are in defending anything. Even though their queen is with them, they do not normally cause any problems to humans that may be nearby. When a swarms first sets out they generally will fly to the top of a tree or other vantage point. The cohesiveness of the swarm is from the pheromone the queen emits that the other bees are attracted to. Once a scout locates a good spot for the hive to set up home, he will transmit this information to the swarm by excitedly dancing on the perimeters of the cluster of bees. The scout who has the most excited story to tell is the one the swarm will follow to their new home. This will usually be inside a hollow tree, or possibly a nearby abandoned building such as a home, shed or barn. If for some reason the queen rejects the new site, the swarm will follow her to wherever she lands and the search will continue until the queen approves of the site. The phenomena of swarming bees is becoming a rarer sight over the years. The presence of a two different mites have greatly reduced the populations of wild bees, and fewer people are keeping bees than in previous years. So to actually witness something like this is a privilege indeed.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tiger among the flowers

This gorgeous butterfly is the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). Relatively large at up to 6 inches, they are a common sight throughout the eastern portion of the United States as well as into portions of Canada. This butterfly cannot be mistaken for any other species in the east, with their bright yellow wings and black wing stripes they are uniquely marked. There is a western species that is very similar and will be found in the western portion of the United States. A color morph has developed that is mostly black. Presumably this is a mimic to the pipevine swallowtail which is poisonous to potential predators. This would afford the tiger swallowtail some protection from hungry predators. Look for them in gardens, at forest edges, along roadsides, and in meadows. Where the adults will be found nectaring at various flowers, especially lilac, sweet william, wild cherry etc. The larval host plant varies to include: Ash, lilac, tulip tree, willow, cottonwood and basswood. The young caterpillars resemble bird droppings. The one pictured was nectaring at Sweet William. I've seen several of these already this year. Most of them have been near our timber.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Molt in Progress

There is something to be said for "being at the right place at the right time". I came across this scene one evening last August. This differential grasshopper was attached to the leaf of a milkweed plant. I was fortunate enough to see this transformation from beginning to end. It took about 45 minutes for it to complete the molt (instar) and another hour before he had pumped enough fluids into his wings and could jump away. I can see why this would be a very vulnerable period for an insect. They are helpless against the need to lose a skin they have outgrown. The process is not a fast one, and as they go through the grueling process they are unable to retreat, or use any other defense that would normally be at their disposal. I'm sure many insects are sacrificed during a molting period. If you look at the pictures closely you can see just how small the shed skin is in comparison to how large the grasshopper looks. As he was slowly relieving himself of his skin he was pumping fluids into his body and that was making him larger. No need for steroids when you are an insect.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bug Porn

Love is in the air. All these little bugs getting busy creating more little bugs. The pictures in order are:
1.) Crane Flies
2.) Flesh Flies
3.) Syriphid Flies
4.) Large Milkweed Bugs
5.) Convergent lady beetles

Someone should tell them to get a room.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Little Stinkers

Stink bugs are a common sight throughout the spring and summer. I find them in my gardens in large numbers. Many people don't realize how diverse they are and how many different species there actually are.

1.) Stink bug nymph
2.)Twice-Stabbed Stink Bug
3.) Brown Stink Bug
4.) Green Stink Bug
5.) Anchor Stink Bug (red form)
6.) Anchor Stink Bug (white & bronze form)

With over 200 species throughout North American there is no shortage of individuals to see or photograph. All of the images here were taken in Fillmore and Savannah Missouri. The color variations are only limited to your imagination. The anchor stink bug alone can have many different color forms, ranging from red, white, black and iridescent blue or purple. Most are shield shaped and thus are sometimes called Shield Bugs. Most species overwinter as adults. When spring arrives they become active again and start seeking mates. The females will lay eggs in clusters on leaves. after the eggs hatch the young nymphs will begin feeding. Most prey on other insects. As adults their diets vary by species, some will pierce plants with their "beak" and suck the juices from the stems of the plants. They can cause serious damage to plants. Other species (Anchor Stink Bug) prey on insects, especially caterpillars. These species are considered beneficial because of this. You will find them in various types of habitats, including gardens, meadows, roadsides, agricultural areas, etc. Stink Bugs get their name aptly enough from the foul-smelling excretion they exude when disturbed.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Pink-Spotted Lady Beetles

Today's gorgeous weather prompted me to make a trip to one of the farms my in-laws own. I spent over 4 hours outside walking the perimeters of the property searching for interesting insects. I came upon these lovely little ladybugs. They are the Pink-Spotted Lady Beetle. They are native to Missouri as well as all of the Eastern United States. They are a common sight in Missouri. Just like other ladybugs they are beneficial to have in your garden as they consume large amounts of aphids and other harmful insects. Mating occurs in the spring, and I found several amorous couples during my expedition. The female can lay between 200 and 1000 eggs in a two to three month time span. She will deposit the eggs in small clusters on the leaves of plants, usually near a ready supply of food, like aphids. It takes them about 4 to 6 weeks to complete their life cycle and become the adults you see pictured here. They are a lovely shade of deep pink with black spots. Their bodies are more elongated then most ladybugs, and they are approximately 1/4 inch long. In the fall large numbers of these will sometimes aggregate looking for areas to overwinter. Look for them in gardens, roadsides, near agricultural areas, prairies, open fields and meadows.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bumble Bees

There are over 50 known species of bumble bees in North America. Most of us are familiar with these fuzzy fat pollinators. They are a common sight among flower beds and gardens throughout Missouri as well as all of the United States. Each spring I spot the first bumbles in the middle of April as the weather starts to warm. These are the young queens that have overwintered in some obscure shelter, hidden away from the harsh winter weather. These new queens will be searching for proper areas to build their hive, and for food. Often times they will dig out an underground cavern and lay their eggs in the cells they create. Sometimes they will use hollow trees, or old buildings. After securing a home base she will then seek food for her offspring. The food that she gathers will be used to store within the hive in little "honey pots." It is this store of food that she will survive upon and feed her young with. She alone will feed these new larva, and she will not leave them, they must be kept at a constant temperature and she uses her body to provide the correct warmth (30 degrees celsius). Once they have pupated and matured into the adults we all know and recognize, these new bumble bees will then take over the hive duties and the queens job will be egg production. These new workers will be sterile females, they will not mate. They instead will gather pollen and nectar for the growing brood and will guard the hive and perform other hive duties. Late in the season the queen will lay eggs that will be males. Once these eggs have hatched and the little grubs have fully developed the queen will mate with these male offspring. The resulting eggs from this union are destined to be fertile females capable of mating. These young females will mate at the end of the warm season, usually in the fall. As the weather turns colder the colony will die, with exception to the young mated queens. These will find shelters to overwinter and the cycle will begin again with the return of spring. For the past week I've seen several of these bees buzzing around our flower beds. They have been nectaring at the honeysuckle, wild plums and crabapple blooms. Generally speaking these foragers are not aggressive. This year I have noticed a difference in their behavior, they seem much less tolerant of my presence, I've been dive bombed several times. Although I have not been stung, it is intimidating to have them come right at you with those loud humming wings and a very angry attitude. I stand my ground and they give up the pretence. I've also found several hives on our property. While I've walked the boundaries of our land I have noticed these bees hovering close to the ground, then they land, and disappear underground. Within a few minutes they return to the surface and fly off. I know of 6 potential hives. Seems we will have a busy bunch of buzzing bumble bees soon (say that fast 3 times, hehehe). Most of us have heard that if a honey bee stings you, it will die. This is absolutely true, they have a barbed stinger that comes detached after penetrating your skin, this in effect rips their guts out and they perish. Bumble Bees on the other hand do not have a barbed stinger, therefore they are able to sting numerous times. It would be a very unpleasant experience to have a large bumble bee mad at you. In mid summer you will see an increase in the number of these bees, this is due to the fact that the males (drones) have appeared on the scene. They are actively seeking mates and foraging in our gardens. DON'T PANIC" This increase in numbers will cause you no harm, they are unable to sting, drones possess no stinger. Don't let the presense of these large bees keep you from enjoying your outdoor activities. Truthfully unless you disturb the hive or act aggressively towards them you have nothing to fear, they do not wish to have a confrontation anymore than you do. Remain calm and motionless and chances are they will pay you no mind at all.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Big-Headed Ground Beetle

This scary looking little ground beetle was crawling in the mulch in one of my flower beds. I believe it to be the Big-Headed Ground Beetle (Scarites subterraneus), although it has not been positively identified. I think it should be called "Scary-Pincher Ground Beetle" Just look at those mandibles! This beetle was approximately one inch long, and completely shiny black. The elytra were grooved and it had this impossibly thin "Waist."It is this waist that gives this beetles its other common name of Punduculate Ground Beetle. A peduncle is a narrow area connecting two wider areas, in the case of this beetle it refers to the tiny waist connecting the eyltra to the pronotum. These are crazy-looking beetles. They are a fairly common beetle and are nocturnal. They will be found at lights at night where they prey on other insects. With those jaws I am guessing very little gets away from them. It is even reported that they will feed on the remains of their own kind in a form of cannibalism. Look for them in yards, gardens, open fields and farms, where they will be hiding under stones, or in leaf litter. They occur in almost all regions of the United States with exception to the Pacific Northwest. A unique habit of these beetles is to stiffen its body and play dead when being disturbed, which is exactly what this particular beetle did, although I refused to pick it up. I wasn't brave enough to find out if it bites or not. I've been bit, pinched, stung and had formic acid sprayed on me, all unintentionally. I wasn't about to tempt the fates and purposely do something to get me bit!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


While out mushroom hunting the other day I came across this fly on a leaf. At first she was sharing her leaf with a male, and it appeared they were mating. As I approached the male departed but the female stayed behind. I believe this to be a female March Fly. They are throughout the United States and can be found in various habitats. Often found in grassy areas, timbered areas (such as this one), meadows, yards, etc. They are small flies and typically will be black, although some females of certain species will have a reddish thorax (like my female pictured). March flies are some of the oldest flies in the world with fossil records dating back to the Jurassic Period. They are considered to be pollinators of some plants, but in large numbers they can also be harmful to turf and grasses. The adults of many species in this family of flies do not eat, instead they exist solely on the food they consumed while in the larval stage. Like the title of this blog says, some refer to them as "Lovebugs".

Monday, May 4, 2009

Pearls in the Timber

This pretty little gem is the Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos). They are a rather small butterfly with a wingspan of about 1-1 3/4 inches. They are one of the most common species of butterflies in the Eastern portion of the United States. They are found in a variety of habitats, including timber edges, roadsides, backyards, gardens, meadows, etc. This one was found near some timber dividing our crop ground. I spotted it near the ground, it was hard to miss with those bright orange wings. I approached it and found that it was very tame. It allowed me to place it on my finger. I placed it back on the vegetation and it spread its wings and posed for the second photo. Very cooperative I must say. The adults of this butterfly nectar at various flowers including aster, milkweed, dogbane and wintercress. The caterpillars host plant are asters. Their coloration can vary a little. Spring and fall broods have a mottled grayish-brown underwings. Some will have black spots on the hindwings near the margin.