Monday, November 30, 2009

Mystery Nymph

Does anyone out there in Cyberspace have a clue what this little nymph grows up to be? I found several of them in some tall grasses back in September and October. I have not been able to identify them. I never did see them as an adult, at least I don't think so.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Red-Lined Carrion Beetle

Red-Lined carrion beetles (Necrodes surinamersis) are large beetles that measure up to 1 1/2 inches.They are all black with a red line at the base of their elytra (wings), from whence they get their name. This line may look more orange rather than red in many specimens, such as the one pictured here. Red-Lined Carrion Beetles are found throughout the Eastern and Central portions of the United States, also including Montana,Utah and the Pacific Northwest. When it is time to find mates the adults will breed on dead carcasses. The eggs are laid in the soil near the carcass and after hatching the young larvae will feed on the dead flesh or the maggots that are on the carcass. When the larvae reaches full size it will drop to the ground and pupate in the soil. The adults will overwinter in leaf litter. These beetles can be found in almost any habitat that contains a dead, or decaying carass. They seem to be particularly fond of bird carcasses. As people we take for granted (or we don't give it a thought at all) the decomposition of dead or decaying animals that meet their demise. If it weren't for beetles such as these and many other creatures that survive by consuming these stinky, rotten bodies it wouldn't be long before we would be overrun in nasty dead flesh. We should give thanks that these beetles do what they do!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Differential Grasshoppers


Differential Grasshoppers (Melanoplus differentialis) are probably one of the most common of all the grasshoppers in Missouri. They have a distinguishing herringbone pattern on their hind legs, and are various shades of olive green with yellowish hind legs. They will range in size from 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 inches.

Mating occurs in late summer and early fall. The females will press long eggs masses into the ground, near weeds. She may lay up to 8 egg masses each containing about 25 eggs. The eggs will overwinter and hatch the following spring. The newly born nymphs look very much like the adults. They will shed their exoskeleton (outer skeletal skin) several times over a course of two months before reaching adult size (picture 3). It is common to see these shed skins hanging from branches or grasses. Looking very much like they were scared right out of their skin and left it behind.

They are found in a wide variety of habitats, including meadows, tall grassy areas, backyards, gardens, open fields and along stream sides. The nymphs and adults both feed on various grasses and crops, including corn, soybeans, alfalfa, cotton, vegetables, fruit trees, and other small grains.

These grasshoppers have many predators, which include birds, toads, frogs, raccoons, opossums, turtles, bats, praying mantids, red fox, dragonflies, yellow jackets, fish, shrews, lizards, chipmunks, squirrels, spiders, centipedes, crickets, beetles, and the neighborhood cat. The larvae of the Blister Beetles use the eggs of grasshoppers as their primary food source.

Sometime in the fall when the temperatures begin to drop, and the first freeze hits, the adults will perish. Often time frozen right to the spot that they had been clinging to. It is almost eerie to come across one of these dead grasshoppers, it is almost like some mass weapon of destruction came through and freeze-dried them.(Last 2 pictures)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Silver-Spotted Skipper

Silver-Spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus) is one of the largest skippers in North America. They are found throughout most of the United States with exception to western Texas and the Great Basin. These pretty butterflies are probably one of the most commonly seen of all the butterflies in most of their range. In Northwest Missouri, they are extremely plentiful and we begin seeing them about the end of April. They can easily be identified by their silvery-white band on their underwings. The upperwings are predominately brown with some burnt-orange markings of the forewings. They have a wingspan up to 2 5/8 inches.

After mating, the females will lay their eggs near a wide variety of host trees, including Black Locust, Honey Locust, False Indigo, and other Woody Legumes.  The caterpillars must seek their own host tree. The young caterpillars will live in shelters made of folded leaves, and older caterpillars will live in silked-together leaf shelters. Once they reach full size they will form a chrysalid and overwinter in this stage. The following spring the new butterflies will emerge.

They can be found in a wide variety of habitats such as open woodlands, fields, along roadways, in gardens and along stream sides. The adults seem to prefer flowers with hues of red, blue, pink, purple and sometimes white or cream colored. They are often seen nectaring at thistle, red clover, milkweed and a whole host of others. At night the adults will perch up side down underneath leaves, they can also be found in this position during the hottest days of summer as well as rainy/cloudy days.

I am so ready for the return of spring, all those pretty butterflies, and the warmth of sunshine.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Carolina Mantid

Carolina Mantids are native to Missouri as well as most of the Eastern United States, Mexico and California. They are much smaller than the non-native Chinese Mantid. The maximum length of these mantids is approximately 3 1/4 inches. Whereas Chinese Mantids may reach lengths up to 5 inches.

 Carolina Mantids come in a variety of colors ranging from brown, green, and speckled brown. Their color camouflages them against the vegetation that they hang out on. This protects them from predation as well as allowing them to remain stealth and hidden from the prey they are seeking to feed on.
To tell the difference between males and females is pretty easy when you know what to look for. The female will have wings that do not cover her abdomen. She will also have a fatter looking abdomen for carrying eggs. The male will have much longer wings that generally cover his abdomen entirely, and they are much thinner in appearance. The antennae on the male is much thicker, presumably to allow him to pick up the scent given off by females ready to mate.


These insects are master hunters, they will wait patiently on plants, hidden, and quietly observing their surroundings. When a likely victim comes into range, the mantid will dart out with lightening speed and grasp onto the unsuspecting quarry. Their front legs are powerful, so once captured the poor victim stands little chance of escaping. The mantid will usually begin by eating the head off of the poor innocent insect, after all that is where the brains are located,  and one musn't waste those.  The mantid will eat every last drop, with exception to Moth and Butterfly wings, I guess there isn't much there. For us it would be compared to eating the feathers off a chicken......ppphhttteee, YUCK!

In late summer the female will begin "calling" for males. She does this by releasing pheromones (chemical perfume). This cocktail of perfumes is truly irresistible to the males of her species. They will come from great distances to mate with her. I know most of you have heard the tale about the male mantis losing his head while mating. While this is true in some cases, this isn't always the case. Sometimes the male just isn't preforming up to her standards, and to encourage him along she will chomp off his head. For some reason this turns him into the Don Juan of the insect world and he will mate with a vim and vigor to be envied my males everywhere. This also provides the female with extra nutrition, which will help her with egg production. If the male meets with the approval of the female, he may retain his head and his life to mate again. After mating, the female will lay her eggs within a foamy egg case that resembles styrofoam when it is dry. This egg case is called an ootheca. The eggs will overwinter until spring when the young will leave the safety of their styrofoam nest for the first time. Often times the first meal of these newborns will be their siblings. The most agile and strongest will survive. They feed on tiny insects. They are slow growing and will reach their full adult size by the end of the summer.

Praying Mantids can be found in a wide variety of habitats, including open fields, meadows, backyards, along roadsides, gardens, and prairies. Look for them most anywhere they can find insect prey to feed on. Their favorite foods seem to be moths, butterflies, and flies, but they will feed on a wide host of insects. Praying Mantids seem to possess a personality, they will follow you with their heads and eyes, always aware of your location. I've even had them crawl off a bush right onto my camera, and ultimately my face, as if they are curious as to why I am taking their picture. Let me tell you, it will give you quite a start to have one of these guys land smack-dab in the middle of your face. Like all insects that are predators, they have the ability to bite, but if handled gently this shouldn't be a concern. I've handled them many times and have never been bitten. They are easily kept as pets, a large jar with some holes punched in the lid, and a ready supply of insects, a light misting of the jar each day and you are good to go.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Blog Award

Thank you Paula for granting me the honor of Best Blog. To visit Paula's wonderful blog just click this link---Paula's Blog

Eastern Pondhawk

This beautiful green dragonfly is the Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simpliciolis). They are primarily a species of the Eastern United States. They are found in the Great Plains States, Texas as well as a few isolated populations in Arizona and New Mexico. They are an average sized dragonfly  measuring up to 2 1/2 inches. With their all over green coloring they are easily camouflaged against vegetation near the waters edge.

Mating takes place near water, and the female will lay her eggs in the vegetation in the water. The eggs hatch and the young nymphs will remain in the water feeding off aquatic insects. In about a year they will be ready to leave the water for the first time and shed their skin to become the gorgeous adult that you see here. They will climb onto a stick, rock or other solid surface. While they cling to this vantage point their skin will split down the back and the dragonfly hidden within will crawl out leaving its shed skin behind. The dragonfly is completely helpless at this point. It cannot swim away, crawl away or fly away. The dragonfly will  begin pumping its wings to allow fluid to reach them. This fluid will engorge the wings and ready them for flight. Once the dragonfly has sufficiently dried itself and its wings are strong enough, it will take flight for the first time. Soon after its maiden voyage it will begin seeking mates. This will begin the cycle all over again.

They are typically associated with ponds or lakes, but they will also be found along creeks and slow moving streams. They are commonly found flying around meadows and open fields where they are looking for insect prey. They will dart after some delicious-looking insect and snatch it up with their powerful legs. Sometimes they will carry it back to a perch and feed, but more often they will feed while in flight.
This dragonfly also goes by the names of Green Jacket or Common Pondhawk. These are probably one of the most easily found and observed of all the dragonflies in Northwest Missouri. I come across them quite frequently, and I am always excited to see them. 

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fishing Spider

Fishing Spiders in the genus Dolomedes are sometimes called Raft Spiders, Dock Spiders, and Wharf Spiders.There are over 100 species Worldwide and about 9 of them live in North America. These are large spiders, some females can reach impressive lengths with 3 1/4 inch leg spans. Their coloring is usually cryptic, and will be brown, reddish-brown, tan or grayish. These muted colors help them blend in with logs and vegetation on or near the water where they are frequently found. Almost always these spiders will be associated with water, there is one exception, there is a species that lives in trees in the Southwestern United States. They will sit with their front legs resting on the water, by doing this they are able to detect vibrations on the waters surface caused by potential prey. Some of the larger species within this genus are able to capture small fish, like minnows. They are covered in short velvety hairs, that are resistant to water, that enable them to basically walk on water, much like water striders do. They use the surface of the water, much like other spiders use their webs. The slightest movement can be detected by sensitive hairs on their legs. This alerts them to nearby prey. Typically they hunt at night, undercover of darkness. This gives them protection from predation from many species such as lizards, and birds which are sleeping.
The one pictured here was photographed this past summer at Happy Holler Lake in Savannah, MO while we were kayaking. It was in the middle of the lake on a stump protruding from the water. I was puzzled as to how it got there, and sent an inquiry to Eric explained that they will stow away on watercraft and climb off onto logs and such in the water. Thankfully this huge girl didn't hitch a ride on my kayak, or I'm afraid I would have flipped the kayak in my frenzy to flee such a giant spider. Like all spiders they are hugely beneficial in the control of insect populations, and I'm pretty sure they are harmless to people, unless mishandled (for the life of me I can't imagine why you would want to handle one). I have to admit though, this was one of the prettiest and biggest spiders I've ever seen.. Next time you are at the lake or your local pond hunt around the edge of the water or sneak a peak at the logs along the shore, perhaps you will find one of these camouflaged beauties, laying in wait for unsuspecting victims to pass by.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Crab Spiders

This past summer proved to be a good one for the crazy little crab spiders. These little spiders are so unique and fun to watch, that no matter how many times I find them hiding among the flowers I always am happy to see them. There are so many colors and patterns that each time I find one it is like seeing one for the first time. Just look at that face----what's not to love?

Crab Spiders get their name from their Crab-Like appearance. They hold those long legs out to the side just like a crab holds his front claws, then they complete the ruse by walking just like a crab. How cute is that? Yes, I said cute.......

Crab spiders, like all spiders are efficient at insect control, just look at this tiny baby capturing that BIG ol fly all by herself! They will often capture prey much larger than would seem possible for them to handle. Imagine that a full grown crab spider, measuring 3/4 of an inch, legs and all. will capture a full grown butterfly!

Did I mention that they are masters of disguise? Just look at this pale colored crab spider hidden on the lambs ear. Doesn't he look the same color as the plant? They seem to have the ability to change their colors to help them blend in with their surroundings. There is some speculation as to whether they actually change their color, or if they just resemble the plants near where they were born. Some species reside on the ground and live in the leaf litter and vegetation, these will be colored like the dirt and leaves they live in.

When these spiders are ready to mate, the male will offer up a juicy tidbit in the form of a fly or some other meaty insect as a nuptial gift. With any luck on the males part, she will dine on his gift and not him. After mating, the female will create an egg sac and deposit numerous eggs within this sac. They will emerge the following spring. The tiny spiderlings will be almost identical to their mother. They are so tiny when they are born it is next to impossible to see them, I once found one hidden on the spiny center of a coneflower, it was tucked away in between the spines, it was about as big as a large freckle. I'm still not sure what made me even notice it.

These spiders can look somewhat formidable, but they are completely harmless. Like any spider they have a certain amount of venom that they use to subdue their prey, but it would be harmless to humans. They are capable of biting, but would probably only do so if mishandled.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Giant Crane Fly

This beautiful insect is a Giant Crane Fly (Tipula abdominalis), they are found throughout Central and Eastern North America. They can be found anywhere there are fresh water streams. These are very large flies, like their name implies. Females measure 5 1/2 inches front to back. Males are generally smaller. The one pictured here was actually a pair mating, they were stuck to the side of our grill cover. My husband hollered for me, he had found a cool insect for me. I rushed to see what he had found, and was shocked to see these huge flies. I had never seen anything like them. I snapped a few pictures and sent one to Bugguide and they ID'd them as the Giant Crane Fly. They remained together for well over an hour. I finally lost interest in them and when I returned later they were gone. 
After mating, the female will lay her eggs within the water, and the young nymphs will live a completely aquatic life. They prefer streams where there is sufficient underwater dead or decaying vegetation. The nymphs are called Leatherjackets.  They will feed on the rotten leaf litter. There will be two generations per year, one in the spring and another in the fall. Many people mistake these large flies for mosquitoes, they are in the same order, Diptera, but they lack any functional mouth parts and therefore cannot bite humans. They do somewhat resemble mosquitoes with those long legs and thin body, and even their nicknames of "Mosquito Hawk" and "Mosquito Eater" elude to them being mosquitoes or perhaps fond of eating them. Neither is true. They are completely harmless to humans. Handling them will be far more dangerous to them, than it will be to you. Their legs are very fragile and become detached with the slightest of efforts. These flies are often attracted to lights at night and will found at your porch lights.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cabbage White Butterfly

Image by Ron Hemberger via

 Cabbage White Butterflies (Pieris rapae) are native to Europe, they were first discovered in the United States in the 1800's. They are now found throughout North America as well as Africa, Asia, and Australia. There is nothing spectacular about them, they do not have the gorgeous colors of some butterflies, or dynamic size, or gorgeous tails. What they lack in splendor they more than make up for in sheer numbers. It is not unusual to see large numbers of these butterflies puddling at mud holes, gleaning minerals from the moist earth. They are relatively small with a wingspan up to 1 3/4 inches. There are two color forms, one is white, the other is a pale yellow. The females will have two black spots on their forewings, the male only has one. There is some gray shading near the wing edges. They can be found in a wide variety of habitats, including vegetable gardens, flower gardens, parks, meadows, along roadsides, and open fields. In the spring males and females will engage in elaborate mating rituals. A male will approach a female, and if she has already mated she will show her lack of interest by their signature "Spiral flight". The two will rise into the air circling each other until the male loses interest and drops back to the ground. The female will then come slowly back down as well and begin egg laying. Look for this behavior in the summer months, since these butterflies are so common, observing this behavior shouldn't be difficult. The females use plants such as cabbage, turnips and radishes to lay their eggs on. The young caterpillars feed on the leaves of the plants. Sometimes much to the irritation of gardeners. Sevin Dust or removing the caterpillars by hand should eliminate any significant chance for the caterpillars to damage your produce. Or you can plant extra and share. Even though these butterflies aren't as spectacular as many other species, they are still a joy to watch fluttering around your flowers gathering nectar.

Pair mating

These butterflies are easily reared in classrooms, or as a 4H, or home school project. They will readily feed and pupate in captivity. It takes approximately 3 weeks for them to complete their life cycle.

And what's a butterfly? At best he's but a caterpillar at rest. -John Grey-

Friday, November 13, 2009

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher's (Pachydiplax longipennis) are one of the most common dragonflies in the United States. They are beginning to make their way to Canada and Mexico as well. They are a small to average sized dragonfly with a wingspan up to 3 inches, the length of their body is approximately 1 3/4 inches.  Blue Dasher's are all blue with bright aqua-blue eyes. The thorax is black with yellow striping. The females have a characteristic yellow stripe on their abdomen.

 Males are very territorial and will aggressively defend their territory from other males in the area. When a receptive female is located, mating will occur. They form a mating wheel, and while in this position a packet of sperm will be transferred to the female. Shortly thereafter she will begin depositing her eggs in the water on aquatic vegetation, or bottom sediment (picture 2). Once the eggs hatch the young nymphs will live an aquatic life, feeding on other aquatic insects. Once they reach maturity they will crawl out of the water onto a stick, rock or other solid surface to shed their skin for the last time. It takes them up to 2 hours or so to pump their wings full of fluid and gather enough strength to fly for the first time. These dragonflies can be found anywhere water is present, this could be ponds, lakes, streams, and wet boggy areas. These are one of the few dragonflies that are able to tolerate poorer water quality. Like all dragonflies they are meat eaters, and they will feed on flying insects. They capture insect using their powerful basket-like legs, right in mid-air, and carry their prey back to a perch to feed. This species has been observed orienting themselves in relation to the sun, either to cool themselves from the host summer sun, or to warm themselves on cooler days.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Broad-Headed Bug

There are approximately 29 species of Broad-Headed Bugs in the North America. They are true bugs in the order Hemiptera, and family Alydidae. The one pictured here I believe to be Alydus eurinus, which is a common species in the Eastern portion of the United States. 

They have a dark elongated body approximately 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch long, with  segmented antennae. Their heads are very broad, usually as wide as their thorax. It is this bodily feature that earned them their common name.The nymphs look very much likes ants. They can be found in fields, in backyard gardens, near forest edges. The adults feed on plant juices, and sometimes carrion. This one was found clinging to the side of our potting shed warming itself in the sun.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Bean Leaf Beetle

Bean Leaf Beetles (Cerotoma trifurcate) are very tiny beetles that pack a big punch. In large numbers these beetles can cause significant damage to bean crops, this is most especially true of soybeans. The main damage is to the leaves. They will also feed on corn or pumpkins. In the Midwest these beetles are becoming more common. As young grubs they will feed on the roots of their host plants, as adults they favor the leaves. They can vary greatly in color as adults, typically they will be yellowish, like the one pictured here, but they can also be red, or reddish-orange. There are four quadrangular black markings on their elytra (Wings), but this is not always the case, in some specimens these marks may be absent. The only absolute distinguishing characteristic of this beetle is a black triangle located at the top portion of the wing coverings where the wings meet the thorax. This mark is always present and separates them from other leaf beetles. The adults will overwinter in leaf litter or other ground vegetation. This will usually be alongside croplands that previously hand soybeans planted there. In the spring when warm weather returns they will become active and seek mates. After mating, the female will lay her eggs in clusters on top of the soil or near the soybean stems. The eggs will hatch in about 10 days. The grubs will burrow into the soil to feed on the roots of the soybean plant. They will live and feed in the soil for about 2 months, then emerge as adults. They are capable of 2 generations per year in most of their range. These beetles can be found from New Mexico and eastward throughout all the Eastern United States as well as parts of Southern Canada. If you notice these beetles on your plants, measures may need to be taken to apply chemicals to eradicate them. I find a few each year, but never in great enough numbers to justify applying strong chemicals to my plants that may endanger many other beneficial insects.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Convergent Lady Beetle

This tiny little lady beetle is called the Convergent Lady Beetle (Hippodamia convergens). They are native to the United States and are found throughout North America as well as parts of South America.  These beetles reach lengths up to 3/8 of an inch. Their bodies are somewhat elongated and reddish-orange.Typically they will have six black spots on each wing and a 13th spot at the top of the wings near the back of the head. Some specimens are immaculate (spottless), like the one pictured here. These are one of the most commonly purchased species from consumer supply houses by farmers and gardeners. They are used as a biological control against aphids and other harmful insects. In gardens, agricultural areas, meadows, and open fields are home to this ladybug. They will mate in the spring, and shortly thereafter the female will begin laying eggs.

She is capable of laying up to 50 eggs per day. After hatching, the tiny alligator shaped larvae will feed on nearby aphids populations. In about 28 days they will have completed their life cycles. They are capable of producing up to 5 generations per year. In the fall these beetles congregate near homes, and other hidden crevices to wait out the cold winter. They will become active in the spring when warm weather returns.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Flower Fly

This pretty little flower fly is the Common Oblique Syrphid (Allograpta obliqua). These are small flies that measure up to 3/8 of an inch. They can be found throughout most of North America. They are very common in flower beds where they will be seen nectaring at flowers. In the spring after mating the female will lay eggs on the leaves of various plants, usually near aphids. The young larvae will feed on the aphids. The adults are also partial to the honeydew that aphids produce from their anal glands. Typically these flies will be seen during the summer and early fall. On warmer days in the late fall they will be found at late blooming flowers, like these wild hollyhocks. Hardier plants like marigolds and mums will also attract them. They are sometimes called Hover Flies, from their ability to hover above flowers, they are also able to fly backwards. Syrphid Flies are considered important cross-pollinators of many plants. They are also predators of harmful aphids which attack various citrus crops,fruit trees, grains, corn, alfalfa, cotton, grapes, lettuce and other vegetables, ornamentals, and many wild host plants of the aphids. These little flies are often mistaken for sweat bees from their yellow and black banded bodies. They are beneficial and completely harmless to humans.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bald Faced Hornet

It seems that no other insect instills such automatic fear as a hornet. The Baldfaced Hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) is found throughout North America, and Southern Canada. The only exception to this will be the drier areas of the Midwest. These large wasps are not really hornets at all, they are more closely related to Yellow Jackets, and are even sometimes called Baldfaced Yellow Jackets or Aerial Yellow Jackets. Late in the summer the queen will begin laying eggs that are destined to be fertile males (drones) and females. When the larvae of these fertile offspring reach maturity, they will seek mates. Soon after mating, cold weather begins to set in and the hive member will perish, all except the new queens. These new queens will seek sheltered areas to spend the winter, commonly this will be in the soil, under bark, or dense leaf litter. In the spring with the return of warm temperatures these queens awaken and become active. Their only purpose is to locate a suitable site to begin nest building and egg laying. She will fashion a circular shaped nest, that she creates by chewing up bits of wood mixed with starches in her saliva. Within this nest she form cells, and begins depositing eggs within each cell. She will care for these offspring herself, by feeding them chewed up bits of insects. Once these larvae have matured they will be the future workers of the nest and will take over the chore of expanding it and caring for the queens offspring. As the nest expands it will take on its more famous "Football" shape. Some of these nests can get quite large, reaching lengths up to 3 feet!

 (The nest pictured here was found by my son and his boss yesterday. My son called me and asked how the best way was to get it out of the tree, where it was located 40 feet above the ground. I suggested shooting the branch it was on, and catching it before it could be smashed against the ground. I felt pretty certain that the extremely cold nights and cooler days we'd been having for weeks now would guarantee that the members of the hive were either dead or very close to it. He was a bit worried about the small chance that remained that there could still be active hornets in that hive. He found his courage, shot the nest out of the tree, put it in the truck to bring back to his bosses place. After placing it in the truck, near the heater, you can almost guess what happened next.....yes....after warming up,the ones that remained in the hive crawled out! My son drove to his bosses farm, opened the truck door and kicked it out! LOL He then called me and informed me where it was at, and if I wanted it I COULD GO GET IT!  So I retrieved the nest and brought it home. I was shocked to discover just how large this nest was. It was easily 20 inches long and had a diameter close to a basketball in size.  I peeked into the hive and noticed a very rancid smell of dead and decaying bodies. Most of the hive had long since perished. The few hardier ones that remained were moving very slow and were near death themselves. The one pictured here I was able to handle and photograph, but I am certain she isn't long for this world.)

Towards the first part of the summer as the nest is growing and the population of hornets is expanding these wasps can pose a potential threat to humans. Coming too close to the nest will irritate these hornets and you may find yourself under attack by an angry swarm of these over protective wasps. A hive may contain up to 700 individuals. That is a lot of stinging hornets! They are capable of repeated stings as they do not have a barbed stinger that becomes detached like honey bees do. Away from the nest they are no more dangerous than any other stinging insect. They are more focused on gathering food for their siblings, queen and themselves. As long as you do not swat at them or otherwise antagonize them you have nothing to fear. Make one mad however, and there are no guarantees. If one should get angry enough to sting, rest assured you may be faced with many more of her sisters all bent on attacking and coming to her defense. They possess a pheromone (Chemical perfume) that they emit when in danger or feeling threatened, other members of the hive can smell this cocktail of chemicals and will come to aid their sister.
Over all these wasps are more beneficial than harmful and should be left alone if at all possible. They kill and consume thousands of harmful insects that they feed to their siblings or consume themselves. Obviously if one of the queens decides to set up her homestead in our backyard; safety measures will need to be taken to have the nest removed. If you should happen to get stung, the best remedy for relief is baking soda, it will help reduce swelling.

Identifying these large wasps is easy. They  are all black with yellow or white markings on their face, thorax and the last few segments of their abdomen. The males will have an added yellow or white marking on the first abdominal section. Males do not possess stingers, so therefore they cannot sting. Queens are quite large and may measure up to 2 inches, female workers are closer to 1 1/4 inches. They just have a "Bad-Ass I'm in charge" kinda look about them.
In Missouri they will begin dying off around the first of November, maybe sooner if the temperatures are cold enough (like this year). If you wish to hunt for these fabulous nests and collect one....make sure the hive is abandoned or all the members have perished......plan ahead, they often build very high in trees and you need a safe way to remove it.....make sure you have permission to be on the ground where you are hunting for the nests......waiting until late fall when the leaves are off the trees and wasps are gone is the safest course to take.
It always seems like such a waste to me that these wasps work so diligently and hard all season to produce a work of art, to only die and leave the nest behind. Rarely if ever do future generations use previous nests. Time and weather will eventually destroy them, so if you are fortunate enough to find one, and can safely collect it I say do so. They are wonderful conversation pieces and great educational tools. 
Rest assured, next spring when those bred queens become active, the cycle will begin again. 

I for one feel fortunate that we have these amazing, engineering masters in Missouri.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tree Hopper

This interesting looking little insect is a Tree Hopper (Entylia carinata). They are very tiny, only  measuring approximately 1/4 of an inch. They can be a variation of many different colors, which apparently caused much confusion among early scientists. These early researchers believed each specimen to be a completely different species. Even if they were found on the same plant, feeding in the same manner. Many years passed, and much additional research has been done and we now know them to be the same species, just with color variants. The nymphs of tree hoppers will often be found with ants, these ants tend to the hopper nymphs, protecting them in exchange for honey dew. This honey dew is an excretion that the nymph produces from anal glands. It has a sugary-sweet taste that ants find irresistible.This relationship works well for each species. The little nymphs are protected from other insects that may wish to dine on them. The ants will chase of or harm any intruding insect. The ants get a sugary treat that gives them much needed nutrition.
Tree hoppers feed on a wide variety of herbaceous plants. Sometimes causing damage, if they are in large enough numbers.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pink-Spotted Lady Beetles

Pink-Spotted Lady Beetles (Coleomegilla maculata) are native to the United States and are very common in Missouri. They are fairly small, reaching lengths up to 1/4 of an inch. Their reddish or pinkish colored bodies are somewhat elongated with 6 individual spots on their elytra. The area directly behind the head can range in color from yellow to pink and has two black triangular markings.
Sometimes in the fall large aggregations of these beetles can be found under leaf litter or within stone walls and other protected sites. They don't seem to flock to our homes in large numbers like the Multi-Colored Asian Lady Beetles do. These ladybugs are much more agreeable than the non-native Asian variety, they do not bite, or give off a musky odor.
In the spring with the return of warm weather they will leave their places of shelter and begin feeding and seeking mates. After mating, the females will lay small clusters of eggs on the leaves of plants. This will generally be done near a ready food supply, like a colony of aphids. The female is capable of laying up to 1,000 eggs in a one to three month period of time. With up to 5 generations per year, they are quite prolific and their numbers are secure.
Look for them in gardens, near agricultural areas, along roadsides, in meadows, and prairies and open fields, where they will be feeding on aphids and other soft bodied insects.