Friday, December 31, 2010

Bean-Leaf Beetles

This tiny beetle is a Bean-Leaf Beetle (Cerotoma trifurcata). They are up to 1/4 of inch in length and can vary in color from red to yellowish-tan as pictured here. They will generally have four rectangular shaped spots on their elytra (wings). 
Because there is so much variation in the appearance of this beetle, including specimens that are free of the rectangular spots, that the most reliable source of identification is the triangular black marking at the base of the thorax where the wings attach. This marking is ALWAYS present on this species and will accurately help you identify them from other species of bean beetles. This particular species is found throughout the Eastern United States, parts of Canada and Mexico.

They overwinter as adults and become active in the spring with the return of warm weather (50-55 degrees). Soon after becoming active again they will begin feeding on the early foliage of soybeans and other legumes. If the spring is wet and cooler and planting of soybean crops is delayed until after June first, the chances of the first generation of these beetles becoming established is greatly reduced. Successfully bred females will deposit their eggs in soil and after hatching will feed on the roots of the plants. A single female is capable of producing up to 200 eggs. This root feeding does not usually cause significant damage to the crops, instead it is the late season feeding of the adults on the plants themselves that causes the biggest problem for soybean farmers. These adult beetles attack the foliage and the pods, and a veritable feeding frenzy will occur once the pods begin to dry out in August and September as the pods are tender and tasty, something any self-respecting adult bean-leaf beetle cannot refuse.

 Originally they were a secondary pest of soybean crops, but by the 1970's their numbers had begun to increase exponentially and they are now tied for second place as an important pest of soybean and other legumes. There are even reports of this species transferring its feeding preference over to pumpkins.

(Damage of feeding adults on soybean pods--picture taken from University of Missouri)

This intensified feeding of the adults can cause moldy beans by enabling infection to spread through micro-organisms present at the feeding sights. These micro-organisms is what leads to moldy beans. This mold may lead to incomplete development of the bean,it may also allow the beans to adhere to the pod which are then lost during the harvest process, and the presence of mold can greatly reduce the quality of the harvest and leads to dockage when selling. They are capable of having up to three generations per year, although there is only two generations in Missouri. The first and second generations are the ones most likely to cause the moldy beans syndrome. Even though late planted fields generally won't be attacked by the feeding of first generation adult beetles, they still are not free from harm as the possibility of first and second generation beetles migrating into these fields from nearby fields is a very real threat.
Early sweep netting of soybean fields can help determine the presence of these beetles and to what extent the infestation is. If there are two or more beetles per sweep and 15% or more of damage to plants, then a rescue treatment may need to be applied to the plants to offset any further damage.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rose-Haired Tarantula

Chilean Rose-Haired Tarantulas do not call Missouri home, except maybe as someones pet; as in this case. I bought the one pictured here several weeks ago from a local pet store for $17.00. They are native to Chili and for many years were imported by the thousands to the United States. Chili ceased all importation of these spiders and now all Rose-Haired Tarantulas are from breeding stock already in the United States.  These  tarantulas are often recommended for people who wish to own a tarantula but have no experience with them. It is relatively easy to locate a breeder and often they are available at your local pet store.  They are generally gentle by nature, relatively slow moving for a spider and beautiful to look at. The cost is low in comparison to other tarantulas, mostly because of their commoniness and their hardiness in captivity.  This is the second species of tarantula that I own, the first being the Oklahoma Brown which is native to Missouri. 

These tarantulas are considered a mid-sized tarantulas with a legspan up to 5 inches. Males will usually have longer legs and furrier bodies than females. Some even claim that the males are more colorful, but this is probably not true, simply because there is so much variation in the breed. In fact the variation is so complex that many say there are three species of Rose-Haired Tarantulas, depending upon color formation.  Grammostola rosea would be the standard Rose-Haired with the black or dark brown body and pinkish colored hairs. Then there is Grammostola cala which has reddish colored hairs, and lastly is Grammostola spatulata, which has brownish colored hairs.
This is consequently one of the most difficult spiders to identify to species. There is so much speculation as to whether or not each color morph should be considered its own individual species, plus the species itself has gone through numerous name changes. 
These tarantulas are one of the easiest to keep in captivity, they  require little room and only moderate humidity levels. They like a little hide to be able to crawl into and a few crickets or grasshoppers each week. They are easy to handle, just place your hand in front of them and gently coax them onto your hand. 

 (Rosy eating her cricket)

They do stress easy so handling should be kept at a minimum. Occasionally if they are feeling particularly cranky they may flick their abdomen hairs. If there is a bald spot on their "rump" it is a pretty good indication that they have recently been stressed. If mine begins flicking hairs I leave her in peace and handle her another day. Just like us humans, they have days where they just don't feel like being messed with. Your spider won't remain bald, it will eventually shed its skin and reveal brand new beautiful hairs where previously there were none. 
Shedding is a difficult time for a tarantula. The process begins many weeks before the actual shedding. It starts by growing new skin underneath the old skin that will be shed. They may act lethargic and stop eating at this time. When they begin molting they will flip onto their back (so don't be alarmed if you see this, your spider hasn't died). From this position it will slough off its old skin, including the inside of its mouth, respiratory organs, sexual organs and stomach. So you can see where this would be an extremely trying time for the spider, but if the humidity level is correct within the enclosure all should go well and within minutes the old skin will be shed. They will be very vulnerable  at this stage. Their new skin is soft and delicate and must harden, which depending upon the size of the spider may take a couple weeks. Smaller spiders require less time to harden their skin than do larger spiders. During this time, the spider will most likely not feed. 
It takes these spiders approximately 3 to 4 years to reach their full adult size. It is at this time that they may breed in the wild. Males will begin by producing sperm webs indicating he is ready to breed. If you have a male and female in captivity you may try placing them together at this time and see if the female is receptive to his attentions. That is if you wish to have little baby tarantulas (more than 500 at a time). Males will seek out the female and tap a little dance with his legs to lure her out, he will then pounce on her and use his front legs to lift her chelicerae out of the way so he doesn't become her next meal. He can also lift her almost completely onto her hind legs from this stance allowing him access to her epigyne so he may deposit his sperm. If she is fertilized; within a few weeks she will produce an egg sac that may contain more than 500 spiderlings. Usually the male will die shortly after a successful mating, unless of course the female kills him first. 

If you have been thinking about owning a tarantula, let me recommend this docile, beautiful creature as your first foray into the world of tarantulas, you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bee Fly

Bee Flies are very unusual looking insects....all legs and beak. Their bodies are covered in dense hair that gives them a fuzzy appearance. They are in the order Diptera and family Bombyliidae. The name Bee Fly is a very apt name for these hovering bee-like insects. They move very rapidly and rarely stay in one place very long. The ones here were photographed on a Bradford Pear that was blooming this past April. All manner of insects were attracted to the tree as nothing else was in bloom yet. Not only were the bee flies eating their fill of nectar, but so were hover flies, honey bees, paper wasps and ladybugs.

There are hundreds of bee fly species Worldwide and many of them live in the United States. I noticed at least two different species nectaring that the pear blooms. They proved quite difficult to photograph. I brought out the 8 foot step ladder and placed it near the tree. I climbed the ladder and sat on the very top rung, right amongst the blooms and buzzing insects. Insects darted and flew past my head on their way to tastier booms. Each time the bee fly would come into camera range, it would dart off before I could line up the shot. After about 2 hours I managed a half dozen decent shots.

These flies can be found in gardens, meadows, parks, prairies, in scrubby areas with native wildflowers, and even near cropland edges. Two years ago I spotted a pair of these flies hovering around in field corn stubble at the edge of the field. I chased them all over the place and never did manage to get a picture. I will be back out next spring trying once again to capture some images of these flies.

After mating, the female will seek the nest of bees and wasps or even the egg pods of grasshoppers to lay her eggs near. When the eggs hatch the larvae must seek the bees, wasp or egg pods on which to attach themselves and feed. Some species feed on blister beetles and even butterflies. This family of flies is considered neither beneficial nor injurious as they feed equally on harmful and helpful insects.

Look closely at what hovers about your flowers and maybe you will find yourself lucky enough to spot these unique and rapid fliers among the blossoms.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Soybean Leafminer

This adorable little red beetle is a Soybean Leafminer (Odontota horni). I had taken this photo last spring and subsequently forgot about. While sorting through photos tonight I came across it and realized I did not have an ID on it. I posted it to Facebook and within minutes Margarethe Brummermann of Arizona provided an accurate identification for me. If you have not visited her blog, please take a few minutes to do so, she is an amazing photographer and artist and has a true passion and knowledge about the natural world.

These little beetles are found throughout Missouri, typically near soybean fields. They are not known to cause an significant damage to soybean crops, and are usually found near the field margins. The adults nibble at the leaf tissue causing a skeletonized appearance to the leaves. The larvae of these beetles "mine" the leaves, creating a blister-like damage between the lower and upper leaf surfaces. The soybeans generally are not adversely affected by the feeding habits of these beetles. There is some risk that they may pass along bean pod mottle virus. In some areas there is as much as 80% damage by this pathogen that is passed on to the plants by these beetles.
(Damage caused to soybean leaf, by soybean leafminer: photo taken from IAState University website)

This species is small at about 1/4 of an inch in length, they are brick-red with a black stripe down their back that does not extend to the wing tips. There is a similar species called the Locust Leafminer (Odontata dorsalis) that is also found in Missouri. They are also reported to sometimes feed on Soybeans, but much more often they feed on the food source they are named after, the locust trees. This beetle is also red, but the black stripe widens and extends all the way to the wing tips. Look at the first two beetle photos and compare it to the last one and the difference are obvious. It would however be easy to mistake one species for the other without having both in hand to compare.

Some of our most beautiful insects are often the easiest to overlook, keep your eyes peeled for the tiny species, as they often are some of the most remarkable in coloration and design.

(Locust Leafminer: photo by Tom Murray)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Green Bottle Flies

Green Bottle Flies are in the genus Lucilla and range Worldwide. These are small flies measuring up to 3/8 of an inch. They are bright metallic green or golden with black markings. They have three horizontal grooves on the thorax and bright reddish colored eyes. These flies are associated with animals and can be found most anywhere, including farms, stockyards, rural areas, as well as urban and suburban areas.
These flies are prolific breeders and will have numerous generations per year. Mating takes place soon after the flies emerge from their pupal stage. The female will lay eggs on carrion or in the wounds of animals. The eggs hatch in 12 hours or up to 3 days later (depending on the outside temperature). The little maggots feed on carrion and reach full size anywhere from 2 to 10 days. At this time they will drop to the ground and burrow into the soil to pupate. In a few days the newly formed adult will emerge from underground and begin the cycle all over again.
 How do you tell a male fly from a female fly? Males have eyes that touch, females have wide set eyes.  ( Therefore the one pictured in the first and second pictures is a male)

The adults of this fly feed on sweets, especially nectar or picnic favorites like soda pop.
It is best to keep them away from food meant for human consumption. These flies are capable of spreading disease. They crawl around on manure, and dead carcasses, then fly to Aunt Junes' potato salad and bring with them whatever they may have picked up while crawling around on those unsavory piles of poo and carrion. This in turn can spread very nasty germs to our food, then on to us as the consumer of the potato salad. Best to be careful, and keep food covered as much as possible.

This particular species was bred in captivity for "Maggot Therapy". What is maggot therapy, you ask? It is a  very disturbing medical treatment that involves placing the maggots of these flies on necrotic wounds. The idea behind this is the fact that maggots only consume things that are rotting or already dead. Therefore they clean up the dead, unhealthy flesh of a wound that refuses to heal. While it might make our skin crawl (literally) to imagine anything so unsettling, if it meant saving your life I bet you could do it. With todays modern antibiotics the use of maggot therapy only occurs in extreme situations.

Flies are rarely anyone's favorite insects; they can be annoying as they hover around our faces, or our food. They invade our houses and drive us crazy as they fly around and buzz their whining little wings near our ears. They seem to have developed super fast reflexes and can dodge our attempts to swat them with flyswatters. For all the bad that is associated with flies, I need to point out there is much good as well....the maggots aid us by consuming the rotting and dead flesh of animal carcasses, and maggot therapy has saved numerous lives. Overall flies aren't the bad guys that we often make them out to be.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Spotted Apatelodes Moth

This grandfatherly-looking caterpillar is the offspring of a Spotted-Apatelodes Moth(Apatelodes torrefacta). The caterpillars can vary in color from gray (pictured), to yellow or even white. There are tufts of black hairs and black spots along their side, which aren't readily visible because of the fluffy nature of this caterpillar. There are many fuzzy caterpillars crawling around outside and most of them are the larvae of Tiger Moths and we call them Wooly-Bears. So how do we tell the difference? This species has hair that lays flat along its body, rather than sticking up wily-nily all over its body like other caterpillars, this one also features those long black tufts of hair.I read one report that claimed they have bright orange feet; how I wish I would have flipped this one over to see that!

As adults; the puzzle grows even more, whereas the young favor tiger moth caterpillars, the adults favor sphinx moths. When I first spotted this moth on the grass in our front yard I thought it was a Sphinx moth, although I had no idea which one. I sent this image into Bugguide and within minutes it was identified as the Spotted-Apatelodes Moth. They are in the family Bombycidae, which are silkworm moths. These differ from the  Giant Silk Moths like Luna Moths and Cecropia Moths in several ways......

For one thing they are much smaller(wingpan up to 2 3/4 inches), but also one member of this family are the producers of the silk we humans have come to favor. (Bombyx mori) are native to northern China and have been used extensively in the production of silk for over 4,500 years. These caterpillars are no longer found in the wild and are bred entirely in captivity. They are fed a diet of Mulberry leaves.China continues to be one of the top manufacturers of silk. 

The Spotted-Apatelodes is closely related to the Silkworm Moth that is used in silk production.

The spotted-apatelodes caterpillars feed on Cherry, Ash, Maple and Oak. There is also documentation that they feed on other fruit trees as well.  The adults are not reported to feed, nor could I find any
information of their lifecycle beyond one report that stated mating takes place in the summer and the caterpillars will overwinter in the pupal stage. In their Southern most region they may produce up to 3 or more generations per year.
In their Northern most range they will only have one generation. They can be found in deciduous forests and nearby areas, presumably where the host plants would be found.

While doing my research on this species, I visited the (BAMONA) website and discovered that there were no reported sightings for this moth in Missouri. I contacted our regional representative for BAMONA and told him about my finding this particular species in NW Missouri and sent him this picture. He thanked me and assured me it would be added to the data base.

(Last two caterpillar pictures were taken by Lindalee Brownstein, in Columbus, Ohio. Thank you Lindalee for sharing your beautiful images of a spectacular caterpillar.)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Plant Bugs

This pretty, yet tiny insect is a plant bug called the Two-spotted grass bug (Stenotus binotatus). They are found throughout North America in gardens, grassy areas, and along roadsides. The nymphs feed on a wide variety of grasses, especially Timothy grass. It is not reported if the adults eat. This preference for Timothy grass has also earned them another common name of Timothy plant bug. These bugs are tiny at approximately 1/8 of an inch. They are highly variable in coloration and will range from yellowish to greenish. There are two black spots on the pronotum, from whence they get their common name.

This thinly shaped plant bug is the scentless plant bug (Harmostes refluxulus). These bugs are also found throughout North America, especially in the eastern portion of the the United States. They may reach lengths up to 1/2 inch, and are light green with reddish colored markings. As adults they overwinter until spring. Mating takes place in the spring and the female will lay eggs on various plants. The young feed on the plants, and adults feed on nectar, especially from flowers like asters. The genus name Harmostes has its roots in Greek history and is a form of the word Harmony.

This beautiful lime green plant bug is the spotted green plant bug (Ilnacora staqlii). They are found in scattered populations throughout the Eastern United States in grassy ditches, weedy areas and along roadsides. Both adults and nymphs feed on the juices of various plants. These bugs are average sized at 3/8 of an inch and are uniformly light lime green with black speckling on the wings as well as two widely spaced black spots on either side of the pronotum. Occasionally these bugs will come to porch lights or other outdoor lights at night.

This artfully marked insect is the tarnished plant bug (Lygus lineolarus). They can be found throughout most of the United States, Southern Canada and much of Mexico. They are small at 1/8-1/4 of an inch. The head is yellowish-tan, the pronotum is reddish-brown. The wings are patterned with various shades of tan, brown, yellow and reddish-brown. In many individuals there is a "heart" shape behind the head. The specimens that first appear in the spring will be darker, as the season progresses the specimens will be lighter in color. Adults overwinter in leaf litter or other secluded areas until spring. Once spring arrives they will be very active and seek out nursery stock to feed on, such as fruit trees,ornamental plants. They will also feed on soybeans, cotton, clover, in fact there are 380 reported plants that they will feed on. According to the USDA these are the most common plant bug in the United States and are also classified as one of the most dangerous. These bugs also transmit various plant diseases. Look for them in gardens, grassy roadsides, open fields, meadows, orchards and sometimes woodsy understories.

This black and yellow bug is the four-line plant bug (Poecilocapsus lineatus). They are common throughout the Eastern United States and parts of Southern Canada. These are small bugs at 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch. They are almost always yellowish in color with black markings and an orange head. Occasionally there will be orangish colored specimens. The nymphs are red with a bluish-black saddle (pictured above).The female will lay eggs in the stems of plants, these eggs hatch the following spring. By June they will be adult size and will be seen near gardens, meadows, prairies and agricultural areas. Mating takes place at this time, and the females will lay eggs until August. By the end of August or the first of September the adults will have perished.  These bugs can cause significant damage to plants if they occur in large numbers. There are over 250 plants they are reported to feed on; a few of these are burdock, pea, potato, currant, spinach, raspberry, squash, radish, ginger, alfalfa, catnip, snapdragon, geranium, phlox and carnation.

All plant bugs possess piercing sucking mouthparts. These beak-like mouths will jab into the plant tissue and inject the plant with an enzyme that breaks down plant tissue and turns it to liquid. The bug can then slurp up the plant juices like a plant-slurpee. Plant bugs are in the order Hemiptera, which are the true bugs, also included in this order are assassin bugs, cicadas and leafhoppers.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

"POO", does a body good!

Yes, that is a large cow patty this very beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail has her proboscis dipped into.While this looks very disgusting and is probably something you would never think of doing yourself, this butterfly benefits from it greatly. We as humans can drive to our local pharmacy or all-night super store and buy the vitamins and minerals we need. These lovely creatures obviously have no such luxury, so they have to find them where they may. Scat is loaded with minerals and other nutrients that not only this butterfly relishes, but so do many other insects. Just take a walk, anywhere there is sure to be poop, and each pile will look like an all-night diner after the bars let out...there won't be an empty seat available. Everything from Flies, Butterflies, and Beetles will all be sharing this buffet. I've even seen grasshoppers partake of scat. Mammals rarely digest all their food, and the tasty bits that remain are recycled through the animals body in the form of scat. Sometimes it is very easy to see what the animal had been feeding on, you might find hair, or even bones. Other times you might find berries or corn. All of these leftovers is what the insects are after....there may be as much as 50% of the energy left in this waste product from what was originally consumed.

Mother Nature provides, and sees to it that nothing goes to try not to be too grossed out, think of it as a clean-up crew....they consume what we find distasteful or smelly and dispose of it for us, like miniature garbage collectors.