Friday, December 16, 2011

Eastern Blood-Sucking Conenose

This time of year thoughts turn to Christmas and traditions. One tradition many of us are happy to indulge in is sneaking a kiss under the mistletoe with a special someone. No one however would be happy to be kissed by the Kissing Bug. Eastern Blood-Sucking Conenose Bugs (Triatoma sanguisuga) are often referred to as the kissing bug because of their habit of planting a big juicy, albeit painful kiss right on the lips of hapless victims. As if Blood-sucking conenose, and kissing bug weren't weird enough names, they are also called Mexican Bedbugs. None of these names are very reassuring and there is good reason, these bugs are just not something we want to share our homes with. They can and do make their way into our dwellings and once inside they may use us as a source of food. They seem to sense the carbon dioxide coming from our breathing, once they have landed on our mouth they will use their beak-like rostrum (mouth) to pierce our skin and suck our blood. They inject an enzyme along with their saliva that contains a deadening agent that numbs the area being bitten so that you will not feel the initial bite. This enzyme will  cause significant problems for some people who have an allergic reaction to it. It can cause nausea, vomiting, fainting spells, red blotches as well as burning, itching and swelling at the bite sight. It can also cause anaphylactic symptoms in some individuals. There are approximately 140 species of conenose bugs in the World, with 15 species found in the United States each belonging to the family Reduviidae. They all have the capability to bite humans but in some parts of the Southwest and into Mexico and areas further south they carry this ability even further by defecating while they feed. This behavior causes the spread of a disease called Chagas disease. 

The symptoms of Chagas disease vary over the course of an infection. In the early, acute stage, symptoms are mild and usually produce no more than local swelling at the site of infection. The initial acute phase is responsive to antiparasitic treatments, with 60–90% cure rates. After 4–8 weeks, individuals with active infections enter the chronic phase of Chagas disease that is asymptomatic for 60–80% of chronically infected individuals through their lifetime. The antiparasitic treatments also appear to delay or prevent the development of disease symptoms during the chronic phase of the disease, but 20–40% of chronically infected individuals will still eventually develop life-threatening heart and digestive system disorders. Chagas disease is contracted primarily in the Americas, particularly in poor, rural areas of Mexico, Central America, and South America; very rarely, the disease has originated in the Southern United States. (Taken from Wikipedia)

Females will lay clusters of eggs that hatch in a few days. After hatching, the nymphs must complete up to 8 instars (molts) before reaching adult size. These bugs need blood to survive, it is their sole source of food. Humans are not the first choice when choosing a host, they typically invade pack rat nests and feed on the blood of these mammals. They will also hang out in dog houses or other areas where dogs are bedded. They can and do bite dogs and may spread chagas disease to your pet where the disease is prevalent.

These bugs are nocturnal and are often attracted to lights at night. It is proximity to human structures that often leads them into our homes. Because of their potential to bite they should not be tolerated in our homes. If you notice a significant number of these around your home, you may want to consider extermination. Making sure homes are sealed tight leaving no cracks for them to crawl through should help keep them out of your home. Eliminating areas where rodents would be attracted to will also help as they are frequent feeders on rodents, and will definitely be attracted to areas where mice and rats are located.

There is no reason to live in fear of these bugs, especially in Missouri as they do not occur in large numbers. I've only ever seen two in 20 years. They are harmless outside in their natural habitat feeding on rodents and other mammals. Although I would not recommend sharing the mistletoe with this kissing bandit

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Rarest Bumblebee in US Rediscovered

An elusive bumblebee, which was last seen in 1956, was recently found living in the White Mountains of south-central New Mexico, scientists announced Monday (Dec. 5).
Known as "Cockerell's bumblebee," the bee was first described in 1913 using six specimens collected along the Rio Ruidoso, a river located in the Sierra Blanca and Sacramento Mountains, N.M. Over the years, one more sample was found in Ruidoso, and 16 specimens were collected near the town of Cloudcroft, N.M.

The last Cockerell's bumblebee sample was collected in 1956. No other specimens had been recorded until Aug. 31, when a team of scientists from the University of California, Riverside, found three more samples of the bee species in weeds along a highway north of Cloudcroft.

"When an insect species is very rare, or highly localized, it can fairly easily escape detection for very long periods of time," Douglas Yanega, a senior museum scientist at the University of California, Riverside (UCR), said in a statement.

Cockerell's bumblebee has the most limited range of any bumblebee species in the world, having been spotted only in an area of less than 300 square miles (777 square kilometers), according to the researchers. By comparison, the rare "Franklin's bumblebee" species, which was last seen in 2003 and is on the verge of extinction, is known from a distribution covering about 13,000 square miles (33,670 square km).
Cockerell's bumblebee was able to fly under the radar for so long because the area where the species lives is rarely visited by entomologists, Yanega said. The bee species has also "long been ignored because it was thought that it was not actually a genuine species, but only a regional color variant of another well-known species," Yanega explained.
An assessment of the genetic makeup of the three newly discovered specimens gives fairly conclusive evidence that Cockerell's bumblebee is a genuine species, the researchers said.
It is not unusual for an insect species to be rediscovered after several decades, when people might otherwise have believed it had gone extinct, Yanega said. UCR entomologists rediscover many "lost" insect species like the Cockerell's bumblebee, as well as discover entirely new species, at the rate of several dozen species every year.
"There are many precedents – some of them very recently in the news, in fact – of insects that have been unseen for anywhere from 70 to more-than-100 years, suddenly turning up again when someone either got lucky enough, or persistent enough, to cross paths with them again," Yanega said. "It is much harder to give conclusive evidence that an insect species has gone extinct than for something like a bird or mammal or plant."
Cockerell's bumblebee does not appear to be facing extinction. The bumblebee dwells in an area that's largely composed of National Forest and Apache tribal land, it is "unlikely to be under serious threat of habitat loss at the moment," Yanega said.
However, the researcher notes that since the bee species' biology is completely unknown, it may require additional formal assessments in the future.

You can follow LiveScience writer Remy Melina on Twitter @remymelina. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience  and on Facebook.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A New Blog

As many of you know, the only thing I love more (or as much) as insects is SNAKES! I've had a fascination with them since I was a little girl. I recall once when I was about 14 my younger brother Marty brought a garter snake into the house, unbeknown st to our mother, who is terrified of snakes. The snake lasted about one day in its enclosure before escaping. My brother came and found me to inform me that I HAD to help him find the snake BEFORE mom found out it was gone. I suppose this was especially important since she didn't know a snake was in the house to begin with. I agreed to help him. So we began our covert mission, trying to be as quiet (OK..... Sneaky) as we could be. Apparently when kids are whispering and sneaking around from room to room that is evidence that something is up. Mom yelled at both of us and wanted to know what we were up to. I looked at Marty and he looked at me......and.....well.... I caved, I told her everything. You never saw someone jump as high as she did, and she did the most graceful landing right in the middle of the kitchen table you would ever see. She DEMANDED we find that snake IMMEDIATELY! Well heck, that's what we'd been trying to do when she detained us. That snake could be anywhere. Finally it dawned on me that I had hamsters....and they look surprisingly like mice. Snakes eat the snake had to be in my room. Sure enough, that sneaky snake was laid out behind one of my hamster cages, flicking its tongue in anticipation. I am not sure who saw who first, because as soon as we walked towards the snake, it bolted off the desk, onto the floor and disappeared into my closet. I was not the neatest kid on the block....and that closet was down right scary. I think the door was the only thing holding the contents in. After dragging as much stuff out of the closet as we could, we cornered the snake.

Now....I'm not sure if you all realize this, but a cornered garter snake is not much different than any other cornered animal. That snake came out fighting, mouthed, and bent on scaring the hell out of us. My brother was very he stood behind me yelling...."well go on catch it!"

It was then that I realized my brother was as scared of the snake as our mom! I accused him of being a chicken.....and all he said was "SO?" It took several minutes and numerous attempts before I finally caught the snake. Marty fetched a brown paper bag to put it in and he walked it up the road to an abandoned field. When he got back, and mom got done scolding him for bringing a nasty vile creature into the house, I had the chance to ask him how it got out in the first place. He took me into his room, with a puzzled look on his face and said "I don't know, I had it in this large jar and made sure to put a paper towel over it" I nearly died laughing.

I've had many other interesting experiences with snakes and each one as reinforced my love of them. Recently I joined a group of conservation minded individuals called the RARR (Rise against rattlesnake roundups). This group is trying to bring about necessary changes to the way rattlesnake roundups are being done. Numerous (1,000's) of rattlesnakes are removed from their natural habitat and thrown into buckets and boxes.

They are transported to the event, where they are often frozen for several hours to allow for easier handling when they sew their mouths shut. These snakes with their sewn mouths are then passed around from person to person to have their picture taken with for a fee. These snakes die from stress within hours. Many of the snakes are skinned while still clinging to life and sold by the pound. The snakes are exposed to the elements and left in the sun with no water or shelter. Many snakes die from exposure alone. The officials that run the roundups claim they hold the event to control an overpopulation of rattlers. They want to make it a safer environment for people. This all sounds upstanding and full of good intentions, until you find out that they are shipping snakes in from Texas and other areas. If they are so overrun with venomous snakes, then why bring more into the state? It is obvious the snake populations are plummeting and they can no longer find them in large concentrations. Many snake hunters will locate a den site of hibernating rattlesnakes and gas out or burn out the snakes. They are able to remove many many snakes in one fell swoop. Rattlesnakes only mate every other year and they do not have large litters when they do. It is very easy to hunt these snakes to the point of extinction. Many counties throughout these snakes range our now free of rattlesnakes.

Missouri traditionally could claim that timber rattlesnakes were found in every county in the state.....not anymore. There are more counties without timbers than with them. The few that have them remaining are showing signs of reduced numbers. We as humans have to stop our way of thinking when it comes to creatures that we do not understand, or like, or that make us fearful. We have no moral right to try and remove every animal that we deem unworthy of existence. No one will argue that snakes aren't cuddly or cute. Snakes can be creepy, simply because they are so different from 4 legged mammals. These differences should be respected and we should try to understand that snakes serve a vital role in the habitats where they are found. Killing them out only causes an unbalance in that ecosystem.

I am proud to be a part of a group that is working so hard to protect a species that many find unworthy of our consideration. As part of my involvement with this group I created a new blog entitled Rattlesnake Education and Awareness. My hope is that like me, many of you like the creepy side of nature. The side of nature that is often misunderstood. The side of nature, that makes nature and being outdoors so much more interesting. Please take time to visit the blog, become a follower and help us support the ongoing effort to educate the public. Hopefully through education we can all become better informed and make wiser decisions where wildlife is concerned.

If anyone is interested in contributing content to the new blog, just email me. We will be happy to have writers come on board and share their reptile (and amphibian) experiences with our followers.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Giant Red-Headed Centipede

Photo by: John Miller with the Missouri Department of Conservation

These magnificently large centipedes are only found in a few scant counties in Southern and South Western Missouri, particularly near the Arkansas state line. Giant Red-Headed Centipedes (Scolopendra heros) belong to the family Scolopendridae in the order Scolopendromorpha.  

All centipedes have odd numbered pairs of legs and only one pair of legs per body segment. They are commonly mistaken for way to tell the difference is to look at the legs. Millipedes always have two pairs of legs per body segment. Centipedes tend to have a flattened body whereas millipedes are more rounded. Millipedes lack venom, although some species can emit a chemical from their legs that can cause skin irritation. 

S. heros range in color by location, in Missouri they are unmistakable with a black body, 21 to 23 pairs of yellow legs and reddish head. This color is referred to aposematic and offers a warning to would-be predators that they are potentially dangerous. Humans should especially heed this warning, as they can and will bite if handled. They have front legs that are modified fangs. Bites are reported to be painful and will cause swelling at the bite site. If swelling persists or other symptoms appear, medical attention should be sought. It has been reported that the legs of this species can leave tiny pin-pricks in the skin, and each leg contains venom that can be dropped into each wound. This can cause inflammation and irritation.

 (Photo by: John Miller)

According to one story cited by Dr. Baerg, an officer in the Confederate Army, while sleeping in his tent, was suddenly aroused by the creepy feeling of a large centipede crawling on his chest. A number of spots of deep red, forming a broad streak, indicated the arthropod’s passage across the man’s chest and abdomen. Violent pain and convulsions soon set in, accompanied by excessive swelling in the bitten area. The victim fought with death for two days and then succumbed. The agony suffered by the bitten officer was described by an eyewitness as the most frightful he had ever observed. The famed arthtopod scientist J. L. Cloudsley-Thompson once explained that “centipedes seem to exert a weird fascination on the morbid appetites of the hysterical and insane.”

These centipedes commonly reach lengths up to 6 1/2 inches, but lengths of 8 inches have been reported. They are found on rocky hillsides, glades, under logs, stones and other protected locations. They are rarely encountered by humans because of their secretive nature, but should you come across one you won't soon forget the experience. John Miller of MDC in Southern Missouri has promised me one to add to our exhibit animals at the office where I work. He said several are brought into his offices each year to be identified and they release them. He assured me he would retain one for me. I am so excited by the prospect of having one of these amazing centipedes to use for educational purposes.

Like all centipedes they are predators and feed on a broad diet of insects, and spiders. They are fond of pinkie mice, small snakes and small amphibians too. S. heros has excellent eyesight which aids them in hunting down prey. They are also fast moving creatures and very little escapes their notice or their grasp.

Female centipedes lay eggs in rotting wood and will guard the eggs by wrapping her body around them. When the eggs hatch she will continue to stay with her offspring and look after them for a short period of time. This parental care is unusual among arthropods. The offspring will look similar to the adult, except they are lighter in color and have fewer legs. They will gain the adult coloration and proper amount of legs as they age.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Giant Ichneumon

Giant Ichneumon (Megarhyssa macrurus) in the order Hymenoptera are large, interesting insects found throughout North America. They are reddish-brown in color with black wings and yellow legs. The females have an extremely long ovipositor trailing out the end of their abdomen. This appendage is used to deposit eggs inside decaying wood and within the bodies of pigeon horntail larvae. Somehow the female can detect the location of the feeding larvae within the rotting wood. Perhaps they use their long antennae to feel the vibrations of the feeding larvae? To me the mystery do they know that the larvae they are the right larvae. How do they know it isn't beetle larvae?

The ichneumon larvae will feed on the pigeon horntail larvae, consuming its body from the inside out. Once they have consumed the entire contents of the larvae they will pupate inside the rotting wood the following spring and once they are mature they will emerge from the decaying wood. The adults do not feed.

Even though the long ovipositor looks dangerous, it is harmless to humans, they cannot sting with it. It is designed for egg laying only. There are three species of Megarhyssa found in North America and may reside in the same area. Each species uses the pigeon horntail as their host. It is not uncommon to find all three species inside the same piece of rotting wood feeding on the horntail larvae. As each species of Megarhyssa uses a different length ovipositor to reach the horntail at different depths within the wood.

I've seen only a few of these large wasp-like creatures in our gardens in the past 5 or more years. I actually had one land on my leg once and walk around tapping its antennae on my leg as if trying to determine if I was a rotting log. I wasn't sure if I should be insulted or not.....was the wasp trying to tell me I have stumps for legs?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

False Crocus Geometer Moth

This brightly colored moth is a Crocus Geometer Moth in the genus Xanthotype in the family Geometridae. They are extremely common throughout North America and frequently visit porch lights or other artificial lights at night. This moth can also be flushed from timbered areas and grasslands bordering timberland during the daytime. There are several species within this genus and each are nearly identical and generally cannot be accurately identified without genitalia magnification.

Crocus Geometer (X. sospeta)
False Crocus Geometer (X. urticaria)
Buttercup Moth (X. urticaria)
Rufous Geometer (X. rufaria)
Of these four Crocus Geometer (X. sospeta) and False Crocus Geometer (X. urticaria) are found in the Eastern portion of North America which would include Missouri. 
The genus Xanthotype has its root word from the Greek Xantho which translates into Yellow.
Geometer translates into Earth-measurer and comes from the caterpillar stage of these moths. Geometer caterpillars are called inch worms, loopers or spanworms and lack the amount of prolegs that are found on most species of lepidoptera. They instead have appendages at both ends of their body which allows them to clasp with their hind legs and reach forward with their front legs. This bends their body in a loop-like fashion, and as they continue to move forward it gives the appearance that they are measuring their journey.

These moths are a beautiful shade of bright yellow with purplish colored blotches on the wings. Males have more blotches than females. Males of this species, like the males of most moths have feathered antennae to "smell" the pheromone emitted by the female. They are capable of smelling her scent from great distances. Once mated the female will lay her eggs on a wide variety of host plants including Spirea, goldenrods, catnip, ground-ivy, red osier dogwood, and rhodora azaloa. The caterpillars are twig mimics and blend in with the branches they are living among.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Garter Snakes

Garter Snakes are without a doubt one of the most widely spread of all the reptiles found in North America. In fact the Common Garter Snake(Thamnophis sirtalis) is the only snake known to be hardy enough to survive in Alaska’s inhospitable climate. It is thought to be the northernmost snake in the World with exception to a snake called the Crossed Viper (Vipera berus). In Missouri where I live I find several varieties in my yard, but one of the most common by far is the Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) which is pictured here above. They reach lengths up to 26 inches. As far as I know all garter snakes have the tell-tale stripes that run dorsally along their bodies. These stripes may be green, yellow, gray, black, red and even blue. The subspecies the red-sided garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis talis parietalis) is the most prevalent of the two species I find. Red-sided garter snakes are quite striking in their appearance with bright red color patches between the stripes.

Garter Snakes are colubrid snakes in the family Colubridae; over 2/3 of the snakes found in the world belong to this family, making it the largest family of snakes. This group of snakes is often described as a catch all for snakes that don’t quite fit into other families. Most within this family are non-venomous, but a few however have venom toxic enough to cause human fatalities such as the Boomslang, Twig Snake and snakes in the genus Rhabdophis which are found in Asia. Garter snakes do posses venom glands, but these glands are located  posterior (to the rear) of the snake’s eyes whereas typical venomous snakes have venom glands located anterior or forward. The venom they posses is not lethal enough to affect humans and the garter snake lacks any real way of injecting you with it anyway. The venom is used to subdue prey rather than as a defense mechanism.  Once the snake has captured its prey it will “chew” the venom into the unfortunate victim.

Garter snakes commonly prey on frogs, toads, small rodents, birds, slugs, lizards, leeches, earthworms, and fish. Since the majority of their diet consists of aquatic creatures they will most often be found in those environments. We have a large goldfish pond and that is usually where I find these snakes. They commonly feed on the toads and bullfrogs found near or in the pond. This photo was taken a few years ago near the pond. This red-sided garter snake (above and below) had captured a large toad and was doing its best to swallow it. There was quite a struggle taking place, almost like tug-o-war. The snake pulling with its mouth, and the toad pulling with its legs in the other direction. The toad was finally able to free itself from the snake and quickly hopped off to lick its wounds.

I swear the toad looks ANGRY in this photo….as if indignantly saying “How dare this snake try to eat me!!!!”

Garter snakes are one of the testiest snakes in the reptile world. For a snake that averages 2 feet in length and lacks any significant venom, it more than makes up for it in attitude. Of all the snakes I’ve handled I’ve been bitten and musked more by this species than any other. This past spring while doing an interpretive hike with a group of first grade students, one of the fathers noticed a snake along the side of the trail. He pointed it out to me in case I wanted to show the kids. With 25 kids, plus parents in the group I was afraid the snake would slither away before all the kids could see it. So I choose to catch the snake and show the kids……BIG MISTAKE! As soon as I had the snake in hand it chose that moment to musk me. I was literally covered from chest to toe with white, stinky musk!!!! Talk about smell bad! The kids all let out a loud EWWWWW! I quickly put the snake down and told the kids “This is why we should not handle wild snakes.” It was a lesson learned for all of us, albeit a stinky one!

While this snake(above) appears to be smiling, it was definitely doing its best to warn me away. He was lunging and biting at me in a very intimidating way. I managed to capture an image with its mouth open and tongue hanging out before finally leaving it in peace. This illustrates my point about the attitude these snakes possess.


All snakes use their tongue to smell the World around them. They flick it in and out of their mouth scraping it across an organ in the roof of their mouth called the Jacobson Organ. This organ picks up scent particles off the tongue as it is brought back into the mouth. The snake is able to determine if what it is smelling is food, or foe. Snakes do not possess ears for the outside world (although a snake with ears would be seriously cool). They “hear” their surroundings through vibrations felt in their jaw bones. Humans walking around in a snakes world must sound like giants to the snake. They almost always feel us coming and get out of the way long before we even know a snake was there.  Snakes lack eyelids and cannot blink their eyes to protect them from injury, they instead have a thin scales over their eyes. The scales are shed each time the snake sheds it old skin. Snakes shed several times a year, but much depends on how much the snake is eating and how much it is growing. Snakes that are feeding on a regular basis will shed more often than those that find it difficult to find food. This is often why wild snakes shed fewer times annually than pet snakes. Wild snakes have to sit and wait for food to come within reach, or they will go in search of food. This is not as easy as it sounds. A snake may smell a rodent trail, and sit and wait motionless for a rodent to pass by. They are capable of remaining motionless for many hours. Snakes may go many weeks or even months without feeding. They have a slower metabolism than mammals and are able to go without food for long periods of time. A large meal may last a snake for several weeks before it feels the urge to feed again. Snakes are also cold blooded and must warm themselves in the sun. Being heterothermic means the snakes body is the same temperature as its surroundings. It must therefore find a suitable location to bask itself before it is able to move and feed properly. I describe it as “A Cold Snake, is a Slow Snake and a Slow Snake is a Dead Snake.” A warm snake can flee from predators and digest its food. A cold snake is slow and unable to move quickly out of dangers way, and will often regurgitate its meal should it try to eat.

Garter snakes mate in the spring in accordance with their emergence from brumation. Reptiles generally begin brumation in late fall (more specific times depend on the species). They will often wake up to drink water and return to “sleep”. They can go months without food. Reptiles may want to eat more than usual before the brumation time but will eat less or refuse food as the temperature drops. However, they do need to drink water. The brumation period is anywhere from one to eight months depending on the air temperature and the size, age, and health of the reptile. During the first year of life, many small reptiles do not fully brumate, but rather slow down and eat less often. Brumation should not be confused with hibernation; when mammals hibernate, they are actually asleep; when reptiles brumate, they are less active, and their metabolism slows down so they just do not need to eat as often. Reptiles can often go through the whole winter without eating. Brumation is triggered by cold weather, lack of heat, and the decrease in the amount of hours of daylight in the winter.

In the case of garter snakes the males generally leave the hibernacula first and sit in wait for the females to come out. These emergence’s may contain 100′s of individual snakes. The female emits a strong pheromone that entices the males to compete for mating privileges. It is not uncommon for dozens of males to fight and vie for the attention of one female. Once mated, the females are capable of retaining the males sperm for years and therefore can delay fertilization if they so choose. The female incubates the eggs within her body until the babies are ready to be born. She will then give birth to live young. The litter size can vary from as few as 3 young to as many as 80, depending upon the age of the snake, how healthy the snake is and the species it is. The record litter size for garter snakes is 98 offspring. Juvenile snakes are independent at birth. They require no special help or skills from their parents and are armed with all the instincts they need to survive. They are however vulnerable at this stage and often fall victim to predators such as large frogs, birds, raccoons, foxes and other snakes. Those that survive may live up to 15 years or more.

Garter snakes have often been sought after in the pet trade, mostly because they are strikingly beautiful creatures, but also because they are so easily found. Garter snakes are known to emerge in the spring in heavy numbers all at once, so anyone bent on capturing them, just locates a hibernation site and visits it in the spring. Many garter snakes have been removed from the wild in this fashion. Even though 1,000′s have been captured from the wild , their numbers are still stable to high in most all their range. There is an exception in California, the San Francisco Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia) is listed as Federally endangered. Even though the majority of garter snakes would be considered common, they are still beautiful examples of snake fauna. They are beneficial in the garden by keeping slugs, leeches, rodents and other creatures under control. They are also an important component in the food chain providing food for many other animals. All snakes should be tolerated and respected for the good that they do. Many of us may not like snakes, or perhaps we’re scared of them, but this should never be an excuse to kill one.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Camel Cricket

This crazy-looking long-legged bug is a camel cricket in the family Rhaphidophoridae. This family includes cave crickets, cave wetas, camelback crickets,and spider crickets. These crickets are known to love damp areas, such as under rocks, logs, outbuildings or basements. They can also be found in caves which earned them their other common name of cave cricket.

These crickets are characterized by their super long legs and antennae as well as a somewhat hump-backed shaped body. Their hind legs are extremely long with a somewhat chicken leg appearance. They lack wings like other crickets have, and instead crawl to their destinations. They have terrible eyesight so the long legs and antennae aid them in finding their way around in the often dark environments that they favor. It is not uncommon for these crickets to make their way into our basements. They are after the moist dark habitats they favor, and our basements often fit the bill perfectly. If you have an excess of these crickets it could signify that you have a moisture problem that may need to be addressed. Away from human dwellings they are often found deep inside caves. These inhospitable environs often make it hard for these crickets to locate food and it is not uncommon for them to consume their own legs for nutrition, even though they lack the ability to regenerate a new one. When faced with the approach of possible predators they will often lunge at the threat rather than retreat. This aggressiveness is a bluff however as these crickets are harmless. I would think this behavior would be counterproductive in the extreme and would often lead to them sacrificing their own lives in exhibiting such a power play. Then again perhaps it works. 

Adults and young nymphs will overwinter in dense vegetation or in human dwellings. In the spring they will become active and the adult females will begin laying eggs in the soil. In a few weeks the newly born nymphs will emerge looking almost identical to their adult counterparts. The adults and nymphs both feed on all sorts of organic matter, from animal to plants. They can become a nuisance in human structures such as basements when their food source runs low and they begin seeking other sources of food such as our stored clothing, linens and other keepsakes we do not want destroyed. 

 The following was taken from North Carolina's University website. I thought it was helpful info and wanted to pass it along to my readers.

Non-chemical control methods
Although pesticides can help reduce the nuisance problems with camel crickets, they are not a long-term solution. Effective control starts with eliminating harborage sites, reducing conditions that are conducive or attractive to these pests and by excluding these insects from our homes:
  1. gaps around crawlspace access doors provide access for camel cricketsCaulk or seal gaps and openings around windows frames, doors, foundation and clothes dryer vents, crawlspace access doors (picture at right), soffits, as well as where heating/AC and plumbing lines pass through the foundation.
  2. Install weather-stripping along the bottom of house and garage doors so that it fits tightly against the threshold.
  3. Stack boxes and other items off of the ground and away from the walls in a garage or storage building. This helps improve airflow and makes it easier to check for crickets and other pests, including termites.
  4. Reduce moisture indoors, as well as in other critical areas such as basements or crawlspaces.
  5. Keep ground cover and mulch at least 12 inches or more away from the foundation. When possible, use an inorganic cover such as gravel up near the foundation.
  6. Keep ground cover and shrubs away from the foundation and siding. Do not stack firewood against the house. Remove piles of lumber or other clutter under decks that might attract crickets and other pests.
  7. Place sticky boards, such as those used for cockroaches and mice, in corners and behind appliances to catch crickets that enter your home.
Chemical control Outdoors: Any chemical control should focus first on outdoor barrier treatments. Sprays applied to foundation walls, around vents crawlspace accesses, basement doors and windows, and insecticidal baits applied along the perimeter can be quite effective unless there are heavy rains. In crawlspaces, insecticidal baits placed in corners or along the sill plate will be most effective. Spraying in a confined area, such as a crawlspace, requires caution and the proper application and safety equipment. Granular baits are a better choice for use in a crawlspace, but these products are not readily available to the general public. You can or else contact a licensed pest control company for assistance. Consult your county Cooperative Extension Service Center or the North Carolina Agricultural Chemicals Manual for a list of appropriate pesticides.

Indoors: Any of the common household (indoor) insecticides can be applied to baseboards, and areas behind appliances. However, if you follow the steps outlined earlier for excluding these pests, the need for indoor applications should be reduced.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Chinese Mantids

Chinese mantids (Tenodera sinensis) are impressive praying mantids to say the least. They are large, expert predators that prey on a wide variety of insect yummy's. I've often referred to them as the T-Rex of the insect world, after all the resemblance is there with the short front legs and the almost raptor like way they capture and consume food. They aren't limited to just eating insects and spiders however, they are also capable of capturing and consuming frogs, and even hummingbirds.

Chinese mantids are native to Asia and made their way to the United States probably in a shipment of plants. They were first discovered in Philadelphia in 1896. They now have a stabilized population throughout the Eastern United States and are beginning to expand their range to include portions of the Western United States. They are aggressive hunters and compete for food with other native species of mantids. This could potentially pose a threat to another Missouri Mantid, the Carolina Mantid. This smaller cousin of the Chinese Mantid is native to Missouri and often finds itself prey to the larger more intimidating Chinese Mantid. They also compete for some of the same food resources.

 These praying mantids even exhibit signs of being territorial and will not tolerate those of their own kind in their vicinity. I captured this eerie image (below) of a smaller (immature) praying mantid that was sans head. It was still very much alive and crawling around the cedar tree completely without its head. It remained alive, I assume running on nerves, for several hours before finally succumbing to death. It illustrates the often gruesome world that insects are a part of. It is truly a bug-eat-bug world out there. 

Mating occurs late in the summer, the female emits a strong pheromone (Chemical perfume) that attracts males from great distances. Many of us have heard the tale of how the female will bite the males head off during mating. In some instances this is true, she is certainly capable of it, and if she feels he isn't performing up to her expectations she will chomp his head off and this triggers a response in the male which increases his performance and offers her a tasty nutritious snack that will aid her in egg production. This gruesome beheading doesn't always take place though, most of the time the male walks away with his head, I suppose it all depends on the females mood. Being a male praying mantid is truly living life on the edge. Once mated, the female will lay her eggs within a foamy egg case called an oothecae, this frothy mixture hardens to protect the eggs and once dry resembles styrofoam. 

These egg cases overwinter and the following spring the young will emerge. Typically the first meal of many of these tiny praying mantids will be their siblings. Fewer than 15% of the newborn mantids survive to adulthood.

 Praying mantids can be found in meadows, along roadsides, near gardens, grassy areas, wildflower prairies, most anywhere their insect prey can be found. These insects are favored by gardeners everywhere. Many gardeners order them from  mail order supply houses to releases in their gardens. This is good in theory but typically they will fly away shortly after being released and will probably supply your neighbors garden. 
 Occasionally like any other creature they can become injured. Whether it is from tangling with something much bigger than itself, like perhaps a bird. Or from a fall, or some other unknown source they can and do sustain injuries, like one pictured above. Notice the two different colored eyes. This particular mantid was having great difficulty in keeping its balance and could barely stay in a standing position on my hand. Most likely this one will become part of the food chain as it cannot defend itself properly.
These large insects make excellent pets as well. They are easily kept in aquariums or bug keepers. They eat a variety of insects, so you can catch grasshoppers, crickets and moths in your yard to feed them. They almost seem to possess a personality, they will follow you with their eyes, and they are sure to win you over. Many people ask if they bite, and like most any insect if they are mishandled they can bite. Praying mantids cannot bite through human skin, so it would feel more like a pinch. The males have spines on their front legs and if they should happen to grasp you with them it is possible for them to draw blood, it would be like a scratch that bleeds. Males also tend to fly. Females would make a better choice. To tell the difference is relatively easy. Females have large abdomens, giving them a "fat" look. This is for egg production. Males are very slender. Happy hunting.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Green Stink Bug

Green stink bugs seems to be the most prevalent insect in my backyard right now with exception possibly to the Asian Ladybug, so to have a picture with both invaders seemed only natural.

This species of green stink bug (Chinavia hilaris) is one of the most common of all stink bugs found in gardens throughout North America. They are fairly large at 3/4 of an inch in length. The color is uniformly bright green with yellowish margins near the abdominal region.

These stink bugs are readily found near woodland edges, in agricultural fields, and gardens. I have hundreds of them in my yard this fall, which could be in large part because of the unseasonably warm temperatures we've been having. It could also be because of a lack of available predators to feed on them. Perhaps it is just a good year for them. The nymphs of this particular species give no indications of the adult form it will soon be. They look entirely different......the shape is somewhat similar, but look at the color! Early instar nymphs will be beautiful combinations of black, green and orange. Later instar nymphs will begin taking on the trademark green color. After 5 instars (molts) they will reach adult size, usually by August or September.

(4th instar)

These bugs are plant feeders and use their piercing mouth parts (called a rostrum) and a special enzyme in their saliva that breaks down plant tissue to suck the juices out of a wide variety of plants. It is much like humans sucking juices through a straw. Think...."insect SLURPEE!" Often times these little bugs can become major pests, especially if they occur in large numbers and take a liking to your prized garden plants or agricultural crops. They are known to feed on tomato, bean, pea, cotton, corn, soybean, and eggplant as well as hundreds of others. It seems we can add bald cypress to the list of known plants as many of the green stink bugs found in my yard were feeding on the sap coming out of the tree. I also found them on Ninebark and Elm gleaning sap from them as well.

Their feeding habits can spread diseases to plants, it can also zap the plants of vital nutrients and ultimately stunt the plant which may result in death of the plant.

Stink bugs get their common name from the defense mechanism that these little stink bombs implement when disturbed or threatened. They possess gland located on the underside of their bodies that emit a musk-like vile smell that is sure to repel any predator bent on handling them or eating them. Young stink bugs will hide under leaf litter to wait out Missouri's cold winter months. When spring returns they will become active again and begin seeking mates. After mating, the females will lay their barrel-shaped eggs in clusters on the underside of leaves. The young hatch and feed on plant juices just like their adult counterparts. There may be several generations per year and it is common to find them in all stages of development in the same area. The life expectancy of green stink bugs is about 2 months in warmer climates, in areas where the onset of winter sends them into a dormant stage they will live many months longer.

Biological control is often attempted in areas where they are causing extreme damage; certain parasitic flies and parasitic wasps are known to use these bugs as the host for their own offspring. Many creatures are brave enough to risk the stink bomb for a quick meal....frogs, toads,spiders and birds will all make a meal out of these bugs.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Red Admiral Butterfly

This beautiful black and red butterfly is a red admiral (Vanessa atalanta), and they are a common sight throughout Missouri as well as their entire range of North America, Asia and Europe. There are two generations per year in the United States, and each generation varies a little. The winter form that appears early in the spring will be smaller and duller in color, whereas the summer form will be much larger and brighter in color. Their wingspan will range in size from 1 3/4 to 3 inches.

Most of North America must be recolonized each spring by southern migrants of this species. They are known to overwinter in Southern Texas, and most likely in other southern regions where the temperatures and food sources will allow. They have a very erratic, rapid flight that can make capturing them or photographing them difficult, but they are one of the most beautiful butterflies to visit any garden.

The adults feed on sap flows, rotting fruit, and bird droppings. They nectar only when those preferred food sources are not available. When found nectaring they seem to prefer common milkweed, red clover, coneflower, aster, and alfalfa, but will also be found on other varieties as well.

Males perch on ridgetops where available to wait for passing females.....if no ridgetops are available they will choose high vantage points that allow them a good view of neary females. After mating, females will lay their eggs singly on the leaves of the host plant. In the case of these butterflies they use nettles, and possibly hops.

Their preferred habitat is moist woods, yards, parks, marshes, seeps, moist fields. During migrations, the Red Admiral is found in almost any habitat from tundra to subtropics.

I find them in my gardens in large numbers each year, both because I have nettles that I allow to grow in small populations to encourage their visit, and because our yard is near a moist woodland. Nettles are not generally the favorite plant of most people, although they are edible if fixed right. If you can manage to tolerate a few stray nettles you are amost guaranteed to attract this species to your yard.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A big Hello and Thank you

I just wanted to write and Thank each one of my followers and visitors for your kind comments and enthusiastic support of MObugs. I appreciate each and every one of you. I may not always leave comments on your blogs, but trust me I am visiting, reading and enjoying your posts very much. I count my blessing each day to have such wonderful "web-friends."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Plains Dog-Day Cicada

This small cicada is the Plains Dog-Day Cicada (Tibicen auriferus). They are found throughout most of the Midwestern states. This is one of eleven species of cicadas that call Missouri home. They measure approximately one inch in length with the wings extending another 1/4 to 1/2 inch past the abdomen.

They are commonly found in grasslands and meadows near forested areas. These were found on a farm my husband family owns in Andrew County. It is predominately tall grass meadows with woodlands...perfect habitat for these cicadas. What is odd though, this is the first time we've ever found them on this farm. They have a very distinct call that sounds like a chainsaw cutting wood. It is very high pitched an whiney.

This species reportedly feeds on vascular plants such as conifers, ferns and horsetails. They are found from July through September which are typically the hottest days of the year. It is the emergence of these cicadas in conjunction with the "dogdays" of summer that has earned them their common name of Dog-day cicadas.

Cicadas are an important part of the food chain and provide nutrition for many animals from mice, squirrels, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and even large spiders.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Admirable Grasshopper


Admirable Grasshoppers (Syrbula admirabilis) are sometimes referred to as handsome grasshoppers and it is easy to see why. This is one of the prettiest species of grasshoppers to call Missouri home. They occur throughout the central and eastern portions of the United States including Arizona. Males and females look different from each other so it is somewhat easy to differentiate them. Males are darker, even blackish in color and are smaller than females. The females is generally green or brown. Males are good fliers, whereas females are poor fliers and typically hop to get away.  They are associated with dry grassy areas, like prairies, meadows and hay fields. 


This grasshopper feeds on a wide variety of plants, but is not known to cause any significant damage to forage or agricultural crops. Their population density tends to fluctuate from year to year. I rarely see more that a few individuals at a time in any given area. This is a late emerging species and the nymphs begin appearing in July. Mating between adults takes place late in the season after an elaborate mating ritual initiated by the male. He will wave his antennae, sing loudly and tipping his femora (thick upper portion of the back legs) towards the female. The males do not force themselves on the female like in many other species. I guess you could say these are the gentlemen of the grasshopper world. Once mated the female will lay egg masses under the ground. These egg masses will overwinter and emerge the following summer.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Diamondback Water Snake

On a recent trip to Squaw Creek NWR Cindy and I drove the 10 mile auto tour and discovered this beautiful snake in the road. Upon first seeing the snake her and I thought it was a northern water snake which are very common around here. I posted these pictures to facebook and soon received a correction from a friend and snake expert named Dan Krull that this snake was instead a Diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer rhombifer). Even better,as I had never seen this species before.

Water snakes are notoriously cranky snakes and often strike without warning. This feisty demeanor has earned them a bad reputation. In addition they are often mistaken for the venomous Cottonmouth and needlessly killed. While it is true they very much resemble the cottonmouth and hang out in the same environments and habitats as the cottonmouth the cottonmouth does not occur this far north in Missouri. The likelihood of actually seeing a cottonmouth in NW Missouri is less than 1%. However with global warming, habitat destruction and human persecution that could change over time and their populations could extend further north. This however would be many decades in the future and certainly not a concern now.

The diamondback water snake occurs in southeastern Missouri and over much of the northern, western and eastern parts of the state. It appears to be absent from the ozarks, as their favored habitat of marshes and wetlands are severely lacking in that region. These are the largest of all the water snake species found in Missouri and are very heavy-bodied. They have numerous diamond-shaped markings along their back which earned them their common name. This species has a high variance in color and may be gray, light brown and even a dull yellow. The belly is bright yellow and there are distinctive black lines running vertically through the mouth. This species may reach lengths up to more than 5 feet, but more commonly are in the 4 foot range.

They are active from late March until October. They can be found basking on logs or over hanging branches near water. During the hottest parts of the year they become nocturnal and will be found warming on roadways at night. These snakes can be highly aggressive and if molested will not hestitate to bite. This particular specimen was extremely tolerant and only struck when I placed my foot near its face. It allowed us to take numerous photos and actually had to be coaxed off the road so it would not be hit by the next car to come along. I am always quick to try and remove a snake from the road, as many drivers are not as tolerant of snakes as I am. Many people feel it is their duty to remove all snakes from their region and go out of their way to do so. Many snakes are cruely and needlessly killed on the roads each year.

Like all water snakes this species feeds on frogs, fish and other aquatic creatures. They are considered a bit of an expert at catching catfish and seem to favor that particular variety of fish over all others. Many would argue that if they are eating fish and frogs what good are they? Well they aid in culling out diseased, weakened or even dead fish from an ecosytem. Frogs can and do become over populated and need to have their numbers regulated, and these snakes do an awesome job of that. Out west where the large bullfrog has become invasive and is waging war against native frogs, these water snakes do their part to reduce the number of bullfrogs in those areas.

Water snakes give birth to live young sometime in late August through October. They may have as many as 62 offspring that will measure a foot or more in length. After the first freeze these snakes will return to their hibernation sites. It is at this time these snakes may be found most anywhere. They travel sometimes up to a mile or more to reach those hibernaculums.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Widefooted Treehopper

This odd looking thorn-like creature is a widefooted leafhopper (Campylenchia latipes). They have mastered the art of camouflage to perfection. When they sit quietly, unmoving, they are easily mistaken for the thorns they mimic. It isn't until they quickly move around the stalk of a plant that the ruse is discovered. According to this is the only treehopper with the forward facing "horn" on its head. They are brown in color with flanged or wide spread leaf-life front legs. They have large eyes for their overall size.

This species is often tended by ants (you can see the nearby ant in the first picture). The relationship to the ants seems necessary for their overall population growth. Individuals that are not tended by ants tend to be susceptible to parasites and fungal infections. The ants consume the "honeydew" that the treehoppers expel from their anus. This is an extremely sweet substance that ants cannot resist. Honeydew that is not eaten by ants can build up and create an environment for fungus. It is this fungus that can kill treehoppers. 
Treehoppers are members of the order hemiptera, in the family Membracidae. They have sucking mouth parts and will feed on the juices of plants. This species tends to favor tickseed and asters.

Females lay their eggs at the base of plants. When the eggs hatch the nymphs feed and molt. With each molt they climb higher on the plant. The adults will be more often seen in the late summer or early fall. There will be several generations per year in NW Missouri. The last generation will most likely overwinter in the egg stage.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fall Webworm

We've all seen these messy looking tent-like webs that often engulf trees in the fall. They are the handiwork of the Fall webworm (Hyphantria cunea).
While these webs are unsightly and certainly not aesthetically pleasing they do not cause any lasting damage to trees. The female moth will lay her eggs in clusters of up to a hundred on the bottom side of leaves. They will be encased in a hair-like substance that protects them until they hatch approximately a week later. The caterpillars begin feeding on the surface of the leaves and as they eat they produce a silky substance that is used to form the webs. As the caterpillars grow so too does the tent. In large colonies the tents may encompass the entire tree. When the caterpillars are in their last stage of growth before forming their cocoon they well begin feeding on the entire leaves of the tree. The reason these caterpillars have very little affect on the overall health of the trees they are feeding on has to do with the time of the year they are found. Trees in the fall are nearing the end of their growing season and preparing to go dormant for the winter. Sap and vital nutrients that the trees depend on in the growing season are now receding back into the heart of the tree. Therefore these caterpillars can munch away and the trees can withstand the feeding frenzy and come back to their former beauty the following spring. The only exception to this may be if you have extremely young trees or ornamental trees. The moths are native to North America and can be found throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. In 1940 these moths were accidentally introduced to Yugoslavia and from there it wasn't long before they spread to other countries. They are now found nearly Worldwide. In North America they are known to feed on approximately 120 tree species. They predominately favor hardwood species like walnut, pecan, hickory, elm, maple and fruit trees. Worldwide there are over 600 species of trees they are known to feed on.

As caterpillars they are highly variable in their appearance and can range in color from pale yellow to dark gray with yellow spots. They will have a combination of long and short bristly hairs, and two pale stripes running the length of their bodies. They will remain caterpillars for 4 to 6 weeks before forming a cocoon and emerging the following spring. In the pupal stage they can be found at the base of trees tucked away under fallen bark and leaves.

As adults they are mostly white in the northern part of their range, whereas in the southern part of their range they may be marked with black or brown spots on the forewings. The front legs have bright yellow or orange patches. They have a wingspan up to 2 inches and their bodies are extremely hairy, which aids in keeping them warm as they fly around at night. These moths readily come to lights at night and will often be seen at porch lights.

This species is often mistaken for tent caterpillars, because of the similar tent-like webbing that each species creates. The tent caterpillar however commonly occurs in the spring and they build a web home in the V's of trees, whereas the fall webworm is found in the fall (like its name suggests) and build their homes at the end of limbs. The fall webworm has a much messier tent than that of the tent caterpillar as well. So while these messy, webby tents are not that attractive to look at, rest assured your tree is safe and will be back next spring. The little caterpillars will most likely find a new tree to build their home in as the cycle starts all over again.