Saturday, April 30, 2011

Two-Lined Leather-Wing

This soldier beetle in the family Cantharidae is commonly called the Two-Lined Leather-Wing (Atalantycha bilineata). They range throughout the Eastern United States and into parts of Canada where they are typically associated with forests and forest edges. I photographed this one in the stand of timber behind my office. They are relatively small at less than 3/8 of an inch, but what they lack in size they  make up for in looks. They are strikingly marked in bright orange and black.

 This particular soldier beetle is one of the first to appear in the spring, where you will find them sitting on the surface of various plants. The adults like nectar from flowers, and the larvae feed on other insects. Most likely larval develop takes place in rotting wood. Mating between pairs typically lasts for hours, wherein the female will carry the smaller male around on her back. The male seems reluctant or possibly unable to disengage himself.
Spring is finally appearing here NW Missouri, with beautiful temperatures in the low 70's and sunshine. With this warmer weather, more and more insects are going to begin making an appearance, and I for one am excited.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Lessons on how to gross out a 9 year old!

Today Cindy and I had a program at one of the city ponds called Corby Pond. This pond is frequently fished by St. Joseph residents, and why is beyond me. It is a nasty, green water, cesspool with no frogs in sight. The absence of frogs speaks volumes as to the health of this little pond. I for one would not eat anything that came out of it.

Although the pond is icky, the geese use it and so do turtles and the walking trails behind it that lead into the timber are nice, if you can get past the litter that people leave behind.

The group that we met there are 8 and 9 year old students from a local grade school. They are gifted students and the teacher has them working on ecology. They are documenting the species of plants, mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and insects that live in and around this pond. We divided the 12 students into teams and I was the leader for the insect team. We found numerous insects on the dandelions and wildflowers blooming around the pond and in the woods. I came to a wonderful rotting log and ripped a piece off of it to see what was living inside.....JACKPOT!


Ok they aren't insects, but they are definitely living creatures! The three young kids that were with me completely grossed out! I could hear words like
"Disgusting"..."EWWWW"....and "SICK" I picked up a slug and tried to get them to do the same, but they weren't having any of it! No matter how hard I tried I could not convince them slugs were cool, although they did relent on the millipede and agreed it was pretty awesome. After placing the chunk of log back in place, we moved on.

About 100 yards further down on the trail I noticed a rove beetle, then I spotted numerous blow flies, this signals death. I knew something was dead and it was nearby, even if we couldn't smell it yet. I searched around in the vines and grasses and found it! A painted turtle shell. The meat of the turtle was gone and all that remained were some slimy juices of what was once a live turtle. Everything was going great until the scent of dead flesh wafted into the air....then I hear behind me "I'm going to be SICK!" ....."Oh How GROSS!"...."Miss Shelly this is stinky...can we go?" I pulled the shell out of the brush, and placed it on the trail and showed them all the insects inside that were working at breaking down the body of the turtle. We talked a little about decomposers and their role in the environment. Having this dead specimen to use as a teaching tool was perfect. Once the kid's senses adjusted to the onslaught of the smell of death, they admitted it was pretty awesome how Mother Nature works.

(Carrion Beetles mating inside the decomposing turtle)

(Carrion Beetle feeding inside the turtle shell)

The lessons these kids learned today will stay with them for a lifetime. They will always remember the scent of death, and the importance of the creatures who clean it up. It was fun for me to be able to show them that death is part of life and that all living creatures eventually die, and part of that process is decomposition. I was tickled by their initial responses and how at the end of the day they thought it was pretty cool! I still couldn't convince them to like the slugs though...!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Eastern Parson's Spider

This afternoon when I got home from work I noticed this little spider crawling around in front of the door to the house. I could tell right away it was different than any spider I'd seen before. It had approximately a 3/4 inch legspan, was all black with reddish colored legs, and beautiful white pattern on its abdomen. I photographed it and submitted the photo to and received an answer very quickly from Lady Aracnophile who identified it as an Eastern Parsons Spider (Herpyllus ecclesiasticus). She even provided a link to where other images of this spider are located. Apparently they are almost identical to the Western Parsons Spider (H. propinquus). To adequately differentiate them you have to look closely at their reproductive organs. I was able to provide an image of the underside of this spider which hopefully helped in accurately identifying this spider.

(No spider was harmed in the taking of this photo)

They get their common name of Parsons Spider from the white markings on the abdomen which are said to resemble the cravat worn by parsons or ministers during the 1800's. This spider is harmless to humans and pets, in fact they are only harmful to the prey they actively hunt, which is commonly other spiders. They do not build webs like many other spiders, instead they are ground spiders that roam around to hunt for their food.  They are voracious eaters and chase their food down and overpower it. They are commonly found in houses, which is where this one was headed when I stopped it for a photo shoot then placed it in the garden.

They will spin silk to create hide-a-ways to retreat to during the day. Silk is also used by this spider to spin egg sacs, that the female will guard until the spiderlings emerge. 

I've been actively studying and photographing insects and spiders for 7 years and just when I think I can't possibly find anything I haven't previously seen, I am pleasantly surprised by creatures like this parsons spider. Just goes to show, when it come to the tiny majority, there is no end to the wonderful discoveries to be found.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Carabidae---Vivid Metallic Ground Beetle

This shiny beetle with the bright orange legs is a Vivid Metallic Ground Beetle (Chlaenius laticollis). Ground beetles are in the family Carabidae pronounced ca-RAB-bi-dee. Beetles within this family are generally nocturnal and prey on other insects species. Most are black, but some like this particular species are metallic in color. Often their elytra (wings) are ridged and their eyes are usually quite large. There are approximately 40,000 species within this family found worldwide and somewhere around 2,000 of those are found in North America. They can be found in habitats that contain dead or decaying trees, logs and other moist environs. They may also be found under rocks or in sandy habitats. They are not known to be in arid, dry,desert areas. They are particularly common in agricultural areas, which is in large part due to the abundance of prey insects associated with crops and livestock.

Most ground beetles are considered beneficial to humans because of their preference for eating other insects, some of which may be considered pests. 
After mating, most ground beetles lay their eggs on top of the soil. The eggs hatch in about a week. Many larvae lie in burrows or other sheltered areas and wait for unsuspecting prey while some actively hunt through the soil or vegetation seeking out the larvae of other insects. The vivid metallic ground beetles are found in the tribe Chlaeiini which contain 40 species. They are commonly found in the tropics, with a few species found in more temperate zones like Missouri. They typically measure up to 3/4 of an inch and are usually nasty-smelling when disturbed. These are third largest family of beetles, followed by Weevils and Rove beetles. These beetles are easy to find, and can be located simply by looking near pole lights at night. They are attracted to the lights because of the other insects that are attracted to the lights, this makes hunting for their food source easier.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Multi-Colored Asian Lady Beetle---Easter Feast

Many of us are familiar with the ladybug pictured here, it is the Multi-Colored Asian Lady Beetle (Harmonia axyridis). These are the ladybugs that commonly invade homes and other human structures in the fall. They are looking for places to spend the winter months when their food is not available. They find our dwellings much to their liking, to the constant irritation of humans. They can and often do bite, although the bite is not particularly painful, just annoying. They give off a distasteful, musky odor when disturbed, and their feces stains carpets and other fabrics. Many thousands of these beetles many share our homes during the winter and keeping them out is an ongoing battle. While it is true that they are excellent at aphid control as well as the control of other soft bodied insects, they also feed on other insects like this unfortunate fly pictured here. The flies abdomen has a white furry appearance which makes me think that the fly was previously infested with a fungus of some sort. Had the beetle not consumed the fly, the fungus would have. Once the beetle got his fill he walked off and the image left behind is a bit morbid. The flies head is just hanging by a thread over the edge of the leaf. Makes a person glad you aren't a fly!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Warm weather=Happy Bees

Any beekeeper just starting out worries whether or not the bees will adapt to their new home and do what bees are supposed to do. After acquiring the bees, our temperatures turned colder and rainy....certainly not good weather to welcome our bees. I've been providing them sugar water to help them get started and provide nutrition for those times when they cannot get out and forage for nectar and pollen. We will continue to provide sugar water until they are not using it any longer. Tonight when I checked the bees (without opening the actual hive) I was so EXCITED to discover that the bees ARE doing the "bee thing" and gathering pollen and nectar. Look at the first picture...several bees have their pollen sacs full on their hind legs.  YAY!!!!

Pictured here is the sugar water feeder, I filled this pint jar the day before yesterday and they have already drank half of it. I am just so happy that things are looking good for the time being! "Keep working little bees"

Metallic Wood Boring Beetle

This coppery looking beetle is a metallic wood boring beetle in the family Buprestidae. According to the beetle expert Ted McRae of Beetles in the Bush this beetle is in the genus Dicerca, and may possibly be D. lurida or D. obscura. They occur throughout North America and typically breed in decaying hardwood trees. In spite of their metallic sheen they REALLY do blend in well with the trees they are known to hang out around.

They seem to prefer Hickory trees, but will also invade other newly damaged deciduous trees. Once the trees have reached the point of severe decay they do not meet the needs of the beetle and will most likely be passed by in favor of newer decaying trees. These are relatively small beetles that measure up to 1/2 inch in length. What they lack in size they more than make up for in beauty.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Packaging and Shipping Honey Bees

Several  individuals have expressed some interest in knowing more about how honey bees are  prepared for shipping. Most new beekeepers, like myself, chose to start out with package bees. These are the easiest bees to manage for beginners. Each package contains 3 lbs. of bees, which equals 10,000 to 12,000 honey bees. 

Honey Bee breeders rear bees based on several qualities, among those are honey production, temperament and resistance to certain diseases. In the spring, generally during March and April bees from these farms are prepared for shipping all across the United States as well as to Canada. It takes numerous individuals to take on this time consuming job, as thousands of packages of bees will be shipped. During peak foraging hours hired hands approach the hives and place a queen excluder on top of the brood box, and they smoke the remaining workers up into the supers (additional boxes), the older bees are out foraging for nectar and pollen. This queen excluder will hold the drones and queen into the bottom box, making it easier to remove the young bees that are left behind in the supers. A hired-hand will carry the super over to a shaking funnel and will shake 3 lbs of bees into a funnel, that will funnel the bees into packing crates. Each crate has already been supplied with a queen. Each package is then supplied with a can of sugar water or a candy board to feed them on their journey. Then the shipping boxes are sealed shut by stapling the edges of the crate.

This video shows how a queen is selected and packaged in her little container.

The worker bees that have been poured into the shipping container, are placed with an unknown queen. The queen is protected from being harmed due to the strange new bees by the separate container she is in. By the time the bees arrive to their designation, the queen now smells like the workers and they recognize her as their queen. Some suppliers plug the end of the queen cage with candy. When you receive your bees, you expose the candy plug to the workers then hang it in the hive. The workers will eat the candy and release the queen. Other suppliers simply require that you remove the queen after 3 or 4 days within the hive, which is what I had to do.

This video shows how the packages are readied for shipping.

The honey bees are stressed from being separated from their queen. Additional stresses come in the form of being poured into containers, and many hives contain up to 50,000 bees, so this means many are separated from their hive mates, since a package contains only 10,000 to 12,000 bees. Then further stresses of being shipped across country in shipping trucks, with a strange queen to new climates. It is a miracle any of them survive and remain in their new homes after going through such indignities.

All Hail the QUEEN

After installing our bees this past Saturday the weather has been icky and cold. The high temperature yesterday was 42 degrees and rainy. Today's high is supposed to be in the low 50's. This is absolutely cruddy weather for our new little bees.

The queen is shipped in a small box that separates her from the workers. There is a little screen over one end that the workers can feed her through. This allows the workers to become familiar with their new queen and accept her as their leader. They will walk all over the box and pass their scent onto her and then they will recognize her as THEIR queen. She had been in this box since being shipped from California (last Wednesday) to Missouri. We were told to keep her in the box for three days. Technically she should have been released yesterday, but with the rain I did not want to open the hive.

Today HAD to be the day, I simply did not want to wait any longer. The sooner she is with her minions the better off she would be, and them as well. After getting the smoker ready, I grabbed my camera, and hive tool and headed to the hive. After opening the hive top, I pried the inner lid up and Joey lightly smoked the bees. I reached for the tiny little box that contained the queen. She was still alive and very active....GOOD SIGN! The bees were concerned for her welfare and buzzed around my head and hand that was holding the queen. The workers seemed to know I meant the queen no harm. They crawled all over my hand as if trying to protect her and let her know they were there for her should the need arise. I gently pried the screen off the little box and placed it in between two frames and let her crawl out on her own. Many workers swarmed around her and escorted her out of her little prison.

Once she crawled out I dropped the little box down into the hive, figuring it would contain her scent and cause the bees to follow it and the queen further into the hive where they would be safer, as I did not want to risk smashing her when I replaced the lid. They seemed so happy to have personal access to their queen, rather than having a obstacle in the form of a box and screen in their way. Lets hope the hive meets with her approval and they stay put. I know any beekeepers biggest fear is that the bees will retreat to other areas and abandon the hive. I will say a prayer to the bee Gods that they are content and happy.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Orange Wing Moth

This little moth is an Orange Wing (Mellilla xanthometata) and this is the only species within this genus in the World. In the United States they are found from Texas northward and then eastward to New York. They can also be found in Ontario, Canada. The adult male has bright orange hind wings that are hidden when not in flight, their forewings are tan or gray with distinctive black spots and lines. Females are similar to males, except their hindwings are paler and are more yellowish in appearance.  These moths are active night and day and often come to lights at night. These moths are in the family geometridae with moths like Tulip-Tree Beauty,The Saw-Wing, and Crocus Geometer. The caterpillars of moths in this family are called inchworms and are often seen hanging by a strand of silk from leaves or twigs. The caterpillars of this species feed on locust trees. Look for them clinging to low vegetation during the day with their wings closed, like the one pictured here.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Separation Anxiety

Joey and I decided after lunch to head out into our timber and look for some morels, we began to think we weren't going to find any when he suddenly noticed a tiny gray one about 1/2 tall. After that he found an additional 18 mushrooms. I lamented I wasn't having any luck seeing them. He replied "You are too focused on bug hunting." I had to chuckle at that, because he was right. Oh well, we at least have some to enjoy with supper tonight.

We returned to the house and I noticed a lone honey bee worker sitting on top of the packing crate she came in. After we placed the bees in the hive yesterday, a few hundred remained in the packing crate. I sat it down on the ground to let them find their way into the hive. I checked on them about 30 minutes later and discovered the crate was empty and the bees were all on the hive box with exception to one bee. So I shook her out of the hole in the top of the crate and took the crate to the house and sat it on the front porch.
Apparently there was an additional bee in the crate that I did not notice and this poor little girl spent the night alone, separated from her hive mates and I'm sure she was chilled. A rescue was in order!

I took her picture then coaxed her onto my hand. Once she was on my hand she settled down and licked my finger. Perhaps gleaning any sweat that was there. I walked her down to the hive and about 15 feet from the hive, she perked up, raised her abdomen and began flicking her antennae. She was obviously excited, she could smell her fellow workers and most likely the queen. I gently placed her on top of the hive box and she immediately flew to the front of the hive box with relief. Hopefully her night alone in the cold won't have any lasting affect on her.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Buzzing new Adventure

After reading the book "The Queen Must Die" I became obsessed with the idea of having a hive of my own. Honey Bees (Apis mellifera) are without a doubt one of the hardest working creatures in nature. More research has been done concerning the honey bee than probably any other insect in the World. There is good reason for this, honey bees are an important part of the  natural world. They provide an important service in the form of pollination....without them there would be many foods we would have to learn to live without. While it is true that native bees, butterflies and other insects also pollinate flowers and plants meant for human consumption, they do not do so with the vim and vigor that honey bees do. 

Thousands of years ago humans discovered the delicious by-product of honey bees....HONEY! Since that time there has been no looking back. Humans have gone to great lengths to own these bees and master the hive. Humans are well known for their sweet tooth and honey has long been considered a valuable commodity.
Many insects nectar at flowers, but honey bees are the only insects known to refine the substance into a delicious sweet treat that humans savor. They are such industrious honey producers that they are capable of creating enough honey to see the hive through harsh winter months with enough leftover for us!

For three years now I have read everything I can get my hands on about honey bees and finally made the plunge and bought our first bee hive and honey bees. Joey spent several days this winter putting the box together and painting it. Today we drove to Auburn, NE about an hour from where we live and picked up our three pounds of bees. This is equal to about 11,000 bees.

I am so excited by this new adventure I can hardly stand it, Joey less so. He has a notoriously bad time when it comes to stinging or biting insects. He is attempting to overcome his deep-seated fear of these little bees. We bought him a super-duper bee suit that is supposed to be completely bee proof. We got him a pair of longggggg leather gloves and an awesome hat and net that zips into his bee suit. He will be safely contained from the business end of these creatures.

We brought the bees home in the trunk of the car (Joey refused to let them in the car with us, even though they were contained) where it was exceedingly warm, when I took them out of the trunk they were very active from the warmth. We set up the hive beforehand and carried our little box of bees to the hive. 

(We placed the hive near our timber where it will get warm eastern sun in the mornings and be somewhat shaded from the blistering heat of summer)

(box of 11,000 bees)

 (My brave Joey all suited up and ready to face his fears)

(Making sure the net is secured)

(Removing the Sugar water can that was shipped with them to keep them hydrated and fed)

We debated back and forth the best method to get them into the hive box. There are two recommended ways to handle this transition:

1.) Remove 4 frames from the hive box and set them aside. Seal the entrance to the hive, leaving only a one or two inch gap for the bees to come and go. Shake the bees to the bottom of the box, remove the sugar water can, slide the little box out that contains the queen. Cover the hole where the can was to prevent all the bees from flying out. Place the box with the queen against on of the frames. Then remove the sugar water can again and place the entire box of bees inside the box where the 4 frames had been removed. Close up the hive and let the bees crawl out on their own. This method requires that you check on the hive again in about 5 minutes to make sure they are leaving their shipping box and moving towards the queen to keep her warm and feed her through the screen on her little box.Then you have to return in three days to release the queen and replace the four frames you originally removed.

2.) The second option is similar to the first with the exception to how you put the bees in the hive box. This method requires that you "shake" the bees out of the hole in the box left behind by the sugar water can. 75% of the bees need to be shaken into the hive box and then the 4 frames placed back inside, being careful to not crush any bees in the process. Then close up the hive. Set the shipping box with the remaining bees on the ground hear the entrance. Those bees will find their way into the hive when they smell the queen and their fellow honey bees.

I ultimately decided that method 2 would be the best. This method would allow the bees to find their queen much easier and warm her much faster.

 (Placing the queen inside the hive)

(Shaking the bees into the hive box)

 (Notice the bees buzzing all around us)

 (I decided working with gloves on is far to cumbersome)

(Replacing the top)

(All done, for day one)

Joey did remarkably well and only had a momentary panic when the bees swarmed after shaking them into the hive box. I talked calmly and told him he was fine, that the bees were not angry, just confused. I am just happy he was there to help and proud of him for being willing to do so. I know how hard it is to face a phobia, and he faced his and did AWESOME!

In three days we check the hive and remove the screen on the queen box and release her to the hive. Hopefully everything will go well and our hive thrives. Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Stink Bugs

There once was a giant stink bug 
Whose plates made him look like a thug 
His name was Matt 
As big as a bat 
He was made fun of by the stinkbug dug
One day he rubbed his legs for a mate 
However the other stink bugs used him as bait
He was stepped on by a mink 
This made him stink 
Unfortunately this sealed his fate 
There once was a giant stink bug 
Whose plates made him look like a thug 
His name was Matt 
As big as a bat 
He was made fun of by the stinkbug dug
One day he rubbed his legs for a mate 
However the other stink bugs used him as bate 
He was stepped on by a mink 
This made him stink 
Unfortunately this sealed his fate
(Taken from Pete's Poetry Page)

 Stink bugs are shield-shaped bugs in the family Pentatomidae. They are called stink bugs from the icky smelling odor they emit when disturbed. This tendency is effective at warding off predators. After all who or what wants to eat something that smells like rancid almonds?

In the family of stink bugs there are both the "bad" guys and the "good" guys. Some species will feed on plants, by sucking the plant juices out, effectively damaging the plant. Because these insects can show up in large numbers it is easy to see how effective they would be in causing significant damage to numerous crops and plants. In addition many of them have become resistant to pesticides and are therefore difficult to control. 
Other species are insect feeders and use their beak-like mouth parts to inject enzymes into their prey and slurp up the juices like an insect-smoothie.  This gives a whole new meaning to "Lethal injection."

 This makes them effective at controlling many insects that can also be harmful. In the picture here the stink bug is feeding on a Green Dock Beetle. They are effective at controlling Japanese Beetles and Mexican Bean Beetle as well. 

A new species of stink bug has made its way into the United States. The  brown marmorated stink bug was first found in Pennsylvania and is believed to have entered the country accidentally. They are originally from China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, where they are considered a major agricultural pest. Recently, the BMSB has become a serious pests of fruit, vegetables and farm crops in the Mid-Atlantic region and most likely it will  become a pest of these commodities in other areas in the United States. 

BMSB becomes a nuisance pest both indoors and out when it is attracted to the outside of houses on warm fall days in search of protected, overwintering sites. BMSB  occasionally reappears during warmer sunny periods throughout the winter, and again as it emerges in the spring. This is reminiscent of Asian Lady Beetles and Boxelder bugs. Everyone who has these insects show up in large aggregations on their homes complain about them. Now we have another insect with the same tendency to add to the growing list of insects that seem to prefer sharing our homes to finding their own natural occurring residence, preferably away from us! So far this particular stink bug has not been found in Missouri, at least it hasn't been reported. 
 (Brown Marmorated Stink Bug--Be on the look out!)

Adults are approximately 17 mm long (25 mm = one inch) and are shades of brown on both the upper and lower body surfaces. They are the typical “shield” shape of other stink bugs, almost as wide as they are long. To distinguish them from other stink bugs, look for lighter bands on the antennae and darker bands on the membranous, overlapping part at the rear of the front pair of wings. They have patches of coppery or bluish-metallic colored puntures (small rounded depressions) on the head and pronotum.

Some stinkbugs use special odors to attract mates. Smelling the odors helps partners find each other. Some kinds of stinkbugs also attract mates with sound. They rub their legs or wings against their bodies to make noises similar to those of crickets. Mates are drawn to the sounds.
After mating, a female stinkbug lays batches of eggs. Often she lays them in neat rows of 12 or 14 eggs each. The eggs are usually laid on plant leaves. Stinkbug eggs look like tiny barrels. The colors of the eggs depend on the type of stinkbug that laid them. Green stinkbugs, for example, lay yellow to green eggs that turn pink or gray.
In some species, a mother stinkbug closely guards her nymphs, or young, after they hatch. If the mother senses danger, she moves herself between the enemy and the nymphs. Then she acts as a shield and moves from side to side to protect the nymphs.

Stinkbugs, like all true bugs, change as they grow. Like all insects, they go through a process called metamorphosis. But stinkbugs don’t change as much as many other insects do. Most insects go through four stages of development, while stinkbugs go through three. That’s why a stinkbug’s metamorphosis is incomplete.

A nymph has a shape much like an adult. Nymphs are smaller than adults, though. And nymphs don’t have wings, as most adults do. A nymph is born with a hard outer layer of skin that it soon outgrows. So the nymph molts, or sheds its skin. After the first molt, small padlike wings appear on the nymph’s body. With each new molt, the wings grow longer. After the fifth and last molt, the wings are fully developed. A stinkbug nymph becomes an adult after about a month.

There are hundreds of species of stink bugs and they can vary in color from tan, brown, black, gray, green and even red or blue. They range in size from 1/4 inch up to 1/2 inch. The following are few examples of some different stink bugs found in Missouri.
(Stiretrus anchorago--Anchor Stink Bug; 2 color forms red and bronze)

(Euschistus servus - Brown Stink Bug)

(Cosmopepla lintneriana--Twice-Stabbed Stink Bug)