Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Carolina Grasshopper

One of the more common grasshoppers in Missouri is the Carolina Grasshopper (Dissosteira carolina). They are one of the largest grasshoppers in North America, with males averaging 1.5 inches in length and a wingspan up to 2.83 inches, females are larger and measure up to 2.29 inches and a wingspan up to 4 inches. You can find them in  wide variety of habitats including agricultural ground, roadsides, open weedy grasslands or anywhere there are open bare grounds. Nearly all 48 of the Continental United States are home to these Orthopteras. The exception is Southern Florida, Gulf Coastal Plains, Southwest Arizona, and the bottom 2/3rds of California.They are not particular in their diet and will feed on a wide variety of grasses, forbs, horsetails, and sedges. 

This is one of the most common grasshoppers found throughout the summer months here in Missouri. If you haven't ran across them, they are very flighty and fast. Photographing them can be a challenge in patience as you sneak up on them quietly, only to have them fly 15 feet away the second you are ready to snap a photo.

They are known by several names including Road Duster, Quaker, and Black-winged Grasshopper. I personally love the name Road Duster and it is a very apt name considering I generally find them along gravel roads in the countryside near where I live. They are often flying back and forth from ditch to ditch. The roadside weeds seem to be a favorite of these hungry little munchers. 

Color varies from tan to gray, and when not in flight they are perfectly camouflaged against the gravel road beds, open ground and old lots where they are found. 
When in flight their wings are brownish-black with yellow edges. Their flight is erratic, and often bobbing, much like a butterfly which they are often mistaken for. Mourning cloak butterflies are the most common butterfly that these grasshoppers are mistaken for, most likely due to the coloring. Mourning Cloaks have black wings edged in yellow, just like the flight wings of these grasshoppers. 

During warm, sunny days the adults frequently fly over bare ground interacting with one another. Males are known for their hovering flight. They rise almost vertically from the ground to heights of 3 to 6 feet, occasionally higher, and hover for 8 to 15 seconds. At the end they flutter down to the ground close to where they started. They may repeat this maneuver as many as five times. Females are attracted to this flight display and will come in to investigate potential mates. The display also attracts males so that a small aggregation of several males and a female may gather on the bare ground beneath the hovering male. 

Once mated the female will use her ovipositor to deposit egg pods within bare spots in the ground. The eggs remain underground all winter and hatch the following spring. The tiny nymphs will emerge from underground and begin feeding. They will reach their adult size by mid to late summer which is when breeding will once again take place. 

With hot summer temperatures these grasshoppers alter their behavior in contrast to ground temperature. When the ground temperature reaches or exceeds 110 degrees they will start climbing blades of grass or stems of plants in what is referred to as "stilting." This gets their body off the hot surface of the ground where it is blistering, and into cooler environs. They will also orient themselves so they face the sun, which reduces the amount of their body coming in contact with the direct rays of the sun, which also keeps them cooler. To say this eludes to intelligence on their part would be a stretch, but it certainly eludes to a protective instinctual behavior that protects them from injury. 

These grasshoppers are an important part of the food chain and are consumed by birds, snakes, frogs, toads, spiders, praying mantids, raccoons, skinks, skunks, mice, squirrels and other predators of insects. Even humans on occasion will consume grasshoppers for protein.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Labyrinth Orbweaver

This calico-colored spider is the labyrinth orbweaver (Metepeira labyrinthea)in the family Araneidae. There are 13 species within this genus occurring throughout North America. They are fairly small spiders with a legspan about the size of a nickel. The front legs are much longer than the other pairs of legs and are banded in two-tone brown and tan. Their abdomen is oval-shaped and bulbous and is a deep reddish brown in color with distinct white markings.
Their common name comes from the type of web they are known for weaving. They build an orb-shaped web running vertical of a maze-like "labyrinth" located above and behind the orb. These webs will be found 3 to 5 feet above the ground in shrubs. This messy labyrinth often contain bits of debris or leaves woven in such a way to give the spider a retreat for safety. The web of this species is so distinct that it is possible to ID the spider before even seeing it.

Females reach maturity in late August or early September and you may encounter males hanging out in the web with them. After mating the female will create eggs sacs as uniquely shaped as their web is. Each egg sac is lenticular or lentil-shaped. The biconvex eggs are guarded by the female, as seen here, and are located near the entrance of the retreat. She will weave them with silk attached to small twigs. The female dies by late fall or early winter, but the egg sacs will remain attached to the twigs until spring at which time they hatch. The spiderlings will cluster together for a few days before ballooning and dispersing themselves into the environment.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Japanese Burrowing Cricket

The Japanese Burrowing Cricket (Velarifictorus micado) is native to Asia and was first found in the United States in 1959 in the District of Columbia. It quickly established itself throughout much of the southeast. It is believed the spread of this insect was due in large part to the transport of ornamental plants. The cricket eggs or larvae would hitch a ride in the root ball of various plants to many parts of the southern United States. Over the past 50+ years it has spread its range to include Missouri. The one photographed here was found in Taney County, near Blue Eye, MO. We can assume as shipments of plants travel around the country this insect will continue to expand its range.
It's current distribution includes
more than a dozen states. Most likely their range is much larger than we know since sightings are likely to go unreported or specimens go unnoticed by the average person who only has a passing interest in insects.

Their song is reported to be unique and easy to recognize and differentiate from other crickets. Much like birders who spend time outside bird-watching and are often able to ID a bird just by song alone, this is also possible with singing insects like crickets, grasshoppers, cicadas, etc. This would take much practice to train your ear to identify species this way, but I dare say it would be rewarding....not to mention you would impress your friends.

This species measure 1/2 to 7/8 of inch in length with a yellowish-brown body, off white legs that have brown blotches. Their wings are short and do not cover their abdomen. These are a flightless crickets, although there are reports of specimens that exist with wings long enough to allow flight. This however would be rare for this species.

They are found in grassy areas along woodland edges, along shorelines of ponds, lakes and other water sources. You may also encounter them under stones, logs and other debris. They will not be found in trees or even in shrubbery. They are considered completely terrestrial. They will call from the entrance to burrows to attract mates. Once mated, females lay eggs in the soil. There will be one generation per year. Look for them from August-October.

This particular species is highly prized in parts of Asia where cricket fighting is considered a time honored tradition. In late summer or early autumn thousands of crickets, including the Burrowing Cricket are captured from local fields. These crickets are sold in market places where they are inspected by potential buyers. The crickets with the strongest legs and jaws are highly sought after and much haggling takes place as fair prices are negotiated for the best, and strongest crickets.

Betting on crickets is illegal in China, but competitions still occur frequently during the autumn months. Participants meet at a predesignated location with their crickets and enter their competitor into the fights. Cricket are placed in an oval shaped arena with a small piece of plastic separating them. When the plastic is removed and the crickets can see each other, the territorial males will begin attacking each other. They will bite each other repeatedly, often severing a leg of their opponent. Fights are rarely fatal, as the loser concedes to the more dominant male before limping away to lick his wounds. The loser is often killed by the owner and considered useless for future fighting.
Once a cricket wins a number of fights he is considered a champion and these "champion crickets" can command high prices. It is not unheard of for these particular crickets to fetch hundreds if not thousands of dollars. The record amount paid for a champion cricket was $12,000.00 US dollars in 1999.

Rows of individual Cricket cages, By Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11028178
Many people in Asia keep crickets and breed them, housing them in separate containers and raising them from the "Stock" of champion crickets. The average market prices for most crickets is around $1.50 top $3.00. Making them much more affordable than champion crickets.

Most people in the United States would never dream of passing the time fighting crickets, so I doubt this activity will ever catch on here. Instead we much prefer to sit outside, sipping a favorite beverage, appreciating the cooler days and listening to the sound of the crickets heralding in autumn.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Velvet Ant

Velvet Ants in the family Mutillidae are commonly found in August and September as they erratically crawl around on bare spaces in pastures, fields, yards and other areas where grass is sparse or nonexistent. There are 3,000 known species found worldwide, and most are easily recognized by the ant-like female. She is covered in dense hairs, in either reddish-orange & black, gold, black & white or yellow. They get their common name from their resemblance to ants. They are not ants at all, but wasps. They do have a somewhat constricted waist like ants, but they lack the curved antennae of ants. These wasps also possess something that the majority of ants do not, a very powerful stinger. Many species of velvet ants have a stinger that is half the length of their body. It is tucked underneath out of sight and only brought out when mishandled or provoked. These wasps try to avoid confrontation, but if mishandled they will sting and it will be an experience you won't soon forget. This painful sting has earned the species pictured here, Dasymutilla occidentalis, the nick-name Cow Killer. The name comes from reports that the sting is so horrible it could kill a cow. Obviously this is an exaggeration, but still we should respect anything that is reportedly so foreboding that it carries the moniker of Cow Killer. Thankfully they're not super defensive or prone to aggressiveness                                                                                                                  
Males do not look anything like the females. They have black-brown wings that the females lack. They do not possess stingers, but that doesn't deter them from attempting to defend themselves with a stinger-like projection on their gentalia. I suppose a penis-poke that feels like being jabbed by a straight pin would cause a person to drop him in a hurry. 

The male and female pictured here were found in Branson, MO. I spotted the female first as she was walking in circles on a leaf next to a walking trail I was on. I stopped to watch her and take a few pictures and tried to figure out what her odd behavior meant. Then I spotted the male nearby. When the male would come closer to her she would bob her abdomen up and down as if to attract the males attention. He seemed quite interested in her. I am assuming she was somehow releasing pheromones which attracted this male that was in the vicinity. Not sure what the abdomen bobbing was all about, but apparently shaking your booty brings the boys. 

Every time in the past when I have tried to photograph these wasps it has proven impossible. They are quick and always on the move. This female sat still for seconds at a time which allowed for a few quick pictures. The male on the other hand never stopped long enough to manage a decent, clear image. 

Velvet Ants are not colony wasps and do not create hives, nests or burrows. After mating, the female will seek out the nest of solitary wasps or bees, like bumble bees, and enter the nest and lay an egg on larvae therein. The newly hatched velvet ant larvae will burrow into the larvae of the bumble bee (or other host) and feed on the innards of the unfortunate victim until they are ready to pupate. Pupation will take place inside the burrow of the bumble bee or other host. The larva that was fed on will not survive. 

These wasps rarely occur in large numbers and are usually encountered randomly. I've only found 5 or 6 of them in the last 10 years. I am fascinated by them, but careful to never try and handle one!



Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Colorado Potato Beetle

Colorado Potato Beetles (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) are endemic to Colorado as well as a few neighboring states where they feed on native plants in the genus Solanum. These include horse nettles and nightshade. With the expansion of potato, tomato, and eggplant crops these beetles made a natural jump from their native host to these cultivated, garden favorites in the same genus. With this expansion in the cultivation of food crops in the genus Solanum this beetle also expanded it's reach and now can be found throughout much of the United States and parts of Canada.

They are considered to be a serious pest of potato, tomato, eggplant and pepper crops and their feeding habits can drastically reduce yield or even kill the plants. Because of this potential harm to food crops people are often dependent on insecticides to control them. Unfortunately, this beetle shows an extraordinary ability to develop resistance to insecticides developed to control it. This falls in line with what I have been saying for years and have mentioned numerous times in various posts on this very blog. Insecticides only work for a short period of time, before the insect you are targeting develops resistance and passes that resistance onto their offspring. Within a few generations they will have nearly complete resistance to the chemical cocktail and your spray will have no ill effects on them. Then you have the added concern of the spray you are using causing the unintended death of beneficial bugs like bees, butterflies and ladybugs. Insecticides are not pest specific. They routinely kill all insects they come in contact with. Care should always be exercised when using insecticides, and always follow the directions to the letter. Using more than is necessary causes more harm than good and can actually cause the resistance to insecticides to be exacerbated exponentially.

Larva feeding on potato
CPB overwinter as adults and become active again in the spring when the temperatures warm up. They will feed on weeds, volunteer potatoes and other volunteer plants within the genus Solanum. About 3 or 4 days after feeding they will mate and within days of mating the female will begin laying clusters of up to 24 eggs on the underside of the leaves of the host plant. I've read differing accounts of how many eggs they can produce in their short window of 4 to 5 weeks of ovipositing. Some say 400-500 and still others claim they may lay up to 800 eggs. Whichever number is correct, they obviously lay a tremendous amount of eggs and are quite adept at populating an area where food sources meet their needs.  It takes up to 9 days for the eggs to hatch, depending on how warm the temperatures are. Within 3 weeks they will burrow into the ground to form a pupal chamber and remain there for up to 10 days before emerging as adults. These new females will feed for a few days and seek out mates and the cycle begins again. There may be up to 3 generations per year. With such prolific reproduction it is no wonder there are so many and they can quickly become pests.

Colorado Potato Beetles are also known by other names such as Potato Beetle, Ten-lined Potato Beetle, Ten-Striped Spearman, and Colorado Beetle. They measure up to 1/2 inch in length (or 30 mm)....and their wings are yellow-orange with 10 dark brown stripes. They are often confused with the False Potato Beetle. The false potato beetle has a distinctive brown stripe down the center of their wings. The false potato beetle and the Colorado potato beetle are not able to cross breed. The Colorado potato beetle is the only one considered a pest.

We are familiar with unwanted 6 legged invaders in the United States that have made their way here via cargo shipments from other countries. Think Mutlti-Colored Asian Lady Beetle, or the Japanese Beetle, and a whole host of other destructive little blighters. The Colorado Potato Beetle is native to the US, but has spread it's reach to include Asia, and Europe. It is spreading exponentially and could end up in northern Africa, as well as Japan and other nearby countries sooner rather than later. With so much travel and trade taking place across all borders and with so many different countries its no wonder the entire World experiences an onslaught of 6-legged menaces. Truthfully it's a wonder there isn't more of a problem than there is.

If you find your garden being invaded by this hungry little bug it can be very frustrating. There are options available for organically controlling it, or you can manually remove them from the leaves. Rotating the area where you grow your crops each year can also help control them. Just keep in mind any chemicals you use may not work long term as they are notorious for building up resistance to most all chemicals designed to kill.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Spined Soldier Bug

The spined soldier bug (Podisus maculiventris) are a type of predaceous stink bug found all across the United States and in parts of Canada. They can be identified by the distinct "spiny shoulders" on the pronotum. Body is shield-shape and may be brown, or tan, with yellow legs, and a black streak on the wing membrane. They are about 2/3 of an inch long. You will also notice white spots ringed in black along the wing edges. Their common name is derived from the spines on the legs rather than the spiny shoulders. Although I've read a few reports that say otherwise, so I guess it is anyone's guess where the origin of the name really came from.

They are reported to feed on over 50 different species of insects, many of them injurious to crops, garden plants and ornamentals. Their preference for insects such as corn ear-worm, beet army-worm, fall army-worm, cabbage looper, imported cabbage-worm, Colorado potato beetle, velvet-bean caterpillar, Mexican bean beetle,and

eating a green dock beetle
flea beetles makes them a favorite among gardeners and farmers alike. You will often encounter them in a wide range of crops including alfalfa, apples, asparagus, beans, celery, cotton, crucifers, cucurbits, eggplant, potatoes, onions, soybeans, sweet corn and tomatoes. This species is so good at controlling pest insects that it is commonly used as a biological control species within greenhouses.  The use of them in biological programs in colder climates is not met with much success as they do not overwinter and cannot survive freezing temperatures. The use of them in open field biological control programs is met with mixed results. In some cases they remain in the field where they are placed and feed, but there is some indication they are not able to meet the demand and are often outnumbered by pest-prey. In other cases releasing them in your field only results in them taking flight and going to your neighbors field. At this time it is not cost effective to use them on a large scale and unfortunately chemical control seems to be the most cost effective method of meeting the demands of pest control in large operations.

I've often mentioned in other posts that my husband and I quit using insecticides over 20 years ago. Anywhere from 3 to 5 percent of insects that have been sprayed will survive the chemical onslaught. Those individuals will pass a certain amount of resistance onto their offspring. Each subsequent generation passes more and more resistance onto their offspring until you have a "Super-Bug" that is no longer destroyed by the insecticide designed to kill it. Chemical companies are constantly creating new cocktails of chemicals to try and keep one step ahead of the bugs and their resistance. Not to mention that these insecticides do not JUST target harmful insects, they also kill beneficial insects...think honey bees! We've had no problems with pests. We have great success relying on bats, birds, mammals and insect predators in controlling pest insects. We farm over 500 acres without insecticides and I am very proud of this. I wish more farmers would change their use of massive amounts of these harmful chemicals. The stark reality is that the more chemicals they use the more they HAVE to use. They will continue to be held prisoner to the high cost of chemicals until they make that hard decision to stop. At first they will have a complete imbalance of bad insects compared to good insects. Eventually though the ratio will straighten itself out and the good bugs will outnumber the bad ones...not to mention other predators which will also feed on the pest insects. We are proof it works.

These stink bugs have piercing/sucking mouthparts that they use to jab their insect prey and then inject an enzyme which helps dissolve their prey. They use their mouthparts somewhat like a straw and suck out the bodily fluids of their prey. They may also occasionally pierce nearby plants to drink fluids. This does not appear to hurt the plants in anyway, and may actually help keep them around to feed on the insects which do hurt your fruits and vegetables. If all their dietary needs are being met from moisture to meat----there is no need to go anywhere!

These stink bugs overwinter as adults in leaf litter and emerge in the spring when they will mate. After mating, females will begin depositing eggs on the underside of leaves on the plants where they hang out looking for food. A single female is capable of laying up to 500 eggs, depending upon how plentiful food is, as well as how nutritious her food choices were.
Apparently some insects are better choices than others. Mexican Bean Beetles seem to be on the good side of the nutritional scale, whereas Colorado Potato Beetles are on the bad side. In comparison it would be like humans choosing a Big Mac over a salad. It seems there is some indication that if they overeat their lifespan is greatly reduced, compared to those who ate more moderately which seem to live longer. Again....I can see a definite comparison to humans.

I find these stink bug frequently around out farm and can appreciate the beneficial service they are providing in controlling the harmful insects in our garden and our crop fields.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Green June Beetle

Green June Beetles (Cotinis nitida) are scarabs in the family Scarabaeidae and are very common throughout the Eastern United States. You will first begin to see them in June when the larva, or grubs as they are referred to, complete their final moult and emerge as adults. These are fairly large beetles that reach lengths up to 22 mm, or 1 inch. Their loudly buzzing, clumsy flight sounds very much like a bumble bee. Green June Beetles are beautiful scarabs with green metallic wings, edged in gold with bright green legs, head and underside.

Mating takes place during the morning in mid-summer. The female emits a strong-smelling milky pheromone that the male is attracted to and can smell from great distances. Mating lasts several minutes before the male departs and the female disappears into her burrow or under a nearby clump of grass. If mating was successful she will lay up to 75 eggs over the course of 2 weeks. She typically chooses organically rich soil to lay her eggs. The larva, or grubs as they are called, feed on humus and mold early in their development. In their final instar they move closer to the surface of the ground and their feeding habits switch to roots of turf grass, ornamental plants and garden plants. If these beetles occur in large enough numbers their feeding can cause significant damage to grasses, and plants. The grubs pupate in early spring and finish their development by late May or early June when the first of the adults will begin to appear, the peak emergence is in mid to late June.

The adult beetle uses the horn-like projection on their head to tear into soft skinned fruit like peaches, plums, and grapes.

They will feed on the flesh of the fruit making it unmarketable for selling. Although the feeding damage caused by late instar grubs is considered more damaging than the feeding habits of the adults. We encounter them once in awhile in our garden, but never in numbers significant enough to cause damage. This could be in large part because we don't use insecticides of any kind. Instead we have a healthy population of birds, bats, and various mammals that all feed on these beetles. Moles will feed on them in the grub stage underground and we certainly seem to have no shortage of moles around here. There is a species of of digger wasp that will burrow into the tunnel of these beetle larva and sting the grub, paralyzing it. Then she will lay and egg on the grub. When the wasp egg hatches it will feed on the paralyzed grub until it is ready to pupate. By not using insecticides or fungicides the beneficial bugs thrive and help control insects that we may not want around. We farm 86 acres where I live and we haven't used insecticides for well over 20 years and I am very proud of that fact. I can say with all honesty we do not have any trouble with crop pests. Often if we will just let nature take care of itself it will do a great job without our interference.

Unlike their brown cousins the June Bugs or May Beetles, which are active at night, Green June Beetle are day active beetles. The one pictured here was found at my work place in the parking lot in the middle of the afternoon.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmers (Libellula luctuosa) are one of the most common dragonflies found in Missouri. They occur most everywhere in the United States with exception to the highest points of the Rocky Mountains.

Like all dragonflies they begin their life in water as nymphs or naiads, feeding on aquatic insects and tiny minnows. They will emerge from the water and shed their skin in their final instar or molt to their adult form. Adult females vary somewhat in color from adult males. Females look very much like immature males and have yellow stripes on either side of their abdomen and a yellow stripe down the center of their thorax. Adult males eventually lose the yellow stripes on the abdomen and they become a powdery blue. They are medium to large sized dragonflies with a wingspan up to 3 inches.

The species name of luctuosa translates into sorrowful or mournful, and is most likely due to the appearance of being draped with a mourning cloak across the wings. In most species of dragonflies the male will remain with the female, guarding her, as she lays eggs in the water. In this species however the female is "widowed" as the male leaves the female to her own devices to lay eggs without his protection. This activity could also be where they get their common name of Widow Skimmer.

Males are territorial and will fight off other males for the attention and right to mate with nearby females. They will even chase away males of other species which are no direct competition for them. This seems like wasted energy to me, but when in doubt chase any possible suitors away which guarantees your right to mate over any other males in the area. Often this species will form male groups in a territory where there is one dominant male that will most likely mate with the females....unless one of the lesser males can pull one over on the dominant male and manage to mate without him being any the wiser.

They are found in areas near slow moving streams, small lakes, ponds and other still waters. We have them in our backyard koi pond as well as a few other species. It is always entertaining to watch them as they chase other males away and compete for females. Like all dragonflies they are carnivores and feed on other insects and they are welcome guests to the backyard as they feed on moths, flies and mosquitoes.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Japanese Beetle

Japanese Beetles (Popillia japonica) in the family Scarabaeidae are native to Japan and made their way into the United States in a shipment of iris bulbs as early as 1912. It wasn't discovered until 1916 inside a nursery in New Jersey. This beetle is known to feed on over 300 varieties of  plants often destroying them. In their native country there are natural predators that feed on them, however in the United States there are no effective natural predators. Birds, frogs and other animals generally won't eat them when they come across them, so they must taste bad. As adults this beetle typically feeds on the green fleshy part of the leaves of plants, leaving only the veins of the leaves. They can skeletonize leaves very quickly and if they occur in large enough numbers they may kill the plants they are feeding on. They may also feed on the fruits present on plants such as grapes, blueberries, etc. In the larval stage, or as grubs, they feed on the roots of various grasses and plants. This beetle in the grub stage, is highly susceptible to a disease called milky spore and scientists have created a biological control agent, Paenibacillus (formerly Bacillus) popilliae. It comes in a powder form that is applied to lawns, but may take several years of application before it adequately controls the population of beetles present on your property. A wasp in the genus Tiphia and a fly in the genus Istocheta have both been proven as effective bio-control, as they will parasitize the beetle. Certain plants are known to repel them such as chives, catnip, and garlic, but with limited success in helping protect plants adjacent to them from the onslaught of these beetles. The estimated damage to turf and ornamentals each year is $450 million, that isn't counting the damage to row crops, forage or trees.

These beetles are rather bumbling in their flight pattern and rarely fly too far in search of food, but they are capable of flying up to a mile for adequate food sources if need be. They give off a pheromone as they feed which attracts additional beetles in the area and results in large aggregations of these beetles all feeding on your prize roses or other plants. When disturbed they will drop off the plant to the ground to avoid being captured by a predator. 

These beetles are tiny at 15mm (approximately 3/8 of an inch) in length with shiny green head, thorax and midline between the wings. Wings are iridescent and may appear brownish, amber, purple or greenish. At the end of the abdomen is a series of white tufts of hair that is a distinctive characteristic of this beetle.
The one pictured here came into work attached to a guests purse. When she picked her purse up off the counter, the beetle was resting on the counter. My coworker captured it and I photographed it before adding it to my insect collection.

Image from: https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef451
Adults emerge from the ground in late spring and mating takes place soon after emergence. Once mated the females will burrow 2 to 3 inches into the ground to lay their eggs. She may lay up to 60 eggs in her lifetime and once the eggs hatch (in about 10 to 14 days) the young grubs will live underground feeding on roots for 10 months before emerging the following spring and beginning the cycle all over again.

While these are attractive beetles, they should not be tolerated in your garden, yard or agricultural area. The amount of damage they cause is significant enough to create millions of dollars in loss each year to the turf, and agricultural industries alone. Traps are one way advertised to control these beetles, but all indications point to these traps not being effective as the beetles often land on the outside of the trap and very few end up IN the trap. These traps also use pheromones to attract the beetles which can be counterproductive to eliminating the beetles from your area, and may in fact encourage MORE beetles. If your beetle population is small enough you may lay a drop cloth on the ground below the plants and in the morning shake your plants causing the beetles to fall onto the drop cloth where  you can roll them up and destroy them naturally. You can also put a pan of soapy water below your plants and knock them into that. You may also chose to apply insecticides which are  approved for killing them, but be aware these insecticides may also harm beneficial insects such as honey bees.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

American House Spider

This oddly shaped, extremely bulbous spider is a house spider (Parasteatoda tepidariorum). I discovered her on the back of my house resting in the middle of a messy web she had created. I placed her on a rock to photograph her and discovered that she was a contrary specimen to capture an image of. She NEVER stopped moving!!! 

I had never seen a spider like her and submitted an image to Eric Eaton of Bug Eric to ID and within seconds he was able to supply me with a name for this spider. I found the name of "House Spider" to be rather dull and boring for such a stunningly gorgeous spider. He told me they are highly variable in coloration, and I must have one of the above average specimens in the looks department. 

Even though this is the first time I have encountered this particular spider (at least as far as I can recall), they are considered one of the most common spiders within the United States. They typically build their webs near human structures where they provide excellent pest control of many insects considered pests by humans, including wasps, cockroaches, ants, flies and mosquitoes. They are even known to try and capture grasshoppers and other larger prey by casting a line of silk at them...rather like spider-fishing. Some specimens will leave flies or other delicacies within the web to lure tiny juvenile skinks into the web so they can feed on a much larger meal. Once the web is full of discarded carcasses they will clean house by dropping the dead bodies to the ground. This keeps things tidy and allows them to keep using the same web without having to build a new one. 

They somewhat resemble black widows, at least in body shape. Unlike widows, which have toxic venom that poses a potential medical threat to humans, these spiders lack venom of any medical significance to humans. Because they reside near humans structures they are somewhat used to human activity and are not bothered by constant human motion. They aren't even particularly defensive, as evidenced by the this one sitting on my finger. She never reared up or even attempted to bite. That doesn't mean they cannot or will not bite, it just means they prefer not to. If they should bite as a result of being smashed or hurt it is no more painful than a bee sting and may cause some itching or slight swelling at the bite sight. if you are sensitive or hyper allergic to bee venom, then the venom from this spider may be of medical significance. They will usually retreat behind a nearby secluded area close to the web if too terribly disturbed. They may also drop from a line of silk and attempt to escape. Their marbled coloring is drab brown mixed with various shades of tan, gray and black which gives them excellent camouflage and they often blend into their surroundings and may go unnoticed by humans. They may also play dead as a last resort if being harassed too much. 

Females are tolerant of males hanging out in their web and you will often find males and females together. Females will build webs within close proximity to each other....but if they happen to encounter each other they will fight. 
After mating, the female may produce 15 or more egg sacs, each containing up to 400 eggs. The spiderlings will remain within the web near the female for awhile before dispersing into the environment. There is a species of assassin bug that feeds exclusively on the spiderlings of this species, so no worries of 1,000's of these spiders surviving in any given location. There are also a couple of spider species that feed on house spiders. 

This spider is often mistaken for brown widows, as their coloring is similar, but they lack the orange hourglass on the underside of the abdomen like the widow. 

MEANING of Scientific NAME
As reported by: 
 U.S. Spiders

The genus name is a combination of the Greek prefix para-, meaning “beside, near” and the genus Steatoda. Prefixes like that are sometimes added to existing genus names in order to form new names for related genera. The name Steatoda literally means “tallowy” in Greek, but it’s assumed that Carl Sundevall was going for something more like “rotund.” The specific epithet, tepidariorum, is a Latin combination that we believe means something like “from the greenhouse (from the warm house)” or “warm area.” C. L. Koch first noticed this species was common in greenhouses at the botanical garden of the University of Erlangen in Germany, so that must be why he chose that name.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Nursery Web Spider

The nursery web spider (pisaurina mira) is a common spider found throughout the United States and Canada, but is more common in the Eastern portion of its range. They are large spiders with a leg span well over 2 inches. They are highly variable in coloration and may be tan, yellowish or gray. There is a darker midline stripe that runs from the eyes through the cephalothorax and across the abdomen. The stripe on the abdomen is outlined in white. The eyes are distinctive in identifying this species. The bottom row of eyes are in a straight row, and the upper row of eyes have a deep upward curve. They rest with their front legs close together, outstretched in front of them, like pictured above.

I encountered one of these spiders on my front porch the other night and it behaved in a very strange manner. It literally bounced, or hopped in a very erratic, rapid fashion and hid underneath the step to our hot tub. I coaxed it out and it hopped a few feet away and when I moved in front of it, it stopped and then raised one hind leg. It repeated this behavior several times.....hop...hop...hop....stop, then raise a leg. Not sure why it acted like that, if it was some bizarre defense behavior, or if this was an odd behavior that this particular individual exhibited for some unknown reason.

You will find these spiders near woodland edges, in open grassy fields, meadows and near man-made structures. They are wandering spiders and actively seek insect prey. They may also be found near lights at night, and one could assume these are the opportunistic hunters.

Mating takes place while suspended from a dragline of silk that the male uses to approach the female.  The male will bind the front legs of the female together with silk then offer her a fly. If she accepts the fly; mating will take place. During copulation the female will devour the fly instead of him....so the fly is most likely a decoy to distract the female while he passes his genetics on. After mating, the female will produce an egg sac that she carries around with her in her chelicerae. When the egg sac is ready to hatch, she will create a nursery web in a low lying bush or in tall weeds. The egg sac will be placed safely inside the nursery web where the spiderlings will emerge. The spiderlings will remain in the nursery for a week or so while mom stands guard protecting them from predation.

The name "Pisaurina" is the feminine version of Pisaura, and "mira" is Latin for astonishing or wonderful. Eugene Simon bestowed this name upon the spider in honor of Pesaro River in Italy.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Brown Rove Beetle

While flipping rocks today at the farm I found this large rove beetle. At first I thought it was the Gold & Brown Rove Beetle (Ontholestes cingulatus) and tentatively ID'd it as such on Facebook. My good friend Eric Eaton over at Bug Eric corrected me and supplied the correct ID as the Brown Rove Beetle ( Platydracus maculosus). He assured me that these two beetles are often mistaken for each other. I must admit they do look very similar. The P. maculosus is larger and often found under leaf litter, rocks, logs, carrion, etc. whereas O. cingulatus will be found more often in or around fungi. Both may occasionally be found near lights at night.

The Brown Rove Beetle is common throughout much of the United States, but especially in the east. It will also be found in parts of Canada. They are dark brown covered in golden hairs, with a series of darker spots that run down the center of the abdomen. They have blue underwings that give them the appearance of a wasp when in flight. Their wings are short and barely extend onto the abdomen. They are sometimes mistaken for earwigs and at least superficially they resemble them.

Pictured above right is an
earwig for comparison
When alarmed they will curl the tip of their abdomen up and over their back and move erratically to escape potential threats. They move rapidly and are often very difficult to photograph and this one was no exception. It took quite awhile to manage a couple of decent images before I finally gave up and it disappeared underneath another rock.

As larvae and adults they use their strong pincher-like mandibles to feed on other insects especially fly larva, and should be considered beneficial to humans for the pest control they provide. They are also one of the insects collected at crime scenes to aid in determining the time of death of a corpse as they are attracted to carrion and will feed on the fly larva also attracted to rotting flesh. One could say they are opportunistic hunters.