bodies covered in dried mud. They are brown, black or grayish-brown in color with a flat abdomen. They are related to scarabs and are often mistaken for one. There seems to be much debate among scientists as to whether they should be classified in their own family or as a subfamily of Scarabaediae. Apparently the confusion has something to do with the eye structure. Ommatidium of the eye are the structures that act like lenses and are made up of photoreceptor cells. The more ommatidium an insect or arthropod has, the more advanced it is considered to be. For instance isopods may only have a half dozen ommatidium, whereas dragonflies have 30,000 or more. Hide beetles differ enough in their eye structure from Scarabaeidae that many feel they warrant their own family.
More than 300 species make up the Trogidae family and they are found Worldwide with more living in drier or temperate climates than in moist or wet climates. They are a relatively small family of beetles and very little is known about them. Many species live solely in mammal burrows or birds nests and have not been studied adequately. These nest dwellers feed on feathers, fur, skin and feces. Typically they will be the last beetles to show up at a carcass to feed on feathers, fur and skin....the things other carrion feeders tend to ignore. The only exception seems to be if the dead body has been burned, then these beetles are the first to arrive. They will eat the charred outside of the unfortunate victim, leaving the softer, fleshy parts for other carrion feeders to consume.
Sometimes these beetles are referred to as Skin Beetles, but this description is usually used for Dermestid beetles. Although, just like dermestid beetles, many museums will use hide beetles to clean specimens of fur, feathers and skin to ready them for displays or education props.
The one pictured here was found in late spring at a mercury vapor light I had out to attract insects. Over the course of several nights I found numerous hide beetles, their dirt covered bodies hiding among the vegetation. They are relatively difficult to see and when they've been disturbed, or discovered they will sit completely motionless, feigning death. Pretty good ruse if you have a hungry predator after you. Don't move and don't be seen.
Monday, September 17, 2018
Every second Saturday in September we invite experts in their fields to share with our visiting guests their various interests. Paul Landkamer, a entomophagy (a big fancy word for someone who enjoys eating bugs) enthusiast brings LOTS, and LOTS of bugs that he has lovingly sauteed, fried, baked, and otherwise prepared for those brave enough to sample some. Over the years I've tried many insects, including June bugs, grasshoppers, cicadas, wheel bugs, mealworms, and even a hornworm. My all time favorite, believe it or not, are the stink bugs! They are crunchy, tasty, little treats that surprised even me with their yummyness!
The worst, by far, was the hornworm. This rubbery, abomination was about as palatable as an old shoe and equally as chewy. I could not drink enough water to wash that thing down and must say most of it ended up in the trash!!! That aside, everything else I've tried was quite good, and certainly healthy. This is a great way to teach people that protein comes in all forms, not just steak and eggs.
Several people I know from the Kansas City area, including Betsy Betros (who wrote an amazing Butterfly book, for the link to order, see the side bar on my blog), Linda Williams, Joyce Bollman, Patty Schulenberg, Lyn & Tom Fry and their daughter Tammy have shared their love of butterflies and moths. Each of these individuals collect eggs, or capture caterpillars and adults to rear in their homes. They use these butterflies and moths, in their various stages of development to set up at events like ours, and also Butterfly festivals at Powell Gardens.
This is one of the most popular exhibits at our event and the tables are always surrounded by individuals in awe of the diversity of these winged creatures. Even in the caterpillar stage they generate a lot of ooooohs and awes, maybe more so!
In years past our local Health Department has set up a wonderful, educational booth on insects that can impact human health. In recent years we've seen a surge in bedbug infestations, and many people have questions about them. Their display includes information on those pesky night time, bloodsucking visitors that have plagued mankind since we first appeared. Do they pose serious health risks to humans? Or are they just a nuisance? They also provided valuable information on mosquitoes and ticks.....all the bugs we love to hate.
In conjunction with the health department, a local pest control company, Preferred Pest Control, sets up a booth to guide homeowners on the options available for household pests that none of us wants to deal with. This includes, bedbugs, termites and cockroaches, among others. Their booth is always interesting, interactive, and educational and often geared towards children. No fear tactics here! They recognize that not all bugs are bad and enjoy celebrating the good side of insects without spreading "all bugs are bad" misinformation. We love the Cooperiders!They even have a cute termite mascot!!! It doesn't get any better!
The local university, MWSU, gets in on all the fun when their professor of biology/entomology brings numerous students. These awesome young people assist our guests with aquatic dip netting in the pond or lagoon, with microscopes and even an exciting game of cockroach races.
Many of our insects begin life in the water, and later emerge in their adult form, this includes dragonflies, damselflies, mayflies, as well as others. This is a great way to introduce children to the diversity of insect life around them and how important it is to keep our water sources pollution free.
Microscopes offer guests the opportunity to experience minuscule life forms in all their weirdness and awesomeness. They learn how many insects are truly living around them that they will never see with the naked eye. It has been said that every square inch of soil holds some sort of insect life....most we just never see. Cockroach races, face it, are just plain fun! Giant hissing cockroaches are placed in PVC racing troughs and coached and encouraged by our guests to see who will reach the finish line. We've only had a few roaches make a break for it!
For decades insects have invaded our country from other nations. They make their way to U.S. soil in various ways. Some accidentally and others are purposely brought here with the idea they will control other insects we view as noxious or injurious. Often what happens is these insects wreck havoc on our environment. Several such bugs are destroying trees by the millions all across the Eastern United States. Emerald Ash Borers, Asian Longhorn Beetles, and Gypsy Moths are running amok and taking their toll on ash trees and various other species of trees and plant life. Each year we try to educate our public about the importance of being responsible and not moving firewood. If you cut wood at home, don't transport it too your camping destination in another county or state. Buy your firewood locally. This helps tremendously to cut back on the level of infestation these insects are capable of.
We borrow a Emerald Ash Borer costume from the USFS and coerce one of our university students with free pizza to dress up and spread the message "Don't move FIREWOOD!"
The Honey Bee is Missouri's state insect and no insect event would be complete without beekeepers. Our local "Swarm Chasers" bee group set up every year and answer the many questions people have about bees. "How do we become beekeepers?" "How much does it cost?" "How difficult is it?" "Where have all the bee gone?" Without bees our ecosystem would collapse and we would have to get used to not having many of the foods we enjoy or depend on. Beekeeping as a hobby has surged in recent years and our local keepers are fantastic at sharing their passion for these important pollinators.
Spiders, Spiders, Spiders.....not everyone's favorite to be sure, but love em' or hate em' they are important members of the ecosystem. They provide free pest control and gobble up hundreds of tons of insects each year. I had arachnophobia for most of my life. A little over a decade ago I became determined to conquer that fear. I spent four years overcoming my phobia and now I am in love with these 8-legged creatures and own 5 tarantulas! Fears can be managed or even conquered with the right motivation and determination. We've had numerous individuals over the years come into our event with the express purpose of facing a spider and moving one inch closer to getting over a lifelong fear! These are some of my favorite moments, to watch someone go from frozen in fear, to fascination!
Exploration, discovery and education are key to teaching our young people to love and respect nature. Hands-on activities are necessary to make lifelong connections. We can talk, and preach until we are blue in the face, but nothing breaks down barriers faster or more thoroughly than actually holding a tarantula for the first time, or sticking your fingers in pond muck and finding an alien-looking creature that turns out to be a dragonfly baby.
Laughter, as they race cockroaches or, sample some insect fare will stay with them for a lifetime as they look back and say "remember when....?"
Let me encourage you to make your own discoveries. Get outside and explore, get dirty and make memories to last a lifetime.
Wednesday, September 12, 2018
Members of this genus use cryptic coloring to blend into their environment in a perfect bark-like camouflage that makes them virtually impossible to see. If a predator happens upon one, it will flash its brightly colored underwings at the offender, temporarily startling it. Ideally this will allow the moth time to fly away, avoiding being some hungry predators snack.
The one pictured here was found nectaring at the Nodding Groundsel Flowers and photographed around 4:00 in the afternoon. When I posted this picture to Facebook a friend of mine, Eric Eaton over at Bug Eric commented "What's wrong with this picture?" I was perplexed for a bit as to why he asked that. Then he pointed out this is a nocturnal moth, out during the day, nectaring at flowers. Unusual behavior for a nocturnal moth to be sure, but I would guess this is a night flying moths version of a "midnight snack."
|Augustus Radcliffe Grote|
Primarily a Mountain Species.
Females will release a pheromone into the air that attracts males from as much as mile away. After mating, the female will seek out Willow, Poplar, Aspen and Cottonwood trees. They are often found near Aspen groves. Females will lay eggs on the bark of the host trees. The eggs will overwinter protected from the cold behind the bark of the tree. In the spring they hatch and make their way to the leaves to munch away until they are ready to pupate. At this time they will make their way to the ground and form a pupal cell under the soil. A few weeks later the adult will emerge. There is most likely only one generation per year.
Sometimes we find the unexpected in the most expected places!
Tuesday, September 4, 2018
The Hunts Bumblebee can be found in many different habitats, including prairies, scrubby desert areas, meadows, along roadsides, and streams and even as far up as Mountains and Volcanoes. Although these high altitude (above 3,000 feet) lovers are the more adventurous and tolerant of the species. This would not be a common place to find them. Alongside the river and foraging on the Nodding Groundsel Flowers seemed to be the preferred place for this particular bee and several of her friends, or hive sisters.
With over 3,000 bee species in the United States alone there is no shortage of bees, bumblebees in the genus Bombus make up 40 different species. They are probably the most recognized and under-appreciated of the bees. They are typically larger than other species of bees and covered with an excessive amount of fur that keeps them insulated from cooler temperatures allowing them to be active when most bees are waiting for it to warm up. There is much debate, among scientists, who debate these sorts of things, that bumblebees are much better at pollinating wildflowers than any other species of bees, including our industrious honey bee.
This species occurs throughout Western North American, including Canada and parts of Mexico. They are most active during the summer and early fall and are considered common in their range. Although there is some indication their numbers are declining, which may be attributed to habitat loss and less flowers to gather pollen and nectar. They are not large by bumblebee standards, where the Eastern Common Bumblebee may reach lengths over an inch, this species is more average in size at a modest 1/2 inch with queens slightly larger at approximately 3/4 of an inch.
In about four weeks the newborn bees begin appearing and their job will be to clean the hive, gather pollen and nectar and take care of the larvae. The queens only job at this point is to lay eggs and grow the hive. While a hive may reach hundreds of individuals, it is more common to have approximately 100-200 members. In the late summer adults will emerge that are males, and virgin females. These future queens will take their maiden flight seeking males. Once mated, the males die and the new queens forage for food until it is time to dig a small chamber that acts as a hibernacula which protects her from the harsh winter weather. In the spring the cycle starts all over again.
The colors on the Hunts Bumblebee are stunningly gorgeous and I am so happy to mark this one off my lifer list of insects. This was such a sweet encounter with the ever humble, bumblebee.