Monday, October 29, 2018

Bumble Bee Millipede

While not native to Missouri, the Bumble Bee Millipede (Anadenobolus monilicornis) is an interesting invertebrate I thought worth sharing. I have a friend who lives in south Florida, she shipped me a few of these, and another species, to use in the insect and spider programs I do with children at the Nature Center where I work.

Bumble Bee Millipedes, also called Yellow-Banded Millipedes are native to the Caribbean and parts of South America and made their way into South Florida via exotic plant shipments. They are well established in Florida, but cause no real issues for the environment. Homeowners may find them a bit of a nuisance when large numbers of them show up in their basements or other parts of their property. Heavy rains and the moisture left behind will often bring these millipedes out in large numbers. Once inside your home the millipede won't last long as it will dry out quickly from lack of proper moisture. It is not uncommon to find them outside around foundations and in your gardens or along walkways, walls and in your compost pile.

They are detritivores and feed on decaying plant and animals matter. They are estimated to consume as much as 10% of leaf litter in a given habitat, as well as fallen fruit, seeds, mushrooms, feces, and dead invertebrates. They rummage around in leaf litter, under logs and other woodland micro-habitats looking for food, once consumed they turn it into nutrient rich pellets they expel. These fecal pellets are absorbed into the earth creating organically rich soil perfect for plant life to thrive.

These little millipedes are easily recognized by their distinct dark brown or black, and yellow banded coloring, red antennae and red legs. They may reach lengths up to three inches. Like all millipedes they have two pairs of legs per body segment, which has earned millipedes the nick-name of "1,000-leggers."

Determining whether or not you have a male or female millipede in hand might not be as hard as you think. Even though they look alike, males have sexual organs located where the 7th body segment legs should be. If you count 7 body segments back from the head and the "legs" look shorter, or odd in someway compared to the other legs, chances are you are holding a male. These external reproductive organs help the male transfer sperm directly to the female as they face each other. They may remain locked together for long periods of time. Once the female is mated, she will create a small nest to deposit her eggs. She remains with the eggs to guard them from potential predators. Once hatched the newly born millipedes will appear similar to their adult counterparts, with the exception of leg count. Millipedes are born with one pair of legs per body segment. Through molting and growing they will eventually develop more legs.
Young millipedes are fed a diet of fecal pellets from their mother for a period of time before they begin foraging on their own.

Millipedes have a few defensive strategies up their proverbial sleeves, of which there would be many, if they had them. If harassed they will form a tight coil that protects their delicate underside and legs. They may secrete a substance that tastes bad to anything that might want to eat them. This substance will burn your eyes, so don't rub them after handling a millipede! They may also vomit the contents of their stomach which can stain skin and be very difficult to wash off and remain with you for several days. Birds and monkeys have learned to utilize the millipedes natural defenses to their advantage. They will grab a millipede and crush it, then rub the secretions all over their fur or feathers. This affords them protection from biting insects in a form of insect repellent.

These small, yet colorful, millipedes make excellent program animals. They do not bite, or sting. They move slowly and just by their sheer nature are not intimidating or scary. They are great additions to a compost pile and help break down the organic matter within. Not to mention they are just plain cool to look at, watching all those legs moving in unison is mesmerizing.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Variegated Fritillary

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) Butterflies are common in Missouri, but I only ever encounter a few each season. This year I did not see my first one until a couple of weeks ago when it was nectaring at the sedum in my yard. Late season blooming flowers like sedum, and goldenrod attract a lot of hungry butterflies and other insects late in the season. Food sources are beginning to die and good nectaring plants are hard to come by. If  you want to keep butterflies and other flower loving insects around in your garden longer be sure to plant flowers that bloom at various times of the growing season. Sedum, or Forever Plants as my grandma always called them, are super easy to grow. Find a friend that has some and ask to pick a shoot or two from theirs. Pluck them directly in the ground and water, viola', that's it! Cheap and easy and butterflies love them!

Variegated Fritillaries are related to fritillaries in the genus Speyeria, which includes the Regal Fritillary, and the Great-Spangled Fritillary, but there are distinct differences that separate them. First, the VF has numerous broods each season, whereas butterflies in the genus Speyeria only have one. VF use numerous plants as host plants, including Passionvine, which biologically connects them to the Heliconia Butterflies (longwing butterflies). Speyeria use plants in a single genus.... Viola (violets). This plant specific host preference is one reason some species of fritillaries in this genus are endangered, like the Regal Fritillary that lives in Missouri Prairies. Missouri has lost 98% of it's prairies to agriculture, urban development and habitat degradation. This loss of habitat makes it increasingly difficult for host specific species to hold on in what has essentially become island habitats.

Pearl Crescent

Silvery Checkerspot
The VF closely resembles two unrelated species, Pearl Crescent and Silvery Checkerspot (See pictures for comparison).
Variegated Fritillaries have orangish-tan forewings with black veins and checkered markings. There are black dots close the wing margins. The underwings resemble dead leaves which afford them protection from predation. Wingspan is approximately 1 3/4- 3 1/8 inches.

They are found all throughout North America and South America in meadows, along roadsides, in wastelands, flower gardens and forage fields like alfalfa and clover. 

Their genus name, Euptoieta, is derived from the Greek word euptoietos meaning "easily scared." Observations of this species by naturalists noted their swift, flighty reaction to being approached. I personally have never had a problem approaching or photographing this species. This particular one was especially tolerant of my presence. Could be it was tattered and worn and just plain tired and more focused on what sustenance it could get than by my bothersome proximity. In other words, it just didn't care.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Colorado Insects----Hedgehog Fly

The Spiny Tachina Fly (Paradejeania rutilioides) or as it is affectionately referred to by many entomologist, the hedgehog fly, is found throughout western North America and into Central America.

These large Bristle flies in the family Tachinidae measure up to 3/4 ( or a bit more) of an inch in length and are covered in bristly hairs giving them a superficial resemblance to hedgehogs, earning them their common name. Overall color is black and pumpkin orange, wings are smoky colored and bristles are black.

Our recent trip to Georgetown and Idaho Springs, CO took us well into the range for this fly, that up until spotting it near Clear Creek, I had no idea existed. I must admit I was shocked to see a tachinid fly this LARGE, it was giant in comparison to the tachinid flies I am used to seeing at home in NW Missouri. If you are an entomologists; professional or amateur, and love photography as well, and are faced with something this unusual you almost panic at the thought it will get away without getting a good look at it or preferably a picture of it! I hit PANIC mode as I did my best stealth movements in order to sneak a closer look, only to have it fly away to another plant. This went on for quite some time before it finally got tired or gave up and decided I meant no real threat. Then I noticed two more nearby on the same type of plants. Each fly was nectaring at the bright yellow flowers of groundsel. Locally I now know these flies are very common, but to an out-of-stater this was an exciting find!

This fly is a known parasitoid of the Edward's Glassy-wing moth (Hemihyalea edwardsii). Females will seek out the caterpillars of this species of moth and lay their eggs. When the eggs hatch they will feed on the caterpillar. Tachinid flies are excellent at controlling troublesome insects such as caterpillars, and stink bugs that feed on crops and other agricultural plants of economic importance. They are also secondary pollinators. Their habit of nectaring at flowers makes them excellent transporters of pollen.

My good friend Eric Eaton at Bug Eric
did an excellent write-up about this species as well as another spikey-bottomed fly. Be sure to check it out.

I was fortunate enough to capture several images of this species before it became too dark to allow for decent images. I never tire of finding new-to-me unique insects to observe, photograph and learn about.