Bug o’the Week – Majestic Long-horned Beetle

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady is always excited when she finds an insect she’s never seen before – even more so when it’s a giant, orange and gray “Holy S@#&!” beetle. 

She was moseying along the trail at Riveredge Nature Center at the beginning of July when she saw a flash of orange in the vegetation.  A big flash.  She craned and fidgeted and crossed her fingers while the beetle crawled around, revealing itself by degrees.  After posing for a few shots, it flew out noisily and landed on her jeans for a second, and then moved on. 

It’s a spectacular beetle, (Dr. John Hamilton, writing in The Canadian Entomologist in 1885 says that “this appears to be a rare Cerambyan, and among the choicer.”), but there’s not much information out there about it (it isbig enough and beautiful enough, but apparently, it’s not bad enough to warrant attention). 

To put it in context – with about 390,000 species (25,000-plus in North America), beetles (order Coleoptera) are the largest order in the whole animal kingdom, not just in the Class Insecta.  Long-horned beetles (family Cerambycidae), those darlings of the beetle world (because https://bugguide.net/node/view/199424/bgpage, and https://bugguide.net/node/view/674692/bgimage, and https://bugguide.net/node/view/128536/bgpage, and https://bugguide.net/node/view/1379236/bgimage, and more), number about 30,000 species worldwide with only about 1,000 in North America.  The MLHB is in the Flower longhorn subfamily Lepturinae, a group of sometimes-dramatically-wedge-shaped longhorns (https://bugguide.net/node/view/131694/bgpage) that hang out on flower tops by day.  There are a dozen species in the genus Stenocorus in North America – more elsewhere.

At 1 ¼” the Majestic long-horned beetle (Stenocorus schaumii) is indeed majestic.  It comes in two colors (https://bugguide.net/node/view/1499994/bgimage) and some are more chiseled than others https://bugguide.net/node/view/6759/bgimage (the BugLady’s MLHB was not svelte), and females are notably larger than males.  It is mostly eastern-ish – bugguide.net says New Brunswick to North Carolina to Manitoba to Oklahoma.  A number of the search hits were from eastern Canada, in French. 

Cerambycid larvae are vegetarians; some are pests of living plants, some feed inside dead or dying wood, and the interests of many do not collide with ours.  MLHB larvae feed/develop in ash, beech, maple, serviceberry, and other hardwoods, and the adults eat nectar and pollen. 

The MLHB was described by LeConte and is one of several insects named for German entomologist Hermann Rudolf Schaum, a go-to guy for all-things beetle in the mid-1800’s, who wrote and corresponded prolifically with American entomologists.  Schaum apparently believed that the Continent should be the clearinghouse for insect classification.  In a history of American entomology called Brethren of the Net: American Entomology, 1840-1880, author Willis Conner Sorenson tells us that “Schaum…..objected to the notion that ‘American insects ought to be described by American entomologists.’  The result, he said, had been the proliferation of isolated descriptions, a practice that had been characterized by Schaum’s colleague Erichson, as ‘the nuisance of science.’  Schaum regretted that American entomologists had added to this nuisance.” 

Entomology as Blood Sport.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady 

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – And Now for Something a Little Different – Slime Molds

Hi, BugFans,

The BugLady wrote this article for a recent newsletter of the Friends of the Cedarburg Bog (an organization that would love your support).

Slime molds are strange and wonderful life forms that can exist as tiny, single cells, but can also form a mass of cells that acts like an organism – and moves!

Back in the days when fungi (now placed in their own Kingdom) were classified as plants, slime molds were classified with the fungi. Today, slime molds defy exact classification (slime molds can’t be plants because slime molds eat!). They’re placed in a catch-all group that some people call the kingdom Protista, made up of often unrelated single-celled or colonial single-celled organisms that have similar structures and life styles. Australian researcher Chris Reid calls Protists “a taxonomic group reserved for everything we don’t understand.” They’ve been around for a billion years.

They may be so small that they live their whole lives under our radar, moving slowly through the soil; or they may aggregate to form bright yellow or white, spongy blobs on the forest floor, or pink spheres on decaying wood, or tiny, brown cattail shapes on branches. Or, they might start as the first and end as the second. They have great names, like wolf’s milk, tapioca, pretzel, white coral, red raspberry, chocolate tube, dog vomit and scrambled egg slime.

Two of the main groups are the cellular slime molds (Dictyosteliida) and the plasmodial or acellular slime molds (Myxogastria). Both kinds start out as tiny, single-celled amoeba-like critters in soil or rotting material, both can use chemicals to communicate, and both, at some sign from their environment, may congregate and go into reproductive mode, transforming from a single-celled organism to a giant “megacell” (one scientist calls them “a bag of amoebas”). They feed on bacteria, algae, and fungal spores and help organic materials to decompose. They are eaten by many small animals (there are little, shiny, brown beetles apparently feeding – and cavorting – in the pink slime mold), and some are said to be edible by humans.

Their orientation is deliberate; their ability to pick the most direct route to food mimics the efficient layout of expressways and railroad systems; they were the inspiration for the Sci-fi movie “The Blob;” the math that describes their orderly aggregation is applied to video games; and some can anticipate change, learn to solve mazes and remember. And when they are chopped up, they reassemble and remember.

For more information, see

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/brainless-slime-molds/ and

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/the-sublime-slime-mold and

http://www.wisconsinmushrooms.com/.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – The Dance Fly

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady loves these fancy little flies (and their habitat preferences, for the damp and the dappled, are similar to hers).  Dance flies are abroad in June, and they are one of the BugLady’s “nemesis bugs;” they seem to object to being in focus, but this small spider managed to capture one.  They starred in a BOTW episode at the very end of June, ten years ago: https://uwm.edu/field-station/dance-fly-family-empididae/

Go outside – look at bugs.  Tell the BugLady what you see.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Iris Weevils at Play

Greetings, BugFans,

As long-time BugFans know, the BugLady gets a kick out of weevils.  She found these cute little Iris weevils (Mononychus vulpeculus) recently, scampering around on flowers at the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust’s Cedarburg Environmental Study Area (CESA) site (for directions to and maps of their properties, see https://owlt.org/visit-our-preserves).  Obviously, iris weevils are not exclusive to iris – the BugLady sees them on ox-eye daisy and daisy fleabane (she did find two of them sitting on an iris petal that had tiny holes punched in it, but they were camera shy).  Iris weevils were half of an episode about weevils that was posted four years ago https://uwm.edu/field-station/gardening-with-weevils/

For a story about another CESA adventure, see https://uwm.edu/field-station/the-ants-of-cesa/.

Support your local Land Trust. 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Luna Moth

Greetings, BugFans,

The BugLady’s favorite insect is the Tiger Swallowtail (Mom likes me best), but in the crowded field for second place, the Luna Moth is pretty close to the top.  

Luna moths (Actias luna) are in the Giant Silkworm/Royal Moth family Saturnidae (of previous BOTW fame https://uwm.edu/field-station/giant-silk-moths-family-saturnidae/), whose family members have ringed eyespots reminiscent of Saturn.  The LM’s name came from eyespots that resemble moons (eyespots that make predators ponder whether their target might be different than they originally thought).  Actias is a small genus with about two dozen species worldwide, and the LM is the only American species.  They are found in wooded areas east of the Great (on rare occasions, LMs have made their way to Europe).

And giant they are, with wingspreads that often exceed four inches.  Males and females look pretty much alike; her egg-laden abdomen is larger than his, and his antennae are fancier than hers.  Both have what’s called quadripectinate antennae, which means that they are comb-like, with four “tines” per unit of the antenna https://bugguide.net/node/view/754599/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/293789/bgimage, and the female https://bugguide.net/node/view/426762/bgimage.  Their long, twisted tails are said to interfere with bat radar, and they also present a false target for predators – bats manage to snag some LMs, but many others get away after the bat mistakenly grabs them by those spectacular tails.  

(LMs make photographers sweat (“please don’t let me screw up, please don’t let me screw up….).  Here are some photographers who didn’t screw up https://bugguide.net/node/view/20728/bgimage,https://bugguide.net/node/view/617459/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/655366/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/917529/bgimage, and (possibly posed) https://bugguide.net/node/view/1532344/bgimage).

Warming weather signals them to emerge from their cocoons, which they accomplish with the aid of an enzyme (named cocoonase!!) that they secrete to soften the dried silk and of a hard spur at the base of each front wing, which they use to break through it; here’s a video and of an LM eclosing (emerging) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FECzFIRPeD4, and some still shots https://bugguide.net/node/view/481690/bgimage.  Then they pump up their wings and begin their short lives as adults.  Females emit a pheromone that calls males to her perch.  His feathery antennae allow him to sense a mere handful of scent molecules from two or more miles away and to follow the increasingly concentrated scent trail to her.  Lunas are nocturnal, and most mating occurs after midnight.   

Adults have neither mouth nor gut, and they live only about a week, dying soon after they reproduce.  There is one brood per year here in God’s Country, and two or three in the south. 

Females lay between 200 and 400 eggs, singly and in clumps, on host plants.  LM caterpillars feed on the leaves of birch, hickory, walnut, maple, and sumac, and add sweet gum, pecan, and persimmon in the south (they aren’t considered forest pests).  They show regional favoritism – LMs in our area prefer birch and do badly if moved to a different food plant.  One theory is that LM caterpillars are capable of processing the defense chemicals produced by their host trees, and they may become specialists in detoxifying a particular species.  Young caterpillars https://bugguide.net/node/view/1434316/bgimage are knobbier than older ones https://bugguide.net/node/view/1191475/bgimage.  

Mature caterpillars become dark red before pupating; they drop to the ground and use silk to wrap themselves in a leaf for the winter https://bugguide.net/node/view/1191457/bgimage, camouflaged in the litter of the forest floor.  LM pupae are not passive – if they are disturbed, they will move noisily within their cocoon.  Jim Sogaard, writing in Moths and Caterpillars of the North Woods tells us that “The pupa has a clear ‘window’ through which even dim light can stimulate the brain.  Photoperiod likely contributes to breaking diapause [the suspended animation of winter].  If a cocoon is moved, the pupa within may noisily reorient itself to the light.”  Here’s a nice stage-by-stage series: https://bugguide.net/node/view/945719

A two inch long LM caterpillar looks like a feast for any predator that finds it despite its green camouflage, but the caterpillar has a bag of tricks that includes rearing up on its back legs, warning its would-be attacker by making clicking sounds with its mandibles, and then regurgitating the noxious contents of its intestine. 

LMs are not common, and they are becoming less so.  Their natural predators include bats, owls (one source told of a Screech Owl that fed on males that came to visit a female calling from a branch), spiders, and toads. 

Human activities also impact them: 

  • A tachinid fly imported in 1906 to control gypsy moths now parasitizes the caterpillars of almost 200 species of native butterflies and moths, including the giant silk moths.
  • Habitat loss due to urban street trees being cut and deciduous woods becoming more fragmented.  The caterpillars can’t adapt to non-native tree plantings.
  • Pesticides that affect not only the leaves that the caterpillars eat, but also the immobile pupa, and even the short-lived adults.  
  • Light pollution – LMs are strongly attracted to lights at night, exposing them to predators and, with the clock ticking loudly, distracting them from the task at hand.

Fun Luna Moth Fact – a bunch of butterflies have been featured on US postage stamps, but in 1987, the LM became the only moth (before or since) to be so honored.

Just in case you still haven’t seen enough LM images, https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/viewSpecies.php?species=345

Look for them in the month of June. 

To paraphrase the Bard, “O brave new world, that has such creatures in’t!

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Water Boatmen and Backswimmers Rerun

Salutations, BugFans,

Life is busy, and besides, May is National Wetland Month, so here’s a rerun from ten years ago.  A few new words and pictures. 

Water boatman

The BugLady will visit these guys together because even though they are, in a sense, photo-negatives of each other, they are often mistaken for one another (until you know the secret handshake). The majority of aquatic animals, from orcas to Mergansers to muskies to water boatmen tend to be dorsally dark and ventrally light (have dark backs and light bellies).  This coloring is protective because a predator looking down from above has to distinguish its dark-backed prey from the dark water surface, and a predator looking up from below sees a light belly against a surface that reflects the light of the sky.  The backswimmer, which spends its life rowing around belly-up, flip-flops the usual color scheme and has a dark belly and a light back. 

Backswimmer

These two aquatic, boat-shaped, less-than-a-half-inch-long, “True Bugs” (Order Hemiptera) are not in the same family, and the water boatman also departs from the usual mouthparts and diet of its compatriots, but they have many similarities.  They are found in still waters – preferably with aquatic plants – including ponds, lake edges, sewerage ponds, bird baths, and even swimming pools (lots of websites devoted to getting rid of water boatmen and backswimmers in swimming pools), and they are more active in the dark than in the light.  They locomote via rowing movements of their flattened third pair of legs (backswimmers) or second and third pair of legs (water boatmen) and are often seen swimming or grabbing plant stems in a head-down position. They are strong fliers, although the up-side-down backswimmer must climb out of the water and flip over onto its belly before it can spread its wings and take off.

Both bring a tank of oxygen with them as they swim underwater.  The backswimmer stores air in two hair-covered troughs on the ventral side of its abdomen (it can stay underwater for as long as six hours), and the water boatman wraps a bubble of air under its wings and around its abdomen and also picks up dissolved oxygen from the water (it is so buoyant that it must grab vegetation in order to keep from floating to the surface).  Both overwinter as adults, and some water boatmen may remain active under the ice.  The males of both groups stridulate – rub rough area on their front legs against their head – “chirping” underwater to attract mates. 

Backswimmers (family Notonectidae) are piercer-predators that kill and suck the bodily fluids out of any prey they can subdue – invertebrate and vertebrate alike – including tiny tadpoles and fish fry (but big fish eat backswimmers).  Each set of legs is used for a different function – the front pair for catching their prey, the middle pair for holding the prey tight, and the flattened, hairy third pair acts as oars.

These little “Davids” will sometimes go after Goliath, piercing the leg of a human swimmer or wader, a habit that has earned them the name of “water bee” or “water wasp.”  It is a painful, burning bite that can have lasting effects in those who may be “susceptible to poisons,” according to Anne Haven Morgan in the Field Book of Ponds and Streams.

The often red-eyed Water boatmen (Family Corixidae) are a bit smaller than backswimmers.  Collector-gatherers, they swim along the bottom of the pond, head down, in search of food, and they use their front pair of legs to scoop it up.  Lacking the standard piercing beak issued to other aquatic true bugs, they ingest living material – diatoms, algae, protozoa, nematodes, small insects – that they find when they stir up debris on the bottom of a body of water. Some suck juices from algae. 

The eggs and the adults of water boatmen are eaten by birds and by humans (an Egyptian and a Mexican delicacy, according to some references) and were said to have been introduced to England as a food source.  The Handy Bug Answer Book by Dr. Gilbert Waldbauer recounts how bundles of rushes that are put into ponds in Mexico as a substrate for water boatmen to lay their eggs upon are removed, dried, and beaten to loosen the eggs.  The eggs are then cleaned and ground into flour to make a cake called “hautle.”

Besides their surprising edibility and the fact that they are said to smell like bedbugs, the water boatman’s only other claim to fame is that the males of some species make ultrasonic mating calls with what Monty Python would call their “Naughty-bits.”  Do not try this at home.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Stories, not Atoms

Greetings, BugFans,

The poet Muriel Rukeyser once wrote, “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”  The BugLady sees lots of tableaux unfolding as she ambles across the landscape (most have to do with food or sex).  Because she was taught, at an impressionable age, by a professor who said “Don’t just tell them what it is, tell them ‘what about it,’” she tries to read the stories and understand the “what-about-its”. 

http://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/ambush-bug-spider-fly18-2rz.jpg

The SPIDER and the FLY – and the AMBUSH BUG

Heterospecific (belonging to different species) predators mostly don’t share, and both the spider and the ambush bug would consider this fly to be a toothsome morsel.  The BugLady figures that the ambush bug caught it, and the slender crab spider (Tibellus sp) saw the struggle and popped over to investigate, but not to appropriate it.

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BUCKTHORN

Glossy buckthorn is a Eurasian shrub that was brought over in the late 1800’s to be a lawn/hedge shrub, but because it is a “bird poop seed,” it didn’t stay domesticated.  It is a huge problem in wetlands (well, actually, it likes wet, dry, sunny and shady soils) and like other invasive plants, it left its natural grazers behind in the Old Country.  The BugLady found this sawfly larva eating buckthorn leaves (she had previously photographed a lightning beetle apparently feeding on nectar or pollen from a buckthorn flower), thus demonstrating the Reinartz Law of Biomass Availability, aka “If you grow it, they will come.”  More scientifically put, glossy buckthorn (and other invasive plants) represent a huge biomass of potential food, and eventually herbivores will figure out that they’re edible.  Sooner, we hope, rather than later. 

DOR IN OHIO –

Why did the Japanese beetle cross the road?  The story that the BugLady reads here was initiated by the picture’s shiny green centerpiece, a Japanese beetle that did not survive the crossing.  It proved attractive in death to two opportunistic scavengers, a millipede and a daddy long-legs (that better keep their wits about them or they might not get across, either).  The daddy long-legs’ legs are decorated by nymphs of red mites, which go through a tick-like, parasitic phase before they grow up to eat insect eggs and very small invertebrates. 

GYPSY MOTH ON BEECH

This picture shows three out of four life stages occurring within inches of each other.  Gypsy moth larvae get around pretty well – newly-hatched caterpillars use silk to balloon to new locations, and if they and their confreresdefoliate the tree they land on, they’ll take off on foot to find another!  Adult females are a different story.  They emerge from their pupal case flightless, use pheromones to lure flying males to their tree trunk perch, and then create an egg case on the same spot.  Not surprisingly, the BugLady is not a rabid advocate of gypsy-moth-control: https://uwm.edu/field-station/gypsy-moth/.

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EGG-GUARDING SPIDER

The BugLady photographed this female Philodromid (running crab) spider over a period of four days, guarding the eggs that she had placed inside an empty beech nut (did that nut shell land randomly on the leaf and stay there, or could a spider haul it up to the leaf’s surface?).  Egg guarding is common among philodromids, and she hung tough, day after day, as the BugLady and her one-eyed camera loomed above her (the BugLady appreciates cooperative subjects, and she thanks them, but she worries about their survival instincts).  On the fifth day, the spider was gone, and the ending of this story is a mystery. 

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CRAB SPIDER AND RIPIPHORUS

What’s a collection of pictures without a crab spider, in this case a lovely northern crab spider (Mecaphesa asperata), sitting on a Grass of Parnassus flower, preying on a Ripiphorus beetle (and illustrating, once again, that when it comes to camouflage, crab spiders got it right)?  Ripiphorus/ Rhipiphorus beetles (the genus seems to be spelled both ways) are fly mimics, but the BugLady still doesn’t see the advantage of looking like a fly when you could look like a beetle.  For the scoop on Ripiphorus, see https://uwm.edu/field-station/its-a-beetle-really/.    

MULLEIN TABLEUX

Mullein was deliberately introduced to North America in the 1600’s because the newly-arrived settlers loved it and had many uses for it back home (six species in this collection, including, of course, the European Americans themselves, are “non-native”).  Mullein seed weevils were introduced for the purpose of eating mullein seeds, which they do with about 50% efficiency (https://uwm.edu/field-station/mullein-watching/).  The BugLady was thinking, as she photographed the weevils, that (speaking of crab spiders) their trip to the honeymoon suite might not turn out as planned. 

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EXUVIA 

And finally, spring is a time of rebirth, renewal, and resurrection.  What better symbol of that spirit than the empty shell (exuvia) of a baskettail dragonfly naiad that emerged from a winter spent in the watery world below the ice, climbed up (in this case) the stalk of a horsetail/equisetum, broke out of its old skin, and cast its die as a creature of the air? 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

http://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/2-strpd-grasshopper15-1brz.jpg

Bug O’the Week – Two-striped Grasshopper

Greetings, BugFans,

The BugLady always enjoys photographing these large, handsome grasshoppers as they ricochet off the prairie plants in late summer.  She has danced around them in several episodes – in a generalized discussion of their genus, Melanoplus https://uwm.edu/field-station/melanoplus-grasshoppers-redux, and as eye-candy in several summer insect picture collections – but they deserve their own biography. 

The Two-striped/Yellow-striped Grasshopper/Locust (Melanoplus bivittatus) is in the short-horned grasshopper family Acrididae.  Besides having a few interchangeable common names, it has gone through about a dozen combinations of five genera and a half-dozen species names in the past two hundred years. 

If you’re in North America, there’s probably a TSG near you (except for Florida, the Gulf and south Atlantic coasts, the arid southwest, and northern Canada/Alaska).  Even with those cut-outs, that’s a lot of territory.  Bugguide.net describes their habitat as, “Varies with region, but usually relatively sunny, moist, lush, weedy or meadowy areas. Meadows, prairies, crop fields, road sides, vacant lots, ditch and stream sides … etc.”  And urban flower and vegetable gardens.  Again – a lot of ground.

Ditto, their menu.  The books label them as “polyphagous” (meaning, they eat many plant species).  They mainly enjoy leaves of herbaceous plants including grasses, but they’ll also tuck into woody plants, flowers and seed pods.  Their diet includes agricultural crops and garden plants, and they are unwelcome on the Great Plains, where their numbers sometimes reach “Biblical” (more about that in a sec).  According to a University of Wyoming publication, “A population of 10 adults per square yard in a corn field will defoliate the crop.”  And, more alarming, “Experiments indicate that in feeding on spring wheat the twostriped grasshopper wastes six times as much foliage as it eats.” 

http://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/2-strpd-grasshopper14-5rz.jpg

Some plants produce chemicals that deter insect foragers, but the TSG is oblivious.  They also scavenge on dead plants and animals that they find on the ground and will resort to cannibalism when food is scarce. 

They do have some dietary requirements – they must ingest linoleic or some other fatty acid in their diet in order to keep their wings rigid.  And although they feed on many plants, there are particular species – certain mustards, broad-leaved plantain, red clover and alfalfa, dandelion, chicory, giant ragweed, and a few more – that allow young grasshoppers to grow faster and heavier. 

And these are big grasshoppers – females measure up to 2 ¼” and males to 1 ¼.”  Adults have a brown to yellowish-green body with a pale stripe on each side that starts at the eye and runs along the top of the body to the wingtips.  They have hearing organs on the abdomen, and although one source says that they buzz by rubbing their hind wings against their forewings, another says that they are believed to be silent, though the males produce vibrations.  Males are better fliers than females. 

A source that the BugLady finds frequently in her research is a blog called “The Backyard Arthropod Project – A Field Guide to the North Side of Old Mill Hill, Atlantic Mine, MI” (http://somethingscrawlinginmyhair.com/).  What’s not to like about a guy who says about his blog that, “As of February 2007, it has … turned into a project to document every arthropod that I can find on our property?”  The BugLady wishes him a wonderful journey. 

He suggests that because of their size and abundance, TSGs might be “one of the kinds that are numerous enough to collect for food. I’ve seen a couple of amusing methods suggested for catching large numbers of grasshoppers like this one. One is for two people to take opposite ends of a big, wooly blanket and run through a field with it, then pick off the hoppers that get caught in the wool. Another is to find a big field, dig a pit about 4 feet deep in it, then have a bunch of people start at the edges of the field and spiral in towards the pit. This drives the hoppers in, until you end up with a pit filled with grasshoppers that you just kind of shovel into bags. Then it’s just a question of pulling off the long hind legs (which can get caught in your throat because of the spines), and preparing using your favorite recipe.”  See https://uwm.edu/field-station/entomophagy/ for a BOTW episode called “Entomophagy 101.” 

TSGs take reproduction pretty seriously.  There’s not much by way of courtship – a male points his antennae toward his intended (preferably a virgin, but he will also pursue a female that has recently oviposited), sneaks up on her from behind, shakes his hind legs in a species-specific way, and takes a“copulatory leap.”  She may be agreeable, or she may depart, kick him, or curl up, but if a bond is established, they typically copulate for eight to ten hours.  A lot goes on during that time. 

Yes, he passes on a series of spermatophores (sperm bundles), thus ensuring the perpetuation of his lineage.  But there are proteins incorporated into his spermatophores – “nuptial gifts” that increase her fitness (she may also break down and absorb some of his sperm, for their nutrient value).  This, of course, is energetically expensive for the male, and he is not profligate.  The long duration of mating also guards her from rival males as she is processing his sperm.  A female can receive enough sperm from one liaison to last her whole life. 

OK – the BugLady is feeling a little like Dr. Ruth, here.

A week or two later, she lays up to 450 eggs in pods in the soil, or in debris on the ground, or in the middle of a hard-packed dirt road, as the female in the picture chose to do, and they overwinter as eggs, hatching in spring when the earth warms.  Eggs laid in mid-summer fare better than those laid later on, because the embryos have gotten further along in their development before cold weather shuts them down.  In agricultural areas, eggs are laid in hedgerows and along roadsides surrounding cultivated fields, and the nymphs move into the fields after hatching.  

nymph

These are not sedentary grasshoppers, and they have boom years in the Great Plains when favorable weather over a few years results in lots of food plants and a gradual population buildup.  TSGs respond to the crowding by producing a generation whose appearance and behavior are changed; migratory TSGs have longer wings and lighter bodies, and are gregarious, rather than loners.  If they feel crowded, even as young nymphs, they will migrate; in the heat of the day, adults fly (far) downwind at altitudes of 600 to 1,400 feet. 

nymph

Oh yes – The Grasshoppers of Nebraska tells us that “Unlike many other grasshopper species, it is quick to bite if handled.

A grasshopper to be reckoned with! 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Sculptors of Leaves

Salutations, BugFans,   

Leaves are coming.   Promise!   And soon after they emerge, we’ll see leaves that are folded, rolled, or otherwise harnessed by a variety of insects, for a variety of reasons.  The architects are mostly Lepidopterans – mostly small moths in the family Tortricidae – but there are also some skipper butterflies, beetles, sawflies, and spiders in the bunch, plus this cute little Carolina leaf roller cricket (https://bugguide.net/node/view/1473670/bgimage,https://bugguide.net/node/view/212744/bgimage), which shelters by day and hunts aphids by night (yes – a surprising number of grasshoppers and crickets eat animal matter). 

Promethea

They’re grouped by “technique” – leaf rollers, leaf folders, and leaf tiers/webbers/“ugly nest makers.”  They use these structures to hide from predators or from the elements, to feed (some stay indoors and eat/skeletonize their “walls,” but others emerge to feed on nearby leaves and buds), to create a particular microclimate, to shelter their eggs (there’s a weevil that packages its egg in a rolled leaf, and the larva feeds within until it pupates), to pupate (after reinforcing the leaf stem with silk, a Promethea caterpillar wraps itself in a leaf and soon looks like dead vegetation hanging from a tree), or for any combination of the above.  Some male Jumping spiders make shelters for their future brides.  Many rollers/folders/tiers make predictably-shaped shelters on predictable hosts, but others are generalists.  

Leaf roller

Leaf rollers take one leaf and form it into a tube or cone.  They may roll it the long way, parallel to the leaf’s midrib, or they may roll it crosswise, which has a higher degree of difficulty because they have to bend the midrib. 

Leaf folder

Leaf folders, a.k.a. leaf sewers, fold rather than twist the leaves.  Most only fold it once, but some make several folds. 

Leaf tier

Leaf tiers typically fasten together multiple leaves and may even enclose flowers or fruits.  They usually do their work at the tips of branches or twigs, making creations that are often labeled “unkempt.”  This category includes “ugly nest” caterpillars that bind a handful of leaves, and webworms, which lay clusters of eggs that hatch into clusters of caterpillars that throw silk around a whole branch and feed communally within, depositing frass and shed skins as they grow.

Webworm
Ugly nest

How do they do it?  In increments, using silk that contracts as it dries.  S. W. Frost, in the wonderful Insect Life and Insect Natural History (1942) (which considers insects by function, not by form) explains: If the roll is to be lengthwise, the strands of silk are spun perpendicular to the midrib of the leaf; if the roll is to be crosswise, the strands of silk are spun parallel to it.  As the strands dry, they shrink and pull the edges of the leaf inward.  New and shorter strands are then spun which in turn shrink and pull the edges of the leaf closer together.  This is continued until the edge of the leaf is drawn completely over and is fastened with other strands of silk…… Leaf folders bend the leaf at the midrib or along one of the principal lateral veins.  The silk is always spun on the upper side of the leaf, and the leaf naturally bends more easily in this direction.”  With persistence, a pretty small caterpillar can mold a pretty large leaf. 

You don’t have to be its architect to live in a shelter.  The adapted leaf persists after its original inhabitant is gone, and there are plenty of insects lined up to move in.  They may not even wait for it to be abandoned before they move in or oviposit into it (these “housemates” are called inquilines).  Says Richard Headstrom, in Adventures with Insects, “An interesting sidelight in connection with the habits of leaf-rolling insects is that when they abandon their shelters, other insects often take occupancy, and certain scavengers, particularly small mites and small beetles, feed upon the fecula [what a classy word!] left by the original makers.” 

In a Brazilian study, rolled leaves on a single plant species attracted five to nine times the number of species (depending on wet or dry season) as flat leaves.  According to researcher Camila Viera, “During the dry season, the rolled leaves on 60 plants in the Brazilian forest played host to more than 3,000 bugs alone, including spiders, beetles, whiteflies, crickets and many, many caterpillars….  The entire arthropod community hosted on Croton floribundus plants are influenced by leaf-rolling caterpillars.”  They are “ecosystem engineers.”

Abandoning a leaf structure is risky business, whether its maker is done with it, or has outgrown it and must make another, or the host plant is overcrowded, or an interloper has preempted a newly-formed shelter, or the nutrients inside the shelter are used up.  Mortality is high for caterpillars that suddenly strike out cross-country. 

One more (very cool) thing.  St. Johns-wort is a popular herbal remedy sold in health food stores as an antidepressant.  One problem with St. Johns-wort is that its leaves contain a chemical that we don’t completely metabolize, and it causes susceptible people to become photosensitive.  Turns out that some caterpillars are also affected when they feed on the leaves in sunlight – the chemical prolongs their larval stage and lowers their survival rate.  The solution?  They tie the leaves together and feed inside, in the shade. 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Three Spring Dragonflies Plus Two

Salutations, BugFans,

They’re big, they’re beautiful, and they’re back! 

The BugLady has been out on the trail and has been enjoying the first butterflies and dragonflies of the season.  She walked the floating boardwalk at Horicon Marsh the other day – Common Green Darners everywhere!  Makes a person dream that spring might happen! 

Anyway, this episode started out nine years ago as “Spring Dragonflies,” continued six years later as “Three Spring Dragonflies plus One,” and reappears today as “Three Spring Dragonflies plus Two.”  If you check the BOTW archives, you’ll see that almost all of these species have starred in their own BOTWs.  

A genuine, though tentative, sign of spring is the reappearance of COMMON GREEN DARNERS, but the first sightings are usually not home-grown individuals.  COMMON GREEN DARNERS(family Aeshnidae) (whose scientific name, Anax junius, means “Lord of June”) arrive, often when the snow still lies in sheltered spots, as the insects they prey on take to the air. 

The Green Darners that deliver the spring soon lay eggs that hatch into aquatic naiads that take the whole summer to mature.  When these offspring make the trip south in fall, their flights along the Lake Michigan shoreline can be inspirational, and it is their offspring that repopulate the North Country with the spring.

In addition to its spring migrants, Wisconsin has non-migratory, resident population of Common Green Darners that emerge at about the time that the migrants have finished breeding and are completing their life cycles.  Natives replace migrants in our skies, and their naiads overwinter in frigid water under the ice. 

Common Green Darners are big insects, with bodies exceeding three inches and wingspans of four-plus inches.  Both sexes have a green thorax, but the male’s abdomen is blue and the female’s is brownish.  They have wrap-around compound eyes and a characteristic bulls-eye-like spot in front of their eyes. 

The warming of the water in spring is a powerful and irrevocable trigger.  Water changes temperature slowly – a lot of energy is needed to move it just a few degrees in either direction.  The next dragonflies on the scene signal that the water has warmed.  Their naiads crawl out of the water and out of their nymphal skins, pump up their wings and become creatures of the air, chasing their prey – flashes of wings that the dragonflies spot from perches or while in flight. 

COMMON BASKETTAILS (Epitheca cynosura) are drab dragonflies in the Emerald Family (Corduliidae).  They sport a black spot at the base of each hind wing, muted orange bars on a black abdomen, and short, gray hairs on their thorax.  As Cynthia Berger explains in her book Dragonflies, “like real fur, the fuzz helps hold in the heat generated by those muscle contractions [contractions of the flight muscles, which raise the temperature within the thorax].  Like darners, they perch vertically rather than horizontally, often hanging down from a twig tip.  Baskettails are agile flyers that may be seen in the afternoon hunting in groups above swarms of smaller insects like midges. 

“Baskettail” refers to the “basket” of eggs a female will carry under her abdomen.  According to bugguide.net, the genus name Epitheca is derived from epi (above) and theca (pouch or basket); a female carts her eggs around, sometimes all day, abdomen elevated, looking for the right spot to deposit them.  She may attach her ball of eggs to a submerged plant and then depart, or she may drag/tap her abdomen along the water’s surface, unraveling her string of eggs as she goes.  In either case, the once-compact egg mass swells into a strand an inch wide and six inches to several feet long (just add water). 

CHALK-FRONTED CORPORALS (Ladonia julia), in the Skimmer family Libellulidae, are northern dragonflies that often emerge in early May.  Adult males have white “corporal’s stripes” on the first segment of their thorax and white on the first few abdominal segments.  It’s called pruinosity, and it’s caused by an opaque, generally white/blueish-white, waxy substance that develops on the cuticle that covers the dragonfly’s exoskeleton (usually the abdomen, but sometimes other body parts) and gives it a powdered or hoary appearance.  Pruinosity is not only a sign of aging, it’s an indicator of breeding readiness.  Female Corporals are rusty brown with traces of white markings at the thorax and abdomen, and juveniles are a pinkish-brown with thin “shoulder” stripes and a black line down the center of the abdomen. 

Adult Corporals grab flying insects from royal ant/mosquito-size through small dragonfly-size.  They often perch on, bask on, and even hunt from the ground or a rock, and on cool days, hundreds may congregate on warm road surfaces.  They are known to follow people and pick off circling mosquitoes and deer flies.  Much has been written in these pages about the benefits of aposematic (warning) coloration and about the up-side of a prey species mimicking an aposematically-colored insect, but the Corporal appears to have read none of it.  In studies of food preferences, Chalk-fronted Corporals chose their prey by size – small prey over large – but they didn’t seem to care if it was wasp-colored or not. 

Darners and Baskettails and Corporals – Oh My!

And then there are Whitefaces. 

It would be hard to conjure up a more logical name for the DOT-TAILED WHITEFACE (Leucorrhinia intacta, family Libellulidae).  Both males and females have the “dot-tail” and the “white face,” though females tend to have a few yellow splotches along the top of the abdomen, and juveniles have, temporarily, even more.  Like some of the other early dragonflies, whitefaces have a pretty hairy thorax.

female

Dot-tailed whitefaces enjoy most kinds of quiet waters – bogs, marshes, swamps, sloughs, farm ponds, and even very slow streams – as long as there are low aquatic plants to perch on.  They bask on floating water lily leaves and on the ground, and they don’t gain much altitude when they fly.  The BugLady frequently sees them in her grassy field, some distance from water.  They emerge by late spring and fly through a good chunk of the summer into early fall. 

The DUSKY CLUBTAIL (Phanogomphus spicatus) is an early clubtail; look for it from late spring through mid-summer in Wisconsin.  The description of Dusky Clubtail behavior in Mead’s lovely Dragonflies of the North Woodsfits perfectly, “When not actively engaged in oviposition, Duskies are likely found far from water, perched in the sunshine on gravel roads, trails or rocks.” 

Many CLUBTAIL species (family Gomphidae) (but not all) are adorned with three noticeably-flared segments at the end of their abdomen that give them their name (a few non-Gomphids sport clubs, too).  The “club-less” clubtails are medium-sized, about 2 to 2 ½ inches long, with unspotted wings and striped bodies, and (usually) green, blue or gray eyes, and they have a short flight period during the first half of the dragonfly season.  They generally rest, hunt and fly close to the ground.  The stocky, young Gomphid naiads tend to burrow shallowly into the substrate, lurking with only their eyes exposed (to spot prey) and the tip of their abdomen (for breathing). Naiads may only crawl part way out of the water before they emerge.   

And then there are Common Whitetails…..

Darners and Baskettails and Corporals and Whitefaces and Clubtails (and Whitetails) – OH MY!

The BugLady