Riveredge Nature Center http://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org Thu, 17 Jan 2019 22:26:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Bug o’the Week – Rusty-patched Bumble Bee http://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/bug-othe-week-rusty-patched-bumble-bee/ Wed, 16 Jan 2019 15:07:50 +0000 http://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/?p=21898 Salutations, BugFans, The summer of 2018 saw an encouraging number of sightings of Rusty-patched bumble bees in southeastern Wisconsin – encouraging because the Rusty-patched bumble bee is on the Federal Endangered Species list, and also because there seem to be a growing number of people who are aware of the bee and are looking for […]

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Salutations, BugFans,

The summer of 2018 saw an encouraging number of sightings of Rusty-patched bumble bees in southeastern Wisconsin – encouraging because the Rusty-patched bumble bee is on the Federal Endangered Species list, and also because there seem to be a growing number of people who are aware of the bee and are looking for it.  Once found in a wedge that stretched from the Upper Midwest to Ontario to North Carolina, most of its present population is found from Minnesota to Indiana (http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/affinis_range.png).  It is a Species of Special Concern in Wisconsin, and its conservation ranking is S1/G1 – critically imperiled in the state, and critically imperiled globally.  Most Wisconsin sightings are in the southern half of the state.

Rusty patched bumble bee

We depend on bumble bees for a variety of ecosystem services (see https://uwm.edu/field-station/celebrating-bumblebees/), and they are considered by some to be a “keystone species” – a species that shapes the ecosystem it lives in, and without which that ecosystem would be drastically different.

Here’s its pedigree: Rusty-patched bumble bees (Bombus affinis) are in the family Apidae, the Cuckoo, Carpenter, Digger, Bumble, Honeybee family, in the subfamily Apinae, the Honey, Bumble, Long-horned, Orchard, Digger bees, and in the Bumble bee tribe Bombini (and yes, Bumble bee is officially two words, not one.  Mea culpa).

Carpenter bee

Bumble bees can be tricky to ID – queens, female workers, and males come in different sizes and patterns (the “bumble bees” with the shiny, bald abdomens are really Carpenter bees, but it often takes the BugLady a sec to remember that).  Click the “identification” tab for a drop down of similar species https://xerces.org/rusty-patched-bumble-bee/.  The BugLady highly recommends this guide, which comes in a paper version and/or is downloadable https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/documents/BumbleBeeGuideEast2011.pdf.  RPBBs are moderate-sized bumble bees with all-black heads and short-ish hairs that are not as shaggy as those of some other bumble bees, and the queen doesn’t have a rusty patch.  The BugLady is including with this story some pictures of a few other bumble bees with reddish markings on their abdomens (all ID corrections gratefully received).

Tri-colored bumble bee

Red-belted bumble bee

Brown-belted bumble bee (and ambush bug)

This is primarily a grassland bee that needs three habitats – a succession of wildflowers and shrubs to glean nectar and pollen from throughout its long flight period (they’re often pictured on wild bergamot, and here’s one that’s feeding in spring on an orange that was put out for orioles https://bugguide.net/node/view/1515649/bgimage), plus nesting sites, plus places for a queen to overwinter – all in close proximity.

RPBBs are one of the first bumble bee species to appear in spring and one of the last to tuck in for the winter – the large bumble bees we see foraging in spring are the queens, who get the nest and first brood “off the ground” singlehandedly.  Like honey bees, they are very social, but unlike honeybees, their nests have fewer workers (usually between 50 and 500) and are not maintained through the winter.  Queens mate in fall, burrow into loose soil, rotting logs or compost heaps to overwinter, and emerge in spring to locate a suitable site for a nest (she may use an old rodent burrow or a thicket of grasses above-ground).  After the infertile, female workers hatch, the queen concentrates on laying eggs, and the workers take over maintenance, defense, foraging, and care of the nursery.  Males and future queens are produced in late summer, and the queen dies before her colony does.

The big story around the RPBB is its population nosedive.  Very common historically, its numbers have dropped by a stunning 90% since the late 1990’s (other species of bumble bee are also in decline).  Loss of grassland habitat and changing land use patterns are big factors, along with pesticides (applied both on the ground and on flowers), climate change, and disease.

With the recognition of bumble bees’ very important role as pollinators (they’re the most efficient pollinators for some important agricultural crops) came the commercialization of those services.  Managed/commercial bumble bee colonies sometimes contain high levels of parasites and pathogens that are spread to wild populations as the bees forage.  One theory about the RPBB’s decline involves a fungus that invades the bee’s gut and causes swelling so significant that males become “too fat” to bend their abdomen and mate (https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/02/rusty-patched-bumblebee-endangered-species/514388/).

SCENIC SIDE TRIP:  There is a story within the bumble bee story.  A group of bumble bees called Cuckoo bumble bees, also (presently) in the genus Bombus, make their living as bumble bee parasites.  Not blood-sucking parasites, but “social parasites” that, like Brown-headed Cowbirds and Old World Cuckoos, leave their eggs in the nests of other bumble bees for the host bees to raise.  Each species of CBB targets its own set of bumble bees.

CBBs have some fascinating adaptations that allow them do what they do. They have no social structure, just free-living females and males, and all the females are fertile.  Because they don’t support a nest, they have no pollen baskets; and because they don’t exude wax from between their abdominal segments, their body is more “armored” or solid.  They also have longer stingers and stronger mandibles, all of which serve them well in a dust-up with the resident bees.  CBBs emerge later in the season than their targets, allowing the host species’ colony to be well-established before they come calling.

A CBB finds her host’s nest by smell, but what happens next may vary.  Some accounts of their MOs describe a forcible takeover of the nest, in which the CBB kills the colony queen outright; others depict a more passive scene, in which the CBB settles into the host’s nest for a few days until she’s picked up the nest’s unique scent and can move about laying her eggs without challenge.  And there are also accounts of RPBBs eating “foreign” eggs and evicting CBB larvae or adults.

The Ashton cuckoo bumble bee (Bombus ashtoni) parasitizes the RPBB and two other species.  Because it has put all its eggs in one basket – it has no child care experience and so can’t live without its hosts – its populations are also declining and it’s listed as rare.  To learn more about CBBs, see https://entomologytoday.org/2018/10/29/cuckoo-bumble-bees-cheating-ways/.

FOR MORE INFORMATION – there’s ton information about RPBBs, pollinator associations, and citizen science opportunities out there.  Here’s a start:

Wisconsin Bumblebee Brigade – http://wiatri.net/inventory/bbb/ (see a key at http://wiatri.net/inventory/BBB/getInvolved/img/FieldGuide.pdf)

https://wisconsinbumblebees.entomology.wisc.edu/

https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/features/posters/EasternBumblebeesPoster_reduced.pdf

https://fox11online.com/news/local/endangered-rusty-patched-bumble-bee-has-scientists-concerned

Thanks to sharp-eyed BugFan Becca for her RPBB pictures, taken in her own back yard.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

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Bug o’the Week – Northern Metalmark Butterfly http://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/bug-othe-week-northern-metalmark-butterfly/ Wed, 09 Jan 2019 16:02:57 +0000 http://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/?p=21847 Hi, BugFans,   Back in 2010, the BugLady wrote about the Swamp Metalmark, a lovely little butterfly that is fading from the Wisconsin scene and from other parts of its range in the Midwest (https://uwm.edu/field-station/swamp-metalmark/).  When she was in southern Ohio in June, she photographed a Northern Metalmark (Calephelis borealis).  Full disclosure: Northern Metalmarks are not […]

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Hi, BugFans,

 

Back in 2010, the BugLady wrote about the Swamp Metalmark, a lovely little butterfly that is fading from the Wisconsin scene and from other parts of its range in the Midwest (https://uwm.edu/field-station/swamp-metalmark/).  When she was in southern Ohio in June, she photographed a Northern Metalmark (Calephelis borealis).  Full disclosure: Northern Metalmarks are not found here; they occupy widely spaced pockets in a band from New Jersey/Connecticut on the east to southern Missouri/eastern Oklahoma on the west, but they don’t occur in Wisconsin.

northern metalmark

Metalmarks, family Riodinidae, are a mostly New World, mostly tropical bunch that includes about 1,100 species (20 north of the Rio Grande; some just barely).  They are smallish butterflies (Northern Metalmarks have a wingspan of about 1 ¼”) that typically perch with their wings spread wide, but that often fly into vegetation and perch, moth-like, on the undersides of leaves (makes them hard to census).  Females walk about on six legs, but males use only four – each of their front legs is greatly reduced and modified into a spine.  Males scan the airways for females from a perch, rather than on the wing.

 

Like many other metalmark species, Northern Metalmarks are subtly beautiful, with patterns of silver/metal/rust on dark wings.  They look very similar to Swamp Metalmarks, but habitat requirements separate them in areas where their ranges overlap.  Some species in the Southwest and the tropics are unapologetically spectacular https://bugguide.net/node/view/159108/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/866024/bgimage, and https://bugguide.net/node/view/1024178/bgpage).  The tips of a NM male’s forewings are more rounded than are those of the female, and the undersides of his wings look pretty different than the upper sides https://bugguide.net/node/view/551483/bgimage.

 

swamp metalmark

Like the Swamp Metalmark (also pictured here), the Northern Metalmark has some very particular habitat needs, and like the Swamp Metalmark, this and other factors have put it on the threatened/endangered list in states where it occurs.  Another habitat specialist, the Lange’s Metalmark, is also endangered, (for an unusually-flowery-for-a-government-account of its revival efforts, see https://www.fws.gov/fieldnotes/regmap.cfm?arskey=36198.

 

NMs like open/dappled stream edges and meadows near woodlands with shale, limestone or serpentine rock barrens or outcroppings close by.  These are very sedentary butterflies, so the caterpillar food plants (two species of ragwort and one of fleabane) and adult nectaring plants must grow in close proximity.

 

Females place eggs, on at a time, on the underside of a host leaf, and the caterpillars, half-grown by the advent of cold weather, overwinter under the basal leaves of the host plant or burrow into the duff/soil, to emerge and continue their development in spring (for a picture of the caterpillar, scroll from page 74 to page 75 https://books.google.com/books?id=OWdD2bHSE-8C&pg=PA74&lpg=PA74&dq=northern+metalmark+caterpillar&source=bl&ots=Vd73rgy_-i&sig=mcQs6njQ7J7JAbn64Y6ik97tcCQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj-rK3C79TfAhUm8YMKHXTDDCAQ6AEwDHoECAEQAQ#v=onepage&q=northern%20metalmark%20caterpillar&f=false).  Caterpillars form a chrysalis in spring, attached by a silk “button” to the underside of a host plant’s leaf.

 

Their historical range is believed to have been much larger.  Multiple factors have led to their decline, and it’s mostly a familiar chorus.

 

  • Habitat destruction or fragmentation due to development (although powerline rights-of-way can create favorable habitat), and successional changes that shade out the host plants.

 

  • Burning, mowing, or other management practices during the butterfly’s short reproductive season.

 

  • Pesticides, including Btk, a strain of bacteria that is deployed as a “nonchemical alternative” for killing gypsy moths and some other agricultural pests but that is lethal to an assortment of other moths and to some butterfly caterpillars (the BugLady is not a fan of collateral damage).

 

  • Invasives like barberry, autumn olive, and exotic grasses that shade out or crowd out the host plants.

 

  • Lifestyle – there are some endangered animals whose biology and lifestyle simply makes their whole existence seem improbable (think Giant Pandas, whose solitary females are fertile for only two or three days, once a year).  NMs (and SMs) need a particular geography seeded with a very limited selection of food plants, and they exist in small, isolated groups, often of fewer than a dozen individuals (a great formula for reduced fitness due to genetic in-breeding).  They fly low, and only for short distances, so if something does happen to their home place, they are unlikely/unable to move to another favorable spot.

 

  • And then there’s Butterfly vs Economy.  Where do the requirements of rare species (the canaries in our mineshafts) register on our civic scales?  Do/should the needs of a Northern Metalmark equal/surpass those of an individual or a community?  Is there a middle ground?  What is the applicable ethic, anyway?  The BugLady is recalling how, after the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, linguists were excited about how their understandings of some words were shifting, based on usage in those very old texts.  One case in point was the sentence “Increase, multiply, fill the earth and have dominion over it,” in which the verb that had always been translated “have dominion over” now seemed to be closer to “have stewardship over.

 

Legislating an environmental conscience results in resistance and resentment.  Can we educate for one.  At the very least we should remember, as Aldo Leopold noted, that “To keep every cog and wheel is the firstprecaution of intelligent tinkering.”  See “The Case of the Disappearing Butterfly” at https://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/10/nyregion/nyregionspecial2/10preservect.html.

 

Stewardship.

 

[Editorial Aside: The BugLady gets solicitations all the time with pictures of the charismatic megafauna – gorillas, elephants, cheetahs, grizzlies, polar bears – and, yes, pandas.  Frankly, those animals seem almost fantastical to her – seeing them in the wild is not a part of her experience bank and is unlikely ever to be.  The groups for whom they are the poster children would have more success with her if they pictured the small, the winged, the six-legged, and the local.  There are four species of Federally Endangered birds in Wisconsin, three mammals, a reptile, five mussels (decidedly uncharismatic, those mussels), and four insect species.  The State Endangered and Threatened lists include five mammals, seven reptiles, 24 birds, 19 mussels, and 23 insects (https://dnr.wi.gov/files/PDF/pubs/er/ER001.pdf).  They need a bake sale, too.]

 

Apparently, the BugLady is starting out the New Year a little cranky.

 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

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Bug o’the Week – And now for Something a Little Different V – To Sleep, Perchance to Dream http://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/bug-othe-week-and-now-for-something-a-little-different-v-to-sleep-perchance-to-dream/ Fri, 04 Jan 2019 19:58:52 +0000 http://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/?p=21818 New Year’s Greetings, BugFans, In the spirit of New Year’s Day entertainment, this is a rerun, an article that the BugLady wrote for the January, 2009 BogHaunter, newsletter of the Friends of the Cedarburg Bog. The BugLady, Wisconsin born and bred, is not particularly a winter person (though her camera does prod her to suit up […]

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New Year’s Greetings, BugFans,

In the spirit of New Year’s Day entertainment, this is a rerun, an article that the BugLady wrote for the January, 2009 BogHaunter, newsletter of the Friends of the Cedarburg Bog.

The BugLady, Wisconsin born and bred, is not particularly a winter person (though her camera does prod her to suit up and go outside periodically).  Winter is monochromatic and still, and then there are the flash-frozen fingers and feet.  It’s a really tough period for wildlife to weather, too, and they emerge from it stressed, hungry, and at their lowest populations of the year.

Most bird species deal with the season by migrating.  Temperature isn’t the issue – birds, after all, invented down jackets.  They migrate because their summer food sources aren’t available in winter, and many of the birds that remain adjust their diet to include more plant material (incidentally, Googling “birds, hibernation” and “birds, torpor” is instructional).  Birds that do stay, stay silently; other than the call notes of crows, jays, and chickadees, the soft “yank-yank” of nuthatches, and the polyglot utterances of starlings, the winter landscape is a quiet one.  Bird song, after all, is designed to advance breeding, a summer pursuit.

Invertebrates are cold-blooded, and with body temperatures that very nearly match the temperature of the surrounding air or water, their winter options are few.  Outside of a handful of insects that migrate, some form of “sleep,” with cells protected by “antifreeze” from the damage caused by freezing and thawing, is the only alternative to death.  Insect eggs, larvae, pupae, and even adults spend the winter in “diapause,” a state of suspended animation during which development ceases.

When it comes to mammals, the term “hibernation” is applied too loosely.  Winter sleep – the “period of adaptive winter inactivity” – is a continuum.  At one end are the very few true hibernators, and at the other end are a group of mammals that may “hole up” briefly during really severe stretches of weather but that are otherwise active throughout winter.  In the middle are a variety of light and heavy sleepers.  Whatever the duration of the nap, its purpose is to minimize the number of calories burned.

True hibernators put on an impressive layer of fat in late summer and fall, retire to a den, and then lower their metabolism, heart rate, breathing, and body temperature.  Hibernators sleep so deeply that they are hard to rouse.  Woodchucks are true hibernators whose spring awakening is driven not by a call to forecast our weather but by the imperative to reproduce (the BugLady just read in Wikipedia that yearling woodchucks may be called “chucklings”).

Jumping mice (Zapus sp.), 13-lined ground squirrels and some species of bats are also true hibernators. The respiration of a 13-lined ground squirrel drops from about 150 breaths per minute to a single breath every five minutes, and its heartbeat goes from 350 beats per minute to five.  The debate continues about bears, whose body temperature drops relatively little and whose sleep is fitful, but who, for over half a year, may not eat, drink or eliminate.  “Torpor,” a short (sometimes just overnight) drop in temperature and metabolic rate in order to conserve body heat, energy and fat reserves, might be a more accurate term.

Deep sleepers” achieve torpor for a longer part of the winter.  They may be roused easily because their body temperature doesn’t drop very much or because they don’t put on a thick layer of fat and so must get up periodically to eat.  Chipmunks are classic heavy sleepers.  The BugLady’s chipmunks probably enter the winter with 25 pounds of birdseed stashed below-decks, and they may start their winter sleep in a nest of shredded grass piled on top of a mound of seeds.

Much of the food a chipmunk collects is cached in its underground tunnel system, which includes a room that serves as nest chamber, store room and bedroom, and, often, additional store rooms and a separate room for a latrine.  Because chipmunks are not well insulated, they must wake for a meal every few days.  By the end of winter, their grassy nest may be on the chamber’s floor, and if the cold lingers and they run out of food, they will emerge to forage while there’s still snow on the ground.

Light sleepers disappear for part of the winter but leave their tracks across the landscape during mild winter days and nights (many light sleepers enjoy the benefits of our bird feeding activities and of the warm motors of cars) (the BugLady’s mechanic loves her – she lets him keep all the mice he finds, free).  Skunks often hibernate in communal dens during the worst of winter – in some cases, up to a dozen females may cohabit with a single male, while other males may stay active and solitary all winter.  Raccoons and possums also den up during deep winter (pity the poor opossum, a southern mammal that is a relatively recent and ill-adapted arrival to God’s country, whose thin ear tips freeze and crack off during especially brutal winters).  The diet of all three of these omnivores includes a higher percent of small rodents in cold weather.

Squirrels trade their tree-top summer nests for leaf-lined winter lairs in hollow trees.  The nuts they store during the fall are fair game for any foraging animal, and the vast majority of nuts are found, but squirrels don’t bother to recover acorns that their noses tell them have rotted.  Squirrels are well adapted for short sleeps in severe weather.  Curled up with that bushy tail acting like a blanket, they can sit out a few days of harsh weather.

Deer (whose drab, winter coats are made up of hollow hairs that trap body heat), mice, voles, and cottontails stay active, as do muskrats, which live below the ice.  And what of foxes, coyotes, weasels, shrews, and other carnivores?  Most are active throughout the winter because they aren’t adapted for sleep, and there is still food available for them.  Watch for their tracks in the snow, too.

The BugLady read a neat story in the snow at Riveredge Nature Center the other day.  She found a snow-covered, sawed tree trunk lying across a thickety area.  There was a row of tracks along the length of the log where a coyote took the path of least resistance.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

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Make a difference with an end of year gift to Riveredge Nature Center http://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/make-a-difference-with-an-end-of-year-gift-to-riveredge-nature-center/ Fri, 28 Dec 2018 21:34:33 +0000 http://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/?p=21777   “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  – Margaret Mead Hello Riveredge Friends, This much loved quote above has inspired countless impactful works that have indeed changed the world for the better. Yet, at the close of the 50th Birthday year […]

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“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens

can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing

that ever has.”  – Margaret Mead

Hello Riveredge Friends,

This much loved quote above has inspired countless impactful works that have indeed changed the world for the better. Yet, at the close of the 50th Birthday year of Riveredge Nature Center, there surely cannot be a more fitting summary of the collective effort which has been, and continues to create the impact of Riveredge.

Since 1968, so much has changed across the Riveredge landscape, and yet so much has stayed the same. Through it all, individuals coming together have been the driving force making a difference at Riveredge. On these last days of 2018, I ask you join with us to continue this collective impact in 2019 and beyond.

Just as in 1968, our world still needs nature centers and, I would argue, the need for this work is increasing daily. In 1975, Riveredge’s Board President wrote, “This (work) seems terribly important in an age when one can seriously foresee a walk through a forest as a walk through a plastic bubble.” In 2018, our world has appeared to strengthen the imaginary and real bubbles around us – separated from the natural world by our homes, our cars, our schools, our work places, and the alternative realities provided by technology. Traversing these barriers to invite nature into the lives our families, our neighbors, and our greater community is the work of Riveredge today.

If people are to become inspired to learn and care for the natural world, they must first discover and learn to enjoy it.

On these last days of Riveredge’s 50th birthday year, I leave you with words from Andy Larsen’s first newsletter article published in the autumn of 1969. Andy was the first Executive Director and Naturalist at Riveredge.

Being a part of this legacy of committed individuals changing the world at Riveredge is truly an honor. I hope you will join us as a committed member of the Riveredge Family. Alone, we can only do so much. Together, we are the thoughtful, committed citizens changing the world.

With great gratitude,

Jessica Jens, Executive Director

Where are We Going  
by Andy Larsen (1969)

“As Riveredge readies its facilities for schools and the public, our purposes and goals must be carefully examined.

Today, as never before, man’s existence is threatened by his very effect on his environment. I feel that the goal to which Riveredge must dedicate itself is the development of environmentally literate citizens.

An environmentally literate citizen can be defined as one who is able to recognize environmental problems and will take action to solve these problems. He must have a basic understanding of the relationships between man and his biological, geological and chemical environment.

Ecology, which might also be called environmental biology, is the foundation of the environmentally literate citizen and will be the basis for the programs conducted with groups using the nature center.  Without this basic awareness and understanding of the bio-physical environment, one cannot recognize or anticipate breakdowns in environmental systems that might arise through the development of a new technology, a social or a polictical decision or an economic action.

Preparing people to make educated choices about the social, political and economic activities that affect the environment that maintains their lives must be a major purpose of education. It is this aspect of education that is called environmental education – or, perhaps, survival education.

The goal for Riveredge, then, is offering programs that will help develop the environmentally literate citizens that are needed if man is to survive. Riveredge will be a center for Environmental Education. The land is our starting point for learning those ecologic principles that direct our existence. Riveredge can provide the framework for many programs in Environmental Education for the greater Milwaukee area.”

– Andy Larsen, 1969

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Bug o’the Week – The 12 Bugs of Christmas http://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/bug-othe-week-the-12-bugs-of-christmas/ Wed, 26 Dec 2018 15:31:56 +0000 http://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/?p=21748 Season’s Greetings, BugFans, As always, we pause to celebrate (while humming seasonal songs and drinking eggy, adult beverages), the Twelve Bugs of Christmas (plus one) – a baker’s dozen of bugs, many of whom have already starred in their own BOTWs but who posed nicely for the BugLady this year. Acmaeodora pulchella – The BugLady is […]

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Season’s Greetings, BugFans,

As always, we pause to celebrate (while humming seasonal songs and drinking eggy, adult beverages), the Twelve Bugs of Christmas (plus one) – a baker’s dozen of bugs, many of whom have already starred in their own BOTWs but who posed nicely for the BugLady this year.

Acmaeodora pulchella – The BugLady is no fan of symmetry, and she likes that the lack of it in this picture creeps up on you.  The bookend beetles are called Spotted/Yellow-marked flower beetles (Acmaeodora pulchella) (“pulchellos” being Latin for “beautiful”), in the metallic wood borer family Buprestidae.

Azure Bluet Damselfly – Azure – “bright blue in color, like a cloudless sky.”

Praying mantis – There are some bugs that seem, well, just a little improbable, and there are some bugs that are really easy to anthropomorphize.  Praying mantises check both boxes.  Remember, the spelling of their name comes from their devout posture, not from the predatory aspect of those raptorial front legs.  This graceful youngster was photographed in southern Ohio.  Here’s a praying mantis bedtime story for your enjoyment https://thedragonflywoman.com/tag/mantids/.

Racket-tailed Emerald dragonfly hangs from a twig like a small ornament

This Bald-faced hornet nest is 10 feet off a trail that the BugLady uses pretty often, and she walked past it without noticing it until fall, when some leaves dropped off the shrub and revealed it, like a present being unwrapped.  That’s the down-side of Bald-faced hornets – you can get pretty darn close to their paper abode before you see it, and they defend it vigorously (and, no, pitching rocks at it from a distance is not an alternative for the curious – they will find you).

Crab spider – There are two nifty bits of camouflage going on here.  First – the eternal wonder of a crab spider finding just the right spot to sit.  Second, – the “fly” that this spider has snagged is actually a beetle named Ripiphorus (of previous BOTW fame https://uwm.edu/field-station/its-a-beetle-really/).  The BugLady has no idea why it would be an advantage to look like a fly.

Orange Sulphur Butterfly – Occasionally (and, in the BugLady’s case, mainly by accident) the planets line up and you get something like this – an almost-in-focus Orange Sulphur coming in to feed on New England aster.

Red-belted bumblebee – Although she is not very good at identifying them, the BugLady surely loves taking pictures of bumblebees.  There were lots of sightings this summer of the federally-endangered Rusty-patched Bumblebee (more about that in a future BOTW).  The BugLady’s walks are going to take a whole lot longer if she’s checking the rear ends of every bumblebee she finds!

Virginia ctenucha moth – This striking moth was just starting to unfurl its wings.  Here’s what the finished product looks like https://bugguide.net/node/view/1536346/bgimage.

Pine tree Spur-throated Grasshopper – Grasshoppers can be tough to identify and even tougher to photograph, and the BugLady has never really been a grasshopper person.  Pine tree spur-throated grasshoppers, like this beauty, could convert her.

Sign-reading Grasshopper – That being said, she hopes that this Differential grasshopper finishes reading and moves on before it becomes a statistic.

DOR in Ohio – The BugLady found this foursome in the middle of a country road in Ohio after a dark and stormy night.  The main attraction is a shiny, green, road-kill Japanese beetle.  It’s being attended by a scavenging millipede and a daddy longlegs, both of whom are there for the free (and tenderized) protein.  The fourth member of the quartet?  Those tiny red ornaments on the daddy longlegs’ legs are mites that are acting like ticks (“So, naturalists observe, a flea/Has smaller fleas that on him prey;/And these have smaller still to bite ’em,/And so proceed ad infinitum…..” Jonathan Swift).

Monarch Caterpillar, contemplating the miraculous road ahead of it https://uwm.edu/field-station/pupal-cases/.

May your holiday season be bursting with warmth and family and friends and festivities and music.

 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

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Bug o’the Week – And now for Something a Little Different IV – Life in the Pukak http://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/bug-othe-week-and-now-for-something-a-little-different-iv-life-in-the-pukak/ Wed, 19 Dec 2018 22:25:02 +0000 http://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/?p=21733 Howdy, BugFans, The BugLady is entertaining deadlines for two different newsletters plus BOTW, so please enjoy this article, borrowed from the winter issue of the BogHaunter, the newsletter of the Friends of the Cedarburg Bog, whose current winter issue is one of the BugLady’s deadlines. Snow – or the lack of it – plays a significant […]

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Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady is entertaining deadlines for two different newsletters plus BOTW, so please enjoy this article, borrowed from the winter issue of the BogHaunter, the newsletter of the Friends of the Cedarburg Bog, whose current winter issue is one of the BugLady’s deadlines.

Snow – or the lack of it – plays a significant role in the lives of animals in the Bog. An inch of snow makes it hard for ground-feeding birds like turkeys to find food, but that same inch allows mice and shrews to tunnel, hiding them from hawks, owls, and foxes. Three or four inches throw a blanket over plants and small animals but still let in sunlight. A fox can move easily in six inches of the white stuff; any deeper and it must bound, using more energy. Just as hunting success becomes more critical, hunting gets harder. A foot of snow blocks almost all of the available light from above. The drifts that immobilize deer, restricting them to the cedar thickets, act as step ladders that let cottontails feed on twigs that are normally out of reach.

shrew tunnel

Weather reports are based on data collected in a louvered box about five feet above the ground, but the vast majority of animals never get five feet off the ground – they live a scant few inches above and below the soil’s surface, and what matters to them is the air at ground level.

The microclimate that forms between the snow and the ground is called the subnivean layer, but the Inuit call that zone the pukak. Snow is an effective insulator because of the air that is trapped between the small snow particles; and like a bird’s down feathers, these air spaces are warmed by heat from beneath (from the soil, in the case of snow). These snow-lined air-spaces are constantly changing – solidifying as water vapor diffuses through the snow; compacting; melting and enlarging. The result is an insulating layer that keeps the temperature below the snow at about 32 degrees, while the air above the snow bank may be 30 or more degrees colder. It literally is a blanket of snow.

red squirrel tunnel

A subnivean layer needs an uneven landscape with some plants at ground level to keep the snow from settling flat on the earth. There is no pukak zone on the ice-covered lakes in the Bog – their surfaces are too smooth – but the hummocky sedge habitat that makes up much of the Bog is ideal. In mountainous areas, the subnivean layer keeps the snow from being “glued” to the landscape and is a factor in avalanches. By the time the snow is a foot deep (some sources say 6”), the air temperature of the pukak is stable – chill but not frigid; warm enough even for some plants to stay marginally green.

But the pukak isn’t just an exercise in physics, it’s the winter home of animals like mice, voles, moles, and, yes, red squirrels (the largest pukak-dweller), plus hardy insects and other invertebrates. These animals modify the “warm” air spaces further, creating mazes of trails that allow them to live and feed under the snow. Spring snow-melt reveals hidden pathways and seed caches, the grassy residential domes of voles (Microtus), and the trunks of small trees that the voles have girdled. .

vole house

The down-sides of pukak-living are several: it can be restrictive – no new food is introduced into the system, air quality can suffer, and it’s pretty dark. And even under the snow, the inhabitants of the pukak are not safe. Predators like shrews and weasels follow their prey into their tunnels; foxes and coyotes cock their heads and listen first, then pounce on the snow to break through to the ground. Oxygen and carbon dioxide filter readily through the snow, and the tunnels made by shrews, mice and voles provide additional avenues for gas exchange. According to folklore, voles deliberately cut “windows” in the snow’s crust to vent carbon dioxide that’s given off by respiration and by decomposing plants, but researchers conducted a series of experiments that suggest that while the concentration of CO2 may be high in some areas of the pukak, the voles don’t seem to care.

Northern plants are adapted to take advantage of snow cover, too, and they may suffer when snowfall is light. A textbook example occurred in the Bog during the winter of 2003-2004. After a dry fall, January, 2004 was bitter cold and snow-less, and by February, the frost extended deep into the ground. Although the tamaracks did leaf out in spring, their roots had been frozen and their needles soon turned brown. Twenty percent of the Bog’s tamaracks died.

Skimpy snow accumulation is hard, too, on the small, pukak-dwelling animals that depend on the climate that develops in the subnivean zone.

To discover the pukak for yourself, pick a spot with undisturbed vegetation (lawns are too uniform) and make a person-sized clearing in the snow, all the way to the ground. Lie down in it and use a flashlight to get a vole’s-eye-view of the tunnels and caverns in the airspace below the snow. To experience conditions within the pukak, make a quinzee/Quinzhee (from an Athabascan word meaning “a small snow mound shelter”). Gather enough snow to make a head-high mound about ten feet across, pack it down well, and let it settle for an hour or so. Then hollow out a living space in the middle, leaving the walls and ceiling one foot thick. It’s not an igloo – igloos are made by piling blocks of snow in a circle.

For great information about the ecology of winter, try Winter World, by Bernd Heinrich.

The first day of winter is upon us, but remember – even though we get cranky about short winter days and lengthening nights, the Winter Solstice was/is celebrated because it marks the turn-around point when days start (very slowly) getting longer.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

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Bug o’the Week – European Earwig http://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/bug-othe-week-european-earwig/ Wed, 05 Dec 2018 15:44:37 +0000 http://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/?p=21671 Salutations, BugFans,   People respond to insects intellectually, aesthetically, and viscerally.  Intellectually, earwigs are fascinating insects; viscerally – Ick!!  Earwigs are Stealth Insects, and it creeps the BugLady out when masses of earwigs scramble away as she picks up a flower pot or flips up the cover of the garage-door-opener keypad or opens her mailbox (though they feed […]

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Salutations, BugFans,

 

People respond to insects intellectually, aesthetically, and viscerally.  Intellectually, earwigs are fascinating insects; viscerally – Ick!!  Earwigs are Stealth Insects, and it creeps the BugLady out when masses of earwigs scramble away as she picks up a flower pot or flips up the cover of the garage-door-opener keypad or opens her mailbox (though they feed the jumping spiders that also live in the mailbox).

 

What follows is a major overhaul of a general earwig BOTW that appeared in December of 2008, with lots of fun, new Earwig Facts but few new pictures (aesthetically/photographically, the BugLady seems to be pretending they’re not here).  Thankfully, contributors to bugguide.net are not https://bugguide.net/node/view/1390134/bgimage.

 

What’s in a name?  Earwigs are classified in the Order Dermaptera (“skin-wings”) a reference to their short, smooth forewings.  Their common name may come from the old English superstition that they crawl into the ears of sleeping people in order to bite them, an occurrence that one entomology book dismisses as “rare.”  (!!!)  Bugguide.net says that the name came from the Old English “ear-wicqa” meaning “ear crawler.”  This notion was reinforced by the fact that earwigs used to shelter in the powdered wigs that 18th century English gentlemen and gentlewomen stored on wig stands, presumably ready to hop aboard the next time the wigs were put on.  They (allegedly) have no interest in entering or laying eggs in your ear canal or, according to another Old Wives’ tale, in eating your brain.  Eric Eaton and Ken Kaufman, in their “Field Guide to Insects of North America,” attribute the name “earwig” to a corruption of “ear-wing,” a reference to the wing shape of some species.

 

According to bugguide.net, Dermaptera (not Dermoptera – the Flying Lemurs) once included roaches, mantids, grasshoppers, crickets, and more, but today it’s a small order with about 1,800 species worldwide and only a few dozen in North America (many of which are introduced – earwigs are world travelers).  Earwigs have been around for a long time (208,000,000 years or so) and the only place where they won’t drop out of your mailbox is Antarctica.

 

They favor places that are warm and humid, and they love to tuck themselves into dark nooks and crannies in the heat of the day.

Earwigs max out at just under 1 ½ inches long, not including pinchers (there’s an Australian species that’s 2” and an extinct earwig that measured 3”), with a flattened body, and most come in shades of black/brown/reddish brown.  Some species are wingless, some just have two, short, leathery forewings https://bugguide.net/node/view/1024883/bgimage, and some have four wings, the second pair folded like mini fans under the forewings.  Forceps-like appendages (cerci) decorate the rear, more prominently on males than on females, giving them a scorpion-like appearance that they cultivate by arching the cerci upwards when they are perturbed https://bugguide.net/node/view/198816/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/1560064/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/1160497/bgimage.  They can, indeed, pinch with those cerci, which are used for protection and during reproduction, and the four-winged species also use their cerci to assist in folding the soft, flying wings under the forewings after a flight.  The species of earwigs that do fly generally do so under protest, but they’re pretty handy on foot.

 

The COMMON or EUROPEAN EARWIG (Forficula auricularia) is in the earwig family Forficulidae and is the sole member of its genus in North America and is the only earwig species found in Wisconsin.  This Old World native was first recorded in North America (Seattle, WA) in 1901 and has been in Wisconsin for less than 50 years.  It likes temperate, not tropical, climes.  The BugLady often sees them on common milkweed.

EEs measure a bit less than ¾” without the cerci.  Their short wing covers do conceal flying wings https://bugguide.net/node/view/313235/bgimage.

 

They have simple/incomplete metamorphosis, looking like mini-adults (but much cuter) when they hatch https://bugguide.net/node/view/101474/bgimage, and then shedding, growing wings, and adding antennal segments https://bugguide.net/node/view/1253959/bgimage until adulthood.  See earwig stages here https://bugguide.net/node/view/376287/bgimage.

 

In fall, male and female pair up (he woos her by waving his cerci around, and he will use them to fend off rivals), and they excavate an underground nest for the eggs.  The female lays 30 to 50 eggs in a heap, kicks the male out, and then overwinters with the eggs https://bugguide.net/node/view/42241/bgimage.  As in many other earwig species, EEs have maternal instincts, which is uncommon among arthropods.  She protects her eggs from predators and parasites, cleans and grooms them with her mouth to prevent the growth of fungi, and as hatching nears, spreads the eggs out in a single layer.  After they emerge, she feeds her offspring regurgitated morsels and cares for them for until they can fend for themselves https://bugguide.net/node/view/16853/bgimage.  Females live for about a year; males, at the mercy of the elements, don’t make it through the winter.

 

EEs are awash with chemicals as nymphs and adults.  Both stages are preyed upon by the usual vertebrate suspects (birds, toads, snakes, etc.), against which they protect themselves by releasing a nasty-smelling chemical (this chemical defense mostly goes unnoticed by invertebrate predators).  Earwigs use aggregation pheromones (chemical perfumes) to attract other earwigs, and the nymphs use pheromones to induce their mothers to care for them.  Another chemical, found in adults, seems to kill microbes and nematodes (for a nematode refresher course, see https://uwm.edu/field-station/nematodes/).

 

A shout-out to the excellent University of Michigan series “Biokids – Kids’ Inquiry of Diverse Species” (http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/) for their thorough, well-documented species write-ups.  Sometimes the BugLady is tempted simply to supply a link and say “Here – read this.”  About the European Earwig’s other sensory capabilities, they say, “They also communicate with their forceps, both in mating and as a threat. European earwigs pick up these odors [pheromones] mostly with receptors on their antennae. Their antennae also have touch hairs which help them understand their environment. Finally, they have compound eyes which help them perceive their environment.

Like many other species of earwig, EEs are harmless nocturnal, omnivorous scavengers whose chewing mouthparts allow a diet that includes organic debris, other insects, and plants https://bugguide.net/node/view/698997/bgimage.  Sure, they sometimes cause damage to agricultural crops, where their nibbling ruins the appearance of fruits and vegetables, but they make up for it by stalking aphids, which are responsible for far more damage than earwigs are.  A tachinid fly was imported to parasitize EEs, and apparently, they’re also susceptible to soil nematodes, mites, yellow jackets, ground beetles, cannibalistic earwigs, roundworms, and certain parasitic fungi https://bugguide.net/node/view/1388837/bgimage.

 

Google “earwig,” and the Exterminator sites pop up in droves (along with the usual sites that fret about earwig pinches (unlikely) and bites (incredibly unlikely)).  The BugLady was distressed by a site called Pest World for Kids (“Brought to you by the National Pest Management Association”), which promises that “Parents and kids can both find more facts and information on earwig control at the official NPMA website,” and that “We don’t allow any pop-up advertising or any third party external links, so children can play and learn freely.”  Their clickable “Pest List: Bugs A to Z” consists of the following species: “ants, bed bugs, bees, beetles, birds, cockroaches, dust mite, earwigs, fleas, flies, gophers, lice, mice, mosquitoes, moths, opossums, pill bugs, rats, spiders, stink bugs, termites, ticks, and voles.”

 

As the twig is bent, so grows the tree” (Alexander Pope) (probably).

 

And so, as we approach Holidays and Holydays of all persuasions, the BugLady leaves you with Visions of Earwigs Dancing in your Head (but not literally).

 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

 

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

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Bug o’the Week – Red Cocklebur Weevil http://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/bug-othe-week-red-cocklebur-weevil/ Wed, 28 Nov 2018 21:20:46 +0000 http://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/?p=21586 Howdy, BugFans   The BugLady (who loves finding weevils) found this one in Ohio, but it does live here in God’s Country and throughout eastern North America.  With about 83,000 species worldwide (3,000 in North America), the very-diverse weevil family, Curculionidae, is one of the largest animal (not just insect – animal!) families.  Weevils can be recognized by their cute […]

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Howdy, BugFans

 

The BugLady (who loves finding weevils) found this one in Ohio, but it does live here in God’s Country and throughout eastern North America.  With about 83,000 species worldwide (3,000 in North America), the very-diverse weevil family, Curculionidae, is one of the largest animal (not just insect  animal!) families.  Weevils can be recognized by their cute little snout (rostrum) https://bugguide.net/node/view/176670/bgimage and their “elbowed” antennae.  Plant-chewing mouthparts are located at the end of the snout.

 

Red cocklebur weevils are in the subfamily Dryophthorinae (of previous BOTW fame https://uwm.edu/field-station/two-weevils/), whose members are often described as “football-shaped” and who some entomologists have promoted to full family status.  RCWs (Rhodobaenus quinquepunctatus) are also called (not surprisingly, Latin Scholars) Five-spotted billbugs.

 

The two other genus members in North America north of the Rio Grande are the excellently-named R. tredecimpunctatus https://bugguide.net/node/view/1491131/bgimage, the 13-spotted/Ironweed curculio (which is also called cocklebur weevil and which has a more extensive range across America than the RCW), and R. pustulosus (no common name, but do Google “pustulosis”) https://bugguide.net/node/view/1439311/bgpage, which sneaks over the border from Mexico

 

RCW’s are about one-third if an inch long and can vary from pale https://bugguide.net/node/view/123754/bgimage to medium https://bugguide.net/node/view/1089167/bgimage, to a pretty dark/melanistic phase https://bugguide.net/node/view/74037/bgimage, but the black diamond on the red pronotum (the prominent, saddle-shaped structure that covers all or part of the thorax of some insects) is standard equipment.  The beetles are red and black, Mother Nature’s warning colors, but the BugLady couldn’t find anything cautionary about the RCW.

There’s not much information out there about how the RCB lives its life.  Here’s a nice life history picture series https://bugguide.net/node/view/1464062/bgimage.

 

Almost all weevils are vegetarians, and some are very specific feeders, but the RCB’s menu is a bit more varied.  Adults feed from the leaves and stems of ragweed, thistle, cocklebur, Joe Pye weed, wild sunflower, ironweed, and rosinweed (all members of the Aster/Composite family), and larvae bore into the roots and stems of the same plants https://bugguide.net/node/view/72277/bgimage.

 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

 

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

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Bug o’the Week – Speed-dating the Spiders III, the Orchard Spider http://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/bug-othe-week-speed-dating-the-spiders-iii-the-orchard-spider/ Wed, 21 Nov 2018 18:19:25 +0000 http://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/?p=21531 Salutations, BugFans,   The BugLady photographed this pretty, little, spider in the wilds of Ohio in June, and then found more in Wisconsin in August.  When BugFan Mike ID’d it for her, he said “I love it because it is one of the few WI spiders I can also see in Panama!  It should get […]

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Salutations, BugFans,

 

The BugLady photographed this pretty, little, spider in the wilds of Ohio in June, and then found more in Wisconsin in August.  When BugFan Mike ID’d it for her, he said “I love it because it is one of the few WI spiders I can also see in Panama!  It should get more common here with global warming.”

 

There are a number of spiders that are called “orchard spiders;” this one is officially known as Leucauge venusta (Leucauge comes from the Greek for “with a bright gleam” and venusta is Latin for “beautiful”).  It’s in the Long-jawed orbweaver family Tetragnathidae (we have visited the family before in the form of long-jawed orbweavers in the genus Tetragnatha https://uwm.edu/field-station/long-jawed-orbweavers/).  There are more than 150 species in the genus Leucauge worldwide, and as a group, they like the tropics.

 

The genus was named by Charles Darwin, who was also the first to collect one (it’s the only spider that has that double distinction), but then the original specimen was lost.  See https://www2.gwu.edu/~magazine/archive/2011_research_fall/feature_pdf/gwr_fall12_feat2.pdf for a nifty article about it (N.B. the BugLady was momentarily confused by the way this article scans, but she figured out that when you get to the second page, read the middle column straight through the green font to the bottom, then read the column to its right.  The text under the partial picture on the left stands alone).

 

Yes, they’re are found in orchards, but you’re equally likely to see their horizontal webs on low vegetation in woodlands (especially dampish woodlands) from southern Canada well into Central and South America.  The horizontal orientation helps them to catch jumping as well as flying insects.

Orchard spiders (aka Venusta orchard spiders) are long-legged and small – the bodies of females are a little larger than a third of an inch and males are a little smaller; females have green legs, and males’ legs vary.  One source described them as coming in neon colors – their bodies are striped with green and gold and silver and black, and another gave a nod to their photogenic appearance.  There are some dynamite pictures of them on the Web, like this very green individual https://bugguide.net/node/view/1152832/bgimage, and https://bugguide.net/node/view/1105893/bgimage, and this male – https://bugguide.net/node/view/954204/bgimage, and this collection from the Maryland Biodiversity project https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/viewSpecies.php?species=6567&showHidden=1, and, a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) shot https://fineartamerica.com/featured/orchard-spider-david-m-phillips.html).

 

Like males of many other species, the male orchard spider courts carefully, recognizing the lady by her chemistry (odor), and softening her up and assessing her interest by sending specific vibrations to her through her web.  Females subsequently attach an orange-ish egg sac (which may hold several hundred eggs) to a nearby twig or place it in a leaf shelter.  Adults die by the first frost, and the eggs hatch, but the spiderlings overwinter within the shelter of the sac, disperse by ballooning in the spring, and begin making their own webs.  Young spiders make smaller webs, closer to the ground, than their elders.

 

They are eaten by a variety of mammals like shrews and bats, and by many species of songbirds.  Orchard spiders are parasitized by a wasp whose larvae attach themselves to the spider’s exterior and feed on it from the outside (ectoparasites).  Scroll down to the “Friends and Foes” section for a picture and a description of the larvae’s modus operandi https://sites.google.com/site/islandecologyuncw2015/impacts-of-terrestrial-fauna/orchard-spider.

 

Scientists have analyzed their web-spinning patterns down to the last twist and turn.  Adults make a web that is about a foot across, horizontal or slightly tipped, averaging (according to Eric Eaton’s bugeric blog) “30 radii (spokes) and 60 spirals.”  He goes on to say, “The orchard orbweaver is shy, and drops from its web straight to the ground if it feels threatened, often disappearing into the leaf litter and undergrowth.”  Spiders are often found suspended, belly up, from the center of the web.

 

Interesting spider fact: according to the University of North Carolina’s Barrier Island Ecology project, not only are spiders in general important biological controls on pest insects (although, alas, to a spider, beneficial insects taste as good as the unwanted ones), but mixing spider venom with a kind of plant protein produces a natural pesticide that is bee-friendly!

 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

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Bug o’the Week – Buffalo Treehopper http://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/bug-othe-week-buffalo-treehopper/ Wed, 14 Nov 2018 15:48:59 +0000 http://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/?p=21480 Howdy, BugFans, Even though she’s never exactly sure which species she’s looking at, the BugLady is always tickled when she finds one of these pointy little bugs.  Here’s what you need to know about the improbable-looking buffalo treehopper – that it can fly and hop as well as walk, and that in Germany it’s called the “Büffelzikade” […]

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Howdy, BugFans,

Even though she’s never exactly sure which species she’s looking at, the BugLady is always tickled when she finds one of these pointy little bugs.  Here’s what you need to know about the improbable-looking buffalo treehopper – that it can fly and hop as well as walk, and that in Germany it’s called the “Büffelzikade” (“buffalo cicada”).  The rest is lagniappe.

We’ll get the taxonomic confusion out of the way first: Buffalo treehoppers are in the treehopper family Membracidae and in the much-worked-over genus Ceresa/Stictocephala.  A bugguide.net expert contrasts the current species placement in their guide pages with “the [former] fragmented classification, whereby our Ceresas got scattered among as many as four genera (Hadrophallus, Spissistilus, Stictocephala, Tortistilus).”  Ceresa and Stictocephala seem to be synonymous in many species; and number of species have gone through several complete name changes – Ceresa alta is also known as Stictocephala alta and in the past has been called S. bisonaS. bizoniaS. bubalus, and C. bubalus.  The BugLady has (maybe) pictures of Stictocephala/Ceresa alta and Stictocephala/Ceresa taurina here, but as biologist William Keeton once said, man is the only species that worries about the fine points of classification; the rest of the organisms know who they are.

Adult treehoppers have an enlarged area behind their head that looks like a shield over the head, thorax, and first part of their abdomen.  The design of this area can get pretty fancy (http://grist.org/list/the-brazilian-treehopper-is-the-creepiest-raddest-insect-you-will-ever-see/), while another species with a far simpler blueprint, known as the Thorn treehopper, https://bugguide.net/node/view/16468/bgimage is known to inflict harm on people who walk on it barefoot.  Some species of treehoppers are colorful and gregarious and are protected by ants in exchange for the honeydew they excrete; others, like buffalo treehoppers, are solitary and well-camouflaged.

Treehoppers have been around for a very long time – fossil treehoppers found in amber have been dated to 40 million years old.

Buffalo treehoppers measure less than a half-inch long and are humpbacked and variously horned, supposedly reminiscent of their much larger namesakes (here’s a glamour shot of one species http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/zenphoto/index.php?album=ancient-leviathan/treehoppers&image=ceresa-taurina.jpg).. And their excellent, spiny nymphs look like mini-dragons https://bugguide.net/node/view/278721.  Buffalo treehoppers are mostly a New World, tropical bunch, and they’re widespread across North America, but a few species have stowed away and spread to parts of Europe, North Africa, and Asia, where they are unappreciated.

In their adult and immature stages, buffalo treehoppers feed on plant sap that they get by puncturing the stems of woody and non-woody plants with their strong “beaks” (and they can do minor damage to both in the process).  They may begin their lives on woody plants, where Mom uses her sharp ovipositor to make shallow slits in twigs and to deposit her eggs (https://bugguide.net/node/view/142270/bgimage).  When the eggs hatch, the nymphs find their way to more succulent, herbaceous vegetation (Ceresa taurina moves from apple to aster, and Ceresa alta, from elm and apple to sweet clover).  They molt five times on the way to adulthood https://bugguide.net/node/view/654981/bgimage.

In summer, when love is in the air, males attract females by emitting a sound that is inaudible to the human ear due both to its volume and to its frequency.

Writing in the “Thirtieth Annual Report of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University and the Agricultural Experiment Station” (1917), W.D. Funkhauser tells us that “Eggs are laid in the bark of stems two or three years old.  Egg slits are peculiar, being curved and parallel and so close together that the wound between them does not heal and thus considerable injury may be done to the twig.  … six or eight eggs are laid in the slit.  The eggs winter over and hatch in May.”

The slits can cause twigs to look rough and scaly, and multiple slits can weaken them; Funkhauser tells us that “Not only are the egg slits large enough to cause material mechanical damage, but the puncture allows the easy ingress of fungi and of other insects.”  Buffalo treehoppers are also suspected vectors of some plant viruses.

They don’t have a lot of enemies – the eggs are parasitized by a few small wasps.  The BugLady’s picture of a Buffalo treehopper on some leaves was taken when she startled a damselfly that had grabbed the treehopper, wrestled it to the ground, and then ended up dropping it (for which the BugLady apologized) (but she couldn’t quite picture how a damselfly would approach the treehopper’s hard and slippery exterior.).

Treehoppers were featured a few years ago in a BOTW about Two-marked treehoppers https://uwm.edu/field-station/two-marked-treehopper/ (with a bonus picture of a buffalo treehopper).

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

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