Bug o’the Week – European Skipper Butterfly

Howdy, BugFans,   

The BugLady has trouble wrapping her head around the idea of a non-native butterfly, especially one that’s considered a pest.  What could be more benign than a butterfly?  But, there’s the non-native Cabbage White butterfly (there’s even an alien orchid that’s considered invasive in some areas – read https://northamericanorchidcenter.org/non-native-orchids/ for more about that).  Of course, when butterflies are listed as a pest species, it’s because of the dining habits of their caterpillars.

European Skippers (Thymelicus lineola) fetched up on these shores (London, Ontario, to be exact) in 1910 – one source speculated that the eggs were carried in the seed heads of the also-alien timothy grass, possibly in dried grass that was being used, pre-“plastic peanuts,” to cushion a shipment of ceramics (a common practice in by-gone days and one that brought other alien grasses from the Old Country).  The ES has been expanding its range ever since, both under its own power and as eggs transported in hay (in a study of hay bales, researchers found more than 5,000 ES eggs in a single bale of timothy hay, and another source referenced a range map for ESs and said that if it was more than two years old, it was out of date).

They are a “cool-climate” butterfly that ranges across Canada and the northern tier of states (largely skipping the Great Plains), and throughout the Northeast, and they’re found in all sorts of grasslands, plus parks, gardens, roadsides, and wetland edges.  They are common within that range, sometimes mind-bogglingly so.  According to the wisconsinbutterflies.org website (https://wisconsinbutterflies.org/butterfly), “This species is most impressive for its occasional abundance, far greater than that of other skippers in the northern states. The record high for this species on a single North American Butterfly Association count is 55,340 and every year the highest count is well into the thousands.”  Bugguide.net says that “It is becoming the most common skipper and considered a threat to Polites peckius” [Peck’s skipper].

European Skippers are in the Skipper family Hesperiidae and in the Grass skipper subfamily Hesperiinae.  Adult Grass skippers tend to perch on flowers with their wings slightly “ajar” – the forewings held closer together than the hind wings (which can make seeing the color patterns tricky) – and the host plants of their caterpillars are mostly grasses and sedges.  The caterpillars may web a few grass leaves together as a shelter and feed nocturnally.  On the other side of the Pond, European Skippers are called Essex Skippers.

They’re a smallish butterfly with a wingspread of 1 to 1 ½ inches and the typical chubby, hairy body of a skipper.  Like many grass skippers, they are orange and brown, but orange (one site describes it as “pumpkin orange”) predominates both on the upper and lower surfaces of the ES’s wings.

ES caterpillars eat timothy grass and, to a lesser extent, a few other exotic grasses.  Timothy, a sun-loving grass whose seed heads look like mini-cattails, came over on the boat from England, too, probably before 1700, as a contaminant in other plant materials.  The settlers here recognized it as a good livestock food and started cultivating it (England caught on later), and it continues to be important horse and cattle fodder today (it’s also sold as food for pet rabbits and rodents).  It’s named after a farmer named Timothy Hanson, who played Johnny Appleseed by spreading the grass from New England to the mid-Atlantic coast by 1747.  It’s sometimes planted as a soil holder in road construction.

The caterpillar damages timothy grass by its feeding, sometimes stripping the leaves of a plant, and when a lot of caterpillars are present, by eating the seed head, too, leaving a bare stalk.  According to a slightly-dated entry on the Canadian Biodiversity Information website, “Even after almost a century it seems that native parasites have not yet developed a ‘taste’ for this species” (although a naturally-occurring virus can be lethal to them and is being considered where caterpillar control is needed).  Adults nectar during the day on a variety of composites (fleabane, thistle), clovers and other mid-summer wildflowers.

Males patrol, close to the ground, searching for mates.  Females lay as many as 30 pale green eggs, in strands of three or four each, on grass leaves or seed heads.  Alone among all of the 275 species of North American skippers, ES’s overwinter as eggs, and the caterpillars emerge in spring.  Here’s a caterpillar, https://bugguide.net/node/view/294788/bgimage, and here’s a pupa https://bugguide.net/node/view/124322/bgimage.

Adults tend to sit out very hot or cloudy weather, and they spend the night perched down in the grass.

Speaking of orchids, the BugLady found an interesting paper about the effects that foraging ESs have on seed production in the spectacular Showy Lady’s-slipper orchid.  Orchids are famous for the tricks they play on potential pollinators and the hoops they put them through.  A number of orchids are pollinated by “naïve bumblebees” (a term that tickles the BugLady).  The orchids advertise their flowers by odor or color; the bees enter, and they find no nectar reward, but they leave bearing pollen.  It takes a few unrewarding visits before an individual figures it out and moves on to more rewarding flower species, but there are always more naïve bumblebees out there.

In the case of Showy lady’s slippers, pollinators are lured into the slipper and are trapped in it because the tissue around the lip’s opening is folded into the flower.  The only way out requires them to squeeze past hairy structures that first relieve them of any pollen they are carrying and then deposit new pollen on them before they reach the narrow exit – with no nectar for their efforts.

In one study, the majority of Showy lady’s slipper flowers in a study bog in Ontario contained one or more dead ESs, which can’t escape by the normal routes (one flower held seven!).  Males outnumbered females, because male ESs emerge from their chrysalis earlier than females.  Once an ES gets into the flower, pollination by the normal pollinators – leaf-cutter bees, syrphid flies, and a few small beetles – becomes difficult-to-impossible and seed production plummets.  If the ES can’t escape, like the naïve bumblebees, it can’t learn to bypass the orchid.

So – rising populations of ES have the potential to impact Showy Lady’s slipper populations https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318441873_European_Skipper_Butterfly_Thymelicus_lineola_Associated_with_Reduced_Seed_Development_of_Showy_Lady’s-slipper_Orchid_Cypripedium_reginae.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady 

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Summer Survey

Greetings, BugFans,

The BugLady is spending as much time as she can in the field (and the rest of it editing pictures) because, you know, the Summer Solstice has passed, and a little wave of warblers moved through her yard the other day, and winter is coming.  Many of these beauties have already starred in their own BOTW.  In a nutshell – there’s a whole lot of romance in the air.

CICADAS are calling https://uwm.edu/field-station/dogday-cicada-family-cicadidae/.  Historically, we’ve had lots of Dog-day cicadas in Southeastern Wisconsin (and very few of the famous Periodical cicadas), but there are other voices, too.  Along the Mississippi, some species sing well into the night.  The BugLady Googled “Cicadas Wisconsin” and found this nifty site: http://www.cicadamania.com/genera/usa.php?category=A&qs=WI

JAGGED AMBUSH BUGS (a common name shared by about 20 species in the genus Phymata) are pretty high on the BugLady’s list of favorites. They are fierce predators with a lot of attitude wrapped up in that little body.  When the BugLady sees an inert (and sometimes sizeable) insect dangling from a plant, the predator at the other end is inevitably a crab spider or an ambush bug.

When the BugLady is editing ambush bug pictures, she often discovers a well-camouflaged second ambush bug, or even a ménage a trois in a flower.  Bugguide.net tells us that “Coupling may involve several males riding around on a single female. Sometimes it allows them to take down larger prey, although coupling individuals have been found each with their own prey as well.”

ANTS CARING FOR TREEHOPPERS – Some species of ants (and wasps and bees and other insects) supplement their diet with honeydew, a sugary liquid that comes out of one end of an aphid or treehopper when it takes in plant sap (which comes out under pressure) through the other end.  Ants “farm” the honeydew producers, protecting them from predators, and in return they are allowed to “milk” their “livestock.” Win-win.  Animals (and plants) that have symbiotic relationships with ants are called myrmecophiles.

It’s BLISTER BEETLE season.  Black blister beetles (Epicauta pennsylvanica) conspicuously prowl the goldenrods in August.  These elegant gray and black beetles are members of the Epicauta cinerea group, which includes six, very similar species north of the Rio Grande that can be gray and black, or all gray, or all black.  The BugLady suspects that these are Clematis blister beetles (Epicauta cinerea), because they were crawling around on Virgin’s Bower vines.  The first stage/instar larva of many blister beetle species is a “larva on steroids” called a triungulin – a very mobile critter that actively searches for its food.  When it locates prey, it settles down as a normal, sedentary grub.  Members of this genus eat the eggs of many grasshopper species.  Look, but don’t touch: https://uwm.edu/field-station/blister-beetle/.

Some blister beetles have an elaborate courtship – as the BugLady watched this pair, the male advanced from the rear, rocking back and forth, twirling his antennae and maxillary palps (paired appendages below the mandibles, used for sensory and feeding purposes).

This TULE BLUET is carrying quite a load of water mite nymphs on its abdomen.  Like their tick relatives, the mites feed from the outside of the dragonfly.  They climb on board an almost-mature dragonfly or damselfly naiad while it is still under water, but they don’t feed.  When the adult pulls out of its old exoskeleton, they attach themselves anew while it is resting and its new exoskeleton is still soft.  A big mite load can sap the insect’s energy, shorten its life, and, depending on where they’re attached, even interfere with reproduction.  For a good article about mites, see: http://nwdragonflier.blogspot.com/2012/01/mite-y-dragons-odonata-and-water-mites.html

CRAB SPIDERS are masters of camouflage, with the ability to change their color from yellow to white, and back.  It takes up to three weeks to go from white to yellow, but only about a week to turn from yellow to white.  Why?  Because the yellow pigment has to be produced, but to go back to white, the pigment just has to be reabsorbed and excreted.

They don’t spin “trap webs” like the orb weavers, but they’re not above creating a little shelter, and this one webbed some ray flowers together for a bit of extra camouflage.  Pollinators beware!

PHANTOM CRANE FLIES are about as magical as it gets.  They are a subtle movement flickering at the corner of your eye on the dappled edges of wetlands – like those stars at night that you can only see by looking slightly to the side.  Slim, leggy flies, they fly/drift through vegetation, aided by ridges on their tibiae that catch the breeze like tiny sails https://uwm.edu/field-station/phantom-crane-fly/.

It’s hard to connect this LACEWING LARVA with the delicate, golden-eyed adult Green lacewing.  The BugLady started to write a brief bio about lacewings, and then she found this great video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=fbRK6E5crbg&feature=endscreen.  Lacewing larvae like to drop out of trees onto the BugLady and bite her.  Wikipedia tells us that “the larvae may also occasionally bite humans, possibly out of either aggression or hunger.”  Definitely aggression.

GREAT BLACK WASPS are impressive wasps that dominate the flower tops in the second half of summer (there are a few species of blue-black mud wasps that look similar but are smaller).  If you look closely at her legs, you can see golden fringes near her feet.  Those are milkweed pollinia, sticky, saddlebag-shaped structures that are found within the flowers.  The BugLady sometimes finds lesser Hymenopterans, like honeybees, suspended from flowers when one foot gets stuck to a pollinium (she takes a grass stem and detaches them) https://uwm.edu/field-station/great-black-wasp/


WHITE-LINED SPHINX MOTHS have big population booms periodically – the last one was in 2013, and they were everywhere.  The BugLady was watching some hummingbirds squabbling over a patch of Bouncing Bet late one afternoon and she realized that one was smaller than the rest https://uwm.edu/field-station/white-lined-sphinx-moth/.  Yeah – a little out-of-focus – working on it.  Be on the lookout.

TREE CRICKETS are starting to sing https://uwm.edu/field-station/tree-crickets/, though this one is a bit too young to join the chorus.  Hear the full line-up at http://entomology.ifas.ufl.edu/walker/buzz/cricklist.htm.

Like other Odonates (damselflies and dragonflies) the male STREAM BLUET initiates this dance by transferring sperm from the tip of his abdomen to a receptacle neat its base.  When he grasps a female in back of her head (not a totally benign process – the BugLady has pictures of Spreadwing damselflies with bits of tissue stuck to their claspers/cerci), the female reaches forward and retrieves it, forming a “mating wheel.”  Later, he will guard her as she oviposits, to keep her from being stolen by a rival male.

And finally, what is summer all about, if not Technicolor, as illustrated by this VICEROY BUTTERFLY sitting on a prairie dock leaf?

GO outside – look at bugs (while ye may)!

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

2018 Southern WI Restoration Field Day Experts

Want to learn more about the amazing folks presenting at this year’s Restoration Field Day? You’re in luck!


Andrew Struck, Planning And Parks Director- Ozaukee County
Presenting: Ozaukee County Aquatic Connectivity and Habitat Restoration – Adaptive Management to Meet Multiple Goals












Andrew Struck has a M.S. in Applied Ecology/Regional Planning from Indiana University – Bloomington, a B.S. in Molecular Biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and more than 20 years of planning and restoration experience. He is the Director of the Planning and Parks Department for Ozaukee County and specializes in regional planning, natural resource planning, management, protection and restoration, education, park and open space design and implementation. He has lead collaborations with numerous governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations and private sector firms on planning and natural resource design, management, protection, education and restoration projects including: the USEPA, NOAA, USFWS, USFS, WDNR, Wisconsin Coastal Management Program, WisDOT, NFWF, and other conservation organizations. He is the Program Director and main point of contact for the Ozaukee Fish Passage Program and currently serves as a member of the WDNR Fish and Wildlife Technical Team and Citizen Advisory Committee Leadership Team for the Milwaukee River Estuary AOC. Andrew also served as Program Director for the nationally recognized, USEPA-funded sustainable brownfield redevelopment of the Menomonee River Valley in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Andrew serves on several planning and environmental nonprofit organizations Board of Directors including officer positions (e.g., President, Treasurer, etc) and received the Conservationist of the Year award from Gathering Waters in 2013.

Bill McNee, Forest Health Specialist – Wisconsin DNR
Presenting: Forest Health and Ecological Restoration Success, Parts 1 and 2














Bill McNee is a DNR Forest Health Specialist stationed in Oshkosh. He began working for the DNR in 2001 as a gypsy moth suppression coordinator based in Green Bay, and has been in his current position since 2013. He primarily works with the detection and management of non-native insects and diseases such as emerald ash borer, gypsy moth and beech bark disease. He currently serves on the executive committee of the National Gypsy Moth Management Board. Bill received a PhD in Entomology from the University of California at Berkeley.

Carrie Hennessy, Horticulturalist & Landscape Designer- Johnson’s Nursery
Presenting: They’re Here, They’re Deer (Creating Deer Resistant Landscapes)











I grew up in southern Wisconsin, just one mile from my grandparents’ dairy farm. Being able to run freely around the rolling hills and farmland of Green County instilled a deep love of nature at an early age. But it wasn’t until my parents gave me my own raised bed in our family vegetable garden and for flowers and herbs that I realized a whole world of horticultural potential! Every year I could change the design and experiment with new culinary herbs and flowers. A chance encounter with a Horticulture major when I was in high school inspired me to turn my love of gardening and design into a career. I received a bachelor’s degree in horticulture and a minor in art at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. My varied work experiences include time at several renowned botanical gardens (such as Olbrich Gardens, The Paine Art Center & Gardens, and the Better Homes & Gardens Test Garden) and four years as the designer and lead foreman for a small landscape company in Oshkosh, WI. I was thrilled to join Johnson’s Nursery in the spring of 2008. I knew first-hand how great their plant material was and that I’d be surrounded by incredibly knowledgeable people who enjoy plants as much as I do. As the Retail department’s lead Horticulturist and Designer, it is my mission to approach each client’s landscape needs with enthusiasm and to help make their landscape a unique reflection of their own aesthetics, whether they just need a single shade tree installed or a complete redesign. As a professional horticulturist and designer, I enjoy speaking publicly on a variety of horticultural topics to local garden clubs, libraries, and educational institutions. In addition, I host the Johnson’s Nursery online web-series “The Dirt” and “Carrie’s Quick Tips” which show that gardening doesn’t have to be overwhelming or complicated. It’s easy to take control of your own yard, with a few professional tips. In my spare time, I like working in my own garden, creating new & exciting container displays with each changing season, reading, hiking, trying new recipes, visiting new places, and going to Brewers baseball games with my husband.

Clayton M. Frazer, Senior Ecologist – Eco Resource Consulting
Presenting: Native Broadcast Seeding















Clay received his Bachelor of Science in Zoology/Wildlife Ecology from Southern Illinois
University at Carbondale in 1996. Following a two-year Peace Corps Volunteer post in West
Africa working in the agro-forestry sector, he began his professional career as a Wildlife
Technician for The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. This work led to a position
with Pheasants Forever in Southeast Wisconsin as a Grassland Ecologist where he facilitated
more than 6,000 acres of reconstructed prairie. In 2008, Clay came on board with EC3
Environmental Consulting Group as a Project Manager. And in 2012, Clay accepted a position
as a Senior Ecologist with Eco-Resource Consulting, Inc. He has a strong background in native
plant ecology, invasive species management, comprehensive land management, and project
planning/design. Through the design and implementation of adaptive management
approaches, Clay has accrued 20 years of “hands-on” knowledge base in native plant
community management and now oversees business and new project development at ERC, one of the fastest growing ecological consulting and restoration firms in the Midwest.

Cory Gritzmacher, Director of Habitat Restoration and Operations- Mequon Nature Preserve,
Jason Nickels, Director of Education and Research- Mequon Nature Preserve
Laura Holder, Co-founder and Executive Director- Midwest Conservation Dogs
& Tilia, Conservation Ambassador – Mequon Nature Preserve
Presenting: Conservation Dogs Part 1 and 2

Cory has been in the Green Industry for over 20 years. He graduated from MATC with a degree in Landscape Horticulture in 1998. He has been an ISA Certified Arborist for over 15 years.  Cory is a past president of the Wisconsin Arborist Association and has served on a number of committees over the past 20 years. Prior to his position at Mequon Nature Preserve he owned and operated Second Nature Landscape Company. Cory enjoys family vacations to Colorado with his wife Andrea and two boys Caleb and Ryan.

Jason received a BS in Life Science Education from Martin Luther College, New Ulm, MN in 2002, and a MS in Environmental Education from Concordia University – WI, Mequon, WI, in 2015. After graduation he began teaching in 2002 at Lakeside Lutheran High School in Lake Mills, WI. At Lakeside he took on many roles: teaching biology and human anatomy / physiology, serving as the head coach of the wrestling program, coaching varsity and junior varsity football as a defensive coordinator, advising the school’s Affinity Club (a service organization) and taking care of Lakeside’s internal courtyard and ponds. In June of 2011 Jason joined Mequon Nature Preserve’s staff and now serves as the Director of Education and Research. During the school year he takes thousands of students on nature walks in his new, 444-acre classroom. When not teaching kids, he spends his time performing land restoration tasks in the prairies, wetlands and forests of Mequon Nature Preserve. Jason lives in Milwaukee with his wife, Becky, and his two young children, Madelynn and Sawyer.

Laura’s lifelong fascination with canines, especially their unique ability to work alongside humans, inspires her every day in the field. She loves training and deploying the MCD canine teams to support clients in their critical conservation efforts. Driven by her boundless curiosity about how dogs think, learn and detect scent, Laura has spent more than a decade as a professional in the fields of scent-detection, nose work and dog training. She is a Certified Nose Work Instructor (CNWI™) through the National Association of Canine Scent Work (NASCW) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) through the CCPDT. Laura has also trained for obedience and agility. In addition to co-founding Midwest Conservation Dogs, Laura is also owner of Connecting with Dogs, co-founder of the Force Free Trainers of Wisconsin, and has a long list of continuing education credits. Her Labrador Retriever, Ernie, is her current canine partner for detection work. She continues to “play” K9 Nose Work with her title-winning German Shepherd Dog, Oscar, as much as she can.

Tilia is the newest addition to the family at Mequon Nature Preserve. After her training, Tilia will become the first on-staff conservation dog in the state of Wisconsin and will also be a conservation ambassador, joining MNP staff on field trips at the preserve. Follow Tilia on her MNP Instagram (tilia_mnp) to see what she’s up to!

Craig Maier, Coordinator- Tallgrass Prairie & Oak Savanna Fire Science Consortium
Presenting: I’ll Give It to You ‘Trait’ – Native and Non-native Plant Adaptations to Fire














Craig Maier is the coordinator of the Tallgrass Prairie and Oak Savanna Fire Science Consortium, a knowledge exchange funded by the Joint Fire Science Program (www.firescience.gov). The consortium’s mission is to accelerate the awareness, understanding, and application of fire science, and he partners with researchers, land managers, and staff from institutions, agencies, and NGOs across the Midwest. Craig grew up in southern Wisconsin and has earned a B.S. in Geoscience from Northland College and a M.S. from the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the UW-Madison. He has experience with prescribed fire, prairie restoration, managed grazing, and oak ecosystem restoration from work with the Aldo Leopold Foundation, The Nature Conservancy’s Baraboo Hills Project, UW Madison’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and MacLeish Heritage Farms.

Drew Ballantyne, Owner of Woodland Restoration LLC & Southeastern Wisconsin Invasive Species Consortium Board Director
Presenting: Giant Hogweed














I received Bachelor’s degrees in Environmental Science with an emphasis in Water and Life and Geography from Carthage College.  Then I received my Masters’ in Forest Science from Michigan Technological University in 2010. I have done research or worked all across the Great Lakes region.  Shortly after starting a PhD program at Michigan State my advisor recommended I get more land management experience and see how I like it. Since then I have worked for an ecological restoration company, a golf course performing ecological restoration, and numerous sites with my own business.  From those I have obtained pesticide applicator licenses, chainsaw safety training, and wildland fire training certificates. I enjoy working outside restoring Wisconsin’s native ecosystems both for clients as well as on my wife and I’s own properties. When I am not in prairies, savannas, forests, or wetlands, you can usually find me on the golf course or at a restaurant.  I am always looking to network with more folks as well as on the lookout for the next areas that have potential to be high quality natural areas.

Matt Smith, Land Manager – Riveredge Nature Center
Presenting: Review of herbicide application equipment and tactical approaches












Matt Smith is the Land Manager for Riveredge Nature Center based in Newburg, Wisconsin. Mr. Smith has 13 years of experience in the field of ecology and restoration. Prior to employment with Riveredge, Mr. Smith has worked as a Consulting Ecologist for Eco-Resource Consulting, Land Manager for National Audubon at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, a restoration technician for Tallgrass Restoration LLC, a Conservancy Steward for the Sand County Foundation, a Technician through Seifert Field & Forest, a certified Arborist and Cultural Landscape Specialist for Green Tree-Tree Care and Consulting, and a plant surveyor for NatureServe. Mr. Smith’s work has led him to practice restoration throughout the Midwest, experiencing first hand its wide variety of diverse environments and conditions. Mr. Smith’s work has allowed him to play an active role in projects on large and small scales in the public and private sectors.

Melissa Curran, Environmental Scientist – Stantec Consulting Services
Presenting: Midwest Orchid Conservation Project


















Melissa Curran is an Environmental Scientist with Stantec Consulting Services, specializing in botanical surveys and restoration ecology.  Over the last 11 years, she has completed numerous natural resource assessments, rare plant surveys and restoration projects throughout the Midwest.  She has documented dozens of new rare plant populations and is currently working on reintroducing orchid species to restoration sites throughout Wisconsin.

Michelle Stowers: Nursery Ecologist-  Agrecol LLC
Presenting: Introduction to Agrecol’s Native Vegetated Mat (NVM)










Michelle was raised on a farm in South Central Wisconsin. Her passion for our native flora and fauna started young and has carried through the present. She holds a B.S. in Biology with an emphasis in Field Ecology and a minor in Environmental Studies from UW-Whitewater. Michelle has worked with Agrecol, a native seed and plant nursery since 2016. As the Nursery Ecologist, one of the many hats she wears is oversight of the Native Vegetated Mat (NVM). Ms. Stowers is especially passionate about stopping the decline of the Monarch butterfly population. She hand raises caterpillars through metamorphosis and releases hundreds of Monarchs each year.

Peter Ziegler, Project Manager- EC3 Environmental Consulting
Presenting: Forestry Mowing- Taking the sweat out of woody invasive removal.














Peter Ziegler from a young age was introduced to many outdoor activities growing up in the
country outside of Slinger in Washington County. Coming from a conservation minded family. Peter was hooked on restoration at a young age when he saw the success a wetland restoration
can provide to wildlife and the land. Peter has over 18 years of natural resource restoration and
management experience across the upper Midwest, and takes great pride he is close to where he grew up and able to utilize his skills to restore the natural habitat in the area. Peter currently
manages the state wide habitat program for a non-profit, Wisconsin Waterfowl Association,
specializing in wetland restorations; as well as managing restoration projects for EC3
Environmental Consulting. His experience comes from a diverse background working from
North Dakota to Iowa and from Native shoreline, prairie and wetland restoration to invasive
species management. Peter’s diverse restoration management background is recognized as he
participates on land management advisory committees for multiple non-profit organizations.
EC3 is a full line restoration, land management and consulting company.

Ryan Wallin, Stewardship Director – Ozaukee Washington Land Trust
Presenting: GIS Collector’s Best Attributes for Stewardship













Born and raised in the Milwaukee Metro area, BS from Stevens Point – Wildlife Ecology and Management, MS from American Public University –Environmental Policy and Management, worked for Native American Fish and Wildlife Society as a CWD Biologist 07-12, Washington Department of Natural Resources as Fish and Wildlife Biologist II 12-16, and came to OWLT in January 2016.

Bug o’the Week – Red-shouldered Pine Borer

Howdy, BugFans,

Meet another of the BugLady’s new neighbors, a handsome black beetle with red epaulets called the Red-shouldered Pine Borer.  It came to her front door – well, actually, it was trapped in her front door, between the screen and the raised glass of the storm door, and its rescue involved dismantling the glass/screen assembly with one hand while holding a jar beneath the beetle with the other (empty flip-top Parmesan cheese containers make excellent bug jars).  Five days later, it happened again, with the appearance of the red individual.

Red-shouldered Pine Borers are in the Long-horned beetle family Cerambycidae, so named because of their long antennae, antennae that make them favorites of entomologists (and collectors) everywhere.  Some have spectacular antennae indeed https://blogs.massaudubon.org/yourgreatoutdoors/have-you-seen-this-beetle/ (click to enlarge the picture of this extremely threatening beetle).  Cerambycidae (from the Greek kerambex – beetle – and keras – horn) is a large family with about 30,000 species worldwide and just under 1,000 in North America.

They are in the Flower longhorn subfamily Lepturinae, a group known for their, slim, sometimes-exaggerated wedge shapes and their habit of visiting flowers by day (they like “flat” flowers like Queen Anne’s lace rather than deep, tubular ones).  There is only one species in the genus Stictoleptura in the New World, and it’s divided into three subspecies distributed across a big chunk of North America except for the Southeast.  In his book Beetles of Eastern North America, Evans describes the range of our subspecies, Stictoleptura canadensis canadensis, as Newfoundland to Pennsylvania west to Ontario and Minnesota.

The elytra (hard wing covers) of RsPBs come in a variety of colors including all red, all black https://bugguide.net/node/view/371891/bgimage, and almost all black https://bugguide.net/node/view/998834/bgimage.  Bugguide.net tells us that the first individual that the BugLady found is unusual because its antennae were black, not banded; the second (red) beetle had a few pale bands on its antennae, but the bands can be pretty noticeable https://bugguide.net/node/view/26315/bgimage.

Another name for the Cerambycids is the Round-headed borers.  As you might guess from those long, breakable antennae, it’s the larvae that earn the “borer” label.  In general, Cerambycids may live from one to three years, mostly in the larval stage, and in general, the larvae don’t kill trees, they tunnel in and initiate the breakdown and recycling of stressed trees and dead and decaying wood (except for prairie species, which feed in plant roots).  Larvae of the RsPB are found in fir, pine, and hemlock.

Adult Cerambycids may eat sap, fruit, leaves, pollen, nectar, and fungi.  Any arthropod that crawls across flowers is, by default, a pollinator, but the RsPB is probably not an important one.  In reference to beetles’ contribution to pollination, the BugLady was tickled to learn the term “mess and soil pollinators.”  According to the US Forest Service, “Beetles were among the first insects to visit flowers and they remain essential pollinators today. They are especially important pollinators for ancient species such as magnolias and spicebush. Beetles will eat their way through petals and other floral parts. They even defecate within flowers, earning them the nickname “mess and soil” pollinators.

(The beetles she found were on the inside, looking out, and the BugLady is hoping that’s because the door is porous, and not that the cedar walls of the cottage will soon be toast.)

Alas, the Wikipedia write-up of the RsPB is not a shining example of crowd-sourcing https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stictoleptura_canadensis.  It’s a very brief and general account of the whole family Cerambycidae, not of the species; it reads like a bad translation, and it was subsequently cut and pasted unquestioned by a number of other legitimate internet sources like inaturalist.  Caveat emptor.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Gold-and-Brown Rove beetle

Salutations, BugFans,

This is National Moth Week – find a celebration near you.

July is turning out to be Beetle Month, and here’s a beauty.  It’s a Rove beetle, family Staphylinidae, a beetle family that rivals the weevils (and the Ichneumonid wasps) for the title of largest animal family (and scientists are still discovering new species).  It will lose its place if a proposal to divide the Staphylinidae into four families gains traction.

Anyway – the Rove beetle family is varied in size, color, diet, and habitat.  In general they are mostly drab beetles with truncated elytra that nevertheless shelter a pair of flying wings folded together like a tiny work of Origami.  Most are carnivores or scavengers, and most carry on their lives out of sight.  Over the past 200,000 millennia, various Rove beetle species have adapted to live on tidal beaches and wetland edges, and in moist microclimates under rocks and loose bark, in fungi, manure, caves, burrows, and leaf litter, as inquilines (borders) in the nests of ants and termites, and as pest controls (eating flea and fly larvae) in the nests of some tortoises, birds, and mammals.  And more.  Some are dramatically chemically defended (and some of the inquiline beetles deploy “appeasement” chemicals).

See http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/misc/beetles/rove_beetles.htm for a good general biography of Rove beetles.

Scenic Side Trip:  The University of Florida article mentions that among the places that rove beetles may cohabit are “communal nests of butterflies in Central America.” (Entomological) Social butterflies?  Yes – caterpillars of the Madrone/Mexican butterfly (Eucheira socialis) in the family Pieridae (Whites and Sulphurs) are gregarious.  And (a little lagniappe) according to the very readable and prolific Gilbert Waldbauer in Fireflies, Honey and Silk, “The silken walls of a tent, a communal nest, constructed by one hundred or more cooperating Mexican butterfly caterpillars (Eucheira socialis) have served as a unique writing surface in both prehistoric and historic times.  Eucheira is one of an extremely small number of gregarious nest-building butterflies, but there are many such gregarious species among the closely-related moths… ‘The Aztecs,’ notes Richard Peigler, ‘called [this] insect xiquipilchiuhpapalotla, which means butterfly that makes a pouch.’  He describes the walls of the tent as resembling parchment paper in texture and color and being so tightly woven and tough that they could only be cut with a sharp knife.  These silken sheets were used as writing paper in Mexico at the time of the Spanish conquest.”

We have visited rove beetles before in the form of the Hairy rove beetle, the rusty-tailed Platydracus and the amazing Shoreline rove beetle https://uwm.edu/field-station/shoreline-rove-beetle-family-staphylinidae/.

According to bugguide.net, there are at least 30 described species in the genus Ontholestes, only two of which live in North America, and only one of which is native.  The name comes from the Greek onthos(“dung”) and lestes (“robber” or “pirate”).  The Gold and Brown Rove Beetle (Ontholestes cingulatus) is native, and it can be found in the northwestern and eastern US and across Canada, often associated with fungi, decaying organic material, and dung piles, but it’s also found in grasslands and is considered an indicator of undisturbed forests.

At first glance, GaBRBs might be mistaken for fireflies because of the iridescent yellow hairs (setae) on the thorax and abdomen, but it’s not bioluminescent – it doesn’t have the equipment. The “glow” depends on the angle you view it from, and one author suggests that it warns predators about the beetle’s potential for chemical warfare.  Here’s a much better picture than the BugLady’s – https://bugguide.net/node/view/188718/bgimage, and the BugLady rarely sends BugFans to commercial photo sites, but these are beautiful pictures: http://www.cirrusimage.com/beetles_rove_o_cingulatus.htm.  In one of the BugLady’s pictures of the GaBRB, the wings are fully extended along the abdomen, and in the other, they are almost completely concealed.

The adult is about ¾” long, and the larva is about an inch – on the large side for Rove beetles – with impressive mandibles https://bugguide.net/node/view/199498/bgimage.  When alarmed, adults run around with the tip of their abdomen raised in a threatening fashion, like a scorpion.

After mating, GaBRB males guard females as they oviposit near fungi or carrion or other decomposing organic material.  Guarding takes the form of, at least, blocking a rival’s advance, but the encounter may escalate to frantic circling of the female by the two males and, at worst, to wrestling/biting.  Females are relatively scarce, and interloper males will take advantage of the fact that she may still be receptive, and the fact is, the majority of the offspring are likely to be sired by the most recent male.  The larvae feed on carrion or fungi, and the adults eat the inevitable flies, maggots, and larvae of other beetles that are found those habitats.  The larvae pupate in chambers in whatever substrate they’re in.

(it’s happened again – Spellcheck has informed the BugLady that her 113 page working document of partially-researched upcoming BOTWs has too many misspelled words and grammar errors, the result of much cutting and pasting and lots of scientific and author names.  Consequently, all spell-checking will cease until she fixes the whole document.  Apparently, it’s the boss of her.)

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Thistle-head Weevil

Greetings, BugFans,

Another week, another alien beetle eating an alien thistle.  The BugLady found this pair of weevils while she was chasing Thistle tortoise beetles (clearly, it’s a weevil that gets a lot of mileage out of its food plant).  And, in the “Ain’t the Internet Grand” category, a Google search for “weevil on thistle” resulted in a quick ID.

It’s a small weevil in the Snout/Bark beetle family Curculionidae.  To put things in perspective, with 400,000 species and counting, the beetle Order Coleoptera is the largest Order in Class Insecta (in fact, beetles are the largest Order of animals, period, accounting for a quarter of animal species).  Curculionidae (70,000 species) is the largest beetle family and one of the largest animal families.

It’s a small weevil with some big names – the Thistle Head Weevil and the Nodding Thistle Receptacle Beetle (NTRB) (Wikipedia defines “receptacle” as “the thickened part of a stem (pedicel) from which the flower organs grow”). Like the Thistle tortoise beetle, of very recent BOTW fame, the Nodding Thistle Receptacle Beetle (Rhinocyllus conicus) is not originally from these parts; it hails from Eurasia and North Africa.  It was introduced to control the alien and invasive Nodding/Musk/Russian thistle (Carduus nutans) and a few of its relatives, and now it’s at home in pastures and grasslands and road edges over much of North America.


NTRBs are about a quarter of an inch long and have a fairly short snout.  They are dark/black in color, but freshly-emerged individuals are mottled with a coat of short black and yellowish hairs that makes them look like they’re dusted with pollen.  The hairs wear off over time, leaving the beetle bald https://bugguide.net/node/view/1374096/bgimage

In early summer, beetles congregate, and boy meets girl.  Females lay between 100 and 200 eggs, two to five at a time, on the bracts of the developing thistle flower buds https://bugguide.net/node/view/487333/bgimage, and then top each egg with frass (bug poop) (alternatively, some sources say she caps the eggs with chewed-up plant material).  The cap dries and protects the eggs from predators, and one source said that the cap attracts ants, which care for the eggs.  Newly-hatched larvae dive into the flower head where, according to Wikipedia, they feed inside the receptacle on flower parts and developing seeds – one larva may consume as many as 25 seeds.  The plant reacts like a gall, growing tasty tissue around them, which the larvae also eat.  Despite their secretive lifestyle, the larvae are found by parasitoids.

As they feed, frass that collects inside the flower head is mixed with masticated plant material to form a stiff chamber that becomes the pupal case.  Flower heads contain multiple larvae, and the combined pupal chambers may form a large, hard mass.  After pupation, the newly-minted adult lingers in its protective case for a while before exiting the flower.  Adults may chew on the leaves a little, but the larvae do the most damage.  NTRBs overwinter as adults and emerge early in the following summer to lay eggs and then die.  They are strong, diurnal flyers, but they are reclusive when they’re not feeding.

Biological control can be a “Be careful what you wish for” scenerio, and we are getting better at it, but the BugLady worries that at the base of any bio-control decision, there’s a value judgement about acceptable collateral damages.  The main story about this weevil revolves around its use to control Russian thistle, Milk thistle (Silybum sp.) and some non-native members of the genus Cirsium.  After an introduction to Canada was deemed successful in 1968, NTRBs were released in Virginia, California, Montana and Nebraska in 1969.  On some sites, thistle populations decreased by 80% to 95% in just a few years, and over the next few decades, weevils were deployed in most of the Lower 48.  They traveled to New Zealand in 1973, to Argentina in 1980, and to Australia in 1989.

It was assumed that the weevil would stick to its non-native targets, but by the mid-‘90’s, it was obvious that the NTRBs weren’t limiting themselves to exotic thistles.  While they specialize on thistles in the genus Carduus, a lot depends on synchrony – lining up their reproductive schedule with the budding of the plants.  At the edges of Russian thistle’s range, and when Russian thistle has finished blooming, the weevil showed a willingness to move to native thistles – in fact, it has been found in 22 of our 60-ish species of native Cirsium, some of them already rare.

(Remember – native thistles support a large and complex community of animals, from cohabitants of the thistle bud, to Goldfinches and small mammals that use the fluff for nests, to butterflies and native bees that eat pollen and nectar from the flowers, to bee keepers who bottle thistle honey, to herbalists who harvest thistles for their medicinal value.)

Apparently, other continents don’t have susceptible native thistle species, so North America is the only place where the NTRB is behaving badly.  It is now listed as invasive itself in several states and is barred from interstate shipment.

In a paper called “Rhinocyllus conicus – Insights to Improve Predictability and Minimize Risk of Biological Control of Weeds“(1999) S. M. Louda discusses the history and reality of this “experiment” [the BugLady’s word] and makes recommendations about future introductions.  He says:

Hindsight now demonstrates that, although the logic and reasoning were clear, the conclusion that Rhinocyllus was unlikely to have any major ecological effects was incorrect. The case suggests that more information was needed in order to make an accurate prediction.”

There is enough evidence to suggest that this biological control agent should not be moved into the region surrounding the Great Lakes [Too late – there were several local releases in Wisconsin in the early 1980’s, and the weevil was documented on a native a Cirsium about 20 years later, 80 miles from a release site].

Perhaps most damning: “So, the weevil was released into Canada in 1968, and into the USA in 1969, after exploration and initial testing in Europe. And, research on its biology and interactions was done once it was brought into North America” [emphasis, the BugLady].

A review of information on the release of Rhinocyllus conicus to control of Carduus spp. thistles in North America suggests at least 8 lessons for future biological control efforts. (See https://www.invasive.org/publications/xsymposium/proceed/02pg187.pdf).

In the words of the Germans/Dutch/Pennsylvania Dutch/Scandinavians (lots of people claim this saying), “We grow too soon old and too late smart” (or, in the words of Benjamin Franklin – “Life’s tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late.”).  Not a luxury we can afford, ecologically.

By the BugLady’s (admittedly quixotic) method of counting, this is (drumroll) Episode #500 in the series!  What a journey!  (Founding BugFans – you’re getting old!)

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Thistle Tortoise Beetle

Salutations, BugFans,

The BugLady was wandering the trails at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve recently when she spied a lovely green Thistle tortoise beetle on Canada thistle.  Tortoise beetles have made previous BOTW appearances in the form of the Mottled tortoise beetle (http://uwm.edu/field-station/tortoise-beetle/) in 2014 and the Horsemint tortoise beetle (http://uwm.edu/field-station/horsemint-tortoise-beetle/) in 2016.  After she saw an adult, the BugLady started looking for larvae on some of the scruffier-looking plants.

Thistle tortoise beetles are in the huge Leaf beetle family, Chrysomelidae (possibly 60,000 species worldwide), and in the Tortoise beetle subfamily Cassidinae (about 3000 species).  They owe their tortoise-like appearance to flared edges of the head, thorax, and elytra (although unlike a tortoise, the front and rear ends of the “shell” aren’t fused https://bugguide.net/node/view/940106/bgimage).  The beetle’s shape allows it to squat right on the leaf’s surface, which protects its underpinnings from ants, and because it melds seamlessly with the leaf, it’s less likely to cast a shadow for predators to see.

Some tortoise beetles are brilliantly-colored https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_tortoise_beetle#/media/File:Imperial_tortoise_beetle.jpg and https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Desmonota.variolosa.jpg – so striking that, according to Brittanica.com, a few are used to make jewelry.  Our native Golden tortoise beetle can change colors – not through a trick of physics, like the Dogbane leaf beetle of previous BOTW fame http://uwm.edu/field-station/dogbane-leaf-beetle-revisited/, but intentionally (“emotionally”): https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/running-ponies/glad-you-ditched-the-anal-fork-golden-tortoise-beetle/.

Chrysomelids are vegetarians – some specializing on just a few plant species, and some considered agricultural pests.

The aptly-named THISTLE TORTOISE BEETLE (Cassida rubiginosa) is also called the Green thistle beetle and the Thistle-defoliating beetle.  And the Bloody-nosed beetle – according to bugguide.net, the Latin rubiginosus means “rusty/rust-colored” and “refers to the beetle’s ability to secrete a reddish liquid from its head” (a phrase that was repeated verbatim in lots of sources but elaborated on by none of them.  A defensive cocktail?).  The spines that poke out from around the larval body are called “scoli” and are sensory organs – like the bumpers on a bumper car, they tell the larva when something brushes against it (which makes the larva hunker down on the leaf surface).

Thistle tortoise beetles are not native to these parts.  In the Old Country, they are found throughout the Continent and across northern Russia.  They were first observed in Quebec in 1901, and they spread out from there and are now ensconced in grasslands, Ag lands, and disturbed/neglected open areas across the northern part of North America (and they were intentionally introduced to Virginia).

With a few (major) exceptions, their story is similar to that of many other leaf beetles.  A female deposits her eggs, about three at a time.  In this case, they are placed on the undersides of leaves in small packets https://bugguide.net/node/view/1034057/bgimage called oöthecae.  She takes her time, ovipositing in fits and starts with sizeable time-outs in between, for a total of up to 1,000 eggs.  Before she walks away from each egg packet, she covers it with a “secretion” and smears feces over it, which discourages predators and increases the eggs’ chances of hatching.

There is one generation a year, but because the adults overwinter in soil or leaf litter and emerge in spring, and because a female may lay eggs for three months or more, and because the larvae pupate and emerge as adults the same summer and keep on eating until it’s time to tuck in for the winter (they eat knapweed and burdock, too), you can find adults and larvae abroad for much of the growing season.  Adult feeding is superficial but the leaf-skeletonizing larvae really dig in; the “window pane” appearance of the leaf is characteristic.

Here’s a pupal case – https://bugguide.net/node/view/960322/bgimage – a number of the pupal cases that the BugLady photographed were broken open at the front, where the adult had emerged.

Canada thistles aren’t from these parts, either, but they’ve lived here since the 1600’s.  Like the beetle, Canada thistle is native to northern Asia and Europe (it’s called Creeping thistle in England), so in this case, both the pest plant and one of its grazers have accidentally made it to our shores.  Thistle tortoise beetles are crazy about Canada thistles and have been introduced as a biological control in New Zealand, a country that is extremely cautious about opening its borders to exotic plants and animals (in New Zealand they call it California thistle).

Can you order up a bushel of them to take care of your Canada thistles?  You cannot.  Says the Integrated Weed Control Project at Washington State University, “This insect is known to attack native thistles, is not an approved agent, and is NOT distributed by IWCP.”  For a couple of “shout-outs” for native thistles, see https://xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/2016-029_Native-Thistle-Conservation-Guidelines_FINAL_web.pdf and https://weedwise.conservationdistrict.org/2017/thistle-identification.html.

Interesting Tortoise Beetle Fact #1: What is that dark, dampish glob, anyway?

Apparently, the larva never throws anything away.  Instead of dropping off each time the larva molts, the old skin is stored on twin forks protruding from its aft section.  And each time it poops, the frass (bug poop) is also conserved on those caudal/anal forks.  So – skin-frass-frass-frass, skin-frass-frass-frass – repeat as necessary – the compressed and portable scrapbook of its life https://bugguide.net/node/view/1238110/bgimage and https://bugguide.net/node/view/249152/bgimage.

Why?  The “stercoraceous parasol“(1869), “faeces pack” (1915), “frass mask” (1935) or “fecal shield” (today) has long intrigued naturalists.  An early theory about it being a tiny umbrella has been rejected.  It effectively disguises its bearer as an inanimate blob of bug droppings, and many predators avoid droppings because they are unsanitary health risks.  Add to that the fact that some species of tortoise beetles eat plants that are chemically defended, and so are toxic.  And, add to that the fact that the larvae can wave the mass of stuff around in a threatening manner, as several did while the BugLady was photographing them.  It’s not foolproof – spiders and some insects like stinkbugs and damsel bugs can pierce it.

Interesting Tortoise Beetle Fact #2: And it’s a lot to digest!

Humans can’t digest cellulose, the main structural ingredient of a plant cell wall, because we lack the necessary enzymes to do so (and so it travels through our systems as roughage).  Some herbivores produce the necessary enzymes, and others outsource the job to micro-organisms like bacteria.  The Thistle tortoise beetle has developed quite a complex process.

It has the enzymes needed to digest cellulose but lacks the ability to break down another important component of a plant cell wall – pectin.  But – it hosts free-living bacteria that are found in special sacs in the beetle’s gut, bacteria that provide enzymes that the beetle uses to break down pectin.  With the help of the bacteria, the beetles can access the nutrients in plant cells; within the shelter of the beetle, the bacteria can afford to simplify and streamline its genome.  Win-Win.  https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171116132757.htm.  Mom passes the bacteria along by applying a coating to the cap of each egg shell, which the larvae eat after hatching.

Interesting Tortoise Beetle Fact #3:  Medical devices R US

Hmmm – how to explain this delicately so that the corporate filters don’t block this episode.  OK – the female’s reproductive system is a long and winding road, and the male has adapted quite adequately.  So well, in fact, that your next catheter may be modeled on the organs of the Thistle tortoise beetle.  The popular press was all over it:  https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/12/20/571934373/beetle-penises-may-hold-clues-for-better-medical-devices.

And yes, they do look like tiny trilobites http://mentalfloss.com/article/68881/10-terrific-facts-about-trilobites.


Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Connie’s Classroom

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in May, “Connie’s Classroom” was lovingly dedicated by the family and friends of longtime Riveredge volunteer, Connie Hardacre.    Connie and her family have been involved with Riveredge since the 1970.  In 2015, Connie passed, but her generous smile and love for the natural world will live on at Riveredge.

As the dedication plaque reads,

Connie thoroughly loved the land and its creatures, rejoicing in the beauty and majesty of nature. Connie was a school teacher, harnessed lovingly to positions in the Whitefish Bay (WI) school district. When she retired, she instantly became a Riveredge volunteer, aligning herself with the Habitat Healers. She was in her element at Riveredge, caring for the land and sharing her great love for nature.”

“Connie’s Classroom” is a much needed learning space which is already used regularly as a home for students to explore the macroinvertebrates of the Milwaukee River and as a “home base” for regular Riveredge classes and the upcoming summer camps.  The gift of the classroom by Connie’s husband, Phil Hardacre, with support from his children, and Riveredge volunteer Jon Day, is truly a gift which embraces Connie’s love for the natural world.

Bug o’the Week – Stag Beetle Lucanus placidus

Greetings, BugFans,

The BugLady now lives on the edge of a sand dune, with some pine and spruce around the edges, and she’s looking forward to meeting her new six and eight-legged neighbors.  This stag beetle is the first species to step up (thanks, BugFan Becca, for the fancy footwork).

We have seen stag beetles (family Lucanidae) in these pages before, in the form of the Antelope beetle (http://uwm.edu/field-station/where-the-lizard-and-the-antelope-beetles-play/).  There are maybe 1050 species worldwide, with about 30 of those residing in North America and five in Wisconsin.  As a family, they’re among our most impressive beetles https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/wild-things/rhinoceros-beetles-horn-shape-reflects-fighting-style. Those mandibles/pinchers (“pinching bug” is a common name – watch out for the business end of these beetles) endear them to the scientific community; the variability in size and shape of the mandibles has fueled a century-and-a-half of discussions about exactly how a species is defined.  Within a species, scientists rank males with larger and fancier mandibles as male majors/high males and those with lesser mandibles as male minors/low males (body shaming in beetles?? Seriously??).

They are also, of course, prized by collectors, and there are any number of websites that sell them, dead or alive.

Stag beetles are associated with woodlands (though the star of today’s show likes sandy areas).  Eggs are laid in crevices in old stumps/trees or among their roots (though the star of today’s show may oviposit in sod), and the larvae may spend a few years feeding on decaying wood inside old tree trunks (though the larval star of today’s show may feed on the roots of shrubs).  The adults are variously reported to eat honeydew, tree sap, bark, or vegetation.  Adults tend to be nocturnal and to come to lights at night.

Lucanus placidus (it used to be listed in the genus Pseudolucanus), doesn’t have a common name, but its species name means “smooth” or “pleasing,” so let’s call it the Pleasing stag beetle.  Here’s another North American member of the same genus, a beetle whose range is just south of Wisconsin https://bugguide.net/node/view/1392398/bgimage.

Pleasing stag beetles can grow as long as an inch-and-a-half.  They are often dark, but they also come in a rusty color https://bugguide.net/node/view/635763/bgimage, and they have an amber-colored patch at the base of the front legs.  The surface of the elytra (the stiff, modified first pair of wings that covers the flying wings) is described as “shagreen,” which means that it has a roughish or granular texture, like shark skin.  They are chunkier than most other stag beetles and their mandibles are relatively short.

Like other Lucanids, they are sexually dimorphic – males are bigger than females, a reversal of the usual insect practice.  The female’s mandibles are smaller than the male’s, with a single tooth at the inner tip, and the male’s are larger and toothier.  The size of the mandibles and the number of teeth they bear differs among males of the same species, and a single individual may not even have symmetrical mandibles.

She has fancier front legs (tibia), though, with four long combs.  Those strong, front legs are used to dig tunnels six to eight inches deep, in which the adults escape the heat of the day.  After they were captured outside her back stoop, the BugLady refrigerated these beetles overnight (to slow them down a bit for their pictures), and when she photographed them where they had been found the night before, she found a beetle-sized hole right there!

Females, attract their suitors by releasing pheromones/perfumes into the air, sometimes with dramatic effects, and males use their mandibles to do battle for the favors of the females. Some observers have reported remarkable assemblages of these normally secretive beetles. For a great story by someone who was, suddenly, beetle-rich, read http://labs.russell.wisc.edu/insectlab/2016/06/23/buckets-of-beetles/.  The experts advise us that it’s not necessary to get out the pesticide – Pleasant stag beetles have a short shelf life and will be gone in a week or two.

Not a lot is known about Pleasant stag beetle biology, and their larvae are very difficult to distinguish from those of their close relatives.  Eggs may be deposited in sod, and the larvae migrate from there to find their preferred food source.  They feed about a foot below the surface of the soil and pupate in the ground, and when they become adults, they wait below the surface until dark to emerge.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Howdy, BugFans,

OK – this is a love story of sorts.  It’s an episode that originated in 2009, and it has already been rerun once and now rewritten again.  But…..the BugLady just returned from southern Ohio, where she co-led a workshop about Bugs and Wonder (an unappreciated, sometimes suspect, and insufficiently-entertained state of mind) (and mostly we could say that about the bugs, too).  We trawled the prairies and woods for bugs during the day, and at dusk and into the night, we hunted for fireflies.

Do you call them lightning bugs or fireflies?  Carl Linnaeus coined the latter term in 1767.  Check this: https://www4.uwm.edu/FLL/linguistics/dialect/staticmaps/q_65.html.  Note that the more arid, western parts of North America are either “firefly-lite” or that their fireflies are day-flying and therefore “mute,” as evidenced by the lack of names for them.

Lightning bugs float silently (but brilliantly) over the dark fields, woods, and wetlands of June and July, inspiring poets and children of all ages.  They are neither flies nor true bugs; they are members of the Order Coleoptera and the family Lampyridae and are more correctly called Lightning beetles.  And yes, their ethereal light show is all about sex.

Their path to the skies starts in late summer of the previous year.  Mid-summer eggs hatch into carnivorous larvae that eat insects, snails and other small critters (the BugLady thinks that the larvae look like tiny pangolins).  They like damp conditions (remember –a thatch of grasses, especially tall grasses, creates a microclimate that’s generally moister than the air five feet above it), and there are even a few species whose larvae are aquatic.

They overwinter as larvae, buried in the soil, and when spring comes, they wake up and keep on eating (the natural history of firefly larvae needs more study).  They pupate in early summer, also in the earth, before emerging for their brief-but-dazzling stint as adults.

They subdue their much larger prey by injecting a paralyzing fluid, and they are considered important controls on snails and slugs.  According to the Field Guide to Insects of North America, the larvae of the common genusPhotinus are subterranean and “may hunt earthworms in packs.”  The diet of adults varies by species – there are carnivores, omnivores, and non-eaters.

Most threats to their populations tend to be man-made – wetland loss, pesticides, light pollution that dims their displays, paving, and mowing (many adults, after all, are resting in the grass, waiting for sundown).  Populations of some species are shrinking, and more eyes are needed.  For a Firefly Citizen Science project, see https://www.massaudubon.org/get-involved/citizen-science/firefly-watch.

Light production is an uncommon talent in insects.  There are semitropical click beetles that can (some of these, called cucujos, are worn as luminous decorations by partygoers south of the border, and their eggs and larvae also glow).  Luminescence is achieved by others (including some springtails) (try to imagine a springtail, glowing green except for its antennae and legs) because they harbor photogenic bacteria (here meaning that the bacteria are light-generating, not that they are picturesque, though the BugLady is sure they are both).

Firefly light is a “cold” light.  An incandescent light bulb is an inefficient energy-user, wasting 90% of its energy as heat.  Less than 8% (some say less than 3%) of the energy that a lightning beetle expends on light is lost as heat. Light is produced at the south end of the abdomen, in a photogenic layer that is located beneath a white, reflecting layer.  Chemical energy is converted to light energy by the action of an enzyme called luciferase on a chemical called luciferin (history buffs please note: some old friction matches were called Lucifers).

Day-flying members of the Lampyridae don’t glow – producing light would be a waste of energy for a diurnal insect.  All lightning beetle larvae, some pupae, and even some eggs also glow, for reasons that are not fully understood. But lightning beetles don’t just gleam, they produce controlled flashes of light – strobes, aerial “J’s,” three-second horizontal dashes, and more.  The various species of fireflies divide the landscape by altitude, habitat, light color and intensity, time of evening, and duration of flight.  Each species has its own particular “Morse Code,” though male and female “codes” may be different.

Males signal from the air, and females, which in some species are wingless, respond from on or near the ground (females and luminescent larvae are called glowworms).  The signals continue until they find each other and romance ensues.  Females of some species of lightning beetles resume flashing after mating, adopting the code of a different species.  If she is successful in luring a male, this femme fatale will eat him (she, it seems, does eat as an adult!); this practice is called “aggressive mimicry,” but females generally do not eat males of their own species.

Lightning beetle family members have poisonous blood (they ooze toxic droplets from the base of the wing covers).  Besides being an invitation to party, their light is probably also an advertisement to predators that the firefly is toxic (though apparently better tolerated by some than by others) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auxfhO2-ABI.  In Discovering Nature at Sundown, a good source of lightning beetle information, Elizabeth Lawlor relates that a frog that eats enough LBs may glow temporarily but seems otherwise unaffected.

Since this episode originally appeared, the BugLady has become increasingly aware of (and confused by) firefly look-alikes in the form of soldier beetles.  Some click beetles and net-winged beetles are also mimics (lots of good pictures of look-alikes starting on page 8, here: https://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca/lmb_16/lmb_16.pdf).  Most lightning beetles have a shield-shaped thorax that covers most or all of their head, and a bunch of soldier beetles also have a widened and colorful thoracic shield, though a soldier beetle’s head may protrude from under the shield significantly more than a firefly’s.  Every time she looks into this matter, the BugLady ends up relabeling a few pictures; a few soldier beetle pictures are included here.

Soldier beetle

Accounts abound of certain species of lightning beetles in Southeast Asia that gather by the thousands on specific trees.  As dark falls, they begin to blink – first randomly, and then in complete synchronicity, illuminating the trees for hours.  The cast reassembles nightly for months to produce a spectacular light show.  Do you have to buy a steamer ticket to witness a similar spectacle?  You do not – synchronous firefly displays occur in the Appalachians, but you’ll need to enter a lottery to see them https://smokymountains.com/park/things-to-do/synchronous-fireflies-smoky-mountains/.  Here are three similar but different videos: https://www.wbir.com/article/news/local/predicting-synchronous-fireflies-peak-in-the-great-smoky-mountains-a-gamble/51-561422926 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCWkzQqO7Ro and https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/group/fireflies/.

Just out is a book by Lynn Frierson Faust, who is seen in one of the videos.  In Fireflies, Glow-worms, and Lightning Bugs, she offers descriptions, ranges, photos, flash patterns, habitats, and terrific common names, names like the Woodland Lucy, Little gray, Big dipper, and Chinese lantern.

At the other end of this love story is the Arc of Appalachia, the organization that ran the Wonder Workshop, an organization that has been buying and providing stewardship for chunks of prairie, gorge and rich eastern forest, with its old growth beech and maple, sycamore, tulip tree, sassafras, and gum.  Find their story at http://arcofappalachia.org/.

The Lightening Beetle is a poster child for why the BugLady loves BOTW – the research begins innocently enough, and then WHAM!  Cucujos!  Glowing eggs!  Glowing frogs!  Glowing trees!  Poisonous blood!  Ravenous packs of LB larvae!  Luciferase!


The BugLady

PS – Workshop participants, this is for you: http://uwm.edu/field-station/chigger-rerun-family-trombiculidae/.


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