Bug o’the Week – Forktails Two

Salutations, BugFans,

The BugLady is thankful for damselflies.  Oh, not always for the identification part, but for the joy of seeing them flickering through their thickety habitats and for the thrill of the photographic chase (first you have to spot them, and then the light and the background are often terrible).  She wrote about the rare-in-Wisconsin Citrine Forktail a few years ago (http://uwm.edu/field-station/four-bluets-and-a-dancer-and-a-forktail/), and this summer she found uncommon Fragile Forktails at one of her haunts.

The Wisconsin Odonata Survey (http://wiatri.net/inventory/odonata/) tells us that “The name “forktail” comes from tiny projections off the tip of males’ abdomens, which help to identify the species” https://bugguide.net/node/view/472909/bgimage.  This feature isn’t obvious in the field, and so BugLady sometimes flips through her mental Rolodex of bluets before thinking of forktails.

Forktails are in the genus Ischnura, in the Narrow-winged damselfly family Coenagrionidae, a family that encompasses the majority of our damselflies.  There are 65 species listed in the genus, with 20 in the New World and the rest in the Old.  Forktails are among our smallest damselflies, hovering at around an inch.  Along with the forked tail, males (generally) have a black and green/blue striped thorax and a blue-tipped abdomen.  In both sexes, the upper halves of the eyes are much darker than the lower, and like bluets, forktails have “eyespots” – pigmented areas on the backs of their eyes.  Females of many species are polymorphic, often starting life in shades of orange (looking a bit like an Orange Bluet, only sturdier) and turning slate blue as they age, which allows males to recognize them as mature (the color change is due to pruinescence – little waxy flakes).  Rarely, females have male coloration.

With a few spectacular exceptions (like the Citrine Forktail), forktails tend to be weak-ish flyers that hang around the edges of their ponds from the time they emerge as adults (in many Odonate species, the females absent themselves from the shore until they are ready to reproduce).  They prefer quiet waters with lots of aquatic vegetation, into which the females insert eggs, one at a time and unguarded, and in the shelter of which the aquatic naiads lurk and hunt.  Dennis Paulson, in Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East, writes that female forktails can probably get away with ovipositing unguarded “because the sexes are at the water together, and females have effective ways of discouraging male attention, so male contact guarding is unnecessary.”  The Odonata Central website expands on that a bit, saying that “the well-documented behavior of Eastern Forktail females flexing the abdomen ventrally and rapidly beating their wings was determined to be a successful threat display, warding off intruders.”

Many forktails have a long flight period; today’s two species are around from late spring, through the summer, and into early fall (several generations, not the same individuals).

FRAGILE FORKTAILS (Ischnura posita) are a species that Ed Lam (Damselflies of the Northeast) calls “field identifiable” (if you make sure that you look twice – more about that later).  The colored stripe on the black thorax of both males and females is broken, shaped like an exclamation point (Bob DuBois, in the BugLady’s ragged copy of Damselflies of the North Woods, says that “posita” means “positive” and alludes to that exclamation point), and the last few abdominal segments lack a blue tip.  Older females can be tough to tell from their Eastern Forktail counterparts (https://bugguide.net/node/view/230190/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/1395318/bgpage).

Fragile Forktails are pretty common in eastern North America, but they’ve been recorded in only about a dozen Wisconsin counties, mostly in the southeastern and southwestern corners of the state (with an outlier near Lake Superior).  Although their range is listed as permanent and ephemeral waters from Newfound to Florida to the Dakotas to Texas to Guatemala, they’re a State Special Concern damselfly in Wisconsin and are even less common west of here.  Bob DuBois calls them “one of our most shade-tolerant damselflies.”

[Note: They were introduced to the Hawaiian Islands in 1936 (the BugLady couldn’t discover why) and are well-established there, one of seven species of odonates that, along with countless other exotic plants and animals, have been carried to that great Petri dish in the Pacific.  A note from the Bishop Museum says that they are more able than native damselfly naiads to withstand predation by introduced fish species.]

Females oviposit in aquatic vegetation, and the naiads are said to be pretty feisty, chasing other naiads off their underwater turf.  It’s suspected that they overwinter as naiads, ready to emerge when the water warms in spring.  Here are two of BugFan Linda’s videos of Fragile Forktail naiads: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohSOJIN43GA, and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k8SBXfCU8OA&t=2s.  Way Beyond Awesome, Linda!!!  Here are links to her whole Nature in Motion series: https://www.youtube.com/user/lbretreat, and to her playlist of Odonates, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k8SBXfCU8OA&list=PLzr0J2sWC1QjGkKF_-_uyxnzb9BLYl3rJ.  She’s been busy.

Fragile Forktails, especially the females, are among the damselflies that eat other damselflies, including those of their own species (https://bugguide.net/node/view/62771/bgimage), and this video – not for the faint of heart https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jh4NiOOh-E&index=10&list=PLzr0J2sWC1QjGkKF_-_uyxnzb9BLYl3rJ.  They will grab small flying or perched insects and have even been known to rob spider webs.

The BugLady loves the species accounts at the Island Creek (Virginia) Elementary School’s site http://www2.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/fragile_forktail.htm.

EASTERN FORKTAILS (Ischnura verticalis) are found from the Great Plains east across southern Canada to the Atlantic, except for the Deep South.  The Odonata Central site calls them one of the most common damselflies in their range, and they’re one of the earliest and latest damselflies on the Wisconsin landscape.  It has been suggested that they are, to some degree, dispersed by wind.  Lam considers them “field identifiable,” too.

They’re a hair larger than the Fragile Forktail, and males share a similar black and green thorax, but in the Eastern Forktail, the green thoracic stripe is not broken – except when it is.  Rarely, Eastern Forktails carry an exclamation point like a Fragile Forktails (look closely at today’s pictures), but the last two segments of the male Eastern Forktail’s abdomen are powder blue on top and bottom, joined by strap-like blue rings (that’s the “look twice” part) https://bugguide.net/node/view/957429/bgimage.  Like other forktails, females are polymorphic, and a few have male coloration.

Eastern Forktails are found in similar habitats to Fragile Forktails (and indeed, the BugLady photographed them practically side-by-side).  Unusual in damselflies, the females only mate with a single male (the Citrine Forktail’s reproduction defines “unusual”).  Females oviposit in submerged vegetation, and studies have shown that good nutrition during egg-laying is vital to the health of her eggs.  Like the Fragile Forktail, she will prey on other damsels (see the photo of a female eating a male at http://wiatri.net/inventory/odonata/SpeciesAccounts/SpeciesDetail.cfm?TaxaID=53).  Naiads (https://bugguide.net/node/view/1380536/bgimage) of late-season generations overwinter under the ice.

Like the Fragile Forktail, the Eastern Forktail spends its days flying around and perching close to the ground, but both species roost at night in vegetation that’s higher off the ground.

Want to take a deep dive into damselflies?  Try this amazing (and downloadable) field guide: http://fieldguides.fieldmuseum.org/sites/default/files/rapid-color-guides-pdfs/388_0.pdf.

The BugLady

50th Flashback

It’s a little hard to believe, but Riveredge, the little dream that could, is celebrating 50 years of changing lives through environmental education in 2018! As we enter a big year of 50th anniversary celebrations, we wanted to include a photo spread in our most recent print newsletter of the early history of Riveredge some members may not know about. Of course, limited space meant we had to cut a lot of info on those photos, so here they are in their full glory with even more details. 🙂 

1935

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although the land that would become the foundation of Riveredge was long inhabited by Native American tribes, including the Sauk and Potawatomi, the area was opened to settlers in the early 1830’s after these tribes were (often forcefully) resettled. The parcel that would become Riveredge was first bought in 1835, but it doesn’t appear any of the successive owners actually lived here until Oscar Grady, a reclusive man some in the area took to calling “the hermit”, bought the land in 1929 and moved here permanently in 1935. Grady fell in love with the natural wonder of the area and wanted to share his enjoyment with others, especially young people. He began building recreational facilities on the site out of stone along with an observation tower, several concession stands, and a round platform for dancing and bingo with dreams of throwing year-round festivals and shows, a sort of amusement park of fun. Although this fantasy never materialized in his lifetime, you can still find the remnants of these “Riveredge Ruins” on hikes through the sugar bush standing as testaments to an eccentric dreamer.  

1968

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The seeds for what were to become Riveredge were formed at a spring 1965 meeting of the Whitefish Bay Garden Club. This group of 25 forward thinking women, led by their President Isabel Lillie, had a big dream of creating an environmental education facility for the children of Whitefish Bay. As they studied the needs and possible solutions, their big dream kept on growing until it encompassed a place where all residents of metropolitan Milwaukee could experience and be transformed by the natural world and where such a preserve could be established for generations to come. In November of 1968, the “Riveredge Foundation” that formed out of the Garden Club’s initial planning was presented with 72 acres of land along the Milwaukee River by  Dr. Edwin Grady, who now held the land after his brother died in 1965. The Foundation saw its promise, and in November of 1968 gave a $15,000 down payment. Riveredge was born. The audacious and forward thinking dream of the Whitefish Bay Garden Club had become a reality and, fittingly, Oscar Grady’s dream of his land serving as a location for young people to discover nature was realized, too.

1970

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that the land was secured, more funding and buy-in from the community was needed. Amazingly, it appears Wisconsin Senator and environmental legend, Gaylord Nelson, was a part of these efforts, recording videos to promote a Riveredge membership drive. Senator Nelson would lead the efforts to create the very first Earth Day held just one month after this thank you note was sent. If any long-time Riveredge supporters know more about these tapes or have copies, we’d love to learn more!

1975

 

After Andy Larsen was hired in 1970 as the first educator at Riveredge, his passion and talent soon became apparent. As Lorrie Otto, one of the most involved early founders, said in a 1991 letter honoring Andy, “The Riveredge Board realized they had hired “one Hell-of-a-teacher” and then “stood aside and allowed Andy Larsen to pioneer teaching methods at this first nature center in southeastern Wisconsin”. As Andy trained the very first group of dedicated volunteer teacher naturalists, the environmental education efforts bloomed. By 1974, over 10,000 students a year were participating in hands-on learning at efforts. As Riveredge grew, so too did the need for more teaching space, and this need grew ever more urgent when a fire destroyed the service building and educational equipment Riveredge had been using. A stroke of luck came in 1975 when the owners of Sugarline Farm offered to sell their ten acres adjoining Riveredge’s land. This sale would allow the barn’s conversion into classrooms and offices and this new land expansion would eventually be the site of the permanent nature center we have today, built in 1991. Above, a view of the new property in 1975 and what the same area looks like today.

1995

 

Riveredge goes international! Partnering with the the Milwaukee Public Museum, funds were raised to purchase and protect a 750 acre tract of the Costa Rican Rain Forest and to build an educational center there called the Tirimbina Rainforest Center. What were these Southeastern Wisconsin institutions doing in Costa Rica? Both organizations realized nature knows no boundaries and that by creating an incredible new environmental education destination for students, teachers, and eco-tourists around the world while also protecting a virgin tract of rainforest that is home to innumerable species, including many migrating birds from Wisconsin, they could both expand their missions of education, research, and conservation. Although Riveredge gave up its sponsorship stake in 2000, Tirimbina continues strong as a nonprofit educational, scientific and ecotourism destination.


 

 

We can’t wait to celebrate 50 years of education, conservation, preservation, and research in 2018. We’ll have lots more features on Riveredge’s history, and we hope you’ll mark your calendars and plan on joining us for the 50th Anniversary Gala on Saturday, September 8. Watch for more special events throughout the year!

Bug o’the Week – A Honey of a Bee

Howdy, BugFans,

Somewhere in a remote corner of Southeast Asia, in the neighborhood of 34 million years ago, a small bee originated that would change the course of the world.

Today, we call them honey bees (two words, not one).  There are seven species in the genus Apis (family Apidae), and their family tree is complicated.  Our common North American honey bee is Apis mellifera, which bugguide.net calls the Western honey bee, a species that includes about 25 subspecies (and lots of hybrids).  Western honey bees are Heinz 57s, genetically.  Apis mellifera (Apis is Latin for “bee,” and mellifera means “honey-bearing”) probably evolved in eastern Africa/western Asia.

The term “bee” can be a catch-all in the vernacular, covering yellowjackets as well as a bunch of actual bees.  Honey bees (workers – the most-often seen) have in common hairy eyes, a hairy thorax and a less-hairy abdomen, pollen baskets, distinctive venation in the front wingtip, and a barbed stinger (more about that in a sec).  Workers have a number of (temporary) super powers, including brood-feeding glands on their heads, glands in the abdomen that produce wax, which oozes through the pores and is chewed and formed into honeycomb and brood cells, and two stomachs – one solely for nectar storage.

Fossil evidence suggests that honeybees got to North America millions of years before the First People did, but then they died out.  They reentered the continent with the European settlers in 1622 (natives called them “white man’s flies”), prized for their honey and wax production, an introduced pollinator of introduced agricultural crops.

Most insects lead solitary lives, but honey bees are eusocial, living in a highly organized society marked by the presence of multiple generations under one roof, brood care, the division of labor, and the loss, by individuals of one caste, of the ability to do something that another caste can do.

Some highlights of a bee’s biography:

  • Queens have a nuptial flight into a cloud of drones away from her home hive, during which she mates several times, but only on that occasion.  She is the mother of the hive, able to lay 1,000 eggs a day during her life (two to five years) and as many as 200,000 eggs in total.
  • She intentionally fertilizes her eggs – or she doesn’t.  Unfertilized eggs become males/drones; fertilized eggs will be workers or queens, depending on what they are fed in the larval cell.
  • Worker bees rotate through a variety of tasks during their brief (about six week) lives (age polyethism).  They start as nurse bees, and when they can’t produce royal jelly any more, they build comb, then receive nectar and pollen from foraging bees, then guard the hive, then become foragers themselves.  Some are even undertakers.
  • Honey bee senses are acute.  They see in color and can perceive UV light, which bounces off flowers in ways we cannot discern, and polarized light, which helps them navigate.  They communicate with and detect vibrations, and one source said that they can hear the vibrations of the waggle dances that foragers use to direct their sisters to flowers.  Each hive has its own chemical aura, and its scent/taste allows them to distinguish invaders from hive-mates.
  •  Pheromones relay messages from the queen to the hive and among bees within the hive, and when an intruder breaches the hive, pheromone signals from the sentinels mobilize a defense (honey bees may chase an intruder for hundreds of feet).  Pheromones even play a part in that unique stinger.  Because of its multiple barbs, a honey bee’s stinger stays in the sting-ee, ripping out of the bee’s abdomen and causing its death.  The stinger continues to pulse after detachment, injecting more venom, and an adjacent gland continues to pump out alarm pheromones at the sting site, inviting a crowd (allergies aside, said one reference, “it takes about 20 stings per kilogram of body weight to be life threatening”).
  • As the inhabitants of the royal cells mature, the older queen will vacate the hive in a swarm, accompanied by as many as half the hive’s workers, looking for a hospitable place to begin a new life.  Back at the hive, the virgin queen who emerges from her egg first has the advantage.  While there may be a secondary exit – an afterswarm – it’s more likely that she will execute her royal sisters in their cells or fight/sting them to death.
  • What happens in winter?  Honey bees are somewhat endothermic (“warm-blooded”) – they can warm their bodies by quivering their flight muscles.  Workers crowd around the queen in a “winter cluster” at the center of the hive, shivering to keep the core temperature at about 80 degrees, rotating in from the edges so that no-one gets too chilly, fueled by the honey they’ve stored.  Drones are considered non-essential to the hive in winter and are evicted.  During the summer, bees may flap their wings to cool the hive.

Honey is not, as a former Wisconsin Governor famously said, “Bee poop.”  But it is (technically) bee “vomit” – https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/what-is-honey_us_58c6a525e4b0d1078ca80e2c (be sure to watch the “How do bees make honey?” video).

Foraging bees collect carb-rich nectar and protein-rich pollen from flowers.  They dance to tell other bees where to find flowers – the round dance indicates nearby food; the waggle dance tells the distance and direction of flowers more than 150 yards away.  Watch the video and follow the bouncing blue ball: http://articles.extension.org/pages/26930/dance-language-of-the-honey-bee.

What could possibly go wrong?  Along with the usual suspects like mantises, birds, and bears, honey bees are preyed upon by some bee-specific arthropods like comb-destroying moth larvae and bee-destroying parasitic mites.  A mite called Varroa destructor, which originated in Asia but didn’t stay there, has lived up to its name with staggering results, killing whole colonies.  Honey bees are also susceptible to a variety of viruses, bacteria, fungi, and protozoans that kill them outright or weaken them, setting them up for other afflictions.  Bee-keepers treat their hives and bees, but wild honey bee colonies in North America have been hit very hard by Varroa mites.

Enter Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a mysterious phenomenon that causes colonies to fail when most of their workers simply disappear, leaving behind an insufficient number of bees to run the hive (and no dead bodies for scientists to analyze).  CCD has been around under a variety of names for 100 years and more, but huge die-offs in America and Europe in the early 2000’s put it on the radar.  Ten years ago, between 30% and 75% of North American hives experienced significant die-offs.

Fingers have been pointed at Varroa mites, some new bee microbe, herbicides/pesticides, environmental stresses/climate change, malnutrition, and immune issues, but there has been no agreement, other than that CCD could be a syndrome in which a number of low-level antagonists turn lethal when combined.  A group of pesticides called neonicotinoids seems to make bees more susceptible to CCD.

Several reports said that CCD has been letting up a bit in the past few years.  The incidence of CCD in hives seems to have dropped from 60% a decade ago to about 33% now (remember – we counting domesticated hives).  Bumblebees, also vital pollinators, do not get CCD but their populations are threatened, too (http://uwm.edu/field-station/celebrating-bumblebees/).

KILLER BEES!!  Various species and subspecies of honey bees have different talents and environmental tolerances.  The infamous “Africanized honey bee” (Apis mellifera scutellata) was developed in the 1950’s by cross-breeding several subspecies of Apis mellifera with the intent of boosting honey production, and it was brought to Brazil in 1950 for a trial run (it escaped, of course).  The African bee turned out to be well-suited to the tropics; it’s a great forager, more nomadic than some other subspecies, and more disease-resistant, but it’s less cold-tolerant, and it turns out that tropical honey bees don’t store as much honey in combs because they’re surrounded by food 24/7.  African bees are much more aggressive in defense of their hive than their more docile cousins, and no matter how diluted the gene pool becomes with interbreeding, its aggressive proclivities remain.  Inevitably, they’re heading north (the BugLady loves animated maps – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Africanized_bee#/media/File:Killerbees_ani.gif).

Have you thanked a honey bee today?  Only two species of Apis have been put to work for us (the ancient Egyptians cultivated them), but they’re the busiest bees on the planet, providing pollination services to crops worth about $200 billion a year globally.  According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, “one out of every three bites of food in the United States depends on honey bees and other pollinators.”  Besides their honey (someone once did the math and figured out that a quart of honey represents 48,000 frequent flyer miles for bees!), we also harvest their wax and royal jelly, and bee venom may be an effective medicine for auto-immune diseases (the BugLady knew someone who allowed himself to be stung by honeybees every few weeks – there’s some evidence that the histamine reaction is beneficial for arthritis).

How can we help bees?  Plant flowers, support pollination highways, put out pans of water or create bee-friendly spots in bird baths, and use chemicals specifically and with caution, in the morning before pollinators appear, if at all.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug o’the Week – Hobomok Skipper

Greetings, BugFans,

 

The BugLady is already yearning for dragonflies and butterflies and other flying objects that are larger than the Asian ladybugs, Western conifer seed bugs, and the few rogue mosquitoes that are presently sheltering in her house.  That she is Skipper Challenged has been discussed in these pages before – many skippers are brown and orange in varying proportions, with a sexually dimorphic variety of pale blotches on their wings.  Because she has not applied herself to them, she has a host of semi-identified pictures of skippers (the “semi” part being “skipper”).  So, she’s trying to chip away at the group.

There are about 3,500 species of skippers (family Hesperiidae) on the globe – 275-ish in North America.  Although some skippers are strongly migratory, others are not long-distance flyers, and many species occupy a narrow range.

 

Skippers are small, hairy, big-eyed butterflies with hooked antennae (mostly), a high wing load ratio (short wings on a plump body, like a bumblebee), and a rapid, darting, “skipping” flight.  Their caterpillars, whose heads are often adorned with odd-looking helmets or hockey masks (https://bugguide.net/node/view/1149633/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/1274237/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/324973/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/278936/bgimage), are leaf folders/leaf tie-ers that construct a series of shelters – one after each molt – inside which they feed at night.  Most sources now regard skippers as butterflies, but older references may call them a transition group between butterflies and moths, label them as “butterfly-like,” or give them the benefit of the doubt because they are day-flyers.

 

The Hobomok Skipper (Poanes hobomok), a.k.a the Northern Golden Skipper, is a common, early-flying member of the Grass Skipper subfamily Hesperiinae, whose members perch with their wings folded together when nectaring but with their front wings open and their hind wings only partly so when resting.  The males’ front wings may bear scent glands – he uses pheromones when he courts.  Their caterpillars feed on grasses and sedges, and they overwinter as caterpillars.

According to the excellent Butterflies of Massachusetts website (150+ years of data analyzed for us!!!), Hobomok Skippers are part of a series of butterflies named by Thaddeus W. Harris and others after Native American chiefs (not after cities in New Jersey).  Hobomok was the “chief of the Wampanoag Indians, who helped the Pilgrims upon their landing in Plymouth in 1621.”

 

Hobomoks appear at the end of May (they overlap the Arctic Skipper, a BugLady favorite), frequenting woody edges and sunny clearings from the Great Plains to the Atlantic, except for the very far North and the very Deep South (see a range map at https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Poanes-hobomok).  Climate change may be lengthening their flight period.

With a wingspread of about an inch, they are moderate-sized for a skipper.  Their triangular wings have orange patches in the wing that are bordered by wide, dark margins.  A pale marking on the underside of the hind wing looks like a free-form “plus” sign to the BugLady.  Females are darker than males, and there’s an uncommon, very dark-form female called a Pocahontas female.  See http://www.carolinanature.com/butterflies/hobomokskipper.html for some great pictures.

 

In Butterflies of Wisconsin (1970), James A. Ebner says that “the Hobomok Skipper is a handsome, bright orange Hesperid.  This species is the first of the state skippers to appear in sizable numbers each season.    From late May through mid-June, the Hobomok abounds throughout the entire area, frequenting partially wooded areas and forested trails where it often frolics in the dappled sunshine.  Adults perch upon the leaves and other foliage during quieter moments.  At times, the skipper will stray from its normal woodland habitat and visit the open clover fields for feeding.  Despite the relative abundance of the Hobomok in many parts of the country, the early stages are only imperfectly known.  The eggs are laid on grasses and the larva is said to remain concealed during the day within a crude enclosure constructed from grass blades.”

Males perch on plants (raspberry canes are a favorite, when they’re available) to watch for females and to spot rivals that need chasing.  As caterpillars and as adults, Hobomoks lead somewhat generalist lives.  Caterpillars (https://bugguide.net/node/view/335371/bgimage) feed on grasses including switch grass and bluegrass.  Adults sip nectar from the flowers of blackberries, dandelions, honeysuckle, red clover, milkweed, and vetch, and they also get minerals from bird droppings.

 

The Butterflies of Massachusetts site urges us to keep an eye on the Hobomok Skipper.  It has been remarkably adaptive – probably occupying forest openings in pre-settlement times, switching to more open habitats during the period of agricultural development, and returning to woodland edges in the last century.  They point out that its absence from the steamy southern coastal plain suggests that it doesn’t like warm climates.  Further, it is “single-brooded throughout its range, and third, it appears to require woodlands, although this is uncertain.  Finally, despite using a range of host grasses, Hobomok is not known for breeding in disturbed habitats….”  They conclude that “This is a northern-based species which is probably vulnerable to range contraction due to climate change.  It might well decline in the hotter parts of Massachusetts.”

 

A number of sources point out that the only really similar-looking skipper in the Hobomok’s range is the slightly-more-southern (but-inching-northwards) Zabulon Skipper (https://bugguide.net/node/view/1418593/bgimage) (the two were finally sorted out in Massachusetts in the 1930’s).  Ebner tells us that “It seems likely that both [observers] Hoy and Rauterberg confused this species with the common Hobomok Skipper (P. hobomok).  Each considered the Zabulon Skipper to be common or abundant [in Wisconsin].  Not a single specimen has been uncovered since those early days.”  The BugLady is including a picture of a female Zabulon Skipper (probably) that she took in New Jersey, and it does resemble a Pocahontas female Hobomok Skipper.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

Bug o’the Week – Bugs without Bios X

Salutations, BugFans,

 

Introducing three unsung (but worthy) bugs, whose definitive biographies have yet to be written.

ENTYLIA CARINATA (no common name) is a treehopper in the family Membracidae (from the Greek “membrax” meaning “a kind of cicada”) (to whom they’re distantly related).  It’s a wonderful family of tiny dragons and unicorns (Britannica calls them “insect brownies”) whose various protuberances are supposed to mimic thorns and other bits of vegetation (these bumps are extensions of the pronotum, a structure that covers the top surface of the thorax and is sometimes called a “helmet”) https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/blogs/thats-no-leaf-9-amazing-images-of-treehoppers.

 

Treehoppers are sap-feeders that insert their beaks and feed on both woody and herbaceous plants.  Nymphs may start out on herbaceous plants and graduate to the “softer” parts of woody plants as adults, and a few are considered minor agricultural pests.  Like many other sap-feeding bugs, they produce honeydew, which is eaten by other insects and which encourages ants to “farm” them.

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Eggs are laid in woody tissue; females of some species guard their eggs, and some species are vaguely social, with groups of nymphs being cared for by adults.

 

Treehoppers’ Super Power is the ability of males to quiver the muscles in their abdomen.  The resulting vibration passes down through the insect’s legs and into the stem it’s sitting on, and the sound made by these 3/8” insects can be heard/felt by insects on the same plant and even on different plants as far as a yard away!  Check this article and be sure to listen to the audio: http://www.npr.org/2015/08/27/432934935/good-vibrations-key-to-insect-communication.

 

Entylia carinata (carinata means “keeled”) can be found in eastern North America, south into South America, especially on plants in the Aster/Composite family.  The BugLady photographed it on a swamp thistle – there were no ants in attendance, but this species does attract them.  For a much better picture of an adult, see – https://bugguide.net/node/view/587450.  Here’s one of a bunch of eggs https://bugguide.net/node/view/957524/bgimage, and one of a nymph, https://bugguide.net/node/view/647417/bgimage, and here’s an ant tending a nymphhttps://bugguide.net/node/view/723535/bgimage.

This interesting critter with the pointy front end, NEMOTELUS KANSENSIS (no common name), lived as an “X-fly” in the “X-Files” for six years until the BugLady finally ID’d it while she was looking for something else.  It turns out to be a soldier fly (family Stratiomyidae), and she’s more familiar with the larger, sluggish, wasp-mimic soldier flies (whose striped abdomens apparently reminded some insect namer of hash marks on a soldier’s uniform).  Here’s a better picture: http://theearlybirder.com/insects/diptera/stratiomyidae/pages/Nemotelus%20kansensis%204003355.htm

As a rule, the stiff, spindle-shaped, soldier fly larvae grow up in damp situations – in piles of dung or other rich, organic stuff, under bark, in soil, in litter, and in standing water – where they may eat decaying organic matter, fungi, or their fellow invertebrates.  Pupation occurs within that armored larval skin.  Adults are often found near the larval habitat, feeding on nectar (it’s called glucophagous), although in some species, adults don’t feed at all.  The position of the wings at rest is described as “scissor-like.”

Larva

Nemotelus kansensis is sexually dimorphic – where the females have a series of white triangles on the top of their abdomens, the males’ abdomens are mostly white https://bugguide.net/node/view/1093630/bgimage.  Its larvae are aquatic.  Coincidentally or not, most of the pictures in bugguide.net show them on Composites.

What a lovely little moth – the “stitching” on the trailing edge of the hind wing is exquisite!  The BENT-LINE CARPET (Costaconvexa centrostrigaria), also called the Traveler, is in the family Geometridae (geometra means “to measure the earth”) whose caterpillars are called inch-worms.  It is the only member of its genus on this continent (it’s mostly absent from the Great Plains and Rockies), and it has been recorded in Great Britain (once), the Canaries, the Azores, and Madeira.

 

Bent-line Carpets have a wingspread of a bit less than an inch and come in a variety of hues: http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=7416.  Their larval food plants are members of the genus Polygonum (smartweeds and knotweeds)

 

Despite the plummeting temperatures, a few grasshoppers and Autumn Meadowhawks are still hanging on in the prairie.

 

The BugLady

Bug o’the Week – Magical Moths

Greetings, BugFans,

 

There are about 11,000 species of moths in North America, and many of them fit the birders’ all-purpose acronym for sparrows and other small, songbirds – “LBJ” – for “Little Brown Job.”  The moths in today’s collection are anything but anonymous in appearance, though apparently, they aren’t good enough or bad enough or charismatic enough to have been studied much, so life history details are scanty.

The RASPBERRY PYRAUSTA (Pyrausta signatalis), in the snout moth family Crambidae, was named not because it feeds on raspberries but because of its color – what a lovely creature!  It’s found in grasslands and edges from Arizona to the Carolinas, north across southern Canada, wherever its larval food plants are found (and on the BugLady’s front porch).  Its wingspread is about three-quarters of an inch.

 

An alternate name is the Raspberry mint Pyrausta because its main host plant in the western part of its range is horsemint, and it eats wild bergamot in the east.  Its larvae can be rosy, too: http://bugguide.net/node/view/983694/bgimage,http://bugguide.net/node/view/1402355/bgimage.

 

Inexplicably, it shows up (by scientific and common name) in a book called The Fauna of British India: Including Ceylon and Burma, Volume 4, Part 4 (1896).

THE MARBLED GREEN LEUCONYCTA (Leuconycta lepidula) (a.k.a. the Marbled-green Jaspida and the Dark Leuconycta) is a moderate-sized moth (wingspan about 1 ¼”) in the Owlet moth family Noctuidae.  It’s a nifty lichen mimic with lots of variation within the species – http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=9066).  It’s found in North America from the Rockies to the Atlantic in the same habitat as the Raspberry Pyrausta (and on the BugLady’s front porch).

 

Caterpillars http://bugguide.net/node/view/915262/bgimage feed on dock and on one of the BugLady’s favorite flowers, the dandelion.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The BLACK-DOTTED GLYPH (Maliattha synochitis), a.k.a the Black-dotted Maliattha and the Brass-dotted Grass Moth, is also an Owlet moth, one of two species in its genus in North America.  It’s doing a pretty good imitation of a bird-dropping.

 

According to bugguide.net, the historical range of the Black-dotted Glyph is mostly in the US from the Great Plains, eastward (including the BugLady’s front porch), but in the past few decades it has moved into southern Canada.  Most sources list the host plants as smartweeds (genus Polygonum), but the Owlet Caterpillars of Eastern North America says it eats grasses, including crabgrass.  Both could be true.  There’s lots of variation in the color of the adults: http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=9049.

The BLACK-PATCHED CLEPSIS (Clepsis melaleucana) is a member of the Tortrix or Leafroller moth family Tortricidae.  It’s a huge family – about 1,400 species in North America and 10,000 globally – and the family contains some notorious fruit pests.  The Black-patched Clepsis is found in the northern two-thirds of the continent.

 

Caterpillars (http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=3686 and http://bugguide.net/node/view/1154843) feed on spring wildflowers like cohosh, trillium, and Solomon’s seal in deciduous woods.  They roll up a leaf and web it together from the inside, and then they crawl out of their tube and feed on neighboring leaves.  One source lists them as eating witch hazel, several alder species and meadowsweet along with the wildflowers. They may overwinter as larvae.

Wooly bear caterpillars are crossing the road, presumably with no other philosophical agenda than getting to the other side.  Read their story at http://uwm.edu/field-station/woolly-bears/.

 

The BugLady

Bug o’the Week – A Bundle of Beetles

Salutations, BugFans,

 

Here’s a selection of beetles that the BugLady found this summer.

Coreopsis beetle

A blushing beetle!  Who knew?  The COREOPSIS BEETLE (Calligrapha californica) is a species that has several subspecies and lots of variation, with beetles that are more and less blushy: http://bugguide.net/node/view/769607/bgimage,  http://bugguide.net/node/view/178241/bgimage,  http://bugguide.net/node/view/955740/bgimage,  http://bugguide.net/node/view/759053/bgimage.  Members of this often-very-decorative genus have appeared in BOTW before.

 

The quarter-inch coreopsis/tickweed beetle is in the large and very diverse Leaf beetle family Chrysomelidae, many of whose species are very particular about the leaves they pursue.  In this case, both the larvae and the adults eat leaves of plants in the composite/aster family, particularly beggar’s tick (Bidens), Coreopsis, and ragweed, and they’ve been known to demolish a whole plant, right down to the ground!  They’re found across the northern two-thirds of North America.

Eggs are laid in leaf litter near host plants in summer, and they hatch the following spring.  The larvae are fitted out with egg-bursting tubercles on their thorax that assist their exit.  They feed until fall and then overwinter as pupae, emerging as adults the following summer.  Their larvae resemble the shiny, black larva included here.

OPHRAELLA CONFERTA (probably) is another Chrysomelid.  Having been pregnant a few times herself, the BugLady gets a kick out seeing these ready-to-burst beetles. Alternatively, one photographer wondered if the beetle might be full of parasites, but, a good number of the pictures in bugguide.net show similarly gravid-looking beetles and are labeled “female.”

 

There are 14 species in the genus north of the Rio Grande; Ophraella conferta can be found east of the Rockies on goldenrod leaves.  It’s reported that they feed at night and that they can occur in large enough numbers to do significant damage to their host plants.

 

Females mate in late summer and overwinter as adults, storing the sperm internally.  They don’t fertilize or lay their eggs until after they wake up and have something to eat the following spring, then they oviposit every few days, laying their eggs in tidy clumps.  See http://bugguide.net/node/view/650675/bgimage for a set of pictures of egg through adult.

SCHIZOTIS CERVICOLIS has no common name (for no earthly reason that the BugLady could discern, one site calls it the “Flaming-pillow beetle,” but she’s not dignifying that one).  It’s a Fire-colored beetle, family Pyrochroidae (because many species in the family have red or orange body parts).  Male pyrochroids often have fancy antennae.  The BugLady photographed it as it bobbed up and down on a stem in a wetland on a breezy day in late spring.  Like the coreopsis beetle above, it resides across northern half of North America.

 

Check http://bugguide.net/node/view/45357/bgimage for some nice pictures of the beetle’s life cycle.  The larvae are found in rotting logs, where, according to Morphology and Systematics (Elateroidea, Bostrichiformia, Cucujiformia partim), 2010, [larvae of] Schizotis specialize in decaying woody sections of moss-covered logs in boreal-like areas (e.g. edges of bogs).  While both woody and fungal materials are found in the gut, fungi are thought to play a key role in larval development.  In crowded situations, larvae may sometimes become cannibalistic, but contrary to some older reports, they are not normally predaceous.”

 

Adult males of this genus are attracted to cantharidin, a defensive chemical produced by blister beetles.  For the story on that, see this previous BOTW about a different fire-colored beetle at http://uwm.edu/field-station/fire-colored-beetle/.

 

An internet search didn’t turn up much information on this species’ life history, but one of the “Related searches” was for “List of terms that start with SCHIZOT.”  More than you’d expect.

Aeolus mellilus

Most of the click beetles of her acquaintance are black or dark brown, so the BugLady was excited to find this small, red AEOLUS MELLILUS (probably) under the porch light in June. Common names are the Flat wireworm beetle and, inexplicably, the Sweet click beetle.

 

Click beetles’ superpower is their ability to right themselves (dramatically – and with a click) after landing on their backs (http://uwm.edu/field-station/eyed-elater-click-beetles-family-elateridae/).  Their larvae (grubs) are collectively called wireworms, and because of their diet, some are a staple on Agricultural and Extension websites.  Some species feed in the soil on dead organic matter, some on the larvae of other insects, and others on plant roots and stems.  They locate their food by following its carbon dioxide trail.

 

Aeolus mellilus is found in grasslands and gardens over much of North America.  The larvae dine on the roots of corn and potatoes, but they also relish wheat and other cereal crops, and some sources call them a minor crop pest.  They lop stems off at the soil surface instead of burrowing in like other wireworms and doing their damage from within.  They are also described as fierce and active predators that probably feed on the larvae of the competition.  Adults eat plants and are nocturnal.

 

According to the University of Alberta, Ms. Sweet click beetle, at least in populations in the Canadian prairies, is parthenogenic – she doesn’t need Mr. Sweet click beetle to produce baby Sweet click beetles.  Parthenogenesis tends to result in female offspring, and males are pretty much unknown in the Canadian studies.

Enoclerus muttkowskii

The BugLady thinks that this is ENOCLERUS MUTTKOWSKII (unless it’s the very similar Eichneumoneus), a Checkered beetle in the family Cleridae.  There’s not much information out there on its life history – its larvae are beneficial, preying on the larvae of some beetles that live under the bark of evergreens and feed on the phloem tissue (the plant’s plumbing) in eastern/northeastern North America.  Adults are generalized predators.  Some members of the genus, including this one, are considered mimics of velvet ants (which, despite their name, are flightless, female wasps that pack quite a punch).  Another Enoclerus beetle was featured in a past episode http://uwm.edu/field-station/checkered-beetle/.

 

The BugLady found a very cool paper by researcher Jacques Rifkind called “Enoclerus Gahan: predators of chemically protected ladybird beetles (Coleoptera: Cleridae and Coccinellidae)”.  After carefully scrutinizing many photographs posted on the internet by insect enthusiasts, Rifkind verified five species of Enoclerus feeding on various species of ladybugs.

 

Ladybugs tend to be chemically protected, which explains their aposematic (warning) coloration, and species have a variety of ways to deliver the bad-tasting/toxic liquids that they produce/ingest.  In order to feed on one, an Enoclerusbeetle must either be able to excrete the toxins effectively or to sequester/isolate them somewhere in its body (and according to Rifkind, Enoclerus are pretty enthusiastic feeders, dismembering and masticating their prey, so it’s a total toxin immersion).  Enoclerus is a sequesterer, and Rifkind says that “the further possibility that clerid predators acquire chemical protection through sequestration of ladybird prey’s toxic alkaloids is suggested as an important avenue of investigation.

 

Rifkind very significantly notes that “The data presented are primarily based on photographs taken by non-specialists, discovered through Internet search. The crowdsourcing of natural history observations can reveal aspects of animal behavior heretofore unreported and even unsuspected,” (emphasis, the BugLady), and why not – there are masses of citizen-generated birding data available electronically.  Here’s Rifkind’s article http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2018&context=insectamundi.

 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

Predaceous Diving Beetle revisited

Greetings, BugFans,

 

The BugLady has been busy, so here’s an enhanced version of an episode that appeared in 2009.  New facts, new pictures.

Beetles belong in the Order Coleoptera (“sheath-wings,” a reference to the firm, front pair of wings – the elytra – that cover and protect the membranous second pair of flying wings). It’s a great system that protects the flying wings from predators and from environmental wear and tear, but it makes flying clumsy, indeed – the elytra have to go somewhere in flight, and that’s out to the side, like a mini bi-plane.

 

Beetles have been around for 225 million years, plus or minus, and more than a quarter of all species of living things that have been described are beetles. They outnumber vertebrate species 18 to 1. There are 24,000 beetle species in North America alone. According to Sue Hubbell in Broadsides from the Other Orders, when asked what his studies had taught him about the nature of his Creator, the great British biologist J.B.S. Haldane is said to have replied that “God has an inordinate fondness for beetles.”

 

Only about 4% of beetle species are aquatic, but if you do the math, that’s still a lot of beetles. Predaceous diving beetles are in the Family Dytiscidae (from the Greek for “able to dive”); with 4300 species worldwide (about 500 in North America), they are the largest family of aquatic beetles. Typically, they live in the shallow, still waters of lakes and ponds or in the pool areas of streams.

Dytiscids vary in color (red, to dark, to gold) and size (a big one may go an inch or more), but as a group, they are solid and oval and have slender antennae. Their powerful, hairy, oar-like back legs are perfect for swimming (they stroke with both simultaneously, rather than alternately), and they are further streamlined because they can tuck their other four legs into grooves as they swim. For a discussion of dytiscid eyesight, see https://arthropoda.wordpress.com/2010/03/26/beware-the-water-tigers/.

 

To tell a dytiscid from a sometimes-very-similar water scavenger beetle, Hydrophilidae, see https://thedragonflywoman.com/tag/hydrophilidae/.

 

While under water, dytiscids carry an air supply with them. Larvae take air into their bodies through spiracles (breathing pores) at the tip of their abdomen.  Adults also back up to the surface film, but the air they capture is stored under the elytra, where their spiracles are. Carrying enough air to breathe, but not too much to submerge requires delicate manipulation. Dytiscids – along with some other families of aquatic beetles – haul up on shore from time to time to do what’s called “secretion-grooming;” the anti-microbial substance produced by the pygidial gland helps keep the respiratory system under the elytra ship-shape.  They can stay submerged for a long time (“long” being defined by one author as 10 minutes and by another as 36 hours!).

Dytiscids have an off-again-on-again relationship with water.  Eggs are laid in the water and on/in aquatic plants, and even in shoreline muck, and when they hatch, larvae enter the water if they’re not already there.  Mature larvae crawl out of the water to pupate in damp chambers they create on the shoreline.  They emerge as adults in late summer and return to the water.  Both larvae and adults may be found under the ice in winter.

 

Adult predaceous diving beetles and their voracious and aptly-named offspring, water tigers (a BugLady favorite) are, as their names imply, carnivores. They have, let’s face it, gruesome eating habits. Water tigers, classed as “piercer-predators,” are “lurkers” – catching their food by stealth, hanging motionless in the water until something edible swims past. They have sickle-shaped mouthparts that they use to grab their prey, and they inject a “brown digestive juice” through channels in the pincers into the hapless snail, small fish, tadpole, leech or fellow insect (including other water tigers). The liquid both kills and partially digests their prey, whose now-tenderized tissues the beetles extract. Here’s one of BugFan Linda’s amazing videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAVH4IsS20c. Water tigers are often the top predator in their local food chain.

Adults are “chewers;” they hold their prey with their legs and tear pieces off with their mouth, and they will also feed on carrion. In both stages, they pursue prey larger than themselves.  The BugLady is really surprised that there are not more horror movies featuring mutant aquatic insects.

Dytiscids are competent flyers that take to the air at night (sometimes in groups).  They may move around locally because of competition for food, to find a mate, or to escape a dying pond, and they are attracted by lights.

 

Water tigers are considered important players in mosquito control, but, as Ann Haven Morgan points out in her Field Book of Ponds and Streams, because dytiscid larvae share the sunny shallows with tadpoles, they undoubtedly have a major impact on amphibian populations. They are eaten by fish, raccoons, skunks, reptiles, amphibians, and some herons.

Interesting Dytiscid Fact #1:  Species in the genus Cybister are edible and were enjoyed both in pre-settlement days and on tacos in present-day Mexico.  They have been “farmed” for human consumption in various parts of Asia and have been used medicinally in China.

 

Interesting Dytiscid Fact #2: In a Cherokee Creation story, a water beetle came from the sky realm to find that the world was entirely water, with no place solid to rest.  He dove down and brought up some mud, which expanded and became the earth.

 

Interesting Dytiscid Fact #3:  There’s a genus of dytiscids that lives in deep, dark wells, and they are eyeless.

 

Interesting Dytiscid Fact #4:  You can find on-line instructions on how to keep dytiscids as “pets” in fish tanks (they’re touted as “easier and cleaner than fish”), but co-habiting with small fish?  Not recommended.

 

Interesting Dytiscid Fact #5: In some parts of Asia, dytiscids are used as the little ball in an aquatic version of roulette.  Bets are won or lost based on which underwater spot a swimming dytiscid beetle stops on.

 

Hubbell tells us that, in recognition of their (and our) place in the great scheme of things, some South American Indians name as their Creator a very large beetle.  J.B.S. Haldane would probably approve.

 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

Bug o’the week – Galls V

Greetings, BugFans,

 

As the leaves color and fall, some interesting galls are being revealed.  Quick review – a gall is an abnormal and localized tissue growth on a plant (or animal – according to Wikipedia, “In human pathology, a gall is a raised sore on the skin, usually caused by chafing or rubbing”).  Plant galls can be caused by friction, fungi, bacteria, and even by viruses, but for BOTW purposes, we’ll stick to galls that are initiated by animals like insects and mites.  “Cecidium” (the plural is “cecidia”) is listed as a synonym for “gall.”

 

Tiny Cynipid wasps and some groups of midges and moths are the main gall makers.  The general modus operandi for gall formation is that the gall maker does something (like secreting a chemical) that tricks the host plant into growing extra tissue at that location.  Abracadabra – the herbivorous larva is enclosed in a climate-controlled, edible shelter (all it needs to do is make sure that it can get out).  Many gall makers are able to defuse their host plant’s natural “grazer-control” mechanisms, possibly by hogging the plant’s resources.

 

There’s nothing random about it – gall-making insects/mites make distinctly-shaped galls on specific parts of their particular host plants, and part of the host’s scientific name is often incorporated into the gall maker’s.  Galls are not limited to woody plants, and they can occur on any part of a plant, including the roots.  Oaks entertain more than their fair share of galls.

 

Galls have been used in tanning leather (many galls, not just those that grow on oaks, are tannin-rich), for prophesy, as inks and dyes, medicines and spices, and as foods for livestock and humans (one source said that galls taste like the plant they grow on).

 

The BugLady never cuts galls open – it would be violating her Prime Directive (she once gave a class of 5th graders the choice – open a gall and see, but doom, the inhabitant, or not.  They left it intact).   But, thank goodness there are people who do open them so we can see what’s happening in there!

 

Typically, galls are built by a single organism, for a single organism, though they may attract inquilines (boarders) or predators/parasites.  But, most of the galls in today’s BOTW offer multi-unit housing.  Without further ado, here are the galls du jour.

SUMAC LEAF GALL (a.k.a. Red Pouch, Pouch, Balloon, Potato, and Tomato gall)

The gall maker is Melaphis rhois, the Staghorn sumac aphid (the genus of sumac is Rhus).  As a group, aphids are not into gall making; this one is in the wooly aphid subfamily (Eriosomatinae), in the family Aphididae, and it’s the only species in its genus.  Like many galls, it may look funny, but it doesn’t hurt the plant, though a heavy infestation may cause the sumac’s leaves to turn color and fall a bit early.

 

The BugLady was happily researching and cutting and pasting information about Sumac leaf galls when she came across this article by BugFan Bob at the Missouri Master Naturalist Springfield Plateau Chapter’s site http://springfieldmn.blogspot.com/2016/07/sumac-gall.html.  Be sure to watch the video, and then mosey around their site for other good stuff.

JEWELWEED GALL

This one is caused by a gall midge named Schizomyia impatientis in the fly family Cecidomyiidae (jewelweed is in the genus Impatiens).  Mom lays her eggs on the flower bud, and a gall forms there instead of the normal fruit.  This gall also contains more than one gall maker http://www.discoverlife.org/mp/20q?search=Schizomyia+impatientis.  The midge larvae exit the gall in fall – by some accounts overwintering as larvae and by others as adults.  Here’s a basic article about gall midges: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cecidomyiidae.

WILLOW ROSETTE GALL

Instigated by a gall midge named Rabdophaga salicisbrassicoides (unless it’s Rabdophaga saliciscoryloides), also in the family Cecidomyiidae (willows are in the genus Salix).  There are 105 species in the genus worldwide, and many of them do their work on willows.  The gall occurs on a developing leaf bud, and it seems to stimulate the growth of a multitude of squished-together leaves.

 

Mutualism refers to an ecological relationship in which the acts of organisms of different species benefit each other – a win-win (pollination is the classic example).  When researchers Savage and Peterson studied some of the relationships surrounding the willow rosette gall, they found that ants often “farm” (tend to) aphids on willow branches that have galls, and they hypothesized that the presence of ants, aphids and galls in close proximity might somehow benefit all three.  They also wondered whether the actions of ants and aphids might somehow protect the gall makers from parasitism.  They found that aphids often feed on the gall tissue, causing aphid populations to increase, and that when there are more aphids, there are more galls, but the presence of ants and aphids did not affect the rates of parasitism.

 

The BugLady recommends that BugFans take a brief detour into the wonderful world of plant volatiles – chemicals given off by plants in order to attract pollinators, to attract predators to feed on bothersome herbivores, and to signal to surrounding plants that they are under attack.  Volatiles also help insects identify the right host plants to lay their eggs on (unfortunately, there’s no Cliff’s Notes version, you mostly jump right into the deep end of biochemistry, but try this https://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/plant-volatiles).  Turns out that chemicals given off by the willow leaves lure both the pollinators and the gall makers.

SUNFLOWER STEM GALL

Another gall midge – Asphondylia helianthiglobulus, family Cecidomyydae (wild sunflowers are in the genus Helianthus).  Here are some adults emerging from a gall – http://bugguide.net/node/view/999103/bgimage (the BugLady had a moment when she tried to figure out why the galls in bugguide.net pictures were fuzzy and the ones she has photographed are smooth, but she’s figured it out).

MOSSY ROSE GALL (a.k.a. Robin’s Pincushion and Rose Bedequar (from an Arabic word for “wind-brought”) gall)

The gall maker is Diplolepis rosae, a 0.2” long, non-native wasp in the family Cynipidae, which lays as many as 60 eggs in a lateral or a terminal leaf bud.  Reproduction is parthenogenic, and the wasps that emerge in spring are 99+% female (probably because of an endemic virus called Wolbachia) (worth another Google detour – female wasps treated with antibiotics produce normal ratios of both male and female eggs).  Along with the usual edible, interior tissue that the wasp larvae feed on, the plant also grows sticky, fibrous “tentacles” on the exterior.

 

Birds and small mammals may excavate the ping-pong-ball-sized galls for the larvae or pupae nesting inside https://wshg.net/featured/2015-07-28/mossy-rose-gall-a-fascinating-pest/ (click on the pictures for a slide show), and quite a line-up of insects may co-habit the gall harmlessly or with evil intent.  The survival rate is higher in galls that are larger and are located on lower branches, and the galls are said to be more common when the rose plant is stressed.

 

According to Margaret Fagan in “The Uses of Insect Galls” Pliny the Elder (the first-century AD Roman naturalist, not the craft beer) believed that the mossy rose gall was “among the most successful applications for the restorations of hair,” and it has enjoyed a number of other medicinal uses. (https://www.jstor.org/stable/2456142?seq=13#page_scan_tab_contents).

 

Here are links to the previous BOTWs on galls: http://uwm.edu/field-station/galls-i/http://uwm.edu/field-station/galls-ii/http://uwm.edu/field-station/galls-iii-oddball-galls/http://uwm.edu/field-station/galls-iv-two-oaks-hickory/.

 

On a totally unrelated topic, the BugLady came across this account by serendipity while she was looking for something else – http://www.michigannatureguy.com/blog/2017/07/22/wool-carder-bees/.

 

The BugLady

Andy Larsen, A Riveredge Legend, Has Passed

It is with heavy hearts we share with our membership the news that Andy Larsen, Riveredge’s first Executive Director and naturalist, passed away on Friday evening. It is no stretch to say that Riveredge, as we know it today, would not exist without the immense sacrifice, passion, and devotion of Andy and his family.

Beginning his time at Riveredge just one year after it was founded by daring dreamers from the Whitefish Bay Garden Club in 1968, everything you see at Riveredge today can be traced directly to the work of Andy and the dedicated group of volunteers he inspired and led.

From time spent walking along railroad tracks throughout southern Wisconsin in order to collect remanent prairie seed used to establish the prairies at Riveredge to pioneering the inquiry-based education style that still is used today at Riveredge to engage the curiosity of children and adult learners alike, his legacy will forever continue in every living thing on this land and in every person that comes to be awed, renewed, and inspired by those living things. Andy’s motivating drive was inspiring a deeper understanding and appreciation for our planet in those around him. He succeeded mightily; hundreds of thousands of people have developed a closer relationship to the natural world because of his life and his work.

On behalf of the Board of Directors, the staff, and the volunteers at Riveredge, our deepest sympathies and never-ending gratitude are with Andy’s wife, Judy, his children, Eric and Libby, and the rest of the Larsen family, as well as the many, many people who loved and were impacted by Andy.

Please enjoy this touching tribute to his dad that Eric Larsen posted for a look at what made him such a special person.

Andy’s obituary is now posted online.  A public celebration of life will occur on Saturday, November 18th from 1 – 5 PM at Mequon Nature Preserve.

All memorial gifts received by Riveredge for Andy will be placed in a designated fund to financially support full and partial school field trip scholarships. This will allow countless classes of children the opportunity to engage their curiosity about the natural world on the Riveredge land Andy so loved. Many of the schools most in need of this financial assistance come from urban locations, yet the funds will also be available to schools from any geographic region.

Thank you, Andy. You will be greatly missed.