Bug o’the Week – Palmodes dimidiatus (wasp)

Greetings, BugFans,

Someday, the BugLady will write a book about trying to pry information about this wasp  from the ether (once she figured out that it isn’t a Sphex or a Podalonia); it will be subtitled (with apologies to Judith Viorst) “Google has a Terrible,Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” (and possibly sub-sub-titled “Net Neutrality and Entomological Research?  Really??”).  Anyway – different pulpit. 


The BugLady found one common name for Palmodes dimidiatus – the Florida Hunting Wasp – though it was not universally embraced.  FHWs are in the family Sphecidae, the thread-waisted wasps (loosely called digger wasps), a family that contains some large and handsome, metallically-colored wasps that are named for the elongated constriction (called the petiole) between the thorax and abdomen.  We have visited them before in the form of the Great black wasp, the Golden digger wasp, Thread-waisted wasps, Cricket hunters, and Mud daubers.  All lead, as do the vast majority of wasps and bees, solitary rather than communal lives.  Because they have no hive full of sisters to defend, solitary wasps are – generally – less likely to inflict pain on observers.  Despite the fact that they are conspicuous on flowers in high summer, they are an under-studied group. 


It’s a small family, with about 125 members in North America.  They mostly live out in the open and make nests in the ground for their eggs.  Adults feed on nectar (they’ll sip from extrafloral nectaries, of previous BOTW famehttp://uwm.edu/field-station/ants-in-my-plants/), and they sometimes partake of honeydew and of the bodily fluids of some of the invertebrates they capture for their young.  They’re considered pollinators. 

There are 10 species in the genus Palmodes (either, says bugguide.net, from the Latin for “palm tree” or “hand,” or from the Greek for “vibrating” or “throbbing”).  The FHW is found across the continent, but it’s the only member of its genus in the eastern half of North America.  Palmodes specialize in the katydids (Tettigoniidae), and some western species prey on Mormon crickets (which are actually katydids and may be 2 ½ inches long).  The FHW prefers immature Shield-backed katydids (Atlanticus).

Female FHWs dig a tunnel https://bugguide.net/node/view/1167453/bgimage in loose or sandy soil and make a widened chamber at the end.  She digs by biting at clumps of dirt, and scraping the loosened chunks away using the “combs” on her front legs.  She forms loose soil into a ball that she tucks “under her chin,” holding it against her mouthparts with her front pair of legs and walking on the other four legs back up to the surface.  She saves the soil in a small pile.  When she is finished excavating, she plugs the tunnel temporarily and flies off to find a katydid.

She’s about an inch long, but she routinely tackles prey that is much larger than she is (studies suggest that she will go after the biggest prey she can handle), grabbing it, paralyzing it by stinging it once at the base of each set of legs and finally in the throat, then straddling it and dragging it back to the nest https://bugguide.net/node/view/64743/bgimage and https://bugguide.net/node/view/1375820/bgimage.  Unlike some other solitary wasps, she makes only one chamber per tunnel, and she provisions it with only one katydid.  That task complete, she lays a single egg on the still-living katydid, fills the tunnel with the reserved dirt, and disguises its entrance.  When her larva hatches, voila – dinner is served.  It will eat, grow, and pupate underground, eventually emerging as an adult.

In his book called Reproductive Behavior and Evolution of Tettigoniidae, Darryl Gwynne parses the difference between predators and parasites, “Digger wasps are often referred to not as predators but as parasitoids, “parasites” whose feeding activities eventually kill but do not dispatch the ‘prey’ right away so that it is kept fresh and unspoiled.  The line between predator and parasite is blurred because the actual capture of the host insect by the adult wasp is certainly akin to predation, whereas the larva’s slow consumption of its motionless but still living cellmate has all the hallmarks of a parasitic act.

Words.  The BugLady appreciates the nice turn of a phrase; here are two gems she gleaned while researching this wasp.

From Gwynne’s book, in a discussion of Great Golden digger wasps, he quotes Howard Ensign Evans (1962), who said that that “he knows of few things more exciting than sitting by a flourishing colony…..and watching the females soar in, each with a katydid clutched beneath her: crisp, green songsters, creatures of the sunshine and warm, moonlit evenings, doomed to be devoured by flabby grubs in dark chambers.”

And, the dedication of a doctoral dissertation on wasp phylogeny and behavior, “To Burton and Joseph Payne, who walked high steel so the author wouldn’t have to.


Kate Redmond, The BugLady


Bug of the Week archives:

Christmas Bird Count Results

Near the end of each year, Riveredge coordinates a Christmas Bird Count, where volunteer counters go out into the field or even watch at their own home feeders, documenting every bird they can spot and identify. Ultimately, this data, and similar data from all around the country, is reported to the National Audubon Society, fueling the longest-running community science bird project and directly impacting Audubon and other conservation organizations’ work. We thought the Riveredge community might be interested to know the results too! Below, a recap of the results from Mary Holleback, Riveredge’s Adult Programs Manager, including some exciting news about a first-time appearance on the count! For a detailed list of every bird spotted, you can also click here. 

Want to learn more about the Christmas Bird Count and tons of other bird research efforts at Riveredge over many decades? The Noel J. Cutright Bird Club is featuring Mary, and other Riveredge staff and volunteers involved in these efforts in their monthly meeting on Tuesday, February 6th. Come enjoy this free presentation and learn more about the Bird Club at the same time!


Hello Birders,

Light snow fell overnight making driving a little challenging, never the less the annual Riveredge/Newburg Christmas Bird Count (CBC) held on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017 was a big success. Together, 60 field counters and 36 feeder watchers saw a total of 76 species and 18,428 individual birds on the count.  Our ten year average number of species is 71 so we had an above average count. Over the 48 year history of our count we’ve broken 70 or more species nineteen times.

Data reports are still trickling in but here are a few preliminary figures. Only one of each of the following species was found:  great blue heron, wood duck, redhead, peregrine falcon, merlin (1 seen each of the past 3 yrs.), glaucous gull, Eurasian collared dove (1st since 2002), red-headed woodpecker (1st since 2012), hermit thrush, gray catbird (1st since 2008), fox sparrow and brown-headed cowbird. A single winter wren and two Carolina wrens were recorded which is the 1st time both have been seen in the same count since 2013.

Winter visitors were also somewhat sparse in comparison to other years.  Only one redpoll and northern shrike, eight snow buntings, 48 horned larks and 111 pine siskins were reported.  No longspurs or crossbills were seen.  If you do see any red crossbills researchers at Cornell are asking people to use their iPhones to record their flight calls and send them in for spectrogram analysis so that they can track the movement of the different crossbill “call types” around North American. Here’s the link – http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/crossbills-of-north-america-species-and-red-crossbill-call-types.

For the first time ever two snowy owls were observed in our circle – one near the Cedarburg Bog (in the AM) and another near the West Bend Airport (in the PM). Since neither bird was all white they were most likely juveniles or females.  Snowy owls are irruptive predatory wanderers that breed in the Arctic and migrate south periodically. In irruption years most of the owls that are reported are juveniles which suggests that unusually successful breeding (large brood sizes) combined with declining food supplies (mostly lemmings) may have prompted them to push south in search of better hunting grounds. Thanks to sponsorship from numerous Wisconsin environmental organizations, six snowy owls will be outfitted with radio transmitters so their movements can be tracked this winter.  Check out the Project SNOWstorm (https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/) website for tracking information.

We saw the highest number in 10 years of Canada geese (5503) & ruffed grouse (3) and highest number ever of northern goshawks (5) & rough-legged hawks (28).  Bald eagles (6) also made a good showing.  Two species whose population sizes should be on our “watch list” for next year are the great horned owl (lowest # in 10 yrs.) and bufflehead (1st time not seen in 10 years).

Thanks again for participating.  Please join us again for the 2018 Christmas Bird Count on Sat. December 15, 2018.  Start recruiting your friends and neighbors to help you now!

Happy New Year & happy birding,

Mary Holleback
Adult Programs Manager

Bug o’the Week – Epiblema (moth) Trifecta

Howdy, BugFans,


Vocabulary word for the day – reservoir.


Epiblemas are micromoths, which is a handy but unscientific grouping that has members across several families (and it’s a genus name that is shared with an Australian orchid called “babe-in-a-cradle”).  They are in the large and diverse family Tortricidae (TOR-tri-CYE-dye), the leafroller moths.  Mmany are considered pests on agricultural plants, and others are used as biological controls of problem plants.  They have their own website: http://www.tortricidae.com/morphology.asp.


Where do they fit in the great scheme of things?  They’re in the subfamily Olethreutes, a name that, according to bugguide.net, comes “from Greek olethreuonta meaning “destroyer, annihilator,” a term used to describe the devil in Greek biblical texts.”  Seems like overkill for a moth with a ¾” wingspan.  And, they’re in the tribe Eucosmini, whose larvae feed on flowers or fruits, or roll/web leaves together, or bore in stems or roots, or make galls.  Some are generalist feeders, and others are picky eaters.  The adults are nocturnal (two of these three were Porch Light Bugs).


The GOLDENROD GALL MOTH (Epiblema scudderiana) is the most famous of the three.  Also called Scudder’s Epiblema, it can be found in open areas east of the Great Plains.


The larval food plant is goldenrod; they burrow into the stem and trigger a thin-walled gall https://bugguide.net/node/view/345088/bgimage, and https://bugguide.net/node/view/1230348/bgimage.  The write-up at the Storey Lab website (whose motto is “If we knew what we were doing, we wouldn’t call them experiments“) explains: “females lay eggs on the growing tips of goldenrod in the late spring and after hatching the caterpillar bores into the stem and starts to eat. The plant-insect interaction leads to the formation of an elliptical gall with wood-grain like scars on the outside…. In the autumn, the fifth (and final) instar of the caterpillar gets ready for winter. It moves out of the main gall cavity, hollows out the stem below the gall and fits itself snugly and vertically into this space in a head up position. The caterpillar lines the interior of the stem and gall with silk which helps to act as a barrier to water or ice penetration. … To keep from freezing they accumulate ultrahigh concentrations of glycerol in amounts equal to as much as 18-20% of their total body mass.”


Bugguide.net says that “the larva is winter host for 12 parasites.”  In a study in western Pennsylvania in the mid-1970’s, researcher John Plakidas found an 11% rate of parasitism in winter galls of Epiblema, and he suggests that “Because many parasitic insects do not synchronize their life cycles with that of their hosts, they must rely on a variety of alternate hosts to maintain establishment within a community.  Pepper (1934) stated that a study of non-economic insects inhabiting weeds might yield valuable information in the biological control of injurious insects.  From these results it is evident that E. scudderiana plays an essential role as a winter host reservoir for some parasitic insects in Southwestern Pennsylvania.  Expanding this concept, it may be advantageous to cultivate this [Solidago graminifoliaand other suitable species of wild flowering plants in and around orchards and field crops to insure a standing host population of specific parasitic insects.”  An interesting comment in the face of today’s “clean farming” practices.



Next up is the BIDENS BORER (Epiblema otiosana), which is found over pretty much the same range as E. scudderiana, but in the damper habitats where its host plants (beggar-ticks and tickseed sunflower) grow.  Writing in the Journal of the New York Entomological Society in 1932, George C. Decker tells us that it is “…generally regarded as having little or no economic significance.  It is, however, of considerable interest because it is an important insect enemy of a group of noxious weeds known as beggar ticks [hey – the BugLady is fond of Bidensand, also, because it serves as a reservoir for important parasites of several injurious insects”.



Its larvae are stem-borers, but they don’t cause galls to be formed.  Decker writes that “Feeding within the stem, the larva spirals downward so that the spiral burrow practically girdles the stem and the top immediately wilts.  Decomposition starts and moves steadily down the stem behind the advancing larva which is moving downward at a rate of from one to one and one-half inches per day.  Fifty-eight percent of the Epiblema larvae he found were “inhabited,” mostly by the larvae of parasitic flies and wasps.  He also observed that larvae could survive being frozen in stems that tipped over into the water.



Finally, the BugLady thinks that this ghostly little moth is EPIBLEMA BOXCANA, a moth that has no common name and no biography that she could find under any name, old or new.  Sources that do mention it describe its genitalia in intimate detail, but say “Food plant unknown.”  Leaf-tier, gall-maker, root-borer?  Don’t know – but it’s at the center of a great story!


It was described and named in 1907 by an entomologist named W.D. Kearfott, a gentleman renowned/reviled for his nomenclatural eccentricities.  For BugFans who doubted that entomology can be a blood sport, here are comments by Edward Meyrick, who calls Kearfott out very publically in The Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine in 1912: “In a paper published in the Transactions of the American Entomological Society, Vol xxxiii, 1907, by Mr. W.D. Kearfott, on new species of Tortricina, are a number of specific names that are openly and obviously based on a barbarous and unmeaning gibberish, and in my opinion must be rejected as null and void.  They are given, below, and carry their condemnation on their face.  …  A line must be drawn somewhere, and for my part I propose to draw it here and now.  I refuse to accept these names, and shall quote them as synonyms with the syllable (van.) attached, signifying that they are void. I take the responsibility of re-naming the species accordingly, since someone must do it.  I regret any apparent discourtesy to Mr. Kearfott, from whom as a correspondent I have received much, kind help, but if he were my own brother, I could not act otherwise” (alas for Mr. Meyrick, once an organism is properly described and named, the name tends to stand unless subsequent taxonomic work reclassifies it.  You can’t just rename something because you don’t like its name).


Almost a century later, a spotlight shone again on Kearfort’s approach to assigning scientific names.  In the President’s address to the Lepidopterists Society in 2000 (“Nomenclatural Nonsense – Flying in the Face of a Farcical Code”), John W. Brown elaborates“….the names he proposed for new species are among those that are, shall I say, less than scholarly.  Actually, Kearfott’s names stand as a tribute to whimsy, whether intentionally or not.  …  Kearfott approached his new names in a very orderly fashion, apparently leaning on his very thorough knowledge of the alphabet (you know – a, b, c, d…) with his keen ear for a good rhyme.  Here are some of Kearfott’s species names (see Table 3): bobana, cocana, dodana, fofana, gogana, hohana – stop me when you see a pattern  …  and who can forget the concise, euphonious, and memorable gomonana, tomonana, … zomonana, or baracana, caracana, daracana…..Well, I like Kearfott’s names, they remind me of a song from the 1960’s [The Name Game’]”  It’s a lovely speech, and the BugLady recommends it: https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/41154536#page/173/mode/1up (click on the plus sign above the page to magnify).


Kate Redmond, The BugLady


Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Waterlily Aphid

Howdy, BugFans,

January continues to be “Vocabulary Month.”

The BugLady likes her wetlands wet, not solid, so she’s diving into her files of aquatic/semi-aquatic organisms in order to evoke the sights and sounds and feel of a summer day. As usual, this has resulted in a few scenic side trips.

Scenic side trip #1 – what are all those fantastic aquatic organisms doing in the dead of winter, anyway? Invertebrates have three options here in God’s country – migration, diapause (suspended animation – hibernation for the cold-blooded) and termination. Most insects overwinter as eggs (ready to hit the road when the weather warms) or as pupae (ready to assume an adult form when the weather warms). A smaller number spend the winter as nymphs/larvae or as adults. Some aquatic invertebrates spend their whole lives in the water, but for others, water is a nursery that they occupy only as immatures. Both permanent and temporary residents are found under the ice or in frigid streams in winter.

Water is, at once, both a hospitable and an inhospitable place to live. It changes temperature slowly, so its inhabitants don’t experience the dramatic fluctuations felt by those of us who live in the air. Water temperatures under the ice are typically about 37 degrees F, often much warmer than the air above. But, ice overhead excludes new oxygen, and a snow cover keeps out sunlight, as well, so submerged plants don’t photosynthesize and add oxygen to the system. Streams may not ice over, which means they are more oxygenated, but colder.

Ice crystals are harmful/lethal to an organism’s cells, and cold-blooded aquatic invertebrates avoid them via both behavioral and physiological adaptations. They become inactive, some build shelters, and some drift down to the deepest, “warmest,” part of a pond. Aquatic invertebrates are freeze-resistant at the cellular level – able to be “supercooled” to about 22 degrees F without having ice crystals form in their tissues because they have eliminated small particles that would serve as the nucleus of an ice crystal. Some are even freeze-tolerant.

WATERLILY APHIDS (Rhopalosiphum nymphaeae) have an alternative plan for winter, which we’ll get to in a sec. Hint – it has something to do with their other common name, the Reddish-brown plum aphid.

The family Aphididae is a big one – about 5,000 species (1,300+ in North America), many of which are considered pests. WLAs are not from around here (their original range is northern Eurasia); they were first recorded in North America in 1890, but now they occur globally except for some really cold spots. They’re often referred to as “adventive,” a word whose definition ranges from “non-native” to “recently introduced and starting to spread” to “introduced but not really naturalized, not able to sustain their population without help.”

WLAs don’t look like they need any help. They can be seen, sometimes in spectacular numbers, on the flowers and floating leaves of both white and yellow water-lilies. Despite their name, they chow down on quite a variety of aquatic plants including duckweed, arrowhead, water milfoil, water plantain, cattail, bladderwort, Potamogeton, and rice. They are at home above the water and below it, using hairs on their bodies to trap/carry air when they submerge to feed; and they can hike along on the surface film to get to new food plants.

They are preyed on by the usual suspects, like ladybugs, syrphid flies, and some parasitoids, all of which experience population booms when large numbers of WLAs are around. While it is true that dragonflies and damselflies will hover and pick off perched insects, the BugLady isn’t sure if this Orange Bluet is taking advantage of the little bits of protein that surround him. But, she has no doubt that the wasp is collecting aphids to feed to larval wasps. WLAs are so very fruitful that some authors consider them important “shapers” of aquatic habitats.


Other than the fact that they’re semi-aquatic, the lives of WLAs hew pretty much to the general aphid game plan. They’re found on water plants during the summer, wingless females producing more wingless females by parthenogenesis (virgin birth), a system so effective that their population can double in less than a week (she’ll crank out about 50 offspring in all, popping out two to four per day). Literally “popping out” – the young are produced in eggs, but the eggs hatch internally (it’s called ovovivipary). The nymphs mature in a week or so and become mothers themselves (one researcher used the delicious term “virginoparous,” which refers to a wingless female aphid that was produced by and is, herself, reproducing by, parthenogenesis).

As cold weather approaches, there is a winged generation that includes both males and females. They fly away from the water, boy meets girl, genepools are shared, and females lay eggs in bark crevices on a fruit tree like a peach, plum, almond, or cherry. When they hatch in spring, the nymphs (all female) feed on petioles and fruit stalks, attended by ants (myrmecophily) – and are known as Reddish-brown plum aphids. The tree is dubbed the primary host, because the eggs are laid there, and the aquatic plants that they feed on in summer are considered secondary hosts.

Googling the WLA results in a bunch of hits that demonstrate that beauty is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder. WLAs can transmit a number of plant viruses in either stage of their life cycle, and they are considered pests on some plants but are cheered on as biological controls of problem plants like water hyacinth and duckweed.

Scenic side trip #2 – the BugLady found a number of articles with contradictory views about WLAs and a plant called Azolla, as in “Good news, there are WLA-resistant strains of Azolla!” and “Good news, you can use WLAs to control Azolla!” Azolla?? Turns out that Azolla, a.k.a. pond fern, duckweed fern, water fern, and mosquito fern is an actual, floating aquatic fern. There are a dozen or so species – two listed in Wisconsin, both on the “watch list” due to their scarcity (https://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/fern/mexican-mosquito-fern).

Because their associated cyanobacterium fixes nitrogen, needed for plant growth, mosquito ferns can spread like crazy and cover/choke the water surface. The mistaken belief that a solid blanket of Azolla prevented mosquitoes from ovipositing led to that common name, but a thick layer of Azolla probably does make it difficult for mosquito larvae (and some other insects) to get to the surface film. Because of the way it covers the water surface, it acts as floating mulch for rice crops and then as fertilizer when it sinks (and it has been used in this way for 1,500 years). Azolla is grown in some parts of the world as a nutritious livestock feed, and it has been suggested as a food for humans, but there are some questions about long-term safety (neurotoxins).

Interesting Azolla story – apparently, about 50 million years ago, give or take, the greenhouse effect was in full swing and the climate of the North Pole was tropical (think palm trees), and large areas of the Arctic Ocean (which was then more fresh than salt) were covered by Azolla. For a million years, masses of Azolla used a lot of CO2 – half of the available COof the time, by some accounts – and when the plants died and sank, they took all that carbon along with them, which reversed the greenhouse effect and initiated an ice age. It’s called the Azolla Effect! An interesting little plant that the BugLady had never heard of. For more about Azolla, see http://www.folkecenter.net/gb/rd/biogas/technologies/water-for-life/azolla/ and https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/can-the-fern-that-cooled-the-planet-do-it-again/.


The BugLady confesses that she doesn’t specifically set out to photograph WLAs up close – usually she’s hanging off a pier by her toes aiming her camera at something bigger; see http://influentialpoints.com/Gallery/Rhopalosiphum_nymphaeae_water_lily_aphid.htm for some great close-ups. The white markings around the thorax of mature WLAs are waxy flakes that are produced by the aphids (https://bugguide.net/node/view/637136/bgimage). E. O. Essig, in “Aphididae of Southern California” (1912) says that the “ventral surfaces of the thorax, head, antennae, and legs are covered with rather long, white flocculence. This is secreted on the lower surface of the thorax and is evidentially gathered up by the appendages coming in contact with it.


Kate Redmong, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Black Horse Fly

Howdy, BugFans,

People often ask the BugLady what her favorite bug is, and although there’s a crowded field for second place, the Tiger Swallowtail is the hands-down winner.  Most Impressive Bug?  The Black horse fly (Tabanus atratus) (family Tabanidae) is certainly high on that list, and although she knows that it’s (probably) not going to pursue her (they generally stalk non-human mammals), just seeing one always gives her a bit of a start.  We have visited the Black horse fly in the past, but briefly, and it’s time to fill in some gaps in its biography.  This fly is not the tiny, humpbacked Black fly that lives near rivers and torments all comers.

Yes, there are larger flies in the neighborhood – some of the robber flies, for example, are bigger – but they lack the substance of this fly.  The official measurement of 20 to 28 mm (an inch-ish) just doesn’t do it justice.  As one bugguide.net correspondent put it: “This is the largest fly I have ever seen, I actually saw two of these at two different locations on the same day. I am guessing it is a horsefly of some sort. A handful of these things ought to be able to carry a horse as a ‘to-go’ meal!

The Black horse fly is mostly found east of the Rockies.  Its larvae live in wet/damp places at the edges of wetlands, and the adults are generally found within a mile or so of the ponds they grew up in.

Atratus” means “clothed in black,” and one of the common names for this fly is the Mourning fly.  Adults are variously dark gray/black/brownish-purple, with equally dark wings https://bugguide.net/node/view/329949/bgimage, and it’s been suggested that they’re the infamous “blue-tailed fly” from the folk song “Jimmy Crack Corn” https://bugguide.net/node/view/367846/bgimage.  They can be a challenge to photograph because their velvety, black color sucks up the light.  Males have wrap-around (holoptic) eyes that touch at the top of the head https://bugguide.net/node/view/196524/bgimage, and females’ eyes are separated (dichoptic) https://bugguide.net/node/view/458709/bgimage.

Their larvae are pale with dark bands https://bugguide.net/node/view/677968 and may be twice as long as their elders when mature.  They have pointy mouthparts that can pack quite a punch if you mishandle one.

Black horse flies lay their eggs in mounds https://bugguide.net/node/view/1014993/bgimage on sedges and other vegetation above water or wet ground, and they may deposit three or four such masses https://bugguide.net/node/view/828008/bgimage.  The newly-hatched larvae drop down and dig into the detritus or mud.

According to Werner Marchand in the Monographs of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (1920), “Walsh found his aquatic larvae, on many occasions, ‘amongst floating ‘rejectamenta.’  On one occasion, he found six or seven specimens in the interior of a floating log so soft and rotten that it could be cut like cheese.”  He goes on to say that “when handled, the larva is, according to Walsh, ‘very vigorous and restless,’ and burrows with great strength between the fingers, and even on a smooth table, walks as fast as any ordinary caterpillar, backwards or forward; when placed in a vessel of water it swims vigorously, twice the length of its body at every stroke...”

According to Marchand, the larvae can produce sound “…the crackling noise was freely produced by full-grown Tabanus atrata larvae, and … was chiefly heard when the larvae were disturbed and defending themselves with their sharp mandibles.  The coincidence of the two phenomena was so close that I am bound to assume that the sound was produced by means of the mandibles.”

They climb up onto drier ground to pupate in the soil.  Marchand says that “the pupa state lasts but a few days, and before the emergence of the fly the pupa is pushed to the surface of the ground by means of the bristles and thorns of the abdomen, with bending movements of the body.”  For more about what happens in a pupal case, see http://uwm.edu/field-station/pupal-cases/.

Much of what is written about Black horse flies concerns their food and feeding habits.  The larvae are active predators.  Marchand again: “On September 2, 1863, he found a nearly full-grown larva among floating rejectamenta, and between that date and September 23, this larva devoured ‘the mollusks of eleven univalves’ (genus Planorbus) from one-half to three-fourths of an inch in diameter; and on three separate occasions observed it work its way into the mouth of the shell.”  They eat other aquatic invertebrates, too, and small vertebrates, and even their tabanid brethren.  Jones and Anthony, in The Tabanidae (Diptera) of Florida write “medium to large-size larvae of Tabanus atrata are extremely aggressive.  When two or more are placed in the same container, only a short time usually elapses before all are dead except one.  The survivor will feed on the victim if hungry, but generally it appears that a larva kills to avoid being killed.”

Like mosquitoes, female tabanids need a blood meal in order to maximize reproduction.  Both males and females feed on nectar from flowers (he lacks her piercing mouthparts), but when she is in reproductive mode, a female will stalk livestock and other large mammals by their movement and their CO2 trail.  She punctures her victim’s skin with a pretty sophisticated set of blades and is classed as a sanguivore – more specifically, she is a telmophage, because she laps up the resulting pool of blood instead of sucking it (unlike mosquitoes, who are “vessel feeders” or solenophages that employ a “syringe and pump”).

Humans are generally not targets, but a bite is, apparently, unforgettable.  When present in numbers, these flies can be a problem for livestock due to blood loss, distress, and potential disease transmission.

Several resources pointed out something that the BugLady had never really thought about before – that being a sanguivore, getting a meal by puncturing an animal that is larger and that takes exception to being punctured, is a dangerous way to make a living.  The blood is, as one researcher points out, “not freely given,” and a potential victim may simply swat its tormentor away or may eat it.  The BugLady once went on a canoe trip on the Oconto River in Wisconsin where she was accompanied by clouds of deer flies and learned to swat them without breaking stroke, and after nine hours on the water, there was a layer of dead deer flies over the bottom of the canoe (the 50 yards of whitewater just before the pull-out spot were pretty memorable, too).

Another down-side of blood-feeding is that depending on the body temperature of the “pierc-ee,” the piercer is courting temperature shock by ingesting a substance that is much warmer than it is.

The “take-home” is that sanguivores need to do their work in a hurry (solenophages tend to get in and out more quickly and quietly than telmophages), and that the nutrition received needs to be worth the energy – and risk – required to extract it.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Bugs without Bios XI

Salutations, BugFans,

Introducing some insects that, while not totally unsung, still have a pretty low profile.

The YELLOW-HEADED CUTWORM (Apamea amputatrix) is a lovely little moth that’s named for its caterpillar, a caterpillar that has, alas, a bad reputation.  The name “cutworm” is given to caterpillars in the family Noctuidae, subfamily Noctuinae, many of which are agricultural pests.  A Yellow-headed cutworm feeds at the soil surface.  Its long list of host plants includes food crops like lettuce, cabbage, wheat, corn, and fruit tree seedlings, and horticultural plantings like grass and roses – a broad menu that allows it to exist across North America (minus the Great Plains and much of the southeastern US), well up into Canada.

And yet.  The Yellow-headed cutworm has a healthy-but-not-huge on-line presence, but it’s not the typical collection of Extension bulletins that mark a real agricultural/horticultural scourge.  It’s often lumped into accounts of more impactful relatives; apparently, it can do some damage during “epidemic outbreaks,” but the rest of the time, it’s not an important pest.

Adults vary in color http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=9348, and here’s a caterpillar http://bugguide.net/node/view/854317/bgimage.

What a dynamite oak gall!  The CLUSTERED MIDRIB GALL occurs on various white oaks and is caused by a tiny (a few millimeters long) wasp called (not surprisingly) the Clustered Midrib Gall Wasp (Andricus dimorphushttps://bugguide.net/node/view/597513/bgimage.  Galls are growths of plant tissue that are (largely) instigated by insects and mites.  Oaks host about 40% of the 2,000+ different kinds of galls found in North America, and tiny wasps in the gall wasp family Cynipidae are responsible for a lot galls on oak stems and leaves http://uwm.edu/field-station/galls-ii/.

Many gall-makers lay a single egg at a time, but the female CMGW lays her eggs in clusters, and so these lovely ¼” to ½” galls occur in clusters.  Albert Kinsey, in his Studies of Cynipidae, says that there’s a six week lapse between egg-laying and the first appearance of visible galls, and another few months before the galls are full grown.  The galls can be downright rosy in color when young, changing to tan/gray and becoming thin-walled as they age.  The adult wasp emerges the following spring to start the whole thing over again.

Tiny as these wasps are, there are wasps that parasitize them, finding their larvae even through the solid, fleshy wall of the gall.  According to the folks at Wildwood Park, in Virginia, “If you want to see an adult, your best bet is to take some galls home, put them in a jar and wait to see what comes out. But, maybe not. Although the gall is a good protection from predators, other tiny wasps parasitize the gall wasps, inserting their ovipositors (egg-laying organs) into the gall and laying an egg in the grub. The parasitic wasp egg then hatches into a grub which eats the gall wasp and emerges in its stead. On top of that, still other wasps parasitize the parasites, laying their eggs in the parasitic grub. So what comes out could be a gall wasp, a wasp that ate the gall wasp, or a wasp that ate the wasp that ate the gall wasp.”

Or, as Johnathan Swift once wrote:

So, naturalists observe, a flea

has smaller fleas that on him prey;

and these have smaller still to bite ’em;

and so proceed ad infinitum.”

This WATERCRESS LEAF BEETLE, a.k.a Mustard beetle (Phaedon viridis) (probably), looks like a mini-version of the Dogbane leaf beetle.  It’s in the large and varied Leaf beetle family Chrysomelidae.

The BugLady couldn’t find a lot of contemporary biographical information about this shiny little beetle, but she did find Bulletin 66, printed by the US Department of Entomology in 1910 that discussed a watercress beetle called Phaedon aeruginosa, which turned out to be the same species.  According to F.H. Chittenden (Entomologist in charge of Breeding Experiments), the eggs are laid on and both the larvae and the adults feed on the undersides of leaves.  The beetles overwinter as adults.

Chittenden goes on to say that “E.A. Fitch has observed the partiality of the latter for watercress and other crucifers that grow in watery places ……… “the beetles did not swim rapidly, but steadily, and they were seemingly not discomposed by being somewhat out of their natural element.  It seems probable that they fly from plant to plant, and like most beetles undoubtedly are able to float for many hours, and perhaps even swim short distances until they reach a landing place.”

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

The Importance of Playing Naturally

As Riveredge celebrates 50 years of connecting kids with the natural world in 2018, we want to be a continued part of spreading this movement throughout our local communities. That’s why we’re excited to be launching a new Playing Naturally Initiative, offering our assistance in creating simple and cost-effective, yet proven, nature-based play areas that bring the health and happiness benefits of time spent in the natural world to our local schools, parks. and neighborhoods. In this blog post, Phyllis McKenzie, our Playing Naturally designer, reflects on what this initiative means to her. 

It’s Saturday, and I’m feeding Glitter, an ornate box turtle, when a flash of white catches my eye, and I look up from my work. I look again and begin to chuckle gleefully, for there on the Crow’s Nest in the Natural Play Area is a young girl in a long white taffeta dress half-way up the cargo net. Then I see the boy, maybe 5 or 6 years old, in his crisp black suit, straddling the webbing right at the top of the net. Another boy, also in black, is standing atop the platform, cheering them on. I wish I had a camera.

For me, it’s a beautiful sight; it reminds me that the desire to play knows no bounds. Fancy clothes and big events can’t stop it. It is a kind of innate need, something that we all do from birth – we crawl, we climb, we explore, we challenge ourselves, we strive together, we lead, we follow, we laugh, we fall, we splash, we persevere. Playing freely was once part of most children’s lives; it is a way of learning about ourselves in the world. Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist says that time spent playing in nature allows children to learn balance, to know how far their body reaches, and build core and upper body strength. It helps them burn off excess energy allowing them to be able to sit more still and focus better in the classroom.

The Crow’s Nest is an adventure element in our Natural Play Area, an area that includes a small pond, a man-made creek, prairie plants, tamarack trees, a sand play area, a mud kitchen, and a stump walk among other things. In 2016 and 2017, Riveredge partnered with the Kettle Moraine YMCA to create two other nature-based play areas used by students in the West Bend School District 4-year old kindergarten program. As a natural playspace designer, it is fun to see kids in action in these spaces. Better yet, are the words of the teachers whose students spend time here. One of the teachers says that she and her 4K students can meet nearly all the assessment criteria of the school district in their natural playspace. Parents with students in the program are excited that the kids are encouraged to play and get muddy.

Natural playspaces exist on a spectrum from bits of grass with added logs or loose parts to truly wild landscapes like woods or prairies. Each is uniquely fitted to its surroundings giving the children a sense of place. Designed with the help of the teachers, caregivers, and children who will use them, these spaces evolve over time.

I grew up playing Pooh Sticks in irrigation ditches and lobbing cottonwood seeds at my friends. I loved to follow the animal trails down the banks toward the water and the burrows. How many times did my mother have to bring dry clothes to school because my tights were covered in red-brown clay? Where did you play as a child? Where do your children play? If you want to see more natural play areas in Wisconsin, or wherever you live, please visit the Playing Naturally page. Send me a note. Together, we can make nature-based playgrounds a reality.


Phyllis McKenzie has been a naturalist and environmental educator for over 25 years. With a background in theatrical stage design and home construction, she is well – suited to design engaging and effective playspaces.






Bug o’the Week – Frosted and Belted Whiteface Dragonflies

Salutations, BugFans,

Let us usher in the New Year with dragonflies.  Two of them.


 Whiteface dragonflies are in the genus Leucorrhinia in the large (1,000+ species) and glorious Skimmer family Libellulidae.  There are about 100 Libellulid species in North America, and seven of them are whitefaces.  We visited whitefaces in 2011 in the person of the Dot-tailed Whiteface.


Whitefaces are smallish (1 ¼” to 1 ½”), dark, black-legged dragonflies that, if you get a front view, have conspicuous white faces.  They are more brightly-colored when young, developing varying degrees of pruinosity (a covering of tiny, waxy flakes); immatures and younger females have yellow spotting.  Some male whitefaces have striking, red markings (https://bugguide.net/node/view/1321454/bgimage), and of the others, the Wisconsin Odonata Survey says “Because species within this genus are similar-looking and change in appearance as they age, careful observation and considerable practice is required to correctly identify both genders of various ages of all species.”  The BugLady is still practicing.


Both species are roughly northeastern in distribution, ranging from the northern Great Plains, across the northern tier of states, well up into Canada and east to Nova Scotia, but the Belted Whiteface is found farther west than the Frosted.  Dennis Paulson, in Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East, says, “well-adapted to northern latitudes, they are almost always seen perched flat on light-colored rocks, logs, and tree trunks in the morning, where their dark coloration allows quick warming in the sun.”  They like ponds, lakes and marshes with lots of emergent vegetation and boggy edges and maybe a bit of floating sphagnum thrown in for good measure.


Mating is a longish procedure, 20 to 30 minutes, and after perching for a while, the female oviposits solo (but hover-guarded by the nearby male), tapping the tip of her abdomen on the water’s surface.


Chunky, aquatic naiads https://bugguide.net/node/view/757637/bgimage (and here’s an “empty,” https://bugguide.net/node/view/596134/bgimage) feed mostly on small aquatic invertebrates (larval mosquitoes, flies, mayfly naiads, freshwater shrimp. etc.), supplemented by the odd tadpole and tiny fish; their hunting strategy consists of lurking in the submerged pondweeds and ambushing rather than actively pursuing their prey.  It’s tough/impossible to distinguish between the naiads of these two species.  Adults hunt from a low perch, flying up to catch butterflies, moths, ants, mayflies, flies, and mosquitoes.


Their flight periods overlap, with the Belted starting a little earlier (mid-May) and the Frosted finishing a bit later (early September).


The FROSTED WHITEFACE (Leucorrhinia frigidahttps://bugguide.net/node/view/45701/bgimage and https://bugguide.net/node/view/1253888/bgimage, is a tad smaller and stockier than the Belted Whiteface, and some books say that it can be mistaken for a Chalk-fronted Corporal at first glance.  Males may defend a small mating/ovipositing territory (a few square yards) against intrusion from all comers, not just those of his species.  If a rival male approaches while his female is ovipositing, he will intercept the intruder and hold him until she is finished.  When she’s not ovipositing, a female lives away from the water.  Kurt Mead, in Dragonflies of the North Woods, says that “the Frosted hunts from a perch on low plants along the water’s edge.  May also pursue prey through low vegetation, zipping through the maze of stems.”


The BELTED WHITEFACE (Leucorrhinia proxima) (hopefully), was renamed in 2010, its old name being the Red-waisted Whiteface https://bugguide.net/node/view/433450/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/436131/bgimage, andhttps://bugguide.net/node/view/1243815/bgimage.  Here’s what the older males look like http://bugguide.net/node/view/18314.  According to the Wisconsin Odonata Survey, the farther east you go, the more likely it is that the males will have yellow “belts” instead of red ones, and we have both color forms here.


Males only chase other males of the same species, and they sometimes attempt to attach themselves to a mating wheel consisting of a female and another male.


Paulson notes that “Away from water, perches on ground to well up in trees. Pairs couple at water, immediately fly in wheel away from water into shrubs and trees.”  Mead adds that “The Belted may disappear when the sun dips behind a cloud; when the full sun returns, so will the Belted.  This is true for many dragonfly species, which need solar heating for optimal flight efficiency.”


They both appear in lots of on-line photo galleries.


Check out the new (3rd) edition of Kurt Mead’s Dragonflies of the North Woods.


Thinking hard about dragonfly weather,


Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

From My Riveredge Family To Yours – Thank You!

It’s because of you.

On behalf of my own Riveredge family (seen here getting fishy at Sturgeon Fest!), thank you for making 2017 Riveredge’s biggest year yet.
















Dear Riveredge family,

The child catching a crayfish…
The woodcock protecting its young…
The grandparent explaining the woodpecker hole…
The young sturgeon swimming free…
The student comparing prairie seeds…
The family laughing in the woods…

These moments were brought to the world this year because of you. Because of you, the world is a bit brighter, a bit healthier, and definitely a bit happier.

That’s how change happens at Riveredge Nature Center. Our family works together to make amazing things happen. Our family is made up of members, donors, schools, students, volunteers, and staff. Only together would we have the perseverance, the power, and the hope to help our world bring nature back into focus.

This past year, over 40,000 people of all ages chose nature through classes, programs, and events hosted by Riveredge – hosted by you. Hundreds of acres, 379 to be exact, of wild Wisconsin were actively preserved – cared for by you. During its 49th year, the Riveredge family grew to its largest ever – and you are part of it.

On behalf of the rest of the family, thank you for being part of our world in 2017.

Here’s to more nature and an even bigger family in 2018.

Keep Smiling & Get Outside!



Executive Director
Riveredge Nature Center

P.S. Riveredge will celebrate its 50th birthday on January 16, 2018, and the celebration will continue all year long! Please consider a tax-deductible, year-end gift to help bring a record number of people into nature during the 50th year. We can’t do it alone. We can only accomplish change together.

Bug of the Week – A Tale of Two Planarians rerun

Salutations, BugFans,

BugFan Marjie says that, on the bright side, she hasn’t gotten any bug bites recently.  That would be an interesting poll to take – bug bites vs below zero temperatures.  Anyway, the BugLady has been busy cooking and eating and washing dishes [repeat as needed], so here’s a slightly modified rerun from the spring of 2012.  

Among the critters that the BugLady has been seeing in the Ephemeral Pond lately have been a variety of flatworms that are generally called planarians.  The majority of members of the phylum Platyhelminthes (the flatworms – a phylum that includes the notorious tapeworms and flukes) are parasitic; planarians are labeled the only “free-living” (non-parasitic) flatworms in the bunch.  Planarians are easily overlooked, but amazing, critters.  Although they have only primitive brains, planarians can learn; some have green thumbs; and because of their super-powers, they may have a leg up on this “immortality” thing.

OK – maybe not bugs, except for BOTW purposes.

Here’s the technical bit – within the phylum Platyhelminthes is the class Turbellaria (the non-parasitic guys).  Most turbellarians are small – less than an inch long – and many are microscopic.  Class Turbellaria is broken down into several orders, some of whose members only live in salt water, but two orders of flatworms that live in fresh water are Tricladida and Rhabdocoella.  Tricladida have fancy, three-branched “guts” (gastrovascular cavities) and are referred to by those in the inner circles as triclads or planarians, while Rhabdocoela have simple “guts” and are called Rhabdocoels or, loosely, planarians.  Flatworms are not related to segmented worms like earthworms and leeches, though they are often mistaken for leeches.

Turbellarians live in all kinds of water – moving, still, ephemeral, warm, cool and downright cold – and a few hang out above the water line on damp mosses.  North America is home to about 200 species of these free-living freshwater flatworms.  Triclads prefer running water because they require high levels of dissolved oxygen; rhabdocoels can tolerate low-to-non-existent oxygen levels, which allows them to thrive in ephemeral ponds.  So the BugLady, whose flatworm identification skills are limited to “Look!  There’s a planarian!” assumes that she’s been photographing ephemeral pond rhabdocoels.

A generic flatworm is small and flat because it doesn’t have lungs or blood vessels to circulate oxygen and nutrients – when stuff simply diffuses through your body, you just can’t afford to grow very big, or thick, or complex.  It is bilaterally symmetrical – its right side matches its left side.  While some marine flatworms are pretty flashy, their freshwater cousins tend to be drab, camouflaged among the aquatic plants and the debris on the pond or stream floor.  Many species have a recognizable arrow-shaped head with pointy flaps that stick out like tiny ears, and two spots that look like crossed eyes.  The mouth is located at the tip of a small, hose-like tube (the pharynx) that tucks into the gastrovascular cavity in the middle of the flatworm’s underside.  Food enters, and wastes exit, through the same tube.  It breathes through its outer covering (epidermis).

A turbellarian’s outside, especially its underside, is covered with fine, hair-like cilia.  Moving from Point A to Point B involves producing a layer of mucous that covers the body and then using the movements of the cilia (and muscle waves in larger specimens) to glide along on underwater surfaces, like a snail.  Like a snail it can also move, belly up, on the underside of the surface film of the pond, and some species use their cilia to swim.  According to Voshell in A Guide to Common Freshwater Invertebrates of North America, “The scientific name Turbellaria came from the Latin word “turba” meaning confusion, crowd, bustle, or stir.  This refers to the minute currents created in the water as flatworms wave the very small hairs on the bottom of their bodies to glide across the substrate.”  Mini-currents set in motion by mini-hairs on mini-animals.

The nervous system is made up of some ganglia in the head (the “brain”) and a few pairs of branched nerves that run from tip to toe.  With their eyespots, planarians sense tiny changes in the intensity of light (which they avoid).  They seem to detect their food chemically – like sharks, they hone in on meat juices in their environment.  They are sensitive to vibration, to temperature change, to currents, to smell, and to chemicals.  Many rhabdocoels also have a few long, sensory cilia.

Most planarians are scavengers and carnivores (and cannibals).  A hungry planarian settles above its food (dying or recently dead invertebrates), extends its pharynx onto the organic material and suctions fluids/soft tissues/tiny organisms into its “gut.”  There are no digestive juices, but large (phagocytic) cells that line the gastrovascular cavity pick up nutrients which then diffuse through them into other cells in the animal.  Some species of planarians secrete a strand of mucous onto the substrate and then roll it up and eat it, along with all the tiny algae, bacteria and single-celled critters that stick to it.

Planarians produce more planarians in two ways, and most species can employ both.  Almost all planarians are hermaphroditic, with each individual having both male and female organs, but it still takes two to tango.  They can form thin-shelled summer eggs that hatch in two weeks, and thick-shelled winter eggs that don’t hatch until spring.  Young planarians emerge looking like mini-adults.  Adults generally live a few months, but some can encyst themselves and survive the drought cycle of an ephemeral pond.

But planarians are famous for their asexual exploits – they can divide their bodies on purpose and can regenerate the missing end of each section, though they’re more likely to reproduce this way in warmer water temperatures.  Many species, especially rhabdocoels, routinely form a progressively-narrowing constriction behind the pharynx which eventually separates them into two pieces, and each end then grows into a complete individual.  Rhabdocoels often duplicate their internal organs before splitting.  Scientists have demonstrated that if you chop a planarian into multiple pieces, most will regenerate (although the nearer each piece was to the head, the more successful the regeneration will be, suggesting that the chemical that drives this event is more concentrated fore than aft).  Philosophers would say that because of this talent, planarians have achieved immortality, since a tiny bit of the First Planarian is, arguably, still in circulation today.

Using light and tiny electric shocks, scientists have “taught” or conditioned planarians to run mazes.  If a trained planarian is cut in pieces, most sections “remember” the way through the maze after they’ve regenerated (but grinding up “trained” planarians and feeding them to other planarians does not transmit memory) (yes, it’s been tried).

The BugLady is completely enthralled by these small (4 or 5mm), bright green, totally astonishing ephemeral pond planarians.  She thinks that these rhabdocoels are in the genus Dalyellia, possibly Dalyellia viridis, though some other genera get green, too.  Apparently, the green color is due to algae that exist, grow, photosynthesize and reproduce within the planarian’s tissues.  Planarians may ingest the algae and/or it may be a gift from their Mom/Dad, deposited in the eggs.  Green planarians tend their gardens well – they are more sun-loving than their brown-gray-black-mottled cousins.

What’s the point?  In this symbiotic relationship (a relationship that benefits both parties), the planarian “breathes” the oxygen that is produced by its algae during photosynthesis (half the oxygen it uses may come from its algae), and it probably helps itself to some of the simple sugars the algae make, too.  (Fast Food?)  Its built-in “oxygen tank” allows it to tolerate oxygen-deprived habitats.  The algae use the CO2 and nitrogen products that the planarian gives off as a waste material, and BugFan Chris suggests that the algae also gain protection within this tiny, mobile greenhouse (planarians have few predators).  Some algae-bearing planarians stop eating “outside” food.

The spheres seen within the green planarians are eggs.

Some planarian trivia: the sperm cells of most species of planarians have two tails instead of the almost-universal single tail.

And what’s the odd background on the picture of the white planarian?  A close-up of the seat of an Aldo Leopold bench, that’s what.  Before this collecting trip, the BugLady’s ephemeral pond tool kit included nets and dishes and droppers and white plastic spoons.  When she found this little guy, she had nothing to photograph it on (now she carries a black plastic spoon, too), so she slurped it up (gently) in a dropper and squirted it out on the darkish seat of a nearby bench.

 Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives: