Reports from the Field

Bug o’the Week – Two Stink Bugs

The BugLady thinks stink bugs are cool and she loves finding species she hasn’t seen before. This year, she saw two new ones – the first one in a sand dune, and the second in a bog – but she suspects that habitat is secondary in the stink bugs’ game plan to the availability of food.

They’re called “stink bugs” because they have glands in the thorax that produce, as Eric Eaton says in the Field Guide to Insects of North America, “volatile aromatic compounds sure to repel all but the most desperate predators.” One author adds that “Stink bugs can smell pretty bad. Even my hens turn up their beaks when one crawls by…..”


Bug o’the Week – Tall Flea Beetle

Sometimes, the BugLady gets a surprise as she’s researching an insect, and that was the case this week.

She saw a cluster of these pretty beetles when she was on a boardwalk in a wetland. Their pedigree? They are leaf beetles in the huge family Chrysomelidae; within that family, they’re in the tribe Alticini – the flea beetles, and they are (probably) Disonycha procera (Disonycha means “double-clawed”). There are 470 members of that tribe in North America, and more elsewhere. Only one source gave it a common name, but there was no explanation why this small insect might be called the Tall flea beetle.


Bug o’the Week – Mottled Sand Grasshopper

From July into September, the Creeping Juniper Nature Trail at Kohler Andrae State Park is ruled by grasshoppers, and the BugLady had lots of fun chasing them around this summer (she stayed on the boardwalk, of course) (well, until the Swamp Darner flew past). She especially liked the aptly-named Mottled sand grasshopper (Spharagemon collare). MSGs are not restricted to Lake Michigan dunes, they have a range that stretches from Arizona and New Mexico diagonally back through the northern Great Plains and the Great Lakes, and well into Canada. Plus, inexplicably, North Carolina, Delaware and Maryland. Within that wedge of North America, they’re found in sunny, sparsely-vegetated areas with dry, sandy, and/or disturbed soils. They’re especially common along the edges of wheat fields, says Wikipedia.


Bug o’the Week – Autumn Meadowhawk Dragonfly

We’ve just had an all-too-brief Indian Summer – it got warm enough for the flies to fly, the tree crickets to sing, and yes, for a few very late Monarch butterflies to drift past on their big journey. The BugLady spent some time on boardwalks in wetlands, enjoying the last dragonflies of the year.

Meadowhawks, in the Skimmer family Libellulidae, are a genus of 15 species, nine of which have been recorded in Wisconsin. They can be tricky to identify (understatement). They start to appear in late June/early July and are with us for the rest of the summer and well into fall, but other than a few tenacious White-faced Meadowhawks, the final meadowhawk on the scene is the Autumn Meadowhawk .

Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum) can be found in Southern Canada and much of the US, except for the northern Rockies, the arid Southwest, and a few of the Gulf States. Some meadowhawks are picky about habitat, but not Autumn Meadowhawks, which are equally happy in shallow, permanent ponds, lakes, marshes and swamps, bogs, flooded meadows, and even slow-moving streams, especially if there are woodlands nearby.


Bug o’the Week – Entomophagy 101 Redux

The BugLady’s first experience with entomology (well, except for the fresh-from-the-garden earthworms she consumed when she was 8) (they do not taste like chicken) came when someone gifted her family with a little box of chocolate-covered insects from a novelty store.  No one ever opened it.  Her first serious exposure to the idea of eating bugs came when she spent a week at the Audubon Camp in Maine.  One of the camp’s teachers mentioned that he had eaten ants, and while the small red ones were too spicy for him and the large black ones were too bland, the species that are red at one end and black at the other were, like the Baby Bear’s bed, just right.  The BugLady didn’t hear the term “entomophagy” until at least three decades later. 

“Entomophagy” simply refers to the use of insects by humans as food (notwithstanding the fact that an “extract” of a scale insect called the cochineal bug provides a natural red dye called “red dye E120” or “carmine” that is widely used in food products; and that the FDA standards for food purity allow five fly eggs or one maggot per can of fruit juice and 400 insect parts per 0.22 cup of ground cinnamon).  Used broadly, the term includes spiders and millipedes, but it does not include invertebrates like crayfish that are already part of our cuisine.  Eggs, larvae, pupae and adults may be used, depending on the species.  Some insects are eaten in recognizable form, but if staring into your food’s compound eyes isn’t your cup of tea, some insects are ground into “flour.”


Bug o’the Week – Red-belted Bumble Bee

Greetings, BugFans,

Isn’t this a pretty bee!!!

When you aim your camera at a bumble bee, which the BugLady does frequently, you expect to see black and yellow in varying proportions (the vaguaries of wind plus the bees’ perpetual motion results in lots of bumble bee shots on the cutting room floor).

The BugLady photographed this bee on the prairie at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve. Her name is Bombus rufocinctus – the Red-belted bumble bee – and she’s a bee with somewhat northern inclinations plus a few disjunct eastern locations and minus the Great Plains. RBBBs are bees of open spaces like grasslands, and they also like parks, gardens, barrens, and quarries. They are widespread but not common across their range (they make up about 10% of Wisconsin bumble bee records), and they’re found here mainly in the southern half of the state, though historical data suggest that they once occupied all of it.


Bug o’the Week – the Missouri Bee-killer Robber Fly

Howdy, BugFans,

Robber flies are a very cool bunch of flies that we have visited a number of times in the past. Besides being awesome-looking, these “bearded” flies (sometimes called Assassin flies) are predators, and they are not shrinking violets. In the Field Guide to the Insects of North America, Eric Eaton says that “Robber flies (family Asilidae) are to other insects what falcons are to other birds.”

Robber flies’ modus operandi is to spot an insect from their perch, grab it (and they will go after insects larger than they are), inject it with saliva to both kill it and soften its insides, and then perch and ingest the liquid through a tube called the hypopharynx. They eat lots of insects that are agricultural pests, but they haven’t been formally deployed as biological controls because they are equally likely to eat honey bees and Monarch butterflies.


Bug o’the Week – Bugs at the End of Summer

Howdy, BugFans,

The general rule of thumb is that if you want to find insects, look at flowers. Even though summer is fading, there are still flowers in bloom. Some blazing stars linger, along with brown-eyed Susan, wild sunflowers, asters and goldenrod. Late summer and early fall are dominated by flies, bees and wasps, and by grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets.


Bug o’the Week – Gray Ground Cricket

Howdy, BugFans,

So – a cricket is a cricket is a cricket, right? The BugLady wrote a little bit, early on, about that poster child of crickets, the ubiquitous, chunky, glossy-black Field cricket. And, of course, about the Tree crickets that are now serenading her on the prairie.

But, a few years ago the BugLady was browsing through The Songs of Insects by Elliot and Hershberger (it comes with a CD!), and she paused at the chapter about Ground crickets. They are common, said the book, and if you see something that looks like a small, immature Field cricket, it might just be a Ground cricket. And it turns out that she has seen what she took to be Field cricket nymphs, and she’s been trying to photograph them, but when they’re out in the open, they don’t dawdle. Ground crickets are generally found in woods or fields, but one species lives in sphagnum bogs, and another is listed as “marine/intertidal.”


Bug o’the Week – Sanborn’s Beewolf

Howdy, BugFans,

Ever since she read about beewolves years ago, the BugLady has been hoping to photograph one so she could tell its story. She finally found one in the dunes at Kohler-Andrae State Park, and no – the Rose chafer beetle in the picture has nothing to fear from it, and vice versa.

Beewolves are small, solitary, mostly black wasps in the family Crabronidae, which we have met before in the person of Square-headed and Sand wasps. Our beewolf species look a lot alike (and they resemble a lot of other small, solitary wasps, too), but the BugLady thinks that this is a Sanborn’s beewolf (Philanthus sanbornii). They’re ½” to ¾” long (females are larger than males).

Their common name, beewolf, describes what they do, and their genus name, Philanthus, from the Greek for “lover of flowers,” describes where they do it. They’re also called digger wasps, bee-hunters, and bee-killer wasps. There are about 140 species of beewolves spread across North America (32 species), Europe, and Northern Africa, and the European beewolf (Philanthus triangulum), a honeybee specialist, is probably the most famous/most studied.


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