Reports from the Field

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.


Bug o’the Week – Black-margined Loosestrife Beetle

Howdy, BugFans,

Purple loosestrife is a beautiful plant, with great wands of magenta flowers waving in the breeze.  Some say that, like a long list of other invasives, it entered the country in the ballast of ocean-going ships; others say that it was imported deliberately because it’s a medicinal plant as well as a great honeybee plant.  The BugLady knew a beekeeper who seeded purple loosestrife from the back of his snowmobile one winter, before he knew better (repent at leisure).  At any rate, it’s been here for 150 years or so, but it really started getting our attention in the 1970’s.  On its home turf, it exists in proportion to other wetland plants; here, it crowds out native vegetation, its dense stands discourage nesting waterfowl, and it’s not used by wildlife as a food plant (insects sure love the flowers, though). There are native loosestrifes, but they’re not invasive. 

When purple loosestrife began taking over American wetlands, scientists visited the Old Country to identify the grazers that the plant had left behind, and they found three species of weevils and two leaf beetles (family Chrysomelidae), Galerucella calmariensis and G. pusilla – the “Cella” beetles. The BugLady thinks that she photographed the Black-margined Loosestrife Beetle (Galerucella calmariensis) (BMLB) (some are “bandier” than others.


Bug o’the Week – Lichen Moths

A friend of the BugLady’s found one of these spiffy moths recently and wanted information about it. Here’s a rerun from 10 years ago.

Lichen moths have it all!! Toxins, aposematism, attitude, thoracic tympana and ultrasonic emanations, sensory setae, fecal flicking, mimicry, and even cannibalism! What an insect!!


Bug o’the Week – Great Blue Skimmer Dragonfly

The BugLady was looking for bugs in Kohler-Andrae State Park in late July when a large dragonfly flew across the trail and landed about 12 feet up on some shrubs.  She took a picture from about 25 feet away, looked at the camera’s screen, and got pretty excited.  The dragonfly’s abdomen was dark blue, but it was larger than the blue-bodied, black-eyed Slaty Skimmers that she’s familiar with  She stalked it and got two pictures of it before it departed – one was bad, and the other was worse, and that’s the way it goes sometimes. 

She massaged the pictures so that the operative field marks – eye color, markings on the wings, and color of the stigma (the pigmented spot toward the outer margin of the wing) – were “visible,” and then she sent them off to some people who are smarter than she is.  The verdict?  It was a Great Blue Skimmer, a dragonfly that’s rare in Wisconsin. 


Bug o’the Week – Rose Chafer Beetle

The BugLady was surprised, as she trekked across the dunes at Kohler-Andrae State Park one steamy day in early July, to find this small, gangly beetle hanging out on some yarrow flowers.  The cut of its jib was familiar – the beetle’s legs reminded her of the clingy legs of a June bug.  It turned out to be a Rose Chafer (Macrodactylus subspinosus), which is in the Scarab beetle family (Scarabaeidae) and in the same subfamily as the June beetle.  It’s called “chafer” because it chafes at the tops of petals and leaves of rose plants (among others); “Macrodactylus” means “big fingers,” a nod to the long tarsal claws.    


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