Reports from the Field

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.    


Bug o’the Week – Mid-summer Scenes

Summer has reached its half-way point, and the BugLady has been recording the changing of the guard. The adult lives of most insects are brief – four to six weeks for many, and considerably less for some. Bluet damselflies are fading, but meadowhawk dragonflies are taking the stage. Little Wood Satyr butterflies are hard to find, but Common wood nymphs now flit through the fields. You get the picture. Here are some bugs that the BugLady found in the first half of summer.


Bug o’the Week – Cuckoo Leafcutter Bee

The story of the Cuckoo leafcutter bee has several moving parts. It starts with the family Megachilidae (of recent BOTW fame), a large and diverse group of solitary bees that includes the leafcutter, mason, and resin bees, and others. Leafcutter bees are famous for their modus operandi – they cut tidy circles from the edges of leaves or petals and use them to wrap their egg packets, line the walls of tunnels (typically pre-existing tunnels in wood), and make walls between egg chambers. There are 630 species in the Megachilidae in North America, and 4,100 species worldwide.


Bug o’the Week – A Tale of Two Butterflies – Part 2 – Marine Blue

A few days after she found an American Snout butterfly (of recent BOTW fame), the BugLady saw this small, pale, worn butterfly ahead of her on the ground.  At first, she thought it might be a Summer Azure probing for minerals.  Usually, they’re pretty uncooperative about having their pictures taken, so she was really happy that this “Blue” wasn’t camera shy.  When she looked at it on the camera’s screen, she saw that it was not your run-of-the-mill Summer Azure.

It was a Marine Blue (Leptotes marina), a butterfly listed as “A very rare stray in Wisconsin.”


Bug o’the Week – A Tale of two Butterflies – Part 1 – the American Snout

The BugLady was walking along the river when she saw an orange and brown butterfly fluttering around near a bare area. Even though she hadn’t seen one for a long time, she was pretty sure she knew what it was (having quickly eliminated from consideration the slightly larger and more vividly-colored Red Admiral, American Lady and Painted Lady). After that first encounter, she saw several more Snouts.


Bug o’the Week – the Dragonflies

Spring was long and cool, an arrangement that the BugLady usually applauds (she savors every little step into spring, and she doesn’t like it when the phenology of six weeks is squished into one or two).  But this year bordered on the ridiculous.  Water warms slowly and steadily (those of us that live in the air often experience dramatic daily fluctuations), so a cold spring means that dragonfly and damselfly naiads, which grow up underwater, are slow to wake up and consume those final calories before emerging as adults.  All of which is a roundabout way of saying that dragonflies and damselflies have been a little late this year, but with some dedicated stalking, the BugLady found some cool things as summer neared, including many tender, young, recently-emerged odonates.


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