Bug o’the Week – Bugs without Bios XVII

Bug o’the Week

Bugs without Bios XVII

Greetings, BugFans,

The “Bugs without Bios” series features a bunch of lovely insects that need to hire a PR firm – they fly happily below the radar, and little is written about them.


EYED BAILEYA MOTH – Back at the beginning of June, while the BugLady was poking around the Ephemeral Pond at Riveredge, she spied this lovely (and, she thought, distinctive) moth.  It took her a while to put a name with it.  The Eyed Baileya (because of the small eyespots on the forewings) is in the family Nolidae, which was carved out of the Owlet moth family Noctuidae.  It’s primarily an Old World family (named for Nola, Italy), and the 40 species that live in the New World represent about two percent of its total species.  Nolids have hearing organs on the thorax, and they’re called tuft moths because many have tufts of raised scales on their forewings.  Their caterpillars feed within webbed or folded leaves and overwinter in keeled, silk cocoons with a vertical slit for their eventual exit.

Eyed Baileya moths (Baileya ophthalmica) are found from the Great Plains to the Atlantic and north into Canada, in deciduous, often damp, woods and edges, where their caterpillars eat the leaves of hazel, American hornbeam, and hop hornbeam trees https://bugguide.net/node/view/936581/bgimage.  

They come in a variety of shades of gray and brown, and they have a wingspan of about 1 ¼ inches.  The subfamily Acontiinae in Owlet moth family are officially called the Bird Dropping moths https://bugguide.net/node/view/528934/bgimage; but other, unrelated moths, like this one, are referred to as (lower case) bird dropping moths because of their nifty camouflage.  One of the Eyed Baileya moths’ field marks, a fuzzy thorax, is kind of worn on the BugLady’s moth https://bugguide.net/node/view/754045/bgimage.

They on the wing from early spring until mid-summer (in the north), and they have one or two broods here in God’s country.  They overwinter inside a pupal case https://bugguide.net/node/view/1829824/bgimage that is inside a cocoon that they make by chewing strips of leaves and incorporating them into the cocoon wall https://bugguide.net/node/view/1769307/bgimage.


The ANALEPTURA LINEOLA BEETLE is a member of the charismatic Long-horned beetle family Cerambycidae, and it’s in the flower longhorn subfamily Lepturinae.  True to their name, Flower longhorns are diurnal (day-flying) beetles that are often seen browsing for nectar on flower tops.  They are long-legged, and they often appear wedge-shaped or “big-shouldered” – sometimes exaggeratedly so https://bugguide.net/node/view/524704/bgpage.  There are about 200 species of flower longhorns north of the Rio Grande divided among about 60 genera; and Analeptura lineola is the only species in its genus.

Analeptura lineola (no common name) has an interesting range.  It’s found from May through August over much of the eastern half of North America, well into Canada, but not, says bugguide.net, around the Gulf Coast.  Wikipedia tells us that it is also found across Europe from France to Russia, and indeed, a good number of the hits that the BugLady got in her searches were in the “translate this page” category.

Their offspring lead an inconspicuous life, chewing tunnels (galleries) beneath the bark of dead or dying birch, ironwood, hornbeam and pine trees (they’re not considered pests).  Their specialized intestinal flora (microbiome), reinforced by fungi ingested from the rotting wood, allows them to digest cellulose. 

A dried specimen will cost you $3.00 on-line.


The awesomely-named LUMP-LEGGED SWAMP FLY(Anasimyia chrysostoma)is a syrphid-flower-hover fly in the family Syrphidae.  Some British genus members are called Duck hoverflies and Duckflies (Anas is a genus of duck, and myia comes from a Greek word referring to the invasion of vital tissues).  Their larvae are aquatic, so the adults are found around swamps, bogs, and other wetland edges, mostly in the northeastern quadrant of the continent.  There are about six members of the genus in our area – the Moon-shaped, Two-lined, Smooth-legged, Short-spurred, Long-spurred, and the Lump-legged swamp fly (which comes by its name honestly https://bugguide.net/node/view/1911511/bgimage).

Adults hang around on flowers – especially fleabane, says one source (they’re great pollinators) – and the larvae are filter-feeders on organic debris in shallow, stagnant waters.  They are among the “rat-tailed maggots” that breathe through a tube that extends from their rear to the water’s surface https://bugguide.net/node/view/815670.  

The BugLady got into “translate this page” territory pretty fast with this one, too.  In the 190 years since it was named and described, the Lump-legged Swamp fly has gone through at least five scientific names – Eristalis chrysostoma, Lejops relictus, Lejops chrysostomus, Helophilus relictus, and Anasimyia chrysostoma (as one source says, “the systematics of the family are in flux”), and it’s equally anonymous under all of them. 

Fun Fact about the Lump-legged Swamp Fly:  according to the Flower Flies of Minnesota, “Males are aggressively territorial and can sometimes be observed fighting.”

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – And Now for Something a Little Different XIII

Bug o’the Week

Bugs without Bios XVII

Greetings, BugFans,

The “Bugs without Bios” series features a bunch of lovely insects that need to hire a PR firm – they fly happily below the radar, and little is written about them.

Its reputation as a nest-robber (mostly-undeserved) and its feistiness at the feeder make it unwelcome in some backyards, but its antics endear it to many feeder-watchers (including the BugLady), who secretly confess, “I know it’s a troublemaker, but I love watching it.” Its role as the neighborhood watchdog benefits other songbirds. And, it plants trees.

Ravens, crows, and Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata) are members of the Crow family and are considered to be very intelligent birds. As proof, scientists point to the richness of their vocabulary and the tightness of their family bonds. Blue Jay vocalizations are complex, and along with their loud “Jay, Jay” and “pump handle” sounds, they have a number of softer, more “conversational” call notes.

They can imitate the calls of several species of hawks, though scientists aren’t sure whether the jay is checking to see if hawks are around, is psyching out other songbirds, is scaring everyone else away from the feeder, or is just having fun. If it encounters a bird of prey, a Blue Jay’s excited “mobbing calls” attract other birds to harass the predator. A glance at its expressive crest can tell you if a bird is scared (a bristling crest), aggressive (an erect crest), or peaceful (a flat crest).

Males and females collaborate to build a cup-shaped nest, preferably in an evergreen, in which the female lays an average of four or five eggs. Totally helpless when they hatch, young Blue Jays continue to be incubated for a week or two, and they stay with their parents for two months. Both parents care for them.

Blue Jays are never totally absent in winter from the territory they inhabit in summer, but their migratory habits are quirky. Studies are contradictory, suggesting that from fewer than 20% to almost 50% of Blue Jays migrate in a given year, and huge flocks can be seen along the Great Lakes and Atlantic coasts (this fall, a hawk counter on the shores of Lake Michigan tallied more than 2,600 jays in four hours!).  While both old and young birds may migrate, some birds travel one year and not the next, and one banded Blue Jay become a first-time migrant at the age of five.

They migrate by day, coming down for a rest around midday and then resuming their flight. Blue Jay migration is probably food-driven, and the increasing popularity of bird feeders may encourage them to stay home. These are not long-distance migrants – many travel only a few hundred miles – but migration is still a dangerous undertaking, and birds that stay home tend to live longer.

Blue Jays measure nine to twelve inches – a little bigger than a robin – and males and females look alike. Their feathers are actually a dull brown, the blue color caused by physics, not by pigments (life is physics). It’s called a “structural color,” and it’s the result of the light bouncing off of feather barbs and being scattered by tiny air pockets in the feather’s “skeleton.”

They are omnivores, but only about one-quarter of their diet consists of animals like insects, spiders, snails, small frogs, mice or salamanders. Fruit, seeds, and nuts make up the rest (they are frequent flyers at the BugLady’s peanut feeder), and most of what they eat is wild, not cultivated. They may cache food, hiding it for later use, although in 1895, an observer noted that jays do not cache food unless they are permanent (rather than summer) residents of an area. According to the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds site, “Their fondness for acorns is credited with helping spread oak trees after the last glacial period.”

Blue Jays are preyed on by hawks, and their eggs and nestlings are eaten by squirrels, cats, hawks, owls, crows and raccoons. Although the record for a wild bird is seventeen years, a seven-year-old Blue Jay is an old Blue Jay. Both jays and crows have been hit hard by West Nile Virus.

So, the Blue Jays that spend the winter at your feeder might be the same crew that you fed all summer, or they could be birds that migrated south to get there and replaced the summer residents, or they could be a little of each.

[Credit where credit is due: A version of this article (written by the BugLady, wearing a different hat) first appeared in The BogHaunter, the newsletter of the Friends of the Cedarburg Bog.]

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Ants in My Plants Rerun

Bug o’the Week

Bugs without Bios XVII

Greetings, BugFans,

The “Bugs without Bios” series features a bunch of lovely insects that need to hire a PR firm – they fly happily below the radar, and little is written about them.

Back in 2015, the BugLady suspended operations during the month of May, posting a teaser at the start of her month off – a fern fiddlehead with an ant crawling on it.  When she resumed her posts in June, she led with the story of that ant.  Here it is:

The results of taking off the month of May are in: many pictures of plants, flowering and non; not so many pictures of insects, even though the BugLady was checking plants like wild geranium, dandelions, and autumn olive that put out masses of flowers.  It’s a little worrisome.  The nannyberry is hopping, though – sweat bees, small twitchy wasps, syrphid/hover/flower flies, an occasional honeybee, etc.  And the first crop of dragonflies is emerging.  The other bit of fallout was that with no Tuesday deadline to aim for, the BugLady was, for the most part, clueless about which day of the week it was.  Adrift.

As promised, the story of the fern and the ant, a story that comes with a side order of botany.

It is hardly breaking news that plants produce nectar, a sugary liquid that the plant makes in nectaries that are located within the flowers.  Along with sugars, nectar may include amino acids, oils, vitamins, proteins, and more.  Why do they do it?  To attract the moths, bees, wasps, butterflies, and even hummingbirds and bats that inadvertently fertilize plants by carrying pollen to the next flower they visit.  “I feed you; you fertilize me.”  After fertilization, a plant may reabsorb its nectar.

BUT – a fair number of plants produce nectar in places other than their flowers, and these areas, called Extrafloral nectaries (EFN), don’t have anything (directly) to do with pollination.  EFN may be found on flower stalks, leaf axils, petioles, or leaf margins, or on various flower parts, and the nectar they provide is sweeter than the plant’s sap.  Some EFN are conspicuous; others are not http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in175.   Bracken ferns, which are non-flowering plants, have EFN at the bases of their three fronds as those fronds are just starting to unfurl.

Why do they do it?  EFN were originally (and erroneously) thought to be a waste disposal system for the plant, allowing it to get rid of metabolic by-products.  And while scientists are still not 100% sure why plants make EFN, they are probably there for ants and other predatory insects like ladybugs.

EFN could be decoys – “I feed you here, and you stay away from my flowers.”  It turns out that ants, despite their notable presence on flowers, are seldom effective pollinators.  Their exoskeletons are slick and are groomed frequently; they are pedestrians, which limits the number of flowers they can visit; and they don’t exhibit the “flower constancy” of bees, who will concentrate on a particular type of flower on a foraging trip, thus increasing the odds that the pollen they carry will be deposited on the correct species.  Plus, an antibiotic secreted by some ants and found on their exoskeletons kills pollen.  Ants do love nectar, though, and they may hog the nectar without delivering the payload and damage a flower in the process.

In the case of the bracken fern and its ants, it has always been assumed that EFN produce a reward for services rendered – an “I feed you; you protect me from herbivores” scenario – but here’s where it gets a bit sticky, scientifically.  Studies that measure the degree of protection contradict each other.  Researchers in the 1960’s described significant benefits to the fern foliage; recent studies suggest that while some grazers might be chased away in the early days as fronds are uncurling (when the plant produces the most sugar), there’s not a significant difference in foliage on ant vs ant-free ferns by the end of the season (when sugar secretion is very low).

Post-floral or pericarpial nectaries (PN) are much less common.  Some plants continue to produce nectar around the base of the flower after the petals fall and throughout the development of the fruits.  The foraging ants thus protect the seeds (or not, say some studies).  Apparently, garlic mustard has this in its bag of tricks.

Besides protection, ants provide other services to plants.  In exchange for food (and sometimes shelter – some plants have special structures where ants can live), foraging ants keep leaf surfaces clean, which helps keep plants fungus/disease-free.  Ants may prune or thin vegetation, optimizing growing conditions and reducing competition, and they may assist with seed dispersal.

Ant-plant interactions enjoy a lovely vocabulary.  A myrmecophile is an organism (usually an animal) that consorts with ants; myrmecophily (“ant-love”) refers to favorable relationships between ants and other organisms; and a myrmecophyte (“ant-plant”) is a plant that carries on mutually beneficial relationships with ants.  Through a process called myrmecochory (ant-dispersal”), ants spread and plant many wildflower seeds (according to some sources, ants “plant” almost one-third of spring ephemerals in eastern North America.  Bloodroot is one of them).  Attached to the seeds is an ant-attracting “packet” called an elaiosome.  After toting the seeds back to their nests, ants break off the elaiosome and eat it, leaving the seed to germinate.

There are close to 4,000 plants worldwide, in more than 100 plant families, in 745 genera, that grow EFN Thirty-nine are fern species.  Familiar practitioners include vetches (Vicia), gourds (Cucurbita), wild cherry (Prunus), elderberry (Sambucus), locust (Robinia), willow (Salix), wild sunflower (Helianthus), milkweed (Asclepias), and peony.  The BugLady found some on the petiole (leaf stem) of a high-bush cranberry.  When she first posted this, “The World List of Plants with EFN” was temporarily off-line.  It’s back http://www.extrafloralnectaries.org/.

Go outside – watch ants.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’ the Week: The Twelve(ish) Bugs of Christmas

Bug o’ the Week

The Twelve(ish) Bugs of Christmas

Season’s Greetings, BugFans,

When the BugLady initiated this annual tradition in 2012 – showing pictures of bugs she had photographed but whom (objective case) she had already written about (OK – about whom she had already written) – she was already in trouble. Even that first year, she started with a Baker’s Dozen, not twelve, and each year she has managed to take herself firmly in hand and toss out a few dragonflies at the last minute in order to maintain that number (the Fourteen Bugs of Christmas almost happened this year).

At any rate, just hum along, add verses where necessary, and best wishes for smooth-sailing in 2022, with hopes for far fewer surprises than in 2021 (we’ve had enough character-building moments to last us for a while).

BALTIMORE BUTTERFLIES are exquisite butterflies with intricate lifestyles.  Eggs are laid en masse on their host plants (turtlehead, swamp lousewort, hairy beardtongue, and English plantain (a recent menu addition)), and newly-hatched caterpillars throw a web around the leaves https://bugguide.net/node/view/1614036/bgimage and feed en masse.  They overwinter in little clumps of partly-grown caterpillars inside rolled leaves on the ground, wake up in spring to a world devoid of turtlehead (a late summer plant), and switch their diets to the leaves of white ash (alas), arrowwood, wood betony, and a few others.  Later, they form a really spiffy chrysalis https://bugguide.net/node/view/117720/bgimage and then a dynamite butterfly.  Here in God’s country, they’re associated with wetlands, but in some parts of their range, they’re found in dry, open areas.

When the BugLady first wrote about the amazingly-colorful BLACK-LEGGED MEADOW KATYDID in 2013, she said that their faces are a little creepy.  She hasn’t changed her mind.  Find out more about them at https://uwm.edu/field-station/black-legged-meadow-katydid/.

DADDY LONGLEGS (sometimes called Harvestmen) ply the vegetation (and ground and walls and tree trunks) looking for small invertebrates to eat.  Although they are in the class Arachnida (along with spiders, scorpions, ticks, mites, and some others), they are in the daddy longlegs order Opiliones, rather than the true spider order Araneae.  They have eight legs and use six for walking; the other two are outfitted with lots of joints, so they’re extra-bendable, and with hair-like sensory receptors that they wave around as they go.  They don’t make silk, and they don’t make venom, but they do make stinky defensive chemicals, and if they’re alarmed, they may play possum.  They do not bite people – their mouthparts are simply too small.

This female EASTERN PONDHAWK DRAGONFLY, like other odonates, is an unapologetic carnivore, and her prey choices sometimes get close to home, taxonomically.  She is about to tuck into a male Eastern Forktail damselfly.

Some of our most common LIGHTNING BUGS/FIREFLIES are in the genus Photinus (there’s a good chance that this one is the Common Eastern firefly, Photinus pyralis).  Two cool things about Photinus: 1) their larvae https://bugguide.net/node/view/1653943 live underground, and “packs” of them may get together to hunt earthworms; and 2) each species of firefly has its own flashing code, to which the females (flightless in some species) respond with their own Morse code.  Game on.  But female fireflies from a different genus – Photuris – copy the Photinus signal, lure in an unsuspecting male Photinus, and then eat him.

Why?  Photinus fireflies pack a nasty-tasting defensive chemical (lucibufagin), which discourages predators like Phidippus jumping spiders, some songbirds, and possibly bats.  Photuris doesn’t produce defensive chemicals, but in eating him, she gets a good meal (the extra nutrition helps her make better eggs) and lucibufagin, too.  It makes her distasteful and, like a Photinus female, she passes it on to her eggs (it may protect them from ants).  https://news.cornell.edu/stories/1997/09/cornell-biologists-report-mimicry-and-murder-night

SWAMP SPREADWING DAMSELFLIES – Mating and ovipositing activity in dragonflies and damselflies often attracts a crowd – third party males hope to snag the female, dislodge the first male’s sperm, and replace it with their own.  That’s why the males of many Odonate species guard their brides, sometimes from the air or from a perch, but often by continuing to clasp the back of the female’s head.  Male number two (on the right) harassed this couple for a few minutes before moving on.

One chilly day in mid-October, the BugLady shared the bench on the hawk tower with this harmless, female PIGEON HORNTAIL/PIGEON TREMEX.  Pigeon horntails are primitive, non-stinging wasps that lay their eggs under the bark of dead/dying trees, and their larvae develop in/eat the wood.  She inoculates the wood with a white rot fungus when she oviposits, to soften the wood of the edible walls of her offspring’s chamber. That spine at the rear is her ovipositor (the horn for which she is named is the smaller point on top).  Alas – pressure-treated lumber – no joy – but together they counted 76 raptors that day!

The BugLady loves the “knock-your-socks-off” color combinations of mid-summer, often involving the radiant GREAT SPANGLED FRITILLARY.  This one is on Joe-Pye Weed.

Isn’t this DARK FISHING SPIDER a beauty!  And no shrinking violet.  A female’s leg-span may measure three to four inches, so they get people’s attention when they wander into the house (our DNR even issued an FYI in the form of a “warning” a few years ago when Dark Fishing spiders were especially numerous, which the BugLady suspects alarmed more people than it calmed).  Fishing spiders are in the nursery web spider family – they spin a sac for their eggs, use their mouthparts to carry it around until the eggs are close to hatching (and so cannot eat for that duration), and then attach it to a plant with (yes) a nursery web.  She stands guard over it until the spiderlings hatch and finally leave the case.  Dark fishing spiders are mostly found around water –  they walk on water, swim under water, leave scent trails across the water’s surface, and chow down on aquatic invertebrates and the occasional small fish or tadpole (https://uwm.edu/field-station/dark-fishing-spider/).

BLACK-AND-YELLOW MUD DAUBERS are solitary wasps that build and provision mud chambers for their eggs.  One source says that it takes thirty to forty trips to a mud source for her to construct just one cell, and she often packs multiple cells against each other in random blob https://bugguide.net/node/view/1480753/bgimage.  She may stash as many as 30 spiders into a cell before deciding that it’s ready for an egg – in behalf of her offspring she collects protein, but she herself feeds on nectar.  Solitary wasps are generally not aggressive, having neither hearth nor home to protect.  For more information, the BugLady is always happy to recommend the original Bug of the Week http://bugoftheweek.com/blog/2017/8/8/where-have-all-the-spiders-gone-black-and-yellow-mud-dauber-wasps-isceliphron-caementariumi-1.

The BugLady likes weevils – there’s something about the cut of their tiny jibs – and she always enjoys seeing this sparkly GREEN IMMIGRANT LEAF BEETLE (either Polydrus sericus/formosus or Polydrus impressifrons – they’re pretty similar).  These particular immigrants came over on the boat in the very early 1900’s.  Adult Green immigrant leaf beetles feed on leaves, and their larvae eat roots, but there are rarely enough of them around to be a problem.

SLUGFEST – The BugLady observed these slugs digging into a tasty fungus toward the end of summer.  Here are some (but not all) Fun Facts About Slugs gathered from a bunch of sources, sacred and profane: Slugs are hermaphrodites (housing both male and female reproductive organs), so any slug can lay eggs (self-fertilization is possible, but it generally takes two to tango); their body is called a foot; they are almost-shell-less gastropods (in the Phylum Mollusca, related to snails and limpets and more distantly to oysters, clams, cockles and mussels ((alive-alive-o)), octopi, and squid; one set of tentacles on the front of their head is light-sensitive and is tipped with eyes and the other is used to smell; like us, snails are mostly water, and their hygroscopic (water-attracting) mucous protects them from dehydration (among other services); slugs are not poisonous but they may carry parasites; they have a top speed of 0.3km/hour; snails have spiral bodies so they can fit into spiral shells – slugs don’t; the collective noun for slugs is “cornucopia;” slug blood is greenish; a slug has rasping mouthparts complete with approximately 27,000 teeth – more teeth than some sharks, and like sharks, slugs routinely lose and replace their teeth; a container half buried in the ground and half filled with yeast, water, and sugar (similar to beer) can lure slugs in and they will drown, but slugs prefer cheap beer over Oregon’s famed microbrews (compliments of the Oregon State University College of Agricultural Sciences “Slug Portal”); from Great Britain – it’s been estimated that an acre of farmland may support over 250,000 slugs, that the average UK garden has a population of over 20,000 slugs and snails, and that a cubic meter of garden can contain an average of up to 200 slugs; slugs can be active in temperatures as low as 41 degrees but snails can’t; slugs can stretch out to 20 times their resting length – all the better to squeeze through tiny openings; and lots of exotic species of slugs have hitchhiked to America (see previous fact).  And there’s so much more https://agsci.oregonstate.edu/slug-portal/education/q-questions-and-funnieshttps://www.uky.edu/Ag/CritterFiles/casefile/slugs/slugs.html, and https://carnegiemnh.org/leaping-slugs-did-that-slug-just-jump/ (and a video, of course).

And a TIGER SWALLOWTAIL in a pear tree.  This spectacular butterfly zipped in on the Black Chokeberry (which is in the same genus as pears) and was gone so fast that the BugLady only got one quick (and slightly out-of-focus) shot.

Ain’t Nature Grand!

Have a great holiday,

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Striped Hairstreak Butterfly

Howdy, BugFans,

Hairstreaks are spiffy little butterflies that are named for the hair-like markings found on their underwings.  Most have thin, twin tails (sometimes two pairs of tails) on the trailing edge of their hindwings, with bright blue/blue and orange eyespots nearby. Says Clarence Weed, writing about hairstreaks in Butterflies Worth Knowing (1922), “the slender tails, together with the enlargement of wings in back of them give the impression of a false head.  Along with this unusual development of the wing is to be considered the fact that these butterflies nearly always alight head downward so that the false head, furnished with what looks like waving antennae, takes the place that would naturally be occupied by the true head.”  Can you see a “face” here https://bugguide.net/node/view/1727485/bgimage?  Sometimes you see hairstreaks with a chunk of hindwing missing due to a predator thinking it was grabbing the tasty end of the butterfly and getting a less vital part instead.

They’re in the family Lycaenidae, which also includes the Blues/Azures, Coppers, and Harvesters, and they’re in the hairstreak subfamily Theclinae.  These are not big, charismatic butterflies – Wisconsin species tend to be on the quietly-elegant side – but there are brightly-colored species in and near the tropics.  Here’s a brief tour of some hairstreak species: https://bugguide.net/node/view/1753150https://bugguide.net/node/view/1856226/bgpage,


The more commonly seen Wisconsin hairstreaks are those that frequent bright flowers (especially butterfly weed) on sunny landscapes, and it’s not uncommon to find several species on one plant.  But some of our species, including the Striped Hairstreak, are also found in the shade.

Look for Striped Hairstreaks (Satyrium liparops) around woody and swampy openings and edges and in grasslands from the Rockies to the Atlantic (including southern Canada).  There are more of them the farther east you get.  Although they are found over more than half of the continent, they’re never common within that range.  “Scattered lightly over the landscape,” say the folks at the excellent Butterflies of Massachusetts website, “widely distributed although nowhere abundant.”  They speculate that Striped Hairstreaks may have benefitted, at least initially, from the clearing of Eastern forests for agriculture in the 1600’s.

These are small butterflies – 1” to 1 ½” – with a long and a short set of tails, and brown upper wings https://bugguide.net/node/view/239864/bgimage (pictures of hairstreaks with their wings spread are hard to get), and their underwings have a scattering of wide, slightly darker bands that are bordered by parenthesis-like white stripes.  The Edwards and the Hickory Hairstreaks have similar markings, so check your field guide.

They’re out and about in mid-summer.  Males scan the landscape for females from perches in the vegetation, and if they see a rival, will battle by flying around each other in an upward spiral.

[Quick aside.  When the BugLady was in grad school, her minor, briefly, was Ethology – Animal Behavior.  In one lecture, the professor was describing bloodless standoffs between two male fish that puff up and flare their fins at each other.  And the BugLady wondered – if you’ve never seen yourself in the mirror, and you (presumably) don’t have a sense of self-awareness, how do you know if your rival is bigger/tougher than you are, and you’d better back off?  Is life one big game of chicken?]

Anyway, females lay eggs, one by one, on the twigs of the caterpillar host trees, which include some species in the rose family like apple, hawthorn, Juneberry, and cherry, plus some species in the heath family (blueberry) plus a few others.  The eggs overwinter, and when they hatch the next spring, the caterpillars https://bugguide.net/node/view/656623/bgimage selectively eat the buds and flowers first (they are anthophagous), and then the tender leaves and fruit.  That sounds dire, but there are too few of them to cause real damage, and there’s only one brood per year.

Adults feed on nectar from wildflowers and from the flowers of shrubs like staghorn sumac, viburnum, and meadowsweet, and from chinquapin oak.  Butterflies of the Great Lakes Region tells us that “Early in the morning, they [adults] will sip dew from leaves as they bask,” and also that “The males perch low to the ground and are more sedentary and less interactive than the males of many hairstreak species. Adults spend a good deal of time walking on foliage and other perches rather than flying from place to place.  On cool mornings, basking males may find curled leaves at the tops of small bushes…and lie nearly flat against the interior leaf surface with closed wings held nearly perpendicular to the sunlight.  Here they absorb the maximal amount of solar radiation as well as energy from the leaf surface by radiation and conduction.  This allows them to warm up quickly and defend their territory from other males…”

Kate Redmond, The BugLady


BugFan Molly shared this link with the BugLady recently https://www.thecaterpillarlab.org/.  The BugLady knows nothing about it, and she is not on its board of directors.  But – great pictures, and check out the store!

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Southern Spreadwing Damselfly

Howdy BugFans,

Full disclosure: the BugLady’s copy of Bob Dubois’s Damselflies of the North Woods (aka The Bible) automatically falls open to the page that shows the rear ends of the male Spreadwings.


So – what’s a Spreadwing damselfly? The order Odonata has two sub-orders – Anisoptera (dragonflies) and Zygoptera (damselflies).  Damselflies are further divided into the Broad-winged damsels (jewelwings and rubyspots), the Narrow-winged damsels (bluets, dancers, forktails, sprites, and more), the Spreadwings (family Lestidae), and a few other small groups.  “Spreadwing” describes how they perch – with their wings positioned in a backward-trailing “V.”  Usually.  Unless it’s cold and rainy or it’s a teneral (newly-emerged).


Spreadwings are large for damselflies (1.5” to 2”) and are not particularly brightly-colored.  Males have intense blue eyes and females’ eyes are pale blue or brown.  Sources agree that both male and female spreadwings can be tricky to ID – definitive identification requires examination of the damselfly’s nether regions with a microscope or hand lens, and in the field, females are best known by the company they keep.  Male Southern Spreadwings (https://bugguide.net/node/view/43409/bgimage) look a lot like male Northern Spreadwings https://bugguide.net/node/view/820173/bgimage, which look a lot like male Sweetflag Spreadwings (https://bugguide.net/node/view/477197/bgpage).  Photographers, alas, want labels for our pictures, and we sometimes take leaps of faith.

They aren’t strong flyers, and when they perch, it’s often at about a 45 degree angle, not quite as close to the ground as the sprites and bluets often perch.  They’re found near still waters with lots of vegetation, preferably with no predatory fish – the ideal habitats for their aquatic offspring.  A few live in streams or rivers with a very slow current, and some species are adapted for life in an ephemeral or temporary pond.

Male spreadwings hang out in the vegetation along the shoreline, but females stay away from the water until they are ready to reproduce.  Females lay eggs in plant stems above the waterline, sometimes alone https://bugguide.net/node/view/36973/bgimage, but generally in tandem with a male https://bugguide.net/node/view/1555986/bgimage (he’s guarding his genetic investment).  A few spreadwing species follow the general Odonate formula of hatching quickly, feeding, and then spending the winter underwater as a small, partly-grown naiad (immature).  Other species of spreadwings, the Southern Spreadwing among them, overwinter as eggs and push the restart button in spring.

Bob DuBois, in Damselflies of the North Woods describes their egg-laying practices this way, “This egg-wintering strategy allows them to utilize temporary ponds and vernal ponds that dry up during the summer or fall, because the eggs do not need to be wet all the time….The eggs immediately take some of the initial developing steps, but before hatching occurs they slip into a state of embryonic diapause (rest).  In this state, the drying-resistant eggs spend the winter inside plant stems where they withstand temperatures as cold as it gets in our region ….… after the snows melt and water levels rise in the spring, the dead plant is wetted, providing the moisture needed along with the right increasing temperatures and day-length cues to complete the hatching process. ….. The nymph stage is short for these egg-diapausing species – just two or three months in spring and early summer – because the fast-growing nymphs need to complete their development of about ten instars and emerge before the temporary ponds they live in dry up.

The biography of SOUTHERN SPREADWINGS (Lestes australis) is similar to that of other spreadwings.  Adults are found on the shorelines of quiet, weedy ponds and marshes.  They’re the earliest Lestes species on the landscape, and they have a very short flight period, appearing in May and fading before the end of June.  Adults eat small insects that they snag in the air, and naiads feed on the tiny aquatic invertebrates that they swim around with.

One of the reasons that Southern Spreadwings are so hard to distinguish from Northern Spreadwings is that they both used to be subspecies of the same species, the Common Spreadwing, and therein lies what Paul Harvey used to call “The rest of the story.”  Any birder can tell you of the joys of “lumping” and “splitting,” in which the Powers That Be split a species, creating another potential check-off for your life list, or lump two or three species, lowering your total (brace yourself birders – the Red Crossbills are about to explode).

Anyway, the Common Spreadwing was split.  Says Paulson of the Southern Spreadwing, in Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East, “With some structural differences and a somewhat different flight season, it probably deserves its rank as a full species, but genetic differences between the two are less than those between most species of spreadwings.”  To add to the confusion, Southern Spreadwings, whose historical range as a subspecies is south of Wisconsin, are moving north.

Scientists and citizen scientists are scrambling to define the edges of the range of the two species.  It may be impossible to know which of the early/pre-split Common Spreadwing records were the (now) Northern or the (now) Southern species, especially where the ranges of the subspecies overlapped.  Bugguide.net plots its range maps based on photos submitted by its members, and although they’re here, Wisconsin is not included on the Southern Spreadwing’s map yet.

Do Southern Spreadwings have resident populations here in Wisconsin or do they just migrate here?  DuBois says “It is not known if this species breeds successfully in our region, or if adults seen here move up from the south.”  They’ve been recorded in 13 Wisconsin counties https://wiatri.net/inventory/odonata/speciesaccounts/SpeciesDetail.cfm?TaxaID=168, and we know there is breeding activity, but are our winters too cold, for too long, to allow the egg in the stem in the open to make it to spring?

Finally, and at the risk of causing Lestes Overload – also moving into our neighborhoods is the Great Spreadwing (Archilestes grandis), a large (up to 2.4”) species native to the west and south whose range now extends to Massachusetts and Ontario (and includes Wisconsin https://wiatri.net/inventory/odonata/speciesaccounts/SpeciesDetail.cfm?TaxaID=126.  The range expansion may be due to climate change, or it may be explained by a proliferation of ditches and farm ponds (the naiad is tolerant of pollution) that allowed the species to hop-scotch across the continent.  Keep your eyes peeled.

The BugLady recommends this lovely offering from Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History: https://fieldguides.fieldmuseum.org/sites/default/files/rapid-color-guides-pdfs/388_0.pdf

Also – many thanks to BugFan Freda, whose pictures of the Southern Spreadwing are far better than the BugLady’s.

Think damselflies.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Agreeable Tiger Moth

Greetings, BugFans,

Years ago, the BugLady photographed a Giant Leopard moth https://bugguide.net/node/view/1967163/bgimage.  It was a tough shot – the moth was tucked up under the eaves of a house.  It’s – OK — but she wants another shot at it, and she also wants to photograph its very classy caterpillar https://bugguide.net/node/view/1746675/bgimage.  She fantasizes that when she does find one, the pictures will turn out better than her first attempt (one last amazing Leopard moth picture https://bugguide.net/node/view/924700.

Anyway, when she saw this Agreeable tiger moth caterpillar, she thought maybe it was a Giant Leopard moth, but it lacked the Giant Leopard moth’s scarlet bands around the segments (intersegmental rings).

Agreeable tiger moths (Spilosoma congrua), aka Yellow-legged tiger moths, are in the family Erebidae and the tiger moth tribe Arctini (from a Greek word meaning “bear,” a reference to their woolly caterpillars).  Adults are white, with a few black spots, and with a wingspread of about one-and-one-third inches https://bugguide.net/node/view/1930658/bgimage https://bugguide.net/node/view/1082541/bgimage, and they have pretty cute faces https://bugguide.net/node/view/632611/bgimage. There are a number of related tiger moth species whose adults are white and somewhat spotty, and they can be hard to distinguish http://daytoninsects.com/white-tiger.html.

The caterpillars come in two color morphs – black with yellow/orange intersegmental rings https://bugguide.net/node/view/322343/bgimage, and (like the Giant Leopard moth) black with red decorations https://bugguide.net/node/view/889559/bgimage.  Tiger moth caterpillars are bristly (woolly bears are tiger moths, too), and in some species, the hairs cause skin irritation.  The Agreeable tiger moth’s bristles are, well, agreeable.

They’re mostly found east of the Great Plains in woodlands, grasslands, gardens, etc.  Usually, animals that occupy a huge range are generalist feeders, and the tiger moths certainly are.  Agreeable tiger moth caterpillars eat a variety of herbaceous plants including dandelion and plantain, which are everywhere, and pigweed (Amaranthus sp.), and they also nibble on mushrooms https://bugguide.net/node/view/259755/bgimage.  The BugLady found a paper in which the authors speculated that an Agreeable tiger moth caterpillar that was seen feeding on a bracket fungus was probably eating the algae that grew on the fungus too, but fungi and algae appear to be only a tiny part of the species’ diet.

Some of their food plants contain toxins, chemicals that plants produce in order to discourage grazing (with varying degrees of success).  Insects that eat toxic plants either develop ways to rid their bodies of the poisons quickly, or they develop a way to sequester them in their body.  Agreeable tiger moths sequester chemicals called iridoid glycosides, which make them bitter and distasteful (but probably not lethal) to potential predators.  Sometimes, these chemicals are used in reproduction.

Adults fly from late spring through mid-summer here in God’s Country, and even longer in the South.  Some tiger moths (like the Woolly bear) overwinter as caterpillars, but the Spilosomas spend the winter in a pupal case https://bugguide.net/node/view/335864/bgimage inside a cocoon they construct using some of their own hairs https://bugguide.net/node/view/889561/bgimage.  Here’s a good series of pictures of the whole life cycle https://bugguide.net/node/view/311410/bgimage.

In her research, The BugLady came across an article that (irresistibly) began “This past weekend I attended the third annual “Caterwauling for Caterpillars” night” – a night that included a sighting of an Agreeable tiger moth caterpillar along with some other awesome caterpillars.  Here’s the blog: https://kylefromohio.blogspot.com/2017/09/caterpillar-extravaganza.html.

Bizarre Tiger Moth Fact: The hairs of a species in India are so irritating that they can lead to a serious skin and systemic condition called Lepidopterism when the population of a local tiger moth booms.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Carpenter Ants

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady lives in a log cottage that’s rough cedar on the inside (think splinters), so when, one night, this Carpenter ant queen dropped down from the ceiling onto a book she was reading, she may have overreacted a tiny bit, and the ant met with an unfortunate accident.  Here’s a healthier individual https://bugguide.net/node/view/787312/bgimage. (Thanks to honorary BugFan PJ for confirming the ID)

Disclaimer: the BugLady doesn’t give advice on insect control or eradication.  That being said, if you see carpenter ants in your house, or if you hear the faint, rustling sound of chewing (it’s been likened to cellophane crinkling), get help.

Carpenter ants (called “sugar ants” in Australia) are in the ant family Formicidae and the genus Camponotus (which means “flat back”).  There are about 1,000 species in the genus worldwide – 50 in North America – and since the BugLady doesn’t know which species she had, the term “carpenter ant” here is generic.  They’re usually found where there are trees, but some nest in soil and others enjoy grasslands and even deserts.  They’re active all year round in warmer climates, but here in God’s Country, they enter a state of suspended development called diapause in the winter (unless they’re in the walls of a heated dwelling).

These tend to be large ants, and depending on species, they come in black, yellow, red, or brown, as well as two-toned.  They’re called polymorphic (“multiple-forms”) because there are three sizes of workers https://bugguide.net/node/view/729102/bgimage – minors, medias, and majors – plus large queens and half-sized males.

Like other communal insects, carpenter ants have a complex social system.  A queen mates with as many males as possible during her nuptial flight and uses that stored sperm for the rest of her life, which can be as long as 15 years.  She seals herself into a small cavity in wood or under bark and lays about 20 eggs.  When they hatch, she nourishes the larvae herself, using her fat reserves and protein from her wing muscles, and when they emerge from their pupal cases as adults, these new workers break out of the chamber and take over the nest duties https://bugguide.net/node/view/636620/bgimage.  The larger workers are guards and foragers; the smaller ones excavate and tend to the nest and care for the queen and the nursery (they feed their charges by regurgitating food – trophallaxis).

She lays eggs twice a year.  Some of the early spring eggs, specially nurtured, will become winged, fertile, royal ants (swarmers), and the rest are workers.  The late summer eggs produce workers that emerge the next year.  A nest usually doesn’t produce its first swarm until it’s three or four years old and contains several thousand ants.  A thriving carpenter ant colony often includes a parent nest and one or more satellite nests.  The parent nest is humid, excavated in damp wood, and the ant eggs need this high humidity.  Once the eggs hatch, the workers tote the larvae to satellite nests where the humidity is lower.

What fuels carpenter ants?  They’re omnivores and scavengers and sometimes predators, but the wood they chew is not a part of their diet (unlike termites, they don’t have the proper gut flora to digest cellulose).  Workers mostly eat carbs – sap, fruit, the liquid from extrafloral nectaries (https://uwm.edu/field-station/ants-in-my-plants/), (and discarded candy https://bugguide.net/node/view/1911307/bgimage), and they farm aphids, scales, and treehoppers https://bugguide.net/node/view/1537739/bgimage for the sweet honeydew these insects excrete.

The developing larvae require protein, which workers collect in the form of dead (and sometimes live) insects https://bugguide.net/node/view/957396/bgimage.  When they find one, a group may gather and carry it back to the nest, or they may eat it on the spot, carrying the nutrients back in their crops, and leaving the shell behind.  They usually forage at night.

When they have a long-term food source (like a herd of aphids) carpenter ants lay a pheromone trail for their sisters to follow, and they may use underground tunnels to get to their food source, too.  They can go without food for six months, but they may respond to a food shortage with a little cannibalism.

Who eats carpenter ants?  People do, for one.  The adults and larvae are eaten around the world, and Wikipedia tells us that in the early days of this country, lumberjacks in Maine ate carpenter ants to prevent scurvy.  We share them with wildlife like bears, skunks, big brown bats, salamanders, songbirds, wild turkeys, and, famously, Pileated Woodpeckers.

Carpentry is their raison d’etre, and in their proper place, they are important decomposers (a study in the Northeast determined that 75% of carpenter ants are found in dead trees).  They tunnel in wood that’s been softened up a bit by moisture (an important thing to remember if you’re trying to avoid carpenter ants in your walls), and their tunnels open up a decaying tree to more moisture and to fungi.  They tear the soft wood with their sturdy jaws https://bugguide.net/node/view/1615668/bgimage forming long tunnels called galleries https://bugguide.net/node/view/1783110/bgimage.

The tunnels are clean and are sometimes described as looking “sanded.”  Wood shavings that result from their excavating, along with desiccated bits of food, and deceased ants are removed from the tunnels – dumped out of a hole in the trunk that’s sometimes called a “window.”

Fun Carpenter Ant Fact: when the workers are alarmed, they may warn their sisters by whacking their mandibles and abdomen against the inside of the tunnel walls, making a loud sound that is sometimes audible even to us.

Another Fun Carpenter Ant Fact: they are gentle souls that would rather live to fight another day, but if they are mishandled, they will bite (painfully) and then squirt a little formic acid into the bite for good measure.  They don’t sting.

BugFan Bill invites BugFans who would like to dive a deeper into the world of insects and insect issues to check out the Conservation and Ecology – Insects in the Midwest Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/183261300269413.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Bugs in the News XI

Howdy, BugFans,

Hawks are still flying; bugs, not so much.  Lots of grasshoppers along the trail, and a variety of flies and some sweat bees on the late-blooming dandelions (and just two weeks ago the BugLady was photographing late dragonflies).  It’s definitely feeling like November on the hawk tower.  The BugLady’s trusty 50-year-old hand anemometer measured a 49 mph gust the other day.

Here are some interesting articles and beautiful pictures from the BugLady’s overflowing media folder.

Learn about the 14 WAYS SPIDERS USE SILK – https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/fourteen-ways-spiders-use-their-silk-180978354/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20211027-daily-responsive&spMailingID=45847821&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2102995663&spReportId=MjEwMjk5NTY2MwS2

BUMBLEBEE VOMIT – A former Governor of Wisconsin famously referred to honey as “bee poop” (guess what our state insect is?).  Speaking of bodily functions, here’s an article about bumblebee vomit – click on the link in the short, italicized paragraph (“Want to learn more about the science behind bumblebee vomit?  Click here to see some of the resources we used to help write this episode!”):   https://www.npr.org/2020/03/13/815715527/the-buzz-on-bee-barf-sticky-science-behind-bumblebee-vomit?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20200317&utm_term=4464619&utm_campaign=news&utm_id=2548916&orgid=675

And – while we’re at it, HONEY is remarkably good for bees: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science/honey-has-health-benefits-for-bees-180978917/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20211025-daily-responsive&spMailingID=45834577&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2102700229&spReportId=MjEwMjcwMDIyOQS2

AWESOME MOTH SHOTS — https://aeon.co/videos/witness-the-majesty-of-moths-taking-flight-at-6000-frames-per-second.  Thanks, BugFan Bill.

ICE WORMS fall within the BOTW mission (the BugLady thinks maybe she saw the movie…).  https://www.npr.org/2021/07/13/1011376403/its-summer-and-that-means-the-mysterious-return-of-glacier-ice-worms?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20210713&utm_term=5565492&utm_campaign=news&utm_id=2548916&orgid=675&utm_att1=

SPECTACULAR MACRO PHOTOGRAPHY, although, alas, we can’t say “no insect was harmed to make this picture.”  https://www.npr.org/sections/pictureshow/2021/08/19/1025545652/military-photography-bugs-pablo-piedra?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20210820&utm_term=5679937&utm_campaign=news&utm_id=2548916&orgid=675&utm_att1=

The SPOTTED LANTERNFLY is established in New York and Pennsylvania and has been seen in Ohio and southeastern Indiana.  Here’s more about the beautiful, invasive insect that will be a game-changer for the fruit-growing industry – https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/see-spotted-lanternfly-squash-it-officials-say-180978545/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20210830-daily-responsive&spMailingID=45541229&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2067368472&spReportId=MjA2NzM2ODQ3MgS2.

MURDER HORNETS 2021 – the BugLady is blown away by pictures of people in moon suits, vacuuming up Murder hornets.  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/entomologists-eradicated-first-asian-giant-murder-hornet-nest-2021-180978543/

DRAGONFLY WINGS – something unexpected to lay at the door of climate change – https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/warmer-climate-may-cause-male-dragonflies-lose-their-patchy-wings-180978141/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20210712-daily-responsive&spMailingID=45289685&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2043035771&spReportId=MjA0MzAzNTc3MQS2

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Forked Fungus Beetle Redux

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady has been out counting migrating raptors.  Here’s a rerun of an episode about an amazing beetle that the BugLady encountered in the late spring of 2014.

Every once in a while, life hands you a special treat.  Late one recent afternoon, the BugLady was walking through the beech woods, moving far too slowly, considering the size of her mosquito escort, scanning a fallen log that was adorned with a few deteriorating shelf fungi (can you spell “bug-nerd?”).  Suddenly, part of a fungus twitched.

If you’re singing along, we’re on page 192 of your Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America or page 583 of the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders – the forked/horned fungus beetle (Bolitotherus cornutus) (“crowned”).  The Forked fungus beetle is in the Darkling beetle family Tenebrionidae and is the only species in its genus.  It’s found east of the Mississippi, at night, in the woods, in the company of woody, polypore shelf fungi.

Males look like half-inch long “triceratops.”  Their horns can vary in size quite a bit, and most males have a small, forked, rhino-like horn at the end of their snout https://bugguide.net/node/view/788389/bgimage that the BugLady does not see in her photographs (hers is a bi-ceratops).  Females don’t have horns, but the lower edges of their heads are widened, and they wear an extra bit of armor plate on their opposite ends (more about that later).  They are drab, knobbed, pitted, exceedingly “thick-skinned,” and primordial.  Oh, but then there’s that beautiful gold fringe on the underside of the male’s horns https://bugguide.net/node/view/1864012/bgimage – The Beetle with the Fringe on Top.  It has been suggested that the hairs serve some general sensory function, but the BugLady couldn’t find any corroboration of that, and considering the Forked fungus beetle’s lifestyle, the hairs must take quite a beating.

About the natural history of the Forked fungus beetle we know plenty, thanks to research done in the 1950’s by M. Pferrer Liles and in the ‘60’s by Ann Pace (http://www.americaninsects.net/b/forked-fungus-beetles.html).  All stages of the beetle live, overwinter, reproduce and feed in/on woody shelf fungi (here in God’s Country they like the “artist’s fungus,” Ganoderma applanatumhttps://bugguide.net/node/view/422117/bgimage.  Once they find a good fungus, a small population of beetles may occupy it for as long as nine years, moving on when the fungus is no longer usable.  Larvae https://bugguide.net/node/view/1519099/bgimage turn the fungus into a honeycomb of tunnels.  Though there may be several larvae in a tunnel, they stay out of each other’s way; but if, in its travels, a larva stumbles across a Forked fungus beetle pupa, it might cannibalize the pupa.  M. Pferrer Liles noted that larval tunnels often contained masses of white mycelium (fungal strands) that had grown around and permeated the body cavity of a dead Forked fungus beetle larva.  Fungus mummifies larva – sounds like something the BugLady saw on “The X-Files.”

They have few predators.  A braconid wasp parasitizes the larvae, and a few nocturnal mammals try to eat them (more about that later, too).

So, what was the twitching all about?  The male initiates courtship by climbing onto the female, facing the opposite direction and griping her elytra (hard wing covers).  Scientists have actually measured a Forked fungus beetle’s grip strength, because having won Fair Maid, he may be dislodged by the horns of her other ardent suitors.  Males use the horns in pushing contests, and the guy with the biggest horns usually wins; likewise, bigger beetles have longer legs and a stronger grip.  Anyhow, there he sits, rubbing her head with his feet and, yes, twitching.  In this position, the underneath of his abdomen rubs against two “tubercles” on the top of her thorax.  The friction may produce a rasping sound that can be heard six or more feet away (the BugLady didn’t hear it, but the sound is typically made at night, and the movements can be made without producing the sound).  Courtship may last several hours.

When copulation is imminent, he turns around so they are facing the same direction.  According to one source, females do not pick their suitors, but they can decide which male shares his bodily fluids with them.  If she is not receptive to the male, she can block the transfer of his spermatophore by not opening the heavy plates at her rear.  After mating, the male stays in place for a long time, guarding his investment from other males.

A female lays very few eggs a year (a dozen at most), and before each egg, she must court.  Eggs are laid singly, in the early evening, in cracks on the tops and sides of the fungus.  She picks her nursery carefully – studies have shown that larvae that develop in larger fungi not only have a better survival rate, but the male larvae will have larger horns when they mature (and they’ll get all the girls).  Once laid, each egg is plastered over with what was tactfully described as “a dark, excrement-like material” that is smoothed down by hairs on the female’s abdomen.  Here are some pictures of life stages https://bugguide.net/node/view/97208/bgimage.

Forked fungus beetles lead unhurried lives.  The larvae stay in their eggs for several days after hatching, eating the capsule itself before burrowing into the spore-bearing tissues of the fungus.  New adults stay in their pupal cases for a few days after emerging, until their color darkens (here’s a newly emerged male http://bugguide.net/node/view/97192/bgimage).  An adult may live for four or five years, never venturing far from its natal fungus.  In fact, until 1999 scientists were unsure about whether Forked fungus beetles could even fly (they can), and assumed that FFBs hoofed it across the forest floor to new sites.  There are two generations per year; larvae overwinter within their fungi; adults stay in fungi, decaying stumps, and under tree bark.

It’s hard to imagine that a beetle that looks as though it heaved itself up out of the very wood itself would need a sophisticated defense system, but the Forked fungus beetle has a dandy one.  Oh, sure, a startled adult Forked fungus beetle, like many other kinds of beetles including Tenebrionids, plays dead (death feigning).  It tucks its legs into dedicated grooves on the underside of its body, and blends in with its surroundings.  But, it’s got a chemical trick up its sleeve, too.

When it feels threatened, a Forked fungus beetle releases a nasty-smelling, irritating potion that causes a potential predator to reconsider.  Rather than squirting the liquid like a squeeze bottle, Forked fungus beetles carry the chemical deterrent in two “eversible” abdominal glands that turn inside out like a pocket.  What’s unique is the timing and the trigger.

In Secret Weapons, Eisner says that “An unusual feature of B. cornutus is that it may extrude its glands preemptively, in response to the mere anticipation of an attack.  All you need do to cause the beetle to evert its glands is to breathe on it.  This readiness to deploy its chemical weapons may serve the beetle well, especially in defense against predators such as mice, which could afflict a fatal injury with their very first bite.”  Eisner goes on to say that the Forked fungus beetle defines a “breath” as a warm, moist, pulsing puff of carbon dioxide.  Producing a chemical defense is costly, energy-wise, and the Forked fungus beetle is unusual in using it before its predator actually makes contact.  The unfortunate herbivore that mouths an inhabited fungus may suffer the same fate.  Forked fungus beetles do not use a cannon to kill a gnat – when nibbled by an ant, they depend on the toughness of their exoskeleton.  For many close-up pictures, including some of a beetle spraying, see http://www.performance-vision.com/FungusBeetle/.

Last but not least – yes – phoresy!  Those legged, pink dots on the female’s head are mites!  A number of different species of mites have been documented on Forked fungus beetles.  In one study, researchers checked Forked fungus beetles in a museum collection for phoretic (hitchhiking) mites and found them on about one-third of the beetles.  The mites are species that live in fungi – some eat spores – and they take advantage of the Forked fungus beetle’s longer legs to get around.

Those horns remind the BugLady of one of her favorite cartoon characters, The Tick.  And as the Tick once said, “Mysteries abound.”

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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