Bug o’the Week – The Cicadas are Coming – a Tale in Four Parts

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

The Cicadas are Coming a Tale in Four Parts

Greetings BugFans,

The insect world is gearing up to stage an event that is the entomological equivalent of the recent total solar eclipse.  The buzz (if you’ll pardon the term) began a few months ago with articles in the New York Times and the Smithsonian newsletter.  The event: the emergence of billions (with a “b”) of Periodical cicadas over a large chunk of the country south and east of Wisconsin.  What one entomologist calls a “spectacular, macabre Mardi Gras” and another calls “a David Attenborough show in your backyard.”

Part 1: SETTING THE STAGE

Young cicadas – nymphs – live underground, using their piercing-sucking mouthparts to feed on the fluid that’s getting pumped up into the tree from the roots.  The length of their subterranean stay is determined by their species (though sometimes over-enthusiastic individuals may jump the gun, and climate change may be affecting their internal chronometers). 

Most of Wisconsin’s cicada species are green and black, bullet-shaped Annual cicadas in the genus Neotibicen, the Dog-day cicadas https://bugguide.net/node/view/1588994/bgimage, who spend just a year or two underground as nymphs and then tunnel to the surface, climb something vertical, and emerge from their nymphal skin into adulthood (great photo series here https://bugguide.net/node/view/320141/bgimage).  If you’ve seen a nymph trekking across the lawn or climbing a post, you’ve been privileged to see something that looks, and is, prehistoric – they’ve been around for 200 million years.

Cicadas practice what the BugLady calls the “Normandy Beach” strategy of reproduction – throw enough soldiers on the beach and some will get through (real scientists call it “predator satiation”).  Cicadas emerge in large numbers into the waiting jaws, bills, claws, and skillets of a myriad of predators.  Another hypothesis involves predator avoidance.  The year after the cicadas are numerous, their predators’ populations peak, because they had all that food last year to feed to all those young, and survival rates were high.  The next year, prey is scarce, and predator numbers adjust themselves (a 13 or 17 year lag seems overly cautious, but there are Prime number variants of this theory that the BugLady is not equipped to explain).  Or it could be that cicadas developed this method to avoid hybridization.   

Part 2: PERIODICAL CICADAS (Magicicada sp.), aka 13 and 17 YEAR LOCUSTS. 

First off, they’re not locusts – locusts are in the Grasshopper order Orthoptera, and cicadas are in the Bug order Hemiptera.  Second, although most cicadas have relatively predictable nymphal periods, the genus Magicicada owns the name “Periodical cicada.”  North America has three species of 17-year cicadas and four species of 13-year cicadas (and of course, some cicada experts think that those seven Magicicada species might only be three species.  Stay tuned).  The ranges of the 17-year species are a bit more northern, and the 13-year species are a bit more southern.  Third, they’re pretty awesome-looking insects.  Many thanks to BugFan Tom for his wonderful pictures.

Magicicada is divided into 15 groups called Broods, each designated by a different Roman numeral.  Broods are defined not by species but by the synchronicity of their internal clocks, and most emergences involve more than one species https://www.cicadamania.com/cicadas/where-will-17-13-year-periodical-cicadas-emerge-next/.

Masses of male Periodical cicadas gather in the treetops and “sing” by vibrating an internal membrane (tymbal) that’s stretched between the thorax and the abdomen.  It vibrates hundreds of times per second and can, depending on the species, produce sounds of nearly 100 decibels (louder than a vacuum cleaner, leaf-blower, blender, or garbage disposal).  Between choruses, males make short flights away from the group looking for mates (she flicks her wings at him if she’s in the mood.  Female cicadas are silent, but even if she could make sound, he might not hear her in the din).  Females lay eggs by drilling into twigs, and when the egg hatches, the nymph (and often the tip of the twig) drops to the ground. 

Magicicada nymphs spend their lives about two feet underground, molting five times, and some researchers suggest that they note the passing years by registering that the tree sap is richer in amino acids when the tree blooms in spring (but they don’t know how cicadas “count”).  They are transient – starting to emerge at night, in late April, when soil temperature reaches 64 degrees F, and disappearing by mid-July.  By then, the nymphs have aerated the soil, the decomposing shells and adults are enriching the soil, and the birds are well-fed.

Conventional wisdom long held that adult cicadas lived briefly and didn’t eat, which wisdom the BugLady imparted to her offspring.  She got a phone call one day from one of her daughters, who was out on the trail with a class.  She had picked up a cicada to show them, and it had stabbed her in the finger (cicadas, the EPA says, “sometimes mistake us for trees,” and it advises us to “Just remove the cicada from your person, and go about your business”).  Adult cicadas feed on plant juices – in fact, they sip 300 times their body weight in plant sap daily. 

What goes in must come out, and along that vein, some recent articles have noted that because they must ingest so much nutrient-poor plant sap in order to get enough calories, cicadas are prodigious (and powerful) pee-ers and that no one has studied the impact of all that urine on the landscape (as we say in the Nature business – don’t look up with your mouth open).

Cicada nymphs are eaten by moles, and the adults provide a buffet for snakes, lizards, skunks, rodents, possums, birds of all sizes (the BugLady once heard a truncated cicada buzz and looked out the window to see a (smug) Brown Thrasher leaving the scene with a beakful of cicada), and they are collected and cached by Cicada-killer wasps https://bugguide.net/node/view/1456668/bgimage.  A few sources said that when birds concentrate on cicadas in big years, they ignore caterpillars, allowing caterpillar populations to increase.  Historically, American Indians fried or roasted cicadas, and today, the emergence of large broods spawns cook-offs among entomophagists.    

Part 3: PERIODICAL CICADAS ARE AROUND ALL THE TIME — WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT 2024?

Billions of cicadas, that’s what!  Enough cicadas to stretch to the moon and back 33 times – more than 15 million miles of cicadas, nose to tail.  As many as 1.5 million cicadas per acre, with 20 to 25 exit holes in a square foot of soil.  The simultaneous appearance over a 16 state area of two geographically adjacent broods, Brood XIII (the Northern Illinois Brood) and the periodical cicadas with the widest range, Brood XIX (the Great Southern Brood).  The simultaneous emergence of two broods – a 13-year species and a 17-year species – that last emerged together when Thomas Jefferson was president and that won’t appear together for another 221 years (by comparison, the next total solar eclipse will occur on August 12, 2026 – OK, 2044 if you insist on staying in North America https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_solar_eclipses_in_the_21st_century).    

How far will Wisconsin eco tourists will have to travel?  Just to our southern border – scroll down for a map: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/cicadas-are-coming-rare-dual-emergence-could-bring-one-trillion-of-the-bugs-this-year-180983635/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=editorial&spMailingID=49350631&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2622459374&spReportId=MjYyMjQ1OTM3NAS2.

As always, the question is “Can you get high on Periodical cicadas (beyond the sheer joy of witnessing the exuberance of Nature, of course)?  Well —- maybe. 

About 5% of Magicicada nymphs may become infected with a fungus called Massospora (a so-called Zombie fungus) that produces both the psychedelic chemical psilocybin (think “magic mushrooms”) and an amphetamine/stimulant called cathinone.  The nymphs are exposed when they enter the soil after hatching, or while they’re living underground, or even as they tunnel up to emerge as adults.  When the adult matures, its butt falls off and is “replaced” by a white mass of fungal spores https://bugguide.net/node/view/1980876/bgimage – “what entomologists affectionately call ‘flying salt shakers of death,’” says the National Audubon Society website.  With the fungus calling the shots, behaviorally, infected adults initiate a lot of romantic encounters, and they often walk along the ground, dragging their nether portions and thereby depositing spores on the soil.

Part 4: CICADA MISCELLANIA

Cicadas aren’t known to carry diseases, but after a Brood XIII emergence in 2007, lots of suburban Chicagoans had nasty, itchy rashes.  Turns out that a tiny mite called the Oak gall mite (aka the “itch mite”) eats cicada eggs when it’s not eating Oak leaf gall midges.  More cicada eggs = more mites = more human-mite encounters. 

During the Brood X emergence a few years ago, a disease was seen in birds in the same geographical area.  It was suspected that there was a link to the cicadas that suddenly dominated their diet (biological magnification), but it was not determined whether the problem was the extra load of cicada “meat” itself, chemicals that the nymphs or adults may have been exposed to, or soil bacteria or fungi that came to the surface with the nymphs.  The disease eased as the cicadas died off.

History geeks please note the History section of the Wikipedia write-up on Periodical cicadas, documenting cicadas in the early years of our Republic: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Periodical_cicadas.  

Learn to make an origami cicada at https://cicadasafari.org/download/foldacic2021.pdf.

And speaking of biological exuberance, our skies are suddenly filled with Red Admiral butterflies (and some Painted Ladies, too) migrating up from the South and Southwest.  Early butterflies don’t rely on flowers; they feed on sap dripping from trees.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Bugs without Bios XIX

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bugs without Bios XIX

Howdy, BugFans,

Bugs without bios – those humble (but worthy) bugs about whom little information is readily available.  Today’s bugs check those boxes as species, but they have something in common – their lifestyles are similar to those of close relatives who have already starred in their own BOTW.

The BugLady found this PREDACEOUS DIVING BEETLE (Hydacticus aruspex) (probably) in shallow water that was so plant-choked that the beetle had trouble submerging.  Diving beetles are competent swimmers, tucking their two front pairs of legs close to their body and stroking with powerful back legs.  When they submerge, they carry a film of air with them to breathe, stored under the hard, outer wing covers (elytra).  They can fly, too, though they mostly take to the air at night.

As both larvae and adults, Predaceous diving beetles are aquatic and carnivorous, dining on fellow aquatic invertebrates.  Larvae (called water tigers) grab their meals with curved mouthparts and inject digestive juices that soften the innards, making them easy to sip out (generic water tiger – https://bugguide.net/node/view/49848/bgimage).  They eat lots of mosquito larvae.  Adults grab their prey and tear pieces off.  Not for the faint of heart.   

Hydacticus aruspex (no common name) is one of five genus members in North America and is found across the continent.  It comes in both a striped and a non-striped form https://bugguide.net/node/view/296320/bgimage.  It overwinters as an adult, under the ice, and romance blossoms in spring.  For more information about Predaceous diving beetles, see https://uwm.edu/field-station/bug-of-the-week/predaceous-diving-beetle-revisited/

These spectacular OBLIQUE-WINGED KATYDIDS (probably) were climbing around on Arrow Arum in a wetland that the BugLady frequents.  Katydids are famous singers whose ventriloquistic calls may be heard day and night (though older ears may strain to hear them – test your hearing here https://www.listeningtoinsects.com/oblong-winged-katydid).  They “sing” via “stridulation” – friction – in their case, by rubbing the rigid edge of one forewing against a comb-like “file” on the other (the soft, second set of wings is only for flying, and they do that well).  They hear with slit-like tympana on their front legs.  Most Katydids are vegetarians, but a few species are predaceous.

Oblong-winged Katydids (Amblycorypha oblongifolia) are “False katydids” (here’s a True katydid https://bugguide.net/node/view/2207342/bgimage) in the Round-headed katydid genus.  They are found in woods, shrubs, and edges throughout the eastern US, often in “damp-lands,” often on brambles, roses, and goldenrods.  The dark, mottled triangle on the top of the male’s thorax is called the “stridulatory field” – a rough area that is rubbed to produce sound.  Oblong-winged katydids have a large stridulatory field. 

Katydids, both in color and in texture, are remarkably camouflaged – except when they’re not.  Here’s an awesome color wheel of katydids https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/misc/amblycorypha_oblongifolia.htm

For more information about the large katydids (including the origin of their name), see https://uwm.edu/field-station/bug-of-the-week/katydid-rerun/.

The BugLady came across this cute little MOTH FLY (Clytocerus americanus) (probably) on a day that she couldn’t take an in-focus shot on a bet!  Fortunately, bugguide.net contributors did better https://bugguide.net/node/view/426325/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/695589/bgimage.  Despite their name, Moth flies are moths, not flies or weird hybrids.  They are tiny (maybe 1/8”) and hairy, and are weak fliers, and until she saw this one, the only Moth flies she had ever seen were indoors, in the bathroom (where they earn another of their names – “drain flies”).  Species that live outside are, like this one was, often found near wetlands. 

There are only one or two species in the genus Clytocerus in North America, and they have strongly-patterned wings and very hairy antennae.  Not much is known about their habits.  According to Wikipedia, adult Clytocerus americanus feed on “fungal mycelia and various organisms which inhabit wet to moist environments. Larvae are assumed to be detritivores.”

Find out more about moth flies here https://uwm.edu/field-station/bug-of-the-week/moth-fly/

MASON WASP – This is what happens when the BugLady buys garden stakes!  After various small, solitary wasps populate the empty interiors with eggs, the BugLady can’t possibly stick them into the ground! 

As their name suggests, female Mason wasps use mud to construct chambers in preexisting holes to house both their eggs and the cache of small invertebrates that their their eventual larvae will eat. 

The Canadian Mason Wasp (Symmorphus canadensis) suspends an egg from the chamber roof or wall by a thread and then adds 20 or more moth or leaf mining beetle larvae before partitioning it off with a wall of mud and working on the next cell https://bugguide.net/node/view/509856/bgimage.  She leaves a “vestibule” at the end of the tunnel/plant stake between the final chamber and the door plug. 

Heather Holm, in her sensational Wasps: Their Biology, Diversity, and Role and Beneficial Insects and Pollinators of Native Plants, discusses the hunting strategy of genus members: “Symmorphus wasps hunt leaf beetle larvae (Chrysomela); these beetles have glands in their abdominal segments and thorax that emit pungent defensive compounds.  These compounds are derived from the plants that the larvae consume. ….. In addition to using visual cues to find their prey, it is likely that Symmorphus wasps use olfactory means to find the beetle larvae.  Symmorphus males have been observed lunging at Chrysomela larvae, mistaking the larvae for adult females [female mason wasps] that, after capturing and handling prey, smell of the offensive compounds.

Here are two previous BOTWs about mason wasps, each a different genus than the Canadian Mason wasp: https://uwm.edu/field-station/bug-of-the-week/bramble-mason-wasp/ and https://uwm.edu/field-station/bug-of-the-week/four-toothed-mason-wasp/.    

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – The Monarch Butterfly Problem

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

The Monarch Butterfly Problem

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady wrote this for an upcoming newsletter of the Lake Michigan Bird Observatory (an organization that would love your support).  It started out as a simple report about this year’s survey of overwintering Monarch Butterflies, but then it took the bit in its teeth and became oh-so-much more.  Put your feet up.

Every fall, most of the Monarch Butterflies east of the Rockies set their compass for a small patch of mountains just northwest of Mexico City.  This winter’s count of eastern Monarch Butterflies (Danaus plexippus plexippus) overwintering in the oyamel fir forests of central Mexico was the second lowest since annual censusing began in 1993.  In the 1990’s, the eastern Monarch Butterfly population was estimated at 70 million, and today’s numbers represent an 80% decline in population.

The census is not an actual nose-count of the butterflies themselves but is a measurement of the area they occupy.  They’re densely concentrated on their wintering grounds — scientists estimate between 20 and 30 million Monarchs per hectare (about 2.5 acres).  The lowest area, 0.67 hectares (1 66 acres), occurred 10 years ago, and the largest ever, in 1996-97, found 45 acres occupied.  This year, Monarchs were seen on 0.9 hectares (2.2 acres), down 59% from the 2022-2023 season (Dr. Karen Oberhauser, founder and director of the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (https://mlmp.org/), points out that 2.2 acres is smaller than two football fields).  It’s felt that almost 15 acres of overwintering butterflies are needed to maintain a healthy eastern population.  “Monarch populations [are] at a level that most scientists suggest is not sustainable,” says Dr. Oberhauser.  Western Monarchs, residents and migrants along the Pacific Coast, are treated as a separate population.   

Migration is expensive, energy-wise, and is dangerous, and the list of hazards is long.  Land use changes and habitat loss, herbicides and pesticides, loss of milkweed, car-butterfly collisions, climate change that brings harsh winter conditions to central Mexico or storms as the butterflies prepare to depart, or that puts migrating butterflies out of sync with nectar plants on their spring migration, high temperatures that reduce the nutritional value of milkweed plants, and severe drought along the fall migration route through “the Texas Funnel” have all been suggested as factors.

The integrity of the fir forests themselves is critical, but the illegal logging that has reduced the forest size and cover in the past was held to a minimum last year.  The butterflies depend on a dense forest to act as insulation so they don’t have to expend as much energy staying warm, dry, and hydrated. 

Quick review of Monarch biology and migration — there are four or five generations annually, and the last brood of the year is extraordinarily long-lived for a butterfly.  It emerges in August or September, and while the earlier generations are reproductively active, this final generation is not.  Signaled by decreasing day length, lowering angle of the sun, cool nights, and increasingly leathery milkweed leaves, their reproductive organs don’t mature.  Instead, they apply their energy to a journey – a leisurely trip that can cover more than two thousand miles and take two months.  The butterflies feed on nectar from a wide variety of flowers as they wend their way south, and while a newly-emerged Monarch in Wisconsin has about 20 mg of fat in its body, a Monarch newly-arrived in the oyamel fir forests of Mexico may carry 125 mg of fat.  They eat little on their wintering grounds. 

With the warming temperatures of late March, they become reproductively ready and head north through northern Mexico and our Southern states, laying eggs as they go, careful not to get ahead of the emerging milkweed plants.  Their young — the first-generation offspring of the Mexican butterflies — keep moving and recolonize the north, often arriving in Wisconsin in mid-May and in Canada shortly after that (Southern summers are too hot for the caterpillars to thrive).

Their offspring – the second generation out of Mexico, continue to lay eggs and may fly a little farther north, but most have reached their destinations by the end of June.  The “job” of this short-lived generation (and of the next generation, if there’s time for one) is to stay put and use their energy to build up the population.  The migratory final generation, sometimes called Gen 5 or the Super Generation, is the only one that is tagged. 

This complicated dance depends on good weather, milkweeds for caterpillars, and abundant nectar plants for adults.  Monarchs will lay their eggs on a variety of milkweed species, but Common milkweed is the favorite. 

Follow the northward wave of Monarchs here https://maps.journeynorth.org/map/?map=monarch-adult-first&year=2024.

There have been passionate efforts in past years to list the Monarch as an Endangered Species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Classification under the ESA is a lengthy process, there are many other deserving candidates, and listing requires both a recovery plan and a dedicated budget https://uwm.edu/field-station/bug-of-the-week/listing-the-monarch/.   

Monarch populations are subject to wide swings, but a low year followed by another low year lessens the possibility of a speedy comeback.  Overall population levels in the summer of 2023 were not alarming, but severe heat and drought in the Texas Funnel migratory corridor probably resulted in fewer Monarchs finishing their journey to Mexico. 

Based on a few recent studies, there are voices, even voices within the Monarch Butterfly community, that suggest (counterintuitively) that there’s no need to change the Monarch’s status, citing past population plunges and recoveries.  The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a leading scientific authority on the status of species, recently downgraded Monarchs on their Red List of Threatened Species from Endangered to Vulnerable. 

Some of the arguments are historical.  Monarchs like milkweeds, and milkweeds like sunshine, and the treeless Great Plains is thought by some to be the historical center of both Monarch and milkweed populations.  Too, there was lots of sunshine during the long postglacial period while trees moved back north after the most recent glacier pushed them south, and some speculate that milkweeds and Monarchs took that opportunity to push east and increase their numbers before the forests regrew. 

The early settlers cut down swathes of America’s Great Eastern Forest to establish villages and farms, making the area sunnier and more Monarch/milkweed-friendly, and some say that Monarch populations are larger now than they were 200 years ago.  Today, they say, Monarchs are adapting to modern stressors, and they’re establishing some non-migratory breeding communities in Florida and around the Gulf Coast.  Monarchs, some scientists say, are not at risk, but the eastern Monarch migration may be (a distinction without a difference to Monarch lovers).   

Did the Monarch’s eastward expansion into a glacially-modified landscape and later into a human-modified landscape artificially boost their numbers, so that what’s happening today is just a “course correction?”  Should we base the butterfly’s status on the wintering numbers rather than the summertime population?  On today’s numbers vs long-time averages?  Is it better to err on the side of caution?”  Will there, as Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch says “always be Monarchs?”

Only time –- and more research — will tell who’s got it right.  In the meantime, what can we do to help? 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Tobacco Budworm

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Tobacco Budworm

Greetings, BugFans,

The BugLady photographed this handsome moth on her back porch rail last summer, and she was temporarily mystified when she identified it as a Tobacco budworm moth, because the nearest tobacco farm is probably more than 100 miles west of her.  Then she found an alternative common name – the Geranium budworm – and since she is the Geranium Queen, it made more sense (and it explained the frass on the bookshelves).

There are lots of moths that aren’t big enough or bad enough or beautiful enough to have been studied enough.  This isn’t one of them.  It gets University Extension Agents riled up throughout tobacco and cotton-growing areas in the southern half of its range.

Tobacco budworms (Chloridea virescens) (before 2013 they were Heliothis virescens) are native moths in the Owlet moth family Noctuidae.  They’re considered an eastern and southwestern species, but they’ve been spotted in Canada, across the vast majority of the lower 48 plus the Caribbean, and sporadically south of the Rio Grande.  They produce five or six broods annually in the South, but generally just one or two in the North, and they are too tender to overwinter here.  Moths seen in the northern parts of the US in the second half of summer may have overwintered in a greenhouse or a sheltered patio or in a potted plant that was brought inside in fall, or they may have drifted north from the southern part of their range. 

Adults have a wingspread of about one-to one-and-a-half inches and are somewhat variable in color.  Virescens means “being or becoming green” and while some are greenish https://bugguide.net/node/view/662023/bgimage, many Tobacco budworm moths are tan https://bugguide.net/node/view/1440535/bgimage.  The caterpillars’ color is also variable and, as David Wagner says in Caterpillars of Eastern North America, “Somehow the larvae end up matching the color of their foodplant.  The caterpillars found on red geraniums are shades of pink, those on ground cherry yellow, and so on.”  https://bugguide.net/node/view/1735907/bgimage (pink flowers make pink frass https://bugguide.net/node/view/32268/bgimage), https://bugguide.net/node/view/899588/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/36749/bgimage.   

The first generation of larvae chew deeply into buds (scroll down https://extension.umn.edu/yard-and-garden-insects/tobacco-budworms) and the later broods feed on the flowers and seeds.  They prefer the reproductive tissues, but they’ll also eat leaves, leaf petioles and even stems, and the later generations cause the most damage to plants.  No picky eaters here – these are generalist feeders!  They especially like tobacco and cotton, but they eat other agricultural crops like soybeans, flax, squash, tomato, peanuts, peppers, lettuce, and alfalfa and other clovers,.  Garden flowers like roses, geraniums, morning glory, petunias, nicotiana, chrysanthemums, marigolds, snapdragons, zinnias, and verbenas are on the menu, and, as the bulletins say, so are “weeds” like beardtongue, cranesbill/wild geranium, dock, lupine, passion flower, ground cherry, and more (“weeds” – so judgy).  They’re not considered a pest here in God’s Country.     

They are eaten by a variety of insects and spiders, but where some of their predators are concerned, the caterpillars seem to have Super Powers.  According to Wikipedia, if a parasitic wasp named Cardiochiles nigripes approaches a caterpillar with the intention of laying an egg on it, a fluid oozes from the caterpillar’s pores “that causes C. nigriceps to become agitated and groom themselves, allowing the budworm to escape. C. nigriceps also avoid budworms painted with this exudate. It is hypothesized that this exudate may function by overloading the wasp’s sensory receptors.”  The tachinid fly Winthemia rufopicta may be successful at laying eggs on the exterior of a tobacco budworm caterpillar, “but upon hatching and trying to penetrate its host, the caterpillars react by biting, crushing, puncturing, or trying to eat the parasitoid eggs.  This kills off many of the maggots” (Wikipedia).  Plus (says Wagner) “My colleague Scott Smedley and his students recently discovered that the caterpillars manage to transfer the glandular defensive secretions of their foodplants onto their own setae [hairs], and in doing so accrue chemical protection from ants and other natural enemies.”

They court with pheromones – she releases chemicals (perfumes) into the air, but she will not produce them unless she has been in contact with a potential host plant, and a place to lay her eggs is assured.  He reads her signals with receptors on his antennae and responds, and when she picks up his signal, she stops producing hers.  Males court with pheromones produced by glands in structures called hair pencils, which pop out of their abdomen.  The chemicals he produces are “twofers” – they send a “back-off” message to other males, and a “come hither” message to females.  If she approves of his scent, it’s “game on.”  The odor has both a stimulating and tranquilizing effect on her. 

She lays her eggs https://bugguide.net/node/view/699644/bgimage (usually 300 to 500 of them, but as many as 1,500) on buds, blossoms and leaves in the upper parts of plants.  Research suggests that she picks as a host the same species of plant that she grew up on.  The larvae hatch and, if they’re not already there, head for the tips of the plant.  Larvae grow faster at warmer temperatures, and when they are mature, they pupate a few inches under the soil https://bugguide.net/node/view/587565/bgimage

Two big photo references – one to Wisconsin moths https://www.butterflyidentification.org/moths-by-state-listing.php?reach=Wisconsin, and the other a giant collection of caterpillar pictures by wildlife photographer Tom Murray (Wisconsin shares many moth species with New York) https://pbase.com/tmurray74/moth_caterpillars.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Cylapus tenuicornis Plant Bug

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Cylapus tenuicornis Plant Bug

Howdy, BugFans,

One day last August, the BugLady pulled her mail out of her mailbox and saw this little bug sitting on a newspaper, and she managed to take a few shots of it with her purse camera before it departed.  She had never seen it before, but its gestalt reminded her of the (unrelated) Japanese barklice https://bugguide.net/node/view/296617/bgimage that she once encountered in southern Ohio, and of the (related) Clouded plant bugs she’s photographed locally https://bugguide.net/node/view/950344.  If BOTW had an “Obscure (but Cute) Insects” category (and many BugFans might argue that it already does), this bug would be right at home there.

When she is researching these anonymous insects, the BugLady starts with the species, and if information is thin on the ground, she backs up to genus, and then maybe backs up even farther, to tribe or subfamily or family.  And so it was for Cylapus tenuicornis (no common name).

So – from the top – moving from the most general to the most specific classification:

Cylapus tenuicornis is in the True Bug order Hemiptera (110,000 species known worldwide out of an estimated total of 200,000, with 2,000 in North America).  Hemipterans have piercing-sucking mouthparts that most apply to plants, but there are some carnivores and blood suckers in the bunch.  

It’s in the large and diverse Plant bug/Leaf bug/Grass bug/Jumping tree bug family Miridae (11,000 known species with many more awaiting names and descriptions).  Most Mirids are small (under ½”), soft-bodied, and inconspicuous, except when they are being pests of agricultural crops.  Most are plant feeders – some are generalist feeders, and some target specific plants.  Females use their sharp ovipositor to cut slits in plants and deposit eggs.   

According to the Plant Bug Planetary Biodiversity Inventory at the University of New South Wales (the BugLady sometimes goes far afield for information), “Many lineages are strongly myrmecomorphic [ant-shaped] although the nature of their associations with ants are still not well understood.” https://bugguide.net/node/view/1047082/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/1299663/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/15814/bgimage.    

Another step down – they’re in the largely subtropical/tropical subfamily Cylapinae (500 species), which researchers seem to agree is an understudied group that’s probably due for some taxonomic wrangling.  Cylapines are hard to study (or even to collect) because they mostly live in leaf litter and in bark crevices and are hard to spot and pretty speedy.  Cool thing about the Cylapinae is the fact that “Bugs in this group tend to forage actively on fungus covered rotten logs in humid tropical forests.” (Wikipedia).  More about that in a sec.  

And down another step – there are 12 species in the genus Cylapus, but only one lives in North America.  It’s a Neotropical genus (found in the New World tropics, from Central America and the Caribbean, south).  They are diurnal (out and about in the daytime).  

Whew!  Finally! 

Cylapus tenuicornis is at home in eastern North America https://bugguide.net/node/view/40769/data.  They’re about a fourth of an inch long, “bug-eyed,” with long antennae.  Here’s what they look like when they’re not sitting on the Ozaukee Press: https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/view/19791

One question that the BugLady always asks about her subjects is “What do they eat?”  And for this, we have to go back up to the subfamily.  Among the people who study the Cylapinae there’s a fair amount of discussion about their menu.  Remember – these bugs are typically seen on/under bark/leaf litter and on rotting logs in association with fungi.  There’s been speculation that some are predators (though long legs and antennae aren’t good adaptations for chasing prey under tree bark), but a subfamily member with the awesome name of Fulvius imbecilis has been reported as preying on the larvae of small beetles and flies and assorted other invertebrates that they find under bark and in certain fungi.

But there has long been a suspicion that some species feed on specific fungi, an unusual preference among the Hemiptera.  In lab experiments, Cylapus tenuicornis probed in the crevices of the fungi and underlying bark, and nymphs of two South American species mature within fungi.  Some Cylapinae were eventually seen eating fungi, but researchers investigated to make sure that the bugs were eating fungi rather than eating bugs that were eating fungi.  In this case, “investigate” meant catching some of them (no mean trick) and dissecting them to see if they had fungal materials in their guts.  Some did, and in amounts that indicate direct feeding.  

Lots of mysteries out there!  YAY!

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Burrowing Wolf Spider

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Burrowing Wolf Spider

Greetings, BugFans,

One afternoon in late June as the BugLady was walking along the cordwalk at Kohler-Andrae State Park, she noticed a few half-inch-ish holes in the sand, holes that had more “structure” than the ones she makes with her walking stick, and larger than those made by solitary wasps.  She took a couple of throwaway shots and was very surprised when she put one up on the monitor and noticed eyes and legs!  She photographed more holes on subsequent trips, but their openings were unoccupied.  The cordwalk goes over both dunes with loose sand, and areas with low vegetation and a somewhat more organic soil.  The holes were in the loose sand.

She asked BugFan Mike if it might be a wolf spider called the Burrowing Wolf Spider (Geolycosa missouriensis).  He said that was a possibility and urged her (as always) to be conservative in her spider IDs, especially considering the quality of the picture.  Amen, Mike!

Wolf spiders (family Lycosidae) (lycosa is Greek for “wolf”) are common, hairy, nocturnal, ground-dwelling hunters with very good eyesight.  Most species of wolf spider do not spin trap webs. 

[Quick Detour: nowadays, we use the name “tarantula” to refer to a group of non-Lycosid, palm-sized, hairy, tropical spiders https://bugguide.net/node/view/289856/bgimage.  The BugLady’s 4th grade teacher told a story of being in basic training in California and digging foxholes that bisected tarantula borrows, which she thought was pretty cool (she doesn’t remember much else of 4th grade).  Anyway, the original tarantula is a southern European/Italian wolf spider.  Legend had it that if one bites you, you‘re doomed to dance a dance called the tarantella.  The BugLady assumes that when they saw the big hairy spiders, those settlers from the Old Country applied the name of a scary spider that they already knew about.  And in fact, a number of other groups of large spiders have been called tarantulas, too].

Wolf spiders in the genus Geolycosa are called the Burrowing wolf spiders (geo means “earth”).  They live in vertical burrows, and they are habitat specialists, preferring loose, sandy soil that makes digging easier.  Of the 75 species in the genus worldwide, 18 live in North America north of the Rio Grande.  They have strong legs and (short spider anatomy review, here) two strong chelicerae (jaws) that are used as pincers and that are tipped with fangs.  A pair of palps, which look like a short leg on each side of the chelicerae, are used to manipulate food https://keys.lucidcentral.org/keys/mites/ismite/html/a10h_Mouthparts.html

Burrowing wolf spiders are generally Stay-at-Homes – the spiderlings don’t scatter far from the maternal burrow.  They initiate their own lair when they’re very small, enlarging it as they grow, rarely straying more than an inch or so away from it, and retreating into it when alarmed.  Populations remain fairly restricted. 

They are tied to one spot, with fixed pools of prey and of potential mates, but the trade-off is an absence of Flying Monkeys. They can dodge predators and avoid desiccation within a relatively stable, climate-controlled tunnel.  In early fall, though, when a young spider’s fancy turn to love, he abandons that security and sets off in search of romance.  They mate in late summer, but the gravid female doesn’t make an egg sac until the next spring.  She displays maternal care – carrying around first her egg sac, and later her young https://bugguide.net/node/view/114423/bgimage (and not eating them).  Spiderlings hatch in early summer, overwinter as immature spiders in their first year, and become adults in late summer of their second year.

Gratuitous vocabulary word(s) of the day: some Geolycosa species are “turricolous” (they live in areas that have some leaf litter, and they create little turrets or lips made of debris, sand, and silk around the opening of the tunnel https://bugguide.net/node/view/912651/bgimage), and others are “aturricolous” (they don’t). 

Bracing itself within the tunnel with its legs, the spider uses its fangs to loosen the sand, and if the sand is not moist enough on its own, it uses silk to compact the sand into a pellet.  It uses its chelicerae and palps to move the pellet to the opening of the burrow, and it disposes of the pellet by flicking it away (sometimes a foot away) with its forelegs – unless it’s going to use it to build a turret.  Burrowing wolf spiders reinforce the upper section of their lair by covering the walls with a few layers of silk.  Summer burrows are less than a foot long, but winter burrows may be more than five feet deep.  Researchers who studied Geolycosa missouriensis noted that a spider excavating an average burrow removed 918 sand pellets. 

Larry Weber, in Spiders of the North Woods, says that if you stick a grass stem down an occupied Geolycosa missouriensis burrow, the spider will grab it and hang on, and you can dig out the entrance and see the spider.  Seriously, Larry?  All that work – 918 pellets – why would you?

They ambush their prey – lurking in the entryway and darting out to grab nocturnal invertebrates like crickets as they wander by.  They feed within, and the indigestible bits of prey fall to the end of the tunnel.  About the Geolycosa, the publication “The Insects and Arachnids of Canada, Part 17,” notes that when kept in captivity, “They should be individually caged because they are fierce predators, and cannibalism can soon reduce the culture to a single well-fed individual.”

So – who was in that burrow?  Here are a few possibilities.

A BURROWING WOLF SPIDER (Geolycosa missouriensis), aka the Missouri Earth Spider or the Missouri Wolf Spider, is found on sandy loam soils from Texas to Ontario and Saskatchewan https://bugguide.net/node/view/862935/bgimage.  Its leg-spread is around 1 ½”. 

The gravid female uses sand and silk to fashion a door for the tunnel in winter.  She will bring her egg case into the sun at the burrow opening on warm, spring days, and females can be found in their burrows carrying young on their back in early summer.  Sources are ambivalent about whether Geolycosa missouriensis makes turrets.  

GEOLYCOSA WRIGHTII (no common name) https://bugguide.net/node/view/1285635/bgimage.  It’s not as common, and its range is restricted to sand dunes and beaches from Indiana and Illinois north through the Western Great Lakes states and provinces.  Females protect their newly-hatched offspring by sealing themselves into the tunnel with their young for a few days, until they find their feet.  Geolycosa wrightii doesn’t make a turret. 

The BEACH WOLF SPIDER (Arctosa littoralis https://bugguide.net/node/view/771440/bgimage) also makes silk-lined tunnels, but unlike the Geolycosa, it hunts at night by chasing after prey on beaches and wetland banks, and shelters in tunnels or under driftwood in the day.  Entomologist Eric Eaton says that if you’re abroad on the beach at night, wearing a headlamp, “When the beam of the light hits a wolf spider, the animal’s eyes will glint a blueish-green shine…..and a female with young on her back looks like a diamond-studded stone.” 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – And Now for Something Different – Cattails

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

And Now for Something Different Cattails

 Howdy, BugFans,

This episode was adapted from an article that the BugLady wrote in 2007 for the BogHaunter, the newsletter of the Friends of the Cedarburg Bog.

Wanted: Colonists to settle in wide open spaces.  Must be adaptable, able to put down roots in submerged or soggy soil, and stand firm in the face of wind and waves, rodents and carp. Temporary accommodations only.

It turns out that cattails are ideal candidates for this not-so-attractive job description.  Their tall, strap-like leaves and conspicuous “wiener-on-a-stick” female flower and seed stalks emerge from standing water and from damp pond and stream edges.  The leaves’ slender shape is typical of “sun-catchers” in open spaces.  They are designed to bend without breaking via a series of internal veins or “struts” that divide the leaf’s interior into flexible cells.

But the infrastructure of a cattail marsh is as impressive as what appears above the waterline.  That mass of leaves is anchored by a dense, interlocking mat of rhizomes (a rhizome is an underground/underwater stem that puts out both shoots and roots).  Each fruiting plant may produce as many as 200,000 seeds called “nutlets” – this windborne fruit launches colonies, and seeds can sit in the seedbank for decades waiting for the right conditions to germinate.  Though a new plant doesn’t flower until its second summer, it develops, during its first year of life, a rhizome system that may span 10 feet in diameter and produce 100 shoots.  This botanical exuberance allows colonies to advance, like an amoeba, as much as 15 feet annually.  

Once a colony gets started, it spreads primarily by vegetative means, through the growth of the rhizomes.  Plants that sprout from the same rhizome are called clones; a dense cattail stand is an impossibly intricate interweaving of clones from many rhizomes, so crowded that there is no opportunity for its own seed to germinate.  Unless openings occur between the closely-packed cattails, there are few other large plants in the community.

But, what a cattail marsh may lack in plant diversity, it more than makes up for in animals.  Oxygen is added to the water during photosynthesis, and the forest of submerged stems is habitat for myriad aquatic critters.  Carp root at the rhizomes, breaking them up and aiding vegetative spread.  Other fish, including sunfish, spawn and shelter there.

Muskrat lifestyles are bound to cattails; the shoots and rhizomes are eaten, and the leaves and stalks are made into lodges.  These lodges, in turn, provide nest platforms for ducks and geese; and, by harvesting cattails, muskrats create open water for waterfowl.  Many marshland birds like rails, coots, bitterns, grebes, Marsh Wrens, and waterfowl find food, nesting material, nest sites, and cover in the cattail thickets.  Large flocks of blackbirds roost there and enrich the community with their droppings, and cattails are also used by frogs, beavers, painted turtles, and even moose. 

Insects?  Cattails attract a variety of moths, aphids, and caterpillars that feed on its rhizomes, leaves, sap, stem, and flower/seed spike, and their predators are attracted as well.  The female sac spider bends a leaf around herself to form a pyramid-shaped box.  Inside, she lays eggs and guards them there until she dies; her carcass provides her young with their first meal.  In winter, the cigar-like seed heads host the pupating caterpillars (birds pecking at seed heads are looking for this protein); the stalk is home to a variety of beetles, and the rhizomes conceal the larvae of cattail mosquitoes.

Common or Broad-leaved (Typha latifolia) grows on the damp soil and shallow standing water by a pond’s edge.  It is less tolerant of pollution but is found in a wider range of soil acidity.  Its base is fan-shaped, and the male and female flowers touch.  Narrow-leaved cattail (T. angustifolia), which may have come from Europe in the 1800’s) can grow in deeper, more polluted water, and prefers more alkaline locations.  Its base is cylindrical, its leaves narrower, and there is bare stem between the male and female flowers.  The two species grow side-by-side, and they hybridize, and both the Narrow-leaved and the hybrid can out-compete the Broad-leaved cattail. 

If cattails are community builders, cattail marshes are communities in transition.  They generally grow with land on one side and open water on the other, and their decomposing vegetation makes soil (the take-home – every lake is a dying lake), readying the marsh for eventual colonization by plants with dryer preferences.  As the land encroaches, cattails move farther out into the wetland.  Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, rivaling tropical rainforests in their production of biomass (biomass is the measurement of the weight or volume of biological material produced in an area). For more information about wetland issues, visit the website of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association at www.wisconsinwetlands.org.

Are cattails good for anything?  The BugLady once read that wars were fought over wetlands, and cattails are certainly worth fighting for!  Some part of the plant is edible 12 months of the year, from the starchy rhizome (cooked like potatoes or pounded into flour) to the pollen (a flour substitute) – one report says that an acre of cattails could produce almost 6500 pounds of cattail flour.  Both the rhizomes and flower heads were used medicinally.

American Indians wove the leaves into mats, baskets, and walls, used the fluff for diapers (the settlers stuffed quilts with it and caned chairs with the leaves).  A jelly that was made by pounding the rhizome was used to seal leaky boats.  Today, research suggests that the food value of cattails approaches that of corn and rice.  Quikrete users please note – a mixture of cattail seeds, ash, and lime sets up harder than marble.

So, if the wildlife likes it, what’s the problem?  As one researcher said, narrow-leaved cattail can be beneficial to a wetland community “in limited quantities.”  Broad-leaved cattails form dense stands, but there are breaks in the stands where other vegetation can grow and open water can be found.  Narrow-leaved cattail crowds out native vegetation by forming impenetrable monocultures, and monocultures reduce food sources and don’t support a very diverse array of wildlife. 

On the up-side, cattails keep pond edges from eroding (while it’s eating the pond).

The BugLady once worked at a Nature Center where thinning the cattails in a small pond by the Education building was an annual task.  Here’s what she learned: when you pull on cattails, they pull back.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Northern Two-striped Walkingstick – a Snowbird Special

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Northern Two-striped Walkingstick a Snowbird Special

Howdy, BugFans,

In the recent episode about Saddleback caterpillars, the BugLady mentioned that she (rightly or wrongly) associates the South with a larger number of plants and animals that sting, bite, itch, poison, stab, spray, and spit (sorry, folks).  Here’s another one.

First of all, we’re not talking about the svelte Northern Walkingstick that graces our landscapes here in God’s Country (https://bugguide.net/node/view/2219691/bgimage).  The order Phasmida (aka the order Phasmatodea or Phasmatoptera) contains five walkingstick/stick insect families in North America (“Phasma” means phantom or spirit).  Northern Walkingsticks are in the family Diapheromeridae, and Northern Two-striped Walkingsticks are in the Striped Walkingstick family Pseudophasmatidae.

Thank You, BugFan Joe, for sending pictures from the Deep South and for submitting them to bugguide.net for a species ID.  Here’s what the expert at bugguide said, “The taxonomy of this genus needs to be worked out, but I would lean on these being ferruginea. True A. buprestoides [the Southern Two-striped Walkingstick (STSW)] is supposed to be mostly restricted to Florida and extreme southern GA and AL, and is supposed to have the dorsal stripe much more distinct. But better to leave at genus level for now.”  Our knowledge of the lifestyles of the two species has some gaps in it, but they seem to operate similarly.

Anisomorpha means “unequal form,” and the BugLady guesses that refers to the size difference between males and females.  There are four species in this New World genus – two north of Mexico – and (like the Saddleback caterpillar) they are famous/notorious for their chemical defense system. 

So – the Northern Two-Striped Walkingstick (Anisomorpha ferruginea) (probably) (ferruginea means “rust-colored”).  Like many odd-looking critters, it has amassed a bunch of common and regional names – Prairie Alligator, Musk Mare (she’s a Musk Mare; he’s a Musk Stallion), Western Two stripe, Witch’s Horse, Devil’s Darning Needle (dragonflies are given that nickname, too), Witch’s Hose, Stick Bug, Spitting Devil, Devil Rider, and even Scorpion.  The names come from its appearance, from its defense strategy, and/or from the piggyback habits of the male (she does not carry her young on her back like a loon or opossum or wolf spider). 

NTSWs are found from South Carolina to Alabama, through Texas and Oklahoma, plus Illinois; there are Florida records of NTSWs, but nymphs of the NTSW and the STSW are pretty hard to tell apart (adults can be, too), so those records are considered a little iffy.  Females are chunky, tan/brown/rust, and about 2 ½” to 3” long, not counting the antennae, and males are about 1 ½” long.  NTSWs have straighter, slimmer legs than STSWs, and STSWs are a little larger, come in three color morphs, and (often) have more distinctive stripes (https://bugguide.net/node/view/1767787/bgimage).  Insects’ legs (and wings) are attached to the thorax, and in aid of their twiggy disguise, the walkingsticks’ extra-long thorax allows their legs to be spaced out along its length.  Many, but not all, species are wingless. 

They graze on leaves at night, and they seem to be fond of members of the oak family, but not exclusively.  One source said that when numerous, they can damage/defoliate shrubs; one said that they don’t do significant damage; and the Missouri Department of Conservation Field Guide says (rather optimistically) that “Musk mares help to limit the growth of vegetation. Over time, they help develop vigorous strains of plants that are least hindered by their leaf chomping.”

Some birds, reptiles, mice, ants, and spiders may be discouraged by their chemical assaults, but not all of them, and their eggs are eaten on the forest floor. 

They spend the winter – sometimes two winters – as eggs.  Our Northern Walkingstick drops her eggs carelessly from the treetops, the NTSW deposits them into bark crevices or onto the ground, tucked into leaf litter, and the STSW digs little holes for them.  They hatch and the nymphs feed, mostly unnoticed, until they mature in fall and gather in open areas or on buildings or tree bark https://bugguide.net/node/view/74303/bgimage.  Mating can last from several days to several weeks (and they’re probably monogamous), but the male continues to ride piggyback after his reproductive duties are done.  It has been suggested that the arrangement serves both of them because two sets of eyes looking for predators are better than one. 

They protect themselves with a musky, milky, irritating chemical (anisomorphal) that they produce and spray as a fine mist from a pair of glands in the thorax, just behind the head.  They spray with amazing accuracy – they aim for your eyes, and they can project the spray at least a foot.  They have the ability to spray from the moment they break out of the egg. 

What does it feel like?  According to the Texas Entomology website, “The first account of A. buprestoides’ effect on humans was apparently by Stewart (1937), who wrote about an incident in Texas: ‘The victim was observing a pair of Anisomorpha buprestoides …. with his face within two feet of the insects, when he received the discharge in his left eye …. The pain in his left eye was immediately excruciating; being reported to be as severe as if it had been caused by molten lead. Quick, thorough drenching with cool water allayed the burning agony to a dull aching pain. The pain eased considerably within the course of a few hours. Upon awakening the next morning the entire cornea was almost a brilliant scarlet in color and the eye was so sensitive to light and pressure for the next forty-eight hours that the patient was incapacitated for work. Vision was impaired for about five days.’ (Thomas 2003).”  Inhaling the chemical is unpleasant, too. 

The late, great entomologist Thomas Eisner noted that the STSW “is the source of one of the most noxious defensive secretions known to be produced by an insect.”  He prodded and pinched them in the lab and reported that it didn’t take much hassling for the STSW to react, that the insect could activate one or both glands, and that it could direct the spray precisely at the probe that poked it.  The sight of a bird closer than eight inches away caused an STSW to spray without waiting for the bird to touch it, but the walkingstick did not react to a waving bundle of feathers or colored cloth.  Eisner wrote, “The insect is obviously programmed not to waste its secretion by being unduly ‘trigger happy.’”  Some mammals simply outlast the STSW, waiting until it has sprayed about five times and its reservoir is empty (it takes a week or two to generate enough spray to refill a reservoir); a few test rats simply got used to the spray and ate the walkingsticks; and STSWs have been found in bear scat.   

About anisomorphal Eisner said that “Anisomorphal is also produced by a mint plant, in which the compound is sealed within tiny capsules embedded in the leaf tissue.  The capsules are designed to rupture and release their repellent contents when herbivores bite into the leaves.”

Admire these guys from afar – or wear safety glasses!

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Bugs in the News XIII

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bugs in the News XIII

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady’s “newspaper clippings” file runneth over, so here are a few articles for you to peruse.  Please note that most come from the excellent Smithsonian daily e-newsletter, which is not only free (though a donation is always appreciated), but there’s no pay wall.  The newsletter includes articles about current discoveries, archaeology, history, insects, birds and mammals, oceans, etc.

THE BUGLADY KNOWS that she’s preaching to the choir, here – not to the folks who say “Fewer bugs?  That’s great!”  Anyone who likes to eat, who likes birds (and dragonflies!), and who appreciates our natural communities and ecosystems should be a fan of insects and other “bugs” and should be concerned about their diminishing populations https://theconversation.com/climate-change-triggering-global-collapse-in-insect-numbers-stressed-farmland-shows-63-decline-new-research-170738?fbclid=IwAR1etZiZaYH2Athk7nF-jYweC1CCo_C3OJTy2z5x5SH5wmSSIsMMJyvDp7Y

IN A RELATED VEIN – https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/toxic-pesticides-are-driving-us-insect-apocalypse-study-warns-180972839/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20190807-daily-responsive&spMailingID=40375121&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=1580649837&spReportId=MTU4MDY0OTgzNwS2.

ALGORITHMS ARE EVERYWHERE.  Recipes are algorithms (“an algorithm is a finite set of instructions carried out in a specific order to perform a particular task.” Or solve a mathematical computation). Social media relies on algorithms to feed you content.  Now it turns out that even bees have algorithms https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/stingless-bees-build-spiral-honeycombs-grow-crystals-180975405/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=editorial&spMailingID=48505790&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2501713426&spReportId=MjUwMTcxMzQyNgS2.  

ONE MEASUREMENT that the BugLady has always used to gauge insect numbers is the flurry of bugs around the porch light at night.  Biographies of many insects, especially of moths, note whether they are attracted to light or not.  Scientists are figuring out what’s really happening (nice videos, too) https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/why-are-flying-insects-attracted-to-lights-scientists-may-finally-have-an-answer-180983704/?utm_source=smithsonian-daily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=editorial&spMailingID=49392239&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2640113033&spReportId=MjY0MDExMzAzMwS2.

WE JUMP IN LAKE MICHIGAN on January 1 (well, some of us do) (but not the BugLady); Cordova, Alaska has an Ice Worm Festival.  Whatever gets you through the winter.  Supposedly, cold-blooded critters don’t do so well when temperatures get below about 40 degrees (warm-blooded animals use part of their daily energy/food budget to maintain a core heat, but cold-blooded animals are at the mercy of the ambient temperature).  Ice worms have a couple of tricks up their sleeves.  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/this-eight-day-festival-celebrates-one-of-alaskas-weirdest-worms-180983711/?utm_source=smithsonian-daily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=editorial&spMailingID=49392239&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2640113033&spReportId=MjY0MDExMzAzMwS2

Alas – we’ve just missed this year’s festival https://www.icewormfestival.com/, but it’s not too early to start planning for 2025.  

MONARCH WINGS – Life is Physics! – https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/monarch-butterflies-signature-white-spots-may-help-them-fly-180982418/

IN THE “ALWAYS-TASTEFUL” CATEGORY: years ago, a colleague of the BugLady’s husband asked if mice pee.  Her husband knew that if he said yes, the man was going to go home and empty the cupboards and sterilize everything.  So he said “No, the liquid is included in the mouse poop.”  Do insects pee?  Many don’t, and “peeing” isn’t exactly the right name for it because they don’t have a separate exit just for liquids.  Insects have structures (OK – Malpighian tubules) that collect liquid waste (uric acid and ammonia) and deposit it in the hind gut.  Terrestrial insects need to conserve water, so they reabsorb usable liquids from the hind gut and the rest gets mixed with the digestive wastes and excreted (“just like mice….”) (aquatic insects are constantly excreting liquid to keep from getting waterlogged). 

But – insects that suck sap have a different challenge.  Sap contains sugar in very small concentrations, so plant juice feeders have to take in a lot of liquid (about 300 times their body weight daily) in order to get enough calories, and it comes out under pressure.  Excess fluid abounds. How do they handle it?  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/these-tiny-bugs-urinate-by-flinging-droplets-of-pee-180981720/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=editorial&spMailingID=48042798&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2420130861&spReportId=MjQyMDEzMDg2MQS2.

FINALLY – in the “Better Late than Never” category – the BugLady posted an episode about caddisflies last week, and today BugFan Steve sent this great video of a stream-dwelling caddis fly building a case https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3BHrzDHoYo.

The groundhog did not see its shadow.  The way the BugLady learned it, if he sees his shadow, there are six more weeks of winter, and if he doesn’t, there’s a month and a half until spring (and insects).  

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Caddisfly revisited

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Caddisfly revisited

Greetings, BugFans,

The BugLady is suffering from the February Doldrums in January – this is a massaged version of a BOTW that was originally posted in 2009, with some new words and new pictures.

What’s in a name?  A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  What indeed?  The BugLady will get back to that.

Caddisflies, in the Order Trichoptera (“hairy wings”), are famous for the cases built for protection by their soft-bodied larvae (the only natural “armor” they possess is located on their head, thorax and legs) and for the larvae’s ability to produce silk thread via a silk gland in their lower lip.  They use silk to “glue” materials together to construct the case, to net some food, and to modify the case before they pupate.

Caddisfly larvae live in both running and still water; in fact, according to Elsie Klots in The New Fieldbook of Freshwater Life, they are one of four orders of insects that “have become almost wholly aquatic during their immature life.”  The larvae of one European species live in wet moss, and the larvae of another, called the Land Caddisfly (Enoicyla pusilla), are terrestrial, but they still make cases out of materials they find in the leaf litter where they live.  Female Land Caddisflies are wingless.

Many of the pond dwellers cut and assemble small bits of vegetation into portable homes.  Some “homes” are thin tubes, some get glued together “the long way,” and some resemble Lincoln-log-like chimneys made of mini-twigs, sedges or cattails custom-trimmed by the larva.  In streams or rivers, where staying in one place is a challenge, the larvae use heavier building materials like tiny pieces of gravel, or they spin a net that they glue onto a rock or into a crevice.  Unlike turtles, whose shell and body are joined, caddisflies can leave their case of sticks or stones.  Naked – deprived of their homes – they look like little wet caterpillars (to whom they are not-so-distantly related). 

Cases are open at both ends, to facilitate oxygen circulation, and in very still water, the larvae must be more active in order to make up for the lack of a current.  Caddisfly larvae are so specific about their choices of building materials that they can be classified down to family and sometimes genus, by the structure of their shelter.

The caddisflies, also called sedge-flies and rail-flies (and “fish food”), are a big order, with more than 15,000 species worldwide.  North America boasts around 1,500 species of Tri-cops (as they are known familiarly), and not surprisingly for such a large group, their larvae indulge in a wide variety of feeding methods.  There are predators and scavengers.  There are “shredders” that perform the valuable service of turning big pieces of vegetation into little ones, thereby setting the table for even smaller organisms.  Some net-spinners are “collectors” that let the current deliver their meals (bits of organic material) “carry-out” (some net-spinners can produce a sound by rubbing a front leg against the underside of their head).  Finally, there are “scrapers,” grazing on algae and other tiny organic particles stuck to underwater surfaces.  As adults, with mouthparts that are described as “sponge like,” they ingest only liquids, and many species don’t feed as adults.

Adult caddisflies resemble slim, very long-antennaed moths; they tent their wings above their abdomens (making them look triangular from the rear), and their wings are covered with tiny hairs.  Females of some species actually climb under water to lay their eggs, protected from getting soaked by a thin layer of air trapped in that dense covering of hairs.  According to Eaton and Kaufman in the Field Guide to Insects of North America, fly-tiers (or tie-flyers) work hard to replicate caddisflies with their lures.  Exceptionally sensitive to pollution, the presence of caddisflies signals good water quality.  And, with a little luck, trout. 

Once, when the BugLady gave a presentation about Pond Life to third graders, a child asked where the caddisfly got its name.  The BugLady did not know, but she loves to research the etymology of entomology, so she promised to find out, and here is what she discovered.  Back in the days of the first Queen Elizabeth (when Romeo and Juliet were obsessing about names) (and in the midst of the Little Ice Age – fascinating – look it up), itinerant peddlers roamed the world.  Those who sold ribbons, threads and yarns were called “Cadice-men” after “cadaz/caddis/caddice” – words that had come to refer to worsted yarn.  Cadice-men displayed their wares by attaching samples of threads and yarns to their coats.  In his wonderful A Guide to Common Freshwater Invertebrates of North America, J. Reese Voshell, Jr. says that the larva’s ability to glue pieces of material together to make its case was reminiscent of how a Cadice-man covered his jacket with pieces of textile.  Alternatively, it may refer to the fringe on the adults’ wings.  Was the person who named caddisflies, like the BugLady, a bug-loving history-geek?

If you search online, you can find jewelry made out of caddisfly cases – entrepreneurs supply caddisfly larvae with a variety of bling, and the larvae incorporate it into their cases. 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

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