Bug o’the Week – Spatterdock Darner

 Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady had a great June, hitting the trails and photographing insects.  Not surprisingly, many of the insects that wandered past her lens were dragons and damsels, so “Closed for June” may morph into “Odonates for July.”

Isn’t this a spectacular animal!!!  BugFan Freda (aka the Dragonfly Whisperer) found it and then showed it to the BugLady.

A few words about Freda’s discovery.  First, she wasn’t looking for it, and the spot where she found it does not look at all auspicious from the road (it’s a tiny, gravel parking lot surrounded by shrubs and small trees).  She stopped and looked because … well … because she did.  The BugLady suspects that Freda is tuned into the zinging of the Cosmos.

Second, the Spatterdock Darner isn’t even on the list for the county she was in (find county lists under the map icon at the lower right-hand corner at http://wiatri.net/inventory/odonata/).  In fact, it’s only been recorded in a few counties in the central and southeastern parts of Wisconsin.

Third, as she explored the vicinity a little more, she found more Spatterdock darners, possibly breeding, and she found another unlisted darner.  The moral of the story is that we should, metaphorically, stop and smell the roses/odonates.  If our travels take us by that low spot in the road where a guard rail marks a little pool or stream, or past a big swamp where we always see dragonflies in the air, we should pull off and take a look (with a nod to poison ivy, ticks, mosquitoes, deer flies, soft shoulders, and No Trespassing signs).

Spatterdock, AKA Yellow pond lily and Bullhead lily (Nuphar advena), is a floating-leaved aquatic plant that’s rooted in the bottom of the pond.  Spatterdock Darners AKA, Spring Blue Darners (Rhionaeschna mutata), are dragonflies in the family Aeshnidae.  Until 2003 they were classified with the mosaic/blue darners in the genus Aeshna (to review “mosaic darners,” see this episode about the Green-striped Darner https://uwm.edu/field-station/green-striped-darner/), but now they’re in a genus of tropical darners.

[Short grammatical aside:  the “c” in the genus name keeps popping in and out.  Absent in family Aeshnidae; absent in the genus Aeshna; present in darner genera RhionaeschnaBasiaeschna, and Gomphiaeschna.  It’s not just the BugLady’s capricious spelling.]

This is a big dragonfly, up to 3” long, that one source described (perhaps unnecessarily?) as “very blue.”  Its eyes are distinctive (but are shared by the equally-awesome Blue-eyed Darner http://wiatri.net/inventory/odonata/SpeciesAccounts/SpeciesDetail.cfm?TaxaID=170, a genus member that is also a Wisconsin rarity).  Females are slightly duller in color, and there are some brown form females.  Also distinctive is its flight period – as one of its common names suggests, this is an early dragonfly, aloft in Wisconsin from late May through June, before most of the mosaics that it could be confused with.

They’re found over a pretty large chunk of geography – Ontario to Kentucky, and then west to the Mississippi River – but they aren’t common anywhere within that range.  Their global conservation status is listed as “secure,” but they are considered endangered or threatened in most of the states where they occur.  Ontario Odonata calls them “one of Ontario and Canada’s rarest dragonflies.”

Habitat plays a role in that story.  Although they not as closely linked to water lilies as Lilypad Forktails are (https://uwm.edu/field-station/a-species-on-the-march/), they will use water lilies if they’re available.  Their habitat requirements are narrow – for reproduction, they prefer shallow, peaty, fish-free ponds, backwaters, open marshes, boggy waters, and sometimes ephemeral wetlands with lots of aquatic vegetation and with woody edges, and they don’t stray far away from those spots as adults.  Such wetlands used to be more common, but early settlers in this and other states put a lot of energy into draining and filling them.  Presumably, the species is rare in Wisconsin because it is new here and is just establishing populations.

It’s hard to make management plans for a species when we just don’t know that much about them.  Spatterdock Darner populations can be scarce and local – and transient – disappearing from sites they had previously occupied.  In one study, Minnesota researchers failed to locate them in an area where they had been reported just a year before, despite searching 25 likely wetlands in the area.  The researchers suspected that fish may have been introduced (not necessarily by humans – waterfowl carry fish eggs on their feet and in their guts) and were eating the naiads, but changes in water chemistry, pollution, oxygen levels, sediment, ground water, etc. may also have affected the breeding sites.

Much of what we know about Spatterdock Darners comes from the observations of Edward Bruce Williamson, a Michigan banker who was, in the early days of the 20th century, an acclaimed dragonfly expert.  He found Spatterdock Darners while surveying Vanemon Swamp in Indiana.  Writing for the Entomological News (July 8, 1908) he said, “In Wells County, Indiana, are a few remnants of a the old swamps which fifty years ago made the chills and ague of this county a constant menace to the early settlers and a perennial joke for those too wise to invade such an inhospitable wilderness.       On June 23 [1907] I was at the marsh early in the morning.  As soon as I arrived I noticed Aeshnas flying low over the marsh.  A small patch of spatterdock in open water was repeatedly visited, the Aeshnas flying slowly in and out, with much stationary fluttering among the leaf stems.      On bright mornings when the eastern sky was clear they were hunting over the west side of the marsh at 4:45 o’clock.  One cloudy morning they did not appear at all.  After 9 or 10 o’clock their visits to the marsh were rare and they were more wary, leaving the marsh when any attempt was made to approach them and flying directly to or above the tree tops.  Aeshna mutata spend most of the day after 9 or 10 A.M. either resting in the trees or flying about over the tree tops, probably the latter.”

[He also wrote that “In early spring dainty crustaceans (Brachypus vernalis) [fairy shrimp] in half invisible schools pulsate their aimless ways.”]

Adults catch flying insects in sunny patches at wooded edges, and males patrol for females over open water or along its edges.  In Dragonflies through Binoculars, Dunkle says that “Males patrol low over the vegetation with a leisurely, erratic flight for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, paying special attention to flowers of plants such as spatterdock.”  According to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, “Spatterdock Darners are active on sunny days. Males patrol breeding sites, typically flying lengthy beats several feet above the water’s surface.  When more than one male is present, aggressive interactions are frequent and often end with one male chasing another high over the tree tops and out of sight.     The appearance of a female generally results in a moment of fevered chaos as one or more males tries to seize the female.     Once successfully coupled, the pair flies off high into the nearby woodland to mate.

Spatterdock females oviposit (lay eggs) in emergent or aquatic vegetation at the water’s surface.       Females have been observed ovipositing in the stems of spatterdock (Nuphar sp.), pondweed (Potamogeton sp.), and the dead stalks of cattails (Typha spp.).    The eggs probably hatch within 30 days, but the nymph may take as long as 3–4 years to reach maturity.”

The naiads hatch and don’t stray far from their natal plant, stalking their prey as they climb around in the thicket of underwater stems.

The BugLady has heard that there might be a 12-Step Program for dragonfly enthusiasts (but -– why???).  An alternative to the Program might be a new camera lens or a pair of those nifty binoculars that allow you to focus on dragonflies that are only a few feet away.  Group therapy will be provided for dragonfly addicts at the Riveredge Nature Center annual Dragonfly Count (this year, combined with the Butterfly Count), which will be held on July 11, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.  Come for part or all of the day, and bring your own munchies, sunscreen, and plenty of water.  For more information or to register, contact Mary at mholleback@riveredge.us or 262-416-1224.  Pre-registration is required, as are face masks while checking in, while indoors and where social-distancing is difficult outdoors.  (A $5 donation per attendee is welcomed.)

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

Bug o’the Week – Gypsy moth

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady heard from BugFan Joanne recently, from out of state.  Her State Department of Agriculture was doing aerial spraying for gypsy moths, and Joanne was having a Silent Spring moment.  “Today it seems remarkably bug free around our yard,” she said, “and I am worried.”  Here’s a slightly-revised BOTW (some new words and pictures) from ten years ago in which the BugLady did a little sermonizing.

Nota bene – the opinions expressed below belong to the BugLady, who doesn’t have a single bit of vegetation that could be accused of being a horticultural planting.  Don’t beat up on the various wonderful organizations that archive BOTW.  Also, the BugLady does not like collateral damage.

Grab a snack – this is a long one.

We all know the Gypsy Moth story; it’s the poster child of Invasive Species.  Gypsy moths (Lymantria dispar) (Lymantria comes from a Latin word for “destroyer”) were imported from Europe to the Boston area in 1868 by French scientist Leopold Trouvelot.  M. Trouvelot planned to do a little genetic tinkering to develop a hybrid gypsy moth/silk moth caterpillar that was hardier than the native silkworms.  America’s wild silkworm moths, family Saturniidae, include the spectacular Luna, Cecropia, Polyphemus, and Promethea moths (https://uwm.edu/field-station/giant-silk-moths-family-saturnidae/) along with some lesser-known, smaller species.  Their cocoons are rarely unraveled for their silk.  Our silkworms are not related to the domestic silk moth (Bombyx mori) in the family Bombycidae, and they’re not related to gypsy moths (family Erebidae) either.

Anyway, some of his breeding stock (inevitably) escaped.  The first recorded outbreak was in 1889, and gypsy moths now occupy a wedge of the US from New England to the Carolinas to Minnesota (to see a nifty, animated map that only goes to 2007, check out (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gypsy_moth_in_the_United_States).  They are considered to occupy about 1/3 of the area they could potentially expand into, and in the past 150 years they have stripped gazillions of leaves from billions of trees in the territory they do occupy.  Gypsy moth caterpillars feed at night on some 500 kinds of plants, and they are considered a major pest of hardwood (deciduous) trees.  Adults are short-lived and do not feed.

Caterpillars are bristly (some people suffer skin irritations from contact), with two bulbous tufts of hairs in front, and two more aft.  Gypsy moth larvae get around pretty well – newly-hatched caterpillars use silk to balloon to greener pastures.  Caterpillars feed for six weeks, generally in the treetops.  The youngest (black) caterpillars chew holes in the middles of leaves, and when they are slightly older they eat the leaf from its edge toward its center.  “Teen-age” caterpillars – more colorful, with paired red and blue spots – climb down to the ground to take shelter during daylight hours, returning to the treetops at dusk (during a heavy infestation, they may feed during the day, too).  If/when they have defoliated a tree, they hike overland, en masse, to find another.

Males grow through five instars (an instar is the eating phase between two molting phases) and females have six instars before they look for a place to pupate (which may be on a tree, a porch, a stack of firewood, a travel trailer, etc.).  After pupating for two weeks, males emerge before the females so they are lined up when the females emerge, and the wild rumpus begins.  Adult females are flightless and are stuck wherever they pupated – they use pheromones to lure flying males to their perch, and then create an egg case on the same spot.

What’s all the fuss about?  It’s estimated that gypsy moths defoliate more than a million acres of forest a year – sometimes significantly more – and they consider trees on suburban lawns to be as tasty as those in the woods.  And then there’s the “Ick Factor.”  During a large infestation, roads, patio furniture, and outside walls are thick with the sights and sounds of caterpillars crawling and munching and of frass (caterpillar poop) raining down.

Tell us, BugLady, after 150 years of noshing, are there any trees left in the eastern US at all?  Why yes, Dearies, there are.  Ever driven the Mass Turnpike (which is close to gypsy moth Ground Zero)? There are huge forests of large trees, miles and miles of trees (though forest composition may have changed some).  For many trees, the defoliation is only a temporary nuisance.  A tree’s potential for recovery is based on what percent of its leaves are eaten, on its species and health, on the amount of soil moisture, and on whether this is defoliation number one, two, three, or more.  Most healthy trees will survive a couple of consecutive years of 50%-plus defoliations, re-foliating by mid-summer (although re-foliating saps their energy reserves).  Stressed or compromised trees may be killed by the next outbreak.

When caterpillar numbers are low (not every year is a BIG year), birds, shrews, mice (there’s a fascinating connection between levels of acorn production, mouse populations, and gypsy moth infestations), chipmunks, raccoons, wasps, ants, flies, fiery searcher beetles https://bugguide.net/node/view/535769, and weather (very cold winters and roller-coaster springs) are effective caterpillar controls.  In outbreak years, flocks of blackbirds and several bacteria, fungi, and viruses have joined the fray.

To these, we have added imported tachinid flies (of previous BOTW fame), whose maggots parasitize the caterpillars.  Tachinid flies that were imported to eat the imported gypsy moths, however, have acquired a taste for native caterpillars, especially caterpillars of our large silk moths, whose numbers have dipped.  We also wage chemical/biological warfare on them, in the form of the bacterial pesticide, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), and with chemical pesticides – contact poisons that affect a larva’s digestive tract (and that may damage humans, too).  In some parts of Britain, test areas were “flooded” with pheromones to overwhelm the male gypsy moths’ senses and keep them from finding females.

The $64,000 question is “Should something be done about gypsy moths?  The answer seems to depend on whether people see a lot of caterpillars on the landscape or only a few.  Eric R. Eaton and Kenn Kaufman, in the Field Guide to Insects of North America state that “Probably more damage has been done by the huge amounts of poisons sprayed on forests in ill-conceived attempts to control the moth.”  Most control methods are not specific to gypsy moth larvae (to repeat – MOST CONTROL METHODS ARE NOT SPECIFIC TO GYPSY MOTHS), and the blanket elimination of generations of larvae (collateral damage) affects the predators of the larvae and the predators’ predators and a whole lot of innocent bystanders.  The ripples move out, and maybe some ripples fetch up on the shores of insect-impoverished landscapes and barren July 4th Butterfly Counts (seems you can’t be a butterfly without being a caterpillar/larva first).  And yet people who go to municipal meetings to question community spray policies are accused of being “anti-tree.”

BugFan Naomi shared this personal experience: “I am out for the week in the Driftless area of Wisconsin, where my family has owned a piece of land for 40 years.  Our land is a lovely piece of oak savanna but there has been this horrible “bloom” of gypsy moth caterpillars.  The trunks of the trees are positively hairy with them, an alarming concentration that is hard to fathom.  Just when one could despair that all was lost, we noticed that they were dying on the trunks, head down.  They explode into a goo when touched.  This turns out to be the work of some fungus they have ingested that is killing them.  So although as youngsters they are doing some damage on the lower branches, they are meeting their demise before going to the next stage.  Now the trunks are covered with hairy ‘skeletons’ (what do you call the furry, leggy remains of a caterpillar?).”

“Empties,” Naomi, they’re called empties, and one of two agents is at work.  One is a Nucleopolyhedrovirus (NPV), a naturally occurring, gypsy-moth-specific virus which causes a “wilt disease” that leaves the critters hanging from tree bark (and which is now used by the US Forest Service under the name of “Gypchek”).  The other is a gypsy moth-specific fungus called Entomophaga maimaiga (EM).  According to the Midwest Biological Control News, EM, a native of Japan (which has its own gypsy moths), was released near Boston in 1910 in an attempt to control outbreaks. Subsequent tests failed to detect residual fungus in the environment, so the experiment was halted. In 1989, analyses of bunches of mysteriously-dead gypsy moth larvae in the Northeast revealed that their deaths had been caused by EM, but where it had been for 65 years is a mystery.

Trees themselves may have a solution.  Bill Bryson, in A Walk in the Woods, offers this story (whose “science” the BugLady verified with her plant guy).  Oak trees that are heavily infested with caterpillars emit a chemical (distress) signal that travels to trees downwind.  As a result, the downwind populations of trees produce higher levels of tannins, chemicals that make the leaves unpalatable.  To this the BugLady says “Wow!”  When the BugLady was taking science (and dinosaurs roamed the earth) a list of plant attributes did NOT include the ability to send/receive/process/react to this sort of external stimulus.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

What’s Blooming at Riveredge? An Updated Phenology Report

One of the fantastic Riveredge volunteers, who has been exploring Riveredge trails for years to both take photographs and record observations, is letting us know what she sees blooming at Riveredge. In scientific terms, this is called “Phenology.” What is phenology? It’s very similar to another word, phenomenon. Phenology means what happens, and when, in nature. Some of the most common examples are: when flowers are blooming, when buds are present, when specific migratory bird species return, when birds are nesting.

Chances are, you already notice phenology you just might not call it that. If you notice when your garden is blooming, when the trees are budding, or when butterflies return to the skies – you’re observing phenology! Read below to learn what you can find along the trails when you visit Riveredge Nature Center right now.

Black-eyed Susan at Riveredge Nature Center

In Bloom

Lyre leaved Rock Cress
Wild Columbine
Bullhead Lily
Bladderwort
Prairie Phlox
Canada Anemone
Angelica
Tall Meadow Rue
Fragrant White Water Lily
Spiderwort
Lance Leaved Coreopsis
Hairy Beardtongue
Blue Wild Indigo
White Wild Indigo
Hoary Alyssum
Yarrow
Prairie Golden Aster
Bluets
Alumroot
Black Snakeroot
Cow Parsnip
Wild Garlic
Spreading Dogbane
Pale Purple Coneflower
Tall Beardtongue
White Beardtongue
Poke Milkweed
Harebell
Healall
Pale Spike Lobelia
Black Eyed Susan
Wild Quinine
Wild Four O’Clock
False Sunflower
Enchanter’s Nightshade
Wild Leek
Fringed Loosestrife
Marsh Phlox
Butterfly Weed
Pretty Bedstraw
Indian Hemp
Common Milkweed
Downy Wood Mint

Purple Coneflowers at Riveredge Nature Center

Flowers In Bud

Prairie Dock
Rattlesnake Master
Purple Coneflower
Sweet Joe Pye Weed

Volunteer Spotlight: Curiosity Driven by Community, Flowers, and Phenology

Pat Fairchild has been a volunteer for more than 15 years at Riveredge. Back then, she was seeking a flexible volunteering opportunity that worked with her hectic work schedule. The Tuesday Habitat Healer crew was the perfect fit. Whenever able, she’d show up to plant seedlings, snip invasive species, or help with other outdoor conservation work.

Curiosity Leads to New Knowledge and Skills

In order to learn about the flora she saw, Pat asked a lot of questions from fellow volunteers and staff members. “Everyone is so helpful and generous with their diverse knowledge,” says Pat. Being a visual learner, she started photocopying pictures of the species she saw blooming along the trails and posting the pictures on the Visitor’s Center wall for others to learn from as well. But one day a copy store employee told her that wasn’t allowed due to copyright…even if it was for educational purposes. So Pat bought a camera and began shooting and developing her own photographs to post on the wall.

While the Visitor’s Center was closed in spring due to Covid-19 concerns, Pat continued her weekly wildflower walks and we’ve been posting her phenological flower observations to the Riveredge Blog. “It’s great – I get out of the house, see the flowers and get some exercise. I’m a person who needs a purpose…I don’t just go out walking for no reason,” says Pat. “The flowers help me have a reason to get outdoors.”

Connection to Community and the Land

In addition to being a Habitat Healer, Pat has also been an interpretive naturalist and helps us raise Lake Sturgeon. Additionally, Pat also makes the time to volunteer with Interfaith, the American Cancer Society, and the Saukville Community Food Pantry.

The combination of community and love for the land is what keeps Pat coming back to Riveredge. “There are so many volunteers at Riveredge who have dedicated so much time and effort to making this place what it is – some of the people who started this place are still involved!” Pat says. “This land gets in your bones,” she smiles, “And you keep coming back.”

Hidden Summer Gems to Explore at Riveredge

With 379 acres and 10 miles of trails, Riveredge Nature Center has so many ever-changing beautiful places to see and experience throughout the year. Here are a few of our favorite summer places to explore.

Prehistoric Fern Fantasy Land

Step back into the time of the dinosaurs and experience the ferns lining the trail near the Milwaukee River. They grow so dense in early summer that it can play tricks on the eyes; so plentiful that the tessellated greenscape can appear surreal. Rather than flowers and seeds, ferns reproduce by sending out spores. Early in the season they unfurl fronds in a shape known as “fiddleheads.” Later in the season, ferns dry and senesce to look like brown fossils standing out of the earth, testaments to both an earlier time and an earlier season.

Flowers and Insects in the Summertime Prairie

Summer is that time when the prairie really sings, both figuratively and literally. A menagerie of insects and birds flit, buzz, and hover from bloom to branch. From the yellow explosion of Coreopsis, to the wispy scarlet of Prairie Smoke, and the feathery pinks of Queen of the Prairie, a stunning cascade blooms throughout the warm months.

  Larsen Climbing Rocks

What could be more natural to a Riveredge Kid than climbing? The Larsen Climbing Rocks are the perfect place for kids of every age to explore, practice gross motor skills and balance, Conveniently located just past the Yurts, a good rock crawl is the perfect start to any trail jaunt.

The Calm of Riveredge Creek

Many people might not know, but portions of Riveredge Nature Center are a designated State Natural Area, which denotes a high quality habitat. Riveredge Creek winds through this section. Intersections where the trail crosses Riveredge Creek are perfect locations to feel the cool shade beneath cedars and immerse in the tranquil sounds of a burbling creek while listening to the calls and wing flaps of nearby birds.

Visit Riveredge today to discover your favorite spots!

What’s Blooming at Riveredge? An Updated Phenology Report

One of the fantastic Riveredge volunteers, who has been exploring Riveredge trails for years to both take photographs and record observations, is letting us know what she sees blooming at Riveredge. In scientific terms, this is called “Phenology.” What is phenology? It’s very similar to another word, phenomenon. Phenology means what happens, and when, in nature. Some of the most common examples are: when flowers are blooming, when buds are present, when specific migratory bird species return, when birds are nesting.

Chances are, you already notice phenology you just might not call it that. If you notice when your garden is blooming, when the trees are budding, or when butterflies return to the skies – you’re observing phenology! Read below to learn what you can find along the trails when you visit Riveredge Nature Center right now.

Spiderwort can be seen throughout Riveredge prairies.

In Bloom

Stoneseed
Bullhead Lily
Blue Flag Iris
Bladderwort
Canada Anemone
Angelica
Tall Meadow Rue
Fragrant White Water Lily
Spiderwort
Lance Leaved Coreopsis
Hairy Beardtongue
Blue Wild Indigo
White Wild Indigo
Hoary Alyssum
Yarrow
Prairie Golden Aster
Bluets
Alumroot
Common Cinquefoil
Cow Parsnip
Large Flowered Beardtongue
Wild Garlic
Spreading Dogbane
Northern Bedstraw
Pale Purple Coneflower
Tall Beardtongue
White Avens
Poke Milkweed
Harebell
Heal All
Pale Spike Lobelia
Black Eyed Susan
Wild Quinine
Wild Four O’Clock

Pale Purple Coneflower

Flower in Bud

Wild Leek

Bug o’the Week – Spectacular Summer Dragonflies

Howdy, BugFans,

 

This episode originally appeared in 2011 under the title of “Confusing Summer Dragonflies.”  They are confusing in that they all have dark patches on their wings – interspersed with white patches in mature males but not in juvenile males.  The word “pruinose” rears its head again, as the abdomens of males of today’s dragonflies develop some degree of “hoariness,” due to the production of waxy scales, as they age.

Represented by 103 species in North America, the Skimmer family (Libellulidae) contains our most common and conspicuous dragonflies – Pennants, Meadowhawks, Gliders, Corporals, Pondhawks, Whitefaces, Saddlebags, Skimmers and the like.  According to Sydney Dunkle in Dragonflies through Binoculars, they are colorful but not metallic, often have patterned wings, and their eyes contact each other at the top of their head.  Skimmers are often sexually dimorphic, with colorful males and not-so-colorful females.

 

A female Skimmer doesn’t have an ovipositor like females of other dragonfly groups so instead of “inserting” her eggs into the water, she jolts them from her abdomen by smacking its tip on the water’s surface above submerged vegetation.  Males generally “hover-guard” while their ladies are thus engaged, preventing them from being shanghaied by rival males.  Widow skimmers, Whitetails and Twelve-spots prefer shallow ponds and lakes, and very slow streams with lots of organic muck on the bottom.  Submerged aquatic plants are great, but they don’t care for floating duckweed leaves that coat the water.  They are effective predators of mosquitoes and other aerial insects.

 

Today we take to the air with three big dragonflies that belong to a group called the “King Skimmers” – the genus Libellula.  Four-spotted and Slaty Skimmers are also in the genus, and Chalk-fronted Corporals (Ladona julia) are sometimes included in the group.  Dunkle calls the King Skimmers “the quintessential dragonflies” – strong fliers, feisty, territorial, stout-bodied.  Compared to the damselflies, these are giants; a few damselflies could easily sit on each of their wings.  All have dark eyes; the males are pretty distinctive, but the females can be a bit confusing.

 

As with most dragonflies, the information sites on the internet are logarithmically outnumbered by the zillions of photography sites that feature the work of happy dragonfly stalkers, and there is a lot of dragonfly merchandise available on the web.

 

 

TWELVE-SPOTTED SKIMMERS (Libelula pulchella) are the largest of the three (pulchella means “little beauty” but their body is about 2” long and their wingspread is 3”).  Males, females and juveniles all have 12 dark spots on their wings, and mature males add white spots between the dark (a correspondent of the BugLady’s says they look like checkered flags).  They used to be called Ten-spotted Skimmers by people who were counting the light spots instead of the dark ones, but that name didn’t describe the female. The wing spots of female Twelve-spots are similar to those of female Common Whitetails, and they both also have dark abdomens, but if you can get one to sit still, you’ll see a “solid” light/yellow stripe” along each side of the Twelve-spot’s abdomen.

Female

The BugLady frequently sees them perched on last year’s weed stalks in her grassy field, far from the waterfront properties where they woo and win female Twelve-spots.  When they’re chilly, they face into the sun and raise their abdomens, to maximize exposure.

Juvenile male

Male

Males characteristically fly, stop and hover, and then chase off in a different direction, and when disturbed, they will often return to the same sentinel post.  They patrol a territory, chasing off dragonflies of all species and psyching out other Twelve-spot males by executing vertical loop-the-loops around them.  Some of the Atlantic Coast Twelve-spots migrate in fall.

 

COMMON WHITETAILS (Libellula (sometimes Plathemislydia) are the flashiest of the three.  They’re just under 2” long and a little chunky-looking, and the male’s spectacular pruinose, white abdomen (powder blue in younger males) contrasts with his large dark wing spots (just one on each mid-wing).  Females can be distinguished from female Twelve-spots by a white/light line along each side of the abdomen that is broken/zig-zag, not continuous, and the edges of her dark wing spots are more jagged, too.  Juvenile males’ bodies are marked like females, but as they age, the pruinosity covers the abdominal markings.

Dunkle says that adults are attracted to the dark of mud, where they often perch (of the three, they are most often found on the ground), and they often sun themselves on rocks.  They are most uncooperative, jumpy photographic subjects.  Males fiercely defend a territory about 12 yards long over open water and pond edges.  Dominant males display their bright tails; submissive males lower theirs.  Females lay their eggs in the shallows where there is a lot of submerged vegetation (the habitat their naiads prefer), and the naiads are tolerant of low dissolved oxygen in the water.  If she wants to lay eggs on his prime real estate (up to 1000 eggs in a sitting, repeated every other day), she must mate with the owner.  According to Legler in his wonderful Dragonflies of Wisconsin, a naiad that is ready to transform into an adult may crawl as far as 150’ from its watery home before emerging.

 

The exquisite WIDOW SKIMMER (Libellula luctuosa) is the BugLady’s favorite of the three.  Widows are so named because they oviposit without the protection of their mates (one source reports that luctuosa means sorrowful and compares their wing color to mourning crepe).  They perch down in the tall grasses and fly up unexpectedly as the BugLady explores, spotting her long before she spots them.

They’re just a bit bigger than Common Whitetails but, to the BugLady’s eye, they look sleeker.  In both sexes, the base of the wing is brown (in the Common Whitetail, the dark patch is toward the middle).  Males have big bluish-white spots next to the brown, fading to clear-ish patches at the wing tips and may have a blue tinge/pruinosity on the abdomen.  The center of the female’s abdomen is a black stripe, bordered on each side by broad, gold stripes that merge at the thorax like an inverted V.  Juveniles start out looking like females, and the juvenile male’s abdomen gradually changes color.

 

When there aren’t many Widows around, males each defend their own territories (up to 250 square yards), but the territories move daily.  Defense of their home turf can be a contact sport.  With overcrowding, a dominant male emerges and he gets all the ladies.  In dense populations, the male will guard his female as she lays eggs; if she gets raided by an intruder, he will discard his rival’s reproductive material and replace it with his own.

 

Besides the Legler and Dunkle books, the BugLady recommends Dragonflies of the North Woods by Kurt Mead, Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East, by Paulson, and the Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies.

 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

Bug o’the Week – Black fly – The Bug. The Legend.

Howdy, BugFans,

Here’s a slightly enhanced episode from 2012

Nobody’s on the fence about black flies.

Black flies are also called turkey gnats and buffalo gnats, and people who live in black fly country have a whole bunch of other names for them that can’t be repeated here.  Entomologists call them true flies (order Diptera) in the family Simuliidae.  There are more than 1,800 species in the family worldwide (100 in North America; 30 in Wisconsin), and most of them belong in the huge genus Simulium.  What do they look like? Their hump-backed thorax and down-tilted head makes buffalo gnat a good nickname https://bugguide.net/node/view/1808934/bgimage.  BFs are tiny (5 to 10 mm) and dark, with clear wings, many-segmented antennae, and big eyes (and teeth) (just kidding).

If you don’t have cool/cold rivers and streams, you don’t have black flies, and if you do have black flies, it’s a compliment to the quality of those running waters.  Black fly larvae like lots of oxygen and are not tolerant of warmer waters or pollution, a fact that was lamented in an Ohio Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet.  In the No-Good-Deed-Goes-Unpunished category, the black fly populations increased when Ohio streams were cleaned up.

Adult BFs live for about three weeks, laying 150 to 500 eggs either individually on the water’s surface or in clumps attached to rocks, branches, etc. in/above the water (larvae that hatch above the water line immediately drop into the stream).  BF larvae are superbly adapted for staying in place and feeding underwater without being swept away by the current.  The nether end of their bowling-pin-shaped body is equipped with little hooks that they sink into the surface of whatever they are sitting on https://bugguide.net/node/view/1673475/bgimage.  They can also make silk web that helps them to stick tight or to move slowly to another spot.  There usually are several generations per summer, with the final generation overwintering as eggs or as mature larvae that are poised to complete their transformation in spring.  The summertime larval period takes a month or so, but the pupal stage is only a few days long, spent inside a cocoon submerged in an open-ended basket woven by the larva https://bugguide.net/node/view/877917/bgimage.  Emerging adults float up to the water’s surface on bubbles of air.

BF larvae are passive feeders who expand a fringe/fan around their mouth in order to grab/filter out tiny critters and organic (living or once-living) bits that float past them.  It’s the adults’ feeding habits that provoke profanity (“Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.” Mark Twain).

Like other biting flies, males are blameless nectar feeders.  Females may also consume nectar, but they need that all-important blood meal in order to reproduce.  Using her sharp, piercing (sometimes described as “blade-like”) mouthparts, a female makes shallow slashes in her prey and then sponges up the blood that flows from its surface capillaries  https://bugguide.net/node/view/389265/bgimage.  Injecting a local anesthetic and an anticoagulant allows her to get the job done efficiently (and causes the subsequent itching and swelling).

Different species of BFs target different kinds of warm-blooded animals, including humans, and some travel a great distance to do so.  Purdue University’s Medical Entomology Department reports that only about six species of BF cause grief for humans in the eastern US (and not all species are prolific biters), though other species annoy simply by their clingy presence.  Dense populations of BFs may cause livestock to lose weight and milk production to falter, and here in Wisconsin, a project to reintroduce the endangered Whooping Crane as a breeding species hit a snag when swarms of bird-biting BFs prevented the cranes from bringing off young.

Adult BFs feed by day; they are strong fliers that dislike wind; they love the thin skin on your ears and neck, and your clothing is no barrier; they have temperature receptors on their antennae (the better to find you with, my dear); and they seem to like the color blue.  Your personal mix of CO2, sweat, shampoo, etc. may make you more – or less – apt to draw flies.

Much as she loves and practices irony and understatement, even the BugLady feels a little guilty for saying that BFs are a big pest.  BFs in the tropics are capable of spreading diseases and parasites, but in the North Country, they are the biting fly that drives people inside when they want to be out – gardening, fishing, canoeing, hiking, camping, or just walking leisurely from the car to the house with a bag of groceries.  Getting a few BF bites is irritating; getting a whole bunch can cause “Black fly Fever,” a flu-like reaction to the BF saliva, and people with BF allergies may end up in the hospital.  Even dense swarms of non-biting BFs are annoying, because they fly into ears, eyes, noses and mouths.  An article about BFs in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1993 quoted a clergyman who traveled through the “northlands” (probably French Canada) in 1624 as saying that BFs inflicted “the worst martyrdom I suffered in this country.”

Lots of brain power has been devoted to BF control over the years, and websites, brochures and papers about control measures read like war games manuals.  It’s hard to zap the adults because they disperse away from their natal streams, and many pesticides should not be used in the watery habitats of the larvae because they kill other species indiscriminately.  Some folks feel that the common repellent DEET may actually attract BFs, but tar oil spread on exposed skin is supposed to be pretty good…..  One site recommends wearing an unpainted, aluminum hardhat coated with oil – the hardhat attracts BFs and the oil traps them.  A strain of Bt (Bacteria thuringiensis israelensis) has been successful on the larvae but is expensive and labor-intensive.  Mechanical methods include brush control and temporary damming of streams (still water carries less oxygen).  Fogging provides only temporary relief on small properties.  Out-foxing them by limiting outside activities to fly-free periods is best (they are said not to bite indoors), and a good antihistamine to treat the inevitable bites is a great Plan B.

As The Minnesota Conservation Volunteer (a dynamite publication) points out, black flies are valuable native pollinators of wild blueberries, but black flies’ biggest fans are their predators.  BF’s are an important fish food, and trout often intercept the emerging adults as they float to the surface.  Birds, amphibians, and fellow-insects like dragonflies also eat their share of the BFs that escape into the air.

Some folks embrace the BF.  Several towns in New England host Annual Black Fly Festivals (BFs are the unofficial State Bird of Maine).  Although Vermont’s Adamant Co-Op Black Fly Festival seems to have fallen by the wayside this year, its motto has been “More fun than is thought humanly possible.”  Press releases tell us to “Forget about fiddleheads, peepers, and maple sugaring.  Black flies are the real harbinger of spring in central Vermont” and past festivals have featured “Black fly balloons, Black fly Jeopardy, a Black fly fashion show (antennae optional), the Black fly parade, mugs, T-shirts, and live music by the Fly Swatters.”  Because, “after a long, cold winter here in Adamant, we need something to celebrate, and God only knows we have plenty of black flies.”  The schedule of events for the day concludes with: “4:00 – Grill closes. Festival ends.  Blackflies all die.”

Milo, Maine hosts a festival, as do several Canadian towns.  The Adirondack town of Inlet, NY features an Annual Black Fly Challenge bike race.  Many tourist-related businesses in the Adirondacks close for a month during the peak BF season, which they call “the Fifth Season.”

Go outside – feed the black flies.

On a related pandemic note – apparently, the pandemic has been keeping people off the trails that the BugLady walked today, because when she arrived, the mosquitoes had a noisy celebration.

The BugLady

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

2020 Return the Sturgeon and Sturgeon Fest Statement from Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

The text below was received by Riveredge Nature Center regarding the Lake Sturgeon egg collection program, Return the Sturgeon effort, and also relates directly to the Sturgeon Fest celebration. With no collection of Lake Sturgeon Eggs, we have no fish to raise onsite at Riveredge, and therefore Sturgeon Fest and the Return the Sturgeon program is on hiatus for 2020. Here is the original letter from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The Return the Sturgeon Program is a treasured part of our Riveredge efforts. We look forward to resuming this 25-year project in 2021 to bring Lake Sturgeon back to the Great lakes and the Milwaukee River!

 

April 22, 2020
To: Lake Sturgeon Egg Collectors
Subject: Temporary Suspension of Lake Sturgeon Egg Collections

The Bureau of Fisheries Management would like to thank you for your continued dedication and commitment to
Lake Sturgeon management. Your current and future efforts to enhance the sturgeon fishery are greatly
appreciated.

Due to the current COVID-19 public health emergency, the Department of Natural Resources has decided to
suspend the collection of Lake Sturgeon eggs this spring. We are currently under a State of Emergency regarding
COVID-19 and are required to limit non-essential travel outlined in Emergency Order #28 to protect the health
and safety of DNR staff and the public. We realize this decision impacts the hard work you have done and
continue to do to meet your goals of restoring lake sturgeon to their native distribution and historic abundance.
However, the Wisconsin DNR believes this decision is necessary to protect our most cherished resources: our
staff and the public we serve.

Lake Sturgeon egg collections require close contact between DNR staff, other agency staff and volunteers. In
addition, many of the spawning areas we conduct these activities at are currently closed due to the pandemic.
This is a temporary suspension of Lake Sturgeon egg collection operations. The DNR remains committed to
continuing our collaborative efforts to enhance and sustain Lake Sturgeon restoration activities throughout the
United States and plan to resume cooperative egg collections again in 2021.

We encourage everybody to stay safe during this public health emergency.

If you have any questions, please contact Todd Kalish at 608-225-5826 or todd.kalish@wisconsin.gov
Todd Kalish

Department of Natural Resources
Bureau of Fisheries Management Deputy Director
101 S. Webster St.
Madison, WI 53707

Bug o’the Week – Pseudoscorpion

Greetings, BugFans,

 

“Closed for June,” but here’s a slightly spruced up episode from 10 years ago, part of a series on household bugs.  The BugLady recently found one of these little cuties in her bathroom.

 

Last week, the BugLady raced a storm to get the episode posted – the electricity went off 4 minutes after she sent it out.  This week, the leading edge of Tropical storm Cristobal has already arrived to drench Wisconsin (and blow it off the map), so she’s getting an early start.

 

The phylum Arthropoda (“jointed legs”) is HUGE and diverse; it includes the Crustaceans (fairy shrimp. daphnia, sowbugs. crayfish, crabs and horseshoe crabs), the Arachnids (spiders, daddy long-legs, scorpions, pseudoscorpions, mites and ticks), the millipedes and centipedes, and the insects.  The BugLady looks forward to seeing this exquisite little bathroom-dwelling arthropod during the warmer months, and she was pleased to discover that its life is as interesting as its appearance.

 

They have names that are substantially longer than the bugs themselves.  Pseudoscorpions like today’s star, the Book Scorpion, are in the family Pseudoscorpiones in the order Chelonethida/Pseudoscorpionida.  There are some 300 species of pseudoscorpions in North America (2500 worldwide), and they come in both indoor and outdoor models – the species that live outside are found under the cover of bark, leaves and soil.  They’ve been around for a while – fossil pseudoscorpions date back 380 million years.  They were mentioned by Aristotle and were listed as “land crabs” by Robert Hooke in his amazing 1665 book called Micrographia (no, not tiny handwriting – the other Micrographia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micrographia).

The common House Pseudoscorpion/Book scorpion (Chelifer cancroides), is one of the larger models, their bodies measuring 0.2” long (there’s a picture of one sitting cooperatively by a ruler https://bugguide.net/node/view/966500/bgimage).  That means that you could put the eraser of a #2 pencil over one (that actually means that you could put the eraser of a #2 pencil over two of them, with some appendages sticking out at the sides).  Pseudoscorpions are flat and wedge-shaped (kind of tick-shaped), and their color has been described as “rich mahogany.  They have 4 pairs of legs, on which they can walk backwards and sideways as well as forwards, and a set of “pedipalps”/pincers on long appendages that are located in front of the legs.  The pincers are armed with poison to subdue their prey and are also used for fighting, for defense, and to build nests. Nota bene – no scorpion stinger at the other end.  Pseudoscorpions are roughly tick-shaped, but they’re not ticks and are harmless (and even beneficial) to humans https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/running-ponies/how-book-scorpions-tend-to-your-dusty-tomes/.

 

With silk spun from glands on their jaws they make chambers for overwintering, for molting (a vulnerable time), and for brooding.  A spider’s silk glands are at the other end.  Most pseudoscorpions are eyeless, but long sensory hairs on their pincers suggest that they navigate through life by touch.  They practice phoresy – that is, they hitchhike on insects in order to get from Point A to Point B (the Wikipedia entry on Pseudoscorpions has a photo, and here’s a picture of one on an Eyed click beetle https://bugguide.net/node/view/23845.  Most of the specimens that get captured and turned in for identification are adults because, according to one source, older Pseudoscorpions are less agile and more likely to slide down whatever surface they are climbing up, and they find it harder to right themselves after flipping over on their back.  The BugLady can relate.

 

Book scorpions are predators.  Whether they are hanging out on the BugLady’s bathroom walls or between the pages of a book, they are looking for critters to eat.  Their menu includes flies, ants, clothes moths, carpet beetle larvae, mites, book lice, and other pseudoscorpions, and they reportedly like bedbugs.  All-on-all, nice little critters to have around.

These tiny, sightless critters have developed an elaborate life cycle.  It begins with a courtship dance that may last as long as an hour.  Males create a mating territory 1 to 2 centimeters square, possibly using pheromones (scents) to mark its area.  According to the Little Golden Guide to Spiders and their Kin by Levi and Levi, when a female enters his territory, the male waves his pincers, vibrates his abdomen or taps his legs.  The couple lock pincers and pull each other back and forth; he eventually guides her to a spermatophore (sperm packet) that he has laid on the ground, and she picks it up.  The female carries the fertilized eggs (about 2 dozen) in a silken sac/brood pouch attached to her abdomen; the young stay in the sac after hatching and consume a milk-like substance that she produces in her ovaries.  Even after they leave the sac, the young may continue to piggy-back on Mom for a while. Young pseudoscorpions molt several times over a year or so before becoming adults.  Adults may live for 3 years – quite a life span for such a small creature.

 

Fun Pseudoscorpion Fact from the Remarks section in the Pseudoscorpion write-up in bugguide.netI remember them being abundant in the chicken houses I was responsible for while growing up and I assume they must have been feeding on bird lice [Troy]

None are known to be parasitic but they feed on arthropods in bird and rodent nests. They are sometimes found on beetles or other large insects where they apparently feed on mites.

 

 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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