Bringing science straight to schools

We absolutely love having school groups come out and visit us for field trips, but Riveredge’s mission has always been bigger than just our nature center and land. Riveredge is constantly looking to pioneer methods of redefining a community’s relationship to a nature center and their natural environment, and our new Naturalist In Residence program is a prime example of this innovation and expansion in our mission.

The Naturalist in Residence program is an exciting project being piloted this year in partnership with the West Bend School District. At a time when today’s kids spend less and less time outdoors (becoming known as “Nature Deficit Disorder”) and more and more research continues to confirm the serious consequences this lack of exposure has, this cutting-edge program will place a fully-funded environmental educator directly into schools for five years. The Naturalist in Residence will partner with school staff to inspire, inform, and reduce barriers to their use of the outdoors as a teaching tool.

Making the program responsive to the needs of the schools we partner with is a key component of the project. In that regards, Megan Johnson has been a perfect fit for the West Bend School District’s “Scientist in Residence”, a Naturalist in Residence position focusing their attention on expanding science teaching through outdoor learning and classroom space. Megan has previously taught environmental education at a number of leading institutions and as the Director of Nature Center at a camp in Northern Wisconsin was responsible for designing the curriculum for over 25 lessons. She has passion for the scientific research and discovery she’ll be teaching as well; Megan has contributed to research on bat populations in Eastern Iowa, management of invasive species, and even traveled to Paraguay to study amphibians, birds, fish, and vegetation.

Already, in her first two months as the Scientist in Residence, Megan has taught over 500 sixth graders a lesson on prairies, held a special insect field day for second graders, and had all K-6 teachers in the District on a hike in their district’s outdoor classroom to generate and brainstorm ideas for the teachers’ utilization of the space.

According to Megan, “The reaction from students and teachers has been amazing. There are many teachers who are enthusiastic to get their kids outside and out of the classroom. The kids are engaged and excited to do something out of the norm. For some of them having the chance to explore freely outside is not regular and it offers a unique experience.”

We can’t wait to keep you updated on Megan’s progress and to see what differences can be made working in a true partnership with our local schools. In the meantime, check out the Naturalist in Residence page for more information on the program, and we would love to hear from you if you interested in learning more about the project or have interest in contributing to help us keep expanding and growing its reach.

Bug Lady Blog – Cottony Scale

Greetings, BugFans,


A few years ago, the BugLady spotted an unusually cooperative Kennedy’s Emerald dragonfly hanging from a walnut twig, and since then, her eyes scan the edges of that tree every time she passes it, hoping that lightning will strike twice.  One day in June, she found this scale insect there, with a few attendant ants.

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In the course of her research, she came across an entry about scale insects in the bluejaybarrens.blogspot, in which the author, Steve Willson, writes “If I’m just out looking around, I never fail to investigate anything that draws the attention of the Allegheny Mound Ants. If the ants are involved, there is undoubtedly something of interest to be seen.”  The BugLady’s sentiments, exactly.  More in a sec about the ants’ affiliation with this Bug-on-the-half-shell.


The BugLady is not sure of who this scale is.  It looks like a Cottony maple scale (Pulvinaria innumerabilis) (the BugLady loves that species name), or something closely related to it.  Despite its name, the Cottony maple scale is found on quite a list of woody plants, from forest trees to fruit trees to shrubs to grapevines (full disclosure: she didn’t find walnut on any of those lists of host plants, but at least 47 species have been documented).  The life histories of the Pulvinaria (Cottony Scales) are pretty similar, so we’ll use this as the Posterscale for the group.  Cottony Scales are in the family Coccidae; in older insect guides they are listed in the order Homoptera, but that order has been folded into the suborder Sternorrhyncha within the order Hemiptera (True Bugs).  Scales are a big group, and they come in lots of different sizes and shapes and lifestyles.

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What are we looking at here?  The gray-brown, tortoise-y-looking shell is the exoskeleton of the female, and it’s covered with wax.  Scales have pretty extreme sexual dimorphism (“two forms”).  Females spend their adult lives fixed in one spot, under that shell sometimes antennae-less, sometimes legless.  Males, which are described as looking vaguely gnat-like, are mobile and may or may not have wings as adults.  The nymphs, at about ¼” long, pale, and covered with waxy filaments (kind of like a wooly aphid or a walking scale egg sac), are twice the size of their mother; female nymphs are wingless.


Scale insects have quite an on-line presence, and, due to their diet, it’s not an entirely neutral one (many of the hits are for Cottony Cushion Scale, a distantly related pest of citrus trees).  Nymphs and adult female Pulvinaria scales pierce plant stems/twigs and drink plant juices in search of amino acids (males have no mouthparts and are very short-lived).  In small numbers, they do little damage to the tree – mostly survivable and temporarily cosmetic.  During periodic population booms, which may last two or three years until their predators catch up, they can cause leaf-drop or twig death, or they can sap the energy of plants, leaving them vulnerable to disease.


Amino acid concentrations are low, so scales (and aphids and other sap-feeders) process sap and excrete excess sugar water as a substance called honeydew.  Honeydew lands on leaves, cars, patios, etc. rendering them a bit “tacky,” and attracting a variety of insects that feed on it.  In exchange for honeydew, ants are in attendance to protect the scales from predators like mites, parasitic flies and wasps, and ladybugs (whose larvae may reside in masses of tiny scale nymphs).  If honeydew accumulates on leaves, it acts as a culture medium for sooty mold, which looks just like it sounds and which blocks sunlight to leaves.


In the “Fifth Report of the United States Entomological Commission, Insects Injurious to Forest and Shade Trees” (1890), Alpheus S. Packard tells us that “This insect has not been troublesome in this part of Missouri since 1884; but in and around Rockford, Ill., I learned that it had been so abundant on the soft maples for three successive seasons as to kill many young trees outright and greatly injure the older ones. I was told that the side-walks shaded by these trees became so defiled and slippery from the exudations of the scale insect that it was difficult and unpleasant to walk on them. The citizens had consequently conceived a prejudice against the soft maple, and many were being cut down or dug up and replaced by other trees.”

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The only/most conspicuous stage is the mature female with her egg/ovisac of waxy fibers that’s been aptly described as looking like popcorn.  She’s been there all winter, small and flat (click on the top picture:, but she matures (and expands) in late spring and produces the sac, which may be four times her size and contain 500 to 1000+ eggs (she mated last fall).  Soon, her eggs hatch and the nymphs (“crawlers”) spread out, puncturing the softer tissue of the leaf veins (one source described them as “extremely small…..yellow-orange moving dots”).  In late summer, they mate and the male dies (a female may produce eggs without mating, but if she does, all the offspring will be male).  In some species of scale, males pupate and mating happens in spring.


The fertilized (but still immature) female moves from the leaf to the twig in fall and fixes herself there permanently.  She feeds until late fall, overwinters there, and she resumes feeding (and producing honeydew) and matures as she and the plant wakes up in spring.  In some scales, the newly-hatched nymphs stay within her egg sac until they can fend for themselves, and million-year-old scales in amber testify to this ancient brood-care arrangement.  The female dies after the nymphs depart, though her body and shell remain partly glued to the twig by the egg sac.


Packard’s report contains a lengthy discussion of how these scales might move from place to place.  He considers (and debunks) a number of the guesses from his day: “Owing to the wingless, degraded, and inactive character of the female and the limited capabilities of the young for extended locomotion, the problem as to how the insect spreads from one locality to another seems at first glance rather a difficult one. When we consider the great activity of the young lice, however, and their propensity for fearlessly crawling upon anything which happens to be in their immediate vicinity, the difficulty is lost sight of. We may recognize as aids in transportation (1) the transplanting of trees from infested localities to places free from this insect, (2) birds, (3) other insects, (4) winds, and (5) water.”  Spoiler alert – Packard thinks spiders give scales a major assist.


What to do about scales?  For light infestations, most sites recommend leaving them alone because insecticides will kill potential predators.  Packard recommends “cutting off the branches, and drenching with a solution of whale-oil soap or a 1 per cent, solution of carbolic acid. During the past season, however, we have recommended nothing but the kerosene emulsions treated in a previous article, and these will undoubtedly give better satisfaction than anything else that can be used.” 


Intrigued by scales?


Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug Lady Blog – Mini-moths without Bios I

Salutations, BugFans,


Some of the 11,000-plus species of moths that inhabit North America are pretty small, and as seasoned BugFans know, the BugLady loves photographing mini-bugs.  Today’s moths live in a loose, non-taxonomic group called micromoths or microlepidoptera.  They don’t share the kinds of physical characteristics that would place them in a distinct family of their own, like the Sphinx or Giant silk moths; it’s all about size – micromoths are described as having a wingspread less than 20mm (3/4”).  One source defines them by default as any moth not presently placed with the macrolepidopterans.  About three-quarters of moth families have “mini” members.  Their small size makes them hard to examine, preserve, and classify (and therefore name), and it also keeps them from being embraced by the majority of moth enthusiasts.


They’re a diverse bunch.  Lots of microlepidopterans are diurnal (though several of today’s moths appeared under the BugLady’s front porch light), and the larvae of many species specialize in a single or a limited number of host plant species (the group includes some plant and fiber pests).  Many tunnel or mine in plant tissues or feed within leaves that they web together, though there are some scavengers and, surprisingly, some parasitoids and predators in the bunch.


Although they have their own website (under construction) and a Facebook page, and they’re present on lists of museum collections and natural history surveys, there’s not a lot of information out there about their stories.  As far as the BugLady is concerned, the microlepidoptera are the poster children for why field guides should show moths as they sit, rather than pinned with wings spread – these guys can be hard enough to ID in their natural posture (the BugLady typically finds their IDs by accident).


Orange headed monopis

Orange-headed monopis

The ORANGE-HEADED MONOPIS (Monopis spilotella), in the moth family Tineidae (NOT Tineidae, the contemporary music producer) can be found across northern Europe, Russia, and North America.  Tineidae is commonly called the Clothes Moth family, though many of its members never see the inside of a closet, and they are also known as Tineid or Fungus moths.  As their name suggests, the larvae of some species of Tineids eat fabrics like carpets and clothing, but “wild” family members may feed on feathers and keratin, which they get from the horns, hooves and shells of dead animals.  The Peterson Moth Guide lists its larval hosts as “unknown.”


Speckled xylesthia

Speckled xylesthia

While some micromoths have no common name, the SPECKLED XYLESTHIA or Plum branch Xylesthia or Clemens Bark Moth (Xylesthia pruniramiella), has an embarrassment of them.  This half-inch moth, another member of the Tineidae, is decorated with lumps that are made of raised scales, and it has a great face  It occupies the US east of a line from Texas to North Dakota (it’s also found in the Galapagos Islands!), and its larval food is “woody excrescences found on the branches of the plum tree.”  It has a long flight period or multiple generations per year – a North Dakota site reports them from February to December.

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Bidens borer

This BIDENS BORER moth (Epiblema otiosana) had quite a trek from the nearest Tickseed sunflower or Bur marigold to the BugLady’s front door.  Amaranth (Goosefoot), Chenopodium (Lamb’s quarters) and Ambrosia (ragweed) are listed by some as alternate hosts, and the BugLady does have those, but some authors say that a larva ends up in a non-Bidens stem only after starting out in a Bidens stem.  The pupa overwinters in plant stems.


The Bidens Borer is in the family Tortricidae, or Leafroller moths.  It is found in damp areas/wetlands/wetland edges North America east of the Rockies.  It’s listed in older references as a biological control for Bidens (which the BugLady didn’t realize needed controlling) and as an important reservoir for a number of parasites of agricultural pests, including the Oriental fruit moth.



Goldenrod gall moth

The larvae of Epiblema scudderiana, or the GOLDENROD GALL MOTH, make a gall in the stems of a variety of goldenrod species in open areas in eastern North America  It has, famously, been studied in connection with the cold-hardiness of the larva (lots of papers on line about its “glycerol biosynthesis”), which is important because like the Bidens borer, it acts as winter host of (according to 11 parasitic wasps and one tachinid fly that attack pest insects in summer.  The adult rests with its wings rolled like a cigar.



Cream-edged dichomeris

The CREAM-EDGED/CREAM BORDERED DICHOMERIS (Dichomeris flavocostella) (flavocostella = “yellow rib”) is in the family Gelechiidae, a.k.a the Twirler moths (the BugLady could not determine what “twirler” is all about).  Gelechiilidae, like Tineidae, includes lots of species that compete with us for food, but the caterpillars of the Cream-edged dichomeris bind together the leaves of goldenrods and asters with silk and feed, sheltered, within.  They’re found east of the Rockies.



Four-o-clock moth

And finally (until the BugLady stumbles across more IDs), we have the FOUR-O-CLOCK MOTH (Heliodines ((a.k.a. Neoheliodinesnyctaginella), in the “sun moth” family Heliodinidae.  The BugLady came by this ID sideways.  She found a picture of Linnaeus’s Spangle-wing ( (moth namers have so much fun) that looked pretty good and she had photographed her very spiffy moth not far from the Spangle-wing’s larval food tree, Linden.  But, her moth was a lot fancier – more silver spots.  Since she photographed it on a Wild Four-o-clock plant (Mirabilis nyctaginea) (note please the tie-in between the moth’s species name, nyctaginella, and the plant’s), she decided to check the awesome Illinois Wildflower site (, whose species write-ups include faunal associations, and there it was.  A very similar moth, right down to its pale antennae-tips, that not only is in a different genus, it’s in a completely different moth family.  The larvae feed on buds and leaves, causing the stressed plants to produce fewer seeds.


The Four-o’clock moth is in the family Elachistidae, the Grass Miner moths; the larvae of many species burrow in grass leaves and/or stems).  According to, the Greek Elachista means “very small.”


Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Share Your Heart!

HOCS secondary 4 color external

Heart of Canal Street is Potawatomi Hotel & Casino’s community program that raises funds for children’s charities – and Riveredge is grateful to be chosen as a beneficiary! This year, $1,031,543 was distributed among 31 lucky charities throughout Greater Milwaukee. Support will help sustain Riveredge programs including new Family Nature Clubs, Summer Camp Scholarships, and an ongoing educational partnership with LUMIN Schools.

Heart of Canal Street has raised more than $14.6 million for hundreds of area children’s charities since 1994. The program began as a way to carry on the Potawatomi tradition of nurturing younger generations so they grow to lead healthy, productive lives. Giving has always been at the heart of the program. Now, it’s in the name.

Half of each $3 Canal Street Bingo game purchased goes to the Heart of Canal Street fund. Share your heart by playing the Canal Street Bingo game at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. Visit to learn more.

Bug Lady Blog – Emerald Ash Borer redux

Howdy BugFans,

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The BugLady and her camera have been out celebrating the fall colors (Mother Nature’s great, good, Technicolor gift before she turns the world monochromatic).  She especially loves to photograph ash trees, which sometimes produce knock-your-socks-off reds and oranges but whose palette more commonly includes subtle, burnished, almost iridescent shades of amber, magenta, plum, and bronze (sometimes all in the same leaf).  In honor of ash trees, here’s a slightly-tweaked rerun about Emerald ash borers from 2010 (updated facts and mostly new pictures because the BugLady has, alas, had ample opportunity to photograph the beetles in the past few years).

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While the BugLady tries to inject a note of humor/irony/attitude into her insect biographies, there’s nothing funny about today’s Bug, the invasive and highly destructive Emerald Ash Borer (EAB).  True, the EAB (Agrilus planipennis) didn’t ask to come here, and the dynamics of its expansion/explosion into uncharted, tasty, and predator-free territory follows the pattern of many previous invasive species.  But, the BugLady is a lifelong fan of ash trees, so this one is personal.


Originally from Asia, the beetle was first discovered in the Detroit, MI area in 2002, but it had probably hitched a ride into this country as much as a decade earlier.  Its strong flight typically allows it to increase its range by a mile or two per year, but it doesn’t have to depend on its wings to travel, since humans have been doing the heavy lifting for it.  The EAB has traveled, hidden in shipments of ash tree products like nursery stock, firewood, and pallets, and it has now been recorded in most of the US east of the Great Plains (plus Colorado and Kansas), and it’s found well into eastern Canada.

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Emerald ash borer


Wisconsin’s first EAB infestation was discovered in the summer of 2008 on property adjacent to Riveredge Nature Center, barely three miles from the BugLady’s home.  EABs had been nibbling at the state’s north and south borders for several years, but their leapfrogging into Ozaukee County was a surprise.  Since that date, they have been found in 39 Wisconsin counties ( ).

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Named for its sparkly green coloration, the EAB is in the Metallic Wood Borer family (Buprestidae), a group of often-iridescent, sturdy-looking, bullet-shaped, short-legged beetles whose thorax and stiff wing coverings look pitted and tough.  The EAB is one of several beetle species that makes its living on ash – a native long-horned beetle called the Red-headed ash borer, in a different beetle family, is not a pest of healthy trees.  The BugLady is always surprised at how small these slender ¼” to ½” long insects are (females are larger than males).


EAB larva

EAB larva

Males find females by hovering around ash trunks as the newly-minted females emerge.  Eggs are laid in crevices in tree bark, and when the larvae/grubs hatch out, they bore through the bark into the nutritious cambium.  There they feed until, by mid-fall, they’re an inch-plus long (double-to-triple the size of an adult).  They overwinter under the bark as pre-pupae and pupate in spring.  Adults emerge in June, exiting through a characteristic “D” shaped opening in the bark.  Adults feed innocuously on ash leaves, are active during summer, but are gone by September.

D-shaped exit

D-shaped exit


The EAB, which eats only members of the Ash family (though there’s an occasional report of non-ash feeding), is a grave threat to Wisconsin’s landscape.  In the nearby Cedarburg Bog, between 10 and 12 percent of trees in the wetlands and uplands are ash.  At Riveredge, between 20% and 25% of the woodland trees are ash.  Sources estimate that in North America between 2002 and 2010, 15 to 40 million ash trees were killed by or were dying from EAB (most experts lean toward the higher number), and that right now, there are 50 million dead or dying ash trees in the Midwest alone.


To grasp its potential impact on Wisconsin, consider that the DNR estimates that there are more than 750 million ash trees in Wisconsin forests, towns, cities and countrysides (about 7% of our total trees) (, and the DNR predicts 99% mortality.  On its home playing field in Asia, the EAB is uncommon and ash trees can fend off an attack, but North American trees have no natural resistance.


Unlike Dutch Elm disease, a beetle-spread fungal disease that killed the majority of American elms, the damage done by the EAB is mechanical.  Larval ash borers (grubs) bore twisty tunnels called galleries and feed in the cambium and phloem just below the tree’s bark.  The galleries block the flow of water and nutrients, starving the tree’s crown.  Once infested, a tree is doomed, usually dying from the top, down within a few years.  Dying trees often put up brushy new growth around the base of their trunk in an attempt to survive (epicormic sprouting).


Galleries in cambium

Galleries in cambium

Populations of three species of woodpeckers (Downy, Hairy and Red-bellied) have increased as EABs move in, stripping off the bark to locate larvae below, but the EAB has no serious enemies on this continent.  A few alien parasitic wasps are being tested as potential biological controls.  Extreme temperatures during the winter of 2012-13 were expected to kill enough overwintering EABs to slow them temporarily (scientists all over the Upper Midwest were doing the math; Milwaukee and Chicago fell just short of the number of sub-10 degree hours needed for a significant kill), and winter temperatures are expected to be a problem for EABs in the far northern portions of their range.


Woodpecker stripped bark

Woodpecker stripped bark

When an infestation is discovered, quarantines on the movement of ash products, especially firewood, are imposed.  Some states have tried destroying all ash trees, infested or not, within a certain radius of where the beetles were found, but this tactic has proved both unsuccessful and highly unpopular.  There are a number of insecticides that show promise in preventing or treating an infestation  Since they are systemic and rely on being circulated via the same channels the larvae are interrupting, success in treating an infected tree is “iffy.”


Kudos to Riveredge Nature Center, which has taken a leadership role in disseminating the information provided by the dizzying array of state and federal agencies that have been monitoring EABs since EABs hit the fan here in the summer of 2008.  For more information try (this site has some good links) and


Following closely on the heels of the EAB, of course, have been a number of “entrepreneurs” who misdiagnose infestations and sell hope in the form of bogus prevention, treatment and eradication services to worried land owners.  Caveat emptor!


About the pictures.  If the EAB larva looks like it might just have been poured out of a small bottle of formaldehyde, that’s because it was (Thanks, BugFan Mary).   Also, out in Nature, the D-shaped exit holes do not come with tiny, red lipstick outlines.


Go outside – watch ash trees.


Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug Lady Blog – Lappet Moth

Howdy, BugFans,

Lappet moth

Lappet moth

The BugLady was stumped by this nifty moth in May, but she shouldn’t have been, because she’s photographed its notorious family member, the Eastern tent caterpillar moth (thanks for the ID, BugFan Les).  And then in August, she received a query from the owner of a tree nursery, worried about the fabulous caterpillar that was sitting on one of her saplings (the BugLady for sure wants to see one of those caterpillars, though they’re doing their best to avoid being seen  Wagner, in Caterpillars of Eastern North America, says “I have never found a caterpillar by visual searching.” (He finds them by beating on branches).  The BugLady also wants to see the related Large Tolype, too

Eastern tent caterpillar moth

Eastern tent caterpillar moth

Lappet moths/American lappet moths (Phyllodesma americana) are members of the family Lasiocampidae.  “Lasiocampa” comes from two Greek words meaning “hairy” and “caterpillar,” and according to, Phyllodesmacomes from phyllon (“a leaf”) and “desma” (“a band”), which refers to bands on the wings of these leaf-mimicking moths.  Family members are variously called Snout moths because of their protruding mouthparts (a name they share with a totally unrelated group of moths), Eggars (the cocoons of some species are egg-shaped), and lappet moths.  Lappet?  One on-line dictionary that ranks the difficulty of words tells us that “few English speakers likely know this word.”  A “lappet” is (a) a kind of/process of weaving; (b) a fleshy protrusion like an earlobe or a wattle on a bird’s head; and (c) a small flap, fold, or dangling part, like the fleshy-bits on the prolegs of the Lappet moth’s caterpillar  The BugLady is happy to be of service.


There are only three species in the genus Phyllodesma in North America – the widely distributed LM, the Southern LM, Phyllodesma occidentis (a.k.a. P. carpinifolia), which pretty much replaces the LM in the Southeast, and a Californian named P. coturnix.  The very variable LM is chunky and hairy, with subtle, often rusty-colored, broad, slightly scalloped wings  LMs are strong fliers, and they sit with their hind wings flared out and their front (top) wings tented  Females are slightly larger than males.


The equally-variable, softly-hairy caterpillar has a fringe around the edges and two red/orange,” slashes at the front of the abdomen that are visible when it is alarmed or ambulating  The caterpillar’s gray is often decorated with faint, orange and/or blue stripes.  Reference after reference stated that the “caterpillars have dorsal glands toward the rear of the abdomen,” but no one elaborated.  Ant-tended caterpillars (which LMs are not) exude “honey” from dorsal glands to reward their caretakers, and other insects may emit noxious chemicals from dorsal glands as a defense.


LM caterpillars are generalist feeders, found on members of the willow/poplar, rose, ash, oak, birch, and buckthorn (!!) families.  Their Tent caterpillar kin can be destructive on a variety of hardwoods, but (as the BugLady, probably futilely, reassured the nursery owner) there are no red flags about LM caterpillars from any of the Extension, forestry or exterminator sites (and it doesn’t take much to raise a red flag on a forestry/Extension/exterminator site).  Adults do not feed.


Male LMs find their ladies in the dark of the night, through pheromones (chemicals) that she releases.  Receptors in his feathery antennae are finely tuned to detect her “perfume” from as far as several miles away (where it may occur as a single molecule in a cubic yard of air), and trace it back to her.  Just as we need two eyes for binocular vision, he needs two antennae so he can register which one is receiving the stronger signal and therefore set his GPS.


She lays her eggs on leaves of host plants, and the caterpillars hatch and feed at night.  There’s a single generation of LMs a year in the North (two in the South), and the overwintering pupa may be concealed on the host plants.



Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Meet Eric

Meet Eric Larsen. Polar explorer and expedition guide. Completed more polar expeditions than any other American in history. The first ever person to reach the North Pole, South Pole, and the top of Mount Everest in a single year. May be the last ever person in history to complete an expedition to the geographic North Pole. Riveredge Kid.

Eric says he “spent as much time outside at Riveredge as a kid as I could.” He participated in almost every activity available, from maple tapping to volunteering at summer camps. And that time at Riveredge had a huge impact on his future adventures.

“It gave me an opportunity to explore, learn. I discovered a lot about myself at Riveredge. I discovered what I love, and I love being outside, and it’s something that is with me in a really strong and huge way to this day. I discovered the freedom to discover, to explore, and equally important, to make mistakes. I was able to learn a lot of the skills that I know now, here.”

Eric is a perfect embodiment of a Riveredge Kid. Passionate about the world around them. Always seeking to discover, learn, and explore new things. Willing to challenge themselves and learn from both what works and what doesn’t. Finds peace in having quiet moments in the outdoors.

“We need wild places. We need quiet time to not be stimulated by all these other things that are in our life. And if we feel connected to a place, we’re more apt to protect it.”

If you think we need more Eric’s in the world, please consider donating and help us get more future Riveredge Kids out there exploring and learning today. 

November Organic Produce Sale

Crisp fall nights, autumn leaves, football games, homecooked meals…

Time to dust off the crockpot and make some soup!

Riveredge has a fantastic selection of organically raised produce to get you through the winter available for sale!

Available items include:

  • BEETS: Golden or red beets. Excellent roasted.
  • CELERIAC (also known as “celery root” cooks like potato in a soup)
  • ONIONS: Large yellow cooking onions (store very well)
  • POTATOES: “Carola,” yellow potatoes that are excellent for roasting, frying, or grilling.

Produce is $1.25/lb for quantities less than 50 lbs.

Or, get the best bang for your buck and try out our mix and match sale– buy 50 pounds of organic produce (of any kind and combination!) all for only $50.

To order, all you need to is contact Keith at to let him know your choices and arrange pickup.

All the proceeds support Riveredge’s mission of environmental education. Eat great and help kids learn. What’s not to love?

Bug o’the Week – Woolly Bears

Greetings, BugFans,


The frost is (almost) on the pumpkin, and woolly bear caterpillars are striding purposefully across the landscape.  Here’s an enhanced episode about Woolly bears from the fall of 2009.

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Tiger moths are in the subfamily Arctiinae, within the family Erebidae, a diverse group that includes about 250 species of tiger, underwing, Zale, tussock moths, etc. in North America and many more worldwide (except Antarctica).  If you have an older insect guide, they’re in the family Arctiidae – everything that was once in Arctiidae is now in Arctiinae.  Tiger moths are unusual in that they have an organ on their thorax that vibrates to produce ultrasonic sound.  They “vocalize” to attract mates and to defend against predators.  If you have sound-making ability, you also need “ears,” and those are on the thorax, too.  Like tigers, the adults of many species are hairy and sport bold color patches, stripes or patterns (like the striking, arrowhead-shaped Leconte’s Haploa/Colona moth).


Many of their caterpillars are fuzzy, earning a group name of woolly bears or woolly worms. The woolly bear du jour is the ultra-familiar rust-and-black-banded caterpillar of the Isabella Tiger Moth (Pyrrharctia isabella).  The caterpillar has its own names – the generic Woolly Bear, the Black-ended Bear, and the Banded Woolly Bear.  Pyrrharctia is a “monotypic genus” – there’s only this single species in it (and they’re only found in North America). There is an amazing amount of information out there about woolly bear caterpillars (WBCs), and much of it is contradictory, a problem that is exacerbated by the fact that there are many different kinds of caterpillars that are called WBCs.

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A mature female Isabella Tiger Moth “calls” to males by emitting pheromones (chemical signals) at night, and the males zero in on her by using their sensory antennae.  Isabella Tiger Moths lay their eggs on a wide variety of plants during the warm months.  While some caterpillars are known for their picky eating, WBCs are generalists.  They feed during the day, munching on handy, low-growing plants like grasses, “weeds” and wildflowers (cannibalism has also been reported).  Their catholic eating habits ensure that they’re constantly surrounded by food during their autumnal wandering in search of wintering sites.

Isabella Tiger Moth

Isabella Tiger Moth

There are two generations here in God’s Country; the first pupates in summer, but the second crop of WBCs spend the winter as caterpillars, out of the weather under tree bark or debris or in the garage.  Do they become “bug-cicles”?  Yes, indeed – they’ve even been found frozen into a chunk of ice.  But, like other organisms that are dormant in the dead of winter, WBCs produce a chemical called a cryoprotectant (antifreeze) that safeguards living tissue against damage from freezing and thawing.  WBCs will stir and walk around on mild winter days and go back into hiding when the temperatures drop again.  They wake up with the warm weather, resume eating, and pupate in late spring in a fuzzy cocoon into which they incorporate their own “hairs” (setae).  According to Wikipedia, Arctic summers are so short that WBCs may need to live through several of them to become mature enough to pupate.


One area of disagreement among references is whether the WBCs’ wool/setae/hairs/bristles are irritants.  Having a bristly covering discourages some predators, although in the Fieldbook of Natural History, E. L. Palmer says that “skunks and a few other animals roll hairs off the caterpillars before they eat them.”  Certainly, the stiff hairs make it a harder to pick a WBC up, and when you do pick one up and it inevitably curls into a defensive ball, it’s pretty slippery.  Some sources say that the WBC’s setae contain a stinging/irritating/venomous chemical, and other sources specifically say they do not.  Still other references say the setae may cause dermatitis mechanically – that they might break off in your skin (like one of those wretched, furry cacti); and others say that that unlike many hairy caterpillars, WBCs are harmless.  The BugLady has never suffered any ill effects from handling the familiar, rust-and-black WBCs.

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Woolly bears have been famous since Colonial times for two things: 1) their habit of crossing the roads in fall (the BugLady wonders what they crossed before the Colonists arrived and started making roads); and 2) their alleged ability to predict the weather.


The weather lore angle was initiated by those same, road-building Colonists, who needed some forecasting done in those pre-Weather Channel days so they could figure out when to plant and harvest crops.  If its rust-colored middle band is wide, says the Almanac, the winter will be a mild one; if there is lots of black, batten down the hatches (except for a few sources that say the opposite – that lots of rust means lots of cold).


A surprising number of scientists have felt obligated to leap in and deflate the weather story.  To them the BugLady says “Lighten up, Party Poopers, and let a little fantasy into your lives.”  They tell us that the widening middle band is a result of age; each time WBCs molt, a black band becomes a rust band (except for a few who say the opposite – that rust turns to black).  So, a rustier WBC is an older WBC.  The BugLady has been curious about why the early fall WBCs seemed more pessimistic than the later fall WBCs and is happy to have that one resolved.  In spring, a blacker WBC is one that became dormant prematurely, and so may be telling the weather – of the previous fall.  Other research suggests that a WBC with lots of rust lived in dry conditions, and one source says that a WBC with wide black bands grew up where the habitat was wetter.  Still other scientists say that there is considerable variation in color within newly-hatched individuals from a single clutch of eggs, and that the variation persists as they age.


We have Dr. Curran, a curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History, to thank for popularizing the WBC.  For eight years in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, Dr. Curran drove north from New York City along the Hudson to Bear Mountain State Park to measure the coloration of the WBCs he found there.  During those years, the rusty bands predicted mild winters.  He “leaked” the forecasts via a friend at a NYC newspaper, and the publicity his reports generated put the WBC on the map.  But Dr. Curran’s only real hypothesis was that Scientists Just Want to Have Fun.  He and his friends enjoyed the scenery, the foliage and the WBCs on their annual fall forays and formed “The Original Society of the Friends of the Woolly Bear.”  Thirty years after Dr. Curran’s outings ceased, the folks at Bear Mountain State Park resurrected the Friends organization and the wooly bear count.

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WBCs are embraced by children and adults alike, and Annual Woolly Bear Festivals are observed:



Clearly, Wisconsin is missing the boat, here (though Milwaukee had a third annual Woolly Bear Fest in January of 2015


Go outside – chart woolly bears.


Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug Lady Blog – Black Saddlebags Dragonfly

Salutations, BugFans,


While the BugLady was stewing about who would star in this week’s show, she took a nice walk at the always-admirable Forest Beach Migratory Preserve, an Ozaukee-Washington Land Trust (OWLT) property between Port Washington and Belgium (WI).  Her mind was made up by the three Black Saddlebags that exploded from the grasses and flew (tantalizingly) around (and around) over her head, and especially by the one that was exceptionally cooperative.  Problem solved (well, except for the problem of photographing one in the air.  The BugLady takes a lot of “Hail Mary” shots, a.k.a. dragonfly flight shots, and this one is typical, but the saddlebags are apparent).

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There are seven species of Saddlebags, family Libellulidae (Skimmers), genus Tramea, in North America, but only three grace Wisconsin – the Red, the Black and the Carolina, a migrant from the south that has been getting more common in the state recently.  Genus members are largish (2+ inches long), long-winged dragonflies with clear front wings and a dark spot at the base of their two otherwise-clear hind wings.  They have a slender body and a broad head.


They fly and glide A LOT, reaching speeds of 17 mph, and when they perch, it may be down in the grasses close to the ground or clinging to a twig high in a tree (where they become invisible).  Paulson, in Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East, says saddlebags perch more vertically than most skimmers, avoiding overheating by minimizing the amount of sun that hits the abdomen (other skimmers do the opposite – lessening exposure by pointing the tip of their abdomen to the sky in the obelisk position). Saddlebags may fly with their abdomen sagging on hot days,  The big spots on saddlebags’ wings also serve to shade the abdomen.  Paulson writes that a resting saddlebags may tuck its front pair of legs behind its eyes.


According to, the saddlebags narrowly escaped having their genus named Trapezostigma (for their trapezoidal wing-spot) rather than Tramea, from a Latin word “trameo” meaning “to go over or through.”

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The Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata) is found throughout the US, into Canada, and south of the border well into Mexico.  BSs also have a presence on the Hawai’ian and the Caribbean Islands.  They choose fish-free still/stagnant/very slow-moving water with lots of vegetation for their nurseries and will oviposit in roadside ditches.


They are one of a dozen or so American dragonflies that migrate; the offspring of the northbound BSs return to the South, and their offspring come north with the spring.  In fall, they join the Common Green Darners that drift along the Atlantic coast and the shore of Lake Michigan (Concordia U. and Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve are two great spots to watch migration at eye level).


Saddlebags are called “dancing gliders” because of their uniquely choreographed courtship and egg-laying behaviors.  A male patrols a territory of shoreline and open water about 100 feet long.  He approaches a female and hovers above her, grasps her by the head and thorax with his legs and then bends the claspers at the tip of his abdomen forward to get the grip on the back of her head.  Because they can store sperm, female BSs only need to mate once, so before he clasps the back of her head, the male must clean out any bodily fluids from a previous mating.  Mating is brief if done aerially [the ultimate multitasking] and only slightly longer if the pair is perched


Together they fly out over the water at about knee height (our knees, not theirs).  When she is ready to oviposit, he releases her, but hovers over/guards her as she dips down and taps the water surface gently to deposit a few eggs.  Then she returns, the male reestablishes contact, and they resume the dance, cruising over the water surface until she is ready to lay more eggs.  Her egg-laying is done with minimal disturbance to the water’s surface – Paulson says that the dance is observed from underwater, and that bass and other predatory fish have been known to follow a pre-occupied couple.


Young dragonflies are aquatic, feeding on smaller invertebrates below the water’s surface until they are ready to emerge.  The University of Michigan’s Biokids website offers this picture of that event: “After internal metamorphosis occurs, with the adult body forming under the skin, an [almost] adult black saddlebags will emerge from the water and grasp a branch where it will complete the rest of its transformation. The cuticle begins to split apart due to the pressure exerted through a series of air intakes. The newly emerged adult, which is quite delicate until the new cuticle hardens, will then crawl out of its old skin (exuviae), allow the wings to open and harden, and then fly away (Dunkle, 2000)”


BSs are pretty effective at mosquito control, both as naiads and as adults.  Studies have demonstrated that the aquatic naiads will eat several species of (aquatic) mosquito larvae and can consume as many as 38 larvae in two days.  Adults use their excellent eyesight to pick their prey out of the air (they eat on the wing – more multitasking).  MSs form feeding swarms that are typically male-only (females don’t).  Despite their great eyesight, adults are preyed on by Kestrels and nighthawks.  Their feisty, somewhat armored, spiny offspring fall prey to a variety of birds, frogs, and other aquatic critters including other dragonfly naiads.


Go outside – watch bugs!


Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives: