Bug of the Week

Howdy, BugFans,

 

Here are two pretty beetles to remind us of summertime.

 

SHINING FLOWER BEETLES appeared in the first half of August, covering goldenrods and a few other members of the Aster/Composite family as though scattered from a cosmic pepper grinder.  Tiny, shiny, round, black dots that were, just as suddenly, gone.

 

SFBs in the genus Olibrus are in the Shining flower beetle family Phalacridae (from the Greek for “shining” and “circle”), and, first off, they’re misnamed (more about that shortly).  The SFBs are a small family, with about 125 species in North America and fewer than 650 species worldwide.  Olibrus is the largest of the 50 or so genera in the family.  Since they’re in the one to three millimeter size range, keying them to species requires scrutinizing their hind feet, antennae or, as Monty Python would say, their “naughty-bits” under good magnification.

 

Most members of the extended SFB family dine on fungus spores or hyphae (the threadlike filaments that make up the fungus’ support system).  As adults and as larvae, Olibrus SFBs are found on flowers.  Olibrus adults feed on pollen (one author wondered how, with SFBs so numerous, the goldenrods had enough pollen left to reproduce), and the larvae, buried deep in the flowers, drink only sap (they chew through flower buds and seeds to get the plant juices flowing, but apparently they spit the solids out and start sipping).  Because Olibrus SFBs are so conspicuous and easily collected, they have become the poster-beetles for the whole family, so while some sources refer to the family as Shining Mold beetles, most call this group of fungus-eaters the Shining Flower beetles.

 

Olibrus SFBs produce a single generation a year, timed to coincide with the flowering of their favorite composite.  In fall, the larva falls from the plant and tunnels into the soil, where it spends the winter as a pre-pupa; it will pupate the following spring or summer.  The beetles’ domed shape allows them to practice the stop-and-drop response when alarmed.

 

When the BugLady encountered these lovely black beetles with red epaulettes and derrieres, they were helping to control the sumac population.  With no common name in sight, the BugLady hereby dubs them the BLACK AND RED SUMAC LEAF BEETLE (Cryptocephalus quadruplex) (probably), though they are polyphagous (which means that they eat a bunch of different plants including sumac).  According to reports from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, their taste for raspberry and blackberry leaves, got them blacklisted as pests.

 

Their genus name, Cryptocehpalus (“hidden head”) refers to the fact that the beetle’s head is recessed or tucked/tipped down into its thorax (quadruplex sounds like a movie theater with four screens, but according to bugguide.net, it is from the Latin for interwoven or network. The BugLady doesn’t get it, either.).  BaRSBs are one of about 80 species in the “case-bearing” leaf beetle bunch, beetles whose larvae travel about in cases made from their own fecal material.  Females oviposit in the leaf litter, the larvae eat dead leaves and grow there, and the almost-grown larvae spend the winter deep under the insulating leaves and are ready to emerge as adults by the end of May.  At 4 mm in length, they are giants next to Olibrus SFBs.

 

Other than their presence on the lists of many state museums and nature areas, these are small, pretty, “unsung” leaf beetles in the huge family Chrysomelidae.  BaRSLBs live within a giant area running from Maine to Georgia to New Mexico to Montana, spilling over into Canada.

 

The BugLady

Discovering Snowflakes

Our featured finding this month is….snow!  With all the snow in our area this year, its a great time to get outside and explore.  Our education staff put together a fun activity for members of any age.

Make Your Own Snowflake ID Book

Have you ever looked at snowflakes up close?  Are there really no two alike?  Create a snowflake ID key and find out more about the snow all around you.  This is a great activity for everyone in the family.

There are seven common snowflake shapes: Hexagonal Plates, Stellar Crystals, Hexagonal Columns, Needles, Spatial Dendrites, Capped Columns and Irregular Crystals.  You can use the chart below or do some research on the internet to easily create your own key.  You’ll find different snowflake shapes as the temperature and humidity levels change – so go outside with each snowfall to see if you can eventually find all seven shapes!

After you have created  your key, attach black felt to the left side of the paper with glue.  This will allow you to “catch” your snowflakes right next to your key for easy identification.  Make sure to put your key outside or in the freezer before catching snowflakes – that way they won’t melt right away!  How many different snowflakes can you catch?

snowflake chart

Bug of the Week

Howdy, BugFans,

This is a rerun (with a little tweaking) from the Christmas season of 2009.

Ah, the surprising American Pelecinid wasp!

Surprising because it is an impressive insect to see flying through the air; because despite similarities in size and shape, it is not a damselfly; because it appears to have a fierce stinger but appearances can be deceiving; because it is the lone remaining genus in its family; and because it’s got that parthenogenesis thing going.

The BugLady is always happy to see this startling wasp, and she saw more of them than usual in the summer of 2013. American Pelecinid wasps (Pelecinus polyturator) belong in the family Pelecinidae, and they are a New World wasp (with distant, fossilized/amber-ized relations from the Old World). APWs are relatively common in woodlands, grasslands and gardens from Argentina through Canada, where they are seen from mid-summer to early fall. Two other PW species occur exclusively south of the border. APWs are whip-thin, shiny, and black, with extra-long antennae and a long, curved abdomen. A female may measure almost 2 ½ inches long (five-sixths of her length is abdomen), but males are only about an inch long. Pelecinids have short wings for their length and are slow flyers as a result (except when you’re stalking them with a camera).

The diet of adult APWs is nectar, perhaps supplemented by some pollen and water. APW larvae follow the parasitoid path. Mom reaches down into the soil with that wonderful, jointed, flexible abdomen and determines the presence there of a May/June beetle larva (grub). She deposits her egg directly into/onto the beetle grub and goes her merry way, and when her larva hatches, it dives into the grub. Its feeding kills the grub, and the APW larva continues to feed/scavenge on grub’s tissue until the immature wasp is ready to pupate, right there in the soil. Biologists who gather June bug larvae to rear for experiments often find themselves with wasp collections instead.

A further word about parasitoid(ism). Parasites find it counterproductive to kill their hosts; parasitoids live to kill their hosts/kill their hosts to live. The only question is – how fast. Some parasitoids prefer live food and eat around their host’s vital organs until it’s time for the End Game. APWs do the deed quickly because they don’t mind eating dead tissue. The term necrotroph (from the Greek nekros- “dead body” – and trophe – “nourishment”) applies. According to Frost, in Insect Life and Natural History, parasitoids are plunked down on the continuum between parasites and predators. Their habit is considered highly evolved, and they’ve often co-evolved with their hosts. Only insects with complete metamorphosis (egg-to-larva-pupa-to-adult) need apply for the parasitoid lifestyle, and only the larvae have the ability to do it, though their victims may come from any stage of life. Some parasitoids specialize on a single host species and others are less picky. Along with the label parasitoid, APW larvae are also classed as endoparasites (endo meaning that the larva is feeding from the inside).

With a nod to their long, curved abdomens, these beauties are sometimes called scorpionflies. Common names rarely reflect an organism’s actual biological family tree, and APWs are not related to the family Mecoptera, the home of the true scorpion fly. Is that long, pointy abdomen as dangerous as a scorpion’s? It does culminate with a stinger, which Ms. APW will use to probe the fingers of anyone handling her, and there are reports of “pin prick” stings being administered. As wasps go, these are docile and harmless

Their parthenogenesis (from the Greek parthenos, meaning “virgin” and the Latin genesis, meaning “genesis”) results from the fact that north of the Rio Grande, males are so rare that females have developed the ability to reproduce without them. Or is it the other way around? Parthenogenic females tend to produce more females. Male APWs may be absent from our landscapes, but they are present in the more torrid climes. South of the border, it does take Two to Tango. Not just parthenogenesis, but “geographic parthenogenesis.”

The BugLady

 

riveredge in winter

Winter is a Great Time to Explore Riveredge

Winter has come to Wisconsin in a glorious way.  There are many ways to have fun at Riveredge in the winter:

  • Snowshoeing is an easy way to have fun outside.  Riveredge has snowshoes for use during our regular building hours.  All Access members have free, unlimited use throughout the winter.  Trail pass members may rent them for $5 per hour and non-members are invited to rent them for $10 per hour.
  • Youth & Family outdoor program don’t slow down in winter!  Every Saturday at 10 am come explore the winter environment with our naturalists!
  • Special events take on a special type of fun in winter.  Come play with us during our Celebrate Winter family event on Saturday, January 25th from 12:30 – 3:30 pm or join us in our inaugural “Sugar Dragon Snowshoe 5K” event in partnership with the Feith Family YMCA on Sunday, February 9th.

Before you know it, winter will be gone and Maple Sugarin’ season will be here.  Enjoy the snow before its gone!