Bug o’the Week – Rose Chafer Beetle

Bug o’the Week

Rose Chafer Beetle

Greetings, BugFans,

The BugLady was surprised, as she trekked across the dunes at Kohler-Andrae State Park one steamy day in early July, to find this small, gangly beetle hanging out on some yarrow flowers.  The cut of its jib was familiar https://bugguide.net/node/view/1020508/bgimage – the beetle’s legs reminded her of the clingy legs of a June bug.  It turned out to be a Rose Chafer (Macrodactylus subspinosus), which is in the Scarab beetle family (Scarabaeidae) and in the same subfamily as the June beetle.  It’s called “chafer” because it chafes at the tops of petals and leaves of rose plants (among others); “Macrodactylus” means “big fingers,” a nod to the long tarsal claws.

Rose chafers can be found in grasslands, gardens, and viney edges over much of eastern North America as far west as Colorado and Montana, although distribution gets spotty the farther South you get. They especially like sandy areas (more about that in a sec).  Bugguide.net considers the western records to be “iffy” because of the possibility of confusing the Rose chafer with one of the other two species in the genus Macrodactylus that live north of Mexico (https://bugguide.net/node/view/939033/bgpage, and https://bugguide.net/node/view/1253988/bgimage), but insects can find an infinite number of ways to hitchhike.

They’re about a half-inch long (females are bulkier than males), covered with yellow hairs that rub off with age (or in the case of the female, with mating), exposing the dark cuticle beneath.  The official name for their antennae is “lamellate,” which means “plate or leaf-like” https://bugguide.net/node/view/110081.  The legs are spiny and the feet/tarsi are clawed (all the better to hang on with, my dear) https://bugguide.net/node/view/1275119/bgimage.  Several sources said that the beetles may resemble a wasp while in flight (maybe because of the dangling legs?).

The BugLady does not garden.  She puts her geraniums out on the porch in May, waters them when she thinks of it (they’re very patient), and hauls them back in at the end of October, at around midnight as the first killing frost is descending, and she wouldn’t know what to do with a rose bush if she had one.  Rose chafer beetles feed on the leaves and flowers and maybe the nectar and pollen of lots of different kinds of plants.  Their jaws are weak, so they eat the tender tissue between the leaf veins, skeletonizing the leaf; they make holes in petals; and they eat soft fruits like raspberries and grapes. 

Some sources say that the beetle is only a slight nuisance, doing mainly cosmetic damage; others give instructions for all-out warfare.  Their populations wax and wane, and when there’s a Rose chafer population boom, the beetles may consume a substantial portion of a leaf’s photosynthetic surface and may also impair pollination.  Plus, they may feed in groups.  Interestingly, the North Carolina State Extension write-up about Rose chafers calls them a “relatively minor pest of roses that at one time was apparently much more abundant.

With many insect “pests,” it’s the larvae that do the most damage, but with the chafers, it’s the adults who are the problem.  Rose chafer larvae feed underground on the roots of grasses and other plants, and although a bumper crop of larvae can stunt a plant, they don’t seem to be a real threat to turfgrass or ornamentals. 

Rose chafers can be seen during June and July here in the North.  The plants that they feed on also serve as Social Clubs where males and females meet and mingle https://bugguide.net/node/view/265114/bgimage.  When this “What’s going on here?” picture https://bugguide.net/node/view/120287/bgimage was posted on bugguide.net, entomologist Eric Eaton responded “I don’t think they are ‘eating’ the milkweed. This kind of aggregation is usually associated with mating or “sleeping.”  This seems to be another example of insects chewing on plants; plants releasing volatile compounds to discourage that; and those compounds, perversely, attracting a crowd.  The Rose chafers use their antennae to key in on those plant “odors.”

The female oviposits in the soil, digging down as far as six inches below the surface (!!!), which is why she prefers plants that grow in sandy soil.  She may lay from six to forty eggs, and when they hatch in a few weeks, the larvae locate roots to feed on.  They will move up and down in the soil, depending on soil moisture and soil temperature, and they will overwinter deep in the ground, below the frost line, moving up toward the surface to pupate when the earth warms in spring. 

Many of the scarabs are nocturnal, but Rose chafers are abroad during the day.  They are strong fliers.

Rose Chafer Surprise:  Rose chafers produce cantharidin, a caustic chemical mainly found in beetles in the blister beetle family Meloidae (see https://uwm.edu/field-station/blister-beetle/)!  Although the author of one gardening blog noted that he had been picking them off of plants for decades with no ill effects (the skin on our fingers is pretty tough), he joined the chorus of authors who stressed that the beetles are poisonous to chickens and other birds.

In his “Living with Insects” blog, entomologist Jonathan Neal explains “Their toxicity to chickens led to one of the early scientific studies of toxins in insects. In 1909, George Lamson, Jr, of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station investigated reports of a flock of chickens that died after feeding on the abundant Rose Chafers. Lamson fed Rose Chafers to chickens and determined the numbers required to kill week-old (15-20 Chafers) and 3-week-old chickens (25-45 Chafers). In the early 1900s, chickens were commonly allowed to range free and could easily consume large numbers of Rose Chafers in years with high populations. Lamson recommended that chickens be excluded from areas that contained large numbers of Rose Chafers.  Lamson made an extract of Chafers and demonstrated that the extract was toxic to both chickens and rabbits. These tests proved that the deaths were due to a chemical toxin and not a physical effect from the insect spines or other physical properties. Lamson reported his findings in the Journal “Science” in 1916.”

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

Bug o’the Week – Mid-summer Scenes

Bug o’the Week

Rose Chafer Beetle

Greetings, BugFans,

The BugLady was surprised, as she trekked across the dunes at Kohler-Andrae State Park one steamy day in early July, to find this small, gangly beetle hanging out on some yarrow flowers.  The cut of its jib was familiar https://bugguide.net/node/view/1020508/bgimage – the beetle’s legs reminded her of the clingy legs of a June bug.  It turned out to be a Rose Chafer (Macrodactylus subspinosus), which is in the Scarab beetle family (Scarabaeidae) and in the same subfamily as the June beetle.  It’s called “chafer” because it chafes at the tops of petals and leaves of rose plants (among others); “Macrodactylus” means “big fingers,” a nod to the long tarsal claws.

ARROW CLUBTAIL:  In early July, the BugLady came across this just-emerged dragonfly sitting on a stalk in the Milwaukee River.  She photographed it for half an hour as it lengthened and strengthened and spread its wings and grew its abdomen.  She guarded it from marauding geese and grackles.  And she watched as it took its maiden voyage, eight feet straight up and true – into the beak of a swooping Cedar Waxwing.  She may have used a few bad words. 

JAPANESE BEETLE   Precarious as this bundle of beetles looked, it kept its shape as it fell off and into the grasses.  In order to jump-start her love life, a female Japanese beetle may use “come hither” pheromones, but this aggregation of beetles was probably initiated (inadvertently) by the plant itself.  Research suggests that a female Japanese beetle chewed on a leaf, and the leaf gave off signature chemicals (OK – feeding-induced plant volatiles), and that instead of repelling the beetles, the scent attracted more beetles, both male and female, to feed.  And, since all those guys and gals are in the same neighborhood……… 

MAYFLY MOLT:  BugFan Freda sent this amazing “What-is-it?” picture recently, taken from a canoe on the Milwaukee river.  Mayflies (called “lake flies” regionally) emerge from their watery cradles by the googol.  Their lives are brief, averaging only three days (not coincidentally, the name of the mayfly order is Ephemeroptera).    

Mayflies are the only insects that shed their skins after they reach the winged adult stage (silverfish shed as adults, too, but they’re spindle-shaped and wingless).  The mature mayfly naiad https://bugguide.net/node/view/517056/bgimage crawls out onto a plant or rock and sheds its final skin (exuvia), emerging as a form called a subimago (or a “dun” if you’re a fly fisherman) that is cloudy-winged, dull in color, weak-flying, and not ready to reproduce.  The sub-imago rests (often overnight) and then sheds again, this time into a mature adult/imago with shiny wings (a “spinner” to fishermen).  Here’s a typical adult/imago https://bugguide.net/node/view/933725/bgimage.  No – scientists do not know how this pre-adult stage benefits the mayflies – lots of insect groups apparently has a subimago stage in ancient times, and most have dropped it from their repertory. 

Freda’s picture shows the exuviae of lots of sub-imagoes – it must have been an amazing sight to see!  Scroll down this series of pictures of that final shed – http://www.troutnut.com/article/10/pictures-of-mayfly-dun-molting-to-spinner.  

DOGBANE LEAF BEETLE:  Its fabulous, shimmering exterior is all done with mirrors (complex nanoarchitecture).  Light is bent when it hits small, randomly-tilted plates that sit between the pigment layer and the top layer of the beetle’s cuticle, and the beetle’s color changes depending on the angle of the eye of the beholder.  What good is that glow?  Rather than being an aid in courtship or a warning of the beetle’s toxicity (and this particular beetle is, but not all iridescent insects are), this fiery iridescence actually camouflages it.  To test the hypothesis, researchers disguised meal worms with beetle elytra (the hard outer wings) – some shiny and some not – and then hid them.  Birds found and ate 85% of the “dull-winged meal worms,” but only 60% of the “iridescent meal worms,” and the scientists themselves found it difficult to locate the shiny ones. 

STREAM BLUET AND MAYFLY: In order to make it to adulthood, a mayfly naiad must avoid being eaten by fish and a variety of insects during its aquatic stage, and by fish, birds, fishing spiders, frogs, and other predators as it completes both of its molts.  When it takes to the air, more predators await.  This mayfly became lunch for a Stream Bluet damselfly.  

DOODLEBUG:  The BugLady found this doodlebug on the dunes at Kohler-Andrae State Park in mid-July, plying its trade.  She looked into lots of inverted, sandy cones before she found one that held prey – in this case, a small spider.  The doodlebug will grow up to be an antlion https://bugguide.net/node/view/1708468/bgimage.  For an account of the life of a doodlebug, see https://uwm.edu/field-station/spotless-antlion/.  

SAWFLY:  Sawflies are not flies, but are primitive wasps with no stingers (as she did when she wrote her first episode about sawflies in 2009 https://uwm.edu/field-station/sawfly/, the BugLady recommends reading the sawfly chapter in David W. Stokes’ excellent A Guide to Observing Insect Lives).  Sawfly larvae look a lot like butterfly and moth caterpillars, but there’s a difference in the arrangement and types of legs.  This beauty just might be the Poison ivy sawfly (Arge humeralis), whose pretty cute offspring the BugLady is going to have to keep a cautious eye out for https://bugguide.net/node/view/826616/bgimage.  “Sawfly” because the female uses a saw-like structure at the end of her abdomen to cut slots in vegetation to lay her eggs in.

BLACK SWALLOWTAIL CATERPILLAR: While the BugLady was photographing the sawfly, she noticed a prickly head among the Queen Anne’s lace florets, so she bent the stem sideways to see what it was.  There was a cute little jumping spider under there, too, which she hoped did not have designs on the caterpillar.  Black Swallowtails lay their eggs on plants in the carrot family, and most gardeners who plant dill are familiar with them (and, the BugLady hopes, are generous enough to share). 

BLUE MUD DAUBERS are all over the Queen Anne’s lace these days.  Adults cruise the flower tops, sipping nectar and looking for spiders to cache in the egg chambers of their offspring, who will grow up on protein but eschew it as adults.  Sometimes the wasps pick spiders right off of their webs, and they especially like to collect Black widow spiders (which are here in God’s Country but are rare https://bugguide.net/node/view/1876965/bgimage).  They grab spiders with their mandibles https://bugguide.net/node/view/1268654/bgimage and paralyze them with a sting, but they don’t bite people, and you have to rough one up considerably before she’ll sting you.

EMERALD ASH BORER:  The BugLady loves ash trees, but these days, the landscape is littered with their skeletons.  The first Emerald ash borer was detected in Wisconsin in Ozaukee County during the summer of 2008, though the EABs had undoubtedly been around for a few years before that.  The picture shows an ash that is fighting for its life, a battle that it will not win.  The top of this ash is dead, because the EAB larvae’s tunnels (galleries) just below the bark interfere with the flow of nutrients between the crown of the tree and its roots.  The stressed tree responds by growing a bunch of shoots (called epicormic sprouts) from dormant buds in the bark of the trunk.  The leafy sprouts, which are below the EAB damage, will allow the tree to photosynthesize – for a while.  Read about EABs in a previous BOTW.https://uwm.edu/field-station/emerald-ash-borer-redux-family-buprestidae/.  EABs are, undeniably, beautiful beetles https://bugguide.net/node/view/1770902/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/1233730/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/938332/bgimage

SIX-SPOTTED FISHING SPIDER:  Moving from a “solid” water lily leaf to a liquid substrate is no trick at all for a Six-spotted Fishing spider (the six spots that give it its name are on its underside) – in fact, it has more moves on the water than it does on dry land.  It can walk, run, sail, or skate over the surface film and can dive under it, too. 

GIANT SWALLOWTAIL: If there’s anything more stunning than a couple of Giant Swallowtails dancing in the air over purple coneflowers, the BugLady doesn’t know what it is. 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

Bug o’the Week – Early Summer Scenes

Bug o’the Week

Rose Chafer Beetle

Greetings, BugFans,

The BugLady was surprised, as she trekked across the dunes at Kohler-Andrae State Park one steamy day in early July, to find this small, gangly beetle hanging out on some yarrow flowers.  The cut of its jib was familiar https://bugguide.net/node/view/1020508/bgimage – the beetle’s legs reminded her of the clingy legs of a June bug.  It turned out to be a Rose Chafer (Macrodactylus subspinosus), which is in the Scarab beetle family (Scarabaeidae) and in the same subfamily as the June beetle.  It’s called “chafer” because it chafes at the tops of petals and leaves of rose plants (among others); “Macrodactylus” means “big fingers,” a nod to the long tarsal claws.

STILT BUG ON FERN: This started out as a fern fiddlehead picture – the BugLady did not see the stilt bug when she took the picture, it was one of those happy surprises that photographers get when they put an image up on the monitor.  Most stilt bugs/thread bugs are plant-eaters that supplement their diet of plant juices with the odd, small invertebrate.  Some are more “meat-oriented,” and one species is used to control Tobacco hornworms.

CRAB SPIDER: A friend of the BugLady’s recently asked where all of the beautiful, plump crab spiders are.  They’re here, but they have some growing to do.

KATYDID NYMPH: And another friend, from Southern climes, asked if the BugLady was seeing katydids yet.  Same answer.

TIGER BEETLE: The BugLady loves seeing the flashy, green Six-spotted tiger beetles.  Usually they perch on a bare path, wait until you get too close, fly ahead of you about a foot above the ground, land, and repeat the process when you get too close again.  Until this year, the BugLady had never seen one off the ground, but she’s photographed three in the past month.  Get to know Wisconsin’s tiger beetles at https://wisconsinbutterflies.org/tigerbeetle.

MILLIPEDE ON RUST: Millipedes are decomposers/detritivores, feeding on dung, plant juices, and pieces of dead plant materials like decaying leaves, breaking them down for organisms even smaller than they are.  Some like fungi. 

If you’ve seen the invasive shrubs Glossy and Common buckthorn, you’ve probably seen stems and petioles with a bright orange blob on it.  The blob is a rust – a fungus – called Crown rust (Puccinia coronata).  Buckthorn is one of its hosts, and the alternate hosts are a variety of grasses, including agricultural crops like oats and rye.  If you see grass leaves with thin orange streaks on them, you’re probably seeing a variety of crown rust.  Crown rust has a complicated life cycle (http://www.minnesotaseasons.com/Fungi/Crown_Rust.html ), but the bottom line here is that the rust on buckthorn releases its spores in a soupy, sweet liquid that attracts insects, and the insects carry the spores to rust patches on other buckthorns and fertilize them.  The rust probably doesn’t get much bang for its buck when its spores are eaten by a short-legged pedestrian like a millipede.

BALTIMORE CHECKERSPOT CATERPILLER: The astonishing Baltimore Checkerspot https://bugguide.net/node/view/1771510/bgimage and https://bugguide.net/node/view/1636206/bgimage, and its caterpillar, is one of the BugLady’s favorites.  This caterpillar hatched last summer and munched on its host plant (historically white turtlehead, but in the past 50 years, they’ve adopted Lance-leaved/English plantain, and those are the only two plants a female will oviposit on).  It overwintered as a caterpillar, woke up hungry this spring, and looked around, – no turtlehead in sight yet – so it’s been eating a variety of plants, especially white ash.  Both turtlehead and plantain leaves contain poisonous glycosides (turtlehead has more), allowing the caterpillar and butterfly to get away with their gaudy colors.  And remember – the butterfly (and the oriole) get their names not because they were discovered in that city, but because 17th century English nobleman Lord Baltimore, a familiar figure to the colonists, dressed his servants in orange and black livery. Get to know Wisconsin’s butterflies at https://wisconsinbutterflies.org/butterfly.

MONARCHS: Most of the Monarchs that return to Wisconsin are probably Gen 2 – the second generation north of their wintering ground in Mexico.  There ensues two short-lived generations – Gen 3 and 4 – whose only job is to increase the population, and these two clearly got the memo.  Gen 5, produced in August, is the generation that is signaled by both waning day length and the lowering angle of the sun to migrate instead of reproducing (though there always seem to be a few that didn’t get that memo). 

BEE ON LEATHERWOOD: At a quick glance, you might think that this is a bumble bee, but bumble bees have hairy butts.  The BugLady thought this was a carpenter bee (which have shiny butts), but now she thinks it’s one of the larger mining bees in the genus Andrena.  Leatherwood is a spring-blooming shrub in woodlands – those fuzzy bud scales protect the bud from chilly spring nights.  It gets its name from the fact that its branches can’t be torn off the shrub, and from its strong bark fibers, which were woven into baskets, bowstrings, ropes, and the cords that lashed together canoe frames.  Settlers used its branches when they took their children to the woodshed.  All human use of it is problematic, because its caustic bark raises some serious blisters.

ROBBER FLY: Another bumble bee look-alike.  Bumble bees eat nectar and collect pollen to feed their larvae; robber flies are carnivores.  Laphria thoracia (no common name) can be found on woodland edges from the Mason-Dixon Line north into the Maritime Provinces and west through the Western Great Lakes.  Adult Laphria thoracia eat bees and adult beetles (this one has a clover weevil, but the BugLady recently photographed one with an assassin bug), and their larvae feed on beetle larvae in decaying wood.  Get to know Wisconsin’s robber flies at https://wisconsinbutterflies.org/robberfly  

GOLD-BACKED SNIPE FLY: June is the only month to enjoy these dramatically-colored flies that perch low in the vegetation in moist areas. 

SWAMP MILKWEED BEETLE: The BugLady loves finding these “ladybugs-on-steroids.”  They’re often tucked down into the axils of the milkweed leaves, and when they see company coming, they either duck down deeper into the crevice or they default to the typical escape behavior of an alarmed leaf beetle – they tuck in their legs and fall off the plant.  Their bright (aposematic/warning) colors tell potential predators that they are toxic, due to the milkweed sap they ingest, but damsel bugs, stink bugs, and flower/hover/syrphid fly larvae prey on them nonetheless.  For the full (and fascinating) Swamp milkweed leaf beetle story, see https://uwm.edu/field-station/swamp-milkweed-leaf-beetle/.  

ICHNEUMON WASP: Every year, large and colorful Therion (probably) Ichneumon wasps drift through the vegetation in perpetual motion, legs dangling, taunting the BugLady https://bugguide.net/node/view/739675/bgimage.  They often occur in wetlands, and the BugLady swats mosquitoes and deer flies as she waits for them to show their faces.  Which this one did.

Experienced BugFans are saying, “But, but, but – where are the dragonflies?”  Tune in next week.

Go outside – look for bugs.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

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