Bug o’the Week – Bugs at the End of Summer

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week Bugs at the End of Summer

Howdy, BugFans,

The Autumnal Equinox is fast upon us, alas, and even though it was a very hot one, the BugLady would like to push that Restart button and go back to the beginning of August.  Failing that, here are some of the bugs that crossed her trail in the second half of summer.

BARK LOUSE – Bark lice (order (Psocidae) are often seen in herds, both as adults and nymphs https://bugguide.net/node/view/1716157/bgimage.  This species, Cerastipsocus venosus, is known collectively as Tree cattle.  Bugguide.net says that they feed on “accumulations of fungi, algae, lichen, dead bark and other materials that occur on tree trunks and large limbs.”  And on the BugLady’s porch rails.  So, they clean up after the BugLady outside, and the silverfish take care of the inside of her cottage. 

YELLOW-HORNED FLOWER LONG-HORNED BEETLE – The YHFLHB (Strangalia luteicornis) is in the Longhorned beetle family Cerambycidae and the subfamily Lepturinae, the flower longhorns.  Flower longhorns are often found on flowers by day, feeding on the protein-rich pollen, and many (but not all) species are wedge-shaped – sometimes dramatically so.  Their larvae feed on dead and dying woody material, and certain fungi that they ingest as part of their meal then aids the grub’s ability to digest cellulose (in some species of flower longhorns, Mom inoculates the eggshell as she lays it with a yeast that becomes part of the grub’s intestinal microflora). 

AMBUSH BUG – What would summer be without the extraordinarily-well-camouflaged (and voracious) ambush bugs – one of the BugLady’s favorites? 

LEAF-FOOTED BUG – Late summer is True bug season (remember – only one insect order, the Hemiptera, can officially be called Bugs).  This particular bug is the almost-grown nymph of a leaf-footed bug called Acanthocephala terminalis (no common name).  Newly-hatched nymphs, with their spiny butts and improbable antennae, are pretty cute https://bugguide.net/node/view/933082/bgimage

SPIDER WEB AND PREY – All wrapped up and nowhere to go.   

BALD-FACED HORNET – The BugLady corresponded this summer with a man who was stung twice in his mouth by a Bald-faced hornet (now called Bald-faced aerial yellowjacket).  These are the gals that build the closed, football-shaped, paper nests that hang in trees, and while they are valiant/dangerous in defense of their homes, they don’t defend the flower tops where they feed.  The BugLady’s correspondent was apparently walking along blamelessly when his open mouth encountered a flying hornet.  Stings on the face, and especially in the mouth, can be dangerous because of swelling, even if you’re not allergic. 

An entomologist named Schmidt went around deliberately getting stung by the ants, hornets, bees, and wasps of the world and writing descriptions of his discomfort that are sometimes reminiscent of a wine-tasting.  He rated the Bald-faced hornet at a 2 out of 4 on his pain scale – “rich, hearty, slightly crunchy.  Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door” https://reliantpest.com/north-american-schmidt-sting-index/.  Not surprisingly, lots of exterminator companies have posted the scale because they want to sell us something.   

COMMON WOOD NYMPH – A medium/large Satyr butterfly of sunny fields, Common Wood Nymphs are not often seen nectaring on flowers, preferring fungi and rotting fruit.  They lay their eggs on grasses in late summer, but when the caterpillars hatch, they go into hibernation immediately, without feeding, to continue their development the following spring. 

CANDY-STRIPED LEAFHOPPER – what glorious things sometimes come in ¼” packages!  And, they have superpowers!  Leafhoppers suck plant juices.  Most plant sap has a sugar concentration of only a few percent, so leafhoppers have to consume a lot of it to get enough calories, and they excrete the excess (honeydew) “under pressure” with a tiny, but sometimes-audible, “pop.”  Because of this, they’re called “sharpshooters.”  And – they vocalize, but too softly for us to hear.

BROWN WASP MANTIDFLY – Yes, those poised, mantis-like front legs are used to grab smaller insects (mantidflies also sip nectar); and yes, this mantidfly does look like a paper wasp at first glance (but – no stinger).  Scroll down to see how this very flexible species has evolved to imitate different species of wasps in different parts of the country (the mantidfly is on the left) https://bugguide.net/node/view/4825

Their stalked eggs are attached to leaves https://bugguide.net/node/view/216544/bgimage, and when the eggs hatch, each larva waits for a passing spider, hitches a ride (feeding on the spider like a tick), and eventually infiltrates the spider’s egg sac, where it spends the rest of its larval life eating spider eggs.

WHITE-FACED MEADOWHAWK – You rarely see this species in tandem flights out over the water or ovipositing into shallow water.  They often “speculate” – bobbing up and down in damp areas by a pond’s edge, with the female lobbing her eggs onto the ground.  The plan is that spring rains will wash the eggs into the water. 

RED-SPOTTED PURPLE – What a classy butterfly!  Three Fun Facts about Red-spotted Purples: 1) the red is on the underside of the wings https://bugguide.net/node/view/557370; 2) though they are “tailless,” they are mimicking Pipe-vine Swallowtails, which are poisonous https://bugguide.net/node/view/2264557/bgimage; and 3) partly-grown caterpillars spend the winter inside a leaf that they’ve rolled into a tube and fastened to a twig, and they emerge and resume eating the following year (scroll down for a picture of a hibernaculum and for a bonus lesson about “frass spars” https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/bfly/red-spotted_purple.htm).  Within their leafy tube, they drop about 1/3 of the water weight in their body in order to avoid cell damage from freezing.

CRAB SPIDER – Nothing to see here, folks, just move along.

GREEN STINK BUG – Another common sight in late summer, along with their flashy, almost-grown nymphs https://bugguide.net/node/view/885566.  Some stink bugs are carnivores, and some are herbivores, and some of the herbivores are considered crop pests.  They aren’t chewers, they suck plant juices with mouths like drinking straws, which can deform fruits and seeds, damage twigs, and wither leaves.  Green Stink bugs (Pentatoma hilaris) (hilaris means “lively or cheerful”) feed on a large variety of plants (they’re “polyphagous”).  Newly-hatched green stinkbugs aren’t green https://bugguide.net/node/view/127137/bgimage.

TIGER SWALLOWTAIL CATERPILLAR – No – those aren’t eyes.  They’re pigment spots that are designed to fool you into thinking it’s a snake.  Young Tiger Swallowtail caterpillars start out as bird poop mimics https://bugguide.net/node/view/1883543/bgimage, but midway through their development, they go into snake mode, completing the effect by everting, when they feel threatened, a two-pronged, soft, orange, odorous projection (the osmeterium) that looks like a snake’s forked tongue https://bugguide.net/node/view/2214191/bgimage.  Tiger Swallowtails have two generations per year.  Caterpillars of the butterflies we see in June don’t spend long in the chrysalis, emerging in mid-August and getting to work on the next generation.  This caterpillar will overwinter as a chrysalis.  Don’t tell the other insects, but Tiger Swallowtails are the BugLady’s favorites.

As she visited her usual haunts this summer, the BugLady was dismayed at the lack of insects.  Sure, the goldenrods are full of flies, bees and wasps of various stripes, and the grasshoppers and tree crickets are singing their September songs.  But she saw six Tiger Swallowtails this summer.  Total.  And maybe a dozen meadowhawks.  During one mid-summer Dragonfly count years ago, the BugLady simply stopped counting meadowhawks when she got to 250 because it was distracting her from the other species.  Common Wood Nymphs used to emerge in early July by the score to filter through the grasses.  Even crab spiders and ambush bugs seemed scarce this year. 

What good are insects?  Sometimes it’s hard to drum up sympathy for a group that many people routinely swat, stomp, spray, or zap.  But insects provide food for birds and for other insects; they’re pollinators, and they provide other ecosystem services including pest control and garbage pick-up. 

(And, of course, they’re awesome.)

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Midsummer Memories by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week Midsummer Memories

Howdy, BugFans,

Last year the BugLady had so many midsummer stories to tell that she wrote one episode about dragonflies, and a second about “other” (because as seasoned BugFans know (well) her camera gravitates to dragons and damsels).  She’s got a heap of pictures to share again this year, but she’ll mix and match the groups in a two-part summer feature.

ROSE CHAFER BEETLE – The BugLady saw a single Rose Chafer last year and wrote about it https://uwm.edu/field-station/rose-chafer-beetle/.  This year, she found bunches of them – orgies of them (she’s not sure what the collective noun for Rose Chafers is, but she’s pretty sure it’s “orgy”).  And she was enthralled by the leggy designs they made on the undersides of milkweed leaves.  

COPPER BUTTERFLY – A highlight of the BugLady’s recent explorations of Kohler-Andrae State Park was finding two species of Copper butterflies – American Copper and Bronze Copper (she rarely finds Coppers).  The Coppers are in the Gossamer-wing butterfly family Lycaenidae, along with the Harvesters, Hairstreaks, Elfins, and Blues.  Their caterpillars feed on plants in the rose and buckwheat families (dock, sorrel, and knotweed).

VIOLET/VARIABLE DANCER – The BugLady was talking to a friend recently about the colors that dragonflies and damselflies come in.  Black, black and yellow, green, blue – even red.  But purple?

FLY ON PITCHER PLANT – This is just the way it’s supposed to work.  Insects with a “sweet tooth” get lured to the lip of the pitcher plant and partake of the (slightly narcotic) nectar there.  Judgment impaired, they mosey around a little, maybe venturing onto the zone of down-pointing teeth below the lip, and then onto the slick, waxy zone below that.  It’s all downhill from there.

GOLDENROD CRAB SPIDER on yarrow (not all Goldenrod crab spiders have red racing stripes).  Incoming insects have trouble seeing her, too.  Out of all the species of crab spiders in the world (about 3,000), only a very few have the ability to change colors, and that ability is limited to the female of the species.  Her color palette includes white, yellow, and pale green.  She sees the background color with her eyes, and because a wardrobe change takes her between three days and three weeks she tends to stay on her chosen flower.  Her base color is white, and switching involves either creating yellow pigment or reabsorbing and then sequestering or excreting it.  

Why?  Good question.  Scientists have tested spiders on matching and non-matching flowers (which they often sit on), and they saw no boost in hunting success when the spiders matched their background (she likes prey that’s bigger than she is, like bumblebees, because she has eggs to make.  She loses weight on a diet of small flies).  When spiders themselves are the prey, they are not picked off more often on non-matching flowers.  Maybe the color change gives her some sort of advantage when she forms her egg case, or maybe it’s a vestigial solution to a long-ago problem.

ORANGE-LEGGED DRONE FLY – This Syrphid/Flower/Hover fly is so serious about its bumble bee disguise that it makes a loud buzz when it’s flying

SEDGE SPRITE TUSSLE – the BugLady was in a bog not long ago when she saw two damselflies tussling on some leaves.  At first, she thought there was some predation going on, but that didn’t make sense because they were both Sedge Sprites.  He had grabbed her and was wrestling with her, and she was having none of it.  He suddenly flipped her around and clasped the back of her head with the tip of his abdomen (SOP for mating dragonflies and damselflies).  Rather than reaching forward and taking his sperm packet, she ultimately gave a couple of good shakes and dislodged him.  One small drama.

PHANTOM CRANE FLY – Flies come in all sizes and shapes, but this magical creature in white spats is the BugLady’s favorite.  It lives in dappled, brushy wetland edges where it flickers through the vegetation like a tiny wraith.

FORKTAIL AND POWDERED DANCER – Eastern Forktails are voracious hunters that go after other damselflies, even those close to their size.  The mature female forktail (in blue) found a teneral (young) Powdered Dancer (in tan) that was probably not a strong flyer yet.

Go outside – look at bugs,

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Coral Hairstreak Butterfly
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week by Kate Redmond

Coral Hairstreak Butterfly

Howdy, BugFans,

Hairstreaks (and Blues and Coppers and Harvesters) are members of the Gossamer-winged butterfly family Lycaenidae (“Gossamer-winged” being a nod to the iridescent sheen on the wings of many family members).  Numbering nearly 5,000 mostly tropical species worldwide – 30% of butterfly species – Lycaenidae is the second-largest butterfly family (the Brush-foots outnumber them).  The BugLady associates hairstreak butterflies with butterfly weed and hot, sunny prairie days.

Family members share characteristics like indented eyes, striped antennae, a narrow face, reduced forelegs (males more than females), bright colors, and (frequently) hair-like “tails” on the edge of the hind wing.  The tails are often located near a blue-pigmented “eyespot” on the wing – hairstreaks often land head-down, and the eyes and antenna-like tails are said to present a predator with a “false head.”  The tails are fragile and can be worn off or may be bitten off by a misdirected predator (better to lose a chunk of a wing than your actual head). 

With the exception of the carnivorous Harvester larvae, the slug-like Lycaenid caterpillars are herbivores; adult Lycaenids feed at flowers and also get nutrients from damp mud, decaying fruit, and carrion.  Caterpillars of many species of Gossamer-wings are myrmecophiles – they have friendly relationships with ants, trading food for protection.  Caterpillars of some species are able to communicate with or summon their ants by producing vibrations that travel through the substrate.  

CORAL HAIRSTREAKS (Satyrium titus) aren’t gaudy, but they’re still pretty spiffy little butterflies.  They are hairstreaks without hairstreaks, and they don’t have blue eyespots on the edge of their wings, either https://bugguide.net/node/view/23133 (compare it to the similar Acadian Hairstreak, which has both https://bugguide.net/node/view/1490067/bgpage).  Coral Hairstreaks close their wings immediately upon landing, so the BugLady couldn’t find any picture of the dorsal side of their wings other than this pinned specimen https://digitalatlas.cose.isu.edu/bio/insects/butrfly/famlyc/satif.htm.  They have a wingspread of 1” to 1 ½”, and males and females look alike except that the male’s wings are somewhat more triangular in shape.  Here are more pictures https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/view/513

Coral Hairstreaks are found across much of North America https://bugguide.net/node/view/4115/data.  They need two habitats, with adults visiting (and pollinating) flowers, especially butterfly weed, in open areas like grasslands, roadsides, clearings, pastures, and gardens; and caterpillars feeding on the new leaves, flowers, and even the new fruit of Black cherry and a few of its close relatives in young woods and around woodland edges.  Some hairstreak species are woodland-dwellers, but maturing woodlands become less attractive to Coral Hairstreaks, and land use practices affect their numbers. 

Aggressive males perch on vegetation and chase females and other insect intruders, and they court using pheromones (smells) and visual displays.  Females lay eggs on twigs, at the base of a host tree or in nearby leaf litter, leaving a scent mark to indicate to other females that the spot has been taken.  The eggs overwinter, hatching in spring as the new vegetation erupts https://bugguide.net/node/view/1683166/bgimage.  There’s one generation per year.

Although Coral Hairstreaks fly fast and erratically, most don’t disperse very far away from where they hatched.  On cool mornings, they warm up by sitting with wings closed, at right angles to the sun (lateral basking).  

According to the great University of Michigan Biokids website http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Lycaenidae/, lacewings and ladybug beetles eat hairstreak eggs; ants, wasps, and the larvae of parasitic flies eat the caterpillars; mice and shrews feed on the pupae; and mantises, spiders, birds, frogs, and toads stalk the adults.  If they can connect with the proper species of ant, the caterpillars will be protected by them in return for allowing the ants to harvest drops of honeydew that caterpillars produce in a “honey gland” (dorsal nectary organ) http://www.pbase.com/spjaffe/image/125237720).  Caterpillars feed at night, attended by ants, and rest in the leaf litter below the cherry tree by day. 

Data from the marvelous Butterflies of Massachusetts website (https://www.butterfliesofmassachusetts.net/index.htm), where they have crunched the numbers for 150 years’ worth of butterfly sightings, suggest that warming temperatures due to climate change are causing Coral Hairstreaks there to begin their flight period two weeks ahead of the historical dates – at the beginning of July rather than the middle of July (and this is undoubtedly happening elsewhere).

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – The Twelve Bugs of Christmas 2022

Bug o’the Week

The Twelve Bugs of Christmas 2022

Greetings of the Season, BugFans,

Wow!  The 10th annual installment of The Twelve (or Thirteen) Bugs of Christmas!  The Bugs of Christmas features shots, taken throughout the year, of insects and spiders who have already had their own BOTW, but who posed nicely.

The next two paragraphs were borrowed from Christmas 2016, because the BugLady is still amazed by the history of this ubiquitous Holiday Classic.

The Twelve Days of Christmas” is an English carol that was probably borrowed from the French and that was originally an acapella chant/call-and-response/children’s memory game.  There’s an alternative explanation about the various lords, rings, etc. being Christian code words for catechism during a time of religious repression (which seems a bit like playing Beatles songs backwards).  It first appeared in writing in 1780, and there were (and still are) many variations of it, though the words were more-or-less standardized when an official melody was finally written for it in 1909 (and the insect verse was, alas, dropped.  “Thirteen Bugs a’ buzzing”).

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Twelve_Days_of_Christmas_(song) so you can hold your own in Holiday Trivia at parties (I’ll take Christmas Songs for $300, Alex).  With apologies to all those Lords a’ Leaping, it’s time once again to celebrate a year of bugs with this baker’s dozen collection of the beautiful, the odd, and the mysterious.  Gifts.  Right under our noses.  All the time.

POTTER WASP – Throughout this BOTW series, we have noted the many places where insects deposit their eggs – in plant stems, in underwater vegetation, in dead trees, in flower buds, in mushrooms, in the BugLady’s wind chimes, in carcasses, in holes and tunnels underground, in other insects, in cells made of wax or paper, in egg sacs.  The BugLady’s favorite is the small, mud pot attached to a twig or leaf by a potter wasp. 

SEDGE SPRITE – The BugLady is a tall person, and Sedge Sprites (her favorite damselflies) are tiny damselflies, barely an inch long, that mostly fly at altitudes lower than her knees.  Photographing one involves tracking an insect the size of a sewing needle through sedges and other boggy vegetation.  What a beauty!

BUMBLE BEE – The plant is called Common Hound’s-tongue (Cynoglossum officinale) (aka houndstooth, dog’s tongue, Gypsy flower, and Rats and Mice (because it’s said to smell like them).  Lots of small flowers on a plant that may grow 4 feet tall.  It’s from Europe; it probably came over in the 19th century in a bag of agricultural seed, and it’s considered a noxious weed in parts of North America (but it’s rare in Ireland).  It contains chemicals (alkaloids) that are toxic to livestock, its bristly seeds are not wholesome to ingest, and they irritate the skin, too.  Historically, it was used as a cure for madness and to treat inflammatory diseases, lung issues, and “it heals all manner of wounds and punctures, and those foul ulcers that arise by the French pox’” (Culpeper’s Complete Herbal).

The bumble bee doesn’t know any of that, and doesn’t care.

LADYBUG and SHINING FLOWER BEETLE – Multicolored Asian Ladybird Beetles come in a variety of shades of red and orange with spots ranging from zero to many, but you can tell them by the “W” or “M” on the thorax (depending on whether they’re walking toward you or away from you).  Adults eat aphids and scale insects, and their larvae eat even more aphids and scale insects, and some eggs of butterflies and moths.  The BugLady couldn’t find anything that suggested that they might chow down on a small beetle like this Shining flower beetle, but the ladybug sure was interested in it and followed it all around the surface of the leaf.

GIANT ICHNEUMON WASPS are among the BugLady’s favorite insects (Why?  See https://uwm.edu/field-station/giant-ichneumon-wasp/).  There are two species of rust and yellow Giant Ichneumons around here https://bugguide.net/node/view/1701906/bgimage, plus Black Giant Ichneumonid Wasp https://bugguide.net/node/view/1742321/bgimage.  This is a male Black Giant Ichneumonid Wasp.  

SPIDER WEB – an abandoned trap web, toward the end of summer.

DARNER EXUVIA – In today’s usage, the empty, shed skin of an insect or spider is (mostly-but-not-always) called an exuvia (Pl. exuviae), from the Latin for “things stripped, drawn, or pulled from the body”.  The BugLady, who likes etymology as well as entomology, wanted to find out more about the word, so down the rabbit hole she went.  She discovered that even her two favorite dragonfly and damselfly books don’t agree with each other. 

The British use “exuvium” for the singular and “exuvia” or “exuviums” for the plural.  When she did a bit more delving into “exuvium,” the BugLady found this awesome excerpt from a letter written by Sir Thomas Browne to his son Thomas, dated May 29, 1679: “I have sent you, by Mrs. Peirce, a skinne of the palme of a woemans hand, cast of at the end of a fever, or in the declination thereof; I called it exuvium palmæ muliebris, the Latin word being exuvia in the plurall, butt I named it exuvium, or exuvia in the singular number.  It is neat and is worthy to be showne when you speake of the skinne. …. A palmister might read a lecture on it.” 

A post in a bugguide.net discussion further muddies the waters by stating that the cast-off skin of an insect should be referred to in the plural (exuviae) because “a single cast skin is a collection of insect parts and is thus an exuviae.” 

There’s no logical equivalent in Classical Latin, but Scientific Latin takes liberties with the Classical.  The entomology community tacitly agrees that it’s a “we-know-it’s-not-correct-but-we’re doing-it-anyway” situation. 

The snail had nothing to do with the emerging dragonfly and, the BugLady guesses, is passing by.

BUMBLE FLOWER BEETLES – When the BugLady found some of these and wrote about them one fall https://uwm.edu/field-station/bumble-flower-beetle/, BugFan Chris told her that they’re also around in the spring.  Sure enough – she spotted this one in mid-May. 

MOURNING CLOAKS aren’t splashy, and they eschew wildflowers in favor of dripping sap, but they’re pretty spiffy nonetheless, and they’ve got a cool life story.  In a group (the order Lepidoptera) where the adult portion of a lifespan is usually measured in a few, short months, these are long-lived and complicated butterflies.  They overwinter as adults, mate, and lay eggs in spring.  Their offspring feed on willow leaves, form chrysalises, and emerge as adults in late spring or early summer.  After feeding for a while, they go into a state of aestivation (summer dormancy) to avoid wear and tear.  They wake in fall, feed some more, and then overwinter as adults in a state of suspended animation called diapause, which is similar to hibernation, tucked up in a cloistered spot called a hibernaculum that shelters them from the elements, and protected from the effects of freezing by glycerol (antifreeze) in their bodies.  They may fly during a January thaw or on mild days in late winter, but they can reenter diapause when the temperature drops.  When they emerge and mate in spring, they’re about 10 months old. 

This pretty CLICK BEETLE by the name of Ampedus sanguinipennis (sanguinipennis means “blood wing”) is found in wooded areas – its larvae develop in, feed on, and then pupate in very rotten wood, emerging as adults by fall, but hunkering down within the pupal cell for the winter.  Adults are pollen feeders that shelter under loose bark.  Somewhere in its travels, this beetle encountered some mites, which hitched a ride.  The harmless transporting of other organisms is called phoresy.  Here’s a glamour shot https://bugguide.net/node/view/20063.

If you’re a CRAB SPIDER and you don’t spin trap webs, you need a different strategy for finding dinner.  Crab spiders employ camouflage and ambush.  The flower is a tallgrass prairie plant called leadplant. 

COMMON GREEN STINKBUGS (Chinavia hilaris) are considered persona non grata in agricultural fields and orchards because both the nymphs and the adults feed on fruit and developing seeds.  And yet.  Hilaris means “lively” and “cheerful,” and that’s the vibe this stink bug was sending on a sunny day.

And an EASTERN AMBERWING Dragonfly in a pear tree. 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Bugs at the End of Summer

Bug o’the Week

Bugs at the End of Summer

Howdy, BugFans,

The general rule of thumb is that if you want to find insects, look at flowers.  Even though summer is fading, there are still flowers in bloom.  Some Liatris/blazing stars linger, along with brown-eyed Susan, wild sunflowers, asters and goldenrod (more than a century ago, Asa Gray said that the 12 pages about goldenrods in his Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States, from New England to Wisconsin and South to Ohio and Pennsylvania Inclusive (aka Gray’s Manual) were the most uninteresting in the Manual).  Late summer and early fall are dominated by flies, bees and wasps, and by grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets.

Most adult insects die by the first frosts, leaving behind the next generation in the form of eggs or pupae (occasionally as nymphs or larvae), so the clock is starting to tick pretty loudly.  As BugFan Mary stated dispassionately many years ago, they’re dead and they don’t know it yet.  Meanwhile, their activities are centered on eating and on producing the next generation.

AMBUSH BUG (pictured above) – One of the BugLady’s favorite insects is the ambush bug (she’s always had a soft spot in her heart for predators).  Ambush bugs tuck themselves down into the middle of a flower and wait for pollinators.  They grasp their prey with their strong front legs, inject a meat tenderizer, and slurp out the softened innards.  They’re paired up these days (the BugLady has a picture of a stack of three), and she has several pictures where the female is multitasking – eating an insect while mating.

BUMBLE BEE – A bumble bee forages for nectar and pollen for the brood well into September, but the brood will not survive the winter.  Only the newly-fertilized queens will see the spring and establish a new colony.  Moral of the story – plant Liatris/Blazing star.

PUNCTURED TIGER BEETLES (aka Sidewalk or Backroad Tiger Beetles) are named for the rows of pits on their very-slightly-iridescent elytra (hard wing coverings).  They’re common across the continent in dry, sandy, bare spots, and as one of their names suggests, they’re sometimes seen on sidewalks.  Like their (much) larger namesakes, Tiger beetles chase their prey https://bugguide.net/node/view/1106590/bgimage.  For more info http://www.naturenorth.com/Tiger%20Beetle/The%20Tiger%20Beetles%20of%20Manitoba.pdf.  

Some Punctured tiger beetles are “plain” https://bugguide.net/node/view/1343674/bgimage, and some are “fancy” https://bugguide.net/node/view/223895, and some are green https://bugguide.net/node/view/2025474/bgimage.  

FAMILIAR BLUETS signal the end of the damselfly season.  Big, robust, and startlingly-blue, they’re one of the BugLady’s favorite bluets.  

EASTERN COMMA – There are two generations/broods/”flights” of Commas (and Question Marks – the “anglewings”) each year.  The second generation overwinters as adults, tucked up into a sheltered spot (a hibernaculum).  They sometimes emerge during a January thaw, but they quickly resume their winter’s sleep.  They fly briefly in spring – one of our early butterflies – and produce the summer brood.

FALL FIELD CRICKET – Poking her ovipositor into the soil and planting the next generation.  Her eggs will hatch in spring, and her omnivorous offspring will eat leaves, fruits, grain, and other invertebrates. 

The BugLady loves their simple songs http://songsofinsects.com/crickets/spring-and-fall-field-crickets and is happy when a cricket finds its way indoors in fall.  Males form a resonating chamber by setting their wings at a certain angle; then they rub their wings together to produce sound (one wing has a scraper edge and the other has teeth).  There are mathematical formulae for calculating the ambient air temperature based on cricket chirps that give you the temperature in the microclimate on the ground where the cricket is chirping (add the number of chirps by a single field cricket in 15 seconds to 40). 

CANADA DARNER – Common Green Darners are robust dragonflies that fill the late summer skies with dramatic feeding and migratory swarms.  There are other darners, though, primarily the non-migratory mosaic darners (like the Canada, Green-striped, Lance-tipped, and Shadow Darners) whose abdomens have blue and black, “tile-like” patterns.  Identify them by the shape of the colored stripe on the thorax and by the shape of the male’s claspers (lest you think it’s too easy, females come in a number of color morphs – this is a green-form female Canada Darner).  

MONARCH BUTTERFLIES were alarmingly scarce this summer – the short-lived Gen 3 and Gen 4, whose job it is to build the population in the run-up up to the migratory Gen 5, simply weren’t there.  But, on one of the BugLady’s recent stints on the hawk tower, she saw 289 Monarchs heading south during a six-hour watch.  Moral – Plant goldenrod (and native milkweeds).

GOLDENROD CRAB SPIDER – Like ambush bugs, crab spiders live on a diet of pollinators.  They don’t build trap nets and wait for their prey to come to them, they pursue it.  Sometimes they lurk on the underside of the flower, but their camouflage makes hiding unnecessary.  This female looks like she’s sitting at the dinner table.

RED-LEGGED GRASSHOPPERS are very common in sunny grasslands at this time of year from coast to coast.  They eat lots of different kinds of plants (including some agricultural crops, which does not endear them to farmers), but they prefer plants in the Legume/pea family and the Composite/aster family.  As the air temperature increases – and when predators are around – they eat more carbs.  Grasshoppers are food for spiders, many birds, and other wildlife.  Moral of the story – plant wild sunflowers.

PAINTER LADY – You don’t get to be the most widespread butterfly in the world (found everywhere except Antarctica and South America) by being a picky eater.  It migrates north in spring – sometimes in large numbers and sometimes in small.

THIN-LEGGED WOLF SPIDER – This Thin-legged wolf spider formed an egg sac (with about 50 eggs inside), attached it to her spinnerets and is going about her business.  When the eggs hatch, her young will climb up on her abdomen and ride around piggyback for a few weeks before dismounting and going about their lives. 

GREAT BLACK WASP and GREAT GOLDEN DIGGER WASP – Two impressive (1 ¼” long) wasps grace the flower tops at the end of summer.  Both are good pollinators, both are solitary species that eat pollen and nectar, and both dig tunnels and provision chambers with paralyzed insects for their eventual offspring.  Great Black Wasps https://uwm.edu/field-station/great-black-wasp/ select crickets and grasshoppers for their young’s’ pantry, and so do Great Golden digger wasps https://uwm.edu/field-station/great-golden-digger-wasp-family-sphecidae/.  Neither is aggressive.  

The moral of the story?  Plant lemon horsemint.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Mid-summer Scenes

Bug o’the Week

Mid-summer Scenes

Greetings, BugFans,

Summer has reached its half-way point, and the BugLady has been recording the changing of the guard.  The adult lives of most insects are brief – four to six weeks for many, and considerably less for some.  Bluet damselflies are fading, but meadowhawk dragonflies are taking the stage.  Little Wood Satyr butterflies are hard to find, but Common wood nymphs now flit through the fields.  You get the picture.  Here are some bugs that the BugLady found in the first half of summer.

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:

Bug o’the Week – Cuckoo Leafcutter Bee

Bug o’the Week

Mid-summer Scenes

Greetings, BugFans,

Summer has reached its half-way point, and the BugLady has been recording the changing of the guard.  The adult lives of most insects are brief – four to six weeks for many, and considerably less for some.  Bluet damselflies are fading, but meadowhawk dragonflies are taking the stage.  Little Wood Satyr butterflies are hard to find, but Common wood nymphs now flit through the fields.  You get the picture.  Here are some bugs that the BugLady found in the first half of summer.

Within the Megachilidae, the tribe Megachilini contains the genus Coelioxys – the Cuckoo leaf-cutter bees, aka the Sharp-tailed bees (Coelia means “belly” and “oxys” means “sharp”).  The Coelioxys aren’t the only bees that are “cuckoos,” a term that refers to bees that lay their eggs in another bee’s nest; Rusty Burlew, on the Honey Bee Suite website, tells us that 20% of all bee species are nest parasites (another source put it at 15%) and that this behavior occurs in most bee families (which means, he says, that there’s “a whole lot of poaching going on”).  

The host bees aren’t just babysitting.  Cuckoo bees are “kleptoparasites” (kleptoparasitism means “parasitism by theft”).  Their offspring take advantage of the work of the nest-building/host female, eating the food stores she has collected and killing their rightful owner.  There are 46 species in the genus Coelioxys, and each species targets different species of bees, mostly from within their own Megachilidae family.  

Because they no longer make nests for their young (one website suggests that they’ve been nest parasites for so long that they’ve forgotten how), they are minimally-hairy (oddly, they have hairs on their eyes), and they lack the dense, pollen-collecting hairs under the abdomen that many leaf-cutting bees sport https://bugguide.net/node/view/30569/bgimage.  For that reason, they’re not good pollinators.   

One website says that “Cuckoo leafcutter species appear very similar to the casual observer, and species identification is often best left to an expert,” and the BugLady plans to take that advice (for a change).  Females have pointy abdomens https://bugguide.net/node/view/1593995/bgimage, and males’ abdomens are toothed https://bugguide.net/node/view/2050487/bgimage.  Most of our northern species are basic black with white lines, sometimes with red in the legs, but some Southern species are fancier – https://bugguide.net/node/view/1616384/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/2093977/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/1409086/bgimage.  Most are less than a half-inch long.   

Female Cuckoo bees are bee-watchers; they visit flowers to sip nectar, but also to spy on potential hosts and follow them back to their tunnels.  When its owner leaves, looking for more pollen, the cuckoo bee enters the tunnel and uses the sharp tip of her abdomen (a modified stinger) to puncture the leafy walls of an egg chamber and to lay her eggs inside.  Her larva will use its sickle-shaped jaws to bisect the host egg or larva, and it will kill any of its own siblings in the chamber.  It pupates in the egg chamber, and its emergence the following year will be synched with the flight period of its host.

Fun Facts about Cuckoo Leafcutter bees:

  • The genus name is pronounced “seal-ee-OX-ees.”

FOR THE RECORD: to every author out there who likened the actions of cuckoo bees to cuckoo birds (family Cuculidae), a clarification.  New World species of cuckoos (except for three species in South America) build their own nests and care for their own young; some (but not all) Old World members of the cuckoo family (the 56 members of the subfamily Cuculinae, the Parasitic cuckoos) are, famously, brood parasites.  The difference between a nest parasite and a brood parasite is that brood parasites, like our Brown-headed Cowbird, leave their eggs in other birds’ nests with the expectation that the adoptive parents will raise their young.  This often comes at the expense of the nest-maker’s brood, since the cowbirds hatch first, grow fast, monopolize the feedings, and may elbow the other chicks out of the nest. 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

BREAKING NEWS: in another fit of Political Correctness, the Entomological Society of America has renamed the Asian giant hornet, aka the Murder hornet, (a hornet that is, indeed, from Asia) “in an effort to reduce negative and nationalistic associations.”  It’s now the Northern Giant Hornet.  The BugLady supposes that the Asian multicolored ladybug will be next, but as BugFan Mike suggests, maybe the Negro bug https://bugguide.net/node/view/5184, nominally in the Ebony bug family, should come first.  

Bug o’the Week – A Tale of Two Butterflies – Part 2 – Marine Blue

Bug o’the Week

Mid-summer Scenes

Greetings, BugFans,

Summer has reached its half-way point, and the BugLady has been recording the changing of the guard.  The adult lives of most insects are brief – four to six weeks for many, and considerably less for some.  Bluet damselflies are fading, but meadowhawk dragonflies are taking the stage.  Little Wood Satyr butterflies are hard to find, but Common wood nymphs now flit through the fields.  You get the picture.  Here are some bugs that the BugLady found in the first half of summer.

Its normal range is the scrublands and deserts of southwestern of North America, south into Mexico and Central America, but it shows up as an “emigrant” elsewhere http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=4357.  Wisconsin has had at least seven records so far this summer, one on the west side of the state, one in Madison, and the rest in Ozaukee and Sheboygan Counties, on the east side (Wisconsin butterfly watchers are a dedicated community). 

In The Butterflies of Iowa (2007), Schlicht, Downey, and Nekola pose an interesting question.  Marine Blues spend only 5 to 10 days as adults.  How does such a short-lived butterfly get from, say, Arizona to Iowa?  Or Wisconsin, or Ohio, or New York?  They speculate that it may be transported in shipments of alfalfa. 

It’s an ecologically flexible species, which is a recipe for success.  Marine Blues inhabit the Southwestern deserts, but they’re also at home in tropical lowlands, conifer forests, higher altitudes, open/disturbed/”weedy” areas, urban gardens, and agricultural fields.  There are plenty of species of food plants available for both the adults and the caterpillars.    

Marine Blues (aka Striped Blues or Marine Striped Blues) are in the Gossamer-winged butterfly family Lycaenidae (Blues, Coppers, Hairstreaks, and Harvesters).  Samuel Scudder (19th century entomologist and paleontologist and insect namer) called the genus Letotes the “banded blues.”  Like other blues, they’re small, with a wingspan of a little over an inch.  Males and females have similar “tiger-striped” underwings; the upper wings of males have a purplish tinge https://bugguide.net/node/view/1450319/bgimage (the BugLady didn’t find an explanation of why a desert butterfly was named the Marine Blue, but it must have been a nod to the male’s color).  The blue on the females is restricted to the base of the upper wings, which often show grid-like lines that echo the pattern of stripes on the underwing https://bugguide.net/node/view/411840.  

As always, blue pigments are extraordinarily uncommon in animals; most blue is a trick of the light.  In butterflies, it’s a result of light being bent/diffracted by the “complex nanoarchitecture” in the cuticle of the scales that cover the butterfly’s wings (for a deeper dive, see “Butterflies Hack Light Waves” https://asknature.org/strategy/wing-scales-cause-light-to-diffract-and-interfere/).

Their flight is fast and erratic.  Males actively patrol for females, the male flashing his wings and “calling her” with pheromones https://bugguide.net/node/view/716954/bgimage.  Her response to him includes an assessment of the “nutritional abundance of the environment”.  She ultimately lays eggs on the flower buds of legumes.    

The variably-colored, slug-like caterpillars eat the flower buds and developing flowers and seeds (but never the leaves) of woody and herbaceous, wild, agricultural, and ornamental plants in the Pea/Legume family – plants like Acacia, Mesquite, vetch, prairie clover, sweet pea, trefoils, wisteria, and alfalfa.  The caterpillars eventually form a chrysalis in the litter below their host plants https://bugguide.net/node/view/2114148/bgimage.  They produce multiple/continuous broods in the far south.   

Adults get nectar from a variety of flowers – some legumes and some not – and sip other nutrients from dung and from damp soil https://bugguide.net/node/view/675418/bgimage.  Here are some great shots of various life stages: http://leps.thenalls.net/content2.php?ref=Species/Polyommatinae/marina/life/marina_life.htm.     

Like other family members, Marine Blue caterpillars are myrmecophiles – they form close associations with ants.  Ants protect them from parasitoids (insect larvae that would eat them alive) in exchange for honeydew produced by the caterpillar. 

Marine Blues are common throughout the Southwest, but their population in Southern California has gotten an unexpected bump (the Snout had “dominoes,” and so does the Marine Blue).  There, Marine Blues have become urban butterflies – one source says that they’re the most common butterfly in Orange County, California!  In a paper that appeared in the Journal of the Lepidopterists Society in 1990, entomologist John Brown explains that the Marine Blue has been a common backyard butterfly in Southern California, where wisteria has been its favored host plant, since the 1920’s.  But the butterfly has jumped to a new, non-legume host, a South African evergreen shrub called Cape Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata), which is widely planted in landscaping and along roadways and blooms year round. 

The ant in the Marine Blue-ant partnership is the Argentine ant (Linepithema humile, formerly Iridomyrmex humilis), a pretty interesting species that forms super colonies over vast areas (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argentine_ant) and that balances the negatives of routing native ant species and being a persistent home invader with the positives of eating mealybugs and scale on citrus.  Brown noted that “Leptotes marina is one of few native North American butterflies that has benefited from the activities of man by its remarkable switch to a new larval host introduced from South Africa and to a nectar source and an ant introduced from South America [the butterflies strongly favor the introduced Brazilian pepper flowers for nectaring], none of which are closely related to the butterfly’s native resources. This flexibility undoubtedly has led to an expansion in range, at least ecologically and temporally, over the past 60 years, resulting in the butterfly’s invasion and successful colonization of urban environments.”

So – another day, another Southwestern visitor, but unlike the American Snout, there don’t seem to be a set of precipitating factors for Marine Blues’ wanderings (other than northbound truckloads of hay).  And, unlike the Snout, Marine Blues (probably) do not produce broods at the ends of their journeys.  

Thanks to BugFan Freda for the use of her beautiful picture of a mint-condition Marine Blue sitting on a clover. 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – A Tale of two Butterflies – Part 1 – the American Snout

Bug o’the Week

Mid-summer Scenes

Greetings, BugFans,

Summer has reached its half-way point, and the BugLady has been recording the changing of the guard.  The adult lives of most insects are brief – four to six weeks for many, and considerably less for some.  Bluet damselflies are fading, but meadowhawk dragonflies are taking the stage.  Little Wood Satyr butterflies are hard to find, but Common wood nymphs now flit through the fields.  You get the picture.  Here are some bugs that the BugLady found in the first half of summer.

The Snout

She was walking along the river when she saw an orange and brown butterfly fluttering around near a bare area.  Even though she hadn’t seen one for a long time, she was pretty sure she knew what it was (having quickly eliminated from consideration the slightly larger and more vividly-colored Red Admiral, American Lady and Painted Lady). After that first encounter, she saw several more Snouts.

Some taxonomists put them in the Brush-footed butterfly family Nymphalidae, within the subfamily Libytheinae (Snouts), and others put them in their own family Libytheidae (the Snouts or Long Beaks).  There are only about eight species of snouts worldwide, all in the tropics/subtropics, and although older field guides may list several species of American Snouts, they’re presently lumped into a single species that’s divided into races, geographically.  The Libytheidae are “old-timey” butterflies, whose fossilized ancestors have been found in 35 million year old deposits.  It’s possible that earlier generations had some use for that snout that we haven’t figured out. 

Nymphalidae is a family in which the butterfly’s front legs are greatly reduced and brush-like – essentially, they are four-legged butterflies.  American Snouts (Libytheana carinenta) have tweaked that design; males get around on four legs, but females have six functional legs.  Their “snout” is actually a pair of elongated mouthparts called labial palps https://bugguide.net/node/view/1542556/bgimage (the species name “carinenta” comes from a Latin word for “keel” and alludes to the shape of the palps). 

When they’re perched, Snouts are pretty distinctive.  With angular, variously-leafy-looking underwings https://bugguide.net/node/view/1885500/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/1253002/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/725354/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/709384/bgimage, and a head that looks like a leaf stem, they are well camouflaged.  If they’re alarmed, they may flick open their wings and startle predators with a flash of orange.  Their wingspread is about 1 ½ to 2 inches, and males and females look similar.   

They’re found in open woods, especially near wetlands and streams, from Argentina into our Southern tier of states, where they produce multiple broods a year and overwinter as adults.  They wander north of their regular range (as far as Ontario, but not to the northwestern quadrant of North America), and they sometimes undertake dramatic movements (more about that in a sec). 

Snouts visit Wisconsin most years (no sightings in 2021, but good numbers this year), arriving in late spring and producing a brood, with their numbers peaking in July.  Our winters are (still) too cold for them to overwinter.  Early arrivals to the North Country will bask in the sun for warmth, and they can quiver the (internal) flight muscles to generate some heat for flight (muscular thermogenesis).

These are not really migrants – some authors call them “immigrants” – because there’s no corresponding southward movement in fall by subsequent generations.  In Butterflies of Wisconsin (1970) Ebner says “Hoy stated the curious insect was once common in the Racine area but that it had dwindled drastically in abundance by 1881.”    It is conceivable that the species is short-lived here and exterminated by a severe and prolonged winter season.”  Snouts are more common in the southern part of Wisconsin because there are more of the caterpillar host trees in the south.

Their lives are tied to hackberry trees.  Males patrol for females near hackberries.  Several sources noted that mating pairs https://bugguide.net/node/view/234642/bgimage have been seen at dusk and at night, suggesting that they are crepuscular breeders, but others say that mating occurs at any time of day.  Females lay eggs in the hackberry leaf axils, and the caterpillars https://bugguide.net/node/view/1567718/bgimage (older caterpillars are fancier https://bugguide.net/node/view/6528) hatch and feed on the leaves.  Development is speedy – from egg to adult in just over two weeks!  The University of Florida Entomology and Nematology’s “Featured Creatures” blog adds this wonderful side note: “When not feeding, larvae in Brazil are reported to rest on frass chains as a defense against predators.

Because their proboscises are short, adults feed on nectar from “shallow” flowers like dogbane, aster, and goldenrod (the BugLady photographed one on Nannyberry), and they also get nutrients from bird droppings.  Males use their proboscises to absorb minerals from mud puddles.

Sometimes, the dam bursts and there are Biblical movements of Snouts throughout the Southwest – For this to happen, a few dominos have to line up.  The first domino is drought.  Snouts go into a state of diapause (become inactive) during a drought. 

The second is heavy, summer rain – when the drought breaks, the rain stimulates Spiny hackberry trees (but not other hackberry species) to grow tender, new leaves. 

Third, during a drought there are fewer insects like this Chalcicid wasp https://bugguide.net/node/view/1179366 that might be parasitoids of the caterpillars, so higher numbers of caterpillars survive. 

It’s the perfect storm – the rains come, the Snouts wake up, and the landscape is covered with butterflies that are eager to breed.  There are, suddenly, lots of places to lay eggs, and lots of leaves for caterpillars to eat, and the population explodes.  Professor Larry Gilbert found hackberries one meter in diameter with upwards of 4,000 chrysalises on them https://bugguide.net/node/view/6527/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/234621/bgimage (this one holds an almost-mature butterfly!).  Gilbert estimated that in 1978, the number of Snouts produced on the Chaparral Wildlife Management Area in Texas was about one-half billion (get the full story here http://texasento.net/snout.htm).

After the caterpillars defoliate the hackberries and metamorphose into adults, the Snouts spread out, moving at five to eight miles per hour, looking for more hackberries, hopscotching from one suitable spot to the next   Clouds of butterflies block the sun, lower visibility on the interstate, gum up windshields and radiators, and cause street lights to go on!  You would think that there would be a bunch of images of this on the internet, but there aren’t.

And here’s an excerpt from an article in the Texas Parks and Wildlife publication by Ben Hutchins, about an earlier event: “In 1921, an estimated 75 million butterflies per hour passed through South Texas in a particularly large wave that stretched for nearly 250 miles. To put that in perspective, the entire eastern monarch population during the winter of 2016-2017 was estimated at just over 81 million individuals. That’s essentially every monarch in North America east of the Rockies, save for a few snowbirds that hang out around the Gulf Coast, compared to 75 million American snouts passing by in a single swarm, in a single hour. The flight lasted for 18 days.

The wonderful Butterflies of Massachusetts account reports that Snout sightings had increased in New Jersey and New York by the end of the last century, which suggests that their range could expand northward as the climate warms.

It’s not too late to see one this year.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug of the Week – Gray Comma Butterfly – the Other Comma

Bug o’the Week

Mid-summer Scenes

Greetings, BugFans,

Summer has reached its half-way point, and the BugLady has been recording the changing of the guard.  The adult lives of most insects are brief – four to six weeks for many, and considerably less for some.  Bluet damselflies are fading, but meadowhawk dragonflies are taking the stage.  Little Wood Satyr butterflies are hard to find, but Common wood nymphs now flit through the fields.  You get the picture.  Here are some bugs that the BugLady found in the first half of summer.

These are butterflies with somewhat northern proclivities; they’re found across Canada and the northern part of North America but are mostly missing from our southern tier of states https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Polygonia-progne.  In Butterflies of the Great Lakes Region, Douglas and Douglas speculate that their original (pre-settlement) habitat was probably sunny areas that opened up within dense woodlands when trees fell over and left a hole in the canopy.  Today they’re found in clearings in deciduous and mixed woodlands, along stream edges, and along dirt roads, and also in gardens and yards.  Mead, in Butterflies of the North Woods, says that they are “maybe the most widespread of all the anglewings.”  The (fabulous) Butterflies of Massachusetts website suggests that Gray Commas “may be vulnerable to range contraction as climate warms.

Because of the outlines of their wings, Question Marks and commas (genus Polygonia) are called anglewings.  There are five anglewings in Wisconsin – Gray Commas, Eastern Commas and Question Marks are found throughout the state, and Green Commas and Satyr Commas live “Up North.”

They’re called anglewings because of the cut of their jib, and “comma” because of the silvery punctuation marks on the undersides of their wings.  The Gray Comma’s comma resembles a Nike swoosh https://bugguide.net/node/view/197220/bgimage compared to the Eastern Comma’s thickened and hooked mark https://bugguide.net/node/view/1567724/bgimage, and the Question Mark’s question mark https://bugguide.net/node/view/1583855/bgimage.  

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation’s online Field Guide, “Congratulations if you can tell the difference between a gray comma and eastern comma! This shows you’ve definitely progressed beyond a “beginner” level in butterfly identification.”  By that yardstick, the BugLady hasn’t quite arrived yet, but she’s getting closer.  She likes taking their pictures and putting their images up on the monitor, pulling out a field guide, and worrying them a little bit. 

Here’s why you have to look twice when you’re identifying anglewings:

Gray Comma – https://bugguide.net/node/view/1214968/bgimage

Eastern Comma – https://bugguide.net/node/view/1620700/bgimage,

Question Mark – https://bugguide.net/node/view/1774878/bgimage.  There are some handy tips for distinguishing them at https://wisconsinbutterflies.org/butterfly/subfamily/17-true-brushfoots

With a wingspread of about 2 inches, these are nice-sized butterflies, and seeing one with its wings open in the sunlight is a real treat!  When they’re sitting on a tree trunk with their wings closed, https://bugguide.net/node/view/1937383/bgimage, they can be remarkably-well camouflaged. 

Like other anglewings, there are two generations of Gray Commas each year.  The second generation emerges in mid-fall, but instead of mating, they overwinter as adults, tucked away in a sheltered spot called a hibernaculum (they may fly briefly during a winter thaw).  They emerge in April and May and go about the business of producing the summer generation.  Like other anglewings, Gray Commas are “seasonally dimorphic” – the summer brood has darker hind wings, https://bugguide.net/node/view/197221/bgimage than the winter brood https://bugguide.net/node/view/742721/bgimage.  

Gray Commas are jumpy and nervous, and they have lots of attitude.  Males scout for receptive females from a perch at the edge of a clearing; they are territorial and will engage with anything that crosses their turf.  Females lay eggs singly on the leaves of host plants – gooseberries (genus Ribes), plus the odd currant (also in the genus Ribes), plus azalea and elm. 

Early spring butterflies (and other insects) must have a way to get warm and stay warm (to this end, they are often hairier than later-season species); Gray Commas often warm up by basking in the sun (they have favorite perches), and they can also generate heat by shivering the muscles in their thorax (muscular thermogenesis).

It’s not often, when the BugLady researches insects, that the dramatic plot twist concerns the insect’s diet.  The Gray Comma’s menu looks pretty straightforward on the face of it, but there’s a backstory that the BugLady heard a very long time ago and then forgot.  Like other butterflies that emerge early, commas rarely visit flowers, preferring to sip the juices of rotting fruits, carrion, and dung, to visit sap drips, and to glean minerals from damp soil.  Caterpillars https://bugguide.net/node/view/937966/bgimage feed on the undersides of gooseberry leaves, and the butterflies readily adopted European gooseberries that were introduced by the Settlers (the caterpillars were considered pests of cultivated gooseberries in some places).  Food was plentiful.  Life was good. 

The Butterflies of Massachusetts website tells us what happened next: “Then, around 1910, an American nurseryman imported thousands of white pine seedlings which were infected with European white pine blister rust, for which Ribes plant species are the alternate hosts. Our native white pine, Pinus strobus was not resistant, and this commercially important species was threatened. To protect the lumber industry, importing or cultivating all currants and gooseberries was banned in most New England states. In the 1920’s and 1930s both native and cultivated Ribes plants were ripped up all across New England and the Great Lakes areas, as well as further west. By 1966 the ban was lifted in many areas, but is still in place in Massachusetts (Cullina 2002: 221-2). The host plants for Gray Comma therefore declined dramatically, as did the butterfly.”  (Since that was written, limited quantities of Ribes may be planted in Massachusetts, by permit only.  All clear in Wisconsin since 1966.)

Fun Fact about Gray Commas: their caterpillars rest below the leaf in a U-shape, hanging on with only their middle set of prolegs (the fleshy, “false” legs behind the three pairs of true legs on the thorax https://bugguide.net/node/view/1578095/bgimage).  When they’re alarmed, they wave their spiny front and rear ends around, which apparently makes a predator think again.

May is American Wetlands Month!  Wetlands support vast numbers of insects as temporary nurseries (for dragonflies and damselflies and more), as permanent homes, and as hunting grounds. 

Go outside – appreciate a wetland!

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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