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 – Gray Ground Cricket

Bug o’the Week

Gray Ground Cricket

Howdy, BugFans,

So – a cricket is a cricket is a cricket, right?  The BugLady wrote a little bit, early on, about that poster child of crickets, the ubiquitous, chunky, glossy-black Field cricket https://uwm.edu/field-station/crickets/ (she may have to revisit that one).  And, of course, about the Tree crickets that are now serenading her on the prairie.

But, a few years ago the BugLady was browsing through The Songs of Insects by Elliot and Hershberger (it comes with a CD!), and she paused at the chapter about Ground crickets.  They are common, said the book, and if you see something that looks like a small, immature Field cricket, it might just be a Ground cricket.  And it turns out that she has seen what she took to be Field cricket nymphs, and she’s been trying to photograph them, but when they’re out in the open, they don’t dawdle.  Ground crickets are generally found in woods or fields, but one species lives in sphagnum bogs, and another is listed as “marine/intertidal.”

Their pedigree: Ground crickets, aka Pygmy Field crickets are in the order Orthoptera (grasshoppers, katydids, crickets, etc.), in the True cricket family Gryllidae, and in the subfamily Nemobiinae (the Ground crickets).  There are about 250 species of Ground crickets globally, with 25 of those species north of Mexico.  Gray Ground crickets (Allonemobius griseus) are one of nine members of their genus in North America, and because they’re generally larger than other Ground crickets, the Allonemobius are called the Robust Ground crickets.

While Field crickets https://bugguide.net/node/view/1597782/bgimage, are close to an inch long, with a massive head and face, Ground crickets are smaller and not as robust-looking.  Ground crickets have a bristly thorax and abdomen, wings that are either long or short, spiny legs with spurs at the tips, and brown and black coloration that provides camouflage in the leaf litter.  There can be a lot of variation within each species, and identification (even to genus) is not a slam-dunk.  Both sound and habitat can be important clues.

Gray Ground crickets are about 3/8” long (minus their two to three “tails” – the two cerci and the female’s ovipositor), and because of their fuzzy exterior, they look pale https://bugguide.net/node/view/1885604/bgimage, except when they don’t https://bugguide.net/node/view/1915994/bgimage.

They’re found across southern Canada and the northern US, and their preferred haunts are sandy or gravelly and sparsely vegetated – not surprising, then, that the BugLady found this one in the dunes (where someone had thoughtfully dropped some fruit onto the cord walk).  In an interesting article titled “Landscape Ecology of Singing Insects 1: Glacial Influences,” author Carl Strang ties the Gray Ground cricket strongly to “the beaches and dunes around the Lake Michigan edge.” https://natureinquiries.wordpress.com/tag/gray-ground-cricket/.  John Himmelman, in a note on Gray Ground crickets in his Guide to Night-singing Insects, says “Few crickets in our area can take advantage of the dry habitats this species calls home. … The most noticeable feature of the Gray Ground Cricket is the long, bristly fur.  My guess is that it is an adaptation to its habitat, which allows it to retain moisture.

Ground crickets’ songs include both continuous trills and pulsating buzzes, and although the Gray Ground cricket is more active in the daytime, it sings both day and night.  If your ears are younger than the BugLady’s, you may be able to hear its calls, which Himmelman describes as a “Soft, high-pitched, somewhat sputter trill.https://orthsoc.org/sina/523a.htmwhich

They are omnivores (as are many Orthopterans), feeding on a variety of low plants, organic debris, and decaying fruit. 

Ground crickets may not be robust, but they’re hardy.  They start calling by early summer and continue until the first frost.  The BugLady has written about the nutritional rewards some male insects like Tree crickets provide for females (it’s called courtship feeding https://uwm.edu/field-station/tree-crickets/).  Female Tree crickets hike themselves up onto the male’s back and sip fluid from a groove on the back of his thorax – while she’s up there, she’s easier for him to mate with, and the nutritious goo she imbibes increases her odds of producing healthy eggs.  Standard stuff.  So the BugLady was unprepared for the female Ground cricket’s somewhat more invasive approach to this concept.  Himmelman tells us that “Some males within this subgroup have a gland that produces a special quaff for the female that has chosen him.  To access the nutritious meal, the female chews off the tip of a spur on the male’s hind tibia.  This ‘opens the cap’ and the fluid flows forth.”  Most Ground crickets overwinter as eggs that are laid in damp soil.

A few days after she found her first Ground cricket in the dunes, the BugLady found a darker, shinier species of Ground cricket at the edge of a wetland at Riveredge Nature Center.  Maybe a Striped Ground cricket, or a Spotted, or an Allard’s, or ….  The BugLady loves finding something she’s never seen before!

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

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