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

Bug o’the Week

Gray Comma Butterfly The Other Comma

Howdy, BugFans,

Gray Commas (Polygonia progne) are in the Brush-footed butterfly family Nymphalidae – “brush-footed” because their front pair of legs is small and “brush-like” and tucked in close to their body https://bugguide.net/node/view/1386003/bgimage, making them look like four-legged butterflies.

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

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Water Mite Redux

Bug o’the Week

Gray Comma Butterfly The Other Comma

Howdy, BugFans,

Gray Commas (Polygonia progne) are in the Brush-footed butterfly family Nymphalidae – “brush-footed” because their front pair of legs is small and “brush-like” and tucked in close to their body https://bugguide.net/node/view/1386003/bgimage, making them look like four-legged butterflies.

First-time observers of the underwater world are startled to see tiny, bright-red dots wallowing around underwater.  These critters are water mites, wee spider relatives in the Phylum Arthropoda, the Class Arachnida (spiders), the Order Trombidiformes, and in a quasi-taxonomic group called Hydrachnidia/Hydarachnidae.  There are some 1500 species of fresh-water-dwelling mites in North America (5,000 globally, but probably more, because they’re seriously under-studied), many of which tend to be habitat specialists. 

Water mites are common – abundant – denizens of shallow, quiet ponds, and a few species have adapted to life in rivers and streams.  They’re everywhere except Antarctica, in tree holes, deep lakes, bogs, hot springs, rivers, swamps, and marshes.  The word “ubiquitous” applies.

Superficially, they look like spiders, but spiders have two body parts, a cephalothorax (combined head and thorax) and an abdomen, and the spherical water mites have a fused thorax and abdomen and a tiny head (mostly mouth). 

Other physical characteristics include two double eyes (some species have an additional third eye in between, and a Vietnamese, cave-dwelling water mite has no eyes at all) and eight, short legs (most of the time). Many are startlingly red (bright red is an uncommon color in aquatic invertebrates), but species found in streams tend to be drab, and the BugLady has seen teal blue water mites.  Water mites that live in quiet waters are adorned with hairs on their legs – a light-weight way to increase the surface area for swimming; mites that live in running water have strong claws instead, so they can grab the substrate and resist the pull of the current.  Water mites can also be seen “walking” along on the pond floor and on submerged plants.  If they stop swimming, they sink.

Water mites can get all the air they need from the water they live in, absorbing dissolved oxygen through their skin, and they can live in waters that are very low in oxygen.  They’re usually found in the shallow water, but some live as deep as 100 meters and others call ephemeral/vernal ponds home, burrowing into the mud when the water dries up.  They are found in open water under the ice in winter.  Prime water mite habitat may contain as many as 2,000 mites per square meter.

The ranks of the water mites list a few scavengers, some parasitic water mites, a few species that eat plants and detritus, and a few cannibals, but, like true spiders, most adults are carnivores that grab their prey (zooplankton, worms, crustaceans, and tiny immature insects), pierce it with their fangs, suck the juices from its body (the waters seem thick with body-juice-suckers these days), and then discard the skin and roughage.  They are, in some reference books, enthusiastically consumed by fish, aquatic insects and hydras (the BugLady is confident that you recall your high school encounters with these tiny, transparent, somersaulting tree-guys).  Other sources report that water mites taste bad and that predators learn to avoid them, and that that’s why they’re red in the first place.

[N.B. – when the BugLady first wrote this, she misspoke and said that water mites develop within their host’s bodies. She misread a sentence and extrapolated the fact that some species may be internal parasites to mean that all were.  Repent at leisure.  Water mites are (mostly) meat eaters, but their feeding methods are different in different life stages. The larvae are external parasites (ectoparasites) on adult insects, and both the nymphs and the adults are predators on whatever is swimming around with them that they can tackle.] 

It is their childhood that is mind-boggling. Eggs, as many as 400, are laid on rocks or plants or on the neighbors – mussels and aquatic insects.  Eggs hatch into six-legged larvae that attach to insects that are aquatic or whose immature stages are spent in water – stoneflies, dragonflies, true bugs (like water striders), caddisflies and flies (like crane flies and mosquitoes).  Once attached, the larvae go through a parasitic phase.  They probably use their senses of sight, touch, and “smell” to find their hosts.  They attach to dragonfly and damselfly naiads when the naiads are about ready to crawl up out of the water to emerge as adults, and they act like ticks (to whom they are remotely related), living on the bodily fluids of their host.  They drop off the naiad during that final molt and then hop aboard and reattach themselves to the new (and temporarily soft) adult skin.  Female mosquitoes may not feed or lay eggs if they have too many mites, and a big load of mites lessens reproductive success in male damselflies.

In plain English, water mites start as eggs, then are larvae, then nymphs, and finally adults.  An arachnologist might say that the larva attaches to a host, and, still attached to its host, the larva becomes a protonymph, and the protonymph turns into a deutonymph within the larval skin or nymphochrysalis.  After a free-swimming, carnivorous stage, the deutonymph becomes a tritonymph within the imagochrysalis and the BugLady promises never to talk like that again. 

Along with food, the mite may benefit if, when it matures and drops off, its host has traveled to a different pond (not go good if it drops of over dry land).  Some sources viewed the mite’s hitchhiking as phoresy, but strictly defined, phoresy is the inadvertent transport of one critter by another.  There’s no parasitism in phoresy.  

In Summary: What’s not to love about a vivid, minuscule, aquatic parasite-predator spider relative who sucks out the very essence of its prey and whose life history encompasses egg, pre-larva, larva, protonymph, deutonymph, tritonymph, and adult? 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Leafcutter Bees – Pollinators Extraordinaire

Bug o’the Week

Gray Comma Butterfly The Other Comma

Howdy, BugFans,

Gray Commas (Polygonia progne) are in the Brush-footed butterfly family Nymphalidae – “brush-footed” because their front pair of legs is small and “brush-like” and tucked in close to their body https://bugguide.net/node/view/1386003/bgimage, making them look like four-legged butterflies.

Bees seem to have been designed to do the job.  There are more than 400 species of native bees in Wisconsin, and they pollinate native plants, ornamentals, and farm crops, alike.  Native bees are considered “keystone species” because of the profound effect they have on their communities, tending the plants that produce the fruits, seeds, nuts, and leaves that feed and shelter other animals.  Imagine what the landscape would look like if the pollinators disappeared! 

Leafcutter bees are in the family Megachilidae (Greek for “big lip,” because of their big, toothed mandibles), a family that includes leafcutter, mason, carder (the BugLady wants to find a carder bee because they have such a cool story to tell), and resin bees – all named for the materials they use to make nest chambers for their eggs.  There are about 4,100 species of Megachilids in the world (630 in North America), and they’re a cosmopolitan bunch – found just about everywhere. 

(Most) adult Megachilids drink nectar from a wide variety of plants, and many species are long-tongued, which allows them to harvest pollen and nectar deep within a flower.  There are a few black sheep in the family – brood parasites that reap the harvest of other species’ labor by waiting until an egg chamber has been provisioned and then inserting their own egg.  Their offspring will kill the rightful owner of the cache (if Mom didn’t, already), steal the food, and develop in the chamber.  It’s called kleptoparasitism. 

The stars of today’s show are the leafcutter bees in the genus Megachile.  Bugguide.net tells us several basic ways of telling bees from the often-similar wasps, yellowjackets, etc.  First, bees are hairy, and at least some of those hairs, especially those on the thorax, are plumose (branched); wasps have simple hairs.  Second, bees eat pollen, so they (the females, anyway) need to have a way to transport it.  Most bees have scopa, which is Latin for “broom” (plural – scopae) – dense, textured hairs that the pollen collects on.  The hairs of the scopae are electrostatic, and the bee uses its forelegs to move pollen that collects on its hairy exterior to its scopae.  Bumble bees and honey bees have pollen baskets rather than scopae, and some kinds of bees transport pollen by eating it. 

At first glance, some leafcutter bees look similar to dark-colored honey bees and sweat bees, but their head is disproportionally large (because it houses the bulky muscles that operate that “large lip” https://bugguide.net/node/view/1778942/bgimage).  Females have a pointed abdomen https://bugguide.net/node/view/2049111/bgimage, while males’ are blunt https://bugguide.net/node/view/2053907/bgimage).  And then there’s the scopa.  Many bees, like this long-horned bee https://bugguide.net/node/view/2046527/bgimage collect pollen in the dense hairs on their back legs, but leafcutter bees carry pollen on hairs on the underside of their abdomen https://bugguide.net/node/view/2060994/bgimage.  As Planet Bee’s bee-blog says, “This creates bright yellow/gold colored bee butts that are easy to spot” https://bugguide.net/node/view/1989844/bgimage.

About their courtship bugguide.net says, “Males of most species have enlarged light-colored front legs with a fringe of hairs and with odor glands. They use these features during mating. They partially cover the female’s eyes with their hairy legs and the odor glands are placed close to the female’s antennae.”  After they mate, the male dies, and, like other solitary bees, the female starts to construct a place for her eggs. 

Many solitary bees nest underground, but leafcutter bees mainly pick nest sites that are above ground.  They favor pre-existing insect tunnels in rotting wood, man-made holes (another common name is “wall bee”), wind chimes, pithy hollow stems like rose canes, and even abandoned snail shells.  Like other solitary bees, leafcutter bees cache provisions in chambers, deposit an egg, seal the chamber, and depart when the tunnel is complete.  A tunnel may be 8” long and contain a dozen chambers, each housing a single egg, and she may make several tunnels. 

For her young, she collects nectar and pollen, and she uses her saliva (which may have antibacterial and anti-fungal properties) to fashion them into a “loaf” of bee bread.  The larvae hatch and eat and grow, and sources disagree about whether they overwinter in a prepupal stage and then finish their metamorphosis in spring, or whether the mature larvae pupate and emerge as adults in fall, waiting out the winter within their cells, and chewing out in spring.

Leafcutter bees are famous for two things, and one of them is cutting leaves, which they do in order to build a more hospitable egg chamber for the next generation. 

The tunnel she fashions into a nursery for her eggs is lined with overlapping ovals of leaves (or in the case of simpler-jawed species, of petals) that form a narrow cylinder (to seal the door to each cell she cuts a circle).  Each egg chamber is separated from the others by a wall made up of chewed leaves and resin https://bugguide.net/node/view/1252173.  Scroll down to the video of a bee in action https://wisconsinpollinators.com/Bee/B_LeafcutterBee.aspx, and here are pictures of bees carrying pieces of leaves: https://bugguide.net/node/view/1851490/bgimage, and https://bugguide.net/node/view/2034354/bgimage.  During her life, a female may carve off 10,000 tiny, green discs.  White ash, Virginia creeper, lilac, and rose are favorite leaves.   

The other thing they’re famous for is pollination: https://bugguide.net/node/view/2060993/bgimage   https://bugguide.net/node/view/1985225/bgimage.  Leafcutter bees scramble all over the flowers they land on; the pollen they carry under their abdomen is loosely held, and it dusts each blossom, sharing the wealth (a honey bee wets the pollen so that it sticks to her legs better; the pollen she spreads is that which is caught on the hairs of her body).  Because leafcutter bees are homebodies, probably living their whole lives within 100 yards of their nest tunnels, the flowers they pollinate are neighborhood flowers. 

According to the US Agricultural Research Service, the efforts of one alfalfa leafcutter bee are equal to that of 20 honeybees, and in greenhouses, 150 leaf cutter bees = 3,000 honey bees.  They are important pollinators of crops from alfalfa to blueberries to sunflowers, and like honeybees, they are used commercially.  Farmers provide bee boards for the bees to nest in, shelter them during winter, and put them out for the next growing season.  

How can we help these very helpful, but unsung, creatures?  By not disturbing their nests (the BugLady doesn’t take in her wind chimes in winter, because so many things are nesting in it) and by hanging Bee Hotels, bundles of tubes, in your yard (here’s a bee using one https://bugguide.net/node/view/1879948/bgimage).  There are many designs available online for DIY folks, or you can buy them in garden stores.  Solitary bees are not aggressive, only stinging if you decide to handle one, and a leafcutter bee is more likely to bite than sting.  One source said that watching bee houses is as entertaining as watching bird houses! 

Awesome pictures at – https://www.flawildflowers.org/know-your-native-pollinators-leafcutter-bees/

Go outside – thank a pollinator!

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Bugs without Bios XVIII

Bug o’the Week

Gray Comma Butterfly The Other Comma

Howdy, BugFans,

Gray Commas (Polygonia progne) are in the Brush-footed butterfly family Nymphalidae – “brush-footed” because their front pair of legs is small and “brush-like” and tucked in close to their body https://bugguide.net/node/view/1386003/bgimage, making them look like four-legged butterflies.


There’s actually plenty of information out there about the Ipsilon dart because its caterpillar loves to eat a variety of agricultural crops, but (except for one little twist) its biography is pretty straightforward.  It’s one of those species whose adult and larval stages have different names – caterpillars are called Floodplain/Black/Greasy cutworms (one source described the larvae as greasy-looking), and another name for the adults is Dark Sword Grass Moth.  It’s an Owlet moth (family Noctuidae) in the Cutworm/Dart moth subfamily Noctuinae, and its name comes from the roughly “Y’-shaped” markings on the wings and from a misspelling of the Greek letter upsilon, which corresponds with the letter “Y.”  

The Ipsilon dart (Agrostis ipsilon) is a native moth that’s found across the continent into southern Canada and that has traveled around the world (except for very hot or very cold locales).  It’s unwelcome wherever it goes because the caterpillar’s diet includes clover, corn, lettuce, potatoes, tobacco, alfalfa, strawberries, sorghum, sugar beets, cotton, and a variety of grains and grasses.  If the eggs hatch before the crops sprout, the larvae sustain themselves on non-native roadside weeds like pigweed and curly dock and then move into the fields when they’ve finished the “weeds.”  Adults feed on nectar.  Here’s the life cycle https://bugguide.net/node/view/1225712/bgimage

Although eggs are laid on low leaves, the caterpillars do their damage below the soil.  There are multiple generations per year in the South; one or two in the North; and the last brood overwinters as pupae.  And here’s the twist – in the northern half of its range, winters are too cold for the pupa to survive.  Adults from the final generation in the north head south to escape the cold (southbound moths don’t reproduce), and in spring, moths migrate north to escape the heat.  According to “Featured Creatures,” a great newsletter of the Entomology and Nematology Department of the University of Florida, “moths collected in the central region of USA in March and April are principally dispersing individuals that are past their peak egg production period. Nonetheless, they inoculate the area and allow production of additional generations, including moths that disperse north into Canada.”


There are so many Ichneumon wasps out there – according to bugguide.net, an estimated 60,000 species worldwide with possibly 40,000 more to discover and describe – so many species that even among those that are named, their life stories are incomplete.  They come in all sizes, shapes and colors; their larvae make a living by parasitizing other insects and even some spiders (and they tend to be very specific about their targets); and they (mostly) don’t sting. 

The BugLady was trying, unsuccessfully, to identify this handsome wasp; she finally asked for help (thanks, PJ), and it turned out to be an Ichneumon wasp.  The BugLady is disappointed that the shiny new wasp book she bought doesn’t cover the Ichneumons, but if it did, she probably couldn’t lift it. 

Ichneumon annulatorius (no common name) can be found in the northeastern quadrant of North America, from Newfoundland to Virginia to Iowa.  Not a lot is known about it, but some of its life history has been inferred from observations of its close relatives.   

In a 1971 article in the Ohio Journal of Science called “Hibernating Ichneumonidae of Ohio.”  Clement Dasch points out that in spite of the fact that ants, bumble bees, and some paper wasps overwinter as adults, hibernation is a relatively uncommon habit in the Hymenoptera (ants, bees, and wasps).  Yet, while looking for hibernating wasps in Ohio, 39 species of Ichneumonids were collected. 

Insects pick their hibernacula carefully, aiming for high humidity and minimal fluctuation in temperature (sunny spots are out).  Ichneumons most frequently chose places under the loose bark of fallen trees on north-facing (shaded) slopes, close to the ground, or in deep ravines.  Other sites included the soft, rotten wood of an old stump or dead wood that was heavily tunneled by other insects.  Some species – including Ichneumon annulatorius – liked thick growths of moss on rocks or trees.  Favorable sites often housed multiple wasps.  

Of the 5,275 wasps he collected, Dasch found only a single male – these species produce a single generation per year, and males died after mating in fall.  Pregnant females entered hibernation by late October and emerged in early April when the air temperatures stayed above freezing, and when they emerged they immediately looked for a host to lay eggs on/in.


The BugLady was in the Bog on a fine fall day in 2015 when she spotted this jumpy grasshopper on the boardwalk.  It allowed two pictures and then departed.  The BugLady searched unsuccessfully for a grasshopper with the combination of striped head and thorax, glorious red on the femur, and white band on the tibia, and she finally sent it out to a grasshopper expert (thanks Chuck!). 

The Graceful sedge grasshopper (Stethophyma gracile/gracilis), aka the Northern sedge grasshopper/locust (in the short-horned grasshopper family Acrididae) occurs across southern Canada and the northern US, as far south as New Jersey and Nebraska.  It was probably more common 100 years ago, and bugguide.net speculates that it “seems to have disappeared from much of its southern range.”  It’s considered widespread but local, favoring sedge meadows, brushy swamps, stream edges, and other sunny, wet areas, and in the West, it prefers cool uplands.  The grasshoppers live in and eat sedges.

According to an article called “The Orthoptera of North Dakota” in the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (Vol LXXXVII 1925), “it reaches maturity late in the season and is not apt to be found adult before the first of August……”though the males are active, fly vigorously and stridulate loudly, the heavier females are less easily found, then usually ready to leap down into the thickest tangle of grasses at the first alarm.”  The BugLady found an article that suggested that when male grasshoppers stridulate (make noise by rubbing one body part against another) they are more likely to be talking to other males than wooing females. 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Black Blow fly

Bug o’the Week

Gray Comma Butterfly The Other Comma

Howdy, BugFans,

Gray Commas (Polygonia progne) are in the Brush-footed butterfly family Nymphalidae – “brush-footed” because their front pair of legs is small and “brush-like” and tucked in close to their body https://bugguide.net/node/view/1386003/bgimage, making them look like four-legged butterflies.

The family Calliphoridae (Blow flies) includes Carrion flies, Blow flies, Bluebottle and Greenbottle flies, Cluster flies, and the notorious Screwworm flies.  These often-metallically-colored flies are common in many habitats around the world, including urban areas, where they bask on sunny walls.  The name Blow fly (which was coined by William Shakespeare) comes from an old English term for meat that flies have laid eggs in – such meat was said to be “fly blown.” 

Most Calliphorid larvae (maggots) make their living as recyclers, which conjures up a more wholesome image than does saprophagous (feeding on decaying organic material) or sarcosaprophagous (“feeding on decaying animal material”) (to complete the set, scato/coprophagous refers to feeding on excrement and phytosaprophagous to feeding on rotting plant material.  Quadruple word scores all around).  Maggots eat dung and/or carrion, excreting proteolytic enzymes that break down its proteins, and a few species are parasites.  

Adult blow flies get carbs from nectar and are minor pollinators (they’re attracted to flowers with strong, “meaty,” odors), but they also visit carrion and dung to get protein.  The BugLady photographed one fly as it fed on sap that was leaking from the cut trunk of a small tree in early spring.   

In a blog post titled “Ten reasons why blow flies are stink’n awesome” from the Insect Ecology and Communication Lab at Ohio University, the author writes, “……All joking aside though, blow flies don’t really smell, it’s the resources they are associated with (garbage, poop, carrion, etc.) that smells. The purpose of this post is to make you fall in love with appreciate blow flies! Blow flies are considered filth flies because they are a terrible nuisance to people and are thought of as disease vectors.  Overall, blow flies have a bad reputation because of their less than socially approved eating habits (the BugLady is not going to list the ten – read the article https://bekkabrodie.com/2014/05/20/ten-reasons-why-blow-flies-are-stinkn-awesome/).  On the negative side – you know where that mouth and those feet have been.  On the plus side – they don’t bite.

Experienced BugFans can see where this is going.  The BugLady will try to tell the story as delicately as possible, but this lifestyle is just a part of the magnificent panoply that is the insect world and, well – blow flies happen.

THE BLACK BLOW FLY (Phormia regina), the only species in its genus, is a cold-loving fly that can be found across North America and around the world, especially in rural areas near water.  It’s seen more commonly during spring and fall in the northern half of its range, and in winter in the southern half.  In an article in the Martha’s Vineyard Times, Matt Pelikan (who writes nice natural history articles) says “Nobody seems to know where it originated; perhaps it had succeeded in colonizing much of the globe on its own even before human commerce began transporting wildlife from continent to continent. Or perhaps Phormia began hitching rides so early on in human history that it was already established most places by the time the first biologists turned up and began looking at flies.”

Both male and female Black blow flies need protein to fuel their mating and reproductive activities, and they get this protein from dung, which they ingest via “sponging” mouthparts.

Adults emerge from their winter shelters under tree bark and fallen leaves (sometimes putting in an appearance during a January thaw), and when the air warms consistently to about 50 degrees, the dance begins.  In the case of Black blow flies, the singles scene revolves around animal droppings, and males with larger hat sizes tend to be more successful at getting the gals.  After mating, the female “sniffs” the air, and tracks down some carrion.  Although adults get their nutrients from animal droppings, their eggs are laid on dead meat (up to 250 eggs, in various nooks and crannies).

The eggs hatch quickly in their meaty substrate; they have three instars (the eating stages between molts), and a feeding, metabolizing mass of third-stage maggots generates so much heat that the temperature within the mass can be 50 degrees F (or more) warmer than the ambient temperature.  It’s called the “maggot mass effect,” and it not only keeps everyone toasty, it gooses development and protects against predators and parasites.  The larvae survive the stress of this shot of heat by creating “heat shock proteins” (the BugLady was going to attempt a brief explanation of heat shock proteins, but she got into deep water pretty fast).  Maggots leave the nursery carcass and form pupal cases on the ground; their run from egg to pupa can be as brief as 6 days, with an additional week in the pupal case, but in cooler temperatures they may take up to 12 days longer to mature.  The faster their development is, the smaller the adults are. 

Sources disagreed about whether Black blow flies routinely come inside (most say no), but one suggested that if you see a cluster of blow flies in/around the house, they might be attracted to the odor of a gas leak.

Black blow flies are exquisitely sensitive to the smell of a recently dead animal.  They are among the first to arrive at the scene, which is why they are favorites of the CSI folks and why their chronologies have been so minutely charted. 

Another service provided by a number of blow flies, including the Black blow fly, is wound care (called biotherapy or maggot therapy).  Super-clean maggots are applied to open wounds with stubborn infections because those proteolytic enzymes break down the necrotic tissue for the maggots to eat and leave the healthy tissue alone.  Pick your blow flies carefully – some species (but not this one) sweeten the pot by adding antibiotic secretions to the wound, and other species will feed on healthy tissue.  Unwanted maggot infestations are called myiasis, and they happen to livestock (mostly), in warmer climes (mostly).  

Final Cool Fact about Blow Flies, from the Insect Ecology and Communication Lab “Blow flies are able to fly with such precision that we are never able to swat them.  This is because of the very tiny second pair of wings called halteres, which function like mini gyroscopes and help the fly to calculate in flight maneuver instantly.  Scientists use Blow flies to study flight muscles and split second flight maneuvers. They have discovered flies in mid-turn have the ability to roll on their sides 90º or more (flying upside down) just like a jet fighter.”

According to a 1922 report of the Kansas State Board of Health, “The robin and the bluebottle fly are the early harbingers of spring.”

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Small Blue Butterflies redux

Bug o’the Week

Gray Comma Butterfly The Other Comma

Howdy, BugFans,

Gray Commas (Polygonia progne) are in the Brush-footed butterfly family Nymphalidae – “brush-footed” because their front pair of legs is small and “brush-like” and tucked in close to their body https://bugguide.net/node/view/1386003/bgimage, making them look like four-legged butterflies.

Today’s episode considers three small, blue “look-alike” butterflies – the Spring Azure and the Summer Azure, often referred to as the Spring Spring Azure and the Summer Spring Azure, and the Eastern Tailed Blue.  The Spring Azures have long been considered to be one large and gloriously diverse species made up of several subspecies.  Now they’re thought by many to be a number of full species. For an explanation, see https://wisconsinbutterflies.org/butterfly/species/53-spring-azure.  Besides the Spring Azures, a number of other species of Blues/Azures occur in Wisconsin. 

BugFans who want to finesse identification can always refer to them thoughtfully as the “Spring Azure Complex” and can indulge in a bit of Bug “one-up-man-ship” by lamenting the lack of DNA sequencing on the group.  Remember, though, the words of biologist William Keeton, who said that humans are the only organism to whom this taxonomic lumping and splitting and nattering makes any difference.  The organisms themselves know who they are – in this case, they are butterflies in the family Lycaenidae, the Gossamer-wing butterflies, a large group of butterflies that can be found around the globe.  The BugLady knows them as tiny bits of sky that flicker through sun-dappled swamps, stream sides, woods openings and edges.


SpSpAzs typically emerge early and can survive the frosty nights of mid-spring.  Compared to the Summer Spring Azure, the SpSpAz is darker, and its black spots may be larger and more distinct.  Both species are sexually dimorphic (“two forms”); in this case, the females’ wings have wide black borders and the males’ don’t.  Their wingspread is 1” to 1 ¼”.  Most references say that Wisconsin’s SpSpAz is the species Celastrina ladon (or the subspecies C. ladon ladon).  Others point out that because C. ladon’s chief food plant, flowering dogwood, doesn’t grow in Wisconsin, our earliest SpSpAz is likely C. lucia (or C. ladon lucia).

In order to fly in April and May, SpSpAzs overwinter as a pupa/chrysalis. Adults don’t live long or eat much.  They may drink a little nectar or get liquid and minerals from the mud (a behavior called puddling), and males may gather on damp ground in groups.  Males patrol for mates in forest openings and edges and along forest trails, sometimes ascending to the tree-tops in the thin sunshine of spring.  A female will mate within hours of emerging.  She lays her eggs the next day on the flower buds of host plants like maple-leaved viburnum, black cherry, and sumac, and then she dies. 

When her eggs hatch, the caterpillars – green, conspicuously segmented, and covered with white stubble https://wisconsinpollinators.com/Caterpillars/C_SpringAzure.aspx – eat the flowers first and then the developing fruits.  The flowers they eat tend to be frequented by ants (unsung pollinators of flowers), which discover, care for and protect the caterpillars (here’s an ant on a different species https://bugguide.net/node/view/45799/bgimage).  In return, the ants harvest honeydew produced by the caterpillars.  The larval stage takes about a month, but the resting/pupal stage is a whopper, lasting from early summer until the next spring.   


The second Azure, which succeeds the first chronologically, is the “Summer” Spring Azure (Celastrina neglecta), sometimes listed as a subspecies C. ladon neglecta.  If you get one to sit still for you, you may note that the SuSpA has lighter underwings than the SpSpAz, and its black spots are smaller and less distinct (to see an Azure with its wings folded is to miss the point; it is the tops of their wings that give Azures their name).  An Azure seen after mid-June is most likely a SuSpAz, but it never hurts to check.  SuSpAzs fly from June until the first frosts in parks and open fields as well as wood openings and edges.

Its life cycle is similar to that of the SpSpAz, with the same symbiotic assist from ants.  Its larval host plants include later-blooming relatives of the SpSpAz host plants.  The pupae of the two species are very similar, and one reference noted that if they are separate species, they separated recently (geologically speaking), perhaps as little as a few thousand years ago.  The chrysalis of the SuSpAz does not rouse when the soil warms in spring; it waits until early summer to emerge.  There are at least two broods each summer, so SuSpAzs decorate the landscape into the fall. 

A Wild Card Azure is the recently-recognized (2005) Cherry Gall Azure (CGAz) (C. serotinahttps://bugguide.net/node/view/1113261/bgimage, which has been recorded in Wisconsin and is said to take up the slack between the decline of the SpSpAz and the emergence of the SuSpAz.  The caterpillar of the CGA has adapted to feeding on the nipple galls created by eriophyid mites (of previous BOTW fame) on cherry leaves. 


The tails of the Eastern Tailed-Blue (Everes comyntas or Cupido comyntas, depending on what book you look at) are not visible in flight – in fact, the tails for which they are named are fragile, and wear-and-tear renders many Tailed-Blues tail-less.  They can still be told from the Azures by the two orange spots on the underside of the hind wing right above the tail (and just for fun, check out some pictures of hairstreaks https://wisconsinbutterflies.org/butterfly/subfamily/12-hairstreaks).  The upper wings of Eastern Tailed-Blues are darker than Azures’ wings – the top surface of a male’s wings is purplish blue, and a female’s wings are brownish -.

They change seasonally, too; the first brood of summer has brighter males and bluer females than the last.  ETBs are common, tiny (they can be half the size of a SuSpAz), sun-loving butterflies of fields, restored prairies, power line rights-of-way, gardens, and other open areas. 

Adult ETBs have a short proboscis and so feed at flowers with easy-to-reach nectar, and adult males gather at mud puddles.  Caterpillars eat the flower buds, flowers, seeds and new leaves of their host plants in the Legume family like yellow sweet clover, alfalfa, vetch, white clover, wild pea, bush clover; and tick-trefoil.  As food generalists, they can use a succession of host plants and produce several broods that fly during the summer and well into fall.  ETBs overwinter as caterpillars (often in the seed pod of their legume host) and pupate the following spring.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Olympia Marble Butterfly

Bug o’the Week

Gray Comma Butterfly The Other Comma

Howdy, BugFans,

Gray Commas (Polygonia progne) are in the Brush-footed butterfly family Nymphalidae – “brush-footed” because their front pair of legs is small and “brush-like” and tucked in close to their body https://bugguide.net/node/view/1386003/bgimage, making them look like four-legged butterflies.

Interrupted fern fiddlehead

The Olympia Marble (Euchloe olympia), aka Olympian Marble and Olympia Marblewing, is in the family Pieridae (the Whites, Sulphurs, and Yellows).  It’s found in a wedge-shaped patch of ground in the middle of North America, plus some disjunct populations in the Appalachians and Texas https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Euchloe-olympia, and it’s the easternmost of the seven North American Marbles (Wisconsin and Michigan have the greatest numbers of the species).  Within its range, it is local and uncommon; according to The Butterflies of Iowa, “populations are often small; only single individuals are observed at a given time.  This, in combination with the emergence of this species before most other species, has led Loess Hills lepidopterist Tim Orwig to call it ‘our loneliest butterfly.’”  It’s a habitat specialist – look for it in dry meadows and knolls, barrens, open woodlands, sand prairies, dunes, and (today’s vocabulary word) “alvars.” 

[Scenic Side Trip #1 – alvars and alvar pavement grasslands.  Alvar comes from a Swedish word that refers to barrens and grasslands growing on very thin soils over limestone or dolomite bedrock.  Sometimes there’s no soil covering the rock at all, and plants grow in deposits of organic material caught in fissures (“grikes”).  Alvars may have floods in spring and droughts by mid-summer.  They’re an uncommon plant community – many kinds of alvars are globally imperiled – and they’re found most commonly in the Baltic region of northern Europe, counties Clare and Galway in northwest Ireland, and around the Great Lakes (one Wisconsin alvar is protected as a State Natural Area).  Mosses, lichens, grasses, and sedges are common; the sparse woody vegetation is often stunted; and these unique plant communities often host rare plant and animal species.  Here are some pictures: https://mnfi.anr.msu.edu/communities/photos/10702/alvar]. 

Olympia Marbles are just a shade smaller than the very common Cabbage Whites, and individuals that live on Great Lakes coastal dunes are slightly smaller than those inland.  When newly-emerged, they wear a rosy pink wash on the undersides of the wings https://bugguide.net/node/view/9417/bgimage, and when they sit on a plant and close their wings, they tend to disappear https://bugguide.net/node/view/1786977/bgimage.  The more-heavily-marbled Large Marble https://bugguide.net/node/view/47032/bgimage lives north and west of Wisconsin.

These are weak, but direct, flyers that stay pretty close to the ground and have a short flight period.  Males patrol on hilltops in May, flying back and forth purposefully just above the ground.  What do dry meadows and knolls, barrens, open woodlands, sand prairies, dunes, and alvars have in common?  Rock cress (formerly Arabis/now Boechera spp.) – straggly, low-growing members of the mustard family (click on any picture for a slide show https://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/woodland/plants/sm_rockcress.htm).  Females lay single eggs on a flower bud; the young caterpillars eat the flowers and seed pods, and the older caterpillars https://bugguide.net/node/view/52515/bgimage feed on the fruit, leaves, and stems.  Apparently, the Whites – members of the subfamily Pierinae – have a habit of nectaring on the same species that host their young, but adults also feed at phlox, lupine, chickweed, and wild strawberry flowers, and several others.   

By the end of June, the show is pretty much over.  Caterpillars turn a purplish color when they’re about to form a chrysalis, and the fresh chrysalis is also rosy, too, but it turns brown in fall so it’s camouflaged through the winter https://bugguide.net/node/view/54866/bgimage.  They spend 11 months as an inconspicuous chrysalis attached to a host plant, emerging in May (one source said that under certain circumstances, they might remain in the chrysalis for three years).  There’s a single generation per year.  

Early butterflies need strategies for warming up in the cool temperatures of mid-spring.  Olympia Marbles expose the sides and the upper surfaces of their wings to the sun (lateral and dorsal basking) – a passive way of collecting the sun’s warmth in order to heat the thorax so they can fly.  Some insects add “muscular thermogenesis” – quivering muscles within the thorax to raise its internal temperature – but Olympia Marbles don’t have that in their bag of tricks.

How can we make the world a better place for these butterflies?  Preserve favorable habitat with plenty of host plants.  They are susceptible to pesticides used to control gypsy moths and to prescribed burns.  Because they are such specialists, it doesn’t take much habitat destruction to wipe out a small, local population. 

[Scenic Side Trip #2 – Gypsy moths.  After much discussion within the Entomological Society of America, 50 scientists voted recently on a new name for the Gypsy moth, because the former name was considered offensive to the Romani.  From more than 200 suggestions they picked the “Spongy moth,” a reference to its sponge-like egg cases.  The French were way ahead of us – the moth is already called “spongieuse” in France and in parts of Canada.  The BugLady is all for not insulting people, but seriously – the best they could do is Spongy moth???  Next up – the Japanese beetle, because some feel that the strong language used by some pest control businesses can cross the line into the xenophobic.] 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Western Conifer Seed Bug

Bug o’the Week

Gray Comma Butterfly The Other Comma

Howdy, BugFans,

Gray Commas (Polygonia progne) are in the Brush-footed butterfly family Nymphalidae – “brush-footed” because their front pair of legs is small and “brush-like” and tucked in close to their body https://bugguide.net/node/view/1386003/bgimage, making them look like four-legged butterflies.

Here’s the rest of the story.

Western Conifer Seed Bugs (Leptoglossus occidentalis) (aka Pine seed bugs) are in the True bug order Hemiptera (“half-wing,” a reference to the two different textures of the front wings https://bugguide.net/node/view/38458/bgimage) and in the Leaf-footed bug family Coreidae, a large family of sometimes-dramatic-looking, sap-sucking insects https://bugguide.net/node/view/430144/bgpage with pretty cute little nymphs https://bugguide.net/node/view/1644287/bgpage.  Coreids produce a buzzing sound in flight and an odor when provoked.

WCSBs are native to this continent, but their original range was mostly on the far side of the Rockies.  They started moving east about 70 years ago (with the help of interstate commerce), reaching Michigan in 1987 and Pennsylvania in 1992, and they are now common throughout much of North America except the far Southeast.  They’ve also managed to cross The Pond, were recorded in Italy in 1999 (where they’ve taken a liking to the culinary pine nut industry, with disastrous results), and are now spread throughout Europe and Asia.  Look for them in conifer trees and (like Asian multi-colored ladybugs, Box elder bugs, and now Brown marmorated stink bugs) lined up to come inside in fall.  They’re presently working on expansion south of the border. 

That kind of range expansion is only possible for a generalist feeder that can be sure of finding something to eat wherever it lands.  WCSBs feed on the sap from the developing seeds and flowers of about 40 species of conifers including fir, hemlock, spruce and pine trees (the BugLady included a picture of the female flower of a Norway spruce because they’re just so spectacular).  They also sip sap from conifer twigs and needles, and they may move to non-coniferous trees if times are tough.  They puncture the plant with piercing-sucking mouthparts that they tuck in under their body when not in use https://bugguide.net/node/view/740148/bgimage, and when they pierce a twig/seed/flower, they inject digestive juices that soften the plant material so they can suck it out.  Many of their favored trees protect themselves from grazing by producing terpenes, which deter the WCSB not a bit.

Spruce flower

WCSBs locate their food with the help of infrared sensors on their abdomens.  The growing reproductive tissue in cones emits infrared radiation (whether mechanical or metabolic is not clear) that makes them hotter – by as much as 60 degrees F – than the surrounding needles, and the bugs’ sensors can “see” that!  An infrared photo of a conifer with developing cones has been likened by several researchers to a lit-up Christmas tree https://naturescrusaders.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/a1790_22061.jpg.  The WCSB is not the only insect with this super power.  The BugLady is blown away by both the bug and the plant sides of this.

They’re about ¾” long, and adults come in a variety of shades of brown https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/view/11012.  Nymphs are orange-ish https://bugguide.net/node/view/1999752/bgimage, especially right after they molt.

There’s only one generation per year in much of its range.  Eggs are laid in rows along needles https://bugguide.net/node/view/115877/bgimage, and when the nymphs hatch in about 10 days, they start extracting sap from the most tender parts of the cone.  Nymphs grow and molt throughout summer, becoming adults on their final (5th) molt in late August. 

Adults feed on seeds through early fall and then start considering their winter options.  In the wild, these include crevices under bark or in soft, dead trees, or in bird or rodent nests.  Whether indoors or out, WCSBs overwinter in a state called diapause, a suspended animation where development is stalled.  They prepare for diapause in fall by stocking up on nutrients like fats, carbs, and proteins that not only help them enter it but give them enough energy to come out of it at the end of winter.  Adults emerge from their winter abodes in spring and feed on developing conifer seeds and flowers, and the beat goes on. 

Sources seemed to agree that while this might be considered a minor tree pest, it’s a bigger human pest. When the autumn air starts to chill, urban and suburban WCSBs gather on sunny southern exposures and start moving inside.  Male aggregation pheromones may call hundreds of their confreres to a potential winter home (the BugLady has never seen more than a few WCSBs at one time in any season).  

As winter houseguests they get mixed reviews.  Notwithstanding some people’s (inexplicable) aversion to having six-legged housemates, WCSBs rarely bite or sting (the occasional poke has been recorded) or eat the drapes or the dogfood or the houseplants (and so they don’t poop), they don’t reproduce or carry any diseases, and they pack up and leave in spring.  But when bothered, they may release an odor (a combination of hexanal and hexyl acetate) that most sources described as pungent, foul-smelling, and noxious, but that one source described it as “piney” or “vanilla-like.”  Once they’re inside, it’s hard to get them out, so an ounce of prevention (in the form of sealing leaks in windows, eaves, etc.) is worth a pound of cure.

Thanks to BugFan Elaine for suggesting this one.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Striped Fishing Spider

Bug o’the Week

Striped Fishing Spider

When the BugLady was on Riveredge’s excellent floating pier in the Milwaukee River last spring, she looked over and saw two, spectacular Striped fishing spiders on rocks above the waterline.

Fishing spiders are in the Nursery web spider family Pisauridae and in the genus Dolomedes, (the fishing spiders), so called because even though most of their diet is made up of aquatic invertebrates, these large spiders are hefty enough to catch tadpoles and small fish (as one website said, “They’re big enough to saddle up and ride”).  Because they’re found near water, they’re often called “dock spiders.”

They are marvelously adapted to locomote across – and under – the water.  These are pretty hairy spiders, and their “hydrophobic” (water-repellant) hairs allow them to dive under the surface film (to pursue or to escape) and to swim without really getting wet, and the air bubbles trapped in those hairs provide them with enough oxygen to stay under for about 30 minutes.  They can not only stand https://bugguide.net/node/view/311363/bgimage, “row,” and run across the water, they can glide across its surface using their raised front legs as a sail.    

Different spider families have unique eye arrangements – here are the eight eyes of a typical nursery web spider https://bugguide.net/node/view/1151143/bgimage.  Weber, in Spiders of the North Woods, says that their eyes glow green at night in the light of a flashlight. 

They catch their prey by ambushing and/or chasing it, not by making trap webs, but they do produce silk.  Fishing spiders spin silken lines to keep from being carried downstream, and females lay a trail of pheromone laced web across the water’s surface for males to follow.  They use silk to construct egg sacs, which they carry in their jaws, and later suspend it in a nursery web (wolf spiders also carry an egg sac around, too, but at the rear, attached to their spinnerets).  And, of course, newly-emerged spiderlings disperse by parachuting away from their siblings https://uwm.edu/field-station/spider-flight-rerun/.   

STRIPED FISHING SPIDERS (Dolomedes scriptus) (scriptus means “written”) are also called Writing fishing spiders because the markings on their abdomen look like a broad letter ”W” https://bugguide.net/node/view/122617/bgimage.  They are found around wetlands in southern Canada, much of the eastern US, and a few Great Plains states, and they prefer fast-flowing streams and rivers. 

Some have a white stripe around the sides of their cephalothorax and abdomen, and some don’t https://bugguide.net/node/view/1219135/bgimage.  There are several other species of large fishing spiders in the area that Striped fishing spiders can be mistaken for and, as always, BugFan Mike reminds us that the most accurate way to ID spiders is by aiming a hand lens at its naughty-bits (he may have used more technical terminology).  Males are smaller and have a slimmer abdomen than females https://bugguide.net/node/view/1225089/bgimage.  The books say that this species grows to a 2 ½” leg-span, but the BugLady is pretty sure that the two females she saw exceeded that.  

Their normal prey is mostly insects that they find on or in the water.  Striped fishing spiders typically sit on the shore or on floating leaves with their three front pairs of legs extended onto the water.  They can sense the ripples caused by insects that are swimming on the surface film (like water striders), or are trapped on it (like moths that dipped too close), or are swimming below it, and they rush out to apprehend them.  They also eat dragonflies, various fly and mosquito larvae that come to the surface to breathe, and other fishing spiders.  The BugLady found an article about a Striped fishing spider that was seen eating a small crayfish.  By the time it was discovered, the spider had anchored the crayfish with silk and had eaten most of its abdomen.  Researchers speculated that the spider had grabbed the crayfish from behind, avoiding its pincers as it injected its cocktail of toxins (their bites are not a problem for people unless you happen to be sensitive to them).  

Great predators though they are, they are also prey.  Striped fishing spiders are eaten by fish, frogs, birds, and even large dragonfly naiads.  And there’s a spider wasp (wasp family Pompilidae) that specializes in the Dolomedes spiders!  Anoplius depressipes https://bugguide.net/node/view/84121/bgimage, which at first glance resembles some solitary wasps in the family Sphecidae, collects fishing spiders and caches them in nest cells for her young to eat when they hatch.  Let the Missouri Department of Conservation “Discover Nature” Field Guide  tell it: “In the early 1900s, entomologists — including Missourian Phil Rau — noted an unusual sight: a wasp flying very low over a stream, dragging a spider across the surface film like a wind skier. It remained a mystery species among insect geeks until entomologist and nature writer Howard Ensign Evans identified it as Anoplius depressipes, one of the so-called blue-black spider wasps. It turns out this species hunts fishing spiders (Dolomedes spp.) and possesses specialized flattened front feet that are fringed with hairs, which allow it to walk on water, just like its prey. When transporting a spider, this species grasps the spider with its middle or hind legs, faces forward, then extends its forelegs and uses them like water skis while it propels itself and its prey across the top of the water, beating its wings, like an air boat in the Everglades https://bugguide.net/node/view/2039627/bgimage. This spider wasp sometimes dives down into water to chase its prey, since water spiders often swim underwater when frightened. Not surprisingly, it nests in burrows in stream banks.”

Curious thing – bugguide.net’s collection of pictures of any one species may contain three pictures or 300-plus.  There were only 13 shots of Anoplius depressipes, but seven of them had captured the wasp on water with prey https://bugguide.net/node/view/262134/bgimage!

Much has been written about female spiders dining on their inamoratos (it’s called sexual cannibalism); it’s not inevitable, but it does provide a nutritional boost for egg-making.  Male fishing spiders woo cautiously, and because she is already tuned in to the vibrations that insects make on the surface film, his signals must be different (his rhythm is slower than that of a trapped and frantic insect).  If she misreads his signals, or he misreads hers, or she’s just plain hungry, or if she gets the message, sizes him up, and he is found wanting, it doesn’t bode well for him. 

She may lay as many as 1,000 eggs, spinning a two-layered, waterproof sac around them.  She guards her offspring by carrying them with her jaws for a week or so until she senses that they’re hatching inside the sac https://bugguide.net/node/view/1572784/bgimage https://bugguide.net/node/view/277075/bgimage (she doesn’t eat for the duration – her mouth is already full).  She installs the sac in a three-dimensional jumble of silk in some leaves or twigs https://bugguide.net/node/view/1304813/bgimage and hangs around for another week or so https://bugguide.net/node/view/886889/bgimage to protect her spiderlings https://bugguide.net/node/view/886890/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/1025906/bgimage.  The partially-grown spiderlings will overwinter in a sheltered spot.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Bugs without Bios XVII

Bug o’the Week

Bugs without Bios XVII

Greetings, BugFans,

The “Bugs without Bios” series features a bunch of lovely insects that need to hire a PR firm – they fly happily below the radar, and little is written about them.


EYED BAILEYA MOTH – Back at the beginning of June, while the BugLady was poking around the Ephemeral Pond at Riveredge, she spied this lovely (and, she thought, distinctive) moth.  It took her a while to put a name with it.  The Eyed Baileya (because of the small eyespots on the forewings) is in the family Nolidae, which was carved out of the Owlet moth family Noctuidae.  It’s primarily an Old World family (named for Nola, Italy), and the 40 species that live in the New World represent about two percent of its total species.  Nolids have hearing organs on the thorax, and they’re called tuft moths because many have tufts of raised scales on their forewings.  Their caterpillars feed within webbed or folded leaves and overwinter in keeled, silk cocoons with a vertical slit for their eventual exit.

Eyed Baileya moths (Baileya ophthalmica) are found from the Great Plains to the Atlantic and north into Canada, in deciduous, often damp, woods and edges, where their caterpillars eat the leaves of hazel, American hornbeam, and hop hornbeam trees https://bugguide.net/node/view/936581/bgimage.  

They come in a variety of shades of gray and brown, and they have a wingspan of about 1 ¼ inches.  The subfamily Acontiinae in Owlet moth family are officially called the Bird Dropping moths https://bugguide.net/node/view/528934/bgimage; but other, unrelated moths, like this one, are referred to as (lower case) bird dropping moths because of their nifty camouflage.  One of the Eyed Baileya moths’ field marks, a fuzzy thorax, is kind of worn on the BugLady’s moth https://bugguide.net/node/view/754045/bgimage.

They on the wing from early spring until mid-summer (in the north), and they have one or two broods here in God’s country.  They overwinter inside a pupal case https://bugguide.net/node/view/1829824/bgimage that is inside a cocoon that they make by chewing strips of leaves and incorporating them into the cocoon wall https://bugguide.net/node/view/1769307/bgimage.


The ANALEPTURA LINEOLA BEETLE is a member of the charismatic Long-horned beetle family Cerambycidae, and it’s in the flower longhorn subfamily Lepturinae.  True to their name, Flower longhorns are diurnal (day-flying) beetles that are often seen browsing for nectar on flower tops.  They are long-legged, and they often appear wedge-shaped or “big-shouldered” – sometimes exaggeratedly so https://bugguide.net/node/view/524704/bgpage.  There are about 200 species of flower longhorns north of the Rio Grande divided among about 60 genera; and Analeptura lineola is the only species in its genus.

Analeptura lineola (no common name) has an interesting range.  It’s found from May through August over much of the eastern half of North America, well into Canada, but not, says bugguide.net, around the Gulf Coast.  Wikipedia tells us that it is also found across Europe from France to Russia, and indeed, a good number of the hits that the BugLady got in her searches were in the “translate this page” category.

Their offspring lead an inconspicuous life, chewing tunnels (galleries) beneath the bark of dead or dying birch, ironwood, hornbeam and pine trees (they’re not considered pests).  Their specialized intestinal flora (microbiome), reinforced by fungi ingested from the rotting wood, allows them to digest cellulose. 

A dried specimen will cost you $3.00 on-line.


The awesomely-named LUMP-LEGGED SWAMP FLY(Anasimyia chrysostoma)is a syrphid-flower-hover fly in the family Syrphidae.  Some British genus members are called Duck hoverflies and Duckflies (Anas is a genus of duck, and myia comes from a Greek word referring to the invasion of vital tissues).  Their larvae are aquatic, so the adults are found around swamps, bogs, and other wetland edges, mostly in the northeastern quadrant of the continent.  There are about six members of the genus in our area – the Moon-shaped, Two-lined, Smooth-legged, Short-spurred, Long-spurred, and the Lump-legged swamp fly (which comes by its name honestly https://bugguide.net/node/view/1911511/bgimage).

Adults hang around on flowers – especially fleabane, says one source (they’re great pollinators) – and the larvae are filter-feeders on organic debris in shallow, stagnant waters.  They are among the “rat-tailed maggots” that breathe through a tube that extends from their rear to the water’s surface https://bugguide.net/node/view/815670.  

The BugLady got into “translate this page” territory pretty fast with this one, too.  In the 190 years since it was named and described, the Lump-legged Swamp fly has gone through at least five scientific names – Eristalis chrysostoma, Lejops relictus, Lejops chrysostomus, Helophilus relictus, and Anasimyia chrysostoma (as one source says, “the systematics of the family are in flux”), and it’s equally anonymous under all of them. 

Fun Fact about the Lump-legged Swamp Fly:  according to the Flower Flies of Minnesota, “Males are aggressively territorial and can sometimes be observed fighting.”

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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