Family Nature Club: Overwintering Insects

December 7 @ 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm

Family Nature Club: Overwintering Insects

All insects have strategies to survive winter. Some migrate, like monarch butterflies and dragonflies; others’ overwinter as eggs, pupae, and larvae to continue their species, like grasshoppers; yet, others hibernate, or “diapause”, like ladybugs and wasps. We will read Bugs and Bugsicles and conduct experiments and associate insect life cycles to the seasons to understand how these small creatures survive the Wisconsin winters.

Meet at the Northern Ozaukee School Forest. Trails are gravel and easy for a stroller. Please dress warm for the weather and bring a source of light (lantern, flashlight, or headlamp).

Family Nature Club is a free offering to our community designed for kids ages 5-12 and their families. We facilitate outdoor, environmental-education based experiences for families to enjoy together.

**This event has been moved from Dec. 8th to Dec. 7th**

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December 7, 2022 @ 5:00 pm 6:30 pm

401 Highland Dr
Fredonia, Wisconsin 53021 United States
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Bug o’the Week – Two Stink Bugs

Bug o’the Week

Two Stink Bugs

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady thinks stink bugs are cool, and she loves finding species she hasn’t seen before.  This year, she saw two new ones – the first one in a sand dune, and the second in a bog – but she suspects that habitat is secondary in the stink bugs’ game plan to the availability of food.

They’re called “stink bugs” because they have glands in the thorax that produce, as Eric Eaton says in the Field Guide to Insects of North America, “volatile aromatic compounds sure to repel all but the most desperate predators.”  One author adds that “Stink bugs can smell pretty bad. Even my hens turn up their beaks when one crawls by…..”

Some stink bugs are predaceous, but most are plant-eaters, and many, including today’s pair, aren’t picky about the plant species they feed on.  They are “true bugs” in the order Hemiptera (Hemiptera means “half-wing,” which refers to wings that are leathery at the near end and membranous at the far end, and they’re in the family Pentatomidae.

Like other Hemipterans, they feed by puncturing their food with their piercing-sucking mouthparts, injecting enzymes that soften the tissues, and then sucking out the contents.  If they’re feeding on, say, a peach, the puncture may inadvertently inoculate the immediate area with bacteria, causing rot, and soft fruits develop “dimples” called cat-facing, both of which make the fruit less attractive in your grocery store. 

Both of today’s species are divided up into several subspecies, and the BugLady was surprised to see that there were differences within each species not only in color, but also in the spiny-ness of their “shoulders,” depending on their geography and even season.  

RED-SHOULDERED STINK BUGS (Thyanta custator) occur across North America from Canada to Guatemala, and from sea to shining sea; the BugLady found this lovely, pastel stink bug in the dunes.  There are three subspecies, the most common of which is Thyanta custator accera.  

At about ½” long, Red-shouldered stink bugs (Thyanta custator) are fairly large, as stink bugs go.  They come in varying shades of green and tan, and the red on their shoulders can be very conspicuous or absent,, ,

And so can their spines

Young stink bugs (nymphs) are often much more colorful than their elders   

Females lay clusters of barrel-shaped eggs on the leaves and stems of plants, and the nymphs feed on young leaves, buds, flowers, and developing seeds of their natal plants.  When they mature (in about a month) and have functional wings, they spread out to neighboring plants.  The RSSB has been found on many species of plants in more than a dozen plant families, some of them agricultural crops like wheat, beans, alfalfa, some fruits, and hemp, but they’re not on USDA Wanted Posters because they mainly damage seed production.

They overwinter as adults in leaf litter, but like other stink bugs, they will happily spend the colder months in a warm house.  In spring, they awake and spread out to find vegetation – and other RSSBs   

The second species was the nymph of (probably) a DUSKY STINK BUG (Euschistus tristigmus luridus). Of the two forms/subspecies in North America, Euschistus tristigmus luridus) occurs the farthest north.  The subspecies that’s found in the South and into Central America, Euschistus tristigmus tristigmus, is smaller, and the front edges of its thorax are pointier  Dusky stink bugs are found in grasslands, woodlands, and riparian edges (and, apparently, bogs).

Quick Euschistus tristigmus luridus Dictionary Side Trip: Five hundred years ago, “lurid” meant “pale (so pale that you glow in the darkness), sickly, the color of bruises, ghastly, or yellowish.”  By the 1700s, its meaning was shifting and the word was used to describe the faint red glow of a fire shrouded by smoke.  In about 1850, its meaning changed again, to something like today’s common usage – “sensational, shocking, horrifying, or bright, intense, and vivid.”  

Here are the three spots suggested by “tristigmus,” though not all individuals have them

The broad strokes of the Dusky stink bug’s natural history are similar to those of the RSSB, with adults overwintering and laying eggs as vegetation starts growing in spring.  It uses a different set of food plants than the RSSB, including some wildflowers like clover, goldenrod, and Black-eyed Susan, some ash and oak species, fruits like blackberries and red delicious apples, and some field crops (and says that it is “occasionally predaceous”). The BugLady sees nymphs of other bugs, like leaf-footed bugs, near bird droppings; they get minerals from them, and she wonders if stink bugs do, too.  Like the RSSB, it has little to no economic impact (and it sure is cute).

The BugLady gives thanks for dragonflies (and she would like to know where the mosquito that she photographed in her house on November 11 has been for the past month).

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Tall Flea Beetle

Bug o’the Week

Tall Flea Beetle

Howdy, BugFans,

Sometimes, the BugLady gets a surprise as she’s researching an insect, and that was the case this week.

She saw a cluster of these pretty beetles when she was on a boardwalk in a wetland.  Their pedigree?  They are leaf beetles in the huge family Chrysomelidae; within that family, they’re in the tribe Alticini – the flea beetles, and they are (probably) Disonycha procera (Disonycha means “double-clawed”).  There are 470 members of that tribe in North America, and more elsewhere.  The BugLady has photographed one other, equally pretty flea beetle species when it was feeding on her pussy willows

Disonycha procera is very similar to Disonycha pensylvanica (not a typo, simply an old misspelling that is now embedded in the taxonomy of a few species), and in fact, it is in the “Disonycha pensylvanica species group,” about which says “The three species of the D. pensylvanica- group are not always safely identified – last hope is male genitalia, in some cases.”  So the BugLady has repaired to her well-worn seat, far out on that taxonomic limb, and is calling it Disonycha procera.  Only one source gave it a common name, but there was no explanation why this small insect might be called the Tall flea beetle.   

Tall flea beetles are found east of the Rockies, but not solidly, and into Central America, wherever their food plants grow.  Because some of their food plants grow on the edges of wetlands, Tall flea beetles are listed as semi-aquatic beetles by a few sources. 

The BugLady couldn’t find much about their life history. says that you can find both adult and larval Tall flea beetles feeding together on host plants, and a write-up about another genus member said that it overwinters as an adult, wakes up in spring, and lays eggs on or near the host plant, and the BugLady assumes that the Tall flea beetle does the same. 

Many Chrysomelids are attached to and named for their specific food plants, and for some flea beetles, those plants are agricultural crops like spinach (the Spinach flea beetle), beets, eggplant (the Eggplant flea beetle), and cruciferous plants like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, (the Crucifer flea beetle).  But some Disonycha beetles eat invasive plants like Leafy spurge and are considered beneficial.  Adults chew holes in various parts of the plants – stems, leaves and petals (they like to feed in sunny weather) – and larvae may feed on the undersides of the leaves or on roots.  Tall flea beetles feed on plants in the genus Polygonum – knotweed, smartweed, bindweed, and tear-thumb (and it would be nice if a whole bunch of them would gang up on the very invasive Japanese Knotweed).   

Some Flea beetles shelter in the soil during bad weather and emerge when the rain quits and the sun is out again.  In Germany, this has earned them the name Erdflöhe (earth flea).  

So, here’s the funny thing about the Tall flea beetle.  Flea beetles (tribe Alticini) are so named because they jump around (like fleas) when they’re disturbed.  The BugLady certainly didn’t see any jumping – they were about as staid a bunch of beetles as you could hope to find – and she couldn’t find a video of it.  In this jumping they are aided by disproportionately large hind legs (all the better to jump with, my dear), though they get around routinely by walking and flying.  There are jumpers in a few other groups of beetles, too, like the weevils, Buprestids (jewel beetles), and marsh beetles.

Flea beetles jump using particular tendons that act like springs when initiated by the tensing and release of the leg’s extensor muscles.  Quoting two other researchers’ work in their paper, Nadein and Betz said that “They suggested that the high take-off acceleration, high velocity and short take-off time are compatible with jumping based on a spring-driven mechanism”.  Another group of researchers likened the movement to a catapult, and they based their design for a bionic jumping leg on the beetles’ anatomy (don’t ask the BugLady to explain anything more about this, but she can share links to a few articles).  

Mother Nature creates; man imitates.  

Monarch butterflies are nearing their destinations  The BugLady will be interested in the numbers on the wintering grounds this year – Monarchs were scarce here this summer.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Mottled Sand Grasshopper

Bug o’the Week

Mottled Sand Grasshopper

Howdy, BugFans,

From July into September, the Creeping Juniper Nature Trail at Kohler Andrae State Park is ruled by grasshoppers, and the BugLady had lots of fun chasing them around this summer (she stayed on the boardwalk, of course) (well, until the Swamp Darner flew past).  She especially liked the aptly-named Mottled sand grasshopper (Spharagemon collare).  MSGs are not restricted to Lake Michigan dunes, they have a range that stretches from Arizona and New Mexico diagonally back through the northern Great Plains and the Great Lakes, and well into Canada.  Plus, inexplicably, North Carolina, Delaware and Maryland.  Within that wedge of North America, they’re found in sunny, sparsely-vegetated areas with dry, sandy, and/or disturbed soils.  They’re especially common along the edges of wheat fields, says Wikipedia.

MSGs can vary quite a bit in appearance, and that’s probably tied to the habitat they live in.  They have banded, yellow wings, and their hind tibias are red  They can be a speckled gray, tan, brown, or even reddish, depending on the soil they sit on, and some morphs are “collared”  Habitats that are less sandy and more vegetated have “plainer” grasshoppers (they’re not like tree frogs or goldenrod crab spiders that actively change colors, it’s just that the grasshoppers that match their background survive to pass along their genes will produce more grasshoppers that look like themselves, and regional color morphs are born).    

When a territorial male sees another grasshopper, he approaches and stridulates a few times (rubs one part of his body against another part – in this case, the hind leg against the forewing).  If it’s another male or a different species of grasshopper, he will attempt to oust it from the area.  A female who’s not in the mood will shake a hind leg and stomp on the ground (similar to the signals a male sends to an intruding male). If the female is willing, they mate, and then she uses her abdomen to excavate about a half-inch into the soil.  She oviposits (each egg pod contains about 25 eggs) and then camouflages the hole by brushing sand and debris over it.  MSGs overwinter as eggs and hatch in late spring/early summer. 

It takes MSG nymphs about six weeks to reach the adult stage, and males mature faster than females.  They tend to stay in the same area where they hatched, and adults may be present until the first frosts. 

Their eating habits get them into a little trouble with farmers and ranchers in the western part of their range, but they usually don’t occur in high enough densities to be called pests.  For the most part, they feed on pieces of prairie grasses and a few wildflowers that they find on the ground.  MSGs may reach up with their front legs and pull down a grass to feed on, and they sometimes climb up onto a grass stalk to sever a leaf or stem, but they feed on it after they climb down again.   

They are good flyers, and a male sometimes makes a buzzing sounds as he flies (crepitation – a clicking or snapping noise made by the wings).  They also crepitate when they’ve been startled into flight, during courtship, or when they’re defending their territory.  One study in Colorado clocked sustained flights by males at three to eight feet and by females at nine to ten feet, but in a Michigan study, researchers saw males flying 100 feet and females farther than that, and at heights up to 30” above the ground.  Despite their strong flight, they are geophilus (today’s vocabulary word) meaning “ground-loving.” 

MSGs are diurnal (active during the day), and they spend the night on the ground in the open, under a thatch of grasses, or up in a plant.  They wake slowly, warming up by basking for a few hours before they become active, exposing first one side to the sun and then the other.  When the temperature on the ground gets too hot (over 100 degrees F), they rest in the shade and emerge in late afternoon as the ground cools a bit.  They bask again before sheltering for the night.

They’re in the family Acrididae, the Short-horned grasshoppers, and in the subfamily Oedipodinae, Band-winged grasshoppers.  

Side note – spiders are using the mild spell to change locations – the BugLady sees the slender strands of spider parachutes on her shrubs each morning.  For the story on that, see

(and – oops – the BugLady used a picture of an MSG in an earlier episode, mistakenly ID’d as a Seaside grasshopper)

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Autumn Meadowhawk Dragonfly

Bug o’the Week

Autumn Meadowhawk Dragonfly

Greetings, BugFans,

We’ve just had an all-too-brief Indian Summer – it got warm enough for the flies to fly, the tree crickets to sing, and yes, for a few very late Monarch butterflies to drift past on their big journey.  The BugLady spent some time on boardwalks in wetlands, enjoying the last dragonflies of the year.

Meadowhawks, in the Skimmer family Libellulidae, are a genus of 15 species, nine of which have been recorded in Wisconsin.  They can be tricky to identify (understatement).  They start to appear in late June/early July and are with us for the rest of the summer and well into fall, but other than a few tenacious White-faced Meadowhawks, the final meadowhawk on the scene is the Autumn Meadowhawk (called the Yellow-legged Meadowhawk in older field guides) (the BugLady thinks that their legs are flesh-colored, rather than yellow, but she can see why that name would be a non-starter).  Here’s an early BOTW about meadowhawks

Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum) can be found in Southern Canada and much of the US, except for the northern Rockies, the arid Southwest, and a few of the Gulf States.  Some meadowhawks are picky about habitat, but not Autumn Meadowhawks, which are equally happy in shallow, permanent ponds, lakes, marshes and swamps, bogs, flooded meadows, and even slow-moving streams, especially if there are woodlands nearby. 

This is a pretty small/small, pretty dragonfly, only about an inch-and-a-quarter long.  Mature males are red – often cherry red – and females and immature males start out yellow and then turn red and tan  Females have a prominent egg spout below the end of their abdomen. 

Along with the mosaic darners, Autumn Meadowhawks are the last dragonflies to emerge, and once they do, they spend more time than most dragonflies do away from the water.  The “Dragonflies of Northern Virginia ” website paints this picture, “Autumns can actually be abundant at times.  Hundreds of golden tenerals rise out of shallow wetlands in early summer, and bright red adults fill the same wetlands in fall.”   Large-scale emergences start at marshy pools in June, at which point juveniles take to the woods and grow up in sunny woodland clearings. They don’t seem to reappear at ponds and marshes until fall, often staying quite late into the season, hence their name.

Meadowhawks can be very common from mid-summer on, yet the BugLady rarely sees them at the waterfront with the other dragonflies.  Several meadowhawk species do oviposit into shallow water with emergent vegetation, but others have different ideas about where to leave their eggs.  White-faced Meadowhawks gamble, bobbing up and down in tandem as the female drops eggs onto the ground in a dry pond basin or on an edge that might be underwater by spring. 

In many dragonfly species, mature males patrol the shoreline and beat their figurative chests, waiting for females to arrive; females come to the water only when they’re reproductively ready.  Autumn Meadowhawks finish their development away from water, and by the time they get back to it, they have already found a female and are flying in tandem.  Legler, in Dragonflies of Wisconsin (aka “The Bible”) says that “the sexes form tandem pairs in midday, away from the water, then fly to water where they make dipping motions imitating oviposition.  They then mate and proceed to lay eggs while pair is in tandem.  Female trails and she will have mud on end of abdomen because she alternately strikes water surface and muddy stream bank or grassy area above the water line.  Eggs are deposited in mud or wet moss.  She alternately dips abdomen in water probably to clear the egg spout  Eggs will survive the winter and hatch during rains and high water the next spring.” 

Unlike many other dragonflies, male Autumn Meadowhawks don’t defend territories along the shore, and, possibly because they aren’t territorial, they are unusually tolerant of other Autumn Meadowhawks.  Legler says that “Ovipositing by one pair attracts other pairs to same site for ovipositing.” 

The eggs hatch when (if) they’re inundated by water the following spring, as the water heats up to 50 degrees.  The naiads eat and grow and shed for six or seven weeks, emerging as adults at night in August or September.  They may fly into November if there isn’t a hard freeze; this they can do because they collect heat by basking in the sun and by sitting on warm rocks (Sympetrum means “with rock”).  With this boost, they are able to fly even when the temperature dips to 50 degrees F.  

They routinely perch higher off the ground than other meadowhawks, but on cooler days, they’re found on the ground.

Adults feed on small, soft-bodied invertebrates that they spot from a perch and then fly out and “hawk” from the air (one source said that their pursuits are successful 97% of the time).  The aquatic naiads, called “sprawlers,” hunt from concealment and grab a meal (fly larvae, daphnia, tiny fish, tadpoles, and smaller dragonflies) as it swims/walks past (nice video, but, no, never “larvae” 

Both above and below the water’s surface, Autumn Meadowhawks have an important place in the food web, both as eaters and eatees.  They’re food for ducks and other birds, fish (one source said that largemouth bass pick off ovipositing pairs from below), frogs, crayfish, mantises, and other dragonflies.  Another source reported that a snake that bites a naiad may get bitten back hard enough to convince it to drop its prey (and that the naiad may make sounds to startle predators).  With populations that peak as migration begins, Autumn Meadowhawks supply important fuel to southbound birds.  

Go outside – look at bugs – it’s not too late……

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Entomophagy 101 Redux

Bug o’the Week

Entomophagy 101 Redux

Howdy BugFans,

Instead of slaving over a hot computer, the BugLady has been hanging out on the hawk tower.  The Red-tails were blowing past sideways on Tuesday.  Here’s a rerun from eight years ago, with a few new words.

The BugLady’s first experience with entomology (well, except for the fresh-from-the-garden earthworms she consumed when she was 8) (they do not taste like chicken) came when someone gifted her family with a little box of chocolate-covered insects from a novelty store.  No one ever opened it.  Her first serious exposure to the idea of eating bugs came when she spent a week at the Audubon Camp in Maine.  One of the camp’s teachers mentioned that he had eaten ants, and while the small red ones were too spicy for him and the large black ones were too bland, the species that are red at one end and black at the other were, like the Baby Bear’s bed, just right.  The BugLady didn’t hear the term “entomophagy” until at least three decades later.

“Entomophagy” simply refers to the use of insects by humans as food (notwithstanding the fact that an “extract” of a scale insect called the cochineal bug provides a natural red dye called “red dye E120” or “carmine” that is widely used in food products; and that the FDA standards for food purity allow five fly eggs or one maggot per can of fruit juice and 400 insect parts per 0.22 cup of ground cinnamon).  Used broadly, the term includes spiders and millipedes, but it does not include invertebrates like crayfish that are already part of our cuisine.  Eggs, larvae, pupae and adults may be used, depending on the species.  Some insects are eaten in recognizable form, but if staring into your food’s compound eyes isn’t your cup of tea, some insects are ground into “flour.”

There are several large issues around entomophagy. 

The first is that producing conventional protein on the hoof is very expensive ecologically.  Americans are expected to consume more than 220 pounds of meat per capita in 2022, and with about 5% of the world’s population, we eat 15% of the meat.  Insect farming uses only a small fraction of the resources (including land) required to raise the more charismatic herbivores ( (remember, rainforests are cut down so that the world can have hamburgers), and it contributes little to water and atmospheric pollution.  In a 2008 New York Times article, author Sam Nejame contends that insect (“mini-livestock”) farming and consumption is far more sustainable in a growing world than traditional meat-ranching, and that it offers “food security.”  He quotes an entomophagy enthusiast who says “‘Insects can feed the world.  Cows and pigs are the SUVs; bugs are the bicycles.’”  The Netherlands leads the Continent in experimenting with these unfamiliar forms of protein; Dutch entomologist Marcel Dicke says, “Give a cow 10 pounds of feed and you get 1 pound of cow.  Give crickets 10 pounds of feed and you get 9 pounds of cricket.” 

What’s a confirmed carnivore to do?

The second issue revolves to a large extent around our Western (US, Canadian, and European) cultural aversions (a.k.a “the ‘ick’ factor”).  Eating insects turns up as an ultimate challenge on those contemporary social yardsticks, TV reality shows.  But insect-shunning is not a global phenomenon.  The BugLady once watched a PBS show that showed Giant water bugs in oriental markets, dipped in batter and deep fried, their crispy legs sticking out below

What kinds of critters are we talking about, anyway?  “Wikipedia” says that well over 1,000 species of insects are consumed across 80% of countries worldwide.  Grasshoppers, crickets and mealworms (a type of beetle larva) may be the most universal insect foods, followed (in no particular order) by other beetle grubs, cicadas, ants, tarantulas, bee and wasp larvae, cockroaches, termites, caterpillars, cocoons of silkworms, scorpions (we are reminded not to overcook these), giant water bugs, the eggs of water boatmen and backswimmers, and even dragonflies (though many dragonflies carry internal parasites)

Nutritional value is another concern, but Sam Nejame assures us that “Bugs compare favorably to traditional livestock in available protein and fatty acids; for some vitamins and minerals, they better them by a wide margin.”  Overall, insects are protein-packed, high in fiber and low in fats – the perfect food.  It is recognized, however, that as they become more popular, some “best practices” will be needed in order to standardize collection, preparation and storage to ensure their wholesomeness.  “Free range” insects may be exposed to pesticides.  A few people may have allergies. 

After that, the only question is “How are you going to prepare them?”  Here is a potpourri from the BugLady’s research: 

  • BugFan Dan (who provided the mealworm photo-op) has tried the dried mealworms that are available at pet shops and bird food stores, and he describes them as tasting like bland, deep-fried pork rinds.  He guesses that if you started with a sauté pan bubbling with butter and garlic and used live meal worms, you might produce a more memorable meal (the BugLady is wondering about curry).  Thanks, Dan.  Mealworms may also be battered and fried. 
  • American Indian tribes took advantage of the easily-procured protein – the same Indian tribes that staged those dramatic bison drives on the American Great Plains also staged locust drives. 
  • Some insects, like stinkbugs, serve as “spices” and condiments. 
  • About the Thai giant water bug, Sam Nejame says “[It] Yields a thimbleful of meat the consistency of crab and has a surprisingly powerful citrus aroma” (he adds that “after importation and preparation, its flesh can cost hundreds of dollars a pound.”) (the BugLady can visualize cooking insects whole, but she can’t quite picture fileting them). 
  • In Thailand, fried insects are served with beer.  Bar food.
  • BugFan Mike, a Wild Foods enthusiast, has added cricket-rich Chapul energy bars to his wild food tastings, and his audiences are enthusiastic.  He sent recipes for “Orthopteran Orzo” [grasshopper/cricket] and “Sheesh! Kebobs” from David George Gordon’s Eat-a-Bug Cookbook.  Thanks, Mike.
  • A soft Sardinian cheese called casu marzu or formaggio marcio (“rotten cheese”) is famous for the live insect larvae that it contains.  Locals call it “maggot cheese.”
  • In her research, the BugLady came across several pictures of insect lollipops – insect bodies on a stick, encased in candy, like amber. 
  • Immature grasshoppers (chapulines) are a part of Mexican cuisine; harvesting them keeps them from harvesting the farmers’ grain crops.  Chapulines are showing up on the menus of Mexican restaurants in the US ( 

Finally, from BugFan Becca, a seasonally appropriate recipe for caramel apples with mealworms stuck on the outside  Thanks, Becca – it takes a village.

Does the BugLady eat (or anticipate eating) insects? The BugLady thinks (alas) that a lightly seared porterhouse steak sounds mighty fine; she speaks softly to insects as she photographs them and she thanks them as they depart.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Red-belted Bumble Bee

Bug o’the Week

Red-belted Bumble Bee

Greetings, BugFans,

Isn’t this a pretty bee!!!

When you aim your camera at a bumble bee, which the BugLady does frequently, you expect to see black and yellow in varying proportions (the vaguaries of wind plus the bees’ perpetual motion results in lots of bumble bee shots on the cutting room floor).  Four Wisconsin species – the Brown-belted, the Rusty-patched, the Tri-colored, and the Red-belted bumble bee have slightly different color schemes.

Bumble bees are in the diverse family Apidae, which also includes the Cuckoo, Carpenter, Digger, and Honey bees.  According to, there are 47 species in the genus Bombus (15 in Wisconsin).  The most recent bumble bee species to be described, Bombus kluanensis, was split from a known species (the “Active bumble bee,” Bombus neoboreus) in 2016 based on DNA analysis and is found only in the Yukon Territory and Denali National Park. 

The BugLady photographed this bee on the prairie at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve.  Her name is Bombus rufocinctus – the Red-belted bumble bee – and she’s a bee with somewhat northern inclinations plus a few disjunct eastern locations and minus the Great Plains  RBBBs are bees of open spaces like grasslands, and they also like parks, gardens, barrens, and quarries.  They are widespread but not common across their range (they make up about 10% of Wisconsin bumble bee records), and they’re found here mainly in the southern half of the state, though historical data suggest that they once occupied all of it. 

The BugLady generally struggles with bumble bee identification, despite being able to photograph them and put them up on the monitor and agonize over them at leisure.  RBBBs, with their short, round faces (one source says that they have a “cute, soft gestalt”), are noted for their many (many) color variations – up to 30 of them.  “Can be confused with many species,” says the Bumble Bees of the Eastern United States.  Here are a few RBBBs with varying amounts of red,, and one with none at all

Bumble bees are divided physiologically into short, medium, and long-tongued species.  RBBBs are in the short-tongued group, which means that they feed on flowers whose nectar reward is not buried deep in tubular flowers.  They’re generalists that are found on members of the aster, milkweed, geranium, rose, heath, and pea families, and more.  They are good pollinators and in some areas are one of the native bee species that are vital pollinators of commercial blueberry crops.

Unlike honey bee nests, the shelf-life of bumble bee nests is less than a year.  RBBBs have their nuptial flights in early August, when the colony’s population peaks; males claim territories around nectar sources and watch for queens, chasing intruders that fly past, bumble bee or not.   Fertilized RBBB queens create hibernacula for themselves in the soil in fall and are the only bees from the nest that survive the winter.  

They emerge from diapause (the term that’s used for invertebrate hibernation) in spring and look for a nest site.  Many bumble bees nest underground in abandoned rodent burrows, but RBBBs often nest on and even above the ground, under bark or siding.  The queen lays a dozen or so eggs and cares for them herself, and when these workers emerge, they take over the chores inside and outside the nest, and she is restricted to the nursery.  

Her eggs are laid in wax cells that are not as tidy as those of honey bees.  Workers feed protein (pollen) and carbs (nectar) to the larvae (nice series of pictures here as successive generations of workers take to the air.

RBBB nests may contain some “ringers.”  Cuckoo bumble bees (formerly in the genus Psithyrus and now included in Bombus) take advantage of the labor of the worker bees by invading a bumble bee nest, killing the queen, and laying their own eggs in the nest.  A few dominoes must be in place in order for the Cuckoo bumble bees to be successful brood parasites.  In an article in Entomology Today titled “Cuckoo Bumble Bees: What We Can Learn From Their Cheating Ways (If They Don’t Go Extinct First)” author Meredith Swett Walker explains: “… cuckoo bumble bees are “obligate brood parasites”—in other words, they cannot reproduce without their hosts. They cannot produce their own workers, they lack pollen baskets on their legs and so cannot collect pollen to feed their own offspring, and they cannot produce enough wax to build their own nest.

Instead, cuckoo bumble bees must find a host colony of another bumble bee species, and it has to be just the right size. Too large, and there will be too many workers defending the nest and the cuckoo will be killed. Too small and there will be too few workers to raise the cuckoo’s offspring. So, cuckoo bumblebees must be selective. They also have to be tough fighters to defend themselves from attacking workers as they infiltrate the nest and kill the host queen. Thus, cuckoo bumble bees are heavily armored with larger and stronger mandibles, a hardened abdomen, and a thicker, more powerful sting.

After it infiltrates a nest, the invading cuckoo must defuse the battle and integrate into the host colony. Some cuckoo bumble bees do this by mimicking the chemical cues used by their host species. Other cuckoos produce few recognition chemicals of their own and then take on the “scent” of the colony via contact with nest materials and workers.

Finally, once hatched, cuckoo larvae must trick the host workers into feeding them. How this works is largely unknown. Previous research by Lhomme suggests that colonies taken over by cuckoo bumble bee queens may lose their ability to recognize outsiders in general and so be more accepting of cuckoo larvae when they hatch.

Each species of Cuckoo bumble bee targets a few particular species of bumble bees and is similarly-colored, and along with the “dominoes” mentioned in Walker’s article, their flight period must sync with that of their potential host species.  RBBBs are parasitized by the Indiscriminate Cuckoo bumble bee (B. insularis) and the Fernald/Flavid Cuckoo bumble bee (B. fernaldi/B. flavidus).  The first is rare in Wisconsin and the second has been seen here only a few times in 50 years.

Yes, bumble bees can sting, and yes, they will sting, but unlike a honey bee’s barbed stinger that is pulled out when it stings (fatally, for the bee), bumble bees can sting multiple times to protect hearth and home (but not when you poke a camera in their face when they’re on a flower). 

The BugLady loves this field guide and even has a paper copy. 

Still some bumble bees out there.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – the Missouri Bee-killer Robber Fly

Bug o’the Week

the Missouri Bee-killer Robber Fly

Howdy, BugFans,

Robber flies are a very cool bunch of flies that we have visited a number of times in the past.  To appreciate the array of sizes and shapes and colors of Wisconsin robber flies from the tiny “Gnat ogres”, to the bumble bee mimicking Laphria, to the Giant robber flies in the subfamily Asilinae (like today’s star), visit the robber fly corner of the website

Besides being awesome-looking, these “bearded” flies (sometimes called Assassin flies) are predators, and they are not shrinking violets.  In the Field Guide to the Insects of North America, Eric Eaton says that “Robber flies (family Asilidae) are to other insects what falcons are to other birds.”  In an article published in the Bulletin of the Brooklyn Entomological Society in 1949, S. W. Bromley tells us that “Linneaus … gave this group of flies the name Asilus (the ancient name for flies which tormented cattle) in the belief that they were molesters of stock and cattle, a habit in which no robber fly today is known to indulge.”

Robber flies’ modus operandi is to spot an insect from their perch, grab it (and they will go after insects larger than they are), inject it with saliva to both kill it and soften its insides, and then perch and ingest the liquid through a tube called the hypopharynx.  They eat lots of insects that are agricultural pests, but they haven’t been formally deployed as biological controls because they are equally likely to eat honey bees and Monarch butterflies.  

There are about 1000 species of robber fly in North America, and the Missouri bee-killer (Proctacanthus milbertii), akaMilbert’s Proctacanthus, is one of 17 members of its genus north of Mexico.  Bromley notes that “In Southern Alabama, Col. S. F. Blanton stated that it has received the common name of ‘Boo-hoo fly.’”   

The spectacular Missouri bee-killer is found from sea to sea, and north and south of our borders in sort of a checkerboard pattern (the range maps in come with a disclaimer that says, “The information below is based on images submitted and identified by contributors. Range and date information may be incomplete, overinclusive, or just plain wrong.”).  According to Bromley, “Milbertii has for its habitat fields and pastures where the soil contains a considerable admixture of sand.”  It’s often found around goldenrod, and it’s pretty well camouflaged when it sits on the ground surrounded by dry goldenrod leaves.  The Missouri bee-killer is a late-season robber fly, and it’s one of the species that the BugLady found in the dunes at Kohler-Andrae State Park. 

There’s some variation in color – the beard is creamy white, but some individuals aren’t as maroon than the one the BugLady found  They are active and noisy fliers, and they like to rest on open ground. 

Males are territorial and will chase rival males.  Robber fly courtship is a no-frills affair – he approaches her much like he approaches prey.  After mating (, she works her abdomen barely into the soil or sand and lays her eggs.  She visits flowers before ovipositing because for best results, she must take in both protein and sugar before she oviposits.  The larvae live in the soil and prey on invertebrates they find there, and they may also nibble on decaying plant material.  In some robber fly species, the larva lives in the soil for up to three years before it pupates.  

In a 1975 article in The Great Lakes Entomologist, Norman T. Baker and Roland L. Fischer wrote that “P. milbertii exhibits a very interesting defensive reaction when attacked by another fly. The attacked fly nearly always spreads its legs and wings outward and upward and curves the abdomen upward. Generally the fly turns to face the attacker and then tilts backward allowing it to better fend for itself. Usually the wings are buzzed in short bursts.”

Although some closely-related robber flies do concentrate more on them, Missouri bee-killers are generalists whose diet doesn’t include many honey bees (only 4%, according to one study).  Grasshoppers and moths make up about three-quarters of their food, and they also prey on butterflies, beetles, bugs, bees (including bumble bees, and flies, and they’re not above a little cannibalism.  In a study area in the Nebraska sandhills, researchers counted 437 Missouri bee-killers per hectare (one hectare is a little less than 2.5 acres) and 64,000 grasshoppers from 23 species per hectare.  The flies devoured one to two grasshoppers per day, each, consuming an average of nearly 2% of the population of adult grasshoppers daily. 

They fly fast, pick their prey out of the air, and land to feed.  They wrap all six legs around it and administer a killing jab behind the prey’s head, often lying on their side until the prey is dead  They pierce their prey often as they feed in order to reach all its nooks and crannies, manipulating it with their forelegs.  If you must handle a robber fly, handle it with care, because the larger species can jab painfully. 

Baker and Fischer’s documentation of the daily routine of Missouri bee-killers included observations of its sleep habits.  They wrote “These flies are quite active as long as the proper habitat is hot and sunny. When dusk approached, and the sun no longer shone on the habitat of P. milbertii, the flies cease all activity. Attempts to discover where they spent the night were nearly futile until it was discovered that the flies were resting in or under dead leaves beneath nearby trees or bushes. When the sun set the flies “entered a stupor” and became very inactive. If disturbed they would buzz their wings for a second or two and then again become inactive. Perhaps the buzzing will frighten a possible predator. The positions these flies may assume are often ridiculous. They appear to be dead. In one instance a male was discovered “standing on his head” and supported only by his front legs. Hull (1962) has also observed this behavior and interpreted it as ‘death feigning.’”  Here’s an early morning shot

Go outside – look for bugs – it’s not too late!

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  For more info  

Some Punctured tiger beetles are “plain”, and some are “fancy”, and some are green  

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 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 select crickets and grasshoppers for their young’s’ pantry, and so do Great Golden digger wasps  Neither is aggressive.  

The moral of the story?  Plant lemon horsemint.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Management of Late Season Composites and Their Native Pollinators

October 11 @ 9:00 am – 2:00 pm

Management of Late Season Composites and their Native Pollinators

Rescheduled from 9/27/2022

Join Riveredge Research & Conservation Director, Restoration Ecologist Randy Powers of Prairie Future Seed Co. & Dr. Laura Smith of the Pollinator Partnership for a day in the field discussing pollinator conservation and identifying a great variety of asters and goldenrod species in their habitats. Participants will get to know hard-earned tricks to tell species apart as well as become familiar with restoration and management specifications. All experience levels welcome!

All Access Members: $45 | Trail Pass Members: $50 | Non-members: $55

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October 11, 2022 @ 9:00 am 2:00 pm

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