Bug o’the Week – Cuckoo Leafcutter Bee

Bug o’the Week

Cuckoo Leafcutter Bee

Greetings, BugFans,

The story of the Cuckoo leafcutter bee has several moving parts.  It starts with the family Megachilidae (of recent BOTW fame https://uwm.edu/field-station/leafcutter-bees-pollinators-extraordinaire/), a large and diverse group of solitary bees that includes the leafcutter, mason, and resin bees, and others.  Leafcutter bees are famous for their modus operandi – they cut tidy circles from the edges of leaves https://bugguide.net/node/view/55892 or petals and use them to wrap their egg packets https://bugguide.net/node/view/1252173, line the walls of tunnels (typically pre-existing tunnels in wood), and make walls between egg chambers.  There are 630 species in the Megachilidae in North America, and 4,100 species worldwide.

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

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

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

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

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

Fun Facts about Cuckoo Leafcutter bees:

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

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

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

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

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

Bug o’the Week

Cuckoo Leafcutter Bee

Greetings, BugFans,

The story of the Cuckoo leafcutter bee has several moving parts.  It starts with the family Megachilidae (of recent BOTW fame https://uwm.edu/field-station/leafcutter-bees-pollinators-extraordinaire/), a large and diverse group of solitary bees that includes the leafcutter, mason, and resin bees, and others.  Leafcutter bees are famous for their modus operandi – they cut tidy circles from the edges of leaves https://bugguide.net/node/view/55892 or petals and use them to wrap their egg packets https://bugguide.net/node/view/1252173, line the walls of tunnels (typically pre-existing tunnels in wood), and make walls between egg chambers.  There are 630 species in the Megachilidae in North America, and 4,100 species worldwide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

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

Bug o’the Week

Cuckoo Leafcutter Bee

Greetings, BugFans,

The story of the Cuckoo leafcutter bee has several moving parts.  It starts with the family Megachilidae (of recent BOTW fame https://uwm.edu/field-station/leafcutter-bees-pollinators-extraordinaire/), a large and diverse group of solitary bees that includes the leafcutter, mason, and resin bees, and others.  Leafcutter bees are famous for their modus operandi – they cut tidy circles from the edges of leaves https://bugguide.net/node/view/55892 or petals and use them to wrap their egg packets https://bugguide.net/node/view/1252173, line the walls of tunnels (typically pre-existing tunnels in wood), and make walls between egg chambers.  There are 630 species in the Megachilidae in North America, and 4,100 species worldwide.

The Snout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

Bug o’the Week – the Dragonflies

Bug o’the Week

Cuckoo Leafcutter Bee

Greetings, BugFans,

The story of the Cuckoo leafcutter bee has several moving parts.  It starts with the family Megachilidae (of recent BOTW fame https://uwm.edu/field-station/leafcutter-bees-pollinators-extraordinaire/), a large and diverse group of solitary bees that includes the leafcutter, mason, and resin bees, and others.  Leafcutter bees are famous for their modus operandi – they cut tidy circles from the edges of leaves https://bugguide.net/node/view/55892 or petals and use them to wrap their egg packets https://bugguide.net/node/view/1252173, line the walls of tunnels (typically pre-existing tunnels in wood), and make walls between egg chambers.  There are 630 species in the Megachilidae in North America, and 4,100 species worldwide.

EASTERN PONDHAWK WITH MITES: When the BugLady first saw this dragonfly, she thought that for some reason his abdomen had gotten muddy, but a peek through the camera lens revealed that he was carrying a huge load of water mites.  Adult water mites are (mostly) free swimming carnivores, but they go through a tick-like nymphal stage in which they attach to and feed on other aquatic invertebrates (see their story at https://uwm.edu/field-station/water-mite-redux/). 

EXUVIA ON POTAMOGETON: The leaves and flower stalks of aquatic plants in the genus Potamogeton are dragon and damselfly magnets.  Here, a female Violet/Variable Dancer damselfly stands on a leaf as she oviposits in an underwater stem.  The empty damselfly skins (exuvia) that decorate the flower stalk show that it has been a busy place.   

EASTERN FORKTAIL: A female Eastern Forktail damselfly oviposits directly into the flower stalk.  The stalk will sink, and when her eggs hatch, her young will swim out into the water.

COMMON WHITETAIL: A recently-emerged female Common Whitetail dragonfly crawled out of the water, climbed 15” up the river bank, and then trekked another two feet across mown grass to find the perfect spot to stop and gather strength for her life in the air.  Dragonflies may take a few days to achieve their mature coloration – here’s what she’ll look like when the spots on her wings intensify https://bugguide.net/node/view/7160, and here’s the male https://bugguide.net/node/view/27710

RACKET-TAILED EMERALD: These very inquisitive dragonflies fly back and forth above the trail as you walk along.  When the sun is at your back, the glowing eyes of an approaching emerald are a religious experience! 

Slender Bluet
Marsh Bluet

SLENDER BLUET DAMSELFLY:  Bluets can be a confusing bunch of damselflies.  Some species are very distinct – one is neon blue at one end and yellow at the other, one is rainbow-colored, one is orange, and a few Eastern species are red.  But for many of the blue and black species, scrutinizing the male’s rear appendages is the best way to identify them (the Marsh Bluet terminates in a tiny pipe wrench).  You can narrow the field by eyeballing the comparative amounts of blue and black on the abdomen and putting them into the “blue-type,” “black-type,” or “intermediate-type” category.  This young male, who is in what BugFan Bob calls “that embarrassing purple stage,” will be a spectacular black-type bluet when he matures https://bugguide.net/node/view/1613844/bgimage.  And one of these days, the Slender Bluet will get a BOTW of its own.

DOT TAILED WHITEFACE: Not long out of the water, this Dot-tailed Whiteface clings to its shed skin (which clings to an Equisetum stalk) as it pumps up its wings.

DRAGONFLY DOW (dead on the water): Whether it was chased by a predator or just miscalculated, this dragonfly got too close to the water and adhered to its sticky surface film.  Beautiful even in death, its body is returning nutrients to the pond that nurtured it.

COMMON GREEN DARNER: Common Green Darners, one of our biggest dragonflies, are with us from May through September.  Wisconsin has two populations – migratory and resident.  Migratory darners like these, photographed in early May, arrive from the southeastern part of the US, mate, and put their eggs into the water, and their naiads develop during the summer.  About the time these early birds are wearing out (mid-June), the resident population begins to emerge, and they fill the skies until the end of summer.  The migrants emerge as adults at the end of August, and fly south, leaving no eggs in the ponds, but the eggs of the resident population overwinter under the ice.  A dragonfly do-si-do.

AMERICAN RUBYSPOT: Dragonflies and damselflies are fascinating, and they do some amazing things.  They can be a challenge to photograph and to identify, and some are just plain beautiful! 

RIVER JEWELWING: River Jewelwings are much less common where the BugLady lives than are the spectacular Ebony Jewelwings (https://bugguide.net/node/view/1840629/bgimage), so she was thrilled to get a picture of one.  Jewelwings and Rubyspots are members of the Broad-winged damselfly family Calopterygidae (which means “beautiful wing”), and they’re sometimes called river damsels because of their preferred haunts. 

SKIMMING BLUETS: The BugLady aimed her camera at an odd-looking configuration on a water lily leaf and saw one-and-a-half damselflies.  Apparently, a male and female were flying in tandem when a hungry bird came along and bit off the female’s abdomen.  When the pair landed, two Mesovelid bugs (aggressive scavengers and predators), sensed “blood in the water” and zipped in to sip her bodily fluids (hemolymph).  Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water….

Go outside – look for dragonflies!

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

Bug o’the Week – Early Summer Scenes

Bug o’the Week

Cuckoo Leafcutter Bee

Greetings, BugFans,

The story of the Cuckoo leafcutter bee has several moving parts.  It starts with the family Megachilidae (of recent BOTW fame https://uwm.edu/field-station/leafcutter-bees-pollinators-extraordinaire/), a large and diverse group of solitary bees that includes the leafcutter, mason, and resin bees, and others.  Leafcutter bees are famous for their modus operandi – they cut tidy circles from the edges of leaves https://bugguide.net/node/view/55892 or petals and use them to wrap their egg packets https://bugguide.net/node/view/1252173, line the walls of tunnels (typically pre-existing tunnels in wood), and make walls between egg chambers.  There are 630 species in the Megachilidae in North America, and 4,100 species worldwide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go outside – look for bugs.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

Become a Member

Take advantage of all the benefits of a Riveredge membership year round!

Learn More