Bug o’the Week – The 12 (or 13) Bugs of Christmas

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week The 12 (or 13) Bugs of Christmas

Greetings of the Season, BugFans,

(13 bugs, because once she’s got her selection down to 13, the BugLady just can’t cut one more!)

A Cheery Thought for the Holidays, the average home contains between 32 and 211 species of arthropods (with the lower numbers at higher Latitudes and higher numbers as you head south past the Mason-Dixon Line).  So, while the BugLady is celebrating The 12 (or 13) Bugs of Christmas, most BugFans could rustle up at least that many under their own roofs.  Whether you see them or not, all kinds of invertebrates coexist with us daily, mostly staying under our radar until we surprise each other with a quick glimpse.

Here are a baker’s dozen of the bugs that the BugLady saw in 2023.

BALTIMORE CHECKERSPOT CATERPILLAR – According to one researcher, caterpillars are “essentially bags of macerated leaves.”  What kind of leaves does a Baltimore Checkerspot caterpillar macerate?  The eggs are laid in the second half of summer on, historically, White turtlehead, a native wildflower, and more recently, Lance-leaved plantain has been added as a host plant.  Both plants contain chemicals that make the caterpillars distasteful to birds, though the turtlehead has higher concentrations of them.  The butterflies have adapted to use an introduced plant, but the caterpillars don’t do as well on it (the BugLady has also seen them on goldenrod).  Half-grown caterpillars overwinter, and when they emerge to finish eating/maturing in spring, the turtlehead isn’t up yet, so they eat the leaves of White ash and a few spring wildflowers.   

LEAFCUTTER BEE ON PITCHER PLANT – Bumble bees and Honey bees are listed as the main pollinators of Purple pitcher plants, along with a flesh fly called the Pitcher plant fly (Fletcherimyia fletcheri), a pitcher plant specialist that contacts the pollen when it shelters in the flowers.  But it looks like this Leafcutter bee is having a go at it. 

SEVEN-SPOTTED LADYBUGS had a moment this year; for a while in early summer, they were the only ladybug/lady beetle that the BugLady saw.  Like the Asian multicolored lady beetle, they were introduced from Eurasia on purpose in the ‘70’s to eat aphids.  But (and the BugLady is getting tired of singing this chorus) they made themselves at home beyond the agricultural fields and set about out-competing our native species. 

An Aside: Lots of people buy sacks of ladybugs to use as pest control in their gardens.  The BugLady did a little poking around to see which species were being sold.  Some sites readily named a native species, but most did not specify.  Several sites warned that unless you are buying lab-grown beetles, your purchase is probably native beetles scooped up during hibernation, thus posing another threat to their numbers

SOLDIER FLY LARVA – The BugLady is familiar with Soldier fly larvae in the form of the flattened, spindle-shaped larvae https://bugguide.net/node/view/1800040/bgimage that float at the surface of still waters, breathing through a “tailpipe” and locomoting with languid undulations.  So she was pretty surprised when she saw this one trucking handily across a rock in a quiet bay along the edge of the Milwaukee River.  It appears to have been crawling through/living in the mud. 

COMMON WOOD NYMPH – And an out-of-focus Common Wood Nymph at that.  The BugLady has a long lens, and her arms weren’t quite long enough to get the butterfly far enough away to focus this shot.  And it’s really hard to change lenses with a butterfly sitting on your finger.

FALSE MILKWEED BUG – Milkweed bugs are seed bugs that live on milkweeds, but if you’ve ever seen a milkweed bug that was not on a milkweed (usually on an ox-eye sunflower), it was probably a False milkweed bug.  They’re so easily mistaken for a Small milkweed bug that one bugguide.net commentator said that all of their pictures of Small milkweed bugs should be reviewed.  Here’s a Small milkweed bug with a single black heart on its back bracketed by an almost-complete orange “X” https://bugguide.net/node/view/2279630/bgimage; and here’s the False milkweed bug, whose markings look (to the BugLady) like an almost complete “X” surrounding two, nesting black hearts https://bugguide.net/node/view/35141.  One thoughtful blogger pointed out that although it looks like a distasteful milkweed feeder, it’s not thought to be toxic.  He wondered if this is a case of mimicry, or if the bug once fed on milkweed, developed protective (aposematic) coloration, and then changed its diet?

LARGE EMPTY OAK APPLE GALL – That’s really its name, but “empty” refers to the less-than-solid interior of the gall https://bugguide.net/node/view/54459 (which was made by this tiny gall wasp https://bugguide.net/node/view/260612).  Galls are formed (generically) when a chemical introduced by the female bug that lays the egg, by the egg itself, and later by the larva, causes the plant to grow extra, sometimes bizarre, tissue at that spot.  The gall maker lives in/eats the inside of the gall until it emerges as an adult.  Some galls are made by mites – same principle.

SYRPHID FLIES are pretty hardy.  Some species appear on the pussy willows and dandelions of early spring, and others nectar on the last dandelions of late fall.  This one was photographed on November 17, on a sunny and breezy day with temperatures in the low 40’s, 12 feet off the ground, resting on the BugLady’s “go-bag” (the bag of extra clothes she carries up onto the hawk tower to deal with the wind chill).

WASP WITH SPIDER – The BugLady saw a little flurry of activity near an orbweaver web on her porch one day, but she got it backward.  At first she thought that the spider had snagged the wasp (a Common blue mud dauber), but it was the wasp that hopped up onto the railing with its prey, part of the spider collection she will put together for an eventual larva.

SIX-SPOTTED TIGER BEETLES grace these collections perhaps more than any other insect, because – why ever not!

JUST-EMERGED DAMSELFLY – This damselfly was so recently emerged (possibly from the shed skin nearby) that its wings are still longer than its abdomen (basic survival theory says that you put a rush on developing the parts you might need most).  Will a few of the aphids on the pondweed leaves be its first meal?

This is either a GREEN IMMIGRANT LEAF WEEVIL (Polydrosus formorus https://bugguide.net/node/view/1678834/bgimage) or the slightly smaller (and equally alien) PALE GREEN WEEVIL (Polydrosus impressifrons https://bugguide.net/node/view/1813505/bgimage).  Whichever it is, it’s been in North America for a little more than a century.  Bugguide.net calls them “adventive” – introduced but not well established.  Eggs are laid in bark crevices or in the soil, and the larvae feed on roots.  Adults eat young leaves, buds, and flowers of some hardwood, fruit, and landscape trees but are not considered big pests.  Their lime-green color comes from iridescent, green scales.

And a DOT-TAILED WHITEFACE in a pear tree.

Have a Wonder-full New Year,

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

Bug o’the Week – Wildflower Watch – Swamp Milkweed

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week Wildflower Watch – Swamp Milkweed

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady is already fantasizing about warm, sunny days in a wetland, photographing Swamp milkweed (and dragonflies), because she loves its color, and she loves being in wetlands, and because it’s a very busy plant, indeed!

Also called rose or red milkweed (there are a couple of species of southern milkweeds that are also called red milkweed), white Indian hemp, water nerve-root, and water silkweed, Swamp milkweed prefers damp soils and full sun near the water’s edge.

Indians, and later, the European settlers, used it medicinally (a tea made from the roots was reputed to “drive the worms from a person in one hour’s time”).  It was used with caution – its sap is poisonous – and the cardiac glycosides that protect Monarchs also deter mammals from grazing on all but the very young plants.  The fibers in its stem were twisted into rope and twine and were used in textiles.

Its flowers are typical milkweed flowers – a corona of five parts (hoods) with curved petals below and curved, nectar-secreting horns above.  The flowers are tricky – sticky, golden, saddlebag-shaped pollinia are hidden behind what one author calls a trap door (a stigmatic slit).  Insects walk around on the flower head, and when one of their feet slips through the slit by chance, a pollinium sticks to it.  When the bug encounters a stigmatic slit on the next plant it visits, the pollen is inadvertently delivered.  A quick-and-dirty, pick-up and delivery is what the plant had in mind; but, like the story of the raccoon (or was it a monkey) that reaches into the jar for a candy bar and then can’t pull its fist out of the small opening, sometimes the insect’s foot gets stuck to pollinia inside the trap door.  Insects that can’t free themselves will die dangling from the flower, and insects that escape may be gummed up by the waxy structures.  Look carefully for pollinia in the pictures.

Milkweeds support complex communities of invertebrates – their nectar attracts ants, bugs, beetles, flies, butterflies, moths, bees, and wasps, plus predators looking for a meal.  Here are some of the insects that the BugLady sees on Swamp milkweed.

TWO-BANDED PETROPHILA MOTHS (Petrophila bifascialis) are delicate moths that lead a double life.  By day, they sit sedately on streamside vegetation.  By night, the female crawls down the side of a rock into the water – sometimes several feet down – to deposit her eggs on the stream bottom, breathing air that she brings with her, held against her ventral surface (“Petrophila” means “rock-lover”).  Her larvae eventually attach themselves to a rock and spin a net to keep themselves there, feeding on diatoms and algae that they harvest from the rock’s surface with their mandibles. 

MULBERRY WING SKIPPER – A small (one-inch-ish wingspan) butterfly of wetlands with an arrow or airplane-shaped marking on its rich, chestnut-brown underwings (the upper surface of its wings looks completely different https://bugguide.net/node/view/34033/bgimage.  Adults fly slowly through low vegetation, where females lay their eggs on the leaves of sedges. 

FLOWER LONGHORN BEETLE BRACHYLEPTURA CHAMPLAINI (no common name), on a Swamp milkweed leaf.  Other than a “present” checkoff in a variety of natural area insect surveys, there’s just about nothing online about this beetle, and not much more in Evans’ book, Beetles of Eastern North America.  It’s a long-horned beetle in the Flower longhorn subfamily Lepturinae, a group that feeds on pollen in the daytime.  This one has pollinia on its mouthparts.

AMBUSH BUG – The dangling bee in this picture did not fall victim to the sticky pollinia (though it has plenty of them on its legs).  A well-camouflaged ambush bug snagged it as it visited the flower. 

SOLDIER BEETLE – These guys drive the BugLady crazy.  They’re lightning beetle mimics, and they’re pretty good at it, and she always overthinks the ID.  She doesn’t know why they’re imitating the closely-related lightning beetles – alarmed lightning beetles discharge poisonous blood/hemolymph from their leg joints, but alarmed soldier beetles do, too. 

CRAB SPIDER –This Goldenrod crab spider tucked itself down between the milkweed flowers and ambushed an Odontomyia soldier fly https://bugguide.net/node/view/417289/bgimage.

LARGE MILKWEED BUG – What a beauty!  Large milkweed bugs are seed bugs – they feed by poking their beaklike mouthparts through the shell of a milkweed pod and sucking nutrients from the seeds.  They don’t harm the plant (just the seed crop), and they don’t harm monarch caterpillars, either.  Like other milkweed feeders, they sport aposematic (warning) colors to inform predators of their unpalatability.  Large milkweed bugs don’t like northern winters and are migratory – like monarchs, the shortening day lengths, the lowering angle of the sun, and increasingly tough milkweed leaves signal that it’s time to go, and they travel south to find fresher greens.  Their descendants head north in spring.

MONARCH CATERPILLAR – Common milkweed and Swamp milkweed are Monarch butterflies’ top picks for egg laying. 

GREAT-SPANGLED FRITILLARY – The other big, orange butterfly.  Adults enjoy milkweeds and a variety of other wildflowers, and their caterpillars feed on violets – if they’re lucky enough to connect with some.  Females lay eggs in fall, near, but not necessarily on, violets, and the caterpillars emerge soon afterward.  They drink water but they don’t eat; they aestivate through winter in the leaf litter and awake in spring to look for their emerging host plants.

GIANT SWALLOWTAIL – A southern butterfly that seems to be getting a foothold in Wisconsin.  The book says they are annual migrants that produce a generation here in summer and that their caterpillars can’t tolerate Wisconsin winters, but the BugLady has seen very fresh-looking Giant Swallowtails here in May that didn’t look like they had just been on a long flight.  Their caterpillars are called Orange Dogs in the South, because their host plants are in the Rue/Citrus family Rutaceae.  In this neck of the woods, females lay their eggs on Prickly ash, a small shrub that’s the northernmost member of that family. 

CINNAMON CLEARWING MOTH – A nectar-sipper but, since it doesn’t land, not a serious pollinator.

NORTHERN PAPER WASP – Butterflies love Swamp Milkweed, and so do wasps.  The Northern paper wasp is the social wasp that makes a smallish (usually fewer than 200 inhabitants) open-celled, down-facing, stemmed nest https://bugguide.net/node/view/1411890/bgimage.  “Northern” is a misnomer – they’re found from Canada through Texas and from the Atlantic well into the Great Plains.  Her super power is chewing on cellulose material, mixing it with saliva, and creating paper pulp.  She may be on the swamp milkweed to get pollen and nectar for herself or to collect small invertebrates to feed to the colony’s larvae.  Curious about Northern paper wasps?  See https://bugeric.blogspot.com/2010/09/wasp-wednesday-northern-paper-wasp.html.

Also seen were ants, leafcutter bees, sweat bees, Great black wasps, Great golden digger wasps, Red soldier beetles, Fiery and Broad-winged Skipper butterflies, and Thick-headed flies.  

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

Bug o’the Week – Monochromatic Stink Bug-Hunting Wasp

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week Monochromatic Stink Bug-Hunting Wasp

Howdy, BugFans,

Another wasp with a dynamite name!

When the BugLady found this wasp, she was struck by its curious appearance – fly-like eyes, waspy antennae, “broad-shouldered,” but with a very short abdomen (“It’s compact,” says bugguide.net).

It’s in the family Crabronidae, the Sand wasps and Square-headed wasps, which have been featured before, most recently in the form of the Robust katydid-hunting wasp.  Crabronidae is a large family that used to be lumped with the solitary wasps in the family Sphecidae, the mud daubers, sand wasps, and hunting wasps.  There are lots of Crabronid species worldwide; they create egg chambers and cache paralyzed invertebrates in them for their eventual larvae to eat, and many species are very fussy about the kinds of prey they collect.  Adults feed on nectar.

Monochromatic Stink Bug-Hunting Wasps (Astata unicolor) (probably) live in grasslands and savannas (members of the genus Astata can be hard to differentiate, but the MSBHW is a widespread species in the East).  Astata comes from the Greek word astatos, meaning “restless.”  According to the Minnesota Seasons website, it’s found “across southern Canada, throughout the United States and Mexico, and in Central America” but is not common anywhere.  Habitat/soil types probably help determine a species presence.  

These are very alert, curious, and fast-flying little (half-inch) wasps, with dark-tipped wings and a coating of silvery hairs.  The males’ wrap-around (holoptic) eyes are typical of the genus.  Here’s a Glamour Shot – https://bugguide.net/node/view/467930/bgimage

A female MSBHW’s prey of choice are the mature nymphs and adults of a few genera of stink bugs, including the Spined stink bug https://bugguide.net/node/view/875677.  Out West, their menu also includes the Western box elder bug.  

Males sit on perches to scout for females (those big eyes come in handy) – males emerge as adults about two weeks before females do, and they set up territories while they’re waiting (cherchez la femme).  They advertise by making brief, circular forays from perches. 

Females dig tunnels as deep as 14” in loose soil.  Heather Holm, in her epic book Wasps, Their Biology, Diversity, and Role as Beneficial Insects and Pollinators of Native Plants, writes that “after mating, the female begins excavating her nest in the ground, often preferring a partially concealed site with bare soil such as under a plant leaf.  As she excavates the nest, she loosens soil with her mandibles and forelegs, then pushes the soil up the burrow with the end of her abdomen.”  The tunnel contains several cells.

Holm continues, “She leaves the nest entrance open while searching for prey but while in the nest at night to rest, she closes the entrance with soil.  She searches for predatory stink bug nymphs in vegetation and likely uses olfactory senses in addition to sight to find her prey.  After capturing and stinging her prey https://bugguide.net/node/view/70575/bgimage, she grasps the prey by the antennae, then clutches it with her legs beneath her as she flies close to the ground back to her nest.  She either enters the nest clutching her prey or she places it on the ground next to the entrance.  If the latter, she enters the nest, emerges headfirst, then drags the prey down the burrow, clasping it with her mandibles.

Each cell is provisioned with approximately two to four stink bugs.  She temporarily stores the stink bugs at the bottom of the burrow until enough are collected to fully provision the cell.  She lays one egg on the first bug cached in the cell.

Ground-nesting wasps and bees have elaborate behaviors that help them relocate their nests.  Holm says, “When she is ready to leave the nest, her orientation first begins on the ground as she walks, making several passes over the nest before taking flight.  Then, she flies in circling arcs over the nest.  When she returns to the nesting area, she lands on the ground with her prey, then walks around for a while, repeating a similar on-the-ground orientation to the one performed before departing the nest.”  

This unobtrusive wasp is attracting some attention these days because it has discovered the invasive Brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB).  In a study in Oregon, 64% of the observed prey taken by the MSBHW were BMSBs, and a few other stink bugs it eats are considered crop pests.  Of course, solitary wasps are, well, solitary; you can’t just set up a hive and sic them on unwanted species, so they does their biological control on a small scale. 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

Bug o’the Week -German Yellowjacket Redux

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week German Yellowjacket Redux

Salutations, BugFans,

The BugLady has been busy, so she’s rerunning this episode from 2009.  There are still yellowjackets on the flowers.  The photographs in the original episode were (nasty) scanned color slides, and when the BugLady searched her files, she found pictures of three other yellowjacket species, but none of the German yellowjacket.  The folks at bugguide.net have some great shots:

of the face https://bugguide.net/node/view/1159222/bgimage,

the profile https://bugguide.net/node/view/320998/bgimage,

the back https://bugguide.net/node/view/1303274/bgimage,

and in flight – https://bugguide.net/node/view/856499/bgimage.

German Yellowjackets (GYJs), family Vespidae, are European wasps that arrived in the northeastern US in the early 1970’s and in Wisconsin a few years later.  These world travelers are now found on four continents and several oceanic islands.  Although the whole bee/wasp/hornet group is often labeled casually as “bees” (and GYJs have earned the nickname “garbage bee”), it’s easy to tell a honeybee from a wasp.  Honeybees are hairy, black and tan insects about ½” long; the similarly-sized, GYJs are less hairy and are clearly marked by nature’s warning colors, yellow and black.  Both species may nest in walls, but honeybees, which use their hives for years, do not nest underground. 

The nest is started in spring by a queen who has spent the winter sheltered in a crevice, leaf pile, or building.  She chews plant material, mixes this cellulose with saliva, forms it into a nest and nursery, and starts laying eggs https://bugguide.net/node/view/1899314/bgimage.  When the first workers emerge, they enlarge the nest https://bugguide.net/node/view/38722/bgimage, care for the larvae and queen, and forage for food.  Adults eat insects (live or dead), rotting fruit https://bugguide.net/node/view/1284571/bgimage, nectar and other sweet liquids (including sugar water in hummingbird feeders https://bugguide.net/node/view/1279647/bgimage), and workers bring pre-chewed protein to the larvae.   

Their nests often seem plastered/sprayed onto a surface; these are not the classic hanging, football-shaped nests of the larger paper wasps.  The GYJ nest in the glass case in the picture was collected from the front porch of an old building near Mayville, WI; Sherri is holding a typical hanging nest of a Bald-faced hornet/Bald-faced aerial yellowjacket.  GYJs often nest underground https://bugguide.net/node/view/317549/bgimage (the BugLady’s parents had a sizable colony under the cement slabs of their front walk), but many nests are built in sheltered spots above ground or inside walls, and GYJs that nest in walls and attics may chew through your home’s inner walls into the house.  Thirty years ago, almost all yellowjackets caught in sweet traps in urban areas were Germans, while those snagged in rural areas were native.  But now, this urban, alien species is moving out into the sticks and displacing native species. 

Wasp populations peak in late summer, when a very large nest may contain 15,000 inhabitants.  A nest built in a protected spot can remain active into late fall, but the queen and workers will die before winter, leaving a new generation of fertile queens to restart the process.  In Wisconsin, nests are not used for a second year (an old nest containing dead workers and larvae makes a great food source for raccoons and skunks).  In subtropical climates like California, this adaptable, temperate-zone wasp is establishing colonies that last two or three years and grow to mind-boggling sizes (think pick-up truck size). 

Wasps’ plusses as pollinators and as predators on unwanted insects are canceled by their painful (and, to some people, dangerous) stings and by their inconvenient choices for nest sites.  Honeybees have barbed stingers and can only sting once – the act causes their death.  For that reason, they are less aggressive away from their hives.  Wasps can sting repeatedly, and they have a “hair trigger” temperament https://bugguide.net/node/view/507730/bgimage both near their nests and away from them. 

GYJs are the “gals” that have been making outdoor eating risky for the past 40 years.  Close encounters can be minimized by checking picnic foods and drinks before each bite or sip, avoiding bright clothing and flowery perfumes, keeping garbage cans clean and closed, removing bruised and fallen fruit from the ground in orchards, and refraining from jumping around waving one’s hands hysterically at the sight of a yellow and black flying object.  The BugLady knew one teacher who poured a small cup of beverage for the wasps when she took her students outside to snack.  The kids were instructed to tell the wasps calmly to go use their own cup.

Sugar-water traps will attract GYJs, but these are more effective in early spring when the queens are foraging.  In late summer and fall they barely dent the population.  Removal of a large nest, either above or below ground, is not a job for amateurs; you can empty entire cans of wasp spray into a nest opening with little effect (other than annoying its occupants) because there often are multiple entrances.  Call an exterminator.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

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

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week Bugs at the End of Summer

Howdy, BugFans,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(And, of course, they’re awesome.)

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

Bug o’the Week – Robust Katydid-hunting Wasp
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week Robust Katydid-hunting Wasp

Greetings, BugFans,

OK – it’s not a super flashy wasp when it’s heading away from you (in fact, it’s not even very wasp-like), but it’s pretty cool when it’s heading toward you – those eyes. And what an awesome name (though not quite as awesome as the related Eastern Ant-Queen Kidnapper Wasp)! Both species are in the Square-headed wasp family Crabronidae, a family that we have met in previous BOTWs. Here’s a quick reintroduction.

The family includes Square-headed (https://uwm.edu/field-station/square-headed-wasp/) and Sand wasps (https://uwm.edu/field-station/sand-wasps/) and the Organ-pipe mud daubers (https://uwm.edu/field-station/organ-pipe-mud-dauber/). It’s a large, diverse bunch (1225 species here; almost 9,000 worldwide) that was carved off of the now-much-smaller wasp family Sphecidae (the thread-waisted wasps) not too long ago (in taxonomists’ years).

What Crabronids have in common, besides some anatomical features concerning the size and/or shape of the inner margin of the compound eyes, of the pronotum (the part of the thorax right behind the head), of a lobe in the hind wing, and of the almost non-existent “wasp waist” – on such things are identities hung – is their habit of caching insect prey in underground egg chambers for their eventual larvae to eat/parasitize.  A few species let other wasps do the hunting and then steal the results (kleptoparasitism).  Many species are picky about both prey and nest sites, and adults feed on pollen and nectar.

Robust Katydid-hunting Wasps are one of 34 mostly-similar-looking species in the genus Tachytes in North America.  Tachytes comes from a Greek word meaning “swiftness” or “speed,” and the genus is often called the Sand-loving wasps because of their preference for nesting in sandy soil types.  In his bugeric blog, entomologist Eric Eaton says they should be called the Green-eyed wasps.  The combination of their size, somewhat stout build, and scattering of short hairs makes some people (like the BugLady) mistake them for bees at first glance. 

Females tunnel from 3 inches to almost 3 feet into the ground, creating side tunnels and scooping out cells in the walls, and she provisions these cells chronologically, deepest first (shorter tunnels may contain only a single cell).  The genus specializes in grasshoppers, katydids, pygmy crickets and mole crickets.  Says Eaton, the “Female paralyzes the victim with her sting, then straddles it, grasps it by the antennae with her jaws, and flies it back to her nest.  There she deposits her prize in one of the cells.”  Researchers Evans and Kurczewski say that “many of the larger species emit a high-pitched buzz when flying with prey…..” 

While she’s provisioning a cell, a female may stash some bodies in a chamber inside the entrance temporarily.

ROBUST KATYDID-HUNTING WASPS (Tachytes crassus) are found from the Midwest through Canada and New England, plus several states in the Southeast.  They measure a shade longer than a half-inch, with green eyes and mostly caramel-colored legs.  Here are some glamour shots from bugguide.nethttps://bugguide.net/node/view/1277906https://bugguide.net/node/view/778850/bgimage.  Heather Holm, in her magnificent Wasps: A Guide for Eastern North America says that females have three silver bands on their abdomen and males have four.

According to Eaton, male Tachytes wasps emerge before females and often are more numerous.  They set up small territories near burrows where they expect females to appear, but after the females emerge, the males move their territories to nesting areas and nectar sites.  In some Tachytes species, the courtship is brief – he pounces on her back and pins her wings and then waves his antennae frantically in front of her face to soften her up https://bugguide.net/node/view/1013235.  

Females often dig their tunnels near those of other females.  Holm writes that “Tachytes crassus usually nests in sand although Evans and Kurczeski (1966) found a nesting aggregation in clay-loam soil.  Female excavates a deep, angled multicellular nest, then deposits soil around the burrow entrance, forming a tumulus.  The female may or may not leave the nest open while away hunting for prey.  When returning with prey to an open nest entrance, she flies directly into the nest without hesitation, clutching her prey beneath her.”  Holm quotes the eminent French Naturalist Jean Henri Fabre (1921) “The Tachytes clears the entrance to the home and goes in alone.  She returns, puts out her head and seizing her prey by the antennae, warehouses it by dragging backwards.”  Please take the time to read some of Fabre’s lovely account of the genus https://www.gutenberg.org/files/3462/3462-h/3462-h.htm#link2HCH0007

Holm continues, “She hunts for prey close to the ground in tall grass, meadows, or prairies where grasshoppers occur…..prey caught earlier in the growing season may be all nymphs; prey caught later in the season and later in the female’s life (cached in the upper cells) are more likely to be adults.  Between five and ten prey are provisioned in each cell.  A single egg is laid between the foreleg and midleg on one of the prey at the bottom of the cell.

RKHWs are common on Swamp milkweed flowers (Asclepias incarnata).  One would think that a swamp milkweed lover would also be a major swamp milkweed pollinator, but a study in 2003 by Ivey, et al, indicated that while the RKHW was a frequent visitor to the flower, it “was the poorest at removing, carrying, then subsequently transferring pollinia to other swamp milkweed flowers.”  Remember, pollination is an accidental, not an intentional act, and milkweed pollinia are saddlebag-shaped and sticky (see the legs of the dangling bee caught by the almost-invisible ambush bug).  Like RKHWs, Thynnid wasps (Myzinum sp.https://bugguide.net/node/view/1958377/bgimage are frequent visitors with a similar active, random foraging style, and yet they were far more effective pollinators.  What took them only six or seven flower visits to accomplish (removing and then inserting a pollinium) took some RKHWs up to 500 visits.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

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

Bug o’the Week

The Twelve Bugs of Christmas 2022

Greetings of the Season, BugFans,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And an EASTERN AMBERWING Dragonfly in a pear tree. 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

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

Bug o’the Week

Bugs at the End of Summer

Howdy, BugFans,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The moral of the story?  Plant lemon horsemint.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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

Bug o’the Week – Sanborn’s Beewolf

Bug o’the Week

Sanborn’s Beewolf

Howdy, BugFans,

Ever since she read about beewolves years ago, the BugLady has been hoping to photograph one so she could tell its story.  She finally found one in the dunes at Kohler-Andrae State Park, and no – the Rose chafer beetle in the picture has nothing to fear from it, and vice versa.

Beewolves are small, solitary, mostly black wasps in the family Crabronidae, which we have met before in the person of Square-headed and Sand wasps.  Our beewolf species look a lot alike (and they resemble a lot of other small, solitary wasps, too), but the BugLady thinks that this is a Sanborn’s beewolf (Philanthus sanbornii).  They’re ½” to ¾” long (females are larger than males).  Here’s a glamour shot https://bugguide.net/node/view/127735/bgimage.

Their common name, beewolf, describes what they do, and their genus name, Philanthus, from the Greek for “lover of flowers,” describes where they do it.  They’re also called digger wasps, bee-hunters, and bee-killer wasps.  There are about 140 species of beewolves spread across North America (32 species), Europe, and Northern Africa, and the European beewolf (Philanthus triangulum), a honeybee specialist, is probably the most famous/most studied. 

The natural history of Sanborn’s beewolf is, with a few tweaks, similar to that of many solitary wasps – the female digs a tunnel with separate chambers for each egg.  She stashes paralyzed prey in each, and when each cache meets with her approval, she lays an egg in it, seals the chamber, and closes the tunnel.  The eggs hatch; the larvae eat the still-living bees left by Mom (beewolf Moms leave another gift as well – more about that in a sec), and emerge the following spring.  Adults are nectar-feeders and are good pollinators. 

Let’s flesh that out a little for beewolves in general and Sanborn’s beewolf in particular.

Males emerge from the nest tunnels in late spring/early summer a few days before females.  They mark territories by depositing on twigs some pheromones made in their mandibular glands, and these pheromones both attract females and warn other males of the territorial boundaries.  Territories are about food and generally contain attractive nectar or honeydew sources.  After they mate, the female Sanborn’s beewolf digs a tunnel up to 10 inches long (she likes packed sand, which is probably why the BugLady found her in the dunes) and starts provisioning it.  Here’s a nice series showing her at work – https://bugguide.net/node/view/1084968/bgimage.  Males dig shallow burrows to spend the night in.

About Philanthus genus members, Heather Holm, in her massive and brilliantly-illustrated book Wasps, tells us that, “Many Philanthus females excavate accessory burrows near the real nest burrow entrance.  These burrows may play a role in distracting natural enemies such as bee flies (family Bombyliidae) or satellite flies (family Miltogramminae) because they remain open while the real nest burrow is closed when the female is away from the nest.”  The BugLady saw a number of bee flies along the trail that day – a future BOTW if she can only ID them.  

She visits a flower, and according to Holm, if she sees an appropriately-sized bee on it, she “hovers downwind to detect the prey’s scent for confirmation, then returns to the flower to capture and sting the prey.”  She apparently judges the readiness of each nest chamber by bulk – packing in larger numbers of small prey and smaller numbers of large prey, and Holm says that a female makes only one nest tunnel in her lifetime.    

Sanborn’s beewolves are larger than the average beewolf and so can pursue larger prey.  They are generalists – almost everything is fair game as long as they can subdue and carry it, and they don’t play favorites.  Menu items include more than 100 different species of bees and small wasps including honey bees, long-horned, mining, leafcutter, and sweat bees, and fellow crabonids.  Beewolves deliver venomous stings, aiming for the underside of their prey’s thorax, between the legs, and they grip their prey so that if it tries to sting back, it can only reach an armored section of beewolf.  

Beewolves spend a lot of down-time. The egg is laid near the top of the pile of paralyzed bees; the larva emerges from the egg by mid-summer and consumes the food cache, makes a cocoon, and goes into a prepupal stage within its cell.  It doesn’t pupate until the next spring/early summer shortly before it is scheduled to emerge for its short (a little more than a month) adult life. 

Now – the BugLady knows that you were told that there would be no microbiology…….

Beewolves have developed a very cool way to boost the fitness/survival/success of their offspring.  Along with fresh meat, the female beewolf leaves for her offspring what one source calls a bacterial birthday present.  Female beewolves cultivate in the base of their antennae a white paste that contains Streptomyces.  Streptomyces is a large genus of bacteria that’s used (by us) in the production of antibiotic, antifungal, anti-parasitic, and immunosuppressant drugs (think neomycin and streptomycin, among others).  The bacteria associated with beewolves has been named Candidatus Streptomyces philanthi’. 

What does she do with it?  She leaves some in each brood cell, and the larvae find it and incorporate it into their cocoons.  Brood chambers are warm and dark and moist – perfect petri dishes for a variety of soil microbes that might infect a larva or pupa.  Candidatus Streptomyces philanthi’.produces at least nine different antibiotics that protect against bacterial and fungal infections (researchers Seipke, Kaltenpoth and Hutchings call it a “multi-drug therapy”).  Scroll down to the great videohttps://medium.com/hhmi-science-media/life-cycle-of-philanthus-digger-wasps-the-beewolf-d8ae2d1135db.  After this phenomenon was discovered in beewolves, it was found in two species of mud dauber wasps – this may be a “tip-of-the-iceberg” moment.

Want a deep dive into the world of Streptomyces?  Here’s an article https://academic.oup.com/femsre/article/36/4/862/521102

Ain’t Nature Grand!!!

(So – Bee wolf, not Beowulf) (the BugLady has been waiting so long  to say that) (maybe not long enough?)

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

Sanborn’s Beewolf

Howdy, BugFans,

Ever since she read about beewolves years ago, the BugLady has been hoping to photograph one so she could tell its story.  She finally found one in the dunes at Kohler-Andrae State Park, and no – the Rose chafer beetle in the picture has nothing to fear from it, and vice versa.

Beewolves are small, solitary, mostly black wasps in the family Crabronidae, which we have met before in the person of Square-headed and Sand wasps.  Our beewolf species look a lot alike (and they resemble a lot of other small, solitary wasps, too), but the BugLady thinks that this is a Sanborn’s beewolf (Philanthus sanbornii).  They’re ½” to ¾” long (females are larger than males).  Here’s a glamour shot https://bugguide.net/node/view/127735/bgimage.

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/

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