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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