Pustulated Carrion Beetles (Nicrophorus pustulatus) in the family Silphidae are frequent visitors to our farm. I encounter them at the white sheet and MV light sometimes in large numbers. Living on a farm means there is often carrion around. This might be in the form of wild animals like raccoons, or occasionally livestock like a cow or chicken. Carrion beetles, blow flies, rove beetles and an assortment of other carrion loving insects all manage to sniff out the unsavory smell and converge on the carcass in short order. However crowded the dining conditions may be on these carcasses I rarely encounter the Pustulated Carrion Beetle when inspecting the insect life feeding there. I know they are present on the farm, so why aren't they feeding on these resources? Some research revealed that carrion beetles in the genus Nicrophorus typically locate small, recently deceased carcasses such as mice or birds. They will measure the size of the carcass using their antennae. Once they determine it is of suitable size for their needs, and that they are able to move it, the pair works together to drag it to a nearby location. A hole is dug in the ground from underneath the carcass and it will be slowly buried over the course of a day or two. In fact the name Nicrophorus is a variation of the word Necrophorus, and translates into "Carrier of the dead." Which is an apt description for beetles in this genus. Hair or feathers are removed before the beetles coat the carcass in protective anal secretions they produce in order to discourage the growth of fungus. Once mated the female will lay eggs within the chamber. The adult pair will feed on the carcass and when the eggs hatch they will coax the tiny grubs to the carcass by using sounds made through stridulation (rubbing their legs together). Larvae are fed masticated bits of anal secretion coated carrion by the parents. Sounds like the stuff of a vomit inducing nightmare, but apparently if you are a carrion beetle this is pretty tasty. They are one of the few beetle genera in the World to exhibit parental care. Litter size is controlled by the parents as well; if they misjudged the size of the carcass and the food source runs low they will begin cannibalizing on the larvae to reduce their numbers so the food does not run out before the offspring can finish their development.
An accidental discovery made by a couple of researchers over a decade ago found these beetles utilizing another resource for rearing their young.....snake eggs. Most specifically black snake (Pantherophis obsoletus) eggs. These researchers were studying communal nesting sites of black snakes when they discovered many, if not most of the nesting sites overrun with pustulated carrion beetles rearing young on the eggs. They published their findings which was picked up on by some individuals who studied beetles within this genus. It helped solve a long held mystery of why this species was no longer found on mouse-sized carcasses in the wild, even though many other species within this genus are. This discovery has encouraged many researchers to study this phenomena within laboratory conditions. Published studies have found that N. pustulatus nearly always chooses snakes eggs over other proffered food sources, like mice carcasses. When offered both snake eggs and mice they will often drag the mouse carcass to the snake eggs, and utilize both food sources. Males produce larger levels of pheromones in response to snakes eggs versus mice or other carrion.
Black rat snake eggs ready to hatch
It is widely known within the herpetology community (at least among those who study snakes) that black snakes in northern climates nest communally and nests may be shared by as many as a dozen females and contain as many as 110 eggs. This phenomena has played out in my own back yard, where I discovered 7 black snakes using an old decaying stump for an egg laying location. I dug up 105 eggs in June that I reburied and later discovered hatching in August. Of the 105 eggs I know at least 76 eggs hatched. I did not find any beetle damage within the nesting site, but since these beetles reside in fairly large numbers on our farm it is only a matter of time before they find this often used communal black snake nesting location.
I would assume these beetles have found other such snake nesting sites on our farm and have used them for a food source. How the beetles locate the snakes eggs is still a mystery and up for much guessing and hypothesis. Do they follow the scent of damaged or decaying eggs? Do they follow the scent of the snakes themselves? Is it happenstance? Research may reveal the secret of how these beetles locate and utilize black snake eggs, but there is an equally good chance it may remain an unsolved mystery of nature.
Newly emerged adult (L)
Recently I found several dozen of these beetles at a MV light I put out at a white sheet to collect insects. There was something unusual about them.....they were brown! I could not decide if they were an odd color form of this beetle or if it is was an entirely different species. I posted pictures to a FB page I belong to and soon had the answer. The brown varieties were newly emerged adults that had not developed their adult color of black with red spots. So much for thinking I had discovered something unique. Why I did not figure this out for myself I still do not know, as I am well aware that insects are lighter in color when they first emerge from their pupal chamber.....cicadas, beetles and cockroaches all are white, light green or very pale. It became apparent we had a mass emergence of new adult Pustulated Carrion Beetles that night.
These beetles reach lengths up to 20 mm (1 inch) and are black with bright orange or orange-red spots at the edge of the wings near the tip of the abdomen and a spot on either side of the wings. Like all carrion beetles they smell absolutely terrible when handled......after all a life among dead things is not exactly an advertisement for Chanel #5. It takes numerous hand washings to remove that odor, trust me!
N. pustulatus with mites
Many carrion beetles offer transportation for mites from carcass to carcass. This is a mutually beneficial service. When a beetle lands on a carcass.... mites will jump aboard and eat any dead skin cells, fly eggs or other unsavory debris that may be residing there. The beetle buses the mites to the next carcass where they offload and hitch a ride with the next beetle that can offer a buffet of their favorite foods. Sometimes this free ride back fires on the beetle when the mite decides to dine on the eggs of the beetles themselves within the nesting chambers. N. pustulatus is not known to harbor many mites, since they rarely visit the larger carcasses to pick them up. Even small carcasses like mice can be found to have other carrion beetles visiting it and mites can potentially jump ship to other beetles. However since N.pustulatus has virtually stopped using mice as a resource in the wild you will rarely find one with mites. I did however find one feeding at a dead fish several years ago, it goes to show that there are exceptions to every rule of nature. It was covered in mites!
Carrion beetles, natures little decomposers, are one of the most important components to make up the natural world. They recycle carcasses, removing potentially diseased animals from the environment by feeding on them or using them as a food source for their offspring. This makes the environment healthier for other animals, including humans. The leftover bits and pieces of carrion that the beetles don't use provide beneficial nutrients for soil health. This helps plants thrive. They may not be the most attractive of insects, and definitely do not hold the same appeal as butterflies, but they have a charm all their own and provide a much needed environmental service that should be respected and appreciated.
The Hairy Rove Beetle (Creophilus maxillosus) is one of the most common rove beetles in the Eastern United States. Although common, they are rarely seen as most people would have no interest in being anywhere near where they are likely to be found.....decaying carcasses and piles of dung. You can also,occasionally, find them under leaf litter, rocks or decaying fruit and vegetation. C. maxillosus is in the Staphylinidae family of beetles and considered, as of the writing of this post, the largest group of beetles in the world. There are 2900, or so, species in North America alone. At one time weevils had the honor of being the largest group of beetles.
These beetles would be difficult to mistake for any other beetle, even within their own family. They are large by rove beetle standards at 12-23 mm (1/2"-1 1/4") in length. The body is black and covered in creamy-gray or yellowish hair-like setae. Their head and pronotum (area behind the head) are shiny black. Like most rove beetles they have shortened wings that leave the segments of the abdomen exposed. Despite the shortened wings they are strong fliers. They are also rapid runners. They will virtually disappear under a carcass as their flattened bodies allow them to shinny under a body in record time. If you find one and place it away from the carcass it will skitter away quickly and disappear in nearby grasses or other hiding spots.
These beetles overwinter in the adult stage and become active as early as February and remain active until October. After mating the female will lay eggs on a carcass that usually hatch in three days, although this is temperature dependent. If it is warm outside expect the three days (or even less) but if the temperatures drop it could take days longer. The larvae feed on the maggots of flies and as well as other insect larva. The adults also feed on maggots as well as other arthropods.
Maggots may seem like an unsavory food choice, but a gut loaded maggot is packed with valuable nutrients. These beetles are also helping control fly populations which is helpful to humans. These beetles are also used in forensics to help determine the amount of time a body has been dead and exposed to the elements. There is some debate however as to how reliable they are as an investigative tool. These beetles show up as soon as maggots are available, but will continue to hang around for as long as it takes for the body to decompose. So this particular species may not be as helpful as other species when solving crimes of murder.
When severely harassed or threatened adults secrete an offensive chemical fluid that repels other insects, especially ants. This is a great way for the beetle to chase competition away from a food source. I didn't notice a smelly chemical cocktail from this beetle, but the overwhelming smell of rotting flesh coming from it was probably overshadowing any other odoriferous smell emanating from it. Another defensive trick up their 6 little legs is to roll into a ball, much like a pill bug. Their hard exoskelton protects them from many insect predators that might try to feed on them. If you are rolled into a nice tight ball like an armadillo you are protecting your delicate underside from biting insects. Some people claim they have a sharp bite, and with large mandibles like they possess, it would be easy to see how they would. Still other sources claim they do not bite. My experience with this particular beetle was a positive one, even though I handled her numerous times.
One of the most common beetles I found at the white sheet and mercury vapor light last summer was the Red-lined Burying Beetle (Necrodes surinamenis). They are also sometimes referred to as Red-Lined Carrion Beetles, Suriname Carrion Beetle and just Carrion Beetle. These are somewhat large beetles measuring up to 25 mm or approximately 1 inch in length.
They are one of approximately 183 beetles included in the Siliphidae family. These are broken into two sub-families called Silphinae and Nicrophorinae. Red-lined Burying beetles are included in the sub-family Siliphinae. These beetles along with other members of this sub-family are studied extensively by Forensic Scientists. Because of their relatively slow development and preference for hanging out on large dead mammals they are a potential goldmine of information to law enforcement in solving crimes of murder.
In the spring adult beetles, which have overwintered in sheltered locations, become active and seek mates near decomposing carcasses that they are able to smell from great distances. Mating will take place on the actual carcass as they crawl in and out of crevices of rotting flesh, or perhaps they will chose a less unsavory location "near" the carcass. Once mated the female will deposit eggs on the ground close to the carcass. It takes up to seven days for the eggs to hatch. Time for egg hatching is temperature and moisture related in most cases. Once hatched the tiny larvae will crawl onto the carcass and begin feeding on carrion and occasionally a wayward maggot (fly larvae) that may get in their way. The adults feed mostly on maggots and occasionally carrion. The feeding habits of the larvae and the adults seem to be in opposition of each other.
Occasionally you will find these beetles acting as transportation to a busload of mites. These mites do not harm the beetles and simply use them as a means of getting from one carcass to another. The mites will feed on any leftover stinky flesh bits that may be attached to the beetle, in essence cleaning the beetle. They also feed on maggots when on the carcass. The beetle benefits by getting a mites version of a bath, and the mite benefits by being carried to the next carcass.
Carrion Beetles within the Silphidae genus usually choose large mammals for their dinner table. They exhibit little to no parental care. Carrion beetles in the genus Nicrophoridae however, DO exhibit parental care. They typically choose smaller animals such as mice or birds to feed themselves and their offspring. They will bury their food choice in the ground along with themselves and remain there to lay their eggs, and help feed and groom their offspring. Nicrophoridae usually have much faster development from egg to adult than their Silphidae cousins and thus are not as valuable to forensic science.
As you can well imagine these beetles have a foul odor when you happen to get one too close to the old olfactory. Many humans wouldn't dream of picking one up and with good reason (Just think about where they hang out!). The smell they carry with them as part of their everyday perfume is damned difficult to wash off your skin. Not to mentioned they will add an additional dose of chemical defense pheromones when harassed. Being held by a giant (namely me) is all the harassment they need for sharing this odiferous blend of noxious cologne! BLEH!! Suffice it to say...."look but DON'T touch" is a good rule of thumb when it comes to carrion beetles.
Beetles within the Siliphidae family have been around for at least 10,500 years, and throughout that time their lifecycle has changed very little. If it's not broke don't fix it seems to be the mantra for these carrion-loving beetles. The body of the Red-lined carrion beetle is distinctly flattened for crawling under and around dead carcasses. They have deeply ridged wings. The color is dull black with a shiny black pronotum (thorax region). There are red or yellow markings on the hind portion of the wings. Occasionally individuals are found with no markings. Males have a unique leg structure. The hind legs have a large tooth on them. These tooth-like leg structures are most likely used during mating. Males also seem to have much longer abdomens which protrude from under the wings.
These beetles are typically nocturnal and may occur in large numbers at certain times of the year. As mentioned above, they are often found at lights at night. They occur throughout Eastern North America (East of the Rockies), portions of the Pacific Northwest and parts of Canada.
While large beetles can be somewhat startling to people who have no love of insects, especially when they are hanging out near your porch light. These beetles are hugely beneficial to humans. Their preference for dead and decaying flesh make them the clean up crew for all things stinky and nasty. They break down tissue into organic matter that is readily absorbed into the soil which helps plants grow. Their feeding habits also remove potentially diseased animals from the environment making it safer for us and other animals. Their value in forensic science is irreplaceable in solving murder cases. They may not at first be very appealing, especially if you happen to catch a whiff of foul odor akin to rotting flesh coming off of one, but keep in mind not all things need to be cute, fluffy and smell good to be beneficial and valuable to us as humans.
One of the most magnificent woodland butterflies to call Missouri home is the Red-Spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis). They are now considered to be the same species as the White Admiral (Limenitis arthemis) and occur throughout the Eastern United States. The species name of "arthemis" comes from the Greek Goddess of the same name, she was the Goddess of the hunt and the wild. Occurring in woodlands, woodland edges and suburban areas they are a fairly common sight to see in mid-summer through fall. Spotting a flash of bright blue as it wings past you to some unknown destination up ahead is sure to grab your attention.
Historically it was believed that the Red-Spotted Purple and the White Admiral were entirely separate species, but after DNA testing and much laboratory research by individuals who do that sort of thing, it was determined they are the same species. The RSP has iridescent blue or blue-green upperwings, and a dark brown underside. The forewings have two reddish-orange lines near the base of the leading edge; the hindwing has a series of reddish-orange spots marginally and sub-marginally. There is a lot of speculation as to why this species was named Red-Spotted PURPLE, when clearly the wing are bright blue or blue-green.....perhaps the person(s) who were responsible were color-blind?
The WA has a black upperside with broad white bands on both wings. The underside is reddish-brown with white bands that match the upperwings. The wingspan of both species is considered large and may reach up to 4 inches. Males and females look identical, but females are typically larger. The White Admiral is almost entirely a Northern species whereas the Red-Spotted Purple occurs in the Midwest and upper Midwest. I have never seen a WA and consequently do not have any images of them.
Where their populations overlap it is common for them to interbreed creating various hybrid subspecies that are healthy and capable of reproducing. There are at this time 25 known subspecies in the tribe Limenitidini and they are typically grouped by region. Butterflies in this tribe are often named after military ranks, most likely due to their relatively large size, flight patterns and brilliant colors. When scientists and researchers were naming these butterflies the light colored stripes on many of the various subspecies wings reminded them of the epaulets worn by admirals and commodores.
It has also been reported that they will interbreed with the Viceroy, which surprised me. Apparently this is a more common occurrence in laboratories than in the wild where it only happens occasionally. I would love to see the hybridized offspring of these butterflies though, it would have to be unique and beautiful.
The Red-Spotted Purple is a mimic of the poisonous Pipevine Swallowtail. Just like the Monarch gleans beneficial toxins from the milkweed plant that protect it from predation, the Pipevine Swallowtail gets its toxins from the pipevine plants. The RSP shares coloration so similar to that of the Pipevine Swallowtail that it effectively fools potential predators and gives it some protection from predation.
Males are extremely territorial and will fight other males who happen to flutter into their personal space. Fights among males may last up to 5 minutes with the loser flying away trying his chances in another area. The victor will gloat over his win and take a victory flight around his territory looking for other interlopers. After mating, the females will deposit eggs on host plants about 2 or 3 feet above ground. It is believed she will lay 2 to 5 eggs daily over the course of two weeks. Exhausted females are often found torn and tattered after such a long laborious process. Host plants include Wild Cherry, Aspen, Poplar, Birch, Cottonwood, Willows, Basswood, Oaks, Shadbush, Deerberry and Hawthorn. There may be two broods per season with the last brood overwintering in tiny hibernacula created out of rolled leaves. When spring arrives the tiny caterpillars will become active as soon as their host plants have greened up giving them a food source to finish their lifecycle.
These are very active butterflies and somewhat difficult to photograph unless you can find one basking in the sunlight, which they seem to enjoy doing, Adults nectar at tiny white flowers like Spiraea, and Viburnum, but seem to prefer rotting fruit, sap flows, dung and carrion. While these food choices seem distasteful to us humans, there is a lot of valuable nutrition in the form of minerals contained in these unsavory food options that the butterflies benefit from.
Hearing the word Conehead , for many of us middle-aged folks, brings to mind a classic skit from the older Saturday Night Live episodes by the same name. So popular were these skits they later became a movie starring the original cast members Dan Akyroyd and Jane Curtain. These awkward, friendly aliens did their very best to assimilate into society. As endearing as those lovable aliens were, I am referring to a completely different conehead, this particular conehead IS strange-looking, but not alien.
The round-tipped conehead katydid (Neoconocephalus rotusus) is native to the Eastern United States and found from Eastern Nebraska, to as far north as Massachusetts and south into Florida (but absent from the extreme Southern portion of the state). When you first encounter a conehead, of which there are approximately 22 known species in the United States, you can easily see the resemblance to those silly aliens. Their heads come to a rounded point at the base of the antennae. Some have long points others have short ones. In the case of the round-tipped conehead, they have the smallest of all the "cones" with a black line running through it (visible in the picture below), which is a key identification characteristic of this particular species. These katydid's come in two color forms. The bright green form is the most common, but there is also a less common brown variety.
You will most likely hear one of these katydid's long before you actually see it. They begin calling in late afternoon and continue calling well into the night. They are often difficult to see as they blend in with leaf-like camouflage on the plants they hide among. These are the smallest of North America's Coneheads, measuring 1 1/2 to 2 1/4 inches in length. Their song is not particularly appealing to the ears either, but what they lack in musical ability and size they make up for the looks department. They are subtly pretty with bright green bodies, accented with yellow and bright reddish-pink jaws and yellow leg markings. The brown variety is not near as pretty as their green counterparts, they seem to have been passed by in the looks department.
Their antennae are strikingly long and it these that I usually spot before I actually see the katydid itself. They wave these long antenna, which are loaded with special sensors, around their environment sensing for everything from food to mates. Something called Chemoreceptors, are used to pick up the pheromone scent given off by nearby females, or even other males that may be moving in on their territory after potential mates. They also possess tactile receptors that act like "feelers" which help them navigate their surroundings. Additionally they have a special receptor called the Johnston's Organ, located at the base of the antennae. This organ is used primarily during flight to sense gravity, air speed and even the wing beats of bats.
Many studies have been done with this species in relation to bats. It is believed that bats are able to hear the calling of katydids; essentially guiding them to the location of the serenading romeo. To evade predation by a hungry bat the conehead will use strong leg kicks and steering to move away from the echo-location pulses the bat is emitting. They have also been observed taking deep dives to literally drop out of the sky just as the bat swoops into empty space where once there was a tasty katydid meal. We all know bats in the Midwest are insect eaters and we've been taught they can consume 1,000's of mosquito-size insects in a single night. But to consume a large meal such as a katydid would require much less energy than chasing and swooping in on 1,000's of small snack-size insects. Think of it as going to an all-you-can-eat buffet and ordering a salad versus the smorgasbord that awaits you on the buffet. NOT going to happen, unless you possess extreme willpower. Generally speaking we will stuff ourselves instead of grazing.....viola, so does the bat. In late summer or early autumn bats are consuming larger quantities of food to pack on fat to see them through the long winter hibernation. So insects like katydid's or even large moths are definitely on the menu.
Katydid's possess ears on their elbows, or at the base of the first front leg joint. They are bright yellow and visible in the photo below. Called Tympana, these ears are used to pick up the sound of potential mates, and to hear other katydids nearby. Males can be territorial and will chase away potential rivals.
Ovipositor of female
Mating takes place in late summer or early autumn and the females will use a long bayonet-like projection, called an ovipositor, located at the tip of her abdomen to "inject" eggs into clumps of vegetation. The eggs are safely ensconced inside the stems of various plants, all tucked away from the wrath of winter. Next spring the eggs hatch and the young katydids are born looking much like their adult counterparts. They lack wings and functioning reproductive parts, but as they age, and molt these will soon appear. Often they will eat their shed skin casings for extra protein, but occasionally you will find a ghost-like shed skin hanging from a bush or clump of tall grasses.
They feed on a wide variety of grasses and weedy plants in old dry grassy-weedy areas, along roadsides and in old fields. You will also find them at the edges of marshes and in fence rows. Their feeding habits are not known to cause any significant damage to agricultural crops, but they will occasionally feed on garden plants which can be irritating.
We have this particular species in large numbers all around our farm. They even come to the lights at night. I for one look forward to the sound of the katydid as it calls incessantly from the grasses as the sun sets. Truly the sound of a waning summer and the approaching Autumn.
Eastern bumblebees (Bombus impatiens) are one of the most common of all the approximately 50 species of bumblebees that live in North America. The genus name Bombus comes from the Greek word bombos which translates into "a buzzing sound". It is easy to see how they earned this name, as anyone can attest who has been around these large bees, their wings make a loud humming sound that would be hard to mistake for any other species of insect.
Easily recognized by their furry black and yellow bodies, these large (up to 1 inch) bees are one of the first bees spotted in early spring. Because of their ability to withstand much colder temperature than other insects it isn't uncommon to see them on sunny days in the upper 40's or 50's. Many species of bumblebees cannot fly unless their flight muscles are at least 80 degrees. They have developed several adaptations allowing them to accomplish this even in colder weather. On bright spring days they will find a sunny spot to bask, much like a snake would do, soaking up the suns rays until they are warm. They can also disengage their flight muscles, giving them the ability to vibrate those muscles without flapping their wings. By doing this they can elevate the temperature of those muscles allowing them to fly.
Early spring brings out the young queens that bred late the previous autumn. They are looking for places to set up homestead and often use old rodent burrows or other existing holes in the ground. They may also use hollow stumps or logs or occasionally man-made structures. Once she has found a suitable site she will begin foraging for nectar and pollen and fill the burrow with provisions. Once she is satisfied there is plenty of food she will begin laying eggs on the food pile and use her warm body to incubate the eggs, much like a bird does her eggs. Once these eggs hatch she will feed, clean and care for them until they reach adulthood. All of her offspring will be sterile female workers that will spend their adult life caring for all additional offspring of the queen. At this point the queens only job is to lay eggs and grow the colony. In the fall the queen will lay eggs that develop into fertile females and males. Once they reach adulthood they will leave the colony searching for mates. Once mated, males will die and females will look for places to hide away from the cold winter weather. Typically they will hide under leaf litter on the ground or within logs or stumps. Once spring returns the newly emerged young queens will start the cycle all over again.
Bumblebees, unlike honey bees do not gather nectar and pollen for future storage. Because they create new colonies each year there is no need to store food, instead all food gathered by the workers is to feed themselves, the queen and the offspring of the queen. A large colony of bumblebees would be around 150 bees, although some overly productive colonies may have up to 1,000 individuals living in it.
Honey bees are easily the most popular of all the pollinators, and this is largely due to the agricultural industry promoting their value to crop pollination. While there is no denying they are hugely valuable for the pollinating service they provide, they are long lived and easily transported to various locations, they however come in second to the pollinating abilities of the Humble Bumble Bee.
Bumble bees are stronger, faster fliers and are capable of visiting more flowers per minute than the HB. Because of their tolerance of colder temperatures they are able to be active pollinating on days that may keep HB's grounded. Bumble bees also have longer tongues than HB which allows them to reach deep into the long throats of tubular flowers. BB's also have much larger pollen sacks than HB's which means they can carry more pollen from flower to flower in a much more efficient manner than their distant cousins.
Even though bumble bees are excellent pollinators and should be encouraged in our backyard gardens or agricultural areas, it is hard to convince those that are afraid or allergic to bees to do so. It is easy to understand why, allergic reactions are nothing to mess with and can be life threatening. Even if you aren't allergic, a sting from one of these bees is painful!! Unlike honey bees which can sting once before dying for their efforts, bumble bees can sting numerous times. They are known to follow a potential predator for long distances chasing the threat away from the hive. My husband found this out when he was in his teen years. While working around a small farm his parents owned they inadvertently disturbed a bumble bee hive and dozens of worker bees were chasing them and stinging them before they knew what was happening. My husband took a sting right between the eyes that swelled his eyes shut. A few years later while riding his motorcycle a bumble bee made it's way into his shirt and stung him 5 times before he could finally kill it by hitting himself in the chest in the general direction of where he could feel the bee moving around and drilling him with an oversized stinger inside his shirt. Needless to say he has a love/hate relationship with all bees.....mostly hate. While foraging on plants they are generally harmless and only sting if provoked. If you start swatting at them, it will most likely earn you a sting, and rightfully so. Their first instinct is going to be to protect themselves, and they will do this the only way they know how.
Sometimes when I am working in the garden and I get too close to one of these busy little bees they will raise a leg at me, and while it looks like they are greeting me with a friendly wave. This little leg wave is actually a warning that I am too close and making them nervous. I move way giving them space and we all get along just fine.
Several years ago while visiting a local conservation area we noticed honey bees and bumble bees both visiting flowers.... looking for any nectar available so late in the season; which happened to be thistle blooms. The much smaller honey bees would fly toward the bumble bees and bounce off them with their legs and bite at them with their mandibles. They kept bombing the Bombus over and over trying to claim the flowers for their own. The bumble bees were no more bothered by their actions than we humans are when swatting at a pesky gnat. The bumble bees seemed to know they were large and in charge and couldn't care less that the honey bees were trying to bully them.
Prior to 1920 bumble bees were called humble bees and it is assumed they earned this name from the humming sound their wings make when buzzing around. After 1920 a few scientists who wrote articles in scientific magazines called them bumble bees and the name stuck. They have been called bumble bees ever since. I personally wish they were still called Humble Bees, especially given the fact that honey bees are getting all the love these days, and they are often overlooked. They humbly work in our gardens and agricultural fields often being passed over in favor of a non-native bee with better PR.
Toad Bugs in the family Gelastocoridae are sometimes called "Funny Bugs" or "Laughing Bugs." They were given the common name Toad Bug from their superficial resemblance to the ever popular amphibian that goes by the same name. With a flattened, squat, warty appearance it is easy to see how someone would make the connection.
Most are riparian in nature and you will find them near streams, ponds or other water sources with sand , mud or small gravel beds along the shore. A few species are found far away from water. These small insects are predators of other insects and use their strong legs to "leap" onto their prey in order to capture it. Again...we see the reference to their amphibian namesake.
Several species, when as nymphs, will cover themselves with tiny grains of sand. This is presumed to give them protection from predation, both in the form of an armor, but also as camouflage. There are nearly hundred species Worldwide, and most are found in the tropics, they are typically drab in color and blend in quite well with their habitats.
Although they look like beetles, Toad Bugs are in the order Hemiptera with other true bugs. They possess a piercing, sucking mouthpart called a rostrum, or beak. They use this beak to inject a paralyzing enzyme into their insect prey. This enzyme helps dissolve tissue and allows the toad bug to slurp up the liquefied insides of their prey. They possess claws along their front legs that help them grab and hang onto their prey preventing them from escaping.
After mating, females will deposit eggs in the sand or mud along the shoreline. The eggs overwinter and tiny nymphs emerge the following spring.
The camouflage of these little bugs is so convincing you are unlikely to spot them unless they move drawing attention to themselves. I found several along a small river in Southern Missouri and found myself sitting in the wet sand and rocks watching them for nearly an hour as they hopped around from spot to spot seeking prey and places to hide from large prying eyes, namely mine. If insects can be cute, these certainly fit that description. I found them endearing and was thoroughly enamored with them.
When we think of invasive or damaging insects we generally consider it to be some non-native culprit yet again wrecking havoc in a Country it does not belong, namely ours. Face it, it happens all too often, just consider this, none of the following insects are native to the US, but have caused untold amounts of damage from their feeding habits. 1.) Japanese Beetles 2.) Asian Longhorn Beetles 3.) Multi-Colored Asian Lady Beetles 4.) Emerald Ash Borer
All of these species cause damage, each in their own way and nearly all were accidentally brought to our Country. Some showed up in shipments of plants from Asia, and others were purposely brought here to control native species that "scientific specialists" felt needed a more specialized predator to control, since in their opinion our own were not doing a good enough job....i.e. the Multi-Colored Asian Lady Beetle. This ladybug-like beetle was brought here to control aphids in forests, several attempts to release it into the wild beginning around 1916 were not successful. Eventually populations of them showed up in shipments of plants in a greenhouse in PA and some escaped. For whatever reason conditions were perfect and they were able to establish themselves and spread westward. The rest is, as we would say, history.
Sometimes for unknown reasons a native species becomes a problem, and such is the case with the Red Oak Borer (Enaphalodes rufulus). The ROB is native to the Eastern United States and parts of Texas and feed on oak trees, especially red oaks (Although they will sometimes jump ship, so to speak, and feed on maple and hickory trees). Up until about 2005 they were a minor pest in oak timbers, but something flipped the switch with these longhorn beetles, their numbers increased significantly, and suddenly they were wrecking havoc on oak forests throughout Southern Missouri, and Northern Arkansas as well as other areas throughout their range.
Red Oak Borers are fairly large beetles in the longhorn family that may reach lengths up to 28 mm (1 1/4 inches). The males have antennae twice as long as their body, females have shorter antennae that are about the same length as their bodies. Overall they are reddish-brown and covered in golden scales, called Setae. These scales are often rubbed off leaving patches of reddish-brown showing. This gives them a mottled appearance. This coloration gives them perfect camouflage which allows them to blend into the bark of the trees they favor. It is easy to pass them by without ever seeing them.
Males use their long antennae to smell the pheromones (Chemical perfume) that the female exudes to attract him. After mating, the female will begin to lay eggs about 8 to 10 days later. She will deposit approximately 100 eggs in her lifetime and each one is placed in the bark crevices of oak trees. When the eggs hatch the tiny grubs will burrow into the tissue behind the bark of the tree and remain there for about a year feeding. During the second year of their development they are much larger and will burrow into the heartwood of the tree. This is when the beetles become a problem to the timber industry. Their feeding habits create long tunnels throughout the valuable timber.
After two years their lifecycle is complete and they will begin emerging sometime in May (or June) depending upon where they live. Their emergence typically takes place at night and they are often found at porch lights or other light sources. While they do have a lot of natural predators, including woodpeckers, that use their long beak to locate them under the bark of trees, also sap beetles, ants and carpenter worm larvae all enjoy a tasty red oak borer grub for a meal. Even though many thousands of grubs are killed this way, and estimates are that 15% will survive to adulthood, it doesn't seem to affect their numbers in any real significant way.
Adult beetles exit the tree via a 1/2 inch hole they have bored into the tree to the outside world. It may take 2 years for wounds left by these beetles to heal, and fortunately death of the trees is rare unless the tree is already weakened or damaged in same way and cannot withstand an onslaught of feeding grubs.
The feeding habits of the grubs cause significant damage to the timber, which is used for lumber. The defects caused by their tunneling makes the wood worthless to markets that would typically demand the highest prices for quality oak boards. This has resulted in millions of dollars in losses to the oak timber industry. It is also not entirely uncommon to have lumber shipped overseas and have beetles emerge from the boards, which creates an invasive species situation in those countries.
I've not been able to locate any information as to why this beetles numbers have increased so exponentially over the past decade or more. Could it be fewer predators feeding on them? Is it an increase in food sources? Is it the irresponsible moving of timber from one area to another, either in the form of firewood, or logs meant for lumber? By whatever means their numbers have increased, it is obvious they are here to stay and will continue their feeding frenzy on oak trees.
The Virginia Metallic Tiger Beetle (Tetracha virginica), also goes by the name of Big-headed Tiger Beetle and when you look at these pictures it is easy to see how it earned a name like "big-headed." Their face seems to meld into their thorax with very little definition between the two, this gives the illusion that their face and thorax are all one very large head. They are the largest tiger beetle in this genus, and are found throughout much of the Eastern United States. While they are considered common they are rarely seen, most likely due to the fact they're almost strictly nocturnal. They are attracted to lights at night and spend the night time hours hunting for insect prey to feed on. During the day they hide out under debris of some kind, usually wood piles or rock piles. They are also known to occasionally congregate in large numbers in cracks or crevices of walls or in dry ground during the day.
You are most likely to encounter them in late summer or early fall, but it is not entirely uncommon to see them anytime between late spring and late fall before the first freeze.
No other tiger beetle looks quite like them, not only are they very large for a tiger beetle, they are a dark metallic green from the tip of their head to the tip of their abdomen. The legs, antennae, and mandibles are tan. Eyes are bulbous and dark.
Like all tiger beetles they are incredibly fast and difficult to get a good look at. Most tiger beetles can fly, but like all tiger beetles in the genus Tetracha they are flightless, or very poor flyers. They seem to rely on their rapid running abilities. They are often found near rivers and lakes. They also occur in suburban areas in lawns, open grassy areas and bare ground. I found the one pictured here alongside the Missouri River in St. Joseph. It was scurrying along the sidewalk right outside where I work.
As both grubs and adults they feed on various insects. Many tiger beetles in this genus seem able to "hear" or sense the underground activity of insects living in the soil. This ability helps them locate potential prey. Their feeding habits can help biologically control things like June Beetles or Mole Crickets (that may be feeding on your turf) while they are still in the grub stage.
We should consider these beetles beneficial and encourage their presence, even if those large mandibles make them look menacing. They are harmless unless you grab one, then you might earn yourself a nip from those oversized chompers, but leave the beetle alone and it will surely leave you alone.
Acorn Weevils in the genius Curculio can be deceptively difficult to tell apart as they all look similar and have similar lifecyles. However, I believe this one is Curculio glandium. These tiny weevils measure up to 3/8ths of an inch or somewhere between 4mm and 10mm. They range in color from brown to brownish-gray with a somewhat mottled appearance. The distinctive characteristic is the oversized snout, or rostrum as it is referred to. It is easily twice as long as the body. The antennae are attached to the snout and they have large "buggy" eyes. They have a muppet-like appearance making them one of the most adorable beetles in the insect World. I KNOW, we aren't supposed to use words like adorable, or cute when describing insects (or any animal) as this anthropomorphizes them, but I'm okay with that.
I find them frequently at the white sheet and mercury vapor light that I put out each evening during the summer months. We have a lot of Burr Oak trees near our crop fields and close to an old pond that dried up. I am assuming the large number of acorn weevils are in direct relation to the amount of oak trees we have.
The female will use the modified tooth-like structures at the end of her snout to chew into the acorn (or depending upon species other tree nuts) and have herself a little meal before depositing a single egg inside.
Once the egg is safely planted inside the acorn, it will hatch and feed on the nut meat inside. Sometime in late fall or early winter the acorns begin to fall from the trees and this seems to signal the larva to begin chewing out of the nuts. Maybe it is the sudden jarring of the nut hitting the ground and a good sound thump to the head that lets them know it is time for the next phase of their development. The tiny white weevil grubs will then burrow into the soil as quickly as they can to avoid any predators that are keeping an eye on the acorns for just such an emerging snack. Once underground they are relatively safe from harm and can finish out their development to the adult form, which can take anywhere from one to as long as five years. I suppose temperature plays a large role in how long this final stage lasts.
The adults will emerge in the spring and mate soon after, and then the cycle will start all over again. Acorn weevils are found throughout most of the United States and portions of Canada.
The feeding habits of these weevils will not cause any damage to fully grown oak trees. However, if there are large infestations of these beetles it may drastically reduce the amount of acorns capable of developing into trees. This will result in fewer trees.
There are two types of acorn weevils, the long-snouted variety in the genus Curculio (Pictured here) and the short-snouted variety in the genus Conotrachelus. The short-snouted variety have a little different lifecycle. Instead of the female chewing into fresh acorns and laying an egg, they will use acorns that have already dropped to the ground and have existing cracks.
If you are a forager and like to collect acorns for human consumption you will have to be quick to gather your harvest. The acorns that have been consumed by weevils will be left untouched by squirrels as they seem to realize there is not enough nut meat to be worth the effort it would take to collect them and bury them. So they go straight for the good nuts that have fallen from the trees and bury them at a record pace. If you find nuts that are lighter in weight and with a single tiny hole those are empty or "bad nuts." It is not uncommon to find some nuts with weevil larva in them, these nuts will often be "moving, or "jumping" like Mexican Jumping Beans as the larva moves around inside them. It is almost as if they are restless to escape their chamber and get on with the next phase of their lifecycle.