Bug o’the Week – Summer Survey 2019

Salutations, BugFans,

The BugLady hopes that you’ve been getting out on the trail and drinking in the lushness of the summer.  If this heat and humidity are the “new normal,” we might as well get used to it.

Insect photography in summer uncovers the common themes of eating and reproducing (sometimes, in the case of ambush bugs, simultaneously).

Paper wasp –

A Northern paper wasp has a super power – she chews on plant materials, mixes the cellulose with saliva, and spits out paper that she forms into a hemispherical, “open-faced” nest (https://bugguide.net/node/view/1554212/bgimage) on plants and under eaves and porches; the large and dangerous football-shaped paper nests are made by bald-faced hornets.  Look for her on flowers, feeding on nectar and collecting small insects for the larvae.  Having collected prey, according to bugguide.net, “The wasp then malaxates, or softens the food and in doing so absorbs most of the liquid in the food. This solid portion is given to older larvae and the liquid is regurgitated to be fed to younger larvae.”  Bugguide also tells us that “P. fuscatus has unusually variable color patterns, allowing individual wasps to recognize each other’s faces.”

Planthopper nymph

Been seeing plant stalks that are a bit fuzzy these days?  It’s not your glasses – if you look closely, you’ll see that they are tiny bugs.  This one is the nymph of a planthopper, probably in the family Flatidae.  For more about them, meet the other (original) “Bug of the Week,” this one written by an actual entomologist: http://bugoftheweek.com/blog/2013/1/9/junes-snowfall-planthoppers-family-flatidae-missing-video.

Syrphid/hover/flower fly

Syrphid flies are bee mimics that can be found feeding harmlessly on nectar and/or pollen on flower tops.  The BugLady loves the exquisite patterns on their abdomens.  “Hover fly” comes from the males’ practice of hovering in the air, hoping to attract the attentions of a female.  They are great little pollinators.

Jumping spider meets syrphid fly

Jumping spiders are beautiful, bold little spiders that look you right in the eye and don’t back down (though they’re great at zipping around to the back of a leaf when they see a camera). Find out more about them at https://uwm.edu/field-station/jumping-spider/.  We all are, potentially, someone else’s lunch.

Syrphids again

When the BugLady photographed these delicate, green aphids, she did not notice the pale larva just north of them on the stem until she put the picture on the screen.  It’s the larva of a syrphid/hover/flower fly, and it eats aphids.  Death from above.

Land snail

It’s humid here by the lake – gotta’ keep moving or stuff will grow on you.  The wall-snail population is possibly a sign from the cosmos that it’s time to round up a pressure washer.  Or get more snails.

Ambush bug

The BugLady loves these small-but-mighty ambush bugs that hang out on flower tops and often take prey that’s much bigger than they are.  They grasp in firmly with their hook-like front legs and inject meat tenderizers.  Here, its catch is a sweat bee.

Rainbow Bluet

What’s a summer survey without an Odonate?  This incredible creature is about 1 ¼” long from his peachy face to the sky-blue tip of his abdomen.

Creepy aphids

First of all, this clump of aphids was being protected by some very alert ants, and when the BugLady brushed against the plant, she suddenly had about 20 ants on her hand and sleeve (she’s a wee bit ant-averse).  The ants were there for the honeydew secreted by the aphids, which is a staple in the diet of many ant species.  But then, the BugLady put the aphid picture up on the screen and saw the creepy “eyes.”  BugFan Freda pointed out that the aphids are plugged into the stem, drinking plant juices, and their eyes are facing down.  The glowy “eyes” are the twin tailpipes (cornicles) at the rear of the insect).  But still…..

Baltimore Checkerspot

Baltimore Checkerspot caterpillars feed on a late-blooming wetland plant called turtlehead.  In fall, the gregarious caterpillars make a communal web on their food plant and stay inside, inert, for the winter.  When they emerge in spring, they need to eat some more before they’re ready to form a chrysalis, but there’s no turtlehead around, so they pick alternate hosts, including white ash.

They’re spectacular with wings open https://bugguide.net/node/view/1245900/bgimage, and the caterpillars are orange and black, too https://bugguide.net/node/view/1076839/bgimage.  Orange and black were the colors of the livery worn by the servants of Lord Baltimore at the time that the early settlers were arriving in this country, and it’s his name, not the city’s, that’s attached to the oriole and the butterfly.

Thread-waisted wasp

Like the paper wasp, these wasps cruise the flower tops looking for nectar (she also finds sustenance in extra-floral nectaries – for the amazing EFN story, see https://uwm.edu/field-station/ants-in-my-plants/).  Solitary where the paper wasp is social, each thread-waisted wasp makes her own mud nursery for her offspring, and she provisions it with small insects and spiders, depending on her species.

The Black and yellow mud dauber (Sceliphron caementarium) (caementarium means “mason, or builder of walls”) is found in a big chunk of North America.  Her nest may contains about as many as 25 brood chambers (https://bugguide.net/node/view/1480753/bgimage), each cached with a few dozen spiders.

Black firefly

Fireflies (lightning beetles is a more accurate name) wow us with their nocturnal light show, blinking or streaking across the sky with a species specific signal to the females waiting below (https://uwm.edu/field-station/lightning-beetle-again/).  But, the Black firefly (Lucidota atra) is a day-flying firefly and would have to use a lot of energy to compete with the sun (males may glow briefly immediately after they emerge from their pupal case).  If he cannot glow, how does he woo?  By flying close to the ground, searching for the “perfume” of the pheromones released by the female.


The BugLady is sickened by the number of dead ash trees sticking out of wetlands and uplands, and this is the beetle that’s responsible.  The Emerald ash borer is an immigrant from northeast Asia that left its natural checks and balances at home.  Its larvae burrow in and feed on the living tissues just under the bark of an ash tree, creating squiggly tunnels called galleries.  Eventually, there are so many galleries that the tree’s “plumbing” is disrupted and it can’t move nutrients up and down the trunk.

Thanks to the EAB we have a new indoor sport during the Polar Vortex – figuring out whether it has gotten cold enough for long enough to kill the majority of the larvae.  Not yet.

Katydid nymph

With a little luck (OK – a lot of luck) this infant will grow up to be a good-sized bush katydid, probably this one https://bugguide.net/node/view/1275677/bgimage.  in the meantime, it looks like a tiny, jeweled creature.

Go outside – look for bugs!

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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