Bug o’the Week – Closed for June 2 – Pollinators

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Closed for June II Pollinators

Howdy, BugFans,

We’re getting a jump on National Pollinator Week (June 17 to 23) with a few articles about pollinators, which, if you like to eat or watch birds or photograph flowers or (add your favorites here ___________) are pretty indispensable.

What does it take to be a successful pollinator?  The ability to deliver pollen to multiple flowers in a short time span and the ability to transport pollen, either by general hairiness or by special pollen carrying structures.  Ants, with their smooth exteriors, impeccable grooming, and pedestrian habits, are all over flowers, but they are inefficient pollinators.


Flies are all over flowers, too – are they on the list of important pollinators?  Check this: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-much-do-flies-help-pollination-180977177/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20210308-daily-responsive&spMailingID=44581828&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=1960663514&spReportId=MTk2MDY2MzUxNAS2

How do pollinators find flowers?  Flowers have developed a variety of lures to attract insects, like color, UV reflections, patterns on petals that act as nectar guides, electrostatic charges, and flower size and shape.  Specialized flowers “train” their specialized visitors, with which they have evolved over millennia.  Scent is important, too, especially for nocturnal visitors.  What happens if an insect can’t smell its usual blossoms?  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/air-pollution-makes-flowers-smell-less-appealing-to-pollinators-study-suggests-180983766/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=editorial&spMailingID=49430515&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2641244472&spReportId=MjY0MTI0NDQ3MgS2

A lot has been written in the past decade about the crash of honey bee colonies.  Honey bees are, after all, responsible for pollinating about one-third of the foods we eat, accounting for about $15 billion in crop values annually (and they make honey and beeswax, too).  But, honeybees are an alien bee that was imported to pollinate alien crops, and we have many species of native bees.  Do honey bees disrupt native relationships – https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-41271-5?fbclid=IwAR3gFJuCvy1t3GEPCRGDW1nDzOGLjB-G0vLFiYHJtfU7TgVLTUnShMa5NJ0

Go outside – look at pollinators.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Parnassia Miner Bee – a Bee and its Flower

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week Parnassia Miner Bee a Bee and its Flower

Howdy, BugFans,

A while back, BugFan Matt asked the BugLady if she had ever photographed a small bee on a Grass-of-Parnassus flower.  Grass-of-Parnassus (not really a grass) is one of her favorite flowers (despite the fact that it shouts “Fall is coming!” every time she sees it).  She photographs it a lot in the closing days of August, and it turned out that she had seen the bee, but she hadn’t realized how special it was.

As BugFans will recall from those six weeks of mythology in high school English, Mount Parnassus was sacred to Apollo and was home to the Muses in Greek mythology.  Allegedly, cattle on Mount Parnassus grazed on the plant, and so it was promoted to honorary grass status.

Mining bees have been featured on these pages before (https://uwm.edu/field-station/bug-of-the-week/red-tailed-mining-bee/).  They are small and fuzzy and are among our earliest pollinators (the fuzz keeps them warm on chilly spring mornings).   Some are catholic in their tastes (polylectic), but many species are linked to a single, small group of related plants (oligolectic), and some zero in on only a single species (monolectic).  Many have no common name at all, but like the Parnassus miner bee, their scientific name may include a nod to their affiliated plant. 

They emerge when their host plants emerge, make tunnels a few inches deep in the ground, scoop out, waterproof, and provision chambers within them with pollen and nectar, and then install the next generation, which will overwinter underground and repeat the cycle when their flower reappears.  The various species of mining bees and their flowers span the growing season, and late summer mining bee species are most often seen on goldenrod and on members of the carrot family. 

Except the PARNASSIA MINER BEES (Andrena parnassiae), which are found only where Grass-of-Parnassus lives – calcareous fens (another name for the plant is the Fen Grass-of-Parnassus) and other wet, alkaline meadows and wetlands.  They’ve been recorded in Wisconsin, Michigan, Vermont, and North Carolina.  A journal article from the early 20th century said that the bee’s flight period went from August 25 to September 26, and that its only known Wisconsin occurrence was on the Lake Michigan bluffs in the Milwaukee suburb of Whitefish Bay, on a plant that was misidentified, due to an error in an early botany reference, as Carolina Grass of Parnassus (which is found in Florida and the Carolinas). 

The hairs on their body act as pollen collectors, too, and they have pollen baskets on their back legs.  Parnassia Miner Bees only glean pollen from Grass-of-Parnassus flowers (and they are important pollinators of it – more about that in a sec), but the flowers are also visited by other bee species, syrphid and other small flies, ichneumon wasps, butterflies, (and the BugLady found a lightning beetle checking it), and by spiders with a taste for pollinators.    

When you (or a bee) look at the flower, what do you see?  The green lines on the five petals are nectar guides, beckoning the bee to follow them to the nectar source.  But the bee also notices a ring of 15 filaments at the base of the petals (actually five sterile stamens or staminoides, each divided into three prongs), each topped with what looks like a drop of nectar, resembling the (male) stamens of the flower.  These are false nectaries that provide no nectar reward but serve to get the bee into the right vicinity – the real nectar lies at the base of the filaments. 

There are also five true stamens, each topped with a pollen-producing anther, and in the green center of the flower, the female flower parts – stigma, style and ovary (collectively called the pistil).

[Nota Bene: the BugLady learned just enough Botany in college to make it through the Botany final, and she’s been forgetting it ever since, so she has to pull up a chart on Wikipedia every time she tries to write about flowers.] 

The BugLady was wondering about the pedigree of Grass-of-Parnassus and she encountered some confusion about that.  Several reputable sites reported that it was in the Saxifrage family, but another said that there was only a very distant familial connection.  Others put it in the Staff tree family Celestraceae, and still others placed it in its own family Parnassiaceae (though it may be destined to rejoin the Celestraceae).   

Putting it all together: It’s a sweet little flower that has worked out some complex strategies to spread pollen and to avoid self-fertilization.  Consider the five true stamens.  Rather than maturing all at once, only one lengthens, matures and produces pollen per day, arcing over the top of the pistil.  After the first day, its anther turns brown and the filament relaxes against the ring of petals, and another stamen grows and produces pollen.  

The pistil does not grow or become receptive to incoming pollen until after all five stamens have matured, making it impossible for the flower to self-pollinate.  Eastman, in The Book of Swamp and Bog, says that the flowers exhibit protandry – that is, the flower, which has both male and female parts, is unisexually sequenced, the male parts completing their development before the female parts start.  To put it another way, the flowers have a male phase and then a female phase.

When a bee is tempted by the beads of false nectar and orients itself to harvest some, it straddles an anther, and pollen is picked up by the hairs on its abdomen.  When it visits the next flower, pollen is brushed off, hopefully onto a flower whose female parts are ready to receive it (“xenogamy” “stranger marriage” — a flower breeding not with itself but with another).  

Bryan Pfeiffer, naturalist and blogger (“Chasing Nature”) and Grass-of-Parnassus watcher, has written some very nice entries about his experiences with both the flower and the bee – here are two – https://bryanpfeiffer.com/2021/09/06/being-with-flowers/ and https://chasingnature.substack.com/p/a-duplicitous-flower-and-its-rare#:~:text=Parnassia%20Miner%20gets%20that%20pollen,butterfly%20caterpillars%20eating%20only%20milkweeds (this one has a nice shot of a bee on the stamens).  

Xenogamypolylecticoligolecticmonolectic, staminoides, protandry, stamens and pistils and anthers, oh my – it’s January, time to dust off our brains.  There will be a quiz. 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

As a bit of lagniappe, here’s a lovely video about butterflies (audio on): https://www.smithsonianmag.com/videos/ten-fun-facts-about-butterflies/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=editorial&spMailingID=49251228&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2620068856&spReportId=MjYyMDA2ODg1NgS2

Bug of the Week archives:

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:

Bug o’the Week – Sculptured Resin Bee

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week Wildflower Watch – Swamp Milkweed

Howdy, BugFans,

BugFan Freda found and photographed this awesome bee in her pollinator garden in August.  It’s a distinctive bee, and it has an interesting story.

The Sculptured resin bee is sometimes called the Giant Asian resin bee, but there are resin bees that are larger, and it’s not just in Asia anymore.  It’s in the family Megachilidae – the Leafcutter, Mason, Resin, Mortar, Sharptail, and Woolcarder bees.

Megachilids tend to be sturdy, medium-sized, mostly solitary bees that carry pollen in a mat of hairs called a scopa on the underside of their abdomen rather than on their legs like honey and bumble bees.  They make egg chambers for their eventual young in pre-existing holes in the ground or in wood or other materials, and, depending on what group they’re in, they line the tunnels and seal the chambers with bits of leaf, plant resin, mud, or plant fibers (except for the Sharptail bees, Cuckoo leafcutter bees in the genus Coelioxys, which parasitize the nests of their Megachilid sisters).  Adults eat pollen and nectar, and they provision their egg chambers with pollen.  In many ways, the modus operandi of the Sculptured resin bee is similar to that of other family members.

Sculptured resin bees (Megachile sculpturalis) are big/“giant” bees (females measure about an inch and males are smaller) with elongated bodies and with big jaws that they use to collect plant resins https://bugguide.net/node/view/532857/bgimage (Megachile means “large jaws,”).  Males have a yellow moustache on their face https://bugguide.net/node/view/1689549/bgimage.  When they’re sitting on flowers, they hold their wings out to the sides in a “V.”  According to one source, the “sculptured” part refers to the head https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/view/3314

They’re big and they look dangerous, but males can’t sting and although females can, they’d rather flee than fight (although one source mentioned that he was bitten rather sharply when he handled one, so…..don’t).   

They don’t come from here.  They’re native to Japan and parts of eastern Asia, and they arrived on our shores (North Carolina), probably in wood, in 1994.  They expanded their range to Alabama (1999), Canada (2002), Wisconsin (2004), Maine and Kansas (2008), and now they’re found in most states east of the Mississippi and a few that are west.  They’ve also found their way to Europe.  They like temperate zones, and researchers believe that they are likely to continue expanding throughout them.  Ecologists list their status as “adventive” – non-native and present but not established.   

The Megachilids are important pollinators, and Sculptured resin bees are no exception.  Like other Megachilids, Sculptured resin bees are (Cool Science Word #1) “polylectic” – they collect pollen from a wide variety of flowers (43 species in the US).    

Male Sculptured resin bees create territories and chase other males out of them.  About the genus Megachilebugguide.net says “The males of most species have enlarged light-colored front legs with a fringe of hairs and with odor glands. They use these features during mating. They partially cover the female’s eyes with the hairy legs and the odor glands are placed close to the female’s antennae” https://bugguide.net/node/view/1992972/bgimage.

Sculptured resin bees are (Cool Science Word #2) a xylophilous (wood-loving) bee.  Females create brood chambers in existing holes and crevices because although her large jaws are great for collecting resin and sap, they’re not so great for excavating in wood.  The cells are formed from wood particles, mud, and plant resin and filled with pollen, and when she’s satisfied with the job, she lays an egg on the pollen, seals the cell, and starts making another, often constructing 8 or 10 cells per tunnel.  The outside entrance to the tunnel may be sealed with a resin or mud cover.  Even though she is a solitary bee, she will tolerate other bees nesting nearby.  Her larvae feed in their cells throughout winter, pupate in them the following spring, and emerge in summer. 

So – is the Sculptured resin bee a good thing or a bad thing? 

Initial reactions were, “Hey – neat bee; it doesn’t seem to be bothering anything,” but any alien species has, of course, the potential to impact native species, whether through competition or spreading disease.  Sculptured resin bees can be hard on the flowers they visit; there are reports of the bee damaging flower petals while foraging for pollen and nectar in a way that may make it harder for native bees to pollinate them. 

Yes, they are pollinators, but researchers have noted that, like many non-native pollinators, they visit native plants, but they prefer non-native plants that hail from their areas of origin (one of the plants they pollinate in the South is Kudzu).

And then there are the nest tunnels.  Sculptured resin bees mostly use deserted tunnels, but not always.  They’re known to evict Eastern carpenter bees from their nest tunnels rather aggressively and then to redecorate the brood chambers for their own eggs.  There’s a potential for similar conflict with any bee that makes a similar-sized tunnel, and they can monopolize bee hotels (some experts recommend destroying Sculptured resin bee larvae in bee hotels).  One source noted that they have been observed killing honey bees.  

Time will tell.

On a Lepidopteran note, it’s Wooly Bear season.  Here’s the wooly bear BOTW, and a link to this year’s wooly bear celebration in Banner Elk, NC https://uwm.edu/field-station/bug-of-the-week/wooly-bear-caterpillar-re-do/


Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

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:

Bug o’the Week – Golden green sweat bee

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week Golden green sweat bee

Howdy, BugFans,

Wisconsin is home to between 500 and 600 species of wild bees, ranging in size from today’s sweat bee to bumble bees many times larger (there are about 4,000 bee species in the US).  If a small brown or green bee landed on your arm and started sipping salt while you were working/sweating outside in the summer, you’ve met a sweat bee.  Typically, no one is harmed in these encounters unless you brush the bee away roughly.

The BugLady’s husband was allergic to sweat bees, but when he went to the allergist to see if desensitization shots were available, the doctor said “What’s a sweat bee?”  Which didn’t bode well for any shots.

Sweat bees can be a bear to differentiate (as one site warned, “Many species won’t be identifiable from photos”), and a microscope is needed to tell some species apart.  Still, this is a seriously tiny sweat bee with an unusual color. So, the BugLady finds herself back out on that taxonomic limb again, but she’s gotten comfortable out there over the years, and she’s calling this one a Golden green sweat bee.

Golden green sweat bees (Augochlorella aurata) are one of about 100 species in Wisconsin in the family Halictidae, the Sweat, Furrow, Nomiine, and Short-faced Bees.  Augochlor is a Greek prefix meaning “intensified gold-green,” and “aurata” means “gilded” or “golden.”  Despite their name, most Golden green sweat bees are quite green https://bugguide.net/node/view/1894237/bgimage, but some are pinkish https://bugguide.net/node/view/1272175/bgimage, some are reddish https://bugguide.net/node/view/1124880/bgimage, some are blue https://bugguide.net/node/view/1180911/bgimage, and some are bi-colored https://bugguide.net/node/view/825764/bgimage.  They are about one-fifth of an inch long, with females slightly longer than males. 

Here are some Extreme Macros – https://www.usgs.gov/media/images/augochlorella-aurata-f-face-md-boonsboro (also available on eBay as a headshot), https://www.usgs.gov/media/images/augochlorella-aurata-f-back-md-boonesboro, and https://www.fws.gov/media/golden-green-sweat-bee-augochlorella-aurata.  

They have a patchy northern range mostly east of the Rockies, and of the seven Augochlorella species in North America, Golden green sweat bees are found the farthest north.  They are common in fields in eastern North America, where they are generalist pollinators that forage on flowers in a bunch of different plant families.  Along with wildflowers, they also pollinate agricultural crops like apples, strawberries, alfalfa, tomatoes, and sunflowers.  They carry pollen in hairs on their back legs https://bugguide.net/node/view/1306100/bgimage.  

The vast majority of bees, including many of the Halicitdae and some of the Augochlorella, are solitary rather than communal bees – single Moms who create and provision egg chambers without the help of workers.  Golden green sweat bees are flexible about the idea – at higher latitudes and altitudes (areas that have shorter growing seasons), they tend to be more solitary, but when they’re in warmer climes, they are called “primitively eusocial.”  Eusocial describes the most advanced social behavior – think ant hill – characterized by cooperative brood care, overlapping generations within a colony, division of labor (castes), and reproductive and non-reproductive individuals.  

In favorable climates, the fertile female overwinters and starts the colony in spring, excavating a nest tunnel (here are some diagrams of A. aurata nest tunnels https://actbeekeepers.asn.au/bee-buzz-box-july-2023-the-catacomb-part-iva-the-facultative-eusocia/figure-6-nesting-behaviour-of-facultatively-eusocial-augochlorella-aurata-1/), collecting pollen and fashioning it into pollen balls for her young, and laying six to eight eggs that will produce both males and females.  Newly hatched males leave the nest, but newly-hatched females become workers that care for the queen.  Later in the season, she produces another small batch of males and females that will fly out and mate in fall.  A fertile female will dig down into the lowest/warmest part of the nest and hunker down until May, and the beat goes on.  

Nest are dug in bare ground in woods and fields and can be as deep as 10 inches.  The Vermont Center for Ecostudies Vermont Atlas of Life site included a picture of a nest entrance with a turret around the opening, but the BugLady didn’t find any other references to that behavior https://val.vtecostudies.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/A.-auratta-nest-SPH.jpeg

Neat picture of a Golden green sweat bee with a raindrop https://bugguide.net/node/view/33594/bgimage.  About the picture, entomologist Eric Eaton wrote. “It might be that the rain dissolved honeydew that had accumulated on the leaf.”

Here’s a great source of information about bees, though not all NY bees appear here in Wisconsin, and vice versa https://www.sharpeatmanguides.com/wild-bee-id-guide-new-york.  Check the Wild Bee ID guide tab. 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

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:

Bug o’the Week – Bugs in the News
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bugs in the News

Howdy, BugFans,

As usual, the BugLady’s “Bugs in the News” folder runneth over, so here’s a collection of articles to chew on.  Many come from the wonderful Smithsonian Daily Newsletter, which not only posts a lot of good stuff, it doesn’t put articles behind a paywall.  Support your Smithsonian!

THANKS, POLLINATORS – https://www.smithsonianmag.com/blogs/national-zoo/2022/06/29/8-reasons-to-bee-in-awe-of-pollinators/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20220629-daily-responsive&spMailingID=47040669&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2263232055&spReportId=MjI2MzIzMjA1NQS2

SMALL BUT MIGHTY (get in line, Ben Franklin) – https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/honeybee-swarms-can-produce-as-much-electric-charge-as-a-thunderstorm-180981005/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20221028daily-responsive&spMailingID=47569605&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2326297509&spReportId=MjMyNjI5NzUwOQS2

JUST MIGHTY – https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/scientists-just-discovered-the-largest-invertebrate-to-ever-live-an-ancient-9-foot-millipede-180979293/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20211223-daily-responsive&spMailingID=46155101&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2142675899&spReportId=MjE0MjY3NTg5OQS2

HOW SPRINGTAILS SPRING – https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/springtails-are-natures-tiny-gymnasts-videos-reveal-180981094/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20221109daily-responsive&spMailingID=47620026&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2341182089&spReportId=MjM0MTE4MjA4OQS2

SPIDERWEBS TRAP SOUND – https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2022/03/orb-weaver-spider-uses-web-capture-sounds

ANTS MAKE MILK – https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/scientists-discover-that-ants-make-a-milk-like-substance-180981237/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20221205daily-responsive&spMailingID=47722949&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2360514556&spReportId=MjM2MDUxNDU1NgS2

AND THEY SERIOUSLY OUTNUMBER US – https://www.npr.org/2022/09/21/1124216118/ants-number-study-quadrillion?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20220921&utm_term=7276606&utm_campaign=news&utm_id=2548916&orgid=675&utm_att1=

BUMBLE BEES PLAY – https://www.npr.org/2022/11/05/1134355887/bumblebees-can-play-does-it-mean-they-have-feelings-study-says-yes?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20221107&utm_term=7492099&utm_campaign=news&utm_id=2548916&orgid=675&utm_att1=

MOTH NAVIGATION (AND ain’t technology grand!) – https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/scientists-study-how-deaths-head-hawk-moths-fly-along-a-straight-path-180980680/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20220908daily-responsive&spMailingID=47344619&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2320890017&spReportId=MjMyMDg5MDAxNwS2

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Red-belted Bumble Bee

Bug o’the Week

Red-belted Bumble Bee

Greetings, BugFans,

Isn’t this a pretty bee!!!

When you aim your camera at a bumble bee, which the BugLady does frequently, you expect to see black and yellow in varying proportions (the vaguaries of wind plus the bees’ perpetual motion results in lots of bumble bee shots on the cutting room floor).  Four Wisconsin species – the Brown-belted https://bugguide.net/node/view/1752073/bgimage, the Rusty-patched https://bugguide.net/node/view/1857169/bgimage, the Tri-colored https://bugguide.net/node/view/1447937/bgimage, and the Red-belted bumble bee https://bugguide.net/node/view/405428/bgimage) have slightly different color schemes.

Bumble bees are in the diverse family Apidae, which also includes the Cuckoo, Carpenter, Digger, and Honey bees.  According to bugguide.net, there are 47 species in the genus Bombus (15 in Wisconsin).  The most recent bumble bee species to be described, Bombus kluanensis, was split from a known species (the “Active bumble bee,” Bombus neoboreus) in 2016 based on DNA analysis and is found only in the Yukon Territory and Denali National Park. 

The BugLady photographed this bee on the prairie at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve.  Her name is Bombus rufocinctus – the Red-belted bumble bee – and she’s a bee with somewhat northern inclinations plus a few disjunct eastern locations and minus the Great Plains https://bugguide.net/node/view/23380/data.  RBBBs are bees of open spaces like grasslands, and they also like parks, gardens, barrens, and quarries.  They are widespread but not common across their range (they make up about 10% of Wisconsin bumble bee records), and they’re found here mainly in the southern half of the state, though historical data suggest that they once occupied all of it. 

The BugLady generally struggles with bumble bee identification, despite being able to photograph them and put them up on the monitor and agonize over them at leisure.  RBBBs, with their short, round faces (one source says that they have a “cute, soft gestalt”), are noted for their many (many) color variations – up to 30 of them.  “Can be confused with many species,” says the Bumble Bees of the Eastern United States.  Here are a few RBBBs with varying amounts of red https://bugguide.net/node/view/1571134/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/820112/bgimage, https://bugguide.net/node/view/842376/bgimage, and one with none at all https://bugguide.net/node/view/2159342/bgimage.

Bumble bees are divided physiologically into short, medium, and long-tongued species.  RBBBs are in the short-tongued group, which means that they feed on flowers whose nectar reward is not buried deep in tubular flowers.  They’re generalists that are found on members of the aster, milkweed, geranium, rose, heath, and pea families, and more.  They are good pollinators https://bugguide.net/node/view/980655/bgimage and in some areas are one of the native bee species that are vital pollinators of commercial blueberry crops.

Unlike honey bee nests, the shelf-life of bumble bee nests is less than a year.  RBBBs have their nuptial flights in early August, when the colony’s population peaks; males claim territories around nectar sources and watch for queens, chasing intruders that fly past, bumble bee or not.   Fertilized RBBB queens create hibernacula for themselves in the soil in fall and are the only bees from the nest that survive the winter.  

They emerge from diapause (the term that’s used for invertebrate hibernation) in spring and look for a nest site.  Many bumble bees nest underground in abandoned rodent burrows, but RBBBs often nest on and even above the ground, under bark or siding.  The queen lays a dozen or so eggs and cares for them herself, and when these workers emerge, they take over the chores inside and outside the nest, and she is restricted to the nursery.  

Her eggs are laid in wax cells that are not as tidy as those of honey bees.  Workers feed protein (pollen) and carbs (nectar) to the larvae (nice series of pictures here https://bugguide.net/node/view/2090415/bgimage) as successive generations of workers take to the air.

RBBB nests may contain some “ringers.”  Cuckoo bumble bees (formerly in the genus Psithyrus and now included in Bombus) take advantage of the labor of the worker bees by invading a bumble bee nest, killing the queen, and laying their own eggs in the nest.  A few dominoes must be in place in order for the Cuckoo bumble bees to be successful brood parasites.  In an article in Entomology Today titled “Cuckoo Bumble Bees: What We Can Learn From Their Cheating Ways (If They Don’t Go Extinct First)” author Meredith Swett Walker explains: “… cuckoo bumble bees are “obligate brood parasites”—in other words, they cannot reproduce without their hosts. They cannot produce their own workers, they lack pollen baskets on their legs and so cannot collect pollen to feed their own offspring, and they cannot produce enough wax to build their own nest.

Instead, cuckoo bumble bees must find a host colony of another bumble bee species, and it has to be just the right size. Too large, and there will be too many workers defending the nest and the cuckoo will be killed. Too small and there will be too few workers to raise the cuckoo’s offspring. So, cuckoo bumblebees must be selective. They also have to be tough fighters to defend themselves from attacking workers as they infiltrate the nest and kill the host queen. Thus, cuckoo bumble bees are heavily armored with larger and stronger mandibles, a hardened abdomen, and a thicker, more powerful sting.

After it infiltrates a nest, the invading cuckoo must defuse the battle and integrate into the host colony. Some cuckoo bumble bees do this by mimicking the chemical cues used by their host species. Other cuckoos produce few recognition chemicals of their own and then take on the “scent” of the colony via contact with nest materials and workers.

Finally, once hatched, cuckoo larvae must trick the host workers into feeding them. How this works is largely unknown. Previous research by Lhomme suggests that colonies taken over by cuckoo bumble bee queens may lose their ability to recognize outsiders in general and so be more accepting of cuckoo larvae when they hatch.

Each species of Cuckoo bumble bee targets a few particular species of bumble bees and is similarly-colored, and along with the “dominoes” mentioned in Walker’s article, their flight period must sync with that of their potential host species.  RBBBs are parasitized by the Indiscriminate Cuckoo bumble bee (B. insularis) and the Fernald/Flavid Cuckoo bumble bee (B. fernaldi/B. flavidus).  The first is rare in Wisconsin and the second has been seen here only a few times in 50 years.

Yes, bumble bees can sting, and yes, they will sting, but unlike a honey bee’s barbed stinger that is pulled out when it stings (fatally, for the bee), bumble bees can sting multiple times to protect hearth and home (but not when you poke a camera in their face when they’re on a flower). 

The BugLady loves this field guide https://www.xerces.org/publications/identification-and-monitoring-guides/bumble-bees-of-eastern-united-states and even has a paper copy. 

Still some bumble bees out there.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

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:

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