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

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week Monochromatic Stink Bug-Hunting Wasp

Howdy, BugFans,

Another wasp with a dynamite name!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Drumming Katydid

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week Drumming Katydid

Howdy, BugFans,

Sometimes you go looking for insects, and sometimes the insects find you.  The BugLady came back to her car from the Post Office one sunny afternoon in August and discovered this stunning katydid sitting above the driver’s door of her car.  Keeping one eye on traffic, she managed to get a few shots of it before moving it to a nearby hydrangea.

She had never heard of the Drumming katydids before.  They’re in the katydid family Tettigoniidae and in the subfamily Meconematinae, the Quiet-calling Katydids, which has about 200 species worldwide.  Three of the members of the subfamily make sounds that we can’t hear without the aid of an ultrasonic detector, and both of the species that occur in North America have been introduced.

Other names for the Drumming katydid (Meconema thalassinum) are the Oak Bush-Cricket (in Britain), Méconème Tambourinaire (not in Britain), Eichenschrecke (Oak locust) in Germany, Quiet-calling katydid, and Sea-Green Katydid (“thalassinum” means “sea green.”

This European katydid was first recorded in America in 1957 in western Long Island.  By 2004 it had made its way to Michigan, and now it inhabits much of the northeast quadrant of North America plus the Pacific Northwest.  It’s found in deciduous trees and in the vegetation below them; neither cars nor hydrangeas are listed as potential habitats, but the BugLady found a few other shots of Drumming katydids sitting on cars, and sources note that they are comfortable on and around man-made structures. 

Lots of members of the grasshopper/katydid bunch are known to spice up their vegetarian existence with a little protein by nibbling on dead insects or insect eggs.  Some sources say that Drumming katydids do exactly that, but others say that they are exclusively carnivorous, feeding on aphids and small larvae.  They aren’t considered plant pests in either the Old Country or the New.

What eats them?  The usual suspects, plus they are among the grasshopper/katydid species that Grass-carrying wasps (Isodontia) collect to provision their egg chambers.  Drumming katydids are also susceptible to a parasitic worm that takes over their nervous system and tells the katydid to head for any nearby body of water so that the worm can emerge there. 

Drumming katydids aren’t huge – maybe 4/5 of an inch long (plus the ovipositor, though the one she saw seemed bigger to the BugLady).  They have a hearing organ (tympanum) on each of their front legs (if you’re going to sing, you should have “ears” to hear it).  They have yellow feet https://bugguide.net/node/view/704348/bgimage, and because they’re katydids, they have extra-long antennae – pale orange, in their case.  Females have a long, curved ovipositor and males have long, slender, curved, hollow claspers (cerci) https://bugguide.net/node/view/205071/bgimage.  They are nocturnal.

Though males do have tiny teeth on their forewings (scientists aren’t sure why, unless it’s to add an ultrasonic stridulation/friction component to the katydid’s acoustic repertoire), they don’t have rough spots (stridulatory areas) at the base of their forewings, so they don’t use the usual katydid “file and scraper” modus operandi to attract a female.  Instead, they tap/drum a quick Morse code on a leaf with their hind tarsus – the tarsus is basically a five-segmented foot, and males have a hard pad on the first tarsal segment that females don’t.  Though the pattern of his song stays the same, the higher the temperature is, the more frequently he taps.  The soft sound may be heard by a human (one with better hearing than the BugLady’s) as far as 12 feet away, and it’s believed that the vibrations also travel through the substrate, but the BugLady couldn’t discover exactly how the female detects his signals.  

There’s only one generation per year – they overwinter as eggs that hatch in late spring and are mature by mid-August, and adults may be seen well into late fall.  Drumming katydids are small, and they lay their eggs in bark crevices, and it’s suspected that they made their way to America on imported plant material. 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week -German Yellowjacket Redux

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week German Yellowjacket Redux

Salutations, BugFans,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

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

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week Bugs at the End of Summer

Howdy, BugFans,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(And, of course, they’re awesome.)

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

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 – Euderces picipes Beetle

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week Euderces picipes Beetle

Greetings, BugFans,

When the BugLady saw these two tiny (5mm/¼”), black insects on a flower, her first thought was “ants,” followed immediately by a mental head slap.  They were piggyback – worker ants don’t do that, and royal ants have wings, and males are way smaller than females.  A (much) closer look revealed two long-horned beetles, Family Cerambycidae.

The Cerambycids (aka the longicorns, borers, girdlers, sawyers, or timber beetles) are a large group of beetles (1,000 species in North America; 30,000 worldwide).  Some are spectacular https://bugguide.net/node/view/1767144/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/2247879/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/226098/bgimage,; some are humble – https://bugguide.net/node/view/119390/bgpagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/1285181/bgpage,; some are just odd – https://bugguide.net/node/view/1472921/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/2198732/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/1569423/bgimage; and at least one species graces a Wanted Poster – the large, non-native Asian Longhorned beetle that’s been threatening our hardwoods since 1996 https://bugguide.net/node/view/631192/bgimage.  A number of native species are also persona non grata, especially with the lumber industry. 

Many (but not all) Cerambycids have long antennae (“horns”) – some spectacularly long https://bugguide.net/node/view/2119609/bgimage.  

Cerambycid larvae are often called round headed borers, and it’s the “borer” part that gets them in trouble.  They feed on the tissue within the stems, trunks, and roots of plants (woody and herbaceous).  Depending on the species, they may (or may not) wait for a tree to be compromised and bore into dead or dying wood – they are part of the recycling process.  They may be found in untreated lumber which, if it’s part of your house, you may not be ready to recycle yet.  Female Cerambycids locate the correct host species for their offspring by analyzing the chemical signatures of plants, and some damage trees by girdling twigs while they’re ovipositing.  Adults variously eat sap, nectar, pollen, fruit, fungi, foliage, and bark, or nothing at all.

The star of today’s show represents a tiny drop in the great Cerambycid bucket – there are only four species in the genus Euderces in North America (60 total), and bugguide.net calls them “among the smallest of our longhorns.” 

EUDERCES PICIPES (no common name) is found in the first half of summer, east of the Great Plains.  Its larvae feed under the bark of hickory, black walnut, oak, elm, dogwood, and locust branches.  According to the excellent Illinois Wildflowers website, adults are found on flowers in the aster, sumac (cashew), carrot, holly, honeysuckle, mint, rose, greenbriar, and buckthorn families, and many of the bugguide.net pictures show them on white flowers.

Along with the black morph beetles that the BugLady saw, Euderces picipes also comes in red https://bugguide.net/node/view/2047840/bgimage.  The black morph is more common in the northern part of its range, and the red is more common in the south.  Both colors are found in transition zones, and mixed pairs can be seen piggyback.  Apparently, they know who they are. 

Many of the species in the genus Euderces and in their tribe, Tillomorphini, are ant mimics, but ant mimicry (myrmecophily, pronounced myr’ me coph’ i ly) is not limited to beetles – spiders do it https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ant_mimicry#/media/File:Ant_and_jumping_spider_Gorongosa_National_Park,_Mozambique.jpg and crickets https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ant_mimicry#/media/File:Macroxiphus_sp_cricket.jpg, and so do other arthropods.  There are even ants that mimic other ants, though scientists aren’t sure why.

There are several reasons why it might be beneficial to look like an ant.  One reason is to eat, and another is to avoid being eaten.  Besides its morphology (size, shape, structure), an insect or spider that wants to insert itself among the ants in order to eat them (aggressive mimicry) must also act and smell like an ant (or, at least, not like a spider).  An ant mimic that wants to avoid being eaten (protective mimicry) is taking advantage of ants’ reputation for protecting themselves by biting, stinging, formic acid, or all of the above, as well as for having an anthill full of sister ants that are always on call in an emergency (all of which the BugLady learned at an early age).  Not many organisms mess with ants.  

Especially not the BugLady.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Beautiful Jumper

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week Beautiful Jumper

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady was on a pier at Riveredge Nature Center when this spectacular jumping spider climbed out from between the planks.

Like the old joke about bacon being the gateway meat for vegetarians, jumping spiders seem to be the gateway spider for arachnophobes. Many are fuzzy (well, the spiders are – the BugLady can’t vouch for the arachnophobes), and because the front part of their cephalothorax (the combined head and thorax) is flat, four of their eyes face forward, https://bugguide.net/node/view/1940583/bgimage, and they look at you in a very human way. Plus, they are curious and they have attitude. If the BugLady had not already given her heart to crab spiders, these anthropomorphic little beauties would be at the top of her spider list.

The jumping spiders, family Salticidae (the Latin word “saltare” means “to leap, dance or hop”), comprise our largest spider family, with over 6,000 species worldwide and 315 species in North America.  They are a very diverse family, found everywhere except the very far North and the very far South.  Almost all are carnivores, but there are a few that have added nectar to their menus, and one species (with the fabulous scientific name of Bagheera kiplingi) that is primarily vegetarian.  

They don’t make trap webs like orbweavers, but they do spin little shelters from which they peruse their landscapes and in which they shelter during cloudy or rainy weather.  When likely prey comes along, they stalk it, orient their bodies, and then launch themselves at it (after attaching a “dragline” that controls both their jump and their landing and that provides a lifeline if they overshoot their mark). 

And how do jumping spiders jump?  Not with long, muscular legs, like grasshoppers, but via their hydraulic system.  According to Noel Kirkpatrick, writing for the “Treehugger” blog, when they want to jump, “the spiders cause an extreme change in hemolymph pressure (the spider equivalent of blood pressure) by contracting the muscles in the upper region of their bodies. This forces blood to their legs, and causes their legs to extend rapidly. This quick and sudden extension of their legs is what propels them in the direction they’re aiming.”  Some species may travel two or three body lengths, but others may jump 30 times their length. 

Jumping spiders have good hearing (though they “hear” not with ears but with sensory hairs that pick up sound waves and send messages to the spider’s brain), and they have spectacular vision.  Their eye arrangement – four facing front and four facing up – is characteristic only of the jumping spiders.  Those two, big eyes in the center of their face (AMEs – anterior median eyes) have moveable retinas and supply resolution, color, and telephoto vision.   The ALEs (anterior lateral eyes) on each side are not as sharp, but are far enough apart to allow some depth perception, and research suggests that they tell the AMEs where to look. 

The row of four, fixed “posterior” eyes across the top of their head allow the spider to see light, movement, and wide angles.  Their visual range is nearly 360 degrees, compared to our 210 degrees.  According to a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website, jumping spiders “are able to identify prey, predators, and mates from up to 30 cm (1 ft.) away.”

In addition, aided by their great vision, jumping spiders can recognize landmarks and find their way home, can learn from their hunting experiences and improve their technique as they age, and can distinguish between animate and inanimate objects (which is pretty sophisticated).  Scientists don’t know how they do that.

And through the magic of TikTok, jumping spiders are having a moment. 

The BEAUTIFUL JUMPER (Marpissa formosa) isn’t particularly warm and fuzzy-looking – or very big – but it’s a striking spider.  It’s found, spottily, east of the Great Plains and around the Great Lakes (it’s a species of Special Concern in Minnesota), and it likes wetlands.  It’s one of those species that has stayed under the radar, so not much is known about it, but it’s presumed to follow the general jumping spider game plan.

Where many species of jumping spiders are chunky, Beautiful Jumpers are long and slim.  They are dimorphic – males (https://bugguide.net/node/view/887835/bgimage) and femaleshttps://bugguide.net/node/view/1867778/bgimage are different colors.  Females are about 3/8” long, and males are slightly smaller.  Like all jumping spiders, they move quickly. 

They eat spiders (including other jumping spiders) and small insects, and they may steal trapped insects from spider webs.  The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says that “Having spotted a potential quarry, a jumping spider will slowly stalk the prey until it is within jumping distance. Then it lifts its front legs and pounces.”  

Like other jumping spiders, male Beautiful Jumpers dance and thrum for their ladies, displaying their color patterns and making species-specific clicks and buzzes and taps that travel through the substrate and are picked up by her sensory hairs.  Females deposit their eggs into a silk “tent” spun by the male, and then guard the eggs until they hatch and for a short time afterward, until the spiderlings make their first molt and disperse.  “Adolescent” spiders overwinter in silk shelters in logs or rock crevices and mature the following year. 

And, yes, you can find jumping spider stuffed toys online, but caveat emptor – the BugLady found one cute, little, felt jumping spider with cute little antennae.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – And Now for Something a Little Different XV – Royal Catchfly

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week And Now for Something a Little Different XV Royal Catchfly

Greetings, BugFans,

The BugLady had a long overdue “Oh Duh!!!”moment recently when BugFan Freda asked her if she realized why Royal Catchfly flowers were named Catchfly. Nope – hadn’t thought about it (insufficient scholarship).

Freda had just discovered, to her horror, that she might be aiding and abetting pollinator murder. Did the BugLady know that the Royal Catchfly was, in fact, a pollinator deathtrap? She had planted a small patch of native wildflowers in order to attract pollinators, and while she was admiring the Catchfly’s beautiful red flowers, she noticed a dead bumblebee. She took a closer look and saw a dead honeybee, one very much alive honeybee that was completely stuck and was trying to pull free from the sticky plant, and a small leafcutter bee that was in the same predicament (and when she gently pried a bee out of the glue, it remained so sticky that it couldn’t fly). There were at least two dead, and two dying bees in her pollinator patch.

Thanks, Freda, for the question (and for most of the pictures).

First off, what’s a Royal Catchfly?  It’s a brilliantly red, native wildflower in the Pink/Carnation family Caryophyllaceae and in the large genus Silene.  Silene is a complicated genus, and various aspects including its genetics, speciation, and the complicated reproductive strategies of some species have been studied for a long time.  Varieties of Silene are planted in perennial gardens and sold by florists, and some, like the non-native Bladder campion (Silene vulgaris) are eaten https://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/flower/bladder-campion.   

Royal catchfly is historically a plant of prairies, savannahs, woodland openings, roadside edges, and railroad rights-of-way, and today it’s considered widespread, but patchily distributed.  Over much of its range, which lies from Kansas and Oklahoma to Ohio, down to northern Florida, it’s considered to be Rare, Endangered or Threatened, and it’s been extirpated (driven locally extinct) from a few states due to habitat loss, invasive plant thuggery, shade, lack of fires, and humans with shovels.

Royal catchfly (Silene regia), and a number of other Silene species, are called “catchfly” because they catch flies.  They are adorned with sticky, gluey hairs (glandular trichomes) on the calyx (the green “vase” that’s formed by the sepals at the base of the flower) and on the upper stems.  The calyxes of older flowers that have shed their petals are a bit tacky, but not actively gluey like the younger flowers, and the leaves are fuzzy but not sticky.    

The sticky hairs (and some stiff, downward-pointing hairs toward the bottom of the plant) are very effective in stopping insects that might try to climb up the stem toward the flower (though one author had seen some aphids and their guardian ants navigating the stems).  They’re equally effective in deterring “nectar robbers” – insects like bumble bees whose tongues aren’t long enough to reach the nectar prize from the top of the flower, so they chew their way through the calyx from the side, sip the nectar, and don’t do any pollinating at all.  One author says that the plant is “selecting for” airborne pollinators,” the chief of which is the Ruby-throated hummingbird, though moths with long proboscises that hover in front of the tubular flower could get away with it, as can swallowtail butterflies.  Insects can’t see the color red (hummingbirds can), and apparently, although many insects can see ultra-violet light, a UV image of Royal catchfly doesn’t reveal any insect “come hither” signals.   

What happens after the bugs get caught? 

The logical leap is that having gone through the effort of catching them (producing the hairs requires an energy investment from the plant, after all) the catchfly uses them.  Some sources speculated that this kind of insect entrapment might be a step toward an eventual life of carnivory and wondered if the catchfly had any way to absorb the nutrients in its victims, like a sundew does.  In his Master’s Thesis in 2017, Garrett John Dienno held up two yardsticks to measure the Royal catchfly’s possible carnivory: “1) whether S. regia actively attracts, captures, and retains prey, and/or secretes digestive enzymes to facilitate nutrient absorption; and (2) whether it absorbs and translocates the resultant nutrients.”  Spoiler alert – No and No.  There is no insect-attracting nectar and no UV signal, and the glandular hairs do not secrete any digestive enzymes.  He concluded that “Instead, we propose the glandular trichomes on the S. regia calyx provide a passive defensive benefit to the flowers and seeds by protecting the very structures that are supporting their development.” 

The published word on the catchflies is a bit murky, though, and there’s some just plain bad information out there.  One otherwise respectable plant nursery noted that Royal catchfly comes from a carnivorous family (possibly the same nursery that once claimed that Cup Plant (https://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/prairie/plantx/cupplantx.htm) digests the insects that drown in the water pools formed by their perfoliate leaves).  The Pink family Caryophyllaceae is not known for carnivory, but the Order it’s in, Caryophyllales (a much bigger umbrella) does include some families with carnivorous plants (it also contains cacti and beets).  What a difference a few letters make!

A number of nursery catalogs and other publications state that because having small, rotting insects stuck to their stems would be unhealthy for Royal Catchflies, the plants get rid of the bodies by secreting enzymes that break them down before they “get putrid.”  Self-preservation rather than nutrition.  Way back in 1876, a Professor W. J. Beal wrote about a related plant that “We need not necessarily suppose that they are digested because they are captured by sticky plants.”  

A gardening site’s description of the related and equally sticky Night-flowering catchfly, which is pollinated by moths, said that “When the moth touches the plant it finds that it cannot get away easily and so is more likely to get covered in pollen, or release any pollen it is already carrying, as it tries to break free. This it will do, because the plant is not insectivorous and is only interested in temporary prisoners rather than permanent ones.”  So, happily, the plant’s intent is not to harm it.  

One nursery suggested that the stuck bugs might provide a feast for insectivorous birds.  The BugLady can picture the hummingbirds that come for nectar noticing the stuck insects and picking them off the plant (small insects are a regular part of their diets) but she can’t picture sparrows or chickadees doing that.  It’s possible that long-legged insects like wasps and yellowjackets, which forage for protein for their larvae, might check the catchfly’s offerings.

The British are not immune to this silliness.  Back in 2009, Scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Natural History Museum concluded that petunias, potatoes, and several other common plants were meat eaters – or at least on the way to being meat-eaters.  Why?  Because they have sticky hairs that trap bugs.  After making a big splash on both sides of the Pond, they walked it back a bit.  “However, some of the commonly accepted carnivores [like petunias] have not been demonstrated to have the ability to digest the insects they trap or to absorb the breakdown products.” 

They went on to say “Professor Mark Chase, Keeper of the Jodrell Laboratory at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew says, ‘…. many commonly grown plants may turn out to be cryptic carnivores, at least by absorbing through their roots the breakdown products of the animals that they ensnare. We may be surrounded by many more murderous plants than we think.’”  Nice save?

There’s a reason why scientists submit papers for peer review.

(The BugLady is reminded of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter.”)

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Long-tailed Meadow Katydid

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week Long-tailed Meadow Katydid

Howdy, BugFans.

At first glance, Meadow Katydids look like small grasshoppers, but grasshoppers (family Acrididae) have antennae of a reasonable length, and katydids (family Tettigoniidae) have such long antennae (you have to back up a bit to get the whole antenna in a picture) that you wonder how they maneuver through the vegetation – and life (those antennae, of course are highly sensory and are exactly what allow them to navigate through life). In her “Naturally Curious” blog, Mary Holland writes “Insect antennae are among the most sensitive and selective chemical-sensing organs in the animal kingdom. They detect information crucial to an insect’s survival, including odors, sounds, humidity, changes in water vapor concentration and air speed. Antennae are capable of these feats because of the sensory receptors covering them which bind to free-floating molecules.” And they’re tactile, too.

Behaviorally, grasshoppers fling themselves into the air at the slightest provocation (remember, their action is driven by both legs and wings), while Meadow Katydids are more likely to skulk away into the thicket with a series of short hops onto the backsides of leaves. 

Meadow Katydids are in the tribe Conocephalini (literally “cone heads”), which is divided into the Greater Meadow Katydids (genus Orchelimum) and Lesser/Smaller Meadow Katydids (genus Conocephalus).  Lesser Meadow Katydids were mentioned briefly in an early BOTW (https://uwm.edu/field-station/tettigoniidae-two/), and one of the Greater Meadow Katydids was featured in a BOTW a few years ago https://uwm.edu/field-station/black-legged-meadow-katydid/.  There are about 160 species of Lesser Meadow Katydids worldwide and 18 in North America, and they’re found in grasslands and wetlands, and on woodland edges.  

With bodies under ¾”, they’re not huge.  They can be tough to tell apart when they’re just sitting on a blade of grass, and some species come both in a variety of color forms and with short or long wings, but if you get a good look, the females’ ovipositors are pretty distinctive, even as nymphs, and so are the males’ claspers (cerci) https://sina.orthsoc.org/g220a.htm.  Their songs, mostly sung in late afternoon and evening, can be hard to hear.  Straight-lanced Meadow Katydid are a fairly common species in Wisconsin – here’s a male nymph and an adult female https://bugguide.net/node/view/2218360/bgimage https://bugguide.net/node/view/1579703/bgimage.

Females use those impressive ovipositors to punch holes in vegetation, into the soil, or even under tree bark to deposit their eggs.  The eggs overwinter, and the nymphs pop out the next year looking pretty much like their eventual adult form (incomplete metamorphosis).  Meadow Katydids are omnivores, supplementing a diet of the leaves, seeds, flowers, and pollen of non-woody plants with the odd, tiny insect.

The BugLady always enjoys coming across nature articles by Matt Pelikan in the Martha’s Vineyard Times as she does her research.  Here’s one about Meadow Katydids https://www.mvtimes.com/2019/09/04/wild-side-meadow-katydids/.

Enter the LONG-TAILED MEADOW KATYDID (Conocephalus attenuatus), aka the Lance-tailed Meadow Grasshopper (both referring to the female’s ovipositor); Lisa Rainsong, in her “Listening in Nature” blogspot calls it the Red Marsh Katydid.  They are habitat specialists – residents of sedge and cattail marshes with standing water in much of the northeastern quadrant of North America.  They’re not common overall but can be locally numerous.  By all accounts, the BugLady was really lucky to see this one without resorting to a flashlight and hip waders.  

LTMKs feed on cattails and sedges, especially the seeds https://bugguide.net/node/view/1725335/bgimage.

Bugguide.net says that they’re “Typically either all red or red with green limbs.”  Rainsong points out that “The color blends very well with reddish cattail heads, and that’s a likely place to find this katydid.”  Here’s a short-winged male and female https://bugguide.net/node/view/1863860/bgimage and https://bugguide.net/node/view/1593979/bgimage, and a long-winged male and female https://bugguide.net/node/view/1588827/bgimage and https://bugguide.net/node/view/1119893/bgimage, and there’s a nice collection of pictures here http://listeninginnature.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-red-katydids.html.  Their soft song has been described as a continuous, pulsing rattle, rather than a whirr, sung mostly after sunset http://songsofinsects.com/katydids/long-tailed-meadow-katydid.

When LTMKs copulate, the male delivers a “twofer” – a sperm packet and an attached gelatinous glob called a spermatophylax.  The female plucks off the spermatophylax, which contains nutrients that may ensure successful egg-laying, but it’s a bribe.  As she eats, the sperm are being absorbed from the spermatophore at her opposite end.  When she finishes her snack, the female detaches the spermatophore, so while she’s eating, the clock is ticking for the male’s gene pool.  Chemicals in the spermatophylax may also dim her interest in other males temporarily.  For a good, illustrated, PG explanation of the process in one of the Greater Meadow Katydids, see https://natureinquiries.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/spermatophylax/

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:

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