Bug o’the Week – Stirrings of Summer

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Stirrings of Summer

Greetings, BugFans

Here are some of the bugs that the BugLady found in June, which was, overall, a hot and wet month (7.97” of rain at the BugLady’s cottage).

LIZARD BEETLE – the BugLady doesn’t know why these striking beetles are called Lizard beetles, unless it’s a nod to their long, slender shapes.  She usually sees them in the prairie on Indian Plantain plants.  The adults eat various parts of the plant, including pollen, while their larvae feed within the plant stems (the Clover stem borer is persona non grata in commercial clover fields). 

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, many species of Lizard beetles “make squeaking sounds using well-developed stridulatory organs on top of the head.

Two (counterintuitively-named) ORANGE BLUETS, ensuring the next generation.  He “contact guards” her as she oviposits in submerged vegetation, lest a rival male come along and swipe her.  When the eggs hatch, the naiads can swim right out into the water.

BALTIMORE CHECKERSPOT – the BugLady has seen more of these spectacular butterflies than usual this year.  The caterpillars https://bugguide.net/node/view/206383 feed in fall on a late-blooming wildflower called Turtlehead (and sometimes broad-leaved plantain); turtlehead leaves (and plantain, to a lesser extent) contain growth-enhancing chemicals called iridoid glycosides that also discourage birds.  The caterpillars tuck in for the winter and emerge the next year into a landscape empty of Turtlehead. 

In spring, Baltimore Checkerspot caterpillars 2.0 feed on leaves of a variety of flowers and shrubs – the BugLady has seen them on goldenrod and on wood betony – and especially on leaves of the (doomed) white ash. 

CRAYFISH – the BugLady came across this crayfish and its companion when all three of us were negotiating a muddy trail (so many muddy trails this year!).  It waved its pincers at her to make sure she was terrified.

DOODLEBUGS (aka antlions) got going early this year – the BugLady found more than 100 excavations (pits) at the southeast corner of her house at the end of April, and more along the path leading to the beach.  They’ve had a rough go of it – it doesn’t take much rain to ruin a pit, and it takes a day or so to repair one.  

Doodlebug watchers sometimes catch a glimpse of pincers at the bottom of a pit, or of a doodlebug tossing sand around.  The BugLady witnessed an ant going to its final reward, and found a pit with a small beetle in it, one with a box elder bug, and one with a beetle and a small jumping spider.  She will look for the adults, which look kind of like damselflies, in August.

DONACIA – a golden beetle https://bugguide.net/node/view/2309637/bgimage on a golden flower.

COMMON SPRING MOTH – the BugLady loves finding bugs she’s never seen before, especially when she doesn’t have to leave home to do it!!  (She does get a little bewildered, though, when the “new” insect is named the “Common something” and she’s never seen it before).  The occurrence of this one should be no surprise – its caterpillars feed on Black locust leaves. 

PETROPHILA MOTHS are dainty moths that are tied to water.  The BugLady and BugFan Joan spotted mobs of moths on milkweed (yes, there’s a milkweed under there) on the bank of the Milwaukee River.  “Petrophila” means “rock lover” – for that story, see this BOTW about a (probably) different species https://uwm.edu/field-station/bug-of-the-week/two-banded-petrophila/.  

GREEN LACEWING EGGS – the BugLady wrote about Green lacewings and their eggs a few months ago, and she recently found this amazing bunch of tiny, glistening eggs.  She has always associated Green lacewings with the end of summer.  Guess not.

EIGHT-SPOTTED FORESTER MOTHS are small, spiffy, day-flying moths that are often mistaken for butterflies.  The one that the BugLady found recently was not as gaudy as most – most have brilliant orange leg scales https://bugguide.net/node/view/2300226/bgimage.  There’s a saying among Lepidopterists – the plainer the caterpillar, the more spectacular the adult.  Forester moths seem to be an exception https://bugguide.net/node/view/156406

POWDERED DANCERS oviposit at this time of year in the slightly-submerged stems of aquatic vegetation, especially Potamogeton https://bugguide.net/node/view/737371/bgimage.  They’ve been pictured here before.  This year, the river is running high and fast – there are no mats of Potamogeton leaves with Ebony Jewelwings, American Rubyspots, Stream Bluets, and Powdered Dancers flickering above them.  Do they have a Plan B?

These two BRILLIANT JUMPING SPIDERS (aka Red & Black jumping spiders), a male and a female, were perched a respectful distance from each other on the prairie.  Jumping spiders, as their name suggests, jump, and depending on species, can cover from 10 to 50 times their body length.  They don’t spin trap webs, but they do spin a drag line while jumping to guard against mishaps.  They hunt by day.

The great MObugs website (Missouri’s Majority) says that “By late July or August mating is on their mind. Males begin to compete with other males for the right to mate with nearby females. Larger males typically win these competitions which include loud vibrations and some unique footwork. Males choose the larger females to mate with as they produce the most eggs.”  She will place her egg sac in a silken nest in a leaf shelter and guard it, dying shortly after the spiderlings emerge from the sac.

ZELUS LURIDUS (aka the Pale green assassin bug) is the BugLady’s favorite Assassin bug.  They mostly wait patiently for their prey to wander by, but when it does, they reveal their super power.  Glands on their legs produce a sticky resin that they smear over the hairs on their legs.  When they grab their prey, it stays grabbed. 

They make distinctive egg masses https://bugguide.net/node/view/960067/bgimage (nice series of shots) – the BugLady has found them on the undersides of leaves, and the nymphs are pretty cool, too https://bugguide.net/node/view/1632827/bgimage

Although “lurid” now means shocking, vivid, or overly bright, it originally meant ghastly, horrifying, pale, sallow, or sickly yellow – its meaning began to change in the 1700’s.  

There – all caught up! 

Go outside – look at bugs!

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Slices of Spring

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Slices of Spring

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady and her camera have been out scouring the uplands and wetlands for insects that will sit still long enough to have their portrait made.  Many of today’s bugs have starred in their own BOTWs over the years, and you can find them by Googling “UWM Field Station followed by the name of the insect.  Her gut continues to tell her that there simply aren’t as many insects to point her camera at as there were a decade ago.

What did she find in April and May?

WOODLAND LUCY (Lucidota atra), aka the Black firefly (atra means black).  If a lightning bug doesn’t light, is it still a Lightning bug?  Yup.  Most lightning bugs flash their species-specific light signals at females by night, but some, like the Woodland Lucy, are day flyers (the BugLady starts seeing them in swamps in May, but she usually doesn’t see a light show by their nocturnal relatives until the very end of June).  It would be a waste of energy to try to produce a light that competes with the sun, so diurnal lightning bugs communicate via pheromones (perfumes).  But, all fireflies make light at some point in their lives, and always as a larva (and even the adult Woodland Lucy makes a weak light for a brief time after emerging as an adult).   

Who says “lightning bug” and who says “firefly?”  Lightning bug is heard most often in the South and Midwest, and firefly belongs to New England and the West (and Southeastern Wisconsin is close to the border of the two).  Someone did a study and hypothesized that people who live in wildfire country prefer firefly, and people who live in thunderstorm country say lightning beetle.  The BugLady likes the alternate theory – that you call them whatever your Grandmother called them.

DISONYCHA BEETLE – isn’t this a neat beetle!  The BugLady photographed another member of the genus years ago when she was photographing visitors to her pussy willow shrub.  It’s in the (huge) leaf beetle family Chrysomelidae, many of whose members are pretty specific about the host plants for their larvae.  This one is (probably) a member of the confusing Smartweed Disonycha bunch.  

GROUSE LOCUSTS are in the family Tetrigidae (the pygmy grasshoppers), and at a half-inch and less when full grown, pygmy they are!  The BugLady usually sees them in wetlands, and some are actually known to swim.  They feed on tiny diatoms and algae and aquatic vegetation at the water’s edge.

A CENTIPEDE works the boardwalk at Spruce Lake Bog in April.

GROUND BEETLE LARVA – Ground beetles (family Carabidae) are a bunch of mainly nocturnal, sometimes-sizeable, mostly predaceous beetles.  Some of the big ones have no-nonsense names like Fiery Searcher and Caterpillar Hunter, and although they are called Ground beetles, they may climb trees to find their prey.  They’re long-lived, spending a year or two as larvae and then two or three more as adults.  No – the BugLady was not inclined to pick this one up.   

The WHITE-STRIPED BLACK MOTH (Trichodezia albovittata) is a small (1” wingspan) day-flying moth that’s often mistaken for a butterfly.  It’s found in wetlands because its caterpillar’s food is Impatiens/Jewelweed/Touch-me-not.  Like other members of the moth family Geometridae, it has tympanal organs (ears) at the base of its abdomen so that it can hear the echolocation calls of bats.  Since it’s diurnal, its ears are superfluous, but it can hear ultrasound (which suggests to evolutionary biologists that its day-flying habit is a recent one). 

CHALK-FRONTED CORPORALS are one of our earliest dragonflies – the BugLady recalls seeing recently-emerged corporals by the hundreds over a dirt road on warm, spring days.

DADDY LONGLEGS (aka Harvestmen) are not true spiders, though they do have eight legs.  The best description that the BugLady has read is that lacking a sharp division between their two body parts (cephalothorax and abdomen), they look like Rice Krispies with legs.  This one is well-camouflaged on the fertile stalk of a cinnamon fern.

The BugLady may have to have this engraved on her gravestone (oh wait, she’s being scattered) – DADDY LONGLEGS DO NOT BITE PEOPLE!  Also, counter to both urban and rural legend, they are NOT the most venomous animal on earth!!!  The BugLady does not care what your cousin told you, or the person who claims to be allergic to their bite.  They have tiny jaws, and unlike the true spiders, they do not pierce their prey and then pump in chemicals from venom glands (no venom glands) (and they have no stinging apparatus).  They just sit there and chew off tiny (tiny) pieces.  Got it?

The BEAUTIFUL BEE FLY (Bombylius pulchellus) truly is (pulchellos means “little beauty”)!  This small fly (maybe ¼”) was photographed in a wetland in mid-May.  Bee fly larvae are parasitoids of a variety of insect eggs and larvae – this one targets the sweat bees, which are among our earliest pollinators (not to worry – the system is in balance).

CRANE FLY – there are a number of families of crane flies, plus some near-relatives, and they are often collectively called daddy longlegs (though they’re not spiders) and mosquito hawks and skeeter-eaters (though they don’t catch or eat mosquitoes).  What they do, is look like giant mosquitoes when they land on the other side of your window screen at night https://bugguide.net/node/view/2360312/bgimage, but they’re completely harmless.  The “crane” in crane fly reflects their long, long legs – they’re somewhat awkward flyers and even more awkward landers.  Like the Daddy longlegs, they’re reputedly extremely venomous (and now it’s time to introduce the third member of our “daddy longlegs trio,” the cellar spider.  Crane flies are thought to be venomous because they look like cellar spiders (https://bugguide.net/node/view/2170770/bgimage), but, alas, cellar spiders only have very weak venom). 

How do these things get started, anyway?

SOLDIER FLY – it’s always a little startling to come across a lime-green fly! 

This VIRGINIA CTENUCHA MOTH CATERPILLAR was photographed in April, but the BugLady has found them walking around on mild winter days.  The cute caterpillar will morph into a stunning moth https://bugguide.net/node/view/1036503/bgimage that looks butterfly-ish until it lands on a leaf and immediately crawls underneath.  Despite its name, it’s a moth with more northerly affiliations. 

The (great) Minnesota Seasons website lists three defense strategies:

  • Aposematism: The metallic blue color of the thorax and abdomen mimics wasps which may be noxious to predators.
  • Sound production: A specialized (tymbal), corrugated region on the third section of the thorax (metathorax) produces ultrasonic sounds which interfere with (“jam”) the sonar of moth-eating bats.
  • Pyrrolizidine alkaloid sequestration: Caterpillars acquire and retain naturally produced toxic chemicals (pyrrolizidine alkaloids) from the plants they eat.

RED-SPOTTED PURPLE CATERPILLARS are hard to distinguish from those of the very-closely-related Viceroy and White Admiral caterpillars, and their food plants overlap, too.  The caterpillars overwinter in a leaf that’s still attached to the tree, rolled up and fastened with silk. 

Red-spotted Purple?  The purple part https://bugguide.net/node/view/1791309/bgimage, and the red-spotted part https://bugguide.net/node/view/1881731/bgimage

HOBOMOK SKIPPERS (once called the Northern Golden Skipper) are an early butterfly, often decorating the wild geraniums that bloom by the bushel in May.  One source says that they are strong flyers that take off quickly when startled.  Amen!  They are a butterfly of woodland, wetland and grassland edges, where males perch in the sun and fly out to chase intruders.

“Hobomok” is a nod to an early Wampanoag chief.    

CRAB SPIDER on White trillium – as we all know, the BugLady has a thing for crab spiders because of their ability to hide in plain sight.  This one was photographed in early May. 

Go outside – Look for Bugs!

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Closed for June IV – A Potpourri of Invertebrates

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Closed for June IV A Potpourri of Invertebrates

Howdy, BugFans,

June is waning, and pretty soon the BugLady will have to stop eating chocolates and watching soaps and get up off the couch and start writing.  Actually, with a way warmer and wetter June than normal (more than 7” of rain at the BugLady’s house for the month), the trail hasn’t been as much fun as usual, and the bugs are slow to reappear (not surprisingly, she has gotten some nice dragonfly shots).

So – your reading list for the week includes bumble bees, butterflies, leeches, and spiders.

Jorō Spiders https://bugguide.net/node/view/1463347/bgimage are sandwich plate-sized immigrants from East Asia that are making themselves at home in parts of the eastern part of the country.  Although they are startling (to say the least), they are reportedly benign.  It will be a while before they get here to God’s Country, but here’s one of our larger spiders, a slightly-related Black and Yellow Argiope/Garden spider https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/joro-spiders-spreading-in-the-southeast-can-survive-surprisingly-well-in-cities-180983845/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=editorial&spMailingID=49487887&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2642873766&spReportId=MjY0Mjg3Mzc2NgS2

Bumble bees play soccer https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/bees-can-learn-play-soccer-score-one-insect-intelligence-180962292/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=editorial&spMailingID=48539902&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2503571888&spReportId=MjUwMzU3MTg4OAS2.

And they are specialized pollinators https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/these-cute-fuzzy-bumblebees-precision-engineered-pollinators-180984491/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=editorial&spMailingID=49906517&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2722758537&spReportId=MjcyMjc1ODUzNwS2.

And leeches leap https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/watch-blood-sucking-leeches-leap-from-leaves-and-soar-through-the-air-180984585/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=editorial&spMailingID=49887473&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2722372704&spReportId=MjcyMjM3MjcwNAS2.

And Painted Lady butterflies are big-time travelers, which was determined by an analysis of their pollen https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/these-stunning-butterflies-flew-2600-miles-across-the-atlantic-ocean-without-stopping-180984602/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=editorial&spMailingID=49906517&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2722758537&spReportId=MjcyMjc1ODUzNwS2.

Stay cool,

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Closed for June III – More Pollinators

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Closed for June III More Pollinators

Howdy, BugFans,

A pollinator is an animal (not all pollinators are insects) that visits flowers and carries their pollen to other flowers.  Bees, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, and wasps are all practitioners to some degree.  Hummingbirds pollinate a few flowers (like wild columbine), and in the Southwest, a few bats do, too.

We’re well into National Pollinator Week now, and the news isn’t wonderful, so the BugLady is off-setting it with pictures of some really spiffy pollinators.

Shrinking pollinator populations – https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/shrinking-pollinator-populations-could-be-killing-427000-people-per-year-180981353/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20221222-daily-responsive&spMailingID=47793660&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2362605046&spReportId=MjM2MjYwNTA0NgS2

And more shrinking pollinator populations – https://e360.yale.edu/features/insect_numbers_declining_why_it_matters

How can we help insects, including pollinators?  Plant an array of native wildflowers, shrubs, and trees that will bloom from spring through fall, reduce or eliminate pesticides, provide brush piles and other shelter, don’t be a tidy gardener, and set out a bird bath (birds will appreciate this, too).  In Wisconsin, plug into our bumble bee https://wiatri.net/inventory/BBB/ and monarch caterpillar monitoring programs https://wiatri.net/inventory/BBB/.

Meanwhile – it’s National Pollinator Week – celebrate appropriately.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – The Monarch Butterfly Problem

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

The Monarch Butterfly Problem

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady wrote this for an upcoming newsletter of the Lake Michigan Bird Observatory (an organization that would love your support).  It started out as a simple report about this year’s survey of overwintering Monarch Butterflies, but then it took the bit in its teeth and became oh-so-much more.  Put your feet up.

Every fall, most of the Monarch Butterflies east of the Rockies set their compass for a small patch of mountains just northwest of Mexico City.  This winter’s count of eastern Monarch Butterflies (Danaus plexippus plexippus) overwintering in the oyamel fir forests of central Mexico was the second lowest since annual censusing began in 1993.  In the 1990’s, the eastern Monarch Butterfly population was estimated at 70 million, and today’s numbers represent an 80% decline in population.

The census is not an actual nose-count of the butterflies themselves but is a measurement of the area they occupy.  They’re densely concentrated on their wintering grounds — scientists estimate between 20 and 30 million Monarchs per hectare (about 2.5 acres).  The lowest area, 0.67 hectares (1 66 acres), occurred 10 years ago, and the largest ever, in 1996-97, found 45 acres occupied.  This year, Monarchs were seen on 0.9 hectares (2.2 acres), down 59% from the 2022-2023 season (Dr. Karen Oberhauser, founder and director of the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (https://mlmp.org/), points out that 2.2 acres is smaller than two football fields).  It’s felt that almost 15 acres of overwintering butterflies are needed to maintain a healthy eastern population.  “Monarch populations [are] at a level that most scientists suggest is not sustainable,” says Dr. Oberhauser.  Western Monarchs, residents and migrants along the Pacific Coast, are treated as a separate population.   

Migration is expensive, energy-wise, and is dangerous, and the list of hazards is long.  Land use changes and habitat loss, herbicides and pesticides, loss of milkweed, car-butterfly collisions, climate change that brings harsh winter conditions to central Mexico or storms as the butterflies prepare to depart, or that puts migrating butterflies out of sync with nectar plants on their spring migration, high temperatures that reduce the nutritional value of milkweed plants, and severe drought along the fall migration route through “the Texas Funnel” have all been suggested as factors.

The integrity of the fir forests themselves is critical, but the illegal logging that has reduced the forest size and cover in the past was held to a minimum last year.  The butterflies depend on a dense forest to act as insulation so they don’t have to expend as much energy staying warm, dry, and hydrated. 

Quick review of Monarch biology and migration — there are four or five generations annually, and the last brood of the year is extraordinarily long-lived for a butterfly.  It emerges in August or September, and while the earlier generations are reproductively active, this final generation is not.  Signaled by decreasing day length, lowering angle of the sun, cool nights, and increasingly leathery milkweed leaves, their reproductive organs don’t mature.  Instead, they apply their energy to a journey – a leisurely trip that can cover more than two thousand miles and take two months.  The butterflies feed on nectar from a wide variety of flowers as they wend their way south, and while a newly-emerged Monarch in Wisconsin has about 20 mg of fat in its body, a Monarch newly-arrived in the oyamel fir forests of Mexico may carry 125 mg of fat.  They eat little on their wintering grounds. 

With the warming temperatures of late March, they become reproductively ready and head north through northern Mexico and our Southern states, laying eggs as they go, careful not to get ahead of the emerging milkweed plants.  Their young — the first-generation offspring of the Mexican butterflies — keep moving and recolonize the north, often arriving in Wisconsin in mid-May and in Canada shortly after that (Southern summers are too hot for the caterpillars to thrive).

Their offspring – the second generation out of Mexico, continue to lay eggs and may fly a little farther north, but most have reached their destinations by the end of June.  The “job” of this short-lived generation (and of the next generation, if there’s time for one) is to stay put and use their energy to build up the population.  The migratory final generation, sometimes called Gen 5 or the Super Generation, is the only one that is tagged. 

This complicated dance depends on good weather, milkweeds for caterpillars, and abundant nectar plants for adults.  Monarchs will lay their eggs on a variety of milkweed species, but Common milkweed is the favorite. 

Follow the northward wave of Monarchs here https://maps.journeynorth.org/map/?map=monarch-adult-first&year=2024.

There have been passionate efforts in past years to list the Monarch as an Endangered Species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Classification under the ESA is a lengthy process, there are many other deserving candidates, and listing requires both a recovery plan and a dedicated budget https://uwm.edu/field-station/bug-of-the-week/listing-the-monarch/.   

Monarch populations are subject to wide swings, but a low year followed by another low year lessens the possibility of a speedy comeback.  Overall population levels in the summer of 2023 were not alarming, but severe heat and drought in the Texas Funnel migratory corridor probably resulted in fewer Monarchs finishing their journey to Mexico. 

Based on a few recent studies, there are voices, even voices within the Monarch Butterfly community, that suggest (counterintuitively) that there’s no need to change the Monarch’s status, citing past population plunges and recoveries.  The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a leading scientific authority on the status of species, recently downgraded Monarchs on their Red List of Threatened Species from Endangered to Vulnerable. 

Some of the arguments are historical.  Monarchs like milkweeds, and milkweeds like sunshine, and the treeless Great Plains is thought by some to be the historical center of both Monarch and milkweed populations.  Too, there was lots of sunshine during the long postglacial period while trees moved back north after the most recent glacier pushed them south, and some speculate that milkweeds and Monarchs took that opportunity to push east and increase their numbers before the forests regrew. 

The early settlers cut down swathes of America’s Great Eastern Forest to establish villages and farms, making the area sunnier and more Monarch/milkweed-friendly, and some say that Monarch populations are larger now than they were 200 years ago.  Today, they say, Monarchs are adapting to modern stressors, and they’re establishing some non-migratory breeding communities in Florida and around the Gulf Coast.  Monarchs, some scientists say, are not at risk, but the eastern Monarch migration may be (a distinction without a difference to Monarch lovers).   

Did the Monarch’s eastward expansion into a glacially-modified landscape and later into a human-modified landscape artificially boost their numbers, so that what’s happening today is just a “course correction?”  Should we base the butterfly’s status on the wintering numbers rather than the summertime population?  On today’s numbers vs long-time averages?  Is it better to err on the side of caution?”  Will there, as Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch says “always be Monarchs?”

Only time –- and more research — will tell who’s got it right.  In the meantime, what can we do to help? 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

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 – 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 – 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 – Midsummer Memories by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week Midsummer Memories

Howdy, BugFans,

Last year the BugLady had so many midsummer stories to tell that she wrote one episode about dragonflies, and a second about “other” (because as seasoned BugFans know (well) her camera gravitates to dragons and damsels).  She’s got a heap of pictures to share again this year, but she’ll mix and match the groups in a two-part summer feature.

ROSE CHAFER BEETLE – The BugLady saw a single Rose Chafer last year and wrote about it https://uwm.edu/field-station/rose-chafer-beetle/.  This year, she found bunches of them – orgies of them (she’s not sure what the collective noun for Rose Chafers is, but she’s pretty sure it’s “orgy”).  And she was enthralled by the leggy designs they made on the undersides of milkweed leaves.  

COPPER BUTTERFLY – A highlight of the BugLady’s recent explorations of Kohler-Andrae State Park was finding two species of Copper butterflies – American Copper and Bronze Copper (she rarely finds Coppers).  The Coppers are in the Gossamer-wing butterfly family Lycaenidae, along with the Harvesters, Hairstreaks, Elfins, and Blues.  Their caterpillars feed on plants in the rose and buckwheat families (dock, sorrel, and knotweed).

VIOLET/VARIABLE DANCER – The BugLady was talking to a friend recently about the colors that dragonflies and damselflies come in.  Black, black and yellow, green, blue – even red.  But purple?

FLY ON PITCHER PLANT – This is just the way it’s supposed to work.  Insects with a “sweet tooth” get lured to the lip of the pitcher plant and partake of the (slightly narcotic) nectar there.  Judgment impaired, they mosey around a little, maybe venturing onto the zone of down-pointing teeth below the lip, and then onto the slick, waxy zone below that.  It’s all downhill from there.

GOLDENROD CRAB SPIDER on yarrow (not all Goldenrod crab spiders have red racing stripes).  Incoming insects have trouble seeing her, too.  Out of all the species of crab spiders in the world (about 3,000), only a very few have the ability to change colors, and that ability is limited to the female of the species.  Her color palette includes white, yellow, and pale green.  She sees the background color with her eyes, and because a wardrobe change takes her between three days and three weeks she tends to stay on her chosen flower.  Her base color is white, and switching involves either creating yellow pigment or reabsorbing and then sequestering or excreting it.  

Why?  Good question.  Scientists have tested spiders on matching and non-matching flowers (which they often sit on), and they saw no boost in hunting success when the spiders matched their background (she likes prey that’s bigger than she is, like bumblebees, because she has eggs to make.  She loses weight on a diet of small flies).  When spiders themselves are the prey, they are not picked off more often on non-matching flowers.  Maybe the color change gives her some sort of advantage when she forms her egg case, or maybe it’s a vestigial solution to a long-ago problem.

ORANGE-LEGGED DRONE FLY – This Syrphid/Flower/Hover fly is so serious about its bumble bee disguise that it makes a loud buzz when it’s flying

SEDGE SPRITE TUSSLE – the BugLady was in a bog not long ago when she saw two damselflies tussling on some leaves.  At first, she thought there was some predation going on, but that didn’t make sense because they were both Sedge Sprites.  He had grabbed her and was wrestling with her, and she was having none of it.  He suddenly flipped her around and clasped the back of her head with the tip of his abdomen (SOP for mating dragonflies and damselflies).  Rather than reaching forward and taking his sperm packet, she ultimately gave a couple of good shakes and dislodged him.  One small drama.

PHANTOM CRANE FLY – Flies come in all sizes and shapes, but this magical creature in white spats is the BugLady’s favorite.  It lives in dappled, brushy wetland edges where it flickers through the vegetation like a tiny wraith.

FORKTAIL AND POWDERED DANCER – Eastern Forktails are voracious hunters that go after other damselflies, even those close to their size.  The mature female forktail (in blue) found a teneral (young) Powdered Dancer (in tan) that was probably not a strong flyer yet.

Go outside – look at bugs,

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Coral Hairstreak Butterfly
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week by Kate Redmond

Coral Hairstreak Butterfly

Howdy, BugFans,

Hairstreaks (and Blues and Coppers and Harvesters) are members of the Gossamer-winged butterfly family Lycaenidae (“Gossamer-winged” being a nod to the iridescent sheen on the wings of many family members).  Numbering nearly 5,000 mostly tropical species worldwide – 30% of butterfly species – Lycaenidae is the second-largest butterfly family (the Brush-foots outnumber them).  The BugLady associates hairstreak butterflies with butterfly weed and hot, sunny prairie days.

Family members share characteristics like indented eyes, striped antennae, a narrow face, reduced forelegs (males more than females), bright colors, and (frequently) hair-like “tails” on the edge of the hind wing.  The tails are often located near a blue-pigmented “eyespot” on the wing – hairstreaks often land head-down, and the eyes and antenna-like tails are said to present a predator with a “false head.”  The tails are fragile and can be worn off or may be bitten off by a misdirected predator (better to lose a chunk of a wing than your actual head). 

With the exception of the carnivorous Harvester larvae, the slug-like Lycaenid caterpillars are herbivores; adult Lycaenids feed at flowers and also get nutrients from damp mud, decaying fruit, and carrion.  Caterpillars of many species of Gossamer-wings are myrmecophiles – they have friendly relationships with ants, trading food for protection.  Caterpillars of some species are able to communicate with or summon their ants by producing vibrations that travel through the substrate.  

CORAL HAIRSTREAKS (Satyrium titus) aren’t gaudy, but they’re still pretty spiffy little butterflies.  They are hairstreaks without hairstreaks, and they don’t have blue eyespots on the edge of their wings, either https://bugguide.net/node/view/23133 (compare it to the similar Acadian Hairstreak, which has both https://bugguide.net/node/view/1490067/bgpage).  Coral Hairstreaks close their wings immediately upon landing, so the BugLady couldn’t find any picture of the dorsal side of their wings other than this pinned specimen https://digitalatlas.cose.isu.edu/bio/insects/butrfly/famlyc/satif.htm.  They have a wingspread of 1” to 1 ½”, and males and females look alike except that the male’s wings are somewhat more triangular in shape.  Here are more pictures https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/view/513

Coral Hairstreaks are found across much of North America https://bugguide.net/node/view/4115/data.  They need two habitats, with adults visiting (and pollinating) flowers, especially butterfly weed, in open areas like grasslands, roadsides, clearings, pastures, and gardens; and caterpillars feeding on the new leaves, flowers, and even the new fruit of Black cherry and a few of its close relatives in young woods and around woodland edges.  Some hairstreak species are woodland-dwellers, but maturing woodlands become less attractive to Coral Hairstreaks, and land use practices affect their numbers. 

Aggressive males perch on vegetation and chase females and other insect intruders, and they court using pheromones (smells) and visual displays.  Females lay eggs on twigs, at the base of a host tree or in nearby leaf litter, leaving a scent mark to indicate to other females that the spot has been taken.  The eggs overwinter, hatching in spring as the new vegetation erupts https://bugguide.net/node/view/1683166/bgimage.  There’s one generation per year.

Although Coral Hairstreaks fly fast and erratically, most don’t disperse very far away from where they hatched.  On cool mornings, they warm up by sitting with wings closed, at right angles to the sun (lateral basking).  

According to the great University of Michigan Biokids website http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Lycaenidae/, lacewings and ladybug beetles eat hairstreak eggs; ants, wasps, and the larvae of parasitic flies eat the caterpillars; mice and shrews feed on the pupae; and mantises, spiders, birds, frogs, and toads stalk the adults.  If they can connect with the proper species of ant, the caterpillars will be protected by them in return for allowing the ants to harvest drops of honeydew that caterpillars produce in a “honey gland” (dorsal nectary organ) http://www.pbase.com/spjaffe/image/125237720).  Caterpillars feed at night, attended by ants, and rest in the leaf litter below the cherry tree by day. 

Data from the marvelous Butterflies of Massachusetts website (https://www.butterfliesofmassachusetts.net/index.htm), where they have crunched the numbers for 150 years’ worth of butterfly sightings, suggest that warming temperatures due to climate change are causing Coral Hairstreaks there to begin their flight period two weeks ahead of the historical dates – at the beginning of July rather than the middle of July (and this is undoubtedly happening elsewhere).

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

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