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 – Variegated Meadowhawk Redux by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Variegated Meadowhawk Redux

Salutations, BugFans,

Variegated Meadowhawks started appearing in the state from the south and southwest in mid-April this year.  Their appearances were brief – they have places to go – but they leave eggs behind in our ponds.  Their offspring will emerge in late summer to decorate our landscapes briefly before they leave, too.

BugFan Freda contributed in-flight shots of Variegated Meadowhawks that she took recently at a local pond.  Note that one of Freda’s pictures shows a pair flying in tandem, with a third dragonfly, another male, that’s investigating/trying to break up the pair.  That’s the reason why, in many (but not all) species of dragonfly, the male continues to clasp the female as she oviposits (contact guarding).

The BugLady massaged this episode from 2012 – some new words and new pictures.  As you may recall, spring arrived in February that year, though we bounced back to normal in May, just in time to freeze the apple and cherry blossoms.  It was a long, hot, dry summer – water levels dropped, and plants bloomed early and only briefly before getting fried – and butterfly and dragonfly populations took a hit.  The BugLady, who thinks 73 degrees is hot, was not a happy camper.

2012 – The BugLady found this handsome dragonfly at a local Nature Preserve a few days ago.  Her photographic philosophy (necessitated by her hyperopia) is “Snap First and Identify Later;” so she appreciated the beauty of this spiffy individual in the moment (with a few soft “Wows!”).  She kept thinking, as she stalked the dragonfly on that fine, April day, that it sure looked like a meadowhawk, and it flew like a meadowhawk (and Wisconsin just doesn’t have that many red dragonflies), but that meadowhawks were not due on the landscape for months.  She appreciated it even more when she discovered later that she was looking at a new (for her) species – a Variegated Meadowhawk. 

When the BugLady wrote her BOTW about Meadowhawk Dragonflies in the summer of 2009 https://uwm.edu/field-station/meadowhawks/, she hadn’t seen a Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum).  Sympetrum means “with rock” and may refer to the rocks and other substrates that meadowhawks perch on to gather heat early in the day.  Generically, adult meadowhawks (in the Skimmer family Libellulidae) may be found hunting away from water or hanging around the shores of the lakes and ponds where they will deposit their eggs in late summer.  Instead of hatching right away, eggs of resident meadowhawk species spend the winter in a state of suspended animation called diapause and put off hatching until spring. 

Meadowhawk naiads (young) are hooked and spiny, though Variegated Meadowhawk naiads have very few hooks or spines on their exoskeletons.  They feed underwater for a few months on aquatic invertebrates, and maybe on a few tiny tadpoles and fish, until one fine evening when they crawl out of the water to complete their transformation into adults.  Some meadowhawk species in cold northern waters are naiads for a few years.   

Adult meadowhawks may chase their insect prey while in flight, but they’re more likely to spot it from a perch and take off after it, flycatcher-style.  The naiads sprawl on their underwater substrate and wait for prey to present itself.

VARIEGATED MEADOWHAWKS have tweaked the meadowhawk model a bit. 

The first word Paulson uses to describe Variegated Meadowhawks in Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East is “Robust” – their abdomens are much chunkier than those of other meadowhawks.  The medium-size body (about 1 ½”), patterned abdomen (possibly the reason for “corruptum,” which comes from a Latin root meaning “to break”), tinted veins on the leading edge of all four wings, stigmas (pigment dots at the wing tips) that shade from pale to dark to pale, and yellow spots on the sides of the thorax are all marks of a Variegated Meadowhawk.  Where the male has red markings that become more solidly red with age, the female and the newly-emerged juveniles are golden.   

Compared to other meadowhawks, they spend more time perched horizontally on and near the ground, and males are more territorial. 

They are early meadowhawks.  While most of their meadowhawk cousins appear in July and fly through the first frosts, Variegated Meadowhawks arrive, as this one did, as early as mid-April.  Legler, in Dragonflies of Wisconsin, says that “hot days in spring with southerly winds bring them into the state.”  In some parts of their range, they are the first dragonflies on the scene; here, they arrive at about the same time as the first, migratory Common Green Darners. 

These are migratory meadowhawks that migrate close to the ground and navigate visually, using the position of the sun.  They repopulate the North Country from the south and southwest in spring – they are far more common on the other side of the Mississippi and are considered vagrants or migrants east of the Big River.  Variegated Meadowhawks have been recorded in 43 states plus the southern tier of Canada https://bugguide.net/node/view/6538/data and in about half of Wisconsin’s counties, but much of the time, they’re just passing through.  Sightings peak around their spring arrivals and their mid-summer departures.   

Do they go back where they came from at the end of their season here? 

They do not.  Joined by other Variegated Meadowhawks that have drifted into the state from the west, the offspring of the Variegated Meadowhawks that stopped to breed here in April will head toward the Atlantic when they depart in late August.  They leave no young overwintering in Wisconsin ponds.  They migrate, often in the company of darners and saddlebags, south along the East coast as far south as Honduras and Belize (they also occur, inexplicably, in Southeast Asia) https://www.xerces.org/sites/default/files/2018-05/12-036_01_MDP_Field_Guide_4-4-2013Websec.pdf.  

The next generation heads north in spring immediately after becoming adults.  Most Variegated Meadowhawks seen here in spring are adults, and most fall migrants are juveniles.  It has been suggested that this migratory habit could give Variegated Meadowhawks an edge during a period of climate change. 

Mead, in Dragonflies of the North Woods, warns us against attempting to show off our netting skills by capturing a Variegated Meadowhawk, “as they may make a fool of you. This is one of the most difficult dragonflies to net; it is very shy and wary (and seems to possess a level of telepathic ability).”

Nota Bene: The most common butterfly on the BugLady’s landscape these days, the Red Admiral, is also a migrant to these parts.  Red Admiral, Painted Lady, and American Lady butterflies, all in the wandering genus Vanessa, are cold-intolerant.  They return to our area in spring, and some years see huge population booms and mass migrations.  You can report spring migration sightings at: http://vanessa.ent.iastate.edu, where you can also find out some neat stuff about Red Admiral behavior. 

There are a lot of Red Admirals around in 2023, too.

2012 Go outside – it may be early; it may be eerie; but spring’s happening.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

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