urbpan: (dandelion)
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I stood with another naturalist (actually a bona fide scientist who I admire and feel honored to hang out with sometimes) waiting for a third to arrive, when we noticed this wasp. Neither of us felt threatened, as she was extremely busy digging about in the sand. The sand was left over from the winter road treatment, and so was shallow and not very hard packed--not great for the wasp's purposes. She dug in one area and then another, occasionally picking up a pebble larger than her head with her mandibles and placing it away from her work zone. She was trying to find a place to dig a burrow in which to lay her eggs. Once she found one (she'll have better luck over at the baseball infields across the street) she'd then go find caterpillars and sawfly larvae (which humans often mistake for caterpillars, so I guess, close enough?) sting them to paralyze them, and stuff them down the hole with her eggs.

This genus of moth is Ammophila which means "sand-lover," and the silvery dashes on the thorax indicate that this is probably A. procera.

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urbpan: (dandelion)

The last two in the project were flies pretending to be wasps. Hard for this one to pretend to be anything but what it is--the largest wasp in the northeast, or at least the longest. That thread protruding from her abdomen is her ovipositor, and it brings her length to about four inches. This is the giant ichneumon Megarhyssa macrurus. She'll stab that thing into a rotting stump right into the body of a pigeon horntail larva and deposit her egg. Her baby then feeds on the horntail baby and, as they say, the beautiful cycle of life continues.

Despite her warning coloration and her terrifying (to many people) appearance, the giant ichneumon is not at all harmful to humans.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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This guy lives up to the name--it's the most frequently seen dragonfly in the yard. This is a male, with his bluish white abdomen; females are the same shape but have brown "tails" marked with light diagonal dashes. (As seen here.) All dragonflies are predators that catch other insects in flight, including biting flies. You should always be happy to have dragonflies around.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Looking like a wasp is an adaptation assumed by many different species of flies. Looking like a really huge wasp is more rare, but this Mydas fly Mydas clavatus has it down. It has a wasplike flight and measures a full inch in length, making it one of the largest true flies around. Its larvae feed on beetle grubs in the soil, and adults visit flowers for nectar. It may look scary but its one of the most beneficial insects in the yard.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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A calliphorid fly (bottle fly) warms up on a leaf.

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The reproductive parts of a daylily beckon luridly.

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Japanese honeysuckle ready for a chance encounter with a hummingbird.

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A tiny grasshopper nymph (subadult that hasn't molted into a winged adult) just hours or days old, ready to eat soft tender vegetation.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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We wild-collected two Chinese mantis oothecae (egg masses--pronounced Oh oh thus see!) and kept them in a jar until they hatched.

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Once they hatched we let the tiny predators out in the yard, focusing on plants damaged by grazing herbivores. This pathetic maple sapling has been reduced to mush by winter moth caterpillars and aphids. Go to work, babies!

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There's something so endearing about these minuscule murderers.

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Go forth little one! We'll collect your ootheca if you survive to make any.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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This ichneumonoid wasp is the test subject for my use of the bugalien bug catcher. It's a clear plastic pac man that you clomp over the insect or spider you want to catch. So far it's only worked for me for relatively large and slow bugs.

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I like that it allows you to catch and release beneficial insects like this one without harming them. Although you could easily mishandle the clomper and maim a bug in the attempt to catch.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Imagine my surprise, walking down the sidewalk in a small New England town in January, when encounter a large beetle. It was moving in a determined but unhurried manner. I recognized its strange shape--small front segments, big wide abdomen--from looking through beetle pics on bugguide. I guessed "blister beetle," and set upon handling it very carefully.

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Blister beetles are named for their ability to exude a chemical that can cause chemical burns to human skin. This big one here is in the genus Meroe*, a group known as "oil beetles;" presumably the yellow hemolymph they ooze is more memorable for its alarming oily appearance then for blistering naturalists.

These beetles are noteworthy as well for their life cycle: a mobile larva hatches from the egg and makes it way up to a flower where it will hitch a ride on a non-colonial bee. Some oil beetles release a scent that attracts male bees. Then the "triangulin," as this life stage is known, gains entry to the bee's nursery. It metamorphoses into another intermediate stage, less motile and more suited to lazily consuming the fruits of the bee's labor. Eventually it becomes the glorious animal pictured here. As to why it was waltzing down Mountain Road in Suffield in the dead of winter, I blame Climate Change.

(thanks to [profile] ankhanu* Origin obscure, may come from early medical literature (the term melloes appears in the writings of Paracelsus);
urbpan: (dandelion)
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The presence of the jeweler's loupe here is a hint that this is a very small organism. We generally think of ants as small animals, but this species is the smallest I've ever seen. Each worker is just about 1 mm in length.

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Their size and distinctive coloration--dark in the front with light legs and abdomen--identifies them as ghost ants Tapinoma melanocephalum*. Like many inhabitants of the great indoors, their origin is not precisely known. They are from the Old World Tropics for sure, narrowing it down to roughly a third of the surface of the planet.

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A colony could form in a pile of dead leaves, or in between a plant pot and it's protective liner. As long as the place is warm and humid, the ghost ants can live happily, feeding on miniscule amounts of sweet things and dead insects. When a colony is successful, some amount of it departs to become a new colony--"budding" instead of the complex new colony creation that some other eusocial insects endure. Besides all the tropics and heated greenhouses in the world, ghost ants live in Florida and Texas, and appear to be spreading.

* Humble and dark-headed
urbpan: (dandelion)
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There are only a handful of cockroach species that are adapted to live indoors with us. This one will only live indoors if the indoors in question contains warm humid air and moist soil with plants in it. Perhaps that explains the common name "greenhouse cockroach" Pycnoscelus surinamensis*. This species also goes by the name "Surinam cockroach," maintaining the long held tradition of naming pest roaches after places that are NOT where they came from.

Surinam roaches surely occur in Suriname (a former Dutch colony on the northeast coast of South America you goon), as they occur everywhere on earth with the conditions described above. They are thought to be native to Asia, down around Malaysia somewhere, and spread around the world with tropical plants. These roaches are burrowers, so it would be very easy for one or more to hide in the rootball of a Ficus or Lychee. And one is all that is needed to establish a colony, because these insects practice parthenogenesis--giving birth without sex. In fact, in North America, no one has yet found a male Surinam roach. A few have been found in Australia, but all female colonies appear to be the norm. The one pictured here is a wingless subadult; adult females grow tan wings over their dark brown abdomen.

*Thick-leg from Surinam
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Among the animals, termites pretty much have wood all to themselves. All that cellulose and lignin is just too difficult for most creatures to digest. Termites have symbiotic organisms in their guts that do the chemistry work for them. If you look closely you can see at least two different castes working their roles in this colony of eastern subterranean termites Reticulotermes flavipes*. Termites are the most primitive of the eusocial animals, having been chewing wood for up to 150 million years before ants or bees came along.

*Yellow-footed netted termite
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Weird growths on plants have always been fascinating to me. I was so happy when I learned that most of them are caused by animals! In this case, a very small fly--a midge called Polystepha pilulae*--laid her eggs in the flesh of this oak leaf. The tiny maggots hatched and began feeding, and the flesh of the leaf hardened around them, protecting them as they ate. Unless they were parasitized by a wasp, they will pupate in their galls and emerge as more tiny long-legged midges.


*Many crowned ball-maker
urbpan: (dandelion)
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This little fly, about the size of a small mosquito, landed on the kitchen table next to my laptop where I write these things. It was surprisingly tolerant of my attempts to photograph it, staying put as I got very close. It turns out this is a winter cranefly Trichocera* sp., a small relative of the creatures that look like giant mosquitoes. Unlike mosquitoes, winter crane flies do not feed on blood, or anything else for that matter. Their larvae feed in the leaf litter and detritus, but adults fly in the late fall to mate and die.

*This means either "hair horn" or "wax hair."
urbpan: (dandelion)
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I described this moth as "trapezoidal," but I should have called its posture "soaring hawk." Many moths in this genus Eupithecia* rest this way, sometimes hiding the second pair of wings entirely behind the first. This is another moth that spent its youth as an inchworm, this one probably grazing on the amble pollen supplied by plants in the aster family. The smart money is on this being a "common Eupithecia," E. miserulata**

*Good ape. No, really.

** hoo boy I can't figure this one
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Another plain brown moth with a story to tell. As a baby inchworm it (I almost said "he," as this is a male moth--but insect larvae have no sex organs) grazed on a variety of weeds like dock and smartweed. These plants are widespread around the world, as are the moths. The caterpillar possibly lived far south of Boston, flying hundreds of miles as a moth. If it doesn't reverse its journey it is surely doomed to freeze, but will be replaced by next years' migrants. This humble insect is even reported to "cross long distances of open sea." Moth-watchers call this creature Orthonama obstipata*, or sometimes "the gem."


*Off-center jointed streams.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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These black midge-like flies were hovering all around the wet woods we were walking in northern Vermont. I swatted one out of the air with my hat--my favorite flying insect catch method, as it usually stuns but does not injure the insect. Getting a better look at the fly showed me that it wasn't a midge, but looked more like a March fly. But it was October.

March flies get that name because they suddenly appear in great numbers in early spring. The males hover in swarms over the places where the females emerge in anticipation of mating. A few species of "March flies" instead emerge in autumn, including the male fly pictured here Bibio slossonae.*

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*Bibio is a Latin word that suggests an insect that is generated by wine--perhaps more fitting for Drosophila. The species name is in honor of entomologist Annie Trumbull Slosson.
urbpan: (Default)
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So nice to see a pretty butterfly this late in the year! This one is an eastern comma, Polygonia comma, named for a comma-shaped mark on it's underside. The larva feeds on nettles and elm, while the adults are piss-poor pollinators--preferring rotten fruit and puddles of urine over flower nectar.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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The St Louis Zoo's insectarium was very impressive. Check out this climbing structure for the leafcutter ants!

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Plants were provided for the ants to cut up and bring to their fungus farm.

for the unsqueamish )
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Downtown St Louis turned out to be a fruitful place to find insects. It helped that I spent several hours in the Missouri Botanical Garden where I found this little guy. He's a male meadow katydid Conocephalus fasciatus*, a singer (a dry buzzing song) and an eater of grasses. The females use a sharp ovipositor to put their eggs in the stems of grasses, ensuring that nymphs have easy access to their host plant.

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* Banded conehead
urbpan: (dandelion)
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This lupine bug Megalotomus quinquespinosus* is trying to trick me by sitting on a milkweed plant, instead of any legume. Normally this bug sticks its beaklike mouth into the seeds of lupines, soybeans, and others. Thinking back on it, the only conspicuous legumes around were honey locust trees. Sources also list sumac (a non-legume) as a host plant, and there is plenty of that in the highly-disturbed, partially paved area where I found this bug.

Apparently this plant eating bug benefits from its passing resemblance to the predatory assassin bugs. I presume that the distinctive white band on its antennae signals this misapprehension.

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*Best as I can tell, Megalotomus means "big section" referring to the broad head of this insect; Quinquespinosus means "5 spines."

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