Thursday, November 27, 2014

Eastern velvet ant

Velvet ants such as the Eastern velvet ant (Dasymutilla occidentalis) are actually wasps.  As solitary wasp, the velvet ant does not live in colonies. The females are wingless and are sometimes mistaken for a large, hairy, orange and black ant. They are found crawling through lawns, digging around soil, or even in garages where they have wandered in by accident.

Velvet ants are not aggressive and will try to escape from you. However, the females have a very painful sting if handled. The name "Cow Killer Ant" was given to the velvet ant because of the reputation of the female's sting. It is said that the sting is so painful that it could kill a cow. This is of course not true.

This handsome insect does make a sound (especially when stepped on) but the squeaks of the cow killer ant would hardly be heard over the painful screams, if the person stepping on the wasp was barefoot.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Giraffe weevil

The giraffe weevil (Trachelophorus giraffa) is a beetle endemic to Madagascar, which means it only occurs on this island. Its name comes from an extended neck much like that of the common giraffe. The neck of the male is typically 2 to 3 times the length of that of the female. Males use their long necks to fight with other males to win the right to mate with a nearby female. They use them as a weapon to push and wrestle with the opponent. 

Giraffe weevils were only discovered in 2008. They are herbivore insects, feeding on a tree that is commonly known as the "giraffe beetle tree" (Dichaetanthera arborea). They spend most of their lives on these small trees, venturing far from them only on rare occasions. When it comes time to breed, the mother-to-be will roll and secure a leaf of the host plant and lay a single egg within the tube. She will then snip the roll from the remaining leaf. The roll falls to the forest floor and provides sustenance to the newly-hatched larvae during its first days of life.

Giraffe weevils are peaceful insects, showing no aggression towards other species.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Nuttall Blister Beetle

Blister beetles are phytophagous (plant-eating), feeding on a variety of plants including cultivated crops like potatoes and tomatoes. Their larvae feed on grasshopper eggs and a few such as the Nuttall Blister Beetle (Lytta nuttalli) attack bee larvae or feed on bee eggs and the food stored in the cells with the eggs. 

The common name blister beetles come from the fact that these beetles can release a yellow oily liquid from the joints of the legs and this liquid (called cantharadin) can cause blisters if it contacts human skin. This defensive tactic is called reflex bleeding.

Blister beetles go through what is called hypermetamorphosis which means they change not only from a larval form into a different looking adult form but also during their live as a larva. They start as a sleek, host-seeking larvae and become a plump couch potato once they locate a host. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Tachinid fly

The tachinid fly Hystricia abrupta is a large, very spiny fly, not uncommonly found on flowers in the forest openings and wet glades in summer and early fall. 

Flies of the family Tachinidae are highly diverse (more than 8000 species known and still counting) and almost exclusively internal parasites of other insects, especially caterpillars. Our bug of the day is going after caterpillars and pupae of various tiger moths.

Tachinid females have different ways to place their eggs with the hosts. Among the methods they use to infect their subjects are the species that place large eggs directly on the body of the host, others place tiny, eggs on leaves or other foodstuffs being consumed by the host, or the third group, which retains their eggs until maturity; these eggs hatch immediately upon being laid on or near the target.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Giant woodwasp

The Giant Woodwasp or Greater Horntail (Urocerus gigas) is a species of Sawfly. These large wasps are found in forested areas. They look intimidating, but they are actually harmless.

Female woodwasps lay their eggs in trees. Each of sometimes 350 eggs is laid singly in a hole that she pierces in the wood. The larvae bore further into the wood and live in the tree for up to two years, possibly more. They typically migrate to just under the bark before pupation. Adult woodwasps sometimes emerge indoors from timber used for building.

The male wasps practice a behavior that is called ‘hilltopping’. They are collectively waiting for females atop rocky edges.

Researchers have been inspired by the egg-laying apparatus (ovipositor) of the female wood wasp. They have created a neurosurgical probe that works on the same principle.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Oak treehopper

Treehoppers are often barely recognizable as living creatures, let alone as insects. Many species mimic thorns, with spikes, horns, crests, or other weird modifications to their back.  Treehoppers mimic thorns to prevent predators from spotting them.

The oak treehopper (Platycotis vittata) is large, up to 2 cm including the horn on the back.  It is fairly common on evergreen oaks as well as birches. The treehoppers pierce tree stems with their beaks, and feed upon the sap. The young treehoppers or nymphs prefer to feed on shrubs and grasses.

The females of this species guard their eggs and nymphs. A female has been observed chasing away wasps approximately a dozen times from her colony of nymphs.  After the wasp apparently grew discouraged and flew away, the female flew to her young, and examined to see that they were uninjured. 

Communication between treehoppers of one species is accomplished by vibration of the abdomen against stems or leafs.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Goldenrod soldier beetle

The goldenrod soldier beetle (Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus), also sometimes called Pennsylvania leatherwing, is generally considered a beneficial insect, as its diet includes various common plant pests such as aphids.

Soldier beetles are named after one of the first species discovered in this group. It has a color pattern very similar to the red coats of early British soldiers. 

These beetles fly well and are often also valuable pollinators. Some of them can be confused with many other beetle species, some of which mimic them. Both adults and larvae have glands at the rear of the abdomen that release defensive chemicals similar to the stink bugs.

The goldenrod soldier beetle is found mostly on golden rod, hence the name. It may occasionally venture indoors, especially as temperatures begin to drop in fall, where it is primarily considered no worse than a nuisance, as it will not bite or sting people or pets.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Coffee Berry Borer

I just wrote about this little guy on my other blog.  The coffee berry borer (Hypothenemus hampei) is a small (<2 mm) beetle native to Africa. However, within the last 10-15 years it spread around the world and turned into one of the most harmful pest to coffee crops causing about $500 million of damage every single year.

The adult females bore a hole in the coffee berry, where they deposit their eggs. After hatching, the larvae start to feed on the coffee seeds inside the berry which means that later on there won't be any coffee bean left to produce coffee.

New research in Costa Rica shows that hungry birds can significantly reduce the damage by the coffee berry borer beetle.  A study found that insectivorous birds cut infestations by the beetle by about half. The birds may not pull a perfect cafĂ© latte, but it turns out the are friends to coffee drinkers all the same.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Alkali fly

The Alkali fly (Ephydra hians) belongs to the family of shore flies. This is a very diverse family with about 425 species recorded in North America alone. Many of them are very abundant around alkaline lakes. A soda lake or Alkaline lakes or soda lakes are lakes a pH value above 7, typically between 9 – 12, which means they are rather brine than normal freshwater.

An calm summer days swarms of Alkali flies carpet the shoreline of lakes such as Mono Lake in California. Here is a video that gives you an idea how abundant these flies can be at times:

These flies are also food. Most birds prefer dining on the flies. Alkali flies provide more fat and protein than e.g. the brine shrimp that is the main food source for flamingos. The alkali fly was an important source of food for the native Kutzadika'a people during the summer months. Since the pupae are rich in fat and protein, they were an excellent source of food that were dried and used in stews.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Carolina Leaf-roller

The Carolina Leaf-roller (Camptonotus carolinensis) is the only representative of the family of Leaf-rolling crickets. It is active at night, preying on aphids. It likes to build a daytime retreat for itself by rolling leaves and securing them with silk threads spun from glands in its mouth. 

As opposed to all other crickets the Leaf-rolling crickets don’t jump. 

When disturbed, the cricket inflates its abdomen and raises itself with some of the legs up right. It then repeatedly moves the abdomen against the legs creating a low, raspy sound.  That’s why these insects are sometimes also called ‘raspy crickets’. At the same time it makes noise with the mandibles and wings. If this cannot drive away the dangers, the activity becomes more vigorous. The raspy sound seems to serve a defensive purpose only, as the cricket, both male and female, seems do not have any hearing organ. Many other crickets do (mostly in the front legs).

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Meadow Spittlebug

Meadow spittlebugs (Philaenus spumarius) are relatives of the leafhoppers and you might be familiar with the masses of ‘spit’ their nymphs produce to hide from predators and parasites. The animals mix liquid waste products with spit, whipping air bubbles into this froth by using fingerlike appendages at the tip of their abdomen. This foam also keeps the bugs moist.

The meadow spittlebug is considered a serious pest of strawberries throughout North America and Europe especially in areas of high relative humidity. But Spittlebugs are not really very selective. We know that they feed on over 400 species of agricultural plants. Spittlebug nymphs can damage plants when there are many on one plant. The nymphs suck on plant juices and stop plants from further growth.

Adult Meadow Spittlebugs are often called froghoppers for their plump appearance and their remarkable jumping abilities.

Spittlebugs mate in late Summer. Females lay eggs on stems of plants. The eggs overwinter, since they can resist frost. In Spring, the nymphs hatch from the eggs and start eating and producing their ‘spit’.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Northern Walkingstick

Image from
Stick insects such as the Northern Walkingstick (Diapheromera femorata) are vegetarians. They are well disguised as twigs or stems, some tropical species resemble leaves. These insects usually move very slowly, and at rest they align the front and rear leg s with their body, which makes the camouflage even better.

Male stick insects are often smaller than females, and pairs may remain together for days or even longer. However, females often do not need males as these insects are parthenogenic which means that females can reproduce without males.

A Walkingstick that loses a leg may be able to grow it back, which is impossible for most other insects.

Today’s species is found in deciduous forest throughout North America where they find their food sources which consist of many types of plant leaves. Even though the Northern Walkingstick is not very picky it tends to prefer oak and hazelnut leaves.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

European Earwig

Earwigs are the victims of superstition. Contrary to all those myths, they do not enter the ears of sleeping humans. The name might actually come from the shape of the wing in some species, hence ‘ear wing’ was the intended name which was later corrupted into earwig.

The European Earwig (Forficula auricularia) is normally predatory on small insects, but it becomes a pest of flowers when prey becomes scarce. 

Earwigs frighten many people also because of the pincers on the back of their abdomens. They use these pincers for defense and for sparing with rival earwigs. Earwigs also use them to fold their hind wings.

Females guard their clutch of eggs and the newly hatched baby earwigs. They keep the eggs free of parasites and fungi by licking them clean. After they hatch, a female delivers food to her offspring until they can take care of themselves.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Large Bee Fly

Bee flies might be mistaken for large, fuzzy mosquitoes because of the long stinger-like mouthpart (its called proboscis) but there are for sipping nectar, not blood. Most bee fly species such as our large bee fly (Bombylius major) are covered in long hairs. Other species have silvery scales that wear off rapidly as the insect ages. Many species have dark ornament patterns on their wings.

These flies are very good at hovering which helps to reinforce their resemblance to bees.  They may be seen out and about from April through to June.  They forage on a range of flowers such as lilac and plum blossoms.

The eggs are flicked by the adult female toward the entrance of the underground nests of solitary bees and wasps. After hatching, the larvae find their way into the nests to feed on the other larvae.
Here a video that shows a large bee fly hovering and flying from flower to flower:

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

House fly

The house fly (Musca domestica) is the most common of all domestic flies, accounting for about 91% of all flies in human settlements, and indeed one of the most widely distributed insects, found all over the world. The larvae of this species and its relatives feed in manure or decaying organic matter. The ability of housefly larvae to feed and develop in a wide range of decaying organic matter is very important for recycling of nutrients in nature. Adult flies feed on a large variety of liquid food and regurgitate their food to liquefy solid particles in their food. 

The house fly is known to transmit the microorganisms responsible for a variety of diseases such as dysentery, cholera, and typhoid fever. The best way to avoid any of this is good hygiene. 

When doing my research for this post I also found this very interesting recommendation to keep the flies at bay: attaching clear plastic bags, half full of water, outside doors and windows. The constant motion of the water interferes with the insect’s vision.

Cuckoo wasp

I didn't get to post yesterday, which means I owe you two bugs today.

Number one is a member of the Cuckoo wasp family only known under a scientific name (as most of them), Holopyga ventralis. This species is common throughout North America wherever its host/victim, sand wasps, can be found.

Cuckoo wasps are also called gold wasps. They are usually small, metallic, and heavily armored, the latter for a very good reason. The wasps are parasites in the nests of other wasps or bees. The female slips into the nest of the host, laying an egg inside. After the egg hatches, the cuckoo wasp’s larva eats either the rightful inhabitant or in many cases the food stored in the nest. 

These wasps have no stinger, so when they are attacked they curl into a ball for defense which is very effective given their string armor.