The Resident Ichneumon

This tiny and speedy ichneumon wasp, which I am calling a Theronia species, has been hanging around my patch of wild strawberries for a couple of months.  If I am close to correct in the identification (with more than 100,000 described ichneumons, how close could I be?), then this species parasitize tent caterpillars along with a number of other lepidopterans.

Ichneumonidae - Theronia sp. - Female - Photographed in the author's wild strawberry patch, St. Louis Co., MO.
Ichneumonidae – Theronia sp. – Female – Photographed in the author’s wild strawberry patch, St. Louis Co., MO.

I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars …

-Charles Darwin-

Ichneumonidae - Theronia sp. - IMG_6541
Ichneumonidae – Theronia sp. – Female – Photographed in the author’s wild strawberry patch, St. Louis Co., MO.

-OZB

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The Leafcutter Bee

Leafcutter Bee - Megachile sp.
Leafcutter Bee – Megachile sp.

The Leafcutter Bees are an interesting group of native solitary bees found within the Megachilidae Family along with Mason Bees, Resin Bees and Carder Bees.  There are approximately 200 species of Leafcutter Bees (Megachile genus) found in North America and several of these species can be easily found in gardens throughout the eastern United States where they favor the plant families Asteraceae, Campanulaceae and Fabaceae.

 

Leafcutter Bee - Megachile sp.
Leafcutter Bee – Megachile sp.

Leafcutter Bees get their names from an obvious behavior.  These bees line their chosen nest cavities (stems, cracks, wood-boring beetle borings, holes of all kinds) with circular discs that they cut from green leaves or flower petals.  When a cavity has been sufficiently lined, the bee will deposit an egg along with a provision of nectar and pollen, afterward abandoning the nest.

Leafcutter Bee - Megachile sp.
Leafcutter Bee – Megachile sp.

Bees in this family are abdominal pollen collectors, as can be seen in the photo above.  Unlike most bees that hold pollen in brushes on their legs, the Megachilidae hold their pollen on the underside of their abdomens that consist of course, unbranched hairs that curves towards the tail.

Leafcutter Bee - Megachile sp.
Leafcutter Bee – Megachile sp.

A diagnostic behavior of the Leafcutter Bee is their habit of extending their abdomen vertically while they forage.  I have not been able to find an accepted reason that they do this.

Leafcutter Bee - Megachile sp.
Leafcutter Bee – Megachile sp.

This is a group of native insects that anyone can help in their own backyard.  Consider making, purchasing and installing nesting structures for your native pollinating bees.  It’s quite easy to do and will help out a lot in suburban where natural sites for nests are often hard to find.

The Bee Wolves

Bee Wasp
Bee Wolf

I was thrilled when I took my camera inside from shooting in my wildflower garden on a past summer day and identified this hymenopteran as a Bee Wolf.  Philanthus gibbosus (Family Crabonidae) is what I am calling this one.  Bee Wolves get their name from doing what you expect, feeding primarily on bees.  These solitary wasps will load their brood chambers with pretty much any bee or wasp smaller than themselves that they can catch as a provision for a single egg they deposit prior to sealing the chamber shut.  Some taxa have specific bees they prefer to catch and this can aid in identification.  This poor thing was quite beaten up as you can see in the photograph below.  Missing a few legs, it probably escaped a bird or larger insect, and was not happy to have me and my camera in its face.  In the photo above I captured it doing a rapid vibration of its wings, something I read that these guys are known for doing as a communication.  I can’t imagine what she may have been trying to tell me…

Bee Wolf
Bee Wolf

I believe the insect below to also be a species of Bee Wolf, but have not yet been able to put a name with this one.  I photographed this one having a drink in a wet area of Shaw Nature Reserve early one morning.

Bee Wolf?
Bee Wolf?

-OZB

 

A Few Flighty Flies

Robber Fly
Robber Fly

I find the flies to be one of the more interesting groups of insects and I was constantly on the lookout for new species to photograph this summer.  There is such diversity in the flies, from size to form and function.  There is still so much to learn about some flies, including some rather common species that researchers have still not described where or on what the larval forms live.  To start, here is a closeup of a true giant of the flies, a Robber Fly (Family Asilidae).  The Robberflies are true predators, with an intimidating beak that they use to inject neurotoxic and protein-dissolving cocktails.

Trichopoda pennipes
Trichopoda pennipes

The photograph above showcases a fly that should be a favorite of gardeners and farmers.  Flies in this family (Tachinidae) parasitize a number of different insects and this species specializes in many of the plant-feeding true bugs like Stink Bugs and Leaf-footed Bugs.  The generic name can be translated from Greek to mean “hairy foot” and the specific name “pennipes” means feather.  This namesake feature can be seen on the rear legs of this fly in the photograph above.

Thick-headed Fly
Thick-headed Fly

The Thick-headed Flies are extremely interesting and a joy to watch.  These guys not only mimic bees and wasps, but they also parasitize the hymenoptera by depositing their eggs on the stinging insect, sometimes attacking the host to place their egg.  The eggs hatch and the larvae become internal parasites of their host.

Geron Bee Fly
Geron Bee Fly

The minuscule Bee Flies in the genus Geron parasitize moth caterpillars.  The adults of these flies feed almost exclusively on yellow-flowered Asteraceae.

Scorpion Fly
Scorpion Fly

Don’t be threatened by the sting-like structure that this Scorpionfly (Family Panorpidae) has arched over its back.  This is simply the male genitalia and is quite harmless.  Scorpionflies primarily make a living by scavenging on dead insects, and like many flies, exhibit elaborate behaviors to attract mates.  These flies will perform various dances in front of females and will often provide a ripe insect carcass as a prenuptial gift.

So Long!
So Long!

Finally, here is a rather different view of a Greenbottle Fly.  I hope this helps to describe some of the fascinating diversity in form, function and behavior that can be found within the Diptera.  These are but just a few of the easier to find and photograph!  I hope to continue my exploration of these fascinating insects next year.

-OZB

From the Garden – Lacewings

Brown Lacewing
Brown Lacewing

The Lacewing (order Neuroptera, roughly translated to “nerve-wings”) insects are important predators of economic pests.  Lacewing larvae are voracious predators that prey upon soft-bodied arthropods such as aphids, scale and whitefly.  I have not yet been able to photograph one of these killer larvae yet, and that may be due to their tendency to cover themselves in pieces of trash (including parts of their victims) they find in their environment as camouflage.  Another interesting bit of information about these insects is how their eggs are deposited.  The photograph below shows the eggs deposited on long thread-like stalks, which have been hypothesized to be deterrents to not only predation, but cannibalism as the larvae hatch and immediately begin to look for something to eat.

Lacewing Eggs
Lacewing Eggs

OZB