Members of WGNSS Entomology and Nature Photography Groups met on June 24th, 2017 to see what interesting insects could be found. In this post I am sharing a few of the more interesting that I was able to get photographs of during the day. The find of the day had to be the Cerambycid pictured above that was, by no surprise, found by Ted MacRae.
We found that blooms were a great way to find beetles. It is easy to see how the delta flower scarab (Trigonopeltastes delta) got its name.
Cerambicids like this flower longhorn can readily be found on blooms.
The banded netwing beetle (Calopteron reticulatum) are easy to find, often located in the open atop vegetation. They rely on aposematic coloration to advertise that they carry aboard chemical compounds that make them a distasteful meal.
The Hymenoptera were well represented on blooms of wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), Queen Ann’s lace (Daucus carota) and as pictured above, fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica). I find the native bees to be tricky to identify by photographs, but I believe this can be placed in the genus Agopostemon. These bees nest in the ground and to promote them, leave patches of soil exposed somewhere in your yard.
This cleptoparasitic Coelioxys exclusively parasitizes the nests of bees in the Megachile genus.
Besides being a bizarre little pollinator, this scaly bee fly is a cleptoparasite of cabronid wasps.
Not to leave out the Leps, this double-toothed prominent moth larvae was found. These guys have developed very effective camouflage that allows them to blend in and resemble the toothed, wavy margins of their elm (Ulmus) host plants.
With some extra nature time last week, I hit the trails at Shaw Nature Reserve hoping to get some shots of Claytonia virginica (spring beauty) being visited by its pollinators – particularly the small solitary Halactid bees. The problem I had on this day is that these bees don’t typically like to be very active on cloudy, grey days. There were a few flies visiting the spring ephemerals, but they were much to flighty to bother with. So, I decided to give some attention to the Linderabenzoin (spicebush) that were blooming in abundance along the river bottom trails. My goal then became to document the pollinators that visit this early-blooming bush.
One of the more obvious of these pollinators that I found was this sawfly. This is my best guess on identification. This sawfly was quite small and by the looks of it, is quite an efficient pollinator.
Probably the most abundant pollinator I came across were these Tachinid flies (again, flies are difficult and I could be wrong).
The hair-like setae that probably serve to aid the fly in responding to changing air pressures also serve as nice holders to move pollen from flower to flower.
I also found a number of multicolored asian lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis). Typically predators of aphids, these beetles are also known to feed on pollen. This is what I figure was going on in the image below. Since there are probably few aphids to be found during the early spring, with few leaves being available, pollen is the next best protein source. I suppose there could be aphids to be found hiding within the flowers, but did not inspect closely enough.
Probably my favorite find of the day were several flies of the family Empididae. These are fascinating flies that are primarily predatory, but a few taxa will visit flowers to feed on nectar or pollen.
Within this family are at least a few where the females will not hunt themselves, instead relying on a “nuptial gift” of a prey item from a male. Males of some species will wrap their gift in a silk wrapper. In these taxa the sex roles will often be reversed – the females courting the males to get these gifts and the opportunity to mate. In at least one species, the females will inflate themselves grossly with air to give herself the appearance of being bound with eggs and fecund, to trick the male into thinking she is a prime candidate to provide his gift and have the opportunity to mate with.
At least one species has taken this system a step further. The males no longer provide a prey wrapped in its decorative covering, but simply provide the silken covering, or balloon, giving them the name “balloon flies”. The photo below provides a good look at the dagger-like moth parts that give these guys another of their common names. Another overlooked beneficial fly. Not only do these guys prey on mosquitoes and other potential pest insect species, but their larvae are also predatory, feeding on insects in the soil and leaf litter.
I’ll leave you with one final image. This one isn’t a pollinator of the spicebush, but potentially feeds on its leaves in summer. What I believe this to be is a (Camptonotus carolinensis) Carolina leaf roller that was parasitized by one of the “zombie fungi”, potentially Cordyceps sometime last summer or early fall. This poor cricket was infected with this fungi that took control of its “mind”, forcing it it to climb high up on a branch of the spicebush. Once there, the fungi used the cricket’s resources to fruit and spread its spores from this higher location in order to reinfect others.
This gorgeous redhead is the White-marked Tussock Moth (Lymantriidae – Orgyia leucostigma – 8316). I was amazed at how abundant they were and routinely found on the underside of leaves on woody plants this summer. Most folks have never seen one!
Besides their striking colors and patterns, these moths have toxin-filled hairs that can cause irritation, especially to areas of sensitive skin. I have not yet photographed an adult, but I was interested to hear that the females of this species are nearly wingless and cannot fly.
The final and perhaps most stunning of the slug moth caterpillars that we were able to find this past summer was the Monkey Slug, or “Hag Moth” caterpillar. This particular one was first noticed by Sarah on the upper side of a dogwood leaf during a visit to Horseshoe Bend Natural Area near Houston MO. We went on to find two in this particular tree.
A leading thought on why these guys look the way they do is to mimic the shed exoskeleton of a tarantula.
I found only a few Elegant-tailed Slugs this year and all were found at Hickory Canyons Natural Area in Ste. Genevieve County, Missouri. The image below documents the only occasion where I found more than one slug on the same leaf, here a Spiny Oak Slug was found on the same curled leaf as our new Elegant-tailed Slug.
The highly variable colors and patterns of the skiff moth are hypothesized to mimic senescent/necrotic lesions on leaf surfaces. They often have paired white spots that are thought to mimic the eggs of the tachinid fly, a parasite that enters the caterpillar after hatching. These “egg mimics” are hypothesized to work by dissuading flies that may attempt to avoid depositing eggs on victims that were previously parasitized.
These guys remind me of the tornado chasing vehicles that were on those TV shows about a decade ago.
This one was photographed on my wife, Sarah’s finger at Shaw Nature Reserve.
Finally, I was able to photograph the adult during National Moth Night this summer.
In my anecdotal experience of hunting for slug caterpillars over a six to eight week period this summer, the Nason’s slug (Natada nasoni – Hodges #4679) was by far the most abundant that I came across. This was particularly true in the drier, oak/hickory/pine hillsides of Hickory Canyon N.A. in Sainte Genevieve County.
This species is able to retract its spines, elongating them to their fullest with any notion of danger. These guys have pretty substantial spines and because the cats were so abundant, I found I was accidentally stung a few times while lifting vegetation. This was not a pleasant experience.
I really enjoy the colors and patterns this species displays.
The image below was one that I had previsualized and worked a good bit on to get it right. I used my plamp to hold the leaf and attached the plamp to a dead limb to position the leaf high enough to get the leaf and caterpillar back lit by the sun. I then used just a bit of flash to illuminate the ‘face’ of the caterpillar and the underside of the leaf. In cases where I removed the leaf to get a photo, I always placed the leaf securely back on the same plant.