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.
Arguably the most stunning of Missouri’s slug moth caterpillars, the Stinging Rose Caterpillar can most often be found on oak and hickory saplings. However, a number of other woody species (including those in the rose family) will also be used as host plants.
This is one of the species I voluntarily allowed to sting me – it wasn’t that bad, perhaps a mild ‘stinging-nettle’ type of experience that was gone in 30 minutes or so.
The image below shows a little of the variety of color and patterns that can be found in this species, this one showing more of a yellow/orange background. Some animals can be found that are completely yellow.
Belonging to the family of moths called Saturniidae, the Imperial Moth can reach up to six inches. Many members of this family are large-bodied and short-lived as adults – typically living only one or two weeks and not feeding in this stage. This female was attracted to lights during a national moth week event at Cuivre River State Park on July 31, 2016.
While investigating a patch of Maypop (Passiflora incarnata) I could not find my goal of the Passion Flower Flea Beetle, but I was still happy to find a number of Shiny Flea Beetles – Chrysomelidae – Asphaera lustrans.
Almost reflexively, I pull the baby rattle-shaped seed pod from the stately White Wild Indigo (Baptisia alba) as I meander through Shaw Nature Reserve’s prairie trails. I can’t help it. I make sure the pods are always black, mature and any seeds left unravaged I simply help to disperse along my walk. But in doing this so often in the late summer and autumn for so many years I have come to notice that this common forb cannot disperse many seed. Because, inside the seed pods, like the one pictured above, I usually find multiple seed predators – the short-snouted weevils, Trichapion rostrum (Family Brentidae).
Baptisia seed are favored among other insects as well, but what they may lose in this stage of life, they pick up as they grow, for the false indigo are long-lived, drought-tolerant perennials that contain large amounts of secondary compounds that make them absolutely unpalatable to grazing mammals. The photo below shows these tiny beetles (3.0 – 3.5 mm) among the husks of a number of seeds. I have not been able to find a source that suggests if both larvae and adults feed on these seeds, or just one of the growth stages.
Here is an image of a couple, shortly after I split their double-wide…
These little one have been a source of fascination for me. I hope to learn more about them someday.
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…
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.
The False Milkweed Bug (Lygaeus turcicus) is a seed bug that, although quite similar in appearance to the Small Milkweed Bug (Lygaeus kalmii), is not strongly associated with milkweed.
As can be seen in the photograph above, the False Milkweed Bug is most often found feeding on yellow composites (Family Asteraceae). These bugs were all photographed at Shaw Nature Reserve on what seems to be this insect species’ favorite food plant, the False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides).
There are several members of the Lygaeidae family that are aposematically colored and found in North American prairies. As mentioned, it seems that the False Milkweed Bug does not typically utilize milkweeds. The Small Milkweed Bug feeds on milkweeds as well as other plant taxa. The Large Milkweed Bug feeds exclusively on milkweed. There is obviously a great case of Mullerian mimicry (distasteful organisms appearing similar to one another to benefit from a an easily identified color or body type) going on here, but it gets pretty complicated.
What has happened to the False Milkweed Bug? Is this a case of a species that once fed primarily on milkweed and developed aposematic coloration but has since switched food preference? Or, is this a case of a palatable species mimicking (Batesian mimicry this time) the aposematic coloration of a truly noxious species? Thinking about this, it is easy to see the selective advantages that could result from either possibility.
First, a little background…
Some insects that feed on milkweed benefit by concentrating chemicals called cardiac glycosides that are toxic irritants to vertebrate predators. Cardiac glycosides are an irritant to vertebrate herbivores (livestock) and vertebrates that feed on insects that feed on milkweed and store these compounds in their tissues. However, they are not a significant problem for insects that feed on milkweeds – they simply pass through their guts (insects that store these specific toxins, for example the monarch, must have biochemical changes to avoid toxic effects). The milkweed’s primary defense against the seed bugs and other herbivorous insects is the milky sap that gets forcefully pumped from any mechanical damage that is inflicted on the plant. For this reason the milkweed is a pain for an insect to feed on.
For a seed bug, with its piercing-sucking mouth parts, feeding on the gummy sap of a milkweed is a significant hurdle. Assuming the False Milkweed Bug once fed from milkweed primarily and gave it up would be a significant advantage. Keeping the aposematic coloration, which would allow it to gain the benefit from its vile-tasting, similarly colored cousins, still feeding on milkweed, would be advantageous as well. With my brief observations, the False Milkweed Bug still behaves conspicuously – feeding and doing everything else it does out in the open, suggesting that the aposematic coloration is still working in this mimic-model system, whatever the source history ultimately may be.
The Strawberry Bush is a rather new one for me. Steve and I found these plants, with freshly opened fruit capsules along the St. Francis River within Millstream Gardens CA this autumn. Rare due to loss of preferred habitat, this plant prefers moist, sandy soils along stream banks. Along with the St. Francois Mountain region, this plant also grows in extreme south-eastern Missouri.