Photographed at Shaw Nature Reserve in August of 2020, this is the white form of Cirsium discolor, the pasture thistle.
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 Lindera benzoin (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.
Until next time…
…comes the newest in reality based, sustainable living instructional programming: Corruption Construction!
In a previous post I wrote a bit about the Warty Leaf Beetle (Neochlamisus gibbosus), a member of the Cryptocephalinae subfamily. Fascinating due to the fact that the adult form seems to be a perfect mimic of caterpillar frass, this species is much more interesting than I had imagined.
This species is highly, if not solely, associated with blackberry as a host plant. While watching these guys and looking for other insects on these plants I kept noticing gall-like structures, usually on the undersides of the leaves.
Paying closer attention, I noticed that these structures were not galls, nor were they attached directly to the plant tissue – they moved. On closer inspection, I could sometimes see the legs of the creature that resided within the house.
I had to crack one open to see if I could get an idea of what sort of organism built and resided within. As you can see in the photograph below, the animal appeared to be a beetle larvae.
It took me a while to put it together, but eventually I confirmed that the larvae belonged to the same species as the adult beetles that I observed all over the blackberries. My next question was, on what materials did the larvae use to build its shelter? Usually, an insect will use detritus or perhaps fresh plant tissue that it processes to make a protective enclosure like this. These guys do it a bit differently.
It starts with mom. As she oviposits, she encases each egg with a layer of her own feces and some rectal secretions. As the larvae hatches and grows, it continues to expand its home by building with its own feces to accommodate its increasing bulk. Here is a photo of an adult and larvae close together.
References and Further Reading
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.