Posts Tagged 'beetles'

Milkweed, Milkweed Beetles

milkweed

Locust Borers

Megacyllen robiniae…making more Locust Borers (Megacyllen robiniae). This wasp-like longhorn beetle feeds on goldenrod and lays its eggs on Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) trees, into which the larvae bore…

Some Southwestern Insects

Aglais milbertiMilbert’s Tortoiseshell (Aglais milberti). I’ve only identified a couple of the following, so holler if you know any of them.
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Battus philenorPipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor).i16i10This katydid was dropped in front of me by a surprised Western Tanager. I think the katydid was surprised too, if not in shock.i5Like the chimney-shaped ant colony entrance, this is another sign of an insect, in this case a gall-maker (evidently several species make willows produce these cone-like structures).

British Bugs

A selection of the insects spotted on my Dartmoor walk, most of which I can’t identify, so if you know ‘em, holler below in the comments.Calopteryx virgoThis one was easy to look up. (And be sure to click on the image to get a closer look at the wings.) There are only two damselfly species with colored wings over there. This is the (obviously) Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo), even though this is the male of the species. I found this one in Lustleigh’s small park.wingsSeveral days later I came across just the wings of this species at Dartmeet. I wonder what the story here was?Calopteryx splendensThis, seen also in Lustleigh, is the female Banded Damoiselle (Calopteryx splendens), the other colored-wing species.beetles2

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Pyrrhosoma nymphulaLarge Red Damselflys (Pyrrhosoma nymphula), mating at the pond at Yarner Woods. Props to the British Dragonfly Society for ID help on the odes. Feel free to throw in your two pence worth of ID help for the rest of these. Vanessa atalantaBut you need no introduction to the circumpolar Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta).combAnt working on some kind of comb, in the middle of the path.

High Gloss Lady

My “Year of the Ladybug” continues. Or, should I say, Year of the Aphids? Since it is the aphids, those little buggers, who have ushered in the ladies. This glossy creature is the Polished Lady Beetle, Cycloneda munda, a species new to me.Also known commonly as the Red Lady Beetle and the Immaculate — that is, spotless — Ladybug. There are three species of Cycloneda in North America, with C. munda being the one found here in the North East.
One of the larva stage C. mundas, no orisons here, with a crunchy aphid at the business end. Photographed yesterday, in a drizzly, foggy, damp, humid, clammy Brooklyn Bridge Park, where the polish on the adult beetle shone out like a lighthouse.

Brooklyn Bridge Park

It’s the middle of September, but Brooklyn Bridge Park is still hopping. And flitting. And flirting. And… but see below.

Noted yesterday, most often spotted first by my eagle, or should I say bug? -eyed companions:Gray Hairstreak, Strymon melinus, a small butterfly that looks like it could be going either way.Baby Gray Catbird, Dumetella carolinensis. A wasp-mimicking beetle. At over an inch long, this striking creature is the Locust Borer, Megacyllene robiniae. It’s one of the longhorn beetles; its larva bores into black locusts, while adults like this one eat goldenrod pollen. The beetle was made for this park with its black locust trees and goldenrod galore. Here’s a view of the striped underside:Meanwhile, the breeding season is most definitely not over:Bluet damselflies mating. The bright male clasps the female right behind the head. The female curves her abdomen around underneath herself to latch onto the second abdominal segment of the male, where he keeps his business (“anterior laminae”) for the ol’ genetic transfer.Larva of Large Milkweed Bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus. Adult:Not to be confused with the Small Milkweed Bug. The Large is a real aggregator:For those of you who love a good swarm.

And what all the fuss is about, milkweed seeds:Intrigued by what you see? Want to learn more? I will be leading a tour of the park’s “Birds, Bugs, and Bees” on September 29th. It’s free, but you need to do be a park volunteer to take part.

Burying Beetles

Burying beetles, also called sexton beetles, after the church employee traditionally in charge of the congregation’s corpses, need carrion. They eat dead mammals and birds, as well as the fly larvae that feed off carrion, but most importantly they bury it with their own eggs, giving their young something to eat. Pictured above are two species of burying beetles: Nicophorus marginatus (left) and Nicophorus orbicollis (right), found in traps baited with rotting chicken on Nantucket last week.I accompanied Josh Morse of the Maria Mitchell Association to check out these profoundly stinky traps. (This is biology for the retch-proof.) The MMA is partnering with the Roger Williams Zoo to reintroduce and foster the American Burying Beetle (N. americanus), known as “ABB” to its fans.

The ABB was the first insect placed on the Endangered Species list. It is the largest of our carrion beetles (up to 1.5″, nearly twice as big as these) and was once found throughout the northeastern corner of the U.S. and Canada. But the species is now largely confined to a few Midwestern states. The only place on the East Coast ABBs can now be found is Block Island and Nantucket.

Josh didn’t find any ABBs on this trip, hence no pictures of them here, but then these beetle do most of their work in June. And that work is the recycling of carcasses as a food source for their young. They build their brood chambers around these carcasses, and then they stick around, feeding their young. For the ABB is one of the few non-social insect species that provides care for their young once the egg laying stage is done.

The ABB’s range has been severely limited because of habitat destruction, pesticides, and bug zappers, as well as the elimination or severe reduction of large predators like bears, wolves, and bobcats. That has meant a surge in smaller mammal predators, like foxes, raccoons, and skunks, who take carrion before these nocturnal beetles can get on the job. The increase in vultures and corvids, who have benefited from road kill, has probably impacted this as well. Notably, the bird thought most prized by the ABB for its broods was the Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius, extinct), reaped from the skies during the 19th century in the hundreds of millions until there were simply no more of them left. A fine example of how species are interconnected, and how the elimination of one can affect a whole ecosystem, the thread that unwinds the rug. Today, ABB restoration projects use quail carcasses for the beetles. This exploitation of carrion by burying beetles is an important part of the recycling of nutrients back into soil (and also helps keep the fly population down). Josh is of the opinion this is the reason blackberries and low bush blueberries do so well in the trapping area, which was in the Miacomet area.Meanwhile, there are several species of carrion beetles who like smaller carcasses of birds and mammals, and these species seem to be maintaining their populations. Pictured in this post are three of them, all, like the ABB, species in genus Nicophorus, and all showing orange-to-reddish spots on their elatra. Another carrion beetle, the American Carrion Beetle (Necrophilia americana: gotta love that binomial!) tumbled away before I could get a picture of it. All these beetles were released, by the way.

One of the things that most stuck with me from Josh’s explanation is that the size of all these beetles is largely determined by the size of the animal carcass they were raised on (and the number of young). Makes complete sense, of course, but something I’ve never considered before. The picture above, of Nicorphorus tomentosus, which seems to be a bit of a bumblebee mimic with its golden hairs and flying pattern, was of a particularly small specimen.And speaking of small specimens: note how the marginatus above is absolutely crawling with mites. Click on image to get a bigger version, if you dare. These beetles turn out to be total mite-buses.

Empire of the Beetle

“I’m here to protect the trees from the beetle,” said the academic. The logger laughed and said that was bullshit. “The trees and the beetles have been in cahoots for millions of years.”In Empire of the Beetle, Andrew Nikiforuk tells the tale of the destruction caused by the disruption of that cahoot-ness, as tiny beetles, spectacular ignorance and mismanagement by humans, and climate change have united to destroy 30 billion lodgepole, pinyon, ponderosa, and whitebark pine trees in western North American during the last two decades, radically transforming individual human lives and communities.

Essentially, the beetles, de facto forest managers, used to hit old and already weakened trees, creating the conditions for the fires necessary to clear away competition for the trees and fertilize new seedlings sprouting from the seeds from heat-sprung cones. The fires would also cut back on the beetles, who otherwise might increase ad infinitum. Colder winters also checked beetle populations. A century of fire suppression and then runs of impotent winters resulted in locust-like plagues of Dendroctonus (“tree killing”) species bark beetles.

The locust analogy is illustrative: in the late 1870s, Melanoplus spretus exploded across the prairies, devouring everything in their path from grain to leather, wool, and the family laundry. A migratory grasshopper, the locust moved from food source to food source in massive clouds. Estimates of the number of these Rocky Mountain locusts are given in the trillions and measured by the ton. (The film Days of Heaven gives a spectacular, hallucinatory suggestion of what it was like for humans to be caught up in this storm of insects.) And then, as the locusts’ grasslands habitat was undone by plow and irrigation, the locust disappeared. The last known specimen was taken in 1902. It is now considered extinct.

Meanwhile, one of the methods used to try to stop the bark beetles was arsenic. Jesus. That turned out to kill one of the most effective anti-beetle defenses, fifteen species of woodpeckers (termed “bark-foraging wildlife tree users” by some bureaucrat).

Consider these rice grain-sized beetles. Like all animals, they are also zoological compendium, carrying multiple species of bacteria, yeasts, fungi, mites, and nematodes, which themselves are transporters of fungi and etc. (A blue-staining fungi carried by the beetles has resulted in a desperate timber industry selling “denim pine.”) Nature is close enough to infinite, and we have only the vaguest understandings of how it works. This book, with its fugue in awe of beetles, one of the dominant life forms on the planet, is a good place to start our educations.

Two-Spotted in Brooklyn

One more species of lady beetle spotted in Brooklyn Bridge Park, on the catalpa trees, whose big leaves are sticky with aphid honeydew. This is the Two-Spotted lady beetle (Adalia bipunctata). There were several of them, so there must have been a recent pupation. This species is native to North American and Europe, making it the first native species of lady beetle I’ve seen here in Brooklyn.Note that the pronotum has a similar M/W mark as the Multi-colored Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis) (see some examples here), but these bipunctata are not as large or round as that more common and invasive species.

The beetle below was in the same tree. It turns out to be A. bipunctata as well, only in a dark variation, as this beetle is subject to melanic polymorphism. Lady beetles are sometimes tricky.The Two-Spotted lady beetle seems to be in decline in North America, its range narrowing. According to the Lost Ladybug Project at Cornell, to whom I submitted these pictures, “Adalia bipunctata in Brooklyn is very exciting!” This is the third report of the species in NY state and the first for the black variation. Woo-woo!

UPDATE: Returned this morning and got a better shot of the dark morph:Probably a different individual. Hard as the dickens to shoot these glossy critters! Saw another of the dark forms at a separate catalpa tree, two piers away.

And this, another of the typical Two-Spotted, surrounded by the spent casings, or exuviae of the pupas — although those could be from other lady beetle species, since there are at least three species on these trees now:

Ladybugs: Aphid-Eaters

Checker Spot ladybug (Propylea quatuordecimpunctata) munching on an aphid wing. Laval-stage lady beetles are also great aphid-devourers. This is why a number of different species of lady bugs have been introduced into North America over the years: to attack the real destruction aphids can cause. The Checker Spots were one such introduction.The Multi-colored Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis) were another. Above and below are two examples of this species. These, and numerous other examples of the species, which is quite varied in color and spot number, were found, in both adult and pupal stages, almost exclusively on widely separated Catalpa trees in the park.
Variegated lady beetle (Hippodamia variegata), another introduced species, pictured above and below.Same species, different individual:Three species of lady beetles noted in Brooklyn Bridge Park on the same day, all originally introduced species. In fact, I’m hard pressed to find any native species of lady bugs locally, and I’m not the only one. For instance, New York State’s state insect, the 9-Spotted Lady Beetle (Coccinella novemnotata), is extremely rare now — it was thought absent from the state until one was found last year on Long Island. Check out the Lost Lady Bug Project for more details.

What is the connection between the introduction and spreading of non-native to dwindling numbers of native species? Unknown. Habitat destruction — native insects have spent millions of years developing relationships with native plants — and poisons may be the reason, or some combination of all these things.


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