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Bug of the Month

Insects in the Spotlight

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July is for Moth

Moths are so diverse and interesting; one post won't do them justice. So, in July, we'll post throughout the month, and explore moths by family.

7/25/21 entry:

 

Sphingidae and Sesiidae: Moths that put on an act.

The moth in our photo is Hemaris thysbe. It belongs to the family Sphingidaesub-family Macroglossinae. It is native to North America. Its range in the west is from Alaska to Oregon. In the east, its range is from Newfoundland to Florida.

 

It flies during the day impersonating a hummingbird. It hovers over flowers, it feeds on nectar, its wings even beat so fast they buzz. Here are additional photos:

There are 23 species in genus Hemaris, with four species native to North and South America and three to Europe. In Britain and Europe they are called bee hawk-moths.

 

Moths in family Sphingidae are also known as sphinx moths because, at rest, larvae strike a sphinx-like (or praying) pose. Larva of many Sphingidae are considered pests. But adults (imago) are beneficial pollinators. Sphingidae has three sub-families: Macroglossinae, Smerinthinae, and Sphinginae. Here are photo examples:

Moths in family Sesiidae also impersonate other insects. Below, is a photo of Heterophecia tawonoides posing as a bee. For 130 years, only one museum specimen of this sesiid moth was known to exist. Then, in 2013, Marta Skowron Volponi of of the University of Gdańsk discovered one in the wild.

The American Hornet Moth (Sesia tibiale) is an even better mimic. This photo was taken in Eugene, OR. The insect is not a hornet. It is a harmless sesiid moth.

A few more examples of Sesidae:

Some sesiid moths are considered agricultural pests because their larvae bore into timber and fruit trees. But adult sesiids are harmless nectar drinkers and beneficial pollinators.

 

Our last moth entry is on 7/31. We'll explore moths from families Cossidae and Geometridae.

 

7/18/21 entry:

 

A few moths from family Erebidae...

The stunning moth in our photo is a Scarlet-bodied Wasp Moth (Cosmosoma myrodora). It belongs to the family Erebidae, sub-family Arctiinae. Wasp moths cannot bite or sting, but their bright colors and intimidating form advertise that they are toxic to predators.

 

Male Scarlet-bodied Wasp Moths become toxic by feeding on the Dog Fennel plant (Eupatorium capillifolium). The toxin makes them bad tasting and poisonous. During mating, males shower the female in the toxin, which she passes to her eggs.

 

Sub-family Arctiinae also includes Tiger moths, and Lichen moths. Both species are toxic to predators and become so by feeding on certain plants. Lichen moth larvae feed on lichens and blue-green algae growing on tree trunks.

 

All Arctiinae possess a tymbal organ on their metathorax. The organ vibrates to create ultrasonic sounds. The sounds are used in mating and to deter predators.

 

Here are addtional photos of moths from family Erebidae, sub-family Arctinae:

Wasp moths:

Lichen moths:

Tiger moths:

More on Erebidae moths:

*https://youtu.be/W_qtQlpQYe8

*https://youtu.be/FXkmk3Qknuc

*https://youtu.be/AF2DSqKS4qQ

*https://youtu.be/zCpkznYw3mg

*https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/82092-Lithosiini/browse_photos

 

We've barely scratched the surface when it comes to Erebidae. It is a family with many sub-families, tribes, and genuses we cannot cover here.

 

Thanks for visiting. Please visit again on 7/25 when we explore moths in the families Sesiidae and Sphingidae.

 

7/6/2021 entry:

Saturniid moths continued...

Worldwide, saturniid moths number about 2300. Most species are medium to large sized. But some are small. The photo above is of the smallest saturniid, the Rosy Maple Moth (Dryocampa rubicunda). It has a wingspan of of only 1.25 to 2 inches. Here is another photo for perspective:

The lifecycle of saturniids runs the gamut. Some have one brood a year. Some have more than one. The territorial range of individual species effects the number of broods. The Rosy Maple's range is the eastern US, north into Canada, southeast into Florida, and west into Texas and Minnesota. In the northern US and Canada, Rosy Maples lay eggs once from May to August. Those in the deep south and Florida can lay eggs up to three times from March to October.

At mating time, adult females use phermones to "call" males. Saturniid males possess elaborate antennae that detect the female phermone from miles away. Here are two examples of male antennae:

Females deposit eggs on the leaves of a host plant (a plant that will provide a food source for their caterpillars). For the Rosy Maple Moth, this usually means a maple tree. For the Cecropia Moth, the host plant might be lilac, ash, or elders. Host plants vary by species. Some saturniids lay up to 200 eggs. Eggs hatch in eight to ten days.

Most saturniid caterpillars are large and have hairs, or spines. Some are colorful or strange looking. Caterpillars go through several moults (instars) and grow larger with each moult. The photo below shows a Regal Moth (Citheronia regalis) in adult (left) and caterpillar (right) form.

Also known as giant "silk moths", most saturniids pupate in a silken cocoon they spin themselves . Cocoons are spun on the the leaves of the host plant. Species in the sub-family Ceratocampinae don't use much silk during pupation. Instead, they burrow underground to pupate.

Once in the cocoon, the caterpillar becomes a pupa. In two weeks, the pupa transforms into a moth. Moths from spring or early summer broods emerge from the cocoon without delay. Moths from autumn broods overwinter inside the cocoon then emerge the following spring.

Our month-of-moths continues on 7/18/21. Then, we leave the subject of Saturniidae to explore moths from the families Sesiidae, Erebidae, and Sphinghidae.

7/1/21 entry:

Masters of color and size, moths in the family Saturniidae are not out to eat your woollies. In fact, as adults, they do not eat at all.

 

The beauty in our photo is the Western Sheep Moth (Hemileuca eglanterina). Native to North America, it is one of 2300 species of saturniid moths.  It ranges from the Rocky Mountain region to the Pacific Coast, North into British Columbia, and south to New Mexico. Like all saturniids, the Western Sheep Moth has reduced mouthparts and cannot feed. It is a dayflying moth and lives only a few weeks as an adult. 

 

The sheep moth's bright colors and large size make it easily mistaken for a butterfly. Stunning colors and giant size are common characteristics among saturniid moths. The Cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia) has a wingspan of five to seven inches and is North America's largest moth. The wingspan of the Hercules Moth (Coscinocera hercules) can be as much as 11 inches. Hercules is endemic to New Guinea and Australia, and is considered the largest insect in the world. Scroll down for photos of other large, colorful saturniid moths – click photos once, then again for largest view.

Saturniid moths are found all over the world. But most occur in tropical or subtropical regions. North America has 68 species and Europe about 12.

 

Caterpillars of saturniids are large and feed on the leaves of select trees. Most have spines or tubercules and some are hairy. Here is an example:

June is for Firefly

Some glow as eggs.

Some glow as adults.

They all glow as larvae.

Beacons in the grass,

fireflies make nature hard to ignore.

 

Our firefly in the photo is an adult Photinus pyralis. It is the most common fireflly in North America and one of more than 2000 firefly species worldwide.

 

Fireflies live in temperate and tropical regions near ponds, streams, rivers, and lakes. In the U.S, most firefly species occur east of the Rockies.

 

Not all adult fireflies produce light (bioluminescence). In North America Photinus, Pyractomena, and Photuris do. Below is a photo of a Douglas Fir Firefly, Pterotus obscuripennis, which is not bioluminescent.

All species of firefly larvae are bioluminescent. In some, even the eggs glow.

 

Fireflies live one to three years depending upon the species. In early summer, adults of light producing species gather at twilight seeking mates. Every night, for three to six weeks, males fly about, flashing signals to females.

 

Females wait on the ground or a perch until they see a flash from a suitable male, then they flash back. Watch the interaction in this stirring video.

 

Each firefly species has a unique flash pattern. Some fireflies flash in syncPhotinus carolinus may be the best known of them. Each year, from late May to early June, P. carolinus puts on a light show in the Great Smoky Mountains.

 

Most of a firefly's life is spent wingless and living the soil. Once Larvae emerge in spring, and pupate into winged adults, they live only a few weeks more. Males die after mating. Females die soon after depositing their eggs in the soil. Eggs hatch in three to four weeks. Newly hatched larvae spend summer feeding, then prepare to overwinter. This one is having snail for dinner:

May is for Lady Beetle

Seen one, seen them all?  Think again.

They come spotted, mottled, striped or solid.

They can be red, yellow, orange, or blue.

Blue? Yes, blue.

 

The convergent lady beetle (Hippodamia convergens) in our photo is a widespread species native to North America. Like all lady beetles, convergent lady beetles belong to the family Coccinellidae.

 

But the convergent lady beetle is just one of about 450 North American coccinellid species, and about 5000 worldwide.

 

Not all lady beetles are spotted or red. Lady beetles widely vary in color and markings, as shown here (click collage to enlarge):

The lady beetle lifecycle is typical of other beetles. Females emerge in spring to lay eggs near their favorite food source, usually aphids or scale. Eggs hatch as larvae in three to ten days. Larvae pupate into adults in about two weeks. Both larvae and adults are voracious eaters.

 

Some lady beetle species do not eat aphids or scale. They specialize in other prey. Those in the subfamily Epilachninae eat plants, mealybug lady beetles eat mealybugs, and 22-spotted lady beetles eat mildew.

 

Their forewings are called elytra. They act as a hard, protective sheath for their back wings. For flight, the elytra open to allow the backwings to unfold. See them in action here.

 

Lady beetles can be native or non-native. Originally introduced as biocontrols, non-native lady beetles often outcompete natives. Some non-natives are considered invasive. Harmonia axyridis, the multicolored Asian lady beetle, is probably the best known of them.

 

Three native lady beetles are in decline in North America:  Coccinella novemnotataAdalia bipunctata, and Coccinella transversoguttata. Scientists think increasing populations of non-natives are the cause of decline in some native lady beetles.

 

They overwinter as adults. In the fall, most native lady beetles overwinter outdoors under bark or fallen leaves. The Asian lady beetle finds winter shelter in homes and buildings. Given the right conditions, Asian lady beetles can live up to three years.

 

Lady beetles deserve our attention. Consider participating in the Lost Ladybug Project. Sparked by the decline in native species, the project asks citizens to look for lady beetles,photograph them, then upload the photos to the Lost Ladybug website.

 

More on Lady Beetles:

Ladybirds of Australia https://www.ento.csiro.au/biology/ladybirds/ladybirds.htm

Ladybirds of Germany https://www.kerbtier.de/Pages/Themenseiten/enCoccinellidae.html

UK Ladybirds https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2021/03/ladybird-identification/

 

Sciencedaily:

"Introduction of Asian ladybugs into Europe serious mistake, experts say"

Link: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120730094916.htm

Per Sciencedaily:"Materials provided by Wageningen University and Research Centre. Note:Content may be edited for style and length."

 

"A mechanism of color pattern formation in ladybird beetles"

Link: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/09/180926110922.htm

Per Sciencedaily: "Materials provided by National Institutes of Natural Sciences. Note:Content may be edited for style and length."

 

NPR

"Spotted: A Swarm Of Ladybugs So Huge, It Showed Up On National Weather Service Radar"

Link: https://www.npr.org/2019/06/06/730254007/spotted-a-swarm-of-ladybugs-so-huge-it-showed-up-on-national-weather-service-rad

 

Content for Kids:

From the Lost Ladybug Project:

Ladybug field guide

Ladybug pdfs

Ladybug learning

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April is for Mourning Cloak

As adults, they live almost a year.

They have four legs instead of six.

They even hibernate in winter.

 

 

Adult Mourning Cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa) live about eleven months. They cast off their chrysalis in June or July, then spend most of the summer dormant. From late summer into autumn, they fatten up for overwintering. By autumn's end, they have gone to ground in a crack or crevice. They tuck into loose tree bark, log piles and such until spring. Look for them in late March and early April as they emerge to mate. If you spot one then, you have spied a snow-defying old soul.

You may not notice a Mourning Cloak if its wings are folded. The undersides of their wings provide perfect camoflage especially against bark and leaves.

Mourning Cloaks belong to the genus Nymphalis. All Nymphalis butterflies overwinter. They are also known as "brush-footed" butterflies—so called because their forelegs are quite hairy and too short for walking. Mourning Cloaks walk on just four legs and coil their short forelegs under their chin. Other Nymphalis butterflies include Milbert's Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis milberti), and California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica).

Once out of hibernation, Mourning Cloaks mate then soon die. But the female has left her eggs behind to hatch as the spiny elm caterpillar shown here:

By June or July, the caterpillar has pupated into this alien-looking chrysalis:

It takes just 10 to 14 days for a Mourning Cloak to form inside a chrysalis. Then, out comes a beauty.

 

More on butterflies:

ScienceDaily.com "Butterfly wing clap explains mystery of flight"

Link: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/01/210121132059.htm

Story Source per ScienceDaily:Materials provided by Lund University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

ScienceDaily.com "Birds learn to avoid flashy, hard-to-catch butterflies and their lookalikes"

Link:https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/03/210311185936.htm

Story Source per ScienceDaily: Materials provided by Florida Museum of Natural History. Original written by Natalie van Hoose. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

 

Butterfly sites:

*Animal Diversity Web, Nymphalis antiopa

*Butterflies and Moths of North America

*South Puget Sound butterflies at Cascade Praire-Oak Partnership

*A Region Specific Guide to Butterflies of the South Puget Sound, Washington by Ann Potter and Rod Gilbert

*How Do Mourning Cloak Butterflies Fly in the Cold of Early Spring?

by Donna Long

*Beavers feed mourning cloak butterflies

by Jeff Mitton

 

Content for kids:

*Natural History Museum UK Butterflies and Moths of the World

*Natural History Museum UK try at home activites

*The Catarpillar Lab Videos

 

My thanks to:

Ken Wanderer

Logan Crees

And all those who permitted links to their site.

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March is for Mason Bee

They don't sting. They don't bite.

They are the early spring pollinators that make

our apples, peaches, and pears happen.

 

Mason bees spend nearly all their lives sealed inside a mud-capped cavity, tube, or hole. Through summer, autumn, and winter—nine months or more—they wait. Then, as the weather warms in March, these winged heroes dig out.

 

Males dig out first. Their sole purpose is to mate with the females. Then they die.

 

Mated females live for only a few weeks. No wonder they get right to work gathering pollen and mud for their nests. In the process, they pollinate our early-blooming flowers and fruit trees. Growers of apples, peaches, pears, and plums depend on them.

 

Nesting mason bees lay their eggs in a cavity, a hole, or a tube in a "bug hotel". Here is a photo of my bug hotel...er, actually it belongs to the mason bees that moved in last spring.

Capped tubes contain developing mason bees.

Mother mason bees build a series of little rooms in each tube. Starting at the back of the tube, she lays one egg on top of a pollen ball (the pollen is food for the developing egg). Then, she walls the egg off with a mud partition. She works the length of the tube, laying her eggs, and building partitions. When she reaches the end of the tube, she seals it with mud.

 

A look inside the tube shows mother bee's masonry skill. Notice the mud partition between each egg cocoon. 

Photo by Stephen Ward

Below we have a whimsical sketch of nesting bees at work.

No, they do not actually carry pails and trowels...our imaginative artist has taken liberties with her drawing. But mason bees do gather mud for their nests—they gather it in their jaws. They owe their name to their use of mud (and to their "masonry" skill) in nest building.

 

Here is a photo of a real mason beeThis is the Blue Orchard variety (Osmia lignaria). Mason bee species number more than 300. About 140 species are native to North America.

Andony Melathopoulos

Oregon State University Extension Service

This photo shows real mason bees at work.

Photo courtesy of US Forest Service

Mason bees are often mistaken for flies. So, before you get whack-happy with your fly swatter this spring, please look closely. Is that a pest you're about to flatten, or a harmless hero, the mighty mason bee?
 

More on mason bees:

ScienceDaily.com: "Climate change linked to potential population decline in bees"

Link: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases201806180628105009.htm

Story Source per ScienceDaily: Materials provided by Northwestern University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

 

ScienceDaily.com: "Flower diversity may mitigate insecticide effects on wild bees"

Link: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/02/210203123415.htm

Story Source per ScienceDaily: Materials provided by University of Göttingen. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

 

Content for kids:

Kid's Environment Kids Health At NIEHS.gov

https://rentmasonbees.com/school-programs


My thanks to:

Kym Pokorny/Oregon State University Extension Service

Morgan Dunn, Bee Biologist & Operations Manager at Rent Mason Bees