Sunday, June 24, 2018

HumBug: Mr. Big Moth

Posted By on Sun, Jun 24, 2018 at 11:25 AM

Ceanothus moth shows its 5-inch wingspan (Hyalophora euryalus). - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Ceanothus moth shows its 5-inch wingspan (Hyalophora euryalus).

Back when cameras used film, I noticed large sections of leaf chewed away on the madrone tree in my front yard. I found three large green caterpillars gnawing away at them. I watched carefully over the next few weeks until they each spun a cocoon. I put a mesh bag over each of them and waited. Sadly, I hadn't tied the mouths of the bags tightly enough to keep out earwigs, which ate the newly emerging moths. Ever since, I've been trying to get a shot at one of the giant silkworm moths, locally known as redwood moths. I've also heard them referred to as Gypsy moths, which a really completely different creatures.
Underwings of ceanothus moth with ruler (Hyalophora euryalus). - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Underwings of ceanothus moth with ruler (Hyalophora euryalus).
After a recent trip, it was 1:30 a.m. by the time I arrived home and started to unload the car. After 20 years looking for a specimen of the ceanothus moth (Hyalophora euryalus) one was hanging on my window screen. This is the second largest moth in our area after the polyphemus moth, both of which are saturnids or giant silkworm moths. The silk on their cocoons is not commercially useful and the adults cannot feed because they have no mouth parts. As big as bats, they are attracted to lights and are often docile enough to handle gently. After I took a bunch of photos of the one that visited my house, I put it outside in the back yard. In a few minutes I heard something banging on the window. It was trying to get to the light through the glass. I turned off the light and went to bed.
Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus), the largest moth in our area wingspan almost 6 inches. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus), the largest moth in our area wingspan almost 6 inches.
Working in the weeds behind my yard I noted a strikingly colored rangeland tiger moth (Platyprepia virginalis). Not as large as the saturnids mentioned above but still big for our area, it is the largest “wooly bear” moth commonly seen in our area.
Rangeland tger moth (Platyprepia virginalis), 3-inch wingspan. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Rangeland tger moth (Platyprepia virginalis), 3-inch wingspan.

Update: In my post on May 6 I mentioned the little beetle I found in my dog's water bowl 10 years ago as being unidentified. BugGuide.net came to rescue: The little scarab is indeed a burrowing dung beetle, known as Odonteus obesus.
Finally identified 10 years later, Odonteus obesus. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Finally identified 10 years later, Odonteus obesus.
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Sunday, June 17, 2018

HumBug: Giants

Posted By on Sun, Jun 17, 2018 at 11:07 AM

Giant Stonefly on side or public restroom at rest stop. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Giant Stonefly on side or public restroom at rest stop.

On a recent trip up to central Oregon, at a rest area along the Rogue River there were several giant California stoneflies (Pteronarcys californica). This is the largest species of stonefly in the world. Common along my stretch of the Van Duzen River, I recognized them immediately. They are totally harmless and their presence indicates good water quality. Knowing they're out and about indicates there may be good fishing in an area.

A helpful hint: Snapping photos of things others either can't see or don't notice around public restrooms can get you some strange looks.
A robber fly in all its ugly glory. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A robber fly in all its ugly glory.

The big robber flies that abound up there — easily an inch and a half long — are the local aerial insect predator. While flying, their wings made a loud, deep buzz. I suspect the presence of a farm with large animals, dung and the creatures attracted to it, drew these ugly hunters.
Robber Flies mating. I guess there's someone for everyone. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Robber Flies mating. I guess there's someone for everyone.

True flies (member of order diptera, family asilidae), these guys can, if mishandled, deliver a painful bite, injecting a cocktail of neurotoxins and digestive enzymes designed to paralyze then liquify their prey's innards to be sipped out through specially evolved mouthparts.
Nope, that isn't a romantic embrace. The one on top is draining the life out of the other one. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Nope, that isn't a romantic embrace. The one on top is draining the life out of the other one.

I watched as one struggled to fly with prey as large as itself, finally settling among the weeds. At first I thought it might have a cicada, but soon realized it was dining on one of its own. Yes, aside from being hideous, they're cannibals too.
Pandora moth caterpillar on my hand. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Pandora moth caterpillar on my hand.
At another rest area in Central Oregon I spotted some gray and black caterpillars as large as my index finger crawling down the trunks of several pine trees. It turns out they are the larvae of the Pandora moth. During heavy infestations, they can denude entire trees or even swaths of trees and have been cited in many references as a Native American foodstuff of note.
Pandora moth caterpillar on pine tree. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Pandora moth caterpillar on pine tree.
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Sunday, June 10, 2018

HumBug: Back to the River for Swallowtails and Sawflies

Posted By on Sun, Jun 10, 2018 at 3:00 PM

Pale swallowtail on daisies. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Pale swallowtail on daisies.

As the weather begrudgingly warms up, more bugs are emerging. Lately along the Van Duzen River, I've noted pale swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon) and Lorquin's admiral (Limenitis lorquini) butterflies among others.
Two very territorial Lorquin's admirals square off for aerial dogfight. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Two very territorial Lorquin's admirals square off for aerial dogfight.
You can find quite a few stonefly (order Plecoptera) exuvia, or cast off husks, near the water's edge as naiads emerge, shed their last larval shell and emerge as flying adults.
Empty and abandoned stonefly larval shell. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Empty and abandoned stonefly larval shell.
The most remarkable insect I've seen lately was a male elm sawfly (Cimbex americana). Following a dragonfly into the bushes, I saw what I thought was a giant hornet in the weeds. Dark wings buzzing a deep bass note, it fumbled trying to claw its way up a stalk. I watched as it failed repeatedly and I noted its antennae ended in little clubs. That one feature told me it wasn't a stinging wasp at all, but a member of the family Cimbicidae of sawflies. I seldom collect insects but this one seemed seriously impaired and remarkable, so I caught it, took it home, killed and mounted it. It was so large I had to improvise a balsa spreading board to accommodate the thickness and width of its body. Members of the order Hymenoptera, along with ants, bees and wasps, this group eats plants and is totally stingless.
Mounted Elm Sawfly, Missing right hind wing shows life in the insect world, even as a giant wasp-looking thing, can be hazardous. The tick on the microscope slide reminds us they are out and about now. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Mounted Elm Sawfly, Missing right hind wing shows life in the insect world, even as a giant wasp-looking thing, can be hazardous. The tick on the microscope slide reminds us they are out and about now.
As larvae sawflies can be serious garden and forest pests. Looking much like moth caterpillars they are responsible for damage to many crop and ornamental trees and shrubs including rhododendrons, fruit trees, camellias and roses. Many species feed at night and hide in the leaf litter beneath their chosen hosts during the day, the only clue to their presence is the damage they've done to the leaves of the plant above.
Sawfly larvae and tyupical damage they cause on an Asian pear leaf. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Sawfly larvae and tyupical damage they cause on an Asian pear leaf.
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Sunday, June 3, 2018

HumBug: Oregon Butterflies and Wasps

Posted By on Sun, Jun 3, 2018 at 4:40 PM

Cuckoo wasp. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Cuckoo wasp.

One good thing about insects as a hobby is there are so many of them and they're everywhere. The high desert environment of central Oregon is so different from our coastal rainforest it gives opportunities to encounter entirely unfamiliar species. So, I took my cameras on a trip last week. It was easy to add a few critters to my life list.
I spent a lot of time chasing what I thought was an agile and nervous brilliant indigo bee. It turns out it to be Parnopes edwardsii, a cuckoo wasp that lays its eggs in the nests of other wasps. When they hatch, they eat either the host wasp larva, the larder its mother provided or both.
Western pine elfin. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Western pine elfin.

At the Mt. Mazama overlook on State Route 138, a tiny dark butterfly taunted me, flitting from one strawberry blossom to another until I finally got a shot. It turned out to be a western pine elfin (Callophrys eryphon), something I'm never likely to see in my part of Humboldt County.
Juniper hairstreak butterfly. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Juniper hairstreak butterfly.

Outside of Culver Oregon some juniper hairstreak butterflies (Callophrys gryneus) were so intent nectaring on a drab spike of phacelia flowers they paid me almost no heed at all, allowing me to get several nice shots. Researching this butterfly I learned the western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) on which their caterpillars likely feed are considered an invasive species in central Oregon. The presence of that little butterfly indicates a changing local ecology.
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