Sunday, November 17, 2019

HumBug: Late Butterflies, Hornets and Moths

Posted By on Sun, Nov 17, 2019 at 5:37 PM

A quick walk along the Van Duzen River turned up one each variegated meadowhawk and shadow darner dragonflies neither of which allowed me to get close enough to get a photo. It's OK, I have hundreds of shots of the meadowhawk and dozens of the shadow.

We got glimpses of a California sister butterfly, a cabbage butterfly, and an American rubyspot damselfly. They were all too active for pictures.
Mylitta crescent, notches out of its wings show it has been around. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Mylitta crescent, notches out of its wings show it has been around.

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Sunday, November 10, 2019

HumBug: Spiders at School

Posted By on Sun, Nov 10, 2019 at 3:51 PM

I recently did some walkabout lectures at a local middle school. The format was to walk around the campus for about 45 minutes and discourse on the various organisms we encountered. I did this six times with different groups. Aside from the stationary trees and plants, the organisms we encountered most reliably were the little wolf spiders (family lycosidae, most likely genus Padrosa).
Wolf spider in the garden. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Wolf spider in the garden.
Wherever you looked, they ran through the lawns in front of us. They were everywhere. In a cool off-season wandering we encountered hundreds. Starting life about the size of the head of a pin, if they're lucky, they capture enough prey to grow, shed their skins and grow again. Judging from sheer numbers, they must be one of the most successful lifeforms around and each full-sized individual must represent a dozen or so prey captured/killed.

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Sunday, November 3, 2019

HumBug: An Innocent Imposter

Posted By on Sun, Nov 3, 2019 at 11:19 AM

Being the local “Bug Guy” I was recently asked about a spider that looked “almost exactly like a black widow,” but lacked the distinctive red hourglass on the underside of its abdomen. This is a spider with which I am very familiar. They were nearly everywhere where I grew up in Pacifica, California. I hadn't seen any hereabouts but I was fairly confident what was being described was a female “false black widow” or Steatoda grossa. Although in the same family as the notorious mate-killer, this spider is much less dangerous and is usually timid. Neither are they the typical jet black of the widows, but usually a dark maroon.
False Black Widow ventral side. Note: no red hourglass. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • False Black Widow ventral side. Note: no red hourglass.

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Sunday, October 27, 2019

HumBug: Ashes and Dancers

Posted By on Sun, Oct 27, 2019 at 1:30 PM

While I was doing a bit of outside work atop a ladder, several tiny chalk white dots flew with slow grace. They often appeared almost magically as they meandered through shafts of sunlight and then disappeared into the shadows. They were out of range of my cameras and I was too busy to investigate.

Wooly Aphid on my fingertip.  the "Smoke" over its head is actually a cloud of fine filaments. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Wooly Aphid on my fingertip. the "Smoke" over its head is actually a cloud of fine filaments.
The following day, however, when I saw them again, I was armed with a good camera and had my feet firmly on the ground. I reached out and scooped one from the air. On the wing it looked more like a tiny bit of ash than a living thing, but in hand it turned out to be a “wooly aphid,” most likely of the subfamily Eriosomatinae. They grow tiny white filaments of waxy exudate. Many members of this group cause galls on herbaceous plants and can carry plant diseases.

Vivid dancer cleared up a case of mistaken identity. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Vivid dancer cleared up a case of mistaken identity.
A tad farther along, I saw a damselfly. On downloading the photos, I thought it might be an Emma's dancer, the only lavender insect I know off hand. But this specimen had blue patches on it and a few minor markings didn't quite match, so I posted it in a local Facebook group and got an authoritative ID from an expert. This was not Emma's, but a vivid dancer. In this case the word “vivid” is not just descriptive; it is actually its name (Argia vivida). Its unusual color may be from it having gotten cold.

A grouse locust. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A grouse locust.
I saw two grouse locusts, which resemble tiny grasshoppers to whom they are closely related. At about half an inch long, they can be found along stream banks where they eat algae from the rocks. Unlike their larger relatives, they can and do overwinter.

The flower fly, a harmless wasp mimic. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • The flower fly, a harmless wasp mimic.
Finally,  a flower fly caught my eye nectaring on a coyote bush. Mimicking a wasp's black and yellow warning coloration may give this inoffensive species some protection from predation.
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Sunday, October 20, 2019

HumBug: Late Bloomers Get All the Action

Posted By on Sun, Oct 20, 2019 at 3:23 PM

Flowers being few and far between lately, nectar-sipping insects are also scarce. A few straggling rabbit brush plants concentrate relict butterflies, having completed their reproductive cycle living out their lives on instincts alone. I saw five species today, only two of which allowed me to get close enough to take their pictures. Tattered wing margins betray a long and adventurous life for the single American painted lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis) I saw.
American painted lady. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • American painted lady.

I did see several acmon blues (Plebejus acmon). This tiny butterfly has multiple generations throughout the year. It seems the specimens get progressively smaller with each brood, starting out with wings as large as my thumbnail and decreasing to the size of my ring finger nail by this time of year.

Acmon blue. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Acmon blue.
Although the weather has been getting colder and wetter, there were at least two species of dragonfly out, variegated meadowhawks and shadow darners. Both notably late season species hereabouts.
Darner dragonfly, species not determined. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Darner dragonfly, species not determined.
One local native late blooming plant is coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) which attracted quite a bit of activity from wasps and flies. Two tachnid flies stood out, one with an orange abdomen and the other with a bright yellow one (Xanthoepalpus bicolor).
Orange and black tachnid fly. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Orange and black tachnid fly.
These punk rock-looking, spiny parasitoid species lay eggs in or on the larva of other insects which their larvae consume alive from the inside out. They can play a significant role in controlling populations of their host species. Like wasps with a similar lifestyle, the adults feed on nectar.

Yellow and black tachnid fly (Xanthoepalpus bicolor). - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Yellow and black tachnid fly (Xanthoepalpus bicolor).
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Sunday, October 13, 2019

HumBug: Fall along the River

Posted By on Sun, Oct 13, 2019 at 3:13 PM

There are next to no flowers blooming now. Most adult insects have lived out their lives, their eggs and larvae sequestered in anticipation of winter. The showiest life is along the river. The large body of moving water moderates the temperatures and many species employ this time of reduced predator numbers to complete their lifecycles unmolested.

Yesterday I did see a monarch butterfly, presumably migrating South toward Mexico. Their miraculous lifecycle having been disrupted in many ways so there is a movement to plant Milkweed in gardens and plots along their known migratory lanes. Theirs is a multi generational journey and their young depend on milkweed as food. Their bodies not only tolerate the plant toxins, but concentrate them in their tissues which makes them toxic to many predators.
Carolina grasshopper blends into the rocks behind. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Carolina grasshopper blends into the rocks behind.

Cryptically colored Carolina grasshoppers (Dissosteira carolina) are still with us. They leap forth and fly on white edged black wings, occasionally startling us as we walk along the river bar.


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Sunday, October 6, 2019

HumBug: Hello, Handsome

Posted By on Sun, Oct 6, 2019 at 4:54 PM

While moving firewood, I happened on a small beetle with an interesting pronatum. Its orange thorax was flared outward. A quick look up in Pacific Northwest Insects showed me it was a handsome fungus beetle” (Aphorista lactus). I've never seen the words "handsome" and "fungus" in the same sentence before. No accounting for taste, I guess.
Handsome fungus beetle. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Handsome fungus beetle.
A quick walk down to the river emphasized that the seasons are indeed changing. Most flowering plants are done for the year but the occasional late bloomer still provides sustenance for the insects that are still around.

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Sunday, September 29, 2019

HumBug: Friends and Enemies

Posted By on Sun, Sep 29, 2019 at 11:22 AM

This week I started to write about spiders and ended up buying a book on mosquitoes. In the recently published book The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator, author Timothy Winegard calculates nearly half the people who ever lived died of mosquito bites.
A mosquito skates on the water surface, most likely laying eggs in a pan of water in my backyard. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A mosquito skates on the water surface, most likely laying eggs in a pan of water in my backyard.
To put things into a modern perspective, mosquitoes kill on average 750,000 people per year, mainly in tropical countries. Some estimates range as high as 1 million.


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Sunday, September 22, 2019

HumBug: An Autumnal Walk

Posted By on Sun, Sep 22, 2019 at 11:03 AM

Walking along the Van Duzen River, we spotted a medium sized black and orange wasp industriously digging a hole in the sand. Although similar in many ways, she was smaller and had a slightly different color pattern than the locally common great golden sand digger. I posted my photo and ID request on www.Bugguide.net and shortly got a reply. This wasp was from the related genus Prionyx, another hunter of grasshoppers.
Prionyx wasp prepares a den in which she will deposit a paralyzed grasshopper and an egg to perpetuate her species. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Prionyx wasp prepares a den in which she will deposit a paralyzed grasshopper and an egg to perpetuate her species.
I spotted several species of butterfly including a California tortoiseshell a variety that in some years have had tremendous population explosions. The reasons for this are not well understood. This hasn't been one of those years as this is the only individual I've seen lately.

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Sunday, September 15, 2019

HumBug: Missing Dragonflies

Posted By on Sun, Sep 15, 2019 at 11:17 AM

This summer I have been bemoaning the lack of dragonflies along my stretch of Van Duzen River. The number of species is low as is the number of individuals of the few species I've seen. They just haven't been there. My guess is that they, in their incarnation as aquatic larvae, and their prey have been exposed to agricultural runoff that can contain insecticides, herbicides and other pollutants. I do not have the resources to prove or disprove this, so it is just a very unscientific guess. There are many other possibilities, such as the amount of rainfall we had last winter.
Varigated meadowhawk perches watching for something tasty to fly by. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Varigated meadowhawk perches watching for something tasty to fly by.
I have seen no gray sanddragons, palefaced clubskimmers, flame skimmers, common whitetails, or bison snaketails, all of which have been common residents hereabouts.
Common green darner patrolling over the river. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Common green darner patrolling over the river.

Yesterday the air over the Van Duzen was filled with dozens of dragonflies, patrolling and snatching bugs out of the air. There were two species represented. A few variegated meadowhawks (Sympetrum corruptum) and the greatest number of common green darners (Anax junius) I have ever seen. The former is a small perching species and the latter is a large patrolling one. What they have in common is they are both migratory species, passing through from somewhere else to somewhere else. They didn't have to grow up in our river. The number of green darners may be due to a lack of competition from the locals.
Common green darner resting as its ancestors have for over 300 million years on a horsetail. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Common green darner resting as its ancestors have for over 300 million years on a horsetail.
On a much more cheerful note, today, Facebook reminded me two years ago I reported a black burying beetle at my light trap. These beetles (genus Nicrophorus) are unusual in the insect world that both sexes provide for and tend the young as they develop. One visited me again last night. Like the previous one, this specimen was carrying a host of phoretic mites. They're not parasitic on the beetle but hitchhikers from the last and on to the next small dead animal.
Like an entomological Uber nicrophorus beetle hosts traveling mites. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Like an entomological Uber nicrophorus beetle hosts traveling mites.
Home maker's tip from your bug guy ... Several overripe pears managed to attract a host of fruit flies into my house. They appeared like magic and got to be annoying, so I set my best trap for them. A bowl with a piece of overripe fruit in the center surrounded by a thick layer of soap suds. They try to land on the bubbles and get trapped. The soap interferes with the water balance in their tiny bodies and they die quickly. I replenish the suds every few hours as they dissipate. Works every time.
A semi rotten pear lures hundreds of Drosophila to a soapy doom. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A semi rotten pear lures hundreds of Drosophila to a soapy doom.
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  • Re: HumBug: An Innocent Imposter

    • With its appearance similarities a lot of folks seeing the photos here could mistake their…

    • on November 7, 2019

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