Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Bagworm Moth

The Bagworm Moth (Dahlica triquetrella) is native to Europe, but was introduced to North America around 1940. Some winged males occur in Europe, but the population in North America contains only wingless females. You might wonder how offspring are produced without males – the females reproduce through parthenogenesis, laying eggs without being fertilized by a male.

The caterpillars, which feed on lichen, algae, and moss, make and retreat into a silken bag to spend the winter – this is why they are called “bagworms”. The bag is covered with fine debris such as grains of sand and dead plant parts. The larvae pupate inside the bag and adult moths emerge in very early spring and deposit eggs into the bag they just emerged from. Their diet has to be supplemented by dead insects for development to be successful. The adults don’t feed and probably only live three or four days.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Golden Stone

The Plecoptera are an order of insects, commonly known as stoneflies. There are approximately 3,500 species found worldwide, except in Antarctica. Almost all species of stoneflies develop as nymphs in clean, moving water and are intolerant of water pollution. Their presence in a stream or still water is therefore a good indicator of excellent water quality. Once hatched from the eggs, stonefly nymphs usually complete their development within a year. Some larger species may spend two to three years as nymphs before crawling out of the water as adults. A good example is our Golden Stone (Hesperoperla pacifica).

Once they emerge from the water, adult stoneflies will usually spend their lives within close proximity to the water’s edge. Unlike the outstretched wings of dragonflies and damselflies, stoneflies fold their wings neatly against their backs when at rest and are generally not strong fliers.

Monday, December 15, 2014


After I wrote about Pseudoscorpions last week the question came up why they are also called book scorpions. The book scorpions were first noticed by Aristotle, who probably found them among scrolls in a library where they would have been feeding on booklice.

Similar to the book scorpion which is not a true scorpion, the booklice are not true lice, they are members of an order called Psocoptera. These Psocids are tiny insects that live in damp environments. They eat mold and mildew. They are called either barklice or booklice. The name barklice probably comes from the observation that outdoors they gather under the bark of trees. The name booklice comes from the fact that they gather on older books in damp homes where they feed on mold but also on the glue which holds old books together.

Book lice are only found in places where old books are stored. That's because newer books use synthetic glue, which book lice can't eat - they only like the starch-based glue of olden days. The latter is also more prone to start molding.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Book scorpion

Pseudoscorpions such as today’s species, Chelifer cancroides, are a type of arachnid, meaning that they are not insects, but are closely related to spiders. They are cryptic animals, living amongst leaf-litter, under rocks, within compost piles, under bark and within decaying wood, in caves, and in various vertebrate nests. We know little about these tiny organisms and they are sometimes referred to as ‘neglected cousins’ of the spiders.

They are named “Pseudo” scorpions because they have pincers that resemble scorpions, but do not have a tail and stinger. They can be found anywhere from a tree canopy, to somewhere in your home where they feed on the larvae of some household pests. They can also be found in leaf litter, where they feed on other tiny arthropods. Males use chemicals known as pheromones, and a fancy dancing behaviour, to attract females to mate. These arachnids construct a silken cocoon which they use to protect themselves during the winter. Pseudoscorpions occur all over the planet

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Fairyflies such as our species Anagrus ustulatus , despite their name, are actually very tiny wasps, and can be found throughout the world. They average only 0.5 to 1.0 mm long and they include the world's smallest known insect, the Alaptus fairyfly, with a body length of only 0.139 mm, and the smallest known flying insect, at only 0.15 mm long.

While many insects form complicated social groups - think of ants and bees, for example - the fairyfly is just the opposite. Although they get together for mating, there's no courtship and no family groups among fairyflies. This makes them relatively hard to study, which is why much of their behavior is still a mystery to scientists. 

Fairyflies are some of the most common chalcid wasps, but are rarely noticed by humans because of their extremely small sizes. This apparent invisibility, their delicate bodies, and their hair-fringed wings have earned them their common name. Their adult lifespans are very short, usually lasting for only a few 10 days. All known fairyflies are parasitoids of the eggs of other insects, and several species have been successfully used as biological pest control agents

Friday, December 5, 2014

Common eastern bumblebee

The common eastern bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) is the most often encountered bumblebee across much of eastern North America. Unlike honey bees, bumble bees in the genus Bombus form colonies which last only one season. During the winter, mated female bumble bees hide in sheltered places and emerge in the spring to start new colonies in cozy places such as old mouse nests. Once her new home is tidy and her eggs are laid, the queen covers them with wax sheets for protection and incubates the eggs by lying over them for a period of time.

Currently, Bombus impatiens is being reared and transported to some areas as a commercial replacement for honey bee pollination. Although introducing this species may be very helpful for the agriculture industry, there are some trade-offs as well. “Managed” pollination programs have introduced this eastern species to western North America, and in some places, such as California and Mexico, Bombus impatiens is now displacing native bee species.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Warty leaf beetle

It is not uncommon for some larvae in several species of the leaf beetles to use their own excrement to form protective shields or coverings, but the warty leaf beetle’s larvae (Exema canadensis) take this habit to the extreme. The warty leaf beetle’s eggs hatch underneath a fecal blanket which their mother has provided for them and then the larvae proceed to use their own waste to further develop a case which they continue to add to as they grow. You may think that this practice is unpleasant; however, this casing serves a very important function. Warty leaf beetles are able to avoid observation and detection from predators due to the fact that their specialized casing resembles caterpillar frass (caterpillar poop).

Warty leaf beetle species are typically very host plant-specific and most species primarily use only a small group of related plant species or even a single species to feed and live on.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Muslin moth

The Muslin moth (Diaphora mendica) belongs to the group of the tiger moths. In case you didn't know Muslin is a cotton fabric. The moth reaches a wingspan of about 30 millimeters. The species is characterized by sexual dimorphism which means that males and females look different.  The males are grey-brown , whereas the females are bright white in color with some black spots.  Both have a furry head. The females look very similar to those of a different species, the White Ermine (Spilosoma lubricipeda).

This species inhabits bright, grove rich habitats with edges such as sparse forests, clearcuts, hedge areas, and higher growing dry slopes. It occurs sporadically also in urban areas. The Muslin Moth is actually dependent on extensively managed habitats and edges. The most intensive agriculture (intensive manure meadows and corn fields in the open country, dark forest management in woodlands) increasingly helps this species to spread.

The pupa hibernates. The moths fly in a single generation from mainly April to mid-June. At higher altitudes they fly until early July. The caterpillar lives from late May through August, rarely later.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Dracula ant

Twenty years ago scientists working in Madagascar found a new species of ant which is radically different from anything known before. They named these ants Adetomyrma venatrix, but mostly they are calling them Dracula ants.

Most ants cannot digest solid food. Ants scurry around all day looking for flower seeds and scraps, but they do not eat what they find. Instead, they give their solid food to their larva. The larva digest the food and regurgitate it as 'honeydew.' This liquid is what the adults eat.

The larva of the Dracula ants do not create honeydew for their relatives to eat; instead, the older ants bite their backsides and - literally - drink their blood. Other species of ants will eat their children when they are hungry enough, but this eating kills the larva, and no species of ant relies on cannibalism to survive. Among the Dracula ants, however, all of the adults take blood from the offspring, and all of the larva are scarred.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Eastern velvet ant

Velvet ants such as the Eastern velvet ant (Dasymutilla occidentalis) are actually wasps.  As solitary wasp, the velvet ant does not live in colonies. The females are wingless and are sometimes mistaken for a large, hairy, orange and black ant. They are found crawling through lawns, digging around soil, or even in garages where they have wandered in by accident.

Velvet ants are not aggressive and will try to escape from you. However, the females have a very painful sting if handled. The name "Cow Killer Ant" was given to the velvet ant because of the reputation of the female's sting. It is said that the sting is so painful that it could kill a cow. This is of course not true.

This handsome insect does make a sound (especially when stepped on) but the squeaks of the cow killer ant would hardly be heard over the painful screams, if the person stepping on the wasp was barefoot.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Giraffe weevil

The giraffe weevil (Trachelophorus giraffa) is a beetle endemic to Madagascar, which means it only occurs on this island. Its name comes from an extended neck much like that of the common giraffe. The neck of the male is typically 2 to 3 times the length of that of the female. Males use their long necks to fight with other males to win the right to mate with a nearby female. They use them as a weapon to push and wrestle with the opponent. 

Giraffe weevils were only discovered in 2008. They are herbivore insects, feeding on a tree that is commonly known as the "giraffe beetle tree" (Dichaetanthera arborea). They spend most of their lives on these small trees, venturing far from them only on rare occasions. When it comes time to breed, the mother-to-be will roll and secure a leaf of the host plant and lay a single egg within the tube. She will then snip the roll from the remaining leaf. The roll falls to the forest floor and provides sustenance to the newly-hatched larvae during its first days of life.

Giraffe weevils are peaceful insects, showing no aggression towards other species.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Nuttall Blister Beetle

Blister beetles are phytophagous (plant-eating), feeding on a variety of plants including cultivated crops like potatoes and tomatoes. Their larvae feed on grasshopper eggs and a few such as the Nuttall Blister Beetle (Lytta nuttalli) attack bee larvae or feed on bee eggs and the food stored in the cells with the eggs. 

The common name blister beetles come from the fact that these beetles can release a yellow oily liquid from the joints of the legs and this liquid (called cantharadin) can cause blisters if it contacts human skin. This defensive tactic is called reflex bleeding.

Blister beetles go through what is called hypermetamorphosis which means they change not only from a larval form into a different looking adult form but also during their live as a larva. They start as a sleek, host-seeking larvae and become a plump couch potato once they locate a host. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Tachinid fly

The tachinid fly Hystricia abrupta is a large, very spiny fly, not uncommonly found on flowers in the forest openings and wet glades in summer and early fall. 

Flies of the family Tachinidae are highly diverse (more than 8000 species known and still counting) and almost exclusively internal parasites of other insects, especially caterpillars. Our bug of the day is going after caterpillars and pupae of various tiger moths.

Tachinid females have different ways to place their eggs with the hosts. Among the methods they use to infect their subjects are the species that place large eggs directly on the body of the host, others place tiny, eggs on leaves or other foodstuffs being consumed by the host, or the third group, which retains their eggs until maturity; these eggs hatch immediately upon being laid on or near the target.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Giant woodwasp

The Giant Woodwasp or Greater Horntail (Urocerus gigas) is a species of Sawfly. These large wasps are found in forested areas. They look intimidating, but they are actually harmless.

Female woodwasps lay their eggs in trees. Each of sometimes 350 eggs is laid singly in a hole that she pierces in the wood. The larvae bore further into the wood and live in the tree for up to two years, possibly more. They typically migrate to just under the bark before pupation. Adult woodwasps sometimes emerge indoors from timber used for building.

The male wasps practice a behavior that is called ‘hilltopping’. They are collectively waiting for females atop rocky edges.

Researchers have been inspired by the egg-laying apparatus (ovipositor) of the female wood wasp. They have created a neurosurgical probe that works on the same principle.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Oak treehopper

Treehoppers are often barely recognizable as living creatures, let alone as insects. Many species mimic thorns, with spikes, horns, crests, or other weird modifications to their back.  Treehoppers mimic thorns to prevent predators from spotting them.

The oak treehopper (Platycotis vittata) is large, up to 2 cm including the horn on the back.  It is fairly common on evergreen oaks as well as birches. The treehoppers pierce tree stems with their beaks, and feed upon the sap. The young treehoppers or nymphs prefer to feed on shrubs and grasses.

The females of this species guard their eggs and nymphs. A female has been observed chasing away wasps approximately a dozen times from her colony of nymphs.  After the wasp apparently grew discouraged and flew away, the female flew to her young, and examined to see that they were uninjured. 

Communication between treehoppers of one species is accomplished by vibration of the abdomen against stems or leafs.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Goldenrod soldier beetle

The goldenrod soldier beetle (Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus), also sometimes called Pennsylvania leatherwing, is generally considered a beneficial insect, as its diet includes various common plant pests such as aphids.

Soldier beetles are named after one of the first species discovered in this group. It has a color pattern very similar to the red coats of early British soldiers. 

These beetles fly well and are often also valuable pollinators. Some of them can be confused with many other beetle species, some of which mimic them. Both adults and larvae have glands at the rear of the abdomen that release defensive chemicals similar to the stink bugs.

The goldenrod soldier beetle is found mostly on golden rod, hence the name. It may occasionally venture indoors, especially as temperatures begin to drop in fall, where it is primarily considered no worse than a nuisance, as it will not bite or sting people or pets.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Coffee Berry Borer

I just wrote about this little guy on my other blog.  The coffee berry borer (Hypothenemus hampei) is a small (<2 mm) beetle native to Africa. However, within the last 10-15 years it spread around the world and turned into one of the most harmful pest to coffee crops causing about $500 million of damage every single year.

The adult females bore a hole in the coffee berry, where they deposit their eggs. After hatching, the larvae start to feed on the coffee seeds inside the berry which means that later on there won't be any coffee bean left to produce coffee.

New research in Costa Rica shows that hungry birds can significantly reduce the damage by the coffee berry borer beetle.  A study found that insectivorous birds cut infestations by the beetle by about half. The birds may not pull a perfect cafĂ© latte, but it turns out the are friends to coffee drinkers all the same.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Alkali fly

The Alkali fly (Ephydra hians) belongs to the family of shore flies. This is a very diverse family with about 425 species recorded in North America alone. Many of them are very abundant around alkaline lakes. A soda lake or Alkaline lakes or soda lakes are lakes a pH value above 7, typically between 9 – 12, which means they are rather brine than normal freshwater.

An calm summer days swarms of Alkali flies carpet the shoreline of lakes such as Mono Lake in California. Here is a video that gives you an idea how abundant these flies can be at times:

These flies are also food. Most birds prefer dining on the flies. Alkali flies provide more fat and protein than e.g. the brine shrimp that is the main food source for flamingos. The alkali fly was an important source of food for the native Kutzadika'a people during the summer months. Since the pupae are rich in fat and protein, they were an excellent source of food that were dried and used in stews.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Carolina Leaf-roller

The Carolina Leaf-roller (Camptonotus carolinensis) is the only representative of the family of Leaf-rolling crickets. It is active at night, preying on aphids. It likes to build a daytime retreat for itself by rolling leaves and securing them with silk threads spun from glands in its mouth. 

As opposed to all other crickets the Leaf-rolling crickets don’t jump. 

When disturbed, the cricket inflates its abdomen and raises itself with some of the legs up right. It then repeatedly moves the abdomen against the legs creating a low, raspy sound.  That’s why these insects are sometimes also called ‘raspy crickets’. At the same time it makes noise with the mandibles and wings. If this cannot drive away the dangers, the activity becomes more vigorous. The raspy sound seems to serve a defensive purpose only, as the cricket, both male and female, seems do not have any hearing organ. Many other crickets do (mostly in the front legs).

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Meadow Spittlebug

Meadow spittlebugs (Philaenus spumarius) are relatives of the leafhoppers and you might be familiar with the masses of ‘spit’ their nymphs produce to hide from predators and parasites. The animals mix liquid waste products with spit, whipping air bubbles into this froth by using fingerlike appendages at the tip of their abdomen. This foam also keeps the bugs moist.

The meadow spittlebug is considered a serious pest of strawberries throughout North America and Europe especially in areas of high relative humidity. But Spittlebugs are not really very selective. We know that they feed on over 400 species of agricultural plants. Spittlebug nymphs can damage plants when there are many on one plant. The nymphs suck on plant juices and stop plants from further growth.

Adult Meadow Spittlebugs are often called froghoppers for their plump appearance and their remarkable jumping abilities.

Spittlebugs mate in late Summer. Females lay eggs on stems of plants. The eggs overwinter, since they can resist frost. In Spring, the nymphs hatch from the eggs and start eating and producing their ‘spit’.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Northern Walkingstick

Image from
Stick insects such as the Northern Walkingstick (Diapheromera femorata) are vegetarians. They are well disguised as twigs or stems, some tropical species resemble leaves. These insects usually move very slowly, and at rest they align the front and rear leg s with their body, which makes the camouflage even better.

Male stick insects are often smaller than females, and pairs may remain together for days or even longer. However, females often do not need males as these insects are parthenogenic which means that females can reproduce without males.

A Walkingstick that loses a leg may be able to grow it back, which is impossible for most other insects.

Today’s species is found in deciduous forest throughout North America where they find their food sources which consist of many types of plant leaves. Even though the Northern Walkingstick is not very picky it tends to prefer oak and hazelnut leaves.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

European Earwig

Earwigs are the victims of superstition. Contrary to all those myths, they do not enter the ears of sleeping humans. The name might actually come from the shape of the wing in some species, hence ‘ear wing’ was the intended name which was later corrupted into earwig.

The European Earwig (Forficula auricularia) is normally predatory on small insects, but it becomes a pest of flowers when prey becomes scarce. 

Earwigs frighten many people also because of the pincers on the back of their abdomens. They use these pincers for defense and for sparing with rival earwigs. Earwigs also use them to fold their hind wings.

Females guard their clutch of eggs and the newly hatched baby earwigs. They keep the eggs free of parasites and fungi by licking them clean. After they hatch, a female delivers food to her offspring until they can take care of themselves.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Large Bee Fly

Bee flies might be mistaken for large, fuzzy mosquitoes because of the long stinger-like mouthpart (its called proboscis) but there are for sipping nectar, not blood. Most bee fly species such as our large bee fly (Bombylius major) are covered in long hairs. Other species have silvery scales that wear off rapidly as the insect ages. Many species have dark ornament patterns on their wings.

These flies are very good at hovering which helps to reinforce their resemblance to bees.  They may be seen out and about from April through to June.  They forage on a range of flowers such as lilac and plum blossoms.

The eggs are flicked by the adult female toward the entrance of the underground nests of solitary bees and wasps. After hatching, the larvae find their way into the nests to feed on the other larvae.
Here a video that shows a large bee fly hovering and flying from flower to flower:

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

House fly

The house fly (Musca domestica) is the most common of all domestic flies, accounting for about 91% of all flies in human settlements, and indeed one of the most widely distributed insects, found all over the world. The larvae of this species and its relatives feed in manure or decaying organic matter. The ability of housefly larvae to feed and develop in a wide range of decaying organic matter is very important for recycling of nutrients in nature. Adult flies feed on a large variety of liquid food and regurgitate their food to liquefy solid particles in their food. 

The house fly is known to transmit the microorganisms responsible for a variety of diseases such as dysentery, cholera, and typhoid fever. The best way to avoid any of this is good hygiene. 

When doing my research for this post I also found this very interesting recommendation to keep the flies at bay: attaching clear plastic bags, half full of water, outside doors and windows. The constant motion of the water interferes with the insect’s vision.

Cuckoo wasp

I didn't get to post yesterday, which means I owe you two bugs today.

Number one is a member of the Cuckoo wasp family only known under a scientific name (as most of them), Holopyga ventralis. This species is common throughout North America wherever its host/victim, sand wasps, can be found.

Cuckoo wasps are also called gold wasps. They are usually small, metallic, and heavily armored, the latter for a very good reason. The wasps are parasites in the nests of other wasps or bees. The female slips into the nest of the host, laying an egg inside. After the egg hatches, the cuckoo wasp’s larva eats either the rightful inhabitant or in many cases the food stored in the nest. 

These wasps have no stinger, so when they are attacked they curl into a ball for defense which is very effective given their string armor.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Domesticated silkmoth

Meet the domesticated silkmoth (Bombyx mori) better known in its caterpillar state in which it is called silkworm though it’s not a worm at all. This species is an economically important insect, having been domesticated in China from its wild ancestor Bombyx mandarina about 5000 years ago. The adults have actually lost the ability to fly and also lack fear of potential predators. These changes have made the species entirely dependent upon humans for survival and it no longer occurs naturally in the wild.

What makes them so valuable is silk. After they have molted four times the larvae will enter the pupa phase of their life cycle and enclose themselves in a cocoon made up of raw silk produced by the salivary glands or to be more precise - a 900m long single strand of silk. The cocoon provides a protection during the vulnerable, almost motionless pupal state. 

About 3,000 cocoons are required to make half a kilogram of silk. At least 40 million kilograms of raw silk are produced each year, requiring nearly 5 billion kilograms of cocoons.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Great spangled fritillary

Image from
The great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele ) is a well known butterfly mainly because of its large size, abundance, and widespread range. It is found in northern and central United States and southern Canada. I t is only missing from northern Canada and some of the southern states.

One part of its scientific name (cybele) means “mountain mother” or “earth mother”. The common name comes from a Latin word, fritillus, which means chessboard or dice box.  Another name for these handsome butterflies is silverspots because of the metallic markings on their wing’s undersides. It is possible that this pattern, similar to a leopard’s spots, serves as camouflage when they are resting in places of dappled sun and shade spots.

Like many other butterflies, the great spangled fritillary caterpillars are very picky about what they eat. They do not go for milkweeds as do monarchs; they prefer violets instead. Without violets, there would be no fritillaries. The adults, on the other hand are thirsty for nectar of many different flowers.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

American Cockroach

Cockroaches are infamous in part because their presence suggests rather sloppy housekeeping. However, it is not true that cockroaches are only found in dirty and poorly-kept buildings. They can be found in any building. 

Cockroaches, such as today’s species (Periplaneta americana) are also suspected disease carriers. They can carry microbes on their body including those that are potentially dangerous to humans and they are linked to allergic reactions in humans.

Their diet includes almost anything organic and that’s one factor that helped them to thrive for over 280 Million years as some fossils suggest. In their natural habitats they are valuable decomposers, which means they break down dead or decaying organisms. 

The American cockroach is often seen outdoors unlike its relatives that are considered households pests, e.g. the German cockroach (Blattella germanica) that is actually from northern Africa. By the way, the American cockroach probably also originated in northern Africa.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Eastern Hercules Beetle

This massive beetle never fails to draw attention. The eastern Hercules beetle (Dynastes tityus) is among the largest beetles in North America, second only to the western Hercules beetle (Dynastes granti) which has longer horns but is otherwise about the same size.

Only the males have horns which they use in combat against each other against over access to females. The adult beetles feed on tree sap and fruit while the larvae feed on decayed wood inside dead or dying trees.

It may take several years for a Hercules beetle grub before they pupate and change into adult beetles.

These insects are called Hercules Beetles because, pound for pound, they are probably the strongest animal in the world, capable of lifting over 850 times their own weight. That’s like you trying to carry six African Elephants at once.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Horse Guard Wasp

The Horse Guard Wasp (Stictia carolina) is a type of so called sand wasps widespread in eastern North America. The species is named for the behavior of its females, which hover around horses to catch horse flies. These rather large wasps may treat us humans in a similar manner – as fly lures. 

The wasps nest in the sand, sometimes in dense colonies with sometimes thousands of other wasps. A female may take anywhere from 30 to 60 flies as food to provision each one of her nests. Nests are simple burrows up to 15 cm deep, with a single enlarged chamber at the bottom. An egg is laid in the empty chamber, and the female wasp brings back paralyzed flies until the chamber is full, at which point she closes the nest and begins another.

Here a little video about horse guard wasps:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Luna moth

Found across eastern North America, the Luna Moth (Actias luna) belongs to the family that includes Giant Silkworm Moths. These large moths with wingspans of up to 12 cm appear even larger because of long tails on their hind wings. 

The wings of the Luna Moth are marked by eyespots - an adaptation to scare off potential predators. The eyespots are especially noticeable against the uniform pale green of a Luna Moth's wings.  Another obvious characteristic are the large, feathery antennae. In the male Luna Moth, these receptors are especially large and used to pick up minute traces of pheromones--chemicals released by the female that allow males to track her down in complete darkness.  

The caterpillars, which reach lengths of 8 cm, are voracious eaters that dine on leaves of hickories, walnuts, birches, Common Persimmon, and Sweet Gum.  Like other caterpillars, their multiple mouthparts are well adapted for chewing, and they easily make short work of a tasty leaf.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Green stink bug

Stink bugs like the Green Stink bug (Chinavia hilaris) are large, oval or shield-shaped insects. They are members of the insect order Hemiptera. They get their common name from the odor of the chemical that they produce in glands on their abdomen. This odor is a defense against predators. 

Many species of stink bugs feed on plants. Green Stink bugs eat a wide variety of plants. In fact, they eat just about anything. Some of their favorite food sources are Black Cherry, Flowering Dogwood, Evergreen Blackberry, and pine trees. They will suck juices from leaves, flowers, fruits, and stems. They have sharp mouthparts which they use to pierce the plant. Some stink bugs become serious pests of crops. When they attack fruits, like peaches, they make the fruit unfit for sale. 

Stink bugs overwinter as adults and become active in spring when temperatures rise above 21C.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Willow sawfly

Sawflies like today’s Willow sawfly (Nematus ventralis) aren't actually flies. They belong to the insect group Hymenoptera, which means that they are related to wasps and bees. Adult sawflies are inconspicuous wasp-like insects that do not sting. Some of them mimic stinging wasps.

Their larvae are plant feeders and look like hairless caterpillars. The most distinguishing character between sawfly larvae and caterpillars is the number of prolegs (fleshy, leg-like stubs) on the abdomen. Caterpillars have 2-5 prolegs on the abdomen, while sawflies have 6 or more. When alarmed, the larvae thrash their back ends in the air (see photo).

Sawflies often feed in groups and can quickly defoliate portions of their host plant. There are many different species of sawflies and each prefers specific plants or groups of related plants. I guess it is obvious what the Willow sawfly prefers to feed on.

The females use a sawlike organ to deposit their eggs in leaves or twigs, hence the name sawfly.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Large milkweed bug

The large milkweed bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) is colored orange-red and black. It has a long a long, thin tube that forms part of the mouth which is named proboscis.  With that it pierces into plants and sucks their sap. As the name says, it feeds on the seeds, leaves and stems of milkweed. Milkeweed bugs are found in small groups. This behavior is likely meant to enhance their warning coloration.

Because this species feeds on milkweed it is fairly safe from predators. This is similar to the Monarch butterfly, whose larvae also feed on milkweed.  Certain chemicals in the milkweed sap, called cardiac glycosides, are toxic which makes the adult safe from most predators.  Interestingly the chemicals are not toxic to the milkweed bugs but they have the ability to store them. In order to warn potential predators the bugs wear this warning orange color.

Friday, October 17, 2014


Taken from
Mantisflies (Mantispa sayi) are pretty weird looking creatures. Imagine somebody shrinking a praying mantis and attaching its front end to the hind end of a lacewing. Don’t know what a lacewing is? No problem, just check out this Wikipedia page

The adult mantisfly is a predator, using its big front legs to catch small insects in the same manner as a praying mantis. As larva they are predators of spider egg sacs. 

A larva hatches from its egg and may seek a spider upon which it rides until its host spins an egg sac. If the spider happens to be a male, the larva will wait until it mates, in which case it moves over to the female. Once inside an egg sac, the larva changes into a grub that feeds on the eggs and hatched spiders until nothing is left. Then it pupates and later an adult emerges from the empty egg sac. The adults can have very different sizes depending on the amount of food they had as larva. This is very unusual in the insect world as most other species have more or less similar sized adults.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Potter wasp

Potter wasps such are all solitary which means they live alone and not in large colonies. The species I picked for today’s post doesn't have a common name, only a scientific one (Eumenes fraternus). So let’s stick to potter wasp for now.

The female potter wasp builds a miniature pot out of mud in which it lays an egg, hence the name for this group. The animal does that by collecting a drop of water and then a dry particle of soil, mixing both and putting it in place. Several hundred such fragments will be needed and the pot may take one or two hours to build.

Once the egg is laid the females hunt and paralyze caterpillars, which are then stockpiled in the pot for their offspring to feed on.  When she has placed enough provisions in the pot, the wasp seals the top and flies off to build another nest.  

By the way, as adults the potter wasps are strictly vegan, they feed only on nectar and pollen.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Northern Mole Cricket

Image from
Mole crickets such as the Northern mole cricket (Neocurtilla hexadactyla) are nocturnal subterranean insects, in other words they are active at night and life underground.  They are well built for their underground existence, complete with spade-like front legs. This adaptation is very similar to that of moles, hence the name. 

Today’s species can fly powerfully but only when they need to change their territory, or when females are searching for singing males. Some crickets may fly as far as 8 km during the mating season. Mole crickets are active most of the year, but spend the winter in hibernation.

Mole crickets amplify their song by chirping in a burrow that they've carefully sculpted into the shape of a ‘U’ with two speakers at each end, which acts as a megaphone. Singing usually starts at dusk, often after rain, and ceases within a few hours. The songs of mole crickets are deeper than those of typical crickets and many people have attributed them to frogs.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Black-tipped Hangingfly

Hangingflies are easily mistaken for the crane flies, but they have two pairs of wings, not one pair like crane flies. Actually many species such as the black-tipped hanging fly (Hylobittacus apicalis) are hunting crane flies in particular.  

Hanging flies are often found in open woodlands and forest edges, flying slowly and hanging from twigs, grasses, or leaf edges by their front feet, or by the front and middle pairs of feet. The hind legs are used to capture insect prey, either while hanging or while flying upward along plant stems.

Today’s species has the habit of resting with its wings outstretched to the sides, while all other hangingfly species hold their wings folded down rooflike over their abdomen.

Hangingflies are not flies. They belong to the same group as the scorpionflies, the insect order Mecoptera which is Greek for long wings.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Thermometer cricket

Oecanthus fultoni, also known as the snowy tree cricket or thermometer cricket, is a species of tree cricket from North America.  This cricket is probably one the most famous insects as it made an appearance on the T.V. show The Big Bang Theory when the main character Sheldon wrongly believes that a common field cricket, Gryllus assimilis, found in his apartment is a snowy tree cricket. In case you want to check it out it was in Season 3, Episode 2.

So where did this little cricket get its name? This insect is called thermometer cricket because the rate at which it chirps correlates well with the temperature found around the cricket! This means the surrounding temperature can be estimated by using the formula: The air temperature in Fahrenheit equals the number of chirps in one minute, minus 40, divided by 4, and plus 50.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Scorpionflies (Panorpa nuptialis) are named for the appearance of the male insect. The back of his body is enlarged and modified into a wicked-looking tail resembling that of a scorpion. Despite their look, scorpionflies neither sting nor bite and are completely harmless.

These insects are usually not very common but at times they can be found in fair numbers, sitting on leaves in the undergrowth of open woods or in overgrown old fields.

Larvae resemble the caterpillars of moths or butterflies. The only difference is that scorpionflies already have compound eyes.

Both larva and adults scavenge for dead insects. Sometimes you can see adults feeding on prey trapped in spider webs.

Males often attract female scorpionflies with a morsel of food as nuptial gift which explains the species name.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Boll weevil

Today's species is the Boll Weevil (Anthonomus grandis) which originally comes from Mexico, where it feeds on wild cotton. Unfortunately, around 1892 it crossed the Rio Grande and entered the United States. What it found were huge and rich cotton plantations which mean rich food resources for them. Nowadays, it does hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of damage to cotton crops every year.

The Boll Weevil belongs to one of the most diverse insect groups, the weevils. Over 3,000 species live in North America alone, 60,000 are currently known to science. They can be recognized by elbowed antennae and many of them have a prolonged snout. At the tip of this snout is their mouth. Depending on the species, weevils range in size from about 3 mm to over 10 mm in length. They are usually dark-colored—brownish to black. Some have scales or shiny hairs covering part of their bodies.

Nearly all known weevils are vegetarians both as larva and adults. Hardly any plant is not affected by at least one species of weevil.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

European Mantis

The European Mantis (Mantis religiosa) is native to the Mediterranean region and Asia. It has been introduced to North America in 1899 is now very common in Canada and the northern parts of the United States.

Mantises are generalist predators which means that they eat a large variety of insects, e.g. butterflies, grasshoppers, and bees. Larger species can actually prey on small vertebrates including hummingbirds. Their front legs are modified into perfect tools for grasping and holding prey, which is eaten alive. At rest, the folded front legs give the impression of a posture of prayer, hence the common name praying mantis.

Mantises have incredible good eyesight. Some species have a visual range of 20 m which is a lot for a rather small animal. Their compound eyes may comprise up to 10 000 individual eyes.

These animals are also famous for cannibalism of males by females but it seems that this is not the rule among all mantis species.

The photo for this post was made by one of my colleagues here at the institute. Valerie is one of our collections technicians and a fantastic insect photographer as you can see in our school program blog.

Monday, October 6, 2014


Antlions (Myrmeleon sp.) are named for their lar
val stage. They are known to excavate funnel-shaped pits to trap ants and other insects.

Look for groups of pits, each about 2 cm across, in very fine, dry soil under overhanging rock ledges, beneath bridges, at the base of trees, or in the dirt floor of abandoned barns and sheds. When an ant or another small insect strays over the edge of one of these pits and begins to slide downward on the fine loose grains of sand, the larval antlion kicks up little fountains of earth to shower its victim and thereby accelerating its decent into the hole at the bottom of the pit where the hungry predator is waiting.

adult Antlion
The antlion larva is also called doodlebug because of the odd winding, spiralling trails it leaves in the sand while looking for a good location to build its trap, as these trails look as if someone has doodled in the sand. There is a simple reason for the rather odd shape – the larva can only walk backwards when it is on the surface.

Here a short National Geographic video of today’s bug and how it hunts.

Friday, October 3, 2014


Backswimmers (Notonecta sp.) are common predators about 1 cm long with large compound eyes. They swim upside-down, propelling themselves by rowing with their long hind legs that are trimmed with hair. They are also good fliers and have well-developed wings. They are widespread in North America and can be found in slow-moving streams or ponds.

They are very similar to another bug you might know, the water boatman. However, backswimmers are usually larger and as said before, swim upside down. 

Backswimmers attack prey as large as tadpoles and small fish. If not handled carefully, a backswimmer can inflict a bite as painful as a bee’s sting which earned it the alternative names water wasp and water bee.

There are various species and genera of backswimmers and when they are not swimming they cling to vegetation and wait for prey to swim or walk by. Backswimmers are attracted at night to artificial lights. People sometimes find these insects in swimming pools, where they end up after the night’s flying excursion.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Onion thrips

Today we are looking at some very common insects that most of the times go unnoticed because they are very tiny (1mm long or less). Thrips such as the Onion thrips (Thrips tabaci) are tiny, slender insects with fringed wings which feed on many different plants and animals by puncturing them and sucking up the contents.

Although they have wings thrips are not very good flyers, although they can be carried long distances by the wind.

The word thrips is used for both the singular and plural forms, so there may be many thrips or a single thrips. You might know this already from the words sheep, deer and moose.

Many thrips are pests of crops due to the damage they cause by feeding on developing flowers or vegetables. Today’s bug for example has an insatiable appetite for onion leaves but also eats pollen and even the eggs of mites.