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.