Aliens in the Garden

I’ve seen some pretty fascinating insects over the years, but using this clip on macro lens https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07LG651ZD/ref=sspa_dk_detail_3?psc=1&pd_rd_i=B07LG651ZD my husband bought me to use with my iPhone has opened up a whole new world. Last night we went down to our garden and while he was busy picking lettuce and tomatoes, I wandered around inspecting leaves and flowers with my new “eye.” I saw aliens! 👽

While I can’t tell you the exact names of all of these creatures, I can tell you that 7 pm must be dinnertime for some of them…like these micro beetles all over my flowering parsley. https://youtu.be/9_NRtS1HJTg

Unidentified micro beetles on Parsley blossoms
July 21, 2019
San Juan Island, WA

One of my favorites was this ladybug larva. I’ve been seeing several different species of ladybugs in the garden. This larva is probably Coccinella septempunctata or the Seven Spotted Lady Bug. A voracious predator, ladybug adults and larvae love to eat aphids. Curiously, while I saw plenty of aphids in my garden, I also saw some strangely mutant ones, so keep reading and scroll down for photos.

Ladybug larva
July 21, 2019
San Juan Island, WA
photo by Cynthia Brast-Bormann

The normal, healthy aphids look like this one. Isn’t she sort of cute watching over all her little babies on the leaf!

Mom aphid with young nymphs
July 21, 2019
San Juan Island, WA
photo by Cynthia Brast-Bormann
Mom aphid with young nymphs
July 21, 2019
San Juan Island, WA
photo by Cynthia Brast-Bormann

The strange aphids I noticed when I was picking peas. I am not 100% certain, but I believe this is a pea aphid that has been infected with fungi. After doing a bit of reading about these fungal pathogens, I believe it could possibly be (Pandora neoaphidis), an aphid specific entomopathogenic fungus that acts as a biocontrol for aphid populations. The taxonomy and ecological roles of fungi is beyond the scope of my knowledge and experience, so if you decide to read more about this, I suggest googling “Pandora neoaphidis” with “biocontrol.” One interesting bit I did note in my reading was that certain native ladybugs won’t eat aphids that are infected with the fungi, but that the non-native Asian ladybird beetle, Harmonia axyridis eats aphids indiscriminately, fungal infected ones too! Since I was eating peas while I was picking, I’m glad I stopped before popping the pea with these in my mouth. While I’m not entirely opposed to eating insects, I imagine my taste to be a bit more like the native lady bugs.

Pea aphid with fungal pathogen, possibly ( Pandora neoaphidis)
July 21, 2019
San Juan Island, WA
photo by Cynthia Brast-Bormann
Pea aphid under the microscope
possibly infected with (Pandora neoaphidis)
July 21, 2019
San Juan Island, WA
photo by Cynthia Brast-Bormann
Pea aphid with entomopathogenic fungi
July 21, 2019
San Juan Island, WA
photo by Cynthia Brast-Bormann

The next image is of the weirdest looking creature yet. This is another aphid, but instead of entomopathogenic fungi, it is the victim of a parasitic wasp that has injected it with eggs that will hatch, consume the remainder of the aphid body, then eat their way out. Here’s a link to another photo I found online of this stranger-than-strange occurrence in nature. http://www.aphotofauna.com/hymenoptera_wasp_praon_mummified_aphid_22-09-14.html

The Alien
Mummified aphid infected with parasitic wasp larva
July 21, 2019
San Juan Island, WA
photo by Cynthia Brast-Bormann

Western Blood-red Lady Beetle

I found three different species of Lady Beetles in my garden this past weekend and wanted to share a bit about them with you. I’ll start with the Western Blood-red Lady Beetle or (Cycloneda polita), also sometimes called the “Polished Lady Bug.”

If you are someone who needs reading glasses (like me) to see things up close, you could easily be fooled into thinking the spot of red on the plant leaf is a drop of blood. Given how accident prone I am, when I first spotted this one, I figured I’d poked my finger again on one of the prickly berry vines that are coming up in my raised garden beds. Upon closer inspection, I was glad I had my camera phone handy.

Western Blood-red Lady Beetle (Cycloneda polita)
July 14, 2019
San Juan Island, WA

Ladybird or ladybug beetles are a large and very diverse group of beetles. They are classified in the insect order Coleoptera, family Coccinellidae. Most are known to be highly beneficial, feeding on garden pests like aphids. The Western Blood-red Lady Beetle is one of our native ladybird beetle species. Unfortunately, research is indicating we are losing our native ladybird beetle populations as they are outcompeted by imported non-native ladybird beetles released for biological control.

Western Blood Red Ladybird Beetle (Cycloneda polita) on Daisy
July 19, 2019
San Juan Island, WA
Western Blood red Ladybird Beetle (Cycloneda polita)
July 19, 2019
San Juan Island, WA

Further information can be found by following the links below.

*Distribution of Cycloneda politahttps://www.discoverlife.org/mp/20p?res=720&see=I_JEL1585;&start=http://www.discoverlife.org/users/l/Losey,_John/JEL.html

*Lost Ladybug project http://www.lostladybug.org/files/LLP%204HSet3-6.pdf

*Bugguide https://bugguide.net/node/view/15623

Xestoleptura crassipes

Xestoleptura crassipes
San Juan Island, WA
July 16, 2019

Xestoleptura crassipes is a species of flower longhorn beetle. Taxonomically it is placed in order Coleoptera, family Cerambycidae. The species name “crassipes” means “thick-legged.” Adults are attracted to flowers (June-September) and larvae are wood borers, found in forested areas and associated with firs and oaks. Adult body length approximately 10-17mm.

I photographed this specimen on July 16, 2019. It was the only one on the daisy plant by my front door. On the morning of July 18, there remained the single beetle (or I believed it to be the same one). That evening, I observed a 2nd beetle feeding on an adjacent flower. This morning (July 19th, 2019), they were both gone. Perhaps this was a successful meetup for finding a mate. 🌼

Xestoleptura crassipes feeding on daisy pollen

Beetle larva versus earthworm

I love finding strange and unusual things when I’m out and about. This definitely can be categorized as one of those moments when the microfauna is weirdly charismatic. And in a parking lot no less. I came upon this European Ground Beetle larva after visiting my husband at his office. We’d gone out for a nice lunch and upon our return, I discovered we weren’t the only ones having lunch. This fellow could give those people who enter contests to eat the most hotdogs some serious competition!

Green Bottle Fly (Lucilia sericata)

Green Bottle Fly (Lucilia sericata) July 9, 2019 San Juan Island, WA

This shiny green bottle fly, a blow fly in the family Calliphoridae, is widely distributed across North America. A frequent visitor to garbage, feces, and carrion, it can mechanically transmit disease, but it is probably more well known for other notable roles it plays in veterinary, medical, and forensic science.

In veterinary science, Lucilia sericata can cause loss of livestock when animals are affected by the larval form of the fly in a condition known as myiasis or fly strike. Animals affected by fly strike can die when fly larva invade living tissue if they are not treated.

In July of 2016, I helped rescue some turkeys someone had dumped near our home. Upon closer examination of the photos I had taken of them, I was able to see a wound one of the turkeys had. The veterinarian who examined the turkey determined there was serious tissue damage due to fly strike and the turkey was euthanized. So, all animals (even birds) are subject to this condition. Good animal husbandry includes regular examination of animals and treating wounds promptly, with appropriate wound care/dressing to protect the animal from fly contact.

In medical science, Green bottle fly larva are known for their role in wound care. In a practice called maggot therapy, larva of Lucilia sericata are placed on an infected wound to clean out the necrotic tissue. Interestingly, as the larvae feed on the dying tissue, they secrete enzymes that are bactericidal, further aiding in healing the wound.

Finally, in forensic science, the timing of the development of this fly has been adapted and well utilized for establishing a time of death, aiding in law enforcement investigations when a body is found.

If you’d like to read more about this shiny little fly, please check out the links below.

http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/livestock/flies/lucilia_sericata.htm

htthttps://bugguide.net/node/view/53775

https://www.hindawi.com/journals/criid/2018/5067569/

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/d1a4/97c592968996ff73b91740b25e9005f09433.pdf

Dot-tailed Whiteface Dragonfly (Leucorrhinia intacta)

I found this Sunday morning, July 7, 2019 as I walked near my home on San Juan Island. It seemed to have been stunned by a car and was upside down in the dirt road. This dragonfly is classified as a Skimmer in the family Libellulidae. They are found Spring through Summer in vegetated areas near ponds, bogs, and wetlands. Adults of this species will eat most any soft-bodied flying insect, including mosquitoes, flies, mayflies, ant and termite alates (dispersing winged reproductives), moths and butterflies.

Harmonia axyridis, The Asian-Spotted Ladybird Beetle

I found this weird little creature stuck to a leaf on a rose bush by the picket fence in front of the San Juan County Land Bank office on Monday, June 24, 2019 when I walked down Argyle and rounded the corner onto Caines (does anyone on the island actually use street names? Where the heck is Caines, right?) 

Ladybird pupal case, June 24, 2019

Brought it home because I couldn’t resist the mystery of figuring out what it might be.  What on earth are those spiny things at the end? Is it some sort of pest insect?   

Ladybird pupal case
June 24, 2010

After taking a few photos, I did what drives my husband crazy sometimes.  I left the leaf with this little spiny-ended thing on the table, in a cup, without a lid.  Yep.  Just like when I left the really fat deer tick I had on my desk.  The one that laid eggs…that hatched when I wasn’t paying attention.  This is when it’s really handy to have sticky tape nearby, otherwise you have to vacuum every 10 minutes for about a month to finally sleep at night without feeling like things are crawling all over you and burrowing into your skin. This link should take you to my facebook page post about “Big Bertha.” https://www.facebook.com/buggingyoufromSJI/posts/2375866245969416

This morning, after my cat got me up with incessant meowing right in my ear, I sat down at the table with a cup of coffee. Millhouse (the cat) isn’t supposed to be on the table, but when my husband isn’t around, anything goes!  He was staring something down that was m.o.v.i.n.g!  Fortunately, I reacted faster than he did.  I tipped over the little medicine cup I’d put the leaf in to thwart this little creature’s attempt at a fast getaway.  

Asian Spotted Ladybird Beetle (Harmonia axyridis)
July 27, 2019
San Juan Island, WA

Carefully sliding a piece of paper under the cup, I could see it looked like a ladybug.  Ladybugs come in different colors, with different spots, and there are quite a few species one could encounter on San Juan Island.  This beetle goes by an assortment of names.  It’s often referred to as the Multi-colored Asian Lady Beetle or sometimes the Halloween Beetle because in some places they show up in large numbers at Halloween! 🎃😱

This beetle’s scientific name is Harmonia axyridis (The Asian-spotted Ladybird Beetle).  It was imported to the United States as early as 1916 to help control pests as a biocontrol agent.  While “Miss Harmonia” eats aphids, thrips, and scale insects (and manages these pests fantastically in soybean crops), she isn’t native and these pest insects aren’t all she eats.  Asian-spotted Ladybird Beetles also eat native coccinellid beetles (native lady bugs) and even butterfly eggs.  In the winter, she can bring her friends and invade your home.  When handled, the ladybird beetles can excrete a stinky defensive chemical from their leg joints.  This makes removal of large numbers of them from inside homes somewhat problematic.  You don’t want to have them discharging this awful odor that will linger….all…winter! 

Newly emerged adult (Harmonia axyridis)
June 27, 2019
San Juan Island, WA

Another unfortunate consequence of importing these beetles is their love of wine grapes.  🍇 🍷 Asian-spotted ladybirds will eat grapes and then the grapes end up contaminated with an awful smell lingering on them.  While I personally don’t drink wine, I know lots of people do and they’d be very unhappy if it tasted like essence of ladybug…a twist on a new aromatic bitter perhaps! 

Did I squish her? Nope.  I put her in the tree near our bird feeder.  It’s possible she will become part of the food chain.  While not all birds eat these beetles, some do. Insects and arachnids like robber flies, dragonflies, ants, various ground beetles, and cellar spiders also eat them.   

If you see them, should you squish them?  That’s up to you and how confident you are that you’ve identified it correctly. I wouldn’t want to mistake a helpful native ladybug as an invader.  I recommend that instead of buying ladybird beetles at the garden store to release in your garden you establish native habitat to attract and support native species of ladybugs.

As I looked a bit more into the literature about Harmonia axyridis, I was intrigued with the publication of some research about the biochemistry of the liquid they secrete.  It has been found to have strong antimicrobial action against strains of bacteria that are pathogenic to humans. This fluid has even been examined for its action against malaria.  Perhaps these beetles don’t belong in the garden, but in your medicine cabinet instead.  

empty pupal case
Asian spotted Ladybird Beetle (Harmonia axyridis)
July 27 2019
San Juan Island, WA

References and further reading

  1. https://plunketts.net/blog/ladybugs-vs-asian-lady-beetles/
  2. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rsbl.2011.0760?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%3Dpubmed&
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC524671/
  4. https://bugguide.net/node/view/397

Clickety clack, jump-up jack!

I brought this guy home long enough to get him to do his trick for you and then took him back outside so he could go on his way. Please be assured that he came to no harm and he even left this little rhyme for you to enjoy!

Clickety-clack, I’m jump up Jack! Turn me over and I’ll flip right back.

Jump Up Jack
Wait for it…

A Blistery Spring Day

I walked down the road last Tuesday (April 9, 2019) with my husband.  It was late afternoon and although it rained a bit earlier that morning, the sun was peeking out.   The wind wasn’t blowing, but it was soon to be a Blistery Spring day!

If you know any entomologists, you’ll understand rule #1 about going on ANY walk is to take a collection jar and a camera.  Last week, I failed to do this and missed an opportunity to identify and document this very cool bumble bee mimicking fly (genus Laphria ~ a bee-like robber fly).  This time I made certain to take my phone.  Sure enough, at the bottom of the hill, I see a black beetle crawling about on the chip-sealed road.  Fortunately, I refrained from my very bad habit of grabbing things with my bare hands. This is one beetle you do NOT want to pick up!  It was a BLISTER BEETLE.

Lucky me! I came home with some great photos and some video footage instead of a dermatological eruption that would have landed me in the doctor’s office.  I left the beetle in the road to continue whatever it was doing.

Back at home, I used my reference books to compare the photos and video I took of the beetle and narrowed down an ID to the genus Meloe.  I would need more help figure out the species.  I sent some photos off to Merrill Peterson at WSU with the suggestion that it might be a male Meloe niger.  Merrill wrote back that he thought it was M. strigulosus, but hard to confirm with only a photo.  He agreed it was indeed a male.

Meloe niger Black Meloe Blister Beetle

Meloe strigulosus (male)

You might ask how one goes about determining whether a particular beetle is male or female.  Often, as in this case, the male antennal segments are larger or varied in shape from the female.  This beetle’s antennae had a distinctive kinked platform on their fifth segment.  I would learn later that this kinked part enables them to grasp the antennae of the female during mating.

Meloe strigulosus (male)

Meloe strigulosus photo by Cynthia Brast April 9, 2019 Three Corner Lake Road San Juan Island, WA

Antennae

kink in antennal segment of M. strigulosus (male)

Merrill also sent me a link to what I will refer to as the Blister Beetle bible.  Published in 1970, this research was compiled by the legendary systematics entomologist, John D. Pinto, currently professor emeritus at U.C. Riverside with Richard B. Selander.  Hopeful, I sent off my photos in an email to Dr. Pinto and felt really privileged when I got an almost immediate response.

According to Dr. Pinto, the specimen I photographed was indeed a male Meloe strigulosus.  If you’re interested, you can read “The bionomics of blister beetles of the genus Meloe and a classification of the New World species”by linking here https://archive.org/details/bionomicsofblist42pint  Aside from the wealth of information published in this book, I love the artistic rendering of the female beetle on the cover.

Screen Shot 2019-04-15 at 11.53.12 AM.png

Illustration from Pinto and Selander’s “The bionomics of blister beetles of the genus Meloe and a classification of the New World species.” 

According to Dr. Pinto, there are 22 species of Meloidae in North America.  They are named Blister Beetles because they release a toxic terpenoid blistering agent called cantharadin when they are threatened or handled.  Sometimes people call them “Oil Beetles” because it’s oily. You can find the chemical profile of cantharadin here ~ https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/cantharidin#section=Drug-Indication

Curiously, this toxic secretion has been utilized to treat various medical conditions.  Among these was the topical application of the “oil” to treat rheumatism or to remove warts and lesions of Molluscum contagiosum, a contagious, viral infection of the skin (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/molluscum-contagiosum/symptoms-causes/syc-20375226).  Cantharidin is also famously known for its use as an aphrodisiac (Spanish Fly).   This substance was historically used as a treatment for hydrophobia (rabies).  Male beetles were preserved in honey, mixed with other equally toxic ingredients then administered in an attempt to cure the patient. Maybe dying from cantharadin poisoning was less traumatic than dying of rabies.

Blister beetles are economically important because they contaminate alfalfa hay and they are highly toxic to livestock, especially horses.  There are instances where a horse has died from ingesting just ONE beetle. According to this Colorado State Extension publication (https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/insects/blister-beetles-in-forage-crops-5-524/), just the release of cantharadin oil from the beetle can contaminate the hay.  Although reports of cantharadin poisoning in livestock are rare in the West, here’s one case where someone’s goat became very sick from ingesting hay contaminated with cantharidin ~ https://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/news/uc-davis-veterinarians-discover-blister-beetle-toxicity-goat

Another interesting fact about these beetles is that the larvae are phoretic parasites of solitary bees and grasshopper egg pods.  The first instar larvae, called triungulins” crawl onto flowers to await a visiting bee, then hitch a ride back to the nest where they will consume the pollen, nectar, and even the bee larvae.  Check out this link from National Geographic to view some extraordinary images of bees covered with blister beetle larvae ~ https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2018/09/bees-blister-beetles-evolution-parasites-pheromones-news/

This was the first blister beetle I’ve seen on San Juan Island, but I do know of one other sighting by San Juan County Land Bank steward, Doug. M. from April of 2016.  I sent the photo of Doug’s beetle to Dr. Pinto as well and this was his reply, “Very likely M. niger – tho the photo is a little fuzzy for positive ID.”  Doug’s photo of the “likely” M. niger below.   

Meloe niger 2016-04-07 14.38.37

Meloe niger Mount Ben, San Juan Island, WA, April 2016                                                                     Photo by Doug. M. San Juan County Land Bank

If you’d like to read more about the particular species of blister beetle I found, I’m including the taxonomic key and geographic distribution data from Dr. Pinto’s book below.

                                               Meloe (Meloe) strigulosus Mannerheim


 Direct Key To The New World Subgenera of Meloe

Key to New World Subgenera of Meloe

Key to New World Subgenera of Meloe Pinto and Selander, 1970

Direct Key to the New World Subgenera page 104.

Direct Key to the New World Subgenera of Meloe page 104 Pinto and Selander, 1970

Key to Groups

Key to Groups p. 124

Key to Groups Bionomics of Blister Beetles Pinto and Selander, 1970

Direct Key to Groups page 157

Key to Groups Bionomics of Blister Beetles Pinto and Selander, 1970

 Geographic distribution

Geographic.distribution of M. strigulosus  p. 159

Geographic Distribution of Meloe strigulosus Pinto and Selander, 1970

Larval Key Meloe strigulosus

Larval.key.1

Larval key Meloe strigulosus Pinto and Selander, 1970

Larval.key.2

Larval key for M. strigulosus Pinto and Selander 1970

Antennal illustrations for male Meloe strigulosus, Figure 125 a. Dorsal view of segments V-VII, and b. Posterior view of segments V-VII

Male Antennae

Male antennae M. strigulosus Pinto and Selander, 1970

Antennal illustrations for female Meloe strigulosus, Figure 140

Female Antennae

Female Antennae M. strigulosus Pinto and Selander, 1970

References

Bittell, J. 2018.  Sex, Lies, and Grappling Hooks: How Parasitic Beetles Trick Bees. Animals Weird and Wild. National Geographic.  https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2018/09/bees-blister-beetles-evolution-parasites-pheromones-news/

Hafernik, John and Saul-Gershenz, Leslie. 2000. Beetle larvae cooperate to mimic bees. Nature. 405. 35-6. 10.1038/35011129.

Kinney, K.K., F.B. Peairs and A.M. Swinker. 2010.  Blister Beetles in Forage Crops. Colorado State University Extension Publication 5.524. https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/insects/blister-beetles-in-forage-crops-5-524/

Mayo Clinic. Mulluscum contagiosum. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/molluscum-contagiosum/symptoms-causes/syc-20375226(accessed on Apr. 16, 2019)

National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Database. Cantharidin, CID=5944, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/5944 (accessed on Apr. 16, 2019)

Peterson, M. A. 2018. Pacific Northwest insectshttps://www.amazon.com/Pacific-Northwest-Insects-Merrill-Peterson/dp/0914516183

Pinto, J.D. and R.B. Selander. 1970. The bionomics of blister beetles of the genus Meloe and a classification of the New World species. Illinois Biological Monographs 42: 1-222.  https://archive.org/details/bionomicsofblist42pint

Piuser, J. 2017. UC Davis Veterinarians Discover Blister Beetle Toxicity in Goat. U.C. Davis Veterinary Medicine.  https://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/news/uc-davis-veterinarians-discover-blister-beetle-toxicity-goat

Quinn, M. Blister Beetles of Texas. Texas Beetle Resources. http://texasento.net/TXMeloidae.html#Meloe  (accessed on Apr. 16, 2019)

Enchoria lacteata

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Enchoria lacteata

Enchoria lacteata (Packard) is a relatively small moth with forewings measuring only 0.9-1.1 cm in length.    Adults have a remarkable zig-zag pattern on forewings made up of various shades of brown and buff.  They are diurnal (daytime) fliers and emerge from late February to May.  Sightings are often in grassy areas or edges of moist woodlands.  Larval host plants are various species of miner’s lettuce, Claytonia (Portulacaceae).  Check out the following link for more information on miner’s lettuce.  It’s edible! https://www.ediblewildfood.com/miners-lettuce.aspx

Enchoria lacteata

Enchoria lacteata crawling onto my pruning tool.

IMG_9131

Enchoria lacteata between my work glove and pruning tool

 

References:

POWELL, JERRY A., and PAUL A. OPLER. Moths of Western North America. 1st ed., University of California Press, 2009.

https://bugguide.net/node/view/46115

http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=7403

 

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