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

fullsizeoutput_2289

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

 

Itchy-Scratchy!

Just in time for Halloween!  Yesterday I was using the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) at Friday Harbor Marine Labs.  I got to take some really cool photos but in order to use the SEM, your specimen has to be dried out.  Well, I had some specimens that are really tiny and very delicate and they weren’t dried out because it is a complicated process that takes a certain chemical called Hexamethyldisilazane (HMDS).  Also, drying out your specimen for viewing under the SEM renders it useless for viewing under a light microscope and you’ve lost the ability to preserve it in a collection.

So I’m going to share how I took images of some of my specimens at home with a pretty old compound microscope, an iPhone, and a clip-on macro lens from Amazon.   First, I’ll tell you a bit about the compound microscope image posted here.  This specimen is in the genus Damalinia, most likely the exotic chewing louse, Damalinia (Cervicola).

IMG_7536

Chewing louse Damalinia spp

It lives on black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) in Washington, Oregon and California, and has been indicated in what is called HLS (Hair-loss syndrome).  They build up in large numbers on deer at certain times of the year.  One factor thought to contribute to this is lack of adequate nutrition in the deers’ diet, particularly an absence or deficiency of Selenium.

In a nutshell, these lice can reproduce at high numbers in vulnerable deer (typically old, young, and those with weakened immune systems due to nutritional deficiencies or internal parasites).  The lice cause extreme itching, irritation, and hair loss.  The deer respond to the itchiness by excessive licking and grooming.   Why hair loss? Well, these lice are called “chewing lice” because they munch on hair, skin fragments and secretions, and in some cases will feed on blood from skin wounded from scratching.  It’s a miserable condition to have.  This is what a deer looks like that is suffering from HLS caused by the chewing lice.

hairloss

Photo by Brian Murray  https://www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/health_program/hairloss/index.asp

Here is a larger version of my photo.  It’s not as clear as I’d like, but I’m certainly going to practice to improve. Happy Halloween and I hope you don’t spend the night scrrraatching in bed!

IMG_7537

Chewing louse Damalinia spp.

Further reading and references:

Protocol for drying insects with HDMS: https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/plant/ppd/entomology/HMDS.html

Link to Amazon clip on iPhone lens set ~

Robinson, J. (2007). Transmission of the chewing louse, Damalinia (Cervicola) sp., from Columbian black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) to Rocky Mountain mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus hemionus) and its role in deer hair-loss syndrome. Masters Thesis. Oregon State University. https://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/1v53k0068?locale=en

Roug, A., Swift, P., Puschner, B., Gerstenberg, G., Mertins, JW, Johnson, CK, et al. (2016). Exotic pediculosis and hair-loss syndrome in deer (Odocoileus hemionus) populations in California. Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation, 28(4), 399-407. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1040638716647154

Maude, R. J., Koh, G. C., & Silamut, K. (2008). Taking photographs with a microscope. The American journal of tropical medicine and hygiene, 79(3), 471-2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2843439/

Smartphone Microscopy by Annie Morrison.  Youtube.

 

 

 

 

 

Scanning Electron Images of a Cerambycid Beetle

Yesterday I had the extreme good fortune to be able to use the scanning electron microscope (SEM) at University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Labs (San Juan Island).  We put a Cerambycid beetle under the SEM and “WOW,” the photos were phenomenal!  Here’s a few for you to see.  Below is a photo of the beetle’s compound eye.  Just think of all the information each of those facets receives and processes.

IMG_7528

Cerambycid beetle compound eye, imaged under scanning electron microscope at Friday Harbor Labs, San Juan Island, WA

Next, you see an image of the beetle head.  It shows the antennal insertion points, the compound eyes, frons, clypeus, labrum, mandibles, and bristly setae.

IMG_7526

SEM anterior, dorsal view of cerambycid head.

If you’re interested in learning more about the morphological features, here’s a pretty good diagram below for reference.

morph12

image from http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~legneref/biotact/bc-51b.htm

The last image for you is of the beetle’s tarsi (the foot).  This is an important identification feature for many insects.  Imagine that!  When I was working on my masters degree from the University of Florida, I had an amazing taxonomy professor who was an expert on Coleoptera (the beetles).   He created identification keys for Florida beetles and you can take a look at them here:  http://www.entnemdept.ufl.edu/choate/beetles.pdf IMG_7525.JPGWell, I’m looking forward to using the SEM again and my next imaging will hopefully include the sponging mouthparts of a fly.   Stay tuned!

How to get that spider out of your bathtub!

IMG_7516

Eek there’s a spider in the tub!

Eek! There’s a spider in the bathtub!  Do you really want to turn on the water and drown it?  Hopefully you are not nodding your head “yes,” but instead finding courage to overcome your arachnophobia and finding a tiny bit of compassion.  Just take a deep breath.  Get a towel, or a cup and a card, and find your brave inner self to save this poor little eight-legged individual to live out its life.   Say this mantra with me….”Be NICE to spiders!”  Then say it over and over and over to yourself.  It will make you a much more confident person. You can tell your friends and co-workers about how YOU got a spider out of the BATHTUB!

At my house, the number one threat to spiders is my cat.  Millhouse is determined his job is to be spider exterminator.  He squashes them.  He used to eat them!  Once he ate one.  He fainted.  I had to rush him to the vet.  He revived on the way.  The next time, he bit one and spit it out.  I don’t know if the spider was foaming from being punctured or if the cat was foaming because well….maybe cats foam at the mouth sometimes when they eat something they shouldn’t.  In any case, he’s evolving his kill techniques.  Now he eats too much cat food and uses his massive body weight (he thinks it’s muscle) to flatten them.

I’m on the other side.  My job is to save them. It was a good thing I saw this one before Millhouse did.  You see, Millhouse loves to drink his water out of the bathtub.  I have to leave the water dripping for him.  That’s why you’ll note the stain on the tub.  It’s from hard well water.  One day I will scrub off the yellowing, but for now, pretend it’s not there.

The first thing I recommend to get the spider out is to grab something like a hand towel or a plastic cup and some sort of paper (mailer, index card, envelop, etc.).  I used a towel.  Watch my video and see how easy it is!  The spider isn’t going to bite you.  It just wants OUT of the tub.  Probably it was thirsty.  See my post from October 27, and you can read all about how to give a dehydrated spider a drink.  At this point, it needs your help.  It is stuck.  The sides of the tub are too slippery for it to crawl out.    It’s really easy!  Here goes…

The general idea is to be extremely gentle.  You don’t want to injure the spider.  Keep chanting your mantra…”Be nice to spiders!”  Over and over and over!

Hackelmesh Weaver Callobius.severus

Safe!

See!  It’s not that hard.  The spider didn’t attack me.  Isn’t it so cute! By the way, this spider is a Callobius severus.  I checked later today and it has crawled off somewhere.  Happy to escape the cat!

The lone wolf at my door! Tarentula kochii a.k.a. Alopecosa kochii

Here’s a clip of my little Wolf Spider, Tarentula kochii a.k.a. Alopecosa kochii (ID credit to  Rod Crawford at Seattle’s Burke Museum). He ever-so-kindly responded to my email query for help.  According to Rod, this spider is “a local native wolf spider and somewhat uncommon and rare.”   I found it in the doorway two days ago (10-23-18) and worried the cat injured it, but as you can see, it is moving a little. After examining it carefully, it looks uninjured, but possibly suffering from another spider bite…recent molt…or dehydration.   I attempted to get it to drink some water using a tiny syringe but was unsuccessful…or perhaps too late.  I also got some great advice on the correct way to give spiders a drink of water from Rod, who says:  “For future reference, the way to give a spider a drink is to rest the mouth area (under the front of the “head”) directly in a drop of water.”

 

If you are interested in learning more about this species of Wolf Spider, here are some links to check out:

https://bugguide.net/node/view/1490575

http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2016/aac-aafc/agrhist/A42-42-1990-17-eng.pdf

 

 

 

Heterosilpha ramosa (Say 1823)

I found this specimen October, 20, 2018 when I went for a walk and I’m excited to add it to my insect checklist.  This is the larva of the beetle Heterosilpha ramosa, also known as the Prairie or Garden Carrion Beetle.  It is classified within the family Silphidae, a group of beetles named after their preference for dining on carrion.  Both adult and larval forms of carrion beetles typically feed on dead things.  There are two subfamilies within the Silphidae.  The Silphinae and the Nicrophorinae.  Nicrophorus beetles actually have bi-parental care of their young, but that’s for another post!

The strange thing about Heterosilpha ramosa is that it doesn’t quite fit the category it’s been placed into.  There isn’t much online either to help with the derivation of its name, but this is what I’ve put together.  For the genus:  Hetero meaning different or other and Silphidwhich comes from the Greek word silphe,a kind of beetle.”  The species name, ramosa means “full of branches” and refers to the beetle’s branched elytral costae or the main veins on the leading edge of an insect wing.  I love looking up the name derivations for insects.  Curiously, we get ramosa from “Ramos,” a Spanish or Portuguese name derived from the Latin “ramus” to describe someone who lived in a thickly wooded area.

Yes, I digressed a bit! Back to the feeding habits of this creature and its name:  Heterosilpha.  Instead of only eating carrion, it is a generalist feeder which means it eats lots of different things, other than carrion!  The common name, Garden or Prairie Carrion beetle refers to its habit of feeding on plant detritus and sometimes even nibbling the leaves and roots of living plants you may have in the garden.  Generally it is believed to do more good than harm in gardens or crop systems since it feeds on snails and other invertebrate pests.

Heterosilpha ramosa larva IMG_7448

Heterosilpha ramosa larva photo by Cynthia Brast October 20, 2018 San Juan Island, WA

In my search, I also found out that this is yet another understudied creature.  It is unfortunate that we know so little about the world that exists under our feet!  Here is a photo of an adult Heterosilpha ramosa.   For now, I am waiting to see if the larva I found pupates.  Check back for updates and be sure to look for interesting bugs next time you’re out on a walk!

Heterosilpha.ramosa.adult

Photo credit to https://insectsofsouthernontario.ca/heterospila-ramosa/

 

 

 

 

 

Revenge of the Mantids

clip mantis Check out my story about praying mantids on San Juan Island!  They’ve been a victim of hyper-sensationalism.  Seriously.  Read my article before you squish one.

https://sanjuanislander.com/news-articles/environment-science-whales/environment/28146/revenge-of-the-mantids

Merlin.mantid

Let me know if you have questions about these or other insects you come across!  I’m always interested and do my best to answer emails.  Thanks!

 

Lophocampa roseata (Rosy aemilia)

I spent a good part of the day combing through my insect photos from the past 9 years. There are thousands. Finally, I found the ones I was searching for. I credit Victoria Compton on San Juan Island, WA  for helping me out on this one. She sent a photo the other day to my email with a caterpillar and had suggested an ID. Not only was she correct, but in ID’ing the caterpillar, it enabled me to match up one of my adult moth photos that had been sitting around nameless since 2016. The photos I found today were of the same caterpillar that had been a mystery to me since 2013. It’s a nice “aha” moment when you connect the dots! Below are the pics for you to see.

Lophocampa.roseata.July10,2016IMG_3310

Lophocampa roseata Photographed July 10, 2016 San Juan Island, WA

Photo0092

Lophocampa roseata larva Photographed October 6, 2013 San Juan Island, WA

This is a Tiger moth in the family Erebidae, subfamily Arctiinae. The scientific name is Lophocampa roseata (also known as the Rosy aemilia). It was first described by Francis Walker in 1868.  They are found in Western Oregon and Washington as well as in Southwestern B.C. and are associated with habitats of conifer forests and maple trees. The sources I checked list them as somewhat rare and Natureserve lists them as “critically imperiled.” So, I guess we have another beautiful Lepidoptera on San Juan Island to care for along with the Marble Butterfly!

***Critically imperiled Tiger Moth. Please post/email photos if you live in San Juan County, WA and come across one in the adult or larval stage.  Thanks! 

Photo0091

Lophocampa roseata larva Photographed October 6, 2013 by Cynthia Brast San Juan Island, WA

20180926_133138

Lophocampa roseata larva Photographed September 26, 2018by Victoria Compton San Juan Island, WA 

Helpful links:

 

http://explorer.natureserve.org/servlet/NatureServe?searchName=Lophocampa+roseata

https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/224121-Lophocampa-roseata

https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Lophocampa-roseata

https://bugguide.net/node/view/247272

 

 

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