I made a video of one of my favorite insects you will see here in the San Juan Islands. This is a bumble bee mimic, but it’s not a bee at all. It’s a fly. Not only is it not your ordinary fly, it’s a fly with a very interesting life cycle that requires a host. This particular host relationship has evolved between the fly and our local black-tailed deer. It’s not feeding on the deer because these adult flies don’t even have mouthparts to eat. Their sole mission is to reproduce and they need an incubator for their “babies.” If you see a deer and notice it coughing, watch the video to find out why. **Edit *** Update to post… I misspoke in the video and state that the fly oviposits onto the deer which is incorrect. The eggs actually hatch inside the fly body and the fly larviposits onto the deer muzzle. Either way it’s got to be pretty terrifying to the deer! 🦌
I found my first Three Banded Lady Beetle (Coccinella trifasciata subversa) this morning in the patch of clover in front of my home. At least I believe it is the subspecies ‘subversa’ according to the information I found online and referencing the distribution map. While I did not find much information about this particular species pertaining to life in the Pacific Northwest, I did find that according to the Lost Ladybug Project, this species (Coccinella trifasciata) is considered a species of greatest conservation need in the state of New York.
So, because I’m interested in Lady Beetles and conservation, I submitted my photos today to the Lost Ladybug Project. They’re keeping records of sightings and I believe it’s important to collect and share data that help us understand more about the lives all of all the amazing critters we share the planet with.
Meet Woolly Wool Carder. Woolly gets a bad rep because Woolly LOOKS like a Yellowjacket Wasp. All Woolly wants to do is find that patch of Lambswool in your garden or flower bed and take enough to make a nice cozy bed for its babies.
The European Wool Carder Bee (Anthidium manicatum) at first glance, looks like a somewhat chubby Yellowjacket. While these stouter and hairy-bodied bees mimic the barbed stingers everyone wants to avoid, they aren’t going to harm you at all. They don’t even have stingers, though the males do have some spines at the end of their abdomen they can use defensively against other flying insects that might be perceived as a threat to their food source or territory.
Wool Carders are smaller than most Yellowjackets. They are about the size of honey bees or between 11 and 17 mm. They are very brightly colored with yellow and black markings, but again, the distinguishing features to differentiate them from Yellowjackets are 1) they’re hairy and 2) they’re stout!
Other than sipping nectar from flowers, these solitary, cavity nesters are all about finding wool to make a cozy bed for their babies. Actually, aside from the uhm…deed, the female is the one doing all the provisioning for a nest. She will card “wool,” using her mandibles to scrape bits of trichomes (or hairs) from lambs ears or other fuzzy plants (especially those in the mint family) to make a cushioned bed on which to lay her egg. Each egg is provisioned with enough nectar and pollen to supply the developing larva with nutrients to reach pupation.
The European Wool Carder Bee is native to Europe, Northern Africa, and Western Asia, but has become cosmopolitan in distribution. While non-native, it has become widely adapted to various habitats in North America. These bees are not dangerous to humans or pets. They are effective pollinators, but sometimes outcompete native bees for resources.
Menacing Murder Hornets are making headlines everywhere these days and giving many of our beneficial wasps a bad rap. Before you grab that can of bug spray, follow along for the next week or two while I profile the good guys and give you tips on how to ID the ones you’ll see on the San Juan Islands.
Wasp #1 – The Western Sand Wasp (Bembix americana)
On San Juan Island, if you’re out along the beach bluffs on the west side or anywhere at American Camp, Eagle Cove, or Jackson’s Beach and the nearby quarry, you may notice them hovering and darting about above the sand or spots of bare earth. Western Sand Wasps are solitary digger wasps in the family Crabronidae. Males and females emerge simultaneously and their entire adult life is to sip nectar from flowers, mate, and reproduce.
After mating, it is the female who will provision her nest. She scours the sand and nearby areas, hunting insects and arachnids to supply her developing offspring in underground burrows. She will oviposit one egg in a single burrow, leaving it with a zombied insect, continuing until all her eggs are laid. But her work is not over. She must continue to check and feed each of her larvae in their individual burrows after the eggs hatch, making sure that they do not starve as they develop. Fast fact…a single larva can eat more than 20 flies before it pupates!
So she digs…and digs…and digs! These wasps are able to dig so fast, they can disappear under the sand in a matter of seconds.
Human or Pet Risk factor – LOW
Unless you are walking barefoot in the sand and mange to step on one of these, you are highly unlikely to be stung. Wear foot coverings and enjoy your hike or picnic. They’re not going to murder you!
I had my bearded dragon outdoors the other afternoon to get his 20 minutes of sunshine (me too!) when I spied something unusual moving in the grass. The object of my attention was a fairly large caterpillar lying in the middle of 25-30 voracious Thatching Ants (Formica obscuripes), intent on relocating the caterpillar (their dinner), even if they had to do it one bite at a time.
Observing them at work, I thought of how the Egyptian pyramids were built. Humans. Lots of them. Carrying those giant blocks and stacking them required formidable effort. Perhaps these ants in their orchestrated labor efforts would successfully lug this lepidopteran larvae back to their nest.
I did not stay and watch to the end. I watched just long enough and filmed this clip. I felt a bit sad for the caterpillar, wondered about the butterfly or moth it might have become, and I marveled a little about these industrious ants that cooperate for the collective benefit of the colony.
This little creature was photographed on February 28, 2020 by Trever Santora on San Juan Island, WA.
It’s a Pseudoscorpion! Found on the windowsill of his house and no larger than a tiny sesame seed, I believe it to be an immature House Pseudoscorpion (Cheliferidae cancroides).
Keep an eye out for these. They’re quite harmless to humans and can’t sting or bite you. Pseudoscorpions are predacious and beneficial because they eat other organisms that are pests. Some live in birds’ nests and eat the mites that can build up and harm nestlings.
Since they don’t have wings and can’t fly, pseudoscorpions move around by phoresy. That means they’ll hitch a ride on someone who can! Not just birds, but bees, wasps, and flies can also provide a free lift.
I really enjoy the days when I have an opportunity to go over insect images I’ve taken, but haven’t yet had the chance to identify. This small (approx 7-8mm), metallic beetle is a leaf beetle in the family Chrysomelidae. It’s a Long-horned Leaf Beetle (Plateumaris germari). They are associated with aquatic habitats and this specimen was found near a wetland habitat on San Juan Island, WA., May 12, 2015. Yes. I’m slow at getting around to sorting things, but was happy to share this one today.
For all you foodies out there, here’s a new one for you. Beer brewers are isolating yeast from insects, including bees, wasps, and even crickets. Don’t worry, no actual bug parts are going to be in your drink. Drink up and enjoy the buzz!
Here’s another spider for you. I photographed this one yesterday, February 22, 2019, on the dirt road near my home on San Juan Island, WA. There were two of them, but in the past, I’ve seen up to twenty crawling around (and they move extremely fast) in this (usually sunny) spot. My ID attempt here is that it’s some type of wolf spider. Size is approximately 3-4mm. The photos were taken with a macro clip on lens for iPhone.
The short video clip below is from the same spot in the road on April 20, 2019. On this occasion, there were LOTS of these long-legged wanderers and they are super fast!