Sheep Moth Larvae (Hemileuca eglanterina)

These were on the trail at American Camp, San Juan Island National Historical Park. One had unfortunately been stepped on. I recommend looking down at the trail when you’re on a hike as lots of insects seem to travel along it too! These are larvae of the Sheep Moth (Hemileuca eglanterina). Check out this link if you’d like to see what they’ll be as adults! http://pnwmoths.biol.wwu.edu/…/hemil…/hemileuca-eglanterina/Photos taken 08-VII-2017.

Image may contain: plant, outdoor and nature

Sheep Moth larva (Hemileuca eglanterina)

Sheep Moth Larva (Hemileuca eglanterina)

Sheep moth larva (Hemileuca eglanterina), American Camp, San Juan Island National Historical Park. This one had unfortunately been stepped on. I recommend looking down at the trail when you’re on a hike as lots of insects seem to travel along it too! Check out this link if you’d like to see what they’ll be as adults! http://pnwmoths.biol.wwu.edu/…/hemil…/hemileuca-eglanterina/ Photos taken 08-VII-2017. Image may contain: plant, outdoor and nature

Xestoleptura crassipes on Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)

Xestoleptura crassipes

Flower Long-horned Beetle (Xestoleptura crassipes) on Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)

Winter Crane Fly

It snowed on San Juan Island this week.  We were forecast to have LOTS of rain yesterday, but instead we got more snow.   So much snow that this former Texas gal just had to get out and experience the magic of our wooded, winter wonderland.

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I got my coat, hat, and boots on, grabbed my iPhone and a pair of gloves, wrapped a scarf around my neck and set off to walk down our lonely country road.

Hoping to photograph some of our year-round feathered residents, I had my camera phone in hand.  It was really cold outside and yet I couldn’t use the touchscreen wearing my glove.  Off it came.  I could sacrifice cold fingers if I could get a shot of one of the woodpeckers or maybe a Varied Thrush.

Heading down the driveway, I noted the way the limbs of the cedars and firs bowed down under the weight of the snow.  Beneath them, little birds scurried, scratching about in the damp humus or flitting about on lower branches, enjoying a protected shelter from the cold.   It took only a moment to spy a  Dark-eyed Junco near the house on a leafless limb of our cherry tree and the Varied Thrush perched just above my head…perhaps waiting to see if I brought more seed out for them.

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Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)

 

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Varied Thrush

 

A bit further down the driveway, I smiled when I saw our little carved bear.  He’s not long for this world.  The carpenter ants and the damp weather are slowly turning him into sawdust….but he rallied under his snow blanket today even though his little black nose was about all you could see.

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Snow Bear

 

Wait…isn’t this post about a Winter Crane Fly?  Well, I’m getting to that part.   I certainly wasn’t anticipating seeing any invertebrates out on a day like this.  While I’ve heard of snow fleas (not really fleas, but tiny invertebrates known as collembolans or springtails) or snow scorpionflies (Boreus spp.) found in winter in our forested area, I’ve yet to see them.   It’s really a mystery how so many of these tiny creatures survive the extreme temperatures, but that’s also what makes them so interesting.

I came across the first of about ten of these tiny, winged “cranes” before I’d made it far down the road.

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Winter “Crane”

We live in a somewhat densely forested area.  Not many houses or development to interfere with the important ecological processes going on in the natural world.  At first, it appeared to be a mosquito.  Go figure. Somehow they thrive in Alaska, Minnesota, even the Arctic…in spite of frigid temperatures!

Looking closer, I speculated it was in the family Tipulidae, a common, but harmless, mosquito-looking, awkward flying, long-legged fly!  I had to do some research to figure it out.  The Tipulids are a genus in the insect order (Diptera) and commonly called “Crane Flies.”  However, a bit of digging into the literature proved I was close to my ID of this creature, but not quite there.

What I discovered is that this is indeed a Crane Fly, but not a Tipulid.  It’s a WINTER Crane Fly in the genus Trichoceridae.  They are found flying on “warm sunny afternoons in fall, winter, and spring in the contiguous U.S., including Alaska and Canada” (Pratt 2003).  In his study, Pratt (2003) observed specimens “swarming above or on the snow in temperatures between 0℃ and 10℃.”  Maybe “warm” is subjective here!

This tiny Winter Crane Fly is very similar to the Tipulids or True Crane Flies with its long slender legs, but it differs in classification because the Winter Crane Fly has three ocelli (https://www.amentsoc.org/insects/glossary/terms/ocelli)  or simple eyes that act as light sensors and are found on top of the head.  The larvae of Trichocerid flies develop in the moist humus and decay of the forest floor and undoubtedly play some ecological role in this environment i.e. in decomposition or nutrient recycling.  At a minimum, they are a nice protein-rich winter meal supplement for the little birds I’ve seen on my walk today.

While I’m not certain of the exact species, in the article by Pratt (2003), adults of one species, Paracladura trichopera, are found flying even in winter in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California.   Perhaps it will suffice to say that I was intrigued at the cold-hardiness of such a tiny creature.  And I DO like the name, Winter Crane Fly!

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Winter Crane Fly Trichocerid spp.

 

References:

1. The winter crane flies of North America north of Mexico (Diptera: Trichoceridae)
Pratt H.D. 2003. Proc. Entomol. Soc. Wash. 105: 901-914.  http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/16212448

 

 

 

Western Conifer Seed Bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis)

I’ve been stuck in the house all week with the flu…a BAD case of the flu. You don’t want it! Trust me. So, what does the very bored, sniffling, coughing entomologist do to pass the time when she’s sick? Why play with bugs of course!

My honey brought me this from the back deck…(such a thoughtful man!). fullsizeoutput_184b.jpeg

I wonder if he knew that had he not been more careful, our house could have been filled with “le pew de le bug,” a very unpleasant odor! While I probably wouldn’t have suffered (since I’m all stopped up), he certainly would have noticed.

So, what is this bug? Well, it’s not a “bug,” it’s an INSECT. You know….6 legs, chitinous exoskeleton, antennae, three main body parts (head, thorax, and abdomen).  More specifically, THIS INSECT is a Western Conifer Seed Bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis).  It is classified in the order Hemiptera, family Coreidae (Leaf-footed Bugs and Squash Bugs).

No….please don’t take that literally.  I’m certain this fella (or femme) would not like to be “squashed!”  I don’t advocate squashing any insect.  They’re ALL interesting…in one way or another.

The Coreidae or Squash Bugs are medium to large in size.  They are usually brownish colored.  This one has what I would describe as the beautiful color, Bronze! Please also note the leaf-like hind tibia, a feature characteristic of some species in this particular family. img_1869-2

What does it eat? It feeds on vegetation.  Check out the very long, piercing Rostrum or Proboscis tucked carefully along the underside of this one’s body.  western-conifer-seed-bug-leptoglossus-occidentalis

The Rostrum is used like a straw to suck the juices from conifers including Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta).  Other species are vegetable pests.  Hence the “Squash Bug” moniker.  It also has the characteristic SCENT GLANDS that will secrete the particularly stinky odor if you poke it too much when you are trying to get it to pose for a picture!  “Le pew de le bug!”

 

Suit of Armor

Ironclad beetle - Zopheridae

Ironclad beetle Phellopsis porcata

Yesterday’s “Word of the Day” on my new Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/buggingyoufromSJI was “ Thanatosis.”  Thanatosis is a behavior otherwise known as “playing dead!” Here’s an insect I found on the roadside the other evening, doing exactly that. Only about 15mm long, it was amazing to even recognize it as something other than a piece of bark.

What is it? This beetle is in the family of Ironclad beetles known as the Zopheridae. It is a species called Phellopsis porcata, one of only two North American species in the genus Phellopsis. Little is known about this cryptic beetle, a bumpy, and bark-like “armored soldier.” It is camouflaged from view in what remains of our old-growth forests. This beetle does not fly, so as habitat disappears, so will the beetle. We may never know the entire scope of its role in our forest ecosystems unless these areas are protected.

What do we know about P. porcata? Researchers have documented the behavior of thanatois or playing dead to escape predation, and in the Pacific Northwest, this species feeds on fungi and is associated with western hemlock trees (Tsuga heterophylla).

 

Ironclad beetle - Zopheridae

Here’s a great online diagnostic tool that can help with identifying Ironclad beetles. This links to the page I used to help with the genus Phellopsis: http://coleopterasystematics.com/ironcladid/IroncladID-Phellopsis.html .   Look for these cool beetles when you take your next walk in the forest!

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Working Checklist of San Juan Island, WA Coleoptera

This is a checklist I’ve put together of the Coleoptera of San Juan island. Beetles with (*) asterisks are those I have actually seen, photographed, or have in my collection. It is a work in progress!San Juan Island – List of Coleoptera 2016 by Cynthia Brast

 

 

The Fainting Bug! Enoclerus sphegeus

IMG_0997I like beetles. There are interesting ones all over the place…and they do REALLY interesting things. Some can cry like babies. Some like to pat poo into nice little balls and roll them back to their home. Some hang around to take care of their offspring and even “play music” to call them to breakfast…or lunch…or dinner! Some do “bad” things like eat your plants …or your trees…or your house! Some wear really cool suits of shiny armor. They can look like miniature versions of dinosaurs or imaginary space aliens! Some have really cool names…like this one I found the other day…with many friends…hanging out on a dead fir tree. Its name? The FAINTING beetle! That’s exactly what it did when I walked up….fainted right over onto the ground! Stayed that way too…for about 30 seconds with its bright red (aposmatically colored) abdomen warning me it would taste VERY bad if I decided to eat it. No worries there little bug. I was only going to take your photo. Now the scientific name of this fella (or maybe it was a “she”) is Enoclerus sphegeus. It eats the bark beetles that eat fir and pine trees. Check out the photos and next time you see a beetle, take a moment to “admire and inquire” before you automatically stomp it! Not all bugs are bad.

Interested to know more.  Check out some of these references for further reading:

Boone, C., Six, D., and K. Raffa. 2008. The enemy of my enemy is still my enemy: competitors add to predator load of a tree-killing bark beetle. Agricultural and Forest Entomology, 10(4), 411-421.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1461-9563.2008.00402.x/full

Cowan, B., and W.P. Nagel. 1965. Predators of the Douglas Fir Beetle in Western Oregon.  Agricultural Experiment Station, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR. Technical Bulletiin 86 http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1957/8806/?sequence=1

Rasmussen, L. 1976.  Keys to Common Parasites and Predators of the Mountain Pine Beetle. USDA Forest Service Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. Ogden, UT. General Technical Report INT-29

http://www.usu.edu/beetle/documents2/1976Rasmussen_Key%20to%20Common%20Parasites.pdf

Fainting Bug, Enoclerus sphegeus IMG_0990Enoclerus sphegeus, the Fainting Bug IMG_0992Enoclerus sphegeus, the Fainting Bug IMG_0994 IMG_0997 IMG_0999 IMG_1000 IMG_1001

Meditations from San Juan Island

Last year I had to put together a collection of insects for my graduate course at the University of Florida.  In this photo, I have a Ten-lined June Beetle that I pretty much stole away from a robin that was after it.  The beetle came home with me and I’m sorry to say I put it in the freezer and later added it with the rest of the bugs that eventually got me an “A”.

A few days ago, a friend called me up.  “Would you like another June Beetle?”  he asked.  I drove over to pick it up and afterwards, took a few photos with my new macro lens, fixed up a nice plastic box insect habitat and thought I’d take a few days to decide what to do with it next.

Daily, I peeked into the box.  Not sure what to feed it, I thought a little about whether my June Beetle might be hungry.  Yesterday though, when I looked into the box, I found him buried into the grass.  What was most noticeable to me was the fact that his antennae which had been upwards directed, were now pointing down.  He looked depressed – like he’d just accepted the fate that had come his way.  No! I thought to myself….I can’t keep him locked up like this.  So, grabbing my camera, I took my June Beetle (now named Jerry) outside.  I carefully took him out of the box and set him on a branch propped against a rock.  The sun was shining and warm and almost instantly, he perked up.  Those antennae started to rise, then waved around and spread open into intricately designed fans that were getting signals only he could interpret.

I snapped away with my camera, enjoying the experience of watching life come into him.  It wasn’t more than maybe five minutes and “Jerry” June Beetle decided to try his wings.  His first attempt to take-off failed.  So did his second….but he got it right on the third try and I watched amazed as he lifted into the air.  He rose almost directly upward and as he reached about 20 feet, he circled over me twice before heading over to the big Douglas Fir tree in my yard.  Freedom was his!  And me?  Well, I have come full circle.  You can learn so much more from observing a creature in its natural habitat than in captivity.  Thank you “Jerry” June Beetle.  It was nice making your acquaintance.  🙂

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