Blister Beetles

Meloe strigulosus
Ventral view
San Juan Island, WA 11/2/2019

I posted back in April about an encounter with Blister Beetles not far from my house. You can read about that here ~ (https://cynthiabrast.wordpress.com/2019/04/16/a-blistery-spring-day/ ). Over the weekend of November 2-3, I came across quite a few more of these in the exact same spot as in April. This time I didn’t see any live beetles, but there were at least 25-30 dead in the road.

Meloe strigulosus
San Juan Island, WA
11/2/2019

Ever the opportunist, I scraped up as many that weren’t quite so smushed into a container and brought them home. Out of the 5 I collected, 2 were male, 2 were female, and one missed antennae altogether. Given the number of beetles in the road in this one spot, I believe this was a mating aggregation.

Meloe strigulosus (male)
San Juan Island, WA
11/2/2019

So, I’ve been reading about them and communicating with a two experts on blister beetles. If you don’t know what these are, they are significant because of a defensive chemical in them called Cantharidin. Cantharidin is quite toxic and it’s a blistering agent. This is where they got the name Blister Beetles in the first place.

antennal segmentation of male Meloe strigulosus
San Juan Island, WA
11/2/2019

Since my first sighting of these beetles back in April, I’ve learned quite a bit about them. The ones here (Meloe strigulosus) are black, flightless, tanker-like beetles, carrying around a cargo of toxic brew. They are sometimes a hazard to livestock (actually almost all mammals) that might eat them because the Cantharidin is toxic. Horses, goats, cows, and sheep that eat alfalfa hay can get really sick with colic if there are even parts of dead beetles in the hay.

While we don’t really know exactly how Cantharidin is produced in the beetle, we do know these two things: 1) it’s produced in the male and transferred to the female during mating. 2) the female transfers Cantharidin as a protective coating for her eggs during oviposition. It’s believed that the first instar larvae (called triungulin) are equipped with a supply of Cantharidin as well.

After hatching, the triungulin crawl up onto flowers to hang out and wait to attach to the hairs of a visiting bee, riding back to its nesting site. The later developmental stages of larvae are protected underground or in holes in wood where native bees are developing. They consume the developing bee eggs, larvae and nest provisions (pollen and nectar).

Is there anything good about blister beetles? Well, strangely, the populations of some species of blister beetles are timed to coincide with grasshopper abundance. Adult blister beetles feed on grasshopper eggs. That’s good, right?

What else? Humans have used Cantharidin for years to remove warts and to remove tattoos as well. For ages, it has been used as a sexual stimulant. Even birds called Great Bustards have picked up on this! Read more here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6521026/

Blister beetles seem to be beneficial to some other species of beetles too. There is one beetle that actually has been found to chew on the blister beetle as a means of obtaining Cantharidin for its own protection. Other animals like toads, frogs, and armadillos are known to eat these beetles or use them in some way to confer protection. There is even a nuthatch that uses the beetle to “sweep” the wood where it wants to build a nest to protect it from parasites.

Back to my weekend sighting and collection of a few of these specimens. I had two that were intact enough to pin for my collection. I wore nitrile gloves to make sure I didn’t come into contact with any blistering agent. It’s a good thing I did. Some fluid made contact with one of the fingers of my gloved hand and actually started eating through it. That’s pretty caustic!

If you’re interested in more information about them, I’m happy to email some of my collected literature. There are also links you can check out in my previous post from April.

Thanks for reading!

Brownlined Looper (Neoalcis californica)

I found this specimen ready to hitch a ride on the car window when I was leaving a dinner on Sunday evening, August 25, 2019. Time of sighting was 7:32 pm. It managed to stay on the window glass as we pulled out of the driveway, but blew off as we began our drive home.

This is a Brownlined Looper moth, Neoalcis californica in the family Geometridae and is the single species in its genus in North America. Its distribution ranges from Southern California to British Columbia. Adults can be found flying between March and October in the Pacific Northwest, but has been documented flying as late as December in California. Larvae of this species feed mostly on conifers, including Douglas-Fir, Western Hemlock, Western Red Cedar, Grand Fir, Lodgepole Pine (Canadian Forest Service) as well as many broadleaf trees and shrubs (USGS).

First described by American Entomologist, Alphaeus Spring Packard in 1871, this rather nondescript moth was initially named Boarmia californiaria. A description by Packard is found in the Proceedings of the Boston Society of Natural History. Volume 13 https://archive.org/details/proceedingsbost07histgoog/page/n39 or view description attached below.

Neoalcis californica
August 25, 2019, 7:32 pm
San Juan Island, WA
Neoalcis californica
August 25, 2019, 7:32 pm
San Juan Island, WA
Packard’s description of Boarmia californiaria
renamed Neoalcis californica
part 1
Packard’s description of Boarmia californiaria
renamed Neoalcis californica
part 2

References

Bugguide.net. https://bugguide.net/node/view/9696

North American Moth Photographers Group. Mississippi State University Digital Guide to Moth Identification http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=6435

Powell, J. A., and P. A. Opler 2009. Moths of Western North America. pl. 28.14; p. 208.

Hypena decorata

Family: Eribidae Hypena decorata August 20, 2019 San Juan Island, WA

I found this on the kitchen floor the other morning (August 20, 2019). It looked like a piece of tree bark had been tracked in. When I reached down to pick it up, I realized it was some sort of moth and one I’d not seen before.

Hypena decorata August 20, 2019

After taking photos of it (it was expired when I found it), I thumbed through my reference books, trying to see if I could identify it. After about an hour of skimming literature and photos, I finally grew frustrated and emailed Merrill Peterson at Western WA University to see if he’d seen it before.

That afternoon, I did indeed hear back from Merrill. He’s fantastic about responding and said he had to reach out to someone he knew, but finally got an answer for me.

Here’s what Merrill said, “It’s a strange Hypena decorata, like this one. I had to get some help to figure it out!” I was glad Merrill helped solve the mystery and now I can share what I found out about this moth.

Hypena decorata is in the family Eribidae, within the superfamily  Noctuoidea, the (Owlet Moths and kin). Hypena is Greek for “beard.” When you look at the fuzzy, long labial palms that project to form the moth’s snout, it does indeed look a bit like a beard.

According to the Bugguide reference, Lafontaine & Schmidt (2010) list 29 species of the genus Hypena in America north of Mexico. The moth is relatively rare to uncommon West of the Cascades, but found in southwestern British Columbia and western Oregon and Washington. Distribution records also show the species ranges to Southern California. Larvae are food plant specialists, feeding on nettles  (Urtica spp.).

Hypena decorata August 20, 2019

References:

http://pnwmoths.biol.wwu.edu/browse/family-erebidae/subfamily-hypeninae/hypena/hypena-decorata/

https://bugguide.net/node/view/511337

Hopguard, Honey B Healthy and Yummy Smells of Lemon Balm

June 24, 2012

The sun is out today!  We’ve had almost a whole month of gloomy weather that many on the island have dubbed the month “June-u-ary!”    Perhaps the next few weeks will be warmer and the overcast skies will clear.

Last week when I checked my hive, I noticed I had the dreaded varroa mites.  My new queen is doing fine though and the bees have cleared out all of the old drone brood that was the result of my first queen.  I have no idea what became of her, but the operation in place now looks healthy…except for those mites!

Varroa mite

My day today is a full one.  I have been baking and preparing food for my daughter’s high school graduation potluck supper this evening.  While in the kitchen though, I thought I’d take care of some bee hive tasks as well.   Since the jar of sugar syrup I have inside the hive was looking low, I made up a new batch.  This one I made with a teaspoon of Honey B Healthy, a feeding stimulant that contains essential oils that “helps your hives to thrive!”  Did I mention that the lemongrass oil in it made my kitchen smell ten times better than the brownies I was baking?  No wonder my friend and bee mentor, Colleen, who recommended it, said that it makes the bees go crazy.  This stuff smells so good I’d take a bath in it if I could!  Maybe I’m turning into a bee?  They say you end up looking like your pets.  I suppose I might look like a bee when I get my new glasses!

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I also got something called Hopguard from Colleen as well.  Hopguard is a miticide made from organic acids in the hop plant, Humulus lupulus.  It contains 16% potassium salt of hop beta acids and comes in these long gooey strips that are made from food-grade products.  It is safe for my bees and the bee brood, so I don’t have to worry about dangerous chemicals.  All you do is take a sticky strip and hang it over one of your frames draped like this:

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I only hung one strip in my hive since I only have about 5 frames that have been drawn out.   I plan to put in a new strip in about ten days, as the one I put in today won’t work as well as it dries out.  You can read more and watch a video about controlling varroa mites with Hopguard when you visit these sites:

http://www.mannlakeltd.com/hopguard/

http://www.betatechopproducts.com/products/varroa-mite-control

I also put a sheet of sticky paper under the screen in my bottom board.  The mites will fall off the bees and stick to the paper.  It has a grid that makes it easier to count the number of mites, so I can see how heavily infested my bees are as well as an idea of how well the Hopguard strips are working.   I will try a quick check perhaps tomorrow and then again before I put in a new strip.

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Bee back soon with an update!

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It’s a Boy! Love, Cow and Pig

I get all sorts of creative and imaginative inspiration from Cow and Pig…or maybe it’s Pig and Cow.  So here’s another poem for your to enjoy now!

It’s a Boy!  Love, Cow and Pig

Cow and Pig they danced a jig,

And moo’d & oinked with joy,

For after all these years of waiting,

They’d been blessed with a baby boy!

Inside the egg he’d grown so big

Until one sunny day,

A little speck of light came through

The corner he’d pecked away.

All day long he’d worked to free

Himself from that shellac,

That when he finally made it free

He gave a loud “quack quack!”

He fluffed his yellow downy feathers,

And looked up overhead

At his parents who watched over him

Nestled in his bed.

Cow and Pig announced to all

So happy with their luck,

They wanted everyone to see

Their little baby duck.

San Juan County Fair – It’s gonna be a Razzle Dazzle Wingding!

Catch a ferry and "Hop on over!" San Juan County Fair starts today...it's gonna be a "Razzle Dazzle Wingding" kinda thing!!!!! Get more info at http://www.sanjuancountyfair.org/ See you there!Catch a ferry and “Hop on over!” San Juan County Fair starts today…it’s gonna be a “Razzle Dazzle Wingding” kinda thing!!!!! Get more info at http://www.sanjuancountyfair.org/ See you there!

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  • "BUGGING" YOU FROM FRIDAY HARBOR!

    "BUGGING" YOU FROM FRIDAY HARBOR!

    I love beetles and keep bees! In my free time, I enjoy photography (mostly bugs) and documenting insect species found on San Juan Island. I have limited availability for local, onsite beekeeping consultation and hive inspection, honey bee removal/swarm collection as well as phone/skype consultation. Contact me at cynthiabrast@icloud.com Member Washington State Beekeepers Association

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