We know what happened to him!

Avec sa tête
European Mantis (Mantis religiosa)
San Juan Island, WA 09-07-19

A picture says it all, right? I found this poor fellow when I attended the San Juan County Land Bank’s open house at the new Zylstra Lake Preserve on September 7, 2019 ~ http://sjclandbank.org/zylstra-lake-preserve-san-juan-island/ .

We know what activity he must have been participating in!

Lots of amazing artwork by Steve Thompson available on tees and posters here ~ https://www.redbubble.com/people/stevet3214/works/26202642-praying-mantis-family-photo?p=poster

Yes, it’s that time of year. You may be seeing lots of European Mantids (Mantis religiosa) about right now. They’re mate seeking. While not native, don’t worry, they aren’t taking over the island. If you’re curious about them, read my post from last year when there were rumors of them invading the San Juan’s and devouring hummingbirds (not true) https://sanjuanislander.com/news-articles/environment-science-whales/environment/28146/revenge-of-the-mantids .

While they are generalist feeders, they aren’t going to decimate our native pollinators OR eat birds. It’s far more likely they’ll be eaten (or beheaded) before they take over!

My pet mantis, Merlina
San Juan Island, 2010

The Meadow Spittlebug (Philaenus spumarius) aka “Foam Lover”

Meadow Spittlebug (Philaenus spumarius)
Zylstra Lake Preserve, San Juan Island, WA 9-7-19

I took this photo of a Meadow Spittlebug (Philaenus spumarius) on September 7, 2019 when I attended the San Juan County Land Bank’s open house at the new Zylstra Lake Preserve http://sjclandbank.org/zylstra-lake-preserve-san-juan-island/ . It was a bit cloudy, but fortunately it didn’t rain during the event.

While there weren’t many insects out and about, I was happy to get a shot of the adult version of this species. It was hanging out with some family members on the stem of a thistle growing alongside the walking path.

Meadow Spittlebugs on Thistle
Zylstra Lake Preserve
San Juan Island, WA
09-07-19

Spittlebugs are in the insect order Hemiptera and the family Cercopidae (1). You might recognize these as the mystery bug that hides as a nymph inside a frothy dollop of bubbles on stems of vegetation. This particular species is widespread in North America and very common in the Pacific Northwest (1). So, if you’re out for a walk in the springtime, you’ll see lots of vegetation that appears to have wads of spit stuck to it…and the tiny meadow nymph is hiding inside!

The Meadow Spittlebug (Philaenus spumarius) is also known as the Common Froghopper and it does indeed look very frog like to me. 🐸 Even more interesting, a Google search of the etymology of this little bug’s name yielded this (from Wikipedia):

“The genus name Philaenus comes from the Greek philein (“love”), while the species name spumarius is from the Latin spuma (“sparkling”), referred to the foam nests; the binomial Philaenus spumarius can be translated as “foam lover.”

The adult spittlebug is small (approximately 6mm in length). Both adults and nymphs (which go through 5 instars or developmental stages before reaching adulthood) feed on plant xylem and have been found to feed on over 450 species of plants (2,3,4). While they have the ability to transmit viruses and cause damage to plants from feeding, they are typically not considered serious pests unless they are present in large numbers. It was interesting to learn that the nymphs consume up to 280 times their own weight of plant sap in 24 hours (2,3,4).

Also interesting is that only the soft-bodied nymphs live in the foam. It provides them with protection from predation and from drying out (desiccation). The spittle is a fluid produced from their anus and combined with a surfactant secreted by epidermal glands near the end of their abdomen. Caudal appendages on the insect create air bubbles, turning the spittle into a frothy foam. The tiny (1/4″ long) spittlebug nymph usually rests on the plant facing downward. When the spittle is produced, it flows downward over the body and covers the nymph, concealing it and providing it with the moist habitat it requires as it develops (4).

Another interesting bit about the Meadow Spittlebug is that it is quite polymorphic with no less than 16 adult color forms (1). Andy Hamilton (2006) has contributed a wonderful chart, shared on Bugguide https://bugguide.net/node/view/72602 to illustrate the color varieties of the adult forms of this highly variable species (1, 2). Because of the diversity among adult specimens within this species, many researchers have been interested in Philaenus spumarius for genetic study (4).

Andy Hamilton 2006 ~ bugguide.net

*I wanted to include a personal observation about natural enemies of spittlebugs. Hamilton (1982) gives the most detailed account of these, but I didn’t note any mention of predation by yellow jackets (Hymenoptera: Vespidae), or dragonflies (2). I have observed both of these flying through meadow grasses appearing (but not confirmed) to glean spittlebugs from plants in early summer on San Juan Island.

References:

1. Bugguide.net https://bugguide.net/node/view/7452

2. Hamilton, K.G.A., 1982, The spittlebugs of Canada: Homoptera: Cercopidae, Insects and Arachnids of Canada Handbook Series, 10, 102 http://esc-sec.ca/publications/aafc/

3. Horsfield, D., Evidence for xylem feeding by Philaenus spumarius(L.) (Homoptera: Cercopidae). Ent. Exp. Appl., 24: 95-99, 1978.

4. Yurtsever, Selcuk. (2000). On the meadow spittlebug Philaenus spumarius. Turkish Journal of Zoology. 24. 447-459.

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!

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

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)

  • Facebook

  • Archives

  • Blog Stats

    • 9,107 hits
  • Archives

  • "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

    Personal Links

    View Full Profile →

  • Community

  • Blogs I Follow

  • Categories

  • Follow Bugging You From Friday Harbor on WordPress.com
  • Translate

  • To destroy…insects wantonly shows an unreflecting mind…a depraved heart,

    Erasmus Darwin, 1797

  • Advertisements
  • Follow Us

spiderbytes

This is a blog about spiders.

Tiger Beetle Sailing

Shorthanded sailing around (er...BEYOND!) San Francisco

Macro adventures

by Nikola Rahme

Beetles In The Bush

Experiences and reflections of a Missouri entomologist

Invertebrate Zoology at FHL

Stories and photos from the students of Marine Invertebrate Zoology at the Friday Harbor Labs

Adventuresinbeeland's Blog

My beekeeping bumbles

TheDailyBuzz

Beekeeping on San Juan Island, WA

San Juan Island Grange

Growers, Makers and Keepers working together

Romancing the Bee

Beautiful Beekeeping, English Cottage Gardening, and Cooking with Honey

Marsella's Book Ends

My life between books