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!

Honeysuckle aphid (Rhopalomyzus lonicerae) on Reed Canary Grass being eaten by a Syrphid fly larva

Honeysuckle aphid (Rhopalomyzus lonicerae) on Reed Canary Grass
Honeysuckle aphids on Reed Canary Grass

I photographed and filmed these tiny white “lambs” over the weekend (Sept. 21, 2019). There is a patch of Reed canary grass growing in a wetland area near my house and I wanted to see what sort of insects I might find associated with this particular plant.

These “lambs” are actually Honeysuckle aphids (Rhopalomyzus lonicerae). The species epithet, lonicerae refers to honeysuckle. These particular aphids live on honeysuckle in the winter and in grasses (as in the Reed Canary grass) in summer (4,5). The creamy white form (pictured above) are wingless, sub-adults, the apterae (without-wings) ~ Aphid glossary here: https://influentialpoints.com/aphid/Aphid-glossary.htm . There were quite a few of them and they were huddled together somewhat herd-like (see video below) on the grass stems. I did spot an adult or two (photo below), dispersed in other patches of grass, but absent from the groups of young.

Adult Honeysuckle Aphid on Reed Canary Grass
Sept. 21, 2019

The most amazing part to me was the “wolf” disguised in my herd of aphid lambs. This big bad wolf was actually a syrphid fly larva devouring one little lamb after another. It surprised me that they all waited, rather obediently, without resistance, as one after another was sucked dry by the fly-wolf. Note the dried out skins remaining on the leaf when you view the videos of the little lambs I found in the grass below. πŸ‘

Honeysuckle aphid (Rhopalomyzus lonicerae) on Reed Canary Grass being eaten by a Syrphid fly larva
Honeysuckle aphid (Rhopalomyzus lonicerae) on Reed Canary Grass being eaten by a Syrphid fly larva

Baaad or Good? Give me a thumbs up or down and let me know what you think! Thanks for reading.

****

Reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea) is in the plant family Poacea. Historically, reed canary grass has been considered good fodder for livestock, especially in areas too wet to grow traditional hay crops (3). In Washington State, it is now considered a non-native, noxious weed by the Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board (1). However in further review of literature about this plant, I came across one publication contradicting this view. This one cites published research that, in the Pacific Northwest there is evidence that some varieties of this widespread “circumboreal” grass are native to Western North America (2) .

Native? Noxious? Invasive? If you want to read more about Reed Canary grass, please do take a minute to check out the referenced links below.

Honeysuckle aphid (Rhopalomyzus lonicerae) on reed canary grass being eaten by syrphid fly larva (Sept. 21, 2019) San Juan Island, WA

References:

1.https://www.nwcb.wa.gov/weeds/reed-canarygrass

2. https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/graminoid/phaaru/all.html

3.https://plants.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fs_phar3.pdf

4. https://bugguide.net/node/view/358533

5.https://influentialpoints.com/Gallery/Rhopalomyzus_lonicerae_honeysuckle-grass_aphid.htm

We know what happened to him!

Avec sa tΓͺte
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/Β .

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.

Not a Spider!

Harvestman probably Phalangium opilio

I found this the other morning (Sept. 8, 2018) when my husband had to drive over to unlock the gates at Mount Grant, San Juan Island Land Bank Preserve.

While I was waiting for him at the top, I had a chance to photograph this really interesting spider (or so I thought). It had 8 legs and looked like a spider to me, but not one I’d seen before on San Juan Island. I spent that evening going through my spider ID book without any luck.

So I sent off an email to Rod Crawford, curator of the arachnid collection at the Burke Museum in Seattle and all around “spider man” genius. Here was his response.

“Dear Cyndi,
The reason you could not find the top specimen in the Adams spider book, is that it isn’t a spider. It’s a harvestman (member of a separate order of arachnids). Even a scorpion is more closely related to a spider, than a harvestman is. Harvestmen have segmented bodies that are all in one piece (not 2 separate pieces), 2 eyes close together on a little bump, totally different mouthparts, respiratory system and reproductive system, no venom and no silk. Yours is probably the common European import Phalangium opilio.”

So, I learned something new today. I hope this will inspire you to read up on Harvestmen or Opiliones. I know that’s what I’ll be doing this evening for my light reading! Here’s a link to get you started ~ https://bugguide.net/node/view/33857 and while you’re at it, check out Rod Crawford’s great spider myth’s website at https://www.burkemuseum.org/collections-and-research/biology/arachnology-and-entomology/spider-myths

Illustration of a Harvestman

Rough Stink Bug, Brochymena spp.

This is a quick post! I just wanted to share the stink bug nymph I found over the weekend (Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019). It’s a Rough Stink Bug nymph, in the genus Brochymena. I believe it’s Brochymena quadripustulata, the Four-humped Stink Bug. However, Brochymena sulcata and B. affinis are two other species found in our area so similar, they are difficult to distinguish.

Brochymena quadripustulata nymph

Often Brochymena stink bugs are confused with the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, Halyomorpha halys. These two species can be distinguished by the teeth on the outer edge of the pronoun found on Brochymena spp. and the lack of white rings on Brochymena spp. antennae. Great diagram here ~ http://www.stopbmsb.org/stink-bug-basics/look-alike-insects/%23nbsb

I’m not certain what the red spot is on the bug in my photo, but curiously, I found another photo on bugguide.net with a similar spot https://bugguide.net/node/view/1596719/bgimage . I wish I’d kept my specimen for further investigation, but let it go after taking a few photos. The quality of the photo when enlarged just isn’t good enough to determine if the spot is a parasite. My first thought was it sure looks like a honey bee varroa mite, but I haven’t found any literature describing mites on stink bugs. For the time being, it’s on my “shelf” of things to figure out.

References/Further Reading

https://webdoc.agsci.colostate.edu/bspm/Hexapoda%20(Insects)/Rough%20Stink%20Bugs.pdf

https://bugguide.net/node/view/156717

https://www.oregon.gov/ODA/shared/Documents/Publications/IPPM/StinkBugGuide.pdf

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.

First recorded sighting on San Juan! Apantesis nevadensis superba, the Nevada Tiger Moth

Sunday evening, August 18, 2019, my husband took me to a lovely Farm to Table dinner at Sweet Earth Farm, San Juan Island, WA http://sweetearthfarm.com/products/farm-events/ Aside from the amazing food and beautiful scenery, I got to sit at a table with some really great folks who, after finding out about my love of bugs, sent me a photo of a Tiger Moth that was on the side of their garage door. Turns out this particular moth was going to be pretty interesting!

Apantesis nevadensis superba
08.22.18
San Juan Island, WA
photo by N. Hamlin

As I worked through my usual steps to ID the specimen, I noted the photo came to me with “Ornate Tiger Moth” in the subject line. This specimen was indeed very similar to the Ornate Tiger Moth (Apantesis ornata). To complicate things a bit more, not only has this family of moths (Tiger moths) been reclassified (from Arctiidae to Erebidae), but this genus has also recently been renamed. Formerly Grammia ornata, Apantesis ornata (Ornate Tiger Moth’s) have not been recorded in San Juan County and records for adult flying periods of this species are earlier than for this particular specimen. I believed this specimen was something different.

There were records of another species of Tiger Moth in the Pacific Northwest I came across that better matched the image of my photo and timing of adult emergence. Apantesis nevadensis, the Nevada Tiger Moth, has been recorded as widely distributed in the Pacific Northwest, but according to information on Pacific Northwest Moths http://pnwmoths.biol.wwu.edu/browse/family-erebidae/subfamily-arctiinae/tribe-arctiini/apantesis/apantesis-nevadensis/, A. nevadensis is “only found in a few locations west of the Cascade Mountain crest, including on Vancouver Island, the south Puget Sound, and coastal Oregon.”

However, a fairly recent (2007) review in Zootaxa by Ferguson and Schmidt described a subspecies of Apantesis nevadensis, A. n. superba that had been recorded on Vancouver Island, B.C., our neighbor. Could the San Juan’s be a new geographical locality for this subspecies?

Apantesis nevadensis superba
08.22.18
San Juan Island, WA
photo by N. Hamlin

I emailed the photo to Merrill A. Peterson at WWU. He has a great book available called Pacific Northwest Insects too. You can find it here ~ (https://pacificnorthwestinsects.com). Merrill is Professor and Chair of Biology and Insect Collection Curator at Western Washington University and my all around go-to person for confirmation of insects in our region. Merrill agreed that my ID was correct. Since this was a FIRST record for the San Juan’s, he asked if I could collect locality (GPS) data and date of sighting from the original photographer.

My next task was to email the gentleman who sat with us that night at dinner and ask him if he was willing to share this, enabling Merrill to post the record online. We needed first initial, last name, GPS data, and date of sighting. Not only did I receive a response with this information AND permission for me to use the photographs in my blog, but I received a photo of a second moth taken the very day this gentleman went out to register the GPS coordinates on his phone. Now we have a record of two sightings, almost exactly one year apart!

Apantesis nevadensis superba
08.28.19
San Juan Island, WA
photo by N. Hamlin

So how exactly can you tell the Apantesis nevada from Apantesis ornata?

Here are the morphological descriptions for adult specimens of each species, taken from http://www.bugguide.com to get you started. Please feel free to contact me here or at https://www.facebook.com/buggingyoufromSJI/ with questions or to report sightings of insects in the San Juan’s. πŸ›πŸžπŸ¦‹πŸœπŸπŸ¦—

Apantesis ornata ~

Adult: FW appear black, typically with a net-like pattern of extensive yellowish or rosy off-white transverse lines and thinner pale veins. HW color is variable from yellow-orange, orange, to orange-red, rarely entirely black. HW is heavily marked with black, including the basal wing, multiple spots, and an irregular marginal band. These are often fused to each other, especially near the wing margin. 

Apantesis nevada ~

 Adult: forewing black with 3 variably thin to wide pale bands crossing wing; subterminal line W-shaped, touching PM line at top of W, and outer margin at bottom; single pale line from base of costa to anal angle; hindwing varies from bright red with several black spots to pale pink with merged spots forming extensive black area; top of thorax white with 3 longitundinal black stripes; ptagia (collar) has one black spot on each side

If you’re interested in learning more about these and other species of moths, or have a sighting to report, you can visit Pacific Northwest Moths at http://pnwmoths.biol.wwu.edu. To see locality records for Apantesis nevadensis, including the first record(s) of this moth for the San Juan’s, you can link here ~ http://pnwmoths.biol.wwu.edu/browse/family-erebidae/subfamily-arctiinae/tribe-arctiini/apantesis/apantesis-nevadensis/

References

Ferguson, D. C. and C. Schmidt. 2007. Taxonomic review of the Grammia nevadensis species group (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae) with descriptions of two new species, Zootaxa 1405, pp. 39-49: 42-44.

Pacific Northwest Moths 2018. Apantesis nevadensis. http://pnwmoths.biol.wwu.edu/browse/family-erebidae/subfamily-arctiinae/tribe-arctiini/apantesis/apantesis-nevadensis/

Peterson, M. 2018. Pacific Northwest Insects. Seattle Audubon.

Powell, J.A. and P.A. Opler. 2009. Moths of Western North America. University of California Press.

Silver-Spotted Tiger Moth (Lophocampa argentata)

I found this specimen at the Friday Harbor Post Office yesterday and picked it up to save in my collection. It’s a bit bird-pecked, but worth keeping for passing around at my upcoming insect talk at the library in October.

Lophocampa argentata Silver-spotted Tiger Moth
San Juan Island, WA
photo by Cynthia Brast-Bormann
August 27, 2019

Lots of folks emailed me earlier in the year with photos of caterpillars they were finding. The larval form of this moth looks like the two photos below, depending on the developmental instar.

Silver-Spotted Tiger Moth Larva Lophocampa argentata
Orcas Island, WA 98250
May 9, 2019
photographed by K. Rose
Silver spotted tiger moth larva Lophocampa argentata
San Juan Island, WA
April 26, 2019
photographed by L. Narum

These moths are fairly common throughout the San Juan Islands. The larvae feed on Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesi) and other conifers. The name, argentum comes from Latin referring to the silver spots on the wings of adults.

While larvae are defoliators, they are not usually present in high enough numbers to cause economic damage or require any chemical control. Also, while very pretty to look at, the caterpillars do have urticating hairs which can cause stinging, burning, or rash in sensitive people. Take a photo or observe them, but resist the temptation to pick them up!

Lophocampa argentata
San Juan Island, WA
August 27, 2019
photo by Cynthia Brast-Bormann
Lophocampa argentata
San Juan Island, WA
August 27, 2019
photo by Cynthia Brast-Bormann

Varied Carpet Beetle Larva, Family: Dermestidae, Genus: Anthrenus

Found in windowsill crawling out of click beetle (Elateridae) body that was stuck inside spider webbing. August 24, 2019 San Juan Island, WA

Varied Carpet Beetle Larva (Anthrenus)
San Juan Island, WA
August 24, 2019

Carpet beetle larvae like to eat things composed of animal products (containing keratin) like wool or hair. Outdoors they like to feed on dead animals or scavenge inside animal nests. Your sweaters, carpets, and furniture items can be attractive to them and damaged if they build up in large numbers. Sometimes these beetle larvae can make people sick. Notice the many tiny hairs that cover the larva body. These are called hastisetae and can make sensitive people break out in hives or rashes if they come into contact with the larvae. The best way to keep these from building up to large numbers in your home is to vacuum often and adopt good sanitation practices.

Read more about them here: http://insectsinthecity.blogspot.com/2016/03/do-carpet-beetles-sting.html

Carpet beetle larva (lower specimen) found crawling out of Elateridae (click beetle) that was stuck in spider webbing on window sill inside home.
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    "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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