Itchy-Scratchy!

Just in time for Halloween!  Yesterday I was using the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) at Friday Harbor Marine Labs.  I got to take some really cool photos but in order to use the SEM, your specimen has to be dried out.  Well, I had some specimens that are really tiny and very delicate and they weren’t dried out because it is a complicated process that takes a certain chemical called Hexamethyldisilazane (HMDS).  Also, drying out your specimen for viewing under the SEM renders it useless for viewing under a light microscope and you’ve lost the ability to preserve it in a collection.

So I’m going to share how I took images of some of my specimens at home with a pretty old compound microscope, an iPhone, and a clip-on macro lens from Amazon.   First, I’ll tell you a bit about the compound microscope image posted here.  This specimen is in the genus Damalinia, most likely the exotic chewing louse, Damalinia (Cervicola).

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Chewing louse Damalinia spp

It lives on black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) in Washington, Oregon and California, and has been indicated in what is called HLS (Hair-loss syndrome).  They build up in large numbers on deer at certain times of the year.  One factor thought to contribute to this is lack of adequate nutrition in the deers’ diet, particularly an absence or deficiency of Selenium.

In a nutshell, these lice can reproduce at high numbers in vulnerable deer (typically old, young, and those with weakened immune systems due to nutritional deficiencies or internal parasites).  The lice cause extreme itching, irritation, and hair loss.  The deer respond to the itchiness by excessive licking and grooming.   Why hair loss? Well, these lice are called “chewing lice” because they munch on hair, skin fragments and secretions, and in some cases will feed on blood from skin wounded from scratching.  It’s a miserable condition to have.  This is what a deer looks like that is suffering from HLS caused by the chewing lice.

hairloss

Photo by Brian Murray  https://www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/health_program/hairloss/index.asp

Here is a larger version of my photo.  It’s not as clear as I’d like, but I’m certainly going to practice to improve. Happy Halloween and I hope you don’t spend the night scrrraatching in bed!

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Chewing louse Damalinia spp.

Further reading and references:

Protocol for drying insects with HDMS: https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/plant/ppd/entomology/HMDS.html

Link to Amazon clip on iPhone lens set ~

Robinson, J. (2007). Transmission of the chewing louse, Damalinia (Cervicola) sp., from Columbian black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) to Rocky Mountain mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus hemionus) and its role in deer hair-loss syndrome. Masters Thesis. Oregon State University. https://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/1v53k0068?locale=en

Roug, A., Swift, P., Puschner, B., Gerstenberg, G., Mertins, JW, Johnson, CK, et al. (2016). Exotic pediculosis and hair-loss syndrome in deer (Odocoileus hemionus) populations in California. Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation, 28(4), 399-407. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1040638716647154

Maude, R. J., Koh, G. C., & Silamut, K. (2008). Taking photographs with a microscope. The American journal of tropical medicine and hygiene, 79(3), 471-2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2843439/

Smartphone Microscopy by Annie Morrison.  Youtube.

 

 

 

 

 

How to get that spider out of your bathtub!

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Eek there’s a spider in the tub!

Eek! There’s a spider in the bathtub!  Do you really want to turn on the water and drown it?  Hopefully you are not nodding your head “yes,” but instead finding courage to overcome your arachnophobia and finding a tiny bit of compassion.  Just take a deep breath.  Get a towel, or a cup and a card, and find your brave inner self to save this poor little eight-legged individual to live out its life.   Say this mantra with me….”Be NICE to spiders!”  Then say it over and over and over to yourself.  It will make you a much more confident person. You can tell your friends and co-workers about how YOU got a spider out of the BATHTUB!

At my house, the number one threat to spiders is my cat.  Millhouse is determined his job is to be spider exterminator.  He squashes them.  He used to eat them!  Once he ate one.  He fainted.  I had to rush him to the vet.  He revived on the way.  The next time, he bit one and spit it out.  I don’t know if the spider was foaming from being punctured or if the cat was foaming because well….maybe cats foam at the mouth sometimes when they eat something they shouldn’t.  In any case, he’s evolving his kill techniques.  Now he eats too much cat food and uses his massive body weight (he thinks it’s muscle) to flatten them.

I’m on the other side.  My job is to save them. It was a good thing I saw this one before Millhouse did.  You see, Millhouse loves to drink his water out of the bathtub.  I have to leave the water dripping for him.  That’s why you’ll note the stain on the tub.  It’s from hard well water.  One day I will scrub off the yellowing, but for now, pretend it’s not there.

The first thing I recommend to get the spider out is to grab something like a hand towel or a plastic cup and some sort of paper (mailer, index card, envelop, etc.).  I used a towel.  Watch my video and see how easy it is!  The spider isn’t going to bite you.  It just wants OUT of the tub.  Probably it was thirsty.  See my post from October 27, and you can read all about how to give a dehydrated spider a drink.  At this point, it needs your help.  It is stuck.  The sides of the tub are too slippery for it to crawl out.    It’s really easy!  Here goes…

The general idea is to be extremely gentle.  You don’t want to injure the spider.  Keep chanting your mantra…”Be nice to spiders!”  Over and over and over!

Hackelmesh Weaver Callobius.severus

Safe!

See!  It’s not that hard.  The spider didn’t attack me.  Isn’t it so cute! By the way, this spider is a Callobius severus.  I checked later today and it has crawled off somewhere.  Happy to escape the cat!

The lone wolf at my door! Tarentula kochii a.k.a. Alopecosa kochii

Here’s a clip of my little Wolf Spider, Tarentula kochii a.k.a. Alopecosa kochii (ID credit to  Rod Crawford at Seattle’s Burke Museum). He ever-so-kindly responded to my email query for help.  According to Rod, this spider is “a local native wolf spider and somewhat uncommon and rare.”   I found it in the doorway two days ago (10-23-18) and worried the cat injured it, but as you can see, it is moving a little. After examining it carefully, it looks uninjured, but possibly suffering from another spider bite…recent molt…or dehydration.   I attempted to get it to drink some water using a tiny syringe but was unsuccessful…or perhaps too late.  I also got some great advice on the correct way to give spiders a drink of water from Rod, who says:  “For future reference, the way to give a spider a drink is to rest the mouth area (under the front of the “head”) directly in a drop of water.”

 

If you are interested in learning more about this species of Wolf Spider, here are some links to check out:

https://bugguide.net/node/view/1490575

http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2016/aac-aafc/agrhist/A42-42-1990-17-eng.pdf

 

 

 

Heterosilpha ramosa (Say 1823)

I found this specimen October, 20, 2018 when I went for a walk and I’m excited to add it to my insect checklist.  This is the larva of the beetle Heterosilpha ramosa, also known as the Prairie or Garden Carrion Beetle.  It is classified within the family Silphidae, a group of beetles named after their preference for dining on carrion.  Both adult and larval forms of carrion beetles typically feed on dead things.  There are two subfamilies within the Silphidae.  The Silphinae and the Nicrophorinae.  Nicrophorus beetles actually have bi-parental care of their young, but that’s for another post!

The strange thing about Heterosilpha ramosa is that it doesn’t quite fit the category it’s been placed into.  There isn’t much online either to help with the derivation of its name, but this is what I’ve put together.  For the genus:  Hetero meaning different or other and Silphidwhich comes from the Greek word silphe,a kind of beetle.”  The species name, ramosa means “full of branches” and refers to the beetle’s branched elytral costae or the main veins on the leading edge of an insect wing.  I love looking up the name derivations for insects.  Curiously, we get ramosa from “Ramos,” a Spanish or Portuguese name derived from the Latin “ramus” to describe someone who lived in a thickly wooded area.

Yes, I digressed a bit! Back to the feeding habits of this creature and its name:  Heterosilpha.  Instead of only eating carrion, it is a generalist feeder which means it eats lots of different things, other than carrion!  The common name, Garden or Prairie Carrion beetle refers to its habit of feeding on plant detritus and sometimes even nibbling the leaves and roots of living plants you may have in the garden.  Generally it is believed to do more good than harm in gardens or crop systems since it feeds on snails and other invertebrate pests.

Heterosilpha ramosa larva IMG_7448

Heterosilpha ramosa larva photo by Cynthia Brast October 20, 2018 San Juan Island, WA

In my search, I also found out that this is yet another understudied creature.  It is unfortunate that we know so little about the world that exists under our feet!  Here is a photo of an adult Heterosilpha ramosa.   For now, I am waiting to see if the larva I found pupates.  Check back for updates and be sure to look for interesting bugs next time you’re out on a walk!

Heterosilpha.ramosa.adult

Photo credit to https://insectsofsouthernontario.ca/heterospila-ramosa/

 

 

 

 

 

Revenge of the Mantids

clip mantis Check out my story about praying mantids on San Juan Island!  They’ve been a victim of hyper-sensationalism.  Seriously.  Read my article before you squish one.

https://sanjuanislander.com/news-articles/environment-science-whales/environment/28146/revenge-of-the-mantids

Merlin.mantid

Let me know if you have questions about these or other insects you come across!  I’m always interested and do my best to answer emails.  Thanks!

 

Lophocampa roseata (Rosy aemilia)

I spent a good part of the day combing through my insect photos from the past 9 years. There are thousands. Finally, I found the ones I was searching for. I credit Victoria Compton on San Juan Island, WA  for helping me out on this one. She sent a photo the other day to my email with a caterpillar and had suggested an ID. Not only was she correct, but in ID’ing the caterpillar, it enabled me to match up one of my adult moth photos that had been sitting around nameless since 2016. The photos I found today were of the same caterpillar that had been a mystery to me since 2013. It’s a nice “aha” moment when you connect the dots! Below are the pics for you to see.

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Lophocampa roseata Photographed July 10, 2016 San Juan Island, WA

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Lophocampa roseata larva Photographed October 6, 2013 San Juan Island, WA

This is a Tiger moth in the family Erebidae, subfamily Arctiinae. The scientific name is Lophocampa roseata (also known as the Rosy aemilia). It was first described by Francis Walker in 1868.  They are found in Western Oregon and Washington as well as in Southwestern B.C. and are associated with habitats of conifer forests and maple trees. The sources I checked list them as somewhat rare and Natureserve lists them as “critically imperiled.” So, I guess we have another beautiful Lepidoptera on San Juan Island to care for along with the Marble Butterfly!

***Critically imperiled Tiger Moth. Please post/email photos if you live in San Juan County, WA and come across one in the adult or larval stage.  Thanks! 

Photo0091

Lophocampa roseata larva Photographed October 6, 2013 by Cynthia Brast San Juan Island, WA

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Lophocampa roseata larva Photographed September 26, 2018by Victoria Compton San Juan Island, WA 

Helpful links:

 

http://explorer.natureserve.org/servlet/NatureServe?searchName=Lophocampa+roseata

https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/224121-Lophocampa-roseata

https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Lophocampa-roseata

https://bugguide.net/node/view/247272

 

 

Western Horse Fly (Tabanus punctifer)

Found this specimen in the parking lot at Marketplace in Friday Harbor yesterday. Glad I didn’t turn into the “grabber” I can sometimes be and instead used a box to scoop up my big find. Probably if you were watching me, you’d have been scratching your head wondering WHY is this woman going through her grocery sacks and opening a snack box of tuna?  That box made an excellent fly “trap!”

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Big is an understatement! This is the LARGEST fly I’ve collected on the island.  It measures over 1 inch long or more than 2 cm.  The Western Horse Fly (Tabanus punctifer) can bite through your clothing, although it is the female that needs a blood meal (males feed on nectar and pollen). The adult female lays egg masses (over 300 per mass) on vegetation along ponds and lakes. When the eggs hatch, the larvae develop in the water and here is what I read about them from my sources at Bugguide.com…

“These larvae are aquatic. They have mouthparts that are identical to those of rattlesnakes in structure. A pair of hollow fangs that are connected to a poison/anaesthecic salivary gland further back in the body. These mandibles can easily break through human skin and inject the immobilizing contents of the salivary glands. Normally used to paralyse, and perhaps digest, prey. They are capable of quickly immobilizing/killing animals as large as frogs. They are strictly carnivores and eat ‘meat’.”

I guess this means that the toe-biters aren’t the only ones you should avoid when you go for that swim!

If you care to read more, I suggest this excellent informative guide I found online.   It is a 1921 publication from Sanitary Entomology:  The Entomology of Disease, Hygiene and Sanitation ~ https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=eIQoAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&pg=GBS.PA237Sanitary Entomology

 

 

Carl the Crab Spider (Coriarachne brunneipes)

My mother used to read a book to me when I was a small child called Be Nice To Spiders!  The little boy in the book brings a spider (named Helen) to the zoo in a matchbox because he isn’t allowed to keep her in his apartment.  When the zookeeper opens the box, Helen escapes and sets up residence in the animal cages where she helps all the animals by eating the flies that make them miserable.  IMG_6296

This story was one of many experiences I enjoyed that set me up for a lifetime of observing invertebrates and their behaviors.  Today, I am sharing about a small crab spider I found in our house this week.  It took me all week to identify it, but I persisted and even managed to keep the little guy safe from Millhouse.  Millhouse is the resident cat.  He likes to eat spiders.  That’s another story and a good one, but I’ll save it for next time.

Today, meet “Carl” the Black Crab spider, also known more formally as Coriarachne brunneipes.  Black Crab Spiders are classified taxonomically in the family Thomisidae (Crab Spiders), genus Coriarachne, and species brunneipes.  They are found ranging across the Western U.S. from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast…and in my case, on San Juan Island, WA. 98250!   The Black Crab spider is relatively small in size.  About 1.9 cm or equivalent to the diameter of a penny if you include its leg span (see photo below from Wednesday, April 25, 2018).

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(Coriarachne brunneipes)

You can also see in my photo that Carl is missing a leg!  3 + 4 only equals 7 and spiders have 8 legs!  Maybe Millhouse DID do something to this spider after all!

I left Carl to go about things on Wednesday after taking this photo.  Seems like I remember seeing him scurry towards the crack under the baseboard and safety from the cat.  Thursday, my new “friend” was on the ceiling in the sunroom.  I nearly stepped on Carl on Friday.  He was back on the floor, skittering towards the baseboard along the wall again.

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Coriarachne brunneipes

 

Saturday, Carl was on the table in the sunroom.  I decided to take a few more photos and I also decided that Carl might be getting hungry since I haven’t seen anything suitable for him to eat in the house.  Also after reading about this species of spider, I understood it was possible he came into the house accidentally on some wood and might like it better if he was outside, but it was cold and rainy on Saturday, so I fixed him a nice spider hotel room for the night.  He liked the view from the “balcony.”  Sorry Carl, no room service available!

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Coriarachne brunneipes

On Sunday after it warmed up a little, I took Carl down to our orchard.  It was easy to coax him onto a twig.  I held him up against a low branch on the apple tree and up he went.  There was a veritable feast waiting for him in the apple tree.  Tiny little morsels just the right size for a spider!

 

Some interesting facts about Coriarachne brunneipes, the black crab spider:

  • Their coloring helps camouflage them perfectly on tree bark
  • They don’t build webs, but wait perfectly still to ambush their prey

Interested?  Read more about Crab Spiders here: 

https://bugguide.net/node/view/222302/bgpage

Taxonomy ~ http://www.americanarachnology.org/JoA_free/JoA_v2_n3/JoA_v2_p183.pdf

 

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!

winte-crane-fly-2-jpeg

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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