I made a video of one of my favorite insects you will see here in the San Juan Islands. This is a bumble bee mimic, but it’s not a bee at all. It’s a fly. Not only is it not your ordinary fly, it’s a fly with a very interesting life cycle that requires a host. This particular host relationship has evolved between the fly and our local black-tailed deer. It’s not feeding on the deer because these adult flies don’t even have mouthparts to eat. Their sole mission is to reproduce and they need an incubator for their “babies.” If you see a deer and notice it coughing, watch the video to find out why. **Edit *** Update to post… I misspoke in the video and state that the fly oviposits onto the deer which is incorrect. The eggs actually hatch inside the fly body and the fly larviposits onto the deer muzzle. Either way it’s got to be pretty terrifying to the deer! 🦌
I found my first Three Banded Lady Beetle (Coccinella trifasciata subversa) this morning in the patch of clover in front of my home. At least I believe it is the subspecies ‘subversa’ according to the information I found online and referencing the distribution map. While I did not find much information about this particular species pertaining to life in the Pacific Northwest, I did find that according to the Lost Ladybug Project, this species (Coccinella trifasciata) is considered a species of greatest conservation need in the state of New York.
So, because I’m interested in Lady Beetles and conservation, I submitted my photos today to the Lost Ladybug Project. They’re keeping records of sightings and I believe it’s important to collect and share data that help us understand more about the lives all of all the amazing critters we share the planet with.
Meet Woolly Wool Carder. Woolly gets a bad rep because Woolly LOOKS like a Yellowjacket Wasp. All Woolly wants to do is find that patch of Lambswool in your garden or flower bed and take enough to make a nice cozy bed for its babies.
The European Wool Carder Bee (Anthidium manicatum) at first glance, looks like a somewhat chubby Yellowjacket. While these stouter and hairy-bodied bees mimic the barbed stingers everyone wants to avoid, they aren’t going to harm you at all. They don’t even have stingers, though the males do have some spines at the end of their abdomen they can use defensively against other flying insects that might be perceived as a threat to their food source or territory.
Wool Carders are smaller than most Yellowjackets. They are about the size of honey bees or between 11 and 17 mm. They are very brightly colored with yellow and black markings, but again, the distinguishing features to differentiate them from Yellowjackets are 1) they’re hairy and 2) they’re stout!
Other than sipping nectar from flowers, these solitary, cavity nesters are all about finding wool to make a cozy bed for their babies. Actually, aside from the uhm…deed, the female is the one doing all the provisioning for a nest. She will card “wool,” using her mandibles to scrape bits of trichomes (or hairs) from lambs ears or other fuzzy plants (especially those in the mint family) to make a cushioned bed on which to lay her egg. Each egg is provisioned with enough nectar and pollen to supply the developing larva with nutrients to reach pupation.
The European Wool Carder Bee is native to Europe, Northern Africa, and Western Asia, but has become cosmopolitan in distribution. While non-native, it has become widely adapted to various habitats in North America. These bees are not dangerous to humans or pets. They are effective pollinators, but sometimes outcompete native bees for resources.
Menacing Murder Hornets are making headlines everywhere these days and giving many of our beneficial wasps a bad rap. Before you grab that can of bug spray, follow along for the next week or two while I profile the good guys and give you tips on how to ID the ones you’ll see on the San Juan Islands.
Wasp #1 – The Western Sand Wasp (Bembix americana)
On San Juan Island, if you’re out along the beach bluffs on the west side or anywhere at American Camp, Eagle Cove, or Jackson’s Beach and the nearby quarry, you may notice them hovering and darting about above the sand or spots of bare earth. Western Sand Wasps are solitary digger wasps in the family Crabronidae. Males and females emerge simultaneously and their entire adult life is to sip nectar from flowers, mate, and reproduce.
After mating, it is the female who will provision her nest. She scours the sand and nearby areas, hunting insects and arachnids to supply her developing offspring in underground burrows. She will oviposit one egg in a single burrow, leaving it with a zombied insect, continuing until all her eggs are laid. But her work is not over. She must continue to check and feed each of her larvae in their individual burrows after the eggs hatch, making sure that they do not starve as they develop. Fast fact…a single larva can eat more than 20 flies before it pupates!
So she digs…and digs…and digs! These wasps are able to dig so fast, they can disappear under the sand in a matter of seconds.
Human or Pet Risk factor – LOW
Unless you are walking barefoot in the sand and mange to step on one of these, you are highly unlikely to be stung. Wear foot coverings and enjoy your hike or picnic. They’re not going to murder you!
I had my bearded dragon outdoors the other afternoon to get his 20 minutes of sunshine (me too!) when I spied something unusual moving in the grass. The object of my attention was a fairly large caterpillar lying in the middle of 25-30 voracious Thatching Ants (Formica obscuripes), intent on relocating the caterpillar (their dinner), even if they had to do it one bite at a time.
Observing them at work, I thought of how the Egyptian pyramids were built. Humans. Lots of them. Carrying those giant blocks and stacking them required formidable effort. Perhaps these ants in their orchestrated labor efforts would successfully lug this lepidopteran larvae back to their nest.
I did not stay and watch to the end. I watched just long enough and filmed this clip. I felt a bit sad for the caterpillar, wondered about the butterfly or moth it might have become, and I marveled a little about these industrious ants that cooperate for the collective benefit of the colony.
Here’s another spider for you. I photographed this one yesterday, February 22, 2019, on the dirt road near my home on San Juan Island, WA. There were two of them, but in the past, I’ve seen up to twenty crawling around (and they move extremely fast) in this (usually sunny) spot. My ID attempt here is that it’s some type of wolf spider. Size is approximately 3-4mm. The photos were taken with a macro clip on lens for iPhone.
The short video clip below is from the same spot in the road on April 20, 2019. On this occasion, there were LOTS of these long-legged wanderers and they are super fast!
This spider is in the genus Cicurina, also known as the Cave Meshweaver or Cave Spider. Pronounced “sik-uhr-EYE-nuh,” the Latin name translates to “tame” or “mild.”
From Buggide.net and according to Rod Crawford:
Cicurina of Western Washington: “C. pusilla is by far the commonest. C. simplex and C. “idahoana” (really an undescribed species related to idahoana, in my opinion) are moderately common. Cicurina tersa is less common than the previous three. The other Cicurina of western Washington are actually rare here, C. tacomaand C. intermedia.” ~Rod Crawford
Adams, R.J. 1970. Field Guide to the Spiders of California and the Pacific Coast States. California Natural History Guides. University of California Press. Los Angeles.
I only saw a handful of insects yesterday when I went out to look along the road near my home. The most remarkable of these (and the easiest to see) without magnifying tools, was the slender, brown rove beetle with the sunshine tail!
Gold and Brown Rove Beetles are fairly small, slender, and typically pretty agile. They have a brown body with little yellow hairs (setae) at the end of their “tail.” Another patch of this golden setae wraps around their “belly,” like a little yellow ‘belt,’ This one was indeed on the smaller side at about 12 mm. However, given the outdoor temperature was still pretty low, it wasn’t agile enough to escape a short photo session.
I’ll admit, I poked it (very gently) to see if I could get a photo of it with its tail up. When threatened, they have defense glands that emit a chemical fluid. I found out (after reading through the Journal of Chemical Ecology from 1990) that researchers found this defense fluid is made up primarily of a chemical called iridodial (Huth and Dettner, 1990).
Here’s a photo of my beetle exuding the defense fluid! Note the little white bubble at the end of its tail.
Here in the next photo, you can see it without the defense fluid.
Being curious, I had to investigate a bit about the chemical properties of iridoids. I was intrigued to learn that “iridoids are secondary metabolites present in various plants, especially in species belonging to the Apocynaceae, Lamiaceae, Loganiaceae, Rubiaceae, Scrophulariaceae and Verbenaceae families, Viljoen et al., (2012).” Tundis et. al., (2008) found that “iridoids exhibit a wide range of bioactivity, such as neuroprotective, antinflammatory and immunomodulator, hepatoprotective and cardioprotective effects.” Findings also included iridoid compounds also possessed anticancer, antioxidant, antimicrobic, hypoglycaemic, hypolipidemic, choleretic, antispasmodic and purgative properties (Tundis et al., 2008).
While I didn’t find much information (yet) utilizing iridoid secretions from insects, I did begin to wonder if that tiny drop of fluid could have provided some anti-inflammatory benefit for the migraine headache I’d been suffering from for days. I’ve been working with a friend of mine who is a research pharmacokineticist, helping to edit his papers and those of some associates he has in China. Probably, I’ll pass this along since they’re always looking for ideas on how to develop/synthesize new pharmaceuticals and biomimicry seems to be the new frontier.
Huth, A. and K. Dettner. 1990. Defense chemicals from abdominal glands of 13 rove beetle species of sub tribe Staphylinia (Coleoptera:Staphylinidae, Staphylininae). Journal of Chemical Ecology, 16:9, pp 2691-2711.
Tundis, R., Loizzo, M.R., Menichini, F., Statti, G.A., and F. Menichini. 2008. Biological and Pharmacological Activities of Iridoids: Recent Developments, Mini-Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry. 8: 399. https://doi.org/10.2174/138955708783955926
Viljoen A., Mncwangi N., Vermaak I. Anti-inflammatory iridoids of botanical origin. 2012. Curr. Med. Chem. 19:2104–2127. doi: 10.2174/092986712800229005
Yesterday, my husband took me for a walk in the woods near our home and while I always enjoy the fresh air and the quiet beauty of the woods, I especially appreciate the opportunity to discover new bugs. I was really hoping to come across one beetle in particular, a ground beetle that I’ve only seen three times since September 2009, when I first moved to San Juan Island.
It’s called Matthews’ Angry Gnashing Beetle or Zacotus matthewsii. Zacotus means “very angry” in Greek, though I’m not sure why this beetle would ever act in an angry manner unless you were poking it with a stick. In that case, it’s likely it would attempt to defend itself by gnashing at you with its mandibles, and any bites you receive would be well deserved indeed!
The last sighting I had of a live Zacotus matthewsii was February 18, 2015 at 5:56 p.m. I’m hoping to walk along the same spot again this evening about the same time in hopes of sighting another.
These ground beetles are extremely unique. Their maroon-red metallic coloring is often ringed with a green shimmer along the margins of its body.
Sadly, the life history of these beetles is understudied. We do know they are only associated with old growth forest ecosystems and rarely seen. When old-growth forests are cut down, the beetles disappear and our opportunity to know them is lost.
While I didn’t find one of these beetles yesterday on our walk in the forest, I did come across some equally interesting residents, cohabitating in a rotten log near a stream. I might have missed them entirely, but for my curiosity leading me to lift off a section of the log. It was a bit like lifting the roof off a house, and being able to see all the rooms and inhabitants, only instead of being a multi-family unit, this was a multi-species, multi-family unit!
I’d packed my cellphone and my handy clip on macro lens, so I was able to take some video and photos to share with you. Here’s what I found!
The first amazing creature that was exposed in the log was a centipede. This is Scolopocryptops spinicaudus. I noticed nearby, there was a grouping of eggs, so after a bit of internet searching, I discovered the very neat fact that these (and other species) of centipedes stay with their eggs.
The mother will wrap herself around the cluster to better protect them, staying with her brood even weeks after they hatch, leaving them only after they are able to fend for themselves. I believe this mother centipede moved away from her eggs when I removed the section from the log in order to draw my attention away from them.
***Eggs were not disturbed and I replaced the log section after taking my photos.
Below is a photo I found when I was searching about centipedes and parental care. I find it amazing that even invertebrates show such care for their offspring!
The next resident in the log that caught my eye was the very tiny, whitish-translucent, globular creature that looked a lot like a bark or booklouse, but turned out to be a “baby” termite. These were larvae of the Pacific Dampwood Termite, Zootermopsis angusticollis. I wasn’t able to get a good view, but it looked as if these were being tended by an older family member.
Dampwood termites are widespread in Pacific Northwest forests. They rarely cause damage to structures, but play a very important ecological role, recycling nutrients from decaying trees. They are also food for Pileated Woodpeckers and other birds and animals.
Finally, the last residents I spied cohabitating in this section of rotting log were the very tiny Wrinkled Bark Beetles (Clinidium spp.) Clinidium spp. of bark beetles feed on slime molds (Myxomycetes), found in decaying or dead hardwoods and conifers. They are in the Family Rhysodidae and there are only two genera and eight species in North America. Only two of these eight species range in the West (from California to B.C. ) (White, 1983).
At about 5mm in length, these were hard to detect with the naked eye. I took the following photos with my macro lens, showing the striations along the elytra and the lateral grooves on the basal half of the pronoun.
The next photo shows two adults together, presumably hibernating together in a cavity in the rotting log (White, 1983) .
Lots of folks think living on an island is some sort of safe haven. I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about this and I just don’t believe that to be true. First off, if everyone got sick, we definitely do NOT have the capacity to care for people in hospitals. Probably we would quickly run out of supplies. It’s really doubtful that anyone would want to deliver things to the island if we had some type of epidemic. We could easily run out of food and fuel.
If I’ve learned anything in the ten-plus years I’ve lived here, it’s that you should be prepared to care for yourself. Whether it’s an earthquake or other natural disaster, government breakdown (that could certainly happen given our current administration), or disease outbreak, a plan is essential! While I know we have some truly dedicated medical professionals on our island, they are limited. There’s also not any prescription drug that will cure you of coronavirus if you get it. This links to the limited treatment options that may be available or under development https://www.livescience.com/possible-treatments-new-coronavirus.html
So, my plan (if anyone in my household gets sick) is to have my self-treatment items in order. Here’s my list:
Pedialyte, Gatorade, and Ginger Ale. For rehydration!
Lemon Balm. Strong antiviral properties. Use a tincture or make a tea.
Ginger. Also strong antiviral properties.
Vick’s Vapor Rub
If you can think of anything I might have left off, please feel free to write and let me know! P.S. I’m not a doctor. These are my own HOME remedies. Use your own good judgement and wash your hands a lot!
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