Looking for spring

Western Conifer Seed Bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis)

Starting about the last week of March, and going until mid-November, I could have a blog that was completely dedicated to invertebrate life. There are so many different insects, arthropods, and other invertebrates, of all different shapes and sizes, that I could post a different one each day and still have lots left over for next year, and the year after, and the year after that. The diversity is astounding. It makes you wonder why there aren’t more entomologists out there.

However, come December, it all dries up. Insects being cold-blooded creatures, that require warm ambient temperatures to function, they all but disappear once the cold and snow arrive. Many survive as eggs or pupae. Some will overwinter as adults, though, finding a protected nook where they aren’t exposed to the harsh winter environment. Before humans, this may have been trees or logs, under rocks or in the crannies in cliffs. After humans, at least a few of these bugs choose to spend the winter in our homes. Usually they just shack up in the walls. But sometimes a warm spell outside, or a leaky draft from inside, can warm them up enough that they come stumbling out, groggy, thinking it’s spring.

I was visited by just such a bug yesterday. I found him on a windowpane as Dan and I were discussing a noticeable draft we could feel coming in from the bottom of that window (the top seemed fine, however). Heaven only knows what prompted him to awaken and make his way inside – it was a bone-chilling (for southern Ontario) minus 30 Celsius (-22 F) overnight last night, and the day before wasn’t much better. But here he was, nonetheless. The first insect I have seen since well before Christmas.

Western Conifer Seed Bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis)

He is a Western Conifer Seed Bug, Leptoglossus occidentalis, a member of the leaf-footed bug family Coreidae, so named for the wide flanges on their rear legs. The other name for the family is squash bugs, as many of them target gourds such as squash and pumpkins. In North America there’s some 80 species, most of which are southern in range. As the common name implies, this species is a native of western North America, and has only been this side of the continent for the last couple of decades, recorded in southern Ontario for the first time around 1985, and New York state in 1990. It’s even become established in France. There are a couple other species from the genus Leptoglossus that have been recorded here in Ontario, but the Western Conifer Seed Bug is the most frequently encountered. The species can be told from the others by the white zig-zag across the back. This individual was actually from my parents’ house last winter, but shows the white zig very well.

Western Conifer Seed Bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis)

Like most insects, this guy can fly, but one doesn’t tend to see them flying very often. They prefer to amble from one place to the next. I got him to open his wings by flicking him from a sheet of paper onto the table, and then tried to be quick with my camera. They have these bright orange and black bars across their abdomen, which may be a mechanism used to startle potential predators (by flicking open his wings he exposes these bright colours), or may be tied to aposematic colouration (bright colours that warn predators of distastefulness or toxicity).

The other thing this photo shows is the two-parted wing that creates the distinctive pattern on the back of true bugs. The wings are called hemelytra – elytra being the name of the hard wing covers that most beetles sport, and hemelytra being half that. The upper part of the bug’s wing is hard and protective, while the lower part is membranous and so useful in flight. This characteristic is also what gives the true bugs the order’s name, Hemiptera (Hemi = half, ptera = wing).

Western Conifer Seed Bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis)

Here’s a close-up of the “leaf” on the bug’s leg. I’m not sure what the purpose of the flattened tibia is. Camouflage, breaking up the outline to look more leaf-like? Is it used in mating, fighting with others, perhaps to produce sound? I didn’t see anything about it on any of the websites I checked out. Maybe it doesn’t have a purpose. But then why would it have evolved?

Western Conifer Seed Bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis)

Another thing that characterizes the true bugs is that their mouthparts have become fused into a long tube that they use for sucking. In this photo the bug is on his side trying to flip back over, but it does expose his belly and that long feeding tube. If you look closely you can see it running along his underside from his head all the way down to the second abdominal segment, where it ends in a dark tip. In the case of this species, the long tube is used to pierce into conifer seeds, primarily pine but also spruce and fir. The bug feeds on the seeds as they’re developing, while their insides is still soft and pulpy. It can sometimes be a pest where conifers are commercially cultivated for their seeds (for instance, for growing plant-a-tree seedlings), but don’t affect mature trees even in outbreak numbers and so aren’t a direct problem for the forestry industry. They don’t bite or sting, or eat things in the house, so aren’t really a problem to homeowners, although occasionally they’ll release a pungent odour if disturbed (much like ladybugs will).

Western Conifer Seed Bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis)

I wasn’t sure what to do with the bug once I finished taking photos. I couldn’t put him outside, obviously. I didn’t know where he came from to be able to put him back there, either. So eventually I decided to put him up on the blinds, and let him fend for himself against the three insect-eating critters in the house. Raven will eat bugs on the spot. This has gotten her into trouble already once when she tried to eat a wasp and it stung her, resulting in her face swelling up so much that she looked like she was a bulldog cross. We only discovered that she had found a wasp when I looked down to see her itching at her swollen face. We tried to find wasps before she did, after that. The cats, on the other hand, like to play with the insects but rarely eat them. Oliver was quick to find the leaf-footed bug and was fascinated by it yesterday, but I noticed today it was crawling across my desk, so obviously the bug either got away unharmed, or the cats lost interest.


Author: Seabrooke

Author of Peterson Field Guide to Moths. #WriteOnCon Mastermind. Writer of action/thriller SF/F YA. Story junkie. Nature nut. Tea addict. Mother. Finding happiness in the little things. Twitter: @SeabrookeN / @SeabrookeLeckie

13 thoughts on “Looking for spring”

  1. Pingback: Modulator
  2. I doubt he’s going to find much, unfortunately, Dawn, we don’t tend to keep his favoured foodstuffs in the house. Hopefully he’ll just go back into hibernation somewhere.

    This seems to be the only time of year I really notice these guys, Lavenderbay, but like you I find it refreshing to find a bug wandering around the house!

  3. Great research and macro-study. I enjoyed reading this.

    Seeing as this is a big year for Darwin and some of his enduring ideas, it might be timely to note that another hemipteran, the blood feeding Reduvius gave the young naturalist some grief in Argentina, and possibly much more in his later life. The chronic symptoms that disabled Darwin through his middle and late years are consistent with Chagas disease, which is vectored by this nasty bug.

    I look at all riduviids with a little suspicion. Coreids, however, are entirely cute.

  4. This bug has the same look/shape as an assassin bug. Assassin bugs also have a tubular mouth piece used for piercing other insects. My curiosity got the best of me the first time I saw one and I picked it up and it pierced my finger with its mouthpiece. Instantly it felt like my finger was on fire and it became red and swollen. Needless to say I now keep my distance when I see one. I wonder if the Western Conifer Seed bug is related to the Assassin bug? Great post!

  5. Thanks for providing such a comprehensive description of Leptoglossus occidentalis! For the past several months we have been inundated with these on the South Shore of Nova Scotia. On particularly warm days in early fall there were hundreds descending on our deck and scaling the exterior walls. I believe that they are being falsely identified by some locals as spruce long horn beetles, an invasive that has been spreading outwards from Halifax since 1999.
    I enjoyed the post.

  6. I was searching some good pictures of this cute bug I cought for my school project and I found your blog =^-^= I really love the picture where you can see it spreading his wing, that way i could see how its back looks like, ’cause mine never flew -_-

  7. Your post on the Western Conifer Seed Bug was very helpful—good descriptions and photos; now I know what bug I found and can let it go knowing it will not be problematic. Thanks.

  8. Thanks for this. We found one of these in the apartment yesterday. We weren’t sure what to do with it in the depths of winter, but since it clearly wasn’t a cockroach, we put him out of the apartment, but not outside.

  9. I am pretty far from you sittin here in the Gold Country of California. I have seen this year a close relative of your Pine Seed Bug here also. Being in the foothills around all sorts of pine and fir trees I guess I should have expected them. But this is the first time I have seen them in the house in large quantities. We have had over 200 this fall so far.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: