An Inordinate Fondness #5

Golden Tortoise Beetle

As spring begins to give way to summer, we’re starting to enter the peak months for insects. The hot, dry weather is their kind of climate, and numbers boom. Every plant has one or two or three on it, it seems. Your back starts to get sore from stooping to look at them all. But what diversity! Nearly 90,000 species of insect occur in North America north of Mexico, and of those some 24,000 are beetles. That means that 4 out of every 15 insects (one in every 3.75, but I assume that, like me, you look at your bugs in wholes) you stoop to check out is going to be a beetle.

Well, probably the proportions don’t work out quite so neatly as that as some species are much more abundant than others, but you get the idea. There are a lot of beetles. There is a well-known quote attributed to JBS Haldane (though its authenticity is sometimes disputed) wherein he reflects that his studies of nature’s diversity have shown him that God “has an inordinate fondness for beetles”; it is, of course, from this quote that this blog carnival appropriately takes its name. God, or natural selection, may have given us the diversity present today, but we are the ones who get to enjoy it. AIF #5 shares with us ten different species of eight different families, and all different shapes and colours.

Margarethe of Arizona Beetles, Bugs, Birds and More starts us off with a small but lovely weevil, Coniatus splendidulus. The beetles were recently observed by a coworker in stands of tamarisk, an invasive plant that is slowly spreading through parts of the US including Arizona. While C. splendidulus, which feeds exclusively on tamarisk, had been considered for biological control measures, none to date have been officially released. The weevils observed by Margarethe’s coworker seem to have made it there under their own steam.

Arati of Trees, Plants and More shares another world-traveler, the lady beetle Coccinella transversalis, the Transverse Lady Beetle. Arati blogs from India, but the beetle is actually native to Australia. She observes that her lady beetle has markings that differ from the usual stereotype of black spots on red. However, only a small number of lady beetle species actually sport such markings; most either have more black like this one, black in different patterns than spots, or are different colours entirely.

Hugh of Rock Paper Lizard searches for a typical lady beetle, a favourite of the kids’, among yellow Santolina blooms. What we think of as the typical ladybug is a non-native species here in North America, too. The Asian Multicolored Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis, was introduced to North America on multiple occasions by the US Department of Agriculture as a biological control for aphids in orchards. The first release was in 1916, and the last in 1982, but it was an accidental introduction in 1988 to which we can attribute most of the lady beetles we encounter today.

Dave at Things Biological brings us Oedemera nobilis, a flower beetle of western Europe. He photographed this one in Provence, France, where it is native. It actually belongs to the family Oedemeridae, which are given the common name false blister beetles. In North America, the Kaufman Insect Guide suggests the group is most common along shorelines, though I don’t know if that’s true for this species in Europe; Dave seems to have found this species to be abundant on Spanish Broom (an evergreen shrub) throughout France, in any case. The KIG warns that members of the group will release strong skin irritants when crushed, not unlike actual blister beetles, so probably best just to look, don’t touch.

John of A DC Birding Blog spent some time watching several individuals of Strangalia luteicornis as they clambered about the flowers of a winterberry bush. These guys are in the subfamily Lepturinae and are properly called flower longhorns, according to the Kaufman Insect Guide (my “bible” for all things six-legged, if you haven’t already guessed). The larvae are borers of trees; this species focuses on hardwoods. The adults, unsurprisingly, feed on pollen from flowers in deciduous woodlands.

Rob Mitchell, blogging at Alex Wild’s Myrmecos, brings us another longhorned beetle. This one is Neoclytus tenuiscriptus, native to southwestern North America. The KIG indicates there are 26 species in this genus, and suggests that they are wasp mimics. Rob’s interpretation is that they do a better job imitating grasshoppers, with their short antennae and long hind legs. Other, related species are found across the continent. All are wood borers, and some species can sometimes be found emerging from firewood.

Over at Willow House Chronicles, Barefootheart recently discovered a population of Rose Chafers, Macrodactylus subspinosus, which were released from the soil as she was taking up sod to expand her garden. Most likely they were just about to emerge as adults from the soil, where they spent their larval stage, when she helped make it a little easier for them. Despite their common name, the beetles aren’t just interested in roses but will feed on the leaves and flowers of many different species of plants. In very large numbers they can become a pest, severely defoliating plants and potentially even killing them as a result, but fortunately numbers rarely get so high.

Cindy at Dipper Ranch reflects on some beetles that emerge in late spring with the first rainfalls of the season. Appropriately, they are called rain beetles, and are members of the family Pleocomidae; others in the group come out in late fall or winter, but rainfall or snowmelt is always the trigger. They are all contained within one genus, Pleocoma, of which there are about 30 species in North America. The group is restricted to the west coast of the US. Amazingly, the larvae of this group may take as long as 8-13 years, feeding on roots in the soil, before they reach adulthood. When they finally become adults, the beetles have vestigal mouthparts and cannot feed; they die shortly after mating and laying the eggs for the new generation.

Not nearly so interesting in habit, but certainly eye-catching in colour, yesterday I posted about some Milkweed Leaf Beetles, Labidomera clivicollis that I encountered a couple of weeks ago. These guys are variable in colour and pattern through their range east of the Rockies. As their name suggests, both the larvae and the adults feed on the leaves of milkweed plants; predominantly Swamp Milkweed, but also Common.

So now, if all that diversity has gotten you enthused and you want to go out to look for some beetles yourself, swing over to Beetles in the Bush where An Inordinate Fondness founder Ted will teach you everything you need to know about dressing for success in beetle-collecting. He outlines everything you should take with you into the field, from what to hold in your hands, to what to wear on your head, and how to carry all your bits and bobs, in order to produce the best results. And if you read Ted’s blog, you’ll see that the results speak for themselves. (The obvious key is item #5. Make sure you get one, too.)

An Inordinate Fondness goes next to Insect Art. You can submit your posts directly or use the handy blog carnival submission form. Either way, make sure you get your posts in by July 15!


Garden beetles

Clytus ruricola

We’ve hit the moving crunch. Our moving truck is booked for Tuesday, though I plan to call tomorrow morning to see if we might be able to pick it up at closing tomorrow, instead of opening on Tuesday (it’s all the same to them, as far as rental potential – they don’t lose any business by giving it to us when they lock up Monday night). That would allow us a few extra hours to load it so we wouldn’t have as much to do the day of.

Although our internet won’t officially be disconnected till either late Monday or Tuesday morning, I probably won’t have any free time for blogging again until after we’re moved in. We’re not sure when our internet will be hooked up at the new house, they seem to put you on an order list and then give you a call a few days in advance once they know when they can fit you in. We hope it might be by the end of the week, though there’s the potential for it to be later than that.

Because I won’t be online to be able to post during that period, I thought I would schedule a few short posts to go up in my absence. These will be just a couple of photos each, a week-long Monday Miscellany. Fingers crossed that I’m back on the web quickly.

Today’s photos are of a bunch of beetles that I found hanging about my garden recently. This first one is Clytus ruricola. I noticed it when I was loading some plants in to the car to drop off at the new house this afternoon. I’m not sure what plant it was on, I just happened to spot it after it had fallen off and was crawling around the floor. Thinking it was a wasp, I left the door open and hoped it would leave. When I came back with the next plant it was at the edge of the seat and tumbled out to the ground.

That’s when I noticed it wasn’t a wasp. It’s an excellent mimic, however, right down to the way it moves. Most beetles move in a relatively fluid motion, but this one was very jerky, in a perfect imitation of how a wasp moves. Had me fooled! The species is found through the northeast in May through July. Its host trees are decaying hardwoods such as maples.

Trigonarthris proxima

This one is Trigonarthris proxima, a flower longhorn in the subfamily Lepturinae. I found it while admiring my garden one morning, sitting on the Sweet Williams. The flower longhorns, as their name implies, are often come to flower blossoms to eat the pollen.

unidentified beetle

This final one was also on the Sweet Williams. I flipped back and forth through my Kaufman Insects (the only guide not yet packed away) and investigated possible genera on, and finally found a match among the flower longhorns as well (not terribly surprising). Apparently with this group the broad “shoulders” where the thorax meets the wings and the tapering toward the end of the abdomen are characteristic field marks (it’s very pronounced in the species in the second photo, but the angle that I took the photo at doesn’t show it). This species is Analeptura lineola. The adults are around from May to August. The larvae are associated with a variety of hardwoods.

Tuesday Miscellany

Kingsford Lake

I’m a day late with my weekly miscellaneous wrap-up. We had some internet issues yesterday that took most of the day to sort out, which prevented me from doing anything online. It’s somewhat eye-opening to see just how much time is spent on the internet – or how much one relies on it for reference – by way of how inconvenienced one is when it’s no longer available.

The forest has completely greened up over the last few weeks, and the landscape around here is very much beginning to resemble the high-summer state that we first saw it in when we arrived last summer. It’s beginning to look like we’ll be moving at the beginning of July, not quite a month shy of the date we moved in last year. I have to admit, I am really going to miss being on the water. This house has spoiled me, and despite having spent the first 96% of my life not on waterfront, I suddenly feel like I can’t bear to move away from it. However, our prospective new house reminds me a lot of where I grew up, and I’m sure I’ll feel right at home there, too, once we’re moved and settled.

Blue-eyed Grass

Our landlord came by this afternoon to mow the lawn, which Dan and I had been dutifully ignoring. We have no lawnmower, in part because we both prefer to have long-grassed “meadows” rather than lawns, which are much more beneficial to wildlife. I personally think they’re more interesting to look at than a mowed lawn, too. However, long grass does have a certain unkempt feel that can put off many prospective house-buyers. I was a bit sad to see it mowed, because the wildflowers in it were just starting to appear and bloom. One of the first to come out were these Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) flowers. If everyone’s lawn turned into these when left to grow, do you think anyone would mow it?

Johnny Jump-ups

Our neighbour up the lake started some seeds indoors this winter, and was extremely generous, sharing some of her extras with me for my “garden”. Among the plants she gave me were these johnny jump-ups, members of the violet family (the common name has been applied to a number of species, but I think these are probably Viola tricolor). They’re just beginning to bloom, the first one opened yesterday. As I was inspecting the plants one day earlier this week, something caught my eye. Can you see it?

Lepidopteran eggs

It’s a cluster of small, pale green eggs. I assume these are lepidopteran eggs, but what species, or even whether moth or butterfly, I don’t know. There are a few species that feed on violets as caterpillars – several species of fritillary target violets exclusively, for instance, or the Giant Leopard Moth which we saw caterpillars of around here last fall. I’m planning to let them hatch, and then when the caterpillars come out moving them into another container with some violet leaves and seeing if they’ll eat those. If so, I’ll try to raise them that way; if not, I guess I’ll reluctantly give them back (some of) my johnny jump-ups. Hopefully the plants will have grown up a bit more by then.

Goldenrod Crab Spider, Misumena vatia

I spotted this Goldenrod Crab Spider, Misumena vatia, “hiding” out among the flowers of my Allium. It was so well hidden, it immediately caught my eye when I looked at the flowers (as I do every day to admire them). I’m not sure she was having any luck in catching anything, as I never saw her with a meal… but given that she doesn’t make a web, perhaps she ate at other times of the day.


Speaking of eating… Last weekend I bought some Japanese Lanterns, Physalis alkekengi, perennials that produce really neat orange “paper” seed pods in the fall. I remember, growing up, my mom used to have a patch that we’d sometimes collect the “lanterns” from for flower arrangements. I always really liked them, so when I stumbled across them in the nursery I couldn’t resist buying a pack. When I got home I planted them into a nice big pot and set them in the sun. As I do with all my plants, every day I’d check on them to see how they were doing. A few days ago I noticed they had been found by a few beetles, who were sitting in a nook in the leaves. I didn’t think much of it, until yesterday I noticed that holes were starting to appear in the leaves. Hey! Those are my plants! Sure enough, it turns out the beetles (left) are Three-lined Potato Beetles, Lema daturaphila. They favour plants in the family Solanaceae. And guess what family Japanese Lanterns belong to? I’m debating whether to just let them munch, or to try to remove them (repeatedly; I assume they’ll return). So far the damage seems to be restricted to just a couple of leaves on a couple of plants.

With him is a Clavate Tortoise Beetle, Plagiometriona clavata. There are also two of these on my little plants. They also eat plants of the Solanaceae. Now it’s starting to get a bit crowded…

Chestnut-sided Warbler

This morning Dan and I went out to do a bit of final site scouting for the first of our three MAPS stations, Hemlock Lake. Although it wasn’t strictly necessary for me to tag along (I won’t really be “needed” until the actual banding begins, whereupon you really need two people in order to operate efficiently and safely), I chose to come so I could help out a bit, but also so that I could do a bit of early-morning birding. I so rarely get up at dawn these days, by the time I’m awake and going, the birdsong is starting to slow down for the day. I take Raven out later in the afternoon usually, hardly the best time of day for birding.

It turned out to be an unusually quiet morning, possibly because it was also a rather cool morning by recent standards. However, we did still encounter a good variety of nice species, including the Chestnut-sided Warbler, above, and the Northern Waterthrush, below, both of whom will be breeding at the site this summer. Who knows, in a few weeks these guys may even be sporting a shiny new band.

Northern Waterthrush