Monday Miscellany

Green-margined Tiger Beetle, Cicindela limbalis

It’s that time of year again: the time of year where my quantity of photos taken begins to exceed the quantity of photos I can work onto the blog. I take my camera with me virtually everywhere: every time I go out on a walk with Raven down the road, or a hike with Dan out in the park, or out to visit friends or family. I even take my camera when I go grocery shopping in town, just in case I should happen to encounter something along the way (this was prompted by encountering a young snapping turtle in the middle of the road last summer, so I stopped the car to get out to help it across, and I was kicking myself for not bringing my camera). If there’s anything that catches my eye or even slightly piques my interest, I take a picture. Many of these, the odds and ends that I can’t work into a full-length post very easily, languish in my computer’s annals. During the winter the problem isn’t pronounced, but as soon as spring starts to break, my backlog of photos really begins to build, and I just can’t keep up with all the subjects I take photos of.

Last year I tried addressing this through Today at Kingsford. I felt it was mildly successful, but ultimately still left lots unshared. This year I decided a better way to approach it would be to emulate the day-labeled themes such as “Skywatch Friday” or “Wordless Wednesday”, and start a regular series called Monday Miscellany. Although in my head Saturday is the most logical day for a week-end round-up, “Saturday Miscellany” just didn’t have the same sort of appealing alliteration. So Monday it is.

This week’s header image is of a Green-margined Tiger Beetle, Cicindela limbalis. At least, I think that’s who it is; tiger beetles tend to be somewhat similar in their markings and general colours, and I’m certainly no expert, unlike fellow blogger Ted of Beetles in the Bush. It doesn’t help that my primary reference for all things six-legged, the Kaufman guide to Insects, only covers a subset of the more common tigers. So I turned to a book that I haven’t used a whole lot recently, largely due to its tome-like size: Stephen Marshall’s Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity. This is a great book, with a much greater breadth of diversity than can be offered in the smaller Kaufman guide (Marshall’s book is hardly a “field” guide, but makes a great coffee-table reference). I rarely fail to find what I’m looking for in there.

In this case, Marshall notes, “The Green-margined Tiger Beetle lives on clay soils across Canada and the northeastern states.” BugGuide.net, my number one online reference for all things six-legged, adds that the habitat is “usually steep, moist bare clay soil, including… dirt roads”. They’re out in the spring and then again in the fall. I spotted it moving along our dirt road one warm afternoon last week as I was returning with Raven. She was very good as I asked her to sit-stay while I photographed the critter. The beetle was also very good, though I doubt it paid any attention to my command to sit-stay. Prior to this I had only ever seen Six-spotted Tiger Beetles (C. sexguttata), so I was rather excited to discover this one.

Greater Bee Fly, Bombylius major

Insects figure heavy in this post. I’ve been seeing quite a few about recently, particularly late last week on perhaps the most gorgeous afternoons we’ve had so far this spring. This one is a bee fly, probably Greater Bee Fly, Bombylius major. This is a widespread species that flies in early spring (BugGuide.net says they’re most common in April), usually found near wooded areas, in sunny clearings either sunning themselves or visiting spring wildflowers. Last spring I noted one visiting the forget-me-nots in my parents’ garden. I saw four in various spots that day last week; this one was at the side of the road.

Weevil

Photo number three is an unidentified weevil. I think weevils are cool, with their long snouty appearances. Although weevils are actually a type of beetle, they are generally thought of as separate organisms. Rarely any larger than a quarter of an inch, weevils are small beetles and this guy was as well. I was sitting in the leaves at the edge of a forest clearing, hoping for a bee fly like the guy in #2 (but not actually that individual) to come land near me, and I noticed this guy crawling through the litter and then up a grass stem where he helpfully sat and wiggled his antennae for a few moments while I took a photo.

Giant Water Bugs

On the evening that followed that beautiful day, I set up my moth sheet with great anticipation of what might arrive. I was not disappointed; I had a few hundred moths come in, of upwards of three dozen species. But they weren’t the only things to come to the sheet. There were also small beetles, a couple of ichneumonid wasps, and these guys, Giant Water Bugs, Lethocerus americanus. I encountered them for the first time last spring, at my parents’ place. They are the creepiest bugs, huge, some three inches long, with giant forearms that look fearsome. They are in fact capable of giving a good nip, and I haven’t tried handling them. They’re capable of flying, although they’re a bit lumbering as befits something of their size, and as I was standing out by the sheet it was hard not to get a little anxious with these huge bugs buzzing by me. There must have been at least 20 that arrived, drawn in by the blacklight. The leaf litter was alive with them.

Daffodil with wasp

At the abandoned property that I visit from time to time, some years ago the owner must have planted some spring bulbs, looking forward to a time when they would be moved in to the completed house and would have a full garden. The house was never completed, the owners never moved in, but the bulbs remain. There were crocuses, tulips, and a couple of patches of mini daffodils, all of which have grown over the years into small clumps. Two daffodils were blooming when I was there last, and were being visited by a few little insects, including this small bee (I think).

Coltsfoot

Speaking of yellow flowers, our roadside, or at least portions of it, are awash in yellow Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara. These are one of the earliest spring flowers, and at least for the past few years, have been the first one I see in the spring. They’re such cheerful flowers, bright and sunny, it’s too bad they’re non-native.

Raven with branch

As Raven has gotten older, she’s taken a greater interest in sticks. She never eats them, but she likes to carefully and methodically shred them to bits. No bit of wood is too small for consideration. And few sticks, it seems, are too big.

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Monster bug

Giant Water Bug

Yesterday I returned to my parents’ for a couple of days, and took advantage of the warm weather last night to try for some moths. There’s a great diversity of habitat here, with a mature mixed forest on one side, open scrubby areas to another, of course the wet swamp in the corner of the property. So I was hopeful for some good stuff, and I wasn’t disappointed. That all will be the subject of another post. I’ll be setting up again tonight (I head back home tomorrow), to hopefully add to the list.

I ran my new trap overnight, but I also put out a sheet and blacklight. I got a number of species at the blacklight that didn’t show up in the trap, and some nice ones among them. However, the most interesting thing to come to the sheet last night wasn’t a moth at all. Most of the time I just glance over the beetles and wasps and midges (I can only focus on one taxon at a time, and currently it’s the moths). But I couldn’t ignore this guy. I was leaning forward investigating some moth on the sheet when a very loud buzzing whirr whizzed by my head and flopped on the ground in front of the sheet. Out of the corner of my eye I thought it was a sphinx moth or something big like that, but when I stooped to investigate, it most definitely was not. My second impression was of a cockroach, since it had the same dorso-ventrally flattened body.

Giant Water Bug

But it’s neither. In fact, this is a Giant Water Bug, also called Giant Electric Light Bug, after its habit of coming to artificial lights. It was rather alarming in its size and apparent ferocity. Fortunately, the same features made it very easy to identify. I got a clear plastic container and brought it inside to show my mom. She joked that she wasn’t going outside at night again.

Giant Water Bug

It’s about 6cm (or 2.5″) in length, with these giant broad modified front legs that it uses to secure its food. As its name indicates, it’s an aquatic insect, primarily, associated with swamps and wetlands. Normally it lives in or near the water, preying on aquatic insects, but supplementing this diet with opportunistically-caught vertebrates such as frogs or small fish. It uses a tubular rostrum to suck out the body fluids of its victims. It can inflict a painful bite, and so also has the name “Giant Toebiter”, which I would assume dates back to the days when kids were more likely to wade into mucky water barefoot (I used to do that as a kid, carefree about the creatures inhabiting it; I’m more cautious now, but it’s more because of concerns over submerged or buried sharp things, especially glass or metal garbage).

Giant Water Bug

Check out the giant eyes, which it obviously uses in stalking its prey. Plus the giant single claws at the end of each leg. I’m not sure what the white goop on its one eye is. The bugs are found across North America; there’s actually three species that are similar in appearance (I’m not sure which one I have here), and which overlap in range. Young look similar, but are obviously much smaller and take smaller prey. It takes them five moults to reach adulthood, which they do in a season; they overwinter buried in the mud as an adult. This site suggests that adults are edible, but I’m not sure I’d find them much of a delicacy.

Mites on a Giant Water Bug

When I copied the photos to my computer and looked at them closely, I discovered that the bug had been carrying what I took to be mites. You can also see a couple of large ones in the second photo, where it has its wings spread. I have no idea what species they are, or even if they are really mites, and not fleas or some other parasite like that. It seemed to have a good infestation going.

It’s amazing how it’s possible to overlook something that you would think would be quite obvious. If it comes to lights, why have we never seen it at the porch light? And being so large, you’d think we would have noticed it one of these times when down poking around the ponds. But it somehow escaped our notice to now.