More Christmas bugs

boxelder bug

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas, if you celebrate it, or a happy holiday season if you don’t. I returned to my mom and dad’s for our family get-together. It’s one of the few times of the year where all three of us daughters get a chance to visit together and with our parents, and we all look forward to it and generally have a really good time. I’m always happy to be returning back to my own house and bed and fur-family, but it’s still sad for the visit to be over.

On Christmas day we had a couple of other visitors join us for a bit. The first one I noticed was the Boxelder Bug above. He was strolling along the windowsill, listening in on our conversation, though he didn’t have much to add to it. Boxelder Bugs, like ladybugs (such as the one below, who was the other visitor eavesdropping on our discussion), are common winter houseguests. They spend the winter as adults, and search for a cozy nook to hole up in over the cold months. This often ends up being cracks in your house’s exterior walls, and sometimes they can make their way all the way inside. Though I’ve seen the species before, this is the first time I’d actually spotted one indoors.

In some areas they can be so common as to be a nuisance, but I’ve never seen such aggregations. The most I’ve personally observed in one place was at my sister’s new house this autumn, where she had a dozen or two crawling about her front porch. Fortunately, they’re pretty harmless. They don’t bite or sting, and unlike ladybugs, they won’t poop on and stain your window frames. Since it was much too cold to put him outside, we let him be. It was Christmas, after all.

multicolored asian ladybug

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Tay Meadows Tidbit – Asian Ladybug

ladybug6

This evening I spotted this guy (or gal) resting on a branch of one of my orchids. When I first saw it I thought it was eating something. I brought in a couple of cuttings from the garden in late fall, and noticed a short while later that there were some aphids on the tomato. I collected up the ladybugs each time I spotted one in the house and placed it on the plant hoping they might help control the little plantsuckers. I suspect they were mostly interested in finding a place to hole up for the winter, and not so much in eating, but the aphids seem to be gone now so if the ladybugs didn’t eat them they must have died on their own. Although I thought it strange that the aphids had migrated to the orchid, both because I thought the aphids gone and the orchid’s flower scape is tough-skinned, not easy to bite through like the tomato plant, I nonetheless was relieved to see that the ladybug had found one and was doing the job it had been imported into North America for.

ladybug2

Then I had to look closer. Was it really eating an aphid? It seemed to be taking longer than I would expect an aphid to require, though I’ll admit I’ve never watched a ladybug eat an aphid before and for all I know they could take their sweet time savouring every bite. I was a bit puzzled. There seemed to be something sticking out from its mouth area, but it didn’t actually look altogether aphid-y.

ladybug4

Finally it pulled its legs away and I realized the yellowish things I’d been looking at were the insect’s mouthparts. The movement I had been observing was the ladybug cleaning its legs, very fastidiously. Perhaps because at this time of year there isn’t a whole lot else to do, it had been taking its time about it, making sure every last speck of dust was removed and every hair was in place. It looked like it had some work to do on its elytra once it was done.

ladybug5

We don’t really tend to think of ladybugs as having a third body segment, but the white-and-black “head” that’s in front of the red wing covers is the pronotum, the middle segment of the insect’s three-segmented body. In front of that, and usually tucked underneath as the ladybug trundles along, is the head and eyes. The big yellow pads sticking out from its mouth are its maxillae, which it uses to manipulate food while eating it, a little like we use our tongue.

ladybug1

For much of the time while I watched the ladybug dangled from the orchid scape, holding on by just one hind foot, equipped with a strong claw for just such a purpose. Look at the angle it’s held at. If I was dangling off something by just one limb, you can bet that limb would be straightened out and stretched to the max as I desperately tried not to let go. It’s amazing how strong these bugs are.
ladybug3a

A beetle from summer

Grapevine Beetle

When I returned to my parents’ this week my mom had brought out a beetle she had found while shopping downtown in the local town back in the summer, following a conversation we’d had earlier this week on a subject I can’t recall now. The beetle was dead when she found it, so she picked it up and brought it home with her. It was a warm reddish-tan, with large black spots down each side of the carapace, and one in the middle of the back. It’s obviously a member of the scarab beetles family, and further research revealed it to be a Grapevine Beetle, Pelidnota punctata.

Ordinarily a dead beetle on the sidewalk would probably have been passed by unnoticed, but the size of this particular beetle was what caught her eye. Below is an image of the beetle posed with a (live) ladybug for comparison. The scarab family contains 1300 species, some of them the largest beetles in North America. Grapevine Beetles can grow up to an inch long, which is not quite up to the six inches of the southern Hercules Beetle, but is still a pretty impressive beetle for this part of the country.

Grapevine Beetle and ladybug

I’ve never seen this beetle alive myself; in fact, this is the first time I’ve seen it ever, which seems somewhat unusual for what looks like it should be a rather conspicuous bug. It seems fairly common, occuring through most of the east from Ontario south to northern Florida and west to Nebraska. The adults can be found from May to August through much of its range, and will regularly come to lights in the summer.

Grapevine Beetle head

It inhabits deciduous forests. Adults feed on the foliage and fruit of grapevines (hence the species’ common name), but appear to do little serious damage. It lays its eggs in the summer on decaying logs, which the larva feed on during their development. Larva overwinter in the logs, pupating and emerging as adults in the spring. I found one site that offered care information for the species, but aside from a couple comments on the web, couldn’t see any evidence that it was frequently kept in captivity.

Grapevine Beetle head

One of the features of scarabs is their club-like antennae. You can sort of see here that the club is actually many-parted. These plates are called lamellae, and the beetle can fan them out when sensing odours. When it’s not testing the air, it folds them up out of the way. This individual’s a little dusty from sitting on a shelf since the summer, but in this and the previous photo you can also see the mouthparts it uses to cut bits of vegetation. In the previous photo you can get a better view of the upper cutting mandibles, and the lower manipulating ones.

Grapevine Beetle legs

Beetles, like many insects, have hairy legs and bodies, under their smooth carapaces. These hairs are called setae, and are used for sensing the environment. Generally they sense small changes in air pressure.

Take a look at the claws at the end of this guy’s feet. The claws are primarily used to help the beetle secure itself to whatever it’s walking on. However, in scarabs the front claws are modified for digging. You can see how much more curved they are on this individual. Grapevine Beetles aren’t really diggers the way some scarabs are (such as dung beetles), but they retain the characteristics of the group.

In looking up information on beetle feet, I discovered this site that is doing research on the applications of beetle-foot design to modern technology. One of the main things they’ve developed from it is an adhesive that’s twice as sticky as glue-based tapes, and is reusable simply by washing with soap and water. I wasn’t quite clear on the specifics of the technology from their description, but it uses the principle of a beetle’s hairy feet (I gather this is a characteristic of a different family of beetles), which act like a thousand little suction cups on long threads. The suction cups adhere to the surface, while the long threads allow dust motes and other debris to slip between the affixing surfaces, so it can attach to dusty and dirty surfaces as well. The lab’s site has videos of their Mini-Whegs robots scaling vertical glass walls using the adhesive. I’m on dial-up while here at my parents’, so wasn’t able to watch them, but even just the idea is pretty cool.