Wool Carder Bees

Silene coronaria

Mullein Pink

I saw an insect in my yard today that I did not recognize. Hovering as if it were a fly, it darted around a Mullein Pink (Silene coronaria). When it landed I could see it was a bee of some type; however, bees are not normally this jumpy or skittish. It rolled the Mullein Pink’s white, felt-like fuzz into a little ball. Eventually it flew away carrying the ball gripped in four of its legs. If alarmed, it flew off abandoning its little rolled ball.

Silene coronaria

Abandoned ball of plant fuzz – L                                      Stem of Mullein Pink showing fuzz – R

It was a European Wool Carder Bee (Anthidium manicatum) gathering plant material from a species which naturally grew within its native range. They pack their brood cells with plant hairs, add pollen and nectar, then lay an egg. They nest in a pre-existing cavity or on a building.

Anthidium manicatum

Wool Carder Bee collecting plant material from Mullein Pink

This species is black and yellow and could be confused with a Yellowjacket. Wool Carder Bees have more black than a Yellowjacket, orange legs, and tend to hold their wings over their abdomen.  Also, they are solitary bees not social nesters like Yellowjackets.

Insects are fascinating to observe. They are diverse and I still find new species in my yard, even after 25-years. I wonder where the nest is.

 

Copyright 2017 by Donald Drife

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Spittlebugs: Nature’s Meringue Makers

Spittlebugs

Spittlebug foam masses on host plants

Recently, I was asked what causes the frothy masses on the stems of some plants. They are formed by the nymphs of Froghoppers and are known as Spittlebugs. In North America there are approximately 30 species in seven genera and they are part of the family Aphrophora. Nymphs are 4mm [3/16 inch] long. Adult forms are inconspicuous and if I have seen them I did not identify them.

Spittlebugs

Spittlebug nymphs with foam removed

Spittlebugs drain fluids from the plant, combine it with a glandular secretion, and then blow it out of their anus. Foam is a combination of bubbles created when this mixture is blown out and added bubbles formed by the flexing of plates along the body of the nymph. Extending its body causes plates to separate, then they are rapidly contracted which whips the solution. This results in a foam that is stiff and difficult to remove. The foam protects them from predators and I believe shields them from sunlight. When under my photographic floodlights the nymph kept moving to the side of the stem opposite the light.

Spittlebugs

Spittlebug nymph generating foam by extending and contracting its abdomen.

Spittlebugs feed on a wide range of herbaceous plants and also on pines (Pinus spp.) While the stem may become stunted I can see no real damage to the overall plant. Spittlebugs raise only one generation a year in the Great Lakes region. In mid-summer the foamy masses disappear as the nymphs mature.

Spittlebugs should be around for the next few weeks. Get out and look for them. You might find some in your own yard. If you remove the foam from one please do it only once. Nature is fascinating to study but we must do it without causing her harm.

Copyright 2017 by Donald Drife

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Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

I recently found a stink bug in my kitchen. It was a Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (Halyomorpha halys). This invasive insect is native to Japan, Korea and China. The first North America record was from Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1998 and it reached Michigan in 2011.

Halyomorpha halys

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

The adults overwinter in houses, barns, garages, and outbuildings. Adults are 12-16mm [1/2-5/8 inch] long and shaped like a shield. Their antennae are dark with light bands. Light spots are also found on the edges of their bodies. This is the only species of stink bug commonly found inside a house during our Michigan winter. It can occur by the hundreds in some homes.

Halyomorpha halys

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs will not bite humans. They can be a major pest on fruit trees and damage the leaves and fruit of apples, pears, peaches, cherries, corn, tomatoes, peppers, soybeans, and others. Luckily they only raise one brood in Michigan.
Copyright 2017 by Donald Drife

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Eastern Ironclad Beetle (Phellopsis obcordata)

Phellopsis obcordata

Eastern Ironclad Beetle on shelf fungus

Last August, I found a beetle, resembling a woodchip, sitting on a shelf fungus along the old growth trail in Hartwick Pines State Park. On this field trip I was looking at fungi with a friend or I probably would have overlooked this well camouflaged beetle. It was an Eastern Ironclad Beetle (Phellopsis obcordata). According to bugguide.net they eat “fungi associated with decaying trees in old growth boreal forests.” I love when a beetle reads and follows the rules. The larva burrows inside the fungus eating pathways. The adults feed on the surface of the fungus. I have visited Hartwick Pines several times a year over the last four decades and I still find new things to see. You never know what you are going to find.

Phellopsis obcordata

Eastern Ironclad Beetle

 

Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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Cottonwood Gall Aphids (Pemphigus populitranversus)

Pemphigus popilitranversus


Cottonwood Gall

While I was raking leaves off our small “lawn,” my wife (knowing full well the answer would be yes) asked me if I wanted to see a leaf gall. It was formed on the petiole of an Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides). I checked bugguide.net and identified that a Cottonwood Gall Aphid caused the gall.  Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid is another common name for this species.

Pemphigus popilitranversus

Cottonwood Gall                  Left hand gall showing transverse split

It is a hollow gall, not quite round, with a transverse split. It occurs along the petiole (the stem of a leaf) just below the blade. I cut a few open and found a waxy substance but no insects. They might have exited through the slit. I opened one more and found the adult aphid.

Pemphigus popilitranversus

Interior of Cottonwood Gall    L – shed skin                 R – adult winged aphid

I Googled the scientific name and the phrase “life cycle” and found Roberta Gibson’s informative and fun blog “Growing with Science (The Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid was the “Bug of the Week” in May of 2015.) She explains the aphid’s life cycle. Aphids seldom have straight forward life cycles. They over winter as eggs on Cottonwood twigs. They hatch in the spring and feed on the leaf petioles, causing the plant to produce the gall. Then the insect moves inside. It becomes a winged adult and exits through the slot in the gall’s side. They complete their life cycle on the roots of cabbage, turnips, or another member of the mustard family (Brassicaceae). Another common name is Cabbage Root Aphid. The aphids complete their life cycle by flying back to Cottonwoods and depositing eggs on the twigs or bark.

This is a great time of year to look for galls. Get outside and enjoy Nature. Also, check out Roberta’s blog and website. Even though she is based out of Arizona many things she writes about occur in Michigan.
Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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Don’t Touch That Beetle: Oil Beetle (Meloe sp.)

meloe-sp-oil-beetle-1During a recent work session at the Royal Oak Arboretum one of the Boy Scouts found a large purplish-black beetle. It was part of the Blister Beetle group called an Oil Beetle (Meloe sp.). They exude an yellowish oily substance from the base of their legs that forms blisters if it contacts human skin. They placed the beetle in a large plastic cup and the cup’s bottom was spotted with oily liquid when I first saw it.

This genus consists of six species in the Northeastern United States. I am not sure which species this one is. I am happy to know the genus of an insect.

Meloe sp.

Female Oil Beetle

The females are about twice the size of the males. This female was 40mm [1.5 inches] long and seemed sluggish. They overwinter as eggs and perhaps she had laid her eggs and was reaching the end of her life. This is a flightless, parasitic beetle. The eggs hatch in the late spring and the larva are described as alligator-like. Climbing onto a flower they wait for one of the solitary bees to land and quickly latch on to its back. The Oil Beetle larva rides the bee back to its nest and feeds on the developing bee larva and possibly some of the pollen in the nest. It then pupates and emerges in the fall to mate and lay its eggs.

It is fun to find a new insect in an area that I visit often. You never know what you are going to see when you just get out and look.
Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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A Parasitic Yellow Jacket

yellowjacket-nest

Yellow Jacket nest in old camper shell

Last summer I killed a Yellow Jacket nest that was constructed in an old camper shell at our cabin. Normally I coexist with the wildlife around me but I had a visitor who was allergic to wasp stings.

Dolichovespula arenaria

Aerial Yellow Jacket closeups

The workers were all Aerial Yellow Jackets (Dolichovespula arenaria). This is one of our native species. The yellow banding pattern on the abdomen is distinctive with a black “V” in the middle of the relatively wide yellow band. The face is almost solid yellow. The Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification has a great website for wasp identification.

Dolichovespula arctica

Parasitic Yellow Jacket

I also found Yellow Jackets that were mainly black and white. These were Parasitic Yellow Jackets  (Dolichovespula arctica). This is the only parasitic species in the genus found in eastern North America. It also goes by the name of Dolichovespula adulterina.

Dolichovespula arctica, Dolichovespula arenaria

Parasitic Yellow Jacket – L
Aerial Yellow Jacket – R

D. adulterina is a broader classification and includes D. arctica. Whichever name you use there is still only a single parasitic Yellow Jacket species in Michigan.

Parasitic Yellow Jackets reproduce only in Aerial Yellow Jacket nests. A Parasitic Yellow Jacket queen invades an established Aerial Yellow Jacket nest. It either kills the Aerial Yellow Jacket queen immediately or coexists for a time with her and then kills her. Aerial Yellow Jacket workers raise the parasites’ young.  The parasite produces only males (drones) and queens who eventually take control of the nest. Each queen, once they mate, overwinters outside of the nest and then repeats the same process the following year.

I intend to look at Yellow Jackets more closely and hope to find a parasitized nest for further study.
Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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National Pollinator Week

Mason Wasp (Symmorphus cristatus) nest

“Buzz Inn” bee hotel mounted in my yard, and some occupied “rooms”

June 20-26, 2016 has been designated National Pollinator Week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior. Our yard is pollinator friendly. We use no insecticides. We provide plants that produce pollen and attract pollinators to our vegetable garden.

This year, we put up a bee hotel now called the “Buzz Inn.”  Our plans came from a helpful guide, Managing Alternative Pollinators: A Handbook for Beekeepers, Growers and Conservationists, SARE Handbook 11, NRAES-186 by Eric Mader, Marla Spivak, and Elaine Evans.

SARE is Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education.

Symmorphus cristatus

Mason Wasp at nest holes

Symmorphus cristatus

Mason Wasp

Eleven cells are currently occupied—meaning capped with mud. Five others have already hatched. A Mason Wasp (Symmorphus cristatus) has moved in. They are in the 3/16 inch [4.8mm] diameter holes. We hope other pollinators will move in and use other sizes. The inn’s largest holes are 3/8 inch [10.0mm] diameter. I installed the inn four weeks ago. We may need to add more rooms.
Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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A Few Michigan Galls

Gall are formed by insects laying eggs or feeding on a plant. In response to this damage the plants produces growth hormones resulting in abnormal cell development. Galls normally occur during the plant’s most active growth time. Other parts of the plant remain unaffected.

Liposthenes glechomae

Creeping Charlie Gall on Ground Ivy

Creeping Charlie Gall (Liposthenes glechomae) is a grape-size gall that develops on Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea) which is also called Creeping Charlie or Gill-over-the-ground. The gall is formed when a cynipid wasp lays an egg in the leaf or stem of the plant. If you cut one of these galls open you will find a small white larvae. Cynipid refers to all members in the insect family Cynipidae. The wasp does no real harm to the plant so it cannot be used to control Creeping Charlie. Both the wasp and the weed are imported from Europe.

Acraspis erinacei

Hedgehog Gall on White Oak

Another Cynipid wasp gall is caused by the Hedgehog Gall Wasp ( Acraspis erinacei ). It was on a White Oak (Quercus alba) leaf. This is the agamic generation (they reproduce without males). The female generation emerges from this gall and lays her eggs in the leaf buds where they over winter. It is an interesting looking dime-sized gall.

Macrodiplosis quercusoruca

Vein Pocket Gall on Red Oak

The Vein Pocket Gall (Macrodiplosis quercusoruca) is caused by a larval stage of a gall midge in the family Cecidomyiidae. This gall was on Red Oak (Quercus rubra).

Melaphis rhois

Sumac Gall on Staghorn Sumac

Sumac Gall Aphid (Melaphis rhois) is one of the few aphids that cause galls to form. This one was on Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina). Staghorn Sumac Aphid is one of the woolly aphids. The galls are hollow and occur along the leaves.
Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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Monarch Resources

Milkweed Talk Title Slide

Milkweed Community Title Slide showing clockwise from upper left–Great Spangled Fritillary, Black-sided Pygmy Grasshopper, Monarch, Red-Blue Checkered Beetle

 

The Milkweed plant community is a fascinating place to just stand around in and watch what comes by. I have a talk “The Milkweed Community: More Than Monarchs (but Monarchs are cool!) on the many members of this community and the following are resources mentioned in that talk.

Websites about Monarch Butterflies

Monarch Watch has a helpful guide for identifying, and growing milkweeds. They also have information on Monarch conservation, biology, and different research projects including their Monarch tagging project.

The National Wildlife Federation’s Monarch Butterfly page is a good source of general Monarch information.

The University of Minnesota hosts Monarch Lab which has general information including great life-cycle information.

“Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) and milkweeds (Asclepias species): The current situation and methods for propagating milkweeds” by Tara Luna and R. Kasten Dumroese. This publication explains the international program underway to conserve populations of Monarchs. It describes the migration of the butterfly and also has information on propagating Milkweed.

Monarch Butterfly Journey North has general information but also tracks the population size and migration of Monarchs

Watch for tagged Monarchs

Watch for tagged Monarchs

Websites for Identifying Members of the Milkweed Community

Bug Guide is a site for “Identification, Images, & Information For Insects, Spiders & Their Kin For the United States & Canada.” The Iowa State University Department of Entomology provides this great resource. This is the first site I look at when I identify an insect.

The Herbarium of the University of Michigan provides the Michigan Flora Homepage with keys, range maps and photos of all flowering plants and ferns known in the wild in Michigan.

This site is dedicated to the conservation and identification of Bumble Bees. They have helpful drawings of the color patterns of different Bumble Bee species.

Author in a stand of Common Milkweed

Author in a stand of Common Milkweed

Books for Identifying Members of the Milkweed Community

Jason Gibbs, Ahsley Bennett, Rufus Isaacs and Joy Landis. 2015. Bees of the Great Lakes Region and Wildflowers to Support Them: A guide for farmers, gardeners and landscapers. Michigan State University Extension Bulletin E3282. (An excellent and inexpensive guide to Michigan’s bees. My review can be found here.)

Jeffrey Hahn. 2009. Insects of the North Woods. Kollath+Stensaas. The entire North Woods series is excellent and useful for the entire state of Michigan. (see Larry Weber’s book cited below)

Mogens C. Nielsen. 1999. Michigan Butterflies & Skippers. Michigan State University Extension Bulletin E-2675.

Ba Rea, Karen  Oberhauser and Michael A. Quinn. 2010. Milkweeds, Monarchs and More: A Field Guide to the Invertebrate Community in the Milkweed Patch (Second Edition). Bas Relief, LLC. This 80 page book is a great guide for the beginner and it would make a good student field guide for classroom use.

Larry Weber. 2013. Spiders of the North Woods. (Second Edition). Kollath+Stensaas.

Paul Williams, Robin Thorp, Leif Richardson and Sheila Colla. 2014. An Identification Guide: Bumble Bees of North America. Princeton University Press.

Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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