Saturday, August 28, 2010


I was thinking, which I do from time to time. Why is it that only the furry felines get to have all the fun with the horribly spelled captions? Geesh, they have an entire website devoted to them. I found this site where you can caption your photos easily. So, since I am in an incredibly silly mood, here are some caterpillars who cannot spell and do not know proper grammar... Enjoy!

I was super excited to see this caterpillar, a Monkey Slug, Phobetron pithecium and I had told John Howard my wish to see one. Sure enough, there was one just waiting for us to discover it. My photos were not so good, so this one is John's photo. It does look just like a mini-toupee`and supposedly it mimics the cast skin of a tarantula. It will become this moth that has strange furry legs.
This caterpillar amazed me. It looks just like the edge of a torn leaf. Such great camouflage. This is a Double-lined Prominent, Lochmaeus bilineata. It will become this moth, if it makes it to adulthood.

I have been wanting to see a Spiny Oak Slug caterpillar for some time now. So freaking cool! The crazy colors and all those spines. And, yes people, they do sting! Anyway the Spiny Oak Slug, Euclea delphinii, will become this moth decorated with cool patches of green.

One of my favorites...Giant Swallowtail or Orange Dog caterpillar, Papilio cresphontes. It will become one of the most beautiful butterflies out there. Yes, it is a bird poop mimic. But it also has a defense of a bright red osmeterium that the caterpillar will rear back and whip out at the predator's eyes. Looks almost like a snake's tongue. Check it out on a previous post.

All these caterpillars and many more were found last weekend after dark. Go outside and find some of these amazing critters!StumbleUpon

Thursday, August 26, 2010

18th Annual Bug Fest this Sunday! FREE Family Fun!

Come one, come all to Southeastway Park's 18th annual Bug Fest!!!! THE event of the season. Last year we had over 2,000 visitors to this event.

There are over 20 stations to visit with lots of things to do and see. One that will be here this year is the scorpions. (No, not the band The Scorpions, though that would be cool, too. :) Some of the scorpions floresce, giving off a eerie blue color, when viewed with UV light.
Bug Man Bill will be back with his extensive collection of insects from all over the world.
Try some edible insects at the Bug Cafe'. The chocolate ones are actually quite tasty. Then again, pretty much anything will taste good covered in chocolate. :)

For the brave ones, check out the Taratula Teacher, Barbara Reger. She brings an extensive collection of live tarantulas and some will be able to see what it feels like to hold one. Cool stuff!
Plus many more stations of fun! Make a buzzy bee hummer at the crafts station, learn about monarch migration, and stroll through our butterfly tent. Learn all about bed bugs, Emerald Ash Borer, and mosquitoes. Watch the Indianapolis Flycaster tie fishing flies, visit the Indy Parks Water Education Trailer, and see insects up close. Ask and entomologist questions, see bugs from the past at bygone bugs, and see how far you can spit a cricket! So much to do and see!
Bug Fest is at Southeastway Park, 5624 S. Carroll Rd, New Palestine, IN 46163. The event takes place Sunday 1-5 pm.
And a special thank you to all our volunteers. We could not do this without all your expertise and help. Thank you sooooo much!!!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I wouldn't want to be a caterpillar...

No siree! I would not want to be a caterpillar. Sure, it would be cool to become a moth or butterfly floating around effortlessly on a breeze, then stopping by a flower for a sweet drink of nectar. That is IF you make it to that stage in life. See, there are all kinds of beasties lurking out there, ready to do damage to a slow moving, soft-bodied caterpillar. Not only that, the seemingly demure plants even plot against them, emitting chemical scents to attract body guards in the form of braconid wasps. And believe me, this is NOT the way to go.

Enters the Pawpaw Sphinx, Dolba hyloeus . Pretty cool caterpillar, dressed in brilliant green with diagonal white racing stripes down its side. It was happily munching away on a Pawpaw leaf, Asimina triloba. The one above is a healthy caterpillar. It will turn into a pretty pepper-colored moth.
A few leaves over was this poor guy. What are all those little tic-tac-like objects, you may ask? They are cocoons. Unfortunately for this caterpillar, a braconid wasp of the species Cotesia congregata discovered it. It oviposited, or laid its eggs, inside the caterpillar by inserting its ovipositor or "stinger" into the caterpillar's flesh. You can view this happening to another species of caterpillar here. Sounds pretty bad? Oh, it gets even better...

When the wasp injects the eggs, it also injects polydnavirus particles. These keep the caterpillar's immune system from destroying the eggs and also affects the behavior and the development of the caterpillar. And what do you think happens when those little larval braconid wasps hatch? Oh, yes, they eat the caterpillar's innards while it is still alive. Munch, munch, munch,...urp. Live food for the baby wasps; curtains for the caterpillar. This is worse than any horror movie I can think of...

Next the larvae emerge and make silken cocoons on the back of the zombified caterpillar. They ride around on the caterpillar that, in turn, keeps them safe. The polydnavirus sometimes affects the behavior of the caterpillar, so it will thrash around if any predator comes near the developing cocoons.
Adult braconid wasp, Cotesia congregata.
Photo by Ted Kropiewnicki.
Note the size is only about 3 mm.

And here is a photo that I found on BugGuide, showing the wasps emerging from the cocoons. The top of the silken cocoon pops open and out comes an adult braconid wasp. What really goes on in the insect world is much crazier than any far-fetched science fiction movie. Truly amazing!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Catch a Tiger by the Tail

Well, sort of...

On a Sunday outing at my friends Kathy McDonald and Ned Keller's place, we found a beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly, Papilio glaucus. Then we soon noticed it wasn't really moving around...

Upon closer inspection, we found out why. A crab spider had captured the butterfly by its "tail" or abdomen.

These crab spiders are like ninjas. They will hide completely camouflaged within a flower. When an unsuspecting insect comes along to sip the nectar, BAM, it is nailed by the spider and injected full of venom. Not a pleasant way to go...

I am amazed at how these spiders are able to take down an insect much, much larger than them. The venom will immobilize the insect and liquify its insides. The spider then slurps the mixture up like a milkshake, leaving behind an empty, lifeless shell.

I would love to tell you the species of this spider, but unfortunately I did not get a shot of the eyes. Spiders are a pretty tricky lot to identify. This particular spider could be one of possibly three different genera - Misumenops, Misumena, or Misumenoides. The position of the eyes helps with identification. Here is a page with info on how to tell them apart, for those who are interested.

The crab spider itself is a gorgeous creature, with a bright yellow body and striking red markings. Many times they will hide in goldenrod making it even harder to find them. Check flowers closely to see if you can spot one of these amazing spiders.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Not a caterpillar...

On Sunday, I helped lead a field trip with Rick Gardner, a.k.a. Rico Suave, for the Midwest Native Plant Conference to Gallagher Fen. Gallagher Fen is an amazing place and I will have some more about that in a later post.

While we were there the previous day on a scouting trip, we found what looked like a crazy caterpillar. I, at first, wondered if it had woolly aphids attached to it, but later figured out that was not correct. (Harvester caterpillars do so to fool ants that protect the aphids. You can read more about that here.) I also soon realized it was not a caterpillar at all. It was a sawfly larvae. Sawfly larvae can be identified by counting the prolegs on the critter, the fleshy feet that are behind their six true legs. Caterpillars, larvae of moths and butterflies, have six true legs and five or fewer pairs of prolegs. Sawfly have six true legs and six or more pairs of prolegs. It will usually look like a sawfly has legs continuously down the length of its entire body.

Photo by Scott Hogsten

Why is it called a sawfly? This photo shows the ovipositor or egg-layer of the female sawfly. It looks like a miniature saw. The female will saw a small slit into a leaf and lay an egg. When the young emerge, they will feed on the leaves. The young prefer butternut and walnut tree leaves, and will occasionally feed on hickories.

After searching BugGuide, I found out it is a Butternut Woolly Worm. It will turn into this lovely sawfly with a shiny black body and white legs. The white extensions are a waxy secretion. I couldn't find out much about the secretion to see if it was bad tasting or had defense properties, but I will keep looking. Very strange creature!


A Visitor

Today we had an interesting visitor of the six-legged kind. A long-horned beetle, of some sort, stopped by and brought with it a puzzle for me. See, I love puzzles. And one of the puzzles I love to tackle involves figuring out what a critter might be. So when I found this lifer beetle crawling across our wooden floor, I went into puzzle mode.
It was a real beauty, with red, yellow and black colorations. Bold yellow stripes encircled the abdomen.

The visitor, showing its colorful patterns.
First, I took quite a few photos. The mystery beetle was not pleased. It wanted to get away, and honestly I did not blame it one bit. I studied it from the side view, the dorsal view (top) and the ventral view (belly). It still was not pleased. :(

Not a happy camper... :(
Finally, after "torturing" the poor thing for a few minutes, I released it outside. Off it flew, probably cursing me in its own tiny beetle voice.

Anyway, after checking BugGuide, I figured out it was a Neoclytus mucronatus. Its larvae feed on Hackberry and Persimmon trees. Beetles in the genus Neoclytus are considered wasp mimics. You can tell this by comparing the yellow bands on the abdomen and the facial similarities to the genus Polistes, the paper wasps.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Perseid Meteor Shower and Three Planets Align (Almost)

If you enjoy checking out the night sky, you should wander outside and take a peak this evening. Tonight, around 11 pm. up until early morning should be ideal viewing conditions for the Perseid Meteor shower. Since the moon will be in a crescent, the light interference should be minimal. If you live in a dark, rural area with minimal light interference, you could see up to 100 meteors per hour! Even if you do live where there is more lights about, you can still be in for a pretty cool show. Look toward the Northeast sky to enjoy the show.

You can also see the planets Mars, Venus and Saturn line up, sort of. They will be all together in a cluster in the western/southwestern sky. Look toward the moon to find them. They should be right above its crescent.