Flora and fauna of the Athens County area, and occasionally habitats outside Ohio. Subject matter will consist of both interpretive material and taxonomic issues in plant and animal identification.
Friday, August 19, 2011
I usually don't have expectations or a plan when I walk around our land lab, but when looking for insects, everyday presents a new adventure. So what kind of bug is this? Okay, the mint Wild Basil, Clinopodium vulgare was blooming everywhere and I couldn't resist.
One of the first things I noticed were a lot of these flying around. One of our biggest species, this is the Carolina Grasshopper, Dissosteira carolina. It has an attractive yellow and black color on the hind wing. They range from gray to brown and are often mottled. This allows perfect concealment when hiding on dirt and gravel.
Here's a cluster of young Milkweed Tiger Moth caterpillars. They were feeding on Indian Hemp or Dogbane, which is a Milkweed relative.
I see a pair of orange cartoon eyes watching me. Fake eyes fool predators, and it's a good idea to have them at the opposite end of your head. This is a Gray Hairstreak. This and the Red-banded Hairstreak are very common in the late summer.
Look at the size of those back legs! With a black and orange skinny abdomen, this must be a Thread-waisted Wasp. But wait a minute, what are those two white halters doing on a wasp? It's not a wasp, but a mimic known as Systropus macer, a Thread-waisted Fly. While most of the fly mimics are Syrphid flies, this is a member of the Bee Fly family. Well that makes sense too.
Not only do they have the legs, abdomen and color of a wasp, but they look like one when flying. I have even seen them flick their body up and down like many wasps do. They are parasites on caterpillars, and my favorite group , the Slug Moths, are particularly vulnerable.
Here is a group of insects known as Vanduzea arquata. I call them the Black Locust Treehoppers, because that's their food plant. Treehoppers are True Bugs in the sub-order Homoptera. They feed by piercing their beak into plants and suck out sugary sap.
As I looked at the group closer, I noticed many ants bustling among them. Sure enough, they were herding them and protecting them.
Camponotus ants feed on the excess sugar water excreted from the treehoppers. This is the same behavior ants exhibit when protecting aphids for the same reason. Ants use their antennae to stroke the hoppers to entice them to squirt out more sugar water. Another example of Mutualism. The ants benefit from a quick energy source, and the treehoppers gain protection when the ants are around.
Dig the sunglasses man. With all these insects around, there are surely going to be plenty of predators. Some of the neatest are the Robber Flies. This is an Efferia species, probably aestuans. The females have those long sword-tails.
I am king of the forest! One of the top predators is the common Preying Mantis (or Praying-choose your spelling). I love those old stories about how they are protected by law, and you can be fined or jailed for killing one. None of that is true. Yes they make excellent natural pest controls in gardens, but this guy is the common Chinese Mantid, not even native.
Speaking of wasp mimics, this is a good one. Looking like a Yellow jacket, this fly is Spilomyia longicornis.
There are several flies that look like this. The species is recognized by the yellow V on the thorax, bordered by a yellow edged square, or what look like a pair of calipers.
"Oh no, this guy has a net. He's going to collect me and stick a pin in me. I might as well just walk off the edge of this leaf and fall to my death for all it matters".
"Oh please Mr. Photographer, I pray you won't kill me. There are plenty of others around who look just like me, please?"
"Woohoo! He just took my picture, asked for an autograph, and left me alone, yippie!!"