Saturday, July 30, 2016

Why yes, I am still alive, and I still like bugs.

So, yeah.  I guess I should update this thing every so often, before it gets hacked, or taken over, or deleted or something.

I do still enjoy finding bugs wherever I may go.  I just don't get a lot of great quality pictures these days, using mostly my iPhone.  Maybe I will get more photo ops with some new and interesting bugs, now that we have a little teardrop trailer camper, and that will get me inspired.  I have been inspired to blog about the new trailer.  You can see that blog here.

But in the meantime, here are a few of the bugs I saw earlier this week, at Mt. Laguna, in the Cleveland National Forest, near San Diego.

National Moth week!
This week was National Moth Week. I did put up a little sheet with an LED camping lantern, but it didn't attract many insects. But here is a moth that did show up, so I could say I celebrated Moth Week.

Can you see the bugs?
Look carefully down into this jar. There are 2 insects that blended in very well to the tall, mostly dead grass.

Stick insect
OK, now can you see the stick insect?

Stick insect
even closer

cool caterpillar

cool caterpillar
The other bug in the jar was this cool, extra long, creamy colored pajama-striped caterpillar. (I don't really know the name of this caterpillar yet. But the subtle striping, which helps it blend so well with the grassy stalks it lives in, also reminds me of pajamas.)

Female ground mantid
Plump and stubby, a female ground mantid. There were actually 2 of them on one little plant.

Female ground mantid
I touched one, and it jumped off the plant and onto the ground, where it promptly darted away, quick as a lizard.

Female ground mantid

The highlight of my bug-finding was this scorpion. My first "wild" scorpion that wasn't part of an exhibit or collection.

A web spinner that isn't a spider.

And it's also not a termite. Even though every time I saw one of these little winged insects, I thought they were termites.

Have you seen this bug?

For years, I had been misidentifying these small flying insect as termites.  Small, black, long wings folded down the back.  I would see them occasionally in the house, especially on warm summer evenings.  Just one or two, here and there.  Nothing like a swarm.  Just a wayward bug that found its way inside, attracted by the lights and aided by an open door. 

I didn’t give them much thought until earlier this summer, when I started to see a lot more of them, particularly around my front door. Still, it didn’t seem like a swarm, exactly.  And I couldn’t really tell where they were coming from.   They seemed to be attracted to the porch light, and many of them died right there on the porch.  Still thinking they were termites, I pointed out a few of the dead ones to my regular exterminator (*gasp* the Buglady uses an exterminator?!  Yes.  It turns out, the Buglady doesn’t like ants in her house any more than you do.  So I have the outside of the house sprayed, and it keeps the ants from coming in.)

Anyway, the ant guy looked at the dead “termites”, and probably agreed that’s what they were, because he didn’t correct me, and in fact, recommended I call their Termite department.  (yes, the Buglady doesn’t want termites chewing up her house any more than you do, either, so I have an annual termite inspection, too.)

Two days later, still experiencing the numerous termite-looking bugs hanging out, and dying around my front porch, I showed them to the Termite Inspector, who promptly identified them as Winged Ants.  Not destructive, no problem, and the pesticide that the regular exterminator guy was using around the outside of the house was obviously killing them.  So, we’re done.

But I wasn’t done.  I had seen winged ants before, and I recalled their body shape was different from these dead porch insects.  So, I decided to search online.  I discovered that the subject “winged ant or termite?” was actually pretty common.  And there are plenty of comparative illustrations.  Here is an example of one of them.

Image from

Notice the ant has a distinct bend in its antennae, a slender “waist”, and different sized wings, where the termite has non-bending antennae, a full waist, and same-sized antennae.  OK, my porch bugs still looked more like the termites to me.  But if they weren’t termites, what were they???  Back online I went…

One of my favorite local insect ID sites is Arthropods of Orange County, CA, and it was there that I found my bug.  Not a termite OR a winged ant.  It was something I had never heard of:  a Black Webspinner, Oligotoma nigra.  Once I had a name to put with the face, I was able to find out more about them:

The females are wingless, and spend their lives in the soil.  All the Webspinners we see flying around and attracted to lights are therefore males.  These little guys live just under the surface of the soil, or under rocks and logs, and feed on dead plant material, as well as moss and lichen.  They create silk tunnels from special glands in their forelegs.  Both adults and juveniles are able to do this, and their web tunnels can be quite extensive when there are a lot of individuals living close to each other and “adding to” the webs of parents and siblings, creates a colony of sorts. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

A rove beetle visits for a photo shoot and lunch

While out running this morning, I noticed this cool bug on the sidewalk in the park. It's getting to the point where my fitness walk/runs are not compatible with bug-finding, but sometimes I see something that's just too irresistable to pass by. (like that horrible but cool, big squished spider last fall.)

Today it was a rove beetle. I haven't seen a lot of these critters, and never one this big. This first photo is just to show it next to my hand for size.

I could see that it had a good set of jaws on it, so I picked it up carefully in my sleeve-kleenex, (you can tell that I am a woman of a certain age, because I always seem to have kleenex in my pocket or tucked into a sleeve) and wrapped it gently so it couldn't get away. I continued my run, stopping at the next few park trashcans until I found a suitable styrofoam cup I could carry the beetle in for the rest of my run. When I got home, I put it in a larger plastic container and threw a little leaf litter and compost in there to make it feel at home, and so hopefully all the pictures would not just be on a white plastic background.

Rove beetles are characterized by their under-sized elytra (shell). So they definitely don't look like a typical beetle. They live and under rocks and debris, and eat other bugs, as well as decaying plant material.

While I was trying to take its picture, the beetle caught and ate a sowbug that happened to be in with the leaf litter that I put in the container.

It was hard to get a good shot of this black beetle, with its head down, chewing on the sowbug. I was hoping to get a shot of the jaws. This was about as close as I got this time around.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

More info on the monarch situation.

Here's a good article that a friend posted on Facebook.  Has some good information and answers some of the basic questions about the tropical milkweed that is central to this whole issue, and some good advice and resources for those who want to learn more:

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Tropical milkweed is weakening monarch butterfly populations.

A monarch caterpillar feeds on tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica.

As well-meaning gardeners have heeded the call and planted lots of milkweed plants to help the monarchs, it turns out that the species of milkweed we have been planting the most has been leading to the proliferation of a parasite that is infecting and weakening these beloved insect ambassadors, and further reducing their populations.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Big, squished spider

That's what this post is about.  Yes, it's gross, and yes, there will be pictures.  You have been warned. I am not offended if you prefer to navigate elsewhere.


Still here?

All right, then...

Even though this mess is clearly on a paper towel, I did try to keep it in the same position as when I found it for this first shot.   So basically you see what I saw on the wet sidewalk that made me do a double take.  Big smooshed up spider?  Or a beetle, maybe?  Or maybe just a wad of wet black string.  I leaned down for a better look.  Not string.  And too many legs for a beetle.  That's why I brought it home.  I just had to see what it was!

Sizing him up.

Counting his legs.  No, you don't see 9 legs.  You see 7 legs and 2 pedipalps.  The pedipalps are the 2 leggish looking appendages in the front, to either side of the fangs.  They have sensory function for smell and taste, and help with sperm transfer during mating.

With the spider's overall size, long pedipalps and small abdomen, I have tentatively identified it as a male California Trapdoor Spider, 

I found this amusing bit of Trapdoor Spider trivia on BugGuide:
According to Guinness World Records, as of 2009, this is the strongest spider. It has been able to resist a force 38 times its own weight when defending its trapdoor. This equates to a man trying to hold a door closed while it is being pulled on the other side by a small jet plane.(1) Unfortunately, the Guinness book doesn't mention if it's the strongest North American spider or if it's the strongest in the world. Also, one thing to think about is whether or not every spider's strength has been measured (no, they most definitely have not). The information is flawed in many respects, but it still asserts the fact that these spiders are pretty strong.

You can see some good photos of living spiders here. This, in all its dead gory glory, was my first Trapdoor. And I say it still counts.
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