Thursday, February 26, 2009


I had been wanting to do a mini-life cycle entry about holometabolous insects, particularly lady bugs, because I have in my possession a few lady bug specimens and one of their pupa. Today I captured a live lady bug larvae, which I photographed and then released into the garden. To preface, holometabolous insects include the major orders of insects, such as Diptera (flies), Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), Hymenoptera (wasps, bees, ants), and Coleoptera (beetles). Holometabolous means that they undergo a complete transformation from a larval form to an adult form, with no intermediate forms. So, a caterpillar stays a caterpillar for a while, forms a cocoon, and emerges with wings and different body structures. Often the larvae and the adults have different diets and habitats, allowing the insect to exploit various environments. This is in contrast to hemimetabolous insects, which go through several progressive molts, gradually assuming the adult form. This can be seen in Orthoptera (grasshoppers, katydids, crickets).

Coleoptera; Polyphaga; Cucujoidea; Coccinellidae; Coccinella septempunctata
Common Name: Seven-Spotted Lady Beetle

Coleoptera; Polyphaga; Cucujoidea; Coccinellidae; Harmonia axyridis
Common Name: Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle

The first image is the larvae of the lady beetle. Approximately 6 mm long, they have the same diet as the adult - aphids and other small leaf-sucking insects. The larvae of different lady beetle species mostly vary in their black and orange coloration. Eventually they form a pupa, and emerge as an adult lady beetle. The first image is the seven-spotted lady beetle, which usually is a brighter orange than a dull red, but I suspect freezing affected a change in the color. The second image is the multicolored Asian lady beetle, which was artificially introduced into North America for the purpose of controlling aphids (1916). It was introduced several more times, and is the variety often purchased from gardening stores. This insect is one of the first, and most successful (while remaining beneficial), introduced biological control agents. What marks the success of an introduced species is whether its numbers remain at a reasonable level, the insect does not harm beneficial native species, and remains specific for the pest it was originally introduced with the purpose of controlling. In some places they can be a nuisance simply because they are in large numbers, but they do not carry disease or damage property. The adults are capable of biting if handled, but do not break the skin, and release an strong smelling orange fluid to deter predators.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I have not had the chance to collect more insects, and I am somewhat sick right now so more new insects will not be for a while - however, I feel I must bring attention to the California state butterfly. Most people would assume it is one of the more commonly known butterflies, such as a Monarch, a Swallowtail, or a Painted Lady. Many states have the Monarch as their state butterfly, but California chose the Southern or California dogface butterfly. It is so named because on the males' fore wings, the silhouette resembles a dog, like a poodle or terrier. The larvae feed on false indigo.

Lepidoptera; Pieridae; Coliadinae; Coliadini; Zerene eurydice
Common name: California Dogface Butterfly

It is an interesting choice for a state butterfly, especially considering most people have never seen one. The females are very different looking, with the dorsal view of their wings being entirely yellow with a single dark eye spot on each fore wing.

In other news, it seems all the caterpillars have now molted their definite second time, and they are approximately 30 days old. Again, my estimates are on the small side because I did not catch them immediately after hatching. I need to collect more grass for them today - they're eating a lot faster and caterpillars are pretty picky eaters, as in they refuse to eat old food.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


I went to Coyote Hills preserve with the family today, and caught a large bumble bee - however, since I already have a bumble bee specimen, and bumble bees are becoming threatened species, I decided to let him go. Before I released him, I took a few nice photographs and was able to identify him based on these photographs.

Hymenoptera; Aculeata; Apoidea; Apidae; Apinae; Bombini; Bombus vosnesenskii
Common Name: Yellow-faced Bumble Bee

This specimen is approximately 1.5 inches long, with two yellow stripes and a yellow face. Not much is known about bumble bees. They form colonies with usually 50 members, not as organized or specialized as honey bee or ant colonies. Because the founder female has to make or choose a burrow, it is not very large or she settles in a vacant burrow made by a ground animal. The area in which this specimen was caught was covered with ground squirrel burrows, so it is likely that one of those burrows contains the nest. In the first picture above, the bee is cleaning its face (cute, I think). Their populations are threatened by habitat destruction, diseases from commercially raised bumble bee populations, and invasive social insects such as the Pennsylvania Yellow Jacket, which is able to forage more nectar and compete for space.

I also snapped a photograph of this fly, which looks like a Tachinid fly, but could easily be a different family, as many similar looking flies are members of different families.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Here are a couple grasshoppers common in California. An unfortunate side effect of preserving grasshoppers is that they tend to discolor and become more orange than they were when first caught. For newly collected insects, I will try to photograph them while they are still alive, to preserve their color. The same goes for Katydids, who become a duller green after they are collected.

Orthoptera; Caelifera; Acrididae; Oedipodinae; Trimerotropis pallidipennis
Common Name: Pallid-Winged Grasshopper

These grasshoppers are of the family Acrididae, or Short-Horned Grasshoppers, which includes the swarming locust variety. They are a distinct family for having relatively short antennae and tympana (or sound organ) on the side of the first abdominal segment. They are extremely common in California, and tend to have a mottled, variable color - some are extremely dark, others extremely light. These two specimens are approximately 1.5 to 2 inches long, found in San Diego. The subfamily, Oedipodinae, refers to "band-winged grasshoppers," based on the color bands on the wings. The distinguishing characteristic for the genus, Trimerotropis, is that the front wings have dark markings, and the ridge on the posterior half of the thorax is faint or absent.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


The following are two species of Katydid - the medium-sized one I thought was an instar of the larger one, but apparently they are different species. Each is about 3 inches long, wingspan about 4 or 5 inches. The largest and smallest specimens were caught in the San Diego area, and the medium specimen was caught in La Verne.

Orthoptera; Tettigoniidae; Phaneropterinae; Microcentrum rhombifolium
Common Name: Greater Angle-Wing Katydid

Orthoptera; Tettigoniidae; Phaneropterinae; Scudderia mexicana
Common Name: Mexican Bush Katydid

Orthoptera; Tettigoniidae; Phaneropterinae;
Unknown nymph - possibly Scudderia mexicana, Microcentrum retinerve (Lesser Angle-Wing Katydid), or Microcentrum rhombifolium.

Katydids communicate through song, and the subfamily Phaneropterinae is commonly called "False Katydids." They can vary in color from brown, to pink, to green, and often mimic leaves. The Greater Angle-Wing Katydid is differentiated from the Lesser Angle-Wing Katydid by a small tooth on the dorsal, frontal edge of the thorax - that part of the Lesser Angle-Wing Katydid is smooth. The Greater Angle-Wing Katydid is common in Southern California. They eat plant material and develop through several molts called instars, the final instar being winged. As a mating ritual, the male brings the female a nuptial meal, a spermatophylax, which is a gelatinous blob of carbohydrates, protein, and water. The male mates with the female while she is consuming the spermatophylax. As a result, the larger the meal, the longer it takes the female to consume it, and the longer time the male has to inseminate her, thereby producing more offspring.

As for the Mexican Bush Katydid, it is a member of the Scudderia genus, or Bush Katydids. Bush Katydids do not fly often, but glide from bush to bush and their forewing is noticeably shorter than the hind wing, with an elongate, narrow appearance relative to other genera. The species are mostly differentiated through male genitalia, and I did not key this specimen to species - I merely suspect it is Scudderia mexicana. The nymph may be a member of Scudderia because its femur is smooth, compared to Microcentrum which has spines on the femur.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


This specimen was collected in La Verne, CA of Los Angeles County. I was hoping it was a new family for the collection, but it ended up being part of Tenebrionidae, of which I already have one specimen - coincidentally, also of genus Eleodes. Most members of Tenebrionidae do not have hairs, but this specimen and one other of genus Eleodes appear to be covered in setae. This specimen is approximately 15 mm long, and 5 mm wide.

Coleoptera; Polyphaga; Tenebrionoidea; Tenebrionidae; Opatrinae; Eleodes osculans
Common Name: Woolly Darkling Beetle

This specimen is a member of Tenebrionidae, or Darkling beetles. Mealworms are a common larvae for Darkling beetles. Characteristic keying features include 5-5-4 tarsomere configuration and 11-segmented non-clubbed antennae. These insects have sealed elytra and so are incapable of flight, eat decaying and live plant flesh, are not known to bite, and may emit pungent odors. Many have an awkward gait and some lift their pointed abdomen in the air when threatened. This is an extremely common insect family and genus in California.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Second Molt

Well, it appears that the caterpillars are doing all right - it is now at least 22 days since they hatched, and we have a second confirmed molt, which is at least their third molt. Two of the caterpillars appear to be bigger than the other four. I really wish I knew exactly when they hatched, but I guess this is just the estimate I have to go with. The recently pinned insects are still on the pinning board - I will probably remove and key the beetle tomorrow, but the grasshopper and katydid will have to wait until they are completely set in place. Wouldn't like their legs to droop. Without further ado, here is the second confirmed molt.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

New Additions!

It appears the caterpillar trail is closed due to the recent storms, but it should be open again soon. I sneaked onto the trail to get some food for the catas, so they seem happier now. I saw some catas out there while I was collecting food, so I guess they survived the torrents of rain. While I was up in Pomona for my interview at Western U, Kit's sister Taylore gave us a lot of insects - mainly Coleoptera (beetles) and Orthoptera (grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets). One of them may be a family I do not yet have, and I will include cool pictures eventually!

In the meantime, here is another insect from my collection:

Hymenoptera; Apocrita; Ichneumonoidea; Ichneumonidae; Ichneumoninae

Wasps of the family Ichneumonidae, which are known for being parasitic and may have exceptionally long ovipositors for depositing their eggs deep in bark crevices. I like this one particularly for its pretty metallic blue color. It was caught at Elkhorn Slough.  Thank you (anonymous) for checking my identifications - I'm still relatively new at this!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Another Caterpillar Update

I am updating again because the caterpillars appear to be reaching their next molt - very interesting. I attempted to go out and find more insects today, but the canyon I usually go to was closed, so I only had time to grab more caterpillar food and return home. Without further ado...

The first image is simply of the caterpillar in the act of eating - you can see the mandibles and the proto-legs. I'm having trouble accessing the place with all the food they like - the place is closed and there is no nearby parking! Poor catas... I have to collect food from other places and I don't think they like much of what I've brought them.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Caterpillar Update!

Well, the six caterpillars are happily munching on mint, basil, and grass. The grass I grabbed from their natural habitat, and the basil and mint from the aerogarden. It appears that they like both of those herbs, which are in the same family. I am not sure whether that is a coincidence, or whether these caterpillars prefer that family of plant. I am trying to track the period of time that the caterpillars spend as caterpillars and pupa. Based on the first post in this entry, the caterpillars were first seen the Saturday before my first entry, and they have had at least one molt since then. They were sufficiently large to have hatched at least 1 week prior, so I will estimate they hatched the Sunday before that Saturday, which was 25 January. As of 9 February, these caterpillars are 15 days old (young estimate). They have definitely molted at least once in the last two weeks - and maybe once before then.


Here is an example of a bee of the family Megachilidae, which includes leaf-cutter bees, Mason bees, and carder bees.

Hymenoptera; Aculeata; Anthophila (Apoidea); Megachilidae;

Most of these bees are solitary, and very efficient pollinators. They drink nectar from plants, like most bees. Some are parasites of other bees, consuming nectar collected by other bees. One of the most common member of Megachilidae is the Leaf Cutter bee, seen above.  Still haven't found too many specimens of this type.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


This is a large wasp of family Ichneumonidae. They are very noticeable because most of them have very long ovipositors extending from the abdomen. When I caught this Ichneumonid, the abdomen was a very bright red, but after pinning the abdomen became a duller red color.

Hymenoptera; Apocrita (parasitic); Ichneumonoidea; Ichneumonidae;

These wasps are parasites of other insects, specifically their larvae. When the wasp locates the grub, sometimes several inches inside a tree or the ground, the wasp inserts its ovipositor and lays an egg in the grub. The insect's body, not including the ovipositor, tends to be fairly large and thin, at least an inch long. Ovipositors can extend beyond the length of the insect's body, as in this example.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


This insect was found in the La Verne area, and was somewhat difficult to key because it only had one remaining antenna and that antenna was hidden underneath it's head. This specimen is pretty small, no longer than 10mm.

Coleoptera; Polyphaga; Scarabaeiformia; Hybosoridae; Hybosorinae; Hybosorus illigeri
Common Name: European Hybosorus Scarab

This insect is known as a scarab-like scavenger beetles. They eat rotting plant material, dung, fungus, and carrion. Some members of the family are able to roll up into a ball. Average length is 5-7mm, color light brown to black. Many species are not very well known.


Tomorrow I plan to unpin the two wasps, key, and photograph them. In the meantime, I obtained this specimen c/o my aunt who lives down here in San Diego. Just as a reminder, my personal key only goes down to family, but I refer to and other internet resources to refine my identification, so if there is suspicion that my ID of an insect is incorrect after the family level, do bring it to my attention. I can't afford a key for every insect family.

Hemiptera; Pentatomidae; Pentatominae; Halyini;

These insects are commonly called "stink bugs" because when disturbed, they may emit a pungent liquid. Most of the family Pentatomidae are herbivores, sucking plant juices, and are major pests. They are not known to bite, and the family comes in many colors such as green, beige, black and red, and mottled earthy colors. Here are a few more examples of which I may devote single entries to at a later time.

Friday, February 6, 2009


While out collecting the caterpillars and pictures of the ants/scale bugs, I also caught two of the order Hymenoptera (wasps, bees, ants). I have not keyed either of them yet but they are on the pinning board. As soon as they are ready to be removed, I will take their pictures and key them. For the time being, I will post on the most recently collected insects that have not been placed away yet.

Coleoptera; Adephaga; Carabidae; Laemostenus complanatus

Carabid beetles are one of the most common beetles one will find - they are extremely diverse. Many also bite - you can see the large mandibles - and are carnivorous, feeding on other insects and especially caterpillars. They are generally flattened, not raised high above the ground. This specimen is one of the larger beetles I have collected, and is likely this species, Laemostenus complanatus, a fast-running African beetle which has spread worldwide and is now very common in Southern California.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Ants and Scale Insects

I went out to grab a picture of a possible relationship between ants, most likely Argentine, and scale insects. I am not certain what plant they are on, but it is definitely some kind of chaparral bush, probably Baccharis sarothroides. If all goes well, I will be doing volunteer research studying Argentine ants and their relationship with cotton aphids. Ants are in family Formicidae, and the scale insects, if I am correct that they are soft scale insects, are in family Coccidae.

In addition, I took a few pictures of the hundreds of caterpillars roaming the area - it seems like these caterpillars are the dominant organism out there. I grabbed a total of 6 to rear and confirm my hypothesis that they are Painted Tiger Moth larvae, as well as document any that have been parasitized.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


I have decided to devote a blog to my entomology hobby - I collect, photograph (amateur), identify, and research insects. I also love spiders, so I may feature them occasionally, but the main emphasis is on insects. I will include common name and scientific name to family, possibly to genus/species if I have the time.

To preface, I may be doing some research on the side in the entomology field, most likely related to ants (Formicidae) or yellow jackets (Vespidae). Hopefully this blog will interest a few, but primarily it is for the purpose of recording my insect collecting! I will not bore with insects I have collected in the past, but every new insect will have its own entry! And I will update regarding my work at the university or insect trends. I am based in California so the insect population is not unusually diverse, but there are plenty to sate my curiosity!

Diptera; Brachycera; Asilomorpha; Empidoidea; Empididae;

These flies are often found in annoying swarms. This specimen is approximately 5mm long. When you think you're walking through a swarm of "gnats" you may be walking through a swarm of Empididae, or dagger/dance/balloon flies. Historically, evidence in amber has placed the family Empididae as far back as the Cretaceous.