Thursday, April 30, 2009


This entry is devoted to the familiar click beetle, family Elateridae. Their clicking ability is derived from having a flexible junction between the prothorax and the mesothorax, which in beetles is normally fused, and there is a prosternal spine that fits into a groove on the mesosternum. The diagram below compares the ventral arrangement of a click beetle (A) with that of a metallic wood-boring beetle (B), which is of the family Buprestidae, featured in an earlier entry.

sp: prosternal spine; stn1: prosternum; stn2: mesosternum;

The shape of click beetles is very unique - the body is elongate, usually parallel-sided, and rounded at each end. The posterior corners of the pronotum are prolonged backward into sharp points or spines. Most of these beetles are 12mm-30mm in length, and one common species is a mottled-gray click beetle with two black eye spots. Most click beetles are black or brown. The larvae of click beetles generally live in rotting logs, and are slender, hard-bodied, and shiny - also called "wireworms." The adults are phytophagous, and so eat plant materials.

Coleoptera; Polyphaga; Elateroidea; Elateridae;
Common Name: Click Beetle


This family is part of the superfamily Calyptratae, or Calyptrate Muscoid Flies, which include common house flies, bot flies, blow files, flesh flies, etc. the family Tachinidae is the second largest of the order Diptera, with about 1,350 known North American species. Some ways of distinguishing Tachinids from other similar flies is that their aristae (the hair extension from the third segment of the antennae) is not hairy, they have a large lobe under their last dorsal thoracic segment, and have bristles in two small regions under the wing joint. Tachinid flies are fairly common, and come in a variety of colors.

Diptera; Calyptratae; Oestroidea; Tachinidae

In general, Tachinids are large, bristly flies and tend to be parasitoids, specifically larvae of other insects such as those in Lepidoptera and Coleoptera. They parasitize the host either by laying an egg directly on the host, after which the egg hatches and the larvae enters and feeds on the host, or they lay eggs on plant and the egg is ingested by the host or the egg hatches and attaches to a host on its own. The host is nearly always killed, thus Tachinids are parasitoids, not parasites (which usually leave the host alive). The parasitoid can affect the host's behavior as well, causing it to feed on differently or extending its pupal life span to allow the parasitoid to grow and feed for longer. Many Tachinids can appear wasplike or beelike as well, the following are two examples.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


This specimen is a stout beetle of the family Bostrichidae. Bostrichidae has many common names, including "Branch and Twig Borers and Powderpost Beetles," "False Powderpost Beetles," and "Horned Powderpost Beetles." This family contains elongate, somewhat cylindrical beetles with bent-down heads, except for the subfamily Lyctinae. The adults bore into wood to deposit eggs, and the larvae remains in the wood for up to a year before it emerges as an adult. The subfamily Psoinae occurs primarily in the West, and includes the specimen below. They tend to reach lengths of 14-28mm, and are brown or black. Also, the Psoinae family differs from other Bostrichids by having a less bent head and large, strong mandibles.

Coleoptera; Polyphaga; Bostrichoidea; Bostrichidae; Polycaoninae/Psoinae; Polycaon stoutii
Common Name: Black Polycaon

This species occurs mostly on the West Coast, and was probably named after Polycaon of Greek mythology, son of Lelex, king of Laconia, and the Naiad nymph Cleochareia. Polycaon supposedly went, with his wife Messene's aid and encouragement, to conquer a territory and then named it after his wife (Messenia).


The next specimen is a bumble bee, member of Apidae (Cuckoo, Carpenter, Bumble, and Honey Bees). Bumble bee species are differentiated by their yellow-black pattern. This specimen is a California Bumble Bee, based on its yellow thorax up to the wing joint and the single yellow band on the abdomen. When in the killing jar, this specimen extended all of its body parts, including its mouth parts and stinger. I generally avoid capturing bumble bees, as they are somewhat threatened, but I made an exception with this one. This bumble bee is very common on the west coast, hence the name.

Hymenoptera; Aculeata; Apoidea; Apidae; Apinae; Bombini; Bombus (Thoracobombus); Bombus californicus
Common Name: California Bumble Bee

Now to elaborate on Apinae and Bombus. Bumble bees can be orange, white, or yellow on black and most are over 20mm long. They are important pollinators of clover because they have such a long tongue. Most bumble bees nest in the ground, and only the fertilized queens overwinter. Some species of Bombus are actually parasites of other bumble bees and they are sometimes placed another genus, Psithyrus. The females of Psithyrus lay their eggs in other bumble bee nests for the larvae to be raised by that colony, often times by killing the host queen and releasing pheromones to "enslave" the previous queen's brood of workers.


To the best of my identification abilities, this is a female mining bee of the family Andrenidae. These are small-medium sized bees that nest in ground burrows. Generally these bees are solitary, but they may also nest close together. There are approximately 1,200 species of adrenids in North America in three subfamilies (Andreninae, Oxaeninae, and Panurginae). The genus Andrena contains most of the bees of Andreninae, and are common spring time bees. I wish I could identify the species, but the hairs make it difficult to see the body structure.

Hymenoptera; Aculeata; Apoidea; Andrenidae; Andreninae; Andrena
Common Name: Mining Bee


This insect is actually so common that it is the representative image in Borror and DeLong's text above the excerpt on the family Lygaeidae. This insect is the small milkweed bug, which is common in the United States and Canada. These insects are hemimetabolous, as are all Hemipterans, so they have incomplete stages of development. Their nymphs are commonly red. As the name would suggest, milkweed bugs feed on the milkweed plant and its seeds. Milkweed gains its name from the milky white sap produced when injured or pruned. The insects are brightly colored because, like Monarch butterflies, they feed on milkweed and so the bad tasting chemicals in milkweed are concentrated in their bodies. Rather than being a pest, these insects are important for regulating the population of milkweed, which is too toxic for other organisms to consume. There are a couple other species in this genus. One, Lygaeus turcicus, can be distinguished from Lygaeus kalmii by the "t" shaped red lines on the head, and extra red coloration on the back. Lygaeus turcicus also seems to lack the white spots and border at the wing apices.

Hemiptera; Heteroptera; Lygaeidae; Lygaeinae; Lygaeus kalmii
Common Name: Small Milkweed Bug

The family Lygaeidae is known to contain "seed bugs". The family used to contain many more subfamilies, but now only containes Lygaeinae, Orsillinae, and Ischnorthynchinae. Seed bugs feed almost exclusively on seeds, but may also feed on the plant tissue. There are about 75 species from this family in North America.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I do not usually post images if spiders, as they are not insects, but one of my favorite spiders in a resident of Hawaii. It is not a native species, but rather originated in India and Sri Lanka. It was introduced to Hawaii in 1985. Their populations are controlled by the Red-Vented Bulbul, a bird also from India, which is its only natural predator. The birds themselves are also an invasive species around the world, and in Hawaii they prey on many insects. The bird is not deterred by the Monarch butterfly's toxin, and so a white variety of the Monarch has developed, which is able to evade predation better than the orange morph.

Arachnida; Araneae; Araneomorphae; Araneoidea; Araneidae; Gasteracantha mammosa
Common Name: Asian Spinybacked Spider

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Another insect seen while in Hawaii was this long-horn beetle, member of family Cerambycidae. Cerambycidae is a very large family, about 900 species occurring in North America. Long-horns are elongate and cylindrical, with long antennae; many beetles are brightly colored, and may reach lengths of 6 cm. Most adult cerambycids feed on flowers, and the larvae are very destructive, boring into freshly cut logs or weakened/dying trees and shrubs. There are eight subfamilies, and Cerambycinae is the family in which belongs the Hawaiian species below. This particular species is an invasive species in Hawaii and recently in Israel. Its origin appears to be the islands of the South Pacific, and it is found in Madagascar as well.

Coleoptera; Cerambycidae; Cerambycinae; Xystrocerini; Xystrocera globosa
Common Name: Two-lined Albizia Long-horn, Monkeypod Roundheaded Borer


While in Hawaii, I took pictures of whatever insects I happened across. As it turns out, I came across a black earwig, family Chelisochidae, of which there is only one species. It is most common on islands in the Pacific. The passage from Borror and DeLong indicates that they may be found in California. Earwigs are members of the order Dermaptera, and are found all over the world. They can pinch with their rear pincers if disturbed, and feed on small insects such as caterpillars. I would have collected this as a specimen, as it is one of the families we need, but I did not know at the time whether it was a native species to Hawaii. Unfortunately, many native insects in Hawaii are threatened by invasive species. Regardless, I will be keeping my eye out for any in California - down in San Diego is probably one of the more likely places they will be as it is closest to tropical, and this species prefers moist climates.

Dermaptera; Chelisochidae; Chelisoches morio
Common Name: Black Earwig

The word Dermaptera comes from the short leathery wings, "derma" referring to skin and "ptera" to wings. There are approximately five families of Dermaptera, depending on which taxonomic guide one uses. The most common one seen in California is the European Earwig, family Forficulidae. Earwig females lay a dozen or so eggs, and some remain by the eggs until they hatch.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


I felt I should rearrange the data about Mourning Cloaks into the entry which actually features a picture of the butterfly. Once I return from the cruise, I will upload pictures of the adult Mourning Cloak.

*Update: I have returned, today is 25 April, and the chrysalis was formed on 6 April. That means that the chrysalis is 18 days old. It would appear that the estimate I found online was rather off, either that or my butterfly is taking its time. Here is a photo of the chrysalis, much developed. If you look closely, the abdomen segment has stretched, and the wing segment shows a lighter band around the edge, which corresponds to the yellow band on the edge of the Mourning Cloak's wing. From what I can tell, the butterfly is alive and well, and about to burst from its cocoon. I am glad I am here to see it!*

*Second Update - it has been 23 days now, and I extracted the butterfly from its dry chrysalis. The butterfly is completely intact, not dried out, but is unable to complete metamorphosis - possibly because it does not have enough energy/chemical reserves to emerge from its dormant state. Here are the photos of the extracted butterfly.

Mourning Cloak butterflies are members of Nymphalidae, or Brush-Footed Butterflies. There are about 210 species in North America, and they earned their name because the front legs are reduced and lack claws. Only the middle and hind legs are used in walking. The chrysalids are also suspended by the cremaster, a spinelike or hooked process at the posterior end of the pupa which is used for attachment.

Lepidoptera; Papilionoidea; Nymphalidae; Nymphalinae; Nymphalis antiopa
Common Name (Adult): Mourning Cloak

The Mourning Cloak derives its name from greek - Nymphalis means "of or pertaining to a fountain" and Antiopa was the name of the wife of Lycus, king of Thebes. A little history on Antiopa - she was the daughter of Nycteus and was violated by Epaphus. As a result, her husband cast her away and remarried Dirce. Dirce suspected her husband was cheating on her with his ex-wife, so she commanded that Antiopa be confined. At the time, she was pregnant, but she managed to escape and gave birth on Mount Cithaeron. Her twin children were raised by shepherds, and eventually learned of their heritage and avenged Antiopa by binding Dirce to an untamed bull. I have no clue how this pertains to the butterfly, perhaps the hardship of overwintering?

Apparently Mourning Cloaks are one of the earliest emerging butterflies of the spring season, and like other early season butterflies, they have dark colors. Darker colors increase heat absorption from the sun, aiding them in these cooler days before summer. Mourning Cloaks are also one of the longest lived butterflies, surviving for 8-11 months and overwintering. Of course, an individual Mourning Cloak probably doesn't live that long due to environmental hazards and predation. Mourning Cloak larvae also tend to aggregate together, as their spines are more repellent to predators in large numbers. However, when they have finished growing, they go off on their own to find a safe place to form a chrysalis.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


The following insect is a member of the family Buprestidae of Coleoptera. Buprestids are metallic wood-boring beetles, and are usually less than 20 mm in length. They vary in color, including metallic green, copper, blue, or black, especially on their underside. The adults are attracted to dead or dying trees, while others live on foliage. There are approximately 762 species of Buprestids in North America. The larvae are serious pests and do damage to trees by boring into the bark. Most Buprestids fly to evade enemies, or they fold up their legs and play dead.

Coleoptera; Polyphaga; Buprestoidea; Buprestidae; Polycrestinae; Acmaeodera hepburnii
Common Name: Yellow-Marked Bupestrid, Spotted Flower Bupestrid

This species is mostly found in California, but may be found outside of California. It is approximately 12 mm long, and covered thickly in setae. It was found on a flower near a creek in San Diego, CA. Here is the pinned specimen, with slightly better definition on the color.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Well, it looks like I was right about that Mourning Cloak larvae being on the brink of forming a chrysalis - yesterday he spun an anchor on a grass stem and started hanging upside down. Gradually throughout the day he seemed to become fatter near the anchor and the pseudo-feet (the little nubs a caterpillar uses to move the part of its body beneath its little real feet) became hollow. By morning it had shuffled off its old exoskeleton, revealing a gray, spiky chrysalis.

Now, according to internet resources, the butterfly should emerge in 10-15 days, depending on temperature (warmer = faster development). However, I leave on a cruise this Sunday, so it will certainly emerge while I am away on the cruise and I do not return for 12 days. To remedy this, I have an insect home which was supplied by a "Raise Your Own Praying Mantis" kit. It has net-sides and clear plastic sides. I never did raise the mantises because apparently it is very intensive, such as raising your own fruit flies to feed to the mantises, and over 200 mantises hatch from your provided egg case. I will place the chrysalis inside the enclosure, and instruct Kit on how to feed it.

Here is an easy-to-make butterfly feeding station:
Requires: 1 sponge, sugar, water, fruit (juicy preferred), saucer or plate.
1. Mix warm water and sugar - 2 teaspoons per 8 oz of water - then set aside to cool
2. Slice fruit to expose juicy segments, set on saucer or plate
3. Cut sponge to an appropriate size and soak up the sugar water with it so that it is still dripping and set on the saucer next to the fruit
4. Place in an area accessible to butterflies and wait
5. Extra step: decorate the saucer with colors that appeal to butterflies, such as pink, red, purple, or yellow. Bee colors, for those who are interested, tend to be whites and blues.

In my case, I (well, Kit) will be placing the saucer directly into the enclosure and that will be the butterfly's food until I return. The fruit will need to be changed every so often, and the sponge re-moistened. Here is the completed butterfly home.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

One Day's Foray

Well, went to a slightly different location to hunt than usual - same stream/canyon network, just a different part of it. I took a lot of live shots, and have at least 6 insects that are on the pinning board right now. One is definitely a new family for the collection, not too sure about the rest. The following are live shots of specimens I did not collect for one reason or another - usually because I already have pictures or a member of that family.

The above Hemipteran is a member of family Coreidae, or Leaffooted Bugs. This one was found on cacti, as were the other specimens I caught that are currently in the collection. It is highly likely it is Narnia snowi, a Leaffooted bug that feeds on Prickly Pear Cacti. The blue damselfly is likely the male version of the species that was common in the area, with the more drab colored female pictured below. They have been keyed to Coenagrionidae, but without a more detailed key it is difficult to distinguish them from other common blue damselflies.

The above show a ladybug larvae. I was hoping for better resolution thanks to natural lighting compared to the picture I posted before.

Finally, here is a larvae I chose to capture - I don't think I have the heart to pin him right after he hatches (mainly because I just have this one, whereas with the other caterpillars I have six, so if they all metamorphose I won't feel too bad keeping one). This caterpillar is the larvae of the Mourning Cloak, a common butterfly in Southern California. It was actually the first butterfly I had any experience with, when one formed a chrysalis on the gate at my house when I was about 5 years old. I will take plenty of pictures, since this specimen seems sufficiently large that he will form a chrysalis soon.

Lepidoptera; Papilionoidea; Nymphalidae; Nymphalinae; Nymphalis antiopa
Common Name (Larvae): Spiny Elm Caterpillar