Thursday, July 23, 2009

Elateridae part 2

I already did an entry about the family Elateridae, but I received a very recognizable click beetle from Kit's mom in Virginia. It is the species Alaus oculatus, or the Eyed Click Beetle. Unlike the tiny brown click-beetles we find here on the west coast, which are barely 1/2 inch long, the Eyed Click Beetle is 25-45mm long, and is decorated by white specks and eye spots: large black circles outlined in white. It is commonly found in deciduous forests and woodlands. It can be found most of the year, but most commonly in the spring and summer. The larvae are predatory, feeding on the larvae of other insects, particularly boring beetles like Cerambycids. The adults may feed on nectar and plant juices, are winged, and are attracted to lights.

Coleoptera; Polyphaga; Elateroidea; Elateridae; Agrypninae; Alaus oculatus
Common Names: (Eastern) Eyed Click Beetle, Eyed Elater

I always liked click beetles as a kid - they were harmless, flicked their bodies interestingly...I had never imagined they could get as large as this. It truly is a remarkable insect. The one pictured above is approximately 40mm long, and is actually the largest species of click beetle. Most elaterids are mottled-gray/brown/black and reach lengths of 12-30mm.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


I received a clearwing sphinx moth from Kit's mom in Virginia and felt like doing a post about a similar-looking family of moths - the clearwing sesiid moth. The first moth pictured below is of the family sphingidae, of which I have already done an entry. The second moth is of the family sesiidae. Both moths are similar in that they have areas of their wings which are devoid of scales. The way one differentiates a sesiid moth from other moths with clear spots on their wings is that in sesiids, the front wings are long and narrow, at least four times as wide, and they appear wasp-like (mimics).

Lepidoptera; Bombycoidea; Sphingidae; Macroglossinae; Dilophonotini; Hemaris thysbe
Common Name: Clearwing Hummingbird Moth

Lepidoptera; Sesiidae; Sesiinae; Synanthedonini; Synanthedon resplendens (?)
Common Name: Clearwing Sycamore Borer

As for the family itself, sesiidae have a wing-coupling mechanism similar to Hymenoptera, with extra hooks along the wing margins to keep the wings together. Many species are brightly colored, and virtually all are diurnal. The two sexes are usually different colors, and the larvae bore into the roots, stems, canes, or trunks of plants or trees. Some serious pests are the peach tree borer, Synanthedon exitiosa, and the squash vine borer, Melittia cucurbitae. Sesiid sex pheromones have been synthesized to help capture males of sesiid pests, and they are capable of attracting almost all male sesiids. They often mimic wasps and bees, and their tail is described as lobster-like. The sesiid above lost a fair few scales in the pinning, so it is not in its prime condition.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Insect Festival

Here are a few pictures from the insect festival at Quail Botanical Gardens in Encinitas, CA. The collections were amazing - some of the displays had great colors and variety of insects! There were also a few large live insects, spiders, and other arthropods. I thought I overheard the woman talking about this giant stick insect say that they were becoming an invasive species here, but somehow I doubt it...I can't find any information about it online at any rate.

The spider-like creature is a sun spider, or Solpugid. The beetle collections mostly contain Cerambycidae and Scarabaeidae. The millipede isn't an insect, but I still think they're neat. The blue wasp is a member of Sphecidae, thread-waisted wasps. Blue wasps are among my favorite of Hymenoptera - they just look so cool. Anyway, hopefully one day I will be able to display a collection nearly as impressive.


The following are ants of the genus Camponotus: Carpenter ants. Some distinguishing characteristics include the smooth profile of the thorax towards the abdomen, lack of the metapleural gland orifice, antennae arising above the dorsal edge of the clypeus, and the absence of guard setae. One is a soldier ant, which is larger than worker ants, and the other is a winged alate, or reproductive individual. The soldiers are responsible for defense of the nest and the colony's territory. When mating season arrives, the male and female winged alates take to the air to mate. After mating, the male ant dies while the female ant discards her wings and burrows to found a new colony.

Hymenoptera; Aculeata; Vespoidea; Formicidae; Formicinae; Camponotus
Common Name: Carpenter Ant

A useful key to the genera of Formicinae can be found here. The family containing ants is named "Formicidae" from the Latin name for ant (Formica). Methanoic acid is most commonly found in ant venom/stings, giving the acid the common name "Formic Acid." Ant societies are fascinating, and I highly recommend checking out books written or videos narrated by Edward O. Wilson, the leading expert on Formicidae. Here is one to get you started. Tip from gardening societies: To eliminate an ant colony in an environmentally friendly way, pour boiling water into the nest.

Cerambycidae (Unusual Elytra)

The typical Cerambycid is a beetle with long antennae, slightly enlarged femurs, and long elytra. In the case of this Cerambycid, the elytra have been reduced to nub-like coverings on the thorax, with the wings almost completely exposed. I have another entry about a Cerambycid of the subfamily Lepturinae, or flower longhorns. The common characteristic they share is the general trend of the elytra narrowing near the end of the abdomen, creating a shouldered look. When I first saw these insects, I almost mistook them for wasps, since they did not have easily visible elytra. There were quite a few darting among the flowers in Carmel.

Coleoptera; Polyphaga; Chrysomeloidea; Cerambycidae; Lepturinae; Necydalini; Necydalis laevicollis
Common Name: Flower Longhorn (Lepturinae)

The tribe Necydalini comprises of longhorn beetles with very short elytra that expose the abdomen and long flat wings with three veins in the post-cubital region. There is some debate whether they belong in Lepturinae or Molorchinae; however, it is generally agreed that the larvae, wing venation, and adult mouthparts most resemble those in the subfamily Lepturinae.


Here is one of the specimens from Monterey, or more specifically Carmel. I keyed it out to Geometridae, and based on species images it is probably Scopula junctaria, but I submitted it for a second opinion since "looks like" identifications are hardly accurate. The superfamily Geometroidea contains the family Sematuridae, Uraniidae, and Geometridae. They all have bare probosces, and the larvae of Geometridae are long and slender. The larvae are commonly called "inchworms" or "measuringworms." The family Geometridae is the second largest among Lepidoptera, with 1,400 species in North America. They are mostly nocturnal and are genearlly small, delicate, and slender-bodied. The wings are broad with fine, wavy colorations. The males and females are usually different colors. They feed on nectar and the larvae feed on deciduous trees.

Lepidoptera; Geometroidea; Geometridae; Sterrhinae; Scopulini; Scopula junctaria
Common Name: Simple Wave Geometrid Moth

There are 38 species within the genus Scopula, 24 in the US, and they can be found across the country, coast to coast. A Geometrid moth of the subfamily Ennominae was one of the first studied examples of industrial melanism. In Great Britain, where heavy industry covers tree trunks with soot, the light-colored individuals of the moth have been replaced by dark variants which are otherwise rare. This example of natural selection was described in my first science classes - predators will easily find a light colored moth against a sooty tree, and have trouble finding darker morphs.


I was fortunate to receive a few insect specimens from Kit's mom in Virginia - one of which is difficult to find on the west coast of the US: a cicada. Now, my text puts cicadas in a family in the order Hemiptera, but they used to be placed in their own order, Homoptera. Since my text does not key beyond the family (and in rare cases subfamilies for very diverse families), I had to look online to get a more accurate identification. Simply based on its size (body length ~37mm) it is a member of the genus Tibicen. The most famous cicadas, those that emerge after 13 or 17 year cycles, have bodies 19-33mm long, averaging 25mm - significantly smaller than the cicada pictured below.

Hemiptera; Auchenorrhyncha; Cicadoidea; Cicadidae; Cicadinae; Tibicen sp.
Common Name: Dog-Day Cicada, Harvestfly

Cicadas are usually recognized by their characteristic shape, large size, and three ocelli. This group contains some of the largest Hemiptera in the United states, particularly the genus Tibicen. There are 157 species in the US. The suborder Auchenorrhyncha are active insects, being good fliers or jumpers. They have short antennae and three-segmented tarsi. All produce sound, but Cicadidae is the only family to produce sounds audible to humans. The males of each species have a characteristic song and also produce different "protest" sounds when disturbed and "courtship" songs when a male is approaching a female. The specimen above is a male, and the sound organs (tympanum) are right beneath the large flaps (operculums) below the third pair of legs.

Tibicen species is the largest, and appear late in the summer around July and August. They are generally black insects with greenish markings. They are called "annual" cicadas because they are usually seen each year, but the actual life cycle may be up to 3 years long. Like periodical cicadas, the larvae are laid in the ground where they feed on tree roots, and then emerge to mate. To get a better idea of the kinds of cicadas that there are in the US, check out this page.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


I've been sharing a lot of Diptera lately it seems - but don't worry, I have some Hymenoptera and Coleoptera on the pinning board, and a couple new ones from Kit's mom in Virginia. I don't like this family very much - essentially really large hairy black flies with white and black stripes on the thorax. One distinguishing characteristic is that on the edge of the thorax there is a line of four bristles, with the pattern short-long-short-long. They are also identifiable by the red eyes, red "tail light" and 3 white/gray stripes on the thorax. Other specimens have 2-3 bristles, no bristles, or a different pattern. Unfortunately the bristle pattern is a bit too small for my camera to capture. This fly was found by a stream in Nicene Marks redwood forest in Santa Cruz.

Diptera; Calyptratae; Oestroidea; Sarcophagidae; Sarcophaginae; Sarcophaga
Common Name: Flesh Fly

Flesh flies get their name Sarcophagidae from the greek, "Sarco" meaning "flesh," and "Phage" meaning "eater." They were so named because the larvae are commonly laid in decaying animals and are sometimes so numerous that they fill the animal beneath the skin. However, some species are able to lay their eggs in flesh wounds of living animals. Flesh flies can be found on almost every continent. They are closely related to blow flies (Calliphoridae), which are the metallic blue, green, gold flies one commonly sees with decaying matter also. There is one blow fly which looks similar to the flesh fly in that it also has a few gray stripes on its thorax, but it is generally not as large, does not have the characteristic bristles or red "tail light", and its abdomen has a slightly metallic characteristic.