Category Archives: Insect

Ants: Walking Wallendas in My Garden

Dateline:  August 2, 2013*

Acrobat Ants (Crematogaster) at the Bidens buffet

There are all sorts of ants and I was drawn to a group that was hanging out on a leaf of Bidens alba, a Florida native plant that is a bundle of biodiversity.  This group of ants was like none I had ever seen before.  Medium sized, shiny and with a heart shaped abdomen. What I found more interesting is that it was a reasonable gathering of say 50 or so, not thousands as I would normally expect of ant conventions.

They were engrossed in eating some white looking glop, the color resembling Elmer’s glue gone bad.  A lone fly was off to the side, standing watch.  I snapped a few photos to see if a closer look via zoom would tell me what was so fascinating as to draw this crowd.

Is the fly guarding the group? or is he trying to figure out how to sneak in

I learned these valentine looking scavengers are called Acrobat Ants. They are in the Genus Crematogaster.  I’m not ready to get these guys down to the species level with 10 different species in Florida that look rather alike to me.  I got itchy just looking for Genus.

Is the fly sick of waiting?

The habit of bending the gaster up over the thorax when disturbed is likely how it got the common name Acrobat Ant. The worker looks a little like he’s walking on his hands, so to speak.

Food for Acrobat Ants include

“honeydew, extrafloral nectar, scavenged protein from bird and other droppings, carrion”

Even a close zoom look didn’t reveal what the glop was but based on the listed foods, I figured it must have been bird poop.

The next day I returned to the scene of the crime and all the ants were gone, as was the fly.  There, on the leaf was a tiny spine bone.

Okay, what the heck is this?

My first thought was to dial up Dr. Temperance Brennan.  Of course she’s a fictional anthropologist and these bones seemed way too small to be human, so I opted to use an Internet search engine.  “T-i-n-y V-e-r-t-e-b-r-a-t-e” I tapped into the search box. Up popped some news results about a certain frog being the world’s smallest vertebrate.

I recalled seeing a lot of the juvenile invasive Cuban treefrogs in recent weeks, so I thought that frog might fit the bill.  Next search:  F-r-o-g S-k-e-l-e-t-o-n.  Up popped a very nice image of a labeled bullfrog skeleton.

Eureka!!!!  The vertebrae matched my find.  And, the small pointy piece is a urostyle.  And to think I failed biology.  Look at me now Ms. BiologyTeacherWho’sNameIForgot.

the remaining vertebrae and urostyle made identification as a frog pretty easy

I wonder where the rest of the frog bones went.  Did the acrobat ants bury the evidence?  Who did the actual killing? Was the fly merely a witness? Or did he have a role in this massacre? Well, I’m no “Bones”, so it shall remain a mystery.


At any rate, acrobat ants play a role in carrion cleanup, like vultures but on a smaller scale.  And, I’ve learned that they are an important food resource for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker:

C. ashmeadi workers make up the majority of this woodpecker’s adult diet, especially in the winter (Hess and James, 1998).

It seems that Acrobat ants are found in damp or rotting wood so they aren’t as big a house pest as many other ant species.  They may even cue you in to water infiltration problems if you find them in your home. Another interesting new species to add to my buggy life list.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on August 2, 2013 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

National Moth Week 2015: Central Florida

Dateline: July 24, 2015*

Well, another year has passed and we are in the midst of National Moth Week. It started back in 2012 and I have reported on moths I find at my place each year (2012, 2013, 2014). In keeping with that tradition, I am reporting this year on some different moths that have made an appearance at my place for 2014/2015. While the list is not all-inclusive it will give you some idea of what I find and, if I know, what plants attract them to my garden. There are a great many of repeat visitors from years past and several that I haven’t had time and/or success in identifying.

Clouded Crimson Moth on its larval host, Southern Beeblossom

In 2014 I reported on my first encounter with an adult Clouded Crimson Moth (Schinia gaurae). The larval host has had a recent scientific name change to Oenothera simulans from Gaura angustifolia from which the butterfly species appears to have been named. Southern Beeblossom is still the common name. I just wonder if the poor butterfly is going to need identity therapy. 😉

Palm Leaf Skeletonizer

Another new-to-me adult was the Palm Leaf Skeletonizer (Homaledra sabalella). Prior to this year I had only encountered the damage of the larvae to my Cabbage Palmetto (Sabal palmetto). Since I only have one of these trees I do clip off the severely affected fronds since it is a young tree and I don’t want it to meet its demise. I have been doing a little research on the moth and Chalcid Wasps are indicated as potential predators. I have seen adult Conura sp. wasps at my place and Horismenus ignotus is reported as “likely the primary parasite of the larva” (source: Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington pg. 76-7) and a Tachinid fly may be a parasite of the larva. I’m on the lookout now for these natural predators with my fingers crossed.

A second Palm Skelentonizer shows the antenna
Palm Leaf Skeletonizer can do extensive damage to the fronds of cabbage palms

This week I spotted a Red-waisted Florella Moth (Syngamia florella) shown at the start of this article. A brightly colored and diurnal (day flying) moth that is another personal favorite. According to HOSTS database, larval hosts are in the Rubiaceae family of plants, including Spermacoce brachysepala and S. tetraquetra. While I don’t have those specific species at my place, I do have two similar buttonweed species in that genus.

As with many moths, getting a photo of the Florella Moth was somewhat tricky. Many moth species are inclined to land on the underside of plant leaves and are quick to fly when the big bad photographer stoops down to get a shot. I lucked out that after a three minute chase, it landed on the leaf of some Bidens alba which was somewhat taller so I didn’t have to bend so far.

Mournful Sphinx on Bidens alba

Mournful Sphinx Moth (Enyo lugubris) larvae feed on plants in the grape family (Vitaceae) including Vitus, Ampelopsis, and Cissus species. Still haven’t found a caterpillar for this species, but I see where HOSTS database also includes Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) as a potential host, so I’ll have to start paying close attention since that native vine is also growing at my place.

Diaphania Moth

Diaphania Moth (Diaphania modialis) Host: Creeping Cucumber (Melothria pendula). This poor preyed-upon specimen is still the only one I have encountered.

Puss Moth Caterpillar DON’T TOUCH!

Southern Flannel Moth (Megalopyge opercularis) a.k.a. Puss or Asp caterpillar moth is polyphagous (eating many different species of plants) including oak, citrus, and at my place: wax myrtle or the redbud that is shown in the picture. The caterpillars of this species contain toxic spines so I remove them from the areas of the yard that the dogs have access to in order to prevent potential envenomation. I tried to raise one in a breeding container and it moved to cocoon stage, but never emerged and the cocoon began to disintegrate. Perhaps I’ll see an adult some time in the future.


Groundsel Plume Moth (Hellinsia balanotes) a.k.a. Baccharis Borer Plume Moth uses Groundsel Bush a.k.a. Saltbush (Baccharis halimifolia) as the host. I’ve plenty of larval hosts for these babies.

Samea sp. Nectaring on Bidens Alba

This Samea sp. may be a Salvinia Stem-borer (S. multiplicalis) or Assembly Moth (S. ecclesialis). Both are found in my locality and are difficult to distinguish.

common name of the caterpillars is grapeleaf roller

A Crambid Snout Moth (Desmia sp.) is another hard to identify to species. It may be D. funeralis or D. maculalis which use the same species of hosts as the above mentioned Mournful Sphinx. D. deploralis is another possibility since I have Wild Coffee (Psychotria nervosa), a Florida Native Plant which was documented as a host via a bugguide.net entry.

Coffee anyone?

Since I mentioned Wild Coffee, always happy to share a photo of the tiny and beautiful Coffee-loving Pyrausta Moth (Pyrausta tyralis) moth that also feeds on it. Here it is nectaring on Tickseed (Coreopsis sp.), the state wildflower of Florida.

This Puss Moth caterpillar cocoon never produced an emerged adult.

There are thousands of beautiful moths, so check out what native plants fuel their needs and if you have the appropriate habitat, begin adding them to your beautiful wildlife garden to encourage these important beneficials who then fuel those higher up in the food chain.

Not yet identified. Do you recognize me?

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 24, 2015 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Just in Time for National Moth Week 2014

Dateline:  July 25, 2014*

The third annual National Moth Week is winding down.  This year it started last Saturday July 19 and runs through this coming Sunday, July 27, 2014.  The inaugural celebration was back in 2012 and I highlighted some of my favorite moths at the time in my weekly article.

Positioning the rearing container next to a nectar source for release

Moths serve as food for reptiles, birds and bats in adult and larval stages. In addition, the caterpillars host many species of wasps. With their vast numbers (scientists estimate there are 150,000 to more than 500,000 moth species), they are major players in the food chain.
The pretty Clouded Crimson Moth climbs aboard

The last week in July has been designated as National Moth week. In my 2013 article, in addition to adult forms, I included pictures of two of the more unique caterpillars.  One was of the Clouded Crimson Moth (Schinia gaurae).  That caterpillar looks like a very thin Monarch Butterfly larva.
Caterpillar on Southern Beeblossom

At that point in time I had never encountered an adult Crimson Moth. They apparently are nocturnal and I’m not up for the shining of lights on sheets in order to attract the swarms of moths that fly at night. I tend to attract more mosquitoes with that method and I can do without them. That isn’t to say that at some point I won’t be out there once I’ve photographed all the daytime members of the Lepidoptera order of Insects. If you see me dressed up in mosquito netting, you’ll know my night moth urge has arrived.

seems more interested in the petals than the nectar part
I spent all year trying to see if I could encounter the crimson moth, having seen countless caterpillars on its larval host, Southern Beeblossom (Oenothera simulans). I hoped to spot an adult laying eggs on this tall lanky wildflower that is native to the Southeast. Its range is from North Carolina south to Florida and west to Mississippi.

I was frustrated as all pictures showed me that this was one of the more beautiful moths and I so wanted to see one in the flesh.  So, this year I decided to take matters into my own hands and I put one of the caterpillars in a rearing container.

preparing for release
For the most part I am against captive home raising of butterflies and moths in order to try to “save them”. My belief is that a better way to save our insects is to plant native plants in the garden and stop all pesticide use.

I do however, believe it is a good thing to raise specimens of Lepidoptera for educational purposes.  Two reasons I can think of would be to determine what species a caterpillar will become or to show children the process of metamorphosis. If you only do it occasionally and release them when they emerge, you aren’t upsetting the natural life cycle and/or food chain.

So, I fed my captive caterpillar friend fresh flowers and leaves daily until it disappeared into the provided dirt and leaf litter in the bottom of the container.  While some moths spin their cocoons and hang from branches, this is one of many that pupate on the ground.

Doesn’t mind sharing with the other pollinators

I kept the screened container in a natural environment on the patio.  I checked daily to be sure that the paper towel I placed in the container was damp.  The afternoon rains pretty much splashed enough water onto the screen that my job of providing moisture for this stage of development was easy.

I was rewarded in about 10 days by the arrival of the most beautiful pink and white moth with enchanting big green eyes. The white and yellow headdress is pretty fancy too!

Just look at those BIG green eyes

After a brief photo shoot, I released it onto some Bidens alba that is an excellent pollen source.  After 15 minutes or so, I ushered it over onto the Beeblossom so it would feel at home.
This is a stem of Southern Beeblossom, the larval host. The coloring matches so will be a great hiding place

I’m thrilled I got to see the adult and hopefully I’ll see another some evening when I am outside and the lights are on.
hanging out a new growth of Southern Beeblossom, the larval host

When setting up your beautiful wildlife garden, think beyond the “butterfly” garden and consider the many other pollinators.  Determine which native plants will serve as hosts for moths, nectar for bees and flies and you might just get to see a moth that will give any butterfly a run for its money in the beauty department.
Another view on the new growth of its larval host

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 25, 2014 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Meet the Moths: It’s National Moth Week 2013

Dateline:  July 19, 2013*

National Moth Week is a global celebration of moths and biodiversity, being held the last week of July.

New this week: Spurge Spanworm Moth – (Oxydia vesulia) landed on the recycle bin

For 2013, that is July 20-28, 2013.  As you know, I love my bugs and reported on last years’ inaugural celebration of these important players in a garden.  Recently I have identified a few of my unknown moths and a couple of old standbys showed up for a photoshoot.

A favorite colorful, diurnal moth is Syngamia florella, the Red-waisted Florella Moth visits Bidens alba

I’ve talked diurnal moths in the past. Those fly during the day.  Often they are pretty enough to rival the beauty of butterflies.

Black-dotted Spragueia Moth (Spragueia onagrus) colors could rival most butterflies

I’ve talked about the importance of the caterpillars to the survival of other arthropods.  Judy Burris also highlighted some pretty interesting caterpillars recently.

Pale-edged Selenisa Moth (Selenisa sueroides) caterpillar is a favorite food for nesting wasps
But some survive to turn into interesting medium size moths (Pale-edged Selenisa) adult

There are tiny moths.

Stained Lophosis Moth (Lophosis labeculata)

There are HUGE moths, many of which produce silk as reported by Ellen Sousa.

Large Maple Spanworm (Prochoerodes lineola), tattered but still flying (note: not a silk moth)

And there are shiny moths:

Snowy Urola Moth (Urola nivalis)

I’ve tried to alleviate fears of some caterpillars decimating your trees with hints on how to control them in an environmentally sound way.

Bagworm Moth caterpillars cover themselves with debris to try and fit in with the landscape colors. Easily hand-picked and disposed of

How some dress up to disguise themselves from predators.

Some moth caterpillars emulate butterfly cats, such as this Clouded Crimson Flower Moth Caterpillar (Schinia gaurae) who looks like anorexic monarch larvae

There are moths that have unusual shapes:

Diamondback Moth (Plutella xylostella)

And some that have interesting markings:

Plume Moth

Some are in love:

Mating Plume Moths

Moth caterpillars feed birds, host wasps, and perform many important duties in the natural scheme of things. Adult moths serve as a food source for not only birds but for spiders and others as well.

Yellow Mocis Moth (Mocis disseverans)

Plant a few oaks, some wax myrtles and look up what other native plants in your location will serve as a larval plant for the deserving and beneficial moth.  And put on your party hat to join the festivities.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 19, 2013 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

National Moth Week

Dateline: July 27, 2012*

Red-waisted Florella Moth (Syngamia florella) is quite beautiful

It’s about time. This week we celebrate the First National Moth Week (July 23-29, 2012). Butterflies always get the Lepidoptera glory with their flashy colorful dazzle, but there are many more moth species than butterflies. A good many are nocturnal, there also are the diurnal, and some of them can give your basic butterfly a run for their money in terms of being colorful.

Many different angles of a looper moth. You can see how feathery the antenna of moths can be

Moths have feathery antenna, which is one of the ways they can be distinguished from the butterfly, which have clubbed antenna.

Coffee- Loving Moth (Pyrausta tyralis) works on pollination duties

Moths help with pollination, serve as food for reptiles, birds and bats so they certainly have their place in a biodiverse food chain and are deserving of their own special week to bring their importance in a wildlife garden to the forefront.

Ornate markings make some moths special

Take some time and turn on an outdoor light and explore our nighttime flying creatures. Or walk around the garden with an eye to the shrubs and ground and you might find some of the more beautiful day moths. They are cagey though. Moths tend to land upside down, under the leaves, making for a challenging photo op. Given the shear numbers of species, it can often be quite a challenge to identify them as well.

Turn on a light and you might attract some pretty beautiful noctural moths such as this IO Moth

Raising a silk moth can be quite an educational experience, as our own Ellen Sousa has documented. Our own Ursula Vernon has been privy to being in the presence of Imperial royalty. These are two of the more beautiful species.

Some moths oddly, don’t look like moths, such as this Yellow-collared Scape Moth (Cisseps fulvicollis)

So, pick a moth, any moth, and determine what its host plant might be. Just like butterflies, moths are generally quite specific about what the caterpillars will eat. Then provide the host plant and sit back and enjoy another of our wonderful winged creatures.  You’ll see the light!

Small Frosted Wave Moth (Scopula lautaria)

*This is an update of a tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 27, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Beneficial Insects: Nice Lice?

Dateline:  April 27, 2012

A dragonfly lands on a branch of my Winged Elm

OK, I’m itchy…I’ve been sitting at the computer scrolling through bugguide.net to try and identify a tiny insect that was on my Winged Elm (Ulmus alata). I was actually giving the tree a once over because it is a larval host for Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) and I wanted to see if I had any success thus far by trying to locate larvae. I specifically chose this tree to serve as a butterfly attractant for that species, which I’ve yet to have the pleasure of meeting.

Whatever is this mysterious bug?

I saw something stationed along a limb and I use the term limb loosely as the tree is a mere sapling. The creature was way too small to see without a magnifying glass or at least reading glasses. I took a photo and headed inside to see what I could see via the magic of computer zoom. It looked a little like a fat caddisfly if a caddisfly would have a bee shape abdomen and long thin antenna. Back outside to get a few more photos. Moving the stick of a limb every which way to get a better shot from different angles sent the little creature on a walk up toward the trunk. Satisfied that at least one or two of the numerous photos would provide a clue, I headed back in on my quest for knowledge.

Top of my new insect friend

Well, scrolling through all the caddisflies proved that wasn’t it. It looked a little like it should be a creature with an aquatic start, but I was having no luck. The wing shape seemed a little moth-like and tiger moth came to mind. Tiger and lichen moths are grouped together so I tried lichen in the search box since that was what the bug seemed intent on. Lo and behold, I found a critter that seemed close… stout barklice. EWWWWWWWWWWW! My immediate reaction was to reach for a nit comb and some Rid® shampoo.

It certainly has long antenna

I searched up a rung or two in the taxonomy and began scrolling through various photos of barklice. FINALLY, I found what I believe is my critter. It is in the Insect Order Psocodea that consists of Barklice, Booklice and Parasitic Lice. I was a little disappointed that it is called Common Barklice…with all this effort, there doesn’t seem to be anything common about it. The scientific name is Cerastipsocus venosus and they don’t feed on living plants. They work as a decomposer/recycler so it is a beneficial addition to the landscape. The Galveston County (TX)  Master Gardeners had this to say:

The term lice as part of the common name of these tree dwellers is quite misleading as these insects are neither parasitic nor louse-like in appearance. Upon being informed of the identification of this insect, the typical response of a gardener is a widening of the eyes and other momentary indications of being aghast! Our Galveston County Extension Horticulture Agent advises us to precede the identification with a notation of Congratulations, you have beneficial insects in your landscape!

I like their style! 😉

Up close, Barklice have a face only a mother could love

This particular species of barklice eats lichen so it is one of nature’s cleanup crewmembers. Some barklice build tents along the trunk and limbs of trees. People are often alarmed by this and seek help in what pesticides to use to clear up the culprits. Since the insects are not harmful the recommendation is to hit them with a spray of water if their habits offend your senses. That should send them on their way…at least for a brief time. Personally, I’m glad they are around at my place. I’m likin my lichen, but sometimes it can really put a coat on a tree so anything that keeps things balanced is a keeper to me. Of course, people have that aesthetic fear of nature…you know…so they feel compelled to disburse the BUGS!

Munching away on lichen they prefer trees with smooth bark

In reading I learned that they often travel in packs and are given the common name of bark cattle since apparently disturbing one sends them all on the run. Thank GOODNESS I only found the one rogue specimen…I may have had a heart attack if I’d found a herd of unidentifiable insects. And, with over 3500 species in Psocomorpha the fact that I was even able to FIND the type of creature, let along the seemingly exact species is a miracle…but I think it is more tenacity and luck. Now, I’m off to find my lasso and see if I can’t get in on the roundup to find this fellow’s friends!

Id say my barklouse is doing a good job!

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on April 27, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Garden Pests? Invite the Myrmeleontiformias

Dateline: June 13, 2014*

likely a Mymeleon sp. (Family Myrmeleontidae)

Quite a mouthful.  Antlions and owlflies may be a tad easier to say for the non-entomologists such as myself.  They are members of the Insect suborder Myrmeleontiformia.  Still not familiar?  Ok, let’s put it in terms of their relatives that tend to get all the glory: Lacewings!  Along with some additional allies, all are members of the Order Neuroptera.

Ok, enough with the scientific name mumbo jumbo.  What the heck will they do to help me in my garden?

on dried palmetto frond

Antlion adults eat nectar and pollen and live for about 30-45 days. Some Antlion adult species also eat caterpillars and aphids.

Antlions as adults are a rather attractive flying insect which can easily be mistaken for a dragonfly in flight.  The majority of Ant Lion species are nocturnal for the most part. Your best bet at seeing them in flight is at dusk or at artificial lights at night.  The species shown in the photos can be seen up close and personal when they rest during the day. They try to blend in with plants…generally some dried stalk of taller grasses or, as shown here, comfy on a Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens) frond.  I inadvertently disturbed this fella and (s)he moved over to the green frond.

startled, it moved to greener pastures

The ones pictured here are most likely Mymeleon spp. (Family Myrmeleontidae).

Antlions undergo complete metamorphosis. The female searches for a spot where she taps her abdomen and then inserts a single egg below ground.  Several eggs may be laid in the same area, up to 20 eggs per site. As the eggs hatch, the larval stage is formed and this is likely the most beneficial stage.

Look at the curved antenna

The larval stage is commonly known as Doodlebugs, because in their quest to find just the right spot to build their pits, the bugs scurry around drawing “doodles” in the sand. The larvae build a funnel shaped pit and wait for an ant, termite or other insect to slip on the loose sand and fall in.  As the prey slides over the edge and into the pit, the Doodlebug uses its jaws to paralyze the ant by injecting poison. Then it sucks out the vital juices. Once they finish their meal, they toss the skeletal remains out of the pit. Rather like spitting out a watermelon pit in order to eat the next bite.

Showing the wings

The larval stage is a great way for children to observe and explore the world of insects. Antlions stay in the larval form for 1 to 3 years, followed by a cocoon stage made of sand and silk for about a month.  Kids can replicate their habitat by using a container filled with sand, feeding the larvae ants and providing water droplets.

With 22 species found throughout Florida, there are plenty of these workhorses.

A silvery look, this one easily blends in with the airplane wire used to stablize the shed

In addition to keeping some pest species in order, Antlion larvae serve as hosts to parasitic insects including wasps and flies.  They also are eaten by birds that are alerted to their whereabouts by spying the pits created by the larvae.

Next up in the world of Myrmeleontiformia are Owlflies, members of the Ascalaphidae Family. The Owlfly I have encountered is in the Genus Ululodes.

The Owl Fly can easily be identified by its long antenna

Adult Owlflies are similar in appearance to Ant Lions, but they have longgggggggggggggg antenna. They try to blend in with plants by bending their abdomen out to emulate a stick or thin branch on dried out stalks of grasses. Take my word for it, they can be very convincing.   The adults eat “on the wing”, similar to dragonflies.

I will fool you by looking like a stick

Rather than laying eggs underground like the Ant Lion, they go high, laying eggs along the stalk of tall dried grasses. The larva has a similar appearance to the Ant Lion with scary looking mandibles. When the larva hatch they congregate briefly before heading down into the leaf litter or up into trees to chow down in a solitary fashion.  They can be cannibalistic so they part ways with their siblings rather quickly.  When they are fattened up, they build their cocoons in the leaf litter.

Check out the Owlfly eggs. They are very tiny

This brings up an important point.   At all times of year it is imperative to leave some uncut debris as habitat to support these beneficial insects.  If you clear away every last stalk of dried grasses, Owlflies have no place to lay their eggs.  If you clear away all the leaf litter, they have no where to prey upon insects and no safe environment to form their cocoons.

Owl Fly larvae are an interesting bunch

I used to think that cutting down the dried native grass seedheads in spring while leaving the remains in a brush pile was adequate for use by the fauna. After all, the debris was available for the birds to pick up as building materials and any insects would still be there…like a centralized buffet. After seeing the habitat necessary for the Owlfly, I leave quite a bit of tall dead materials for them to use as support structures to lay their eggs. The resulting increase in the numbers of Owlflies at my place has proved quite rewarding.

Leave some tall dried brush for the Owl Fly

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on June 13, 2014 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Flipping My Earwig

Dateline: August 9, 2013*

Earwigs (Doru taeniatum) are predators of aphids and others

When I think of earwigs I recall my youth and the creepy crawly insects that were hidden in our somewhat damp basement.  Never did I consider that they could be beneficial in any way.

Of course likely those I encountered in the past were exotics. Earwigs,

“can devastate seedling vegetables or annual flowers and often seriously damage maturing soft fruit or corn silks, they also have a beneficial role in the landscape and have been shown to be important predators of aphids.

Another benefit is that earwigs eliminate decaying organic materials from the environment. They eat algae, fungi, mosses, pollen as well as insects, spiders and mites both dead and live.

Two of the younger members of the clan

This week I discovered a family living in the folds of a Redroot (Lachnanthes caroliniana) leaf.  I was thrilled to discover they are a native variety called the Lined Earwig (Doru taeniatum).  With its bright, shiny pallor that glistens in the sunshine it doesn’t seem creepy to me at all.

Enjoying the sunshine while dancing on the Bidens alba

Earwigs are generally nocturnal, although I’ve seen my guys out and about during the day in recent times,  dancing quickly up and down the Bidens alba and grass seedheads.  The genus Doru are important caterpillar predators and have a particular taste for the egg of the velvetbean caterpillar, a pest of pod plants especially soybeans.

Family oriented

Unlike a lot of the insect world, the momma earwigs provide care to their offspring, feeding their nymphs through regurgitation.  They do, however, seem to play favorites.

Still growing up, this one doesnt seem to quite have full wings.

Rumor has it that they fly, but I my bunch didn’t take to the airways.  An earwig’s defense mechanism is to squirt foul smelling liquid or use the pinchers to…well…PINCH! Stand back and keep your fingers away, or just don’t annoy the little buggers.

Tachinid Flies are an enemy of earwigs

Predators include the Tachinid fly, toads, birds, chickens and ducks.  On a good note, natural enemies of the exotics, include arboreal earwigs (Doru taeniatum). So, I’m welcoming my new little friends!

Out and about in the sunshine eating Bahai grass seedhead (YAY!!!)

While large populations may damage grass and be a pest if they get inside your home, they are generally harmless preying on more harmful insects.  Just use common sense to keep home areas free from dampness.

So, while earwigs as a family may be a mixed bag, I’d vote for keeping my friendly native genus around.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on August 9, 2013 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

The Mydas Touch

Dateline: May 13, 2011*

Lynx spider eating stink bug (a good thing)

I’m always excited when I find a new species to add to my “Florida buggy life-list”. Yes, I maintain a sort of life list of the insects and spiders that I am able to identify in my beautiful wildlife garden. I then try to determine whether of not they can prove to be beneficial in the garden. Some are a mixed bag, such as the Green Lynx spider. It is a spider, so it eats destructive bugs and is a food source for birds, but it also has a habit of eating pollinators. I tend to like them having observed grasshoppers in their clutches. I just hope that the pollinators are smart enough to avoid their grasp. At any rate, I suppose it is Mother Nature keeping us in balance. If a certain insect seems destructive, I learn how to control them without resorting to chemicals, much as I did with the Cottonwood Leaf Beetle where I used handpicking as my method of control. (Editor’s note:  as I have evolved and learned more about wildlife gardening, I would not put handpicked insects into soapy water, I would merely squish them and place them in the compost pile to be recycled back into the earth.)

Lynx eating pollinator (not such a good thing)

Amazingly, I find new insect species all the time, despite having lived in this location 5 years. This week was no exception. I was outside with the dogs having an afternoon stroll in record high heat when I saw a VERY LARGE insect land on the wood chip mulch pile. I was excited because it was something I had never seen before. I had to race to get a camera and unfortunately, the one that was “loaded” was my zoom camera which I generally don’t use for the insect pictures since I’m not good at getting close-up detail with it (thus the less-than-quality photo). I zeroed in as best I could and snapped a few shots. My initial thought was that it was some sort of robberfly.

When “new bug” flew off, I headed to the computer to do some research. “Black orange robberfly Florida” was what I put into my Goodsearch search engine that is powered by Yahoo (not a Google fan). I scanned the results and saw there was a listing from whatsthatbug.com, a favorite insect ID site of mine. Sure enough, there was a picture of my finding, Mydas Fly (Mydas clavatus). Then, as I always do, I headed on over to bugguide.net to confirm my findings and to see what information I could learn:

Adults sometimes found on flowers, presumably taking nectar. Some sources say adults take caterpillars, flies, bees, and true bugs. Others are skeptical of this. Bugguide further expands, “Eggs are laid singly in soil or rotting wood. … Mydas larvae prey on beetle larvae, esp. those of June beetles. Larvae pupate close to soil (or wood?) surface… Adults are active only in mid-summer. Mating system in this species unknown.”

Mydas Fly


Since the University of Florida didn’t have it listed as a “Featured Creature”, I turned to the University of Arkansas who, in addition to behavioral data, stated:

“…Adults were long presumed to be predaceous, but the lack of mandibles along with other features of mouthpart morphology and observations of flower feeding tend to indicate that they consume nectar.”… Larvae are associated with decaying stumps and logs, where they feed on scarab beetle larvae.

Bottom line: I vote beneficial. Flower feeding always produces some pollination ability. Got grubs? Mydas Fly larvae will help in control, although the birds might not want to share those delectables.

What are your favorite insects?

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on May 13, 2011 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

 

Balance in the Garden: Can Fruit Flies Help Weed Control?

Dateline: February 7, 2015*

A tiny fruit fly on Bidens alba

Funny that when I think of fruit flies I immediately feel the need to swat something around the bowl of fruit on the counter or rinse the nearest apple. They really don’t conjure up visions of garden weeds.

But, if you think of fruit in terms of a dictionary definition:

The ripened ovary or ovaries of a seed-bearing plant, together with accessory parts, containing the seeds and occurring in a wide variety of forms.”

you might just come around to realizing that a fruit fly can play a role in keeping some weedy plants in check.

According to the USDA many species in the Fruit Fly (Tephritidae) family are economically important. Some damage fruit and other crops, while other species are used as agents of biological control to reduce populations of pest weed species.

Meet my new fruit fly friend (Dioxyna sp. likely picciola). A pretty little thing with picturesque wings, I spotted this miniscule fly on some Florida native Spanish Needle flowers (Bidens alba). Mind you, it is so tiny that I didn’t really see it with my naked eye. I saw some movement on the flower so I took a close-up photo and investigated my find via the zoom of the computer screen.

Mating pair of fruit flies

I thought my friend was just enjoying the nectar of this “pollinator’s dream” native plant, but a few days later I captured a photo of a mating pair and come to find out that this particular species of diptera may be using the B. alba as a host plant. It may also use other members of the Aster family such as Coreopsis sp.

So, the fly I initially saw might have been laying eggs in the fruits of the flowers, which is not to say they aren’t drinking some of the sweet elixir at the same time.

They have such beautiful wing markings

If they indeed use the seed as a host, well, it would make sense that this might inhibit some seed from being viable, thus keeping down the numbers of fertile individuals available to be scattered by wind, rain or animal for replanting. Mom Nature…such a smarty with her built in checks and balances!

Is there a resulting cause and effect from the human inclination to control insects in the quest for unblemished, perfect fruit? Does killing a fruit fly that might nosh on the fleshy part of a plum also kill the fruit fly that noshes on the seeds of a plant with aggressive tendencies?

We need to rethink our approach in the garden. Stop worrying about the perfection of flowers and minor spots on fruits and start thinking about the overall roll of flora and fauna in the scheme of things.

Rejoice not only when a butterfly caterpillar chews on your plants, but also rejoice when ANY of the arthropods chew away. A sustainable, working garden should be the goal.

Spanish Needles (Bidens alba) have prolific amounts of seeds, so having a readily available biological control agent is great

In addition, these flies will do double duty and serve as food for predators such as reptiles, amphibians and spiders and act as hosts for parasitic wasps and others. That’s what makes the world go round.

Crab Spider on B. alba: waiting for a fruit fly meal?

Consider that each element in your beautiful wildlife garden works hand in hand with other elements, so it is important to allow each element to perform the job intended and not alter it so drastically through use of chemicals to control insects we may find offensive. A pest of one may be a meal for another.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on February 7, 2015 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Resources:

General Reference for Fruit Fly ProgramsTephritidae, Developed by: USDA,APHIS,PPQ, Pest Detection and Management Programs, Prepared by: Jeffrey N.L. Stibick,Date: March, 2004