I remember when I first moved to Florida I saw what I thought was a HUGE mosquito, thinking that there were mutant bugs down here, big enough to drain a body of blood in one gulp. They certainly look like mosquitoes, but the poor critters are swatted and squished all due to a case of mistaken identity. The flying mimics are actually crane flies and they don’t bite.
Crane flies are beneficial in our gardens. Some species’ larvae are aquatic while others spend their youth in the soil. Both break down organic matter, returning nutrients to their respective habitats. As with most of nature, occasionally too much of a good thing can pose a problem. Some crane fly species can be a pest to agriculture. That’s why it is so important to have a balanced garden. Avoid pesticide use as chemicals kill the good bugs as well as the bad, and often kill those bugs that will control others to avoid them becoming pests.
Both larval and adult crane flies provide an important food source for birds, reptiles, spiders, fish and other insects such as dragonflies, mantids, centipedes and beetles. Fishermen have been known to use the larval stage of members of the family Tipulidae (Large Crane Flies) as bait. As you can see, there are plenty of predators to keep the population in order.
Tipulidae is the largest family in the Order Diptera. Given this, identification can be mind-boggling. You can find out everything you ever wanted to know about the anatomy of a crane fly at that identification key link. Suffice to say I was unable (or unwilling) to crawl around counting wing lines or antenna segments…that and I really don’t wear my reading glasses when I am walking around the property calling on critters for a photo shoot. Old eyes can’t see tiny nuances.
Crane flies undergo complete metamorphosis. Some species have an elongated rostrum (think Pinocchio), a straw-like appendage used to draw nectar from flowers. Thus, we can conclude that they also perform pollination duties.
I noticed that most of the time when I see the adults fly it is when it is slightly damp or overcast, so if it is daytime and you see a mutant mosquito, take a good look before you swat. You may be saving the life of an insect that will help your wildlife garden grow more beautiful.
*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on January 11, 2013 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.
It is Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia viridans) season at my place. Every year at this time they set up shop…often you’ll find them hovering and protecting their egg sac for weeks. Momma does tend to the little ones. While technically spiders are not insects as they have 8 legs (they are Arachnids), most of us refer to them as bugs since they hang out in plants and can be creepy crawlies.
In the past I’ve seen the Lynx spiders mostly on the Goldenrods (Solidago spp.) or Carolina Redroot(Lachnanthes caroliana) Occasionally they’ll live and nest in the leaves of the American Beautyberry Shrubs (Callicarpa americana). All of these plants are native here in Florida.
This year I found they are expanding their choice of flora, perhaps it is because they have expanded their taste palate. Tasty morsels in various forms appear all over the garden.
The Green Lynx Spiders are hunting spiders that live on a diet of insects. While it often partakes in pest species such as leaf-footed or stink bugs, it may just as easily grab pollinators, making it a mixed bag of beneficial depending on your view in the wildlife garden.
This week I had a fun encounter in that I saw two Green Lynx Spiders wrestling over a pollinator. I’m guessing a syrphid fly. The spiders were lurking for a few days on the Water Cowbane (Tiedemannia filiformis), an emersed plant at the edge of my pond. The larger of the two spiders had the insect in its grasp. They started a sort of boxing match as the small one headed down the plant taking a swipe at the larger. As they were bobbing and weaving they each swatted at each other while the other flinched.
Water Cowbane, a member of the carrot family, is a Florida Native larval host for the Black Swallowtail Butterfly. I did notice some missing caterpillars, but didn’t actually catch the lynx spiders in the act. Since there were Longjawed Orbweaver Spiders (Tetragnatha spp.) and Arabesque Orbweaver Spiders (Neoscona arabesca) nesting nearby, I’m not going to place the blame unless I see with my own eyes. It could have been any of the lurkers, some with their fancy webs and quick movements.
I didn’t hang around long enough to observe which of the two Lynx won the battle of the bug, but both spiders were there the next day and the formerly-flying insect was gone. Perhaps they decided on a truce and to share dinner.
The Green Lynx Spider uses a silk line, but doesn’t actually construct a web. It captures its prey by pouncing on the unsuspecting victim, likely when the victims are getting drunk from feeding on nectar and not paying attention.
I was a bit dismayed that on one particular day, I saw one Lynx with a pretty little dragonfly in its grasp. Alas, I’ve learned that nature has its ways and we shouldn’t place a higher value on the life of one native species over another.
At any rate, there is plenty of Spider activity throughout the garden. I am patiently waiting for the miracle of birth as there are many egg sacs in the various plants around my place.
Past years has shown that a spider birth is an event not to be missed. If you think that octets might be a handful, just imagine a hundred spiders all vying for sustenance. It is a sight to behold. Of course you’ll probably get a bit itchy at the view.
The Green Lynx Spider is not considered harmful although as with most spiders, it can bite. Of course if you are allergic to arachnids, you should be prudent in interacting with any spider.
With their eyecatching bright green coloring and their willingness to stand their ground while being observed, the green Lynx Spider is a welcome addition to my wildlife garden.
*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on October 13, 2014 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.
When most people see aphids on their plants they immediately seek help on how to eliminate them often grabbing a bottle of soapy water or some other recommended concoction. Me? I get positively giddy with delight.
You see, aphids are on one of the low rungs on the web of life partner’s ladder. They serve as a feast for others, growing a variety of pollinators and ultimately reptiles, amphibians and birds. Where there are aphids, critters on the next link in the food chain are sure to follow.
I’ve written before how aphids are much like butterflies in that they flock to particular host plants. You can often identify the species by using the aphid host database although you might only narrow things down to genus.
This week I got giddy…VERY giddy. I spotted some aphids on the Bidens alba, my all-time favorite Florida native plant. You would be hard-pressed to find any aphid damage on the B. alba…it grows quickly and any chewing or sucking damage is quickly covered by new leaf growth. More importantly, what followed my spotting of the aphids was a parade of critters and the benefits abound.
In my research I learned about a new-to-me aphid web of life partner. The Braconid wasp. While cropping photos I noticed an insect I was not familiar with. Turns out it was an “aphid mummy”. Braconid wasps in the subfamily Aphidiinae are parasitoids and oviposit their eggs in aphids. What I was seeing was an aphid that had been parasitized. Soon a tiny beneficial wasp will emerge.
The waste aphids produce is known as [honeydew]. I found the following of interest:
So, if you remove aphids from your plants you may defeat attracting future generations of beneficials. Given, I would treat aphids on a houseplant by wiping them off since natural predators won’t have ready access to perform pest control indoors and thus the plant would suffer. On the other hand, its seems that aphids on your outdoor plants can benefit your garden by attracting those wonderful pollinators, predators and parasitoids especially those whose larvae use aphids as hosts.
Don’t spray the aphids and then buy commercial ladybugs in an attempt to keep them in check. Likely, you’ll only to have them fly off. If you already removed the aphids or discouraged them in any way, adult ladybugs will go to lay their eggs where there is an ample supply of the host for their young…like my house. 😉
While other branches of the Bidens had signs of aphids from time to time, the branch in the original photo was scoured clean within a day. Give natural control a chance to develop and hopefully you will see the circle of life perform beautifully at your place too.
Tip: Group different genera of plants native to your area using the “right plant, right place” theory and avoid monocultures. That way your garden will attract a mix of native insects and predators and never look overly chewed since it will have balance just like Mother Nature intended.
ENTFACT-105: Ladybugs by Ric Bessin, Extension Entomologist, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture
Hoffmann, M.P. and Frodsham, A.C. (1993) Natural Enemies of Vegetable Insect Pests. Cooperative Extension, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. 63 pp. (Anthony Shelton, editor). Accessed August 27, 2017, from http://www.biocontrol.entomology.cornell.edu/
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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. 😉
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.
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 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 modialis) Host: Creeping Cucumber (Melothria pendula). This poor preyed-upon specimen is still the only one I have encountered.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
*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.
National Moth Week is a global celebration of moths and biodiversity, being held the last week of July.
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.
I’ve talked diurnal moths in the past. Those fly during the day. Often they are pretty enough to rival the beauty of butterflies.
There are HUGE moths, many of which produce silk as reported by Ellen Sousa.
And there are shiny moths:
I’ve tried to alleviate fears of some caterpillars decimating your trees with hints on how to control them in an environmentally sound way.
How some dress up to disguise themselves from predators.
There are moths that have unusual shapes:
And some that have interesting markings:
Some are in love:
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.
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.
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.
Moths have feathery antenna, which is one of the ways they can be distinguished from the butterfly, which have clubbed antenna.
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.
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.
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.
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!
*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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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!
*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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Next up in the world of Myrmeleontiformia are Owlflies, members of the Ascalaphidae Family. The Owlfly I have encountered is in the Genus Ululodes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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.