Archive for the 'Insects, Fish, Frogs' Category

Jul 07 2014

Invasion of the Billbugs

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Billbug on a window (photo by Kate St. John)

A week ago these bugs were everywhere, so many that they made the news.

I noticed them on June 30 when I saw more than twenty tiny dark bugs perched on the outside of my office window.  What bugs were these, why were there so many of them, and why were they on the window?

Other people encountered the bugs too — at poolsides, on car roofs, in backyards — and they were scared because the bugs looked like engorged ticks.

Though close in size to ticks, I could tell these were not because:

  • Ticks are Arachnids, related to spiders. They have 8 legs. These bugs have 6.
  • Ticks don’t have wings.  These bugs have wings under their elytra (wing covers) and though they weren’t flying very much I saw a few of them raise their wing covers and suddenly fly away.
  • Ticks do not have snouts.  These bugs have snouts(!) like inflexible elephants’ trunks.
  • Ticks never swarm .. and that’s what these bugs were doing.

Using Google and BugGuide.net I narrowed their identity to some sort of snout and bark weevil.  But which one?  And why were there so many of them?

Meanwhile public fear and misunderstanding prompted KDKA to call the Allegheny County Health Department’s Entymologist, Bill Todaro for information.  He knew what they were right away: Nut and Acorn Weevils. Also called billbugs, they eat only plants, never bite people, and swarm in late June because they’re looking for a member of the opposite sex to mate with.

Here’s an annotated closeup of one of the Nut and Acorn Weevils on my office window.  This is a view of his underside because he was outside on the glass.

Nut and Acorn Weevil on the window, 1 July 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

So, they were really nothing to worry about.  They were courting.  We just never noticed them before.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Jul 05 2014

What The Bee Sees

Pale touch-me-not (photo by Kate St. John)

Blooming now in southwestern Pennsylvania, Pale Touch-me-not (Impatiens pallida) beacons to bees with its yellow landing pad.

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Jun 29 2014

Color On The Wing

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Calico pennant (photo by Charlie Hickey)

If you’re like me, you’re in the midst of a low spot in the birding year.  There are lots of birds in Pennsylvania right now but they’re secretive because they’re nesting, and they’re going to stop singing in July.  Sigh.  (Check out this graph of the birders’ emotional year to see what I mean.)

However, it’s Bug Season!  Beautiful bugs are here to fill our need for color on the wing.

In June Charlie Hickey and his wife watch for the dragonflies to emerge from the lake at their backyard in Berks County.  Charlie posted this Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa) on his Flickr page on June 5, the day they first appeared.

Dragonflies come in so many colors: blue and green Eastern Pondhawks, golden Eastern Amberwings, black and white Widow Skimmers.  My very favorite is the black and iridescent blue Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly.

Click here to see Charlie’s Odonata (dragonfly) album.  So many colors on the wing!

 

(photo by Charlie Hickey)

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Apr 09 2014

Jeepers Creepers

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Because I live in the city, I have to leave home to hear frogs calling.  Though there are streams and a wetland in Schenley Park, the wetland is too recently restored and probably too isolated to have spring peepers.  The park is surrounded by dense city neighborhoods and all of its water flows into a mile-long culvert that takes it to the Monongahela River. Where would frogs and fish come from?  Not from downstream.

So I was delighted to hear spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) by the Sunken Garden Trail at Moraine State Park last Sunday.  I made a point of sitting near the wetland, surrounded by their sound.  Hundreds of them called in front of me but I couldn’t see even one because they’re so small and good at hiding.  The video above (from Wisconsin) shows how tiny they are.

As a group the peepers were almost deafening but I heard two wood frogs and a single creaking sound among them.  It sounded like a western chorus frog but it was probably an angry spring peeper.  Wikipedia says, “As in other frogs, an aggressive call is made [by spring peepers] when densities are high. This call is a rising trill closely resembling the breeding call of the southern chorus frog.”

The video below gives you an idea of what I heard.  Listen for the quacking of wood frogs at the beginning.

Jeepers creepers, do you hear the peepers?

Update: Check the comments for places where readers have heard peepers in the City!

(videos from YouTube)

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Mar 27 2014

Any Wood Frogs Yet?

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

This month I wrote about ducks that sound like frogs.  Here are some frogs that sound like ducks.

Wood frogs are often the first frogs to appear in the spring in eastern North America, quickly followed by spring peepers.  As the video indicates temperatures have to be in the 40s for the wood frogs to “wake up,” but western Pennsylvania hasn’t had a lot of warm weather yet.

The cold winter has made a difference.  Two years ago we had an exceptionally warm spring and the frogs came out in early March.  This year we’ve had a few blips of warm weather surrounded by temperatures in the teens, a discouraging combination for cold-blooded frogs.

Today we’re headed for a spate for warm weather that may signal the end of winter’s grip.  We’ll know it’s really spring when we hear frogs calling.

Have you heard any wood frogs yet?

 

(video from Great Smoky Mountains Association)

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Mar 17 2014

No Snakes Day

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Grass snake (photo from Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons license)

If you are afraid of snakes, you’ll be happy to know that this day celebrates someone who banished them from an island.

Legend has it that St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, chased all the snakes into the sea after they attacked him during a 40-day fast.

In fact, there were never any snakes in Ireland since the last glacial maximum.  St. Patrick’s legend may actually refer to the rise of Christianity and the end of Druid snake symbols.

In recent years biologists in Guam are trying to accomplish St. Patrick’s legendary feat.  Invasive brown tree snakes are devastating the island’s native birds.  The snakes must go.   So far the most ingenious plan has been to air drop 2,000 mice wearing tiny parachutes.  The mice were dead bait laced with a very small dose of acetaminophen that kills the brown tree snake but nothing else.

There was no need for St. Patrick to eradicate this grass snake from Ireland.  Photographed in Europe, it cannot cross the sea.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons license. Click on the image to see the original)

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Nov 10 2013

Face In A Gall

Oak apple gall that looks like a face (photo by Kate St. John)

Before the oaks leafed out last spring I found this oak apple gall on a seedling at Cedar Creek Park.

When I bent down to look closely I saw the face.

Now that the leaves have fallen, look for fun features like this on the bare trees.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Oct 25 2013

An Alien Takes Aim At Old Treasures

Hemlock woolly adelgid at Jacobsburg (photo by Nicholas A, Tonelli via Wikimedia Commons)

Last spring the hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) reached Cooks Forest, scary news for the old-growth eastern hemlocks there.

The pest is easy to recognize by its white egg sacs that cling to the underside of the branches.  They kill hemlocks by sucking the juice out of the needles.  Infected trees look gray-green instead of deep green and, under a heavy infestation like the one shown above, can die in only four years.  This is sad anywhere but especially unfortunate in Cooks Forest where the old growth hemlocks are over 300 years old.

It has taken a long time for the bug to reach Cooks Forest.  HWA arrived from Asia in 1924 but moved very slowly across the eastern U.S.  By 2007 it was present in 50% of the eastern hemlock’s range, unable to spread far northward because of harsh winters. Unfortunately our climate is warming so new adelgid territory opens up every year. (Notice on this NOAA plant hardiness map that the location of Cooks Forest warmed enough to change growing zones.)

HWA was first spotted in eastern Pennsylvania in 1967 but took about four decades to cross the Allegheny Front into western PA.  Slowly, slowly it crept toward Cooks Forest.  By 2010 it was in the vicinity.  This year it was there.

Knowing the imminent danger DCNR has treated the area and the old growth trees.  They use biological controls — Asian beetles that eat adelgids, though not enough of them — and soil or bole-injected insecticides on specific trees.  The poisons are systemic, similar in concept to the insecticide treatments for emerald ash borer that kill or repel all insects.  The treated trees will have fewer insects living on them.  Will this make them less useful to birds?

The question hardly matters.  Nature can’t produce a 300 year old hemlock as fast as the adelgids can destroy one.   In the case of our oldest treasures our task is clear.  Save these trees if we can.

For more information on the hemlock woolly adelgid, click here for DCNR’s report.

 

(photo via Wikimedia Commons by Nicholas A. Tonelli at Jacobsburg, Northampton County, PA. Click on the image to see the original)

 

p.s. Thanks to Kim Getz for alerting me to this news.  Because of the adelgids activity cycle, DCNR treated the old-growth trees in May and again in October.

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Oct 15 2013

Breaking And Entering

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Stinkbug on the falconcam (National Aviary falconcam at the University of Pittsburgh)

Look closely at the big dark blob near the top of this picture.

Ewwww.  It’s a brown marmorated stinkbug!

So many stinkbugs were searching for cracks to crawl into last weekend that one tried the falconcam and triggered this motion detection snapshot.

How many security cameras have taken stinkbug photos this month?

How many stinkbugs have broken in?

 

(snapshot from the National Aviary falconcam at the University of Pittsburgh)

4 responses so far

Oct 07 2013

On Caffeine

Spider webs with and without the spide on caffeine (photo from Wikipedia)

This blog is made possible by caffeine…  administered every morning in a 16 oz mug of coffee at 5:00am.  Boing!  I’m awake!   It works.  And it makes me happy.

Apparently it is not good for everyone.

According to Wikipedia, Swiss pharmacologist Peter Witt began testing different drugs on European garden spiders in 1948 because a zoologist friend of his, H. M. Peters, was annoyed that the spiders always wove their webs between 2:00am and 5:00am.  Dr. Peters wanted to study web building when he was awake, not when the spiders were.

Naturally it made sense to try caffeine.  Perhaps it would keep the spiders awake longer so that they’d “sleep in” and start weaving after dawn.

Not so!  Instead of time-shifting their web construction, caffeine made the spiders build whacky dysfunctional webs.

In 1995 NASA conducted a similar study and took photographs of the spider webs both before and after caffeine (above).

So much for Dr. Peters’ brilliant idea.  He was forced to study his subjects in the dark.  I’m sure he had to be on caffeine to do it.

Happy Monday.

(photos from Wikipedia. Click on the image to see the original)

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