Sunday, November 27, 2022

Blister Beetle!

A few weeks ago, before it got cold, this inch-long beetle crossed my path. It will probably be the last flashy outdoor insect of the year. It's a sensational one -- a blister beetle in the genus Meloe. Click to enlarge.

It's also called an oil beetle. They are famous for producing a defensive yellow oil from their joints when threatened. The oil contains cantharadin, which causes blistering on human skin. 

 It's also famous having a first larval stage that is radically different from its subsequent grub style larval stages. It's called a triangulan. It's tiny, kind of looks like a silverfish, and has three claws on each of its legs from which it gets the name. It's built to travel to a food source. It's only job is to hitchhike on a bee. 

Each species of Meloe beetle preys on a specific kind of ground-dwelling solitary bee. The kind of bee that makes a little nest in the ground, provisions it with pollen, and leaves eggs there to eat and grow. If the blister beetles have their way, those well planned bee babies either end up sharing their food supply or being eaten. 

Meloe triangulans can work together to do something remarkable to get to those bees. They aggregate on a plant and produce chemicals that mimic female bee pheremones. A unwitting amorous male bee attracted to the scent ends up at a ball of tiny insects that latch onto him. When he finds a real female bee to mate with some of the triagulans are transferred to her and get taken back to her nest where they drop off and start pillaging. 

What an amazing product of insect evolution crossed my path that day! 

If you see one of these -- big, dark, long body, short wing covers -- don't touch! 

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving!


One of our neighborhood turkeys. Click to enlarge.


by Clyde Watson

November comes and November goes. 

With the last red berries and the first white snows.

With night coming early and dawn coming late. 

And ice in the bucket and frost on the gate.

The fires burn and the kettles sing.

The earth sinks to rest until next spring. 

Wishing you all another year filled with things to be thankful for! 

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Hermit Thrush


As I stood outside one recent morning, sipping coffee and waiting to wake up, I noticed this bird near me. It stayed very still for a long time. Long enough for me to get my camera and stage a photo shoot. Was it tired from migrating? Click to enlarge.

It's a hermit thrush! Note the spotted breast and throat and the contrasting reddish tail. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology you are more likely to see a hermit thrush in the woods than in a suburban backyard. Except during migration, when one might stop by to forage.

Right again, ornithologists.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Good News Bee, er... Fly


A couple of weeks ago I was in these mountains around Centralia, PA. I was hunting for plant fossils on a big patch of exposed shale; I'll be showing off the fossils I found in an upcoming blog soon. Among many pleasant sights of the day, this...

It was buzzing around ostentatiously, making noise, and flying near me. I thought it was an aggressive wasp at first because of the bright yellow and black stripes. It flew away before I got a better look. Only after seeing the photo did I realize it was a big fly. It's a hover fly or flower fly -- a harmless wasp mimic. It's common name is the Yellowjacket Hover Fly. Click to enlarge.

You can see the tell-tale fly features: a single pair of wings, compound fly eyes, and short antennae. They presumably evade the attention of fly predators by looking like wasps. They actually are helpful pollinators and their larvae eat aphids. All good.

I am not often impressed by an insect's personality, but I felt like that fly wanted to be noticed. Later I read that in some parts of the country hover flies are called "good news bees" because of their habit of hovering nearby as if wanting to tell you something.