Posts Tagged ‘Insect’

Things are definately happening inside the cecropia moth cocoons!

Most of them are strapped on to the lilac bush outside (held in place with plastic wire ties around the branches NOT the cocoons) but a few are still left in my inside cage. I took a good look at the outside ones today and they are looking swollen and…well, just different. I think they will emerge any day (night) now.

The ones inside will probably not emerge as soon, but I do hear sounds of movement coming from within them. Wheee! I really hope I can get a nice picture of them before I release them.

In the meantime, please enjoy this short time lapse video giving you an idea of what’s happening inside their silky cocoons:

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Something has been chomping on my outdoor (recently freed) cecropia caterpillars. At first, I thought it must be the marauding packs of house sparrows, which seem to pick the yard clean of anything that moves. Yesterday, however, I discovered the true fiend: yellow jacket wasps (insert dramatic music crescendo here).

They will search out the feeding caterpillars and fly in and nip off a bite. It looks like they start on the knobs and then start taking chunks out of the meaty bits. Now, having worked as a naturalist and also as a volunteer at a wildlife rehabilitation center, my “ick” reflex is pretty strong (try having a sick woodchuck sneeze green snot all over YOUR face…) but being slowly eaten alive by wasps…ICK!!!

Not a pretty way to go. And the caterpillar ooze (oh, sure, that’s the scientific name…just as “thingy” and “whatchamahoozit” are valid, too) is a horrible black, tarry mess.

Still, I am hoping some survive, as there is just no way to protect these wild caterpillars from everything out to get them. I still have about twelve I am continuing to raise inside, so keep your fingers crossed.

—As a side note, one year when I was in high school, a yellow jacket queen made her nest up against one of the windows in my room that was missing a screen and was always covered up by curtains (it looked directly out and into the neighbors house less than four feet away). In a few months, it became quite a large nest and I had an actual cross-section view into it whenever I lifted the cutains…very cool! Wish I had taken some pictures back then.            

—I’m just glad the nest wasn’t as big as these monster ones. Look at the one in the car!

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Just so you know: caterpillars are high maintenance pets! When they were little, all I had to do was put in some fresh branches and change the paper towels every few days. Now, I am lucky if I don’t have to put in MORE branches 12 hours later in the day. (The caterpillars are up to about 4 inches in length).

Getting Big

Getting Big

It’s a good thing that so many wild caterpillars get eaten or we would have denuded trees!

Also, as the caterpillars grow so does the size of their frass (poop). And it’s kinda stinky, which surprised me as it’s just processed plant materials…     I wonder if the frass is good to fertilize the garden?

Frass in one hand and wish in the other....

Frass in one hand and wish in the other....

I have had fun observing my cecropia moth caterpillars grow but I am ready to let them go. Tonight I set free about 10 of them onto our backyard lilac bush. Sadly, many of the ones I let go last week have been eaten but such is they way of things. One fell off (I am guessing) and was found on the ground half eaten by ants.

One thing you must have to raise these guys: patience. You cannot simply pluck them off a branch, as they will hold onto a branch until their little claspers break off (no, I have not done this, but trust me, it can happen). You have to coax them onto another branch or your hand to move them. And they are not very speedy.

A hungry caterpillar can be motivated to move toward a fresh leaf, though. I have no idea how they detect their food source (smell or some version of it??) but they can locate fresh leaves from across one side of the cage and will move rapidly toward them.

Here are some pictures of the cage I came up with: a large, plastic flower pot covered with flexible screen mesh.


Also, be sure not to disturb them when they are resting and getting ready to shed their skin. They will jerk their body from side to side if you (or another caterpillar) accidentally bump them. You might be able to see the silk pad they use to anchor themselves to a branch (or the top of the cage, in my case) when they are in this resting phase. They sometimes hold themselves in what I like to call the Mr. Burns pose (a la The Simpsons), with their head extended back and legs curled up together.

Silk pad

Silk pad




It’s interesting how many variations there are in their color and shading as they grow bigger. The younger ones are a deep leaf green and then turn yellow green to milky green. Then their knob (hur hur) colors change from red to orange.

Now orange!

Now orange!


Big Fella

Big Fella

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Here’s a picture of my latest house guests:

Last month, a presenter we had at the library brought in some cecropia moths she has been rearing. They had mated and the female laid eggs all over the cage. The woman insisted I take some eggs home with me (I think she just wanted to thin out the herd…).

So, I now have a cage full of these caterpillars. As I was changing their branch today, I noticed that two of them are now starting to look very colorful like the late instar. I can’t wait until they are bigger. Although…where I will put them then is anyone’s guess. (Linda, I think I have a present for you…)

A number of them have bit the dust, as I expected a few would. Still, that leaves me with around 30. I have been raising them on lilac, so I’m not sure they will change food sources this late in the game. Frankly, I don’t know a thing about them. There is a great site here with some photos and info, but other sites usually say something like, “look in the guide book to determine food source plants.”

Eventually, i will need to either free them outside so they can pupate or find a really big cage for them to make their cocoons in and then stick it out in the garage for the winter. I think I’ll at least keep one or two (assuming I can get them this far) so I can see them emerge next year. The moths are so big and beautiful!

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I happened to look at the Yahoo article on the endangered Mississippi gopher frog… and then did some more searching and found this interesting article from the Georgia area Nature Conservancy.

Check out what a gopher frog sounds like here. Hmmm…are we sure they didn’t just tape my husband sleeping? ;-p

Best of all: they glow!

“Before they were released, John Jensen of the Georgia DNR injected all four metamorphosed frogs and many of the legged tadpoles with a small amount of fluorescent elastomer under the skin of the thighs.

Harmless to the critters, this bright orange substance illuminates under black light, allowing biologists to monitor the progress of these individuals as they continue to grow and breed.”

I suppose it’s only a matter of time before you can buy glow-in-the-dark frogs commercially (probably make a fortune selling them at a rave).

Here’s another nice article mentioning how they sometimes cover their eyes when picked up.

Finally, I bought the coolest insect toy (hey, it’s research for the children’s library…yeah, that’s the ticket…): BugBonz

I’m going to have to go back and buy the big set: ExoBonz Deluxe!


You gotta love a company that makes these toys and publishes some top notch children’s books. Curious Pictures / Curious Toys publishes two of my favorite kids books:

 Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems (who, I just now discovered, is the director of Curious Pictures!)

Knuffle Bunny also by Mo Willems

{also found the Barbie “punk butterfly princess” on their site… which is just odd}

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So…what’s up with this recent trend in “before you die” literature?! (Let’s call them BYD books).

I see these books at the front of bookstores, mentioned in magazine articles and, most recently, featured in the new books section of my library. January’s issue of the Smithsonian has an article talking about all of this.  Can we blame this on the Boomers, too? It is certainly targeted at a certain demographic and income bracket.

How many of us can afford to visit fabulous but often far, far away places? Here is the description of some events you must do BYD according to one book:

Dog-sledding, Sweden — Aboriginal dreaming, Australia — Crossing the divide, Turkey — Exploring rainforest and reef, Belize — Châteaux and wine-tasting, France — River-running, Zambia — Flying safari, Namibia — Tracking spirit bears, Canada — Fly-fishing and whisky, Scotland — Hiking through Arches, USA — Tasting warrior life, Mongolia — ‘Lost world’ river journey, Venezuela — Himalayan adventure, Nepal — Watching Aida, Italy — Driving Californian surf, USA — Swimming in thermal spas, Iceland — Gambling and glitz, USA — Riding elephants, Nepal — Heli-hiking in the Rockies, Canada — Felucca down the Nile, Egypt — Climbing a volcano, Guatemala — Trekking the Milford Track, New Zealand — Camel trekking, Jordan — Partying at Mardi Gras, USA — Red Sea diving, Egypt — Riding white horses, New Zealand — Walking the wall, China — Discovering wild flowers, Crete — Finding paradise, the Maldives — Souk shopping, Morocco — Following wildebeest, Tanzania — Palace on wheels, India — Trekking Torres del Paine, Chile — Sea-kayaking Baja, Mexico — Rice-boat cruising, India — Skiing the Vallée Blanche, France — Cycling among rice paddies, Vietnam — Festival of the Sahara, Tunisia — Discovering a medieval city, Estonia — Searching for pearls, French Polynesia.

 Shouldn’t that book have been listed as: 1001 Things Millionaires Must do Before They Die ?!

And who has the time (or inclination for that matter) to find the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die useful? (OK, I am making a special exemption for my brother-in-law…but that’s his job to review them, after all). Our library also has these BYD books for albums, gardens, natural wonders, buildings and, of course, books.

And why the 1001 number? What, someone was watching too much of The Price is Right and decided to up the ante by one? (“What’s the highest bid so far? Well, then I bid 1000 and one…ha ha!”)

I will mention that I have been lucky enough to have seen some spectacular places/experiences (mainly on my parent’s dime when I was under eighteen). However, because I like you, I won’t list 1001 of them here:

  1. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon: Forget the congested, tacky South Rim and go to the real deal. Un-freakin-believable! (Hey, I’m a children’s librarian now…I have to wimp cuss). The best thing (apart from snow in the summer and cute squirrels) is the silence. No planes, no traffic or city sounds…just SILENCE.
  2. Zion National Park: because you almost have to go there to get to the North Rim and, again, A-mazing! See great photos of it here.
  3. The Louvre: Yeah, I went but I was 15 and being dragged there by my parents. Needless to say, I was not much of an art appreciator at that time although I do remember that: 1) the Mona Lisa is a very small painting and you can’t get close enough to really see it; 2) there is no way to see all of the art here in one day; 3)we walked a long, long way from the rail station to get there; 4) I whined about all of this (sorry Mom and Dad!)
  4. The Seychelles: World’s best kept secret Eden. I want to live here, walk on the beach and wear muumuus all day! Sigh…I really hope to go back here someday.
  5. The Phyllis Haehnle Audubon Sanctuary in Michigan: Being here on a cold, foggy day and hearing thousands of Sandhill Cranes calling as they flew in to land one fall evening…prehistoric, goosebump awe-inspiring sound!
  6. The Emergence of the Magicicada Brood: A couple of years ago in lower Michigan…Zowie! A most fantastic experience to hear the deafening noise and have hundreds of them flying around you (and I got to see this with my sister, who also appreciates the magic of this insect, too). I’m including a link to this site here simply because it has a very cool clip (scroll to halfway down the page) of an emerging dog day cicada and tons of other links at the end.

OK, I’m done for now…you get the idea.

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A midge-hood is just one of a number of extreme... (Picture from Scotsman.com)

Occasionally this blog mentions things about midges (phantom midges) and then things of a Scottish nature (kilts, flying ants in Scotland…). So now, I bring to you: Scottish Midges!

Apparently, they are quite a problem and not something the tourism bureau often mentions. Well, one in particular called the Highland Midge or Culicoides impunctatus (which just begs for a cartoon rendering of a midge in a kilt) is the culprit. Undiscovered Scotland has an interesting page about these midges here, with a link to the Midge Forecast (which is closed for the winter but will reopen when the midges are back…sort of like the swallows to Capistrano…well, OK, alike in that they both fly). June to August are the worst months.

According to the makers of Midgeater Max (who are backed by a reputable scientist):

Because it is found in such dense populations, it is estimated that in some parts of Scotland, a single hectare of land can host up to 50 million midges. That is a similar number to the total human population of the whole UK.  This means the equivalent of ten midges for every man, woman and child in the whole country.

I found out about the midges through this old story from the BBC News which talkes about the “splatometer.”

Now clap you hands along to the fabulous Midgie Song, which I just love!

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Spider Bread

How cool is this!? This was my present for Sweetest Day (don’t even get me started on what a sham “holiday” this is!) from my husband who knows me so well. I love it! Thanks to Wixey Bakery for another wonderful creation.

It is, however, definitely not for eating as it is a bit, uh, firm. Slightly reminiscent of the Loaf of Death. I’m going to use it as a centerpiece until it becomes all moldy (although then I could say it was a hairy wolf spider?)

This isn’t quite the same thing, but I am sure you can modify this recipe and get a similar spider bread creation. Happy Halloween!

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 Black blister beetle.jpg

Photo from Bruce Marlin, black blister beetle, Epicauta pannsylvanica shown on Goldenrod, Solidago sp.

When the goldenrod starts to bloom, I know it’s time for the rise of the blister beetle at a local park. Every year in the fall, the females and males meet up for a little beetle lovin’ at this one particular place (yes, they are many other places, too but they seem to be more noticeable at this spot).

The trouble is, there is a paved sidewalk right through Beetle Inspiration Point. Oh, the terrible beetle carnage that ensues! The poor things don’t stand a chance. It’s the busiest park in the county and on the most popular trail.

I’ve always liked the black shiny, iridescent beetles because they are not only beautiful but they seem to be stubborn as well. (Sure, that’s anthropomorphic of me, but it’s my blog and I don’t give a crap!) This is where they have always come to hook up and, by gum, they are going to keep on crossing that sidewalk come big, hulking feet of doom or not. If you try to move them off onto a leaf or steer them away from certain squish, they just stop, wave their antennae at you as if to say, “NOW what?!” and do not comply.

There’s a lot of cool stuff about these beetles. First off, here is a place to read about their interesting life cycle. And here’s some photos of some different blister beetles.

Then, you should listen to this podcast from CBC’s Quirks and Quarks program about some freaky blister beetle tricks (it’s the very first story, so you don’t have to listen long).

Of course, there IS a reason they are called blister beetles so I would not advise picking them up without caution and please do not eat them (or rub them on your naughty bits)! Otherwise, you might end up laying on the sidewalk next to them…see here for more gruesome details. Yeah, you really should just get the little blue pill from your doctor instead….;-)

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Weeding for Wasps

A few weekends ago, I was out mucking about in what I loosely call a garden and noticed an odd thing. I had let the weeding go for quite a while and then we had buckets of rain, so the weeds were towering over my sad, rabbit eaten hostas. It was a bit overwhelming, so I just tucked in and started on a pulling rampage (yeah, I was in the zone!).

Suddenly, I notice what I think are yellow jackets hovering around where I’m weeding. Having been stung a number of times in the past and not particularly enjoying it, I backed off right away and thought maybe I had disturbed a nest. But, no, there were only two randomly buzzing around. So, I switched to the opposite side of the garden to get away from where they were.

In a few minutes, there were the wasps again! OK, this time I looked a little more closely and discovered they were not yellow jackets after all. But what were they?! They were not aggressive, but clearly followed right along where I was weeding. Then I realized: they were watching where I pulled the weeds and hunting for any stray insect I stirred up with my efforts. How cool is that!

A little searching has revealed that they may be (again, didn’t get close enough to take pictures!) sand wasps. According to the Missouri DOC website on bees and wasps:

Adults often catch flies on the wing and are remarkably fast and agile. Their habit of hovering uncomfortably close to a person for the purpose of catching flies attracted to that individual is often mistaken for aggression. But they are even-tempered wasps, and it is possible to feed them out of your hand by presenting them with a living fly not quite capable of flight. Sand wasps are occasionally mistaken for hornets or yellowjackets because of their banded color pattern.

Hmmmn, yeah, I think I might skip the feeding them out of my hand part….There is a great photo at this website (along with tons of other very nice insect photos).

So, how did they learn to hang around stinky, sweaty fly-attracting people? Intriguing!

I’m wondering if this description of bees may be similar in how they find food/prey:

The small hairs lining a bee, which it uses to collect pollen, picks up chemical traces and biological particles as well. Bees also inhale and consume large quantities of air and water for their size, picking up chemical traces in that manner too.

That article was about using bees to locate land mines, which is pretty interesting, too. But, maybe wasps are more sight/vision hunters instead, as they have to catch insects on the wing?

Other interesting wasp miscellany I found:

The great wasp hunt (for not so “great” wasps..very tiny lee-etle wasps!)

And here’s a clear runner up in the Darwin Awards: http://sify.com/news/offbeat/fullstory.php?id=13234894

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