Thursday, April 8, 2010


I believe that these are all galls, which are things that some arthropods ("bugs") cause plants to make for the arthropods' benefit. Usually the adult "bug" makes the plant form a gall so that its larvae (kids or babies) have a place to live in to hide from predators and eat part of the plant. I'm hoping that some people who know more than I do about galls will chime in and give me more information that I can post. In the meantime, you can find more information about common galls and gall-makers here: or about every gall many galls that people have taken pictures of here:

Monday, April 5, 2010

Aquatic life in sandhill habitat

This is most likely a mole cricket burrow at the edge of a pond/lake. They make what look like small mole runs, in damp sand and also have modified front legs that look something like moles. Some are pests, but others are inconsequential. All of them are pretty cool looking little monsters. More pictures here

This is obviously not living in the water, as it is hanging out on a pine tree, but before young dragonflies transform into adults, they live in the water and prey upon other invertebrates and even small fish or tadpoles. This adult was found not far away from the pond/lake where the rest of the pictures in this post were taken. It is most likely Ladona deplanata, aka a Blue Corporal. Yes, I know that it's not blue, but this is most likely a female, which are a different color. Pictures of males and other females here

This is a carnivorous sundew (genus Drosera and most likely D. brevifolia), which I've posted other pictures of, that is about to flower. There is a picture here of what it may look like when it flowers.

These are some ants, most likely fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) that were flooded out of their nest. They floated on the water and gathered together and are now clinging to a plant that sticks out of the water in hopes that the water goes back down.

This is a young backswimmer (family Notonectidae) that is just under the surface of the water in a pond/lake in sandhill habitat. Sandhill habitat is xeric (meaning very dry and pronounced as if the x were a z), but there are temporary and permanent wetlands in some sandhills. I think that you can see why it's called a backswimmer. It swims well and its long back legs are kind of like oars on a boat. It eats other insects and invertebrates.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Yes, I am aware that these are not bugs. The first one is the stamen and the second a pistil of an Azalea flower. You can see the pollen coming out of a hole in the anther (dark end part) of the stamen and a few tiny pieces sticking to the stigma (the sticky end) on the pistil. These anthers are "poricidal", meaning that they have little holes. This type of anther is associated with buzz pollination by insects, which basically means that they vibrate the flower to get the pollen off of it. Pollen is what some insects, usually bees, but also moths, beetles and others depending, carry from one flower to another so that they plants can produce seeds. Some plants only have one pollinator and others have many, and not all plants use insects for pollination. Some let the wind carry their pollen to other flowers and others use other animals, such as hummingbirds or even bats.

Friday, April 2, 2010

obligatory butterfly picture

This is Urbanus proteus, or Long-Tailed Skipper butterfly, feeding on nectar from a flower. You can see the proboscis, sort of like a straw crossed with a tongue, sticking into the flower. Skippers are somewhat more related to moths than most other butterflies and they have antennae (the plural of antenna) with hooked clubs at the end, which you can also see in the picture. Most people don't know that there are more than ten times as many moths as there are butterflies, and it's difficult to believe because most people have seen more butterflies because butterflies come out in the daytime and are relatively large. Also, many people think of butterflies as important pollinators of plants, but they are relatively insignificant compared to bees and some moths. While butterflies are pretty, and of course important because they are one of the "little things that run the world", they are not anywhere near as numerous or important as their relatives, the moths.

Monday, March 29, 2010

This is Nephila clavipes, the Golden Silk Spider or Banana Spider. Their silk is actually golden yellow in color at times and their abdomen does look sort of like a small banana. This one has caught a relatively large dragonfly and I have seen one catch an anole, which is a type of lizard. Males are much, much smaller than females, which is common with many insects and spiders as for many species the males are not necessary to protect the young and a bigger body can produce more eggs, as well as protect them. (Yes, males don't matter very much in these species. :) When there is a difference in size or shape between the sexes, it is termed "sexual dimorphism", meaning basically two different shapes. The silk of these spiders is so strong, more so than steel, and stretchable that it was investigated as a material for making bulletproof vests! You are not going to believe this, but goats have been genetically engineered to produce spider silk proteins for something called "biosteel". (see here Spider goat, spider goat, does whatever a spider goat does; spins a web...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

This is the head of a blow fly, green bottle fly or calliphorid fly, depending upon your preference. They are especially attracted to carrion and feces (yes, that's a fancy word for poop). The thing sticking out to the left if its "sponging" mouthparts, used to sop up juices from its favorite foods. Larvae, otherwise known as maggots, have been used in modern times to clean up large wounds on people, as they eat the dead and rotting flesh and leave the healthy tissue alone. Maybe I should have saved this for Halloween, but I just couldn't resist. There are live pictures and more information available here

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

This is a "sap beetle", family Nitidulidae, species Thalycra carolina, with no common name that I know of. This was caught in a pitfall trap using fermenting syrup as an attractant. Sap beetles are usually attracted to fermenting sap, decaying fruit, etc and some of them like dung and carrion and such. They have large antennal clubs, which they use to "smell" for their favorite foods. In general, the larger the antennae (the plural of antenna for insects, whereas the plural of antenna when indicating a radio or somesuch is antennas), the more "smelling" an insect does. (I'm putting "smell" and "smelling" in quotes because they do not actually sniff through nostrils like we do.) There is more information about sap beetles here and here

Monday, March 22, 2010


To most people, a "bug" could be anything from a cockroach to a crayfish, but a "true bug" is an insect in the order Heteroptera. This includes assassin bugs, stink bugs, leaf-footed bugs, aphids and their relatives. They all have piercing-sucking mouthparts that are sometimes called beaks. In general, beetles, cockroaches and many other orders that might look like a true bug, have chewing mouthparts. True bugs are usually either predatory, such as this wheel bug (Arilus cristatus) or suck out plant juices using their beaks. (More info about the wheel bug, which is big and can bite, here , including their geometric egg-laying pattern and some great images of the babies hatching out.) True bugs also usually have a clear patch (or hemelytrous portion) in their wings towards the end of their abdomen, although there are a few that look a lot like beetles in this respect. True bugs do not undergo a complete metamorphosis (caterpillar/larva to chrysalis/cocoon/pupa to adult) like a butterfly, moth or beetle, but instead start out looking something like a minature adult and getting more and more adult-like each time that they shed their exoskeleton as they grow. This is known as incomplete, or gradual, metamorphosis, and is something like what we do, except that we don't shed our exoskeletons because we don't have them. More information about true bugs in general here Feel free to ask questions if I have not been clear.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"new" darkling beetle species

I'm sure that someone will look at this and think "Well, it's an OK picture, but it looks like every other brownish-black beetle I've ever seen.", but this is actually a "new" species, as in one that has not been formally described, although it is known/thought by at least one expert to be a different species than the species that have been described in its genus. The genus is Helops, with no common name that I know of, and this particular one only lives in FL as far as is known. While the picture itself may not be that interesting, I thought that the idea that new species are still being found might interest some people.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Carnivorous bladderwort (Utricularia sp) plant with mosquito larva prey

Bladderworts are aquatic carnivorous plants. The structure that the mosquito larva (baby mosquito, something like a caterpillar is to a butterfly or moth) has been sucked into is the bladder, where the prey is digested. People used to think that bladderworts only preyed upon critters small enough to fit entirely in the bladders, but as you can see in this photo, this is not true. The person who figured that out used little strings of cooked egg whites in some experiments to find out that they will take in larger prey and slowly digest it little by little. Some bladdworts have pretty flowers, as you can see here

if you open up the photo gallery. If you do a search at that site at the top for Utricularia, or change the search to common name and do the search for bladderwort, you can find pictures and maps for other Florida bladderwort species. By the way, the Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants is a very useful website for anyone who lives in the southeastern US, or just about anywhere in the US if you want to see pictures of what some plants look like.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Why kill and pin "bugs" if you like them?

My son Lukas is baffled as to why I carefully remove most "bugs" that enter our house and set them free and also tell him to be very gentle with ones that we find while exploring, but that I kill my favorite critters and stick pins into them. He knows that the pat answer is that I kill them to turn them into specimens, but like a lot of people, doesn't really understand why. There are many reasons, but this picture of Coastal Tiger Beetle specimens shows some of them. If you look closely, the patterns look very different from one beetle to another, so you can imagine that even a very good picture of one live insect might not be identifiable to species, as many times this is only possible by examining tiny characteristics through a microscope. Also, these are relatively large beetles, whereas some beetles get down to less than a millimeter, or around 1/50th of an inch, for the entire beetle and others can only be told apart by examining their genitalia, which it is usually not possible to examine on live specimens. Besides this, sometimes what is considered one species today might be split into 2 or more next year (say that all of the ones with less patterning were judged one species and the ones with more patterning were deemed another, or the two new species were told apart with some feature not available in a picture), and so if there were no specimens to reexamine, a record of a certain species would be meaningless then without a specimen to refer to. Another reason is that "voucher specimens" act as a permanent record of observations, so 50 years from now, someone could look at these specimens and they would be able to know from the labels that they were caught on a certain date at an exact location using a certain method in a certain type of habitat, whereas if I did not turn them into specimens, that possibly-important information would probably not be available to anyone. Yet another reason is that once I've identified a certain specimen, it becomes the ultimate reference to compare to when I find another one that may or may not be the same thing. I very much agree with the quote from Jane O'Donnell: "If a picture is worth a thousand words, a specimen is worth a million." There are no field guides that cover most insects, as there are too many of them. For instance, there are over 4,500 beetles in FL and around 12,500 insects. If you ever find a field guide for even the beetles, please let me know. :) Again, sorry to ramble, but I wanted to make it clear that most of the time, "bugs" need to be killed to study them and that there are many good reasons to turn them into specimens.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It's what's for dinner

These are some representatives of my favorite beetles... yes, dung beetles, the ones that eat poop! When I was going to school and doing a project for an ecology class, I kept getting funny looks when I mentioned that I was doing something with dung beetles. I assumed that they were because most people don't like to play with poop, but then another student asked me "How are you going to do a project with dung beetles when they only live in Africa?" I was stunned, since we have over 100 dung beetles in Florida and many more in the whole US. To put another myth to rest, not all dung beetles roll balls of dung. The little black one (Aphodius bicolor)burrowing under the poop in the top picture represents a whole bunch of really small dung beetles that are usually found inside the dung or directly under it, and so they are termed "dwellers". Many of these are about the size of a grain of rice. The middle picture with the white background is of a "tunneler", this one being Onthophagus concinnus, and they usually take chunks of their favorite food down in a burrow below the main pile, either to suck the juices out of it or to lay their eggs in so that their larvae (babies) can eat the stuff and grow up. Most of the ones in that genus, Onthophagus, range in size from about the end of a pencil eraser to maybe the size of your pinky nail. The USDA introduced some other species of them from Africa to bury cow patties, as our native dung beetles were not able to do a good job with big blobs of herbivore dung in grassy fields, and when the pies sat on the surface, the cows didn't want to eat the grass near them and rain washed all of the poop into our waterways. The last picture is of a female Rainbow Scarab (Phanaeus igneus). They do break off chunks of dung and "roll" them a ways before burying them, but they do not make round balls and push the stuff along in front of them. Sorry to ramble so much, but these are my favorite beetles and I could go on for pages about them. If anyone is interested, I can post a picture of a trap to catch dung beetles so that you can see what lives in your area, but you will have to bait it with their favorite food.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Many people think that beetles can't fly because they look like they have a "shell" like a turtle, but most beetles can fly. They pop open their elytra (pronounced el-i-truh, see here or forewings and underneath they have flying wings, as you can see on this dung beetle. This is an earth-boring dung beetle (genus Geotrupes), so named because it and many of its relatives dig burrows in the ground that almost look like they were made with a drill. One of its relatives digs burrows that average 6 feet deep and sometimes digs up to 10 feet deep, which is a long way for a beetle to dig. I'll try to post a picture of this relative, called a Florida Deep-Digger Scarab Beetle, or Peltotrupes profundus.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fire Ant caught by a carnivorous sundew plant

Earlier I'd posted a little grasshopper that was too big to be caught by sundew plants (genus Drosera). This fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) was not so lucky. Sundews are carnivorous plants that catch their prey with a sticky substance. They live in areas near water in which the sandy soil does not provide much in the way of nutrients, so they have evolved to take advantage of other sources of nutrition. Somewhere I have a picture of another carnivorous plant "eating" a mosquito larva (baby mosquito, sort of like a caterpillar compared to a butterfly or moth, that lives in water) and I'll try to find that and post it also.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I went to Wolf Creek near Cairo Georgia with my wife, sister (no, not the same person:) and Lukas. The place is absolutely amazing because of how many trout lilies there are there. They only started blooming a few weeks ago and appear to be at their peak. The bees in the pictures are honey bees. Many people do not know that honey bees are not native to the US and that they may actually compete with our native bees. I did not see a single native pollinator, which surprised me.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Anyone who lives in the southeastern US has probably encountered fire ants and anyone who lives elsewhere in the US has probably heard of them, but you've probably never gotten a close look at one. Many people use the term "bites" for what fire ants do when you disturb them, but really what they do is sting. They do bite, but only to gain leverage to stick their stinger into you--the bite itself does not hurt. I'll try to get an image up of a fire ant's stinger, but I think that these will do in the meantime.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Blue-Green Citrus Root Weevil (Pachnaeus litus)

A colleague of mine found this in southern Florida. It is a native species that is considered a pest of citrus trees and other plants. The adults eat leaves and the larvae, or "babies", eat roots of the same plant or tree. A female may lay 4000 eggs in her lifetime! For more information, see UF Citrus Root Weevils

Monday, February 8, 2010

subterranean termites

These pictures are of subterranean termites (Reticulitermes sp). The one of the single specimen with the huge mandibles is of a soldier that helps protect the colony. (Some photo-sleuth might say that the droplets of liquid on the soldier are evidence of me refrigerating the specimen, but, although I don't have anything against that practice and do it when necessary, this image was taken in the field.) The two workers appear to be sharing food or water mouth to mouth, a behavior known as trophallaxis. For more information on subterranean termites, see

Sunday, February 7, 2010

This little Southern Green-striped Grasshopper(Chortophaga australior) was lucky that it was too big to be affected by the sticky and carnivorous Dwarf Sundew (Drosera brevifolia) plants. If you look closely, you can see that there are threads of stickiness trailing from its hind legs. For info about the grasshopper, including why it has green in its name, go to the BugGuide link below


I found this specimen on St. Mark's NWR property on Jan 23 2010 in sandhill habitat and did not collect it. It's a female of Agapostemon splendens, which is a halictid bee that are sometimes called sweat bees. This particular genus may be called metallic green bees. These are solitary bees that burrow in the ground, unlike honey bees, which most people are familiar with. These bees, and many others, do not produce appreciable amounts of honey. Honey bees are not native to the US, whereas this bee is. There is some evidence that exotic honey bees may compete with native bees like this when honey bees are present in large enough numbers. See the links for more information about FL bees or more images of this specimen.