One of my good friends from grad school now studied passalid beetles at the University of Kentucky. While she’s interested in cooperation and sociality, it just so happens that passalids are of interest to another group of researchers.
Dr. Eoin Brodie works at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and is also an assistant adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (whew, that’s a mouthful).
One of their research projects is to understand how these beetles might optimize biofuel production by studying the beetle’s symbiotic gut relationships. Let’s hear it for my alma mater!
Passalid beetles: Nature’s efficient lignocellulosic biorefineries | Brodie Environmental Microbiology Group @ LBNL.
Polo! We found it! The lost ladybug! After decades of elusiveness, the nine-spotted ladybug, Coccinella novemnotata, state insect of New York, has been on a Long Island organic farm.
Until last weekend, I had never seen a firefly (except for the television show by Joss Whedon). Geographic location, time of year, weather, all these things had simply not aligned to allow me to experience the magical wonder of a firefly show.
Fireflies, or lightning bugs, are not actually flies or true bugs. They’re actually beetles in the family Lampyridae. This looks like the little critter that I caught over the weekend, as fireworks were flying overhead. In unprepared entomologist fashion, I stuck it in an empty Mentos gum container since I didn’t have a vial. You could see the glow through the plastic even though it wasn’t see through.
Photo Courtesy of Cirrus Images
The glow, or bioluminescence, is the result of a chemical reaction in the abdomen of the beetle. The color can vary along a spectrum from yellow to green to pale red. Both males and females flash in a call and response type of mate selection. Species specific flash patterns and durations allow females to distinguish their gentlemen callers and respond only to their species. In the case of Photuris species however, females mimic another species response to lure the males as prey. The poor little guys, I’m sure they thought everything was just shiny.
Photo courtesy of Beneficialbugs.org
Last week I went on a field trip to visit some orchards and we found one of these guys.
Photo courtesy of Cirrus Image
The “Eyed Click Beetle” or Alaus oculatus is in the family Elateridae. The common name of this groups is from the clicking mechanism that beetles use as a defense or to simply right themselves. See the video below!
When you take time to smell the flowers, or rather peer at the onions, you find some pretty cool stuff. This week, Simon shared with me another little gem of nature: parasitized natural enemies. Just a reminder, parasitoids develop internally on their host, usually killing it. This particular case of parasitism, however, is atypical in that the host does not die
Image courtesy of Maure et al. 2011
The victim of the story is the common Pink Lady Beetle, Coleomegilla maculata, affectionately called C-mac in some circles. C. maculata is a generalist predator, feeding on aphid species and other small soft bodied insects. I’m not surprised to see many of them in the onion fields. In this case, a parasitic wasp, Dinocampus coccinellae, lays a single egg inside its beetle host. Rather than killing the host, the wasp larva emerges and spins its pupal casing around the legs of the ladybug, keeping it in place. Thereby, providing its own bodyguard to protect it from predation and hyperparasitism (parasitoids that parasitize other parasitoids…that’s a lot of parasitism). This article was just published online about the system. Pretty cool!
Image courtesy of Stippen.nl
Emerald Ash Borer is now in Western New York! If you remember my first Who’s Who post, the Emerald Ash Borer is a new invasive species that infests ash trees. This is what the insect looks like:
Read more about the recent infestation here. And remember:
That cute little critter from Wednesday is a pest of the plant below!
If you’ve never seen asparagus growing in a field, this is what it looks like (picture was taken about a week ago in western New York). It’s asparagus season, and in fact I had some deliciously prepared asparagus at a tapas restaurant in town last night. My favorite preparation of asparagus is quite simple. I arrange the stalks on a baking sheet, drizzle with some olive oil, squeeze some lemon juice over them, sprinkle a bit of garlic powder and pepper, then bake for about 30 minutes at 375º until tender but crisp.
Wednesday’s bug is the spotted asparagus beetle, Criocercis duodecimpunctata. Here’s our spotlight pest on the crop itself.
Photo courtesy of Insect Images
The beetles are quite small, about 6-8mm in length. Spotted asparagus beetles are in the family Chrysomelidae and may resemble ladybugs to the untrained eye. It is distinguished from ladybugs by the six spots on each wing with longer antennae and an almost rectangular shape. (Ladybugs tend to be more oval or almost totally round with similar but varying coloration.) This particular species of asparagus beetle is often considered a secondary pest of asparagus, with the asparagus beetle Criocercis asparagi the most common pest (below).
Photo courtesy of Flickr
Both these pests directly damage the asparagus crop by feeding on tips and spears. Furthermore, C. duodecimpunctata feed on the asparagus berries of the male plant. Cutting stalks close to the ground is a good way to manage for asparagus beetle, not allowing larvae to establish in the crop. Removing dead stalks over winter can also help reduce success of overwintering populations. Particularly for the spotted asparagus beetle, removing asparagus berries can help reduce pest populations in home gardens.
Now that the weather has finally warmed up, it’s time to get working on the summer garden. As soon as these thunderstorms let the soil dry up. Happy gardening!