Friday, June 24, 2022

Leatherwing with Boots

I have been seeing these beetles in our wafer ash patch and then had this beautiful picture by Becky Swearingen jump out at me on Bi-State Bugs.  In the past I had seen similar colored Pennsylvania Leatherwings, Chauliognathus pensylvanicus, but the pattern wasn't right.  This is the margined leatherwing beetle, Chauliognathus marginatusIt appears in late spring and will be gone by mid-summer, about the time that the Pennsylvanians first appear to inhabit their favorite plant, goldenrods.

Mating Pair - REK

Without Becky's camera or talent I had to get the lens too close, causing them to scurry away.  I chased this mating pair, finally giving up and capturing them.  After refrigeration, they slowed down so I could photograph them separately.

Leatherwing female - REK
Leatherwing male - REK

  Pennsylvania leatherwing-Clay Nichols



The coloration is confusing as the most prominent feature, the broad black stripe down the elytra is variable, ranging from prominent and full length to a short spot on my two specimens and sometimes even completely absent.  The margined species have a yellow head with a black "V" while the Pennsylvanians have an all black head.  The black patch of the pronotum (back of the thorax) extends full length rather than being just in the center on Pennsylvanians.

Leatherwings get that title because of their soft flexible elytra wing covers which are hard in most beetles.  The family are also referred to as soldier beetles because of their bright colored "uniforms".  They nectar on flowers as well as feeding on small insects and their eggs. While the Pennsylvania Leatherwing is usually found in the fall, the Margined crawl are out in early summer.  Following mating, they lay their eggs in the soil and ground litter where their larvae will feed until their fall pupation.


Pollinia afoot -  Kareninnature

Pennsylvania leatherwings crawl around nectaring on the milkweed flowers and get yellow globs wedged on their feet.  These are paired sacs of pollen called pollinia.  These wedge tenaciously to the beetles' feet making walking awkward.  Because they are able strong fliers they can carry their load to nearby flowers where they leave them like a kid with muddy feet.  Rather than dusting individual pollen grains, the sacs of pollen are left in an opening on the next plant.

Beetle boots - Charley Eiseman

There is a risk in this strategy.  A variety of milkweed pollinators can get stuck by the leg if the pollinia is too firmly attached.  You can occasionally find a dead insect hanging by its leg, paying the ultimate price for nectar described in this video.

More on the trap at this site.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Slimy Feast

Mature, spore-releasing stage of Stemonitis - Becky Swearingen

This beauty is a Chocolate Tube Slime Mold, Stemonitis splendens, captured by Becky Swearingen on the wooden steps outside her patio.  Wikipedia says:

"Slime mold or slime mould is an informal name given to several kinds of unrelated eukaryotic organisms that can live freely as single cells, but can also aggregate together to form multicellular reproductive structures. Slime molds were formerly classified as fungi but are no longer considered part of that kingdom.[1] Although not forming a single monophyletic clade, they are grouped within the paraphyletic group, kingdom Protista."

Early Stemonitis before reaching maturity - Mark Bower

CTSM is found on rotting material, normally spreading on the forest floor but is frequently described around houses and even clogged air conditioners. 

"Slime molds form structures called plasmodia which are naked (i.e. without cell walls) masses of protoplasm which can move and engulf particles of food in an amoeboid manner.  Slime mold plasmodia creep about over the surfaces of materials, engulfing bacteria, spores of fungi and plants, protozoa and particles of nonliving organic matter.  At some point plasmodia convert into spore-bearing structures, in this case into a clustered mass of stalked sporangia."

Sporangia - Wikipedia

When stressful conditions such as our current heat and humidity occur, they form fruiting bodies, tubes to release spores into the air.  You can see Becky stroke the sporangia to release the spores in a video below.

The food chain continues as it always does in nature:

"Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,  and little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.   And great fleas themselves, in turn have greater fleas to go on: While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on."  Augustus DeMorgan


Look carefully at her photograph below to see CTSM's specialized predator.


Did you find the predator?

"When the fruit bodies consist of milky white sporangia, they are a favored food source for Philomycus slugs (mantleslugs), such as P. carolinianus  and P. flexuolaris.  The slugs emerge at night from under flaps of bark and migrate to more exposed areas at the top of wet logs, bypassing more mature, pigmented fruit bodies for the younger white ones.  The slugs eat the sporangia stalks from the top down.  The feeding preference of Philomcus slugs for immature white sporangia is not seen in other slug species."

You can watch a slug chewing away at the slime mold below the fruiting bodies which are not to their taste in Becky's video.   You can also watch Stemonitis grow on this video by Chris Barnhart.


Philomycus slugs use "love darts" in their mating.  This is a family friendly blog but you can read about them at this Wikipedia link.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Prairie Bioblitz


Margined calligrapher, Toxomerus marginatus, on a pasture rose, Rosa Carolina

We had a great time at this year's Missouri Prairie Foundation Bioblitz on the newly named Thoh-Dah Prairie in St. Clair County.  One of the many sessions was an insect program guided by Eric (aka Bugeric)* and Heidi Eaton.  With 14 sets of eyes we were constantly making new finds.  Unlike when we are out on our own, we had immediate identification down to genus and species.

There are 860 crambid snout moth species north of Mexico so we didn't dive into identifying them to species.  MDC has more details here.


Watching an experienced entomologist work was a joy.  I still struggle with how to hold insects like a grasshopper.  This orange-winged grasshopper, Pardalophora phoenicoptera, held in the right hands makes it easy to photograph for identification.  I would have a handful of parts if I tried to show its parts in detail.  Here is an expert demonstrating the vivid colors of the inside of its leg.

Likewise this looks like an "orange wing" to me but Eric can show it to be a totally different species, the Plains yellow-winged grasshopper, Arphia simplex.  This may look like a small detail when we are walking on the prairie but it is critically important to the male grasshopper.


There were lots of smaller insects to be found.  One of my favorites was this family of aphids, not identified to species.  The adult was agitated with the disturbance and flapped its wings in annoyance at the lack of privacy as seen here.


Finally we saw this deadly predator hop into its burrow to avoid our heavy feet.  Our herpetology expert, Jamie Leahy, identified it as an American toad, Anaxyrus americanus. It was licking its lips at the prospect of eating some of our finds as seen here.

The Missouri Prairie Foundation is a dynamic organization, not only preserving prairies but running Grow Native! and The Missouri Invasive Plant Council.  They have an excellent set of informative videos at this link.  A good place to start to sample these is this Betsy Betros session.  You may be familiar with her book,  A Photographic Field Guide to the Butterflies in the Kansas City Region which is our go-to resource.


*Eric (Bugeric) Eaton has a blog listed in the sidebar of this page.  He and Heidi have just moved to the midwest and we hope to see more of him.  Meanwhile his book Wasps is full of details about their rich life and is highly recommended.  His Insectopedia has just been published and I am awaiting my copy in the mail any day.  His current blog has even more on the Thoh-Dah prairie bioblitz.