Tuesday, September 12, 2023

A Buggy Betrayal

Late season dogwood with rolled leaves.
The leaves look old, worn, and well-used by the wildlife,
but they are not done with it yet.

Peering into a rolled leaf, I found new life.

An unidentified moth caterpillar was inside.

September 2 was the day that Jody and I had a bug hunt here at the house (and found the bear scat). I had found this larva inside a rolled dogwood leaf and thought it was a sawfly. Well, the little buggers confuse me still. It was a moth caterpillar. It could be one of two dogwood moths, both of whose caterpillars look just like this.

When you have identical caterpillars of different species, the only way you can tell which species it is is by isolating it until they pupate into a moth. (Sometimes it is the other way around and identical moths can only be identified, without dissection, by their caterpillars.)

Two days later, Lucy and I went out to sleeve dogwood branches with rolled leaves. The plan is I will regularly check on the creature's growth, hopefully find a newly eclosed moth inside the sleeve, and then be able to identify it.

A sleeved dogwood branch with rolled leaves inside.

I buy the sleeves at scientific supply places online. They can breath, drain water, and do not overheat. They keep predators and parasites out and give the animals inside the sleeve relative freedom and safety to feed. Unless you sleeved a predator in the sleeve with your larvae.

Since I really enjoyed spying the larva inside the leaf, I looked inside another rolled leaf before I sleeved the branch and found this . . . 

I couldn't even understand what I saw.

So I flipped the photo in the computer.

After I turned the photo in the computer, I still did not know what I was looking at. It was sort of like a grasshopper, but those beefy legs hinted at this being a bug that caught and ate other bugs, much like assassin bugs and ambush bugs. Grasshoppers that I know here do not have spotted legs, either. This guy also has a beak, used to pierce the exoskeleton of other insects.

I turned to Jody, who suggested damsel bug (Genus Nabis). I looked it up, and it looks like one to me. No one at iNaturalist has offered any assistance yet, though. It could be winter until I learn what it is. When you have good weather, like we have had, no entomologist, professional or amateur, will be inside the house IDing photos. 

If it is a damsel bug, it preys on small caterpillars. And what better place to find them then in their hiding place—a rolled up leaf?

I was sort of pissed off that somebody was out there eating my little caterpillars. Hopefully no predators were on the branch or inside the rolls of my sleeved branch. I have never successfully sleeved a plant until insect maturation. It involves tricky timing and a perfect, predator-free world. We'll see.


Saturday, September 02, 2023

From Bug Hunt to Restaurant

Jody's mating mosaic darners

Jody decided to close up her law office for a long weekend and spent Friday at Crystal Lake State Park. I picked her up after school and we came back to my house (one mile away) for more bug hunting. She got some magnificent photos on that iPhone of hers. She found these dragonflies hanging together under a branch of a pine tree. They allowed her to carry them down to where I was inspecting a leafroller larva. And as soon as Jody got to me, they flew away still coupled together. It was a memorable sight.

The darners in the tree.

I was not as fortunate yesterday. I found my leafroller larva, some type of moth, and unrolled it. When touched with a piece of grass, it wriggled very violently. I thought I had a video of that action but I didn't press the right button. I have found more of these larvae and will be sleeving the dogwood branch where they are maturing. 

The tiny caterpillar inside the leaf that it had rolled up.

Outside of the leaf.

Other creatures that we found:

Another Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle (Labidomera clivicollis)

Tricolored Bumble Bee (Bombus ternarius)

Everyone's favorite crane fly: Eastern Phantom Crane Fly (Bittacomorpha clavipes)

Banded Garden Spider (Argiope trifasciata)
Its zig-zag web is barely visible at the bottom.

Banded Tussock Moth (Halysidota  tessellaris)

Genus Stictocephala
(A buffalo treehopper)

A robber fly for your nightmares:
A Hanging-Thief (Genus Diogmites)

Everyone's favorite caterpillar:
Brown-hooded Owlet (Cucullia convexipennis)

Revisiting our jagged ambush bugs at the end of the season.

They wear different colors now.
Here, the male has the brown face and the female has a yellow face.

But then . . .


Jody found bear scat full of cherry pits not 20 feet from my back door. Lucy was calm so we knew that the bear was not close by, but our wanderings were now at an end. Bears scarf down so many cherries it is totally ridiculous. And at this time of year, it seems that all my trees are cherries. They are everywhere. In fact, I have read that my Black cherry trees (Prunus serotina) are the most populous tree in New England forests. Cherry picking time is when Jody and I stay out of the woods.

We retired to Orleans to a restaurant for supper and swapped photos and stories of our day. It was a wonderful day.


Monday, August 28, 2023

Dogwood Life

Dogwood Spittlebug (Clastoptera proteus)

I was sitting next to the Jerusalem artichoke a couple of weeks ago when I saw a black speck move on a leaf. Even though I had no idea what it may have been, I shot it. I was thrilled when I found the cutest little bug ever in the computer. Who ever sees a purely black and yellow bug anywhere? It was a hopper and a spittlebug . . . my favorite insect group. What a find!

You have probably seen frothy foam on spots on plants. There are spittlebug larvae living inside that foam. They are called spittlebugs because the foam looks like spit. I have spent hours finding the tiny larvae and photographing them. Of course, I can't find the photos today. Spittlebugs are hoppers like plant and tree hoppers. They can jump like fleas.

Since this dogwood spittlebug's host is dogwood, I wanted to compile the other insects who use dogwood exclusively. I have at least three native species of dogwood on my land and I can never tell them apart. 

Two species of my dogwoods have been confirmed:

Alternate-leaved Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea)

But this one that I think is red osier may be Gray Dogwood:

Perhaps Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa).
Perhaps not.

Dogwood-loving insects, however, don't care which is which. Other insects that rely on dogwood are the dogwood sawfly and the dogwood leaf beetle, a calligrapher beetle, and a species of aphid.
Dogwood Sawfly (Macremphytus testaceus) larva

Adult dogwood sawfly
Robert Webster

Sawflies have bad reputations for being pesky and the dogwood sawfly is no different. But I have no problem with them because my land is so diverse. I love sawflies because of their life cycle. The larvae are not caterpillars even though they look like caterpillars. 

Dogwood Leaf Beetle (Calligrapha philadelphica)

The dogwood calligrapher is related to lady beetles. They are all leaf beetles. This one eats dogwood leaves. There are many calligraphers with different and stunning "etchings" on their abdomen. 

I always find groups of Red-osier dogwood aphids (Aphis neogillettei) and their ants somewhere on a dogwood. The aphid colonies appear and disappear very quickly; seemingly overnight.

Aphis neogillettei tended by ants

All of my dogwood life has moved away now. The dogwood leaves look blighted and worn on my special bush. It's no wonder they are: they have nurtured so many lives this summer.


Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Thursday, August 17, 2023

The Pesky Details

Every photo of mine and Jody's confirmed the misidentification.

Remember these cute August 8 caterpillars when I posted about creatures that camouflage as bird droppings? The first creature I highlighted was the Beautiful Wood-Nymph (Eudryas grata). But it wasn't.

Kathryn got in touch with me last night about a caterpillar she had from her property and could identify to genus but not to species. It was a Eudryas. Without looking closely, I told her it was E. grata, the Beautiful. But she had comparison photos from the Internet and wanted to know how I was sure because she thought it might be a Pearly, E. unio. Now, Kathryn has always had an excellent eye for the small details in insect identification. I remembered how she would keep me honest and see what was in front of us, not what I wanted to see. So I looked up the details.

When I submitted my caterpillar to iNaturalist, the AI said it was E. grata. Jody had named it that, also. And then two other people quickly confirmed it. Without ever looking (but I remember wondering) at the two other Eudryas species caterpillars, I accepted the IDs and moved on. But if Kathryn had doubts, I knew I had to look again.

On Bugguide, there are no photos of the third Eudryas species caterpillar (Eudryas brevipennis), and I could safely ignore that one because it lives west of the Rockies. 

There are only two differences between the Beautiful Wood-Nymph caterpillar and the Pearly Wood-Nymph caterpillar: dots on the prolegs (1 dot on the Beautiful and 2 dots on the Pearly on each proleg) and the color of the pro-thoracic shield (orange on the Beautiful and white(ish) on the Pearly), both of which I marked on the photo above. I had to reacquaint myself of the meaning of pro-thoracic and how the heck you find it on a caterpillar, but I did. 

Kathryn and I agreed that all the caterpillars that she, Jody, and I had were Pearly and not Beautiful. Which meant I had to update the IDs on iNat, tell Jody, and update my post of August 8.

The moth I posted on August 8 was the Beautiful, and did not belong there with that Pearly caterpillar. Below are my Beautiful moth and Joanne Russo's Pearly moth. The inner brown band is smooth on the Beautiful and scalloped on the Pearly. And that's about it for the difference between the two species. It gets a person to wondering why Nature does this. It must be out of perverse pleasure to making humans nuts.

Beautiful Wood-Nymph - Hodges#9301 (Eudryas grata

Pearly Wood-Nymph - Hodges#9299 (Eudryas unio)

AND . . . the biggest news! 
Kathryn says she is doing bug photos again!


Tuesday, August 15, 2023

A Fly for Supper

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Jody found her ambush bug the other day and gave me permission to post her photos. These are special photos that are not simple insect portraits. So I made a slideshow of them. She only uses her iPhone for insect photos and I am always stunned at the quality of her work. Her iPhone videos are also awesome. She also never edits her shots!

Jagged ambush bugs are fairly plentiful this time of year. Every season we have an informal contest to see who can find the first one. They are very small (less than 1/2 inch long) and well camouflaged so it is a competition of our bug eyes. This is the first year that I have won, with my shot of the ambush bug hiding in yarrow that I posted for Wordless Wednesday:

The ambush bugs lie in ambush in flowers. Their huge front legs enable them to snatch an insect out of the air as it flies by, or to grab it as it walks or crawls by. The ambush bug has piercing and sucking mouth parts, so it injects a paralyzing agent through its beak and into the other insect. I can't find information on whether this paralyzing agent also anesthetizes the insect. Because after the prey is paralyzed, the ambush bug uses that beak to slurp up the insides of the insect prey. And that knowledge made it difficult for me to look at Jody's photos the first time. But like we tell each other, everything has to eat.  

Jody identifies as a gardener and she maintains the gardens not only at her home but at church and the library. We are all enriched by her insights with insects. I am especially enriched that her knowledge of botany enhances my knowledge of insect behaviors.

Another JAB I found on August 8

University of Minnesota: Small Wonders: Jagged Ambush Bugs
Missouri Department of Conservation: Ambush Bugs
Video: Bug of the Week: Ambush Bug Catches a Bee

Monday, August 14, 2023

My Pizza


I have perfected my pizza recipe. I use three recipes that I have adapted for what I like. I have used hamburger as a topping, and here, thin slices of fresh tomato lightly dusted with dry basil. The crust is thick and soft, the sauce is tangy and thick, and it takes an entire two cups of shredded mozzarella. The recipes makes enough pizza for three or four meals with leftovers for breakfast, which is very important. It takes perhaps an hour to make and bake, which is also important. The sauce is no-cook.  I overcame the salt and crust problem that I have posted about before. This took years of finding the perfect ingredients, seasonings, recipes, and a pan the perfect size for the crust. It is just the way that I love pizza.  👼


In blender or food processor:
14.5-ounce can no-salt diced tomatoes, undrained
6-ounce can tomato paste
¼ of a small onion but the more the better
2 large garlic cloves (I use a spoon from the drawer and just scoop out a lot of chopped garlic from a jar)
1 heaping tablespoon King Arthur Flour pizza seasoning
1 teaspoon granulated sugar

Blend, or use food processor, until this is thick and smooth.


1 cup warm water (110°F/45°C)
1 tablespoon white sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry or instant yeast (which is one envelope)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon non-iodized table salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour


Stir water, sugar and yeast together until dissolved. Add the olive oil and the salt. Stir in the flour until well blended. Let dough rest for 10 minutes. But if you use instant yeast, just toss everything in a stand mixer and, using dough hook, let it run.

Mist the pan lightly with olive oil. Gently flatten the dough in the pan and turn it over so both sides are coated with the oil. Pat dough into pan using fingers dipped in olive oil. If the dough doesn't retain its shape, let it rest 15 or more minutes. If desired sprinkle basil, thyme or other seasonings on crust. Top with your favorite pizza toppings and bake for 15 to 20 minutes in a preheated 425°F (220°C) oven, turning 180° halfway through the bake. Check the bottom of your crust before taking out of oven.

Do not put KAF seasoning on top of the pizza: it is too salty.

Special stuff

By the way, I didn't qualify for Amazon Associates, so none of these products are affiliated with anybody except me.

USA Pan jelly roll pan 14.25 x 9.37 x 0.5 inches

Awesomely good but be careful with salt levels!

Because of my hands, I don't chop garlic anymore.
This brand is simply what our village store carries.

Original recipes

KAF Pizza Seasoning

Saturday is always pizza night now! I will be playing with toppings from now on. And baking desserts.