Thursday, November 18, 2010

Steel Blue Cricket Hunter

One of my finds this summer was of a steel blue cricket hunter. The cricket hunter is a small, blue-black wasp that is about 5/8 of an inch long which feeds on nectar and pollen. This insect was actually one of the first insects that I had to research on the web five years ago when we first moved to Barrie.  I had taken a picture of one on my slide in the backyard.
cricket hunter prey Cricket Hunter and Prey
It had another insect in its grasp that it seemed to be transporting somewhere.  With a lot of help from the "What's That Bug" website, we identified it as the cricket hunter ~ and the insect in tow was a cricket which had been paralyzed by the sting of its captor.  The cricket hunter was transporting its victim to a burrow it had dug in the soil or sand.  Once dragged to the bottom of the burrow by the female, a single egg is laid on the now defenseless cricket.  The burrow is then sealed up, and the cricket hunter repeats this process by digging another burrow and finding another cricket.  Eventually, the cricket hunter egg develops into a larva and survives by eating the parasitized, and typically still living, cricket or grasshopper.  The following summer, after pupation has occured, an adult steel blue cricket hunter will emerge from the burrow to start the cycle again.  
The steel blue cricket hunter enjoying some nectar from my garden
Photographing these critters can be quite challenging!  I love their colours and find them extremely fascinating, but they are fast, unpredictable fliers!  These shots are taken with a 60 mm macro lens, which means that I am working very close to my subject.  I don't know about you, but I am not a fan of being up close and personal with any kind of wasp or bee.  I managed 8 shots of this critter before my flight instinct kicked in.  Last thing I want to do is tick this guy off! 

More information can be found on the cricket hunter at the following websites:

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Some Favourite Knapweed Shots

This ant is missing part of its back leg.  It didn't slow him down a bit.

Here a black ant is enjoying the nectar from the knapweed in my backyard.  I probably took a hundred shots of the ants enjoying the flowers.  They are very quick, rather difficult creatures to photograph.  Most of my shots are rear end shots.

One thing I particularly enjoyed watching was how defensive the ants seemed to be.  There were many bees that were also enjoying the knapweed, which the ants didn't seem to like.  Many times I witnessed the ants attacking the bees and scaring them off.  I found it rather comical to see how quick the ants were to protect their food source. 

The ant in the picture below quickly jumped onto the flower at the bee's arrival.  It seemed to go under flower and pestered the bee's legs.  The bee quickly flew off. 
Taken at dusk. 
Shortly after this shot, my tripod fell over.  Thank goodness for my UV filter!  It smashed, but saved my macro lens.  Whew!!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Fishflies: A New Find For Me!

I found these two locked together on the railing of a small bridge in the woods the other day.  I was on a walk with my husband around 9:30 or so in the morning. Realizing that my cell phone photos would not suffice, I returned to the bridge a couple of hours later with some proper camera gear.  Lucky for me, they hadn't moved a bit.  When I had initially spotted them on the bridge, I had thought it was one insect (I thought it was a dobsonfly).  It wasn't until the two separated hours later that I realized that there were two of them and that they were mating.  I had myself a good chuckle over that.  Luckily no one passed by at that moment, as they would have seen me talking to myself and laughing.  I guess that would really put the "Nut" in "Nature Nut Lady" though!!

So, I don't know much about fishflies.  They do look a lot like dobsonflies (which I have only seen in books), and are actually in the same family as them (Corydalidae).  In these photos, I believe the larger of the two is the female.  The fishfly to the right here, I believe, is the male.  Once the two completed mating, the male quickly flew off.  Typical.  I  also believe that these are dark fishflies from the Nigronia genus. 

Rear view of what I think is the female.  Perhaps an egg or egg sac?

(You can click on the pictures to get a better look!)

Head Shot of the Female

Juicy Tidbits:
  • Dark fishflies are noted for having dark wings with varying white markings on them
  • Found near streams
  • Apparently adults do not feed
  • Fishfly larvae live in moving waters, such as narrow clear streams or small rivers. They feed on small aquatic insects and help to keep black fly larvae in check. 
On my walk tonight, I noticed a couple more fishflies along the path in the woods.  They are not very strong fliers it seems.  Apparently adults are both diurnal and nocturnal.  Seen flying near streams by day, but attracted to the lights at night.


Kaufman's Field Guide to Insects of North America, page 224.
National Audoubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects & Spiders, pages 519 & 521.

Websites Used for Fishfly Facts: , specifically, 

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Toe-Biter, Part II

I took a look through some of my photos in hopes of finding some that show a little more beak detail.  Hopefully these extra shots give a bit more insight into the anatomy of a giant water bug.

I have come across this insect three times in the last two years.  The first time was on my back deck.  At that time I had only read about them and seen pictures in books, but when I saw it on my railing I had a pretty good idea of what it was.  I carefully took some photos - even moved it around a bit with a pencil to try and get a better shot.  My second encounter was with one that was swimming with me in my pool while I was vacuuming it.  In my panic to get out, I dumped the vacuum and jumped out of the pool so fast it would have made your head spin.  I ended up fishing the water bug out of the pool with a net and flung it over the neighbour's fence (sorry neighbour!)  No pictures were taken that day.  My last experience was with a dead one that I found on the way home from school.  At least I think it was dead.  Through my readings I have discovered that these insects can feign death when handled, but can suddenly stab with their peircing beak at a moment's notice.  I am pretty sure that is was dead, as it seemed fairly crispy and dry.  Perhaps I got lucky.  I did manage to get some good close ups of that one, and you should be able to see the rest of its beak folded up underneath it.  To get a better look at the photos, you should be able to click on the pictures for an enlarged view. 

I look better bigger.  You should click me.....

Click on picture to make it bigger. 

October 27th Update:  

Chris Fitzpatrick sent in this photo of a toe-biter he found on its back in a parking lot.  Although I wouldn't want to get bit by one, I'm glad to hear that this one lived to see another day.  Thanks Chris!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Giant Water Bug... aka the Toe-Biter

I received an email this morning from a friend up the street who had found this insect near North Bay, Ontario, and was unsure as to what it was.  I love identifying insects for friends and family!  As luck would have it, I knew right away what this fascinating creature was.  A Giant Water Bug! 

This insect falls into the true bug category.  So what is a true bug?  Without getting too technical, a true bug is from the Hemiptera order of insects.  True bugs have a specific wing structure which puts them into this classification of insect.  The term Hemiptera actually means "half wing"".  In this case, half of their front wings are thick and leathery, while the other half are membranous.  Another important criteria for the true bug designation, is the presence of piercing, sucking mouthparts.  These critters cannot chew!  Instead, true bugs pierce their food with their beak-like mouths, pumps saliva into the food source to partly digest it, and then sucks it up like a straw.  The piercing mouthpart of this particular insect cannot be seen in the photos above, as it is tucked underneath its "nose", if you will.

So, the giant water bug has a few other names that it is known by.  One is the toe-biter, and the other is the electric light bug.  The toe-biter name came about as it is often stepped on by unsuspecting victims and the electic light bug name comes from its attraction to electic lights at night. Oh, by the way, these things can fly.  Kind of makes June bugs a little less freaky, huh?!

This insect, which is the largest of the true bugs, can be found in shallow freshwater lakes, streams, ponds and pools.  I found one doing laps in my pool last summer while I was vacuuming it out.  I didn't stick around to play with it, as these critters can have a powerful bite!  Just so you know, I am scared of PLENTY of bugs!  I just find that the more I learn about them, the less there is to fear. 
Juicy Tidbits
  • These common brown insects range in size from 1 to 2 3/8 inch
  • They have flattened hind legs that are used for swimming.  
  • Their strong forelegs are used for grasping prey while the insect thrusts its piercing beak into it. 
  • There are two tail-like breathing tubes at the rear end of the toe-biter that help it to breath while underwater. When it needs air, it will raise its abdomen to the surface of the water and extend the breathing tubes.
  • Eats other insects, tadpoles, small fishes, salamanders and careless people's toes.  (kidding about the last food item!)
  • These critters will feign death if picked up, but can suddenly stab with their beaks!  This is not an insect that I would recommend handling at all!!! 

I have found some excellent websites if you would like to know more about the giant water bug

I also used my trusty National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects & Spiders, page 463 - 464 for information.

Special thanks to Marc, Meaghan, Keith and Dean for finding this insect and sending it my way!! 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bugs in Winter? You Bet!

 Winter Stoneflies

I always dread the end of summer. The bugs slowly start to disappear and by mid-fall, they seem to be all gone. This past autumn was a definite exception, with the ladybugs still being out in force in the middle of November! But, inevitably, winter arrives and my days of bug hunting come to an end for what seems like forever. Lucky for me, I discovered the existence of small winter stoneflies. I didn't actually "discover" them... but I did stumble across them in the woods one day. Hundreds upon hundreds of them - all crawling on the snow toward some mysterious destination. Wow! Bugs in winter! I love it.
So after taking a plethora of shots, I get home to research these new little critters I've found. They were quite hard to photograph, as I had little light, they were very speedy, and were only about 1 cm in length. Some seemed to be flying, but they were not very good at it. I watched for a good while to see where they were going. They all seemed to be going in the same general direction, possibly to find mates or food. I noticed many were scurrying up trees and some had even begun mating. I wish my photos were better, but you'll get the idea of what they look like anyway.

From the reading I've done on them, I have discovered some interesting facts, or as I like to call them...

...Juicy Tidbits

  • Stoneflies larvae are aquatic and are commonly called naiads (pronounced NIGH-ads).

  • Stoneflies (form the order Plecoptera) are sensitive to pollution. So are mayflies (Ephemeroptera) and caddisflies (Trichoptera). Combined, these insects are the "EPT" indicator species and are used to determine the health of streams, rivers and other water sources.

  • The stoneflies that I found are believed to be of the genus Allocapnia, according to the experts at

  • Adults emerge from rivers and streams during the month of February, and live from a few days to a few weeks. Enough time to find a mate and lay eggs.

  • They feed on algae found on tree bark. In the females case, this algae is needed for egg development.

  • Once eggs are developed, females return to their water source to wash the eggs from their body by flying along the surface of the water and dipping their abdomen into the water.

  • Their eggs hatch about three weeks later. The resulting larvae feed on algae and fungi in the water for a few weeks. After this time, they bury themselves at the bottom for a brief period of inactivity that lasts the summer. This is called a period of diapause - and is a suspension of development. Feeding resumes in the fall and the adults emerge in February. Cycle complete!
So, from what I've read, it makes complete sense that the stoneflies were climbing trees - it's their food source!

I love it when I find an insect that is new to me. The whole process of trying to i.d. it from my many handbooks, to the hours of "googling" that I do to learn all I can about my new little find. And then, finally, the sharing of what I've learned and the photos I took. If you'd like to learn more, visit the websites I've mentioned below, or better yet, get yourself a trusty little insect field guide.

Some stonefly websites that you may enjoy are:
Two books that I used for factual information of the stonefly were:
1) The Discovery Channel's "Insects and Spiders", an Explore Your World Handbook (pg. 138)
2) Kaufman's "Field Guide to Insect of North America" by Eric R. Eaton and Kenn Kaufman (pg. 60)

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Praying Mantis - Number One in My Books

The praying mantis is one of the most fascinating creatures I've ever had the pleasure of encountering and handling. Their looks are alien, yet they can also be sleek and graceful. On top of all that, with their five eyes (2 compound and 3 simple), spiky forearms and ability to camouflage themselves in their environment - they make quite the formidable predator. Yet harmless to man. My kind of critter!!

I spent a lot of time this past summer trying to find a praying mantis, but found nary a one. Yes, I really do go searching for insects. I think I'll have to do more investigating as to where the best places to find these fascinating insects are. So far, since being in Barrie, I have only had the pleasure of finding 3 praying mantises. This summer will be my 5th summer here....that's not a very good success ratio! I am optimistic that this Spring and Summer will make up for the praying mantis shortfall I'm experiencing!! If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try, try again... right??!!!

Juicy Tidbits:

* Praying mantises are predatory insects that are superior hunting machines. They hunt not only insects, but also snakes, lizards, birds, frogs... and even rodents.

* They are masters of camouflage (which explains why they are so hard for me to find!)

* Praying mantises can fly

* They are carnivores, and the female is known for cannibalizing the male mantis during or immediately after mating.

* Birds and bats are two common predators of the praying mantis.

* The egg case of the praying mantis is called an ootheca.

I believe the only type of praying mantis I've found is the European Mantid (Mantis religiosa). These can be easily identified by a large black spot located on the inside of its forelegs.
Want to know more? Check out some of these websites....

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cicadas: One of my favourite insects....

Pronounced "si-Kay-duh", these are one of my top three insects for sure. Cicadas are heard more often than they are seen. At least that's been my experience. These insects (the males actually) make a loud pitched "buzzsaw" noise from high in the treetops. This is their mating call. I remember hearing these noises as a child and thinking that that was the noise the power made as it travelled through the power lines.

My first visual introduction to these creatures occured only 7 years ago while at a friend's cottage in Pictou County, Nova Scotia. Here we found one drying it's wings on the tire of our car after molting. It was the most amazing insect I'd ever seen. I couldn't believe how big it was, how long its wings were, and loved its big bulging eyes. I had to know more... There are so many incredible things about this insect, so I'll try not to bore you. Here are some Juicy Tidbits that you may enjoy...

* Most cicadas have a lifecycle of about 2 - 5 years, but others, specifically the North American genus, Magicicada, has a lifecycle of 13 to 17 years.

* Cicadas live most of their life underground as a nymph. When ready, it tunnels to the surface, and molts on nearby plants or trees, emerging as a winged adult. The empty skins are left behind (these are called exuvia).

* There are 166 species of cicada throughout Canada and the United States.

* The Magicicada species in southern U.S.A. has a lifecycle of 13 years, but a 17 year lifecycle in northern states of the eastern U.S. These cicadas are also known to have a mass emergence, with upwards of 1.5 million cicadas emerging per acre!!

* Females can lay over 600 eggs.

* Apparently, cicadas can make a fine meal, and in some countries are considered a delicacy.

In February of 2009, my husband and I went to Thailand with a group of friends. When we arrived at our villa in Phuket, I was astounded at what I heard. The entire jungle was singing with cicadas. It was almost deafening. And then all of a sudden, it would end. I tried to write down the cycles of the cicada song - trying to see if they always started or stopped at a certain time of day, but a pattern never really stuck out. I didn't really matter though... it still sounded amazing. Now if only I could see one!! Fortunate for me, our villa had an amazing live-in cook/maid named Sarn. Not only did she clean up after us and make us amazing meals, but she even climbed a tree one day while we were at the beach, and caught me a cicada. How amazing! I still feel bad that I didn't give her some extra money for that... something I kept meaning to do, but never got around to it. I guess I'll have to pay it forward instead.