Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bizarre Bugs in the Boonies

On a recent walkabout along a deeply forested trail, I found myself drawn to several bizarre and unusual critters.  I guess most of the inhabitants of the insect world are rather extraordinary to say the least, but I believe that some of the stars of this post deserve special recognition.

This first long-limbed oddity is the Phantom Crane Fly (Bittacomorpha clavipes). It is a most fascinating sight to watch one of these fragile creatures move about. The body kind of resembles a damselfly or skinny dragonfly, but it is the way they fly with their legs all splayed out that looks unlike anything else! They are black, but have bright white markings along their abdomen and legs, and when they fly in and out of the shadows, all you notice are those white spots. If you look at the picture and squint your eyes, you will see what I mean! He really does look like a phantom that appears and disappears! His uniqueness gets better...He has a flared area on each of his tibia (lower portion of his legs) that he utilizes to catch a light breeze, so he really actually "drifts" instead of flying in a specific direction like most winged insects. He really is a beautiful sight to behold, but if you see one, don't take your eyes off him or he will "disappear"!

The phantom crane fly prefers dark, shadowy environments that are around water. I spotted this one wafting between clumps of vegetation and foliage along a creek bank. I saw him several times, but kept losing sight of his "barely there" body. Then he hooked one of his tiny tarsals on a leaf, so I was able to get a couple of pictures as he hung and spun from the leaf edge! I'm not sure if he caught the leaf deliberately or if it just happened by chance, but it was a stroke of luck for me!! See how his legs are positioned? That is just how they remain when he is in flight. He resembles a tiny UFO as he floats about!

You can see a little more detail in this one. Notice the flared portions on the legs. The phantom crane fly really is beautiful and unusual-looking!

Phantom Crane Flies mating

A look through my lens showed this tiny dried speck to be an exoskeleton of a very small insect. The strange part is that its back was "glued" to the surface of a leaf, and I mean it is really stuck there! It wouldn't let lose when I tried to pull it off. I don't know which insect shed this skin-It resembles a lady bug, but I am just not sure!  It will probably always be a mystery!  Pretty cool though!

Jiminy Crickets! Look at those long legs! This is the Camel Cricket (family Rhaphidophoridae). 
This very lanky-legged cricket gets its name from the humped appearance of its back. His long legs make him look like a spider. This is a very unusual looking cricket, especially to me, since the only ones I've ever seen are the small black ones that fill the night air with song. Speaking of song, this particular species couldn't carry a tune in a bucket! Well, actually he cannot "sing" or chirp like regular crickets. Not only can he not sing, but he can't fly either. He is wingless!
You will usually only find this cricket in dark, moist places such as in wells, under logs or boards, in basements, caves, etc. They are also called Cave Crickets. I was shocked at how large this guy was. When I saw him crawling toward me, I really didn't know what it was at first. The camel cricket will actually jump out at anything in an attempt to intimidate something he feels threated by. Thank goodness he didn't do that to me! I would have jumped out of my boots! Actually, they are completely harmless to humans. Since they live in dark, moist places, food may be scarce at times. For survival they are known to consume their own limbs, and they will eat each other if necessary!

A closer view shows their pretty patterns and colors.

This is a cocoon I found-I'm not sure what it is. I was hoping it was a moth, but I have no clue. I thought the shape and the way that hung from the stalk was interesting.

This large scarab beetle is the Grapevine Beetle (Pelidnota punctata). The beetle is quite boisterous and is drawn to lights at night. I didn't find him along the path with the others, but actually heard him hitting the siding of the house the other evening. He was flying totally out of control and his hard shell was making quite a racket as he continued to fly in circular patterns, occasionally crashing into the siding near the porchlight. He landed upside-down at one point and I thought he killed himself, but when I turned him over, off he went again. This time landing on the porch ceiling (pictured). He has beautiful, reflective bluish eyes and bright orange antennas. The antennae are clubbed, and can fan out to serve as receptors that gather certain stimuli in the environment. Interestingly, he would completely retract the antennae and hide them from view whenever I would shine a flashlight on him. This large beetle feeds on grape leaves and other foliage. I always find scarab beetles to be very interesting and beautiful! There are hundreds of different species of all sizes and colors.

These two love bugs are known as Red Milkweed Bugs (Tetraopes tetraophthalmus). They belong to the Long-horned beetle family. Notice how the antennae split the eyes into two. They actually have 2 eyes on each side of their head! (check out the arrows below).

These insects feed on the milkweed plant, which contains a poisonous chemical. The Red Milkweed Bug ingests this chemical, and stores it as defense against predators. Whatever tries to eat the bug will become sick. Most birds or other predators won't likely even try though because the loud red coloration screams out "IF YOU EAT ME, YOU'LL BE SORRY!" Birds or other predators instinctively know that this is a warning color. If they don't, they will learn very quickly and will avoid all prey with bright oranges, reds and blacks in the future. Other insects who share this same diet and coloration include the monarch butterfly, viceroy butterfly, and small and large milkweed bug.
I saw several of these insects, and most of them were mating.
Closeup of eyes that have been split into two because of the placement of the antennae.

Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)
I love all dragonflies and damselflies, but this damselfly is particularly beautiful! The deep metallic blues and greens are gorgeous! The Jewelwings definitely seem to possess a certain charm! They have a very pretty, fluttery flight pattern, and when they land they seem to actually look at you. I have found them to be very tolerant and will usually hold very still while you observe them!  They are very beneficial, as are all dragonflies and damselflies, because of the large numbers of flies, mosquitos, gnats, aphids and other small insects that they consume daily. The one pictured is a male - he has solid black wings, while the female has a white spot on her wings. 

The deep blues of this very reflective beetle is equally as intense as the Ebony Jewelwing, above. This handsome little guy (and he really is tiny), is the Flea Beetle. He is in the leaf beetle family (Chrysamelidae). There are several different species, so I'm not sure which one this is. They are all very tiny, and have enlarged hind legs that allow for quick springing action when disturbed. Even though they are well equipped to jump out of sight in a flash, they can also walk normally or fly. This one was perfectly content to walk around this leaf while I took pictures.  Even though this picture shows fair representation of his beauty, I still couldn't capture the true reflectivity of the colors. He is almost as pretty as the Dogbane Leaf Beetle I showed in an earlier post. The Dogbane Leaf Beetle seems to reflect several colors, including reds, golds, blues, purples, etc., while flea beetles mainly display deep hues of blues and greens with a hint of lavender. Some of these beetles are beneficial, while others can be pests.

Here is another scarab beetle known as the Rose Chafer (Macrodactylus subspinosus). Their bodies are covered in light yellow hairs. The hairs can wear off over time with age and activity, so it appears this particular one is obviously young. They have clubbed antennae that can spread out and "smell" the air (like the Grapevine Beetle, above). The Rose Chafer possesses sensitive receptors on the clubbed antennae that can detect the pheremones from both plants and other beetles. These pheremone signals are important for survival and mating purposes. In fact all insects possess this elaborate system for communication, protection, direction, to locate food sources, etc.

I don't like spiders, but I don't mind these guys at all. They are not spiders, but are a close relative. Most people know them by their nickname: Daddy Longlegs, but the actual common name is Harvestman (Phalangium opilio).

They are just about everywhere, and in great numbers. While walking along paths or through the weeds, they can be seen poised in dry, curled-up leaves or sitting or crawling along the foliage. In fact, sometimes I've seen dozens of them just sitting on leaves and weeds as if lying in wait! Some people may think they are venomous like spiders, but they actually are totally harmless and even beneficial to humans, due to the fact that they can consume very large numbers of insects and pests. I find them beautiful and elegant in their own way.

Here are a few interesting facts about them: They only live for one year (they cannot survive the winter); they are mainly nocturnal; they have an eye on each side of a knob on their head (known as a turret);  they have sensitive tips on their legs that they utilize to explore, search for food and warn others of danger; they can regenerate new legs if they become injured or missing.

This harvestman was finishing up what looked like to be the remains of a caterpillar.

This one seemed to be relaxing in a leaf "hammock".


  1. Wow, great set of images! Love them !

  2. Great pictures of these insects. I think that that Phantom crane fly has been sneaking some steroids to boost those leg muscles.

  3. I believe the harvestman is eating a trilobite beetle. Either way, fantastic find!

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