This morning next to the bathroom sink I spotted what at first glance appeared to be a tick with unusually long front legs. I took a closer look, and was overjoyed to see that it was in fact a pseudoscorpion–a little beast I’ve been wanting to see in person for a long time.


Pseudoscorpions constitute their own order of arachnids, Pseudoscorpiones. A quick look through the photos on BugGuide gives me the impression that they all look about like this, but I suppose mine is most likely to be the cosmopolitan house pseudoscorpion, Chelifer cancroides. A photo session with this crazy little thing (~2.2 mm long) clearly took priority over breakfast, so I brought it straight down to my desk to see what I could do with it.

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I’m curious about that little nubbin in the back–I don’t see it in the other pseudoscorpion photos I’ve browsed through. I tried to flip it over and get some ventral shots, but it wasn’t interested in lying on its back. As it turns out, a close-up ventral view is needed even to identify these to suborder. Maybe I’ll bump into it again and try harder to get those shots next time; after the photo shoot I set it free on a house plant to join the crab spider that has been devouring the aphids there, if it so chooses.

Now that I’ve finally seen a pseudoscorpion, my new ambition is to find one hitching a ride on a fly.

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Monthly Mystery #17: A Mystery in Reverse

Normally with natural history mysteries, there is some unexplained object or pattern that I wonder about until I stumble across an answer in the literature, or failing that, I eventually manage to locate or raise the organism that is responsible.  But here is an example where I thought I knew what I had to begin with, but now that I’ve succeeded in raising the insect, I’m not sure what to make of it.

The inchworm and sawfly discussed in yesterday’s post were both incidental encounters during my survey of Nantucket’s galls and leaf mines.  One of the things I was specifically looking for last spring was the leaf mine of an eriocraniid moth.  This is something that can only be found in spring because the larvae mine in fresh, young leaves, then drop to the ground and overwinter.  Once abandoned, the mines soon shrivel up beyond recognition.

In the same area where I collected the sawfly and inchworm, I managed to find a number of eriocraniid mines in scrub oak leaves, with their characteristic squiggly frass:


The identification was easy: just two eriocraniids occur in the Northeast; Dyseriocrania griseocapitella, which mines leaves of various oaks (although Quercus ilicifolia happens not to be among the documented hosts), and Eriocrania semipurpurella, which mines birch leaves.  I collected some leaves more for the challenge of rearing some larvae to adulthood than to confirm the ID.  I had tried and failed to rear the birch species the year before.

The next day, the larvae were already abandoning their mines, and they eagerly burrowed into the small jars of soil I offered them.


Last week, I was excited to see that one of the moths had emerged.  It perched calmly on the rim of the jar while I got some photos.


A few days later, a second one emerged.  I found that when I positioned the lens so that the wings were perfectly in focus, they appeared black, with only a hint of that beautiful purple iridescence.


But here’s the thing: I simply can’t reconcile these moths with  Dyseriocrania griseocapitella (or Eriocrania semipurpurella, for that matter).  The antennae and the wing pattern and shape are completely different. Here’s the only individual of that species I’ve ever seen, photographed at a light in May 2012:


So what’s going on here?  Have I found a species that is known from elsewhere in North America, or has been introduced from somewhere else in the world? Is it a Nantucket endemic?  The only other species known from the eastern US is Eriocraniella mediabulla, described in 1986.  It occurs in Georgia and the Gulf Coast states.  The leaf mines from which I reared these moths are a perfect match for D. griseocapitella and not E. mediabulla, based on the distinctions made in the description of the latter species.  The antennae and wings, however, look pretty good for E. mediabulla, based on the photo of a pinned specimen in the original description.  Examination of genitalia (by someone other than me) will be necessary to say for sure what these are.  In the meantime, I’m starting to question whether the moth in the last photo is really D. griseocapitella.  Its head and thorax aren’t nearly as hairy as in the other examples here.  Well, whatever.  That’s enough staring at these moths for one day.

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Spring Moth

You may recall that last spring I found a sawfly larva eating a distinctive pattern in a black cherry leaf, and was going to try to raise it.  Well, on June 17 I noticed a tiny inchworm (about 2.5 mm long) that had apparently hatched from an egg I hadn’t noticed when I’d collected the leaf a week earlier.  Here it is alongside the sawfly larva and its droppings:


And a closer view:


On June 21, it had grown to about 4.2 mm:


On June 25, it had grown to 8.5 mm, and had darkened considerably.  Here you can see its leaf-skeletonizing feeding pattern.


By June 30, it had reached a length of about 16 mm, and had developed some longitudinal stripes.


It had also developed some distinctive markings on its face:


A few days later, it disappeared into a jar of soil I had offered it.  Today, I found the adult moth fluttering in the jar.


It is, as expected, a “white spring moth” (Lomographa vestaliata)–perhaps the most nondescript of all moths, but a welcome sign of spring nonetheless.  Maybe accidentally raising a moth when attempting to raise a sawfly will become an annual tradition.


Although this moth had been exposed to indoor temperatures for a month or so, and may have emerged earlier than it otherwise would have, I saw another geometrid (inchworm) moth fluttering around my yard two days ago: “the infant” (Archiearis infans).  It was right next to a paper birch, which is one of the larval food plants.  I couldn’t have gotten a shot of it even if I’d had a camera with me, but here is the last photo I took of one–on April 24, 2004.  When they’re flying, you mostly see the orange hind wings, and they give the impression of little butterflies.

the infant 14

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More Firewood Dwellers

I’ve been splitting a lot of firewood lately, and every once in a while I hit a log just right to reveal something interesting inside.  Everything shown below came from red maple, just as the beetles and wasps shown here did.

Tracks & Sign of Insects illustrates some frass rods of ambrosia beetles (Curculionidae: Scolytinae) that were inside some of Noah’s firewood.  The structure and characteristics of the galleries are described (p. 433-4), but we didn’t include any photos showing cross sections, I guess because we hadn’t found any worth photographing at that point.  Well, the other day I hit the jackpot:



Just as described, these galleries excavated by the adult beetles run perpendicularly to the grain of the wood, rather than just under the bark as in the commonly seen galleries of the closely related scolytine bark beetles.  Each short branch in the gallery was a cell where a larva developed, eating bits of fungus harvested from the main tunnel and fed to it by its parents.  A couple of these cells had pieces of adult beetles in them:

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I think these photos might be sufficient to identify the beetles if the right person saw them, but I’m not sure who that would be.

Just under the bark of some of the same logs, I found some oval “nests” made of bark fragments.


These are surely pupal cells made by beetle larvae, but I’m not sure who exactly.  The well-known pupal cells like this are made under pine bark by the ribbed pine borer, a long-horned beetle (Cerambycidae: Rhagium inquisitor).  I have no idea what species would do this under red maple bark, but presumably it’s some other long-horned beetle.

You might notice that there are some larval remains inside a few of those cells.  Here’s a live example of the same thing:


You need to see a side view to appreciate how well adapted these are to living under bark:


This is the larva of Cucujus clavipes (Cucujidae), the red flat bark beetle.  I photographed an adult ten years ago and apparently haven’t seen one since:

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Virtually nothing is known about these common beetles, but they are presumed to be predatory on other arthropods.  I’m pretty sure they are unrelated to those pupal cells.

Another swipe at a red maple log narrowly missed this wood-boring larva:


At first I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at, but I nudged it forward to get a better look, revealing the telltale terminal appendage.



This is the larva of a horntail (Siricidae), one of the primitive hymenopterans that were formerly known as the “Symphyta”–the other included groups being sawflies and wood wasps.  I’m not sure what that appendage is for, other than to tell me that it’s a horntail larva.

The galleries of horntail larvae are densely packed with fine frass, in contrast to the coarse, shredded splinters made by many long-horned beetle larvae.


All but one North American horntail species feed on conifers, so given that this one was in a red maple, it’s safe to say it would have grown up to be one of these:

A female pigeon horntail (Siricidae: Tremex columba) ovipositing in a tree.

At just 8 mm long, this larva was far from full-grown, and although it was missed by the maul, it was doomed by having its tunnel split in two.  So I fed it to the chickadees and threw the log in the fire.

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Leafminers Awaken!

As I mentioned, on February 25 all the overwintering bugs got taken out of the fridge, and last night’s check of all the vials revealed the first two emergences.  They both happen to have come from leaf mines in the aster family (Asteraceae), which is what I’m currently working on in my keys to North American leaf mines.


Although I don’t think I would have recognized it from any of the examples shown here, I know this is Acrocercops astericola (Gracillariidae) because of the leaf mine it made as a larva.  This is how the mines on white wood aster (Eurybia divaricata) looked on September 28 when I collected them:


The mine begins with an indistinct squiggle, which is suddenly expanded into a large blotch that may entirely obliterate the linear portion.  The larva eventually eats out most of the green tissue in the blotch, which becomes puffy from the contracting of silk spun inside the mine.  Smaller leaves can look as if they’ve been blown up like balloons, as with this leaf of calico aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum) I found in Maine:


When done feeding, the larva turns bright red and emerges from the mine.


It spins a flat, brown cocoon, decorated with a single “frothy bubble”.  Many species in the subfamily Gracillariinae make bubbles like this; some cocoons have 20 or so of them.


As you can see, this leaf was already pretty moldy at the time the cocoon was made, but evidently the cocoon was tough enough to keep out the mold.  Here’s the pupal skin of the moth that just emerged, protruding from the moldy wreckage:


This pupa is facing us, and if you look closely you can see the sheaths of all the legs and antennae tucked into the middle.

The other insect that had emerged last night was a parasitoid wasp.


It’s a eulophid wasp in the subfamily Entedoninae, and I will need a specialist to get any further than that. The object to the right is the agromyzid fly puparium from which it emerged–at the far end you can see the hole it chewed to get out.

As luck would have it, this is from the same batch of fleabane-mining flies I wrote about here.  As I mentioned, I won’t know for sure what the host fly is until Owen Lonsdale examines the specimens (and I sent the poor guy 100 vials of flies all at once, so it may be a while), but now that I’ve made a key to leaf mines on fleabanes (Erigeron spp.), I’m prepared to suggest that the fly is Phytomyza erigerophila.  That species is widespread in Europe; in North America it has only been documented in Alberta, Tennessee, and North Carolina, but there is no reason to think it wouldn’t also be in Massachusetts.

Looking at that previous post about all the leafminers on a single fleabane plant that popped up in my lawn, I realize that I never wrote about the second to last moth that emerged in the fall before I put everything in the fridge for the winter (this being the last one).  There was a single mystery leaf mine that I guessed was the work of one of the “twirler moths” (Gelechiidae), and I wasn’t sure if the larva was still alive because the leaf had decomposed into a soggy strip of brown mush.  Well, on Halloween the adult moth appeared in the vial:


I was correct about it being a gelechiid; more specifically it was something in the tribe Gnorimoschemini, which includes Gnorimoschema gallaesolidaginis, the moth responsible for the elliptical galls on goldenrod stems–along with dozens and dozens of other species, most of which are known only as adults, and many of which still don’t have names.  Terry Harrison took a look at this photo and said it was “one of the bewildering array of composite-mining spp. of the ‘artemisiella’ type.”  The only gnorimoschemine known to mine fleabane leaves is Scrobipalpula erigeronella, which Annette Braun reared from “an irregular mine” at Glacier National Park in Montana.  I know of two living taxonomists who work on these moths; one never responded to my email about this, and I haven’t gotten around to trying the other one yet.  Surely there is no shortage of unidentified specimens for them to go through, but one would hope that a moth whose immature stages have been documented would be considered worth prioritizing.

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An Update and a Fancy Moth

First, an update on the mystery from the other day. I showed that post to Andy Hamilton, and in the meantime Lee managed to find some occupied tubes, and the upshot is that they are indeed the work of spittlebugs in the family Clastopteridae, as I had guessed. However, they are not in the subfamily Machaerotinae, but rather Clastopterinae–some species of which make flimsier versions of the machaerotine tubes shown here. As it happens, Andy had just completed and submitted a revision of the old-world Clastopterinae, and Lee has given him permission to use several of his photos, which will be appended to the manuscript. The spittlebug in question may be Patriziana somalicus, which in 1930 was reported to feed on Abutilon and cotton, both in the mallow family (Malvaceae) as silver raisin is, and apparently that was the last anyone heard of it. At least, that was the impression I got–Andy was very excited about it. Lee is going to send him a specimen for examination and DNA barcoding. I’ll post an update/clarification when the paper is published.

Anyway, this morning a fellow western Massachusetts naturalist, Sue Cloutier, sent me a photo of a tiny moth she had seen at a light in Northampton, thinking she might have recognized it from BugTracks. In fact, it isn’t something I had posted here before, but I think I had posted a photo of it once on Facebook. It is certainly a memorable moth, and Sue’s email prompted me to look at the BugGuide page, where I learned for the first time what this moth does for a living.


When I saw this moth at work one day, I thought I might be seeing my first fairy moth. But when I got home and looked it up, I quickly saw that that wasn’t right, and I figured out that it is instead one of the “concealer moths” (Oecophoridae), Mathildana newmanella. The family’s common name comes from the fact that the larvae tend to feed concealed in webs or in rolled or tied leaves.

Larvae of Mathildana newmanella, I learned today, live in webs under the bark of dead trees. Adults have been reared from Ganoderma tsugae, a bright red shelf fungus that grows on hemlocks, known as the hemlock varnish shelf. It is a very common fungus, and for that reason it apparently has never occurred to me to photograph it, except for one time exactly ten years ago, soon after I was given my first digital camera.

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This fungus is one of a few closely related Ganoderma species that are known as reishi or lingzhi and are used medicinally. I’ve had reishi tea and it pretty much tastes like dirt, but I’m happy to overlook that considering its many redeeming qualities, which include anticancer properties.

I’ve seen Mathildana newmanella just one other time, and in that instance it was perched on a dead tree, where I suppose it might have developed as a larva and had recently emerged, or was looking to start a new generation in that tree, or both. That happened to be on the same walk that culminated in my first sighting of a leaf-rolling weevil doing its thing.


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Monthly Mystery #16: Tubes on Silver Raisin

Yesterday a friend forwarded me this photo that had been posted to the “Southern Africa Butterflies, Bugs, Bees and other small things” Facebook group to see if I had a clue what it was.  At first, I didn’t.  The photographer, Lee Gutteridge, wrote:

Here is one more that has baffled me lately, taken in the Klaserie. These tiny white calcium shells are common on the Silver raisin bushes (Grewia monticola) and i have it on pretty good authority that it is a type of aphid which is responsible for creating the shell. However, this little guy was running around on one of them…is he related to the shell above him? it looks like a psyllid. can anyone shed any light on this for me please? 


I contacted Lee for permission to post his photo here, and he sent me a few additional ones:



I agree that the bug in the first photo appears to be a psyllid nymph, and in contemplating whether it could be related to the structures, I remembered the two Australian psyllid species that have shown up on eucalyptus in California.  They live in shelters called “lerps,” made from their own waxy secretions, as seen here and here.

But Lee had described these things as “calcium shells,” so evidently the substance isn’t waxy.  As I was starting to put this post together, I suddenly remembered those jujube tubes from India, which turned out to be made by froghopper nymphs.  I just did a little reading to refresh my memory about these things, and I came across this 2001 paper by Andy Hamilton, which notes:

These tubes have been said to be “calcareous” with “not less than 75% calcium carbonate” (Ratte 1884) although modern studies show that they are mainly made of mucofibrils (Marshall 1965), which are thick, gelatinous compounds that dry to a rocklike hardness. Mucofibrils are produced by excretory ducts of the lower intestine called Malpighian tubules.

Looking at the illustrations of the different tube types on the third page of that paper, I’m pretty well convinced that these South African objects are something similar, and that the psyllid-like nymph just happened to be wandering by.  So it seems that I may have accidentally solved this mystery before posting it, although I still have no clue what species does this on Grewia monticola.

As an interesting side note, Lee mentioned that he is busy with an insect/invertebrate track and sign book for his region. I look forward to seeing it, and I commend Lee for being able to focus on things like this while having to keep an eye out for lions and leopards at the same time!

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