The Yard List(s), Part 23

Over two weeks since my last update. In a few days my life will become less busy (I think?) and I should be able to explore my yard—and write about what I find in it—more regularly. In the meantime, here’s what I’ve bumped into over the past 18 days… as usual, I have some updates on previous finds as well as new ones to report.

On July 14 I had collected three Agromyza larvae mining in sunflower leaves in our vegetable garden, which could conceivably have been A. ambrosivora (which I found mining ragweed leaves in our yard), Arudbeckiana (which I found mining Heliopsis leaves along our driveway), or another species that hasn’t been reared before. All three larvae exited and formed puparia within a few days. One emerged as an adult female on July 29:

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I needed a male to find out what species they were, but luckily there were two puparia left. On August 9, this braconid wasp emerged from one of them:

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And this pteromalid emerged from the remaining one on August 23, so I guess I’m out of luck.

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In Part 22, I wrote about some agromyzid fly mines on apple mint (leafminer #150) that seem to match those of the European species Phytomyza tetrasticha, which isn’t known to occur in North America. Since August 9, least two different species of eulophid wasps have emerged from those mines, including several eulophines (probably Pnigalio)…

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…and a single tiny entedonine, just 0.6 mm long.

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On August 20, the first of 18 adult flies emerged.

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It was a female, but there have been plenty of males since, including this one…

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…so we’ll be able to confirm their identity eventually. I can’t help but wonder if these and the oregano miners I found earlier this summer are the same species; Phytomyza origani and P. tetrasticha are closely related (both belonging to the obscura subgroup of the Phytomyza obscura group), and what are the odds that two European species that look the same, make identical leaf mines, and have never been found in North America before, both show up in my front yard at the same time? But as far as is known P. origani feeds only on oregano, and P. tetrasticha feeds only on mints in the genus Mentha, so we’ll go with that assumption for now.

Sawfly #38: Aglaostigma semiluteum (Tenthredinidae), I presume… because this is the only sawfly known to feed on jewelweed (Balsaminaceae: Impatiens capensis). I found one of these larvae in Vermont on August 11, 2005, and failed to rear it, not really knowing how to go about it at that point. I never saw another one until August 10 this year, when I spotted three of them right where Julia and I parked to conduct a dragonfly survey about 50 miles west of our house (these surveys have occupied most of our waking hours since the last week of July). When we got home that evening, I checked the jewelweed patch behind the chicken run and noticed a white speck at the edge of a leaf, which I guessed correctly was the recently shed skin of a sawfly larva that was now curled up on the underside of the same leaf. By the time I had carried the leaf inside, the larva had moved to the upper leaf surface:

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These jewelweed sawfly larvae, like some other species on various other plants, secrete a white, waxy bloom that covers their skin. They lose this covering each time they molt, as the above larva illustrates nicely. Here’s the same larva on August 18:

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It’s tricky to get a look at this larva at the right angle to see its big black “nose.”

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Here’s the larva again on August 22, looking more evenly glaucous:

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Leafminer #151: Stigmella purpuratella (Nepticulidae), on apple. I’ve never found mines of this species before; all the mines I’ve found on our apple trees before have been the introduced European species S. oxyacanthella, which doesn’t show up until September. On August 12 I found two mines that were already empty, one on our “Spigold”…

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…and one on our Winesap:

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In Part 22, I wrote about the grape leafminer Antispila isabella, sharing a photo of “an adult that emerged on July 10 from a leaf mine Julia and I collected on August 29 last year at Black Rock Forest in New York—clearly a species with just one generation per year, especially given that I removed the pupal case from winter refrigeration way back in February.” Just a few days after I made this proclamation—on August 13—an adult emerged from one of the mines I’d collected in the yard on July 20.

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Another emerged within a few days after that, while I was teaching a weekend workshop in Vermont. There is obviously more to be learned about A. isabella, which as I already mentioned is a name being applied to at least two distinct species. Whether one of them has a single generation per year and another has two or more, remains to be seen.

On Monday the 17th, I took a rare day off and actually got to devote a few hours to wandering around the yard. I found this glorious creature, a “monkey slug” caterpillar (Limacodidae: Phobetron pithecium), on the pear tree we planted this spring:

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Last fall we embellished the wildest part of our front yard with some native-ish mints, including some spotted beebalm (Lamiaceae: Monarda punctata) that was now in full bloom and being thoroughly appreciated by a variety of fancy wasps:

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These bigger ones weren’t very good at holding still long enough to be photographed, and my camera was having a hard time appreciating how blue and shiny their wings were, but this gives you some idea:

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Two years ago, I noticed that some bird or mammal had planted the European subspecies of highbush cranberry (Adoxaceae: Viburnum opulus ssp. opulus) at the edge of our yard. I decided to leave it there, since although nonnative it doesn’t seem to be particularly invasive, and I’ve now been rewarded with a mine of…

Leafminer #152: Marmara viburnella (Gracillariidae), the first moth species I had the honor of naming, which I first found on the island of Tuckernuck in September 2011, and which Julia and I spent the next four years learning about before finally succeeding in rearing it. We reared it from arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), but I’ve seen it on various other viburnums, including in the last year or two a hobblebush (V. lantanoides) within a few miles of our house. But this is the first time I’ve found it on highbush cranberry, or in our yard. Here’s the initial squiggle in the leaf blade…

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…and here you can see the mine moving from the leaf blade, down the petiole, and into the stem:

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It continued all the way down the newer, green part of the stem, disappearing behind the brown bark from previous years, where the larva will keep mining until next June.

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Our groundnut plants have yet to deliver any leaf mines of Odontota scapularis, but they’re worth having around just for their striking flowers (seen here with a planthopper, Metcalfa pruinosa), though of course their prolific, delicious and nutritious tubers are a nice bonus.

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This spring we sprouted some cardinal flower (Campanulaceae: Lobelia cardinalis) from seed, and a couple of plants are now blooming in the drainage swale we dug across the front yard last fall:

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Here’s a wild turkey walking by one of them on August 19—a whole herd came through, with a few wandering onto our front stoop. I took this picture through the window by the front door.

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I don’t remember specifically planting garden phlox (Polemoniaceae: Phlox paniculata), but it’s been jumping around our yard for a few years now.

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I’ve been watching it closely for leaf mines of Liriomyza phloxiphaga (Agromyzidae), which is known from a single specimen I reared from phlox in my mother’s garden three years ago. No luck so far, but on August 17 I did find this:

Leafminer #153: A heretofore unknown leafminer that forms a narrow linear mine in leaves of garden phlox, soon entering the midrib and presumably continuing into the stem—as with Marmara viburnella, but this isn’t a Marmara; at this point I’m not sure what insect order it belongs to. I can’t see an eggshell at the beginning of the mine, there is no evident frass or larva when I backlight the leaf, and there is no external evidence of feeding in the stem.

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I’ve found one other example so far, right next to the garage.

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Leafminer #154: Phyllocnistis ampelopsiella (Gracillariidae), on Virginia creeper (Vitaceae:  Parthenocissus quinquefolia).  This species mines exclusively on the undersides of Virginia creeper leaves, with little or no visible sign on the upper surface. Julia can attest that I’ve been checking the undersides of the leaves of the vine growing up the rock at the entrance to our driveway pretty much every day when we get home from work, so it’s baffling to me that on August 23 there were suddenly multiple mines from which the adult moths had already emerged.

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Leafminer #155: Ectoedemia rubifoliella (Nepticulidae), on blackberry (Rosaceae: Rubus allegheniensis).  I found several already vacated mines of this moth in the backyard on August 23. This one shows the semicircular exit slit nicely:

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Leafminer #156: Astrotischeria solidagonifoliella (Tischeriidae), on Canada goldenrod (Asteraceae: Solidago canadensis).  I found a single young mine of this moth not far away, less than 1 cm long at this point.

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In the backlit view you can see that there is a little frass in the initial linear portion, but the mine is otherwise clean because the larva has been pushing the rest of its frass through a tiny hole in the underside of the leaf.

Leafminer #157: Nola cilicoides (Nolidae), on fringed loosestrife (Primulaceae:  Lysimachia ciliata).  I’ve been watching for mines of this species for several years now without success, and then I happened to spot one behind the chicken house on the evening of the 23rd when I wasn’t even looking.

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This is the only nolid moth known to mine leaves, and I might have overlooked it in Leafminers of North America if I hadn’t spent a few months working in the office of the Massachusetts Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program. Bryan Connolly, then the state botanist, mentioned it to me at some point; he and Dave Wagner had published a paper detailing its natural history*. Young larvae mine leaves in August, at least in some cases exiting to window-feed on the lower leaf surface (as is evident in the lower right portion of the above photo). They then spin small cocoons between two overlapping leaves, where they remain inactive for nine months. In spring and early summer, they bore into young stems, later feeding on flower buds, flowers, and young leaves, which may be loosely tied with silk. When finished feeding they spin cocoons along the stems, and adults emerge a week or two later.

The larva by the chicken house had molted at least once before exiting its mine, leaving a head capsule dangling from the hole it chewed in the lower epidermis.

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Leafminer #158: I’m thinking this moth I found flitting around the bathroom on the night of August 23 is Caloptilia hypericella (Gracillariidae), although it wasn’t as shiny as that species typically is. I guess I’ll have to look for mines on the St. John’s-wort in the yard to confirm, especially since the European Hypericum perforatum (the only St. John’s-wort around) isn’t a know host for this species.

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On the evening of August 24 I spotted the first couple of Brachys aerosus mines on a blackish red oak in the lower nut orchard, after having seen adults there way back on May 26.

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When I went back to take the above photos the next day (note the big, shining eggshell on the upper leaf surface, and the stringy frass in the backlit view), I also found very young mines of…

Leafminer #159: One of the many oak-feeding Cameraria species (Gracillariidae).  The mine below was less than 4 mm across.

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On August 25 I went out to document the latest addition to the list and paused for a quick photo of these ambush bugs lurking among goldenrod flowers:

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What I was actually heading out to photograph was, admittedly, much less photogenic.

Leafminer #160: Zeugophora sp. (Megalopodidae), on willow (Salicaceae: Salix sp.).  I haven’t yet tried to identify this willow, which came along with a little swamp azalea we planted in the backyard this spring.

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I’ve never found a Zeugophora mine on willow before, but these beetles also mine in Populus leaves, and the larva in this mine might be Z. varians, which I reared last year from quaking aspen leaf mines collected the previous August 24 in the woods right behind our house:

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The lilac by our front door has yet to reveal a single leaf mine of Gracillaria syringella (Gracillariidae), even though the lilacs along the road by our neighbor’s house were completely covered with them this spring. But it did provide a place for this sleepy little spring peeper to rest.

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And now it’s time to head out for more dragonfly surveys, so I’ll leave you with this shot of Julia showing off the aptly named “tall blue lettuce” (Asteraceae: Lactuca biennis) that’s growing by the vegetable garden fence—no doubt doing so well because the seed that gave rise to it happened to land right next to the compost bin.

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Oh yeah, that reminds me that I’m also supposed to be listing the plants in the yard we’ve eaten this year. Let’s see…

106. Elderberry (Adoxaceae: Sambucus nigra) – fruit
107. Fennel (Apiaceae: Foeniculum vulgare) – petioles/leaves
108. Beach plum (Rosaceae: Prunus maritima) – fruit
109. Peach (Rosaceae: Prunus persica) – fruit
110. Good-king-Henry (Amaranthaceae: Blitum bonus-henricus) – leaves

* Wagner, David L. and Bryan Connolly. 2009. Pithing and mining by a punkie: the unusual feeding strategies of Nola cilicoides (Grote, 1873) (Noctuidae: Nolinae). Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society 63(1): 48–51.

About Charley Eiseman

I am a freelance naturalist, endlessly fascinated by the interconnections of all the living and nonliving things around me. I am the lead author of Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates (Stackpole Books, 2010), and continue to collect photographs and information on this subject. These days I am especially drawn to galls, leaf mines, and other plant-insect interactions.
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4 Responses to The Yard List(s), Part 23

  1. Virginia S Dyson says:

    Wow! your backyard zoo has been a busy place these last few weeks!

  2. Peggy Richardson says:

    You are probably aware that the beautiful black-and-white wasp is monobia quadridens, the “carpenter wasp.”

  3. Anonymous says:

    Yours is the best blog on the Web!

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