A few years ago, when the BugLady wrote about the ninebark leaf beetle (Calligrapha spiraea), she made a mental note to pay more attention to ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) during its blooming period. Ninebark? The way the BugLady heard the story, the shrub’s name comes from the German word “nein” for “no,” a reference to the fact that the smooth bark of the young branches looks like no bark at all (some non-German botanist eventually rearranged the vowels so that they made sense to him).
It’s quiet now, but the Viburnum leaf beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni) is slowly chewing its way across southern Wisconsin. It has followed the general invasive species template – establishing small, often undetected populations and staying below the radar for years, its spread (unwittingly) aided by human activity. Once we know we know it’s here, it has already reached numbers that are difficult to control.
The leaves are starting to fall here in God’s Country, the birds are moving, and as of yesterday it’s officially autumn (Yikes!). But there are still some bugs out there – like wildflowers, some species of insects bloom in the spring, some in the summer, and others in the fall. The imperative to reproduce is strong as the days get shorter; most insects live for about a calendar year, mainly in their immature stages, with a short-but-productive adult stage. Most leave behind eggs or pupae or partly-grown offspring to weather the winter.
When the BugLady was walking in the woods at Riveredge the other day, she found some plate-sized, stocky, very aromatic, gilled mushrooms growing out of the ground. Then, she saw something moving on the rim of an “over-the-hill” fungus.
The BugLady hopes that you’ve been getting out on the trail and drinking in the lushness of the summer. Subjects of this summer’s survey include wasps, aphids, syrphids, and katydids.
The BugLady is always excited when she finds an insect she’s never seen before. She was moseying along the trail at Riveredge Nature Center at the beginning of July when she saw a flash of orange in the vegetation. A big flash. She craned and fidgeted and crossed her fingers while the beetle crawled around, revealing itself by degrees.
The poet Muriel Rukeyser once wrote, “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” The BugLady sees lots of tableaux unfolding as she ambles across the landscape. Because she was taught, at an impressionable age, by a professor who said “Don’t just tell them what it is, tell them ‘what about it,’” she tries to read the stories and understand the “what-about-its”
“Dung beetle” refers to beetles whose lives are intertwined with dung, but the term is not exclusively a taxonomic one. True, most of its practitioners belong to the beetle family Scarabaeidae and the subfamily Scarabaeinae, but the name is also applied loosely to any beetle that makes its living in dung. Researching the dung beetle is like researching a rock star. There are True Facts, YouTube videos, Facebook, kids’ pages, and even a graphic novel or two! Because they have Super Powers.
The BugLady has been wanting to do an episode about Bess beetles for a long time, but she didn’t have a picture of one (many thanks to BugFans Tom and Joe for sharing). Why Bess beetles? Because they exhibit what’s called “pre-social behavior,” and they vocalize like crazy, and they have lots of names, and then there’s the phoresy. The Insects of Duke University website calls them “one of the most delightful discoveries one can make upon overturning logs.”
As always, we pause to celebrate (while humming seasonal songs and drinking eggy, adult beverages), the Twelve Bugs of Christmas (plus one) – a baker’s dozen of bugs, many of whom have already starred in their own BOTWs but who posed nicely for the BugLady this year.