Way Out on the Lonesome Prairie

Lately, The BugLady’s been thinking about prairies. She led a walk at Riveredge Nature Center’s excellent “Knee Deep in Prairies” celebration, and she spends a lot of quality time on the prairie because she loves its ever-changing palettes and patterns. By some estimates, the biomass of the insects on pre-settlement American prairies equaled that of the bison. Here are some pollinators and predators and plant feeders of the prairie – and the flowers they visit.

Four-toothed Mason Wasp (Family Vespidae)

A solitary Four-toothed Mason Wasp, Monobia quadridens, has taken to creating egg chambers in the BugLady’s wind chimes. This is a medium-sized wasp, with both a length and a wingspan of just under an inch. They are found throughout eastern North America, edging into southern Ontario to the north, the Great Plains on the west, and northern Mexico to the south.

Galls IV – Two Oaks and a Hickory

Here’s the general formula for gall formation: Mom lays/injects her egg(s) onto/into plant tissue, and when the eggs hatch, the young insects (there are gall-making wasps, flies, beetles, moths, thrips, and aphids) or mites burrows inside, if it’s not there already. Specific gall-makers target specific host plants, resulting in galls that are predictable in location and appearance.

Ichneumon Centrator Wasp (Family Ichneumonidae)

Ichneumon centrator (no common name) is about ¾” long. Females are black with smoky wings, reddish-brown accents on the thorax and head, mostly-pale antennae, and dark yellow bands on their legs. Males are black, with pale antennae. Only one host species has been identified for Ichneumon centrator, and it’s the larva of the Isabella tiger moth, famously known as the Wooly bear caterpillar.

Wildflower Watch – Dawdling among Dandelions

Dandelions produce both nectar and pollen and so are appreciated by wildlife, especially early bees and butterflies (100 species of pollinators have been tallied). The BugLady has been dawdling among dandelions to see who else appreciates them. She saw representatives of 8 kinds of hymenopterans (ants/bees/wasps), 4 kinds of flies, 3 of arachnids (spiders and spider relatives), and 1 beetle. Seen, but not photographed, were a few cabbage butterflies.

Amazing Ichneumons (Family Ichneumonidae)

Ichneumon wasps are in the family Ichneumonidae, a group whose larvae are parasitic on a variety of other invertebrates. The 5,000 known species in North America could be joined by an additional 3,000, and the “estimated 60,000” worldwide might actually total 100,000.

Sand Wasps (Family Crabronidae)

Sand wasps are (as are most wasps and bees) solitary wasps, found in habitats with loose or sandy soil. While they are not social insects like honeybees, ants, and some hornets are, they will tolerate other wasps nesting nearby.

Ichneumons Without Bios (Family Ichneumonidae)

The Wasp family Ichneumonidae is a very large (and confusing and taxonomically challenging) bunch. How large? Bugguide reports 5,000 species in North America, with possibly another 3,000 not yet described, and estimates of a global species numbers range from 60,000 to 100,000. How confusing? The family is subdivided into 27 subfamilies.

Bugs Without Bios VI

“Bugs without Bios” are critters that, while undoubtedly worthy, are barely on the radar in either on-line or print references. But, they contribute to their communities and have their own places in the Web of Life. What these three have in common is their (admittedly very limited) work as biological control agents.

Velvet Ant (Family Mutillidae)

Velvet Ants, as every on-line and paper resource tells us up front, are not ants at all, but are flightless female wasps in the family Mutillidae (and like ants, they’re in the order Hymenoptera). Their sting is ranked at a 3 out of 4 on the Schmidt Pain Scale and is considered painful, but not dangerous/venomous. Velvet ants are found in dry habitats where their host species build their nest tunnels, and they have extra-tough exoskeletons that help to prevent internal water loss in their xeric surroundings.