Friday, June 12, 2009

Bug Day

Yesterday felt like Bug Day. I walked outside in the morning and spied this guy, just sitting quietly on the porch floor.

I've seen photos before, but this was the first time I'd seen the live beastie, an eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus). These are BIG beetles, as beetles go - about 1 1/2" in length. This one seemed quite happy to just rest calmly while I snapped several photos.

After doing some web research, I learned that eyed click beetles spend their larval time in rotten wood, usually stumps, eating the grubs of other beetles, especially long-horned or wood-boring beetles. That makes this species benign at the very least, and potentially a positive predator. Despite their fierce appearance, the adults are not harmful - the big eyes are thought to be a defense against predators, making them look much scarier than they really are.

Many other click beetle species have larvae that can do damage when found in large numbers - these are the "wire worms" of vegetable gardens. One of nature's ironies, then, is that this scary-looking member of a family often considered destructive is such a pussycat.

The next insect I noticed yesterday was a flower beetle on the oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) near where I was weeding. (By the way, the oakleaf hydrangea blooms have a wonderful fragrance which I'd never noticed before.) I didn't pay too much attention to the beetle, but the next time I looked up it was attached to the front end of a wheel bug nymph!

It's amazing to me that the wheel bug nymph can take this large a beetle - the beetle looks twice as heavy as the nymph and it seems like its weight alone would cause the nymph to fall from the shrub. I saw no sign of that happening, though.

Last, but hardly least, I noticed a great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele) nectaring at my newly opening Echinacea hybrids.

Both the flowers and the butterfly are at least 3" across, to give you a sense of scale. Fritillary caterpillars eat violets and are a wonderful reason to let violets flourish in your yard...if you need a reason beyond the charm of violets themselves. (I've also found fritillary caterpillars on pansies, so I assume they can eat any members of the Viola genus.)
Flowers and plants are beautiful, but it is the insects, birds, amphibians and reptiles that visit them that make the yard truly seem to come alive. This time of year is a blast!

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