Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Fascinating Flies

This blog is another collage of my posts to our Facebook group SW US Insects and Arachnids. Robyn Waayer chose the theme for this week. I was surprised how many very divers contributions I was able to pull out of my files. even leaving Robber Flies, Bee Flies and Syrphids out because they were represented well enough in other posts.

Cuterebra arizonae, Rodent Botfly
Hill-topping Cuterebra arizonae, Rodent Botfly
9-19-9 pima canyon, Catalinas, Pima Co, AZ
Jeff Boetner det.
'Females typically deposit eggs in the burrows and "runs" of rodent or rabbit hosts. A warm body passing by the eggs causes them to hatch almost instantly and the larvae glom onto the host. The larvae are subcutaneous (under the skin) parasites of the host. Their presence is easily detected as a tumor-like bulge, often in the throat or neck or flanks of the host. The larvae breathe by everting the anal spiracles out a hole (so they are oriented head-down inside the host). They feed on the flesh of the host, but only rarely does the host die as a result.' In some populations 80% of all rodents are parasitized. The drone of these big flies is louder than most insects' flying-sounds

Brachylinga sp. Therevidae (Stiletto Flies)
 Therevidae (Stiletto Flies) - genus Brachylinga Sabino Canyon, Pima Co, AZ USA 4/4/2012
Related to Robberflies, Stiletto Flies are less well known. But in dry, sandy areas they are probably ecologically rather important. Their larvae live in sandy soils as arthropod-predators

Trichopoda indivisa, (Feather-legged Flies), Tachinidae
 Trichopoda indivisa, (Feather-legged Flies), Tachinidae
10-1-2012 Buenos Aires National Wildlife Preserve, Pima Co, AZ, USA
Small brightly-colored flies that frequent flowers. Sexes dimorphic (e.g. abdomen orange in males vs dark or dark-tipped in females). Calypters covered with yellow scales. Distinctive fringe on hind tibiae....
Life history of T. pennipes and T. plumipes in Swan & Papp
Mating may occur near nectar sources (P. Coin, pers. observation). Females hover over plants that attract their hosts (e.g., squash). Eggs are typically laid on underside of host. Only one larva per host will survive, though more than one egg may be laid on a given host. Newly hatched maggot bores into body of host and feeds on host's fluids for about two weeks. Eventually, it grows to almost the size of the host's body cavity. Maggot emerges at III instar, killing the host, and pupates in soil. Adult emerges in ~2 weeks. Second instar larva overwinters in the host's body.
Larval hosts are mostly true bugs (Heteroptera: Coreidae, Pentatomidae, Scutelleridae, Largidae), but also Dissosteira pictipennis (Acrididae), and a mantid (frm info)

Nemomydas sp

 Nemomydas sp. - multiple Males and Female
Catalina State Park, Pima County, Arizona, USA
August 13, 2007

Mydas sp.
Mydas Flies are large, often wasp mimics with prominent, clubbed antennae. They move more slowly than many other flies. Larvae in decaying wood, soil, may be predatory

Neorhynchocephalus sackenii,
Nemestrinidae (Tangle-veined Flies)
 Neorhynchocephalus sackenii,
Nemestrinidae (Tangle-veined Flies)
Doug Yanega det.
in Copper Canyon south of the Huachucas, Cochise Co, AZ, Aug 2014
I was In Copper Canyon last August with Arthur V. Evans searching for beetles for his next beetle book, but these flies distracted with their constant loud buzz. Their larvae are parasites of grasshoppers, but some spp. also use scarab beetles as hosts. Supposedly rare in NA, but certainly very common then and there.

Odontoloxozus longicornis (Longhorn Cactus Fly)
 Odontoloxozus longicornis (Longhorn Cactus Fly)
Picture Rocks, Pima Co, AZ, March
Larvae in demposing cacti, a typical desert insect

Pseudotephritina sp.
 Pseudotephritina Picture winged flies.
On mushrooms in Patagonia Creek Preserve (AZ, Santa Cruz Co) in October

Hermetia illucens (Black Soldier Fly)
Hermetia illucens (Black Soldier Fly)
University Blv...

Larvae live in compost, dung, rotting vegetation and are commercially distributed for composting. Therefore: Wide ranging in Western Hemisphere, also in Australasia, Africa, Japan, Europe.
Interesting: Very rarely, accidentally ingested larvae cause intestinal myiasis in humans and domestic animals.

Cerotainiops abdominalis. The prey is a Harvester Ant (Pogonomyrmex)
 Bob Barber's contribution from July 28, 2009 Otero County, NM, shows a Robber Fly with prey. Most Asiliids seem to grab any prey of the right size that comes into range. But this one is specialized on the most painful stinger around: the Red Harvester Ant (Pogonomyrmex).

Thecophora sp. Conopidae (Thick-headed Flies)
 Thecophora sp. Conopidae (Thick-headed Flies) Martin Hauser det.
Picture Rocks
Female Conopids ambush bees or wasps. They attack their targets in mid-air, often tumble to the the ground with it, and drive an egg between the bee’s abdominal segments of the victim. The larva that hatches from the egg then feeds as an internal parasite of the host, eventually killing it in about ten to twelve days. The larva then pupates inside the hollow exoskeleton of its host. Eric had a blog about them:…/…

Clogmia albipunctata (Filter Fly)
 Fascinating or not, this little bathroom guest with the suggestive scientific name is also a fly: Clogmia albipunctata (Filter Fly)
Originally mostly tropical, now found in human habitats in much of North America. Larvae feed in water with decaying organic matter -- tree holes, stagnant ponds, drains, etc.

Eutreta sp., Tephritidae (Fruit Flies)
Mt Lemmon, Catalinas, Pima Co, AZ, USA July 2014
A woodland species that induces galls on Asteraceae. I first thought it was a moth

Flesh Fly (Sarcophagidae) on a dead dove.
 We tend to think of flies as those house flies that are a nuisance and can be a health threat even when they just land on our food. In this blog I've tried to show some of the extreme variety in looks and behavior that really makes flies (Diptera) one of the more interesting orders of insects.
They are certainly among the most important ones to human economy. They transfer diseases, but they also sanitize the environment. They are important pollinators for many generalist plants. As parasites, they control other insect groups that compete with humans for food. Having a short generation sequence and few, nice big chromosomes, Drosophila Fruit Flies were among the most important models in genetic research. With big accessible eyes and large ganglia in their brains, Sarcophaga is used in electrophysiology research and teaching. The list goes on ...  

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Bug eats Bug

Together with Robyn Waayers and Eric Eaton, I am administering a Facebook group about local (SW US and NW Mexico) insects. As winter is slowing the stream of submissions down, I suggested weekly themes which will hopefully more posts of interesting older images.
Of course I contribute too, and I tend to write enough of a background story that a friend called those posts juicy 'mini-blogletts'.
In December I am also very busy with my art business, so I have no time to write a cohesive blog post. So here  are the minis!

Pselliopus sp
 Assassin Bug (Pselliopus sp.) caught a Mason Wasp (Eumenidae) and kletoparasitic Flies (Milichiidae) are sharing the meal.

You can see the beak of the assassin - through it, the venom and the digestive juices are injected into the prey and the liquefied innards of the wasp are sucked up. External digestion is common in arthropods. Their internal digestive organ is a relatively simple tube.
The flies are drawn to any kind of exposed body fluids of other insects. They are comensales - co-eaters

Stink Bug Perillus splendidus feeding on Leaf Beetle Zygogramma opifera
I was surprised to learn that some of the harmless looking stink bugs are also predators. The have no raptorial arms or velcro feet like most Assassin Bugs, they just spear their prey with their elongate mouth parts.
Sycamore Canyon Pajarita Mts, Santa Cruz County, Arizona...
September 5, 2012

Tylospilus acutissimus

 A bug not eating anything in the picture, but an obligatory predator, even if he is a Stink Bug (Pentatomidae)
Many pentatomid species with very acute points at their 'shoulders' (pronotum) are predators.

Calosoma sp.  Oxygrilius ruginosus
 Calosoma sp. overpowering and then eating a dynastine scarab Oxygrilius ruginosus. Ground beetles in the genus Calosoma are often called Caterpillar Hunters, but they prey on anything of the right size and also scavenge. I think they got their common name in Europe (same genus, different species) where they are rare, but their populations can suddenly explode following a wave of gypsy moth caterpillars.
If you see one, don't touch. Their smell i...s much worse than that of the unrelated pinacate beetle (Eleodes sp.) that is actually called 'Stink Beetle'

Anax does not often sit for a photo, but with prey this big he had no choice.
Santa Cruz River at Ina Rd
Pima Co, AZ

Our local little fire ants, Solenopsis xyloni feeding on Acoma mixta (scarab beetle)
Our little fire ants are indigenous, not an invasive species, and are everywhere on the desert floor. The are predatory as in the photo, but also collect seeds and will invade a kitchen if sweets are out in the open.
The beetle fell off a wall under a porch light and seemed just clumsy, not injured. But the multitude of ants that was waiting under the light for just such an eve...nt (together with a gecko and several Sonoran Desert Toads). The ants just overwhelmed the beetle. Some ants can bite AND sting, but I don't know about these guys. When they get me, it's more a nuisance than painful, but always a concerted action of several.
Picture Rocks, Pima county AZ, USA

Stagmomantis limbata feeding on Danaus gilippus, Queen 
 A Stagmomantis limbata female caught a Queen butterfly and ate it without any ill effects. That seemed somewhat surprising because Monarchs and Queens, whose caterpillars feed on milkweed, are supposedly loaded with toxins, even as adults, and their aposematic (warn) colororation should tell predators to avoid them. Nothing without exceptions?
Tohono Chul Park, Tucson, October

Hippodamia convergens (Convergent Lady Beetle) feeding on Uroleucon helianthicola, Sunflower Aphids on Brittlebush

Surprisingly, nobody has posted a Lady Beetle feeding on aphids yet. Adults and larvae of many species of LBs feed on those little morsels. I have noticed that that is actually not the rule. In many species the larvae or nymphs exploit one food source, and the adults eat a different diet. That makes sense, because that way they do not compete with each other. Also, the growing larvae need protein, but to the adults, whose role is to spread the genes and distribute the population, sugars that are used by flight muscles may be more important than proteins. I guess aphids are full of sugar water from their own diet, and of course also offer protein ....
Picture Rocks, Pima Co, AZ, April 2014

Chauliognathus profundus
 Soldier Beetle Chauliognathus profundus feeding on a smaller Chauliognathus sp.
Interestingly, according to literature, adults of our local spp. feed on pollen and nectar. This pregnant female definitely has other cravings. There may also be more to it than just protein hunger.
I have tried to feed Chauliognathus to hungry jumping spiders who refused them while tackling bees of the same size. If Chauliognathus has defensive chemicals, the female may be trying to ...augment her supply before laying eggs (Note: Cantharidine is such a chemical, but was named after these Soldier Beetles by mistake. It is instead found in Blister Beetles).
Canelo Pass Rd, St Cruz Co, AZ USA

Plega sp. eating a mirid (plant bug)
Plega is a genus of Mantispids or Mantisflies. They have raptorial arms but they are neither Mantis nor Fly, they are related to Antlions and belong to the order Neuroptera
The females have a long, flexible ovipositor - its visible as a banded tail between the wings. The larvae are generalist predators of insect larvae, like solitary bees, paper wasps, etc

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

November morning at the Santa Cruz River in Marana, Arizona

Even after the first chilly November nights, when the temps dropped into the low thirties, there is still insect live along places that have water. I walked the dogs along the Santa Cruz River today, from the Wheeler Taft Library to the Ina Rd overpass. 3 dogs, 2 cameras ....

Petrophila jaliscalis, a little Crambid Moth
During the day these little crambid moths can be found sleeping in the vegetation close to creeks and streams. They are night active and come to lights in late summer to fall..
 Adult females enter the water to oviposit, carrying a plastron-like layer of air as a source of oxygen 
The larvae are aquatic, living within a silken web in fast-flowing streams;
they scrape diatoms and other algae from rocks in streams.

Brochymena parva, a Stink Bug

Where grasses overhang the river bank, nearly every blade of grass served as a perch for a Ruby Spot. Mostly males, and they flashed their transparent red wing patches at each other to demand space. When females appeared there were wrestling matches. But a few couples did pair up.

How many Ruby Spots can you count?

Hetaerina americana (American Rubyspot) male

Hetaerina americana (American Rubyspot) pair in tandem position

could be Iris oratoria, the Mediterranean Mantis

With all those insects around, the shrike is going to get lucky

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Back at Rock Disk Park in Marana

Most of the park is now under water. The Santa Cruz River broke out its bed and is still feeding the new pond. I guess we'll have out very own Salton See soon.
Butterflies are still very active and concentrate on the few plants that are still in bloom. Fatal Metalmark, Dainty Sulphur, Grass Skippers, Bordered Patch, Checkered Skipper, Pygmy Blue, Painted Lady, Western Whites

I thought that these nymphs  are Bird Grasshoppers Schistocerca sp., but most Bird Grasshoppers are adult and laying eggs by now. So maybe this is something else?

Coleomegilla maculata (Spotted Lady Beetle) are often found feeding on pollen but they also seem to be drawn to fresh seeds of grasses and desert broom. I'm not sure if they actually feed on seeds though.

Diabrotica undecimpunctata (Spotted Cucumber Beetle) All winter long these guys are active close to any body of water.

 Diabrotica balteata (Banded Cucumber Beetle). This species is relatively rare here.

Condylostylus sp. Dolichopodidae (Longlegged Flie) with prey. These pretty flies were all over the velvety Dature leaves.

Polistes aurifer, a lonely male that had not much energy left. Only the young queens will survive the winter

There was also several rare bird sitings - these geese for example. But they were acting like a bonded pair even though they are two different species. These bonds often form in captivity, so I suspect that they escaped from a zoo

The area where the river broke in

Monday, November 17, 2014

Fountain Hills Fountain Pond

Bird photography with handicaps: Art show duty with ten minutes to spare.  Raising sun in my eyes. Unpredictable diving subjects. Teasing girls and males full of hormones. Chatty dog walkers with curious dogs. Hordes of American Coots (not my intended subject) full of anxieties: missing out on opportunities,  being pursuit by phantoms, grass on the other side of the fence ... Soggy meadows and art show foot wear. My empty stomach.
The worst camera for the subject and several mostly empty batteries.
I tried to make the best of it - thanks for photo editing software!

On great yellow legs

different View Points

Catching the Red Eye

Whose worm?

True Colors

More about the location - an extremely typical Arizona snow bird Mecca - see last year's blog here

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hover flies of the desert SW: Copestylum spp.

Many Syrphids or Hover Flies resemble bees or wasps and may be mimics of those armed Hymenoptera, because Syrphids themselves are harmless nectar feeders. The larvae of certain species are predatory, for example on aphids.

In the desert southwest Syrphids of the genus Copestylum are very common. Almost everyone has noticed the big black Mexican Cactus Fly, Copestylum mexicanum that reminds me of a Carpenter Bee. The common name is accurate this time, Copestylum larvae feed on rotting plant material, and around here, that usually means dead cactus. If one digs through the mushy brown soup inside a dead saguaro, one will find many larvae of C. mexicanum (top left), C. isabellina (top right), and C. apiciferum (bottom left). The small C. avidum develops in dead pencil chollas and other smaller cacti.

Mating where the eggs will be laid: C. avidum on a Pencil cholla. They will find the dead rotting parts as prospective larval food.