Carolina Mantis

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While walking along some railroad tracks in southern Illinois, I came across this cool creature.

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The Carolina Mantis is a species native to North Carolina and South Carolina; hence the name. But, actually it is a common mantis is most states of the United States. It also occurs in Mexico and South America.

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These insects are about 2-1/2 inches long and are highly variable in color. They may be gray with spots, green, green with spots or bands, brown, and brown with spots or bands.

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The front legs are usually held folded in front of the insect in a pose resembling prayer. When an unfortunate insect gets too close, the mantis’ forelegs spring out, grab the prey and then hold it while it is eaten.

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This insect is found in woodlands and meadows, especially around flowering plants. It tends to stay in one place as for long as there is a good supply of food and usually uses a “sit-and-wait” tactic of obtaining its prey.

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The Carolina Mantis is the state insect of South Carolina.

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Modest Katydid

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While exploring a cypress swamp in southern Illinois, I came across this fine creature. Native to the southeastern United States, this species is more common in the south, but appears to be expanding its range northward.

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It is found in a wide variety of both dry and wet habitats, though in more northern states, most reside in bottomland forests. The Modest Katydid is small and easily overlooked. Not only is the species size and demeanor modest, the song is barely audible in the field.

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Though it looks leaf-like like other katydids, a key identification mark it that it has a bold dark diagonal stripe through its eye. Like other katydids, it eats leaves from deciduous trees in wooded areas, parks and neighborhoods.

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The quiet, lispy ticks of the Modest Katydid are very hard to hear in the field. The nighttime chorusing of other katydids and crickets easily drown them out.

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Sword-bearing Conehead

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I found this cool creature while looking for snakes in southern Illinois.

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Easily recognized by their slanted faces and pointed cones that extend from their foreheads, the Conehead Katydids look like insect battering-rams, ready to poke holes in whatever gets in their way. Scientists do not know the significance or use of the cones.

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This species has long, slender wings and is a strong flier. At nearly 3 inches in length, it ranks as among among the longest of our native katydids.

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Residing in tall grass, weedy fields and shrubby edges, male coneheads sing mostly at night and have loud raspy or buzzy songs.

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The Sword-bearing Conehead is named for the extremely long ovipositor of the female, which can be nearly as long as her abdomen. In the photo above, you can see the dark brown tip of this female’s ovipositor extending beyond her wings.

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Other types of commonly encountered Conehead Katydids are also cleverly named, such as the Slightly Musical Conehead, Modest Katydid and the False Robust Conehead.

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Eastern Carpenter Bee

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The Eastern Carpenter Bee is the carpenter bee most often encountered in the eastern United States. Similar in size and appearance to a Bumble Bee, the Eastern Carpenter Bee lacks a fuzzy abdomen, though it may have a few short hairs here and there.

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These insects can be important pollinators, especially of open-faced flowers, though they are also known to “rob” nectar by boring holes in the sides of flowers (thus not accomplishing pollination). They don’t seem to mind sharing flower patch territory with other varieties of bees.

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They sometimes bore holes in wood dwellings (hence the name “Carpenter Bee”) and can become minor pests. They use chewed wood bits to form partitions between the cells in their nests.

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Eastern Carpenter bees are not solitary bees, but are not truly social either. The weak form of sociality they exhibit, with one female doing the majority of the work, and caring for her sisters, may be a transitional step in the evolution of sociality.

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Though noisy and imposing, males do not possess stingers and females (which have stingers) are not aggressive. Though each male will stake out a small area and defend it from anything that comes near. He’ll attempt to drive off rival bees, other insects, and even animals or people.

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This is truly one of the “big bugs” of Summer that is easy to notice.

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Snakefly

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While at my friend’s house in California in April, I noticed this cool creature on the screen door. At first I thought that it was a Mantisfly, but closer examination showed it to be an insect that I had never encountered before.

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Snakeflies are family of predatory insects. They are a relict group and have been considered living fossils, as species from the early Jurassic period (140 million years ago) closely resemble modern-day species.

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An adult Snakefly resembles a Lacewing in appearance, but it has a notably elongated thorax (which look like a neck) which, together with the mobile head, gives the group their common name. Snakeflies have transparent wings that are longer than their actual bodies.

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Females (like this one) have a large and sturdy ovipositor. This tubular structure is at the end of the insect’s abdomen and is used for depositing eggs, often in a well-hidden location. It is thought that they lay their eggs in the crevices in the bark of trees.

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At less than an inch in total length, adult Snakeflies are territorial and carnivorous organisms. They are diurnal and are important predators of aphids and mites.

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This was a very cool and unexpected find on my latest visit to the Golden State.

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Obscure Bird Grasshopper

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Despite its common name, this insect is anything but obscure – it is large, conspicuous and “showy.” Females can reach 2-1/2 inches in length. Males are smaller, sometimes remarkably so. The name “bird” comes from the Obscure Bird Grasshopper’s ability to fly rather long distances and often up into trees, if they are frightened.

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This insect is related to the famous Desert Locust, which appears in the news when it occurs in massive swarms in Africa. Obscure Bird Grasshoppers are capable of long distance seasonal migrations, though they are not populous enough to cause mass destruction.

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While grasshoppers will generally eat almost anything green, the Obscure Bird Grasshopper seems to favor plants in the citrus family, such as wafer ash and lime trees.

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This insect’s habitat is fields and woodlands across most of the eastern and southern United States and into Mexico. Adults are typically found in late Summer and early Fall.

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I dig big bugs and it’s always neat to encounter this species when visiting southern Illinois, which so far has been the only place where I have seen them.

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Broad-tipped Conehead Katydid

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While visiting southern Illinois I came across this very cool creature. Like all other coneheads, it possess a sharply pointed feature (called a fastigium) at the tip of its head, giving it a very distinctive look.

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Adult Broad-tipped Conehead Katydids display either brown or green coloration, depending on their gender and season. This species also occurs throughout the southern United States, from Florida up to New Jersey, and extends westward to southern California.

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These insects have have oversized jaws and a relatively large body, with adult females generally being much larger than males. Their bodies are covered by long, narrow, leathery forewings. They are strong fliers and tend to be attracted to lights.

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When disturbed, adult Broad-tipped Conehead Katydids will fly off or dive down into the ground and bury their heads to make their body appear to look like grass.

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This creature feeds mostly on different types of grasses. It has the ability to overwinter, so its mating call can be heard in early spring, occurring at least a month before many other types of insects begin calling.

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This was a neat find while I was out and about looking for snakes.

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Mining Bee

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We often think of bees as living in hives and cooperating with each other as “social insects.” But of the 20,000 species of bees in the world, 70% live underground and the large majority of those are small and solitary.

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This Mining Bee that I recently saw in Cuyahoga Valley National Park is an example of such a bee. There are 100 over species of this type of insect found in Ohio. These native pollinators are typically 1/4 – 3/4″ long, depending on the species, and most have banded abdomens.

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Females dig individual burrows several inches deep into the soil. They prefer to nest in well-drained soil that is lightly exposed to sunlight. Each excavation is about the diameter of a wooden pencil surrounded by a mound of loose soil particles.

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Though solitary and having no social structure, large numbers of females often locate their burrows in close proximity to one another giving the appearance of an organized colony.

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Mining Bees are not aggressive and their small stingers can’t penetrate far into the skin. More importantly, they are significant pollinators of spring-blooming food crops including apples, cherries and blueberries.

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These fine creatures are also known as Chimney Bees and Mustached Mud Bees.

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Tarantula Hawk

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While visiting Nevada, Arizona and California I have come across this awesome insect on occasion. This is the largest of the spider wasps, which use their sting to paralyze their prey before dragging it to a brood nest to serve as living food.

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These two-inch insects are not only distinctive because of their size, but they are also easily recognizable by their blue-black bodies and bright, rust-colored wings. Their vivid coloration is an advertisement to potential predators of the wasps’ ability to deliver a powerful sting.

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For humans and other vertebrates, the Tarantula Hawk has one of the most painful stings on the planet. American entomologist Justin Schmidt created the sting pain index and described the Tarantula Hawk’s sting as “instantaneous, electrifying and totally debilitating.”

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Female Tarantula Hawks battle tarantulas (which are bigger than themselves), sting them and then drag the paralyzed spider to a specially prepared burrow, where a single egg is laid on the spider’s abdomen and the burrow entrance is covered. When the Tarantula Hawk larva hatches, it feeds voraciously on the tarantula, avoiding vital organs for as long as possible to keep the spider alive.

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Adult Tarantula Hawks derive their energy and nutrient requirements from a diet consisting mainly of the sugar-rich nectar produced by flowering plants. The consumption of fermented fruit sometimes intoxicates them to the point that flying becomes difficult.

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Despite their large size and fearsome lifestyle, Tarantula Hawks are relatively docile and rarely sting without provocation.

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Paper Wasp

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Each year I share my backyard deck during the warmer months with Paper Wasps. They have a fondness for the wooden rail overhand and sometimes two or three pairs of insects build nests there.

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Paper Wasps are beneficial, since they prey on soft-bodied insects, especially caterpillars. They are not at all bothersome, being uninterested in people or in scavenging for food, unlike some of their yellowjacket cousins.

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I have also encountered this insect when visiting southern Illinois and Maryland. They come in a variety of colors and patterns. The photo above shows a nest in the limestone bluffs that border Snake Road in Illinois and the picture below shows one starting to build its nest on the eaves of a shed in Maryland.

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These insects make nests of cellulose fiber (paper) to brood their young. Paper wasp nests are typically small, attached by a stalk to an overhanging support, and have a single comb of cells.

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The larvae of wasps are grubs. To grow in the nest cell, the grub needs food – so the adult wasp paralyzes a caterpillar with its sting and stuffs it into the nest cell and lays an egg in the cell. The egg hatches and has ample food to grow to full grub size.

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After it eats, the grub enters the pupal, or resting stage, wherein its body is rearranged, and it emerges as an adult winged wasp. In the picture above, an adult has caught a caterpillar to feed its offspring.

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Adult Paper Wasps eat nectar. Dill and fennel are especially favored, but parsley, parsnip or carrot gone to seed are also food sources for these insects.

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