Monthly Archives: December 2012

Rearing insects

The advice of Orkin notwithstanding, having some insects around the house is fun Picture2and educational. This photo is from my first attempt at keeping tiger beetles. I knew Cicindela repanda burrowed into the sand or under things to spend the night, but the first morning when I looked into all the containers I set up the day before and there were no beetles – i thought they had escaped. Later that morning when they woke up and emerged from their tunnels, I realized that what I had previously read was true.

Nothing is more gratifying than answering your own questions. Kelly and I found WY-chrysomelthis Chrysomelid beetle larvae tearing up Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus just north of Rawlins, WY this year. So, we gathered up a bunch of brush with about a half dozen larvae, put them in a container and brought them home to rear out. The rearing out process took a couple weeks, so we had to get fresh vegetation a couple times – if you bring larvae home you need to correctly identify the plant so you can get more. After a couple weeks we had pupae and excitedly waited for keyable adults… Trirhabda nitidicollisThis was not a new to science, but it was new to us! This same process is used by many Lepidopterists to learn their caterpillars and collect very ‘fresh’ adults.

Yet another rearing strategy is the ‘pupal grab’. If I see a pupa, and I want to
???????????????????????????????know what it is, grabbing the pupa and bringing it home allows me to have a keyable adult with minimal effort. I always try to photograph the pupa (and usually get better results than this), identify the plant, and record how long the duration of the pupal stage was. This pupa was taken from Artemisia tridentata in Lincoln County, Idaho on 4 July 2012 and two days later was a beautiful adult Coccinella transversoguttata.

Rearing insects gives you abundant opportunity to interact with insects in the comfort of your home. The photographic opportunities are astounding. Please recognize that insects are a valuable resource and collect ethically. This isn’t an Picture3expensive proposition, the research rearing unit shown at left is simply a cheap plastic food container with a modified lid. Above all, keep good notes and enjoy peeking into a world that most people don’t even realize exists.



How to make pizza dough

This may seem like an unlikely place for such a thing, but I have had three requests from friends this week for how to make pizza dough. Believe it or not, the way I approach pizza dough fits the blog just fine: basically pizza dough is alive (with fungus!) and your job is to make it happy up until you kill it in the oven.

You will need:

  • Yeast – I use approximately 5 (or so) mls of breadmachine yeast (I like the convenient jar).
  • Hot water – approximately 250-300 mls, the temperature should be hot, but not unpleasant – about 45 degrees Celsius (not Kelvin!).
  • sugar – 25 to 100 mls depending.
  • Flour – I like to use a 1:1 mixture of whole wheat and white flour, (300 to 500 mls) sometimes with some corn meal or chia seeds or what ever thrown in (try your favorite herbs).
  • Olive oil – I do not like to stick!
  • A mixing bowl – 4 liter size
  • a clean dish towel can nicely cover your dough while it rises.
  • A pizza pan (Paula – this link is for you!)
  • a fork


  1. Combine hot water and sugar in mixing bowl (use the fork, Luke). Once sugar is dissolved add yeast – walk away for about 10 minutes. When you come back the yeast should have activated and be a brown, frothy scum on the water – it is alive!!
  2. Add enough flour mixture to the water to make a grapefruit size ball of dough (I normally use the fork for this). The trick here is that dough should be somewhat dry, but soft to slightly wet. You can always add water or flour as needed – the dough should feel nice (to the touch). This dough is the new habitat for your yeast and they will like to be someplace warm (on top of the hot water heater, near the fire place) not too hot (we’ll cook them later).
  3. Walk away for 45 minutes or so. When you come back the aerobic metabolism of your yeasts should have 1.5 to doubled the size of your dough by respiring carbon dioxide into your dough.
  4. Pour about 15 mls of olive oil onto pizza pan, coat your hands with this oil. Punch down the dough to original size and transfer from mixing bowl to pizza pan. Knead dough into pizza pan shape.
  5. At this point you can: a) put your favorite toppings and sauce and throw into 425 degree Fahrenheit oven (until cooked 15-20 minutes), b) throw pizza crust into oven for 5-10 minutes to prebake (crispier crust) then top and bake. More dough = thicker crust. When your crust comes out of the oven it will be dead, but delicious.

Variations: changing up flours makes the crust different, milk or beer can be used instead of water, you can use different yeasts. The entire world awaits. This is a fun, non-tedious way to make pizza crust – but Rome wasn’t built in a day: you will have to make a couple bad crusts. Practice, practice, practice – learn to love and respect your yeasts. That said for those of you who can’t afford to lose $1.35 or so you have invested in ingredients here is a boring recipe (but I think they are moving too fast, and the dough won’t be as good – the price you pay for boring).

Good luck and Bon Appetit!


This summer, I ran into a few more parasitized ladybugs and even reared the ???????????????????????????????wasp. This is a blog post from a previous encounter. The photo above shows Coccinella septempunctata moving, but unable to leave, above the pupa of Dinocampus coccinellae. Recently I have been running into a lot of D. coccinellae information in the course of researching a different project:

Dinocampus coccinellae is cosmopolitan (Hudon 1959) and can overwinter in the host (Cushman 1913). It is not always fatal, Timberlake (1916) found two beetles were hosts twice; but death usually comes to the host 3-4 days post emergence (Sluss 1968). Richerson and DeLoach (1973) examined 10 species of ladybug and found D. coccinellae to be a parasite of all but Scymnus sp.

One of the things I have always thought to be cool, is the wasp does not abandon the host when it pupates, but uses the aposematically colored host as shield. Blount et al. (2012) showed that the color of Coccinella septempunctata is an honest advertisement of amount of toxicity within. AlAbassi et al. (2001) demonstrated that the toxic chemical chemical is an attractant for D. coccinellae. Now that I know just a bit more, this whole system is even cooler.


Al Abassi, S., Birkett, M. A., Pettersson, J., Pickett, J. A., Wadhams, L. J., & Woodcock, C. M. 2001. Response of the ladybird parasitoid Dinocampus coccinellae to toxic alkaloids from the seven-spot ladybird, Coccinella septempunctata. Journal of chemical ecology, 27(1), 33-43.

Balduf, W. V. 1926. The bionomics of Dinocampus coccinellae Schrank. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 19: 465-498.

Blount, Jonathan D., Hannah M. Rowland, Falko P. Drijfhout, John A. Endler, Richard Inger, John J. Sloggett, Gregory DD Hurst, David J. Hodgson, and Michael P. Speed. 2012. How the ladybird got its spots: effects of resource limitation on the honesty of aposematic signals. Functional Ecology. 26.2: 334-342.

Cushman, R. A. 1913. Biological notes on a few rare or little known parasitic Hymenoptera. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of  Washington 15:153-155.

Hudon, M. 1959. First record of Perilitus coccinellae (Schrank)(Hymenoptera: Braconidae) as a parasite of Coccinella novemnotata Hbst. and Coleomegilla maculata lengi Timb.(Coleoptera: Coccinellidae) in Canada. The Canadian Entomologist 91.01: 63-64.

Richerson, J. V., & DeLoach, C. J. 1973. Seasonal abundance of Perilitus coccinellae and its coccinellid hosts and degree of parasitism in central Missouri. Environmental Entomology 2.1: 138-141.

Sluss, R. 1968. Behavior and anatomical responses of the convergent lady beetle to parasitism by Perilitus coccinellae (Schrank) (Hymenoptera: Braconidae). Journal of Invertebrate PathoIogy 10: 9-27.

Timberlake, P. H. 1916. Note on an interesting case of w o generations of a parasite reared from the same individual host. Can. Ent. 48: 89-91.


Old journals and books for you

As we approach another new year, it is time to look back and reflect. As someone interested in

C.V. Riley an entomological hero for all ages!

C.V. Riley an entomological hero for all ages!!!

science I often wonder about the changes in scientific method over time and how older scientists would view today’s methods. Looking at the past helps you to understand how we arrived at the current state. Whether you are reading Clement’s papers on plant succession, MacArthur’s papers on niche partitioning, or Riley’s amazing economic entomology papers going back and reading these original documents is both inspirational and informative.

Back in the olden days of the 1990’s you had to go to a good library and ask a research librarian to obtain these original works in the secret room where books go to die. It was magical when the Searchable Ornithological Research Archive (SORA) showed up and suddenly old (pre-1900) issues of ornithological journals were available on any computer. The Biodiversity Heritage Library and Google Books are treasure troves of information that also show up on your computer or mobile device. Of course on-line research databases (e.g. EBSCO) and open access journals (e.g. Jouranl of Botany and Journal of Insect Science) mean you can research almost any topic from almost anywhere. Best of all, it is so much easier to file and store the .pdf files than photocopies or the older, pre-photocopy, monk-transcribed versions.

Imagine studying moths before electricity was common place: no UV light traps, no flashlights, no digital cameras, no Moth Photographers Group, and yet moths were studied and appreciated under these extremely primitive conditions. Holland’s The Moth Book  is a classic that will inspire you to be a little more moth friendly (don’t forget to submit your your photo records to BAMONA) and it is available free just by clicking through on The Moth Book link to Google Books where you can download your own copy! Holland’s descriptions will take you to another time, being able to fast forward into current moth efforts like National Moth Week, will give you a new found appreciation for both the past and present – and have you eagerly anticipating 2013!

Insect parasitism

Yesterday, I pinned up a few insects that Kelly and I collected recently, often these specimens have stories to tell. This specimen of Arilus cristata DSCN5096has a tachinid fly egg (circled in black) stuck to the pronotum. While tachinid flies are usually considered beneficial, tachinids that attack beneficial insects are probably not.

Of course there are the questions: 1) would the egg have overwintered or hatched immediately? (A. cristata is not known to overwinter as an adult) 2) how long  would the larva spend inside the victim? 3) what is the identity of the fly?

I collected this insect in Louisiana (as you can tell from the label), and had no hope of being able to  feed it as I am currently without an insect colony and it is too cold in Idaho to find sufficient prey in November and December. That said A. cristata is an interesting insect to watch. Kelly and I had one grow up on our Echinaceae purpurea in our native garden back in Missouri. During the time it was a nymph we would look for it most days after work, we watched it take bigger and bigger prey,  until it finally became an adult and flew away.

Entomopathic fungi

Last week, I was at a friends house and collected a specimen of a ‘frosty’ looking Hemipteran. At first I thought it was Raglius alboacuninatus, but this specimen doesn’t match very well. The ‘frostiness’ is due to spores of a fungus. I think the Beauveriafungus might be Beauveria bassiana, but I am not equipped to identify it definitively. So I know almost nothing, except that this insect was crawling about with this level of infection.

Beauveria bassiana can be an aggressive insect pathogen, and is actually sold as insecticide. Perhaps I will find more as the season progresses.

Yet another benefit of being in nature

This morning Conservation Magazine showed up in my email in box. In it was an article titled Wild Ideas about summarizing the recent PLOS One article: Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings. The article describes how immersion in nature without electronic devices boosted creativity, defined as problem solving ability.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASure there are some problems with this article: There were no hikers who hiked similar distances through urban areas and carried electronic devices, no hikers in wilderness with electronics, etc. The lack of controls make it difficult to determine what factors created the increase in problem solving ability. The picture at left shows me at work doing rare plant surveys, note the GPS device in my hands – does carrying a GPS and digital camera make me less able to solve problems that arise in field? I was also carrying a smart phone – does that mean if a problem came up I am doomed to not solve it? If I am using the electronic devices to help further immerse myself in nature, what then?

I think I will go take a hike…