Monthly Archives: April 2013

Harrisina americana

The Zygaenidae are a moth family I do not have a good handle on. From what I have read

20 April 2013, West Monroe, Louisiana

20 April 2013, West Monroe, Louisiana

they are primarily tropical and all members are capable of producing Hydrogen Cyanide as a defensive chemical.

I had the pleasure of documenting Harrisina americana, for Ouachita Parish for BAMONA while visiting in Louisiana recently. It was sitting quietly on a Lantana leaf and allowed easy cell phone photography. Sharing your Lepidoptera photos with BAMONA helps document ranges of moths in North America – the first step in conserving such!

I would expect a poisonous moth to be much more colorful, but I guess “orange and black – stay back Jack” still applies. I have much more to learn about this moth family, now that I am living in the Southeast, maybe I can find more members of this family.

Restoration Park

Yesterday, I had the privilege of going for a run  at Restoration

map of the park - sorry about the vandalism, it isn't a perfect world... even in West Monroe, LA.

map of the park – sorry about the vandalism, it isn’t a perfect world… even in West Monroe, LA.

Park in West Monroe, Louisiana. Restoration Park is a perfect example of many restoration paradigms. It reflects that restoration and conservation are human (not natural) processes and as such must reflect human values. The park also demonstrates that a win-win-win is better than a win-win situation.

The park is located at the site of an old mining operation. Mined out, the area became a defacto dump where all sorts of illegal dumping took place. In 1989, the city of West Monroe bought the property with plans of developing a storm water detention basin. Well they ended up building a storm water detention basin, that also provides a green space, that also provides an awesome running trail, that also provides a bit of green beauty in a commercial district.

The running trail is a roughly 1 mile loop that allows a detour across the detention basin on a wooden board walk. Yesterday the water lilies and Tradscantia were in bloom and the wood ducks were whistling as I ran past. I got a good work out and got a good nature fix – while the storm waters from the rains the day before were being processed by ol’ Mom Nature. WIN – WIN – WIN! Hooray for West Monroe!

Dectes texanus!!

Well, the chaos of moving is settling down and yesterday while grabbing my mail I wandered

Dectes texanus larva in a dissected soybean stem. Note the frass plug at the left end of stem (top).Collected 17 April 2013 Obion County, Tennessee.

Dectes texanus larva in a dissected soybean stem. Note the frass plug at the left end of stem (top).Collected 17 April 2013 Obion County, Tennessee.

out into the soybean field next to the road and looked at the old soybean stems. After looking at a couple hundred, I found one with a frass plug that indicates Dectes texanus has built an overwintering chamber inside the stem. I was curious if it was a pupa (I am waiting for D. texanus adults to come out of soybean stubble collected in Kenton, TN in late March) – not yet.

Dectes texanus is a favorite insect of mine. I think the first time I heard the adults singing in a soybean field I was hooked. Now that I am back in Dectes-land you can expect several more postings on this elegant insect in the coming months.

Net Control

This comic is about something near and dear to my heart. I have been many places where the mere possession of a net can get you unwanted ‘special attention’ from law enforcement/ park staff. I have done insect surveys where even the ‘catch and release’ use of a net was not allowed, but people were allowed to kill insects at their campsite – just not for purposes of study. That is the shame, hands-on study of botany, bryology, insects, and other wildlife is how most people become hooked on nature. If we are going to create a caring, nature-empathetic citizenry; we need more, not less, contact with nature.

net control

What does Languria mozardi eat anyway?

I know this question is a central issue that keeps most of you up at night, but it was bothering Kelly Tindall, Cory Cross, and myself. We found Languria mozardi tunneling in soybean stems and were curious as to why we found this native insect in a non-native plant. This was especially interesting to us as another stem-boring beetle, Dectes texanus, is also a native beetle that has made a switch from boring native plants in the family Asteraceae to boring stems of non-native plants in the family Fabaceae.

As we read the literature on the plants used by L. mozardi, we found things that just did not seem right. The primary clue was: Languria mozardi was using plants that didn’t exist! We then went back to the source material to try and figure out exactly what was the case for this insect. To make a long story short, by not using consistent criteria and terminology 48 plants were listed as host plants for L. mozardi when only 13 were actual developmental hosts.

So we critically thought about how insects (especially L. mozardi) use plants, then came up with a way of evaluating the source literature, then slugged our way through all the source literature, and finally developed a little paper to report our results:  Fothergill, K., K.V. Tindall, and C.B. Cross. 2013. What is a host plant? Plants used by Languria mozardi Latreille 1807 (Coleoptera: Erotylidae): a review. Pan-Pacific Entomologist 89.1:43-59.

The Yeller Rocket

Packera glabella, is a special plant to me. When I lived in the Missouri Bootheel, this species

I was very pleased to find Packera glabella on a ditchbank near our mailbox.

I was very pleased to find Packera glabella on a ditchbank near our mailbox.

could carpet the land – especially if there had been flooding. The Dorena, MO locals call this plant ‘Yeller Rocket’ I guess because of the speed with which it dominates landscape.

The reason for this abundance is the plant is annual that sets abundant seed. If conditions are wet, this plant can do very well. If conditions are wet and flooding has exposed bare ground, this plant can do extremely well. The plant will germinate and leaf out in the fall and store energy all winter so that it can seemingly ROCKET out of the ground.

The plant is heavily visited by pollinating insects, so my draw to the plant should be obvious. Here in Tennessee it is hilly (drains well) and we don’t have large, flat, wet areas, so I only find scattered P. glabella along ditch banks. I mention this because plant distribution is an important aspect of botany and a plant that is abundant in one place (Missouri Bootheel) may not be abundant 50 km away (Obion County, TN). The explanations may not always be easy or simple, but that is what makes botany fun!

Some Tennessee Poop Beetles

Today the insects were processed from the trap run. Without a microscope and references (the joy of a cross country move) I cannot identify much, but here are the highlights:

Sphaeridium lunatum

Sphaeridium lunatum

Sphaeridium lunatum is a really cool dung beetle because it is not a scarab, it is a hydrophilid. When I first started paying attention to dung beetles I caught a bunch of Sphaeridium and proceeded to run through every scarab key I could find. After a couple of weeks of frustration, I went to Boring and Too Long and got the right family – then it was easy. This species is non-native.


Othophagus hecate

Othophagus hecate

Onthophagus hecate is a very cool beetle. I love the hood scoop on the pronotum. With a microscope, the distinctive pronotal microsculpture could also be shown. This species is native and I like to think about them following the buffalo across the plains…



1geotrupesGeotrupes blackburnii is another native dung beetle. It is very large. This identification is tentative because I will need a microscope and my copy of Howdens 1964 Geotrupinae of North and Central America.

Both the Geotrupes and Sphaeridium I should probably not call dung beetles, because the are not traditionally thought of as such. The sure show up in a bunch of poop traps though.