Tag Archives: entomology

Kleptoparasitic fly stealing ant juice from jumping spider

I was photographing a spider a few days ago, and one frame that I was about to trash (jumping spider’s eyes not in focus) happened to show a kleptoparasitic fly that was drinking fluids from the captured ant. Because the fly is not especially visible I haven’t tried that hard to ID the fly (probably Milichiidae or Chloropidae), but I did find an interesting page showing a fly in Australia that was found near a salticid called an ant eater (Zenodorus orbiculatus).

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Kleptoparasitic fly on ant killed by jumping spider

If you have time to waste, here are some fun facts about kleptoparasitic flies:

  • Some species are attracted to volatiles released by captured prey (e.g., stink bugs). I have pics.
  • There are apparently some that are specialists on spiders (Brake and von Tschimhaus 2010).
  • It’s usually just females; when males present they might be looking for mating opportunities with females (Ibid.).
  • In Africa. there’s a milchiid that can induce ants to regurgitate (Wild and Brake 2009).
  • Some plants in the Apocynaceae seem to have evolved the ability to mimic the venom volatiles of paper wasps. The scent is attractive to kleptoparasitic flies because the wasps use the venom when they hunt (Heiduk et al. 2015). This is referred to as kleptomyiophily, apparently (new word for me).

If you really need to more, check out the http://www.milichiidae.info/. Sorry: the Chloropidae don’t have their own site.

I think the spider is Phidippus princeps. Happy to be told otherwise. Here are some better pics of the spider:

Colin Purrington Photography: Spiders and ticks &emdash; phidippus-princeps-eating-ant-003

Colin Purrington Photography: Spiders and ticks &emdash; phidippus-princeps-eating-ant-001

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Moth Night photographs

I’ve been out mothing before (with my dad and his moth friends), but I finally made it to an official National Moth Week event this past Saturday at Natural Lands Trust‘s Hildacy Farm Preserve. It was raining so there wasn’t a great turnout (by the moths), but below are several photographs from the evening.

To set the scene for those of you who haven’t had the experience: we had a flood light, a mercury vapor light, and a blacklight set up next to a couple of white sheets. Any one of them would work just fine, but the more light the better, in general. Even a cell phone screen can attract moths.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; moth-blacklight

The large moth in silhouette above is a Pandora sphinx moth (Eumorpha pandorus). I think the person is entomologist Tanya Dapkey of the University of Pennsylvania. Bigger photo of the moth is below.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; pandora-sphinx-moth

Here’s a copper underwing (Amphipyra pyramidoides), one of two that I found on a tree far away from the lights. E.g., you can go out at night with a flashlight and find moths just hanging out.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; copper-underwing-head

This moth was also just hanging out, avoiding the rain. I think it’s a green arches (Anaplectoides prasina).

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; green-arches-moth

Just in case you want to start planning your own Moth Night, National Moth Week will be July 22-30 in 2017.

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Kleptoparasitic flies

Here are a few photographs of kleptoparasitic flies stealing hemolymph from a praying mantis dining on a pentatomid. They might be Milichiella arcuata or M. lacteipennis, types of jackal flies, but those are just guesses. Jackal flies (Milichiidae) and frit flies (Chloropidae) are commonly found on dead insects, but the volatiles released by dismembered true bugs are apparently especially attractive (see Zhang and Aldrich 2004). And if you search online for images of jackal flies, they also seem to be common on dead or dying honeybees, so presumably bees exude a volatile that is attractive to flies as well. I’d love to find an article that times the arrival of various kleptoparasitic flies at different types of insects … could use the assemblages to give approximate time of death, I’m sure, just like on CSI. I don’t watch CSI, so I’m guessing here as well.

If you want to know more about jackal flies, I highly recommend Irina Brake‘s “Milichiidae online“, and this post on Ted MacRae’s blog.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; kleptoparasitic-flies-on-hemipteran-2

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; kleptoparasitic-flies-on-hemipteran-1-2

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; kleptoparasitic-flies-on-hemipteran-3

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; kleptoparasitic-fly-with-hemolymph

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Using mosquitoes’ sweet tooth to control Zika transmission

Now that everyone wants to kill mosquitoes that transmit Zika virus, can somebody please make a transgenic plant that expresses mosquitocidal Bti (Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. israelensis) toxins? Just stick the Bti gene behind a phloem-specific promoter so that the protein gets pumped into the nectar. Then when males and female mosquitoes drink (and almost all do), they die. You could then plant acres of the modified plant nearby towns to protect people from Zika (and anything else transmitted by mosquitoes). The beauty of this method is that you could reduce populations of mosquitoes from an area without spraying, and do so for generations if you modified nectar-producing perennials. I know it’s trendy to dislike GMOs (like vaccines), but I think many people would support them under these circumstances.

And yes, apparently Bti toxins can kill adult mosquitoes (including Aedes aegypti), not just larvae. Klowden and Bulla 1984 demonstrated it, for example. And yes, Aedes aegypti drinks nectar (and probably fruit juice).

Of course, even if somebody had the incentive to make such a plant, it could take a decade to wade through the red tape involved in getting non-regulated status from governments. So if you want to do something today, leave out containers of sugar water (10%) that is laced with Bti (e.g., Mosquito Dunks, which you can buy online or at hardware stores). Maybe add something floral to attract them, too. (A review of olfactory cues suggests that imitation cherry and apple can work. If you don’t have those sitting around, I’d wager a few drops of jasmine flavoring or rose water would work, and those are easily found at local stores.) Even if the Bti doesn’t immediately kill the adult, adults sucking up a big sugar meal can transfer the bacteria to water where they lay eggs, and thus eventually cause the death of any larvae that develop. Note that bees and ants might get interested in your sugar water, but the Bti is completely harmless to them.

And if you don’t want to use Bti, there are plenty of articles on using sugar baits laced with insecticides (e.g., Qualis et al. 2013, Junilla et al. 2015). They really can work: mosquitoes absolutely love sugar and will drink up poisons in the process. These are great if you don’t want to use crop dusters to destroy all insects in the area.

If you have kids and want to entertain them, add food dyes to the sugar bait and then challenge them to find mosquitoes with bellies full of sugar water. For older kids that might be amused by actual science, use two dyes to test attractiveness of two different volatiles (or different sugars). It’s probably rare to recapture one right after a nectar meal, but when distended they reveal gut contents nicely.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; White-footed woods mosquito (Psorophora ferox) nectaring on goldenrod

FYI, the photograph above is a white-footed woods mosquito (Psorophora ferox), not Aedes aegypti. It doesn’t transmit Zika, but illustrates to the unbelieving that mosquitoes drink nectar. 

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Snow fly

If you’re out on a nature walk today, keep your eyes peeled for snow flies. These are essentially wingless crane flies loaded with antifreeze. This one is a male Chionea scita, I believe. Not much is known about these insects, although there is speculation that at least some members of the genus hang out in rodent burrows eating feces. (Don’t judge.) Please see “The crane fly genus Chionea in North America” (Byers 1983) for more details.

You might note that it has halteres, which is interesting because these are organs used in flight (they are modified wings … which is why flies only have one pair of wings). Would be fun to figure out whether snow fly halteres still work, though that would have to be inferred by anatomy and maybe some electrophysiological tricks. Or perhaps they serve a new function. To see photographs of some flies that have lost their halteres, check out the Braulidae (bee parasites) or Hippoboscidae ovinus (sheep ked). I love wingless flies. Did a presentation on them when I took entomology during high school … and have been creeped out and impressed by them ever since.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; snow-fly

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