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Insect spotlight (Cape Breton Highlands Nat'l Pk)

This year I began writing a monthly article for an internal publication where I work (Cape Breton Highlands National Park of Canada) highlighting a different insect, or group of insects, to help people understand these creatures that are all around them. We work in a national park, we celebrate the natural world, preserve it and educate others about it... and yet most of us who work there need educating ourselves. I'm working on changing that a bit.

I figure I may as well share what I've written with you folks too. I generally post photos of what I'm talking about, because, well, people are visual. I've been using my own photos, but here, I'm going to post a link to the bugguide page of whatever Im talking about; there will be pictures there for you Wink

These little articles are aimed at a general audience; most of the people who might be reading don't have a science background, let alone an entomological background... so nothing should be too technical. If there is overly technical info, it kinda means I'm failing to present the material properly Razz

22 blog comments below

Insects of Cape Breton Highlands National Park – Episode 1

It may not seem it, but, summer is coming. With the warm weather, many animals return to the region, or wake up from their winter sleep. Some are obvious, hundreds of juncos are feeding along the roadways, robins singing on your lawn, but some aren’t as obvious - with the warmth come insects! This season I intend to help introduce you to the wide world of insects you may encounter in and around our park. Insects are often overlooked, misunderstood and hated, but they are extremely important components of our ecosystems worthy of understanding and recognition of their beauty.
Let’s start the season with a common, easily identified species…

White-spotted Sawyer (Monochamus scutellatus)
This large (~2cm) black longhorn beetle (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae) is found throughout CBH May through September, often paying sudden surprise visits to campsites. Its size, colour and long antennae (~1.5x the body length) give the beetle a somewhat sinister appearance (and it can give a good bite if provoked), but they are generally harmless and will be on their way shortly. They have several common names, including the white-spotted sawyer, spruce sawyer, or if you know anyone working out Alberta way, tar/oil sands beetle. The body, legs and antennae are almost completely black, with a small white spot on the scutellum, a small projection on the back between the elytra (the hardened front wings covering the abdomen in beetles); some females are mottled with many small white spots.

White-spotted sawyers are a boreal species and feed on several species of conifer trees. They are found across Canada and into the USA wherever their hosts are found. Adults feed on tender young needles and bark, while their larvae feed on tissues below the bark and into the wood. They use their long antennae to smell chemicals released by damaged trees to find their food, and rarely attack healthy trees. Their common name tar/oil sand beetle comes from their attraction to oil extraction in Alberta, which releases similar chemicals into the air as damaged trees.
Ankhanu on Sat Jun 27, 2015 10:00 pm
Insects of Cape Breton Highlands National Park – Episode 2

Migratory butterflies and the Maritimes Butterfly Atlas
Since 2011, Cape Breton Highlands National Park has participated in the Martitimes Butterfly Atlas (MBA), a project to inventory the butterflies of the Maritimes coordinated by John Klymko at the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre (ACCDC). The MBA was slated to end last year, but has been extended into 2016! Butterfly season is coming soon, and some of our earliest butterfly species are actually migratory species arriving from their wintering sites in the southern United States and Central America, the red admiral (Vanessa atalanta), painted lady (V. cardui), and American lady (V. virginiensis).
These three butterflies arrive in Cape Breton Highlands once the weather begins to warm in May, taking advantage of early-flowring colt’s foot (Tussilago farfara) and dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) to refuel after their long migration, and remain until they fly south in October. New arrivals often appear with ragged damaged wings after a long winter and flight north.

All three are large (~35-65mm across), and patterned with striking orange and black with white spotting above, with camouflaged mottled brown patterns below. The adults feed at most flowers, while the caterpillars feed on a variety of plants in family Asteraceae, such as nettles, pearly everlasting, knapweeds, thistles, etc. These three species gather in large mixed species groups in the fall, actively feeding on knapweeds and the like before leaving on their southward migration.

Red Admiral -
Painted Lady -
American Lady -

The Maritimes Butterfly Atlas is a citizen science program that anyone can take part in! If you would like to add your butterfly observations to the project, be sure to have a camera on hand so you can snap a good shot of the butterflies you see through the summer! Record where (a GPS point would be great, but the place name will do) and when (date and time, please!) the butterfly was seen, along with the weather conditions (temperature, approximate % cloud cover, wind speed), habitat (deciduous forest, roadside, field, bog, etc.) and how many you saw. You can email me (REDACTED) with the information and photo(s), and I’ll be sure the contribution makes it in to the Atlas.
Ankhanu on Sat Jun 27, 2015 10:04 pm
Insects of Cape Breton Highlands National Park – Episode 3

Dog Day Cicada (Tibicen canicularis)
It's been a slow start, but summer IS beginning. Summer is an active time for everyone, and brings with it a suite of sounds, smells, and sights. One of those sounds you've probably heard, but not paid much attention to, an often slightly distant, almost constant droning buzz coming from high up in nearby trees. ZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzz... it goes, and goes, and goes. It's there just on the edge of awareness on almost any given hot summer day.

That buzzing drone is the call of the dog day cicada (Tibicen canicularis). While we have three species of cicadas in Nova Scotia, the dog day cicada is certainly the most commonly heard. You may have heard mention of cicadas in the news in 2013, as there was a mass emergence of three species of periodical cicadas (Magicicada spp.) in the Northeastern United States; these species emerge only once every 17 years, developing as larvae underground until emerging as adults. The three cicada species in Nova Scotia, however, are all annual cicadas, with adults emerging every year to sing, mate and lay their eggs in the tree tops.

The name cicada is derived aptly from the Latin word for "buzzer". The males possess a membrane, a tymbal, on either side of the abdomen that rapidly click alternately to create the buzz. Muscles attached to the membrane cause it to buckle, causing a click, then when the muslcles relax the membrane clicks back to its resting state. Chambers inside the body act to resonate and amplify the sound produced, in some species reaching about 100 dB! The exact pitches and patterns of the songs are species specific.

Dog day cicada (Tibicen canicularis) -

Cicadas are fairly large insects, ranging from 25-50 mm. The forewings of cicadas are also quite long, with prominent wing venation patterns. The dog day cicada fits in the lower range, at 27-33 mm, with a wingspan of 82 mm. Across its range, the dog day cicada is associated with being a root feeder of pine and oak, with preference for pines, but are associated with other conifers as well. In Cape Breton Highlands, and through Cape Breton generally, they are most likely to be feeding primarily on spruce species based on how common the cicada is, and how scattered to uncommon pine and oak can be.
Ankhanu on Mon Jun 29, 2015 7:11 pm
Insects of Cape Breton Highlands National Park – Episode 4

July turned out to be much cooler than anticipated this year. So far conditions haven't been right for last month's entry, the dog-day cicada to start singing. Some of our insect species are quite happy with cooler weather, however, so let's take a look at one of the more common cool-weather species in the area.

Orange-belted or Tricoloured Bumblebee (Bombus ternarius)

Bumblebees are one of the few insect groups that have a pretty good reputation - they're generally large and obvious, and most people find their thick, fuzzy, yellow bodies and bumbling flight endearing. The tricoloured bumblebee adds a band of orange across the abdomen to the black and yellow bumblebee pattern, with a black oval patch on the thorax, with a point extending back towards the abdomen (the presence/absence and shape of a dark patch on the thorax can help distinguish bumblebee species), and most workers and males are about 10mm long, with queens being much larger, near 18mm. Tricoloured bumblebee is widespread in Canada, found from the Yukon to Nova Scotia, and into the northern states. It does better in the cooler extent of its range, and is rarely found south of Pennsylvania.

The tricoloured bumblebee can start its season as early as late April if the weather is warm enough, but more often begins in May, and they remain active through to October when the weather cools off again. Bumblebees can generate body heat in cool weather by decoupling their wings from the flight muscles, and vibrating their thoraxes to create heat, warming their bodies. Once warmed, they can recouple the wings and fly, allowing them to forage at lower temperatures than other bees. Bumblebees, like honey bees (Apis mellifera), are eusocial; they live in nests with a reproductive queen, and castes of related workers and males, dividing labour amongst the castes. These bumblebees are ground nesters, forming a chamber underground in which they build a small nest of waxy cells. In the early season, the queen will incubate her eggs, like a bird, pressing her dark abdomen against the eggs allowing the body heat she's generated to warm the eggs. This incubation is very expensive however, and the queen needs to feed extensively (~600mg of sugar per day) to get the calories required to keep her body warm. Tricoloured bumblebee nests are used for one season, and the workers and males die before the winter; only queens overwinter in the soil or under leaves, emerging in the spring to start a new nest.

Tricoloured bumblebee is an important pollinator of many wild plant species, primarily asters (e.g. goldenrod, coltsfoot), blackberry/raspberry, and blueberries; they're even more effective pollinators of blueberry crops than honey bees.
Ankhanu on Sat Aug 15, 2015 3:59 pm
You are just plain buggy, Ankhanu! laugh
Keep them coming as I enjoy reading.
standready on Sat Aug 15, 2015 4:57 pm
Good Work.
Easy way to learn more about insects.

Then website link in the first post is not working.
Correct it asap.
cybersa on Sat Aug 15, 2015 5:31 pm
Thanks for the heads up on the link; I fixed it Wink

Insects of Cape Breton Highlands National Park – Episode 5

Last month we took a look at a cute, fuzzy bumblebee. It’s easy to like bumblebees. This month let’s take a look at a less welcome relative of bumblebees, the good ol’ hornets and yellowjackets (Hymenoptera: Vespidae: Vespinae).

Blackjacket (Vespula consobrina)
The blackjacket is a moderately sized yellowjacket species. Unlike most yellowjackets, the blackjacket markings are bold white and black, rather than yellow and black, a pattern it shares with the larger bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata). It can be differentiated from the bald-faced hornet by its smaller size, more white banding on the abdomen, and ivory legs. The blackjacket is found across Canada (except for Nunuvut) and much of the United States, they are also widespread and common. As with most other yellowjackets, the bold patterns and apparent fearlessness strikes fear into the vast majority of people who see it. Despite the intense fear people have for it, this species is actually relatively peaceful, but if molested, or finds its nest in danger, they can deliver quite a sting, and their smooth sting, without barbs, means they can do it again too. As with other vespid species, their stings evolved for use in nest defence against primarily mammal predators; as such their venom is evolved to cause strong pain responses to mammals, including humans.

Yellowjackets are frequently despised and feared, jokingly considered the friendly bee’s jerk cousin that seeks nothing more than to ruin your picnic. Despite their poor reputation they are, in fact, useful important predators of a list of other arthropod species. Without yellowjackets to help control their populations, many other more damaging species would be more numerous, causing more damage. Aside from feeding on other arthropods, they require occasional sugary supplements, and can be seen visiting flowers for nectar and pollen.

Blackjackets are cavity nesters, building their nests in abandoned rodent burrows, rotting logs, rock crevaces and the like. They are associated with forest habitats, which limits human encounters with their nests and their defenses. Nests are relatively small as well, numbering approximately 100 individuals; contrast this against some species with large hanging paper nests, which may contain thousands of individuals.
Ankhanu on Tue Sep 01, 2015 2:51 pm
I planned a different post for September, but didn't have time to collect photos and ensure that my information was correct... so I put off that topic for October and went with a species I posted about here on Frih previously (primarily just for the photos, and some good discussion came about.

Insects of Cape Breton Highlands National Park – Episode 6

Green margined, or common claybank, tiger beetle (Cicindela limbalis)

Tiger beetles (Carabidae: Cicindelinae) are a group of relatively large predacious ground beetles, with large eyes, long legs, and fearsome looking large jaws. They are also some of the most beautiful little predators around with bold patterns and lovely iridescence. Generally tiger beetles are associated with open habitats, with sandy or clay soils. Green margined tiger beetle prefers habitats with moist clay soils, and are often found along stream or river banks, near lakes and on open hilltops and dirt roads.

They are active visual hunters of other insects, using their great speed to quickly overcome their prey. They move so quickly relative to their body size that their brains can't process their vision while they run; they lock on to their prey, run blind, stop and reassess, then run blind again! The larvae are just as voracious a predator as the adults. Larvae build cylindrical burrows up to a metre deep, with their iridescent heads and first thoracic segment (pronotum) near the entrance. When a prey item passes by the burrow, the larva zips out to grab it. Green margined tiger beetles have a three-year lifecycle, spending two years as larvae before pupating and emerging as an adult in year three, in either April-June or late August-September.

The bright iridescence of tiger beetles may serve multiple functions. Different lines of research suggest that the shining colours may act as disruptive camouflage, confusing depth perception in potential predators as the colours shift hue and brightness with viewing angle and incident light. The bright colours may also be an aposematic signal indicating they have an unpleasant taste, as many species have chemical defences as well.
Ankhanu on Thu Oct 08, 2015 3:41 pm
Insects of Cape Breton Highlands National Park – Episode 7

As we’re moving into November and snow starts to fall from the Highlands sky, insects are preparing for the long cold winter of inactivity. Different insects use different strategies to survive the winter, most go into a diapause or torpor state, basically a hibernation, though a few remain active under or on the snow. Those that don’t remain active survive the winter in one of their three to four life states; egg, larva, pupa or adult. Today we’ll look at a group that overwinters as adults.

Predacious Diving Beetles (Family Dytiscidae, looking at Dytiscus dauricus)

Dytiscus dauricus, perhaps unfortunately, doesn’t have its own common name, so I’ll keep using its name or refer to it by its family common name, predacious diving beetles. Dytiscus dauricus is widespread across the north of the globe (Holarctic), found all across Canada and Alaska and south in the west to California and Arizona, and Illinois and New York in the east, and is our largest predacious diving beetle, up to 40mm long! They are largely dark brown to black, but the borders of the pronotum (behind the head) is pale all around, as are the outer edges of the elytra (wing covers). Below they are pale, with dark blotches near the base of each segment. They’re active through the summer season, breeding in late fall or early spring, laying their eggs in aquatic vegetation in the spring, the larvae developing through the summer and emerge as adults as early as July; they produce a single generation per year. Adults of most predacious diving beetles overwinter in permanent water bodies, though D. dauricus has been known to overwinter on land as well.
As the name suggests, predacious diving beetles are predators of many small aquatic animals, from mosquito larvae, to larval or small fish, to salamander and frog larvae. They swim by beating their hind legs together, unlike other aquatic beetles like water scavenger beetles (Hydrophilidae) that alternate their legs as if they were walking on land.
Many predacious diving beetles are sexually dimorphic; males and females look different and have different physical structures. Males, and some females are streamlined and smooth, adapted for hydrodynamics, but some females are sulcate; that is, they have ridges running most of the length of their elytra. Males also possess sucker-like organs and hairs to improve grip at the end of their front legs (prolegs), these adaptations help the males grasp females during mating. The initial stages of mating in this group can be fairly intense. The ridges some females possess, on the other hand, may help limit the ability of males to grip them, allowing them greater choice in the initiation of copulation and mate choice.

a) b)

Figure 1 – a) Dorsal habitus of a female Dytiscus dauricus collected from Broad Cove Mountain Lake showing the elytral sulci, and b) detail of the gripping tarsal pad of a male Dytiscus fasciventris. (I'm sure there are examples of these in the bugguide link Wink )
Ankhanu on Mon Oct 26, 2015 9:26 pm
Insects of Cape Breton Highlands National Park – Episode 8

The November temperatures this year have been hovering around ~0-5°C between the high- and low- lands, but the weather will be getting progressively colder. Most insects have gone into their overwintering mode, but not all of them. There are a number of insects that remain active into, and even through the winter. If you’ve been out and about in the evenings, you may have noticed some pale greyish to brownish moths still flying around; these little guys are likely one of two species of winter moths (broadly speaking), which fly as the weather cools from October to as late as February!

Winter moths, Operophtera; winter moth (O. brumata) and bruce spanworm (O. bruceata)

These moths closely resemble one another, requiring careful measurements or genital dissections to differentiate, depending on life stage. Adults are mottled brownish, greyish, males have pale wavy bands across their wings, with a wingspan of 25-33 mm; females are plump and nearly wingless. Larvae are hairless, bright green with three narrow yellow-ish white stripes on their sides, they are long and narrow, moving with a looping motion (inchworms). Adults are active in the late fall and early winter. Wingless females emerge and climb the trunks of host trees to the upper branches, where they emit pheromones to attract the active-flying males. Eggs are laid in crevices in bark, one at a time; the eggs are bright green when laid, and turn orange as the winter progresses. The eggs hatch in the spring, and the larvae get to work eating the leaves of their hosts right down to the ribs until about June, after which the larvae pupate in the soil until the fall.

Winter moths can reach pest status, causing serious defoliation damage to their hosts, which include maples, beech, birches, trembling aspen, and other broad-leaved trees. Bruce spanworm is native to North America, and ranges across southern Canada coast-to-coast, while winter moth is an invasive European species with limited ranges on each coast (introduced in Nova Scotia ~1950, and to the west coast ~1977). Outbreaks of winter moth have been successfully controlled with the introduction of a parasitic fly, Cyzenis albicans, which targets the species, use of Bt natural insecticide, and mechanical disruption of female migration up tree trunks with the use of sticky bands placed around the trunks.
Ankhanu on Mon Nov 23, 2015 8:19 pm
Insects of Cape Breton Highlands National Park – Episode 9

While most insects fade from view over winter, some make themselves quite apparent, gathering en masse for everyone to see. Cluster flies are one of the most commonly encountered insects in winter as they gather in our homes and offices to stay warm through the cold months, waking up on warm days to fly into windows and collect in our light fixtures. While they don’t bite us, eat or lay eggs on our food, they are considered pests due to their mere presence when clustering.

Cluster flies (Pollenia spp.)

There are six species of cluster flies (genus Pollenia) in North America, four of which have known collected records from Cape Breton, and the other two with collections from Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland, suggesting they are likely here as well. It is possible that all six species are introduced from Europe. Cluster flies are true flies (Order Diptera), with two functional flight wings (most flying insects have four); the hind wings are reduced to a knob-like organs called halteres that help them stabilize their flight. Cluster flies look somewhat like house flies; they are in the range of 7-8 mm, are dull grey with some golden hairs on their thorax, and when at rest, the wing tips overlap (they do not meet in house flies). Apparently if crushed they have a smell reminiscent of buckwheat honey, but I haven’t noticed this myself.

Despite being somewhat common and widespread, cluster fly natural history is relatively poorly known. While they may cause us mild annoyance when they cluster in our homes, cluster flies are common flower visitors, and can be important pollinators for a range of plants. Eggs are generally laid on soil, and the larvae are parasitoids (and sometimes predators) of earthworms, though some have been recorded using caterpillars or bees as hosts. They don’t directly cause us any harm, though where their dead bodies build up some people may have allergic reactions to the dusts caused by things like carpet beetles that eat their bodies. Aside from preventing the flies from entering a building (finding and plugging small holes, keeping windows/doors closed), vacuuming up or otherwise physically removing flies, little can be done to control cluster fly “infestation”.
Ankhanu on Sat Dec 12, 2015 5:54 pm
Insects of Cape Breton Highlands National Park – Episode 10

January… the middle of winter. There are more winter-season insects to cover, but, let’s return to the warmth of summer for a brief reminder, shall we? Let’s look back, or forward, to the warm heady days of summer and some of the warm-loving insects it brings.

Two-striped Grasshopper (Melanoplus bivittatus)

Two-striped grasshoppers, at 30 – 55 mm, are one of our largest grasshoppers. They are fairly heavy-bodied, yellowish-greenish or brown, with two distinct pale yellowy stripes along the upper sides from the eyes back to converge near the wing-tips. Like other short-horned grasshoppers (family Acrididae), they live in generally open habitats (e.g. meadows, roadsides), have greatly expanded, powerful hind legs for jumping, antennae about half as long as the body, and well developed wings. Two-striped grasshoppers are feeding generalists. While they mainly eat various herbaceous plants, they also eat the leaves of woody plants, and will even scavenge dead animals. In high enough numbers, these grasshoppers can be agricultural pests. Two-striped grasshopper are widely distributed in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and throughout Cape Breton Island. I have photographed them on either side of the Park, from Skyline Trail to Neil Pond, and at Fortress of Louisbourg Nation Historic Site, among other locations.

Eggs are laid in the fall, generally in soil, but occasionally in manure, rotting wood, or other protected locations. Grasshoppers undergo incomplete metamorphosis (hemimetabolous). Unlike insects with a complete metamorphosis (holometabolism, e.g. beetles, butterflies, etc.), which undergo four distinct developmental stages, insects with incomplete metamorphoses hatch from the egg as nymphs, resembling small versions of adults without wings and occupy a similar niche. Nymphs hatch in the spring and go through several instars (growth stages) before maturing to the winged adult stage some time between June and October; late season adults tend to be larger than those developing earlier in the season. Adults can also darken in colour noticeably as the season gets later and colder.

Two-striped grasshoppers exhibit some wing dimorphism (two forms), some with long wings and slender bodies, and some with shorter wings and stockier bodies. The long-winged form is capable of greater dispersal than the short-winged morph, which are weak flyers. These flying forms tend to develop in high-density populations, allowing individuals to move further to reduce competition for food resources.
Ankhanu on Mon Jan 25, 2016 5:28 pm
This is a very interesting topic.
I don't know why that Discovery or Animal Planet came to my mind when I read these article.
Your writing can be used as the off-screen.
rx9876 on Tue Jan 26, 2016 1:01 pm
This is a very interesting topic.
I don't know why that Discovery or Animal Planet came to my mind when I read these article.
Your writing can be used as the off-screen.

Hah, thanks!

Insects of Cape Breton Highlands National Park – Episode 11

If there’s one thing nature teaches, it’s that life will find a way. Winter is a tough time for animals, especially those that don’t produce their own body heat (cold-blooded, ectothermic). That’s not to say that there aren’t cold-blooded animals active; many are active on, or below, the snow pack. Among them are small, black, jumping insects, easy to overlook, that come out to mate on the snow.

Snow Scorpionflies (Mecoptera: Boreidae); Mid-winter Boreus (Boreus brumalis)

The scariest thing about scorpionflies is their name. Completely harmless, the group gets its common name from the resemblance in several groups of the male abdomen and genitalia to scorpion tails, but there is no sting. They have long, downward pointing tapering faces, relatively long and oblong wings, and long legs. Snow scorpion flies (Boreidae) are dark coloured, small, and flightless, with reduced wings, and lack the oversized, scorpion-tail-like male genitals, but retain the long faces and long legs (Fig. 1a). As their name suggests, snow scorpionflies are winter-active insects, and can be found on the snow surface near trees and logs on warm winter days, retreating to the relative warmth below the snow pack when temperatures drop. Snow scorpionflies are associated with dense mats of woodland mosses (Dicranella heteromalla and Atrichum spp.), in which they feed and develop.

Snow scorpionflies are flightless, and instead use jumps to move quickly away from predators, like a grasshopper. Being active in the cold means that they can’t contract muscles quickly to provide enough power for jumps, due to temperature and energy constraints. Instead, to power the quick movements needed to jump, a catapult mechanism and elastic proteins (e.g. resilin) are used. Muscles charge the proteins, which snap back to shape when released, propelling the animal up and forward, even in the cold. While snow scorpionflies lack the enlarged genitals of their parent group, they are still formed in an up-turned position. Slightly unusual in the insect world, females mount the males when mating (Fig. 1b).

The entire entry for order Mecoptera in The Insects, Spiders and Mites of Cape Breton Highlands National Park is a mere two sentences long, with the second sentence saying that a species of Boreus likely occurs here. Having noted them on the snow on South Mountain a couple year ago, I decided I should collect definitive evidence that they do, indeed occur and set out with snow shoes up the hill behind the Ingonish compound on a warm winter day following a snow storm in early February. I saw some winter crane flies (I’ll get to them another time), and had given up and turned back to the office to get other work done. It was on the walk back that I spotted a speck jump on the snow below a black spruce; a closer look revealed a mid-winter boreus! I snapped a couple photos and collected the specimen. Watching closely as I continued back I spotted several more below a few trees, including a mating pair.



Figure 1 – Mid-winter boreus (snow scorpionfly) a) walking, and b) a mating pair (female on top) on the snow in Ingonish Beach.
Ankhanu on Mon Feb 29, 2016 5:49 pm

Winter’s winding down, but I didn’t feel quite like bringing out the warm-weather insects just yet. We’ll take a look at another of the winter-active groups this month, looking at another group of true flies.

Winter crane flies (Diptera: Trichoceridae, Trichocera)

Winter crane flies superficially resemble multiple other groups of flies, including true crane flies (Tipulidae), biting and non-biting midges (Ceratopogonidae, Chironomidae), mosquitoes (Culicidae), and others. Adults are long, slender-bodied flies (two wings, halteres, complete metamorphosis; see Episode 9, Cluster Flies), with long, slender legs and antennae, broad, club-shaped wings, and three small simple eyes, ocelli, on top of the head between the two main compound eyes. Larvae are long, soft-bodied, and cylindrical, with a well-developed head, and four lobes on the last segment; they look a bit like a pale caterpillar without legs. Adults fly in cool months, in the spring and fall, and even on warm days through the winter, a tendency that gave the family its common name. There are 25 species of Trichocera in North America, but a quick perusal through some literature suggests there may only be 3-5 species in Nova Scotia. Species identifications are somewhat difficult in this group, often requiring dissections of adults to reach a positive determination. Largely, the distribution of species this group requires more study.

Adults are frequent, though somewhat slow and clumsy fliers. You may have noticed them while out in the woods, exploring our lovely National Park through the winter as they fly about, and landing on the snow surface, trees or exposed rocks. Winter crane flies fly in loose swarms that appear to be dancing. In warmer months they can occasionally be found in cool, dark spaces, like inside hollowed logs and trees, or damp caves. Larvae are detritivores or scavengers in moist habitats, like decaying leaves, in fungi, manure or in rodent burrows. Like other detritivores, winter crane flies are part of an important network of organisms, including other insects, various worms, fungi, bacteria, etc., that break down dead organic material, recycling their nutrients back into the ecosystem, maintaining the flow of nutrients and energy back into the system. Adults have reduced mouthparts, and have not been observed feeding.
Ankhanu on Mon Apr 11, 2016 2:37 pm
Insects of Cape Breton Highlands National Park – Episode 13

We’re coming into the start of May, which usually starts the general active insect season in Nova Scotia. We’ve looked at some special cold-hardy species this winter, but now we can turn our eyes to some of the early-emerging, more “normal” insects. Some of the most commonly encountered spring insects are those that develop as larvae within water; dragonflies, damselflies, mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies, black flies, mosquitoes, and the like. First, in this second year of the Insects of CBHNP, we’ll look at a little predator of mosquitoes, the eastern forktail.

Eastern Forktail (Odonata: Coenagrionidae, Ischnura verticalis)

Eastern Forktail is one of the earliest emerging, damselflies in the spring, and one of the most common throughout the summer season. They’re associated with most slow moving waterbodies, including the slow edges of running streams, though they are not found in highland barrens ponds. Adults are small (22-30 mm), long and slender, with long and narrow club shaped wings that are held straight back over the abdomen at rest. Many damselflies and dragonflies have multiple colour forms between the males, females and immature individuals, and the eastern forktail is no exception. Mature adult males are quite striking, being primarily black with bright, grass green stripes in the thorax, bright green underside, and a blue tip to the abdomen. Adult females are a greyish dusty blue, with dark legs, and perhaps obscured dark stripes on the thorax, the lower half of their eyes are green. Newly emerged, or immature specimens are a rusty orange colour with black stripes on the thorax, and a black abdomen, without the blue tip. Over the course of a few days the immatures will change colour to their adult forms. As with other damselflies and dragonflies, larval eastern forktail are aquatic, living in the water. Larvae have a similar shape as adults, but are more robust, with three almost feather like tails at the end of the abdomen.

They’re voracious predators of insects and other small animals as both adults and larvae. Larvae lay in wait on submerged vegetation for prey to swim near. Once prey is close enough, they quickly thrust out a specially modified lower jaw (labium) to capture it, a little like a frog or chameleon’s tongue. Adults perch on leaves or grasses, watching for prey with their large, widely spaced eyes. When they find prey, such as mosquitoes, black flies, or other small flying insects, they deftly fly out to capture it, forming a basket with their long legs to catch it.
Ankhanu on Mon Apr 25, 2016 9:38 pm
What a frightening insect Shocked
TheGremlyn on Tue Apr 26, 2016 3:22 am
Looks like I missed updating two articles. One I wrote here, so I'll post it, the next I wrote on my work computer so it'll have to wait until later. I'm working on this month's submission now too Razz

Insects of Cape Breton Highlands National Park – Episode 14

As the weather warms, more and more insects emerge to grow, feed, and reproduce, but as anyone knows, they’re not all pleasant. It’s coming in to early summer, and a common pest has recently turned its somewhat annoying head – black flies.

Black flies (Diptera: Simuliidae, Simulium spp.)

We’re all familiar with the clouds of black flies that emerge this time of year, buzzing around and feeding on our blood; they’re hard to ignore. Black flies are a family of small (1-5 mm), generally dark coloured true flies. Adults have paddle-shaped wings, short thread-like antennae, a slightly humped thorax, and often have black and white banded legs. Larvae are aquatic, living in fast-flowing water. The larvae have small hooks at the end of their abdomens that anchor them to the bottom of the stream, rocks, mosses, dead wood, etc.. Safely anchored to the bottom, they filter food out of the flowing water with specialized fan-shaped mouthparts. Research suggests that black fly larvae host specialized bacteria in their midgut (like termites) that help digest cellulose, which forms the bulk of most plant material, allowing them to gain enough nutrition from the water. After pupating, adults emerge from the water en masse to feed and reproduce. Males feed on nectar, while the females require blood meals to make eggs, with most species feeding on mammals, including humans.

Unlike mosquitoes, which pierce skin with a needle like proboscis, black flies have less modified mouthparts, which cut the skin to draw blood to the surface. Some species can travel 30-40 km after emerging from the streams they developed in, which is why they can be a nuisance far from a water source. Luckily, unlike mosquitoes, black flies only bite during the day. Many regions employ black fly control measures to reduce the numbers of pest species. Most common fly repellants will work on black flies, though often for less time compared to their effectiveness against mosquitoes.
Ankhanu on Mon Jul 25, 2016 11:33 am
Insects of Cape Breton Highlands National Park – Episode 15

Last month we took a look at an insect we love to hate, now let’s take a look at something you may not have noticed, but you may wish to try to see…

Calligrapha beetles (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae, Calligrapha spp.)

Calligrapha beetles are a group of leaf beetles commonly mistaken for lady beetles. While quite pretty, unlike lady beetles, which can be very beneficial in controlling plant pests like aphids, calligrapha beetles can be plant pests themselves! Each species feeds on a specific species or species groups of plants, primarily tree or shrub species. Calligrapha beetles are medium sized, domed oval to round beetles that generally have relatively complex markings on their elytra (hard wing covers), slightly resembling fancy calligraphy, giving them their name. While some species are fairly easy to identify based on appearance, there are several groups that can only be separated if their host plant is known, they otherwise look exceptionally similar.

As with most leaf beetles, calligrapha beetles find their host plants by following chemical cues with their antennae; the smell their way home. Some species form small, loose colonies on their host plants, and can cause significant damage (they’re related to pests like the Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata)), though generally their feeding causes little major damage to the host. They generally have a single generation per year, with adults emerging after the winter, mating to lay eggs that will develop over the next two or three months into adults, which feed for the next couple months before overwintering. While generally a sexually reproducing group, calligrapha beetles are partially parthenogenetic; females can lay unfertilized eggs that will develop into female offspring.

A quick investigation of host plants will often reveal some calligrapha beetles. As with many insects that spend most of their time on plants, their primary method of defense is to release the plant and fall to the ground to hide, so if you find one, you might not see it for very long. Next time you’re out walking around, take a look at some alder, willow, dogwood, or birch, you might just find a pretty little jewel.
Ankhanu on Mon Jul 25, 2016 6:59 pm
There we go; new article written Razz

Insects of Cape Breton Highlands National Park – Episode 16

The insect spotlight idea this month is brought to you by the Ingonish cleaner team. I got to the office last week to be informed that I had a gift under a jar in the office, and a certain level of curiosity. In the jar was an insect that is rarely seen, but fairly common, a camel cricket. I’ve collected them in traps in forests in Cape Breton and Richmond counties, have found one in the ResCon bunk house garage, and now from the Ingonish ResCon office, covering all four counties on the island. I haven’t had a chance to key last week’s specimen to species, but we can discuss the family.

Camel Crickets (Orthoptera: Rhaphidophoridae)

Camel crickets are indeed crickets, in the same order (Orthoptera) as field crickets, katydids, grasshoppers and the like, but are in their own family. As with the other members of the order, they possess long, powerful hind legs capable of long, fast jumps. The legs have rows of spurs, making them look a little spikey, and the abdomen has a couple projections near the tip, called cerci. Unlike most other orthopterans, camel crickets are wingless, and are therefore incapable of chirping; other crickets and grasshoppers chirp by rubbing their forewings together. Camel crickets are relatively large (to about 25 mm), mottled tan to dark brown, with long thin antennae, and a hump-backed arched form to the body, from which they get their name.

While somewhat large, and mildly intimidating looking, camel crickets are completely harmless, using stealth and a strong leap to avoid predators. They prefer dark, moist habitats – rotten logs, under leaves or mosses, in caves or tunnels, under rocks, etc., and can occasionally be found inside buildings with cool, dark and damp areas (basements, garages, and the like). Camel crickets are almost all omnivorous scavengers, taking advantage of a variety of different potential food sources. Many are also predators of smaller insects when opportunity presents itself. If they are found in a home they can be controlled by limiting potential habitat – remove possible cover (fire logs, boards, cardboard, etc. on the floor) and reduce potential moisture with a dehumidifier, or keeping clear air flow; without cool damp hiding places they won’t survive or stick around.
Ankhanu on Mon Jul 25, 2016 8:42 pm
Insects of Cape Breton Highlands National Park – Episode 17

Not all species found in national parks are native to that region. This month’s spotlight shines on one of these adventive (non-native) species that was recently discovered in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, the dusky cockroach. Now, I know that the mere idea of a cockroach brings about the “ew” response from most people, eliciting visions of infested homes and filth, but only a few species of cockroaches are pests, and the majority of them are not found in homes; and this species is one of the former (there’s no reason to get squeamish).

Dusky Cockroach (Blattodea: Ectobiidae: Ectobius lapponicus)

Dusky cockroach is a recent European arrival to North America, with the first specimens found in a firewood pile near a New Hampshire home in 1984. Since then the species has spread north and east as far as Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. In Cape Breton, until 2014, the only known location where this species occurred was in Peter’s Field provincial park in Westmount, near Sydney. In 2014 I collected a specimen near the old warden station at Warren Lake, and some specimens were found on Boulardrie Island by K. Murray, expanding their known range on the island. In 2013, Denis Doucet (Interpreter, Fundy National Park) found the first records of dusky cockroach in the Fundy NP area as well (and co-authored a paper on the distribution of the species in the Maritimes later that year). Though three other species of Ectobius have established in North America, E. lapponicus is the only one known to have reached the Maritimes provinces.

Dusky cockroach is a somewhat handsome little cockroach inhabiting the edges of woods, often near fields. They’re dark drown to brownish-yellow in colour, with translucent edges, and long thread-like (filiform) antennae. As with other cockroaches, the head is partially covered by the pronotum (the first segment of the thorax), which has a dark brown centre surrounded by a clear border, and the forewings are somewhat leathery, speckled, and folded back over the abdomen at rest. Unusually, males tend to be larger than females, measuring 13-14 mm and 9.5-10 mm respectively. Dusky cockroach have a two-year lifecycle; nymphs hatch in the late spring and develop through the first year, overwintering as adults, or in the last nymphal instar. The next summer (June through September) the new adults reproduce, laying eggs to hatch in the next spring.

A dusky cockroach (Ectobius lapponicus) found in Peter’s Field provincial park, Westmount, NS.

Dusky cockroach have been found in or near forest edges along anthropogenically (human-generated) disturbed habitats in North America. These habitats have a mix of deciduous trees and shrubs with understories of grasses (Poaceae), various composite flowers (Asteraceae such as burdock, asters, goldenrod, etc.), and alders (Betulaceae), among other herbaceous plants. Some cockroaches are omnivorous, and may prey upon other insects, but dusky cockroach appears to only be herbivorous, feeding only on plant material. Females are mostly nocturnal, and active in the leaf litter and dead woody material, while males and nymphs are more crepuscular (evening active) and active on low-laying vegetation. Though an adventive species, dusky cockroach is not known to be invasive. Invasive species are adventive species that have strong, negative impacts upon the native ecosystems, either displacing native species, or altering the ecosystem structure and/or function; dusky cockroach appears to be a benign addition to North American ecosystems.

I haven’t found dusky cockroach in CBHNP since 2014, but I am very interested to hear of new instances. If you can catch a specimen, or a photograph, with information on the date and location, I would appreciate knowing about it (*redacted*). Thanks!
Ankhanu on Mon Aug 29, 2016 2:08 pm
Insects of Cape Breton Highlands National Park – Episode 18

Late September through October is a rather busy time for Ecosystem Integrity Monitoring, and one of the major programs we’re collecting data for is CABIN sampling. CABIN (Canadian Aquatic BIomonitoring Network) is a program that uses the abundance and species diversity of benthic (bottom-living) invertebrates in streams as indicators of stream health. Three of the big aquatic insect groups that are abundant in healthy streams are the EPT; Ephemeroptera (mayflies), Plecoptera (stoneflies), and Trichoptera (caddisflies). This month we’ll take a super quick look at the larvae of these three insect Orders, and perhaps take a closer look at some of the species under them in the future.

EPT (Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, Trichoptera)

With a few exceptions, species of mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies (EPT) are sensitive to environmental pollution. In a general sense, the number of species, and individuals of each species of these taxa found in a stream are indicative of water or environmental quality; if there are a lot of EPT relative to other groups, the stream is likely clean and healthy. If there are fewer species present, or those species that are present are almost all from pollution-tolerant groups, chances are high that the stream is impacted in some way. Many of these insects spend one or many years within streams growing and developing into adults, and changes in water quality can impact them strongly in that time.

The larvae of all three EPT groups are adapted to clinging to, and hiding under/between the rocks at the bottom of fast flowing streams. Mayflies and stoneflies are generally dorsoventrally (top to bottom) flattened, with wide-spaced clinging legs. This broad, flat shape reduces the amount of their body sticking up to get caught in the flowing water, reducing drag and other forces that might pull them off the bottom, and lets them slip into close spaces. Both groups tend to have long tail-like structures at the end of their abdomens (cerci), with mayflies tending to have three, and stoneflies having two.
Caddisfly larvae look a lot like butterfly or moth larvae… underwater. They’re mildly laterally (side to side) compressed with soft caterpillar-like bodies, but have a pair of leg-like appendages at the end of their abdomen. Most caddisfly larvae construct some sort of case around their bodies, using silk to bind together small rocks, sticks, or other materials into a tube to protect them from predators. The materials used to construct these cases, and their shapes, are sometimes species specific. While most caddisflies build cases, some build silk tubes, or nets, and some are free-living. The pair of leg-like appendages at the end of their bodies are used to hold their cases over their bodies, or to help anchor them to their silk tubes, nets, or the bottom of the stream. There are jewelry makers who raise some caddisfly species in tanks with precious stones, allowing the caddisflies to build cases using the shiny stones to use as jewelry.

EPT larvae cover many niches in the stream ecosystem, and are important food sources for various fish, amphibians, birds and mammals. They can coarsely be separated into functional or feeding groups or guilds, such as shredders, which break apart large organic material like leaves, scrapers, which scrape algae off of rocks, branches, etc, suspension or filter feeders, which filter fine particles out of the water, etc. They are important links in the aquatic food webs, strongly influencing energy and nutrient flow throughout the ecosystem. If a stream is impacted and these insects cannot survive, their position near the foundation of the food web means their absence can have profound impacts on the rest of the species that should be present.

We’ll explore these taxa in more detail in the future. There’s a lot of information to be discussed with these groups, but, bite sized chunks! The long and short for today – These groups are sensitive to pollution, important elements of stream ecosystem function, and are important indicators of stream health.
Ankhanu on Mon Oct 03, 2016 2:44 pm

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