The Birding Nature Center’s resident entomologist, volunteer and board member Diana Frankson (aka Insect Aficionado or more commonly, Queen of the Bugs) took some pictures recently of insects she and her 2-and-a-half-year-old grandson, Clifton, spotted at a recent visit to the Birding Nature Center.
You'll want to know about the bugs they found, and you might be a little shocked at some of the shenanigans going on out here! Read on to get the lowdown on the weird and wonderful life of bugs at the Birding Nature Center.
Birding Nature Center Entomologist Diana Frankson with her grandson, Clifton, 2 1/2 years old capturing insects for observation.
Forest Tent Moth (Malacosoma disstria) and caterpillar
First up, we have the Forest Tent Moth (Malacosoma disstria) and caterpillar, which is a noctuid moth, meaning it travels at night 🌛 and belongs to the family Noctuidae. You may see the Forest Tent Caterpillars travel in group processions along the trunks and limbs of the oak trees. They eat oak and other tree leaves 🍃.
Fun Fact: The Forest Tent Caterpillar does not build a tent-shaped mat like its name suggests but spins a loosely woven mat along trunks and larger branches of trees (or on the side of a building or an object that is stationary). Dozens of caterpillars may congregate on these mats between feedings. (https://brazoria.agrilife.org/2020/03/23/forest-tent-caterpillar/)
Two-Lined Spittlebug (Froghopper)
Next up, and one of my favorites, is the Two-Lined Spittlebug (Prosapia bicincta). You can spot the activity of a Two-Lined Spittlebug when it is in its nymph stage. If you see a sticky saliva-like foamy, bubbly substance, usually on grass or weeds 🌿, it’s “spittle” from the Spittlebug, hence its name. This spittle 🙊 is sometimes mistakenly called snake spit, but of course, Texas snakes don’t spit. 🐍
According to the University of Georgia Extension Service website, the Two-Lined Spittlebug is most active during the spring and summer months, completing its life cycle in less than 50 days. Its life cycle has three stages: egg, nymph (four nymphal stages) and adult. A female lays up to 40 eggs during her lifetime.
Soon after hatching, the nymph moves onto the host (grass or weed) and starts feeding. The creamy yellow nymph makes the foam-like, frothy, white spittle mass. The formation of the spittle mass is considered a defensive strategy by immatures to avoid attack by natural enemies as well as to keep it from drying out. More than one nymph can be found in a single spittle mass. The nymphal period lasts from 34 to 60 days depending on temperature.
The Two-Line Spittlebug is in the family Cercopoidea, which is a group of Hemiptera (sucking mouthparts) insects commonly called “true bugs.”
Fun Fact: Adult Spittlebugs are commonly called Froghoppers, which are capable of jumping many times their height and length. (Source: (https://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=C1157&title=Two-Lined%20Spittlebug:%20Biology%20and%20Management%20in%20Turfgrass)
Psocids (bark lice)
Next up on our Birding Nature Center insect smorgasbord 🍽 are Psocids (bark lice). Bark lice can be found on tree trunks, where they feed on algae and lichen that can grow on tree barks.
According to the Texas A&M Extension Service website, because bark lice feed on fungi, algae, dead plant tissues and other debris they are considered harmless and perhaps beneficial to the trees they infest. Bark lice first appear in the spring; however, by late summer, silken webbing produced by the Archipsocus nomas Gurney (meaning a web-spinning barklouse) can completely wrap a large tree from the base of the trunk to the tips of the branches. Some people consider this webbing to be unsightly. Left undisturbed, these insects apparently eat and remove the silk webbing before populations decline by the end of the year. (Source: (https://texasinsects.tamu.edu/psocoptera/barklice/)
Fun Fact: These insects first appeared in the Permian period, 295–248 million years ago. Their name originates from the Greek word psokhos, meaning gnawed or rubbed and ptera, meaning wings. Originally classified in the Hemiptera order (true bugs), they were recently reclassified into their own unique order called Psocodea.
Another fun fact: The species known as booklice, also Psocids, received their common name because they are commonly found among old books—they feed on the paste used in the binding. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psocoptera)
Fir Tussock Moth and caterpillar
The next entry into this plethora of crawly things 🐛 is the Fir Tussock Moth caterpillar, also known as the Live Oak Tussock Moth caterpillar (Orgyia detrita).
According to the Texas A&M Extension Service website, this moth has a life cycle coinciding with Coastal Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) leaf emergence in the spring. The moth favors Coastal Live Oak trees as a host plant, and emerging caterpillars may completely defoliate the tree.
The Fir Tussock Moth is fuzzy and may cause pain if you touch it, so kids – DON’T PICK IT UP. The caterpillars emerge from a fuzzy white oval cocoon. You’ve probably seen clusters of these cocoons stuck to the ceiling on your back porch or on the back of an outside chair.
Fun Fact: To be so spectacular as toddlers with their puffy white tufts, crazy black spikes of hair and orange and red dots, the Fir Tussock Moth grows up to be a not-so-colorful plain brown moth. (Source: https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/URBAN/MEDICAL/tussock_moths.htm
Signal Flies (🙈 Warning: Video May Embarrass 🙈)
And finally, a word of warning before our last entry in this Birding Nature Center Insect Rodeo. If you consider insect hanky panky to be indelicate, you may want to avert your eyes and not watch this video 😳.
I’ll let Entomologist Diana Frankson explain what we are observing: “Two signal flies (The Platystomatidae) mating and showing female’s ovipositor (on top) collecting sperm from male.” And that's all I'm going to say about that.
According to Wikipedia, Signal flies are present worldwide, found in all the biogeographic realms, but are predominant in the tropics (hot humid Southeast Texas!). It is one of the larger families of acalyptrate Diptera (true flies) with around 1200 species in 127 genera.
Adults are found on tree trunks and foliage and are attracted to flowers, decaying fruit, excrement, sweat, and decomposing snails. Larvae are found on fresh and decaying vegetation, carrion, human corpses, and root nodules, particularly in the genus Rivellia, which has economic implications for legume crops. Larvae from the remaining genera are either phytophagous (eating plant material) or saprophagous (eating decomposing organic matter). Some are predatory on other insects and others have been found in human lesions🤢 , while others are of minor agricultural significance. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platystomatidae)
Great quote about flies: “Opening a window to let out a fly and ending up with thirty midges, three wasps, two bees and an owl.” ~Rob Temple, Very British Problems, @SoVeryBritish, 2013 🪰 🦟🦟 🐝 🐝 🦉
That's all we have for today's Birding Nature Center's Insect Review! See you next time!