This week our hats are tipped in honor of a particularly unique bug, the giant water bug (Lethocerus americanus)!  Giant water bugs are Hemipterans which belong to the insect family Belostomatidae (about 100 species total).  They can be found across the planet in South America, Australia, Asia, and are the largest insect found in North America.   Their bite is incredibly painful and is rumored to be the most painful bite inflicted by any insect.   Due to the fact that giant water bugs know that they’re bad asses, they feed on anything that they think they can handle (turtles, frogs, snakes, big toes, etc…) and thus they have earned several nicknames such as “toe-biters”, “alligator ticks”, and “biting leaves”.


So as the name suggests… This is a GIANT bug.  Adults are found well over 2 inches long and more than an inch wide.  They’re bodies are a dark gray to brown with orange legs and highlights around the wings and thorax.  These color patterns allow the giant water bug to blend in with leaves and other debris in shallow pools of water.  Their front legs are more like spears that are used to hold onto prey while injecting an immobilizing toxin with its mouth parts.


Like I even have to tell you why I chose the giant water bug as the Bug of the Week…  We all know the answer.  But in case you’re thinking that you’ve missed something critical while reading this or that it’s a trick, I’ll tell you why…

Two Reasons.

Reason 1: Parental Investment!  These ruthless hunters are not only fierce killers, but they are also very caring parents.   Mating takes a long time and a huge amount of energy to complete.  Once the females have been mated and the eggs are fertilized, the females seek out their mates and oviposit (lay eggs) on the elytra of the males.  From this point on the males are left with the responsibility to protect the eggs and ensure a safe hatching for the new little, giant water bug babies.

Reason 2: Theatrical fake deaths!  Everyone hears that playing dead can deter wild animals and even humans that wish you harm.  Well to say the least, that doesn’t always work out.  Maybe that’s because we don’t SELL our fake death as well as giant water bugs do…  When approached by a larger predator, the giant water bug plays dead.  They float lifelessly atop the water and incase that isn’t enough they release a fluid from their rectum to really stress the fact that they are dead.  Often times, collectors mistake this escape tactic as an easy specimen to add to the collection…  However, a quick, surprise attack releases them back to the water while the human hits the floor in pain!

Pretty awesome!


Get rid of it?  You’re crazy…  Unless they’re attacking some of your friends in your decorative pond outside, I’d let them live long and prosper 🙂

And here is a video of the giant water bug hunting and gives some additional tid bits of information!  Enjoy the exciting commentary!!!



Sighted at McCrory: Red admirals in disguise and another good-old butter-colored fly

This is the first post of what I expect to be highly irregular yet hopefully unique reports of insect sightings at McCrory Gardens in Brookings, SD. I, my wife and our baby enjoy McCrory gardens about once a week especially in the spring and fall. Each time we spot a blog-worthy insect during our walk, I’ll try to share it on this blog.
This past weekend, McCrory Gardens was teeming with butterflies, mostly Pierid butterflies and red admirals. We were walking past the  the cottage garden when I saw something I’ve never noticed about red admirals before. Take a look at the picture above if you please.
The picture above shows a spread of leaf litter right outside the small cottage. Now, try to spot a red admiral hidden among the litter.
Found it yet? If not, try the picture below for a size. This second picture was taken at a more or less same angle as the first one with a bit of a zoom.
A bit clearer, eh? Indeed, I’ve not noticed that red admirals blend rather well with leaf litters. The underside of the wings is dull and blend even better with dead leaves (I tried to wait until it rested flat-winged but my patience ran over pretty quickly), but even with the bright red lines on the upperside of the wings they still seemed to disguise themselves quite fine. The picture below shows the closest zoom of the three pics I took.
Red admirals are fun. They belong to the family Nymphalidae or brush-footed butterflies. Other popular nymphalids include emperor and tortoiseshell butterflies. Red admirals are readily found in backyard gardens and I’ve heard stories that once a red admiral chose a garden to be its home, it also adopts the gardener alighting on him/her quite unabashedly.
As a parting image of this first-ever ‘Sighted at McCrory’ posting, below is a picture of a Pierid butterfly taken at the gardens. Pieridae is a family of butterfly commonly identified by its yellow-white-orangish wing color. The story goes that the word ‘butterfly’ was first coined in conjunction with the color property of a pierid butterfly: butter-colored fly.

How do seed-applied insecticides affect bee health?

Pick an insecticide with a neonicotinoid active ingredient, say Thiamethoxam, and browse through the label to the point where you find the information on “Environmental Hazard”. It is that part of the label that tells you  whether the particular insecticide is toxic against non-target organisms. Under this headline, you’ll find something like “This product is toxic to wildlife and highly toxic to aquatic invertebrates.” with a standard precautionary note running like “do not contaminate water”. Interestingly, depending on the insecticide label you read, you may or may not find this line “This toxic is highly toxic to bees exposed to direct treatment on blooming crops or weeds”. Two insecticides with exactly the same neonicotinoid active ingredient may have differing labels when it comes to bee-related risks, what gives?

The underlying thought is that some insecticides are utilized as foliar application and thus have a very real risk of being sprayed on bees. Yet other insecticides, albeit containing the same active ingredient, are formulated as seed treatment and, consequently, assumed to pose low risk to bees due to low chance of exposure. Risk is, as the mantra goes, the meeting of toxicity and exposure.


Photo: David Cappaert, Michigan State University, http://www.insectimages.org

A research by a team of entomologists at Purdue University may shed a light on this matter. In their open-access paper, the authors reported that “extremely high levels of clothianidin and thiamethoxam were found in planter exhaust material produced during the planting of treated maize seed.” Insecticide-treated seeds are sticky and to prevent the sticking of seeds in the planter talc are often added to the mixture. The talc that has been in close contact with insecticide are often blown away as a part of planter ‘exhaust material’, carrying traces of insecticides on them. Blooming weeds around planted fields, in this case dandelions, were found to contain neonicotinioid insecticides. The detectable level of neonicotinoids on these flowers may come from direct settling of insecticide-containing dust on them or by the weeds taking up the insecticides from the soil. Honey bees readily forage on these flowering weeds.

At the minimum, this result highlighted a possible route of exposure previously assumed not to exist: insecticide may still reach bees even if it is used to treat seeds and not as a foliar spray. Whether the amount of insecticide carried through planter exhaust poses significant poisoning risk to bees is yet to be convincingly proven. Yet, if further research shows that this route of exposure significantly increase the poisoning risk to bees during planting season, thought must be given on managing planter exhaust.


This portion of Bug of the Week is dedicated to an insect that is near and dear to my heart- the mole cricket.  Or as friends back home would say, “The MIGHTY mole cricket”!  This particular bug belongs to the order Orthoptera which includes grasshoppers, locusts, and crickets and is a proud member of the family Gryllotalpidae.  I remember my first encounter with the mighty mole cricket…  A fellow entomologist and I were working for a professor of entomology during the summer (before we had committed ourselves to this field).  While looking at all the different insects we had caught we noticed the weirdest looking creature.  It was an insect, but it had paws…  Alien-like to say the least, but incredible nonetheless.  Later we learned that it was the common, yet unnoticed mole cricket and since then, this particular insect took on role as our intramural sports mascot as well as one of my all-time favorite insects.


The adult mole cricket is a strange, strange critter to look at…  The first thing you notice, before anything else, is the large paws that are incredibly similar to what you would see on a mole.


***For those of you that don’t know, entomologists aren’t the most clever of folks and we tend to call things the way we see it:  “Mole-like paws on a cricket???  EUREKA!  From this day one, we shall call this a ‘Mole Cricket’…”  And that’s how insects are named! 

These “paws” are actually the dactyls.  Dactyls are attached to the foreleg and assist the mole cricket in tunneling through various soil types as well as maiming prey.  There’s an excellent picture below from www.ncse.com that compares a spade, mole paw, human hand, and dactyl…  Very interesting!!!


Species of mole crickets can be distinguished by examining the formation of the dactyls.  Adults can exceed 2” and have orange-brown bodies with heavily sclerotized head, limbs, and thorax.  Both sexes have elongated cerci at the end of the abdomen and antennae that are less than the overall body length of the cricket.

Eggs can be found adjacent to the burrow in a chamber of their own.  The eggs are small, bean shaped, brown eggs.  Typically they are found in loose clusters of 30-60.

Nymphs are smaller, darker versions of the adults. 


Now many of you may be thinking that I chose the mole cricket to be Bug of Week because of its rather unusual appearance, but I actually chose it because they are skilled musicians and craftsmen!  The male mole crickets in an effort to seduce a female take a similar approach to what many college guys do…  However, instead of picking up a guitar and playing Wonderwall by Oasis or some sort of John Mayer song, they shape their underground burrow into a horn.  By sculpting their home into a large horn, the males are able to amplify their mating song so that females flying overhead will hear.   From there the females follow the song back to burrow like a bunch of teenage groupies chasing Justin Bieber back to his trailer.  Below is a depiction of what this megaphone type burrow looks like (compliments of  Nickerson et al. 1979. Ann. Entomol. Soc. Am. 72(3):438-440).



Sadly, the mole cricket is considered a pest in some social circles.  Not every golfer or homeowner stops to appreciate the mole cricket’s uniqueness as we all do and therefore I must explain how to manage mole cricket populations.  There are several options to achieve successful management of these critters such as planting larger plants that are more than just seedlings, biological control via birds, raccoons, mice, or nematodes, and lastly chemicals.  I would strongly recommend that you try other options before applying a chemical management strategy.



AGAIN PLEASE NOTE THAT I DO NOT TAKE CREDIT FOR ANY OF THE IMAGES USED ABOVE!  Once I have my photos all compiled and edited I will start using my own 🙂


This is the beginning of what should become an epic portion of South Dakota Bugs… introducing the “Bug of the Week”!  The Bug of the Week will be a weekly posting that will focus on a single, South Dakota native insect and give you the run down on its identification, biology, and what makes this insect particularly awesome.

This week’s bug of the week is none other than the varied carpet beetle, Anthrenus verbasci (Linnaeus).  This particular beetle belongs to the family Dermestidae or commonly referred to as the dermestid beetles.  It is a common insect to find within homes, warehouses, museums, or any other location that provides adequate food supplies.


The varied carpet beetle adult is approximately 1/10 inch long.  It has a black body with irregular white, brown, and yellow-orange patterns stretching across the elytra or wing coverings.   However, as the adults age, the scales that form the irregular pattern and colors can wear off and reveal an all-black bodied beetle.  Their antennae, though short, are comprised of 11 segments with a club of 3 segments at the end.


Varied carpet beetle eggs are incredibly small and ovular in shape.  They could easy be mistaken for a speck of dirt or debris, if noticed at all.  The eggs are oviposited around various locations and require approximately two weeks to fully develop depending on temperatures and humidity.

The larvae are ¼ inch long, dark brown, hairy caterpillar-like creatures.  The hairs can be used for defense and may be irritating when they come in contact with skin.  The larvae go through 7-8 molts (shedding of exoskeleton) over an extended length of time- 7-11 months!



The varied carpet beetle has earned its place as bug of the week because of its palate.  While the adults seek out pollen or nectar to feed upon, the larvae choose a much different food selection…

Larvae of the varied carpet beetle are scavengers to say the least.  “But what do they scavenge?” you ask…  Well none other than a variety of animal products such as carpet fibers, leather, wool, feathers, horns, and bones.  They also tend to feed on various grains, dried peppers, and other plant matter.  But what bothers me as an entomologist is that they also feed on dead insects!  This especially worrisome for those of us that have insect collections on display or tucked away in our offices or homes.  All it takes is one carpet beetle larvae to squeeze into your collection box to ruin years of effort.

And it is because of this exceptional ability to eat the things we may take for granted that I salute you, varied carpet beetle!


Easy…  Sanitation!  Good sanitation practices are the most effective way to prevent and remove any carpet beetle problems.  Dry cleaning woolen or other tasty garments before storing them for long periods of time and sweeping carpets on a regular basis is a sure fire way to prevent infestations.

Please note that I do not take any credit for these photos (unfortunately)!  I found these online, but there was no credit information to site…  If you took these photos- well done!  And I hope you don’t mind me showcasing your work!!!

A Bit of Theology, Philosophy, and Entomology

Could you have answered this question better?  In arguments or debates we often tend to make things personal and lose sight of the science that brings back balance to the situation.  Below is the story of one entomologist that answered a question and in doing so brought back a balanced perspective and sense of humor to the debate and earned his claim to fame.