About jonathanixon

I am a dedicated and enthusiastic entomologist focusing on the expansion of public knowledge of entomology, proper IPM practices, and raising the awareness of beneficial insects within the home, garden, and crop systems. Insects are an infinitely diverse population throughout the world and are commonly misunderstood creatures. It is the goal of this blog to help share and promote their uniqueness throughout our internet community.

Bug Shot 2012

I recently attended an amazing insect photography course in Venus, FL at the Archbold Biological Station called “Bug Shot”.  It’s a great course for anyone interested in macro photography and especially those of us that have an interest in insect photography.  The course was taught by Alex Wild, John Abbott, and Thomas Shahan.  All three are extraordinary photographers with very unique approaches to getting incredible shots (Links to their work are below!).  The course covered basic photography and entomology information initially and then dove into some really interesting lectures on high speed flash photography (John Abbott), focus stacking techniques (Thomas Shahan), working with insects in the studio and achieving diffused flash(Alex Wild), and much more.  Pretty much everything was covered from the basics of photography/entomology to how to turn your images into a profit.

As an entomologist, I was really expecting a large population of entomologists to be present.  However, the course had video game designers, computer programmers, a herpetologist, and of course some entomologists.  Needless to say it was a very mixed group of people with different experiences, backgrounds, and photography styles!  It was awesome.  But, in the midst of a rather intimidating group of photographers, I managed to get some shots that I’m proud of so I thought I’d share them with you!

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So there are just a few of the many pictures I took while at Bug Shot.  The image processing was done with Lightroom 4.1 (which I’d highly recommend).  I know, I know…  I didn’t ID any of the images or at this point, but life has been pretty hectic for this entomologist!  So some time in the near future I will sit down and ID these guys and update the blog.  Until then just enjoy (or mock) my attempt at being a photographer!

And, as promised, here are the links to the instructors’ amazing websites!

Alex Wild: http://www.alexanderwild.com/

John Abbott: http://archive.abbottnaturephotography.com/gallery-list

Thomas Shahan: http://thomasshahan.com/

And…  just to make you all a little more jealous of how awesome Bug Shot 2012 was, here’s a couple more photos that were taken by Josh Mayes.

Early sunrise at the Archbold Research Station.

The Bug Shot 2012 group!

 So stay tuned for more details regarding the next Bug Shot workshop!

The Cicada Killa Dilemma

Across the state reports of gigantic, flying manhunters have hit my ears.  Reports of giant wasps that are capable of digging massive holes in residents’ yards and reports of these wasp invaders carrying away grasshoppers to their lairs never to be seen or heard from again keep pouring in.  There’s a lot of concern about these monster wasps and what they’re doing, but yet not one report of a wasp uprising against a local South Dakotans or even a single sting…  Seems a little strange that such a terrifying beast hasn’t mounted a single attack against we humans right?

The reports coming in are in regards to what are commonly called “Cicada Killers” or “Digger Wasps”, Sphecius speciosus (Drury) (Insecta: Hymenoptera: Sphecidae).  Now don’t get me wrong…  These are some pretty intimidating insects- they measure up to a couple inches in length, females have a large stinger or ovipositor, and when in flight, these wasps have the roar of an Apache helicopter as they fly past your face.  Needless to say, but they have trouble making friends.

Here’s a terrific picture from Jay D. of Koolpix that shows a typically cicada killer in flight.

But this is what most people see…

So we’ve established what they are, but where did they come from and what are they doing?  Well cicada killers are quite the busy bees wasps.  Females in particular are occupied with three primary tasks:

  1. Dig a hole or burrow (they’re solitary and don’t live in nests like you might expect)
  2. Fill that hole with paralyzed cicadas or other insects to feed to their young
  3. Scare the hell out of everyone

Ok… so they only have 2 real tasks, but if you ask anyone they would probably agree with the third task listed!  Just ask.  You’ll notice though that attacking people isn’t on the list.  They could honestly careless about what we’re doing as long as we’re not trying to bat them out of the air.  These wasps are gentle giants (unless you’re a cicada).  Unlike other wasps and honeybees, cicada killers lack the nest-guarding behavior that makes the other bees and wasps temperamental and more likely to sting.  Therefore, we can walk through swarms of these guys with little to no concern of being stung.  And, with that in mind, I wouldn’t swat at them…  They have a pretty nasty sting.

We’ve been seeing them a lot this year because the conditions are just right.  They prefer areas that are well drained or dry, light soils, areas that are in full sunlight most of the day, and they definitely like to be near trees that are full of cicadas.  That’s why so many of us are finding them in our gardens, lawns, and near our sidewalks.  It can be upsetting to see these wasps dig up the soil in these areas, but if you stop and watch them move pounds of soil with those tiny little stick legs I bet you’d be more impressed than upset!

So the next time you’re being pinned down by these critters just remember the words of pure wisdom that have been typed above, take a deep breath, and run like hell like the rest of us! appreciate what they have to offer (a peaceful nights rest without the blasting noise generated by those cicadas).

A Pith Helmet and the ability to Communicate

The other day I was in the basement of my office when I discovered not one, but two pith helmets hidden in the back of a dusty, abandoned cabinet. There are few things that excite an entomologist more than the discovery of a new or unique insect and a pith helmet is one of those things.  It’s not something I ever envisioned being excited to find or anything I ever desired to own in my life before entomology, but as I move along in my career as an entomologist the desire to own one has increased steadily over the years.  And then, just yesterday, I find two pith helmets that have never been used, waiting for me to discover them. During outreach appointments, I get the feeling that there’s nothing that the public desires to see more than an entomologist with a pith helmet.  I was the same way before I started down this path.  Before beginning my Master’s I always pictured entomologists as old guys with interesting mustaches, wearing lots of khakis, high socks, a pith helmet, and of course carrying a net.

Why is this?  Why does everyone picture entomologists wearing these pith helmets or always carrying nets around?

But most of all… Why is that stereotype of entomologists so right?!

Well, I can’t grow a mustache, but I do carry around a net, vials, and camera almost everywhere I go and now I have a pith helmet for all of those great adventures through alfalfa, wheat, or soybean fields.  However, to answer this question a little better, I can only go back to an article that I saved when I began my Master’s degree at Purdue entitled, “Grasshoppers, Termites and Lovebugs: Responsibilities of Florida Entomologists to Communicate with the Public” written and presented by Dr. James Price in the early ‘90s.  This has been a treasured piece of literature and something that has compelled me to do better in this field and really communicate the needed information and promote an excitement for the field of entomology with or without a pith helmet- though it’s much more exciting with the helmet…  Enjoy the read!

http://journals.fcla.edu/flaent/article/view/58795/56474

When Life Gives You Plastic, Lay Eggs!

My previous department head pulled this piece off of the internet a couple days ago and I thought that I would share this with all of you…

It’s always amazing to see how insects can take advantage of the situations that humans put them into.  Clearly no one was expecting to find anything taking advantage of this awful situation.  But, low and behold, the sea skater (Halobates sericeus) is using this garbage to build up its numbers.  This article is just one more piece of evidence that insects will always be far more adaptable to their surroundings than even the most technologically advanced human.

Go bugs!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17991993

MOTHS?!

I’ve gotten many questions regarding the crazy amounts of moths that people are seeing right now.  Questions such as:

Why are they here?

Are they doing damage?

Is this a sign of things to come this summer?

Well, to begin, these moths belong to a group of moths called “Miller” moths.  This a generic name given to a bunch of mottled brown moths, but out west it commonly refers to the adult stage of the army cutworm.  In normal winters South Dakota and surrounding states experience cold enough temperatures that many of the adults are killed before spring.  However, with such a mild winter, many of the adults were able to survive and are now in the process of moving westward towards the Rocky Mountains.

The adult army cutworm doesn’t cause any damage and is more of a nuissance than anything.  They are attracked to porch lights so trying to reduce the amount of external lighting around your home should reduce this problem.  But, they can cause more serious problems for drivers where populations get too large…

http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_20529728/miller-moths-prompt-crash-explosion-colorado-springs?source=rss

Do these adult populations mean problems for the summer?  To be honest, it’s too hard to tell…  I’m not particularly concerned with their presence this early in the season.  The larvae are what we worry about and as long as we get moisture in the spring or fall, they will get drowned out and won’t be much to worry about again.

But before I end this post… 

Quick Question!  Does anyone know the best natural predator of the army cutworm?

 

 

 

Answer!  Grizzly bears!  Once the army cutworms migrate to the Rockies for the summer (they don’t like the heat and head to the mountains for the cooler temperatures and plentiful flowers to feed on) the grizzly bears also migrate further into the mountains to feed upon the cutworms.  I watched a documentary that mentioned that individual grizzly bears will feed on over 10,000 moths before the cutworms migrate back east!  Think of these moths as little energy packed vitamins…  The documentary also showed grizzly bears fighting over areas that had more moths than others.

BUG OF THE WEEK!

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”.

IDENTIFICATION

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.

WHY BUG OF THE WEEK?

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!

GREAT IT’S BUG OF THE WEEK!  NOW HOW DO I GET RID OF IT???

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!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBnsUyfkaKY