On the trail of Pero morrisonaria (H. Edwards 1881)

Pero morrisonaria (Hy. Edwards, 1881)

I was going through my images from 2015, looking to dispose of as much excess as possible in order to make space on my hard drive when I came across a few moth images that I had forgotten about. This is probably my favorite so far — Pero morrisonaria (H. Edwards, 1881) from the family Geometridae, which was caught at a light in our Edmonton garden May 30 last year. (Thanks to Gary Anweiler for the ID) On a white background, the pattern is very distinct, yet on bark we can see how useful this mottled earth-tone pattern is.

Pero morrisonaria (Hy. Edwards, 1881)

Pero morrisonaria (Hy. Edwards, 1881)

Morrison’s Pero is considered common and is found across the US and Canada. The caterpillars are twig mimics and feed mostly on fir and spruce, but have also been found on a variety of broadleaf plants such as alder and willow.

An interesting feature on this moth is the partly ‘rolled’ leading edge of the forewing, and I wonder if this has the effect of strengthening its cryptic appearance or aerodynamics or if it serves another function.

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N.B. For what is to follow, I advise caution: I am not an entomologist or a taxonomist, or a lepidopterist for that matter. Some may find this simplified trail of taxonomy (classification and nomenclature) interesting, others may find it ridiculous. I pursued it out of idle curiosity, because I appreciate history and the work of taxonomists, and because sometimes I’m a buffoon for science.

Continue reading »

Posted in Alberta, Bugs, Canada, Education, Geometridae, History, Insect, Lepidoptera, photography, Season, Winter Tagged , , , , , , , |

What I did last summer

Last summer was not very productive in regards to the diversity of bugs photographed, partly because I spent a lot of my free time visiting Edmonton’s Goldbar Park. Thanks to a tip from Gary Anweiler, I found an area with an eroded earth bank that was full of insect activity. The south-facing earthen bank is near the mouth of Goldbar Stream where it enters the North Saskatchewan River, and consists of sandy soft soil. Taking advantage of this site were several species of mining bees, the most numerous being a small sweat bee (Hymenoptera, Halictidae), most likely Lasioglossum zephyrum

Lasioglossum zephyrum, Hymenoptera: Halictidæ, sweat bee, nest

Sweat bee investigates nest hole.

These are small ‘primitively’ eusocial bees, only about 6mm long. Because of their size and speed, as well as their reluctance to stay in the vicinity when a great hulking photographer is overshadowing their flight paths, these bees proved to be quite difficult to photograph. They were most active on sunny days, seemingly constantly in erratic flight all over the bank face. The only solution for photography was to make sure I was not casting a shadow and to try to position myself so that I was photographing parallel to the bank face. This had to be done with care because the sandy soil is very delicate and much of the bank was riddled with small nest holes. After some close observation, while crouching without moving, I did notice that some of the nest holes (only about 2mm diameter) had little bee faces peering out, and the flying bees would sometimes flit in front to investigate. Because macro photography was so difficult under these circumstances I decided to try macro video instead, setting up the camera on a light-weight tripod and focusing on nest holes and letting the camera run for five to twenty-minute periods without me looming nearby. Over six visits I recorded a few hours of video which now needs to be carefully watched and edited down to the most interesting sequences. More on the bees, video, equipment and techniques will follow in future posts.

Posted in Alberta, Behaviour, Bugs, Canada, Edmonton, Halictidae, Hymenoptera, Insect, macro, photography, Season, Summer Tagged , , , |

Apologies: Website Damaged

Now back online, with damage repaired.

The host for my websites, Bluehost, has been having “server issues” for over 24 hrs now. Please excuse the appearance and slow-loading of Splendour Awaits. Hopefully, Bluehost will regain control of the issues soon.

Posted in Bugs, Website

Insects by Order: Hemiptera, the ‘True’ Bugs.

It has happened more than once, at some point in a presentation or macro class, that my reference to ‘true bugs’ will trigger a response from someone with words to the effect of, “There are false bugs?”.

Outside of entomological circles, the term ‘bug’ broadly covers any small thing that creeps or flies, including insects, spiders and other terrestrial invertebrates. However, to an entomologist, ‘bug’ is specific to the Order Hemiptera. To make the distinction from other creepy-crawlies clear, Hemiptera are referred to as the ‘true bugs’, and includes a large variety of insects commonly known as shield bugs, leafhoppers, froghoppers, bed bugs, pond skaters, cicadas, water bugs, aphids and scale insects.

My, what a big rostrum you have! Seed-sucking, by the looks of it. Chlorochroa sayi Stål, 1872

My, what a big rostrum you have! Seed-sucking, by the looks of it. Chlorochroa sp.

Stink bug rostrum

What are the common characteristics of the Hemiptera?

The most notable common feature is the rostrum or ‘beak’, which are rear-facing (opisthognathous) when at rest. These piercing-sucking mouthparts, actually a modified labium called the sheath, which contain the stylets, which are modifications of the mandibles and/or maxillae. (More on insect mouthparts here) The stylets can penetrate animal or plant tissue by piercing or rasping. Once the tissue is penetrated, digestive enzymes are released through the stylet in saliva and the resulting slurry is imbibed by active sucking. In some bugs such as aphids, the stylets penetrate to reach the plant’s phloem and the turgor pressure actually provides enough flow so that sucking is not required, and the sap throughput is constantly released as honeydew.

'''Squash Bug Life Cycle.''' First through fifth instars and adult Squash bug. Note that only the adult has fully formed wings, all immatures have wing buds. Modified from Folsom 1914

First through fifth instars and adult Squash bug. Only the adult has fully formed wings. Modified from Folsom 1914. Source: Bugwood Wiki.

Hemipterans also have incomplete metamorphosis (hemimetabolous) where they emerge from the eggs as young nymphs which resemble the adults. Each nymphal stage is called an instar, and typically they will go through several instar stages before becoming an adult. For each stage, the nymph must shed the exoskeleton, and after each moult the wing bud becomes larger. Only the adult will have fully developed wings.

Mop and pop just can't stop.

An aggregation of various stages of look-alike nymphs and a pair of linked adult box elder bugs, Boisea trivittatus Say, 1825. (Suborder Heteroptera)

What other shared features to Hemiptera have? Another characterizing feature of Hemiptera can be seen in the name: hemi meaning ‘half’ and ptera meaning ‘wing’. The Hemiptera have two pairs of membranous wings, often with the basal part of the forewing being opaque or leathery and hence called hemelytra.

To better understand the Hemiptera we have to look into the suborders and families. (Based on ITIS and supplemented with Wikipedia)

— Suborder Auchenorrhyncha contains almost all the members of the old suborder Homoptera and includes the cicadas (Family Cicadidae), leafhoppers (Family Cicadellidae), treehoppers (Family Membracidae), planthoppers (Superfamily Fulgoroidea), lantern bugs  (Family Fulgoridae) and spittlebugs (Superfamily Cercopoidea). All are plant feeders, and many use sounds to communicate.

Suborder Auchenorrhyncha. A spittle bug remakes its frothy protective cover.

Suborder Auchenorrhyncha. A spittlebug nymph in the process of creating its frothy protective cover.

— Suborder Coleorrhyncha is an ancient group, commonly known as moss or beetle bugs. Today they are found only in the southern hemisphere in Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, and South America. Many have reduced wings and all are flightless and, as the name suggests, they live in moist mossy habitats, often in association with southern beech (Nothofagustrees.

Suborder Coleorrhyncha Xenophyes rhachilophus, length about 2.8 mm. The Divide (c. 550m), Nothofagus forest, screen sweep. L16986. Fiordland National Park, New Zealand, 13 Mar 2010, S.E. Thorpe

Suborder Coleorrhyncha. Xenophyes rhachilophus, length about 2.8 mm. The Divide (c. 550m), Nothofagus forest, screen sweep. L16986. Fiordland National Park, New Zealand, 13 Mar 2010. Image by S.E. Thorpe. Wikipedia Commons.

— Suborder Heteroptera are the truetrue bugs‘! Once considered an order itself, the Heteroptera are the largest suborder within the Hemiptera (for those who want to severely injure themselves with the taxonomic kerfuffle within Heteroptera–which was formerly Order Heteroptera–read the chapter Classification at Wikipedia) The common feature in many of the Heteroptera can be derived from the Greek name, hetero meaning ‘different’ and ptera meaning ‘wings’. The forewings are fully or partially leathery which, when folded, cover and protect the fully membranous rear wings below.


Suborder Heteroptera, Family Alydidae. A Lupine bug Megalotomus quinquespinosus (Say 1825) probes the rocks at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park.

The Heteroptera contains several infra-orders, but I think the families will be most familiar, and the most recognised of those are the:

An example of just part of treehopper (Membracidae) diversity. Edwin Wilson Cambridge - Biologia Centrali Americana. 1914.

An example of just part of treehopper (Membracidae) diversity. Edwin Wilson Cambridge – Biologia Centrali Americana. 1914. (Wikimedia Commons)

Assassin bugs (Family Reduviidae†)

Bedbugs (Cimicidae)

Broad-headed bugs (Alydidae)

Leaf-footed bugs (Coreidae)

Plant bugs (Miridae)

Bat bugs (Polyctenidae)

Seed bugs (Lygaeidae and Rhyparochromidae)

Stink bugs or shield bugs (Pentatomidae)

Treehoppers (Membracidae)

— and, some of my favourites, the waterbugs:

Backswimmers (Notonectidae†)

Giant water bugs (Belostomatidae†)

Pond skaters (Gerridae†)

Water boatmen (Corixidae†)

Water scorpions (Nepidae†)

Smaller water strider (Veliidae†)

Unlike the other suborders, the Heteroptera are notable because so many of the families are predators (indicated by † above) and some have even taken on parasitic lifestyles. In these instances, the hemipteran rostrum is as efficient at penetrating prey as it is at piercing plants. The parasitic family Cimicidae has about 90 species and all are parasites of warm-blooded birds and mammals, including our bed bugs. The family Polyctenidae are specifically bat parasites.

— Suborder Sternorrhyncha contains a lot of the bugs we love to hate. Aphids (Superfamily Aphidoidea, Family Adelgidae) scale (Superfamily Coccoidea), whitefly (Family Aleyrodidae), mealy bugs (Family Pseudococcidae), and the dreaded grape Phylloxera (Family Phylloxeridae) are all well-known members of this suborder. Sternorrhynchids are all plant feeders and have mouthparts (‘rhynca’) set farther back (‘sternor’) beneath the head.

Aphids, winged adults with

Aphids: winged adults alongside wingless adult females.

The Sternorrhynchids often have complex life cycles, including polymorphism (different adult forms within a species), viviparity (live birth), cyclical parthenogenesis (offspring from unfertilized eggs), life cycles with (holocyclic) or without (anholocyclic) sexual stages, as well as heteroecious life cycles that take place on two different hosts.


Image by David Voegtlin, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Heteroecious holocyclic life cycle, Image by David Voegtlin, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

With over 80 000 described species, the Hemiptera are the most diverse order of hemimetabolous insects. Below, a brief slide show of more true bugs from Alberta.

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Posted in Alberta, Anatomy, Bugs, Canada, Education, Hemiptera, Insect, macro Tagged , , |


Chrysochus auratus (Fabricius 1775), the Dogbane leaf  beetle escapes irritating photographer

Escapes irritating photographer

Posts will be infrequent and short as I work on other projects.

So, in case you missed it before, this Dogbane leaf beetle — tired of posing — lifts its elytra and unfolds the flight wings to head for the hills.

Posted in Alberta, Behaviour, Canada, Chrysomelidae, Coleoptera, Diversion, Edmonton, macro, photography, Season, Summer Tagged , , |

Hammock Spider, sans hammock.

This may well be my only submission for Arachtober! This is what Gary calls an End-of-the-season-geez-thanks-for-at-least-a-live-arthropod Spider, but hopefully I will have more arthropods to share before the season ends.

Pityohyphantes costatus  is a Hammock Spider, a sheet web weaver in the family Linyphiidae. As the name suggests, these spiders spin a horizontal web like a fine gauze sheet and then lay in wait under a nearby leaf. When prey lands on the web, the spider will run out and capture it from underneath. I spotted this one while looking up under leaves while walking the Amisk Wuche trail in Elk Island National Park.

Immature female Pityohyphantes costatus (Hentz)


Immature female Pityohyphantes costatus (Hentz)

Pityohyphantes costatus (Hentz)

Thanks to Don Buckle and Robin Leech for the ID!

More on hammock spiders at Bug Eric and a short page on this species at Spiders, an Electronic Field Guide.

(Canon 70D with MP-E85mm lens. ISO 200, 1/250 sec. @ f16. Lighting with diffused pair of Canon 270 EXII flashes.)

Posted in Alberta, Arachnid, Araneae, Autumn, Bugs, Canada, Edmonton, Equipment, Linyphiidae, macro, MP-E65, photography, Season Tagged , , |