The braconid wasps that parasitized one of my Vine Sphinx caterpillars were “born” recently. This was my first time witnessing the whole process first hand, and I was horrified to see that even after the adult wasps emerged, the poor caterpillar was STILL alive, and for lack of a better host, it seems this generation of wasps planned to parasitize it again. I ended up putting the entire enclosure into the freezer. Seemed the kindest thing to do.
Still, really interesting. Nature can be pretty disturbing, huh?
It was like an all black bumble bee. Spotted in Aloha Oregon. Very chill bug
Very nice, you spotted a FLY! (Remember when I said “If you think it’s a bee, it’s probably a fly”? Also, great job going out and looking for things! I’m proud of you!) Some of these guys can get so big they are often mistaken for large bees (and that may be on purpose, too!). I am still trying to learn my flies (there are so many kinds of flies you have no idea), but I think you have either a tachinid fly or a blow fly.
Tachinid flies are common parasitoids–I’ve had a bunch hatch out of my moth cocoons when I was expecting, well, moths. Blow flies tend to lay their eggs on “gross” stuff like poop, dead animals, and can also be parasites. As far as telling them apart, I know that tachinid flies have super bristly butts. Besides that, I usually just post photos to iNaturalist and hope the fly people see them.
But how do you tell a fly from a bee? Some flies are very convincing, but there are a few things you can look for! Here are a carpenter bee and a bumble bee:
On the left is a carpenter bee, and on the right is a bumble bee. They are both very large bees, and they can both be mostly black, or black and yellow. The key difference is carpenter bees have shiny bums and bumble bees have furry bums. I point out some key features on the carpenter bee for comparison with flies: bees have long antennae, fat legs (to carry pollen!), and black eyes. The thing about the eyes may not be universally true for bees, but compared to flies…
Above is what I think is a tachinid fly [link to iNat observation]. The big giveaway is the antennae. I call fly antennae dongles because I can. I don’t know the technical term. In any case, they are placed where you would expect a nose (instead of their “forehead” like bees). They also have skinnier legs, and many have red eyes. Also, check out those hairs. With bees, you either have fluff/fuzz or smooth. You don’t have hairy/bristly bodies, but they are common on flies.
Another key differentiating feature is the number of wings, but I don’t think that’s too helpful for comparing flies and bees. The way bees hold their wings, you can rarely see that there are two. Flies will have little organs for balance called halteres (these are actually their “vestigial” second pair of wings), but they aren’t always visible. If you have a dead insect, it’s easy enough to check this, but when you have a live one buzzing around flowers (flies are very important pollinators!), it’s not as useful. Better to look at the face!
July 6, 2018 Bees and flies were all seen in Texas EXCEPT the blow fly was in San Francisco!
A potter wasp made her mud nests in a pile of branches on my patio! I think the lady wandering around was one of the babies (all grown up now!).
I think most people are familiar with the paper wasps who live in large colonies, but not the solitary wasps who make mud nests. I didn’t know about potter wasps until I saw these and (by chance) flipped through a book and saw familiar photos of the nests.
Oh no! One of the Vine Sphinx moth caterpillars has parasitoids! This caterpillar looked perfectly normal last night, but today it was covered in braconid wasp cocoons. In the gifs, you can actually see some of the bare larvae (white wormy things) spinning their cocoons.
Unfortunately, these wasps will kill the caterpillar. In the top photo, you can see a white spot towards his head, in his side in front of his first proleg. That spot is a larvae digging its way out of the caterpillar.
I’ve seen the cocoons on some small caterpillars before, but I’ve never seen this in progress, especially not on a large caterpillar! It’s a little sad, but wow, so interesting. Can’t wait to collect the wasps!
I came home from work and the babies were ALL NAKED (?!) and frantically wandering around aimlessly. I have no idea what they want? Maybe they hate each other now and just want to be alone so they can eat grape leaves and pupate. But they are so BAD at moving. Caterpillars seem to have figured out the whole “walking” thing, but even though these sawfly larvae are practically ALL PROLEG they CANNOT hold onto anything and they keep falling off! Some of them are “burrowing” under the paper towel. I have no idea how they pupate and I can’t find any information online (at least, not easily). Well, I guess it’s up to me to figure it out…
An interesting observation: when they were covered in spots, they were gregarious (they stuck together in large groups). But after they have molted and don’t have spots anymore, they seem to be solitary. The “dead” ones I found on the ground when I first discovered these were not spotted, and on closer inspection, they weren’t dead either! They had probably fallen out of the tree (sigh) and were looking for a place to pupate? Maybe?
Any bugblrs out there got a guess as to what this little guy is? He looks like a weird-ass, fuzzy, scarlet red ant, but hes about the size of a carpenter bee.
I saw him on a hike through the Zuni Pine Barrens/Blackwater Ecological Preserve in Zuni, Virginia.
Red velvet ant/ Cow killer wasp! And you can tell this one is female because it has no wings. (The male cow killers have wings, but no stinger)
They run pretty fast, but they don’t attack unless provoked
Just make sure if you’re in areas like this and you’re out with your pets that you keep a close eye on them because you don’t want them investigating a velvet ant too closely.
! Velvet Ants are So Interesting !
They’re not actually ants (they’re wasps), and the ladies can do a pretty good number on you with her stinger! Velvet ant females don’t have wings, which is how you can tell them apart from the stingless flying males (stingers are modified ovipositors, the tubes females lay eggs through–males can’t sting!). The females make up for not flying by being very fast, so it’s tough to get decent photos of them!
Some of the first couple I saw, not the best quality photos, but these ones were really interesting! On the left is Timulla suspensa, and on the right is Dasymutilla quadriguttata (and nope, they don’t have common names!).
Dasymutilla bioculata above (temporarily in a dish for photographing)
HOLY SHIT BUGBLR!!! You guys are awesome! So much info! Thanks bunches!
See ladies and gentlemen, this is why we need entomologists and naturalists (and frankly, anyone who just likes bugs). I was standing FACE TO FACE WITH A KILLER (it’s in her title) and I was just like “HAI CUTE BUG FREND!”
This badass bitch coulda dun fucked me up.
Good thing my Grammy taught me number one rule of the woods: “Dont fuck with things cause they might kill you.”
(Also, really though, thanks! This is really interesting!!!)
(P.S. Thanks again for the warning @ms-demeanor, cuz I was out with my shiba pupper, Dr. Indiana Bones. Oh, also this is her! She says thanks!)
She is adorable! And I love it – you named the dog Indiana! She’s great! She belongs in a museum (of cuddles).
And yeah, people who take your pets on adventures: you can see my tiny dog in that linked video and I’m still getting chills over the thought that I might not have stopped her in time if she’d decided to chase the wasp. Be careful!
And for anybody who’s even slightly interested in entomology, biology, cool polymer science, MOTHS, or science outreach education please go follow @nanofishology – I was only able to identify the velvet ant because she answered the same question for me in April, and I was only photographing bugs in the first place because she taught me to look for them.
To be completely fair, the first time I ever saw a velvet ant (two years ago!) I was so excited and wanted to take a picture, but she kept RUNNING AWAY so…