Field Trip to Stengl with the Ento Class

The Entomology Class for Fall 2017 took a field day out to Stengl Lost Pines Biological Station on Saturday, September 29. Stengl is a field station within the University of Texas Biodiversity Center. Less than an hour from the UT campus, this research station has hundreds of acres available for student and faculty research. The habitat is more like that of east Texas, with sandy soils underfoot and loblolly pines dominating the canopy. The soils and climate of the Lost Pines region allow trees we usually associate with eastern deciduous or pine forests to live in central Texas. For that reason, students find different species of oaks, junipers, hackberries, etc. from those at Brackenridge Field Laboratory.

Notable enotomological finds from this trip include angel insects (Zoraptera) and a large waterscorpion (Nepidae, Ranatra sp.).

Below is a gallery of current and former students and volunteers collecting insects!

Sawfly Ovipositors

Sawflies (Suborder Symphyta) are members of the order Hymenoptera. These insects are almost completely herbivorous, with the larvae hatching and maturing in a host plant. Sawflies must lay their eggs in the tissue of host plants, and to do this they use an egg-laying device (an ovipositor) that resembles a saw. The female sawfly uses the ovipositor as a drill to open up plant tissue and lay eggs inside the plant.

The ovipositor of Arge abdominalis. Click for full image.

There are two main differences between the sawflies and the other members of the Hymenoptera. The Hymenoptera excluding sawflies is referred to as the Apocrita. These insects are wasps and bees with a constricted abdomen. The Apocrita is further divided into the Aculeate wasps and the parasitoid wasps. In Aculeates the ovipositor is a stinger: it has been co-opted for venom delivery in some wasps, either for defense against predators or in the incapacitating of prey (i.e. spider wasps). Parasitoid wasps use their egg-laying device to lay eggs on living prey, often having very long, thread-like ovipositors.

Maternal care (?) in Bark Scorpions

Last month, UTIC Volunteer Anne Schultz brought in a scorpion momma loaded with baby scorpions on her back. Our natural reaction was to photograph them asap! Anne and I used a white box to get live photos of these adorable arachnids. The species we have here is the Striped Bark Scorpion (Centruroides vittatus), the most commonly-encountered scorpion in our area.


While we photographed, the young scorpions moved around on the mother’s back like a living blanket. One of the small scorpions fell off suddenly and was, to our astonishment, culled by the mother with a quick bite. I’m not sure if the move was aggressive or defensive; it did not make much sense. Maybe she was just hungry…

Orchid Bee Project Finished!

Late in August, I was focused on imaging sawflies when I suddenly changed course after finding a drawer of orchid bees. I was browsing Dr. Lawrence Gilbert’s tropical insect collection, recently donated to the UTIC, and the product of trips to Trinidad, Costa Rica, and Mexico during the 70s and 80s. In this tropical collection are insects with striking colors, sizes, and shapes. The orchid bees of Dr. Gilbert’s collection, 28 species in total, quickly drew my attention and took the month of September to image.

Seeing how we received attention over our use of focus-stacking and color (See The Guardian and WIRED), I decided to image a specimen of each species once on a black background and once on a color background.

You can find the gallery here or by clicking the image below:


Ephemeroptera — Mayfly

Mayfly - Ephemeroptera


These guys have been all over the place in Salt Lake City, Utah. I’m doing some google-fu to try and get more specific about what kind of Mayfly it might be.

The Utah County Health Department wants people to know that mayflies are not mosquitoes, and do not carry Zika. From their website:

Mayflies are not true flies but belong to the order Ephemeroptera, which means “short lived.” Adult mayflies live one to two days and do not feed. The adults molt once, leaving their old cast skin on the wall surface where it was shed. They are easily recognized by a triangular wing and two or three thread-like tails. Larvae are an important food for many freshwater fish. Eggs are laid on rocks or other objects in the water.

So far the information about suborders of mayfly that I’ve been able to find has a lot to do with the nymphs’ development of thoracic shields and the fusing stages of forewings, so I doubt I’ll be able to make an identification from this photograph alone.

Crown wasp

Crown wasp (Stephanidae: Megischus bicolor)

This wasp, Megischus bicolor, parasitizes wood-boring beetle larvae by injecting eggs with her impressive ovipositor. This family of wasps, Stephanidae, is infrequently encountered but this particular species can be found throughout the eastern US, Mexico, and Central America. At first glance they can be easily mistaken for the more common Ichneumonids, but can be distinguished by their elongated neck and the ring of bumps on their head that gives them their common name.

Graphocephala coccinea

Known as the red-striped leafhopper or the candy-striped leafhopper, these colourful creatures are common garden pests. They are also kind of adorable. I noticed a handful of them in the garden outside the place I’m renting in Salt Lake City, and having never seen them before, snapped some photos for later identification. Turns out that they’re responsible for spreading Pierce’s disease.


Flying Predatory Insect Attack!


Spoiler alert: That insect in the featured image meets a bitter end.

I was camping in New Mexico in the Manzano mountains on my way up to Utah, and found the campsite to have plenty of interesting insect life around. I was attempting to get a photo of this specimen (queen Camponotus?) as it walked around, but it eventually took flight. This may have been a bad choice.

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