Entered by Gail Compton, Lighthouse Naturalist
At 9:00 a.m. six people showed up for the Lighthouse insect/spider workshop. We shared numbers of insect and spider guide books available and had a discussion about insects in Florida and the differences between beetles, bugs, flies and spiders. It was a bit foggy outside at first, but when the sun came out we immediately saw insect activity on the red bay tree next to us.
When the sun warmed the leaves, we began our insect/spider safari and had gone only five steps on the Lighthouse grounds when we began spotting all sorts of insects and signs of insects. Noah Budkoski, our youngest safari member, was our sharpest eye and found more insects than we could identify. Good job Noah!
The red bay tree next to the breezeway always has small leaf galls caused by a tiny wasp species. In this case, the female injects an egg into the leaf layers at the edge of the leaf and, in reaction to the foreign object, the leaf curls over the egg or larvae and forms a hard, protective shelter for the growing larvae. Most of the time galls do no harm to the host plant and the larvae grow until they chew their way out and drop onto the ground to finish development. We found one gall that had already been chewed open to expose the small chamber inside. Different wasps seem to specialize in specific plants and we even found an old goldenrod stem with galls on it. Sources say there are hundreds of species of tiny wasps, each creating its own distinctive gall. Most of these wasps are unnamed and unstudied.
One safari member, Jim Barnes, found an assassin bug nymph among the red bay leaf galls. It was only a half inch long, had an orange abdomen but the thorax and head had turned gray. The wings had not formed yet (probably within the next two instars). The daggerlike beak was folded under its head and was still a bright orange. Assassin bugs go through an “incomplete metamorphosis” from egg to nymph to adult. The nymph will go through several “instars,” or moltings before it reaches adult size (at least an inch and a half) and colors (grays and blacks). It’s a predator on other insects and uses ambush techniques to capture its prey.
Another interesting insect we saw was a tiny, delicate fly that glowed iridescent gold in sunlight. Beth Mansbridge took photos and was able to zoom in to get several close-ups of this beautiful fly. We saw one or two of these flies everywhere sunlight touched leaves. [Can’t find this fly in my insect guides; if you know, please contact me, 829-0745]
We found several spider webs low in the underbrush but the spiders are still in the early stages of their development and are so tiny you need magnifying glasses to see them. We did find several orchard spider webs among the fronds of palmetto. We could identify the spiders by the bright orange dots on their abdomens.
A nearby woodpile was populated by brown anoles, there to exploit the rich insect life of the woodpile. One brown anole had reached maturity and had turned a dark brown, almost black and had a crest starting at its head and running down its back.
We saw one pale brown anole with a narrower head that might have been a green anole. It stayed pale brown but was stalking insects on a small tree. The skin was much smoother than the brown anoles.
We also saw mourning doves, heard the resident family of Carolina Wrens calling to each other, found a beginning paper wasp nest on the underside of a palmetto frond, saw what appeared to be tiny white eggs on the tips of grass seed heads. Don’t know what insects laid them, perhaps one of the wood nymph or satyr butterflies that inhabit shaded woods and use grasses as host plants.
We did not need to go far, but the insect/spider yield was high. It’s all in focusing the senses.