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Anita’s Blog – Big Bug Brigade

Updated: May 9

I was thrilled to happen upon a big bug early on the second morning of the annual City Nature Challenge. It was a Texas eyed click beetle, Alaus lusciosus, one of the largest of the click beetles, measuring up to two inches long.


Texas Eyed Click Beetle. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Other than that sterling prize, the Force seemed to be against me for interesting and high numbers of bugs to upload during the BioBlitz – or perhaps just one more upshot of the drought. Certainly, the wind didn’t help for taking pristine photos and may have helped keep bugs, spiders and butterflies scarce.


I did finally get photos of two insect species I’m always happy to include in our Lower Rio Grande Valley count: the Texas bow-legged bug, Hyalymenus tarsatus (below photo on the left) and a hairy panther ant, Neoponera villosa, also called Greater Texas bullet ant. Hairy panther ants are big. This one in the center photo below blended with the pavement in front of the moth sheet but iNaturalist.org identified it. The photo below right, is a hairy panther ant on a Bengal trumpet bloom.



Hairy panther ants are one of the largest ants in North America. Southern Texas is their northernmost range, so we’re lucky to have them. They are found in all of Mexico and down to Argentina. according to BugGuide.net. They prey on arthropods (spiders, insects, centipedes, millipedes . . . ,) and nectar. If you recall from Texas Master Naturalist training, all ants bite, the bigger the ant, the more painful the sting.


Eastern leaf-footed bugs, Leptoglossus phyllopus, were aplenty. They like Texas thistle, Cirsium tyexanum, and American basketflower, Centaurea americana, in my yard. Thistles are their primary host plant. Eastern leaf-footed bugs have mouthparts that are piercing-sucking tubes that they insert into foliage, fruits, seeds and other plant parts to suck out sap and other nutrients. Not a beneficial bug, they are prevalent and fairly easy to photograph, although sometimes you have to chase them around the flowerhead.


Eastern Leaf-footed Bugs on American Basketflower. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Just days before and after the four days of the BioBlitz, my yard was quite active. One very windy day, a thick branch fell out of the mesquite tree and landed in front of the birdbath that is positioned where I can watch critter activity from the window above our kitchen sink. The next day, another branch appeared to have joined it and had landed on top of the birdbath – or so I thought. I did a double take – a Texas Indigo snake, Drymarchon melanurus erebennus, was laid across the water bowl. I was hoping the snake would return during the challenge, but it did not make an appearance.



The day after the challenge, a large Carolina sphinx moth, Manduca sexta, showed up on the back of the moth sheet and I caught a mudflat fiddler crab, Uca rapax, jungle-gyming along the top of the grass in the courtyard.



On weekly trash day, I moved the wheelie bin and uncovered two big bugs: a nearly two-inch long hardwood stump borer, Mallodon dasystomus and an Aloeus ox beetle, Atrategus aloeus.

The ox beetle was dead. The stump borer apparently was playing dead while I scooted the ruler up next to it; it was nowhere to be found when I returned from taking the bin to the road. The stump borer has some scary looking pincers, I don’t think the photo does justice to them.



Speaking of scary, I must confess, the low numbers on my night-flying insect count are partially due to fear. Wisely, I have a modicum of fear of the dark, but this is different – this is fear of getting sprayed by a skunk.


That’s right, a skunk. In mid-April, I finally erected the moth sheet and set up the black lights to track moths and other fascinating night insects during the annual City Nature Challenge.


After setting it up that first evening, I turned the black lights on at dusk. Just past 9 p.m., I went out to check my first gathering of bugs for the year. I did indeed have a visitor – a skunk. I was stunned. I managed a couple of quick shots from a distance with my phone camera, and then scurried back into the house. A quick glance back as I was fleeing, showed the moth sheet nearly devoid of guests.


No mistaking that white stripe, right?! (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

I left the black lights on. The next morning, around 4 a.m., I exited the garage and was startled to see the skunk waddling across the driveway toward my moth sheet. I was within 15 feet of the critter. I started to ready the phone camera, the skunk stopped, raised its tail – and what a huge tail that was! – and for the first time in my life, I did not brave the shot. The skunk trundled off into the dark, away from where my somewhat quaking knees hastily carried me back to the safety of the garage.


I’ve since tracked the skunk’s comings and goings with a field camera. The critter has no set schedule. It travels back and forth across the driveway, nose to the ground (and nosing around the courtyard, I suspect), oblivious of the field camera. It is active between the hours of 9 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. It’s put a damper on my checking the moth sheet in the wee hours of the morning. I’ve been waiting until the first blush of dawn before venturing out, still wary that the skunk might be lurking.

Check out the size of that tail! (Moultrie Field Camera photo)

This morning, I turned the black lights on at about 5:30 a.m. When I checked an hour later, I had a most beautiful big bug – a harlequin flower beetle, Gymnetis thula, (below photo at left). Flower scarabs are important pollinators. Their diet is a variety of flowers, fruits, pollen and tree sap. I also had a smaller, but no less colorful bug, that I’ve tentatively identified as a Symphylus caribbeanus, a member of the Jewel Bugs family, Scutelleridae (below photo at right).



In addition to bugs, plants, a couple of critters, birds and marine life, I added to my file of scat photos on the last day of the City Nature Challenge. Brown pelican scat, I know for a fact (white splashes on lens in below photo on left), from our day at the beach. After the challenge ended, scat from our yard, a photograph of what I’m trying to determine might be skunk scat (below photo at right).



Because of fear of getting sprayed by a skunk, I didn’t check the moth sheet every hour from 3 a.m. to daylight during the City Nature Challenge like I have done in the past. The number of interesting bugs is way below my normal yard mark, so I continue to study the ways of skunks and monitor the yard activity with the field camera. My best hope is a phrase I read that keeps coming to mind, “wait it out, skunks move on fairly soon.” Of course, there’s a caveat to that: unless they have babies.

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