• jjvanm

Anita’s Blog -- There if You Look

Updated: Oct 25

I was SO excited. I’d been chasing a black stink bug for more than a year. Black stink bugs are highly paranoid -- they drop into the mini jungle of snake herb and day flowers before you can lift the phone for a photo. But, I’ve found the trick -- start searching for bugs just after the sun jumps above the horizon -- bugs, once the night temps dip below 70 degrees F., seem to be comatose before the morning sun warms them. This stunning beauty was right at eye-level in the middle of a horizontal banana leaf. -- all perched out on its black and white legs like a bulldog on point! Super cool, what?


Black Stink (Bug Proxys punctulatus) (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

The 2021 Texas Pollinator BioBlitz has entered its second week and will run through October 17, so there’s still time to upload data via www.iNaturalist.org or the iNaturalist extremely user-friendly phone app.

For this bioblitz, both pollinators and the plants they use are accepted.

At blog post publish time, there were 3,421 Texans uploading observations to this project, 26,569 observations had been recorded and 2,432 species noted to be on Texas soils.

Real-time updates are available at this link:

https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/2021-texas-pollinator-bioblitz

Alas, my beautiful black stink bug doesn’t count; stink bugs are not pollinators.

But the Acmaeodera scalaris is a pollinator, and it counts in the Texas tally.


Acmaeodera scalaris (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

This Acmaeodera scalaris is pollinating a flower on Indian Valley false mallow (Malvastrum americanum) -- a mallow native to Florida and Texas, although common mostly in our part of Texas. The elongated cylindrical flower clusters are rather unique. The bushy plant grows to nearly five feet tall; it seems to bloom in all seasons but is not necessarily a prolific self-propagator like some local mallows.


Indian Valley false mallow (Malvastrum americanum) (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

My operating theory for this bioblitz is: you really never know what you’ll find until you go looking -- and I’ve been looking -- closely, as a matter of fact!

A couple of years ago, I planted two low prairie clover (Dalea scandens) shrubs specifically because they are host to the beautiful Southern dogface butterfly. I’ve since found the caterpillars on one of the shrubs but not much else -- but I wasn’t looking. Now, looking closely, I found a three-ribbed darkling beetle (Eleodes tricostata) working its way among the tiny, dense leaves.


Three-Ribbed Darkling Beetle (Eleodes tricostata) (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Another day, I found a Tropisternus lateralis on the Dalea scandens. A legume, D. scandens grows as an erect shrub with an arching downward spray of branches. Tiny pink blooms seem to come out with the cooler night temperatures.


A Water Scavenger Beetle (Tropisternus lateralis) (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Another strategy I fell into this week has been to revisit the same plants each day. Every day’s a new day in the life of a plant as to what bugs might visit. For instance, the first day of the bioblitz, I checked my wild olive tree (Cordia boissieri), which, during the summer, seems to be one of the most active trees in the yard. On October 1, there was hardly a bloom on it, let alone a bug of any sort. And then one day, VOILA! One of the leaves had bugs on it! It turns out they were the larva of the wild olive tortoise beetle (Physonota alutacea). I wrote about this particular beetle in an article for the McAllen Monitor August 21. See photos of more advanced larva and the adult bug at this link: https://rgvctmn.org/blog/anitas-articles/beneficial-or-pest-beetles-are-unique-and-interesting/


Wild Olive Tortoise Beetle larva (Physonota alutacea) (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

I thought it would be fun to watch the various stages as they develop into the adult form. The next day, although I scoured nearly every inch of the tree, and the younger wild olive tree a few feet away, there were no larva to find at all. The only thing I can imagine is that a bird or a lizard must have had a fine meal.


I found another type of beetle on a Vasey’s Adelia (Adelia vaseyi) shrub in the tribe Cryptocephalini. It’s a leaf beetle, apparently not a pollinator, as it was not included in the project observations.


A Leaf Beetle in the tribe Cryptocephalini (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Adelia vaseyi is host to the Mexican bluewing butterfly. Another day, a wasp in the Pachodynerus genus was warming up on a leaf of the Adelia vaseyi in the cool 66-degree F., early morning sun; wasps are pollinators.


A wasp in the Pachodynerus genus (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

A tiny orange and black prolific creature in the Belotus genus seems to be everywhere and on anything. It shows up nicely on a Tecoma stans bloom -- what we know as esperanza; iNaturalist lists its common name as yellow trumpet flower. Belotus is a member of soldier beetles in the family Cantharidae, a pollinator and beneficial insect.


A pollinator in the Belotus genus (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Surprisingly, the Grand Central Station of plants has been my relatively young sacred Datura (Datura wrightii) plant.


I first spied a huge, scary-looking bug, Leptoglossus zonatus perched on a leaf. It was awfully close to my leg, looking ready to leap. I could only think, “Step away from the plant.” And I did, quietly but swiftly, and then I crept closer to photograph it. As awesome as it looks, it is not a pollinator; it’s a leaf-footed bug with piercing-sucking mouthparts -- the better to feed on plant parts. They are closely related to stink bugs. L. zonatus is the most destructive of the leaf-footed bug species.


A leaf-footed bug (Leptoglossus zonatus) (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

As has been my routine to revisit plants each day, I was amazed to find big holes in the Datura leaves. I blamed the destruction on the L. zonatus. Looking closer, a half dozen big caterpillars were munching away at various plant parts including the sepal of the closing blooms. Uploading a photo to iNaturalist got me another pollinator species. The caterpillars are not pollinators, but the Carolina sphinx moth (Manduca sexta) that they will turn into are pollinators -- night pollinators to the night-blooming sacred Datura.


Carolina sphinx moth (Manduca sexta) (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

The small plant is nearly eaten up. Nothing’s sacred, pun intended, even the spiky seed pods are being devoured by a member of the spur-throated grasshoppers in the genus Paraidemona -- not a pollinator!


A Spur-throated Grasshopper in the genus Paraidemona (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

More about sacred Datura is at my July 1, blog post:

https://rgvctmn.org/blog/anitas-blog/anitas-blog-the-exotic-nightshades/

The following link is to a colorful Webpage of Pollinating Beetles of Texas.

http://texasento.net/TX_Pollinators.html -- See how many your plants might be harboring!

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