Join us at the Discovery Museum March 22 & 23

We’ll be at the Terry Lee Wells Discovery Museum Saturday and Sunday, March 22nd and 23rd from 12pm-2m! We’ll have lots of different live insects to hold and observe, including the beetles and velvet ants we’ve featured on the site here in recent weeks. Come get up close and personal with some of our cool bugs, even get a look at some cute baby buckeye caterpillars under the microscope. Hope to see you there!

Come see our cute millipedes!

Come see our cute millipedes!

 

Monarch monitoring workshop June 6 & 7- citizen science opportunity

Monarchs are one of the most well-known symbols of the insect world, and many populations across the United States are in decline. If you have an interest in contributing to the understanding of western monarch population dynamics, there is a great opportunity to help out coming up right here in northern Nevada in June.

The Monarch Joint Venture is putting on a workshop to engage citizen scientists in western monarch conservation and citizen science monitoring. It will be a 2 day workshop open to the public (must register beforehand). Speakers for the training include experts from the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, Southwest Monarch Study, and Project Monarch Health. Participants will learn protocols for a variety of monarch citizen science programs and will be able to experience monitoring in the field and sampling with live organisms.

The workshop is Friday June 6th and Saturday June 7th at the River Fork Ranch between Genoa and Minden, NV. You can register for the workshop here. For more information, email Sarada at ssangame@umn.edu, and feel free to share this with anyone who would be interested! We here at Nevada Bugs are definitely going and we hope to see you there too!

More information about the workshop can be found here: Nevada Monarch Monitoring Workshop FLYER

Photo from MVJ

Photo from MVJ

UNR opens a new Museum of Natural History

The University of Nevada, Reno is opening a brand new Museum of Natural History and they’re having an open house to kick it off! The museum, located in the Fleischmann Agriculture building (room 300) on the UNR campus, will be open Wednesday, March 5th from 4-6 PM, and Nevada Bugs and Butterflies will be there too. We will have a variety of insects to hold and observe, and you can come check out some of the great collections at UNR and meet some of the researchers that use them. See the announcement below or online here for details.

Hope to see you there!

Meet our bugs- velvet ants!

For this week’s installment of the “meet our bugs” series, we’re profiling a fascinating example of Great Basin biodiversity, our velvet ants. Despite their name, these cuties are actually wasps (Hymenoptera) in the family Mutillidae. Velvet ants are all solitary species, unlike many of the un-friendly wasps you might be more familiar with. Species of these wasps are found all over North America, though they are especially diverse in the arid West, and you can sometimes find them if you are hiking in undisturbed habitat. One feature almost all species share is the presence of aposematic coloration, or bright coloring that is meant to convey danger to potential predators. In the case of velvet ants, females are armed with a powerful sting, one of the most painful in North America! However, they are not aggressive and very rarely sting if unprovoked. As shown in the picture, many species in a given area will mimic each other to increase the protective ability of their coloration, a process known as Mullerian mimicry. So, it can be hard to identify individuals as different species; we do know that our wasps are all in the genus Dasymutilla.

Velvet ant in our display

Velvet ant in our display. Cotton ball is soaked in nectar solution.

Figure of Dasymutilla diversity in North America, along with associated mimicry rings (figure from Wilson et al. 2012).

Figure of Dasymutilla diversity in North America, along with associated mimicry rings (figure from Wilson et al. 2012). You can read more at the website of Joe Wilson at Utah State University Tooele.

Velvet ants have a number of interesting biological features. Males and females are extremely sexually dimorphic, meaning the sexes look very different. Sometimes, males and females of the same species don’t even share the same color pattern, making it hard to tell which species is which. In addition, females are all wingless (thus, all of ours are females), and are also the sex with a stinger; males fly and are harmless. One other characteristic of velvet ants is an extremely tough exoskeleton, which comes in handy for their lifestyle. Velvet ants share an unusual reproductive strategy in that they are ectoparasitoids of other solitary hymenoptera. A female velvet ant will locate the burrow of a solitary ground-nesting bee or wasp that contains a developing larva, invade the nest (often to the dismay of the host), and lay an egg next to the larva. The velvet ant egg will hatch into its own larva and proceed to kill the developing host, devouring it and/or any prey items in the burrow. However, once the velvet ant metamorphoses into an adult, the wasp will be a nectar feeder, visiting flowers during the morning and evening, making these species important pollinators of arid regions. Adult velvet ants can live for one to a few years, relatively long lived for wasps. Below are a couple short videos that demonstrate the nectaring behavior of velvet ants (the white ball is a cotton ball soaked in nectar solution).

Velvet ant drinking

Velvet ant drinking

In addition to the mimicry of velvet ant species to each other, other types of insects that may not be as well defended also mimic velvet ants to try and gain protection via association, a process called Batesian mimicry. These species include spiders, beetles, and antlion larvae. In fact, the spider mimic below was found right at the butterfly house, and we have seen velvet ants on the site as well. The unusual biology and ecology of these organisms, along with their diversity in the Great Basin, make them great species to exhibit at our butterfly house and outreach events.

Jumping spider velvet ant mimic

Spider velvet ant mimic

 

Up close and personal. Big eyes are essential for a hunting lifestyle.

Up close and personal. Big eyes are essential for a hunting lifestyle.

Spider mimic dorsal view

Spider mimic dorsal view

Velvet ant dorsal view

Happy Darwin Day!

Happy Darwin Day! Charles Darwin was born this day in 1809. Today many institutions and people across the globe celebrate his many important contributions to science and natural history.

One of Darwin’s many predictions of natural selection was the existence of a pollinator (a moth, specifically) to fertilize the orchid Angraecum sesquipedale, published in 1862. This species is unique in that the nectar lies at the bottom of a flower over a foot deep. Dismissed at first by scientific contemporaries, this moth was later discovered in 1903. Xanthopan morgani has a proboscis measuring almost 35 cm (over 13 inches)! This is a classic example of coevolution, where the fitness of both plant and pollinator is on the success of the interaction that is plant pollination.

Go Darwin!

Angraecum sesquipedale

Angraecum sesquipedale

440px-NHM_Xanthopan_morgani

Xanthopan morgani

Meet our bugs!

We recently acquired a bunch of new bugs to take with us to schools and outreach events. These are all organisms you could find in and around Nevada. Some of them are great to hold and handle; others are best to observe from a distance. Over the next few weeks we’ll introduce them, along with some information about their biology.

Today’s bug is the blue death-feigning beetle, otherwise known as the blue iron-clad beetle, Asbolus verrucosus. These beetles belong to the family Tenebrionidae, the darkling beetles. This is a large family, with over 20,000 named species! One species you may already know in this family is Tenibrio molitor, also known as the mealworm, which is often used as food for common pet reptiles, fish, and birds. Other species in this family are sometimes (incorrectly) called ‘stink bugs,’ as they can release a bad-smelling odor when disturbed. Death feigning beetles, however, have no such chemical defense, and so are great to be handled. The genus, Asbolus, comes from Greek mythology- Asbolus was a centaur whose name translates to “sooty.” The species name, verrucosus, comes from the Greek meaning “warty,” a reference to the bumpy appearance of their abdomen. Their common name comes from their behavior of playing dead when picked up by some curious passer-by, human or otherwise. This behavior deters predators who only eat living prey items.

side shot

Asbolus verrucosus

feigning

Feigning dead

These beetles are native to the desert southwest, including southern Nevada, southern California, and the Sonoran Desert. Their color comes from a waxy coating, which helps protect them from evaporative water loss, a major danger in the desert. As with many beetles, they are detritovores, feeding on rotting vegetation or other decomposing debris. This makes them key players in helping cycle nutrients through ecosystems, especially desert areas where bacterial decomposition is extremely slow.

Above all, these beetles are great fun- they are active throughout the day, easy to hold, and big enough to get a good close look at them. We will have them with us at the butterfly house this year and we hope you’ll stop by and see them! Feel free to ask any questions below in the comments section (click on the post title to access the comment space).

body closeup bumps closeup face closeup

Also, here’s a small video from Bugs in Cyberspace, where you can purchase these bugs to keep as your own!

What a great year!

Thanks to all who came and visited!

Thanks to all who came and visited!

Fall’s a’comin: Last weekend for the butterfly house this season!

First off, we’d like to thank the River School Farm for hosting the Urban Farm Fest last Sunday. Put together in partnership with Urban Roots to celebrate the local food/sustainability movement in Reno, we had a great time talking to lots of families, letting kids handle our beetles and caterpillars, and showing off our collection of local moths and butterflies. Special thanks to Nikki Boyce of the River School for organizing; we had a blast!

Hanging out with our darkling beetle Tenny

Hanging out with our darkling beetle Tenny

What a great group of kids at the Urban Farm Fest!

What a great group of kids at the Urban Farm Fest!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, if you’ve been in Reno the last week or so, you’ve noticed the changes in the weather: clouds are rolling in, blustery afternoons, and a quick drop in temperatures! We’re officially into fall now, and that signals the end of the season for insects: butterflies either migrate south for the winter, or spend the cold season “overwintering” as eggs, larvae, pupae, or even sometimes as adults. Because of this seasonality, we will close the butterfly house for the winter starting in October. That means this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Sept. 26-28, will be our last open days for the season. If you haven’t had the chance, we hope you’ll make it out to the butterfly house and say goodbye to the bugs for the winter. The weather looks to be best (warmer and sunnier) on Saturday, so if you can make it then we’d love to see you!

Variable fall weather, but it looks good for Saturday!

Variable fall weather, but it looks good for Saturday!

 

The butterfly house is thriving!

If you haven’t visited the butterfly house yet, we’d love to see you! The harvest season is in full swing in and around the house and the butterflies are loving life! Stop by and see us in the last few weekends of our opening season! We are open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday 10-4 through September 28th. Feel free to call or email us with any questions.

A fritillary in the sun

Nevada Bugs and Butterflies at the Discovery Museum

We are happy to announce that Nevada Bugs and Butterflies will be partnered with the Terry Lee Wells Discovery Museum in downtown Reno for their Bug Week, July 22-28, 2013! We will be there July 22 (Monday) and July 24 (Wednesday) and will have:

  • A bug petting zoo with beetles, butterflies, caterpillars, composting worms, cockroaches, and more!
  • Other bugs like a scorpion, tarantula, and bumblebees
  • Pinned insect collections of local and tropical species
  • Insect art projects

Come stop by at 490 S. Center St. , say hi, learn about insects and our soon-to-be newly opened Butterfly House, and check out the wonderful Discovery Museum. Hope to see lots of you there!

Fun with bugs!

Fun with bugs!