Woolly Bear Caterpillar, photo by c.quish

Woolly Bear Caterpillar, photo by c.quish

Do woolly bear caterpillars really predict how intense and cold the coming winter will be? This is the often repeated folk tale heard upon spotting the readily recognizable, black and orange/brown colored, fuzzy caterpillar in the autumn. The theory is  that the wider the black end sections, and shorter the orange/brown section, the longer the winter will be. Well, it is not true folks! There is really no actual research proving it is fact. We do know that some years the center section is longer than other years. This is due to the weather, not future weather but past weather.

Isabella Moth Adults, photo from purdue.edu

Isabella Moth Adults, photo from purdue.edu

The woolly bears are the larval stage of the Isabella Tiger Moth, Pyrrharctia isabella. The caterpillar has four stages of life; egg, larva(caterpillar), pupa(chrysalis), and adult moth. The caterpillars molt several times during the summer and fall. At each molt, a portion of the black setae (hairs) are replaced with orange/brown setae, making the middle sections longer. So the older the caterpillar, the more molts it has gone through, therefore the less black areas and more orange/brown.

The caterpillars you see now will seek hiding places to over-winter. They will produce a chemical protein just like anti-freeze, allowing them to live through the winter in a resting state. When the spring comes they will break their dormancy to become active once again. To continue their life cycle in the spring, they will pupate into a chrysalis where they will turn into the Isabella Moth adult. Adults will fly around, mate and the female will lay eggs. Eggs hatch into the woolly bear caterpillar to complete the cycle. If you have an early spring, the cycle starts sooner than normal, resulting in a longer growing period for the caterpillar. So when we see a larger woolly bear with a less black and more orange/brown, it is just older and will have gone through another molt sooner, possibly, than at the same time the year before.

So the woolly bear is a reporter of past weather, not a predictor of what has yet to come.

-Carol Quish

The green lacewing (Chrysoperla spp.) is a beautiful and delicately-built insect in the adult stage.  The body is about 1/2” long, slender and a pleasing light green to yellowish green in color.  The wings are clear with pale green veins and are slightly iridescent.  The adults feed primarily on nectar, pollen and honeydew.  They have yeast in their digestive tracts that aid in breaking down nutrients from these food sources.   Adult green lacewings are prey for a number of other animals including bats, birds and predaceous insects.  They have good hearing, with hearing organs located at the base of the forewings.  When they detect the ultrasonic signals of bats searching for prey, they exhibit defensive behavior by closing their wings in mid-flight and dropping to the ground.   Their green coloration helps them hide from predators among plants.

Adult green lacewing (Photo credit: Missouri Extension)

Female lacewings lay 100-200 eggs during their life span of about six weeks.  They tend to place the eggs where there are prey present for the young larvae to feed on.  Eggs may be found on the underside of leaves, singly or in clusters, and each egg is borne on a stalk, giving them a balloon-like appearance.

Green lacewing eggs (Photo: whatcom.wsu.com)

Eggs hatch 3-6 days later and the larvae are voracious predators, feeding on other insects including aphids, mealybugs, scales, psyllids, thrips, whiteflies, small caterpillars, leafhoppers and insect eggs.  They also feed on mites, particularly the red spider mite.   ‘Aphid lion’ is a common name sometimes used for the larva.   They have strong, hollow jaws used to inject a digestive saliva into the prey.  This saliva is able to digest the internal organs of an aphid in only 90 seconds!   The larva then sucks the juices from the preys’ body.  As many as 200 aphids or insect eggs may be consumed in only a week.  Debris including prey’s remains adheres to bristles on the larva’s back, helping to camouflage it from predators.  The larvae look a bit like tiny alligators with a flattened body that has mottled coloring made up of light yellowish brown to darker gray markings.  They have a tapered tail and visible legs.

Green lacewing larva piercing aphid

Green lacewing larva piercing aphid (Photo: MJ Hatfield, Bugguide.net)

Larvae feed for two to three weeks and then pupate within a spherical cocoon attached to a plant or under loose bark.   Adults emerge in one to two weeks depending on temperature and humidity.  The green lacewing may overwinter in various life stages depending on weather severity.

Green lacewing cocoon (Photo: wiki.bugwood.org)

Green lacewings are available commercially for use as biological controls in the greenhouse, field and garden.   They are generally affordable and are available as eggs, larvae and adults.  If you are interested in establishing a population at the beginning of the season, eggs would be a good choice.  For an existing problem, larvae will arrive hungry and ready to go.  Adults can also be ordered and they are a good choice when treating a large area or if you don’t want to spend much time distributing eggs or larvae.

Some attractive characteristics of green lacewings as part of an integrated pest management (IPM) program include: 1. It’s broad range of prey (generalist), 2. It has excellent searching ability, 3. Some species are tolerant of insecticides, and 4. The adults will disperse readily.  One little downside is that the larvae will also eat some beneficial insects and can be cannibalistic too.   They will feed on the pests if that’s what is available!

You can attract natural populations of green lacewings to your garden by planting flowers that are attractive food sources for them.  Suggestions include members of the family Asteraceae such as Coreopsis, Cosmos, and sunflower and the family Apiaceae such as dill and angelica.  The common dandelion, milkweed, spotted joe-pye weed, Queen Anne’s lace, red clover, and bushy aster are other attractive plants for food and/or shelter.

J. Allen

Tiger beetles are among the many beetles I like to watch and I look forward to seeing them every year. They are easy to find once you know their habitats and the time of year they are out and about. These predatory beetles are fast on their feet and are also among the quickest of the beetles to take flight. Walking along open trails, you may see something fly off just ahead of where you were going and land not too far away. If you don’t get a good look at it, you may mistake it for a fly because both insects are quick to take off in  flight and because they are often found in the same habitat.

As of 1996, there were fourteen species of tiger beetles in Connecticut, seven of which are on the state’s protected list. They are members of the Carabidae family, which are the ground beetles. Like most ground beetles, the larval stage is spent in the ground and some tiger beetles take two years to complete their life cycle. Most tiger beetles are found in habitats featuring low or sparse vegetation and sandy soils. If you want to see adults in action, look for them on sunny days as most become inactive if clouds block the sun for any length of time.

To identify a beetle as a tiger beetle look for three things- bulging eyes, long legs and crisscrossed mandibles that are formidable in appearance. When standing still, they have a distinctive posture where the head is up, the rear is down, and the body is held high off the ground on stilt- like hairy legs. These insects are built for speed both on the ground and in the air.

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Typical tiger beetle posture

A tiger beetle is predatory in both the adult and larval stage. The larva is an ambush predator, similar to the ant lion, which lies in wait beneath the ground. It lives in a vertical tube in the soil and you may see its head just inside the tube as it waits for prey to amble on by. When that happens, the larva pops out and grabs its victim with its powerful jaws and then pulls it into the burrow. Larvae can survive for weeks without food and are also able to survive temporary flooding.

Adults have powerful sickle- shaped overlapping jaws which they use for capturing prey such as ants, spiders and other arthropods. They can catch prey both on the ground and in the air. They are so fast when pursuing oblivious ants that I have sometimes seen them overrun them and have to do an about- face. Their vision appears acute, and while they perch, they will suddenly turn in the direction of any movement. This can make it very difficult to approach them if you are trying get a closer look. A tip is to crouch down, with the sun ahead of you so as not to cast a shadow that will trigger flight. Then move slowly toward the beetle. Tiger beetles are also preyed upon by dragonflies, robber flies, birds, and small vertebrates, so they are approachable to some extent.

Look for tiger beetles in open sunny areas that have low or sparse vegetation with scattered rocks and sandy soils. Some are found along woodland trails and forest edges. Once you have found a tiger beetle, you will probably be able to find it the next year. Note the time of year and the exact area you saw it. They are reliably found, if not in almost exactly the same spot, then within ten to twenty yards of it.  If disturbed, most tiger beetles will fly only a short distance away and may be found by simply walking ahead in the direction you saw it fly. The adult may sit and wait for some small insect to scurry by and then use its speed to run it down. Or it may run forward and stop repeatedly as it checks out any promising activity.

There are several species in Connecticut that are of special concern. One is the federally threatened and state endangered species Cicendela puritan, the Puritan tiger beetle. This beetle is found in two small areas in the country-  periodically flooded sandy beach habitats along the Connecticut River and similar areas along the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. The small area in Connecticut where this was found is now protected from human access both from the water and from land.

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Tiger beetle Cicindela repanda on my thumb.

Cicindela rufiventris  is a species commonly found in dry upland rocky and eroded areas but can also be found in areas of sparse vegetation such a trails , power lines or forest clearings. I have found populations in several areas where stones have been brought in by the local governments or power companies to help stop erosion caused by both maintenance vehicles accessing the land and all-terrain vehicle activity that can cause greater damage of a more permanent nature. Whether the stones helped keep the ground from being destroyed or just allowed a better habitat for both larvae and adults to survive, rufiventris appear to be doing well in these areas. Look for adults in July and August.

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possibly a C. rufiventris as the abdomen just showing below elytra is orange- red.

There is a small spit of tidal flooded land along the Connecticut River where the ferry comes in on the Glastonbury side where there is a large colony of Cicindela repanda can be found. These common beetles are very similar in appearance to the endangered Puritan tiger beetles. In August there are hundreds of them running along the water edges and among the rocks of this spit- the ground seems to come alive with their activity. When the tide is in, the area shrinks in size, and if you sit down on the sand, you will be surrounded by beetles rushing around. They even venture into shallow water to catch the flies that are abundant there. Take care not to step on any of these industrious, beautifully patterned creatures.

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 Cicindela repanda August 2012 Glastonbury in sand at the ferry landing.

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Ct. River ferry landing area in Glastonbury showing tiger beetle C. repanda habitat. Picture taken at low tide.

I have found the six- spotted tiger beetle, Cicindela sexguttata, year after year on the same power lines, along the same gravel roads and in the same areas  bordering woodland edges. I look for them in mid to late April during warm springs, but normal activity begins in early may. Adults are readily seen through July and sometimes into August. These beetles are bright metallic green and have three white spots on each elytra. They can be found perched on logs and rocks or bare soil either in the sun or shade. Their bright color will make them easy to spot if they have landed in any open area. A slow approach is in order if you want to get close enough to take a picture or just watch them for a while. If you lost sight of it, just walk on for a while, and if nothing appears, turn around and head back to where you first saw it. Often it will have circled around gone back near where it was before.

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Six- spotted tiger beetle- Cicindela sexgutatta– found on a restaurant window in Cold Spring, New York June 28, 2011. The restaurant was surrounded by rocky cliffs and a large disturbed area bordering woods.

So next spring and summer if you are out and about hiking along nature trails, power lines or dirt roads, be alert to the possibility of tiger beetles being on the hunt nearby. And don’t forget to bring your camera! I would not have had the opportunity to take any of the pictures you see here if my camera had been left at home ( or in the car! ).

Pamm Cooper                                                      All Photos Copyright 2013 Pamm Cooper