Pissodes sp. “Conifer Bark Weevil” Curculionidae

Lake Inez, MT
May 27, 2017
Robert Niese

Conifer bark beetles in the genus Pissodes are relatively common, harmless parasites of many tree species. In the east, however, they are a major threat to Eastern White Pine where they drastically reduce growth and recruitment of young trees.

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Siphlonurus phyllis, Siphlonuridae, male

Missoula, MT
May 9, 2017
Robert Niese

I know relatively little about aquatic macro-invertebrates, but they are a very well-studied group of organisms due to their importance in understanding stream ecology and health. Fly fishermen are also avid naturalists of these bugs. I’ve met anglers who follow the hatch dates and times of aquatic insects more closely than manic listing birders! Apparently, this genus of mayfly is one of only a few that swarms by the thousands here in the west.

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Calligrapha verrucosa “Warty Willow Leaf Beetle” Chrysomelidae

Missoula, MT
May 26, 2016
Robert Niese

I couldn’t decide which photo i liked best, so I had to post another portrait shot of this lovely beetle. The genus name “Calligrapha” is a reference to the beautiful calligraphic script on the backs of many species. This species’s coloration is not quite as script-like, but it definitely still appears painted. These beetles are most common in the Northern Rockies of Montana, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, but, according to some older sources, their range is far broader, stretching from Nebraska to California to Alaska. If you have photographs of these beetles please contact me to supplement our scientific understanding of their distribution

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Calligrapha verrucosa “Warty Willow Leaf Beetle” Chrysomelidae

Missoula, MT
May 26, 2016
Robert Niese

The genus name “Calligrapha” is a reference to the beautiful calligraphic script on the backs of many species. This species’s coloration is not quite as script-like, but it definitely still appears painted. These beetles are most common in the Northern Rockies of Montana, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, but, according to some older sources, their range is far broader, stretching from Nebraska to California to Alaska. If you have photographs of these beetles please contact me to supplement our scientific understanding of their distribution!

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Ranatra fusca “Brown Waterscorpion” Nepidae

Lake Inez, Lolo National Forest, MT
May 23, 2017
Robert Niese

There’s something genuinely unnerving about insects viciously preying upon vertebrates, and waterscorpions are superbly specialized for this terrifying task. They sit near the surface of the water, head down, with their elongated, raptorial front limbs outstretched, waiting. Their long paired “tails” remain in contact with the water’s surface like a snorkel, allowing them to breathe while fully submerged. When some unlucky fish or tadpole swims too close, they snap them up like a mantis and immediately stab them with their sucking mouthparts. Their saliva both subdues and begins to digest their prey, allowing them to suck out the animal’s insides. On a completely unrelated note, this individual looks worse for wear, which led me to discover that adults actually overwinter in lakes and ponds here in Montana – not an easy task considering that most bodies of water freeze-over completely at some point. So apparently they’re indestructible AND hyper-specialized predators. Thank goodness they’re only five inches long.

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Philodromus histrio “Theatrical Running Crab Spider” Philodromidae

Blue Mountain National Recreation Area, MT
May 16, 2016
Robert Niese

I have no idea why this species of running crab spider has been given the species epithet “histrio.” In Latin, histrio means “actor” or “player.” Perhaps the arachnid’s propensity for waving its arms about whenever a predator (or camera) approaches earned it this descriptor. Or perhaps some early entomologist first encountered it engaged in an impressive act of twig-impersonation. In fact, when I first stumbled upon this individual, its legs were perfectly aligned in the shape of an X and pressed flat against the underside of this Artemisia stem, perhaps hoping to be mistaken for plant matter. Regardless, these Philodromids are widespread, common, and relatively recognizable. Look for them in northern latitudes and in the Rockies anywhere you might find weedy Asteraceous plants like Artemisia, Tanacetum, Centaurea, or Senicio (yes, I know, that encompasses just about every habitat).

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Chrysis sp. “Cuckoo Wasp” Chrysididae

Missoula, MT
May 17, 2016
Robert Niese

Cuckoo Wasps are a massive, possibly polyphyletic group of parasitic wasps. More than half the members of this giant family are placed in the genus Chrysis (more than 1000 species!). Undoubtedly, in the coming years this genus will be stripped, split, and reorganized in favor of a more monophyletic and phylogenetically accurate set of genera. As their common name might suggest, cuckoo wasps lay their eggs in the nests of other wasps, and many specialize on a single host species. This lovely individual appeared to be waiting outside an old nail hole on the side of my house that was occupied by a cavity-nesting wasp of some sort.

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Calligrapha verrucosa “Warty Willow Leaf Beetle” Chrysomelidae

Missoula, MT
May 26, 2016
Robert Niese

Caught, in flagrante delicto, mating right on the beach! Egads! These indiscreet little beetles are relatively closely related to those Cottonwood Beetles I posted yesterday. Their genus name “Calligrapha” is a reference to the beautiful calligraphic script on the backs of many species. This species’s coloration is not quite as script-like, but it definitely still appears painted. I’ll post some portraits later! These beetles are most common in the Northern Rockies of Montana, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, but, according to some older sources, their range is far broader, stretching from Nebraska to California to Alaska. If you have photographs of these beetles please contact me to supplement our scientific understanding of their distribution!

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Chrysomela scripta “Cottonwood Leaf Beetle” Chrysomelidae

Missoula, MT
April 22, 2016
Robert Niese

These lovely beetles can spend their entire life cycles living off of a single poplar or cottonwood tree. Females lay their eggs in clusters on the undersides of leaves. Those eggs hatch and the larvae begin feeding on the leaf tissues until nothing but a skeleton of veins remains. Then, they pupate into adults which will continue the process of defoliating the tree by eating the thick veins and midribs left behind by the larvae. Some small saplings can be killed by a particularly hungry population of breeding Cottonwood Leaf Beetles. This species may not be present in the PNW west of the Cascades. If you discover them there, please let me know!

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Oxyopes scalaris “Western Lynx Spider” Oxyopidae

Missoula, MT
May 6, 2016
Robert Niese

Lynx spiders are some of my favorite arachnids! They’re stealthy, fast, agile and ferocious predators, some of which specialize on other spiders! Oxyopes scalaris is virtually the only species of lynx found in the PNW, however. It can be found in just about any habitat from the coast to the Rockies and as far north as BC. One additional species, the Striped Lynx (O. salticus) can be found along the coast from California through Oregon and, rarely, in southern Washington.