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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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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Sympetrum illotum “Cardinal Meadowhawk” Libellulidae

Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle, WA
May 9, 2016
Robert Niese

There are quite a few species of red dragons in the PNW and they can be pretty tricky to ID. The redder individuals tend to be males, and, as they mature they often lose all other markings that might facilitate identification. This species is most easily distinguished by the two white dots present on the lower sides of its abdomen (barely visible here). Even in very red, healthy, mature adults, the lower margins of these white dots are usually still visible. Generally, Cardinal Meadowhawks can also be distinguished from other red meadowhawks by their reddish legs, diffuse yellow-bronze wings, and black markings at the base of the wings.

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Trimerotropis verruculata suffusa “Crackling Forest Grasshopper” Acrididae

Mt. Sentinel, Lolo National Forest, MT
September 12, 2015
Robert Niese

BugGuide has become an indispensable resource for all my insect identification needs, but rarely do I come across pages so eloquently and comprehensively written as those by David Ferguson. His passion for band-winged grasshoppers makes these entries a joy to read:

“T. verruculata suffusa is one of the most common and conspicuous Band-wing Grasshoppers in open pine forests of the Rockies and Sierras, where it can be seen (and heard) on most any warm summer or autumn day. The “crepitation” produced in flight is a relatively loud crackling sound, and sometimes males will hover and crackle for several seconds at a time. Never is it so loud and conspicuous as Circotettix species (to which it is related and similar), but nearly so.”