Sympetrum corruptum “Variegated Meadowhawk” Libellulidae

Blue Mountain National Recreation Area, MT
May 13, 2016
Robert Niese

As its name might suggest, these dragonflies are quite variable. So much so, that I’m questioning this ID (corrections would be very much appreciated). For more info on how to identify PNW odonates, check out this field key from the Slater Museum of Natural HistoryS. corruptum is a relatively common dragon found throughout much of northern North America near boggy meadows, swamps or ponds. During migration, however, it can be found wandering through just about any habitat from Honduras to Mongolia. Dragonflies are impressive migrators and some species can regularly travel 100 miles in a single day.


Sphecodes (arvensiformis) “Cuckoo Sweat Bee” Halictidae
on Euphorbia esula “Leafy Spurge” Euphorbiaceae

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

Sphecodes bees are cleptoparasitic, cuckoo-like bees that lay their eggs in the nests of other sweat bees. Despite their outward appearance, these insects are not wasps, but they have converged on a very cuckoo-wasp-like life-history strategy. A female enters the nests of another Halictid, consumes a developing egg and replaces it with her own. Unfortunately, these bees, like the vast majority of Halictids, are very poorly studied and there are few entomologists capable of accurately identifying them beyond the genus level. Oh, and by the way, Leafy Spurge, while it is one of Missoula’s most widespread invasives, is also one of my favorite spring plants. They’re just such odd organisms! More photos and natural history info to come, I’m sure.

Looking back at my other photos of these bees from years ago makes me realize how far my skills as a photographer and natural historian have progressed.


Lasioglossum (Hemihalictus) sp. “Weak-veined Sweat Bee” Halictidae
on Solidago missouriensis. “Prairie Goldenrod” Asteraceae

Apgar Lookout Trail, Glacier National Park, MT
October 9, 2015
Robert Niese

Lasioglossum is the world’s largest genus of bees and contains more than 1700 species worldwide. Like many other speciose invertebrate genera, we know relatively little about these organisms and only a handful of entomologists worldwide are capable of identifying them to species. In the last five years, researchers throughout North America have revised the taxonomy of this group using phylogenetic data, new morphological characters, and over 10,000 museum specimens. According to their keys, this particular individual is possibly a male L. (Hemihalictus) inconditum.


Thanatophilus lapponicus “Northern Carrion Beetle” Silphidae

April 2, 2016
National Bison Range, MT
Robert Niese

Photographed my first Silphid last week and, I must say, it was a horrendously smelly experience. These carrion beetles appear to prefer long-dead organisms, particularly reptiles and amphibians, and this little guy had apparently been hanging out in an extremely ripe carcass. I had to hold my breath every time I went in for a close-up! These beetles often overwinter in these carcasses, consuming the rotting flesh and maggots living there, until emerging at the first signs of spring. I might venture to guess that this is exactly what this individual did all winter, which might have contributed to its particular odor.


Pandemis pyrusana “Pandemis Leafroller Moth” Tortricidae

Clinton, MT
July 25, 2015
Robert Niese

Pandemis leafrollers are common in the west and are considered a pest on commercial apple, cherry, plum, and pear trees. As larvae, they roll up the sides of leaves into a tube along the mid-vein creating a shelter from predators. Larvae born early in the summer will pupate inside these shelters, but late summer larvae overwinter under bark before emerging to feed on fresh buds in the early spring. In addition to feeding on commercial fruit trees, this species is also known to chow down on alder (Alnus), willow (Salix), birch (Betula), dogwood (Cornus), aspen (Populus tremuloides), currants (Ribes), roses (Rosa), and honeysuckle (Lonicera), all of which are very common here in western Montana.

Thallophaga hyperborea Geometridae

Point Defiance Park, Tacoma, WA
July 22, 2013
Robert Niese

This one was a really tough ID. We found this moth during our Slater Museum moth-lighting trip in Point Defiance for National Moth Week. We gave up attempting to identify it pretty early and had to call-in help from the experts at BugGuide. But even over at BugGuide, it was tentatively placed in three different genera before we settled on Thallophaga. Western Washington University is currently attempting to create a visual key to the Geometrids of the Pacific Northwest. As soon as it gets published, I’ll let you all know!

Trimerotropis fontana “Fontana Band-winged Grasshopper” Acrididae

Missoula, MT
September 3, 2013
Robert Niese

The hills around Missoula are absolutely flush with grasshoppers in the late summer. On our collecting trip this particular September, we caught nine or ten different species in an hour! Trimerotropis is North America’s most speciose genus of Band-winged Grasshoppers and we regularly catch three species in our area. For ID information regarding this highly abundant genus, check out David Ferguson’s descriptions in BugGuide.

Coccinella septempunctata “Seven-spotted Lady Beetle” Coccinellidae

Drinking Horse Mountain, Bozeman, MT
June 3, 2015
Robert Niese

This species has been repeatedly introduced to the US as a biological control agent to manage aphid outbreaks. It is reportedly out-competing many native species in our area, but still has managed to become the official state insect of Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Tennessee. This individual was likely released as part of an ongoing Fish and Wildlife Service biological control project in the Drinking Horse Mountain area which has also involved intense invasive plant control (with goats!) in the past.

Acraspis macrocarpae “Jewel Oak Gall Wasp” gall, Cynipidae

Missoula, MT
October, 21 2015
Robert Niese

Female jewel wasps are adorable, wingless, pudgy little things when they emerge from these galls in October. Here’s another picture of these cuties for good measure. These unique organisms reproduce in cycles of alternating generations of all females and generations with both sexes. In years with only females, the wasps reproduce parthenogenetically. Apparently, parthenogenetic galls are different in size, shape, and color than their sexually-produced counterparts. I was unable to find specific information regarding this phenomenon in Acraspis macrocarpae, but most accounts suggest that only females occur inside these particular galls, which leads me to believe they may be the sexually-produced versions of these oak galls. Perhaps next year, we’ll see a completely different variety of gall on our local oaks! I’ll be sure to update you all next fall.

Also, fun fact, this species of gall wasp was originally described by Alfred Kinsey, the world-renowned human sex scientist! It’s true! Before studying sex, Kinsey collected more than 7.5 million galls and wasps and named dozens of species. Of the 18 million insect specimens currently housed at the American Museum of Natural History, nearly a third are from Kinsey’s dissertation! His work not only revolutionized our understanding of this wasp family, but also had profound impacts on the ways we conducted phylogenetic and entomological analyses. Read more about his fascinating work as an entomologist here.

Malacosoma sp. “Tent Moth” Lasiocampidae, pupa on
Larix occidentalis “Western Larch” Pinaceae

Apgar Lookout Trail, Glacier National Park, MT
October 9, 2015
Robert Niese

The trails around Apgar are rife with Lasiocampidae pupae. They’ve spun their webby cocoons in every manner of tree, shrub, and man-made structure. Around Missoula, it wasn’t a very big year for tent moth caterpillars, but only a hundred miles away in Glacier National Park, Malacosoma numbers were significantly higher. These species go through regular boom and bust cycles and some years they become so abundant that entire forests can get defoliated. In my search of the literature, it appears that these moths overwinter as eggs, not as pupae. These pupating individuals certainly won’t survive the oncoming cold if that is indeed the case.