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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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Philadelphus lewisii “Lewis’ Mock Orange” Hydrangeaceae

Missoula, MT
June 11, 2015
Robert Niese

This species of Philadelphus was discovered by Meriwether Lewis in 1806. It’s flowers and scent are reminiscent of orange blossoms, thus it’s common name, the mock-orange. Unlike oranges, these attractive shrubs produce dry, 4-parted capsule fruits that are wholly inedible. Their leaves, however, contain saponins and can be crushed to make a mild soap. They are a popular ornamental plant here in the eastern PNW and are the state flower of Idaho. Look for them scattered throughout drier slopes in the west, where they tend to grow singly or in small populations. Here in Missoula, they cover the hillsides with gorgeous white blooms at the beginning of summer, much like Amelanchier in the spring.

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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.

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Taraxacum officinale “Common Dandelion” Asteraceae (Compositae)

Missoula, MT
May 2, 2016
Robert Niese

Generic, but beautiful nonetheless. Each of those tiny wind dancers is actually a fruit called an achene. Each achene arose from an individual flower of which there are hundreds in a single dandelion head (actually there are only 50-200 flowers per head, but “hundreds” sounds better) . This is where the family got its old name, “Compositae.” Each of their composite “flowers” are made up of loads of tiny individual flowers. So next time your lover asks for flowers, pick them a couple dandelions and astound them with an offering of many hundreds of flowers instead of a measly dozen roses.

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.

Amelanchier alnifolia “Western Serviceberry/Saskatoon” Rosaceae

Missoula, MT
April, 25 2015
Robert Niese

These common shrubs are some of the first plants to bloom in spring. Their bright white flowers light up our hillsides just as they’re starting to turn green. This plant was a staple food source for many native peoples who ate their berries raw (although they’re not as moist or sweet as other Rosaceae berries) or mashed them and shaped them into biscuits which were dried and stored for winter (side note: serviceberry is also a common ingredient in pemmican, which often is stored in biscuit shapes, so this note about dried biscuits could be a reference to pemmican, and saskatoon biscuits might not be a real thing…I’m not sure. Do any of my followers know?). Today, many local foragers will utilize these berries in jams and pies and often sweeten them for trail mixes and granola.

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.