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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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Gyponana sp. “Common Green Leafhopper” Cicadellidae

Seeley Lake, MT
September 13, 2014
Robert Niese

These leafhoppers are extremely abundant in North America but are next to impossible to identify beyond genus using external characteristics alone. These species tend to feed on the sap of conifers, and considering that this little guy was found in one of Montana’s most famous larch forests, I’m gonna guess he’s a larch specialist.

Apache degeeri “Derbid planthopper” Derbidae

Clinton, MT
July 25, 2015
Robert Niese

This little creature looks like something from another planet! Derbid planthoppers are one of entomology’s lesser studied groups of organisms. This particular genus has two members, A. degeeri and A. californicum, and is only found in North America (unlike most planthoppers which tend to be more highly represented in the tropics). This species occurs throughout North America, but tends to be more abundant in the east, while A. californicum is endemic to California. The larvae of these bugs are believed to feed off the hyphae (like roots) of fungi, while adults feed on the sap of trees like Beach, Oak, Maple, and Hickory.

Boisea trivittata “Box Elder Bug” Rhopalidae

Missoula, MT
October 8, 2014
Robert Niese

Box Elder Bugs are Acer specialists, feeding exclusively on the samaras (seeds) of various maple species. Box Elder Bugs tend to create massive congregations in sunny spots to keep warm while feeding and are often considered a nuisance in such large numbers – especially when the days become colder and they seek refuge in my bedroom! But overall, they’re totally harmless.

Graphocephala fennahiRhododendron Leafhopper” Cicadellidae

Tacoma, WA
August 2013
Robert Niese

Apparently, these sharpshooters are native to the south eastern Appalachians, but have since traveled the world in ornamental Rhododendrons.