Category Archives: Insects, Fish, Frogs

Marbled Orb Weaver

Marbled orbweaver (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In autumn I often see round vertical spider webs without a spider in them.  Perhaps they’re the webs of marbled orb weavers.

Orb weaver spider web (photo by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos via Wikimedia Commons)

Araneus marmoreus live around the world in the northern hemisphere, building their orb-shaped webs in wooded areas, especially along stream banks.   When you find the webs they’re usually empty.

If the spider was there, you’d see that it’s only 9-22 mm (.3 to .8 inches) long.  Males are the typical spider shape but the females have large, round, marbled abdomens ranging in color from orange to yellow with purple markings and pale spots. 

“Marbled orb weaver” describes them perfectly.  They’re also called “pumpkin spiders” for obvious reasons.

Marbled orb weaver (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve rarely seen the marbled female and here’s why:  After she spins her web she attaches a signal thread to the center and retreats to a hiding place where she holds the thread while she waits. The signal lets her know when something hits the web and out she comes.

Where does the spider hide?  The Capital Naturalist tells us in this video.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals. video by the Capital Naturalist)

Pale Beauty

Pale beauty moth touching my toe in Schenley Park, 29 Aug 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

My toe isn’t beautiful but the moth is.  His name is Pale Beauty (Campaea perlata).

When I tried to take his picture in Schenley Park on August 29, the moth landed on my sandal and touched my toe with his foot. Since butterflies and moths taste with their feet he (or she) must have been tasting my toe.  Oh!

Pale beauty moths are generalists whose larvae feed on a wide variety of trees including ash, (black)cherry, maple, beech and oak.

Schenley Park is full of these trees.  Pale beauty is right at home.

The Better To See You With

Closeup of cicada eyes (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Did you know that cicadas have five eyes?

Dana Nesiti captured a super-closeup of this cicada and described where its eyes are.

The three orange eyes in the center of the forehead are simple (like ours) with only one lens. The big eyes on each side of the head are compound with multiple lenses.

Why do cicadas have all this equipment? 

“The better to see you with, my dear.”

p.s. What species of cicada is this?  I don’t know but it’s probably one of western Pennsylvania’s common annual cicadas. Here’s a list of four common ones with links to the sounds they make:  What’s That Sound? Cicadas

(photo by Dana Nesiti posted on his Facebook page)

Webs In The Trees

Fall webworms (photo by Ronald F. Billings, Texas A&M Forest Service , Bugwood.org)

Have you seen big webs in the trees lately?  If you haven’t, you will soon.

These are the communal homes of fall webworm caterpillars, the larvae of the fall webworm moth (Hyphantria cunea).

Each colony hatched from an inconspicuous egg mass, then the caterpillars built a web to protect themselves from predators. As they grow they expand their web.

Because this is the end of the growing season, the webs usually don’t hurt the trees. Meanwhile the caterpillars are tasty treats for migrating songbirds.

See the handsome adult moth and learn more about the caterpillars in this 2011 article: Coming Soon To A Tree Near You

(photo by Ronald F. Billings, Texas A&M Forest Service , Bugwood.org)

Tagging Monarchs

Male (left) and female monarch butterflies (photo by Kate St. John)

27 August 2018

Two years ago I saw very few monarch butterflies in the southwestern Pennsylvania. Last year I saw more. This year has been spectacular!

Marcy Cunkelman, of Indiana County, PA, has been raising monarch butterflies indoors for at least a decade.  On August 19, she showed us how she collects monarch eggs in her garden, raises the caterpillars, and releases the butterflies.

To prepare for the event she kept one or two days’ worth of newly emerged butterflies in this enclosure. In such a short time she had two dozen monarchs ready to go — the most I’ve ever seen at once!  (Half are out of view, hanging from the ceiling of the enclosure.)

Monarch butterflies waiting for release at Marcy Cunkelman’s, 19 Aug 2018 (*)

Before releasing the butterflies Marcy showed us the difference between males and females (at top). Males have a black dot on each hindwing. Females do not.

Monarchs migrate to Mexico for the winter so a butterfly from Marcy’s garden may show up anywhere on a 2,400 mile route.  To find out where her monarchs go Marcy applies monarchwatch.org tags, similar to bird bands, to her butterflies before she releases them.  Monarch Watch lets her know where her butterflies are found.

Since she didn’t want to run out of tags, Marcy tagged just four of the two dozen butterflies. Two are shown below.

Two monarch butterflies with tags

Each of us released a butterfly but that still left a dozen waiting to go, so Marcy collected the rest in her hands and …

A dozen monarchs waiting to go

… released them all at once.  Fly away!  (My camera captured the last one leaving at top right.)

Fly away! One is still in the photo (top right)

If you find a tagged monarch, contact monarchwatch.org to find out where it came from.  Over the years, some of Marcy’s butterflies have been found at the wintering grounds in Michoacán, Mexico.

Learn more from Marcy about raising monarch butterflies in this 2009 video: Monarchs With Marcy Cunkelman, August 2009

(photos by Kate St. John)

Oak Apple Gall

Oak apple gall, August 2018, Pittsburgh, PA (photo by Dianne Machesney)

I’ve never sliced open an oak apple gall but the North Park walkers did while Dianne Machesney took photographs.

Inside the oak apple gall, August 2018 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

It was red and juicy inside.  Hmmm!

We don’t know which bug made this gall and the bug died in the slicing so …

Can any of you identify this gall and the insect that made it? It was found in North Park, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania in mid August.

(photos by Dianne Machesney)

Hickory Horned Devil

Hickory horned devil’s “face” (photo by Kate St. John)

This scary looking caterpillar is actually harmless — unless you’re a hickory leaf.  What a face! What horns! Such an enormous size!

Hickory horned devil, held by Marcy Cunkelman (photo by Kate St. John)

Last weekend Marcy Cunkelman showed us this fifth and final instar of the hickory horned devil.

In his earlier instars he was smaller and brown and hid in the trees while feasting on hickory, white walnut, sweetgum, persimmon and sumac leaves.

In this last phase he started off green and ate voraciously.  Now he’s almost ready to pupate so he’s turning turquoise and will stop eating.  Then he’ll expel his gut(!), walk down the host plant, burrow 5-6 inches into the soil, and form a chrysalis.

He’ll emerge next June as a regal (or royal walnut) moth (Citheronia regalis), the largest moth, by mass, in the U.S.

Seven years ago Marcy documented the transformation of a similar hickory horned devil.  On Throw Back Thursday, watch a slideshow of the ‘devil’ turning into a moth in this vintage article:  Metamorphosis

(photos by Kate St. John)

Look For This Bug!

Adult spotted lanternfly (photo by Lawrence Barringer, PA Dept of Agriculture, Bugwood.org)

Watch out! This alien insect is poised to take over Pennsylvania but we stand a chance if we find and report it early.  Here’s what to do.

The spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is an invasive planthopper native to China and Vietnam whose favorite food is Ailanthus, the Tree-of-HeavenAilanthus is a noxious weed in Pennsylvania. This bug is even worse.

Spotted lanternflies would be OK if they only ate Ailanthus, but they don’t. Their sharp mouth parts pierce the stems and suck the sap of grapevines, hops, apple trees, peaches and hardwoods including oaks and cherries. The bugs then excrete a sticky “honeydew” that coats everything below their infestation.

First discovered in North America in Berks County, PA in August 2014, the spotted lanternfly has now spread to 13 counties in southeastern PA, three in New Jersey, and one in Virginia.  Quarantine and eradication programs are underway in many of these locations. 

From July through November look for inch-long spotted adults, shown above and below.

Adult spotted lanternflies (photo by Emelie Swackhamer, Penn State University, Bugwood.org)

The adults are boring when perched but flash red when they open their wings.

Spotted lanternfly (photo by Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture via Bugwood.org)

In spring and early summer you’ll see more nymphs than adults. The younger ones are black with white spots. The oldest — the last instar — is red with white spots. The group below was photographed in Berks County last month. 

Young spotted lanternflies in Berks County, PA in late July 2018 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In autumn the females lay egg masses on trees trunks, rocks and outdoor structures then cover the eggs with a mudlike substance.  The photos below show egg masses at various sites.

  • A few egg masses on a tree (PA Dept of Agriculture, Bugwood.org)

In the slideshow did you notice the nymph on the car tire?  These bugs lay eggs on the undersides of cars so we spread them unwittingly on long distance trips!  They probably got to Winchester, Virginia via Interstate 81.  Check your car before you come home from southeastern PA.

Look for this bug.  If you find it, report it online here or call 1-888-4BAD-FLY (1-888-422-3359)

Don’t let spotted lanternflies get out of hand like they did in Berks County. Eeeww!

Lawrence Barringer, PA Dept of Agriculture, Bugwood.org

For more information see:

(photos from Bugwood.org and Wikimedia Commons. Click on the captions to see the originals)


Butterflies Pose For Me

  • Butterflies near water at Dravo Cemetery, Yough River Trail, 5 Aug 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

I usually have a hard time photographing butterflies with my point-and-shoot camera. However some of them posed for me this month.

Can you tell me their names?

UPDATE:  Thank you, Bob Machesney, for identifying them!  I’ve updated the captions.

(photos by Kate St. John)