Category Archives: Insects

June Beetles in July

Green June beetle feasting on an offering of cataloupe (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

14 July 2024

Yesterday in my sister’s backyard in Tidewater Virginia we watched about a hundred green beetles flying rapidly in wide circles over the grass. They moved so fast that we couldn’t see their features but we could tell they were big, 1/2 to 1 inch long. None of us had ever seen this phenomenon before.

Green June beetle in flight (image from Wikimedia Commons)

I couldn’t identify the beetles until one landed in the grass and I saw it through binoculars. I did not record this video but this is what I saw.

embedded video by Nature’s Wild Things on YouTube

An online search found an August 2023 report from WDBJ in Roanoke VA “You may be seeing more shiny, green beetles this year.” It identified them as green June beetles (Cotinis nitida). They are harmless to humans.

Green June beetles are members of the scarab beetle family, same as the dung beetles of Africa, sacred in Ancient Egypt. Though these are called “June” beetles, July and August are the adults’ most active time. Males fly around seeking females. Females fly low over the grass looking for a place to lay eggs. So that’s what we were seeing.

When the eggs hatch the larvae tunnel underground and emerge at night to travel on their backs, waving their legs in the air. This sounds like odd and hazardous behavior.

Green June beetle larva that crawls on its back(photo by Jim Baker, North Carolina State University, Bugwood.org)

North Carolina State Extension says the third instars “produce a secretion that binds soil particles together and enables them to form a protective case in which they overwinter in the soil.” The beetles pupate and emerge as adults in the summer.

Their dirt ball reminds me of the dung beetle. The photo shows one open with pupa inside.

Green June beetle pupae and egg case (photo by Jim Baker, North Carolina State University, Bugwood.org)

Though we saw a lot of bugs yesterday it may not turn into many down the road. The grubs have many predators so North Carolina State Extension’s residential recommendation is: “If there is no indication of turf damage due to tunneling by the grubs, no action is really necessary.” 

Green June beetles occur in Pittsburgh, even in Schenley Park, though not often (click here and here to see two iNaturalist entires). I have never noticed their courtship behavior in Pittsburgh.

Their occurrence map indicates that green June beetles are much more common in Virginia.

On Milkweed

Longhorn milkweed beetles mating on milkweed, Frick Park, 2 July 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

12 July 2024

Last week Charity Kheshgi and I found bugs mating on milkweed that I had never noticed before.

The red milkweed beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) is one of 14-17 species of longhorn milkweed beetles in U.S. and Canada. They are host-specific on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). The females are even eating while mating.

Though they eat the plant they don’t like getting stuck in milkweed sap so they limit their exposure to it by purposely draining the veins.

(video of a red milkweed beetle cutting milkweed vein to reduce/stop latex pressure before feeding beyond the cut, embedded from Wikimedia Commons)


Other expected milkweed insects have not made an appearance yet. I have seen neither large nor small milkweed bugs. I usually find them on milkweed pods but the plants are only in the leaf growth and flowering stage right now.

Large and small milkweed bugs (photos by Kate St. John and John English)

Meanwhile, friends who grow milkweed to attract monarch butterflies are concerned that they have not seen any monarchs yet. Was last week too early? Steve Gosser photographed this one in July 2014.

Monarch butterfly on swamp milkweed, July 2014 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Have you seen monarch butterflies this month in southwestern PA?

If so, leave a comment to let me know.

Yesterday at Duck Hollow: A Powdered Dancer

Powdered dancer damselfly, Duck Hollow, 7 July 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

8 July 2024

Eight of us gathered yesterday morning, 7 July, to look for birds at Duck Hollow. Alas, I forgot to take a group photo.

It was hot.

We stuck to the shade and saw two fly-by ospreys and a host of juvenile songbirds. We also saw a Best Insect — the powdered dancer (Argia moesta) damselfly pictured above — and a Best Mammal sighting of two juvenile muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) swimming in Nine Mile Run creek.

We learned about the immature plumage of northern rough-winged swallows (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) when several perched on a wire and one turned its back. Through binoculars you can identify immature birds by their reddish-brown wing bars. Click here to see.

Juvenile northern rough-winged swallow, Duck Hollow, 7 July 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

We also saw two juvenile northern mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) — a first for me.

Juvenile northern mockingbird, Duck Hollow, 7 July 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

In 90 minutes we tallied 23 species. It was hot and getting hotter so we went home.

Duck Hollow, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, US
Jul 7, 2024 8:30 AM – 10:00 AM
23 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) 30 — Youngsters w adults. Adults flightless.
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) 6
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) 1
Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) 15
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) 1
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) 1
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) 1
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) 1
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) 1
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) 2
Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) 1
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) 1
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) 3
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) 6
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) 14 — At least 3 immatures
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) 3
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) 4 — Two juvenile birds
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 12
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) 6
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) 3
Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius) 1
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) 5
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) 4

View this checklist online at https://ebird.org/checklist/S185899887

Thanks to Charity Kheshgi for the photos.

Seen This Week

Germander in bloom, Duck Hollow, 4 July 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

6 July 2024

Flowers, insects and birds were active this week though the end of the week was so humid that it felt like the tropics. Here’s a trail of photos from Duck Hollow, Aspinwall Riverfront Park, Schenley Park and my own neighborhood.

Don’t forget to check out the two photos at the end: A mystery match-the-leaves moth or butterfly and some amazing bird behavior.

Deptford pink, Duck Hollow, 4 July 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
Chickory in bloom, Aspinwall Riverfront Park, 2 July 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

With false sunflowers (Heliopsis helianthoides) at their peak in Schenley Park, the red aphids are out in full force.

Aphids on false sunflower, Schenley Park, 5 July 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Wineberry is already forming fruits.

Wineberry, fruit forming, Schenley Park, 5 July 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

I found a moth or butterfly that I could not identify at Duck Hollow. It was impossible to get close for a photo so this is the best I could do. Perched on Japanese knotweed. Can you tell me what it is?

What species is this insect? Duck Hollow, 4 July 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

And here’s some bird behavior I’ve never seen before: Two red-tailed hawks are perched on the hoist rope of this enormous crane on O’Hara Street near Thackeray on 29 June. This crane spends five days a week moving back and forth. I’m amazed that they decided to test it on a Saturday. Can you see them? If not, click here for a marked-up photo.

p.s. The dewpoint was 70°F yesterday. This link explains why that feels so hot.

p.p.s. See Karen’s comment below in which she identifies it as a Bad-wing moth (Dyspteris abortivaria). So my next question is, Why is it called a bad wing? –> And see J’s comment with the answer!

Last Days Before the Invasion Begins

Last instar of the spotted lanternfly, Pittsburgh 14 July 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

2 July 2024

In late June friends of mine wondered why they hadn’t seen any spotted lanternflies this year. Are the invasive bugs gone? Not at all! The nymphs are present but they can’t fly yet. Last weekend I saw the first warning that we’re in the last days — a week, maybe two — before the spotted lanternfly invasion begins. I saw a red nymph.

Spotted lanternfly red nymph, Schenley Park, 30 June 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spotted lanternflies overwinter as egg masses that began hatching in Pittsburgh this year in early June. The first nymphs appeared around 3 June but were hard to notice because they’re so tiny and dark. From first instar to winged adult takes about 6-8 weeks. (This statistic is my best guess. It’s hard to find the data online though I’m sure scientists have timed it.)

Spotted lanternfly life cycle (image from Wikimedia Commons)

The first three instars are black while the fourth and final one is red, an early warning of things to come. Here’s a red nymph morphing into a winged adult.

embedded video by @GooglaNYC on YouTube

Expect to see the first flying adult by mid-July. Let me know when you see your first one.

The invasion will ramp up slowly, explode in September, and then we’ll have to wait for winter to kill them.

p.s. It’s been 10 years since spotted lanternflies were first recorded in PA. Now the bugs are in every county in southern PA and all of the eastern border counties. Greene County, the last holdout in southwestern PA, crossed the threshold this year. Read more about their 10-year siege in this article from WESA.

Spotted lanternfly quarantine counties in Pennsylvania as of 2 July 2024 (map from PA Dept of Agriculture via Penn State Extension)

Fireflies and Cicadas

Eastern firefly glowing (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

1 July 2024

By all accounts this has been an extraordinary firefly season in Pittsburgh. Since we don’t have a backyard my husband and I went to Schenley Park last night to see them. Beautiful and peaceful.

This video by Radim Schreiber, FireflyExperience.org gives you a taste of what it’s like to watch eastern fireflies (Photinus pyralis).

embedded video by Radim Schreiber on YouTube

Firefly season will end in mid-July as scissor grinder cicadas (Neotibicen pruinosus) take over.

Scissor-grinder cicada, Schenley Park, July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Cicadas live most of their lives as nymphs in the soil under trees. When they’re ready to become adults they crawl out of the soil, climb up a tree, hang on and emerge from their exoskeletons.

embedded video by Peter Chen 2.0 on YouTube

And then, mostly at dusk, they begin to “sing” a repetitive WEEE ah, WEEE ah, WEEE ah, WEEE ah that tapers at end. Click here to hear Scissor grinder cicada at songsofinsects.com

Though I haven’t heard cicadas here yet, Mike Fialkovich says they’ve been in his Penn Hills neighborhood for more than a week.

See No Weevil?

One of many yellow poplar weevils outside my window, 19 June 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

20 June 2024

Do you have these odd looking bugs on your windows? On your porch furniture? On your car? I had not seen yellow poplar weevils (Odontopus calceatus) for several years when John English posted a photo of one on Facebook yesterday. There were none over here in Oakland and I could honestly say, “See no weevil.”

Hah! Six hours later my windows hosted 24 of them. Welcome to weevil mating season.

Yellow poplar weevils are harmless to humans. Up close — very close — they’re kind of cute.

Closeup of yellow poplar weevil on my window, 19 June 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Some people think they’re ticks. How can you be sure they aren’t? Weevils have three things that ticks don’t have: 6 legs, a long snout, and wings. Ticks can’t fly.

Yellow poplar weevil is not a tick (photo by Kate St. John)
Yellow poplar weevil is not a tick (photo and markup by Kate St. John)

Learn more in this vintage article and amaze your friends.

p.s. You might hear these called “billbugs” but yellow poplar weevils (Odontopus calceatus) are not the same as billbugs (Sphenophorus genus), though both are “snout beetles” (Curculionidae family).

Tiny Spotted Lanternflies Are Hatching

First stage nymphs of spotted lanternfly on grapevine, Pittsburgh, 29 May 2023 (photo by Christopher Bailey via Wikimedia Commons)

6 June 2024

When we think of spotted lanternflies we remember the flying adults that plague us from July through early autumn. But these annoying insects don’t start out in flying form.

In May-June their eggs hatch into tiny black nymphs, 1/4″ long, with white spots. If the nymph manages to pass through four instars it becomes a winged adult.

Black nymph spotted lanternfly at Phipps on 4 June 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

On Monday 3 June, Bob Donnan saw a couple of the black-spotted early nymphs in Washington County, PA. Oh no! They’re already here. The tiny nymphs are hatching.

Smashing them doesn’t work. As Bob remarked, “They jump fast!”

Check out last year’s article on alternatives for trapping spotted lanternflies.

If fewer nymphs make it to the next stage we’ll have fewer annoying winged adults.

Snakes and Robbers

Black rat snake crosses the path, Frick Park, 16 May 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

25 May 2024

Sometimes while birding we find species we aren’t looking for. This spring in Frick Park we’ve seen two slow moving snakes and two “robbers” mating.

The rope across the trail, above, is a black rat snake or eastern ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) who’s looking for lunch or a safe place to digest his meal.

Two weeks earlier a group of us encountered another black rat snake off trail in dappled shade. It came to a halt when 12 excited people stopped to take its picture.

Black rate snake, Frick Park, 16 May 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
Black rate snake closeup, Frick Park, 16 May 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Black rat snakes are big but not venomous and tend to be docile (from a human point of view). They kill by constriction to eat rodents, lizards and frogs and can climb trees to eat nestlings and eggs. If you find a black rat snake in your shed it’s been performing a public service by eating mice.

Robber flies, the Asilidae family, were news to me. When Charity Kheshgi and I saw these bugs mating we didn’t know what they were.

Robber flies mating, Frick Park, 16 May 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)
Robber flies mating, Frick Park, 16 May 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

They are identified as members of the robber fly family because they have bristles (called mystax) on the face, a depression between the eyes, and a stout proboscis, described below.

They are powerfully built, bristly flies with a short, stout proboscis enclosing the sharp, sucking hypopharynx. The name “robber flies” reflects their expert predatory habits; they feed mainly or exclusively on other insects and, as a rule, they wait in ambush and catch their prey in flight.

Wikipedia Asilidae

Robber flies don’t attack humans but they’ll give a painful bit if provoked.

So we didn’t provoke them.

Seen This Week

Blackpoll warbler, Presque Isle, 12 May 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

18 May 2024

Best birds this week were seen at Presque Isle State Park on Sunday 12 May while birding with Charity and Kaleem Kheshgi. At Leo’s Landing many of the birds were at eye level including this blackpoll warbler and the barn and bank swallows.

Barn and bank swallows, Presque Isle, 12 May 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

Even the treetop birds, like this yellow-throated vireo, cooperated for photographs.

Yellow-throated vireo, Presque Isle, 12 May 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

Was this redstart was looking askance at us? Or eyeing a bug?

American redstart, Presque Isle, 12 May 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

I had high hopes for the Bird Banding at Hays Woods on Wednesday 15 May but we were in for a surprise. No birds to band! Bummer. 🙁 This restart, banded earlier in the week, shows what we could have seen.

American redstart at Bird Lab banding (photo by Kate St. John)

After we left the banding station we had good looks at a scarlet tanager and found this Kentucky flat millipede (Apheloria virginiensis). It’s colored black and orange because it’s toxic.

  • It secretes cyanide compounds as a defense. Don’t touch it!
  • You might find one perched and dying on top of a twig. That’s because it can host the parasitic fungus Arthrophaga myriapodina which causes infected individuals to climb to an elevated spot before death (per Wikipedia). Eeeew.
Centipede Aphelosia virginiensis, Hays Woods, 15 May 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

This week there were flowers in the tulip trees (Liriodendron) obscured by thick leaves. This flower came into view when a squirrel bit off the twig and didn’t retrieve the branch.

Tulip tree flower and leaves, 16 May 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Instead of rain on Wednesday we had a beautiful sunrise.

Sunrise 14 May 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

To make up for no rain on Wednesday it’s pouring right now on Saturday.