Look What I Found! Exotic insects in the Houston area

I know I tend to “toot the horns” of the exotic insects that we have here at the Cockrell Butterfly Center. They really are incredible and most people, including myself (for now at least),would not get the chance to see these animals without traveling to their individual countries of origin. I must say, though, that Texas, and especially Houston, has some pretty cool bugs! I’m always amazed to see what kinds will pop up. We often get phone calls from people who have found interesting bugs around their homes. Most of the time I suggest leaving them be. I definitely believe that animals are happier in their natural habitats and I hate to keep something in captivity just for the heck of it. Sometimes, however, someone will find something that is useful for display purposes or just too dang cool to pass up!

This happened to us twice last week! First, a gentleman brought a Giant Sonoran Centipede (AKA Giant Redheaded) that he found at Canyon Lake. I love Canyon Lake! My family had a house out there when I was a child and I have many fond memories. None of them include finding anything like this!!

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Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1

 This guy was a little camera shy, but all you’re missing is a very menacing red-orange head! These centipedes are very common in West Texas and the Southwestern United States; occasionally, they are found in the hill country and sometimes even close to Houston.  I think it’s very important to teach people the difference between centipedes and millipedes and what better example is there? Centipedes can be dangerous – especially this one. They are predators capable of injecting venom with their fangs. Most centipedes are harmless to people, but because of its size and potent venom, this one can do some damage. They are not particularly aggressive, just don’t try to handle them, ouch!

Later in the week, two men called and tried to describe what they had found on their front porch. Several things went through my mind, but as usual, I had to see it to get a positive identification. What they brought me was something I’d never seen before here in Texas.  I had, however, seen something similar in Arizona, so I had a pretty good idea of what it was.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1

 Meet the Hardwood Stump Borer. At first glance, most people mistake it for a cockroach. It is similar in size, shape, and color, but this is a type of longhorn beetle. The eggs are laid in hardwoods such as oak and sycamore. The larvae develop inside the wood, eating and growing for about 3 to 4 years. The pinchers are not just for show and can deliver a painful bite! My co-worker saw one of these at her daughter’s swim meet recently as well, so you may get lucky and see one yourself!

If you ever see a mysterious, incredible, beautiful, or odd bug that you’ve never seen before, please give us a ring or shoot us an e-mail. Even we are sometimes amazed at what kinds of bugs can be found in our own backyards. Until next time, happy bug watching!

100 Years – 100 Objects: Giant Longhorn Beetle

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 - meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This description is from Nancy, the museum’s director of the Cockrell Butterfly Center and curator of entomology. She’s chosen a selection of objects that represent the rarest and most interesting insects in the Museum’s collections, that we’ll be sharing here – and on hmns.org – throughout the year.

The name says it all:  the Titans were a race of giants in Greek mythology, while giganteus is Latin for giant.  This monster from the rainforests of the Amazon basin in South America is the largest beetle in the world, at least in terms of overall size (the African Goliath beetle, a scarab, is heavier).  The giant longhorn is a member of the Cerambycidae or long-horned beetle family, which includes over 20,000 species worldwide.  The family’s common name describes the very long antennae characteristic of most cerambycids – in some species over twice as long as the body.  Male cerambycids typically have longer antennae than females of the same species.  Shown here are a male (wings spread, longer antennae relative to body size) and female (larger, with somewhat shorter antennae). 

Learn more about beetles and their relatives in a visit to the Brown Hall of Entomology, a part of the Cockrell Butterfly Center – a living, walk-through rainforest at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

You can see more images of this fascinating artifact – as well as the others we’ve posted so far this year - in the photo gallery on hmns.org.