Photo From You: Insect Identification

 A Mole Cricket
photo provided by Rachel Drew

Hello again, dear readers and bug lovers! I was very pleased to discover this week that we recieved a photo all the way from Virginia Beach, Virginia. This one can be a real head-scratcher for those of you who have never seen one before, which is probably most of you!

I first happened upon this insect in college while collecting insects in a huge parking lot at night. I saw some sort of large insect jumping and flying for several feet at a time. When I finally caught up to it, I was honestly taken aback by what I saw. It was a mole cricket; an insect that spends nearly its entire life underground, only coming to the surface to forage at night. So, Rachel Drew from Virginia Beach – that is what you found on your livingroom floor! Now, let me tell you a little bit about these odd – looking creatures.

Mole crickets make up the family of orthopterans (grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets) called Gryllotalpidae. These crickets are made for digging, and if you look at them closely, their head, thorax, and front legs really do make them look just like a mole! The rest of their body looks more like a normal cricket. Their front legs are equipped with little claws which help them dig and construct their tunnels. These claws are called dactyls and their number and arrangement help scientists differentiate between certain species.

Most species have well developed wings which can carry them for about 5 miles during their mating season. They are also very good swimmers. Mole crickets are omnivores, and they will will feast on worms, insect larvae, and roots underground as well as grasses at the surface. I’m not sure which species is pictured here, but more than likely the Southern mole cricket or the tawny mole cricket. It looks as if it may be immature due to the lack of well developed wings. These two species are most common in the southern part of the country. Unfortunately, they are both introduced species and can be considered pests in some areas. These little guys are harmless, however, and for those who are lucky enough to spot one, a really great photo opportunity!

Well, thank you so much for sending in the great photo Rachel, and for reading about us in Virginia! This insect will always hold a special place in my heart as one of the weirdest looking things I’ve seen! As always, Happy bug watching!

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PHOTO From You: Insect Identification

Hello again insect enthusiasts! Well, we’ve already received another photo from one of our wonderful readers! This week’s photo comes to us from Ben Bailey in College Station. This photo was taken at the Texas A&M horticultural gardens, my alma mater, and a great place observe the variety of bug life Texas has to offer!

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Venusta Orchard Spider (Leucauge venusta)
Photo provided by: Ben Bailey 

Spiders certainly are not insects, but they are arthropods, which share several characteristics with insects such as: segmented bodies, jointed appendages, and a hard exoskeleton. Spiders belong to the class Arachnida, along with scorpions, ticks, mites, and some other weird looking things! Arachnids all have 8 legs, 2 main body segments, and a pair of jaw-like, fang-bearing appendages. All arachnids are predators which feed on a wide variety of small prey including insects and most are harmless to humans. This means that they can actually be helpful in your home or garden!

This striking photograph is of one of my favorite spiders, the Venusta Orchard Spider (Leucauge venusta). In Latin, venusta means beautiful, and as you can see, this is a gorgeous spider. The Venusta Orchard Spider is a small orb weaver that likes to hang out in light, open areas near shrubs and trees. They construct a horizontal web about 1 foot wide. They cling below the web, or a nearby twig and wait for an unsuspecting insect to become entangled. These spiders, like most, are very shy and harmless to humans! Consider it a beautiful, natural little ornament for your garden.

Thank you so much Ben, for sending in the great picture, and reading our blog! Keep ‘em coming folks!