Attention: Butterfly Enthusiasts!

Have you ever wondered to yourself, “when is the best time to visit the Cockrell Butterfly Center?”  or “when can I come and enjoy exhibit without being surrounded by school children?” Well, this is it folks, right now – the best time ever to come and enjoy the exhibit halls of HMNS in relative calm and quiet.

September is a very slow month for us here. Children have just returned to school, field trips have not started and most everyone is too busy to even think about a trip to the museum. I would guess that most museums in the district go through this in the fall as well. It gives us some much needed time to slow down and work on things that we’re not able to get to during the busy spring and summer. I really enjoy the quiet and we can literally hear crickets chirping in the Cockrell Butterfly Center!

Butterfly - London Butterfly House, London, England - Sunday September 9th 2007
Creative Commons License photo credit: law_keven
The Indian Leafwing

What does this mean? This is a perfect time for a nice, relaxing visit, especially to the Butterfly Center. We still have plenty of sunny warm days where you can see a thousand butterflies flying around. If you are a photographer that is discouraged by the crowds, this is a great time to come and get some nice pictures. If you are a mother or father that stays home with small children, what a wonderful time for you. The noise and chaos of large school groups can be very intimidating to small children, especially if they have never been here before. I can’t stress enough what a great time this is to visit, so if you’re working, take a day off and take advantage of the amazing places that make up Houston’s famous Museum district!

Right now, we have some absolutely amazing butterflies flying and  awesome insects in our Entomology Hall. If you are wild about blue morphos (who isn’t?), you’ll love these! The Indian Leafwing (Kallima paralekta) is a rare treat for us from Southeast Asia! Their camouflage is incredible. They look exactly like a leaf while at rest, but when they open their wings, they display brilliant blue and orange. They are one of my very favorites!

Another one we’ve been getting lately is the one-spotted prepona (Archaeprepona demophon). This butterfly, from Central and South America, is often mistaken for a blue morpho, but upon closer inspection, you can see that it’s quite different!

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Archaeprepona demophon
Glasswing Butterfly
Creative Commons License photo credit: wwarby
Clear Wing Butterfly

If you have very, very good eyes, you may be able to spot our tiny Greta oto, also known as the clear wing, or glass wing. They are so small, but very beautiful and elegant! They also come from Central and South America and despite their size, have a big personality! As caterpillars, they feed on poisonous plants. They retain these toxins into adulthood, making them distasteful to predators. The males exhibit a type of behavior known as lekking. This is a mating behavior where males gather on a daily basis, in the same area, and assume the same position within a circular arena. Here, they put on mating displays, dances, and even engage in fighting, depending on the animal. Females come to the lek to be fertilized.

You will not find these butterflies on our identification chart. We don’t get them often, so hopefully you will make the trip to see them! As always, we have some spectacular insects on display as well, including exotic and native beetles, katydids, walking sticks, spiders, scorpions, and creepy roaches! Well, not creepy to me.

I hope you will take advantage of this quiet time of the year. Come and bask in the peace and serenity of an almost empty butterfly center and hopefully have one of your favorite visits here at HMNS! Happy bug watching!

Southern Arizona: A Bug Geek’s Paradise!

tarantula
 Creative Commons License photo credit: Lary Reeves
Tarantula

Last week, I attended what is probably the best conference ever!! Well, that is if you are interested in wildlife, especially invertebrates.  The Invertebrates in Education and Conservation conference is a small gathering of people who are involved in invertebrates in some way. Most of the attendees are employed by insect zoos and butterfly houses all over the country, some are teachers, some are doctors, and some, like all of us, just plain love bugs!

The conference is held in a small town called Rio Rico which is located about an hour south of Tucson and right above the Mexican border. Located right smack dab in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, this quaint little town is perfect for spotting some spectacular wildlife; some of which can only be found in that particular habitat. The insects and arachnids are amazing, but there are also plenty of desert-dwelling mammals, reptiles, and birds to make anyone’s day!

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 Creative Commons License photo credit: Lary Reeves
Arizona Mountains

The conference is full of activities: workshops, field trips, paper presentations, and lets not forget the social aspect! Bug people really know how to party! But seriously, there is so much invaluable information that I get from talking to the other conference participants. I can always learn ways to improve every aspect of our facility and that’s why this conference is so important.

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 Creative Commons License photo credit: Lary Reeves
Chrysina beetle

I was able to go on a few collecting trips as well as purchase some critters that I was not able to catch myself. I came back with some great new bugs that you will soon be able to see on display! 

I caught some gorgeous beetles including cactus longhorn beetles (Moneilema gigas), fig beetles (Cotinis mutabilis), and jewel scarabs (Chrysina sp.).  Cactus longhorn beetles are robust black beetles with very long antennae, which are characteristic of longhorn beetles. They can be found during the cooler hours of the day feeding on Cholla. This is a cactus with extremely tough sharp spines, so collecting these beetles can be a bit of a challenge. They are harmless, but somewhat resemble another black beetle called a darkling beetle. These beetles secrete a foul-smelling liquid to deter predators, so resembling them along with hiding in the sharp spines of the cholla helps to keep the longhorn beetles safe.

Fig beetles are also known as Green June Beetles and can be found here in Texas. They are, however, very abundant and easy to catch in the desert. They are active during the day and fly around, buzzing very loudly, from plant to plant. Very often, people think that a bumble bee or something similar is headed for them until the beetle lands, showing off its beautiful emerald green coloration. They love to eat over-ripe, soft fruits such as figs and peaches, hence the name!

Chrysina, or Jewel beetles are a magnificent find. There are 3 species common to the area: gloriosa, lecontei, and beyeri. They are all beautiful, but a little harder to find then the fig beetles because they are active at night.

cholla
 Creative Commons License photo credit: Lary Reeves
Cholla Plant

I was also on the look out for katydids of course (my favorite!)  I brought back 1 very small nymph which I will not be able to identify until it matures. I’m very anxious to see what species it is! I was also able to get some various desert katydids, all belonging to the sub-family tettigoniinae. This sub-family is comprised of predaceous katydids. Some are active predators that will hunt and kill their prey and some are scavengers, feeding on eggs and freshly dead invertebrates. They all require plant material in their diets as well.  Out of the 6 I brought back, 2 are male sooty-winged katydids (Capnobotes fuliginosus), 2 I have not been able to identify, and 2 are a pair of Haldeman’s shieldback katydids (Pediodects haldemani). I am especially excited about these two because I actually have a male and female that I would love to breed.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1
Haldeman’s Shieldback

As you can see, this species has kind of a diabolical look to it, and since predatory katydids are known to inflict a painful bite when handled, I will be careful with this one!

It was not all fun and games for me. I went there to present a paper. I actually presented on our blog! I love to talk and write about bugs to anyone who will listen or read and it has been well received!

So, hopefully you bug geeks out there will continue to read and put Southern Arizona on your list of places to visit, you won’t regret it! If you get there, be sure to visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and the Sonoran Arthropod Studies Institute (SASI). They are the ones who organize and host this wonderful gathering and they rely on our support. Well, until next time, happy bug watching!

100 Years – 100 Objects: Giant Long-legged Katydid

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 at 100.hmns.org- throughout the year.

Katydids are related to crickets and grasshoppers, but unlike these relatives, katydids’ wings are folded tent-like over their back.  The extremely long antennae are very sensitive to touch.  Katydids are among the most camouflaged of all insects; their wings look almost exactly like leaves, sometimes bearing spots or even holes.  Most katydids are green, but in the tropics some occur in shades of brown or gray, or even yellow and pink! 

blog-115This species, Macrolyristes corporalis, one of our insect zoo inhabitants but native to the rainforests of Malaysia, is the largest katydid in the world.  The leaf-like wings are at first entire, but as the katydid ages the back edge becomes discolored and eroded, looking like an old or damaged leaf rather than a young fresh one.  Despite its long legs, this species cannot jump well, and it rarely flies.  It is also one of the very loudest insects.  Katydids rub their wings together to “sing” – when this one sings, it sounds like a major machinery malfunction!  Notice the “ears” just below the “knees” on the front pair of legs.                                             

Female katydids have a long sword-like ovipositor (egg-laying organ).  This species inserts its long, narrow eggs (each over ½ inch long) into rotten wood.  We are now rearing our second set of babies! 

Learn more about katydids and their relatives in a visit to the new 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 100 Objects section at 100.hmns.org

Katydid…She Did!

Since writing my blog “Katydid…Did She?” I have been overwhelmed by the amount of feedback I’ve gotten. Apparently, katydids are a very popular insect and I have heard stories and answered questions from readers as far away as Bangladesh and London.  I am so happy to share my love of insects with people around the world! Katydids have given mothers a way to bond with their children, been a companion for people seeking  an easy pet to care for, and inspired curiosity and wonder in so many.

Green Katydid
Creative Commons License photo credit: Gerald Yuvallos

One great story came to me from a gentleman named James from London.  He had acquired a male and female pair of katydids from an entomology show. After having them for several months, the male passed away. The female seemed, he said, to be very sad. She was making an awful lot of noise and quickly laid several eggs, then died shortly after, dragging her weakened body to lay next to her mate. It seemed romantic that she had died of a broken heart.

I gave him some suggestions on how to properly care for his new eggs.  A short 5 weeks later, the first little hatchlings started to emerge. I was so happy to hear this news!  He sent me a few photos of his new babies for identification and they were adorable. I was surprised to find out that they were a species from Florida, Stilpnochlora couloniana. A beautiful and large species native to our own country! This is just one of so many great stories that readers have shared with me.

So to all of my readers out there that are crazy about katydids, I have wonderful news! The inspiration for my very first post about katydids, giant Malaysian Katydid ( Macrolyristes corporalis)  eggs, have finally hatched! This was a newer batch that was laid in mid- November. For months I have been doting over them and hoping that they would hatch. On Thursday, March 5, I found my first brand new little nymph. I was absolutely overjoyed! I now have 11 nymphs with 20 more eggs to go.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1
one of my babies!

These tiny little katydids have to shed their skin 6 times and in about 6 months they will have grown into the largest and loudest species of katydid. Right now they are very goofy looking. A tiny little body with extremely long skinny legs and antennae that are several times the length of their bodies. Once they reach adulthood, they will be put on display for visitors to see and travel to schools all around Houston to amaze children and teach them the wonders of the amazing world of insects! I would like to thank all of the readers who sent in their comments and stories and would love to hear more! If you have  anything to say at all about katydids or insects in general, feel free to leave a comment, they are always appreciated! To all of you insect enthusiasts out there, happy bug watching!

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Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1
One of our majestic Giants