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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News from the Butterfly Center: Vinegaroon gives birth to…grasshoppers??

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Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1 Momma
Vinegaroon with her eggs

We were delighted a couple of weeks ago to find that our new female vinegaroon had produced an egg sac which she was carrying under her abdomen. This was a first for the butterfly center as we have never successfully bred these arachnids.

I wanted to be prepared when the time came for her babies to hatch so I read up on my copy of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting Baby Vinegaroons.”

I’ve been growing very anxious waiting for something to happen, and today, I was totally taken by surprise! As I was cleaning up the insect zoo, I happened to glance over at the vinegaroon display and notice a very small, black, um, thing.

As I got closer, I realized that it was a brand new baby lubber grasshopper! How odd, I definitely was not expecting that. Having one species give birth to another is certainly an unprecedented event and I expect it will be published in some scientific journal.  

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Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1
Look how tinyand adorable!

But seriously, imagine my surprise! Unfortunately, the vinegaroon’s egg sac was not viable and therefore, she ate it early this week. Her only comment was “thank god, I was starving!”

The baby lubbers were really a pick-me-up, although they showed up in a crazy place. This seems to be a trend; a female lubber will lay eggs somewhere unbeknownst to me, and they’ll pop up somewhere really weird, usually sharing space with a carnivore.

In this case, the eggs must have been laid in the potted plant decorating the vinegaroon’s display case. Luckily, these guys are tiny and go relatively unnnoticed by the resident.  

Lubber grasshoppers are the largest Orthopterans native to the United States and can be found all over the southeastern part of the country. There are several different species; these are Eastern Lubber Grasshoppers. As adults, they display bright red and yellow coloration, warning any would-be predators that they taste really yucky!

This type of coloration is known as aposematic. The name “lubber” comes from the fact that they are totally clumsy and are really not very good at moving around quickly. It’s a good thing, becuase they’re poisonous! Still, they’re always a welcome surprise around here and they are just so so cute. Welcome to the world little grasshoppers!

As far as our poor vinegaroon, well, she may not have been meant to be a mom, but don’t fret, dear public, Laurie and I are already raising 3 babies we found in Arizona last year. Check them out:

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Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1
Awwwwwww!