The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

Hey, Geek, what’s this? A two-bug mystery…

Every now and then I get emails or tweets from people asking me to help them identify an insect they’ve found. I love messages like this! Sometimes I recognize the critter right away, other times I have to do a little sleuthing to narrow down its identity. I don’t promise to get a species-level ID, nor do I promise to be right all the time, but I’m sure willing to give it a good shot! Feel free to submit your questions any time.

Anyways, today I got one of these emails, and it was so much fun I had to share it with you (details removed out of respect for the author’s privacy):

Can you tell me what these bugs are?  I live in Texas.  I walked out of my home this morning and saw these 2 bugs sitting side by side on my fence.

One appears to be a green moth, the other some sort of beetle or roach.  They are both about the same size, approx, 1.5 inches.

They are probably harmless, but you never know and they creep me out.



My first thought was, “How interesting to find two such apparently different insects side-by-side on a fence!” My curiosity was piqued immediately. I finally downloaded the image files, and although the photo was a bit blurry, the mystery cleared up right away:

Mystery bugs: green “moth” on the left and brown “roach” on the right. (Photo by J, cropped by me).

J had snapped a photo of an unmistakable scene – and one I’ve never observed personally: a freshly eclosed cicada (the green “moth”, left) resting next to its old nymphal skin (or “exuvia“, right). Very cool!

A closer image of the adult sealed the deal:

It must feel like a strange and very bright new world for this adult cicada which, up to now, had been living in the soil! (Photo by J, cropped by me)

Definitely a cicada. Possibly a dog-day cicada (Tibicen sp.), but it’s hard to say for sure from these photos. Also, the colour of the insect is likely to darken considerably as it sclerotizes (hardens) – the true color would make the ID a bit easier.

As soon as those brand new adult wings have hardened, the cicada will find a nice perch in a tall tree and begin singing for a mate. I haven’t yet heard the cicadas sing here in Ontario, but their high-pitched drone always signals true summer for me 🙂

5 responses to “Hey, Geek, what’s this? A two-bug mystery…

  1. Pamela Northcutt June 18, 2012 at 2:43 PM

    This post brought back childhood memories! We lived in Arizona for a time when I was a kid, and we had these cicadas in the summer. I spent many happy hours picking the “exuvia” off of the citrus trees around our home. They were lined up in a long row nose to tail in my windowsill, like a long line of circus elephants. They shared space with my rock collection, broken/empty bird’s egg shells, nest parts, etc.

    The collecting of specimens continues, and now I get to be a 44 year old biology student – although my true love lies in botany. Endless learning opportunities make biology a very exciting pursuit. So many species, so little time. Thanks for sharing your special niche, and your enthusiasm for nature.

    • TGIQ June 18, 2012 at 3:48 PM

      Pamela, I collect exuviae whenever I can find them too! Sadly, it’s not very often, but they also get placed alongside my assortment of rocks, feathers, shells etc. – great minds think alike! I also completely understand your enthusiasm for biology and the endless variety of life there is to explore – it’s certainly one of the things that drew me out of my cubicle and back to school 2 years ago! Keep exploring and delighting 🙂

  2. Pat Porter June 18, 2012 at 11:14 PM

    Crystal, this is kind of funny to me. I just inherited the job of identifying all the insects submitted via e-mail to the entomology program at Texas Extension. And here you are way up in Canada identifying things for my people in the Lone Star State. Good for you! Thank you! We have about 550 e-mail ID requests each year. How much would it cost me to get you to do all of them for me? If you took the gig then the IDs would be done faster and more accurately and my clients would be much more satisfied. I like this!

    Nice job on the ID, and keep those gorgeous photos coming.

    Pat Porter

    • TGIQ June 19, 2012 at 6:17 AM

      OMG I would LOVE that job!!! How much? Jeez, Pat, I’m a poor student so I’d probably do it for peanuts. Let’s make a deal 😛 Hey, since I have your ear, what do you think about the possibility that this is Okanagana viridis?

      • Pat Porter June 19, 2012 at 6:45 AM

        It could be viridis, but I’m not sure. The fence board is probably 6 inches wide (oops, 15.2 cm), so that makes the body on the large size. I usually just get the level of identification down to what the requester needs for either a control decision or for satisfaction. I wish I had time to get everything down to species but the reality is that, with all of the other things I have to do, the IDs become just getting things to the taxonomically necessary level. Yes, it is rather frustrating to not have time to get the species level. The other thing that limits the ID is when the photo is blurry or the subject does not fill the frame and the coloration is not sufficiently unique. The current Texas insect internet identifier is retiring in a few weeks and is uploading some 1,500 submissions to a private gallery in my smugmug account. When it is done I will tell you how to access the gallery and you can see the kind of things we get as submissions. We are trying to label the species in the file names so that future identifiers will have an easier job. I’m going to keep you in mind for excellent Insect ID For Hire services : )

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