The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

Tag Archives: winter

Bugs! Lots! (Fungus Gnats)

During our walk today: “Come quick!  I found bugs*!  Lots!”

Fungus Gnats - Mycetophilidae

And so she had.   A gathering of Fungus Gnats beneath the bark of a dead white pine**.   As I dashed over with my camera, they started to stir.  By the time I’d snapped a few hasty pics, most of them had scampered away or simply dropped from the bare side of the tree to the snowy ground below. 

Their legs are adorned with very long bristles as well as robust spurs.  Their heads are mostly hidden from an overhead view, thanks to their strongly humped thoraces.   They have fairly long antennae, for flies.   These critters are about the size of your average mosquito (which I mistook them for, initially).    Unlike mosquitoes, whose young develop in bodies of calm/stagnant water, the larvae of these gnats can be found in decaying vegetation and fungi. 

The markings on their wings look like jagged, jack-o’-lantern-esque frowny-faces.  Ha.  


* My wife does actually know that a “bug” means a particular type of insect, but I use “bug” so often to describe anything with six legs that she’s given up trying to correct me.

** Dead white pines are extremely dangerous, by the way.  I almost lost an eye on a snapped branch.  Ow.

Wherein I swoon over a pretty parasitoid (and my awesome wife)

I must say this: being married to a woman who will rip apart rotting logs with her bare hands in order to help you find bugs whilst on a walk in the woods….well, frankly, it rocks. 

This is what she found in one: 

An Ichneumonid wasp

 It’s a very pretty Ichneumonid wasp.  It was nestled in a small cavity near the centre of the log; perhaps it crawled up in there in the fall to overwinter.  The bright yellow bars on the long antennae are a good clue to the family, but I haven’t the foggiest what species it is.  I’ve submitted the photos to BugGuide for help with the ID.   These wasps are very cool in a Ripley-meets-drooling-aliens kind of way…they lay their eggs in the body of a host (a caterpillar or spider, say); their offspring, once hatched, eat the host from the inside out.  Gory, yes.  Also very cool. 

When my beloved asked me if I wanted to keep it to pin later, and I declined, she declared it was too nice to leave behind and that she would keep it for herself.  For her own collection.  



How did I get so lucky?


Pileated Woodpecker/Supermodel

I was rushing out the door to my car…I had to drive my mother-in-law to a doctor’s appointment.   As I fumbled in my pocket for the keys, I heard it: 


Coming from just over my left shoulder.  In my old, buggy maple tree.   I’d recognize that “thock” anywhere.  I haven’t heard it that close by for a long time. 

I dash to the door, fly up the stairs, grab my camera, zoom back down, tiptoe through the deep snow of my front lawn in my sneakers…and shoot like crazy (you can click to embiggen)… 

Pileated Woodpecker, going in for the kill

I felt like a fashion photographer working with a seasoned model…he was FABULOUS and not at all shy…WORK IT, BABY!!! 

Digging around...

Click…click…click….Oh, YEAH!!! 

A little tongue saucy!!!

Click…click…oh, you are a FIERCE woodpecker, FIERCE!  GRRR, baby, very GRRR!!!


My patience was rewarded with this MONEY SHOT (with which I am greatly pleased):

A Pileated Woodpecker’s lunch – a longhorn beetle larva

 Incredible bird AND a beetle, all in one!!! 

(Aaaaand, I’m spent!)

And then I threw my camera in the car, drove like a bat out of hell, and arrived at MIL’s with about 30 seconds to spare. 

A woodpecker’s near miss, mystery lichen (FUNGUS!) and hidden treasures

I was on a bark-peeling mission today…I found this:   

This pupa was found under bark of a dying tree.


The thin, translucent, filamentous fibres of the cocoon encircled the pupa; it was evident where they had once adhered to the tree as well.    

Closeup of cocoon fibres


A woodpecker had come very close to finding this tasty morsel hidden beneath the bark…   

The woodpecker's bore hole is on the left; the shallow, pale, oval cavity that held the pupa and cocoon is on the right


Other treasures were to be found.  Peeling back bark from another tree revealed striking green lichen fungi growing beneath; I don’t recall ever seeing these before.    

Tiny bright green lichen (fungi?) growing beneath bark


I thought initially they were tiny fungi, as they were almost exclusively single, stalked bodies, but in the few “clusters” I saw there appear to be apothecia (spore-forming reproductive bodies) typical of lichens…any experts out there that can help me with these?  Thanks Susannah!  Susannah has solved the mystery for me…these ARE, in fact, the fruiting bodies of fungi: so-called “green stain” fungi,  most likely Chlorociboria aeruginascens.  There is a second green stain fungus, C. aeruginosa, but it is less common; only microscopic examination can distinguish the two species.  The largest of the bodies was approximately 5mm in diameter.  Here is a closeup (this cluster was about 1cm total diameter):   

Closeup of bright green Chlorociboria aeruginascens


Now, I have to admit that I was so taken by these little green gems, that I managed to overlook several dozen arthropods sitting about 6 inches away.  For serious.  Here’s a closeup of a crop of a zoom of the first lichen picture, which was taken from about 3 feet away:  


Can you see them? Collembola. Grrrr.


I’m so annoyed at myself for not seeing these. (*smacks forehead loudly with palm*)  From this super-fuzzy picture and based on their size, they’re springtails (Collembola) of some kind.  Springtails overwinter as adults.  One type, the “snow flea” can be found active and on the snow during warmer winter days, absorbing heat from the sun with their dark-coloured bodies.  These don’t look like snow fleas to me…and they were not active at all, I’m sure I would have noticed had they been moving.   I will check back at that tree next time I’m on walkabout to see if I can capture some proper images.  (*again with the forehead smacking*)

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