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Darwin and Parisitic Wasps

Posted by David Moskowitz on August 25, 2010 at 12:28 PM Comments comments (1140)

Two days ago I stumbled on this hornworm caterpillar that has been parisitized by a wasp. The little white things on its back are the pupal cocoons of the wasp. Essentially, a parisitic wasp found this caterpillar, jammed its ovipositor into it, laid eggs, the larva hatched and began eating the caterpillar from the inside out before pupating. Those white cocoons will hatch into more parisitic wasps. While these wasps are incredibly beneficial and without them we'd simply be overrun with insect pests, the lifecycle is a bit awful. Charles Darwin thought so too and is quoted as "I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars." 

Science Fiction or an Insect? A Wasp Mantisfly!

Posted by David Moskowitz on July 30, 2010 at 1:44 PM Comments comments (278)

A few weeks ago I was extremely lucky to find this wasp mantisfly at my mercury vapor light at about 3 AM. Although you cant tell from the photos, it is only about 3\4" long. This was the first time I had seen one. While it looks like a small preying mantid, it is actually closely related to the lacewings. This particular species is probably Dicromantispa sayi. The common name is really interesting, combining a wasp (which it is apparently a mimic of, a mantid and a fly). I would not want to be a smaller insect when this thing came trekking around. It reminds me of an insect from those old Japanese Saturday afternoon science fiction flicks or the thing at the end of Men in Black that scales up the tower in New York. In any case, what an incredibly cool insect...enjoy.

Awesome Caterpillar

Posted by David Moskowitz on July 28, 2010 at 1:17 PM Comments comments (718)

My son Sam found this awesome spicebush butterfly caterpillar at camp in the Pocono's the other day. It demonstrates how awesome evolution really is. Take a look at the false eye spots on the top of the body and how closely they mimic an animal eye. (the head is actually at the very tip of he caterpillar). I've read that the spicebush caterpillar is one of the best snake mimics in the eastern United States and from the look of it, evolution did a pretty damn good job. When the caterpillar is disturbed, they often raise the body up so the eye spots are as prominent as possible hopefully startling and fooling a predator to think twice about eating it. Mimicing a snake seems like a pretty good defensive plan for a basically helpless and tasty soft bodied caterpillar...


Beaver Beetles

Posted by David Moskowitz on July 27, 2010 at 8:52 AM Comments comments (423)

At long last after about a three year hunt I was able to secure some beaver beetles! I had put a call out to the beaver trapping community and finally this January I received a call that one of the trappers had obtained 9 beetles from an adult beaver trapped in a lake near Hyper Humus (Newton) in Sussex County, New Jersey. This is the first record of the ectoparasitic beaver beetle from New Jersey. These small wingless and eyeless beetles live on beaver and feed on the beaver's dead skin. They are flattened and at first glance look an awful lot like a flea. The scientific name is Platypsyllus castoris. They have previously been recorded from neighboring states but not New Jersey. An excellent reference on their ecology and distribution is at:

Here are a few photos of these amazing beetles I took through a microscope (they are only about 2-3mm in size):

Moth Flies or Who is that Creepy Guy in the Men's Room?

Posted by David Moskowitz on October 16, 2009 at 7:32 PM Comments comments (368)

The other title of this post is "Oh Shit, It's somewhere in my house and I'm damn glad my wife wasn't home when it got loose and flew away!"

I've been trying to find a moth fly for a few weeks now. They are really small, really cool fuzzy looking flies (Psychodidae) that have broad rounded wings and resemble moths. Since the first time I saw one, I've found them to be really interesting despite a rather disgusting ecology. The best way to find them is to look in warm places where there are drains. The larva feed in the gunk that clogs up drains, hence their other common name: drain flies (or sewage gnats).  One of the most reliable places are public restrooms that have floor drains. For example, I've seen them a number of times at Bally's Fitness in the men's locker room where there are quite a few perpetually wet floor drains and in various public restrooms at highway rest stops. I've even been lucky enough to have them in my bathroom at home from time to time, but not recently since we Draino'ed the sink... I guess that has got to stop. I mean which would you rather have, the inconvienence of a clogged sink or drain flies? Seems like a no-brainer too me.

Here is some info on their life history from Cornell: The drain flies may go through the life cycle in 1 to 3 weeks, and the adults can live for about 2 weeks after emerging.  Eggs are laid in irregular masses in such places as water traps in plumbing fixtures, around built in sinks, garbage disposals, or anywhere moist decaying organic matter occurs.  The larvae and pupae are aquatic or semi-aquatic, living in the decomposing film of organic matter. The larvae live in moist organic matter and feed principally on algae.  The muck of gelatinous material that accumulates on the sides of drains and overflow pipes in houses may provide suitable breeding sites.  Some species are able to survive hot water and soap.

So the other day, I was lucky enough to find one on the wall in a bathroom at Panera Bread. Fortunately, I had my reuseable coffee cup with me and after spilling out the coffee, I was easily able to corral it into the cup. And, even more luckily, I wasn't seen by anyone, because even I know that trying to explain that "I was just catching a drain fly"  in the men's room probably wouldn't go over too well in today's politically correct world...take a look at this fly, it's REALLY cool. Unfortunately, I only have this one photo because just after I snapped this picture it flew away to somewhere in the house and despite a rather intense search I couldn't find it. But, I can only hope it wasa fertilized female and in a short period of time, the Moskowitz household will be blessed by a few more to photograph!!!!!    



Posted by David Moskowitz on October 6, 2009 at 12:40 PM Comments comments (302)

I was toying with something like Hear No Weevil, but it was just too damn corny! However, this weevil is so cool...I know they are the bane of farmers and foresters, but in the fall we regularly get these acorn weevils around our house and I really enjoy finding them. We have lots of large oaks (red, white and chestnut) around the house, but I'm not sure if this weevil is host specific on any of them, or is simply happy with all of them. The mouth is on the end of the long snout and is used in a drill like way to bore through the acorn shell and get at the meat inside. I'm going to put one under a scope and see what the mouth looks like, I'm betting it is going to be really cool! They also have the antennas on the snout and you can see them in the photo. This weevil is only about 1\4 inch long. Enjoy!

Insect News

Posted by David Moskowitz on October 4, 2009 at 8:38 AM Comments comments (130)

Science Daily is a great source for insect related news and other current science stories. They also have an archived story search going back 10 years.  You can go to the website by clicking here:

You should also visit the Entomological Society of America website for some really cool videos on insects. The thumbnails of each video are at:

My Research Video

Posted by David Moskowitz on October 3, 2009 at 4:21 PM Comments comments (709)

The Entomological Society of America is holding a video competition for members and the videos are posted on Youtube

There are some really fantastic videos of amazing insects and people. I entered a 2 minute video about my research on Cordulegaster erronea and what I have been able to tease from this really interesting and enigmatic species over the past few years. It is one of the coolest dragonflies and only occurs on really beautiful, small, rocky, cold, clean, shady forested streams. Really not bad for a study area!

I've been conducting a wide variety of investigations to try and glean information about its life history including radio-tracking, larval surveying, mark-resighting and simulating mate behavior. The ecology of the Tiger spiketail and other cordulids, is generally poorly known but may offer insight into mate recognition and mating systems.

The males patrol the streams for long-periods of time searching for ovipositing females. Through my research, I have been gaining an understanding of mate recognition triggers. It is likely that the males recognize the ovipositing posture and movement of the females and that their movement pattern, color and shape are critical mechanisms for males recognizing females. I was lucky to capture two mating instances (actually pre-copulation activities) and capture them on film. The information about what happened is on the video page at

Two Awesome Insects from Panama

Posted by David Moskowitz on September 29, 2009 at 7:26 PM Comments comments (853)

I'm certain that if you don't find these two insects awesome you are:

Not a bug addict


I photographed these in Panama on Barro Colorado Island....

Lanternfly 2-27-08 Barro Colorado Island

I ALWAYS wanted to see one of these and was lucky enough to find one on BCI. I'm pretty sure it is Fulgora laternaria. It's just an awesome insect. Check out this closeup of it's head...

And if this bug isn't cool enough, here is another amazing one that was attracted to my blacklight:

Reticulated planthopper (Pterodictya reticularis) 2-25-08    

This species is apparently also a Fulgorid, like the species above. TheFulgoridae are apparently closely related to cicadas, but more primitive. The white "plumes" on this insect are a waxy secretion. I read online that the caterpilars of a few small butterflies feed on this waxy substance, though I cannot find anything but the one website to confirm it. I'd love to know if anyone has any information on this...

I've posted more photos of Panama insects in the photos category. Enjoy! 

Underwing Moths

Posted by David Moskowitz on September 26, 2009 at 7:21 AM Comments comments (240)

This underwing moth flew into our house the other night when I opened the back door! It was attracted to the back porch light and must have been sitting on the door frame. Underwings are pretty fantastic and have been a favorite of collectors and evolutionary biologists for a long time. The upper wings are shades of gray and brown and are perfect for camoflouging the moth during the day on tree bark. The underwings, where they get their common name, are typically brightly colored and are shown when the insect feels threatened. It is thought that this bright flash of color either startles the attacker, or is enough to disrupt the search image they have and allow the moth a few precious seconds to escape. They are very strong fliers and this one flew all around the house in an erratic way and then would settle down very briefly until I came within about a foot, then it would take right backoff again. I finally cornered it in a bathroom, shut the door and was able to get these photos. I'll look it up in a great book on underwings (which I think is now out of print) Legions of the NIght (buy it if you can find it!) and post which species it is. Enjoy.