Thursday, October 8, 2015

Discussion about Lazarus, my ironclad beetle

In case you've missed the discussion on Facebook via entomologist Mike Quinn's page regarding my ironclad beetle that came back to life this week, here it is (first names only): 

Mike Quinn:  Joanne, any comments given that you've reared an ironclad that lived for three yrs (!!!), if I recall...
Joanne: Well, an ironclad, for sure. In a rearing container, provide wood for shelter as well as shallow container with water. Misting is good. A couple of inches of soil from potted plants for ground. Provide lichens from oak trees, most easily provided following a good rainstorm (good luck with that!) Where was this bug collected? Oh. Blanco. Texas Hill Country. Of course. 
Alex: I had two for probably four years. This was 20+ years ago. I had them in a big aquarium in the living room with sand, a shot glass, rocks, and tree branches. I was young then.... 
Joanne: Additional: lichen from oak trees is only food documented, as well as from my observation. 
Jayden: So the ironclad beetle has the ability to change color with large amounts of moisture, turning blue black when exposed to lots of moisture. They also are also in the death feigning beetle family, making them very good at faking death. They either close their legs up or curl them up like a dead roach seen on Raid cans. Third, ironclad beetles are extremely hardy. They can be very hard to kill for an entomologist. Put into a killing jar, they can take up to two days to kill, from what I have heard. Water, I'm sure, would take just as long, if not longer. I'm not so surprised that something like this happened. I've had ironclad beetles pass out and think they were dead. Then they would revive a couple hours later. I'm sure they could also survive water for a while.
Ca: I've pulled many seemingly-dead insects from water and then seen them revive a while later. I just assume their oxygen-transfer system is different from animals so that they can go for longer without air and revive without any damage.
Lindsay: Just chiming in on the side here. Given the sad things people do to other people (and species) daily, I love that there are people who care so much about ironclad beetles!
Mathew: Many insects can survive long periods underwater. See "Differential Immersion Survival..."  and "Immersion Tolerance..." But ironclad beetle are just plain tough. I would not want to put them through what I put these insects through, but I have to wonder how much tougher they might be.
Michael I.: Actually, they are really easy to keep for long periods. I have had a couple that I tied a 6-8" thread around the groove between the pronotum and elytra, tied the other end to a tiny safety pin, and wore them as living broach on my shirt front. I put them on a cut apple or apple core each night, and they are happy. I have had Zopherus gracilus live two years this way, being worn most days during that time. People really freak out when she would walk out of my pocket.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

You're never going to believe this

Me and my ironclad beetles. If you read my blog, you know I've come across several this year. And I love them all. This morning, though, I was saddened to find one dead at the bottom of the metal bucket we keep under the a/c drip line right outside the back garage door. I mean that beetle was GONE. It was bluish in color and all curled up. "Poor thing," I said. "I'm so sorry!" I fished out the body and dropped it between the rocks and concrete patio near the bucket. I felt really bad.


Just awhile, I stepped outside and what should I see but AN IRONCLAD BEETLE! Right on the concrete! Right away, I searched and searched for the body of the dead one I'd deposited (in photo below you can see the open area between the rocks and concrete..that's where I dropped the dead beetle). But, I promise, there is no beetle carcass to be found there. I really wish I'd taken a photo of the drowned beetle. But why? At the time, I never considered the thought that I might need proof that a beetle drowned in our metal bucket.

I truly believe that the happy, healthy ironclad beetle I found is the same one I believed to be drowned and dead. Is that possible? I shall ask some experts!  Meanwhile, I transferred my beetle friend Lazarus to the fragrant mistflower just across the way in our yard. 

O Happy Day for one ironclad beetle. And me!

Pink irises
In a front bed, white irises and purple irises bloom every spring. The bulbs were planted by the previous owners of our home. I've seen pink irises around town and thought they are so pretty. So I ordered four 'Beverly Sills' bulbs from James just now planted them for me in the same front-yard bed. Oh, I'm hoping they take! Stay tuned. 

P.S. Here's a great video on how to plant these bulbs (oops, I think I need to go redo our planting job): How to Plant Iris: Step-by-Step Gardening

Texas prickly ash

Look what we identified on our property out of town! This is a Zanthoxylum hirsutum, commonly called a lot of names, including Texas Hercules' club, Texas prickly ask, prickly ash, toothache tree, tickle-tongue, and tingle-tongue. We didn't try tasting it (would have numbed our tongue; hence, the name), but we did crush and smell a leaf. Hmmmm! We agree with "Crushed leaves have an odor suggestive of orange peel."  

Monday, October 5, 2015

Purples and yellows

Lindheimer's crownbeard (Verbesina lindheimeri)
Plateau goldeneye (Viguiera dentata)
Fall aster
Gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis)
Plateau goldeneye and fall aster
Fall aster
Plateau goldeneye
Fall aster

Sawtooth sunflower (Helianthus grosseserratus)

Standing cypress final chapter

Last week, I concluded the story of our volunteer standing cypress that decided to grow between the house and patio. I pulled it out and cut it up. Then I put the top sections in a paper sack in hopes of getting seed for future standing cypress stories. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The monarch expert weighs in on tropical milkweed

Should we or should we not plant tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica)?  

Dr. Lincoln Brower, the world's foremost monarch butterfly expert, answered the question in his January 2014 essay, "On the wisdom or lack of wisdom in planting Asclepias curassavica outside of its normal range."

Asclepias curassavica is a tropical American milkweed and its natural distribution is Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean (see Woodson 1954 reference below). It is very likely that curassavica has been intimately involved with the long term evolutionary history of the monarch butterfly in the Neotropics but NOT in the temperate zone. In that sense, allowing curassavica to reproduce in North America is encouraging an exotic weed. 

I have cultivated curassavica in a greenhouse at Amherst College in Massachusetts, in a large milkweed garden at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and at my former home near Gainesville. It is an ideal food plant of the monarch butterfly and is cultivated extensively to maintain commercial and experimental monarch cultures.  However:

The first problem with planting curassavica is that monarchs are highly attracted to it, lay their eggs and usually overwhelm the plants with caterpillars.

The second problem, and a more serious one, is that when monarchs are in their non-reproductive phase (gonads repressed in the fall), they will be almost irresistibly attracted to curassavica, remain near the plant, and come into reproductive condition. When this happens, as far as we know, monarchs lose their migratory urge.......and probably, as individuals, never get it back.

Evidence of this was dramatically demonstrated in Gainesville. I had about 50 well developed potted curassavica plants that I set out in my yard and another 100 or so that we planted in a garden at the University.  Fall migrants were highly attracted to the plants, laid eggs and there were so many caterpillars that I had to cull them.  At home where I kept a closer eye on them, the migratory monarchs produced an early fall generation and their offspring then produced a second generation.  The caterpillars formed their chrysalids by the dozens under the eaves of my house. By then it was mid- to late November, and the temperature cooled down, slowing development. Then a frost occurred and 100 percent were killed in the chrysalid stage. (Gainesville generally has two or three killing frosts each year.) I had this happen over several years.

I also visited an enormous county milkweed garden near Tampa, Florida, in the fall, and the monarchs had completely stripped hundreds of the curassavica plants. Since all native Asclepias die back in Florida, what could the butterflies then do?

Another problem with establishing what becomes a continuously breeding population of monarchs is that the incidence of the protozoan parasitic disease (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha) increases with time. If the diseased individuals then somehow end up breeding with or joining the overwintering clusters of monarchs, then the incidence of the disease will very likely rise with detrimental effects on the migratory monarch populations.

Professor Sonia Altizer at the University of Georgia, who is the world expert on OE, agrees with me.

I would limit curassavica to be used in inside demonstration projects, growing the plants in an enclosed area totally inaccessible to the wild monarchs.


Altizer, S.M., Oberhauser, K.O., and Geurts, K.A. 2004. Transmission of the protozoan parasite, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, in monarch butterfly populations: implications for prevalence and population-level impacts. In: Oberhauser, K.S. and Solensky, M. (eds). The Monarch Butterfly: Biology and Conservation. Cornell University Press.

Woodson, R. E., Jr. 1954. The North American species of/ Asclepias/ L. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 41: 1-211.