Archive for the ‘bugs’ Category


Fungal infection causes tarantula to grow antlers


This image may look like something dreamed up for a surreal horror movie, but it’s a real horror for the tarantula in question. This unfortunate arachnid is infected with Cordyceps, a parasitic fungus that replaces its host’s tissue with its own.

Cordyceps fungi invades its hosts (mainly arthropods), and its mycelium eventually replaces the host’s tissue. Once the arthropod is dead, cylindrical or branching growths emerge from the creature’s dead body. Some species also have mind-control capabilities, convincing the host to travel to a place where the fungus will find optimal growth conditions before the host dies. If you haven’t seen it yet, this video from Planet Earth shows a Cordyceps fungus in action:


Really, when it come to being nightmarishly frightening, tarantulas have nothing on this freaky fungus.





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I have made the decision to spin off the Palin barbie portion of my blog. It will take me a few weeks at least to move my PlasticLand show to the new blog, but I will let my barbie/Palin satire fans know when and where the new blog will debut. If you are one of my bug post fans, I will be doing many more of those. This blog will concentrate on road trips, bugs, scenery, rants about people who cut down shoe trees, and all of the other eccentric odds and ends you have come to expect.  The only thing missing will be the barbie Palin dog and pony show, which needed its own venue. Stay tuned…

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Japanese Hornets

Are you in the mood to be scared?

Here is information from the worsley school site. The reference is at the bottom of the page.

The Asian, or Japanese hornet is the largest and most fearsome hornet in the world. It can be as big as 45 mm long (that’s almost 2 inches), and its stinger is over 6 mm in length (a quarter of an inch!).

The venom from this hornet contains an enzyme which will dissolve bone and tissue, and can be fatal if the person stung is small, or has an allergic reaction. More than 40 people are killed each year by stings from this hornet. Those who have been stung and lived have described its sting as excrutiatingly painful.

The Asian giant hornet can be found in Eastern Asia, including the mountains of Japan. This hornet is not only large, but looks unusual; its head is orange, and wider in proportion to its body than other hornets. Its wingspan is up to three inches, and it makes a dull low (but loud) sound when flying.

[Refresh this page to hear the sound of the Japanese hornet again]
The queen hornet lays thousands of eggs, which develop into larvae in about a week. Very soon after that, large numbers of hornets leave the nest in search of food … usually other insects. Bees, other types of hornets, and large insects such as praying mantises are all easy prey for the giant hornets, which often hunt in swarms.

Just one of these hornets can kill 40 honey bees in a minute; a few of them can slaughter 30,000 bees within an hour or two, leaving a pile of severed heads and limbs behind. When the hornets attack a bee nest, they are looking for bee larvae, which they carry away to feed to their own young.

The giant hornets feed their young by chewing their victims into a paste that they feed to their offspring.

This paste includes special amino acids; ingested by the larvae (photo at left), this mixture helps them grow into adults with plenty of stamina … Japanese hornets, when hunting, can travel 100 kilometres at speeds of up to 40 km/h.

When it stings its victim (and like all hornets, it can sting again and again; its stinger is barbless), the Japanese hornet injects a venom which contains a mixture of about eight different chemicals. These chemicals do several things; they dissolve tissue, they cause pain, and they release an odor that attracts more hornets. The large concentration of some of these chemicals in the venom makes the hornet’s sting much more painful than that from most other hornets, and the toxic lethal effects from an entire nest of these hornets is larger than most other insects.

When killing other insects, the hornet often uses its large mandibles, rather than its stinger, to crush its prey. Often it will decapitate them with a quick bite. Here is what happens to many European honey bee hives when discovered by these hornets. The first hornet to find the bee nest will leave a scent (a pheromone) to attract more hornets. Then a cloud of the giant hornets arrives, and begins killing the bees, one by one. Just a few hornets can kill all the bees in a hive within a few hours. Then the hornets enter the hive and carry off all the bee larvae, which they chew up and feed to their own larvae.

The native Japanese honey bee, unlike its European cousin, has developed an effective defense against these giant hornet invaders.

When the bees detect the pheromone left by the first hornet, they attack that hornet in a special way. They form a huge ball of bees that completely engulfs the much larger hornet. [See the photo at the left]

By vibrating their muscles, the bees raise the temperature inside this ball to close to 47°C, a temperature which the bees can survive, but the hornet can’t. The high temperature inside the bee ball kills the hornet.

While a few of the bees may be killed by the hornet during this process, most survive, ensuring that the hive will not be attacked and destroyed.

In the photos below, a Japanese hornet (left) and a hornet nest (right).

In the mountain villages of Japan, the huge hornets are part of the villagers’ diet, being eaten deep fried or as a sashimi.

The newest sports drink in Japan contains a synthetic chemical that imitates the chemicals in the giant hornet’s larval saliva; the thought is that the energy boosting capabilities it gives to the hornet might also work for humans.

We have a short video for you to watch. It contains scenes of Japanese hornets attacking a European bee hive and killing the bees. It then shows an attack on Japaneses bees where the bees swarm the hornet and kill it by heat.

The video is just over 1 MB in size, so you may have to wait a few minutes for it to download before you can watch it from the beginning. Open a video window here.



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Kingdom of the spiders

Every year, around the beginning of September, the garden spiders get really big and pretty much take over the place. I’m constantly dodging webs, trying not to put my head in one. I have a fear of spiders going down my shirt and biting me if I stick my head through the web. Lots of spiders in the house too. One summer when I lived in Oregon, I was sleeping on my back and something landed on my face, waking me up. I grabbed it and threw it as far as I could in my panic. It was a big spider. Shudder. I heard somewhere that people swallow a few spiders every year when they sleep, but I’ve never looked it up.

This morning I went out to the yard and snapped a couple of pictures of spiders. Then I went down the street to the spider that inspired this post. The other day, I was out picking blackberries when I came across a really big, scary spider. I gave him a wide berth and did not reach for the blackberries near his web. I decided I should get my camera and take pictures of him. I finally got around to it today.

I also uploaded some spider pictures I found online. The references for those are at the bottom of the post as usual. You should follow some of the links if you want to see more spiders. I was going to post a few more I found, but I’m kinda creeped out and twitchy after looking at all those spiders.


Just your basic garden spider.


Another one.


With a buddy.


Here’s the big guy guarding the blackberries.


His underside. Or maybe it is a she.


It started running up and down its web when I disturbed it.


The body is about an inch long, and the legs are longer than that.


Very pretty in a creepy spider way.


Found this on the Internet. I think it is a crab spider. We have those too.

IMG_6497Here’s a crab spider I found on my printer last year.


He’s kind of blurry.


Everybody knows what this is.


This too.


Morning dew.


This is a fishing spider. I don’t think I’ve seen one of these before.


Long jawed spider. They build their webs over streams. I see them a lot when I’m around streams.


Brown recluse spider. Never seen one and don’t want to.


Jumping spider. They are cool, if rather disconcerting.


Wolf spider with grasshopper for scale.


Camel “spider” is not really a spider, but it is in the Arachnid family.


Another picture of it.


Some kind of house spider, I think.










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I said I wasn’t going to do any more bug posts, but these nasty creatures ruined my summer one year so I thought I’d share the misery.  In 2004, I was in central Nevada, cooking for a 6-week geology field camp. On the way to camp, the group had seen a few of these “crickets” on the roads as we got into central Nevada. We heard the locals talking about them when we stopped for gas. We saw a couple of “cricket slicks” on the roads, which are where large numbers of crickets were run over, turning the road red.

There were no crickets at our camping location when we arrived. It was one of my favorite field camp locations, because it has trees and a beautiful creek. As the summer days got hotter, everybody could play in the creek and sit under the trees after a hard day of mapping. Field camp is the last geology class required of geology majors, and it can be difficult and stressful. Six weeks of camping out. Six weeks of long mapping days. Six weeks of close quarters with lots of other students. Some students sail through it and decide to be field geologists. Some students struggle through it and never want to see sagebrush again. Some don’t deal well with having to work in groups. Some don’t like camping.

I became a field camp cook a couple of years after I attended my own field camp, which happened to be at the location of the 2004 camp. I loved cooking and I loved that location. I was looking forward to a fun six weeks.

For the first two weeks, the only time we saw Mormon Crickets was when we ventured to town or out some distant roads. The locals in the surrounding towns would mention that cricket swarms had been spotted at certain locations. Elko, Nevada, was putting up chemical barriers because their fields and tourism had been mostly destroyed the previous summer by the nasty critters. They were asking people to call in if they saw crickets, and then they would bomb them with pesticides.  The farmers of Diamond Valley, near Eureka, Nevada, were worriedly watching the surrounding hills as their fields of alfalfa grew, hoping they could get through a harvest before the crickets came over the pass.

It was right at the end of the second week of field camp when the first Mormon Cricket was spotted outside the perimeter of our camp. Uh oh. A couple of days later the swarm hit. A sea of marching bugs swarmed into our camp and set up feeding operations. At first people tried stomping on them, but they were so big and crunchy that it was really horrid, and we promptly discovered that the bugs were cannibalistic and would swarm over the bodies of those that were injured or killed.

As our vehicles came and went, transporting the students to their mapping areas, more crickets were killed by the wheels, which then attracted more of them to the bodies. The crickets swarmed over tents, covered the plants around the creek, marched through my kitchen, and ate every stalk of grass, every bug. The local mice and birds gorged themselves on the crickets.

Normally, by mid-camp, some students start showing the strain of dealing with hard work and heat and camping. But this time everybody was showing the strain. People were bordering on hysteria, tempers were short, tears were shed. Everybody was on edge. One day I was putting storage containers in the big double cab truck for my trip to town for groceries. I fell backwards out of the truck, badly spraining my ankle and landing on my back in a sea of crickets. A group of students was in the work tent nearby, working on their maps during their “office day.” They heard my bloodcurdling screams and ran out, expecting to see me covered with blood or something. My screams were partly for my very painful ankle injury, but mostly because I was lying in a sea of disgusting bugs and couldn’t get up. They rescued me from the crickets and got me into a chair. A tall chair.

A friend of mine came out to visit for a few days. She left after one day because she couldn’t stand to be around the crickets. I wanted to leave too. Everybody did. Nobody could cool off in the creek because it was swarming with crickets. Dead crickets on the bottom, crickets floating downstream as they crossed over, crickets on every piece of vegetation. People couldn’t leave their tents open because the crickets would go inside. People couldn’t just sit around and enjoy the shade because crickets were swarming everywhere. When a group of students made the drive to a beautiful hot spring that we had always visited when at this camp location, they came back traumatized, in tears, telling us that the hot spring had been turned into cricket soup.

One day a student came running into camp, breathlessly telling me why we hadn’t seen any grasshoppers. She said she had watched two crickets rip a grasshopper in half. She was wild-eyed and tearful. A group of students came back from mapping one day and said they had been sitting on an outcrop that dropped off into the valley below. Suddenly a swarm of crickets marched up behind them and hopped right off the cliff like lemmings. Students spent more time in town on their days off, desperately needing a break from the bugs.

Finally the last day arrived, and camp was packed up faster than I had ever seen it. Usually the morning departure is a little slow, because everybody stayed up late the night before at the final party. But that morning people were moving fast. My husband, who was the camp manager, was yelling at people to get in their vehicles NOW (he is not the yelling type but he really hates bugs). As we were driving away (fast), a cricket jumped up from the floor of the truck we were in and landed on my husband’s arm. He screamed and flailed his arm arm around, hitting it hard against the door, badly bruising it. He opened the door and threw the cricket out, then stomped on the gas.

Here is some information about these horrible creatures, and about the big infestation in Nevada (also Idaho, Utah, and California), starting in 2003 and continuing for several summers. Warm winters and drought conditions help start the infestations because the bugs have a longer breeding season, and fewer eggs are destroyed by cold weather.

From Wikipedia:

The so-called Mormon cricket (Anabrus simplex) is actually a shieldbacked katydid, and not a cricket at all. Mormon crickets are large insects that can grow to almost three inches in length. They live throughout western North America in rangelands dominated by sagebrush and forbs. The Mormon cricket is flightless, but capable of traveling up to two kilometers a day in its swarming phase, during which it is a serious agricultural pest and traffic hazard.


Mormon crickets have variable coloration. The overall color may be black, brown, red, purple or green. The “shield” (actually vestigial wings) behind the head may have colored markings. The abdomen may appear to be striped. Females have a long ovipositor, which may be mistaken for a stinger. Both sexes have long antennae.

Mormon crickets may undergo morphological changes triggered by high population densities, similar to those seen in locusts. The best-attested change is coloration: solitary individuals typically have drab coloration while swarming individuals are often brightly colored.

Life cycle

Mormon cricket eggs mostly hatch the spring after they are laid, although in some high-elevation areas eggs may take two years to hatch. Hatching begins when soil temperatures reach 40 °F (4 °C). The nymphs pass through seven instars before reaching the adult stage, typically taking 60 to 90 days.

Breeding begins within 10 to 14 days of reaching the adult stage. The male passes a large spermatophore to the female, which can be up to 27% of his body weight. The spermatophore is mostly food for the female to consume but also contains sperm to fertilize her eggs. The value of this nuptial gift is such that swarming-phase females compete for males. This sexual role-reversal is not seen in solitary-phase females.

The female lays her eggs by thrusting her ovipositor deep into the soil. Females can lay about one hundred eggs each.


The Mormon cricket exists in populations of relatively low density throughout most of its range. However, at certain times and places, population explosions or infestations occur in which large numbers of the cricket form roving bands. These bands may include millions of individuals and have a population density of up to 100 individuals per square meter. These infestations may last years or even decades, and are characterized by a gradual increase and then decrease in population. The factors that trigger these infestations are poorly understood, but are thought to be weather-related.

Some research indicates the Mormon cricket’s cannibalistic behavior causes swarming behavior. Crickets attack the cricket in front of them every few seconds and must move constantly forward to avoid attacks from behind.

When a large band crosses a road it can cause a safety hazard by causing distracted revulsion on the part of the driver, and by causing the road surface to become slick with their fluids.


The Mormon cricket prefers to eat forbs, especially cultivated crops such as alfalfa, and vegetables. Grasses and shrubs such as sagebrush are also eaten. Insects, including other Mormon crickets, are also eaten, especially individuals that have been killed or injured by automobiles or insecticides. A recent study has suggested that the migration of swarms may be a strategy to avoid predation by other Mormon crickets.

During an infestation Mormon crickets can cause significant damage to crops and gardens, however they have not been shown to decrease the livestock forage value of rangeland.


Mormon crickets are preyed upon by a wide variety of birds and mammals. These predators include California Gulls, crows, coyotes and various rodents. They were also eaten by Native Americans. There are no predators that specialize on Mormon crickets, which may be explained by the cricket’s migratory habits and large population fluctuations.

The most common chemical control method used is carbaryl (typically sold as “Sevin”) bait. This bait kills both the Mormon crickets that eat the bait, and the crickets that eat crickets that eat the bait. Insecticides applied directly to crops may kill the insects, but due to the large size of swarms this method usually does not save the crop from being destroyed.

As Mormon crickets are flightless, physical barriers may be effective. Barriers should be at least two feet high and made of a smooth material. Recently, residents of some small towns have been effectively using boom boxes and sound systems playing hard rock music to divert the moving swarms away from crops and houses, as the insects seem to be deterred by it, although it is unknown if the result is due to the music or the heavy vibrations.

An article from the first year of the infestation:

Mormon Crickets Devour Crops, Turn Roads ‘Blood Red’

June 14, 2003
By James Nelson

SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) – Mormon crickets, the plague of the western United States, are on the march again, ravaging farms and turning roads “blood red.”

Farmer Duane Anderson said the bugs are at times so thick that he could kill 10 crickets with a single step on his 3,200-acre spread in Dog Valley about 100 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Officials in Utah, Idaho and Nevada say this year’s infestation may be the worst in recent history.

The grasshopper-like insects have become a traffic hazard, rendering some hilly roads impassable as they become caked with crushed bug carcasses. During one recent drive in his truck, Anderson said he came upon a road that was “blood red from smashed crickets.”

But for Anderson and other farmers, the bigger concern is economic. Mormon crickets and grasshoppers have for six years in a row wreaked havoc in Utah and exacerbated the drought of nearly the same duration.

“They’ve raised hell with my livelihood,” said Anderson, 72, who has spent a lifetime farming in the state.

He has already has lost 15 percent of his crops to this year’s invasion. In recent years, due to lack of water and sparse crops he also has been forced to cut his herd of cows to 60 from 135.

“Last year I had a total disaster. Nothing was green: the drought, and then the crickets,” he said.


This year’s cricket infestation already has caused $25 million in damages from lost crops in Utah, officials said. Last month, Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt declared a statewide agricultural disaster based on the triple-whammy of insect attack, drought and high winds.

State officials said a single Mormon cricket, which is actually a katydid, during its lifetime can consume 38 pounds of plants — targeting everything from sagebrush and weeds to alfalfa and vegetable crops.

Utah has been afflicted by Mormon crickets and grasshoppers throughout its history, as many parts of the state are ideal breeding and hatching grounds.

Mormon crickets were so dubbed after the chewing insects destroyed the crops of Utah’s Mormon pioneers in 1848. According to state history, their unrelenting attack was finally shut down by thousands of sea gulls, which answered the religious settlers’ prayers by consuming the crickets and sparing their crops.

The insects, which cannot fly, vary in color from light green to red-brown and may grow to 2 to 3 inches in length.

Ravenous adults can cover a mile a day and up to 50 miles in a single season, devouring everything in their migration path, according to the Grasshopper Hotline Web site operated by Utah State University and the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.

“It’s a serious problem. The crickets eat in the field until it’s bare and they move on,” said Jeff Banks, who advises farmers as part of Utah State University’s Extension Agent Program.

From Wikipedia again:

Tradition tells of a story where the first Mormon settlement in Utah was saved from famine by gulls eating hordes of Mormon crickets that had been destroying their first wheat crop; hence the name of the insect. California Gulls are known to relocate to desert areas to feed on Mormon cricket swarms, although their effectiveness in controlling infestations is thought to be minimal.








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May I introduce you to the “toe biter”? I met these bugs when I lived along a creek in Arizona. I was told to wear sandals in the water and don’t stand still for extended periods of time. These guys bite HARD.


Here is a description of them. Note that they are in the True Bug family, Hemiptera.  References at the bottom of the post.

Toe biter

Abedus indentatus

Hemiptera: Belostomatidae

Toe biters are large, completely aquatic bugs found in running water.  They can often be found clinging motionless to objects at the bottom of a stream, where they wait for a chance to catch prey.  They feed mostly on aquatic insects, tadpoles, and small fish, rather than toes.  They can fly, but do so mostly at night.  Toe biters have small, inconspicuous antennae; thickened, raptorial front legs; and middle and hind legs fringed with hair for swimming.  They respire using a film of air held to their abdomen by tiny hairs.

In the Spring, male toe biters can often be found with masses of large, pale, brown eggs attached to their backs; this seems to be the place preferred by the females for egg deposition.  While on the back of the male the eggs are given an intermittent flow of water by the rocking motion of the insect; this motion also allows the eggs exposure to air.  Male Toe biters tend to remain in protected areas of the stream to encourage the successful hatching of their embryos.

Another description, including their painful bite.

Bugs of the family Belostomatidae are fierce predators which stalk, capture and feed on aquatic crustaceans, fish and amphibians. They often lie motionless at the bottom of a body of water, attached to various objects, where they wait for prey to come near. They then strike, injecting a powerful digestive saliva with their mandible, and sucking out the liquefied remains. Their bite is considered one of the most painful that can be inflicted by any insect (the Schmidt Sting Pain IndexHymenoptera); the longer the bug is allowed to inject its saliva, the worse the resulting bite, and as the saliva liquefies muscle tissue, it can in rare instances do permanent damage. Adults cannot breathe under water, and must surface periodically for air. Occasionally when encountered by a larger predator, such as a human, they have been known to “play dead” and emit a fluid from their anus. Due to this they are assumed dead by humans only to later “come alive” with painful results.

The interesting thing I heard about toe biters is that they are supposedly aware that a flash flood is coming. Some people studied that characteristic after seeing them leaving the water in advance of a flood. Unfortunately, I can’t find the information on that. I do remember that some think it is just an instinct based on being rained on. In other words, if the toe biter gets rained on, its little bug brain says “flood!” and it climbs out of water. Other theories had to do with vibrations, I think. Somewhere out there in the bug literature is more information about that.

Another interesting tidbit (heh) about toe biters is that they are considered a delicacy in Asia. Yum!











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It is actually a Jerusalem Cricket. And they do bite. I happen to think that many insects are rather beautiful, and many more are at least elegantly ugly. Not so this critter. He definitely falls into the category of double ugly. Sorry dude. Your lot in life is to send children screaming into the house.

fearmeWell, I think this is actually one of the giant ants from “Them,” but it was with the jerusalem cricket images on google and I couldn’t resist.

Here is a nice description of our ugly dude. As usual, references are at the bottom of the post. Note that it does get called a “potato bug” because it destroys potatoes.

Orthoptera: Stenopelmatidae: Stenopelmatus sp. (Jerusalem Cricket)

There are several species of Jerusalem Crickets in the basin, none apparently named. The insects are immediately recognizable by their large size, bald round heads, winglessness, heavily spined hind legs, and fat abdomens ringed in black. They are known by several other common names, including “sand crickets,” “children of the Earth”, and “Chacos.”(Locally, they have also been called “potato bug,” probably because of the damage they occasionally do to potatoes in the ground. But Jerusalem crickets are not to be confused with the Colorado Potato Beetle, a distinctive striped beetle that feeds on the foliage of this crop in field and gardens in the eastern United States).

Photograph by C. Hogue

The large size of Jerusalem crickets (they are up to 2 in., or 50 mm long), and their amber-colored humanoid heads caused them to be the object of superstition and fear by some southwestern and Mexican Indians. The Navajo thought them deadly poisonous and called them “wó see tsinii,” which means “skull insect” or “bone neck beetle.” Although their strong jaws can bite with considerable force, Jerusalem crickets are not poisonous.

These insects are nocturnal and live in the soil. Individuals are usually seen when they become stranded after a nightly sojourn above ground or when they are uncovered by the gardener’s spade. They require high humidity and are most active in the spring, after the winter rains have loosened the soil; in the dry summer they burrow deeply to escape the heat of the day but may wander on the soil surface during the night. Their food consists mainly of roots and tubers, although they sometimes eat dead animal matter and may even be cannibalistic at times.

To attract each other, males and females drum the abdomen against the bottoms of their burrows and on the ground. Mating begins with vigorous “wrestling matches” between the sexes, followed by copulation. The eggs are large and are laid in groups in soil pockets. They typical life cycle extends over two years, and the developing insect may molt up to ten times.

Jerusalem crickets are not easily kept in captivity. It is important to provide them with a humid environment: fresh apple or potato slices provide moisture as well as food.

© 1993 Insects of the Los Angeles Basin

I still run screaming from this bug. I may be able to coexist with bees and spiders, but get that creepy ugly thing AWAY from me.






potato bug

Oh, a side note. I tend to refer to many insects as “bugs,” but if you have ever had to study insects, you know that True Bugs are actually a subset of the larger insect family, Arthropoda.

Generally speaking, the vast majority of the population considers “bugs” to be the same as insects. However, this is not the case. Bugs refer to “True Bugs” in Suborder Heteroptera. True Bugs can have bodies that are hard or soft. Most times they are flat in appearance if you look at them from a side view. They usually have two sets of wings as an adult and the front set is usually thickened and the hind wings are used to fly. The hind wings overlap to form an “X” on the back, which helps to distinguish them from other insects. They also have a sucking and/or piercing type mouth part.  Some typical “bugs” would be Stink Bug, Boxelder Bug, Leaf-Footed Bug, Shield Bug, Broad-Headed Bug, Minute Pirate Bug, Flat Bug, Water Bug, Stilt Bug, Bed Bug, Burrowing Bug, Unique-Headed Bug, Toad Bug, Big-Eyed Bug, Water Striders, Bordered Plant Bug, Seed Bug, Plant Bug, Damsel Bug, Waterscorpions, Velvety Shore Bug, Ambush Bug, Assassin Bug, Red Bug, Scentless Plant Bug, Shield-Backed Bug, Negro Bug,  and Lace Bug. Obviously not all of these occur in Oklahoma but it just shows the wide variety of actual “bugs” that there are.

By now you are probably as grossed out as I am. I promise to stop doing bug posts, but I couldn’t resist when sis Martha brought up the “potato bugs” in the comments. Oh wait, I haven’t covered “toe biters” yet. I may have to do them before quitting on the bug posts. (sorry, but they are way cool)










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