Florida entomology – Part 1

Our trip was really placed under the sign of entomology. Our host, Rob, is himself an entomologist at the USDA. The University of Florida at Gainesville is also home to a big department of entomology and the Museum of Natural History there has permanent exhibits on butterflies. Marie and Gaël also conduct research on insects, and I found myself improving my skills in insects rearing over the last couple of years.

That is why, while we were working on our Spodoptera frugiperda project, we kept an eye for exotic bugs. At least they were exotic to me since I’d never been before to a subtropical area. It was really striking how much the bio-diversity is different between a temperate area and a much warmer area. Much more than between continents. I remember that during my time in Chicago, I was amused to find, for many aspects of the wild-life, clear counterparts (as a researcher in genetics, I tend to think in terms of homologous forms) between Northern Europe and Northern America. It is clearly not true between North America and South America (is there a food reference for this ?). I could then observe many new forms that I’d never seen before and I was pretty excited. After the first day, I started shooting all kinds of bugs with my phone camera. I found out that my camera is actually pretty good for bugs, since I can get to as close as 1 cm and still be in focus with a very large depth of field. With a good resolution, it is then possible to zoom in the picture and get some good anatomical details for insects.

Today’s gallery is about Hymenoptera. Wasps and ants.

  • Polistes exclamans and Polistes metricus : every morning, in front of our hotel, we could see a lot of paper wasps droning over the large leaves, eating small aphids and drinking dew. Nests could be found all over the place.

 

  • Zethus spinipes : this one is not a paper wasp but a mason wasp. Very beautiful too.
  • This pompilid wasp, I could not identify. I found it in the corn field of Citra, displaying a lot of activity around its burrow. But I didn’t see it carrying any prey. Usually these wasps are know to hunt for spiders.

Pompilidae

  • Larra bicolor : definitely our best encounter. This parasitic wasp is pretty big and it’s preying on mole crickets. In the corn field of Citra, we could observe it attacking a mole cricket, paralyzing it and laying eggs on it. The larva is an ectoparasite, with its mouth inserted in the body of the live host. Eventually, as the wasp larva becomes bigger, the mole cricket will die and larva will finish feeding on it. We were pretty lucky to witness the very impressive attack.
  • Velvet ants of the Mutillidae family. The male is winged and the wingless female ressembles a big ant. Their identification is quite complicated for me, although Gaël, who was keen in collecting them for his lab, might know better.

 

  • Ants. Definitely one of my mission coming to Florida. Inspired by the wonderful pictures of Alex Wild, which helped me a lot in the identification of Florida ants, I really wanted to add some to my collection. Too bad I couldn’t find the time to document and collect the many ants we found. I experienced the sting of fire ants while stepping on a nest in the sorghum field of Live Oak. But besides that I was a little sad not to make more observations of ants.

 

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