Bark Beetle Hunt in the Core Arboretum Turns Up Many Neat Critters!

While collecting the bark and ambrosia beetle traps that were set up in the arboretum I noticed lots of insect activity everywhere. It had just rained all night and morning, but it was warm and the sun was now peaking out. I’ve found that this is a great time to look for all sorts of critters. Amphibians start walking around, box turtles, snakes and especially the insects. They sit on leaves in patches of sun that makes it to the undergrowth. I took note of two logs in particular because they were both recently dead beech logs and I checked them out for ambrosia beetle activity. Ambrosia beetles are small, wood boring beetles that make little galleries inside trees where they raise a brood in chambers. Each chamber has a larvae that feeds on the fungal symbiont that the mother introduced into the wood. The mother often times even guards the entry hole into the log!  

A small round hole in the bark where the female bored into the bark. 

  With the bark removed we can see this is an ambrosia beetle because it continues its bore hole right into the wood. A bark beetle would bore a hole through the bark and then make the squiggly lines you see in a barkless log.It takes some digging o find the brood chambers!   My professor was able to get this beautiful chip out with some nice brood chambers coming off the main tunnel. There are even 2 pupae still in it! 

  Ambrosia beetle larva Ambrosia beetle pupa

The first log had few signs of ambrosia beetles but it did have many other insects all over it and under its bark. Several ichneumon wasps were probing the wood with their huge ovipositors. Under the loose bark I found lots of Silvanidae beetles which feed in fungi. I also found some darkling beetles and a nice sized pseudoscorpion! 

The second log, which was really a whole mature beech tree that had snapped about 10 feet up and then was held up by neighboring trees was ambrosia beetle heaven. All kinds of beetle heaven really. More Silvanidae, rove beetles, lots of buprestidae exit holes and even larvae after I pulled back some bark. Ichneumon wasps also took quite an interest in this log too and I even saw two wasps with pseudoscorpions clamped to their legs! I’ve read about this but never seen it! A good way to move from log to log I guess. Anyway this log was filled with ambrosia beetle holes so I came back after my lab work was done and chiseled out some ambrosia beetles. I was able to extract many adults from several species that I have yet to identify. Also when I came back to this log I found the king of click beetles. The Eastern Eyed Click Beetle! Its HUGE (for a click beetle.) It must be one of the largest beetles around. About as wide as your finger and about 2 inches long and the coloration is just brilliant. A piece of art that grows in wood, feeding on Cerambycidae larvae.  

  Eyed Click Beetle!   Pretty big! 

Now here’s something new to me. Poison ivy being infected by a rust fungus! It’s called Pileolaria brevipes. There is hardly any information on it more than I could tell just by looking at it so I went ahead and collected it. 


The fungus has deformed and enlarged the stem and it is releasing tons of brown spores. Back at the lab I put it under the microscope and snapped a picture of the spores. Even poison ivy gets lesions. Pretty neat! 

   A Pileated Woodpecker is always a cool thing to see!  

    Raindrops in the sunshine of a sugar maple leaf.
    Pleasing Fungus Beetle!  Six Spotted Tiger Beetle  Now this guy is cool!   Chillen yo.  Until next time! 

Cranesville Swamp

I love going to places that are ecologically unique such as Spruce Knob and I asked my professor if he knew of any other cool places nearby I should visit and he told me I should swing by Cranesville Swamp. It’s on the border of West Virginia and Maryland. The drive out there was on some serious backcountry roads. No four wheel drive needed but the small roads go for maybe 20 miles and are just torn to shreds. Big potholes all over the road. 

Once we arrived we walked around trying to spot the 3 things I really wanted to see and I knew they were found here. They are the Round-leaf Sundew, Purple Pitcher Plant (both carnivorous plants) and the Eastern Larch. This swamp is the most southerly point of the Larch’s range.  Here’s what we found! 

LBM (little brown mushroom) fruiting in the bog.    Sundew in the sphagnum peat moss.    I may have sacrificed at hover fly out of curiosity  Round-leaf Sundew with the digested husk of hover fly still stuck to the leaf.

   A Purple Pitcher Plant flowering!
 The lip of one of the pitchers covered with backward facing hairs that I presume make it difficult for an insect to crawl back up. The prey insects are attracted to the pitcher by a sweet scent and fall in where they drown. They then get digested by microbes living in the water in pitcher. The microbes release the nutrients that were within the insect prey and the plant then uses them to grow. Nitrogen is the main nutrient they are trying to obtain since soggy bogs are very low in it. The plants still photosynthesize and make their own sugars, they just need to eat animals for their nutrient needs. That is why most carnivorous plants live in bogs! 

    More LBMs!

   This spider wasp has stung and paralyzed this poor spider and is dragging it back to a burrow it dug where it will then insert an egg into the spider, which upon hatching, the wasp larva will eat the still living spider from the inside out, avoiding vital organs to keep it living and fresh. Then the larva will leave the husk of the spider, pupate and emerge as an adult wasp. The circle of life! 

For whatever reason I could not find any Larch anywhere šŸ˜¦

Spruce Knob

So I’ve started grad school and so far I’m loving it! My work revolves around bark beetles. These are tiny beetles that bore into stressed or recently killed trees, but occasionally attack healthy trees. They are also unique in that they don’t actually eat the wood like some other insects do but instead farm fungi. They have pouches in their heads where they store spores and then infect the tree they bore into. The fungi digests the wood of the tree and the beetles in turn eat the fungi! They literally are farmers! Each species of beetle has its own species of fungus that it infects trees with, and there are hundreds of species of bark beetles. They also are very easily spread across the world in wooden products like pallets, boards, etc. We have been catching dozens of species in the traps we’ve set up here in West Virginia, many of which are invasive. We are also trying to catch a species that’s only ever been found one time and it was back in 1891 near Parkersburg, WV.  

 You’ve probably seen the squiggly lines underneath the bark of dead trees or in old logs that have had the bark removed. These are the galleries created by bark beetles. The adult female bores in a straight line and lays eggs into the side galleries where the larva then tunnel and feed in their fungal symbiont.  

    Several bark beetle species photographed through the microscope. Most are only a few millimeters long. 

We have traps set here in Morgantown, Parkersburg and as of Friday, Spruce Knob. The highest point in West Virginia. The area is topped with Red Spruce and Canaan Fir. It’s also home to some other rare and interesting species!  

  From the top of West Virginia! 

  Windswept Mountain Ash and Red Spruce.
   A dwarfed trillium!
  British soldiers lichen Some cool clubmoss

Lots of salamanders were found in the leaf litter and under logs near a seep.  

He’s shy

  Dwarf ginseng!
There is also a disease that attacks Beech trees and has caused a lot of mortality in them. The fungus that kills them is native, but an introduces scale insect that feeds on the beech makes lots of wounds for the Nectria fungus spores to enter, causing a rot of the living beech tissue.  

 Here you can see a little discolored ooze coming from the tree. 

  With the bark removed you can see where the fungi has spread in the phloem and xylem of the tree. Enough infection and the tree will be girdled and die. The reddish dots in the sunken in are are the spore producing structures of the fungus.