The tradewinds have been fairly strong lately, so this past Saturday I went for an early morning stroll along a beach a few minutes from where we live to see if I could find some Halobates. The genus Halobates consists of water striders (Gerridae) that live almost entirely in marine habitats and contains the only insect species living in the open ocean (The Marine Insect Halobates (Heteroptera: Gerridae): Biology, Adaptations, Distribution, and Phylogeney, Oceanography and Marine Biology: An Annual Review 2004, Nils Moller Andersen and Lanna Cheng 42:119–180).
Usually when the winds are strong you find these little guys on the windward side of Oahu hopping around in the sand, and I’ve always wanted to get some images of them, so I thought I would give it it a try. I also wanted to test out the macro abilities of my new camera. I recently bought a Canon Powershot SX30 IS – it wasn’t my first choice, but I couldn’t really justify getting a decent SLR and macro lens worth more than our minivan, so I had to make some compromises. I think it will work out OK for my purposes, and with a few accessories I should be able to get some decent insect macro shots. Having said that, it is still painfully obvious that the Canon 30D and 100 mm macro lens that I had access to at work were much better.
I did manage to find a few stranded striders hiding out in depressions in the sand. I’m not sure if these are H. hawaiiensis or H. sericeus. From what I’ve read, H. hawaiiensis is a near shore/coastal species and H. sericeus is an open ocean species, so I’m guessing that maybe these are H. sericeus that have been blown in with the trades, but that is only a guess (Biological Notes on the Pelagic Water Striders (Halobates) of the Hawaiian Islands, with Description of a New Species from Waikiki (Gerridae, Hemiptera), Proceedings of the Hawaiian Entomolgoical Society, 1938, Robert L. Usinger, 10:77-88).
Earlier this year we conducted surveys for federally listed endangered Hawaiian Drosophila on land up in Kokee (Kauai) that the Navy manages. The sites are situated right against the critical habitat boundary, so we basically conduct our surveys along the fenclines and permiter of the property lines (this is the second year we have done these surveys). The last site in this area consists of a NASA facility with a giant antenna (access is prohibited, so there is a locked gate preventing unauthorized personnel from driving up to it). The big dish is pretty impressive, but I was more interested in the remnants of the previous antenna system that sit behind the current facility. There are some old footings and a small rusting blue structure labelled “Satan Antenna System”, complete with pitchfork logo. Evidently this stands for Satellite Automatic Tracking Antenna, and it dates back to the ’60s. While at the site, the remote feeling created by the combination of being in the middle of the forest and having an expansive view of the Pacific Ocean, together with standing in the shadow of a giant satellite dish that seemed to randomly come to life every 30 minutes and orient itself towards some unknown celestial target, tended to prompt the imagination to create images of what might be inside the little locked blue building…perhaps a long staircase into the darkness? Ernest Borgnine in a hooded robe?
Last week I gave a skeptical tweet regarding a segment of “Ask the Bugman” in the San Francisco Chronicle in which somone wrote in inquiring about natural enemies of bed bugs and Bugman included solpugids in his answer. Camelspiders? Sunspiders? Windscorpions? Really? These nasty looking arachnids have been the subject of so much misinformation and bogus claims that I thought for sure this was another perpetuated myth.
Soon, however, I began to feel some apprehension over the possibility that I was too quick to dismiss this, so I wasted yet more of my life on the internet and turned to Google for enlightenment. I quickly noticed that this little sun spider factoid was repeated in many places:
1) Earthlife.net – “…some species are more specialised, Solpuga sericea and Solpuga lineata burrow into the soil in order to feed on termites while a Californian species of the genera Eremobates enters bees hives and feeds on the bees and Eremobates pallipes from Colarado is suspected of hunting ‘bedbugs’.”
2) Handbook of Urban Insects and Arachnids, by William H. Robinson – “A California species of Eremobates kills bees, and a small nocturnal species, E. pallipes, is known to prey on bed bugs.”
3) Spiders, scorpions, centipedes, and mites; the ecology and natural history of woodlice, myriapods, and arachnids, by J. L. Cloudsley-Thompson – “The small nocturnal species E. pallipes from Colorado is said to hunt bed-bugs.”
4) And finally, in The Biology of Camel Spiders (Arachnida, Solifugae), by Fred Punzo, I found a reference – “One eremobatid solifuge from Colorado, Eremobates pallipes, has been reported to feed extensively on the bed bug, Cimex lectularius (Muma, 1967).”
I was able to get a PDF of Martin H. Muma’s paper titled, “Basic Behavior of North American Solpugida” contained in pages 115-123 of Vol. 50 No. 2 of the The Florida Entomolgist, and I found what appears to be the source of these claims. From the introduction on page 115:
OK, so maybe this maybe makes a little sense (my apologies to the Bugman). However, if it were me, I probably would not include windscorpions in a list of common bed bug predators. If you’re going to include solifugids, then you should include every other nocturnal, generalist predator of insects. In no way am I an expert on the Solifugae, but, from this Florida Entomologist reference alone, I wouldn’t term this species a specialist on bed bugs. I think the behavior reported in the paper would be more a result of the fact that, in the year 1871, bed bugs were much more common than they are today (even with the recent resurgence of bed bugs in the US), and human dwellings were probably much more accessible to wind scorpions. Hence, back in the day, Eremobates pallipes and Cimex lectularius shared the same space. These days, I doubt the worlds of bed bugs and windscorpions collide very often, except maybe in extreme circumstances. I’ve never really lived out West in an area where solifugids are common, so I can’t speak from experience, but I have a hard time believing in 2011 they are commonly found in bedrooms. And the fact that in captivity they showed a preference for bed bugs as food doesn’t surprise me. If I were a predatory arthropod, I would also probably show preference for a bed bug over something like a roach as a late night snack – that would be like having the choice between a juice filled gummy bear or a crust of bread.
Perhaps more telling is the omission of this reference in other descriptions of Eremobates pallipes from other respected sources, such as the University of California IPM Online site, where on the wind scorpion page, there is no mention of bed bugs as prey. With regard to prey, all that is state is that “wind scorpions feed primarily on living insects, spiders, and other small creatures such as lizards that they catch.” The same is true for a Texas A&M site on wind scorpions – no mention of bed bugs.
So, yes, windscorpions are predators of bed bugs, but I was only able to find a reference supporting this for one species, Eremobates pallipes, and these days I doubt this interaction occurs with great regularity in the United States. Nevertheless, I can’t fault the Bugman for his answer. His response about the pyrethroid insecticide Suspend is another story though…restricted use? Really?
A tiny doll-like extermination android should be a part of every good integrated pest management program – enter Interceptor Doll HoiHoi-san, “One shot, one kill!!”
Our kids got got an inexpensive metal detector for Christmas this year, and it has turned out to be maybe my favorite thing that Santa brought. It wasn’t my idea, so don’t start accusing me of gifting stuff based on what I deem to be fun rather than what my kids actually want – although, I must admit, I am a little guilty of this to a certain extent with other presents. (Exhibit A: The Fridgezoo Penguin. This was a Christmas gift for the kids that I brought back from a recent trip to Japan, and it was probably my second most favorite gift after the metal detector. You put it in the refrigerator, and whenever you open the fridge it says hello, and if you leave the fridge open, it starts talking to you in Japanese. I think it is really cool, but the rest of my family finds it annoying.)
So anyway, last week we took the metal detector out to Lanikai to hunt for some treasures. It was a lot of fun, the kids found an old key, some kind of luggage tag thing, some bottle caps, and some other random metal objects; however, for me, the greatest treasure was found on the beach access path as we were walking back to the van – a pacific cockroach! In all my time in Hawaii, I have only seen this lovely roach, Euthyrrhapha pacifica (Couebert, 1804), on one other occasion (Barbers Point), so it was a real treat. Even though I was wrangling my sandy three-year-old at the time I spied it, I was still able to scoop it up from amongst some beach naupaka (Scaevola sericea) leaves, and put it in a plastic sandwich bag. The next day at work I snapped some photos of it during my lunch break before releasing back into the landscape.
Despite its designation as the Pacific cockroach, Euthyrrhapha pacifica is considered an immigrant to Hawaii. According to Zimmerman (1948), it was first recorded from Hawaii by Bormans in 1882. It is supposedly common on many of the pacific islands and throughout the tropics (Fullaway and Krauss 1945, Zimmerman 1948). The Catalogue of the specimens of Blattaria in the collection of the British Museum lists Brazil, Madagascar, and Polynesia as its distribution (Walker and Gray 1868).
I found very little information on this roach within the references that were immediately available to me at work and on the internet. The most descriptive account that I found was in “Common Insects of Hawawii” (Fullaway and Kraus 1945): “Euthyrrhapha pacifica (Coq.) Familiy BLATTIDAE. This pretty little insect is probably the most attractive member of the roach family in Hawaii. The two distinctive orange spots on the wing cases make this species easily recognizable. It is of wide distribution in the tropics and occurs on many of the Pacific islands. Found both indoors and out, it breeds in neglected cupboards, rubbish in houses and beneath dead leaves and debris. The young nymphs emerge from the egg capsule through a hole which they gnaw out. They are rather dull in appearance in contrast to the adults. The roaches are active both during the day and at night and may be seen running about in an erratic manner.” Zimmerman (1948) adds that “it is not infrequently confused with the beetles by laymen.”
I was able to track down a couple of references in the Proceedings of the Hawaiian Entomological Society. In Volume 2, number 4 of the Proceedings (1912) it is written that “Mr. Terry exhibited a specimen of the small roach, Euthyrrhapha pacifica, and one of its egg capsules from which the young had emerged. He called special attention to the fact that instead of emerging in the usual way for roaches the young of this species gnaw a hole through the capsule resembling that made by parasites, for which it might be mistaken. Later, in Volume 12, Krauss (1945) reports the first record E. pacifica on the island of Hawaii.
There are a few random internet references. On the “Ask a Bishop Museum Scientist” site David Preston identifies a Pacific cockroach for a someone and provides some info. You can find a really good of photo of E. pacifica here on Flickr. And finally, a Facebooker humorously thinks E. pacifica is named after Steven Colbert , rather than French entomologist Jean Antoine Coquebert being the author.
Fullaway, D. T. and N. L. H. Krauss. 1945. Common Insects of Hawaii. Tongg Publishing Company, Honolulu, Hawaii.
Kruass, H. L. H. 1945. Proc. Haw. Ent. Soc. 12(2):309.
Terry, F. W. 1912. Proc. Haw. Ent. Soc. 2(4):145.
The helicopter and airplane were due to arrive in the morning, and Mike wanted to have everything ready with the hope that the helicopter could take us up to the “lost world” in the southern crater so camp over night and do some trapping there. Loyal and Earl were coming in on the plane and Kurt was coming in on the helicopter. Christa and Scott were scheduled to go back to Saipan on the plane, but the helicopter was going to remain on the island for a number of days to shuttle people around. Since Christa was leaving, she had to spend the morning packing. There was a lengthy and tedious inspection procedure that she had to go through to make sure she wasn’t taking any stowaway critters back to Saipan. It didn’t look fun, but she, like all us, knows the importance of such precautions so there were no complaints. I went ahead and took down the traps from the Bandeera Peninsula. While I was up there, both the plane and the helicopter arrived. When I returned to camp, I learned that Kurt approved our helicopter drop at the south volcano. The plan was for Mike and Justin to camp on the rim of the crater and trap and collect inside. Stephan and I were to hike across the saddle to another patch forest where we would set up camp and collect. We heard that the snail team had found some native snails there. Stephan and I were both a little nervous since the planning for this trip seemed even more last minute than our previous boat trip to the southern part of the island.
I was also worried about my leg. It didn’t look like the purple patch had gotten bigger, but my lower leg and ankle seemed swollen and I thought I felt a tingling sensation up the inside of my thigh when I walked. I hadn’t shown it to anyone either, except for Jesse and some of the other camp guys who told me to soak it in the ocean the day before. I decided to show it to Tom, camp manager, before we left on the helicopter. When Tom looked at it he was very concerned and said we should go talk to Loyal and Earl. Once Loyal and Earl saw it, they almost without hesitation told me that I need to be flown back to Saipan.
From that point on everything happened pretty quickly – it was determined that I would be flown back to Saipan the next day where I could get some antibiotics – my Pagan adventure was over. They were a little disappointed that I hadn’t said something an hour earlier, before the plane left with Christa and Scott, because this meant the plane now would have to come back for me. I hadn’t really thought about it, but I was secretly a little glad that it happened that way, because I would have hated to have bumped Christa and Scott from that flight. When I walked back to the ento tent and told the guys, they were surprised. Mike thought I should still try to go on the volcano trip, but I was a little nervous about this for a variety of reasons. I’ve heard enough stories about infected wounds that I wasn’t comfortable taking any chances. Also, I would have to pack and be ready go as soon as the plane landed in the morning, and there was no guarantee that the helicopter would bring us back in time to make the flight.
So I decided not to go up to the volcano and just focus on getting all my stuff packed and ready to leave the next morning. As I watched the guys loading all their stuff on the helicopter and then flying away, I was suddenly feeling sad and depressed. Here was a once in a lifetime experience – to collect insects, spiders, and all manner of other awesome arthopods in area where they had perhaps never been collected before, and it had slipped through my fingers. At the same time I had a sense of relief that I was not going, because I was little worried about how it was all going to play out. So I was experiencing some conflicting emotions, not to mention that I felt like I was quitting in some way – I was going home almost a week earlier than planned, and I was leaving a lot of work undone. Then again, I was really happy that I wouldn’t have to ride on that boat again.
So I ended up sorting and getting bags and vials together of specimens that I would bring back with me to Bishop Museum so they could begin working on the IDs. I did a little more collecting in the ironwood forest near the runway and got a few pictures of the old Japanese bomber. I was going to do some trapping in the ironwood forest, but a big rain storm came through and basically lasted up through sunset. It was by far the heaviest rain we had experience while on the island and there was a lot of flooding and thunder and lightning. I wondered how the guys were getting along camped up on the rim of the volcano through all of that. Later that night after the storm, it was very still, so I ran a light trap down near the lower campsite, kind of close to the base of the Miari Cliffs. I felt like I got a number of new moths that we hadn’t seen before and some new beetles and other intersting insects that I hadn’t seen before. Finally, around midnight, I went to bed in my stuffy tent and slept my last night on Pagan.
Today was really our first easy day. We spent most of the morning sorting and planning. Mike continues to talk about hitting more pockets of native forest, but I am concerned that we haven’t set up our traps in the other forest types such as the ironwood and coconut forests and in the savannah. Dinner was particularly good, probably because everyone thought that Loyal and Earl would be arriving today. We each were even given a cold Pepsi from the freezer (heaven in a can), so it seemed like a very special occasion. The VIPs never arrived though. That evening we put up the malaise trap, the pan traps, and ran a light trap on the Bandeera Peninsula. Also on this day I noticed a kind of stinging feeling on my right leg about halfway down from my knee. I had long pants on, so I kind of shrugged it off without checking to see what the deal was. When I finally looked at it later in the day, I was shocked to see a dark purple/black festering wound. A small scratch that I had sustained while camping down south had become infected. I tried soaking a while in the ocean, but it didn’t seem to help much. It wasn’t really too puss-filled or gooey in any way, just swollen and very dark and angry. A biologist had already been evacuated for a similar infection a couple of days prior, so I was a little worried about it.