Tag Archives: insects

Ladybird, Ladybird

21 Jul

The hunt begins…

 

No, I am simply looking for something to feed our frog.  Small grasshoppers or crickets are the best food.  Small worms are also excellent, but difficult to find.  Slaters (woodlice, sow bugs, or whatever they are called in your part of the world) are acceptable, although not the ones with a tough carapace and that roll up into a ball.

Damned fussy eaters, frogs.

 

On the leaves of our cucumber plants I notice several insect larvae.  They look like lady beetle larvae, but are a green-yellow instead of the usual black.  I also notice a small yellow insect with a typical lady beetle outline.

Hmmm.

It looks like a lady beetle larva (above) and an adult lady beetle (below)

Identify this!

I’m not going to try giving beneficial insects to the frog, and lady beetles secrete toxic fluids, so I ask the good wife to do a quick internet check to see if there is some kind of yellow lady beetle.  Yes, there are yellow lady beetles.  Yes, they are beneficial.

Close-up of the larva.

I decide this little insect is going to be worth checking into…

 

Note: The English language has a plethora of old and regional names, including “ladybird”, “ladybug”, “lady cow”, “may bug”, “golden bug” and “barnabee”.  However, these insects are beetles, and entomologists use the terms “lady beetle” or “ladybird beetle”.  I prefer to use the term “lady beetle”, using other terms only as popular common names.

 

 So! Bein’ a ladybug automatically makes me a girl. Is that it, fly boy? Eh?

Francis, A Bug’s Life

 

The Japanese generic name for lady beetle is tentomushi (天道虫), tento being a reference to the sun – it’s worth noting that in the Japanese collective consciousness the sun is red.  The name is also sometimes rendered as 紅娘 or 瓢虫.

Specific beetles then go by the name tento.  For example, the seven-spot ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata) is known as nanahoshi tento (七星天道).

 

The beetle in question is the yellow ladybird beetle (Illeis koebelei).  Its name in Japanese is kiirotento (黄色天道), which corresponds perfectly with the English.  I’ve also seen it referred to as the yellow spotless ladybird.

It’s so clean and spotless…

A small beetle (3.5 – 5 mm in length), it is best known for feeding upon powdery mildew, making this a truly beneficial insect.  It has no spots on its abdomen, but has a pair of black spots on its thorax and large eyes, which look like spots to the naked eye.

Caught in the act! Here you can see the spots and the large dark eyes.

 

Lady beetles apparently have a short lifespan – just two months, although some individuals have been recorded as living for nearly a year, and beetles born in autumn somehow manage to hibernate and survive into the next spring.  I’m going to see if I can’t find some eggs.

A short life that has its ups…

… and downs.

 

Special bonus!

Although I have not been able to identify the species, I’ll let you enjoy the photos of the baby praying mantis that has made a home on the cucumber plants.

Hello!

The praying mantis is one of the few insects that can turn their heads.

It’s just not Cricket

24 Sep

The name signifies “bell-insect;” but the bell of which the sound is thus referred to is a very small bell, or a bunch of little bells such as a Shinto priestess uses in the sacred dances. The suzumushi is a great favorite with insect-fanciers, and is bred in great numbers for the market. In the wild state it is found in many parts of Japan; and at night the noise made by multitudes of suzumushi in certain lonesome places might easily be mistaken,—as it has been by myself more than once,—for the sound of rapids. The Japanese description of the insect as resembling “a watermelon seed”—the black kind—is excellent. It is very small, with a black back, and a white or yellowish belly. Its tintinnabulation—ri-ï-ï-ï-in, as the Japanese render the sound—might easily be mistaken for the tinkling of a suzu.

From Exotics and Retrospectives

by Lafcadio Hearn

 

Apologies for my lack of activity on the blogging front over the last month.  I have my rationales, my reasons and even my excuses, but you don’t need to hear them.  (Suffice to say they included work, a large typhoon, and a whirlwind visit by former workmate and fellow blogger Ian)

 

As it turns out, I’m writing this a little too late:  the stars of the show – the male bell crickets – reached the end of their short lives a little earlier than expected. [Cue Monty Python’s “Dead Parrot” sketch]

 

A male bell cricket as illustrated in Hearn’s book. Females are less round and possess a long ovipositor between the two spine-like appendages.

Homoeogryllus japonicus is known locally as suzumushi (鈴虫) – literally “bell insect”, as Hearn noted – but was once known as matsumushi (松虫).  The latter name is used for a similar cricket, Xenogryllus marmoratus.  There is some confusion between the two, but even literature differentiates their songs.

 

Bell crickets are immensely popular in late summer to early autumn, when males start their high-pitched mating calls.  It is precisely for this reason that they have been bred and raised in captivity for centuries.  And while urbanization may have reduced their natural habitats somewhat, culturing them may have actually increased their range.

 

A male “singing” – rubbing its wings together produces a high-pitched sound, and alerts females to his presence.

Bell cricket nymphs hatch from eggs in late spring, undergo a number of molts, and complete their growth by mid-summer.  They (hopefully!) mate, and wild specimens typically die by the end of September.  They tend to last longer in captivity.

 

People tend to think of crickets as purely herbivores, but they do eat animal material.  Breeders have learned that adding some dried fish or bonito flakes to their diet reduces instances of cannibalism.

 

A curious fact about the bell cricket’s song is that the pitch is too high for most telephone microphones and speakers to relay, and it even confounds a lot of general-purpose recording equipment.

 

I’m going to see if I can’t get a few more males, as I want to try my hand at breeding them.  Wish me luck.

Cave Cricket, Anyone?

24 Nov

Things have been a bit quiet here at Wild in Japan.  I don’t know whether to blame it on my busy schedule (I seem to be out of sync and then find myself rushing), the weather (we’ve had our share of miserable grey days, and a day of single digit maximum temperatures), the shortness of daylight (the winter solstice is not here yet, but it’s dark by 5:00 in the afternoon), lack of photo opportunities (everything either hibernation, dying or just not cooperating – I saw some chocolate vine, but that would mean sticking my mobile phone into someone’s yard, and then probably involve talks with the local constabulary…), or lack of motivation and general laziness on my part.  I vote for the latter, with the excuse that all the other factors contribute to it.

It’s still a bit early to write about the solstice, or a quasi-Christmas theme like false holly.  I was about to do another ideogram post, but coming home a couple of evenings ago, everything changed…

I spy a long-legged shape in one corner of the entrance hall.  I immediately recognise it as a camel cricket or cave cricket (Diestrammena apicalis or Diestrammena japonica), a distant relative of the giant weta, the largest insect on Earth.  I got a couple of photos back in an earlier post, but this one came to me.  And this time I had an insect cage and camera…

The cave cricket with a ¥500 coin for scale.

This cave cricket is known as kamadouma (竈馬), literally “hearth horse” due to where humans often encountered it and its appearance – the head, when viewed on, does look like a horse’s head.  Other vernacular names are okamakorogi and benjokorogi.  The word korogi (蟋蟀, 蛩 or蛬) means “cricket” – it does bear resemblance to its relative, the true crickets.  “Okama” can mean hearth (a variation of “kamado”), but can also mean “kiln” or “cauldron” – the latter being used in conjunction with the hearth.  “Benjo” is a name for toilets, particularly the old long-drop variety.  Again, the names reflect where people encountered the insects – dark, damp places.

An old-fashioned kamado, with kama on top. No, my kitchen does not have these.

Typically, however, these insects would be found in and under rotting logs, in tree hollows, caves and rock crags.

You can see the resemblance to a horse’s head in this shot.

Males typically have a larger body than females, although a female’s overall length is usually longer due to the ovipositor.  Unlike crickets, they lack wings, but have well-developed legs and are powerful jumpers – apparently, captive specimens have been known to kill themselves when jumping in a confined space.  Also, the absence of wings means they are unable to sing in the manner of grasshoppers and crickets.

This photo gives some idea of the tail-end.

They are well adapted to living in dark places.  Their eyesight is quite poor, but their sensitive antennae are much longer than the rest of the body, something like three times the body length.  Lacking any defensive abilities such as biting or stinging, the cave cricket will attempt to flee from predators, often by jumping toward the perceived threat in the hope of startling it.

You can see the length of the antennae and the legs in this photo.

Their main enemies are spiders, geckos, birds, frogs and wasps.

Cave crickets are omnivores.  In captivity they will eat almost anything a human will.  In the wild, they feed mostly on plant material, but will consume other insects or even dead animals.  Cannibalism can be rife in high-density populations.

I plan keeping this one for a few days.

Summer Songs and Beetlemania

17 Sep

The height of summer has passed but the heat and humidity continue.  Still, the evenings have become cooler and pleasant, and there are a few other signs of the changing of the seasons.

 

In Japan, you can actually hear the shift from mid-summer to early autumn.  Cicadas – possibly the noisiest insect on the planet – are active at different times, depending on the species.

Nymphs ready to metamorphose into adult insects emerge from the soil, climb a convenient tree (or sometimes wall or even telephone pole), split their carapace down the back, and emerge as adults.  They live for just a few weeks at most – conventional folklore has this at one week.

Different cicada species have different songs, so the most numerous species at any given time is the one most heard.  For example, the species Cryptotympana facialis, known as kumazemi (熊蝉), is most common during the hottest part of August, whereas the large brown cicada (Graptopsaltria nigrofuscata) or aburazemi (油蝉) and Meimuna opalifera, otherwise known as tsukutsukuboshi (つくつく法師 or 寒蝉) are the predominant singers now.

 

Cicadas provide hours of fun for school boys, who idle away summer holiday time catching them, sometimes for school research projects.  Being able to identify different species of cicada is a source of pride for fathers, although kids are becoming less and less interested in cicadas and more interested in pokemon.

 

 

Two other insects receive celebrity status during the summmer holidays – stag beetles and rhinoceros beetles.  On summer evenings, it is not unusual to see small groups of boys or father and son pairs treck into local groves and around shrines, insect cages in hand, looking for these beetles.

Pitting males against each other is a time-honoured tradition, although in recent years breeding has become more fashionable – and I think it is much better than city kids just buying beetles.  Believe it or not, home centres, pet shops and even department stores sell beetles.

A few years ago there was a boom in exotic beetle species, aided along by video games, trading cards and a cartoon series, where owning the largest and most powerful beetles in the world was a real status symbol.  Some speecies could claim prices going into the hundreds of thousands, or even millions of yen.

 

 

Japan is home to nearly 40 species of stag beetle, and several of these are commonly found in my area.  They all come under the generic term kuwagatamushi (鍬形虫).

Both the English and Japanese names refer to the large mandibles found on males – the English compares it to a male deer’s antlers, the Japanese compares it to the decorations on a warrior’s helmet (although “kuwa” could also refer to a mattock).

Some species live for just one year, while others can live for two or even three.  The latter group includes the Okuwagata (大鍬形), the largest and most sought-after of the stag beetles.  Unfortunately, it is listed as a vunerable species due to loss of habitat and cross-breeding with imported beetles.

 

For most boys (of all ages), however, the “king” of the beetles is the Japanese rhinoceros beetle (Allomyrina dichotoma or Trypoxylus dichotomus).  The local name, kabutomushi (兜虫) is again a reference to part of a warrior’s gear, in this case the helmet (although sometimes the characters 甲虫 are used, refering to armour).  Reaching sizes over 50 mm, it is the largest beetle found in temperate Japan.

A large male, with my hand for size comparison.

Up close and personal with a male rhinoceros beetle.

These beetles have a one year life cycle.

 

The business end of a male. He uses this “horn” to remove rivals from food and potential mates.

 

 

As an English teacher, I get frustrated by the habit of translating “rhinoceros beetle” as simply “beetle”.  I have found this in many dictionaries and is yet another hard-wired mistake I would like to see on the extinctions list!

 

Both rhinoceros and stag beetles feed on the sap of oak trees, particularly the sawtooth oak or kunugi (Quercus acutissima), and lay their eggs in the leaf-litter soil around it or in its rotting wood.  The larvae hatch and feed on rotting wood and leaves, although some species may canibalise.  They moult several times before becoming winged adults, which emerge in the summer, ready to start the cycle again.

More things you might see when you don’t have a camera

2 Aug

A brief collection of random things I photographed with my mobile phone, all in one morning on a slightly different work route.

There were sunflowers over two metres tall…

A sunflower. Known locally as “himawari” (向日葵)

Jungle…

Welcome to the jungle [cue Guns N’ Roses]

♫…Down in the jungle…♫

Taro fields…

Taro is a major crop in Sayama, particularly the Mizuno and Horigane areas.

Another taro field, with irrigation in action.

Great purple emperors (Sasakia charonda) or omurasaki (大紫), Japan’s national butterfly…

Japan’s national butterfly.

A closer shot of a purple emperor.

… which were sometimes battling various beetles for the best feeding position on an oak tree…

Pole position… beetles (the black ones here are female rhinoceros beetles) and butterflies scrambling to get the sap of an oak tree.

beetles vs. butterflies

Not to mention a male rhinoceros beetle graveyard…

The beetles’ graveyard.

Heads will roll… the remains of a male rhinoceros beetle.

And a cicada carapace discarded on a gutter.

Cicadas live burried for up to two years as nymphs before emerging, moulting and surviving for about a week as adults.

And all in a day’s work!

The things you see when you don’t have a camera

21 Jul

Just a brief collection of assorted pics hastily taken with my mobile phone.  These are ones that actually turned out – my attempts to photograph herons, kingfishers, lizards and tree frogs with  my mobile inevitably end up as tiny blurs – assuming I even have time to get the thing out of my pocket and switch to camera mode.

How I wish I could afford to carry a real camera around with me all the time, as there are encounters that happen anywhere.

Like this snake…

A snake just outside my school entrance. It slithered into the bushes before I could get a decent shot or identify it.

And this…

A spider of the genus Argiope. Note the stabilimentum (web decoration). This was taken at an amusement park.

Or this…

An unidentified insect – I guess it’s a bush cricket (katydid). This one was about 3 cm long.

A little closer…

And this…

A snail by the roadside. The shell was about 3 cm across.

A closer look. At least this one didn’t get away!

Saving those yen…

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