Monday, June 7, 2010

Insect Field Observations

Do you get that thrill when you identify something new to you? Or something you have seen countless times but never had a name or an idea about it? I do.

Our neighbor found this little bug on her back.

My five year old helped me figure out what it was with our Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America. We narrowed it down to the leafhopper category. It looked like a lot of other insects at first, but had no identifiable antennae. Its head was somewhat triangular, like a little rattlesnake, and it had reddish spots along its lateral sides and a yellow underbelly. Once we narrowed it to leafhopper from the Kaufman guide, we googled leafhopper and California hoping to narrow it down.

Eventually we found it here at http://www.bugguide.net/. It is a Smoketree Sharpshooter - Homalodisca liturata. We found out that it is a pest to vineyards, oleander, and citrus trees. It feeds on the xylem of the plant resulting in scorched leaves and bacteria in the plant leading to its death. Now we know.

Jen just identified two insects we saw at Gum Grove in Seal Beach.

The diabolical ironclad beetle (what a great name!) to the left of the little eucalyptus tortoise beetle on the right. The tortoise beetle is what eats the semicircular holes in the eucalyptus leaves. Another pest.

The ironclad beetle eats dead wood and plays dead like this.

We tend to notice things more when we draw them and when we attempt to identify them. Here's the boys' nature journal from the outing:

Another favorite site for identifying insects is http://www.whatsthatbug.com/.

We've been reading a few nature study books on insectsThe Insect Folk by Margaret Warner Morley, Knowing Insects through Stories by Floyd Bralliar, Fabre's Book of Insects by Jean-Henri Fabre. And The Handbook of Nature Study by Comstock often has insight not found elsewhere.

What about you? Do you have favorite field guides or nature study books for insects?


  1. I posted a comment earlier today, I don't know where it is. I love the nature drawings! And the photo of the books, so inspiring. I love our group!

  2. Oh my son loves finding new anything in nature and he is often asking me what it is... I am the LEAST natur- ish person in the world!!! so we often have to use a field guide- we only have 2 at present (frogs and reptiles) but we have made use of them!!!! You did SUCH a great job identifying yours!!! I am totally impressed with your dedication- I'd like to borrow some of it!!! Thanks for sharing and inspiring!

  3. I would love a review of Knowing Insects Through Stories. The title intrigues me but, unfortunately, the LA Public Library doesn't seem to carry it in its entire catalog. :(

  4. Here is another book on insects you may like: Children of Summer by Margaret Anderson. It is the story of Henri Fabre as a father who teaches his children about the insects via exploration. A true story that is charming as well. Let me know if you need more suggestions as I may have a few!

  5. I was intersted in the book Knowing Insects through stories and found a free PDF here: http://www.temkit.com/15-Wildlife/Knowing-Insects.pdf