Here's a beetle that will make your plumeria shudder. It's the plumeria borer, Lagocheirus undatus, and it's no friend of the blossoms that spread so much aloha here in the islands. Getting to about two centimeters in length, you can i.d. this hefty beetle by the antennae which are longer than its body, and darker brown blotches at its "waist." It's a species of longhorn beetles, family Cerambycidae, which is a large family, but has several members that earn the dubious distinction of being pests. The plumeria borer larvae are known to drill beneath the bark of the plumeria; you may notice a small hole on the stem with black ooze. Insecticides don't have an impact as the damage occurs internally. Withered stems need to be cut of and destroyed pronto! The adult pictured above decided to pay me a night visit, and while I admire its beauty, I love the beauty of my plumeria a whole lot more.
Look out millipedes, Haematoloecha rubescens is in town, and from what I can gather, heʻs looking for you. There is little information to find on this colorful fellow, but it would seem it made its arrival here in Hawaiʻi in 1970 from tropical regions of Asia, with a particular appetite for the garden centipede, Oxidus gracilis. Like its kin in the family Reduviidae, this red assassin bug is a predatory insect known for its slim neck, long legs, and segmented rostrum, a projection off the head that is used to pierce its victim. The bite delivers a saliva that liquifies the insides of its prey, which is then neatly hoovered out. The bright red and black coloration, known to biologists as aposematism, is a warning that the organism is not to be messed with.
Bug or Beetle? True bugs, such as this one, undergo incomplete metamorphosis: eggs are laid, but there is no larval (grub) stage. The immature bugs hatch out and look somewhat like their adult forms; several molts will get them to that point. Beetles undergo complete metamorphosis like butterflies. As adults, true bugs they have two pairs of wings, like beetles, but the covering wings form an x-shape; beetles covering wings form a straight line down the back when at rest. Another difference is in the mouth parts. True bugs have a straw-like appendage for piercing and hoovering; beetles have mandibles for chewing.
For three nights in a row, I have found one of these cone-headed katydids on the lanai, so I figured it was time to write a post on them. It is possibly Euconocephalus nasutus, an omnivorous and non-native conehead, though there are a number of endemic coneheads in the genus Banza. The brilliant green is part of their cryptic coloration, often resembling leaves, right down to the venation. They eat the leaves they blend in with, as well as other plant parts, and can do some damage - Elimaea punctifera is another non-native that can wreak havoc on hibiscus blossoms. Many katydids will dine on insects as well, such as aphids. In turn, they are a favorite meal of Jackson's chameleon, as well as bats, birds, spiders, and more. They are masters of stridulation, filling our warm nights with their vocalization, "katy did, katy didnʻt," though some sound more like buzzing or rasping bursts. Species vocalizations may be distinct and can be used to identify the musician.
Grasshopper or Katydid?
Katydids, grasshoppers, and crickets are all in the same order, called Orthoptera, meaning straight-winged, and they share many characteristics: chewing mouthparts, strong hind legs for jumping, and a life cycle of incomplete metamorphosis: from egg, to nymph (which looks like a smaller and wingless version of the adult), and after several molts, an adult. There are some key differences, however (though there are always exceptions). Katydids have long, wispy antennae that are at least as long as their bodies, whereas grasshoppers' are shorter and stubbier. Both crickets and katydids produce their sounds by rubbing their wings; grasshoppers rub pegs on their legs to stridulate. Grasshoppers also tend to be diurnal, whereas katydids and crickets work the nightshift.
Noticed any circular brown patches in your lawn? If so, you may also have seen this guy, the fiery skipper, Hylephila phyleus, first seen on Oʻahu in 1970; they have since been found throughout the islands. The larva of this small but feisty member of the Hesperiidae family love to munch down on grass, including Bermuda, St. Augustine, heck, even crabgrass will do. The caterpillars are rarely seen, and are thought to be nocturnal feeders; when not actively eating the lawn, they roll themselves up in leaves tucked neatly into the thatch to escape detection. As adults, these inch or so skippers are known for their fast flight, in search of nectar from lantana and tropical milkweed, among others. When not racing around, males will perch for females. Fiery skippers at rest hold their wings in a triangular shape, often with the forewings folded up and the hindwings splayed out like plane wings. Males can be distinguished from females by color, the males a more fiery orange, the females browner. And they love your green, green grass of home.
Hailing from China, Korea, and Japan, the oriental flower beetle, Proteatia orientalis, is a hefty beetle, about the size of my upper thumb. Its attractive bronzy metallic sheen is splotched with white markings, and gives a hint that it is in the family of Scarab beetles, many of which sport metallic colors. It also claims membership in the subfamily Cetoniinae, also known as the flower chafers, a group of diurnal beetles that feed on nectar, pollen, sap, and some, like are guy here, on damaged fruit. On Guam, where it is widespread, it has been known to feed on the flowers of papaya, coconut, betel nut, mango and corn, and may damage the flowers of these trees, resulting in fewer fruit.
Proteatia orientalis has been known on Oahu since 2002, and has since been identified on Maui, and just recently on the Big Island. Eggs are laid in the soil, where the grub, or larvae hatch and then pupate; as with all beetles, metamorphosis is complete, whereas true bugs undergo incomplete metamorphosis. The oriental flower beetle can be confused with the coconut rhinoceros beetle, Oryctes rhinoceros, a major pest of coconut palms that was first seen in Honolulu in December of 2013.
These past few weeks, I have had the pleasure of witnessing the amazing metamorphosis of the vine hawk moth. It all began one night when a biggish blob fell from a shelf in my house, on which I had a Pentas (Pentas lanceolata) plant growing in a pot inside a large basket. Thinking it was a gecko, I moseyed on over to inspect it closer, when I realized it was a hefty and interesting-looking caterpillar. After a brief photo shoot of the critter, I went about trying to figure out what it was, so that I could rear it and watch into transform into a beautiful... something. I knew that caterpillars have specific plants on which they can feed, called "host plants," and that I couldn't just throw any old leafy green at it and hope that it would eat. Sure enough, I was able to whittle the search down, and it appeared that I had a vine hawk moth, Hippotion rosetta (hip-POE-tee-on roe-ZET-tuh), which has colonized Hawaii just recently, in the last fifteen years or so.
Identification can be tricky because the larvae of some caterpillars can change in appearance as they get larger and molt their cuticle; this typically occurs four or five times in most larvae of butterflies and moths. An interesting thing I learned from the Enchanted Learning website is that: "after the molt, while the new skin is still soft, they swallow a lot of air, which expands their body. Then, when the cuticle hardens, they let the air out and have room for growth." The "Insects of Hawaii" website gave information on what my caterpillar ate, and Pentas was one of the plants on which it dines, thus explaining the sad looking state of the plant on my shelf. I placed the caterpillar in a big mason jar with a screen lid and supplied the hungry larva with lots of Pentas leaves. In the morning, I was happy to see that it had eaten many of them, reassuring me that the identification was likely accurate. But later that day I found that it had stopped eating... and moving for that matter. Oh dear! Had I done something wrong? Was it alive? I gave it another day, and still nothing.
A few days later, my conscience was relieved: the caterpillar had pupated. All moths and butterflies undergo complete metamorphosis, a four-staged life cycle that includes the egg, the larva (caterpillar), the pupa, and the adult. My soon-to-be-moth was in that critical stage that seems like suspended animation, but in truth, it was undergoing a most dramatic transformation. A tough pupal skin had encased the caterpillar body. During this time there was little movement, though it would wriggle a bit if I moved it. Inside, the caterpillar body was being broken down, and cells called histoblasts were using the byproducts to build new tissue in the form of a moth. After a few weeks, the most miraculous event occurred: as I went to check on it, I noticed that the pupal casing had broken open. There, resting on the screen of the jar was a most beautiful looking moth, the vine hawk moth, hungry and fluttering its wings in anticipation of food. This moth species enjoys the nectar from Lantana camara, Duranta erecta and Ixora, all plants that are commonly found in Hawaii gardens and landscapes. After sharing it with some students, the moth was released to find its nectar plants, and to begin the cycle once again.
welcomes you to visit with the all the wonderful flora and fauna that we share this lovely aina with.