Friday, December 30, 2016

Looking Forward to the Year Ahead

Male Flame Skimmer dragonfly looking forward through rose-colored eyes?

The new year ahead promises to be challenging in many ways, but hopefully rewarding, too, as I continue in my attempt to bring you topics of relevance to your lives and captivating to your minds, through this blog. I am embarking on a couple of new ventures, and will continue to take my writing in directions away from entomology. I hope you will follow. Resolutions? I have plenty, and I will start with being more grateful for my patrons.

So, first of all I want to again thank those of you who are "following" this blog, those who have donated to it via the PayPal button in the sidebar, those who have paid for advertising here (with my blessing), those who have "shared," re-tweeted, and otherwise expanded my audience, and those who have actively participated by leaving comments, asking questions, and sharing stories of your own. A community like this is a rare thing, and would not exist without all of you.

This blog also caught the attention of a company overseas, and they have invited me to join them in their quest to provide a unique "pest alert" service that will eventually be able to give advanced warning to gardeners of the likelihood that a certain pest will soon be emerging in their geographic area. The Big Bug Hunt is one project of Growing Interactive, a company that produces a variety of apps and other software to aid gardeners all over the northern hemisphere. I will be doing a more thorough write-up about this venture in the coming months.

My current clients appear to be happy with what I am doing for them, so I expect I will be doing "the usual" for the After Bite Insectlopedia, and, as well as various magazines and other publications. I also have two speaking engagements already on the calendar for January. Really hoping that I will be invited to nature festivals so that I can actually get people out in the field looking at "bugs."

Locally, as president of the Mile High Bug Club, I will be helping to organize events and outings aimed at furthering the club's mission of education about, and conservation of, Colorado arthropods. The club's founder, Bell Mead, originally formed the group in 2008 as a network of people in the arthropod pet "hobby," facilitating care and ethical trade in tarantulas, scorpions, tropical insects, and other exotics. As members moved, lost interest, and otherwise no longer participated, the focus shifted to its current mandate. Thanks to Bell's persistence and diligence, we achieved non-profit status a few months ago.

Among MHBC activities in the coming year will be field trips in search of tiger beetles, dragonflies, grasshoppers, and maybe fireflies and lampshade weavers (a kind of spider). Also on the horizon are the annual National Moth Week events we create and document, plus a series of bioblitz events in celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the Trails, Open Spaces, and Parks (TOPS) in Colorado Springs. We also intend to have a booth in the exhibit hall for the national meetings of the Entomological Society of America, to be held in Denver from November 5-8, 2017. The Big Bug Hunt may share table space with us.

Beyond expressing gratitude more regularly, my personal resolutions include reading more (so look for reviews here and over at Sense of Misplaced), generating more book-length work of my own, and integrating myself into a larger network of other writers. My current network is almost all entomologists and naturalists. My philosophy and goals revolve around empowering others to think differently, act to help make the world a better place, and have fun doing it. I have no interest in amassing personal wealth, accumulating more material goods, or chasing fame and celebrity. I do insist on having my skills, intellect, time, and expenditures valued to the point that I am at least breaking even. More to the point, I will aggressively defend the rights of others to be able to make a living doing what they are best suited to do.

Thank you for continuing on this journey with me. Remember, I am always receptive to topic ideas, recurring themes, and other improvements to this blog. I hope I have been responsive to you thus far. Happy New Year to all of you.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Compost Insects

It is the season for sharing, and eating, and if you throw the cooking and table scraps onto the compost heap you are providing a wonderful feast for a variety of insects as well. A recent visit to my in-laws in Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, allowed me to discover a multitude of insects over the Thanksgiving holiday, thanks to their compost enclosure.

Having insect activity in your compost is a good thing. It means you have a healthy mini-ecosystem that includes decomposers which break down decaying organic matter into nutrient-rich natural fertilizer. Thus, the vegetable scraps from this year's harvest go on to feed next season's crops. Decomposers are more properly known to scientists as saprophytes, and they often require microorganisms and/or fungi to take full advantage of rotting organic debris.

Look at this yummy buffet!

I did not go digging into the already, uh....fragrant pile of material, but had I done so I certainly would have uncovered a host of invertebrates like springtails, insect larvae, millipedes, maybe woodlice, earthworms, and snails or slugs. Besides food, a compost heap offers insulation from cold weather, and even warmth given off in the process of decomposition.

Minute black scavenger fly, Coboldia fuscipes

Instead of digging and turning, I merely watched for insects appearing on the surface of the pile, or on the walls of the enclosure. These were mostly adult insects, especially flies, the larvae of which are the ones doing the work of decomposition. Chief among these were minute black scavenger flies, Coboldia fuscipes, in the family Scatopsidae. They are only 2-3 millimeters in body length, and can be mistaken for other flies of similar size.

Recently emerged adult minute black scavenger fly

I found a fair number that had just emerged from the pupal stage, with their wings in a rudimentary state awaiting full inflation. Their larvae feed in the mycelia of mushrooms, or on decaying fungal, plant, or animal tissue.

Pomace fly, Drosophila sp.

The next most abundant flies were pomace flies in the family Drosophilidae. Most people call them "fruit flies" because these are the tiny flies that hover around the overripe bananas on your kitchen counter. Indeed, they are drawn to fermenting matter where the females lay their eggs. The larvae feed mostly on the yeasts that invariably attach decaying sugars in fruits and vegetables.

Male Spotted-winged Drosophila, Drosophila suzukii

What was a little surprising was that the common pomace fly species was an exotic one: the Spotted-winged Drosophila, Drosophila suzukii. The males of this species of east Asian origin have an obvious dark spot near the tip of each wing. This fly started appearing in the northeast U.S. in 2011, and has since been recorded over most of the eastern half of the U.S. It is a known pest of a variety of fruits and berries, so it may be one of the few "bad guys" to be seen on your compost pile.

Dark-winged fungus gnat

Dark-winged fungus gnats, family Sciaridae, are abundant pretty much year round, even indoors where the larvae flourish in the soil of overwatered houseplants, feeding on roots and fungi. They are only slightly larger on average than the minute black scavenger flies.

Moth fly

Also present were moth flies in the family Psychodidae. You are probably familiar with their indoor relatives, the "drain flies" that you often see perched like tiny fuzzballs on the bathroom wall or sink basin. The larvae of moth flies enjoy eating algae, bacteria, and fungi, especially if it is exceedingly wet or sludge-like. Yum.

Male Forcipomyia sp. biting midge

Another surprise was to find an adult biting midge, probably in the genus Forcipomyia, or closely-related. Males of these tiny flies have fairly unique, bushy antennae. Depending on the species, the adult females may bite birds or mammals, or suck the blood of moths, dragonflies, and other large insects. Meanwhile, the larvae feed on algae, plant debris, or fungi.

Winter crane fly, Trichocera sp.

The largest fly I found was a winter crane fly, genus Trichocera (family Trichoceridae). It turns out the larvae of these slender, long-legged flies are scavengers on decaying leaves, vegetables, dung, fungi, and material found in rodent burrows. A few are even pests of stored tubers in your root cellar. You do have a root cellar, right?

Predatory mite

The vegetarian "bugs" also attract carnivores in the form of predatory and parasitic insects, and mites. I spotted one mite that made a cameo appearance near another insect I was photographing, but mites are typically among the most numerous of all soil-inhabiting animals. Next in line might be ants.

Japanese Pavement Ant?

I found two species of ants in and around the compost heap. Ants are difficult to identify without putting them under a microscope, but I am pretty sure these were the Japanese Pavement Ant, Tetramorium tsushimae, an Asian introduction now common around the St. Louis area and adjacent Illinois; and the Odorous House Ant, Tapinoma sessile.

Odorous House Ant

The Odorous House Ant is more of a scavenger than a predator, so it is likely to be seeking meat scraps and/or dead insects as sources of protein and fats. It is also fond of sweets.

I saw what I initially mistook for another species of ant, but it became quickly apparent it was a wingless female wasp. The ovipositor (egg-laying organ) protruding from its abdomen betrayed it as a female ichneumon wasp in the genus Gelis. So interesting is this one that you will have to wait for a separate post about it alone. Sorry!

Wingless female ichneumon wasp, Gelis sp.

Another wasp, this one fully winged, was crawling around the perimeter of the top of the wood enclosure. At this time I am unsure if it has any relationship with the compost, or is merely something that blew into the area and became too cold to fly off. I await a proper identification and will supply update this post when I have one.

Unidentified wasp

The benefits of composting to your yard and garden should be obvious, but look at what you are feeding in the meantime: an entire biosphere in miniature, pretty much. Just remember that if you're hungry, they're hungry. Bring them inside. Wait, that's not how it goes....

Friday, December 9, 2016

ID Tip: Seven-spotted or Nine-spotted Lady Beetle?

Today's identification tip involves separating two nearly identical lady beetles: the Seven-spotted Lady Beetle, Coccinella septempuncta, introduced from Europe, and the native Nine-spotted Lady Beetle, Coccinella novemnotata. There is widespread speculation that the exotic Seven-spotted ("C-7") has displaced the native Nine-spotted ("C-9"), and indeed the latter species has become noticeably scarce over most of its former range, especially in the eastern U.S., over the last 35 years or so. That is why it is critical to be able to identify C-9 and report sightings to the Lost Ladybug Project.

Typical specimen of Seven-spotted Lady Beetle ("C-7")

Physical Features

The most dependable, though subtle, difference between these two species is found on the front edge of the pronotum (top of thorax). In the Seven-spotted Lady Beetle, only the corners, or "lapels" if you will, are white. The remainder of the pronotum is black. In the Nine-spotted Lady Beetle, the entire pronotal "collar" is white, so the front edge of the pronotum is white, from corner to corner.

Specimen of the Nine-spotted Lady Beetle ("C-9")

Meanwhile, the wing cover (elytron) of the Nine-spotted Lady beetle does bear an extra black spot, located near the "shoulder." This spot can, however, be vague or even obsolete. The markings on the pronotum are much more consistent.

The Nine-spotted Lady Beetle is usually slightly smaller than the Seven-spotted, and is more often a creamy orange in contrast to the brighter orange, or red, of C-7. Both species are polished (shiny) in texture, and highly convex or nearly hemispherical in shape.

Heavier spots on this C-9

There is little difference in behavior between these two species. Both are predators of aphids and can be found on plants hosting aphid colonies.

Another example of the Nine-spotted Lady Beetle

Habitat is not a good way to distinguish these two lady beetles, either. Both occur in a variety of ecosystems, from vacant lots, yards, gardens, parks, and forest edges to orchards and agricultural fields.

Complicating Factors

A nearly spotless form of the Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle

There are a surprising number of nearly identical lady beetle species, and simply counting the spots is a very unreliable way of making an identification. There is extreme variability in many species, especially the abundant Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis, which is yet another non-native ladybug. Not only does the number of spots on the elytra vary, but so do the markings on the pronotum. This species needs to be ruled out before you try and conclude whether your specimen is a C-7 or C-9.

Transverse Lady Beetle

Here in the western U.S., we also have the Transverse Lady Beetle, Coccinella transversoguttata, which resembles C-7 except that the spots on the elytra near the pronotum are connected to form a horizontal black bar between the "shoulders." The Transverse Lady Beetle also appears to be suffering in the wake of C-7's arrival.

Quiz Photo: Which species is this one?

Please keep a lookout for the Nine-spotted Lady Beetle where you live and during your travels. The more eyes in the field, the better will be our understanding of the status of this species, which has been the state insect of New York since 1989. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Book Review: Silent Sparks

Sara Lewis won me over from the very beginning of her book Silent Sparks: The Wondrous World of Fireflies, then kept me captivated right through to the "Notes" in the back. This offering from Princeton University Press is literally the gift that keeps on giving. More on that in a moment, but prepare to be dazzled and amazed in the meantime.

The thing that got my attention right away occurred in the preface. Dr. Lewis writes "Confessions of a Scientist Enraptured," and strikes a chord with the major reason I dropped out of college:

"And I've tried hard to retain my sense of wonder. But wonder, it turns out, doesn't garner much respect within the realm of academic science. We academics are rewarded for our scholarly productivity----getting research grants and writing technical articles that report our discoveries. Few scientists openly admit to being motivated by wonder. By some unspoken rule, a scientist's feeling of awe for the natural world must be kept under wraps; to acknowledge wonder is tantamount to unreason, and therefore treason."
The fact that Lewis is able to not only maintain her own sense of wonder, but actively spark it in her readers, is the whole heart of this book.

Photinus sp. firefly on a farm

Lewis does not talk over the head of her audience, but neither does she talk down to non-scientists. There is a glossary in the back of the book, but she defines technical terms the first time she uses them in the text. While the book is not lavishly illustrated, her words paint vivid pictures on the pages that lack graphics. You are transported to the dewy meadow at midnight, and the laboratory back on campus. You gaze with new perspective off the back porch at your own lawn; and travel to far-off lands to witness synchronous spectacles that defy your imagination.

Photuris sp. firefly

You also meet a number of Lewis' colleagues and mentors, and get a feel for who they are and what motivates them to study fireflies. It would be easy to go overboard and focus mostly on the human element in the story of any invertebrate, as many authors do (Sue Hubbell, Richard Conniff for example), but Lewis recognizes the ability of organisms to be sufficiently captivating in their own right, and retains focus on the fireflies, not the scientists studying them. I heartily applaud this aspect of her writing.

Because fireflies are so diverse, and with few exceptions not impactful to humans in the economic sense, we consequently know very little about them. Most of the advances in our collective knowledge have come within the past couple of decades, thanks in part to our ability to deconstruct DNA sequences and reconstruct new paths of evolutionary relationships. Silent Sparks provides an outstanding summary of our history of scientific inquiry into the Lampyridae, and then encourages the reader to enlist herself or himself as a citizen scientist to expand our horizons even more. By the end of the book you will be writing the author in application to be on her lab team.

Pyropyga sp. "dark firefly"

There are few errors or omissions in this book to even bother to nit-pick, but one baffles me completely. In the chapter "A Field Guide to Common Fireflies of North America," the genus Pyropyga, one of the "dark fireflies," is inexplicably omitted entirely. Pyropyga is by far the most common firefly where I live on the Front Range of Colorado, and also in the southwest U.S., but species are found across the entire continent. I have seen them virtually every place I have ever lived.

Pyractomena sp. firefly

Ok, so how does this book keep on giving? Lewis has complemented her treatise with an interactive book blog that is an ingenious way of keeping you up to date on the latest scientific findings, providing more information for specific species and genera, and otherwise involving her readers in the process of discovery. She has also given a TED Talk on the subject of fireflies. Oh, and don't forget the book itself has a whole chapter called "Stepping Out - Further Firefly Adventures." There you will learn how to become your own scientist and contribute to what we know about fireflies. The "Notes" are rich in additional publications, links to online resources, and other material.

Ellychnia sp. "dark firefly"

This hardcover work, priced at $29.95 U.S., is a must addition to the library of every naturalist, even if they specialize in other organisms. It is a brilliantly organized volume rich in both content and inspiration. Well done, Sara Lewis.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Last Hurrah or New Normal?

Dateline: Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA, November 16, 2016. The temperature today reached a high of 77° F, quite abnormal for this time of year. Walking for a couple of hours along the Rock Island Trail, a concrete bike path through the rural-suburban interface, produced a variety of insects that I might find, on average, no later than say early to mid-October, if that late.

Dainty Sulphur butterfly

Weather trends are not looking good. There might actually be something to the whole global warming, climate change thing. It last rained here twenty-one (21) days ago, and that was but a trace. Last year we had snow by now, and concurrent cold temperatures, obviously. What our local climate now lacks in predictability it makes up for in extremes.

Adult female Red-legged Grasshopper

We are not alone, of course. One of my colleagues, Mathew Brust, in Nebraska, recently posted to Facebook that he has been observing certain grasshopper species that are farther ahead in their metamorphosis than they should be at this time of year. He expressed fears that we might have lower insect diversity and abundance come next spring as a result of the extended summer/fall:

"Wait, latest update, I have seen 13 grasshopper species in two days (8 as adults, 5 as nymphs). What really scares me is that many of the nymphs are already 5th instars (last stage before adulthood), which I have never seen in fall, not even on warm days in January. I am seeing many late butterflies, and I suspect most will be dead-ends as their offspring will not survive. These are likely individuals that should have normally emerged next spring. I have to wonder how many butterfly species are going to see a serious drop in numbers next year because of the messed up weather this fall. Pretty screwed up stuff! Ah, but I guess global warming is just a hoax, so it must be due to something else entirely."

Mathew is obviously being tongue-in-cheek with his last comment, but it is important that each of us document what we are seeing. I, for one, am highly skeptical that the incoming federal administration is going to make major strides, if any at all, toward a better understanding of climate change, so it us up to citizen scientists to contribute what we can.

Velvet-striped Grasshopper nymph

I found three species of grasshoppers as adults (and heard another one species crepitating in a field), and one as a nymph, yesterday.

Western Yellowjacket worker

I even found a worker Western Yellowjacket on the trail that had probably collided with a cyclist a few minutes earlier. It spun around aimlessly on the concrete in a dizzy, disoriented kind of way, but eventually flew off. Vehicular traffic of all kinds takes its toll on insects and spiders, but that can be the subject of a future blog post. What is surprising is that there are any yellowjackets still present. Queens should have entered into hibernation by now, and workers and males should have perished back in October.

Western Pygmy Blue butterfly

I spotted a shockingly fresh-looking Western Pygmy Blue butterfly, too, and perhaps even more surprisingly discovered it was taking nectar from tiny, blooming flowers. What plant in its right mind is blooming now? There are still roadside sunflowers looking as bright and healthy as the majority looked at their peak in August. I even see a few asters still clinging to life, and wild alfalfa flowers, too.

Adult seed bug, Melacoryphus nigrinervis

The other part of this story is that I, myself, am usually hunkered down for the winter, devoting my time and energy to editing images from the spring, summer, and fall, plotting stories to approach editors with, and otherwise confining myself mostly to the indoors. My brain is telling me that is what I should be doing, but my eyes and temperature sensors are kicking me out the door to continue exploring. My own biological compass is spinning wildly out of control.

Elm Leaf Beetle

What are you observing and experiencing right now in your corner of the world? Anecdotal information is critical for a better understanding of trends in climate and weather, so I hope you will consider recording your observations on i-Naturalist, and your "spottings" to Project Noah, and any other relevant databases and resources. I'll be talking about another such resource soon, pertinent to personal and community gardens, and local agriculture. Changes in insect abundance and diversity will, obviously, have a profound impact on how we feed ourselves and each other. Stay tuned.

Wolf spider

Saturday, November 12, 2016

ID Tip: Ground Beetle or Darkling Beetle?

I have decided to begin a new, recurring feature here called "ID Tips" that will be designed to help naturalists, amateur and student entomologists, and others solve common and basic problems in insect and spider identification. Our first installment will explain differences between ground beetles (family Carabidae) and darkling beetles (family Tenebrionidae). The two are easily confused, but generally straightforward once you know what to look for.

Ground beetle, Dicaelus sp.; note antennae, exposed jaws

Darkling beetle, Embaphion sp.; note antennae, hidden jaws

Physical Features

One glaring difference between carabids and tenebrionids is the structure of the antennae. In ground beetles, the segments of the antennae are usually longer than wide, giving the antenna the appearance of a near single filament. Darkling beetles have mostly bead-like segments, such that the antenna resembles one of those keychains that closes by pushing the filament between the beads into a clasp. This is not a foolproof character, but works enough of the time that it will help you make a quick determination.

Ground beetle, Calosoma sp.; note antennae, exposed jaws

Darkling beetle, Eleodes sp.; note antennae, concealed jaws

Look also at the front of the head. Are the mandibles (jaws) exposed and directed forward? If so, then you have a ground beetle or another kind of predatory beetle. Conversely, if the mandibles are concealed beneath the clypeus ("upper lip" if you will), then it is likely your specimen is a darkling beetle or another beetle that feeds on vegetation or detritus.


Does your beetle move very rapidly by running? This is another characteristic of ground beetles. Many species are so fast that it is a real challenge to catch them for closer examination. Does your beetle lumber along slowly or only run fast when prodded? Chances are you have a darkling beetle then. Many darkling beetles rely on a very dense exoskeleton to repel attacks by predators, and consequently don't feel the need to flee in haste. Desert and prairie species may even have the wing covers fused to help limit water loss.

Ground beetle, Chlaenius sp., that has a stink defense

Does your beetle stand on its head when disturbed? This head-standing behavior is characteristic of the darkling beetle genus Eleodes, and some other closely-related genera. Both darkling beetles and ground beetles can have extremely effective chemical defenses that include pungent, permeating aromatic compounds released from abdominal glands, so smelling your beetle to make an identification is not only a potential exercise in futility, it can be highly unpleasant if not injury-inducing.

Darkling beetle, Helops pernitens, with antennae like a ground beetle (but concealed jaws)


Habitat is not a good way to distinguish ground beetles from darkling beetles. Both can be found in a variety of habitats, and are especially abundant and diverse in aridland ecosystems.

Complicating Factors

Because both carabids and tenebrionids are well-defended insects, they are mimicked by a variety of unrelated insects. One prime example is the longhorned beetle genus Moneilema, which mimics Eleodes darkling beetles not only in appearance, but behavior. The longhorned beetles, which feed mostly at night, on cactus pads, move slowly and even stand on their heads like Eleodes. They have no chemical defense to back-up their warning posture, but the bluff works fine on all but the most desperate of insectivores.

Darkling beetle (Eleodes sp.) head-standing

Cactus longhorned beetle (Moneilema sp.) mimicking Eleodes spp.

Another complication is the relatively recent assimilation of two former beetle families into the Tenebrionidae, many of which do not resemble "classic" darkling beetles. These are the comb-clawed beetles (subfamily Alleculinae) and long-jointed beetles (Lagriinae).

Comb-clawed beetle, Hymenorus sp., a type of darkling beetle

Long-jointed beetle, Statira sp., an aberrant darkling beetle

In contrast, the "ironclad beetles" in the family Zopheridae were once members of the Tenebrionidae. They include beetles so well-armored that entomologists have extreme difficulty in pinning specimens that they collect.

Ironclad beetle, Zopherus tristis

No single character is probably reliable by itself, and it is recommended that one use a dichotomous key, in a technical book or online, to reach a firm conclusion on the identity of your beetle. It is also a great idea to invest in a good dissecting (binocular) microscope. Good luck!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Don't Ignore the Small Bugs!

If I learned anything at the blacklight in our backyard this year, it was to not ignore the small stuff. Naturally, trying to find statistical documentation of the average length of insects in millimeters, I failed. Surely, the overwhelming majority of insect species measure less than ten millimeters. Heck, entire orders of insects are comprised of species that rarely exceed five millimeters. Lice, booklice, and barklice for example; and fleas as another case in point.

Battaristris concinusella, the "Music-loving Moth"

Most of the moths that came to our blacklight were in the category known as "microlepidoptera," and shockingly small compared to what one normally considers moth-like. Some of these insects spend their caterpillar stage mining between the layers of a leaf, boring inside a grass stem, tucked inside a rolled or tied leaf, or otherwise hidden from view in the most unlikely places.

Syncopacma nigrella, a "twirler moth"

It is a real challenge to photograph microlepidoptera, but well worth the effort. The geographic distribution of many species is largely unknown, and simply turning on your porch light and imaging what alights there can lead to county or even state records. You can post your pictures to any number of forums, Facebook interest groups, or citizen science websites to get the specimens identified....maybe. Many species require dissection of the genitalia to confirm their identity.

Phyllocnistis sp., maybe?

The beauty of the tiny scale-winged creatures boggles the mind. Some have lance-shaped wings with long scales that fringe the tips and make the wings look more like feathers. Some have scales that are so reflective that your camera flash bounces right off and blows out every image. Some have a metallic sheen. A few have false eyespots designed to get potential predators to attack the wrong end of the insect.

microcaddisfly, family Hydroptilidae

I imaged one impossibly tiny moth that I soon learned was not a moth at all. The microcaddisflies in the family Hydroptilidae are exactly that. They are only 4-5 millimeters from "nose" to wingtip. We don't have any hospitable aquatic habitat within about half a mile of our yard, but caddisflies in general are able fliers, traveling long distances as adult insects.

minute brown scavenger beetle

Not to be outdone by moths, beetles can also be tiny. Among the more common species that appeared at our blacklight belonged to families that consist almost entirely of very small members. Minute brown scavenger beetles, family Latridiidae, showed up consistently. So did shining flower beetles in the family Phalacridae. Very small flea beetles in the leaf beetle family Chrysomelidae appeared in fair numbers, too. They often vaulted out of camera range just before I snapped the shutter.

Non-biting midge, family Chironomidae

The majority of flies coming to our night light were also miniscule. Dark-winged fungus gnats, family Sciaridae, were most abundant, but a diversity of non-biting midges, family Chironomidae, were omnipresent most nights.

"no-see-um" biting midge

Few biting flies are attracted to lights at night, but we did have a handful of "no-see-ums," biting midges in the family Ceratopogonidae. The majority of these flies actually feed on the blood of other insects rather than vertebrates.

black fly female (Simuliidae)

To my surprise, a lone female black fly, family Simuliidae, also came in one night, but none were seen before or since. They are also aquatic in the larval stage, as are mosquitoes, most midges, and no-see-ums.

I am still trying to identify several flies that came in. I did manage to identify to genus one of the ubiquetous gall midges in the family Cecidomyiidae. Lasioptera is a lovely black, gray, and white insect.

gall midge, Lasioptera sp.

True bugs can also be very small, especially members of the enormous family of plant bugs, the Miridae. I swear, it seemed that no two were alike; and I am not at all certain I'll be able to identify even a fraction of them. Meanwhile, to my delight, a thread-legged assassin bug, Empicoris species, showed up a couple of times, perhaps looking to dine on one of the smaller insects drawn to the ultraviolet light.

thread-legged assassin bug

Leafhoppers in the family Cicadellidae are as much of a joyful pain as mirids in their sheer diversity. Look closely and you will also find planthoppers in the family Delphacidae, treehoppers in the Membracidae, and probably a few other odds and ends in the order Hemiptera.

unidentified microhymenopteran

Believe it or not, there are a good number of nocturnal wasps that will come to blacklights. Most of them are parasites of other insects, and constitute what entomologists call "microhymenoptera." Do you detect a theme here? Some of the smallest insects known are "fairy flies" in the wasp family Mymaridae. I did not detect any of those, but considering they can be well under one millimeter, chances are I could not have procured an image anyway. I settled instead for tiny braconid wasps and a handful of other wasps collectively lumped in the superfamily Chalcidoidea.

leafhopper, Norvellina perelegantis

Are you hooked yet on the micro-bugs? For a full spectrum of what I found just at the blacklight, check out my Flickr album for June, and alsoJuly, as well as the one I'm still working on for August through October.

unidentified mirid plant bug

Meanwhile, you might try practicing your imaging skills on dead insects from indoors. Light fixtures tend to accumulate large numbers of small insects, and you might be surprised at what you find. Good luck to you; and remember that myself and others can be found at many online destinations to help you solve your mysteries.