Montana Public Radio

Bug Bytes

  • Hosted by Glenn Marangelo, Jen Marangelo - Missoula Insectarium

As described by Edward O. Wilson — perhaps the best known American biologist, researcher, naturalist and author — invertebrates are "The Little Things That Run the World." And indeed they do, in so many ways. In terms of numbers — while most invertebrates are pretty small, the sheer number of them is astounding. Together, they have more biomass than any other animal on earth.

Learn more about the fascinating creatures that run the world, with Bug Bytes from the Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium.

Bug Bytes: Yucca Moth

Jun 12, 2020
Courtesy of Ann Cooper / https://bugguide.net/node/view/119525 ©2007 Ann Cooper

In Montana, the small soapweed yucca is a plant native to the central and eastern part of the state, east of the Continental Divide. But thanks to its showy, fragrant stalks of beautiful white flowers, it's a popular addition to gardens west of the divide too.

But there’s one big difference between yuccas growing within their native range versus the non-native transplants …the plant will only produce its big seedpods in its native range.

Is it because of differences in climate, soils, or maybe the amount of rain? It all boils down to the presence of one, very specific insect – the yucca moth – the only insect capable of successfully pollinating the plant.

Bug Bytes: Spittlebugs

Jun 12, 2020
A spittlebug nymph and adults.
Missoula Insectarium

You’re in your garden or maybe out for a walk in the woods … and you come across what looks like a fresh loogie someone just spit onto a plant. Gross!

Relax. A fellow human likely did not leave behind the white, foamy goop. It’s the telltale sign of a spittlebug.

Bug Bytes: Carnivorous Caterpillars

Jun 12, 2020
A non-carnivorous horned spanworm moth caterpillar.
Glenn Marangelo

With nearly 180,000 species of moths and butterflies in the world, it goes without saying that their larval stage of development – caterpillars – are equally abundant. And of all the different types of caterpillars in the world, inchworms are perhaps the best-known group.

Inchworms are species of moths in the family geometridae. Most of us have seen cute little inchworms inching along a branch or dangling from the tree canopy on a strand of silk. Their bodies tend to be green, brown or tan in color, helping these small caterpillars blend into their surroundings. With soft, almost gummy-like bodies, they’re seen as gentle vegetarians that have been the focus of many children’s books and stories.

That is, except for the ferocious gang of inchworms found in Hawaii.

Bug Bytes: The Human Botfly

Jun 12, 2020
Glenn Marangelo

You’ve taken a remarkable trip to Central or South America. You saw incredible species of birds and mammals, and of course were “wowed” by the amazing insects you discovered. You return with life-long memories, beautiful photos and some souvenirs. But unfortunately some travelers return with an unexpected stowaway...the human botfly.

Bug Bytes: Golden Buprestid

Jun 12, 2020
Glenn Marangelo

Forged in fire. Whether it’s glass or metal, many artists rely on heat and fire to make their craft. Then it should come as no surprise that a family of incredibly beautiful beetles also has a relationship with fire.

Metallic wood-boring beetles are commonly called “jewel beetles” because of their iridescent colors. And the golden buprestid is perhaps one of the shiniest examples. While primarily a bedazzled metallic green color, they also sport blue and purple highlights with a coppery-orange edge to their wing covers. They look more like a piece of insect art.

Bug Bytes: Dogbane Tiger Moths And Bats

Jun 12, 2020
A cycnia tenera moth, commonly known as a dogbane tiger moth.
Glenn Marangelo

On summer evenings, when darkness falls and most winged predators have called it quits for the day, bats awaken from their daytime slumber to rule the skies.

Despite darkness, thanks to their ability to echolocate – creating ultrasonic clicks and listening to the echoes that return – bats can create detailed images of their surroundings…including whatever tasty insects might be in their flight path.

Well, most insects, that is. Certain species of tiger moths have developed an effective way to avoid becoming a bat’s next meal. And perhaps none have been studied more than the dogbane tiger moth.

Bug Bytes: Dung Beetles To The Rescue

Jun 12, 2020
An introduced dung beetle in Australia. While the species is native to Africa, they are now widespread in northern Australia.
CSIRO / https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CSIRO_ScienceImage_11207_Dung_beetle_Onthophagus_gazella_side_view.jpg

Insects play critical roles in our lives. Pollination, decomposition and soil aeration are just a few. And they do this behind the scenes, without much recognition or thanks.

So this episode is dedicated to a large group of unsung insect heroes…the dung beetles.

Bug Bytes: Jumping Spiders

Jun 12, 2020
A phidippus johnsoni, more commonly known as a Johnson jumping spider.
Glenn Marangelo

Of all the different kinds of insects and arthropods we encounter, on average, people tend to be most afraid of spiders. But with their big eyes and fuzzy little bodies, jumping spiders are the cute puppy dogs of the spider world.

Bug Bytes: Evolution And 'The Predicted One'

Jul 15, 2019
Xanthopan morganii praedicta moth
kqedquest, https://www.flickr.com/photos/kqedquest/3256354461/ (CC-BY-NC-2 [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/])

When it comes to the topic of evolution Charles Darwin is "the man." In 1859, his book, On the Origin of Species provided compelling evidence that transformed the theory of evolution into widely accepted fact.

Evolution is the process by which an organism changes over time to better adapt to its environment. This theory includes the idea of coevolution — where two or more species evolve together for their mutual benefit.

Bug Bytes: Centipede Or Millipede?

Jul 7, 2019
Millipede and centipede
Shutterstock

So you’re digging in the garden and see something crawling in the freshly turned soil. With its many legs, it’s clearly not a worm. But what is it? A millipede or a centipede?

Both have long, segmented bodies and lots of legs. But despite these visual similarities, they could not be more different in terms of diet and behavior.

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