Natural History Museum of Utah

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Bugs of Utah

 

Green lacewing

(Chrysopa spp.)

Delicate, pale green with golden eyes, these insects are often attracted to lights and can frequently be found on screen doors on summer evenings.  The adults feed on nectar, but the larvae are predators and are helpful in the garden as aphid-control.  Lacewings lay their eggs singly on the end of stalks.

Photo courtesy of Brad Smith

Bug Brigade at UMNH -- Rosehair Tarantula


Woodlouse spider

(Dysdera crocata)

This fierce-looking this spider prefers garden habitats where it lurks under rocks waiting for its principal prey, the lowly sowbug or woodlouse.  This spider uses its large chelicerae, or mouth parts, to pierce sowbugs' tough exoskeletons.

Photo courtesy of William Hull, www.mangoverde.com

Christy Bills, UMNH Entomologist


Black widow spider

(Lactrodectus hesperus)

Utah's most venomous spider, the black widow protects itself mostly by being timid and quick to hide when disturbed.  This spider creates a coarse, disorganized web that is easy to recognize.  They're often found in garages and window wells. 

Photo courtesy of Pete Baer


Jerusalem cricket

(Stenopelmatus sp.)

The Jerusalem cricket is undoubtedly the strangest looking bug in Utah!  They are fairly common, especially in the desert foothills, but rarely seen because they are solitary, nocturnal, and burrowing. If you're lucky enough to come across one, don't pick it up! The sharp mandibles and somewhat cross nature of these grasshopper-relatives makes them best left on the ground. There are a few different species of Jerusalem cricket in Utah, but they can only be distinguished by the song of the male.

Photo courtesy of Helen Roman


Velvet ant

(Mutillidae family)

How could a small, brightly-colored insect walk on the desert floor in broad daylight so brazenly unafraid of being eaten?  Velvet ants have stingers, an unusually tough exoskeleton, and a twittering kind of squeak when alarmed that keeps them safe from predation. In fact, they have no known predators!  In this family, females are wingless and males have wings.  They are common throughout the world in different habitats. In Utah, look for them in places with dry soil. 

Photo courtesy of Skoch3


Ichneumon wasp

(Megarhyssa sp.)

Easily the largest wasp in Utah, the adult female sports an ovipositor, or egg-laying appendage that's often four inches long.  Though it can be awfully scary looking, the ovipositor is not a stinger.  Like many wasps, the ichneumon is a parasite. The female lays an egg on the developing grub of another kind of waspand , when the ichneumon hatches, it eats the other wasp grub. The host, the pigeon tremex wasp, lives in dead trees.  The ichneumon can drill into wood with its long ovipositor to lay its eggs in the hidden grubs.

Photo courtesy of Bruce Marlin, www.cirrusimage.com


Honey bee

(Apis mellifera)

Symbolically representing the industry of the early Utah pioneers, the honey bee is an intrinsic part of local iconography. Like most of Utah's pioneer settlers, they are also transplants from Europe.  They are immeasurably important to the food supply of the United States.  By some estimates, they pollinate one third of all the food we eat.  There are thousands of different bee species around the world.  Many are very colorful and most don't live in colonies.

Photo courtesy of Bresson Thomas


White-lined sphinx moth

(Hyles lineata)

The White-lined sphinx moth beats its wings so rapidly it is often mistaken for a hummingbird as it nectars at flowers.  Here's how you can tell the difference: hummingbirds rarely nectar as low to the ground as this moth and this moth is more commonly seen at dusk.

Photo courtesy of Bron Praslicka


Mormon cricket

(Anabrus simplex)

The Mormon cricket lives for only one season.  It lays eggs in the soil in the fall and nymphs emerge in the spring.  Over summer they mature into reproductive adults and the cycle starts all over again.

Before they were the plague of early Utah settlers, Mormon crickets were the food of many native peoples.  Detailed analysis of their nutritional content reveals them to be an excellent source of protein.  Some people preserved the crickets with salt from the Great Salt Lake. 

Photo courtesy of Alex Wild


House centipede

(Scutigera coleoptrata)

Fleet-footed with fifteen pairs of legs, these basement and under-sink dwellers are voracious predators and do people a favor by eating unwanted house pests.  Their appearance can be disconcerting as they rush past but, rest assured, they pose no harm to people.

Photo courtesy of Bruce Marlin, www.cirrusimage.com


Carolina wolf spider

(Hogna carolinensis)

Utah's largest non-tarantula spiders, Carolina wolf spiders are aggressive insect hunters.  They are great at blending in with their environment and holding still to avoid detection.  The best time to spot them is at night. Their eyes shine like stars when you shine an LED light on them.  With this technique, you can spot this spider at 30 feet.

The female Carolina wolf spider is a caring mother.  She'll carry an eggsac for weeks until the spiderlings hatch.  If the egg sac is removed, she'll carry a similar-sized object in its place.  When the spiderlings emerge from the egg sac, they climb on her back and ride around for a week or so.  Then they scamper off to live their own lives. 

Photo courtesy of Bryan Doty


Salt Lake County brown tarantula

(Aphonopelma iodius)

The teddy bear of the desert, these harmless fuzzy darlings live much longer than you might think -- up to 25 years for a female and about half that for a male!  Tarantulas aren't the fastest runners.  Their primary defense is the irritating hairs on their abdomens.  When chased or frightened, they can use a back leg to brush these hairs into the eyes or mouth of a predator. 

In the late summer, you're likely to see tarantulas wandering in the foothills.  They aren't migrating. They are mature males looking for females, with little interest in food or their own safety...just mating.

Photo courtesy of Derek Israelsen, www.derekisraelsen.com