What th—? A Rabbit Bot Fly? Really??
Today on Shelf Road in Fremont Co., Sam Peck, a veteran Blackhawk helicopter pilot and one of the Nature Place Staff, brought me the most amazing insect I’ve seen in years. Mystified at what it might be, I posted it on Arthropods Colorado Facebook group. Within an hour or two, I had about thirty comments, among which was an identification to genus and family: Alejandro Estrada identified it as a bot fly, genus Cuterebra, family Oestridae. Eric Eaton, entomology generalist who knows almost everything with six legs, further identified it as a rabbit bot, based in part on the red in the eyes. OMG. Then Prof. Boettner from UMass went still further, calling it Cuterebra lepusculi, and female based on the wide gap between the eyes. He verified that only the females have the red eye spots, and said that they fade with time in museum specimens. Unbelievable. They attack mainly cottontail rabbits. Other commenters noted how cute it is, but still others found this revolting, as bot flies are parasites that lay eggs under your skin, where the larvae hatch and cause an inflamed canker that eventually ruptures to allow the hideous (but cute) parasite to fly away. Although this particular specimen was not capable of flight, Prof Boettner assures me that once this thing sits for 24 hours or so, it will fly like its house is on fire, and will lay eggs in rabbit burrows.
Prof. Boettner’s last email on this subject states, “Hi Sam. Say hi to the Williams College gang for me. I should mention that although bots have short lives, females can lay over a thousand eggs in that short 10 day lifespan. And they only need one male and female egg to survive to keep the population stable. Amazing every rabbit isn’t infested. But they waste a lot laid in runways that never get in a host. That is a beauty that you found. One of the larger bots in the world. There is one in New Mexico that has yours beat in size. C. mirabilis. Nearly 2 inch long females! It uses black tailed jackrabbits as a host. And the male of that species has never been seen. So lots of mystery in the bot world.” He is doing DNA studies, and expressed the hope that I might have taken the specimen. Darn. So, maybe Sam Peck will go back up there and find me another one.
Some viewers thought it might be a sculpture, a model. But it’s the real thing. After that, this moth larva seemed almost pedestrian.
Here are a few finds from yesterday’s pickings through the paper shales from Florissant. These are from 36 million years ago, caught in ash falls from nearby volcanoes and trapped in the mud on the bottom of the lake. A fly, a beetle, and a fly/ant/gastropod assemblage.
In spite of the hard freeze in May, flowers are doing well, and the goldfinches are making a meal of the bear’s britches.
Years ago, when I was a kid, I heard about a Frank Lutz study in which snowy tree crickets could be used as a thermometer by counting their chirping rate, which, because they are poikilotherms, varies with the ambient temperature. At the time I thought that was interesting, but a little irrelevant, since I had a thermometer. But we don’t always have a thermometer when we’re, say, camping, so a few years ago I had my Biology class make a thermometer by going outside, recording the temperature, and counting the chirps per minute of our local crickets. I don’t know the cricket species, but it is a common one in late summer when school starts. Here are their data, compiled to show a good polynomial fit. The linear equation, upper left, is also a good fit at r = 0.96.
From Lowe’s Great Horned Owl clutch.
And our red tails. Growing fast. The Gazette used the photo below as a “Photo of the Day” on Memorial Day, Monday, 29 May.
Precambrian granite (about 1.6 billion years old), distinct to the practiced eye from Pikes Peak Granite, sits directly under the Ordovician Manitou Limestone (~ 450 million years ago), which has fossilized scales from jawless fishes. This contact represents over a billion years that’s missing from the geologic record (at this site). That means that the old granite probably had a series of overburdens that may have represented many events, but the evidence has all eroded away, leaving the nearly flat erosional surface, upon which the seafloor sediments accumulated that became the limestone. On Shelf Road you can put your finger on over a billion years of missing time.
Dedicated to the May family.
When I was eight years old, I suffered a short career in Cub Scouts, less than a year, weathering one bit of idiocy after another. The camping trip, washed out by a downpour, the picnic in the park spoiled by the nutcase who forgot to bring the drinks, the hike up the canyon ruined by falling on sharp rocks that cut my shins and made them bleed–everything conspired to destroy my faith in scouting.
The last straw, my final and most deflating experience with the organization, but also the most wondrous event in my life, was the field trip to the May Museum of Natural History. There, my patience stretched to—and beyond—the breaking point. Continue reading “Waking Up at the May Museum”