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What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Glossy Red and black spider from Papua highlands
Location:  Tembagapura, Papua, Indonesia
October 2, 2010 10:08 pm
We see these small spiders with a red cephalothorax and upper half of legs and glossy black abdomen and lower half of legs around the house here in the highlands (2500 meters) in Papua, Indonesia. Any ideas what they are?
Signature:  Kevin

Red and Black Spider from Indonesia

Dear Kevin,
This is one awesome looking spider.  We want to GUESS that this might be a Cobweb Spider in the family Theridiidae, the same family that includes such black and red poisonous spiders as the Black Widow from North America and the Red Back Spider from Australia.  Red and Black are codified warning colors in the insect and bug* worlds, and that warning is generally poison.  We hope our readership will come to our rescue with the name of this begloved she-beauty.

* Ed. Note: Bugs are loosely defined as “Thing That Crawl” in Daniel’s new book The Curious World of Bugs.

Spider from Papua

Hi Daniel,
Thanks – I think you steered me in the right direction.  I’m going to guess this is in the Nicodamidae family which was split out of the family Theridiidae (according to what I can find on some Aussie web sites) about 15 years ago.  The Australian Red and Black spider (not to be confused with the Red Back) looks almost identical to mine and is a member of this family.
This one has a body length of 8mm, and from what I can tell looking at pictures would appear to be a female.

Thanks for writing back Kevin.  As you did not provide a link, we searched and found the family Nicodamidae on the Spiders of Australia website and there were photos of Nicodamus peregrinus, which looks very close to your specimen.  The webpage indicates Nicodamus peregrinus can be found in Eastern Australia, and that “The family Nicodamidae consist of nine genera with 29 descibed species, all living in Australia, one in New Guinea and one in New-Zealand.”  The Esperance Fauna website also devotes nice coverage to the family Nicodamidae.

Sorry for not including the links – yes, those were the sites I found most helpful also.

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

October 11, 2010
This morning Daniel did two additional radio interviews with WOCM-FM “Bulldog and the Rude Awakening” in Ocean City MD, and WLW-AM “Jim Scott Show” in Cincinnati OH.  If they are local shows for you, be sure to tune in.  Last week Daniel had an interview with IRN-USA Radio Network in order to provide sound bytes for national news broadcasts.

October 1, 2010
Yesterday Daniel was interviewed for The Osgood File about The Curious World of Bugs, though it is uncertain exactly when in the coming weeks the interview will be played on syndicated Westwood One CBS radio.  In Los Angeles, The Osgood File can be heard on KNX 1070 and you can check your local affiliate using the Westwood One station finder for the Osgood File program.  Stay tuned for more details.

Hitting Shelves October 5

You can preorder the book at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or an Independent Bookseller now!

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

September 27, 2010
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What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

… and the surprise is that the inside cover was done the way I requested it.
September 15, 2010

Rear Frontispiece

You can preorder the book at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or an Independent Bookseller now!

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

The publicist at Penguin/Perigee requested that Daniel make a video to stir up interest in radio and television appearances prior to the release of The Curious World of Bugs.  Here is a simple home video of Daniel in the tomato patch:

Though a Tomato Bug, which is Grandma Nanowsky’s name for either a Tomato Hornworm or a Tobacco Hornworm, could not be located at the time the video was shot, there is nonetheless some helpful information contained in the video on these large green caterpillars that feed on the leaves of tomato and related plants.

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Tomato Hornworm
Location:  Dayton, OH
August 12, 2010 7:58 pm
My kids found this guy on one of our tomato plants. It ate a huge hole in our biggest tomato. I had to pluck him off and relocate him to a tree at the other side of my yard. Beautiful creature, but I’m sad it ate my biggest tomato!

Tobacco Hornworm

Hi Jessica,
This may not matter much to you, but your caterpillar is not a Tomato Hornworm,
Manduca quinquemaculata, but rather the closely related Tobacco Hornworm, Manduca sexta.  The Caterpillars and adult Hawkmoths of both species look very similar and have similar diets, and both caterpillars will feed on the leaves, and occasionally fruit, of tomatoes.  According to BugGuide the Tobacco Hornworm can be identified by its:  “large green body; dorsal ‘horn’ (usually curved and orange, pink or red) on terminal abdominal segment; up to seven oblique whitish lateral lines, edged with black on upper borders. The similar looking Tomato Hornworm, Manduca quinquemaculata, has eight v-shaped stripes and a straight blue-black horn. These caterpillars are often confused and misidentified.”

We have an interesting personal anecdote to relate.  Our publicist has urged Daniel to create a short 2-3 minute video to use a promotional device for his about to be released book, The Curious World of Bugs.  The video would be used to drum up television appearances including his much dreamed about Martha Stewart spot.  The morning of the video shoot, while he was still trying to settle upon a topic, his neighbor Elena walked by.  She was delivering the caterpillar of a Tomato Hornworm to the child of another neighbor who was raising them to observe metamorphosis.  Daniel knew he had one lurking on one of his tomato plants because of the telltale signs of chewed leaves and green droppings, and he quickly located the culprit.  He was going to give it to Elena to deliver along with her caterpillar, but at the last moment, he decided it would be a nice treat for his Fuzzy Bottom Gals, the new chickens.  Moments after the happy chicks finished fighting over the succulent green caterpillar, Daniel realized he had just fed the ideal topic for the video to the gals, and he decided to walk to the neighbor’s house to borrow the Tomato Hornworm Elena had found.  He returned with the caterpillar in a plastic produce box and sat to write the bullet points for the video monologue, not wanting to place the Tomato Hornworm on the plant too early since they are so well camouflaged and he wanted to be able to place it where the camera could easily include it.  About a half an hour before the video shoot, Daniel discovered that the Tomato Hornworm had escaped and it was nowhere to be found, so two different caterpillar subjects evaded a video appearance.  Undaunted, Daniel did the video without the subject actually appearing.  Hopefully he will be bright, witty and charming enough to entice the producers of the Martha Stewart Show to consider him for a guest appearance, even without a caterpillar.  Daniel still has to inform the little girl up the street, Milo, that her Tomato Hornworm is an escape artist.

Update on the Tobacco Hornworm:  Parasitized by Braconid Wasp!!!
What a great story! I hope the little girl wasn’t upset about her caterpillar. Sad update though, it has since died. We decided after my first email to keep it and hope for the best. Fed it many fresh tomato leaves and thought things were going well. It got lethargic so I sat the critter carrier we bought for him outside in the sunlight and hoped the warmth would help him. The next day, my daughter came running in and told me of the oval things on its back. I had to break the news that this poor caterpillar was dying and there was nothing I could do. I’ve attached the most recent photo of our poor caterpillar in case you want to use it on the site.

Tobacco Hornworm parasitized by Braconid Wasp

Thanks for the update Jessica,
Daniel has still not told Milo, but he did notify her father that he would pay a visit and provide an explanation.  Your Tobacco Hornworm was a goner before you discovered it.  It had been parasitized by a Braconid Wasp.  The Braconid lays eggs by “injecting” them into the Hornworm with an ovipositor.  The larval Braconids feed upon the internal organs of the Hornworm, eventually emerging to pupate on the surface, which your photograph illustrates.  Braconids are considered biological control methods for many agricultural pests, though their hosts are not limited to plant feeding insects.  Most Braconids are very species specific when it comes to the choice of where to lay eggs.

Update on Mt Washington Tobacco Hornworms
August 24, 2010
Daniel told Milo and she was understanding.  Daniel spotted this Tobacco Hornworm on the Caspian Pink, and he is going to let Milo know there is a caterpillar for her.  He is going to recommend a terrarium with a live potted tomato plant for raising it.

Tobacco Hornworm in Mt Washington

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination