|Psocoptera – Barklice
Psocids are a common but relatively inconspicuous order of insects. These tiny insects typically live among tree bark and other dry plant matter. While they may be winged or wingless, all of the species found in Coal Oil Point thus far are winged. They feed on fungi, lichen, and decaying plant debris, and along with many other insects play an important role in cycling nutrients. They can be gregarious or live alone. Some species spin silk in which they live. A few are known to live communally in bird feathers and nests or mammal fur, and some research has suggested they are the ancestors of true lice.
Coal Oil Point is home to 6 species of psocids.
Neuroptera - Lacewings and Dustywings
Neuroptera is a common but not very diverse order of insects. They are distinguishable by their densely veined membranous wings, giving the appearance of "lace." Most species are voracious predators, typically preying on plant pest insects such as aphids. Because of this, some neuropterans have been successfully used in the biological control of crop pests.
We have found two species of lacewings and one species of dusty-wings at Coal Oil Point.
Diptera - True Flies
Diptera is both a very abundant and diverse order. As their name suggests, flies are excellent fliers. Unlike most insects, they only have one set of membranous wings. Their hind wings have evolved over time into structures known as “halteres,” small knob-like structures responsible for balance.
Fly larvae are found in a wide range of habitats and have diverse food habits eating plant tissue, dead and living animal tissue, decaying organic matter, blood, other insects, etc. Adults feed mainly on liquids, often from sweet or decaying sources. Flies are also important pollinators of native plants and crops.
The most common flies at the reserve are two species of kelp flies, Fucellia costalis and Coelopa vanduzeei. The larvae, together with the beach hoppers, are responsible for the breakdown of the kelp that washes on the beach. The adult flies occurs in huge number in and around kelp wrack. These flies are an important food source to many shorebirds, including the threatened Western Snowy Plover.
The most curious of our flies is the petroleum fly, Helaeomyia petrolei. This fly spends its entire larval stage submerged in pools of crude oil, feeding on insects that fall into the oil. We do not know much about the population of petroleum flies at Coal Oil Point, but we expect that the reserve provides good habitat for them, as crude oil is common on the beach and around the dune pond.
Flies are responsible for a great deal of the diversity at Coal Oil Point, with over 120 species in the collection.
Dolichopodidae - Long-legged Flies
This family of flies is very common and found in marshy and meadow habitats. They are named for their noticeably long and thin legs. Though small, these flies may be quite attractive, exhibiting metallic blue and green coloration. The adults are generally predaceous on smaller insects, while the larvae may be found in moist soil, decaying vegetation, or water, including the tidal zone of the rocky beach.
The Coal Oil Point collection contains six morphospecies of Long-legged flies.
Empididae – Dance Flies
Many species in this family are best known by bikers and joggers because of their habit of gathering in large groups and swarming up and down in the air, near trees or creeks. These swarms are a rendezvous display where males present females with an insect as a gift, in an attempt to convince them to mate. They are fun to watch and imagine how they can move so fast and not collide with each other. One can collect these flies with a butterfly net and observe the insects that were being presented to the females after they are dropped at the bottom of the net.
Six morphospecies of dance flies are found at Coal Oil Point and are easily observed at along trails of shady areas.
Syrphidae - Hoverflies
Hoverflies, or Flower-flies, are a fairly common family of flies. They are exceptional fliers and are generally found hovering around flowers. Many species are confused with wasps or bees because of their similar appearance, though Hoverflies do not have a “stinger.” When in doubt, count the wings: the hoverfly has 1 pair of wings and the bees or wasps have 2 pairs of wings. The adults feed on flower nectar and aphid honeydew. Their larvae may scavenge in dung and decaying matter or graze on aphids, while others are aquatic.
The Coal Oil Point collection contains ten morphospecies of Hoverflies.
Agromyzidae - Leaf Miner Flies
Leaf miner flies are small flies generally found among vegetation. They are called “leaf miners” because their tiny larvae dig tunnels within leaves.
The Coal Oil Point collection contains eight morphospecies of leaf miner flies.
Chloropidae - Frit Flies
This is a large and common family of small-sized flies. Both as adults and as larvae Frit flies live either in decaying matter or in grass stems and as such are found in grassy areas.
The Coal Oil Point collection has three morphospecies of Frit Flies.
Muscidae - House Flies
This family includes many common flies, including House flies. Muscids are relatively large and hairy. Some are predaceous as adults, while most feed on dead plant and animal tissue, dung, and even blood. At the reserve, they are commonly found in and around carcasses of marine mammals that die on the beach.
The Coal Oil Point collection contains nine morphospecies of Muscid flies.
Tachinidae - Tachinid Flies
The family Tachinidae contains many large and hairy flies, some resembling bees. Their larvae parasitize other insects and, as a result, are very important in controlling the abundance of pest species. The female fly lays one or more eggs on the surface of the insect host. The larvae then burrows inside of the body cavity and eats the host from the inside-out. Amazingly, the larvae is able to eat almost all of the host tissues without killing it. It is only when the larvae is ready to crawl out of the host body that the host dies.
The Coal Oil Point collection contains eleven morphospecies of Tachnid flies.
Hymenoptera - Ants, Bees, and Wasps
Hymenoptera is a tremendously diverse order of insects, as well as one of the best known. It includes all ants, bees, wasps, and sawflies. Hymenoptera may have four membranous wings, or in the case of worker ants, be wingless. The female members of this order (apart from sawflies), have a “stinger.” The stinger is actually a modified ovipositor (egg-laying organ). It is used both for defense and often to inject venom, to paralyze or kill prey.
Adults of this order mostly feed on nectar or honeydew, while their larvae may feed on plant tissue, nectar, or other insects. The majority of Hymenoptera specimens in the collection are parasitic wasps. Most of these are actually considered “parisitoids,” because while their larvae will feed on a live host as a parasite does, it will actually kill the host as the wasp reaches maturity as a part of its lifecycle.
The Coal Oil Point collection contains over 170 morphospecies of Hymenoptera, most of which are small parasitic wasps. The wasps account for a large portion of the collection’s overall diversity.
Ichneumonoidea - Braconids and Ichneumons
This is the largest superfamily within Hymenoptera, named for the largest family, Ichneumonidae. Members range vastly in size from minute to over 2 inches, and are all parasites of other insects. The larger of these wasps have very impressive ovipositors, though they rarely will sting humans. The ovipositor is used instead to insert eggs into the bodies of their hosts, which may be paralyzed in the process. These parasitic larvae are very important in controlling the abundances of pest insects.
The Coal Oil Point collection has over 50 species of Ichneumons and Braconids.
This group includes small to minute wasps with characteristically reduced wing venation. These tiny wasps are generally parasitic on other insects and as a result are very important in controlling the abundance of pest insects. Some of these are even hyperparasites, meaning that they parasitize other parasites.
The Coal Oil Point collection contains over 40 species of Chalcidoidea, including 10 species of Fairyflies (Mymaridae).
Proctotrupoidea - Proctotrupids, Diaprids, Scelionids, and Platygasterids
This superfamily includes several types of small but very common parasitoid wasps. As larvae, these wasps are parasitic on other insects. Each species of wasp is generally a specialist in parasitizing a particular group of insect.
The Coal Oil Point collection includes 28 morphospecies of Proctotrupoidea, 19 of which are Scelionids.
Apoidea - Bees
Superfamily Apoidea includes all bees. Contrary to common perceptions, most bees are solitary. The social honey bees and bumble bees are in fact the exceptions. Solitary bees live in small nests in the ground or other natural cavities. Bees feed on flower pollen or nectar and as a result play an important role in pollinating plants, including flowering crops such as cotton, fruits, and vegetables.
The Coal Oil Point Reserve collection includes ten species of native bees, in addition to the nonnative European honeybee.
Formicidae - Ants
The family Formicidae includes all ants. Ants live communally in nests ranging in size from a dozen to several thousands of individuals. Nests are found in the ground or in other natural cavities and typically consist of one queen, many female workers and a small number of males. Ants may be predaceous, scavengers, or feed on plants.
Coal Oil Point is home to five species of ants, including the highly invasive Argentine Ant (Linepithema humile.)
The following text is new and has not been edited by Mike:
Isoptera – termites
Termites are known for eating dead wood, including man-made wooden structures. While this can be more than a frustration for humans, the termites’ role in processing and decomposing dead wood and vegetable material is important for recycling these nutrients so that they can be used by other organisms, especially fungi. Much of the breaking down of the wood is actually done by symbiotic bacteria that live inside the termites’ guts. Termites live in social colonies in nests of anywhere from several hundred to several thousand individuals, which usually include a queen, and both worker and soldier castes.
The Coal Oil Point Reserve collection contains two species of termites.
Thysanoptera – thrips
Thrips are very small insects, typically between 0.5 and 2.0 mm long. Their bodies are generally long and slender, and may or may not have wings. When wings are present, they have a characteristically hairy fringe. Thrips may also be recognized by their unique asymmetrical sucking mouthparts, which look like a conical beak at the base of the head. Thrips use these mouthparts to feed on plants, fungal spores, or other small arthropods. They can be often found inside of flowers.
The Coal Oil Point Reserve collection contains three species of thrips.
Orthoptera – grasshoppers, crickets, and katydids
Orthoptera are relatively large hopping insects. When winged, their forewings are usually long, thin and somewhat hard, while the hind wings are broad, membranous and can be folded in a fan-like manner beneath the forewings. They are not very strong fliers, though they have large hindlegs which make them great jumpers. Jerusalem crickets and camel crickets have lost their wings entirely.
Orthopterans are often known for their chirping and “singing.” These sounds are generally created by males rubbing their legs or wings on another body part and used to attract female mates. Jerusalem crickets attract mates by drumming their abdomens on the ground, producing vibrations that are sensed by members of the opposite sex.
Aside from the Jerusalem cricket, all of the Orthoptera shown below are immature (so the wings are not fully developed).
Homoptera – aphids and planthoppers
Homopterans are typically found on plants, on which they all feed. Like Heteroptera, their mouthparts are long beaks, which they use pierce plant tissue and feed on the sap and fluid within. Homoptera expel the undigested portion of sap from their anus, producing a substance known as honeydew. This honeydew attracts ants, which, in exchange for the meal, protect the Homopterans.
Homoptera are an important food source for many birds, lizards, and predatorial insects (including Flower Files, Lacewings, and Ladybird beetles.)
The Homoptera includes such well known plant pests as aphids, scales, whiteflies and sharpshooters, all of which cause damage by feeding and may even transmit plant diseases. These pose many challenges to famers and gardeners alike. However, the group also contains many relatively benign bugs like treehoppers and cicadas.
The Coal Oil Point collection includes 24 species of Homoptera.
Cicadellidae – Leafhoppers
Cicadellidae is a large and diverse family. They vary greatly in size (3-13 mm,) color and markings. Leafhoppers feed on the leaves of their host plant and most species feed on a specific type of plant. Because of their feeding habits, they can be significant disease vectors, transmitting fungal, bacterial, or viral diseases.
The Coal Oil Point Reserve collection contains 13 species of Leafhoppers.
Heteroptera – True Bugs
Heteroptera is a very large and diverse order of insects. True bugs are easily recognized by their front wings, known as hemelytra- where the basal half of the wings are thick and leathery and the tips are membranous. Like Homoptera, their mouthparts are long beaks, which they use to feed on plants or other insects, or in a few cases vertebrate blood. Most true bugs are terrestrial, though a good number are aquatic.
The Coal Oil Point Reserve collection contains 24 species of true bugs.
Miridae – Leaf Bugs
Miridae is the largest family of true bugs. They primarily live on vegetation. Most leaf bugs feed on plants, while a few are predaceous on other insects.
The Coal Oil Point collection contains eight species of Leaf Bugs.
Embioptera – webspinners
Webspinners live in silk-lined colonies beneath soil and debris, and chiefly eat dead plant matter. Whereas most silk-spinning insects use glands in their mouths, webspinners' silk glands are on their front feet. Males of most species have wings, while females are always wingless. Webspinners are quite active and quick runners, usually running backward. When disturbed in their homes, webspinners will often “play dead.”
Only one webspinner specimen has been found at Coal Oil Point Reserve thus far.
Dermaptera – Earwigs
Earwigs are primarily nocturnal insects, hiding in crevices and debris during the day. They feed mainly on decaying plant matter, though a select few are predaceous. The name “earwig” comes from an old superstition that they get stuck in people’s ears. This myth is completely untrue.
Earwigs can be recognized by their characteristic rear pincers. Both males and females have pincers, however the males’ are larger and more rounded. These pincers are used for defense, offense, and prey manipulation.
Only the European earwig has been found at Coal Oil Point Reserve.
Cecidomyiidae – gall midges
As larvae, most species of gall midges produce galls in plant stems or leaves. They use these galls as both protection and a food source. Species that do not make galls feed on plant tissue, decaying vegetation or fungi. As adults, gall midges are small and frail looking. They have long thin legs and antennae and are often mistaken for mosquitoes, though they are completely harmless to humans.
The Coal Oil Point Reserve collection has 12 species of gall midges.
Chironomidae – midges
Chironomidae is a large and common family of small flies. Many midge larvae are aquatic, some known as “bloodworms” for their distinctive red color. This red color comes from hemoglobin, which stores oxygen and allows the larvae to live in harsh, low oxygen waters. Because of their abundance, bloodworms serve as a significant food source for fish and other aquatic animals. As adults, midges can also be seen congregating in large mating swarms near fresh water. Because of their similar body type, midges are often mistaken for mosquitoes though they do not bite. Although insects are usually not found in the ocean, the marine midge (Telmatogeton macswaini) occurs in the intertidal zone around sea lettuce.
The Coal Oil Point Reserve collection has 12 species of midges.
This text was written by Mike:
Collembola - Springtails
Springtails are a large order of minute insects. They take their common name from a forked organ extending from the end of the abdomen of most species that can be used to propel the insect hundreds of body lengths away, putting them among the top ranked insect jumpers.
Springtails may be incredibly abundant, occurring in great numbers in and around wrack and other decaying vegetation. However, because most are less than 2 mm in length, they are rarely noticed. They are nonetheless among the most important scavengers at Coal Oil Point, as well as in most terrestrial environments. We have found four different species of springtails at the Reserve, though there are doubtlessly more.
Archaeognatha - Jumping Bristletails
The jumping bristletails are an inconspicuous group, looking much like their better-known cousins, the silverfish. Like silverfish they are wingless, scaly scavengers. Their main claim to fame is a remarkable jumping ability. A braided cord-like muscle running the length of the body can be rapidly contracted to pull the head and tail downward, launching the insect several centimeters into the air. The scientific name of the order means 'old mouth', referring to the relatively primitive mouthparts of these insects. Archaeognatha is an extremely ancient order, and are considered living fossils. We have identified a single species at Coal Oil Point.
Odonata - Dragonflies & Damselflies
The 'odonates' are a well known group of exceptional aerialists. These insects have attracted much popular attention, and they are gaining on butterflies with their own 'watchers' groups. Dragonflies and damselflies are predators in both the adult and immature stages. The immatures are little aquatic monsters, with a grotesque extensible lower lip ('labium') that is uses to snatch mobile prey ranging from mosquito larvae to tadpoles and small fish.
Many biologists have become interested in the complex courtship and mating behavior of odonates. Most are highly territorial, with males staking out good oviposition sites, and defending them against other males. After mating, males will often maintain their hold on the females to ensure she fertilizes eggs with his sperm before mating again (some males can remove from females the sperm from previous mates.)
We have only collected one dragonfly and one damselfly at Coal Oil Point, but there are probably more. Their flying prowess keeps them out of our simple traps.
Plecoptera - Stoneflies
Immature stoneflies (nymphs) are very common freshwater insects. They tend to prefer colder streams, and their presence and abundance is often used as a measure of stream health. Adult stoneflies seldom feed, though they are fed upon by a wide variety of aquatic animals and birds. Cold running water is in short supply at Coal Oil Point, and this lone adult stonefly was a somewhat surprising find. Its nymphs may live in the mainly freshwater backdune pond to the west of our trapping site.
Coleoptera - Beetles
Beetles are the most diverse order of insects, and are generally considered the most successful group of organisms on Earth. Beetles are characterized by their modified forewings, called 'elytra', which cover the hindwings when not in use. This adaptation has allowed them to diversify into a great diversity of ecological niches, with many plant feeders, predators, fungivores, and scavengers. While many plant-feeding beetles are considered pests, many beetle predators, especially ladybird beetles, are highly beneficial.
At Coal Oil Point, beetles can be found anywhere you look, from the intertidal zone among the barnacles, to the sandy beach, up into the dunes. The majority of these species are endemics of coastal habitats, never being found even 100 meters inland. A beetle survey was the initial focus of our Coal Oil Point work, and they are relatively more thoroughly sampled than most of the other orders. One hundred forty-four species of beetles have been found to live at Coal Oil Point so far.
More information on California beetles can be found in the California Beetle Project web pages.
Carabidae - Ground beetles
Ground beetles are conspicuous beetles worldwide. Essentially all are predators, mostly fast running and nocturnal. The known ground beetle fauna of the reserve consists of 12 species, though interestingly only 2 of these, Bembidion tigrinum and the sandy beach tiger beetle, Cicindela hirticollis gravida, are apparently restricted to coastal habitats. This is a lower proportion than is seen in many other families. All others represent more widespread species. The sandy beach tiger beetle is a species of special concern and a candidate for the endangered species list.
Histeridae - Clown beetles
Histerids are predatory beetles. But while fairly diverse and common in many areas, they are seldom seen. They are small, generally secretive beetles, spending most of their time underground. When disturbed they can retract their head and appendages, much like a tiny turtle.
Seven species of histerids have been found at Coal Oil Point, all but one of which are coastal specialists. Most of these species are found beneath beach wrack, where they prey on the eggs, larvae and pupae of kelp flies. A beautiful black and red dune specialist, Spilodiscus sellatus, is suspected also to occur at the Reserve although it has not yet been confirmed. (Please let us know if you're lucky enough to see it!)
Hydrophilidae - Water scavenger beetles
Most adult water scavenger beetles are, unsurprisingly, aquatic scavengers. The Reserve's aquatic habitats include Devereux slough, which hosts a couple of salt-tolerant hydrophilids. There are also a few species found in the freshwater dune pond, as well as in the vernal pools in the appropriate season. But not all hydrophilids are aquatic. Probably the most common hydrophilid at Coal Oil Point is Cercyon fimbriatus, which lives in rotting wrack.
Staphylinidae - Rove beetles
The rove beetles are the most diverse family of beetles in California, with over 1200 known species. They are also the most diverse family of beetles at Coal Oil Point, with 25 species. Adults and larvae are mostly predators. The family is characterized by their long narrow body, with very short wing covers exposing most of the abdomen.
Nearly half of the rove beetle species at Coal Oil Point are restricted to coastal habitats. The most striking of these is Thinopinus pictus, a predator of beach hoppers, and the wrack piles in general host many of these endemics. A highly specialized flightless species of rove beetle, Diaulota fulviventris, lives in the intertidal zones on barnacle covered rocks. It survives tidal inundation by finding minute air pockets in rock crevices.
Coccinellidae - Ladybird beetles
Ladybirds are among the best known and best-loved beetles. As predators of plant feeding insects, especially aphids and other homopterans, many species have been great allies in the fight against agricultural pests. This has led to many ladybirds being introduced outside their native ranges. Nearly one third of California's 180 ladybirds have been introduced from elsewhere.
Nineteen species of ladybirds have been found at Coal Oil Point. Most of these are native, and most are also widespread species. Unlike most beetle families, there don't appear to be any species restricted to coastal habitats.
Tenebrionidae - Darkling beetles
With over 300 species, California is home to a great diversity of darkling beetles. Members of this family are common everywhere, but especially in drier areas. Flightless 'stink beetles' in the genus Eleodes are conspicuous in a variety of habitats throughout the state. But while these large, slow beetles exemplify the family in some ways, many Californian darkling beetles look nothing like these.
Coal Oil Point is home to at least 7 species of darkling beetles, including several coastal specialists. The small, ladybird-like Phaleria rotundata is found only in sandy coastal areas, as are Epantius obscurus and two species in the genus Coelus. One of these, the Globose Dune beetle (Coelus globosus) has become rare throughout its range, and is a state 'species of concern'. The two species of Coelus are difficult to tell apart, but C. globosus is usually slightly larger, and has the 'clypeus' (a part of the head above the mouth) more deeply cut-out, as shown in the picture below. The dune beetles leave a distinct track on the beach that resembles a labyrinth. Their footprints cannot be seen on the track because the beetle walks below the sand, leaving a collapsed tunnel behind.
Chrysomelidae - Leaf beetles
As their common name suggests, leaf beetles eat plants. Most are colorful, conspicuous beetles, frequently restricted in their feeding to one or a few similar plant species.
While 10 species of leaf beetles are known from Coal Oil Point, none seem to be restricted to coastal habitats. Some, like the Cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata) are very widespread. One species of particular interest is the eucalyptus feeding Trachymela sloanei. This species was newly (and accidentally) introduced to our area from its native Australia in just the past few years. For fans of non-native eucalyptus, this beetle is considered a pest. For others who consider eucalyptus itself an invasive pest, the beetle is a welcome ally. A beautiful metallic green species, Trirhabda luteucinete, is abundant in the spring time and can be seen, as adult or larvae, on coyote brush, its host plant.
Curculionidae - Weevils or Snout beetles
Weevils are practically defined by their 'snout'. This elongated portion of the head bears the mandibles and other mouthparts at its tip. The snout is used by the females of most species to chew holes into plant material in which they lay their eggs. Adults and larvae of all weevils are plant feeders. The group also contains the notorious bark beetles (formerly recognized as a separate family Scolytidae). With over 600 species in California, the weevils are our second most diverse family of beetles (behind Staphylinidae).
Coal Oil Point hosts 7 species of true weevils (Curculionidae), in addition to two species in more primitive weevil families (on each of Anthribidae and Brentidae). Coastal specialist weevils include the dune inhabiting Trigonoscuta, and the driftwood feeding Elassoptes marinus.
Lepidoptera - Butterflies & Moths
The Lepidoptera is characterized by their scaly wings, which is what 'lepid-optera' means. While butterflies are much better known, they are vastly outnumbered by their moth relatives. The differences between these groups are often emphasized (butterflies being day-flying, brightly colored, and having knobbed antennae), but they share many more similarities. All develop from a plant-feeding caterpillar, which transforms into a pupa (or 'chrysalis' as the butterfly pupa is generally called) on its way to becoming a winged adult.
The butterfly fauna (25 species) of Coal Oil Point is well known thanks to the efforts of local enthusiast Nick Lethaby, who provided our species list. The moths at the Reserve have not been as well studied. Though we've collected many, the malaise trapped specimens are difficult to identify. Some additional moth-specific collecting will be needed to estimate their diversity.
Siphonaptera - Fleas
Fleas are notorious pests. They are wingless, high-jumping blood suckers, well known to dog and cat owners everywhere. They have also been implicated as vectors of a number of human diseases, most notably bubonic plague (transmitted from rodents to humans by flea bites). Though in reality most fleas are harmless and ubiquitous cohabitants of birds and small mammals, most people will be disconcerted to learn that plague does in fact occur in California, and is rarely but occasionally transmitted to people by fleas from ground squirrels. This is not a major concern at Coal Oil Point, but awareness and caution is always advisable (visit the CDC for more information). The reserve is known to have the stick-fast flea that burrows in the skin of birds, however we do not yet have a specimen of it.
The lone flea we have in the collection was found in the opening of pocket gopher burrow.
Arachnids and other arthropods
While this site deals mainly with insects, a large number of non-insect arthropods can also be found at Coal Oil Point. These are also important elements of the Reserve's ecology, though we know too little about them to do them justice here. The Reserve's spider and mite fauna appears especially diverse, and we show a few examples of these arachnids here. The dune spider Lutica maculata is rarely seen but common in the dunes in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. At Coal Oil point, this whitish spider can be seen in silk burrows around dune plants. They probably feed on larvae of dune beetles.
Most reserve visitors also encounter beach hoppers, which belong to a group of crustaceans known as Amphipods. These scavengers are associated with wrack piles and other beach debris. Species of the genus Megalorchestia are extremely abundant in the wrack at Coal Oil Point, reaching numbers of 18,000 individuals/m2. The beach hoppers, together with many other species of insects, are the main food source for many shorebirds.