Monday Night Mystery: Entomology from Low Earth Orbit

The above satellite photo was taken in 2006 over western Canada.

For 5 Myrmecos points, explain what this image illustrates, and for 5 more points, give the latin name of the insect species involved. Points will only be awarded to the first correct guess for each part.

As usual, the cumulative points winner for the month of October will win their choice of 1) any 8×10-sized print from my photo galleries, or 2) a guest post here at Myrmecos on a safe-for-work topic of their choosing.

20 thoughts on “Monday Night Mystery: Entomology from Low Earth Orbit”

  1. James.C. Trager

    Looks like patches of conifers – let’s say some sort spruce – damaged by spruce budworm.

    Or could it be dead patches in lodgepole pine forest killed by bark beetles?

    Really kind of shooting in the dark here because I’m not at my computer and can’t really see the image on the ¥=•^< iPhone.

  2. More details ex wikipedia:

    Pine beetles carry blue stain fungi which, if established, will block the tree resin response. Within about two weeks of a beetle attack, the trees starve to death as the phloem layer is damaged enough to cut off the flow of water and nutrients. Older trees usually succumb first. After particularly hot summers, the mountain pine beetle population can increase dramatically, deforesting large areas. After an outbreak, entire groves of trees will appear red when viewed from above

  3. because i just remembered to resubscribe to Alex’s blog I feel the need to post, and I will suggest mass movement of rosy apple aphid 🙂

  4. also, more seriously, agree with tree dieoff, given the clear topography likely to be pines. glad it’s not worse!

  5. Not sure how Biobob can tell it’s lodgepole pine but that seems likely. It’s definitely an aerial view of damage caused by Dendroctonus ponderosae, Mountain Pine Beetle, sometimes just referred to as “pine bark beetle”.

  6. Since Myrmecos is known for being tricky on his Monday Night Mystery, and I can’t really make out from the image if those are lodgepole pines or not (and since Bioblob has mountain pine beetle more or less nailed), I’m going to guess Forest Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria) defoliation of aspen. About 6 million hectares, mostly in NW Alberta, were defoliated by Forest Tent Caterpillar (assisted by large aspen tortrix and the aspen leafroller) in 2006, so it is possible (but the red color does look like dead pines).

  7. In the unlikely possibility of winning, I cede any points won a charity of Alex’s choosing like Dave 😀

    It’s just a wild-arsed-guess, Cathryn. Why should I be different from any other ignoramous ? LOL

  8. Well…, given that I am currently sitting in the middle of British Columbia, I really don’t need the satellite photo.

    Dendroctonus ponderosae (mountain pine beetle) has been chewing though pine stands (Lodgepole and Ponderosa pine in central and southern BC, and Jack Pine in central and northern BC), the past 10 years. The combination of fire suppression, a preference by the logging industry to replant with monoculture pine, and climate change (warm sub-lethal winters for the mpb), has led to the loss of pretty much every pine tree over 15 years of age in central BC (in a typical outbreak they seldom touch trees younger than 60). The numbers of beetles have been so high that some have even taken a run at a few Douglas-fir trees.

    I think that the satellite photo may be a bit old though. The characteristic red needles occur in the year following attack. We are pretty much through this stage and the trees have now lost their needles. In fact, we are now at a stage where some interesting ant interactions are beginning. Dead standing trees are now dropping earlier than expected in many locations because of carpenter ants (Camponotus herculeanus and C. modoc).


      1. Yes, removal of the canopy means sunlight on the ground (insolative heating) and happy boreal ants. General global warming in the north means even happier boreal ants.

        You don’t suppose our ant overlords have been manipulating our behaviour for the past century to modify the vast northern forests to suit their needs do you?

    1. We still have early stage stands all over Montana. Lots and lots of areas appear as in the photo and such have been common for as long as I have been looking (30+ years), if not as pervasive as today.

      sshshhhhhh – – don’t tell anybody I see scenes like this picture everyday. LOL

      1. Yes, in BC we always had background mtn pine beetle infestations with occasional epidemics (the last in the early 80s). This epidemic though is massive and has probably never occurred on this scale historically.

        We have lost, over the past few years, 163,000 sq kilometres of pine forest to mpb. I believe Montana has a total area of around 380,000 sq k, so that would translate into about 40% of the total area of Montana. The area is staggering.

  9. Michael Suttkus, II

    You guys are looking at the wrong part of the picture. It’s the black areas that clearly show insect damage. Giant landscape moths have eaten holes in the terrain. The culprit is clearly a Mothra (Mosura gigantis).

  10. Pingback: Answer to the Monday Night Mystery – MYRMECOS - Insect Photography - Insect Pictures

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