Sunday, July 31, 2016

Closeup of Molted Cicada Exoskeleton (and More Info)

Earlier this week, I spotted a sizable empty shell of a bug, maybe a beetle, I thought. It was about an inch tall, stuck to a corner of a porch column, seemingly hugging it, about three feet above the porch. It looked like all the innards might have been cleanly sucked out, maybe consumed by parasitic larvae, leaving only exoskeleton and maybe other chitin.

For a larger, unreduced image, click here.

Not being an entomologist or gardener who might know about bugs, I wondered how to get information about the shell's former occupant and how it departed. A Google image search yielded seemingly countless, overwhelming results.

I decided to turn to LinkedIn connections, and posted a pic and update, hoping to get someone to identify the item. I was in luck! Two people, John Rothgeb, and Steven Schwartzman, replied with great leadoff info.

From John, a declaration and web link: "Looks like cicadas or even a Giant cicada - http://texasento.net/Cicada.htm". The website images and first .wav file sent me off to Googling more info.

From Steve, a strongly specific term and also two links to blog articles he had written about cicadas himself:
The thing in your picture appears to be the exuviae of a cicada. That word is a Latin plural that entomologists use for the exoskeleton that an insect casts off as it grows from one stage into the next.

Here are a couple of instances from my blog:
https://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/2014/07/22/exuviae-2/
https://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/exuviae/
A third LinkedIn connection declared the shell to be cicada. (Happily, LinkedIn networking can be fruitful for topics besides work, careers, and occupations. (My LinkedIn home page shows more number of views for the exoskeleton picture and inquiry than any other topic I've announced in recent memory.)

Besides increasing my curiosity about the animal, the terminology I was encountering sent me hunting down definitions and pronunciations for chitin and exuviae. Interestingly, the first "c" in cicada, according to both m-w.com and dictionary.com, is pronounced as an "s". I've heard people pronounce it as only a "ch" sound. And I myself pronounce it as "ch". BTW, those two dictionaries also provide long/short vowel pronunciation options of "i", and the first "a".

I have listed some links about cicadas, many of them YouTube videos that show cicadas molting.
Anyway, the bottom line about the clinging bug shell on the porch column: It's a castoff exoskeleton after a cicada molts and flies away, not shell remains after parasitic larva(e) dined on the insect. Coincidentally enough, a wasp that captures a cockroach for its larva's future food supply uses similar methodology as a wasp that targets cicada.

From "10 Facts about Cicada Killer Wasps"
  1. The adult female wasp will paralyze the cicada with her venomous sting.
  2. The wasp will carry the cicada to a burrow, where it will place the cicada.
  3. The wasp will lay an egg under the left or right second leg of the cicada.
  4. The egg hatches, and the larvae begins to eat the cicada, while taking care to keep it alive.
  5. Once the larvae [sic] has had its fill, it spins a cocoon, in which it will change into an adult wasp.
Such behavior looks similar to that of jewel-wasp-on-cockroach, in comparing information in "How a Wasp Turns Cockroaches into Zombies" of Scientific American.
venom compounds work fast, paralyzing the cockroach …
leads her victim to its final resting place …
Once inside her burrow, she attaches one egg to the cockroach's leg, then seals her offspring and the roach in.…
wasp larva hatches from its egg, its meal is ready to eat. And soon enough after that, a new wasp emerges from the burrow, leaving the roach carcass behind.
Note: The SA article states that the larva hatches and emerges as a wasp, omitting the details of how the larva becomes a wasp. The m-w.com site explains that the stage between larva and wasp is pupa, "usually enclosed in a cocoon or protective covering".

Cicada articles:

Monday, July 4, 2016

EZ Mini M&M Confetti Cookies

*** 7/4/2016
Accompanying video now available at YouTube—"EZ Mini M&M Confetti Cookies"


My cake mix cooky recipe is the summer counterpart (summer-temperature tolerant) to my winter cake mix cooky recipe "Minty Choco Chip Cake Mix Cookies". I wanted to bake some cookies that have chocolate that melts in your mouth, not in your hand. I thought about M&M's, then remembered chomping on mini M&M's the previous Halloween. Then I thought such cookies would look even more festive, besides having the colorful candy shells, if I added jimmies.

Several mini M & M cooky recipes I ran across are scratch and require about 10 ingredients. Well, how about starting with the standard cake mix cookie process that requires only cake mix, oil, egg?

My method of cake mix for this recipe was using 1/2 box of chocolate cake mix and 1/2 box of Pillsbury Funfetti cake mix. The Funfetti powder contains 2 tablespoons of jimmies, so my half box contained one tablespoon.

If you want the milk chocolatey cooky effect without weighing out cake mixes, you can use a marble cake mix. Stir jimmies into the cake powder(s) before mixing up the batter.

My pixstrip shows the following image areas:
  1. Initial
    1. Implements
    2. Ingredients
    3. Partially mixed dough (wet ingredients, dry ingredients) and set-aside mini M&Ms
  2. Main mixing
    1. Mixed dough and and set-aside mini M&Ms
    2. Dough with mini M&Ms being poured
    3. Dough and mini M&Ms being stirred together
    4. Mixed dough
  3. Baking
    1. Raw dough in pan
    2. Baked cookies in pan, some being scooped and flipped onto cooling rack
    3. Cooled cookies
Implements
  • Small mixing bowl
  • Larger mixing bowl
  • Pastry blender
  • Spoon for measuring out cooky dough
  • Measuring cup
  • Spatula for scraping dough onto pan
  • Cooky pan(s)
  • Cooling rack for done cookies
  • Cooky spatula to lift and transfer baked cookies
Ingredients
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1/2 box chocolate cake mix
  • 1/2 box Pillsbury Funfetti cake mix (or 1/2 box white cake mix and at least 1 tablespoon of jimmies)
  • 1/2 bag of mini M&Ms (~ 5 oz)
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°.
  2. Combine the powders and jimmies.
  3. Combine the oil and eggs.
  4. Combine the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. The dough will be thick.
  5. Stir the mini M&Ms into the dough. Slow and steady works.
  6. Use a round tablespoon to scoop the dough, and use the rubber spatula to shape.
  7. Drop the spoon's dough onto the cooky sheet. (For slightly flatter cookies, slightly flatten the shaped dough rounds with the spatula or the measuring cup.)
  8. Bake for about 12 minutes.
  9. Use the cooky spatula to lift and transfer the done cookies onto cooling rack.
The yield was 41 cookies, amounting to ~73 calories each. YMMV

Post-recipe Thoughts
The confetti part of the cookies was sparse. To give the cookies a more "celebratory" look in the future, I'd probably ensure three to four tablespoons of jimmies for each batch.

I had some boxes of cake mix on hand, so I measured and used half boxes, storing the other halves in the refrigerator. An easier process would be to use a marble cake mix and stir in jimmies into the powder. If you prefer a vanilla instead of summer-tolerant chocolate cooky, use just white or yellow cake mix, jimmies, and mini M&Ms.

July 12, 2016: I baked a second batch Sunday. This time, the 1/2 box of chocolate cake mix was Duncan Hines Classic Devil's Food Moist instead of Betty Crocker Super Moist Chocolate Fudge. Also, I added more jimmies—2 1/2 tablespoons, all that was left in my jar. The image on the left has the BC mix; the one one right has the DH mix and extra jimmies.
 I was surprised to see that the BC-mix cookies were much darker than the DH-mix ones. IMHO, the DH ones are closer to my idea of milk chocolatey cookies.

The yield for DH-mix cookies was 45, probably as a result of 1 1/2 tablespoons of additional jimmies, and variation of my cooky dough dispensing. I calculated DH-mix cookies to be about 71 calories each (BC-mix cookies, about 73 each.)

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