San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature Connection[BRCC San Diego Natural History Museum: Entomology Department]
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Frequently Asked Questions

Are there Fireflies in the San Diego area?
I think I've been bitten by a Brown Recluse Spider. How do I know?
What does the Quino Checkerspot butterfly look like?
How is the West Nile virus transmitted? What are the possible symptoms?
While digging in my garden, I found an ugly, reddish bug, about two inches long, with a very large head. What is it and will it hurt my plants?
What are those big green beetles that buzz around all summer?
I found a big black spider with an hour-glass shape on its abdomen. Will it hurt me?
When I moved out to the country, I was warned about kissing bugs. What is a kissing bug?
I found a huge—almost 6-inch leg span—hairy brown spider. Is it dangerous?
All the pillbugs I have ever seen in the past were black. Recently, I found some that are cobalt blue. What's happening?
I noticed a very large—over an inch!—black spider with yellow markings that makes huge webs in our yard. Are these spiders dangerous?



Are there Fireflies in the San Diego area?

Not the variety that is so visible in parts of Eastern United States. There are about four species in our area, but none fly about with flashing lights. The females of the pink glow worm, our most easily found species, are larvaform. They maintain the immature larval form and are bright pink as adults. At this stage they glow and can be seen on the ground on warm nights in foothill and mountain areas as a continuous, greenish luminescence. The adult males look like "normal" firefly beetles and fly about in search of the glowing females. The males have the ability to glow, but rarely do so.
For more information, visit: http://iris.biosci.ohio-state.edu/projects/FFiles/



I think I've been bitten by a Brown Recluse Spider. How do I know?

If you live in San Diego it is highly unlikely that you've been bitten by a Brown Recluse Spider because they do not occur here. Refer to this map (prepared by UC Riverside specialists) that shows where they might occur. For more information on these spiders visit the spider information pages by UC Riverside researchers.



What does the Quino Checkerspot butterfly look like?

The Quino Checkerspot butterfly is very similar in appearance to other species. To get a closer look at their characteristics, see 'Butterflies up close'



How is West Nile virus transmitted? What are the possible symptoms?

A case of West Nile Virus in Los Angeles County was reported on September 6, 2002. The virus can be transmitted by the Culex mosquito, but to date, the virus has not been found and there are no cases in San Diego County.
For detailed information on West Nile Virus and what you can do to protect yourself, please visit the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


While digging in my garden, I found an ugly, reddish bug, about two inches long, with a very large head. What is it and will it hurt my plants?

Photo of Jerusalem Cricket.This insect is a Jerusalem cricket. It spends most of its life underground. Its large, almost humanoid head supports the necessary muscles that assist the jaws in digging in the soil and feeding on living and dead plant materials. Like most crickets, this insect also produces sound, called drumming, by hitting its spiny legs against its body.
Usually discovered while preparing the ground for spring or winter planting, this insect never appears in large numbers and is not considered a pest that requires control. Their numbers are kept in check by birds and rodent predators, fly and worm parasites, curious cats and gardeners' hoses.
See our Field Guide for more about the Jerusalem cricket.


What are those big green beetles that buzz around all summer?

Photo of Figeater Beetle: a large iridescent green beetle. From early summer through fall, the erratic and clumsy flight of a large green beetle can be seen throughout the county. This insect is called the green fruit beetle or figeater.
Producing a loud buzzing sound while in flight, this 1 1/4-inch beetle appears drab green bordered in yellow or brown from above and bright iridescent green from below. Often confused with the much smaller and destructive Japanese beetle, which has yet to become permanently established in San Diego, the figeater causes little economic damage and is not controlled in California.
Control of the figeater should be attempted during the larval stage: turn over their compost and manure hatcheries to expose the grubs to birds and predatory insects. This is an inexpensive and safe alternative to chemical control.
See our Field Guide for more about the figeater beetle.


I found a big black spider with an hour-glass shape on its abdomen. Will it hurt me?

Photo of a black widow spider, showing the hour-glass marking on its abdomen. You have found a western black widow. This spider produces a neurotoxic venom 15 times more virulent than an equal amount of rattlesnake poison. Despite this distinction, only one death every five years in the United States can be attributed to this spider because few people are bitten and little venom is injected with each bite.
If not for their potent venom, black widows probably would be perceived as beneficial because they help control a number of insect pests. However, this is not the case. The best method to protect yourself from accidental contact is to wear gloves when cleaning cluttered yards or storage areas and to realize that where there is a web, a spider may not be far away. Individual black widows should be caught and disposed of carefully.
See our Field Guide for more about the black widow spider.


When I moved out to the country, I was warned about kissing bugs. What is a kissing bug?

photo of Kissing Bug A kiss in not a kiss if it is inflicted instead of offered, which is the case with one local species of assassin bug called the Western Conenose. This 3/4-inch, brown-black nocturnal insect has wings that form a distinctive "X" when folded over the abdomen. It also goes by the name "kissing bug" or, as it is known in Latin America, "vinchuca."
Adult kissing bugs are most often encountered in summer and fall, and are readily attracted to lights. They tend to remain hidden during the day in vegetation or in cracks in floors and walls.
Entrance into dwellings can be reduced by repairing damaged screens on windows and doors, placing barriers over open vents, and using non-white lights outdoors. Removal of wood rat nests near homes in more rural areas also will reduce the number of bugs..
See our Field Guide for more about the kissing bug.


I found a huge—almost 6-inch leg span—hairy brown spider. Is it dangerous?

Photo of tarantula: a large, hairy spider. Despite Hollywood's deadly and aggressive image of the tarantula, the truth is that San Diego County's three resident taratula species are actually quite docile. Although both males and females are capable of inflicting a bite when threatened, they rarely do so and their venom is considered non-toxic to humans.
Like most other spiders, tarantulas are beneficial predators who feed on many invertebrates including sowbugs, pillbugs, insects, and even other spiders. Their prey is grabbed and crushed in the tarantula's powerful fangs. A tarantula has a small mouth and cannot chew, but secretes digestive enzymes through its fangs to dissolve the prey externally. The spider then sucks the liquefied meal back up through its mouth and into the digestive system.
See our Field Guide for more about the tarantula.


All the pillbugs I have ever seen in the past were black. Recently, I found some that are cobalt blue. What's happening?

The blue color you noted is due to an infection of the pillbug by an iridovirus; this disease which affects pillbugs in our area is being studied by scientists at the Universities of California at Riverside and Berkeley. The blue color is due to the refraction of light from the infected cells. The virus has been named the "isopod iridescent virus" or IIV.


I noticed a very large—over an inch!—black spider with yellow markings that makes huge webs in our yard. Are these spiders dangerous?

[Golden Garden Spider]You probably have seen the golden garden spider, or Argiope aurantia. The female of this species has a black abdomen with bright yellow bars and often hangs upside down in its large, wheel-shaped web. These webs often extend between shrubs and plants. These spiders are venomous, but the venom is not dangerous to people unless there is an allergic reaction (as with bee stings). They can be very beneficial in your garden, as they help to keep pest insects in check.
See our Field Guide for more about the golden garden spider.