Readers’ wildlife photographs

The tank of readers’ photographs is running seriously low, even though I’ve recovered many of the lost ones, so please send in your good pictures ASAP. Otherwise we’ll run out in a week or so. Today is Insect Day, with Moon Lagniappe.

Reader Mark Sturtevant sends his always lovely photos of insects; there are three this morning, but of a single insect. I’m leaving out the identification because Mark wants the readers to take a crack at it. At least try to identify the order (all insect orders here).

Small insects can be hard to identify, but when I came across this one I was pretty baffled for a time because I was not even sure what order it belonged to. I was later able to identify the order of this insect from the pictures that I had taken, and from there I soon identified it as a member of an obscure family. That too was a pretty thrilling moment because I then learned that this insect embodied two reasons why I spend so much time outdoors stalking insects in the hot sun. I had found a bug that was both new to me and also very, very. . . weird.

The WEIT-ers might have some fun trying to identify this insect. I have no idea how well this will work, but if things bog down I can help in the comments. Here are some questions to answer, should any feel so inclined:

What is the insect order? How did you know or suspect the order? I think that if you do not have an entomology background, then reasoning this one out is an accomplishment by itself!

What is the family?

What is the weird life cycle including metamorphosis of members in this family?

On that point, the third picture shows that this insect is a female, and she is laying eggs in the unopened buds of a goldenrod flower. You can see the tip of her abdomen extending downward between the hind legs. Had I known what was going on at the time I would have tried to take better pictures that show this. But anyway, the last question is why is she laying eggs in flower buds? This is a juicy bit of the puzzle because her babies are not vegetarian!




Jacques Hausser in Switzerland sent a passel of cerambycid (“longhorn”) beetles, and I’ll show three of them:

Honor given where honor is due: Cerambyx cerdo, the great capricorn beetle, and the type species of the family. It can be up to 53 mm long. This is a male, as you can guess from his huge antennae and also the enlarged tarsa of the anterior limbs, very useful to cling onto a female. Like most species in this family, the larvae bore tunnels in unhealthy parts of trees, eating wood, in this case oak.

This one has a story: after a hard field work day, we were drinking beers at the terrace of a little cafe-bar at Malko Tarnovo, South-East Bulgaria, when he landed noisily on our table, and very quickly sipped dry a rather large puddle of beer. Of course the students offered him some more drinks, and at the end he was thoroughly drunk. So we caught him, and we were surprised to discover that he protested loudly, whining like a new-born d*g—they were actually stridulations produced by the rubbing of the edge of the thorax against specialised ridges of the abdomen. You can hear this noise in a related species here. Considering his inebriated state, we did lock him in drunk tank for the night, and released him the next morning on his preferred tree species.

Clytus arietis, the wasp beetle, enjoying the nectar of common dogwood together with some Nitidulidae (sap beetle). Another good example of Batesian mimicry; its antennae are deceptively short for a Cerambycid, but were maybe selected to improve its resemblance to a wasp.

Gaurotes virginea, a rather stocky species (for a Cerambycid). The larvae live on spruce and other coniferous trees. This one is on Arctium lappa, the greater burdock.


And the intrepid Diana MacPherson sends us a picture of the full moon on Christmas (sent yesterday)

Here is my somewhat lazy attempt at a picture of the moon. I went outside in bare feet with my Tameron 600 mm zoom lens and my Canon 5D Mk III & fired off a few shots. This is pretty much out of camera save for some cropping. It’s a bit noisy and I shot at ISO 1000. I probably could have done a better job & even used a tripod but in my defence, the full moon sucks as a subject (better to shoot a quarter moon because you get better contrast and 3D effect) and I think I’m getting a cold/flu (hence the bare feet – I felt really hot).



  1. Posted December 26, 2015 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Excellent. Great photos.

    Excellent photos.

  2. Jim Knight
    Posted December 26, 2015 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Bombylllidae ? Bee Fly? Unless those yellow and black structures at the insertions of the wings are vestigial wings? Just guessing…

  3. Randy Schenck
    Posted December 26, 2015 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Very fortunate you could see the full moon. Down this way is nothing but clouds, fog and very wet. Not your picture paradise.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 26, 2015 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      Our rain was mostly horizontal.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 26, 2015 at 9:19 am | Permalink

      The morning was like that and it was still a bit cloudy but there was enough cleaning, where the moon was, for me to get a picture. It’s completely overcast today now.

  4. Tim Harris
    Posted December 26, 2015 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    It resembles a bumble-bee, but the tilt of the thorax and position of the head are very un-bee-like. It also seems to have only two wings, so I think it must be some kind of fly.

  5. John Harshman
    Posted December 26, 2015 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    That is one weird-looking bug. I’m going to guess the least intuitive thing I can, that this is a beetle and those odd bumps on the wings are vestigial elytra. I don’t think I can see any hindwings, unless the only wings visible are hindwings. And the flabellate antennae are slightly encouraging.

    • ratabago
      Posted December 26, 2015 at 8:23 am | Permalink

      I think you’re right. The second shot made me suspect the same thing. I’m wondering if it is one of the scarabs?

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted December 26, 2015 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      You are correct on the order: Coleoptera.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted December 26, 2015 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      Yes, I was puzzling over those antennae, and, yes, those surely are vestigial elytra, and I think you are probably right in thinking it’s a beetle.

      • Posted December 26, 2015 at 10:05 am | Permalink

        Those antennae told me Coleoptera too. Can’t get any farther than that for now.

  6. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 26, 2015 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Nice portrait of Luna, Diana. But what’s up with the pommie spelling of “defence [sic]”?

    Not to get all exceptionalist about it, but we US-of-A Americans spend more than the next 10 countries combined on our leviathan “Department of Defense.” You’d think you other North Americans living in the penumbra of protection we thus provide — not to mention, in the dark shadow of existential dread our bellicose foreign policy creates — would fall in line and spell the damned word right. 🙂

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 26, 2015 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      It’s what happens when you’re one of England’s well behaved colonies. We do use the US spelling of “realize” etc, not using an “s” but a “z” but we retain the “u” in “colour”, spell the money version of “cheque” instead of “check” and distinguish between “licence” and “license” – one is a noun, the other a verb.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted December 26, 2015 at 9:45 am | Permalink


      • Heather Hastie
        Posted December 26, 2015 at 11:01 am | Permalink

        Defence is proper! I’ve always thought of all the American spelling changes, defense is one of the least understandable.

        In NZ, we use English, but things like realize/realise are considered equally correct. I tend to use the “z” (zed not zee!) online, and so it’s becoming habitual for me. That’s mainly because of US spelling dominating online dictionaries.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted December 26, 2015 at 11:45 am | Permalink

          OK, then. You and Diana can consider us USers properly chastised cultural hegemons. 🙂

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted December 26, 2015 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

          Suit yourself with your spelling. Just be sure to call your friends the Brits if the commies or a-rabs come a-calling in the antipodes. The Royal Navy will be sure to toss tubers at the enemy from the deck of the HMS Pommie B.

  7. GregZ
    Posted December 26, 2015 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    I’m going to guess the mystery insect is a Rhipiphoridae.

    • ratabago
      Posted December 26, 2015 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      With that to go on, it looks a lot like the first example I came across googling, Ripiphorus schwarzi. Never came across a wedge beetle. I don’t think we have them in Australia.

      So they are bee parasites. The eggs are laid in flowers so the newly hatched larvae are able to attach to a visiting bee, and be taken back to the hive, where it will wait for a bee egg to hatch, penetrate the bee larva, over winter in it, and eventually devour it while it pupates? What a delightful little critter.

      • Jacques Hausser
        Posted December 26, 2015 at 10:27 am | Permalink

        I didn’t know this family ! Actually, I was looking in the Meloidae family, where some species have rather similar life cycle.

        • Mark Sturtevant
          Posted December 26, 2015 at 11:12 am | Permalink

          I was initially looking in that direction as well, and the life cycles are indeed similar. Including the question about the weird metamorphosis….

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted December 26, 2015 at 11:06 am | Permalink

        VERY GOOD! The order is Coleoptera, the family is Rhipiporidae (Wedge shaped beetles), and the genus is likely Ripiphorus. I thought maybe R. fasciatus or something very close to that.

  8. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted December 26, 2015 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    OK, biting. Not that I’m a bug.

    What is the insect order? How did you know or suspect the order?

    Well, I see two wings, so the first bet would be Diptera. But that’s probably a misleading trick (thanks, Mark). I also don’t see “halters” – the counterbalancing organs which I think are present in all flies – and the orange-brown mottled triangular structures at the root of each wing look like reduced elytra – the “wing casings” and the wings proper appear to have folds that disappear under their edges. So they’re not Diptera, but something that mimics the Diptera.
    Now I need to check if Diptera is an order or a family. They’re an order. And almost every other order is defined (or at least named) for some feature of it’s -ptera (wings) … which leaves me with nowhere else to go.

    What is the family?

    Nope, I need a key for this, and a course in insect anatomy beyond what little I know already.
    Other observations : I can’t actually see the eyes in the pictures. IF they’re insects, I should be able to infer compound (or no) eyes. But I can’t see that character in the data.
    Those antennae are a weird shape. More moth-like than most flies, wasps etc that I’ve looked at (which isn’t many). That’s unusual, I think, and may well be related to the “weird lifestyle” part of the question.
    No sign of pollen collection on the legs or body.
    The head looks damned small – and those big antennae – so I’m looking at a smell-motivated lifestyle rather than a sight-dominated one. Possibly even nocturnal, but that’s a very thin and creaky bit of ice.
    I can’t see the mouth parts, but that probably wouldn’t tell me much anyway.
    That head shape – what I can see of it – is whispering “weevil” at me. Which … no, weevils have lost their wings, haven’t they?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 26, 2015 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      Damn, “halteres”.
      Spelling checker recognised the wrong word!

  9. Diana MacPherson
    Posted December 26, 2015 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    That Capricorn beetle is aptly named because its face does look rather goaty.

  10. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted December 26, 2015 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Jacques, I always enjoy seeing your pictures here. I expect it would be fun for you and I to get together with our cameras.

    • Jacques Hausser
      Posted December 26, 2015 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      Welcome, Mark! I’m using a Panasonic Lumix G5, mostly with a Leica Macro-Elmarit 45 mm – a very convenient lens. But I’m not a “true” photographer (neither an entomologist).

  11. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted December 26, 2015 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    So John Harshman, GregZ, and ratabago have figured out the essentials on the identity. Now, what is weird about the metamorphosis?

    • ratabago
      Posted December 27, 2015 at 5:50 am | Permalink

      It’s an example of hypermetamorphosis. The first instar is motile with obvious legs and a hardened cuticle. Second to sixth instars are soft bodied and are much less motile and have less pronounced legs. They also have pronounced tubercules on each segment.

      I also found an interesting description of the larva’s emergence from its host. As it emerges from the thorax of the pre-pupating bee it moults, and the discarded exoskeleton plugs the wound in the bee. Sadly for the poor bee, the beetle larva continues to feed on it after emergence.

      It’s been interesting looking into a beetle family I hadn’t come across before. Thanks Mark.

      If anyone out there wants to know more about these critters I found this page informative:

      • Richard Portman
        Posted December 29, 2015 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

        Thanks Mark,and thanks ratabago for the informative link. I could tell by the antennae that it is a beetle, but beyond that I was stumped. Never heard of the Ripiphoridae before! I will be keeping my eyes open for them. Thanks

  12. Heather Hastie
    Posted December 26, 2015 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Great pics everybody.

    I’m not even going to try and identity the flying thing. It’s got wings, and a segmented body, and the kind of legs that give me the creeps. If it’s not a plant eater, it must eat other insects, and placing the eggs in a flower I assume means it eats them alive. That’s all I’ve got.

  13. Posted December 26, 2015 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    The weird beetle that looks like a bee is great! And I like the story about getting a longhorned beetle drunk.

  14. Christopher Bonds
    Posted December 26, 2015 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    This is for Diana about her moon shot: Did you use a neutral density filter? If not, how else were you able to capture any detail? (shutter speed, ISO, aperture, etc) Thanks!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 26, 2015 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

      No filter, hand held, f/13, 1/500, ISO 1000, 600mm

      • Christopher Bonds
        Posted December 27, 2015 at 12:14 am | Permalink

        Thanks! would you use the same settings with a 300 mm lens? (I’m kinda new at this…)

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted December 27, 2015 at 9:24 am | Permalink

          Probably….I just usually set my f/stop when I’m taking a picture of the moon (sunny 16 and go down from there) then I mess with other settings so that I can adequately hand hold the camera without getting blur and my light meter makes some sense (it’s deceptive when shooting the moon). I use the rule that the speed should be equivalent to the focal length — this gives you lots of room if you have a stabilized lens. Then I just adjust things from there based on what the light meter reads (I usually go toward the dark side of the light meter because if you put it in the middle, the moon ends up over exposed). Then I take a few shots & adjust from there if necessary.

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