Remember to send in your good wildlife photos; the tank is getting a bit low.
Reader Mark Sturtevant sent a batch of insect photos, which I’ve divided into two parts. Here are the first five with his notes (indented):
The first picture is of a Pale Green Assassin Bug (Zelus luridus), which is feeding on an unidentifiable hemipteran.
Next is one of the bee-like robber flies in the genus Laphria, possibly L. janus. This is a cousin to the larger and more spectacular robber flies that mimic bumble bees. This species was pretty common this past summer, and I wonder why I hadn’t noticed it before.
The next two pictures are of a nice find I had on my ‘lucky tree stump’. One day I found a pair of giant ichneumon wasps (Megarhyssa macrurus) that were competing to parasitize another stingless wasp known as a horntail (often Tremex columba). When the female horntail lays eggs in dead wood, she inoculates the wood with a fungus that softens the dead wood and helps the larvae to bore into it, and it is the fungus that the ichneumons have detected. They will drill in the vicinity of the horntail larva with their extraordinarily long ovipositor, and each will lay a single, very elongate egg into it. It will be curtains for the young horntail because it will be eaten alive in its wood home.
Here is a video showing an ichneumon drilling into wood. During this sequence, you can see that the membrane between some of the abdominal segments stretches to accommodates a loop in the ovipositor that forms during the early stages of the drilling process. But as the oviposter is drilled deeper into the wood, the loop of ovipositor shortens in the abdomen, and the membrane shrinks away. In this examplek the horntail larva was apparently buried deep because the ichneumon wasp drilled her entire ovipositer into the wood, right up to the hilt! I suppose we are seeing the current status of the evolutionary arms race between the deep-burrowing host, and deep-drilling parasite.
Next is an especially beautiful insect, the ebony jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata). I am very sentimental over these common woodland divas because I came across them in one of my first insect collecting hunts in a forest as a youngster. Living in plain old Iowa, I was astonished to see an insect that would look at home in an exotic rain forest. This individual is a male.
I generally don’t take more pictures of insects after they are well documented in my portfolio, but the jewel wing damselflies are among the exceptions to that informal policy. Besides being very beautiful, I enjoy the challenges that they present. They are shade-loving, which presses me to use the flash, but their metallic colors tend to not come out well with the flash, so I have been trying a variety of experiments to get the right effect. This summer I learned that I can sometimes get a true representation of their colors by bouncing the flash up from the ground or down from the canopy. I suppose I am still looking for the perfect picture, although I do like this one well enough that it is now my computer desktop picture. But I have other pictures of this species that I like a little bit better.
And, to celebrate the Wise Men who followed the stars to Baby Jesus, I’m presenting a star photo by Tim Anderson from Cowra, New South Wales. His notes (he did not mention the Christmas tale!):
‘Tis the season for the Orion Nebula. This image is composed from 420 30-second exposures taken with a Canon 80D camera and 200mm telphoto lens on a Skywatcher Star Adventurer mount.