Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Mark Sturvant, an expert in insect photography, sent some lovely photos on June 6; his notes are indented:

Attached is another set of pictures for the readers of WEIT. In the first picture we have the lovely Eastern pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis). This male is nearing completion of its transformation from a youthful green color to the robin’s egg blue of a mature male. You can see the carnage of what was probably his last meal on the lily pad.

There are several pictures that I really wanted to share with your readers, and the next two are some of them. This very weird insect is a mantisfly (Climaciella brunnea), which is in the order Neuroptera, so it is related to more familiar insects like lacewings and antlions. I found this marvelous oddity while out ‘bugging’ with a good friend of mine from work who also does insect macrophotography.

There are several weird or at least interesting things about this insect. First, the obvious:  it shows convergent evolution to preying mantises. Mantisflies are predators, and so that resemblance is for good reason. Second, this species is a mimic of Polistes paper wasps, so it is presumably afforded some protection from predation. Finally, and this is the best part, I think, the life cycle of this species and some other species is pretty crazy. Since it is a Neuropteran it has a carnivorous larval stage, but this is one of the species that grows up as a parasite in the egg sacs of wandering spiders like wolf spiders. The tiny larva must first find an appropriate female spider, and then it must cling on to it. There it waits for the spider to start making an egg sac, and while she is doing that the larva sneaks inside. While the mother spider guards her precious egg sac, the larva is feasting on the eggs.


The next two pictures are of some pretty common insects, but I like them. The fly is a robber fly (Machimus, possibly M. notatus), and the big weevil (I love weevils) is Lepyrus oregonus.

Finally, the last two pictures took me several excursions to get. These are American ruby spot damselflies (Hetaerina americana). The first is a young male, and the second is a mature male. These damselflies are found along rivers, and they are very common along certain stretches of the river in the background, which is the (in)famous Flint river near Flint, Michigan. One of my favorite parks backs up to this river near Flint, and it is actually quite beautiful there.

Anyway, ruby spots are a bit of a challenge to photograph since they really want to hang out over the water, so I am compelled to lie on my stomach and inch out over the water with my precious camera for pictures. Their metallic colors are also tricky to represent accurately, and the red wing markings on the males must be backlit just right, in my opinion—hence the several trips just to get these pictures. After all that, I later realized I had never taken a picture of a female of the species! So I will be hanging out over the water some more this summer.


  1. David Coxill
    Posted July 10, 2017 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Mantisfly ,anything that helps get rid of spiders is ok by me .

  2. Posted July 10, 2017 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Excellent photos! 🙂

  3. Posted July 10, 2017 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Beautiful damselfy shots.

  4. darrelle
    Posted July 10, 2017 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    That mantis fly is very cool. Do you know if it is capable of moving its head at all? It’s life cycle rivals that of the xenomorphs from the Alien movies. We are fortunate it is insect size.

  5. Karen Bartelt
    Posted July 10, 2017 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Great insect photos. I especially like the mantisfly.

  6. Frank
    Posted July 10, 2017 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Little typo – Mark SturTEvant – just to give full credit for some excellent photos!

  7. Heather Hastie
    Posted July 10, 2017 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic pics Mark, and I always enjoy the interesting commentary too.

  8. rickflick
    Posted July 10, 2017 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Fine shots. I love the miniature world of these creatures. I’m always amazed by what you can see on your hands and knees in the grass.

  9. Posted July 10, 2017 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Nice shots, zooming in is fantastic, thanks for posting.

  10. Mark R.
    Posted July 10, 2017 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    Always enjoy your insects Mark. All of these were fantastic, as well as the commentary.

    I also love weevils…unless they’re in my flour. 😉 Actually that’s never happened to me, but my Grandmother got them in her Bisquick when I was a kid. With that snout and big black eyes, it sort of has an elephant look.

  11. Jenny Haniver
    Posted July 10, 2017 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    Coming late to this post, but I echo the comments of all the above.

    Re your commentary on the parasitism, I gave the link to this TED talk on parasites by Ed Yong in another WEIT post today, but repeat it here because it’s apropos of your comments and urge anyone interested in parasites to listen. I’m not a big fan of TED Talks, but this one rates an A+.

  12. Diane G.
    Posted July 11, 2017 at 12:53 am | Permalink

    What superb pictures! I double-clicked on each, then enlarged the results and scrolled carefully up an down and back and forth…such sharp detail. How amazing that anything, let alone a Neuropteran larva, would parasitize any facet of a wolf spider.

  13. Posted July 11, 2017 at 4:14 am | Permalink

    Awesome, as always, Mark!

  14. josh
    Posted July 11, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Nice pics Mark!

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