Readers’ wildlife photos

I’m beginning to get a bit nervous as the photo tank empties, so please remember to send in your good photos, please. Fortunately, I have at least a week’s worth, but remember, I can’t do this without the readers’ help.

Mark Sturtevant sent some lovely insect photos, and his notes are indented (don’t miss the mantis gif and photos):

The very large grasshopper is rather interesting since it checks out to be one of the bird-wing grasshoppers, genus Schistocerca, which is a bit of a notorious group because it includes the locusts. This one is not one of the swarming species, and I suggest it is S. rubiginosa, the ‘rusty birdwing‘. I have found many, many species of grasshoppers but I had never encountered this one before until I went to a particular field outside of town. There I saw several. One of the delights of this hobby is you can just go to a new location nearby and find something completely new.

Next, we have what is almost always a very challenging species of butterfly, the awesome giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes), which is also our largest butterfly. As is typical, this one was never at rest in the heat of the day, but was instead constantly flapping its wings while going from flower to flower. Fortunately, it was willing to forage the garden of a local nature center for a long time, and this allowed me to take zillions of pictures in the off-chance that one would be in focus.

The next two pictures are of a green darner (Anax junius) that had recently emerged as a winged adult. It had not yet developed its full colors and also could only fly a couple feet at a time. I really like the delicate pastel colors which can be best appreciated by double clicking to enlarge the second picture.

Readers may remember that I had posted pictures of a big Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis). The next picture is some glamour shots of “Mrs Mantis”. She was a complete delight, and I still miss her (I released her after about a week).

I expect many readers have noticed the ‘pseudopupil’ in the eyes of some insects, which shows well in Mrs. Mantis. The pseudopupil is made because there is a narrow channel between pigment cells in the center of each eye facet. This means that each facet (or rather each ‘ommatidium’) is good at absorbing light that goes straight in, and the benefit of this is that the eye constructs a sharp mosaic image of its surroundings. The pseudopupil is from the group of ommatidia that happen to be aimed directly at the viewer, so you are seeing the spot where light is well absorbed relative to your position. The pseudopupil will of course always fixed upon your position as the mantis turns its head, as shown in the gif.

What about the pictures with the deeply black eyes? These are evening shots of Mrs. Mantis. At night, the light scattering pigments are moved away from the eye surface to allow in more light, and the effect is that at night mantises look especially alien and mysterious. I sometimes give favorite pictures a title, and this one I call “Mild-mannered mantis by day; secret agent mantis by night”.

I suppose pretty much everyone who has done some digging has come across a strangely elongated soil centipede like the one shown in the next picture. This one looks to be in the genus Geophilus. Taking this picture proved a teeny bit challenging. Although they are not fast, they are not happy being above ground and so it refused to stop moving. I resorted to putting it into a vial, and upending it onto a white background. It would stay curled up in there until I was ready with the camera. I would then lift the vial and quickly get one, maybe two pictures before some part of it got out of frame. If you look closely you can see that this subterranean arthropod is completely eyeless.

Finally, we have a pretty little wasp-mimicking moth, the Virginia creeper clearwing moth (Albuna fraxini). This is a female, and I suspect that the purpose of the big tail fan is to help disperse pheromones to attract a male.


  1. Debbie Coplan
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    beautiful and fascinating…I know so little about insects so these posts always captivate and interest me. Mrs. Mantis doesn’t even look real. She looks like a puppet.
    Thank you!

  2. Barry Lyons
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Speaking of mantises, this: “Praying Mantises Are Killing Birds And Devouring Their Brains All Over The World”

    • Randy schenck
      Posted July 13, 2017 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      I think I just saw an animal that I do not like. Did not know this.

      • Barry Lyons
        Posted July 13, 2017 at 8:55 am | Permalink

        Funny! Don’t blame the mantis for doing what evolution “tells” it to do!

        • Randy schenck
          Posted July 13, 2017 at 9:27 am | Permalink

          True but sometimes we don’t like what evolution has done to us.

    • Posted July 13, 2017 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      I recall reading accounts about this when I was a kid.

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 13, 2017 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

      I want to know why the bird (post-capture) is “always hanging head-down.”

  3. Posted July 13, 2017 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    I had always just assumed that to a mantis I was the most beautiful object nearby!

  4. rickflick
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Perfectly delightful set of pictures. It’s a fun visit with the miniature world we often don’t see. When I’m out birding, I try to keep half an ommatidium on things close by.

  5. Posted July 13, 2017 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Mark: If only wordpress were like Facebook so that I could love this post instead of simply liking it. Your commentary is spot on, thank you. The pseudopupil is new to me and I’ll be looking for some all the time now (if I ever find another bug: our phoebes are on this bug eating mission for the babies). I could follow you around all day.

    We got a soil centipede one day, and could only ID it down to order because we couldn’t count the legs, even with severe cropping. But it was new to us, and I’m still happy about finding it. Next time, I’ll use your slowing-down method.

    And your swallowtail shot? Exquisite! I hear their range is moving north, so perhaps we’ll see some in northern Vermont, as they are in southern Vermont. Perhaps even in my lifetime.

    And I wish you were on the Internet. Believe me, I’ve been looking for you. I need more of your photos.

    • Posted July 13, 2017 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      Thank you! I have a Flickr page. Just google my name. But you will see pix there that have not made it here yet.

  6. darrelle
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful pics Mark, as usual. The mantis eye pics are very cool. I was not aware of the pigment changes in relation to light levels or that there eyes could like like that. Great explanation.

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 13, 2017 at 9:58 pm | Permalink


  7. Mark R.
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    This is my favorite batch of yours yet Mark. Excellent work and thanks for the learnings.

  8. Heather Hastie
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Gorgeous pics and great commentary. Extremely interesting and enjoyable Mark, as I always know it will be when I see your name at the top. Thank you! 🙂

  9. tjeales
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    That moth is amazing. As for the non-stop centipede have you tried a little time in the refrigerator to slow them down? I’ve tried this a few times with varying success, can’t hurt to give it a go.

    • rickflick
      Posted July 13, 2017 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

      Just today I tried the refrigerator trick with a specimen of mine. The operative word, I think, is “varying success”.

    • Posted July 13, 2017 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

      Yes. Its effectiveness varies, and sometimes the critter dies. I have more recently ‘invented’ a protocol where the critter is briefly anesthetized with CO2 from an Alka Seltzer tablet dropped into water. This too varies in success, but it will never harm the subject. When they come around, the subject is often a bit stoned, and I can take pictures.

      • Diane G.
        Posted July 13, 2017 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

        How ingenious! So do you put a glass of fizzing Alka Seltzer into a container holding the critter?

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