Readers’ wildlife photos

Today’s pictures, all arthropods, are from reader and regular contributor Mark Sturtevant; his comments are indented:

These pictures finally run through the WEIT-worthy pictures of arthropods that I had taken last summer. Lots of new things to share from this summer, though!

The first picture is a comma butterfly (Polygonia gracilis), which is amazingly camouflaged against the forest floor even at very close range. As you can see from the bit of dorsal wing surface that is showing, these butterflies show a lot of flashy orange color when they fly. It could be that this insect is playing a common form of deception against predators: they get the predator to develop a specific ‘search image’ when the insect is in flight (an orange butterfly in this case), and then when they land and close their wings they no longer resemble what the predator is looking for.

Next is one of the flower crab spiders with a fly. This scene is pretty common late in the summer out in the fields. Identifying these to species is a bit tricky but I propose it is Misumena vatia, owing to certain features about its face and eyes.

The next two pictures are of a surprise that came to my door. A friendly neighbor had dropped in to show me a spider that they had found in their laundry after camping in the Upper Peninsula region of our state (Michigan). I was pretty floored to see it was a Northern black widow spider (Latrodectus variolus). The more famous relative is often just called the black widow, but its more ‘official’ common name is the Western black widow. Unlike that species the Northern widow tends to have a broken hourglass, and they generally have red markings on the dorsal side of the abdomen as well although this one had very little of that. The neighbor just wanted to briefly show it to me since they intended to keep it. But I did the necessary begging and pleading to let me borrow it for a day for pictures. Like other widows, these are rather poisonous but they do not inject as much venom as the Western widow. Very shy and just wanting to not be bothered, she stayed in her corner of the bug cage while I stuck my head inside for pictures. This picture is made from several different pictures that were taken at slightly different focal points and then digitally stitched together by hand.

I keep a butterfly bush in the back yard, and late in the summer the same Eastern tiger swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) would visit up to several times a day. I would frequently dash out to take pictures of them, and during this time I would gradually become rather attached to them as they taught me some photography. But of course these are delicate creatures, and over several days they would appear with more and more damage to their wings. I find this both sad but poetic because these butterflies must fly for miles and miles, giving everything they have during their short lives. The first picture is of a female (identified by the blue on the hind wings) that had visited many times. She is as battle-scarred as they get, and I never saw her again after this. The second picture is another familiar visitor, and it is a male. This picture is among my favorites since the butterfly seems to convey a kind of resilience. I had been struggling to come up with a name for it. Right now it is called ‘Some Wear and Tear’, but I am open to suggestions for other names.

Finally, for some inexplicable reason, the last picture has become my personal favorite so far, even though it has at least one flaw (blown out highlights). It is of a short-winged meadow katydid (Conocephalus brevipennis), and these plain little insects are so exceedingly common that I have wrongly ignored them. They can be frustrating as well since they are both jumpy and quite clever at moving to the opposite side of a stem just when a camera has been focused on them. Anyway, it was October, late in the afternoon beside a lake, and I was not having much luck on my last major outing. The weather was taking a definite turn toward winter, and the weight of six months of mostly unsuitable conditions lay ahead. It was time to go home, but then this little katydid crept out from a patch of purple aster flowers and just sat there as if waiting for me. It was an amazingly beautiful scene that lifted my spirits, and that scene is captured in this picture.


  1. Randy schenck
    Posted September 15, 2017 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Just outstanding photography.

  2. Jacques Hausser
    Posted September 15, 2017 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Nice pictures. I like the catydid too. The suggestion about the deceptive behaviour of the comma is quite convincing. Jerry showed us the same species with open wings last week:

  3. BJ
    Posted September 15, 2017 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    More sp-sp-sp-spiders and bugs?!? And always while I’m eating my breakfast!

    I don’t want to read about the spiders because there’s no way to keep the text in viewing range and the pictures below frame, but some of those things looked poisonous (when I scrolled through very, very quickly as soon as I realized what the pictures contained). Are they poisonous? That’s not nice. Spiders shouldn’t be poisonous.

    Someone tell the spiders for me that they’re not being nice.

    • ploubere
      Posted September 15, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      I too have an automatic visceral reaction to spiders, can’t help it, they give me the creeps. Yes, this one is poisonous, but apparently injects less venom than the more well-known Western Black Widow. Will still hurt like hell for a few hours, I’m guessing.

      • ploubere
        Posted September 15, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        The photography is excellent, though.

        • BJ
          Posted September 15, 2017 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

          I’m sure it is. Marc always does excellent work.

          I think my arachnophobia comes from a particularly traumatic childhood experience. If I’m flipping through a magazine and turn the page to find an unexpected picture of a spider, I usually jump out of my seat and let out a scream.

          I’m not saying it’s rational, or even not humiliating to admit 🙂

          • Posted September 16, 2017 at 4:35 am | Permalink

            Of course, as you point out, a true phobia is an irrational fear, by definition, unlike Islamophobia 😉

  4. rickflick
    Posted September 15, 2017 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    I like your analysis of the way the comma butterfly flashes orange then morphs into a leaf giving the predator “nothing to see here”. The comma, I assume, is it’s self possessed Cheshire smile.

  5. Heather Hastie
    Posted September 15, 2017 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Fantastic pics Mark. I really like the Katydid pic as well.

    As a woman, I’d go for something like ‘It’s tough being a woman’ or ‘Life’s a bitch, then you die’ for the swallowtail pic.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted September 15, 2017 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      I will keep those in mind 🙂

    • Posted September 15, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      Tail-end Charline, obviously! 🙂

    • W.Benson
      Posted September 15, 2017 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      Broken butterflies? Summer must be coming to an end.

  6. rickflick
    Posted September 15, 2017 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Mark, you do an outstanding write-up with your images that makes the reading quite touching. I enjoyed your account of your feeling about the last image and the end of the season. There’s a little bit of that mood in all of us.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted September 15, 2017 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      Thank you. I am beginning to feel it again right now, getting in late September.

  7. Posted September 15, 2017 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Very nice photos…

  8. Denny
    Posted September 15, 2017 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    I always enjoy your photos and commentary Mark. Thank you.

  9. frednotfaith2
    Posted September 15, 2017 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    At first glance at the photo of the fly & the spider, I couldn’t discern the spider until I looked more closely and realized that what I had thought was part of the flower was actually the spider!

    When I was 15 or so, living on a Navy base in the small town of Lemoore, CA, I once picked up a board in our back yard and spotted at least a dozen Western black widows on the underside of the board. Immediately dropped that board and let the rest of my family know about my discovery. Fortunately, no one I knew was ever bitten by any of the spiders. The worst I was subjected too while living in the area was getting mosquito bites all over my arms and other exposed areas of my flesh while on a camp out at a nearby creek.

    Very nice photos.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted September 15, 2017 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      They can be super-abundant. So much so that you just don’t want to know…
      When I was about 13, I was visiting my grandparents in Sacramento, CA. In very little time I discovered that black widows lived there, and soon found that their backyard shed was a good place to look for them.
      So I snuck out at night with a flash light and entered the shed. I saw that there was at least one widow for every foot, and that this continued up the walls. I cast the light to the low ceiling I saw dozens of them were hanging right over my head.
      I got out of there.

  10. Posted September 15, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    I found that the most excellent post, zooming in and looking at your subjects was a treat. I too like your choice of favourite, it is quite a scene with blurred foreground, background, legs of the katydid adding to the angles góng on.

  11. Mark Joseph
    Posted September 16, 2017 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Excellent photos. Thanks.

  12. Zetopan
    Posted September 19, 2017 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    “Like other widows, these are rather poisonous but they do not inject as much venom as the Western widow.”

    Since they inject a venom they are actually venomous rather than poisonous. This is also true of many reptiles and at least one mammal as well. On the other hand, I admit to not knowing the effects of eating a black widow.

    • rickflick
      Posted September 19, 2017 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

      You should try them sautéed with a little butter and garlic. Serve with a nice chardonnay(not too oaky). 😎

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