Readers’ wildlife photos

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Today’s photos come from regular Mark Sturtevant, whose words are indented:

Hello! Here is another batch of pictures taken over the summer. Enjoy.

The first two pictures are of ‘inchworms’, which is the descriptive name for the larvae of moths belonging to the family Geometridae. In a high percentage of Geometrid species, the distinctive locomotion of their larvae is reflected by a loss of up to several of the abdominal prolegs that are seen in other caterpillars. The first species is a young larva of a moth known as the half wing (Phigalia titea). The name refers to the adult female moths because they have vestigial wings as shown here.

The second Geometrid larva was expected to be unremarkable, but the picture shows that it bears an interesting feature in the form of vestigial pro-legs! This is the Fall cankerworm (Alsophila pometaria), and it is one of several Geometrid species whose larvae have not completely eliminated prolegs that have fallen into disuse. Adult females of this species are completely wingless, as shown here. Why have flightless females? I suppose it makes sense in a species that ecloses in close proximity to their food plant. The newly emerged female moths can stay put, and after being mated by the flying males they can put their energy into laying lots of eggs.

Next is a marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys), which is an invasive species not particularly liked by anyone since large numbers of them sometimes share our homes during the winter months. But seen up close, one can perhaps appreciate that they do have some interesting colors and textures. Now, do you see the little white objects scattered on the thorax of this individual? Those are the eggs of a parasitic Tachinid fly. This little stinker is doomed to be eaten alive from the inside by flesh-eating maggots.

The next picture is of a lovely pair of mating aurora damselflies (Chromagrion conditum). This species has always been too shy for my camera, but these two hadn’t a care in the world. They are the only species in their genus, and they often sit with their wings slightly spread even though they are not in the family of spread-wing damselflies.

The next picture is of a neat-looking moth that was hanging out for a couple weeks near my shed. It took several days to get a picture since it preferred to settle on the undersides of leaves close to the ground. I eventually chased it to a perch under some low hanging leaves of a tree, and there I could lay on my back under the tree to take pictures. I wound up using my shoes as a pillow, and the entire experience was… actually quite comfortable. The moth is the small magpie mothAnania hortulata. It is in the Crambidae family, which is a family of photogenic moths that are often found perching low under leaves.

The next two are six-spotted tiger beetles (Cicindela sexguttata). These beautiful predators are easily the most common tiger beetles around here, especially in and near forests. It should be added that tiger beetle larvae are also worth looking for. The larvae are also predatory, and are found lurking at the entrance of a vertical burrow in the ground. When a small arthropod passes near, they suddenly strike out like a nightmare jack-in-the-box to snatch it. This can be seen here (although with a non-living prey).

The next picture is of a large wolf spider which is proposed to be Schizocosa ocreata.

The final picture is of a beautiful queen bald faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) who decided to start her nest early this summer in the frame of our garage. Hornets build very large nests, and these robust wasps have a reputation for being aggressive at the nest. But I soon found that the queen (who is easily twice the size of a worker) was really very tolerant of my close attentions. All she would do if alarmed was fly away, after first hovering to closely inspect me and the nest to memorize landmarks so that she could find her way back again. But I could not later have a foot wide nest full of hornets hanging down into our garage entrance, so I had to use bug spray to remove her. There really was no other option, I think, but I was remorseful about that.

34 Comments

  1. rickflick
    Posted October 10, 2017 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    Great set of pictures Mark. They are all little miracles of shape, color, and behavior.

  2. Posted October 10, 2017 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    You did not need to use the bug spray.
    I have successfully relocated both hornet and wasp nests provided they are not too large by carefully removing the nest and relocating it using a small blob of glue to reattach the nest. Covering the nest during the move with soft paper usually means you can move the queen safely with the nest.
    I moved a 4 inch nest two days ago from inside the deck sun umbrella using this technique.
    Worth a try next time as like you I really do not like destroying the nests of these quite beautiful insects.

    • Posted October 10, 2017 at 8:32 am | Permalink

      I will have to try that next time, but my concern is that the outcome will be different for a single individual who is programmed to build a nest in fixed steps. This can be different from a colony with individuals who are still receptive to learning the ropes.

  3. Hempenstein
    Posted October 10, 2017 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    If you like cilantro, the spectrum of flavorants in cilantro overlap the odorants in stink bugs (unsaturated long-chain aldehydes).

    And I had bald-faced hornets building a nest in one of my American Chestnuts this spring. Just knocked it down (at about golf-ball size) and they didn’t return.

  4. Posted October 10, 2017 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    What a fabulous tiger beetle, Mark.I wonder why tiger beetles often have those white marks on their elytra that make them look a bit scabby? Shame about the hornet 😦 – MC

    • Posted October 10, 2017 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      My only speculation about possible function is that they use these to help recognize members of their own species.

  5. Debbie Coplan
    Posted October 10, 2017 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    I love seeing the detail on these critters.
    Great photos.
    The Magpie moth almost looks like he has fur or hair on his wings.
    Also like the information…Thank you!

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 11, 2017 at 3:47 am | Permalink

      Yes, that stood out to me about the Magpie moth, too. Very cool.

  6. darrelle
    Posted October 10, 2017 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Mark, your pics are always damn good.

    The 2nd tiger beetle, it looks as if the poor thing has lost the lower section or two of its right foreleg.

    The blue eyes of the top aurora damselfly are quite beautiful. Is the top one the female? Are the color differences between the two typical dimorphism or merely normal variation?

    It is also interesting how each pair of wings sprout from what appear to be separate engine pods.

    • Posted October 10, 2017 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      The top one is the male. There are several species of damsels where the males have blue eyes, and I have more examples later. My favs for that sort of thing is where the eyes are amazing blue, but the bodies are some other color like green.
      The colors in the males of this species seem a bit variable, in that some males are less colorful. I am not sure if that is an effect of aging, since colors do change with age.
      There are species of damsels where males sometimes resemble the drabber females. I don’t know why, but in other mating systems there are ‘sneaker’ males that resemble females and these are able to enter territories of colorful males and mate with a female.

  7. Stephen Barnard
    Posted October 10, 2017 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Superb photos and descriptions.

  8. jaxkayaker
    Posted October 10, 2017 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Pity about the hornet.

    Brown marmorated stink bugs are also crop pests.

    See stopbmsb.org

    Great photos. Thanks for sharing.

  9. cruzrad
    Posted October 10, 2017 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Beautiful!

  10. claudia baker
    Posted October 10, 2017 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    “…like a nightmare jack-in-the-box” – love this description. When I watched the film clip of them, that’s exactly right.

  11. Richard Portman
    Posted October 10, 2017 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Thanks again for another informative post with great photos. I really enjoy these.

  12. Heather Hastie
    Posted October 10, 2017 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Great pics Mark, as always. I always enjoy your commentary too.

  13. Mark R.
    Posted October 10, 2017 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Very impressive Mark; I think this is your best batch yet.

    I have a dozen or so hornet nests around the shed and unattached garage. I hate killing them too, so I’m waiting for the frost to slow them down, then I’ll remove them. Luckily none of the nests are in areas of high traffic.

  14. tjeales
    Posted October 10, 2017 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    great to see the Tiger Beetle. We have a few species in Australia but I’ve yet to see one

  15. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted October 10, 2017 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    “tiger beetle larvae… can be seen [here]”

    There should have been a trigger warning! That thing is the stuff of nightmares!

    Now I suppose someone will find one back in the Cretaceous that was four feet long and could take dinosaurs the size of small dogs…

    cr

    • Posted October 10, 2017 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

      Sadly, a quick google didn’t turn up any. There might be some similar, non-tiger beetle ones though.

  16. Posted October 10, 2017 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    Very nice pictures and text as usual. My favorite was the mating damselflies.

  17. Roger
    Posted October 10, 2017 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    Dang you stink bugs!

  18. Posted October 10, 2017 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    These photos are simply wonderful, Mark…. thanks! I’m glad you included the bald-faced wasp, as they’ve been regular summer visitors to my giant trumpet vines, and now I know what to call them (besides giant black and white killer wasps). 🙂

  19. Stephen Barnard
    Posted October 10, 2017 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    I allow paper wasps to build nests in the eaves. They seem harmless, if scary looking. I haven’t had to deal with hornets. When it comes to the ground-nesting “yellowjackets”, however, I’ll exterminate them not only without mercy, but with satisfaction.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 11, 2017 at 4:04 am | Permalink

      This year I’ve had a surfeit of yellow-jacket nests in our field, some of which–the ones on the path, for instance–I’d started trying to zap at night with ground-nesters spray. Eventually something started digging up the nests and destroying them for me, and one day I was lucky enough to catch sight of a skunk running away from a dig in progress as the dogs & I approached. (Happily the deaf 15-year-old didn’t notice, and the young terrier mutt was leashed…) The mephitid dug up at least 5 nests that I’m aware of, leaving masses of pulled-out…comb?–the conjoined “paper” larvae chambers–scattered on the ground around the sizable excavations. All very fascinating.

      Our Michigan yellow-jacket is much smaller than the species I grew up with in the Pacific NW.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 11, 2017 at 5:27 am | Permalink

        Skunks eat(?) wasps? Or what? Anyway, top marks to your skunk.

        I occasionally get wasps nests in our garden here in NZ, either under heaps of garden rubbish or in a pencil cypress tree by our front door. I hate the things, and they’re a pest in New Zealand. I deal with them by buying the cheapest supermarket-brand fly spray and crawling insect killer I can find, sneaking up to the entry to their nest and emptying half a can of each into the hole. It works and I must admit that I too find it quite satisfying.

        cr

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 11, 2017 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

          I’m rather sure it’s the larvae/pupae the skunks are after.

          Yes, I can’t say I regret too deeply spraying the yellow jackets underground, as they’re quite aggressive. They also swarm the oriole feeder making it inaccessible to the birds. I feel worse for the wasps in the eaves and mostly leave them alone, though I’m in the middle of having the gutters replaced now and the workmen had to spray the wasps.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted October 11, 2017 at 9:50 am | Permalink

        I’m always impressed that skunks manage to eat yellow jackets since yellow jackets can be so vicious in their stings!

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 11, 2017 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

          I wonder if the skunk’s fur is just too dense for stings to penetrate? I know for a fact that yellow jackets can sting my dogs with no problem. Poor pups!

  20. Posted October 10, 2017 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    I really like the photos. Is the iridescence only used to attract mates or is there some other function?

  21. Diane G.
    Posted October 11, 2017 at 4:12 am | Permalink

    I always love your posts, Mark. Entomology rocks! Your pics as always reward enlarging and zooming in–insects/arachnids are stranger and more diverse than any sci-fi imagination could possibly come up with. Your descriptions and interesting facts always fascinate.

    Man, the mandibles on those tiger beetle larvae! Imagine if they were even slightly larger animals–horror film material. Thanks for that vid.

  22. Posted October 11, 2017 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Beautiful pictures Mark. Have you ever spotted a tiger beetle larva in the wild? I never have.

  23. Posted October 16, 2017 at 1:17 am | Permalink

    I love the queen wasp. How cool!


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