Readers’ wildlife photos

Our regular Mark Sturtevant is back with some swell insect photos. Mark’s notes are indented:

Here is another batch of pictures that I took last summer, and there are plenty more where these came from.

The first two are of a tiny fly, and although the pictures are not that great, it is a neat little insect. I think this is Pseudotephritis vau, which is a kind of  ‘picture winged fly’. Flies in this family and in the related ‘signal fly’ family seem unable to walk without waving their patterned wings as a display to other flies. Here it may have been signaling to its reflection in the camera lens. While I was taking its picture, it was also being actively stalked by a jumping spider that was clearly interested in making a meal of it. When the spider got too close, the fly would suddenly face it and wave its wings. The spider seemed unsure about what to do, so it would back away. I regret not getting pictures that showed this interaction, but the encounters with the spider bring to mind an apparent case where a related fly in the same family is thought to avoid predation from jumping spiders by explicitly mimicking them with their wing markings and ‘I’m a spider too!’ behaviors.  This was described some time ago here at WEIT.

I stalk all arthropods, but like many in this hobby I have developed an addiction for Odonates. I will later show what were (to me) exciting encounters with this group, but for now here are some common species. The first one is a young male familiar bluet damselfly (Enallagma civile), and like most bluet males he will later develop an intense blue color. The second is a mature male stream bluet damselfly (Enallagma exsulans). There are numerous other species of bluets in my area, but I have yet to learn how to identify them in the field.

The final Odonate for today is a green darner dragonfly (Anax junius), and I think this one is also a male. Although common, these large dragonflies can be very frustrating as they do not often land when flying around water. But now I know more of about the biology of Odonates, and one trick is to find where the young ones hang out, for there they are much more sedentary. One such dragon hang-out is in what I call my ‘magic field’, which is a wondrous place that abounds with interesting and unusual insects and spiders. There the air is busy with numerous species of dragonflies, and I can generally track down several green darners at rest.

The next two pictures are of a mysterious buggy looking thing that was sitting on my shed. So what the heck is it? This is a mating pair of Tortricid moths, and I have not yet been able to identify the species.

The next two pictures are of one of the three species of tortoise beetles that I have seen in my area. This is the thistle tortoise beetle (Cassida rubiginosa), so-named because the larvae feed on thistles. The larvae hang together in aggregations, with each one carrying a ‘fecal shield’ of excrement and caste skins over their back. They probably do this to ward off enemies or to hide from them. The second picture shows the adult of this species.

Finally, I close with a picture of one of the luna moth caterpillars (Actias luna) that I raised last summer. They were invariably annoyed by the attentions of their human caretaker, and so I would generally see them reared up like this. At times they seemed to resemble one of the Perpetually Offended, but this one somehow looked like it was merely evil and up to something.


  1. Posted January 11, 2018 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Great photos Mark! I like the short DOF on the first few. What equipment are you using?

    • Posted January 11, 2018 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      I love talking about equipment. Except for one lens my stuff is not fancy. Canon T5i body and the Canon 100mm f/2.8 L macro lens for macrophotography. For subjects like the green darner the lens would be the positively ancient Canon 100-300mm f/5.6 L. I use a single external flash with diffuser, and these days I favor a diffuser made from a big piece of curved translucent plastic from an old milk jug, plus a couple layers of tracing paper to cut down on the hot spot directly in front of the flash.
      The settings are also important. Shooting is done in full manual mode, and when I can I use an aperture that is pretty wide for close up photography (f/11), hence the shallow depth of field, and low flash power to let natural light do as much work as possible.

      • rickflick
        Posted January 11, 2018 at 9:56 am | Permalink

        I love hearing about equipment.

      • Liz
        Posted January 11, 2018 at 10:35 am | Permalink

        Yes. Thank you for sharing.

      • Posted January 12, 2018 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

        Cheers, thanks for sharing this. Both of those lenses are fine ones!

        You must be very close to that short of DOF at f/11! I’m sure the flash helps with stopping down, especially since you are so close.

        Very nice work, Mark!

  2. Debbie Coplan
    Posted January 11, 2018 at 8:34 am | Permalink


  3. GBJames
    Posted January 11, 2018 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Very cool photos and commentary.

  4. Liz
    Posted January 11, 2018 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    The first fly picture really is that great. The top of the fly is similar to whatever it is standing on. The colors are calming. The green darner dragonfly is wonderful also with the calming colors. It’s just so beautiful. The green of the luna moth caterpillar in the last picture is incredible.

    • Posted January 11, 2018 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      Thank you. The thing about the luna cats is that they are transluscent, and beautifully illuminated from within by the sun. I have never been able to convey that in pictures, however.

    • Posted January 11, 2018 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

      I also especially like that Luna Moth caterpillar. Beautiful light and an unusual viewpoint.

  5. John Conoboy
    Posted January 11, 2018 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Very nice pictures and thanks for the info on your camera and lens.

    Recently heard an interview with Erica McAlister who is curator of Diptera at the Natural History Museum in London. It has sparked my interest to learn more about flies, starting with getting her new book, “The Secret Lives of Flies.”

    • John Conoboy
      Posted January 11, 2018 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      I mean, “Secret Life of Flies.” Flies, unlike cats only have one life.

  6. Posted January 11, 2018 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Spectacular… especially the caterpillar reared up, front lets covering her stomach, little hairs around her paws.
    Absolutely adorable. 🖤🖤🖤

  7. Posted January 11, 2018 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Once again Mark demonstrates why, in general, I am too intimidated to attempt arthropods.

    • Posted January 11, 2018 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      Just need a camera with some modifications for close-ups, and your backyard becomes an exotic jungle.

  8. Greg
    Posted January 11, 2018 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant photos.

    Are those Luna moth caterpillar teeth anything like human teeth?

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 11, 2018 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      I usually think of insect mandibles as moving “sideways,” but these sure look like incisors, don’t they? 🙂 Now we need an action shot from Mark!

    • Posted January 11, 2018 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

      I think that is the labrum, which is the ‘upper lip’. In these insects it is deeply slotted down the middle , and a leaf is inserted into the slot. The mandibles are the paired darker brown and black things behind.

  9. gluonspring
    Posted January 11, 2018 at 2:34 pm | Permalink


  10. Diane G.
    Posted January 11, 2018 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Man, I can stare at insect close-ups for hours! These are so superb, and I really appreciate the accompanying commentary. Love the fact that you have a “magic field.” Especially botanically diverse, perhaps?

    That luna moth cat is spectacular! Well, all your pics are, but the combination of expertise, subject, & behavior is just riveting! (This is why I always find the various “monsters” that sci-fi films conjure up rather lacking–it’s hard to imagine something more bizarre than what evolution’s already come up with.)

    • Posted January 12, 2018 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      I think the caterpillar is saying “excellent”, in the style of Montgomery Burns.

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 12, 2018 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

        Ha! Most of the Burns pics that show up in a Google search show him holding his fingers exactly the way the luna cat’s holding its true legs. Great catch!

  11. Heather Hastie
    Posted January 11, 2018 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic pics and commentary Mark! Most enjoyable!

  12. Paul Doerder
    Posted January 11, 2018 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Great patience, great shots. Love the Luna cat. I’m hoping to see an adult during spring mothing.

  13. Posted January 12, 2018 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Stupendous!!! 🙂

  14. Posted January 12, 2018 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    I love how you described the last one.

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