Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Mark Sturtevant has returned with a series of insect pictures that he sent on March 28. His notes are indented, and be sure to note the instances of mimicry and the weird mantidfly in the last two photos.

Here are some insect photos for WEIT. The first picture is a nice wood nymph butterfly (Cercyonis pegala). Various species are common in the local woods, but they are usually hard to approach. However, on this day it was overcast and somewhat chilly after a heavy rain, so this one was content to let me come in for pictures.

Next is a large mayfly that I had found on my car, so I transferred it to a nearby tree for pictures. It is one of the burrowing mayflies (Hexagenia), and is probably the most common species, H. limbata. As aquatic larvae, burrowing mayflies will get down out of sight into the silt and mud.

Everyone here should be fond of mimicry. One of my personal goals has been to find nymphs of a broad-headed bug since the nymphs are excellent ant mimics. Each species has a strong resemblance to a particular species of large ant, right down to very small details. So I was very happy to one day come across one such insect in a community garden, as shown in the next picture. This species looks to be in the genus Alydus, and I suspect it is mimicking the Eastern black carpenter ant—by far the most common large ant around here [Michigan]. Mimicking an ant is presumably done to avoid predation since ants taste very bad and not many things will eat them. Broad headed bugs are seed feeders, and they especially like to feed on seeds of legumes. So if I could find the preferred host of these critters I should be able to find more! This one was running fast through a strawberry patch (a feature of ant mimics is that they behave like ants), and so this heavily cropped picture is the only decent one that I have. The nymphs are good mimics, but the adults are rather ordinary looking as shown in this picture at another site.

A local nature center that strongly caters to school field trips recently built a native butterfly house, and I definitely wanted to visit that! The next two pictures shows one of the residents, which is the American lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis). This species is often mistaken for the more common painted lady (I had made that mistake as well!) So here is a handy key to tell the difference.

What do you suppose is the weird insect shown in the next picture? It took me a moment to figure out the order, and later on the family. This is a kind of wasp-mimicking longhorn beetle with very short front wings. The species is probably Necydalis mellita. I could only take two pictures before this nervous and alert insect took off.

I have a friend and colleague (we teach in the same department) who also very much enjoys doing insect macrophotography, and we often go out together to local parks. One thing that happens is that we compete a bit over who has the best ‘find’ for the day. My friend (Gary) wins this competition more often than not, but one day I saw a strange V-shaped thing sitting on a leaf. Could it be? Yes, it was a mantidfly!!! This one was a female, and we soon figured that there was little chance she would fly off since she was quite heavy with eggs. Mantidflies and praying mantises clearly show convergent evolution, but they are from completely different insect orders. Mantidflies are members of the order Neuroptera, and their familiar relatives include lacewings and antlions. The front limbs are usually held in the odd position seen here, cocked back farther than would be seen in a mantis, and they are not used for walking since they lack foot pads.  This species (Climaciella brunnea) uses bright warning colors and a wasp-like shape to mimic a paper wasp. But the mimicry is a complete ruse since this predatory insect of course does not sting. We both agreed that this was “it” this time  —  the best find of the day.

17 Comments

  1. Terry Sheldon
    Posted May 21, 2018 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Beautiful photos and great information. Thanks!!

  2. Posted May 21, 2018 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Love finding people who love bugs as much as we do! Thanks for sharing.

  3. GBJames
    Posted May 21, 2018 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Great stuff, Mark! And thanks for introducing us to mantidflys.

  4. Posted May 21, 2018 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Great stuff, thanks.

  5. nwalsh
    Posted May 21, 2018 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Those are superb,Mark

  6. Liz
    Posted May 21, 2018 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    The first picture of the American lady butterfly is beautiful.

  7. Christopher
    Posted May 21, 2018 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Those were pretty amazing Mimics! I would have been totally fooled. And I had no idea there were painted ladies & American ladies. I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for them from now on.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted May 21, 2018 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      I did not either. I knew the names, and I am sure I see a lot of the painted ladies around here, but I never but the two names together. The process of identifying pictures for WEIT has taught me oodles.

  8. Posted May 21, 2018 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    I have a hard enough time identifying insects without mimicry. The mantidfly masquerading as a wasp? Amazing!

  9. Greg
    Posted May 21, 2018 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    This Sturtevant guy is pretty good.

  10. Posted May 21, 2018 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Wonderful photos. I wish I had seen some of these back when I lived in Wisconsin. The ant mimic bug and the two wasp mimics are especially interesting; I had never seen them in Wisconsin, unless perhaps they fooled me…

  11. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted May 21, 2018 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Super pictures Mark! I don’t know what else you found on that particular day but I can see why you decided the mantidfly was IT!

  12. Posted May 21, 2018 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful Mark! Nice and crisp!

  13. Heather Hastie
    Posted May 21, 2018 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic pics Mark!, and I always enjoy your commentary too. Thanks so much for sharing.

  14. Posted May 21, 2018 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    Great post, Mark. Thank you!

  15. SusanD
    Posted May 21, 2018 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    My goodness! That American Lady is just gorgeous!!!

  16. tjeales
    Posted June 5, 2018 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Amazing, apart from the Mayfly I could have mistaken any of these photos for Australian species. Great set, Thanks Mark


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