Readers’ wildlife photos

Professor Ceiling Cat (Emeritus) requests that you send in your wildlife photos!

We have another batch of lovely arthropod photos from Mark Sturtevant, whose captions are indented.

We begin with an insect called an ambush bug (Phymata pennsylvanica). These are small assassin bugs with wonderfully cryptic shapes and colors that help them lurk on flowers so that they may ambush an unsuspecting pollinator. The first picture is a female, and it illustrates how difficult it may be to find one of these little killers. In the second picture we see a great example of how I usually notice them, which is when I spot a pollinator that looks ‘wrong’. In this case we have a mating pair of ambush bugs and the female is feeding on what is probably a digger bee (Anthophora sp.). These predators clearly do not care if their prey is bigger and well armed. I think of this scene of sex and premature death as “insect life, briefly summarized”. While I was taking pictures, the female was disturbed by my presence and shortly after she dropped her meal into my hand.

What is the insect in the next picture? I had earlier posted this as a kind of contest on a macrophotography web site. No one could guess, and this is probably because it is seen out of its more familiar context. It is a predaceous water bug (genus Belostoma). Normally these insects are in the water, but this one was sitting on the reeds over a pond. In the next picture is another one just under the surface of a pond.

Next is a clavate tortoise beetle (Plagiometriona clavata). These are herbivorous beetles, and many species are incredibly colorful although this one is fairly plain. But I like how the color pattern looks like a teddy bear.

In the Magic Field the dusty parking lot is a busy place for burrowing wasps. The next two pictures are of a sand wasp known as Bicyrtes quadrofasciatus. These lovely little wasps dig a burrow and stock it with paralyzed insects to feed to their larvae. This particular species is known to prefer Hemiptera. They are by far the easiest of the burrowing wasps to photograph since they spend a lot of time managing their burrow, and they are so single-minded about their task that an observing human is pretty much ignored. One merely has to lie down next to a burrow that has a sand wasp inside. When she emerges, she soon decides the prone body is merely part of the scenery, and soon she is back at work moving the dirt around.

I especially love dragonflies, and never tire of just watching their antics near water. One of the most entertaining is the slaty skimmer (Libellula incesta). Territorial males, like the one shown in the next picture, will have a favorite perch that is usually about a foot or so above the water. They frenetically dash off to chase away any intruder, then return to the same spot. So if a perching slaty disappears from my camera viewfinder I merely have to keep looking through the viewfinder. In a few seconds it will return to the same spot.

Finally, we have one of our most common dragonflies: a widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa). This individual has recently emerged as an adult, and so it has not developed its wing pigments and it can not fly far. I recommend that readers embiggen this picture to appreciate its sparkly new wings. 




  1. Liz
    Posted October 5, 2018 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    It is interesting to read about all of these. The last picture is incredible. The wings look like stained glass windows. So beautiful.

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted October 5, 2018 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    “… send in your wildlife photos!“

    Ooooo – it must really be bad if it doesn’t need to be “good” photos!

    The ones I have can wait.

  3. Posted October 5, 2018 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Very nice. Are you using natural light?

    • Posted October 5, 2018 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      Closer pictures, especially of small insects, are mostly illuminated by a diffused flash. Larger insects generally get a combination of natural light plus a little bit of flash to help fill in shadows.

  4. Posted October 5, 2018 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Awesome photos as usual Mark. What body of water did you find your water bug in? I’ve been wanting to find one of these since I was a little kid. So far I’ve only seen them in the Smithsonian Museum. I live in Michigan, and seem to recall that you do too.

    • Posted October 5, 2018 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      They are in both still water (lakes and ponds) and streams. This is the small species, getting a bit over an inch in length. I have not see the giant ones around here. A dip net will eventually get you one, along with the related ‘water scorpions’.

  5. Posted October 5, 2018 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Surprised to see “embiggen” is in the online dictionaries. Cool word! Cool pics as well.

  6. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted October 5, 2018 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Yes Mark, your arthropod photographs are always so beautiful and great, I’m often thinking whether I could learn how to do that myself.
    At least I’ve found what I’m going to do when retiring.

    • Posted October 5, 2018 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      Weekends and vacations. You can start with a basic camera and modify it for close up photography. For example, a dslr camera with a short lens (less than 70mmm) can be modified by adding inexpensive extension tubes. It is then a pretty good macro lens. Longer lenses also work, but they don’t give as much magnification.

  7. Don Mackay
    Posted October 5, 2018 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    I have mixed feelings about dragon flies. In my rowing days at Auckland uni. our coach loved us to row ‘single strokes’ in a fast flowing part of the Waikato R. while he hitched his coaching boat to a willow for a smoke. Our (eight) skiff would be kept stationary, at ‘high balance’, oars off the water just long enough for the dragon flies to seek out our noses and perch there, creating a terrible itch. Coach John refused to allow us to swipe them away, as part of the discipline of the sport. The dragons were just out of focus so we could not appreciate the diaphanous beauty of their wings!

  8. Diane G
    Posted October 5, 2018 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    Super pics and great info to go with them, Mark–as always! Thanks!

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