Readers’ wildlife photographs

Today we’re featuring the insect photos of Mark Sturtevant as well as a single photo from PCC(E). Mark’s captions are indented.

Here are more pictures of arthropods from the summer of 2017. The first pictures are of a kind of bee, and it is not being nice. It is a kind of ‘cuckoo’ bee, a parasitic bee that lays its eggs in the nests of other bees. Like many of its kind, it is not particularly fuzzy since it has no need to gather pollen for its young. Rather, it makes other bees do that for it. This one is likely in the genus Nomada, but I am not sure of the species. In any case, the cuckoo bees in this group typically parasitize Andrenid bees that nest in the ground. This one was carefully inspecting a small area, and then it dug into the ground. It later reappeared after several minutes, cleaned up, and repeated the process. Seems pretty suspicious to me!

The next two pictures are of a female blue dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) that was a regular visitor to a garden stake in my back yard. You can see that she allowed me to get surprisingly close.

One day when I was on my way out of a park, I just happened to glance down to notice a large Chinese praying mantis (Tenodera sinensis). This is a male, and isn’t he adorable? At one point a robber fly unwisely landed next to it, and so I watched with bated breath to see if the mantis had a meal. It struck a fraction of a second after the last picture, but the fly sort of slithered out from the raptorial arms and escaped.

During the summer I visited my mother, who now lives in a retirement community near our home town in Iowa. When I was growing up, my best arthropod friends included the numerous black-and-yellow argiope garden spiders (Argiope aurantia). I recalled that these were bigger than the ones where I live now, and I soon found that my recollections were true. They are bigger in Iowa! The last two pictures are of a welcome site that was very much part of my summer days while growing up: big female garden spiders next to a lake. I used to handle them and let them crawl all over me. The last picture shows what happened when a large grasshopper, disturbed by my approach, jumped and landed in the web of one of the spiders. The spider quickly wrapped it up and delicately delivered a lethal bite. The picture is one of my favorites from that summer. 

I later persuaded my youngest son to come out to see the spiders. He was quite impressed as he had never seen garden spiders before. To teach him what they could do, I caught another grasshopper and casually dropped it into a web, all the while chatting about what was happening. I had done this hundreds of times while growing up, and it was always fascinating. After the spider had envenomated the prey, I glanced at my son and was surprised to see that he was slightly aghast about the whole thing.
Here’s a picture that I took of our duck pond. I love abstractions like this one, which are clearly influenced by photographer Ernst Haas, one of my youthful favorites:



  1. Posted December 6, 2018 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Very nice. Are there parasitic wasps that lay their eggs on mantis? What IS the plural of mantis? Mantis? !

    • Posted December 6, 2018 at 7:37 am | Permalink

      The cuckoo bee is not really a parasite though, is it? It ‘steals’ or gets a free ride as it were from the host species, but does not live on or in it…

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted December 6, 2018 at 7:48 am | Permalink

        That is right. The better term is kleptoparasite, where one species steals food provisionings from another species. Although there are grey areas where the stealer also eats the other species.

        • Mark Ayling
          Posted December 6, 2018 at 9:17 am | Permalink

          Wiki refers to the cuckoo as a “brood parasite”, which seems to fit the bee’s behaviour as well.

          Also, great pictures.

          • Posted December 6, 2018 at 9:25 am | Permalink

            Thanks both – could not recall those terms but I should have remembered them!
            This is an interesting spider article for you-
            Golden Orbweavers Ignore Biological Rules: Phylogenomic and Comparative Analyses Unravel a Complex Evolution of Sexual Size Dimorphism


          • Mark Ayling
            Posted December 6, 2018 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

            Looking deeper, I was wrong. It seems that “brood parasites” need an element of deception of the host parents, so that they actively feed them as part of their brood, or else they are “kleptoparasites”.

        • Posted December 6, 2018 at 9:26 am | Permalink

          …the one that eats is then a parasitoid…?

          • Mark Sturtevant
            Posted December 6, 2018 at 11:34 am | Permalink

            Ideally, ‘parasite’ is a species that lives on or in their host and does not deliberately kill them. “Parasitoid” is a species that deliberately kills its host, often by living inside and consuming vital organs. An example would be the the larvae of Ichneumon wasps, and the larvae of Tachinid flies. They are still called ‘parasitic wasps and parasitic flies’, but ‘parasitoid’ is more technically exacting.
            The terminology gets a bit sloppy, I think.

            • Nicolaas Stempels
              Posted December 6, 2018 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

              Surprising terms for an innocent outsider. ‘parasitoids’ are meaner than ‘parasites’! The opposite of what these terms would suggest.

              • Posted December 6, 2018 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

                Movie “Alien” is about “parasitoids”.

        • Jenny Haniver
          Posted December 6, 2018 at 10:12 am | Permalink

          I think that our president could be called a kleptoparasite, among other things.

          • Jenny Haniver
            Posted December 6, 2018 at 10:12 am | Permalink

            And a regular parasite, too.

            • Nicolaas Stempels
              Posted December 6, 2018 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

              A ‘parasitoid’ since he’s killing his victims, the US and the ‘West’ from the inside.

  2. Liz
    Posted December 6, 2018 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    Amazing pictures. I also love the one with the spider and grasshopper in the web. Wonderful.

  3. Michael Fisher
    Posted December 6, 2018 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Great photos & notes Mark, though after all this time [years] I’m still no fan of insects, bugs etc. I’ll keep trying 🙂

    Here’s a very good online gallery of ERNST HASS – lots of famous subjects perfectly shot – such as the cast of The Misfits at the link

    But I prefer his abstracts such as this:

  4. Caldwell
    Posted December 6, 2018 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Great pictures, thanks!

  5. Posted December 6, 2018 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Wonderful photos!

    Interesting ‘two-tone paint-job’ on that mantis. Blends in perfectly. Ours here in the Sierra foothills are sometimes classic green, sometimes the tan of the dry grass. Anyone able to explain the mechanism behind that?

  6. Posted December 6, 2018 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    These call to mind the 11/27 NYTimes Magazine article The Insect Apocalypse. It makes one realize that insects are really important for birds and many mammals.

  7. Claudia Baker
    Posted December 6, 2018 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    “…I glanced at my son and was surprised to see that he was slightly aghast about the whole thing.”

    Lol Mark! Reminds me of the time when my daughter was little, about age 4, and since I adored ballet and took classes throughout childhood and into my 20s, I automatically enrolled her in ballet class. She looked so adorable in her black leotard, pink tights and tiny pink ballet slippers. I was in heaven. After about 3 lessons, she said to me: I just want to play basketball Mom!

  8. Mark R.
    Posted December 6, 2018 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Nice shots…I remember reading about the strange zigzag pattern in some orb weaver webs. I think it was for stabilization iirc.

  9. rickflick
    Posted December 6, 2018 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    All are fine shots. Makes me yearn for summer(already).

  10. Cate Plys
    Posted December 6, 2018 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Wow, thanks to Mark for these! Like Mark’s son, I too felt sorry for the grasshopper. But still fascinated by the pictures. I wonder what kind of camera Mark uses?

    • Posted December 6, 2018 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      If you have to budget (like I do), then its best to spend $ on lenses, not camera bodies for close up photography. The body is the Canon T5i, which is a basic consumer grade crop sensor body. An even less expensive one, like a used discontinued model, would do just fine. I use the Canon 100mm macro, and the Canon 100-400mm Mark II telephoto. True macro lenses will cost more, but there are few bad ones out there. So an old discontinued macro or a cheaper off-brand macro lenses like the ones made by Tamron are practically equal to most fancy new brand -named macros.
      This hobby turns a back yard into a place of adventure and learning. Everyone should do it.

      • Cate Plys
        Posted December 6, 2018 at 2:34 pm | Permalink


      • rickflick
        Posted December 6, 2018 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        Everyone should do it.


      • tjeales
        Posted December 6, 2018 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

        Agree with Mark. Lenses and light are more important than the camera. For budget macro with very good results I can also recommend the Ratnox snap-on macro convertor. They’re cheap (around $50 for the 150 diopter) and convenient (no need to change lenses in the field. Just clip on or off).

        • Posted December 6, 2018 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

          I second that. These diopters give best results if the main lens is especially sharp. A good choice there would be a small prime lens like a 50mm. Another option, which probably gives slightly better results, is to mount the small lens on extension tubes. That is how I got started.

      • Posted December 6, 2018 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

        Great advice. Thanks for the wonderful photos and narratives.

  11. Posted December 6, 2018 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    All are wonderful. My favorite: the dragonfly.

  12. tjeales
    Posted December 6, 2018 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Great stuff as always Mark. I enjoy seeing the similarities and differences between your bug fauna and mine in Australia. Nomad bees are new to me. Apparently there’s a species in Australia but it’s not common or widely distributed. Our cuckoo bees are generally in the genus Thyreus

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