Readers’ wildlife photos

Today we see the return of insect and arthropod photographer Mark Sturtevant. Mark’s notes are indented:

Here are some pictures from last summer. Enjoy!

First up are two damselflies. The first is the lovely Aurora damselfly (Chromagrion conditum). This fairly large damsel is one of the species that I can easily identify in the field. It habitually holds its wings slightly open, much like members of the ‘spreadwing’ family of damselflies, although the aurora damsels belong to a different family that do not typically hold their wings that way.

The second damsel is the common but personally challenging Eastern forktail damselfly (Ischnura verticalis). I have the hardest time getting acceptable pictures of these very small damsels. This is in part because they are extra shy, and in part because their delicate green color is easily saturated by the flash. I had to really fuss with the settings to get this picture. It seems that the majority of Eastern forktails around here have parasitic mites on them.

Rotting logs that are covered in mosses and fungi are worth a careful look. On one occasion I came across such a log with several small and very active flies, as shown in the next two pictures. These are rust flies (Chyliza sp.). Their activities kept me entertained for a long time as the males, like that in the first picture, were busy defending their small patch of moss from rival males. But any female, like the one shown in the following picture, would be pretty much tackled in an effort to mate. This activity would cause nearby males to charge in as well. The females always refused these entreaties, and so perhaps they were already mated.

Among the little rust flies were other insects, including this larger Xylophagid fly (I think Xylophagus sp.) shown in the next picture. It seemed much calmer but also a bit snooty as it loomed motionless over the busy busy busy rust flies. The drama on this one log was so engrossing that I was later quite unable to stand up for a time. My feet had fallen asleep!

Earlier this year I had purchased a batch of Luna moth cocoons (Actias luna) through the mail. Once spring was moving into summer, I set them out in a bug cage to have them emerge, and I would then photograph some of the adult lunas. One day I heard a distinct scritch scritch scritch sound from the cage where the cocoons were held. A moth was working its way out! I retrieved it and watched the magic.

What was curious was that I could see that the moth inside the cocoon was using some sort of short blade somewhere on its front end to cut its way out of the cocoon. I had no idea that they could do this. In any case, after a time the moth freed itself and crawled out into my hand. I hung it up on a wreath to let it expand its wings. The next pictures show some of its transformation from small wet thing to ethereal beauties. Interesting how the wings change colors as they expand. Pictures of fully formed adults will be reserved for the next posting, as I don’t want the folks here to be ‘over-lunafied’.

In a place I call the Magic Field, the ground is heavily marked with entrances of various arthropod burrows. Among these are large openings to burrows belonging to very large wolf spiders. Because they stick around all summer in the same burrows, I become rather attached to each of the spiders that I find. I will check on the known locations of several of them during my return visits to the field. But of course such spiders will have their enemies. One day I came across an impressively large black wasp that was exploring the ground. I did mistake it at first for our local ‘great black wasp’, a common species that preys on katydids. But from this picture I realized that the antennae and the sutures on the thorax identify this insect as a spider wasp. This is one of the ‘blue-black’ spider wasps in the genus Anoplius, but it is difficult to identify which species from the pictures I have. It was evidently hunting for ‘my’ wolf spiders. Of course this plays out with the wasp paralyzing the spider and feeding it to their young.

Which brings me to the final subject: one of the burrowing wolf spiders in the Magic Field. This is Geolycosa missouriensis. Most of the time they are not visible except by shining an LED light down their burrow. But on some occasions they are inclined to sit at the entrance to their burrow. Of course approaching them makes them hide, but if one stays very still at the entrance for a few minutes, camera aimed, the spider will eventually peek back out, as shown in the final picture. It’s a fan of big spider wasps, I am sure!



  1. Stephen Barnard
    Posted May 14, 2019 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Very nice photos and commentary.

  2. rickflick
    Posted May 14, 2019 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Beautiful shots. Once again, large creature chauvinists should take a moment to consider the error of their ways. 🤔

  3. Charles Sawicki
    Posted May 14, 2019 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Nice photos!

  4. Debbie Coplan
    Posted May 14, 2019 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Wonderful post! I love the detail on the eye and the legs of that rust fly. Especially in that first picture.
    Thanks for all the information and photos!

  5. Posted May 14, 2019 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Great pics and descriptions!

  6. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted May 14, 2019 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Splendid set of pictures Mark. I love that wolf spider!

  7. Mark R.
    Posted May 14, 2019 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing these. Hopefully this Summer will be as fruitful as last one. It seems you have some special spots now. Cool!

  8. Posted May 14, 2019 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Very nice photos and narrative.

  9. tjeales
    Posted May 14, 2019 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    What a fantastic set. I love them all in their own way but the flies are particularly good with the moss giving a sense for how small these subjects are. Wonderful.

  10. W.Benson
    Posted May 14, 2019 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    Very nice photos. The behavioral observations on Chyliza also interesting.
    Has anything has been published on their territorial behavior?

  11. Posted May 14, 2019 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful post!

  12. Posted May 15, 2019 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Hm, maybe I should take magnifying equipment on more of my walks!

  13. Posted May 15, 2019 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    Awesome, as usual.

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