Mating Moth Flies (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Dunno why I’m choosing this one exactly, but I really love moth flies and was thrilled to see a pair of them together:

moth flies mating

Moth flies mating

How cute are these flies?  And they’re making more, which makes me happy.  That means I’ll have plenty more to photograph in the future.  :)

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

A Year of Insects on Instagram (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Even though I have a lot of social media accounts, I wouldn’t consider myself a huge social media user.  Yes, I realize the irony of broadcasting that statement in a blog post, but it’s true.  I, for example, have a Twitter account and I used to use it a lot, but there’s only so much time in a day and it often doesn’t include Twitter time these days. I do, however, love and make time for Instagram!  Even though the most popular Instagrammers are generally  celebrities or selfie addicts, there are some seriously great photographers on IG too.  I enjoy the social aspect of it, but I honestly couldn’t care less about likes or followers or that each photo gets a hundred comments.  I love looking at the photos people post.  I follow mostly nature photographers, so each day I scroll through all these amazing pictures of things that remind me of just how spectacularly beautiful our world is.  I find inspiration in the photos posted by the people I follow.

Why mention this here on my insect blog?  This year, I’m embarking on a 365 project (well, technically a 366 project since this is a leap year). Each day, I will post one photo of an insect on my Instagram account with a few fun facts related to it. Think of it as a really short daily version of Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday! I invite you to join me on my year-long photo-factoid adventure. If you like the little tidbits I share here on my blog, you will probably like what I’ll be sharing.  You can find me here:

And if any of you are on Instagram, please consider leaving your username in the comments.  I would love to see your photos!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Dragonflies in December

It has been incredibly warm along the east coast of the US until just a few days ago. My birthday is in mid-December and I spent part of that day outside collecting insects in the pond with a group of high schoolers who are doing a research project with me.  We had been worried it was going to be very cold, but it was a gorgeous 75 degrees!  And, I saw DRAGONFLIES on my birthday.  Not just one dragonfly, either.  No, I saw more than one individual and TWO species!  That’s never happened before, so I was thrilled beyond belief.  Thank you  El Niño!

I saw 6 of these dragonflies on my birthday:

Autumn meadowhawk female

Autumn meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum) female

That’s an autumn meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum), a dragonfly species that flies at the very tail end of the season.  If someone told me they’d seen a dragonfly in December, this is the one I’d think they saw because they fly later than most other dragonflies in the US. Though they’re not commonly reported so late, people do occasionally see them in December, even January in some years.  I saw dozens of them throughout November and up until the 18th of December.  There were so many out this year!

I saw most of the autumn meadowhawks resting on the wooden platforms we use for teaching classes near the pond or on bare patches of dirt on the ground:

Autumn meadowhawk  (Sympetrum vicinum) male

Autumn meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum) male

This particular species is not as inclined to spend all their time around the water as other species, preferring to perch away from the shore.  I did see a few fly out over the water briefly while I watched, but most were sitting on the platforms or the ground. Not surprisingly, they were all sitting in the full sun and with their bodies positioned so that they could soak up as much sun as possible. While it was very warm on my birthday and a few other days on either side, there were some cooler days mixed in too. The autumn meadowhawks were flying even on those days, but tended to make short flights from a warm sunny patch to another warm sunny patch rather than taking longer flights. They also let me get really close before they flew away.  They apparently didn’t want to fly more than necessary on the chilly days.

I’ll write more about the biology of this species at a future date because this is very interesting.  Autumn meadowhawks are rather strange dragonflies!  However, it was not the only species I saw on my birthday this year.  I also saw one of these:

Darner on big leaf magnolia

Common green darner (Anax junius)

A December sighting of a common green darner is definitely abnormal!  In the past four falls, the latest I’ve seen a green darner at the pond was September 26.  Seeing one in December was therefore shocking.  I have to wonder where it came from.  Was it passing through, a hugely late migrant that was headed south for the winter? Or did the warm weather trick a nymph in the pond into thinking it was spring so it emerged? Either way, I was very surprised to see this dragonfly in December.  It unfortunately whizzed past me at speed and I got just enough of a look at it to identify it.  It didn’t stick around to pose for photos…

North Carolina is certainly not the only place that has been seeing dragonflies far later in the year than normal this year.  I’ve heard reports and seen photos of autumn meadowhawks from places like Massachusetts and Maryland from December and a few from Canada in late November.  The warm weather seems to be prolonging their season so that people all up and down the east coast have made unusual spottings.  For this dragonfly lover, it makes me happy to see dragonflies so late in the year.  And, it’s only 4 months until the dragonflies start to come back in the spring in my area.  That’s not too bad of a wait.  Not too bad at all.

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Dragonfly Woman’s Best Photos of 2015

I like to look back at the end of the year each year to see what I’ve accomplished photographically.  I took over 27,000 photos in 2015!  Most of them are never posted on my blog, so this year, rather than focusing on the photos I have already posted in my year-in-review post, I’m going to share some new ones you haven’t seen before in approximately chronological order.  Let’s start with the spring…

Spring Aquatics

For whatever reason, I didn’t get nearly as many aquatics shots this year as I have in the past couple of years, but I did get some.  I shared some of my favorite photos of the snails I spent a few happy weeks watching every evening earlier this year.  Those were pouch (sometimes called bladder) snails.  This is a ramshorn snail:

Ramshorn snail

Ramshorn snail

This snail’s shell was about half an inch across and it spent most of its time zooming around the aquarium scraping algae off things.  A beautiful animal!  I also love the way these look:

Notonecta

Backswimmer

I’ve shared this photo with you already, but I love the way the woody stem reflects off the air bubble wrapped around this backswimmer’s back.  Plus, this species has an iridescent blue face!  I never knew that, one of many things I’ve discovered because I’ve taken a macro photo of an insect and noticed something when I reviewed my shots later.  I love learning new things from photos!

Another favorite for the year (I shared this one before too):

Ambrysus

Creeping water bug

That’s a creeping water bug.  They’re fairly shy and like to hide under things, but they’ve got a powerful bite.  I don’t pick these up.

Moving on to a little later in the year…

Teaching Teachers in April

One of the best parts of my job at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences is teaching teachers how to do citizen science projects so they can get their students involved.  This year, a coworker and I put on a 3-day workshop and it was a ton of fun!  We blacklighted both nights, and this rosy maple moth was one of the moths that showed up at the sheet:

Rosy Maple Moth

Rosy maple moth

My favorite insect of the weekend was a fishfly female and I did get some photos, but none of them were very good.  I took her home to get some better shots of her in my whitebox, but she chewed her way out of the container and escaped into my house when I wasn’t looking just a few moments after I got home.  Whoops!  Sorry, I let a giant insect loose in the house, honey!

A GREAT Butterfly Year!

Last year, the butterfly population in my part of North Carolina seemed WAY down.  Some of the very common species had a decent season and we had more monarchs than usual, but a lot of things were conspicuously absent in 2014.  This year, the butterfly population absolutely exploded!  There were so, so many butterflies and they lasted well into the fall.  One of my favorites shots for the year was this pipevine swallowtail:

Pipevine swallowtail

Pipevine swallowtail

You barely even have to work to make a pipevine swallowtail look good – they’re simply gorgeous.  I also came across two butterflies that aren’t uncommon, but I’d never seen before.  This is a question mark:

Question mark

Question mark

And this is a viceroy:

Viceroy

Viceroy

Viceroys are obviously a part of the monarch-viceroy-queen butterfly mimicry complex.  I found it fairly easy to tell them apart based on how they flew and their size, both of which seemed quite different from the monarchs, but they also have a diagonal black line across the hind wings that monarchs don’t have.  If you get a good look at one, it’s simple to tell them apart.

This is not an especially great photo, but I am sharing it anyway:

intern with monarch

My intern with monarch

This is my fall intern, Kylie.  We spent a few weeks tagging monarchs during their migration and she was spectacularly unsuccessful at catching them at first.  This photo commemorates the moment she released the first monarch she managed to catch and tag herself, a moment she was very proud of.  She got really good at catching them by the end of the season!  Kylie was an amazing intern and very eager to learn, so I felt the need to share this, even if it’s just a snapshot taken with an iPhone.  It’s one of my favorite shots of the year.

Moving on to another group of insects that were also very abundant in 2015:

Obsessed with Dragonflies

I wrote a post back in January about my Christmas present from my husband last year, a Canon Powershot SX60 superzoom camera.  I stand by that review of the camera and I still think it produces what I consider rather low quality photos – they’re just so grainy!  However, the amazing zoom capabilities meant I could photograph birds and dragonflies from quite far away, which opened up a whole new world of photographic possibilities for me.  I started carrying my camera around with me everywhere, and I’ll admit that I went a little nuts photographing dragonflies.  However, how can you resist photographing something like this eastern pondhawk female (you may recognize this one – it doesn’t have a Santa hat here!):

Eastern pondhawk female

Eastern pondhawk female

Or this slaty skimmer:

Slaty skimmer dragonfly

Slaty skimmer

Dragonflies are beautiful, but I miss a lot of shots with my DSLR and 300mm lens because I scare things off when I approach.  With my superzoom, I can shoot a dragonfly from 20 feet away!  The resulting photos may be less crisp than I’d like, but I was able to document a ton of behaviors and some new-to-the-field-station species.  That made the graininess totally worth it for me.

I also photographed a lot of small things very close up this year…

Adventures in Blacklighting

2015 was an awesome blacklighting year for me!  I ended up blacklighting almost every night for three months this summer, starting with National Moth Week in July.  About 40-50% of the insects I photographed were things I’d never seen in my yard before, so I was very excited.  Some of my favorites of the several thousand blacklight/porch light shots I got this year included this dot-lined white moth:

Dot-lined White Moth

Dot-lined White Moth

SOOOOO fuzzy!  I also loved this barklouse:

Barklouse

Barklouse

I don’t see a whole lot of them, so it’s always exciting when they decide to show up.  A lot of aquatics show up at my lights too, like this white miller caddisfly:

White miller caddisfly

White miller caddisfly

I live about a quarter of a mile from a major river and there’s a small lake and a retention pond in my neighborhood.  It’s very obvious there’s water nearby given the number of aquatic insects that show up at my lights almost every night.

Now I know this is an insect blog, but thanks to my superzoom camera, I got a lot of shots of other things as well…

Non-Insects

The whole reason I wanted the superzoom in the first place was because I was unhappy with the bird photos I took with my DSLR.  The 300mm lens is lovely for some things, but not long enough to get good bird shots.  I don’t have $10,000+ lying around to spend on an ultra long lens, so the superzoom was far cheaper way to get the shots I wanted.   Again, the photos are grainy, but I figure getting a slightly grainy shot is better than not getting the shot at all!  I took tons and tons of bird photos this year, and some of my favorites included this white-breasted nuthatch:

white breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

And this purple martin:

purple martin

Purple martin

The nuthatches are one of my favorite birds, but they move around constantly.  This is the best shot I’ve managed so far.  The martins really caught my attention this year because my camera allowed me to see what they were bringing back to feed their babies.  Purple martins eat a ton of dragonflies!  I love this martin photo best, though, because of the position of the bird.  She’s really looking down at another bird that landed on the gourd below it, but I would think she was being coy if I didn’t know better.

I also became obsessed with photographing frogs and turtles this year.  My favorite herp photo this year:

bullfrog

Bullfrog

It’s just a bullfrog, but I still can’t get over the fact that bullfrogs actually belong in North Carolina.  They are horribly invasive in Arizona and there are major eradication efforts underway to try to control them.  But here, they’re native, so I don’t have to feel guilty for liking them.  I probably took 1000 or more bullfrog photos this year, but I also got shots of cricket frogs, Fowler’s toads, green and squirrel tree frogs, several turtle species, and a variety of snakes.  I’m still terrified of snakes, but after the initial little fluttering of my heart when I see one, I pull out my camera and start snapping away.  Cameras are remarkable for making me less fearful of things that I find scary!

Closing Thoughts

So I’ll admit: I don’t think most of the photos I took this year are as good as the ones I took last year.  A lot of that has to do with the fact that over half of the photos I took in 2015 were taken with my superzoom and the quality of the images just isn’t that amazing.  It also doesn’t take excellent macro shots, so I didn’t get nearly as many close up photos this year as I have in the past.  Sigh…  There’s nothing quite like the feeling of going a little backwards with your photo quality, but what can you do?

But even if not all of my photos this year were stellar, I feel like I documented nature very effectively.  I came across so many new-to-me species this year!  Because I lugged my behemoth of a superzoom around with me almost everywhere I went, I got photographic evidence of nearly all of them.  I documented behaviors and cool things I saw and things that surprised me and things that amazed me and things I thought were stunningly beautiful.  And ultimately, that’s why I take photos.  I care about improving my skills quite a bit, but getting a shot of something so I remember it is far more important to me than getting a good shot of it.  For example, this is the best shot of a groundhog I’ve gotten so far:

groundhog

Groundhog

It is not a great photo.  However, because I took this photo, I can remember the exact circumstances in which I came across this groundhog, how I had been driving the golf cart to the back gate at the field station to lock up for the evening and I saw two juvenile groundhogs on the trail between the red shed and the fan boats the state aquatic weed guy stores on the grounds.  This groundhog’s sibling ran as soon as I came around the corner, but this one stood and stared at me for a few seconds before running off too.  It’s not a great photo, but it has memories attached to it.

And with that, I am signing off for 2015.  See you in 2016!  If you’d like to see my collection of 50 best photos of the year, which includes all but a few of the photos I’ve shared here, you can see them on Flickr.  There are a lot more birds in that collection, plus some plants and a really awesome endangered salamander species I got to see this year.

Have a happy new year, everyone!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Obelisk

The end of 2015 is almost here, so I’ve looked back over the year a lot recently.  I’m going to share my “Best of 2015” photos with you all on Friday, but this is one of my favorites for this year:

blue dasher obelisking

Blue dasher obelisking

That’s a blue dasher dragonfly doing a behavior called obelisking, a behavior that helps dragonflies control their temperature.  Because they are exothermic (= their body temps are more or less the same temp as their surroundings, aka they’re “cold-blooded”), insects often have to resort to behaviors to help them regulate their internal body temperatures.  You’ll see many dragonflies in the obelisk position on hot days, pointing the tips of their abdomens directly at the sun.  In this position, a dragonfly can minimize the amount of sun hitting its body and help keep itself a little cooler.  If even that doesn’t work, they’ll start to look for shade and get out of the sun completely.

Just a few more days until the start of 2016!  For those of you in the midwestern US, I hope you stay safe into the new year.  The flooding in your area looks really terrible from afar, so I can only imagine what it’s like firsthand.

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Happy Holidays

Because I like to put Santa hats on things, I feel the need to post something today. This year, I give you an eastern pondhawk with a Santa hat:

  

To those of you who celebrate Christmas, happy holidays! And if not, I hope you’ll simply enjoy seeing a dragonfly wearing a silly hat. :)

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Swarm Sunday: 9/27/15 – 12/20/15

Dragonfly Swarm Project logoThanks to work, I haven’t had much time to blog recently, but I wanted to get the remaining swarms reported from 2015 up before the end of the year.  Swarms were reported from the following locations since early October, the normal end of the season:

USA:

Santa Monica, CA
Fort Lauderdale, FL
Holmes Beach, FL
Indian Shores, FL
Lakeland, FL
Miami, FL
Naples, FL
Panama City Beach, FL
Pompano Beach, FL
Santa Rosa Beach, FL (2 swarms)
Sarasota, FL (2 swarms)
Sunrise, FL
Wichita, KS
Somerset, KY
Vineland, NJ
Austin, TX
Gilchrist, TX

India:

Bangalore (2 swarms)

Mexico:

Cancun

Belize:

Dangriga

Here is the US map for the fall flights:

10.4.15 to 12.19.15

 

Click the map to enlarge!

 

The end of the swarm season was interesting this year!  It lasted quite a lot longer into October than usual and a couple American swarms were reported in November.  The past 5 years, a very few swarm reports have been submitted the first two weeks in October, so the late swarms this year were a good 2-6 weeks later than normal.  The season started a few weeks late this year, too, and it stayed warm a lot longer into the fall in the east than typical, so there was a lot potentially coming into play here.  What’s really odd about this map is that there are three swarms reported from areas fairly far north much later in the season than I would expect them.  Most of the swarms should be much further south by early October, so it’s very strange to see a swarm as far north as New Jersey that late in the year.

There have been a few winter reports made from closer to the equator, from Belize and southern Mexico.  These are normal, but it’s always exciting to see activity further south.  Are the dragonflies they’re seeing the same dragonflies we saw in the fall?  It’s impossible to tell with the way I collect data, but it’s fun to think that they might be.

I totally dropped the ball reporting the annual findings last year, but I’m almost ready to post the findings from 2015.  Look for the first post next weekend most likely!  It’s been an interesting year.

Thank you to everyone who has participated in the Dragonfly Swarm Project in 2015!  I’ve got some exciting new opportunities coming up next year that I’ll share soon and I’m looking forward to the next season.  In the meantime, if you see any swarms, I hope you’ll report them!  This is a slow time of year, but I get a lot of very interesting reports from many sites across the world in the winter.  I’ll gladly take reports!

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Have you seen a dragonfly swarm? I am tracking swarms so I can learn more about this interesting behavior.  If you see one, I’d love to hear from you!  Please visit my Report a Dragonfly Swarm page to fill out the official report form.  It only takes a few minutes! Thanks!

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Want more information? Visit my dragonfly swarm information page for my entire collection of posts about dragonfly swarms!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth