Swarm Sunday: 7/6/14 – 7/19/14

Dragonfly Swarm Project logo

I didn’t have a chance to post last week, so what you see here represents two weeks of data.  Swarm reports came from the following locations:

USA:

Scottsdale, AZ
Butlerville, AK
Chico, CA
Flagler, CO
Duluth, MN
Brick, NJ
Ocean City, NJ (2 reports)
Williamstown, NJ
Houston, TX
Pflugerville, TX
Rockwall, TX
Mathews, VA

Canada:

Calgary, AB (2 reports)
Miramichi, NB
Vulcan, AB

Ireland:

Celbridge, County Kildare

And here are the maps for the last two weeks:

swarms 7.6.14 to 7.12.14

7/6/14 to 7/12/14

 

swarms 7.13.14 to 7.19.14

7/13/14 to 7/19/14

Red pins are static swarms, yellow pins are migratory. Click the maps to enlarge!

There has been a little upswing in activity in the past few weeks, which I’m excited about.  Over the last week, there were four migratory swarms (though only one really shows up on the map – two are under other pins and one is outside of North America), so there’s been at least a little movement.  Texas continues to have regular activity, New Jersey had a small event, and California showed up on the map last week.  The most exciting thing to me is the report from Ireland though!  That’s a new country for the Dragonfly Swarm Project and brings the total number of countries where swarms have been reported to 23.  There’s been a pretty even spread so far too, with all continents except Antarctica (for obvious reasons) and Africa (no idea why) well represented.

This last week, I got to talk about my project for an educational podcast geared at 4th and 5th graders, and I’ll post a link if I get public access to the final product online.  I’m also excited about some upcoming promotion of my project that I’ll tell you about once I know more details!  It’s fun spreading the word about dragonfly swarms and what it’s like doing insect behavior work with citizen scientists, so I’m looking forward to sharing the results of these with you all in the next few weeks.

If the trend from the past four years holds true, we’re coming up on peak season for dragonfly swarms here soon.  It will be very interesting to see what happens, so send in your data!  I can’t wait to see what happens this season!

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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

Friday 5: Light Sculptures and Other Fun Things

Well, I haven’t been able to keep up with the ol’ blog here very well this week, but I’m getting a post up today if it kills me!  It’s Friday (which is no longer the last day of my workweek, incidentally), so it’s time for me to share some cool insect related things from the past week.  First up, this guy:

Brandon Ballengee speaking at RTP180

Brandon Ballengee speaking at RTP180

That’s Brandon Ballengee, an artist and biologist who gave a lightning talk at an awesome event I attended last night that focused on the intersection of science and art.  Ballengee’s artwork includes what he calls “Love Motels for Insects,” awesome large UV light sculptures that are meant to attract insects to them.  He hopes that people will document the insects they see for citizen science and that the installations will educate the public about the importance of insects in the environment.  He also does some crazy cool research on interactions between dragonfly nymphs and frogs that I’m going to share with you all soon!  I am really thrilled I had a chance to talk to him about the work he does, citizen science, and large insects that prey on amphibians.  Plus, free pizza and beer at the event!  How can you go wrong?

On a completely unrelated note, we’ve got a series of 8 camera traps on the grounds of the field station where I work that are part of a study looking at urban mammal populations.  This is NOT what you want to see fall out of the camera when you open it up to switch out the memory card and batteries:

Ants from the camera trap

Ants from the camera trap

Ants!  I believe these are Crematogaster ants (will one of the ant people kindly confirm this for me?) and there were HUNDREDS of them packed inside what is essentially a little computer.  I got an odd sort of satisfaction out of dismantling the camera and brushing out the ants from the surprisingly numerous nooks and crannies inside.  Dunno why, but I love taking computers apart.  Which is why I was glad to get this last week…

Hard drive

Space, glorious space!

I knew my photo obsession would eventually lead to this, but the 750 insect photos I took last weekend wouldn’t fit on my computer’s hard drive – it was officially full.  $80 and a few days later and I’m now set to take 100,000+ more bug photos thanks to my new second hard drive.  Woo!  And even though they forced me to buy a new hard drive, the photos I took last weekend were totally worth having to upgrade my hard drive for.  I found Halloween pennants at Prairie Ridge for the first time, and I found a LOT of them.  They’re really beautiful, so I of course had to take a bunch of photos:

Halloween pennant female

Halloween pennant female

 

When they fly, they have this lovely fluttery appearance.  I tend to see them in the late afternoon too, when the sun is getting a little low in the west and the area of the prairie where they like to hang out is backlit, so their wings gleam  in the sun.  It’s pretty spectacular.  I’ve gone back over to that area every day since to watch them and they make me really happy.  They’re all females, and I’ve yet to see a male at either of the ponds.  Makes me wonder what the deal is – why so many gals but no guys? - but I’ll take any Halloween pennants that I can get.  They’re one of my favorites.

And finally, I took this photo on Sapelo Island in Georgia when I attended Bug Shot 2014 in May:

Lactura pupula

Lactura pupula

I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to figure out what it is since I got home from that trip.  Tonight, I spent another hour trying to get an ID before I finally gave in and posted it to the Moths of the Eastern United States group on Facebook.  I had an answer in less than a minute.  It’s Lactura pupula apparently.  Isn’t the internet grand?  Less than a minute to solve a problem I’ve spent a good 5-6 hours on!

Speaking of moths, National Moth Week starts tomorrow and runs through July 27th.  Consider attending a public moth night in your area (you can search for them on the NMW website), or just turn on your porch light have a moth party of one!  Snap a few photos and submit them to a citizen science project of some sort (I recommend iNaturalist, Discover Life, or Butterflies and Moths of North America) so scientists can use the data you collected through your photos.  Easy peasy!  I think it’s a great project and really fun, so I’ll likely be out every night looking for moths next week, starting with the big public event I do for my museum each year.  I don’t get a lot of sleep during moth week…

Have a great week everyone!

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Eggs

It’s blackberry time in North Carolina!  Blackberries all over the Triangle Area are currently laden with ripe fruit, so I went out picking at work before we opened last weekend.  We’d been finding little groups of metallic gold insect eggs all over the grounds for a few weeks, and I found another little group of them while I was blackberry hunting:

Golden insect eggs

Golden insect eggs

The picture doesn’t do the coloration justice at all as these are bright, shiny gold in real life, but I’m sharing them anyway.  After searching around a bit, I believe these are eggs of a leaf-footed bug, an insect in the family Coreidae.  I love it when I randomly come across beautiful bugs when I’m out looking for something else!

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

Swarm Sunday: 6/11/14 to 7/5/14

Dragonfly Swarm Project logo

I didn’t have a chance to post last week, so what you see here represents two weeks of data.  Swarm reports came from the following locations:

USA:

Leesburg, FL
Miami Beach, FL
Milton, FL
Parkland, FL
Livermore, ME
Marbury, MD
West Bend, MD
Lakeway, TX
Ogden, UT
Williamsburg, VA

And here are the maps for the last two weeks:

6.22.14 to 6.28.14

6/22/14 through 6/28/14

6.29.14 to 7.5.14

6/29/14 through 7/5/14

 

Red pins are static swarms, yellow pins are migratory. Click the map to enlarge!

It continues to be a little slow so far this year, though there was one migratory swarm reported from Utah this week, which is exciting.  There has been rather consistent activity in the southeastern part of Texas over the last month, though nothing really extraordinary seems to be happening anywhere so far.  Hurricane Arthur didn’t even seem to stir anything up!  I’m still hoping things will pick up soon, but you never know.

One thing has disturbed me though.  In the past several years, green darners have made appearances in swarms over and over again.  They often form the bulk of swarms.  This year, very few people have described anything that sounds like a green darner from their swarms.  I’ve also started to hear some ominous rumblings on the odonate listservs and Facebook pages where people have started to ask where the green darners are this year.  People have really started to notice their near absence, which isn’t good.  We typically have a lot of darners at the pond at the field station where I work, but this year I haven’t seen many at all, maybe 5 or 6 total.  At this time of year, we should have 5-6 on the pond every day, not 5-6 for the entire season!  There’s always a chance things are just terribly late this year and things will normalize at some point, but I’ve personally noticed some weird things happening this year.  Monarchs are out in North Carolina in droves right now, and they’re normally long gone for the heat of the summer, having migrated further north.  The common milkweed is going absolute gangbusters, but there are several conspicuously common butterflies (eastern tiger swallowtails and pipevine swallowtails among them) that are well below their normal numbers this year.  Fireflies are STILL out here, and the June bugs emerged a week or two early.  Have any of you noticed similar things out of whack in your area?  I shouldn’t extrapolate what I’m seeing in North Carolina to the rest of the country, even the rest of the east coast, but I’ve heard enough from other entomologists on social media to think that this is going to be an odd year.  It will be interesting to see if this ends up being a weird swarming year too!

Keep reporting those swarms!  Was very pleased to see swarm reports from several regular readers over the last couple of weeks.  Thanks everyone!!

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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!

_______________

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

_______________

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Rosy Maples

Well, it’s officially July!  I’ve got a few lovely days off this week (woo!) and I’ve already started to get excited about this year’s National Moth Week.  I love Moth Week!  I wrote about it for the blog at my museum last week and I am going on a local news morning show on Saturday to talk about the event I put on for it at the museum each year, so I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently.  Really ready to start seeing things like this again:

Rosy maple moth

Rosy maple moth

Rosy maple moths are pretty common around here, but they are spectacular and put a smile on my face every time I see one.  How can you resist  a fuzzy moth that’s the color of rainbow sherbet?

Are you all ready for National Moth Week?  It’s July 19-27 this year, so make plans to view some moths that week.  You never know what amazing things you’ll see!

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

What Time is it in Nature: Common Whitetail Dragonfly

dragonflywoman:

I wrote this for the blog at the museum where I work a few weeks ago. Thought you all might be interested!

Originally posted on NC Museum of Natural Sciences Blogs:

Summer is nearly here, and the dragonflies have returned to Prairie Ridge!  On any given day, you might see 15 or 20 species of dragonflies and damselflies at the pond, but some species are more common than others.  The Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia), as the name suggests, is one of the most commonly spotted dragonflies at Prairie Ridge.

Common whitetail male at the pond

Common Whitetails are found throughout the US and in every county in North Carolina, so they are one of the most common species in the country.  They are medium-sized dragonflies that reach lengths of just under 2 inches with wingspans of about 2.25 inches and have relatively broad abdomens.  Males, as seen in the image above, have wide black or dark brown bands along the center of each wing and a bright white abdomen.  Females look quite different, sporting three black spots along the upper edge of each wing and brown abdomens with…

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Friday 5: Good Week

This last week was a great one for me bug-wise!  I did several insect themed citizen science programs and presentations with a variety of groups, from leading lessons for a summer camp for middle school boys to teaching a training workshop for environmental educators and teachers.  It’s always fun to spend time teaching people who are genuinely interested about bugs and want to learn something, so it was fun even though it was terribly hot.  Here are some cool things I saw this past week!

Owl fly

Owl fly, Ululodes quadripunctatus

One of my coworkers came in a few days ago and told me that she’s seen a dragonfly on a tree branch outside our offices and wanted to know what it was because it was a really weird one.  Apparently I haven’t exposed her to my “dragonflies don’t have long antennae” mantra as she explained that the dragonfly she’d seen was odd because it was holding its wings in a funny way and had long antennae.  I followed her out to see what she’d spotted, expecting to see an adult antlion.  Instead, it was the insect above!  That’s an owl fly, a really cool insect in the net-winged insect group, and a relative of the antlions though they belong to their own family.  I think this one is Ululodes quadripunctatus in particular, and two things struck me about this insect.  First, it was crazy beautiful with those yellow patches down the abdomen and the divided eyes.  I was thrilled to be able to see it.  Second, how the heck did she even see this thing?  I am so impressed that she spotted it!

Another beauty:

Golden-winged skimmer

Golden-winged skimmer, Libellula auripennis

I got to visit a new-to-me state park near the Carolina coast yesterday to teach a group of 5th grade teachers about citizen science.  Part of the activity I had planned involved sending them outside with cameras to document the biodiversity around the environmental education center for a project we host at the museum where I work called Natural North Carolina.  I arrived early so I could scout before my presentation, but I made it as far as the parking lot before I stopped.  There were dozens of these golden-winged skimmers flying around the parking lot and resting in the trees around the edges.  They were gorgeous, so I stopped and stood in the hot sun watching them for about 15 minutes before I went inside to present.  We saw a few other dragonflies too, including some great blue skimmed females and some eastern pond hawk females.  It was great!

Speaking of dragonflies…

Blue dasher

Blue dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis

One of the activities I did with summer campers involved recording the dragonfly species we observed at the pond for three different citizen science projects.  I had them watch for the species the Dragonfly Pond Watch is interested in and count the number of common whitetails they saw for Nature’s Notebook.  Then I let them loose with nets to catch as many different species as they could so we could photograph them for our Natural North Carolina project.  These were 5th grade boys, and they got bored watching dragonflies fairly quickly.  I wouldn’t let them use the nets until we filled out the whole data sheet and we counted the whitetails, but then I let them loose.  They were THRILLED to be out catching dragonflies!  And they caught 12 species too.  Not bad for a group of nerdy 11 year olds!

I got to work with the same group of boys last night when I helped out one of my coworkers, the curator of our Arthropod Zoo, as he led a blacklighting activity for them:

Blacklighting

Blacklighting

About half of the dozen boys got REALLY into the blacklighting and would have happily stayed up all night watching bugs with us if their camp leaders would have let them.  It was great watching them stalking the sheets looking for cool things coming in to the lights.  My favorite insect of the night was this massive mayfly:

Mayfly

Mayfly, likely Hexagenia limbata

I haven’t ever seen one this big before, so I had to look it up.  I am 95% sure it’s Hexagenia limbata, a very large mayfly that is common in the eastern US.  It was nearly 4 inches long if you included the tails!!

That was my week.  What cool things did you all see?  I’d love to hear your stories, so I welcome comments below!

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