Swarm Sunday: 1/1/2015 – 3/28/2015

Dragonfly Swarm Project logo

 

Well, it’s that time of year again!  Swarms have already started popping up in the US, even though it’s still pretty early to have them.  Here’s the swarms that have been reported since the beginning of the year:

USA:

San Diego, CA
Boynton Beach, FL
Brandon, FL
Fort Lauderdale, FL

Brazil:

Florianopolis, Santa Catarina

South Africa:

Secunda, Mpumalanga

And here is the US map for the first three months of 2015:

1.1.15 to 3.28.15

 

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

Though there haven’t been a huge number of swarms reported yet, there was a little flurry of activity this week in Florida with two static swarms and one migratory swarm reported.  I also heard about another Florida swarm on Facebook.  The migratory swarm in San Diego was exciting (at least if you’re me!) as it’s fairly unusual to get those sorts of mass migrations in the western US outside of the variegated meadowhawk migration in Washington and Oregon each fall.  I was very excited about the reports from Brazil and South Africa as they add two new countries to the list of countries where swarms have been reported and bring the total up close to 30 now.  All in all, 2015 is already shaping up to be an interesting year!

I have started seeing a few green darners in North Carolina so far, but nothing else yet.  Here’s hoping there will be a lot more dragonflies out and about soon!

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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

Pond Dwellers (Friday Five)

I’ve been spending a lot of time photographing aquatic insects recently.  I’ve been very busy at work, so I find it relaxing to sit and watch my little tank full of insects in the evenings, observing their behaviors and photographing them.  Next week I’ll share another developmental series like the snail series I posted last week, but in the interest of time as the day is almost over, today I’m going to simply share some photos that I’ve been taking.  Here are some of my favorites this week:

Backswimmer

Notonecta

Backswimmer, Notonecta sp. (likely indica)

I’ve had these guys in the tank for a couple of weeks now and they are really fun to watch!  They have all sorts of cool behaviors and they’re absolutely stunning.  I’ve been trying to track down exactly which species these are and I think they’re Notonecta indica, but I really need to get a species key and run them through to be sure. In the meantime, I just enjoy watching them and admiring their gorgeous eyes and the pearlescent blue-white patch on their foreheads.

Creeping Water Bug Nymph

Ambrysus

Creeping water bug, Pelocoris sp.

This particular creeping water bug lives up to its common name in more ways than one.  Not only does it creep along the rocks and the pieces of wood in the tank, but it also peers out at you from hidden nooks and crannies in the tank.  It’s watching you, even if you don’t see it – it’s a creeper!  They’re quite beautiful creatures though, and he crawled out of his hiding spot just long enough for me to get this shot before he dove back under the log.

Damselfly Nymph

Ischnura

Damselfly nymph

This isn’t the best photo ever as I had accidentally dialed my aperture WAY down without noticing and the depth of field isn’t that great.  However, you can see a lot of cool structures inside this damselfly, and that’s why I like the shot.  Judging from their prominent connection to the tracheae (= air tubes that transport oxygen throughout an insect’s body) in the gills, I suspect those brown squiggly lines are large respiratory organs that bring oxygen from the gills to the head.  Pretty darned cool!  (At least it is if you’re me!)

Mayfly

Batidae

Mayfly nymph, family Baetidae

I have very few photos of mayflies in my collection and it’s due in large part to their fragility.  They get eaten by everything (indeed, this particular individual was snagged by a backswimmer just a few minutes after I got this shot) and they do not transport well at all.  Sloshing around in a container of water is really hard on them and they rarely make the trip.  I was thrilled that this one was still alive when I got it home so I could get some photos of it, though it was missing a couple of legs on this side.  I still really want a good, closeup shot of a mayfly’s gills.  They’re really interesting!  That’s going on my photographic bucket list.

Water Strider

Gerris

Water strider, Gerris sp.

This is technically not a true aquatic insect as it lives on the surface of the water and not in the water, but who can resist a good water strider?  These suckers are hard to catch thanks to their amazing vision, and I managed to catch TWO of them at once!  Granted, they were mating, so they may have been otherwise occupied and perhaps paying a little less attention to their surroundings than usual?  I think these are gorgeous animals, well worth the effort of chasing them down in the pond and then again with the camera as they skip frantically around the tank…  It’s always a treat when they slow down long enough for you to get a shot!

And with that, I’m off to sleep.  Lots to do at work tomorrow!

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

A Spring in His Step (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Yesterday was an absolutely perfect day outside and I spent a half hour after work looking for cool bugs in the pond to photograph.  I found a great diversity of pond critters, but one of the things I was most excited to try my hand at photographically were the springtails I found hopping about on the surface.  Those little buggers are SO small that they’re really terrible to photograph in the tank! EVERY flaw in the glass shows up, every smudge, and the springtails get sort of trapped in the surface tension near the walls of the tank. This is my favorite shot so far:

Springtail

Less crisp than I’d like for sure, but it only makes me more determined to get a better shot next time!  It’s always good to have new photographic goals.  Besides, it gives me a good excuse to watch these little guys some more.  :)

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

Birth of a Snail (Friday 5)

On March 4th, I was in the midst of an all out race to prep curriculum for an insect-themed afterschool citizen science program I’m developing.  One of the things we wanted to provide to the state park rangers who will be implementing the bulk of the program was a couple of vials containing examples of hand sanitizer preserved dragonfly and damselfly nymphs.  That meant getting into the pond to look for nymphs.  I had spent four straight weeks in front of my computer working non-stop on the afterschool program and was thrilled to get outside, even though it was cold in the water and we found only a single dragonfly and a couple of snails.  One of my coworkers needed photos of the snails for our pond field guide, so I promised to take them home and photograph them.  I set up my tank and put the snails in and left them overnight so the bubbles would dissipate.  The next day, I realized that one of the snails had laid eggs.  A LOT of eggs.  There were only two snails in the tank, so it had to be this one:

Physid snail

Pouch snail (family Physidae)

… or this one:

Planorbid snail

Ram’s horn snail (family Planorbidae)

 

And I have to say: those snails and their eggs enthralled me!  I was exhausted and overworked, so nothing gave me more satisfaction than watching my two snails, one of which was going to be a mother of several hundred baby snails, gliding around the tank every evening after work.  I took the photos we needed for the pond guide the day after I set everything up, but I kept watching and kept photographing over a few weeks.  Today I am going to show you what happened.  Let’s start at the beginning…

March 6, 2015

Snail eggs, Day 1

Snail eggs, Day 1

I added the snails to the tank on March 5 and left them overnight, so these eggs were less than 24 hours old when I first saw them.  I love that you can see a little dot in the center of the mostly clear eggs!  Nutritious yolk perhaps?  A little cluster of cells that would become the snails?  I really have no idea as I know little about snails, but I thought they were rather beautiful.  There were lots of clusters like this in the tank.

March 11, 2015

Snail eggs, Day 7

Snail eggs, Day 6

After 6 days, the shape of the little embryos inside the eggs were becoming much more snail-like.  You could see some little curved snail bodies and the very beginnings of their shells.  The color comes from the light hitting a piece of wood in the tank under the leaf these were laid on – they were largely transparent.

March 16, 2015

Snail eggs, Day 12

Snail eggs, Day 11

The snails were now 11 days old and you could definitely tell they were snails!  Most of the developing snails inside the egg cluster had mostly to fully developed shells, though still tiny, and had taken on a distinctively spiraled shape.  A few had already broken free of their eggs and left the cluster, including the one in the lower right of the egg cluster who is making a break for it in this photo.

March 18, 2015

Snail eggs, Day 14

Snail eggs, Day 13

By this point, most of the snails had escaped the egg cluster, though a few late bloomers were left.  You can still see the leftover egg compartments and the jelly that held the cluster together if you look hard.  Looks like there may have been a couple of dud eggs in the lot too that probably won’t ever hatch.

March 19, 2015

Baby snails

Baby snails

Baby snails!  There are now about 50 of these on the loose in the tank, each about 2-3 mm long.  They’re absolutely tiny – small enough you’d mistake them for shmutz on the glass if you didn’t know what you were looking for – but they move pretty darned fast for such tiny little animals!  They’ve spread out across the entire tank in just a couple of days.  For some reason, I feel like this is an impressive feat for a 2mm long snail.

And, now that the baby snails have hatched, I can look at their shells and tell that they are pouch snails and not the ram’s horn snails.  That meant that possible baby mama number one above was the parent of dozens and dozens of eggs that are still developing and many more than have already hatched.  She was rather prolific in her laying and I just found another clutch today.  I’m going to have SO many snails in a couple more weeks!  In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy watching these grow.

While all of this epic snail drama was going on, I had a similar situation happening with a bunch of backswimmers.  I’ll share my baby photos of those guys soon.  In the meantime, have a GREAT weekend everyone!

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

Walks on Water (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Hey everyone!  I’ve been missing for a while again, I know.  I had twelve 10-12 hour works days in a row last week thanks to a whole lot of things going on at once, so I’ve been basically drowning in work. However, yesterday I had an opportunity to go down to the pond to look for dragonflies for a little while for the first time in ages.  I saw my first dragonfly of the year – a common green darner (Anax junius) – and was very pleased to see it.  Also saw this little guy out of the corner of my eye skittering over the surface of the water:

water strider

There are insects out and about again here, including water striders!  Not very many yet, but some.  Spring is coming and the bugs are coming with it.  I can’t wait!!

Hope you all have a great week!

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

Bzzz Bzzz Bzzz… (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Last fall, I was watching a movie at home after a long day at work and kept hearing a really loud buzzing sound coming from the bookcase next to our couch.  I assumed it was a house fly that had gotten trapped in the lamp (they often do) and tried to ignore it, but it just kept going and going.  It was also LOUD!  I eventually couldn’t stand it anymore and went to see what it was that was making all the racket.  I found this:

Horse fly

Horse fly

That horse fly had gotten trapped upside down somehow and was trying to right itself, but it just kept spinning around in place, over and over and over, buzzing frantically.  Horse flies scare me – how is it even possible for their bites to hurt so much?! – but it’s hard to beat the beauty of their eyes!  I took pity on this big guy and scooped him into a cup and took him outside.  It was a lot quieter afterwards!

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

A Dragonfly Story

I’ve been sick the last several days and I’m not up to writing a whole Friday 5 blog post today, but I still wanted to get SOMETHING up today.  So, I’m going to tell you a story.  It’s a story about this dragonfly:

blue dasher

Blue dasher

That’s a blue dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) and it is a largely unremarkable dragonfly inasmuch as it’s incredibly common in the US.  However, the particular blue dasher in the photo was a part of something exciting and stands out in my memory as being wonderfully interesting.  Allow me to elaborate.

Last summer, I attended Bug Shot 2014 on Sapelo Island in Georgia.  It was, as on past trips, a great weekend full of insect nerdery, endless photography, and a lot of great conversations with good people.  I really love attending Bug Shot as the people there are my kind of people and we have this one huge thing in common: a deep and pervasive love for photographing insects.  However, because I’d been twice already and was attending after a rather brutal week at work, I was exhausted and skipped a few of the sessions on the last day to get a little time to myself.  I wandered over to the pond to look for dragonflies and attempt to get some photos of the many whirligig beetles on the surface.

Now, Sapelo Island has some dangerous things you need to look out for, and alligators are among them.  I adore alligators.  They scare me and I give them a ton of respect when I see them – I have zero desire to get close to them! – but I really love them.  They are just so ancient and powerful that it’s hard not to love them.  When I heard there were several alligators in the pond on Sapelo, I had to go looking for them.  I failed to see them most of the second day, but I finally saw the two adults out in the pond on that last day and was thrilled.  So, imagine my excitement when I was photographing that unremarkable dragonfly at a different area of the pond 10 minutes later and noticed a small, juvenile alligator swimming by, just a few feet from where I was standing on shore.

I grinned as I watched the alligator swimming.  I pointed it out to my friend Suzanne from Buglady Consulting, who had wandered over to see what I was doing, and we watched it swimming in the clear water together.  Then, all of a sudden, it burst out of the water…

and…

ate the dragonfly in the photo above!  One moment the dragonfly was there and the next it was in the belly of an alligator!  Suzanne and I both yelled, “Whoa!!!” and started excitedly asking one another if we’d seen really just seen what we thought we did.  If I had been alone, I wouldn’t have been convinced that the alligator had actually swallowed the dragonfly, that it had just scared it off, but Suzanne confirmed that we had, in fact, just seen a 3 foot long alligator launch itself out of the water, snag a dragonfly from a perch two feet above the water line, and swim quickly away, hidden by a plume of mud the quick motion had stirred up. Coolest. Thing. EVER!

As much as I love about and learn at Bug Shot every time I’ve attended, I suspect that one observation is going to stand out in my mind as the very best thing I’ll ever experience at Bug Shot.  It represented new information for me: that alligators will occasionally eat dragonflies, even if they’re a couple of feet above the water line, which means that dragonflies are a significant enough food source to merit the speed and power it requires for an alligator to catch one.  It was fascinating to watch two ancient creatures interact, alligator and dragonfly, and see just how fast and powerful alligators really are.

I just wish I’d gotten a photo of it…

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