Adventures with Autumn Arthropods

When I moved to North Carolina, I was excited to see a real fall.  The trees are changing colors and we’ve had some gloriously crisp nights, but I have to admit I expected it to be cooler at this point.  It’s getting to be late October, yet there are still days when I get so warm that I shed clothes down to the base layer.  I also expected most of the insects to be gone by now, but that hasn’t been the case at all!  The dragonfly season is largely over as I’ve seen only one lone green darner and one blue dasher at the pond over the last month, but there are otherwise lots of insect activity still.  Let me give you a brief overview of some of the highlights of the last month.

This is cheating a bit as this was the live butterfly exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, but I got to see my first butterfly emerge from its pupa in several years:

A beautiful owl butterfly!  It was shocking how fast that little guy wiggled out of its pupal case and puffed its wings out too – under 2 minutes from a shriveled butterfly to this.  Wow.  Nature is amazing.  Truly.  The macro capabilities of my iPhone without any adapters leave much to be desired, however.

I’ve seen more of these…

Chinese mantids over the past month than I’ve seen in my entire life!  This beauty was incredibly pregnant and I’m sure she laid a huge egg case out in the prairie somewhere after she was re-released back into the wild after her trip to BugFest.

I have two eighth grade volunteers who are doing a service learning project with me in the citizen science center in the museum where I work.  We promote a new citizen science project, or group of related projects, each week.  A few weeks ago, we promoted monarch butterfly projects and I was shocked that I was able to find so many of these out and about still:

What sort of self-respecting butterfly is still in the caterpillar phase in the middle of October?  Crazy!  I haven’t seen any larvae since then, but up until the last few days I’d seen many adults flying around.  Last Thursday I saw a good 50 or 60 of them in just a few hours!  Some were tagged with the little Monarch Watch tags (thanks to our trusty 10-year-old butterfly catcher/tagger – he is awesome at it!), and some had yet to have found themselves in the clutches of citizen scientists eager to report their findings.  Is seeing monarchs on October 19 strange?  I really don’t know yet.

Speaking of pollinators… I walked through the prairie yesterday (it was my weekend to work) and stood there for a moment, marveling at the incredible sound the bees, wasps, and flies were making as they gathered nectar and spread plant reproductive cells bits about.  Bumblebees still make me happy every time I see them, and probably always will:

Look at that cute little fuzzy butt!  Bumblebees are adorable.  I have been amazed at how very many pollinators, like the bumblebees, are still out, but I suppose I shouldn’t when vast swaths of the prairie look like this:

Wow!  There are a lot of opportunities for a pollinator to both dine and spread plant genetics around out there!  Those are frost asters, in case you were wondering.  I’m slowly learning my prairie plant species, so I feel the need to show off my latest bit of acquired plant knowledge.  :)

Speaking of reproduction… One of the most exciting of the natural events I witnessed in the past month was the rise of the stinkhorns after a series of soaking rains.  If this doesn’t remind you of a particular anatomical part, I don’t know what will:

Then there are these:

Those are actually commonly called dog phallus mushrooms.  It might be a little hard to see, but flies LOVE stinkhorns, and both of these fine specimens have flies on them.  It’s nice being in a place where things like this actually have a shot at growing.  Shortly before I moved away from Arizona, we had a big rain and a mushroom popped up in my backyard.  It was the first mushroom I’d seen growing in the wild for a few years and I was SO excited!  Now I can step outside on any given day and typically find 5-10 species.  It’s great!

But this blog isn’t about mushrooms.  It’s about insects.  There were a lot of insects at the North Carolina State Fair, where I helped out with the museum’s tent.  This fine specimen was in the garden exhibit:

Love the creative use of recycled materials!  There were also a ton of these around:

Adults using them outnumbered kids 3 to 1.  I found that very amusing, and happily took a photo of a pair of women who asked if I could get a shot of them as the butterfly and bee.  I love it when these sorts of things get used by adults more than kids.  I’ve even considered making one for a party sometime and setting up a little photo booth with it.  I think it would be heavily used!

For all the ant loving people out there, I got to see a really cool battle between an ant colony and a termite colony recently:

The ants won.  Handily.  I watched several termites get stung by the ants and it looked awful.  Poor little guys…

Finally, I was photographing some moss sporophytes yesterday when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye.  It was this lovely creature:

… crawling down a moss-covered tree trunk.  That’s the American dagger moth, Acronicta americana.  Awesome caterpillar!  But, I say it again: what sort of self-respecting moth is still in the caterpillar stage as of October 21?  I can only hope it was headed down the tree to find a nice, cozy place to pupate for the winter.

I suppose I should be grateful that it’s still warm enough to see butterflies and grasshopper and bumblebees out, but I do hope it cools down more soon.  I have a whole store of sweaters ready to go that I rarely got to wear in Arizona.  Come on, North Carolina: bring on the winter!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth
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9 thoughts on “Adventures with Autumn Arthropods

  1. Awesome photos, as usually. That owl butterfly is gorgeous. And I just love the way the mantids look right at the camera!

    Found a large bug on my kitchen window screen the other day – took a picture and went to BugGuide.net – turns out it was a Wheel Bug – never seen one before! Glad I didn’t touch it once I read that its bite can be “10 times more painful than a hornet sting”!

    Still seems a bit warm up here in SE Pennsylvania too, although the nights are getting quite crisp, and the fall colors are quite good this year.

    • Wheel bugs, like all the true bugs, are capable of inflicting very painful bites because they inject you with digestive chemicals. Those chemicals are meant to break down tissue, so I imagine it feels rather like injecting acid into your fingers. But wheel bugs are stunning! Glad you got to see one.

  2. I’m kind of envious of all your great critters…I think we’re about to hit winter hard in Colorado, and I haven’t seen much around lately except woolly aphids and the occasional moth.

    • Well, it is getting close to Halloween, so that sounds about right. It always seemed to snow that day – or get REALLY cold at least. I always froze trick or treating as a kid in Colorado Springs!

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