Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Cactus Bugs

This is one of my favorite shots from Bug Shot 2012:

Opuntia bugs

Opuntia bugs

Someone had brought in a prickly pear cactus paddle with a bunch of these bugs on them and I thought they were quite beautiful.  This species (Chelinidea vittiger, the cactus coreid or opuntia bug) is a pest of prickly pear, but it sure is pretty!

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

Update on Part 3

The last few weeks…  Well, they’ve been really busy.  REALLY busy.  I am rather happy when I get to sleep at a decent hour so I can get up early the next morning and start another long day full of many, many activities.  It’s fun and I absolutely love my job, but the busy schedule has been interfering with my blogging schedule something fierce!  Tonight I finally had time to sit down and write my third year-end report for my dragonfly swarm data only to realize that I’d left all the notes I’ve been working on for weeks in a bag I intentionally left at work!  Hopefully I’ll get that report online tomorrow.  In the meantime, here’s a photo that I took of an exhibit at the museum where I work that’s sort of related, insofar as this is another insect that makes a massive migration along about the same paths as the dragonflies each year:

Monarchs

Monarchs

These aren’t live monarchs (which would be SO cool), but the exhibit is representative of what the overwintering sites in Mexico look like at this time of year.  All those monarchs are sitting down there now, millions of them in the oyamel trees in only a handful of locations in Mexico.  They’ll start heading north in a few short months.  It’s such an amazing biological spectacle!  I really hope I get to see the overwintering grounds in person someday.  From all the photos and all the video I’ve ever seen of these places, I know it would be a life changing, miraculous experience that I would never forget.

If you haven’t heard about it yet, there’s an IMAX 3D movie out now called Flight of the Butterflies that documents the annual migration of the monarchs.  It is supposed to be superb, so I am hoping I’ll be able to catch it at the local IMAX theater before it is ousted in favor of something newer.  Has anyone seen it yet?  I’d love to hear some reviews if you have!

Here’s hoping I’ll get the third part of the report up tomorrow!  If I could only remember to bring my notes home…

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

Friday 5: SciOnline Art Show Entries

If you follow me on Facebook, you may have seen my note earlier this week mentioning that I’d submitted photos for consideration for inclusion in the Science OnlineScience Art show (because I’m attending SciOnline next week – woooooooo!!!!), all photos that depict insect behaviors.  You’ve seen several of these before, but I’m going to present them all here together, and tell you a little bit about the behaviors that they represent.  I only included one terrestrial insect in the bunch:

Leave Me Alone

Pipevine swallowtail caterpillar, Battis philenor

Pipevine swallowtail caterpillar, Battis philenor

I’ve posted this one before, but this is the larva of the pipevine swallowtail, Battis philenor, a huge and beautiful swallowtail butterfly that feeds on (wait for it!) pipevine plants as a larva.  I poked this caterpillar just before I snapped this shot so that the yellow bits above its head would become visible.  Those little horns are the osmeteria, little knobs coated in stinky fluids that some caterpillars use to deter predators.  They’re spectacular in this species!  You can’t beat that yellow against the purple-black larva.

The rest of my entries were aquatic insects.  First up, another shot I’ve posted before:

Giant Water Bugs Hatching

Giant water bug, Lethocerus medius

Giant water bug, Lethocerus medius

This species of giant water bug, Lethocerus medius, tends to hatch at night so until the evening of this hatch, I hadn’t ever actually seen the process.  I was in the lab working on some research close to midnight when I looked over and saw all the “lids” of the eggs I was working with pop up – all at one time.  The bugs spent the next 45 minutes or so wiggling out of the eggs, doing everything in near synchrony.  Shortly after I snapped this shot, the bugs all tipped forward and row after row of tiny, new giant water bugs suddenly dropped into my hands, and then into the water.  It was one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever experienced – and I’m so happy I had my camera handy so I could document it!

SCUBA Beetle

Predaceous diving beetle, Thermonectus nigrofasciatus

Predaceous diving beetle, Thermonectus nigrofasciatus

This is one of my favorite aquatic beetles, the predaceous diving beetle Thermonectus nigrofasciatus.  It’s an awesome beetle for many reasons, but I like it in part because it uses a sort of SCUBA tank approach for breathing underwater.  The beetle swims to the surface (and these are powerful, graceful swimmers, unlike my next few entries!) and gathers an air bubble that it stores under its wings.  Then the beetle can swim around underwater, sit at the bottom and relax, eat, find mates – anything! – while breathing the oxygen in the bubble.  Once the air runs out, it needs to return to the surface to get more.  This big, beautiful girl was resting after an energetic swim about the container.  The sort of shimmery sheen on her body is a thin coating of air that surrounds most of her body.  Isn’t she beautiful?!  (And if you want to know how I know this is a girl, I direct you to my post Aquatic Insects that Suck for more information.)

Next, another aquatic beetle:

Snorkeling Beetle

Predaceous diving beetle larva

Predaceous diving beetle larva

This beetle is another predaceous diving beetle, just a little younger than the one pictured above, and a different species.  Like the adult beetles, the larvae live in water and rely on air from the surface.  However, the larvae don’t carry air around with them underwater.  Instead, they stick the long rearmost segment of the abdomen out of the water, allowing air to flow into the larva’s respiratory system.  It works rather like a person using a snorkel!  The larva can “hold its breath” for some time underwater as well, but now and again it will stick that tail up so it can gather some more air at the surface.  Super cool behavior!

And because it’s what I work on most, I give you a giant water bug breathing:

Breathe In, Breathe Out

Giant water bug, Abedus herberti

Giant water bug, Abedus herberti

I wrote a whole post on how this species breathes, so I’m not going to go into a lot of detail.  This giant water bug (Abedus herberti) is, however, rather similar to the adult beetle pictured above in that these bugs carry air under their wings and need to return to the surface periodically to renew it.  Like the adult beetle, this bug is able to extend the length of time they can remain underwater by taking advantage of a neat trick of physics with another behavior, but I’ll refer you to the longer post if you’d like to read more about it.

So those are my entries.  They’re not all perfect photos, but I chose them because they depict the kind of behavioral entomology that I do rather than their photographic merit.  I also think some of these photos represent behaviors that few other people have documented photographically.  I have no idea whether any of my submissions will be chosen for the final show, but I hope at least a few cool insect behaviors will be featured among all the other fantastic art that is submitted to this show.  And even if they’re not, I suspect I’m going to have a wildly good time at Science Online next week!  I’ll likely be tweeting and blogging (right here!) and giving updates on Facebook next Wednesday – Saturday.  Feel free to follow me online if you’re interested in hearing about the things I’ve learned about science communication online.  I couldn’t be more excited!

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Tortoise

Tortoise beetles are some of my very favorite beetles.  There’s something about their shape that really appeals to me.  Imagine my pleasure when we saw several of these in Florida during BugShot 2012:

Tortoise beetle

Palmetto tortoise beetle, Hemisphaerota cyanea

Isn’t it beautiful?  It’s even kinda metallic!  This beetle definitely goes to 11.

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

Friday 5: Winter Invertebrates

Last weekend I led a public program for work that focused on how people can use nature photos to help scientists by submitting them to a variety of citizen science projects.  I really love doing this program as the people who sign up tend to be REALLY excited about documenting the natural world with their cameras, just like me.  I get people with all sorts of cameras too – really cruddy cell phone cameras all the way up to pro-level photo gear – but somehow the group dynamic just works.  We do a bit of introductory stuff in the classroom and then spend a lot of time practicing our photography and learning about the flora and fauna of North Carolina.  It is a ton of fun!

Last weekend, the morning started off very foggy.  It was supposed to clear off in the afternoon and become a magnificent day, but it was still dark and gloomy only an hour before the program.  Then, all of a sudden, the fog was gone!  The sun came out.  It was 75 degrees!  Toward the end of the program, I was roasting and started stripping layers off and ended up in a tee-shirt.  It was great.  And, not surprisingly, we found several invertebrates active, taking advantage of the most beautifully perfect winter day I could imagine.  Here are some of the spineless creatures we saw!

Ants.  LOTS of ants.

Ant colony under log

Ant colony under log

My most recent group of photographers got really into flipping logs!  We found all sorts of things lurking under them, including this colony of ants.  We have a lot of fire ants in the south, so it was nice to flip up a log, see several hundred ants underneath, and NOT have them come after you, stingers a blazin’, for daring to disturb their nest.  These ants seemed pretty docile as close to a dozen photographers snapped shots of them and the guy holding the log didn’t get stung once.  This was one of my better ant experiences actually.  I tend to have mostly bad ant experiences of the stingy, bitey kind…

Snails

Snail

Snail

There’s something about snails that I love.  I think it’s the eye stalks.  In fact, I’m sure that it’s the eye stalks.  Those things make snails look adorable.  Of course, snails are also important herbivores and detritivores, so they play an important role in the environment that shouldn’t be overlooked.  And, because I can’t think of snails without also thinking about this, I encourage you to watch the snail animated short that Miniscule did a few years back.  You WILL fall absolutely in love with snails after watching it!

Millipedes

Millipedes

Millipedes

Nearly every log I’ve flipped in North Carolina so far has housed at least one millipede under it.  This particular log had a lot of them.  All those little white things…  Those are all millipedes, and there were probably about 100 of them under this one log in a big mass.  Someone’s been getting busy procreating under this log.  :)

Pillbug

Sowbug

Sowbug

Did you know these guys (pill bugs, sow bugs, rolly polys, etc) are actually little land crustaceans?  I’ve always wondered whether they taste like the crustaceans people like to eat, such as lobsters and crabs.  (Don’t suppose any of you out there have tasted one so you can tell me what they taste like?  Because I don’t eat crustaceans.)  Like the millipedes in the previous photo, pillbugs are decomposers and are very important in forested areas like the one where I found this one.  There, they turn dead trees into soils so more trees can grow so more pillbugs can turn them into soil so…

And finally, I present this beetle:

Darkling Beetle

Darkling beetle

Darkling beetle

It never fails!  I tell a group of people that, because it’s been rather chilly the last few weeks, we’re unlikely to find many insects out and about.  Then we started flipping logs and found several insects and insect relatives.  One woman in the group was particularly interested in learning how to take better insect photos and was thus highly motivated to find as many as she could.  This was the largest insect we saw active while we were all together, a darkling beetle that was about an inch long.  It sat there and posed for quite some time as several photographers stuck their cameras right in its face to snap some shots of it.  It was even kind enough to sit on a lovely backdrop of dead leaves!  I thought it was rather beautiful, and I was glad we got to see at least one insect that wasn’t hidden under a log.

Turns out there were other things out as well, but I got wrapped up in helping people identify plants and birds and insects and answering questions about Prairie Ridge and I had to stop taking photos myself.  Sigh…  That’s what happens when you’re leading a group program though!  And it was worth it.  It was a gorgeous day and the group I spent it with a lot of fun, so it was a great day overall!

Not sure how many insects I’ll see for the next few weeks.  It finally snowed last night, so they might stay out of sight for a while as they wait out the cold.  Still, I hope I can bring more winter insects to you all soon!

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Fuzzy

Sometimes I think there aren’t nearly enough plush moths in the world.  This one would make a marvelous stuffed animal:

Fuzzy yellow moth

Fuzzy yellow moth

It’s so cute and fuzzy!  I would much rather have a cute little cuddly moth than a teddy bear any day.  :)

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

2012 Dragonfly Swarm Project Year-End Report: Distribution of Swarms

Dragonfly Swarm Project logo

It was another great year of data collection for the Dragonfly Swarm Project!  I continue to be impressed by the number of people who participate in this project, especially as it’s hard to promote it  in the hopes that someone might see a swarm and most people actually find the project after they’ve already seen a dragonfly swarm.  Still, over 700 reports were made in 2012 and that’s pretty darned good!  So, what does that data tell us?  The next two posts will focus on what we can learn from the data so far.  Today, I present the long-awaited maps (I think this year’s maps took a year or two off my life with all the stress they caused…) and next week I’ll discuss some of the patterns that I’m seeing in the data after three seasons of data collection.  Let’s dive into that data!

Like last year, I’ve split the map data into two videos.  It’s easiest to see changes over time when the images I create are presented as a series, so each map you’ll see in these videos represents the swarms that occurred during the time frame indicated at the top of the screen.  The pushpin colors mean something too: red represents a static swarm and blue represents a migratory swarm.  My apologies that the blue pins are a little hard to see on the map – they show up easily in Google Earth, but not so well in the images it produces.  For the best viewing experience, try watching the videos in full screen mode by clicking on the icon with the four arrows in the bottom right corner of the video player.  You’ll be able to see the changes from week to week more easily that way.

The first set of maps document the cumulative data for the year and show the overall pattern of swarm locations in 2012.  Each week’s new sightings are added to the previous weeks':

The second set of maps shows the data for each month individually and by swarm type.  The first set of maps are the static swarms and the second are the migratory.  Each map represents only the data for the month indicated at the top of the video rather than showing the cumulative data.  For the migratory swarms, look closely along the southeastern and east coasts.  The pushpins are hard to see against the blue water of the ocean:

As you can see, there were once again more swarms reported east of the Missouri River than west of it.  In spite of the fact that Colorado made it into the 5 states with the most reports in 2012, there just aren’t that many dragonfly swarms in the west and some states (Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico) were entirely unrepresented this year.   Dragonfly swarms definitely appear to be more common in the east than the west.

In 2010, the center of activity was the western Great Lakes states and Iowa and last year it was the Pennsylvania/Ohio area.  This year, the activity was heaviest in the New Jersey area and northern New England coast in the mid to late summer and around the Chicago area in the late summer.   Each year seems to have a different center of activity, and I have a hypothesis for why this happens.  I’ll get to that in the next year-end report!

This year was an odd migration year.  The migration down the east coast has been documented several times in various publications, so it’s a fairly well-established route.  This year, there were very few reports of migratory movements in the east during the typical migration season in late August and September.  In fact, there were hardly any!  While most of the migratory movements reported this year did occur in the usual place, within a few miles of the coastline, the timing was all wrong: most were observed in June and July, much too early for the usual migration.  Again, I have a hypothesis that might explain this, but you’ll have to wait until next time.

The migration along the west coast was also quite weak this year.  That migration has a known set of conditions associated with it, a particular wind direction and a specific temperature.  The dragonfly people in Washington and Oregon were going out this year to the places they usually see migrating variegated meadowhawks on fall days with the right conditions and… nothing!  People were looking, and looking hard, so it seems that it was just a weak year for the migration overall, on both coasts.  I don’t even know how to explain the western migration fail though.  That’s just weird as that one is SO specific and occurs every year almost like clockwork!

Finally, I can say with more certainty that dragonfly swarms really aren’t a rare phenomenon and they happen more often than I’d ever expected when I started this project.  That is in keeping with the last two season’s worth of data.  However, last year I was uncertain whether I would continue to see an increase in the number of swarms reported every year and that has not been the case.  In 2010, I got about 650 reports.  Last year I got over 1100!  This year, I’m back down to 700.  I have a feeling that 600-800 swarm reports per year is normal and that the several hundred reports I got over a 3 week period last year were related to a set of perfect conditions that allowed a massive boom in dragonfly activity right toward the end of the year rather than an increase in participation in the project.  I’ll explain why I think that boom happened in the next part of the year-end report, but I predict that next year we’ll see the same sort of numbers we did this year, barring any sort of odd convergence of conditions that allow another 2011-style reporting boom.

If you’d like to see images of the maps of all the data for the year, I’ve uploaded them to my Yearly Maps page.  There, you can view the maps for static, migratory, and all swarms by year, which should make comparing between years fairly easy.  Click on the images to see a larger version of the map – they’re very tiny on the yearly maps page.

That’s it for this installment, but part three of the year-end report (the conclusions) will be up on Sunday.  It should be pretty interesting!

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

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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!