Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Giant Caterpillar of the Giant Leopard Moth

For the past two years, this has been the time of the fuzzy caterpillars. I’m used to seeing hundreds of furry little wormy guys hustling across the road at work and making their way through the grass.  This year, I’ve hardly seen any, but the best one was this impressive beast:

caterpillar

Giant leopard moth caterpillar, Hypercompe scribonia

That’s a giant leopard moth caterpillar, and they live up to the “giant” in their name!  That caterpillar was a good 3 inches long, and quite thick with all of those hairs circling its body.  Shortly after I took this shot, it curled up into a little ring in my hand, a defense mechanism they’re known for that tucks their soft underparts safely sway inside the stiff black hairs.  These caterpillars lack stinging hairs and don’t bite, so they rely on those hairs and the red bands between the hairs (warning coloration!) to deter predators.

Wish I’d seen more of these this year, but this has been a very strange year overall.  Here’s hoping things will be back to normal next year!

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

Cool Weather Moths (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

It’s gotten really chilly in Raleigh over the past few weeks.  We’ve had some decent days mixed in too, so it doesn’t quite feel like winter yet, but the insects are obviously on their way out for the season and have become rather sparse.  It was therefore with great pleasure that I came home on a chilly night last weekend and found a half-dozen of these little beauties on the molding around my front door:

Unknown moth

I have no idea what they were, but I was impressed that these moths were still out on a genuinely cold night.  Always interesting to see insects active when the temps are just above freezing!

Anyone else seeing cool things out still?  I want to live vicariously through you if you are!

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: The Moth Formerly Known as Woolly Bear Caterpillar

It’s woolly bear caterpillar time!  I haven’t seen as many this year as I have the past couple of falls, but there have a been a few out and about.  Ever wondered what they look like as adults?  This is it:

Isabella tiger moth

Isabella tiger moth

Gorgeous, aren’t they?  They’re pretty big too, so it’s always a treat to come across one at my porch light.

Anyone else seeing woolly bears/woolly worms around recently?

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Late Season Odonates

I finally made it to the North Carolina Zoo a few days ago!  I had wanted to go since I moved here, largely because they have a Sonoran Desert exhibit with a lot of the species I miss from Arizona, and I was excited I finally had a chance to go.  The Sonoran Desert exhibit was not my favorite part, however.  It was this:

 

Lestes sp

Archilestes grandis?

There were dozens of dragonflies and damselflies (=odonates) out flying around the marshy area near the entrance!  I am not 100% sure which species this is as they were a ways off and I am really that not great at IDing lestid damselfly species anyway, but they were huge so probably Archilestes grandis? And there were a lot of them.  I was excited to see any dragonflies or damselflies out this late in the year!

Anyone else still seeing dragonflies and damselflies?

(Thanks to Mike Powell for making me question my initial identification of this damselfly as a Lestes sp.!)

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

Throwback Thursday: My First Digital Insect Macro Shot

I missed Wordless Wednesday yesterday, so today I bring you a Throwback Thursday shot instead!  If you have been living under a social media rock (I know lots of people who do!) and don’t know about Throwback Thursday, it’s a day each week where people post old photos of themselves, their families, anything from the past.  I’m not going to start doing this every week or anything, but today I have a lovely little shot for you, my very first insect macro shot taken with a digital camera.  This beauty was shot in 2003 with a Nikon Coolpix 995, my first digital camera, shortly after I took the camera out of the box and long before I read the instruction manual.  That was the camera I got, but swore up and down to myself and everyone else that I was going to keep shooting film with my retro-riffic 100% manual Nikon F and use the digital camera just for insects and shots that I didn’t want to waste film on.  Ha!  The roll of film that was in my Nikon F at the time is STILL IN THAT DARNED CAMERA!  Someday I’m going to finish that roll and get it developed.  It has a bunch of lovely shots of the Tetons on it…

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there.  Without further ado, here it is, my very first digital insect macro…

blurry vespid

Whew!  What a stunner!  With a photo like that, it’s a wonder I didn’t win the National Geographic photo competition that year.  Magazines should have been knocking down my door to take advantage of my obvious natural genius.

I keep all of my photos.  I think I’ve maybe deleted 100 digital photos since I got that first digital camera, and I’ve never thrown away a negative or print from my film camera.  I probably have close to a quarter of a million photos at this point, and I won’t lie: a lot of them suck.  But, I keep them all so that I can learn from my mistakes, gauge how much I’ve improved over time, and remember the moment that I took them.  That photo above is total crap, but I remember that I took that photo of an insect that’s in a display behind me as I type this, that I took it in the living room of my first apartment as I sat on the horrid brown carpet on the floor, that the background is the antique Filipino coffee table I got from my grandparents a good 5 years before my dog chewed it up, that my hedgehog was running happily in his wheel at the time and my gerbils were chewing up a toilet paper tube in that adorable way that gerbils devour paper products.  I was so incredibly happy to have that camera that I would have loved this photo if it were even worse than this!  That photo also helped me learn something about photography and cameras that made me the photographer I am today.  I like that photo.  It marked the beginning of an era of journey into insect photography.  An apparently blurry and improperly white balanced journey, but a journey nonetheless!  :)

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

Friday 5 (on Saturday): Insect Haikus for the End of Summer

For some reason, I was feeling poetic today.  I started making up poems in my head on my way home from work and made excellent progress on a multi-stanza educational poem about dragonflies I might share with you sometime.  But I also came up with a series of haikus, inspired by the changing seasons and some of the insects I’ve seen recently.  Without further ado, I give you five illustrated insect haikus!

Woolly Bear

Woolly bear caterpillar, Pyrrharctia isabella

Little fuzzy worm
Brown and black on the dirt road
Winter is coming

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Brunner's stick mantid

Brunner’s stick mantid, Burnneria borealis

Green stick-like mantid
Lurking in the tall prairie
As fall quickly comes

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Pipevine caterpillars

Pipevine caterpillars, Battus philenor

Black caterpillars
Munching on a pipevine leaf
At the summer’s end

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Swarm over upper prairie

Dragonfly swarm over upper prairie

Shorter summer days
Bring a swirl of dragonflies
Over goldenrod

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Whirligig beetle swirls, Dineutus sp.

Whirligig beetle swirls, Dineutus sp.

Whirligig beetles
Dart on the water’s surface
A riot of life

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I love writing haikus!  Anyone want to add to what I’ve started here?  I welcome original insect haikus in the comments, or post one on your blog and paste the link to it below.  Remember, haikus follow a 5-7-5 syllable structure and traditionally were about nature and the seasons.  My whirligig haiku is, for example, not a traditional haiku because it is all about the beetles and doesn’t address how they are tied to a season.  I’d love to see what other people can come up with, so I hope some of you will take me up on my haiku challenge!

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

Friday 5: All The Right Bugs in All the Right Places

I told you about my trip to Ireland a couple of days ago, and prepping for and going on that trip sucked up close to 4 weeks of blogging time.  Here’s what I’ve been up to since I got back from my trip!  There will be bugs, oh yes, there will be bugs.

LOTS of Work

Dragonfly swarm!

Dragonfly swarm!

I have had three days off in the month of September.  Total.  A lot of those abundant work days were long days too.  However, it’s also dragonfly migration season, so there has been a LOT of dragonfly swarm activity.  I still haven’t gotten what I’d consider a “good” photo of a swarm that really represents what you see when you come across one, but at least you can see 7 individuals easily in one shot in this photo.  Most of the dragonflies in these swarms have been common green darners, but some have been black saddlebags, wandering gliders, and the Carolina saddlebag makes an occasional appearance.  I’ve stayed at work late several nights this month watching dragonflies.  They are 100% worth staying late for!

My First Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

Spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

Spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

I took this photo with my phone and it’s really not great, but I was showing my intern around the field station where I work on her first day and wandered over to the spicebush in the off-chance that I was going to see a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar on it for the first time ever.  My intern is doing a project focused on pollinator gardens this semester, so I was familiarizing her with the garden plants, and I always feel the need to check that spicebush.  I’ve looked for those stupid caterpillars dozens of times and was just telling my intern how we weren’t actually going to get to see one given my track record when I spotted one on the very first branch I saw!  It was heading downward, presumably to pupate and turn into one of the gorgeous black and blue swallowtail adults that have been flying around lately.  These are really stunning caterpillars, so I was thrilled to see one.  Those little eyespots and the way they curl themselves up is just so cute!

Caterpillar Hunting

Florida predatory stink bug eating a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

Florida predatory stink bug eating a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

Bolstered by my successful spicebush swallowtail caterpillar sighting, I took one of my coworkers out to the spicebush when she was lamenting that she couldn’t find any caterpillars to use in the weekly nature storytime for young children that she heads. She is a herpetologist and relatively new to North Carolina, so I took her to the spots I KNEW we could find caterpillars.  Pipevine swallowtail caterpillars on the woolly pipevine, check!  Black swallowtail caterpillars on the fennel, check!  Silver spotted skipper caterpillars on the American wisteria, check!  Spicebush swallowtail caterpillar on the… oh god no!  Our one lone spicebush caterpillar sighting was the one above, of a Florida predatory stink bug sucking the caterpillar dry.  Still, that particular day was fun because I was incredibly busy prepping for programs and a couple of upcoming presentations and had a zillion things I needed to do on my computer and I worked something like 12 hours that day, but for an hour I went outside and looked for caterpillars with someone who knows virtually nothing about them and was able to convince her that insects are just as cool as those sea turtles she studied for her master’s degree.  It was a good day.

Pollinator Garden Extraordinaire

soldier beetle

soldier beetle

Speaking of prepping for presentations, one of the presentations I did was a 6-hour citizen science workshop at an environmental educator’s conference that a couple of my coworkers and I developed.  We had some time to kill on the drive there, so one of my coworkers suggested that we stop at a “killer pollinator garden” in Pittsboro, NC she knew of.  This pollinator garden is, turns out, just outside a co-op health food grocery store, which seemed like an odd place for it to be (I constantly marvel at how much my museum coworkers know about all the nooks and crannies of North Carolina!), but it was stunning!  We have a lot of the same plants in the native plant garden at work, but the plants in Pittsboro were a good 3 weeks behind ours, so many of them still had a lot of flowers on them.  Lots of flowers, of course, means lots of insects!  One of my coworkers has a master’s degree in entomology, so the two of us regaled our turtle researching coworker all about the wonders of insects as we wandered through the plants sipping cold beverages and eating snacks.  After so very many hours working and looking forward to three more days at a conference, it provided a much-needed break as well.

The Workshop

robber fly

robber fly

Pretty much the whole month was leading up to the citizen science workshop so it was really exciting when the big day finally came!  Personally, I think we nailed it, and I was completely pumped after it was over.  It’s lovely when something works exactly as you envisioned – and people seemed to have a good time too!  At one point we were outside doing a photographic biodiversity scavenger hunt and I found this little guy dead on the ground.  A robber fly!  And a really big one at that!  This was easily the most impressive thing we saw that day though.  Given that the conference was held at a summer camp facility in the woods, it was strangely lacking in biodiversity.  We had a hard time finding BIRDS there!  It’s a strange day when a big robber fly is one of the best things anyone sees.

So that’s my last month and a half or so!  Hope you all have been doing fun things while I’ve been offline.  Anyone want to share what you’ve been up to?  Would love to hear some stories if you’d like to share!

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