Birth of a Backswimmer (Friday 5)

A few months ago, I posted a series of photos for Friday 5 that depicted the development of aquatic snail eggs.  In addition to the two species of snails I had in my tank at the time were a bunch of backswimmers in the genus Notonecta.  The morning after I put them in the tank, I came across a bunch of what could only be backswimmer eggs attached to a leaf, so I started photographing them.  I thought their development was fascinating and spent a little over two weeks watching the snail and the backswimmer eggs to see what happened.  Today I give you the Notonecta part of the story!

The eggs started out looking like what I would consider pretty standard true bug eggs:

Notonecta eggs, 1 day old

Notonecta eggs, 1 day old

They were simple to start off, just translucent white cylindrical eggs with rounded ends.  Many eggs were attached to this leaf in a sort of neat little line along the edges, but there were others attached to rocks and even a few stuck to the large rams horn snail that was oozing its way around the tank, so I suspect this was simply a convenient place to deposit them rather than a preferred method of placement.  In just under a week, some changes were evident:

Notonecta eggs, 6 days old

Notonecta eggs, 6 days old

This photo isn’t as well focused as I’d like, but it illustrates two things.   First, the structure of insect egg shells is absolutely stunning!  All of that patterning mirrors the cells that laid down the chorion (= the insect eggshell), so you’re effectively looking at structure of the mother’s internal organs when you look at an insect chorion.  In both eggs you can also see some faint red markings, more distinctly in the egg on the right.  Those red patches are the developing eyes of the backswimmers, so you can see which end is the head and which is the tail.  What was previously a little cylinder of bug goo had turned into the start of a baby insect with clear evidence of the changes visible without dissecting the egg in just a few days.

Things started to change more rapidly after the first eye spots were visible.  By day 10, the eggs looked like this:

Notonecta eggs, 10 days old

Notonecta eggs, 10 days old

The red eye patches had taken on the shape of backswimmer eyes by this point.  You could also see some black markings within the egg.  The bugs inside were clearly further along than they had been.  You could also easily spot the eggs that were not developing and were never going to hatch at this point.  The egg on the left side of the image was having problems and wasn’t developing properly – it has no eyes or any black patterning visible.  It never hatched.

Shortly before they hatched, you could see all sorts of structures inside the eggs:

Notonecta eggs, 18 days old

Notonecta eggs, 18 days old

You can’t see it very well without enlarging the photo (click to enlarge!), but you can see the outline of the plates on the upper surface of the thorax, the legs, and that the black markings are part of the legs.  By this point, the eggs were two and half weeks old and a few had hatched.  The empty chorions in the lower right corner highlight the cap of the egg the nymph inside popped open to emerge from the egg and a membrane that lined the chorion.  The eggs in this image hatched over three days (if they hatched at all), so they seemed to have some variability in their developmental times.

This is what came out of the egg:

Notonecta first instar

Notonecta first instar

The first instar nymphs were tiny, just a few millimeters long.  You can clearly see the bright red eyes and the black claws, both of which were visible through the egg chorion as they developed.  And, as a bonus this week, this is what these tiny nymphs eventually turn into:

Notonecta mature adult

Notonecta mature adult

The coloration becomes a lot more complex, they gain wings, and their bodies elongate relative to their width as they age.  Check out those gorgeous eyes on the adult!  And, these insects are fairly large, about 1 cm, which means that they have to grow a lot to become adults, and they do it very quickly.  That tiny nymph emerges from the egg and molts just 5 times before it becomes an adult, which means massive growth spurts each time they molt.

I know it probably makes me weird, but I love watching insect eggs develop!  They undergo some pretty amazing changes in a very short amount of time, plus they’re beautiful to look at and you can often see through the chorion and peek at what’s happening inside.  Eggs might not move, but they’re still fascinating and I am thrilled I got an opportunity to document how these eggs developed!  I hope at least some of you find it as interesting as I did.  :)

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

Punk Rocker Dragonfly (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Check out the “hairdo” on this massive common green darner nymph:

Common green darner, Anax junius, covered in algae

Common green darner, Anax junius, covered in algae

A coworker of mine found it during a pond program last week and I was thrilled to have a chance to bring it home to photograph.  It’s HUGE and really rocking that green hair – what’s not to love?

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

Bugs at Sunset (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

My favorite holly tree at work bloomed late last week! This one tree is loaded with insects throughout its bloom and I absolutely love exploring it and looking for insects lurking among the leaves. Once you notice one, you’ll see the most amazing variety of insects roaming about in the tree!  Some things are small and hidden, and others are right out in the open where they’re easy to spot, such as this leaf-footed bug:

Leaf footed bug

I believe this is an eastern leaf-footed bug, Leptoglossus phyllopus

I like the way the setting sun turned this normally somewhat drab insect such beautiful colors.  I’m looking forward to exploring the tree more this year and seeing what other treasures I can find!

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

Aquatic Insects and Bioblitzes (Friday 5)

A few weeks ago, I was given a really fun opportunity to be a part of a bioblitz workshop.  Bioblitzes, for those unfamiliar with them, are biodiversity documentation events, often done over a short time period and at a specific facility, to document and/or monitor the species present on the grounds.  Bioblitzes often invite the public to take part as a way to get help collecting and identifying species while also teaching everyone about local natural history.  The workshop was geared toward park and environmental education center staff that are interested in using bioblitzes to make sound management decisions and/or educate the public.  A variety of scientists demonstrated how to collect or otherwise document a range of species, including reptiles and amphibians, small mammals, large mammals, birds, plants, and insects.

Guess which part I taught?  Aquatic insects!  I manged to get about half of the 40 participants actually IN the water to look around for aquatic insects in the urban stream that flows through the park hosting the workshop and we found… not a lot.  The neighborhood adjacent to the stream has an awful drainage system that dumps all the runoff right into the stream without any sort of filtration, so the stream floods often.  Still, we found some interesting things!  They included this:

Net spinning caddisfly larva

Net spinning caddisfly larva (Hydropsychidae)

That’s a type of net-spinning caddisfly!  They build little silken nets across rocks in swiftly flowing areas of streams to catch food, then hook themselves into the nets.  While caddisflies in general are considered good indicators of water quality, this particular group is capable of reaching HUGE population sizes in some quite heavily disturbed areas.  Still, always fun to find caddisflies.  We also found some adults:

Net spinning caddisfly

Net-spinning caddisfly adult

This little guy was hanging out on a blacklighting sheet, presumably in the same spot it had sat the night before.  Caddisfly adults look a lot like moths, but instead of having scales on their wings they have hairs.  Their order name, Trichoptera, means hairy wing, so it’s easy to remember this distinguishing characteristic if you know your roots.

We also found these lovely larvae in the stream:

Crane fly larva

Crane fly larva

Crane flies!!  They’re huge and squishy and ooze all over when you catch them, so they’re really quite gross.  Many have gnarly looking fleshy bits on the back end that they use to breathe (which naturally makes them exciting to me!) and some have a sort of ribbed appearance like this one.  Unlike a lot of fly larvae, they actually have a complete, hardened head, but they keep it retracted inside their bodies.  I enjoy finding these larvae and they’re really fun to show off to people when you find them in a stream.  That huge monster ends up turning into something like this:

Crane fly

Crane fly

I know I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: crane flies are harmless to people!  A lot of people are scared of them and many think they bite, but they do not.  They’re also not giant mosquitoes – completely different groups!  I think they are really beautiful.

I’m going to wrap up with this

Common baskettail

Common baskettail

There weren’t a lot of dragonflies out during the workshop as the dragonflies were really just starting to come out, but one of the reptile and amphibian guys found this dragonfly on the ground.  It was still alive, but clearly had some issues when it emerged as an adult and I doubt its wings worked.  Granted, I have seen some butterflies flying with as little as a wing and a half, so who knows?  Maybe this little dragonfly is still zipping around the pond, hunting insects and having a great adult life!

Even though I’ve participated in enough bioblitzes and done field work with enough scientists that I didn’t learn many new things about how to sample for a variety of organisms, I still had a great time at the workshop!  The people who attended were really excited about it all, so it was a lovely, energetic group.  I also got to see a white-footed mouse, a great horned owl, several turtles and frogs (including a new-to-the-park’s-species-list river cooter), a new-to-me dragonfly species, and a variety of insects.  Plus, I got to spend an afternoon in a stream teaching people about aquatics!  It’s hard to beat a day spent with other nature geeks.  Hope I get to do it again soon!

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

Butterfly Taunts (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

I found myself in California for the second time in two months for a friend’s wedding last weekend. A group of us went on a hike at a little roadside attraction and saw a bunch of these butterflies:

California sister

California sister, Adelpha californica (I think…)

They kept darting away right as I hit the shutter release so I ended up with dozens of photos of random grasses with no butterflies.  Fun times with insect photography!  I got this one on something like the 50th try.  Good timing too.  Was about ready to throw my camera at one of them out of sheer frustration…  :)

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

First Dragonflies and Damselflies of 2015 (Friday 5)

I’ve been looking forward to starting dragonfly programs at work again this year, so I’ve been trekking down to the pond occasionally to check on the dragonfly situation there.  I saw my first common green darner on March 24, which is pretty early.  When I went to check up on them yesterday, I saw 5 species!!  And you know what that means: it’s time for Friday 5!  Here’s what I saw:

Common Green Darner

darner in cattails

Now this photo is truly terrible, but I couldn’t get my camera to respond as quickly as I’d like.  I challenge you to find the dragonfly in this photo at all!  However, there IS a common green darner in the photo, and it was one of six at the pond.  I saw two pairs mating, so 4 males and two females.  I suspect these are migrant green darners.  The nymphs in the pond are all still too small to be emerging and it’s been too cold for too long for me to expect them to be coming from our pond this early.  Between that and the fact that I’ve been hearing reports of big migratory and static darner swarms in Florida, I think that these are green darners stopping over on their way north for the summer.

Blue Corporal

blue corporal

 

These dragonflies come out very early relative to other dragonflies and I tend to see very, very young individuals on the rare occasions that I see them at all.  This is a photo from last year as the photo I took yesterday didn’t turn out at all, but it was nearly identical in appearance.  I find these when they fly, almost drunkenly, from an area near the pond to the grassy hill beside the pond and crash into the grass.  For whatever reason, nearly every blue corporal I’ve ever seen has been freshly emerged and its wings have hardened just enough for it to fly badly a very short distance.  The wings will darken a bit more and become a little less glossy once they finish hardening.  The body will also change colors and the abdomen will expand some as well.  This dragonfly had probably been an adult for an hour, so brand spanking new!

Common Whitetail

common whitetail

This photo is from last year too because I only caught a quick glimpse of a pair of common whitetails in tandem, zooming off over the prairie and they never came back.  I got just enough of a look at them to know that they were whitetails for sure, but definitely didn’t have time to get the camera pointed at them before they disappeared.  These are some of our earliest dragonflies each year, and one of the last to disappear in the fall.  If I had to pick a dragonfly to represent Prairie Ridge, it would be the whitetails as they are far and away the most commonly spotted dragonflies throughout the season.

Fragile Forktail

fragile forktail

This has been the earliest damselfly I’ve seen the last few years, and it was the first I saw this year too.  They are easy to tell from other forktails at the pond by the exclamation mark shaped pattern on the thorax, clearly visible in this photo.  They also tend to be smaller than a lot of the other damselflies you might see flying with them, though this one was quite a bit larger than the average fragile forktail I’ve encountered.  If you look closely, you’ll see that this one was in the process of eating a small insect when I snapped this photo.

Unknown Damselfly

No photo at all for this one!  I saw one blue and black damselfly fly past and then promptly lost sight of it against the grass.  I’d bet it was an Enallagma species of some sort, knowing what we have on the grounds and the coloration of the insect, but who knows which one.  Definitely didn’t get a good look at this one…

Dragonflies are back out!!  After what was a long and cold winter (at least by North Carolina standards), it’s lovely to see the dragonflies out and about again.  Who else out there is seeing dragonflies?  Anyone want to share the things they’ve seen recently?

Have a great weekend everyone!

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

Dirty (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Ah, spring!  Warm weather, insects starting to come back out, and lots of new things to photograph.  And there’s nothing like a photo like this…

Dirty windows

… to let you know that you need to clean your windows!  Yuck…

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