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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: The Big One

I’ve been setting up my blacklight in my yard every night for three and a half weeks now and check on it periodically throughout the evening.  It’s been an interesting experience and I’ve learned a lot of new things about insect behaviors that I didn’t know before by watching the things that come to my light.  However, what I’ve really been hoping for is just one big moth.  My backyard is all grass except for a row of non-native privet hedges, so it’s not an ideal habitat for most big things.  Still, I finally got one big moth last night:

tulip tree silkmoth

Tulip tree silkmoth

A tulip tree silkmoth!  These are large, beautiful moths that come out a little earlier in the evening than a lot of the other large moths.  Indeed, this one showed up on the sheet about 10:30PM.  It was still on my sheet this morning, so I picked it up to move it to the bushes so it wouldn’t be quite so conspicuous to my dogs.  It eventually flew off.  What a lovely thing to see!

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Nom Nom Nom

When the plant called rattlesnake master blooms, you can expect to find all sorts of insects coming to it to feed!  I don’t know exactly what it is about this plant that is so incredibly alluring to so many species of insects, but the strange little spiky flower balls can become absolutely covered with bees, ants, wasps, butterflies, moths, beetles, and other insects.  It recently bloomed in my area, so today I bring you a photo of a delta flower scarab and a little bee chowing down on nectar from a rattlesnake master flower cluster:

Delta flower scarab on rattlesnake master

Delta flower scarab on rattlesnake master

The flowers smell awful to me, so I guess you have to be a pollinator to fully appreciate them.

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

Friday 5: Staying Up WAY Too Late This Week

It’s National Moth Week!  Woo!  I’ve been up late every night this week watching moths and have been averaging about 5 hours of sleep nightly, so I’m a wee bit tired this late in the week.  It’s been quite the adventure too!  I started the week with my big, public moth viewing event for the museum where I work.  It didn’t rain this year for the first time, and we had over 100 people come out to the field station to watch moths.  A good half of them stayed past 10PM, none of which has happened before.  I did, however, inhale and swallow the very first moth that came to the sheet that night.  That was a little rough going down…  I also got some stinging insect stuck between my neck and my camera strap, and I’ve still got a good-sized welt on my neck from that encounter.  I came home with a tick happily sucking blood out of my armpit.  I’ve had bugs fly into my eyes and my ears and my mouth.  More moths than I can count have ended up down my shirt, which I don’t even understand given that I have about 4 square inches of skin exposed and look like I’m about to mount an Everest expedition in an attempt to avoid mosquito bites.  I’ve been wearing a SCARF for goodness sake!  I’m not sure why I even bother – I’ve gotten a good dozen mosquito bites anyway, THROUGH my long pants and my heavy wool socks.  (Seriously?!)  I’ve had all manner of problems with my light rigs too.  My first night at home, I set up my reliable little DC voltage blacklight bulb with my portable jump starter and things went well.  The next night, the jump starter died and I can’t get it working again.  I put a CFL blacklight bulb into my porch light in my backyard the next night, and the light fixture died.  Last night it rained so hard that it pulled my whole sheet rig down so I was out in my yard at 1AM trying to get it repositioned so it could actually dry out in time for tonight.  Tonight I’ve got a CFL bulb in a cheapo clip light clipped to a shepherd’s crook and a huge extension cord running into my house because the electrical outlet under the light fixture is ALSO out.

I’m not sure what else can go wrong at this point, but I’m still having a great time!  I go out with my camera several times every night, happily looking for the things coming to my sheets.  I have found dozens of species at my lights each night, though I’m still hoping a few of the big moths will show up.  I have a cruddy yard for insects, but there’s a big patch of forest about 100 feet away on the other side of the street.  Surely I’ll get at least one big moth, right?

These are my favorites moths and moments so far from National Moth Week 2014:

Day 1: Moths at Night Event at Prairie Ridge Ecostation

Beautiful wood nymph

Beautiful wood nymph

We were just getting packed up after our public moth viewing evening at work when I spotted this moth sitting on the ledge that runs along the inside of our outdoor classroom building.  A beautiful wood nymph!  It’s a gorgeous name for a pretty moth, though there’s no denying the fact that they look just like bird poop…

Day 2: Mothing at Home, Part I

Elegant grass-veneer

Elegant grass-veneer

When your yard is all grass, it’s not entirely surprising when you get mostly grass-loving moth species coming to your lights.  The elegant grass-veneer is about the only small moth I can actually recognize, but it’s quite lovely if you take a close look at it.  It’s all shimmery and has gold flecks and fringes and fluffy bits sticking off the front.  Not bad for something that crawls out of my grass to come to my lights!

Day 3: Mothing at Home, Part II

unknown moth

unknown moth

The moth-related highlight of day 3 was getting a photo from a dad who came to the moth night at Prairie Ridge.  He had brought his kid with him and they stayed for most of the 4 hours we were open for moth viewing.  He and his kid went out the very next morning and bought their own blacklights and had set them up in their backyard immediately.  They got a great photo of a tulip tree silk moth (oh how I wish I was getting anything that big!) and asked if I knew what it was because they were going to send their photos off to a citizen science project.  There is absolutely nothing more gratifying than knowing that at least two people took what you taught them and put it to use after you parted ways!  The dad has since told me that his kid gets up early and goes to check the lights every morning now.  That’s just awesome!  I also saw the absolutely gorgeous moth in the photo at my light on my second night mothing at home.  I have no idea what it is and I didn’t get it perfectly framed, but it’s quite beautiful!

Day 4: Mothing at Home, Part III

Hebrew

Hebrew

Day 4 was when my porch light went out.  I was happy to get anything, and this was easily the most impressive moth of the night.  That’s a Hebrew, a very lovely member of the dagger moth group.  The host plant for this species is black gum, so I have no idea where this moth came from (the forest across the street is mostly pine), but I was happy it showed up.

Day 5: Mothing at Home, Part IV

ailanthus webworm moth

Ailanthus webworm moth

Most of the moths I’ve seen this week have been what I call LBM’s, or little brown moths.  Then these show up every night around 11PM and are easily among the top three most colorful moths I see each night. Ailanthus webworm moths get their name from an invasive species (tree of heaven) that they feed on, though they are native to the US and switched to their namesake host after it was introduced into the US.

I’ve got three more nights of mothing left before National Moth Week comes to a close.  I keep going back out to look because I really want to see just one big moth.  Speaking of which, it’s time to get back out there again tonight…

Any of you been out looking for moths this week?  Any great finds?  I would love to live vicariously through you if you’ll share your moth stories from National Moth Week 2014 below!

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Not a Moth

National Moth Week is here, and I’ve spent more time than I’d care to admit watching and thinking about moths over the past five days.  Trust me: you’ll be inundated with my moth mania here soon!  Found this little guy on my front door a few nights ago though, and I had to share:

Moth fly

Moth fly

That is NOT actually a moth, but a moth fly.  It’s hard to confirm without having one in hand, but there are only two little wings on these tiny insects which, in spite of fuzzy appearances, makes them flies and not moths.  The larvae of these are often called drain flies and live in some pretty nasty habitats, but the adults are positively adorable!  Who’s with me on this?! :)

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

Friday 5: Light Sculptures and Other Fun Things

Well, I haven’t been able to keep up with the ol’ blog here very well this week, but I’m getting a post up today if it kills me!  It’s Friday (which is no longer the last day of my workweek, incidentally), so it’s time for me to share some cool insect related things from the past week.  First up, this guy:

Brandon Ballengee speaking at RTP180

Brandon Ballengee speaking at RTP180

That’s Brandon Ballengee, an artist and biologist who gave a lightning talk at an awesome event I attended last night that focused on the intersection of science and art.  Ballengee’s artwork includes what he calls “Love Motels for Insects,” awesome large UV light sculptures that are meant to attract insects to them.  He hopes that people will document the insects they see for citizen science and that the installations will educate the public about the importance of insects in the environment.  He also does some crazy cool research on interactions between dragonfly nymphs and frogs that I’m going to share with you all soon!  I am really thrilled I had a chance to talk to him about the work he does, citizen science, and large insects that prey on amphibians.  Plus, free pizza and beer at the event!  How can you go wrong?

On a completely unrelated note, we’ve got a series of 8 camera traps on the grounds of the field station where I work that are part of a study looking at urban mammal populations.  This is NOT what you want to see fall out of the camera when you open it up to switch out the memory card and batteries:

Ants from the camera trap

Ants from the camera trap

Ants!  I believe these are Crematogaster ants (will one of the ant people kindly confirm this for me?) and there were HUNDREDS of them packed inside what is essentially a little computer.  I got an odd sort of satisfaction out of dismantling the camera and brushing out the ants from the surprisingly numerous nooks and crannies inside.  Dunno why, but I love taking computers apart.  Which is why I was glad to get this last week…

Hard drive

Space, glorious space!

I knew my photo obsession would eventually lead to this, but the 750 insect photos I took last weekend wouldn’t fit on my computer’s hard drive – it was officially full.  $80 and a few days later and I’m now set to take 100,000+ more bug photos thanks to my new second hard drive.  Woo!  And even though they forced me to buy a new hard drive, the photos I took last weekend were totally worth having to upgrade my hard drive for.  I found Halloween pennants at Prairie Ridge for the first time, and I found a LOT of them.  They’re really beautiful, so I of course had to take a bunch of photos:

Halloween pennant female

Halloween pennant female

 

When they fly, they have this lovely fluttery appearance.  I tend to see them in the late afternoon too, when the sun is getting a little low in the west and the area of the prairie where they like to hang out is backlit, so their wings gleam  in the sun.  It’s pretty spectacular.  I’ve gone back over to that area every day since to watch them and they make me really happy.  They’re all females, and I’ve yet to see a male at either of the ponds.  Makes me wonder what the deal is – why so many gals but no guys? – but I’ll take any Halloween pennants that I can get.  They’re one of my favorites.

And finally, I took this photo on Sapelo Island in Georgia when I attended Bug Shot 2014 in May:

Lactura pupula

Lactura pupula

I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to figure out what it is since I got home from that trip.  Tonight, I spent another hour trying to get an ID before I finally gave in and posted it to the Moths of the Eastern United States group on Facebook.  I had an answer in less than a minute.  It’s Lactura pupula apparently.  Isn’t the internet grand?  Less than a minute to solve a problem I’ve spent a good 5-6 hours on!

Speaking of moths, National Moth Week starts tomorrow and runs through July 27th.  Consider attending a public moth night in your area (you can search for them on the NMW website), or just turn on your porch light have a moth party of one!  Snap a few photos and submit them to a citizen science project of some sort (I recommend iNaturalist, Discover Life, or Butterflies and Moths of North America) so scientists can use the data you collected through your photos.  Easy peasy!  I think it’s a great project and really fun, so I’ll likely be out every night looking for moths next week, starting with the big public event I do for my museum each year.  I don’t get a lot of sleep during moth week…

Have a great week everyone!

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Eggs

It’s blackberry time in North Carolina!  Blackberries all over the Triangle Area are currently laden with ripe fruit, so I went out picking at work before we opened last weekend.  We’d been finding little groups of metallic gold insect eggs all over the grounds for a few weeks, and I found another little group of them while I was blackberry hunting:

Golden insect eggs

Golden insect eggs

The picture doesn’t do the coloration justice at all as these are bright, shiny gold in real life, but I’m sharing them anyway.  After searching around a bit, I believe these are eggs of a leaf-footed bug, an insect in the family Coreidae.  I love it when I randomly come across beautiful bugs when I’m out looking for something else!

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