Taking Flight (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Last week was National Moth Week, so I have once again been taking countless photos of moths both at my annual moth night at work and in my own backyard.  Many of my photos turn out well enough to help me get an ID for the things I see, but every now and again I get one like this:

Photo of a moth flying away from the camera

Almost…

SOOOOO frustrating!

(I’ve been away at a conference and busy as heck at work recently, but I should get back to my normal schedule here for a while.  See you Friday!)

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

Lifer (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Many people keep life lists of the species they’ve encountered.  Getting to add a new species to that list, whether the species is uncommon or not, is always a thrill.  This painted skimmer was a lifer for me:

Painted skimmer, Libellula semifasciata

Painted skimmer, Libellula semifasciata

I was headed to the back gate as I was closing up at the field station and slammed on the brakes when I saw a flutter of orange over the prairie.  We’ve had a lot of similarly colored Halloween pennants around recently, but this was much too big and flew differently.  Was absolutely thrilled to discover that the dragonfly I caught out of the corner of my eye was a painted skimmer, a new species for me!  I rushed back to see if it was already on the species list for the site and was mildly disappointed that I was not the first to see one on the grounds, but checking that species off in my field guide more than made up for it.  :)

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

June Beetle Mob

It’s been a long week, so though I started a Friday 5, I’m not going to finish it before I fall asleep… Instead, I wanted to quickly share a video of some eastern green June beetles I encountered today as I walked past a bald cypress.  There was a lot of frantic buzzing going on, so I peered into the tree and saw this:

Apparently there was a shortage of female June bugs in the area as a good dozen males were flying around the immediate area and several males were attempting to mate with the one female in this video at one time.  I felt a little sorry for her, pursued by so many amorous males at once…

The June bugs appeared about two weeks later than usual here this year (that seems to be the case for many species in my area of North Carolina), but they seem more numerous than I’ve ever seen them too.  SO many Jung bugs flying around!  But I love it.  What gorgeous, fun animals.

I am going to try to get the post I started up tomorrow, but we’ll see if I get it finished.  Here’s hoping I’ll feel a little more energetic tomorrow!

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

My Buggy Week (Friday 5 – a Day Late)

Happy weekend everyone!  I for one am quite thrilled to have a day off tomorrow.  The last week was exhausting and oh so hot.  But, the week was full of great buggy adventures too, so it wasn’t all bad!  Last weekend, for example, I ended up staying after work a couple of hours to photograph things.  This little grasshopper nymph was one of the things I saw:

Grasshopper

Hopper on the Gator

Isn’t he (or she) cute?  For me, few things beat heading out with my camera and seeing what I can find.  It’s a great way to see nature, keeps you in tune with seasonal shifts and the timing of biological events, and sometimes you’re lucky to see something amazing.  Like a groundhog 8 feet up a tree.  That I didn’t get a photo of.  Because I had my camera zipped up inside it’s carrying bag rather than in my hands when I wandered over to the area where I keep seeing groundhogs.  However, struggling to get my camera out for the groundhog means that I got a shot of this little guy moments later when the groundhog scampered away.  It’s no groundhog in a tree, but I was still happy to see it.

Last week involved a lot of teaching.  On Wednesday, I met with the new cohort of middle school teachers that will spend the next several weeks in the research labs at the museum where I work doing some real science.  Those teachers will spend the next year developing curriculum to get middle schoolers involved in citizen science.  It’s an awesome project, and we kicked things off with a ladybug hunt:

Ladybug hunters

Ladybug hunters

It was ghastly hot and late in the day, so a few of the teachers wilted a bit in the heat, but it was still a ton of fun.  Plus, they were the first group that has ever found more native ladybugs than non-native ladybugs at our field station.  I hope their results will be repeated with other groups!  Their data are headed to the Lost Ladybug project next week so it can be used in a variety of studies looking at the distribution of ladybug species and the interactions between native and non-native ladybugs.  I’ll work with this group again next week, with dragonflies next time!

On Thursday, I got to travel toward the coast and work with a group of 5th grade teachers exploring biodiversity and phenology (the study of biological events that occur periodically, such as flowering in plants or rearing young in animals).  The park where I met the group has this amazing cypress-gum swamp:

Swamp

Cypress-gum swamp at River Park North in Greenville, NC

If you haven’t ever seen a swamp like this, I highly encourage you to make a trip to see one!  They are amazing, biologically rich wonderlands.  The number of dragonflies flying around at this location was spectacular!  A lot of the teachers got photos of many of the species we saw and I’m looking forward to uploading them to our biodiversity project.  I also finally got to see a swamp darner in nature.  I was in the middle of talking to a group of teachers about a tree they were interested in when I saw it so I didn’t get a photo, but I was still thrilled to check it off my list!

We had a new group of summer campers at the field station this week, and I did a biodiversity activity with them.  The most popular find was this little guy, by a wide margin:

mantid

Mantid, I suspect of the Chinese persuasion, posing for photos with one of the camp leaders

All the kids swooped in with their iPads when I picked it up, venturing out into the hot sun so they could see it.  At one point it jumped energetically off my hands onto the iPad of a kid who was photographing it.  Scared the frass out of the kid, but he held it together long enough that he neither dropped the iPad nor crushed the mantid before I had a chance to take it back.  I was rather impressed by the kid’s ability to manage his fear.  Many of the other campers would have screamed and dropped the iPad if the same had happened to them.

And finally, yesterday meant another afternoon in the blissfully cool stream with the summer camp!

Kid collecting aquatic insects

Aquatic insect collecting

This boy was far and away the best insect hunter of the campers this week.  While his campmates were splashing around in the deeper water to avoid doing what we were actually there to do (looking for insects to assess the water quality), this kid was flipping rocks and sampling riffles and stirring up the substrate to find as many types of insects and other invertebrates as possible.  The stream doesn’t have many species in it, but he ended up finding most of the ones we know are in there: three types of caddisflies, riffle bugs, water striders, and crayfish.  We did also find one new thing, a damselfly in the genus Argia.  I’ve never found a damselfly in that stream that wasn’t an ebony jewelwing, so it was very exciting to hang out with a really happy kid and make new insect discoveries together!

And with that, I begin my weekend!  Anyone want to share an insect encounter they had this week that made you especially happy?  The swamp darner was my highlight, so I’d love to hear about yours!

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

Fireflies on the Prairie (Friday 5)

Tonight was the night of my annual firefly evening program!  It’s been an awesome year for fireflies in my part of North Carolina, and the display over the prairie at work has been even more spectacular than usual.  There are literally thousands of fireflies of several different types and they make the most amazing pattern of flashing lights.  I showed them off last weekend to the 50 people to attended a family campout overnight at our field station, I went out earlier this week to try my hand photographing them again, and I went on the news yesterday with some live fireflies to promote tonight’s program, so I’ve had fireflies on the brain all week.  It seems only fitting that Friday 5 feature fireflies this week!  Let’s kick things off with some photos of some local fireflies I took in my whitebox last night, the ones that went on the news with me.  This one is, I believe, Photinus pyralis, the common eastern firefly:

 

Photinus pyralis

Photinus pyralis?

These are far and away the most common fireflies I see at my home and at work.  They are about 1 cm long and have a lovely pink and black patch on their thorax, plus they make an awesome yellow-green J shaped flash pattern that’s really easy to see.  They don’t feed at all as adults.  I am still ridiculously excited about running around in my yard catching these and do so at every opportunity.  My neighbors probably think I’m crazy, but I don’t mind.

This one was almost half the size of the individual above:

Smaller Photinus

Smaller Photinus

I found it under a leaf on a bigleaf magnolia tree.  It was actually a little hard to find, a tiny firefly on a HUGE leaf!  I never got to see it flash, but given the difference in size and the pattern on the thorax, I am fairly confident this is another species and not just a really runty P. pyralis individual.

This one is from the predatory genus Photuris:

Photurus sp

Photuris sp.

The Photinus-Photuris story is rather legendary among entomologists.  Female Photuris are known to mimic the flash pattern of their Photinus relatives, luring unsuspecting males who are eager to mate in close before they eat them.  I imagine it going down like this:

Photinus male: “Oooh!  Receptive female over there, gonna go check her out…  Hey baby, wanna get freak-…  oh nooooooo!”  :)

I know I shouldn’t make up insect conversations in my head, but really, how can you resist?

Now when I found this individual, I only had one collecting vial with me and it already had a Photinus inside.  I thought that surely I could put the two of them together for a few minutes during the day without them eating each other, right?  Next thing I knew, the Photuris was biting the Photinus!  I wanted to show both off when I went on the news, so I ran back to my office for another vial and pulled them apart.  The Photuris took a big glob of fluid with it when I got them separated and quickly ate it all.  The Photinus seemed just fine though, in spite of having a rather large amount of fluid removed from its body, and they both went on to become media darlings on the news.

This is my yearly attempt at getting a good firefly photo at night, taken a few days ago on a rainy, cool evening:

Fireflies over the prairie

Fireflies over the prairie

This is 14 somewhat long exposures stacked to create a single image.  The flash patterns in this photo are far and away the best I’ve gotten, so I’m encouraged to try again and see if I can improve upon this at my next opportunity.

And finally, I’m going to leave you with a video I took tonight during the program.  There are a lot of kids and their parents talking in it, but you can see the start of the evening’s firefly display.  It was dramatically better just 15 minutes later, but there wasn’t enough light for me to film it, so this is the best I could do:

Are any of the rest of you seeing fireflies?  A cousin of mine in the midwest mentioned last night on Facebook that he’d just seen his first firefly of the year, so I’m hoping there are lots out and about and many of you are getting a good show this year!

And with that, I go to sleep so tomorrow I can teach an unknown amount of people about ladybugs and citizen science at a big event we’re having at work.  Could be 5 people, could be 1000.  Should be fun regardless!

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

Common Whitetail at the Pond (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

I feel that, every now and again, it’s worth taking a moment to pause and ponder how beautiful the world around us is.  Scenes like this:

Common whitetail at the pond

Common whitetail at the pond

… really help me center myself and relax.  That might be a very common dragonfly, one that I see throughout the season in my area, but the sight of them never grows old.  They remind me how amazing our world is, and how many things I’ve yet to experience.  Do any of you get the same feeling in nature?

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

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

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