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

Fly on Fly Noshing (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Last week, I was helping an employee measure leaves for a project she’s doing for her master’s degree when she came across this awesome robber fly:

Robber fly on bid leaf magnolia

Robber fly on bid leaf magnolia

Watching robber flies always feels kinda like watching one of those nature documentaries to me, the kind where a cheetah is chasing a gazelle.  You feel sorry for the gazelle when the cheetah gets it, but you are also secretly just a little happy to see the cheetah take it down.  Robber flies are the cheetahs in this scenario and the little midge it’s got is the gazelle.  You can’t help but root for the robber fly a bit, even though it’s sitting there sucking out the brains of another insect.

Isn’t nature gloriously gruesome sometimes?

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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

Days with Dragonflies

It’s been incredibly hot in my part of North Carolina this week, and the heat just happens to coincide with the start of my busiest teaching season.  Because I’ve been outside sweltering in the sun and humidity a lot this week, I’ve come across quite a lot of interesting things,but I’m also exhausted.  Today I am keeping Friday 5 simple and just sharing some dragonflies I’ve photographed over the last few days.  Let’s start with a few common dragonflies.

This is, I think, the dragonfly I come across the most:

Blue dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis

Blue dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis

That’s a blue dasher, a relatively small dragonfly that’s found throughout a good part of North America.  I see them all the time.  They’re at the pond, all over the grasses, sitting in trees, sitting on the ground, almost everywhere!   I took this particular photo yesterday while working with a group of high schoolers with special needs who are part of a science careers program a coworker and I are involved in.  We had just netted this one, photographed it for a citizen science project, and I was about to let it go when I asked if anyone wanted to help release it.  This young woman volunteered, so I put the dragonfly on her sleeve.  It sat there long enough to snap a photo, so I got to document a happy moment for a very promising young woman.  What an awesome group to work with!

Another very common dragonfly in my area is the common whitetail.  It even has “common” in the name!  I found this female sitting on the trail this afternoon:

Common whitetail, Plathemis lydia

Common whitetail, Plathemis lydia

I find dozens of males at the pond each time I visit, but I find most of the females sitting on the trails far from the water.  They seem to like basking in the sun in little patches of dirt, so a walk down nearly any trail will likely yield you a half-dozen or more females.  I love the patterns on their wings!  Gorgeous, even if they are super common.

Another dirt lover:

Eastern Pondhawk

Eastern pondhawk, Erythemis simplicicollis

The eastern pondhawks, both the males depicted in the photo and the green females, are often found near the female common whitetails on the trails.  They seem to be particularly abundant recently, though it could be that they’re hot and behaving a bit differently than usual.  This particular male is showing a little bit of green on his throax.  While they appear blue, it’s because they grow a waxy coating as they mature and it’s the wax that gives them the bluish tinge.  Underneath the wax, the males look just like the females.

I was THRILLED to see this dragonfly today:

Halloween pennant, Celithemis eponina

Halloween pennant, Celithemis eponina

My first Halloween pennant of the year!  I never see these at the ponds, but last year I saw lots of them out in the prairie.  Here’s hoping I’ll see many more this year!

And finally, my most exciting dragonfly sighting of the day:

Purple Martin with Dragonfly

Nom nom nom!

I have always wanted to get a photo of a bird with a dragonfly in its beak and today it happened!  That’s a purple martin with… I’m not sure.  I was thinking it was just a blue dasher, but upon closer inspection there’s a distinctly clubbed tail on this dragonfly, which makes it both a) very exciting because we have never gotten a confirmed report of any clubtails at Prairie Ridge and b) annoying because I don’t think it’s possible to ID it from this photo.  Shortly after I snapped this, the bird turned around and took the dragonfly inside the nest.  When she came back out, the dragonfly was gone, so I imagine that it’s now residing in the bellies of 4-5 hungry baby martins.

All in all, a good couple of days dragonfly-wise.  This summer is shaping up to be very interesting, so even though it’s ghastly hot, I’m still thrilled to spend as much time outside as I can.  I don’t want to miss a thing!

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

Crayfish (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

This is the first week of summer camps at the field station where I work and I’ve been doing daily citizen science programs with the middle schoolers that make up this week’s campers. Today we got into the stream to assess water quality, my favorite thing to do with groups like this! We didn’t find many bugs, just some caddisflies and a crane fly larva, the normal sort of condition of our stream, but the kids found a whole lot of crayfish. This was the biggest one we found:

crayfish

Crayfish – rawr!

Sadly, the kids thought this little guy was WAY more exciting than the tiny net-building caddisflies we found, but I suppose we don’t all appreciate the gloriousness of caddisflies… :)

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