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!

_______________

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!

_______________

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… :)

_______________

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!

_______________

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

Playing Dead (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

This little snub nosed weevil can play dead with the best of them!

playing dead

Snub nosed beetle playing dead

Seriously, how convincing is that?  I wouldn’t have thought he was alive except that he (or she) was walking around moments before I took this photo and he was wandering around again moments later. Impressive play dead routine, little guy!

_______________

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?

_______________

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!

_______________

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