Mating Moth Flies (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Dunno why I’m choosing this one exactly, but I really love moth flies and was thrilled to see a pair of them together:

moth flies mating

Moth flies mating

How cute are these flies?  And they’re making more, which makes me happy.  That means I’ll have plenty more to photograph in the future.  :)

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

Tagging Monarchs (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Hey everyone!!  I know I’ve been offline for ages, but things are finally slowing down at work enough that I can get back into blogging at least semi-regularly.  It’s been so long since I last posted that I have a massive backlog of photos.  It was hard to choose just one today!  But here’s what I decided to share:

Monarch with tag

Monarch with tag

We tag monarchs for Monarch Watch at work and this was the last one we tagged this year.  I got many people involved in the tagging this year and we had a fun couple of months chasing monarchs around the grounds with nets.  However,  this is serious work too as the tags we put on the wings give monarch researchers an amazing ability to track individual monarchs during their migration and see how many actually make it to Mexico.  I won’t be able to look him up for a while and see how far he got (there’s unfortunately a big lag between when you submit data and when you can see the data for your butterflies on the website), but I hope little UMT 654 makes it to the Mexican mountains!

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

The Smudge on the Wall (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

I’ve been seeing this little brown smudge on the side of my house when I’ve gone out to check my blacklight recently.  I thought it was just some crud on my siding, maybe a stain.  I caught it out of the corner of my eye tonight and noticed it was a completely different color – AND it was moving!  Had to stand on my toes, reach my camera up as far as I could, and hope for the best with the focus since this lens doesn’t autofocus.  This is what I captured:

Caterpillars

Caterpillars

Turns out that the little “stain” was actually a cluster of moth eggs!  Lots of little caterpillars are running about on my wall tonight.

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

Going, Going, Gone! (Friday 5 – on Saturday)

We have a lot of antlions at work.  The sand under our outdoor classroom building is very fine and has a lot of ants moving about, so there are hoards of antlions hanging out down there.  Hoards!!  If you aren’t familiar with antlion pits, they look like the Sarlacc in Star Wars.  Or, if you’re not a sci-fi lover like me, they look like this:

Antlion pits

Antlion pits

At the base of each one of those little craters is a monster:

Antlion-6

Antlion larva – rawwr!

Well, they’re monsters if you’re an ant!  Antlions, you see, are predators and they wait for their unsuspecting victims to slip into the cone-shaped pits they construct and tumble down to the bottom.  The pits are lined with fine, loose sand, so the ants have a hard time getting back out and they’ll slide back down to the bottom every time they try.  Sliding down to the bottom is bad if you’re an ant as that antlion is lying in wait for you, jaws poised to snap shut around you, just below the surface where they’re hidden from sight.  Once an antlion gets you, your life as an ant is probably over.

A lot of people haven’t played with antlions much, so I wanted to share a series of photos I took recently of that antlion above re-burying itself after I dug it up to take some photos.  These larvae crawl around backwards and they enter the dirt the same way, butt first.  The bewildered antlion sat on top of the sand for a moment before it realized it was back in its usual home.  Then it started digging.  The butt disappeared first:

Antlion

Antlion

Then most of the abdomen disappeared:

Antlion

Antlion

It was quickly up to its thorax in sand:

Antlion

Antlion

Then the head and thorax started to disappear:

Antlion

Antlion

All you could see was the mouthparts for a moment…:

Antlion

Antlion

… then the whole larva was swallowed by the sand!  This process took just a few seconds from start to finish, so it’s fast.  Over the next hour or so, it built itself a new cone-shaped pit by throwing sand all over the place, then it waited, lurking at the bottom of the pit for a hapless ant – or other insect – to become its next meal.

Antlions are crazy cool insects as larvae, then (at least in this species) they roll themselves up in a ball of dirt to pupate before turning into a damselfly-like adult:

antlion

Antlion adult – may not be the same species as the larva…

Check out the long, hooked antennae!  That’s the easiest way to tell these are not damselflies.  I know I’ve preached about this before, but it’s my very biggest insect misidentification pet peeve so I feel it bears repeating.

So there you have it!  An antlion larva burying itself in sand.  Next time you see a pit, think about what lurks beneath the surface.  It’s the stuff of ant nightmares…

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

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

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

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