Swarm Sunday: 3/29/2015 – 6/13/15

Dragonfly Swarm Project logo

The swarm activity has been rather slow over the last few months, so I’m combining a lot of dates into one report here rather than reporting just one or two swarms each week.  The following swarms have occurred between the end of May and today:

USA:

Goldstream, AK
Boulder, CO (2 swarms)
Homosassa, FL
Lexington, GA
Crystal Lake, IL
Bossier City, LA
Brownville, ME
Hugo, MN
St. Paul, MN
Spicer, MN
White Bear Township, MN
Bloomfield, MI
Bernardsville, NJ
Morris Plains, NJ
Greenville, NC
Lake Waccamaw, NC
Charleston, SC
Port Aransas, TX
Sheboygan, WI
Waupaca, WI

Thailand:

Sritanu, Ko Phangan

And here is the US map for the last month and a half:

3.30.15 to 6.13.15

Red pins are static swarms, yellow pins are migratory. Click the map to enlarge!

Most of the early activity, as in past years, has been static swarming.  Looks like most of the swarms have taken place near bodies of water so far this year, near large lakes and along coastal areas and largely east of the Mississippi River.  It will be interesting to see if more swarms occur inland once the season really starts to pick up, as has happened in past years, or if everything is different this year.  I suspect we’ll see more swarms inland over the next few months, the usual pattern, but only time will tell.

Now that the swarm season has really begun, I’ll start posting more often.  In the meantime, keep sending in those swarm reports!  Every one matters and helps explain what’s going on just a little more.

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Have you seen a dragonfly swarm? I am tracking swarms so I can learn more about this interesting behavior.  If you see one, I’d love to hear from you!  Please visit my Report a Dragonfly Swarm page to fill out the official report form.  It only takes a few minutes! Thanks!

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Want more information? Visit my dragonfly swarm information page for my entire collection of posts about dragonfly swarms!

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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

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!

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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

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?

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

DW Passes 1,000,000 Views!!

CelebrationI’ve known it’s been coming for a while and have been eagerly watching my stats, but Sunday at 12:23pm EST my blog officially passed 1 million views!!  I am unbelievably excited about this.  Even after blogging for so long, it’s still hard to believe that there are so many people out there reading the really random things I like to talk about here, but I am thrilled. Simply thrilled.

My blog officially turns 6 years old in a few weeks and I’m planning to do a sort of 6-year, 1,000,000 view review then, but for now let me just say thank you to everyone who has ever visited my blog.  To those of you who read regularly and/or comment on posts, I really, really appreciate the support that you especially have shown toward this little insect blog.  I have enjoyed getting to know some of you in person and interacting with others of you regularly online.  I look forward to many more conversation and celebrations of insects with you all!

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