Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: The Big One

I’ve been setting up my blacklight in my yard every night for three and a half weeks now and check on it periodically throughout the evening.  It’s been an interesting experience and I’ve learned a lot of new things about insect behaviors that I didn’t know before by watching the things that come to my light.  However, what I’ve really been hoping for is just one big moth.  My backyard is all grass except for a row of non-native privet hedges, so it’s not an ideal habitat for most big things.  Still, I finally got one big moth last night:

tulip tree silkmoth

Tulip tree silkmoth

A tulip tree silkmoth!  These are large, beautiful moths that come out a little earlier in the evening than a lot of the other large moths.  Indeed, this one showed up on the sheet about 10:30PM.  It was still on my sheet this morning, so I picked it up to move it to the bushes so it wouldn’t be quite so conspicuous to my dogs.  It eventually flew off.  What a lovely thing to see!

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Coming Up For Air

I had my camera at work the other day, taking some photos of the red-headed woodpecker that’s nesting there.  Quitting time came, so I closed up the office and the field station and headed down to the pond for some after-hours photography before heading home.  The light was harsh and very bright, but it highlighted a bunch of animals popping their heads up out of the water all over the pond:

Tadpole surfacing

I thought at first that they were fish, but we don’t have fish in the Prairie Ridge pond.  The only other thing that made sense was that they could be tadpoles coming up for air, but I didn’t know enough about tadpoles to know if this is something they even do.  So I asked one of the Museum’s herpetologists about it and sent him this picture – and I was right!  Tadpoles apparently do this when oxygen levels are low.  If the hundreds of tadpoles I saw were any indication, the oxygen levels in the pond are pretty bad right now…

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Honeycomb

It’s cold today, so here’s a shot from earlier this year when it was warmer! From the farmer’s market in Saratoga Springs, NY:

20140122-224337.jpg

How beautiful is honeycomb?! I’m not even a huge fan of honey, but I want to just dive right into this. Plus, there was a wasp buzzing around – bonus!

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

Best of the Dragonfly Woman 2013

Alex Wild has called on all nature loving bloggers to once again share their favorite photos from 2013.  Because I can’t resist that sort of fun, I’m going to make a contribution.  Here goes!

This has been a crazy year for me and I haven’t been able to blog as much as I normally like to.  My dad’s passing in March was an especially difficult blow – don’t think  I realized how much energy and life that sucked out of me until several months later – but a series of other less than ideal things have happened since.  I’m hoping 2014 will prove to be a better year than 2013, but it wasn’t ALL bad!  And even when things weren’t going quite like I might wish, I found myself turning to my camera over and over as a way to focus my mind on something else for a while – and I got some shots that I’m proud of.  I haven’t shared more than a tiny fraction of my photos for the year with you all, and certainly not as many as I would have liked, but here are my best of 2013, arranged in approximate chronological order of the events in which they were taken.

Windowsill Insects

I became fascinated with the dead insects in windowsills in January this year, after finding this beauty in the windowsill in my boss’ office one day:

Sculptured pine borer

Sculptured pine borer

I’ve since collected and photographed many windowsill insects.  It’s an especially great activity to do in the winter when there aren’t all that many live insects outside to photograph.

Science Online 2013

I have wanted to go to Science Online ever since I learned of its existence, and I was able to go this year!  My favorite moment was not at the actual conference however, but a trip to a local bar with several entomologists that were attending the conference.  This photo isn’t great, but I love it because it reminds me of a fun night, and depicts two lovely, wonderful entomologists,  Alex Wild and Matt Bertone:

Alex and Matt laughing

Alex Wild and Matt Bertone – this is what most of us looked like during our entire outing

A lot of you already know that Alex is an amazing photographer, but so is Matt! If you haven’t ever seen any of his images, please look him up on Flickr.  It’s well worth it!

A Trip to Washington D. C.

My husband and I went to D.C. for a few days in May, just to get out of town.  I took this monarch photo in the butterfly exhibit in the National Museum of Natural History:

Monarch

Monarch

That was my first decent monarch picture, though I have since gotten others in the wild that I like just as well.

Dragonflies Emerge in the Pond

I’d never had a camera with me when I’d seen a dragonfly emerge before I got this shot:

Eastern pondhawk emerging

Eastern pondhawk emerging

… and this one:

Carolina saddlebags emerging

Carolina saddlebags emerging

I watched and photographed six emerging dragonflies for over an hour.  It was so serene and peaceful, and it was a beautiful day.  It was just what I needed, a magical experience I’m going to remember forever.

The New Camera

I bought myself a present in June, a Canon 7D with an MP-E 65 lens.  I absolutely LOVE the camera!  The MP-E 65 lens has a bit of a learning curve, but it was everything I hoped it would be.  Here are some of my first shots:

Asian multicolored ladybeetle

Asian multicolored ladybeetle

Blue dasher

Blue dasher

I think this is my favorite shot of the whole year actually:

I just love the way that beetle is peeking his head around the siding on my house!

National Moth Week 2013

The second annual National Moth Week took place in July.  I attended a moth workshop, a blacklighting event, hosted a moth night at work, and visited my porch light every night.  Part of my zeal for moths this year was driven by the purchase of my new camera, but I got several shots I really liked.  These were both shot during the day with just my point and shoot at the moth workshop:

luna

Luna moth

My first ever luna in North Carolina!  And then there was this imperial moth:

Imperial moth

Imperial moth, Eacles imperialis

First ever sighting of that species period.  I think this, however, was my favorite moth from the week:

Small tolype moth

Small tolype, Tolype notialis

It’s a small tolype, which I’d never heard of before I looked it up in my field guide the night of my moth night at work.  I just love this moth (as a friend of mine would say, it’s fuzzylicious!), and I think I may have been the only person to see it that night.  Somehow that makes it even more special.

My First NC Lethocerus

I found my first large giant water bug, Lethocerus uhleri, in the pond at work one day in late summer.  I was teaching some 4 and 5 year olds how to collect some citizen science data in the pond when I found it.  I was SO excited that I started jumping up and down.  Those kids thought I was nuts, but look how spectacular this insect is!

giant water bug eyes

Wow.  I hadn’t ever really looked at their eyes that closely until the day I got this photo, but they are stunning.

Butterfly Count 2013

We do an annual butterfly count at Prairie Ridge, part of a larger county-wide count.  We only had a team of two this year, but we saw some fun things.  This was my favorite photo from the count:

Horace's duskywing

Horace’s duskywing, Erynnis horatius

Skippers aren’t always the most stunning butterflies, but this was my first Horace’s duskywing and I thought it was rather beautiful.

Visit to Duke Gardens

Did my first visit to the Duke Gardens in late summer this year and it was amazing!  Caught this pair of amorous soldier beetles there:

Soldier beetle lovin

Soldier beetle lovin’

Dragonfly Migration 2013

We never did get very many green darners at the pond at work this year, but there was a nice little surge of them during the migration, which just happened to coincide with an educational dragonfly walk I led.  We caught several dragonflies in nets to get a closer look, and this was one:

Green darner on my knee

Green darner on my knee

I took this one with the cruddy little, VERY cheap digital camera we have at work, which served to remind me that the camera you have with you is the best camera, regardless of the quality.

Winter Aquatic Insects

It’s been chilly in North Carolina recently, so there aren’t many insects out. So, I’ve started bringing aquatic insects home to photograph in my aquatic “studio” (an aquarium with a piece of glass inside to limit the movement of the bugs).  There are my recent favorites:

Photographing aquatics like this takes a lot of patience, but I think it’s well worth it in the end.

So those are my favorites for the year!  If you have your own list of your favorite science and nature photos from 2013, Alex Wild is collecting links to posts and/or collections over on his Scientific American blog, the Compound Eye.  I hope you’ll consider making your own contribution!

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

Friday 5: The Beauty of Cicadas

It’s been a while since I’ve gotten a Friday 5 up!  I’m feeling proud of myself. Let’s see if I remember how this goes…  :)

One of my coworkers at the Museum is really into cicadas. And I mean REALLY into cicadas!  He’s got a display in the Museum devoted to them and he talks about them all the time.  He can identify every species in our area by calls alone, which I love.  I’m always amazed at how much he knows and he’s got some great ideas that I hope he will someday publish because they really should be properly documented in the scientific literature.  I’ve learned more about cicadas sitting in his office chatting than I ever expected to! For example, I now know that Oklahoma is a very interesting place cicada-wise.  Who knew?

One of the best parts of visiting this particular coworker’s office, I think, is getting to see his absolutely amazing cicada collection.  There are boxes of cicadas piled floor to ceiling in some parts of his office, and there are probably thousands left to be properly curated in storage boxes and put away.  He’s got people sending him specimens from all over the country now, and there are always several dozen specimens out on his table where you can see them.  They are spectacularly beautiful, so I wanted to share a few photos of his cicada collection I snapped with my phone a few weeks ago while I waited for him to finish up a tour before a meeting.  If you don’t appreciate the beauty of cicadas after getting a close look at one, I don’t know what I can do to convince you that these are beautiful, amazing insects worthy of your admiration.

So this is what a lot of the visible parts of the collection look like:

cicadas

Lots and lots and lots of pinned, perfectly mounted cicadas arranged on big sheets of styrofoam.  Lest you become horrified by the sheer number of cicadas in this collection, I should point out that I understand that many of these specimens were collected dead.  If you’ve ever seen a periodical cicada emergence, just think of the epic carnage that remains after the cicadas have reached the end of their adult lives.  Cicadas everywhere!  I know at least some of the specimens were captured live, but this is a pretty low-impact collection, given the number of specimens it contains.

Speaking of periodical cicadas, here are a pair of them:

periodical cicadas

These were from Brood II, one of the big periodical cicada emergences that made an appearance in the northern part of North Carolina this year.  I wasn’t ever anywhere I could see them, but my coworker made a few trips north just to see the cicadas.  Magicicada have creepy little red demon eyes, but look at those wings!  Oh, those wings.  They are spectacular.  They’re thick and strong, heavy for insect wings.  I love the very well-defined cells and the shapes.  Crazy beautiful wings, creepy red demon eyes or no!

Now one thing I appreciate about my coworkers collection is that he doesn’t necessarily try to conserve space and instead spreads the wings on many of his specimens:

cicada wing spreading

Every insect that he spreads is exquisitely pinned, so very perfect, and they show off the lovely wings and fascinating body shape very well.  I think it really adds to the overall aesthetic appeal of his collection.  There’s something about a perfectly arranged, expertly spread insect that is so beautiful, regardless of the type of insect.

These had already been spread and are now waiting for a proper home safe inside a bug box:

cicadas on a pinning board

I believe those are a type of Tibicen, one of the enormous dog day cicadas (and as many times as I’ve talked to my coworker about cicadas, I still suck at telling them apart).  I really wish I had made a recording of the Tibicen that lurked in the trees where I collected water bugs in Arizona in the fall.  It was one of the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard!  It was the auditory equivalent of a wave at a sports game, one cicada calling for a moment, which prompted the next one down the line to start calling, and so on down the line.   You’d hear the sound start way down toward the spring head, move down the creek, swell to an almost deafening crescendo, and then trail off as it moved downstream.  Just amazing!

And lastly, the butt shot:

cicada collection

Because if you’re going to end a blog post, you should do it with a bug butt if at all possible, especially if the whole post consists of your crazy ramblings about how beautiful cicadas are.  :)

Hope everyone is looking forward to the new year!

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

Friday 5: Bugs with Bubbles

For today’s Friday 5, I’m going to share something near and dear to my heart: aquatic insects that carry bubbles of air with them underwater.  These bubbles are important in the respiration of many aquatic insects and have some cool properties (e.g., they can act like gills!).  I can spend hours watching aquatic insects breathing, so I’m going to share some of the love with you all today!  Let’s start with a couple of simple, very standard types of bubbles.  This beetle is a predaceous diving beetle:

Thermonectus basillaris

Predaceous diving beetle, Thermonectus basillaris

Now it’s a little hard to see the bubble here (it’s just barely visible at the back end), but that’s because this beetle holds its bubble under its wings.  It acts like a SCUBA tank: the beetle uses up the oxygen and then has to go back to the surface to get another bubble.  However, if the beetle exposes that bubble to the water by squeezing a little part of it out the back end (like in the image I posted on Wednesday), this beetle can take advantage of some nifty tricks of physics and turn that bubble into a gill.  Without going into too much detail (read the post linked at the top of the page for details!), oxygen can flow into the bubble from the water and extend the length of time the beetle can remain underwater significantly, but only if the bubble is exposed to the water.  It is thus very common to see predaceous diving beetles of many species swimming around with big bubbles protruding from their posteriors.

Other beetles carry their bubbles on the outside of their bodies, such as in this water scavenger beetle:

Tropisternus lateralis

Water scavenger beetle, Tropisternus lateralis

Aquatic insects with bubbles on the outside of their bodies expose their bubbles to the water all the time and can often remain underwater for extended periods. The bubble won’t last forever though, even when it’s constantly exposed to the water, so this beetle and most other insects with belly bubbles still have to go to the surface to get a refill every now and again.  Unlike the predaceous diving beetle above that goes to the surface butt first, this beetle pops up to the surface and exposes the top of its head and thorax. I can only presume that there are some cool air channels that allow the air at the surface to flow around the side of the beetle and into the air space under the body.  Might have to look into that more closely someday!

Beetles aren’t the only insects with this style of bubble either!  This is a water boatman:

Water boatman

Water boatman

As you can see, it’s got a very similar bubble to the water scavenger beetle above.  It also exposes it’s thorax at the surface when it needs to refill.  However, water boatmen have a really interesting behavior associated with their bubbles. Because oxygen moves incredibly slowly in still water and takes ages to get from the surface to the locations where insects are living, insects such as water boatmen that hang out at the bottom of ponds are exposed to a rather low oxygen environment.  That also means that the bubble’s gill-like properties are diminished because once the oxygen close to the bubble is absorbed, it takes a while for more oxygen to reach it.  Water boatmen solve this problem by using their huge, oar-like hind legs to stir the water around their bubbles.  This creates turbulence in the water, pushing the oxygen poor water away from the bubble and bringing new, comparatively oxygen rich water into contact with it.  Awesome behavior!

Here’s another belly bubble, this time on a creeping water bug nymph:

Creeping water bug, Pelocoris sp

Creeping water bug, Pelocoris sp

Just another belly bubble you might be thinking, but hear me out.  A lot of aquatic bugs hold air stores under their wings.  Unfortunately for the nymphs (= the immatures), they don’t have wings, so they are missing the neat little compartments for air storage their elders have.  Many species store air in belly bubbles instead.  That means that, in several groups of aquatic bugs, the entire respiratory system moves from the bottom of the bug to the top when they undergo their final molt into adults.  Now that’s just cool!

And finally, we come to this gorgeous, tiny beetle:

Crawling water beetle, Peltodytes sp

Crawling water beetle, Peltodytes sp

That’s a crawling water beetle, and it holds air under its wings like a lot of other beetles.  What makes this beetle special is its hind legs.  If you’ve ever identified beetles using the entomology textbook An Introduction to the Study of Insects (originally by Borer and DeLong), one of the first couplets you come to mentions expanded hind coxae that are fused to the metasternum.  If that didn’t make any sense to you, this means that the portion of the legs where they attach to the body has been modified into a large flattened plate that is fused to the body.  The rest of the leg sticks out from under the plate.  These beetles use the space between that plate and the abdomen as a backup air store!  They pack some little air bubbles in there that are thought to supplement the main bubble held under the wings, and they’re right out there where they’re exposed to the water.  With a name like crawling water beetle, it should be obvious that these beetles are not strong swimmers, so they like to stay underwater as long as they can.  Carrying little leg bubbles likely gives them a valuable respiratory boost.

So there you have it!  A bevy of bubbles for your enjoyment.  Next time you see an aquatic insect, I encourage you to look for a silvery sheen on the body.  That’s a good indication that you’re looking at an air store, and you’re one step closer to understanding how that species breathes!  I don’t know about you, but I find that terribly exciting.  :)

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: The Belly of the Beetle

It’s cold enough in North Carolina that there have been very few insects out and about.  So, I’ve set up a little aquatic insect photo studio in my guest room so that I still have something to photograph.  I’m going to share several aquatic insects with you over the next few weeks, but here’s a little preview:

Agabus disintegratus

Disintegrated diving beetle, Agabus disintegratus

That’s the belly of a really spectacular beetle, the disintegrated diving beetle, Agabus disintegratus.  I’ll show you the other side soon, but I kinda love the undersides of predaceous diving beetles.  You can see all the cool adaptations they’ve got going on their legs (you can just barely make out the suction cups on his forelegs) and you can admire the amazing structure of beetles. Plus, in this image, you can also see the air bubble this beetle uses to breathe. This particular beetle is super skittish and buries itself in the rocks at the bottom of my photo tank, so he’s been hard photograph.  I was happy he sat still long enough for me to get this shot of him!  An instant later, he was back under the rocks.

More cool aquatic insects are coming soon!

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