Friday 5: Springtime in Memphis

When my husband and I got married, we had intended to do a sort of barbecue tour of the southern US for our honeymoon.  We planned to start in Arizona and head out across the southern states by car, sampling smoked meats of the various regional styles of Texas, Tennessee, and both Carolinas.  I was really excited about this because you’re looking at a gal that will soon own THREE grills!  But then we had to move our wedding date and because we had only a single day off before we both had to go back to work, the honeymoon was put on hold.  We still haven’t done the BBQ tour we’d planned, but we recently went to one of our intended stops, Memphis, to celebrate our anniversary.  We ate a ton of BBQ, listened to some excellent blues, and toured the sites of the city.  It was a really fun trip!

But what does this have to do with insects, you’re probably asking yourself?  I carry a camera around with me everywhere, so I always have one on hand when I come across interesting insects.  Spring was just starting when we arrived in Memphis and it rained the first two days we were there, so the pickings were a bit sparse, but I did see a few things!  These were my favorite:

Carpenter bee

Carpenter bee (Xylacopa viginica) male flying.

The eastern carpenter bees (Xylacopa viginica) were out en masse!  There were thousands of them flying about the Memphis Botanic Garden when we visited, all males that appeared to be looking for nesting sites.  At one point, we took a seat in a shady spot off the main path and there were hundreds of the bees flying around the little wooden structure that shaded the bench.  It was magical sitting there among so many huge bees as they searched for places to build nests.  It was one of the highlights of my trip!

The Japanese garden at the botanical garden was in full bloom and the cherry trees were stunning!  There were surprisingly few pollinators out though.  I only saw two insects on any of the cherry blossoms.   I never did get a good shot of this little fly because it was quite windy that day, but I’m gong to share this with you anyway:


Fly. Honestly, I'm not sure if this is a mosquito or a midge or even something else. Morgan - I'd appreciate some input if you read this!

We also saw  this cloudless sulphur (Phoebus sennae) flitting about the flowers:

cloudless sulphus on cherry

Cloudless sulphur on cherry

I don’t really like butterflies, but even I’ll admit that they are pretty, even the less flamboyant whites and sulphurs.  And cherry blossoms – wow!  I’d never seen them in person before and they were amazing!  We also saw this:



And these caught in flagrante:

Ladybugs mating

Ladybugs mating

The ladybugs were definitely out and active during our trip!  I actually see rather few ladybugs in Arizona (there are a lot of them here – I just don’t see many for whatever reason), so it was exciting to see so many of them flying around and getting busy making a new generation of brightly colored beetles.

As an extra special Friday 5 bonus, if you ever get tired and thirsty, just look for this beetle in Memphis:

Green Beetle

Green Beetle Tavern

The Green Beetle Tavern claims to be the oldest in Memphis.  We came across this in the middle of the day as we walked from the South Historic District to Beale Street so we didn’t stop in, but I’ll have to make a special trip there next time I’m in Memphis.

I think I would have seen more insects if we’d planned our trip even a week later.  You have to work with what you’ve got when it comes to insects and we just happened to be there at the slightly wrong time.  Still, I really enjoyed seeing a new place and exploring the things Memphis had to offer.  And, I have an excuse to go back someday.  There are still a lot of insects I haven’t seen there!  :)


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Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Antlion

I have a thing for antlions.  There’s something about the intricacies of their wings that I just love, so I photograph them frequently and watch them at my porch light during the summer.  A few make their way into my collection, such as this one:



And does everyone remember why this isn’t a damselfly?  If not, I’ll give you a hint: look how long those antennae are!  It’s a dead giveaway.


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Baby Mantids!

I had a really horrible day last Friday.  Nothing was going right and pretty much everything I attempted to do that day – taking photos, working, cooking, anything! – failed miserably.  To top it all off, I got yet another jury summons, the 5th one in the past 6 year, and I hate jury duty.  The best part of that otherwise awful day where nothing worked was something I posted to my Facebook page: my mantids hatched!  Today I’m going to share the mantid love with you all because I couldn’t have been more delighted.

The story starts on February 7, 2012, when I found this mantid egg case:

mantid egg case

Mantid egg case (taken with iPhone)

… on this mesquite tree:


Screwbean mesquite

Mantids lay their eggs in a foamy liquid that hardens around them to form a sort of protective shell.  The mantids develop inside and then make their way out of the case when they hatch.  It had been a long time since I’d hatched mantids from an egg case and I wasn’t sure what kind of mantid this case belonged to anyway, so I decided to take it home with me.  I placed it in a little plastic aquarium with a paper towel over the top to keep the mantids inside if they hatched and set the whole thing on the bookcase where my roaches live.  Every time I walked past the bookcase, I’d look inside the mantid cage to see if they’d hatched yet.  The anticipation was enormous!

Nothing happened for a month, but then one day I looked in and saw something that made my heart sink – a little black wasp.  It had crazy hind legs and long, slightly clubbed antennae with a long ovipositor (likely from the genus Podagrion).  Parasites!   Mantid egg cases are often attacked by parasitic wasps.  The females lay their eggs inside the mantid egg cases, using that long ovipositor to reach down into the interior of the case.  The developing wasps hatch quickly and eat the mantids.  I was lucky to see the wasp (and I only did because I put that paper towel over the top to keep everything contained inside), but even if I hadn’t, these little holes in the side of the case were a dead giveaway:

Mantid egg case

Mantid egg case with holes where parasitic wasps emerged

I was pretty sure my mantids were toast, that the parasites had eaten them all and there would be no mantids hatching from the egg case I had so carefully housed and observed.  Over the next week or two, several more wasps emerged, dashing my hope a little more each time I saw a new one.  I kept the case, just in case there was anything left alive inside, but I had little hope that anything was ever going to emerge.

Then Friday, that really awful day, I happened to catch a tiny movement out of the corner of my eye as I headed into my kitchen: a mantid was squeezing its way out of the egg case!  And there were 10 other little mantids in the cage already!  Success!  My mantids were hatching, in spite of the parasitic wasps.  I ran to get my camera,  but by the time I got the flashes attached and was ready to go it was already done hatching.  But there were 11 of these little guys in the cage:







I never did catch another one emerging from the case, but by the end of the day I had 14 mantids.  I counted again yesterday morning and had 25.  As of this morning, there were 43!  Each is the bright green you see above with the abdomen curled up.  They’re tiny, perfect little mantids about a half centimeter long.  And they have such great little personalities too!  They try to attack my finger, attack my camera lenses, jump a little every time the flashes go off.  They stand on top of things and sway back and forth, a movement thought to mimic leaves blowing in the wind, just like the adults.  Really, is there anything more adorable than a tiny mantid?



Cute, cute, cute:



I will likely release most of these back onto the tree where I collected the case so they can live out their lives, however long that may be, free and in the wild.  I’m thinking of keeping a half-dozen or so to grow into adults though.  I’ve seen first instar (i.e. baby) mantids and I’ve seen adults, but I’ve rarely seen anything in between.  I’ve never observed the changes that they undergo throughout their lives either, so I’m excited to see how they grow and change over time.  Should be a fun new insect adventure!

(Does anyone happen to know what these are?  I haven’t tried to ID them yet and I have a mantid guy to ask, but I thought I’d see if any of you know what they are too!)


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

Friday 5: A Collecting Trip!

One of my friends works at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum as the curator of arthropods.  She’s been trying to improve their live aquatic insect displays (yay!) and asked if she could go along with me when I went collecting so she could gather a few things for her displays.  We scheduled a date and decided to invite a few friends to make it a fun girl’s collecting trip, so yesterday four female biologists packed into my car and headed out to collect aquatic insects!  (It sounds like the start of a bad joke: three entomologists and an ichthyologist walk into a stream…)  We collected some really great live things and because it’s Friday, I’m going to share 5 of our finds.

Our first stop was Madera Canyon, a beautiful spot in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson, AZ.  Madera has a gorgeous, clear, cold stream running through it and often has an incredible diversity of insects.  Armed with soup strainers, feather forceps, and plastic containers and bags of various types, we tackled the stream.  The diversity wasn’t as spectacular as it sometimes is, but we did get a few things I was hoping to find.  Among them were these:

Phylliocus aeneus

The caddisfly Phylliocus aeneus wandering around the rocks.

I love these caddisflies!  They make their cases out of big, broad pieces of sycamore leaves and blend in marvelously with their environment.  However, if you sit and watch the bottom of the stream, you’ll start to see the leaves “walking” about and you know it’s a caddisfly.  This caddisfly is an Arizona native and is quite abundant in Madera  Canyon.

Another Madera find was this:

Neohermes filicornis

Hellgrammite! This is Neohermes filicornis.

Hellgrammite!  I really love these things, and there were a ton of them in the stream ranging from less than half an inch long to 1.5 inches like this one.  This species is Neohermes filicornis, a smaller species than the hellgramites I usually feature here on the blog.  But their small size doesn’t make them any less aggressive!  We had to separate the hellgramites from the rest of our bugs because they were eating them within minutes – and one even started trying to eat another hellgrammite.  These things really don’t like being messed with and seem to react to disturbance by eating everything they can get their giant jaws on.

We also caught a few dragonflies and damselflies, including this tiny skimmer nymph:

Libellulid dragonfly nymph

Libellulid dragonfly nymph. Haven't IDed this beyond family yet.

I haven’t IDed this one beyond family yet because it’s awfully small for easy identification, but I thought it was rather cute.  We also caught some Argia and Haeterina damselfly nymphs, but those went home with someone else.  I love that even though this dragonfly is tiny (about 3/16ths of an inch), you can still see that extensible mouthpart, it’s “mask,” wrapped around the front of its head quite nicely.  Cute!

After collecting caddisflies, hellgrammites, a few beetle species, odonates, and one enormous wasp (I’ll post photos in a few weeks!), the four of us headed over to Las Cienegas, a spring fed system on the eastern side of the Santa Ritas.  I overtopped my hip waders within seconds of getting into the stream, but we found some great things so it was worth it.  Dragonflies and damselflies, Anax junius and Archilestes grandis in particularwere abundant, as were scuds, flatworms, leeches, a variety of small predaceous diving beetles, and these:

Thermonectus nigrofasciatus

Predaceous diving beetle, Thermonectus nigrofasciatus.

This is the predaceous diving beetle Thermonectus nigrofasciatus.  My students all eventually call this the Charlie Brown Beetle, so that’s what I’ve started calling it too.  You can find many of these beetles out in the pooled areas at Las Cienegas, swimming around in the clear water right out where you can see them. Getting them into your soup strainer is a lot harder than you’d expect considering how easy it is to find them, and keeping them in the soup strainer long enough to transfer them into another container for transport is even more difficult!  But it’s worth it.  Look how gorgeous that beetle is!  And, does everyone remember how I can tell that this is a female?  If not, you can find the answer in my Friday 5 post on aquatic insects that suck.

And last, but certainly not least, this is what I actually needed to find:

Abedus herberti

A giant water bug, Abedus herberti, male with eggs

Ah, Abedus herberti.  You all know all about this bug, so I’m just going to leave it at that.

After we finished collecting at Las Cienegas, we sat on one of the many fallen limbs from one of the old, enormous cottonwoods that line the creek and had some lunch.  Then we packed up our treasures and headed back to town.  I got water bugs for my research and some extra aquatics to photograph, my friend from the Desert Museum got bugs for her displays, my ichthyologist friend got bugs for the aquatic insect tank in her office she uses to motivate and educate her student technicians, and my fourth friend went home empty-handed by choice.  We all had a great time visiting some beautiful places, enjoying amazing weather, and collecting bugs.  And I got to do it all with three of my best girlfriends.  What a great day!


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Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Cactus Longhorn

This little beauty is one of the iconic beetles of my part of the US:

Cactus beetle

Cactus longhorn beetle, Moneilema gigas

Ah, Moneilema gigas.  What a stunning creature.  This longhorn beetle eats cactus, prickly pear and cholla mostly, hence its name.  It’s also got one heck of a powerful jaw.  And, I have witnessed (though not experienced) this myself: if one of these gets hold of a finger with that strong little mouth, you’re just going to have to take it for a while.  They really don’t like to let go!


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RIP Mr. Darcy

Well, today is a sad day.  I found my giant male roach dead on the bottom of his cage.  Poor Mr. Darcy…  I had him almost 3 years, and he was an adult when I got him, so he had a good, long life.  I never expected to enjoy my roaches as well as I do, especially since the only reason I have them is because a student dumped them with me at the end of a semester, but I really enjoyed Mr. Darcy.  He was one charismatic little insect and I’m sad that he’s gone.  Who knew I could get so attached to a bug!

So rest in peace Mr. Darcy.  I will miss your angry, loud hissing that I could hear three rooms away.  I’ll miss how you pushed your young ones around and dominated the log in your cage.  I’ll miss taking you to classrooms where you distracted the kids by loudly and viciously attacking the other roaches in the cage.  I’ll miss how you hissed at me every time I got your cage out to add water, dog food, and veggies and when I poked you a little every now and again just because I knew it would annoy you.  You were a good roach.  The best roach.

hissing cockroaches

Mr. Darcy


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Overcoming My Childhood Fear of Spiders

Banded argiope, Argiope trifasciata

Banded argiope, Argiope trifasciata

When I was a kid, I was scared of spiders.  As great as my parents were about letting their kids explore the world and letting us develop our own opinions about the organisms we encountered, I think my fear of spiders was largely my dad’s fault.  He still tells me stories about how our house would have been “overrun with black widows – overrun!!” if he hadn’t hauled a can of Raid out into the backyard and sprayed the heck out of every black widow he found once a week.  He talked about the sun spider (not a true spider, but still an arachnid) in the laundry closet with a hint of fear and has told me the story of my first encounter with a spider several times.  It goes like this.  One night, I called out to my dad, telling him that there was a spider in my crib.  He looked around and didn’t see anything, so he told me I was dreaming and should go back to sleep.  A few minutes later, I called out again, saying that there was a spider in my bed.  He looked again and still didn’t see anything.  I kept insisting there was a spider, so he eventually started pulling off blankets to prove that there was no spider.  Of course there was a spider, THE BIGGEST BLACK WIDOW OF ALL TIME!  Or at least that’s how my dad tells it.  You’d think this spider was about to devour his beloved firstborn, that I was lucky he was there to save me and vanquish the black widow foe.  He wouldn’t ever admit it, but these sorts of stories have led me to believe that my dad might have a touch of arachnophobia.

Long jawed orb weaver spider

Long jawed orb weaver spider, Tetragnatha sp

When my dad, who is rather fearless and tells stories of brave encounters with rattlesnakes and an angry swarm of yellow jackets, actually showed any sort of fear, it sort of rubbed off on you.  So, I was scared of spiders too.  I remember growing up thinking that most spiders were dangerous, that killing a spider was better than risking being bitten.  I used to be so scared of spiders that I’d have nightmares about them lurking menacingly under my blankets.  I would wake up in a panic and start ripping off the covers to prove to myself that there wasn’t actually a spider in my bed.  I knew there wasn’t a spider in my bed, but then again…  My dad had told me that story about the black widow in my crib, so maybe my subconscious mind was trying to tell me something…

Crab spider

Crab spider, species unknown

As I became more and more interested in insects, I learned that the vast majority of spiders really weren’t going to hurt me.  I knew that the wolf spider crawling up the wall or the little harmless brown spiders in the basement weren’t going to do anything to me, but the fear persisted.  I felt a little stupid for being scared of spiders when I wanted to become an entomologist because what entomologist worth her salt is scared of a little spider?  But I couldn’t help it.  They bothered me.  So, I arrived at grad school in the city of my birth imagining that black widows lurked in every corner and I would have daily encounters with all manner of huge spider.  Every now and again I would envision a spider crawling up the back of my couch while I was doing homework or something and it would make me shiver just a little.

crab spider

Crab spider

So, how did I get over my fear of spiders?  It all started on a class field trip along the border with Mexico that where there was a series of little ponds.  The desert is, by definition, a dry place where water is scarce.  Ponds are important to a huge variety of animals and there are often animals at any little pond you come across.  I wandered around one of the ponds looking for aquatic insects and happened to look down at one point.  The ground was absolutely covered in spiders!  Many different species were writhing about in a huge mass over the shores of the pond.  They were crawling all over my legs and I was scared at first.  But…  I also really wanted to scoop insects out of that pond.  So, I decided to ignore the spiders and keep collecting.  I let the spiders crawl all over my legs.  I let them crawl all over my backpack.  I didn’t worry about the fact that I might find a spider, dead or alive, in my pack when I got home.  I just went on with the more serious business of climbing into the pond to collect aquatics.  I wasn’t about to let some weenie little harmless spiders get between me and the aquatic insects in that pond!

Green lynx spider

Green lynx spider, pink phase (Peucetia viridans)

And you know what?  That was the end of my fear of spiders!  I don’t know how or why it worked, but I told myself to ignore the spiders and suddenly they stopped bothering me.  No more spider nightmares!  They can crawl all over me at those desert ponds and I don’t care.  Black widows are beautiful spiders and I love to watch them.  I enjoy seeing the big orb weaver spiders when I’m in the sorts of habitats where they’re found.  Sun spiders – spectacular animals!  And who doesn’t love a good jumping spider?  I might not pick spiders up, just in case I misidentify one I shouldn’t handle or have a strange reaction to tarantula hairs (those things make me itch like mad!), but I’m perfectly okay with spiders living in and around my house.  Sometimes I knock their webs down as I dust, but otherwise they’ve got a pretty good thing going living with me.  I just don’t care that they’re there.

All in all, I am happy I went on that field trip.  Forcing myself to walk through the spiders to get to the pond seems to have done me a world of good.  Now, if only I could get over my fear of centipedes…


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