Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Just a Dragonfly

This week I give you another simple image, dragonfly on a cattail leaf:

Blue  Dasher Female

Blue Dasher Female (Pachydiplax longipennis)

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

Adorable Saltie by The Dragonfly Woman
Adorable Saltie, a photo by The Dragonfly Woman on Flickr.

I’ve spent years looking for something other than the boring whitish, flat haired jumping spiders I commonly saw in Arizona, something with a bit of a flashy hairdo. Today – success! I just have to share a photo of my first ever jumping spider with little black tufts of hair coming off its head. The shot’s not perfect as I took it with my point and shoot camera and edited it in Flickr, but you should focus on the pure adorableness of that spider, not the quality of the image. Even better, this is my second saltie of the day! The first one wasn’t as cute, but I’ve never seen more than one species in a day before. Score!

Happy Tuesday everyone! Hope you all find the spider of your dreams today too. :)

Prairie Ridge Ecostation’s Aquatic Habitats

You all know that I am in love with water.  That’s one thing my new home state of North Carolina has in abundance!  There’s water in the air, water falling from the sky on a fairly regular basis (though I’m told it’s been a particularly rainy summer so far), and there are aquatic habitats practically everywhere I turn.  I used to have to drive several miles in Tucson to get to the closest water, a city park with couple of tiny ponds filled with reclaimed water, but now I’ve got 4 sizable “ponds” mere blocks from where I live and the Neuse River is less than a 1/4 mile away.  The idea of getting a boat has crept into my mind more than once and the thought isn’t completely laughable anymore.  I could actually carry a lightweight craft to the nearest body of water!  I absolutely love it.

The nature center where I’m working also has water.  Let me take you on a brief tour of the aquatic habitats.  I mentioned the little water garden in the demonstration garden last week:

Water Garden

Water garden

It’s small, but I still enjoy poking around in there to see what I can find.  I’ve always loved water lilies, and the carnivorous bladderworts fascinate me:

bladderwort

Bladderwort

I hope I can see one trap an insect sometime!  There is also a little bog garden in the demonstration garden that is filled with plants capable of surviving in saturated soils for at least some length of time.  But these two aquatic areas are nothing compared to the other aquatic habitats at the ecostation.  This is the pond:

Prairie Ridge pond

Prairie Ridge pond, in the rain

It’s not entirely natural and has a man-made earthen dam at the lower end, but it is fed by rainwater coming off the prairie.  I think it’s beautiful!  There aren’t any fish in the pond (yet at least), so the top predators in the pond are snakes and aquatic insects.  The pond is also where you find the biggest diversity of dragonflies on the Prairie Ridge grounds.  There are a lot of dragonflies there, including the comet darners:

comet darner female

Comet darner female

This individual was caught by a mist net that was set up to trap birds so that they could be banded and released.  Comet darners are widespread in the eastern US but aren’t especially common in any given place.  I feel fortunate to have seen both males and this stunning female at a pond that is so close that I can visit it on a quick break from work.  I find myself down there often!

This is also on the grounds:

Prairie Ridge stream

Prairie Ridge stream

This stream is absolutely beautiful and winds its way through the wooded area of the property.  The water is clear and I’m told that the quality is quite high. However, there is an Army National Guard base across the street and all the water from the extensive parking lots there flows into this stream.  The result is it floods quite frequently and there is a lot of visible erosion:

Prairie Ridge stream

Prairie Ridge stream showing erosion of the banks

I got to see a bit of flooding firsthand last week.  I visited the stream briefly to take the photos above and then revisited the same spot three hours later to help another entomologist set up some light traps for moths.  It had started raining in the interim and the change in flow in the stream was quite impressive! All that flooding unfortunately means there aren’t all that many aquatic insects in the stream, but I’m still looking forward to poking around in the water to see what I can find.  Might actually be a fun place to determine how flooding impacts aquatic insect recolonization in a humid region.  The moth traps turned up quite a variety of predaceous diving beetles, creeping water beetles, and other aquatic insects, so there’s got to be at least some good stuff in there!

Overall, I feel very lucky to be working in such a beautiful place.  My new coworkers have seen dragonfly swarms over the prairie, and I’m living less than 2 hours from one very heavily traveled route on the migratory route for green darners, so it’s a good place for my dragonfly research.  I can pop down to the pond in minutes and check up on what’s there easily, including the giant water bugs.  The stream is absolutely gorgeous and there are bugs simply everywhere.  Honestly, I couldn’t have picked a better place to work.  I hope you all enjoy hearing about my adventures there!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © TheDragonflyWoman.com

Swarm Sunday – 6/17/2012 – 6/23/2012

Dragonfly Swarm Project logo

Looks like the swarm season is starting to heat up!  And there are a few hotspots of activity too.  The following swarms have been reported over the last week:

USA:

Boulder, CO
Denver, CO
Colorado Springs, CO (2 swarms)
Holyoke, CO
Manitou Springs, CO
Bradenton, FL
Chicago, IL
Round Lake, IL (2 swarms)
Lima, OH
Avenel, NJ
Bradley Beach, NJ
Normandy Beach, NJ
North Middletown, NJ
Waretown, NJ
Oak Beach, NY
New York, NY
West Islip, NY

Canada:

Lower Sackville, NS

Clearly most of the early activity is centered over the New Jersey/New York area and Colorado.  Most people from the former have reported flooding in their areas, so that fits nicely with my hypothesis that flooding influences swarm activity.   Interestingly, there is a significant fire in the Manitou Springs area of Colorado, so it makes me wonder if that might be generating swarm activity in the Manitou and Colorado Springs areas.  Not sure I’ll ever be able to test that hypothesis, but it’s an interesting thing to think about at least!  I hope the fire goes out soon though.  I grew up in Colorado Springs and it makes me sad to think that places I loved as a kid are going up in flames…

In other news, I’m planning to move my dragonfly swarm project over to another website in the not-too-distant future.  I think it’s time to lay the project out more formally and have the important information up front and center rather than buried in a series of blog posts.  I’ll let you all know when that happens!  In the meantime, keep sending in your reports here.  Every report helps us all understand this behavior a little better!

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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 © TheDragonflyWoman.com

Friday 5: Insects of the Arthropod Zoo

The museum where I’m working has an arthropod zoo!  I finally got to spend half a day exploring the museum this week and headed straight for the arthropods.  The exhibit is absolutely beautiful and the sponsor (who I’m not going to name because I can’t say anything nice about them) clearly put a lot of money into it.  If you’re ever in the Research Triangle area, you should definitely make a trip to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and check it out!  If you do, you might catch a glimpse of the following:

Stick Insects

Stick insect

Stick insect

I stupidly didn’t photograph any of the signs (as usual) and forgot what the common and species names of pretty much everything was the moment I walked away from a cage (as usual).  That means I can’t tell you what kind of stick insect this is or where it’s from but they were so cool!  Look at the strange coloration, and all those little angles!  They were large too, 5 or 6 inches long I believe.  I spent about 10 minutes watching these guys to determine whether they were actually alive or not before this one moved its head a fraction of an inch.  Pretty darned stealthy insects!  Sadly, staring at non-moving insects did give me enough time to hear several people walk through the exhibit, loudly exclaiming to their companions how scary insects are and how much they hate them.  Sigh…

Roaches

Roaches

Roaches

If you all haven’t figured it out, I kinda like roaches.  These guys were stunning!  They were quite large and blended in a bit with their environment, but look how beautiful they are!  If all roaches were this pretty, people might not have as many problems with them.

Hercules Beetles

Hercules beetle

Eastern Hercules beetle

I’m just going to assume that these are the eastern Hercules beetles rather than the Grant’s Hercules beetles that I’m used to from the west, but they’re awfully similar.  Every time I see them I am reminded of how amazing beetles are.  They’re huge and anything with those kinds of horns is alright in my book!  I’ve always wondered if they can actually pinch you with those horns.  Anyone know?

Cecropia Caterpillars

Cecropia

Cecropia caterpillar. This will turn into a big, beautiful moth!

The curator of the Arthropod Zoo really likes cecropia moths, so it seems only fitting that they fill one of the biggest displays.  I’ve caught the moths before and have two in my collection, but I hadn’t ever seen the caterpillars.  Wow!  They’re so beautiful!  And the curator’s going to give me some eggs to rear too.  When I get them, I’ll share their progress with you all so you can see what happens right along with me!

Tiger Longwing Butterfly

Butterfly

Butterfly

Right next to the Arthropod Zoo is a live butterfly exhibit.  It’s quite small, but I still enjoyed it.  It had a lot of the same butterflies as the slightly larger butterfly exhibit in Tucson, including this butterfly that I photographed at both exhibits.  This exhibit has one thing that Tucson’s does not, though: a sloth!  It was way too high up for me to get a photo of it, but man was the sloth cute! The butterflies were cute too, but considering that they don’t rank very high on my list of favorite insects, I think I actually preferred the sloth…

And with that I need to get some sleep so I can get up tomorrow in time to see what came to the moth traps I helped set up this evening.  The researcher setting the traps is interested in discovering which moths are using a species of native bamboo in North Carolina and we set out two traps.  Hopefully they won’t be completely full of rainwater tomorrow so I can start to learn some of the moths of my new state!

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

Prairie Ridge Ecostation

Although I am now working at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, my office isn’t actually at the Museum.  Instead, I’m housed at Prairie Ridge Ecostation, a great piece of land about 6 miles from the main Museum buildings.  It is “the backyard of the Museum” as it is intended to meet the outdoor education needs of the Museum and provide the scientists there with a field site where they can do research.  It’s a fantastic place to work too!  Allow me to take you on a partial tour.  I’m going to save the aquatic habitats for next week, so today is all about the prairie.

The PR staff works in a trailer just beyond the entrance gate, but it’s better than it sounds.  We’re surrounded by science books and field guides and educational materials and I work with the four nicest people on the planet.  I’m already starting to feel like part of a little family and I feed off everyone’s enthusiasm for their work and their Carolina home.  My coworkers LOVE what they do!  Plus, my desk overlooks a little piece of forest where there are all kinds of birds and insects flying around.  Nearly every time I look up from my computer I see something.  Because I’m so new to the state, it’s usually something I’ve never seen before too!  Today I saw what I am 99% sure was a red bellied woodpecker and a firefly.  The former was new, the latter was not, but both were exciting.

The trailer is certainly nothing to look at on the outside, but if you look right past it you see this:

prairie

The prairie!

Gorgeous, tall grasses!  PR was originally a cow pasture and has been restored to a more native condition, so to the best of my still rather limited knowledge that’s pretty much what this part of the country used to look like.  I think it is incredibly beautiful, and, even though I know there are numerous ticks out there just itching to latch their little mouthparts into my skin, I absolutely love that I get to wander around among the grass as part of my job.  As much as I loved the southwest, something about this just feels right.  Fluffy clouds, green as far as you can see, insects buzzing all around.  It’s just perfect.  Except for the ticks.  I did mention those, right?  :)

Further down the little road through the ecostation is the nature neighborhood garden.  It’s a demonstration garden that highlights how you can grow gardens to attract wildlife to your yard.  It’s also an example of a green space that uses water harvesting, rooftop gardening, and natural runoff control.  The garden is fenced and you enter through this amazing gate:

Garden gate

Garden gate. Notice the plants growing on top of the roof of the entrance!

Inside there are flowers (of course):

garden

The garden

… and lots of insects:

soldier beetles

A pair of soldier beetles getting busy making new soldier beetles in the garden

… and a couple of little bog gardens.  One of the kids at a program I took part in last week found a dragonfly husk on the underside of one of the plants in the water garden:

Dragonfly leftovers

Dragonfly leftovers, after emerging as an adult

… so there are apparently some good insects in there.  There are also carnivorous plants in the water garden, bladderworts.  North Carolina is supposed to be one of the best places to find carnivorous plants in the US.  I’m going to have to find some of those for sure!  Carnivorous plants are just so cool.

A little further down the hill is the outdoor classroom:

Outdoor classroom

Outdoor classroom

It’s a fantastic building!  It’s an example of a green building built by a well-known architect who specializes in these sorts of structures (Frank Harmon) and built it using recycled materials and environmentally conscious products.  One of the great features of the building is that the support structures were designed with the resident black rat snakes in mind: they’ve got grooves so the snakes can climb up the beams and coil up along the foundation of the building.  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that black rat snakes aren’t something I’m completely in love with and I’m probably going to have a heart attack the day I open one of the nest boxes:

Nest box

Nest box

… and find a rat snake who’s just eaten all the eggs/baby birds inside.  I’m hoping I’ll get over that because there are a lot of nest boxes:

birdhouses and turbine

Purple martin houses and the wind turbine

… and solar power and a wind turbine and harvested rainwater operated toilets.  It’s a really nice place to be as someone who cares about the environment.  As a biologist, I’m extra excited because there’s just so much life out there!  And I haven’t even shown you the aquatic habitats yet.  Oh, the dragonflies!  There are so very many dragonflies!  And you know how I was raving about seeing a comet darner a few weeks ago?  That was at one of the PR ponds.  But I’ll give you a look at the pond next week.  I think this is enough for today.

All in all, I am incredibly happy to be here and I think the future looks bright!  I hope you’ll all enjoy hearing about my adventures as I explore my new home and settle into my new job.  If you happen to live in the area, feel free to stop by and say hi!  And, if you want to learn about the plants and animals of the prairie, I am now the writer of What Time is it in Nature, a weekly feature on the PR website that highlights species or natural events at the ecostation.  I’m going to write about things other than insects occasionally there!  Bet you didn’t know I could do that.  :)

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © TheDragonflyWoman.com