Moths All Night

Moth

Green cutworm moth, Anicla infecta

I hosted a public moth night for National Moth Week over the weekend.  I was really ready.  I had enough lights, traps, and baits to have about 8 moth viewing stations spread across the grounds.  I had a good 50 people signed up to come, several of whom were planning to stay the full 8 hours, and four entomologists ready to teach people about moths and help with identifications.  I had a computer ready to go so we could start uploading photos to a citizen science website and even had coloring sheets for the kids in case they got bored.  I was so excited!

You know what they say about the best laid plans.

Rosy maple moth

Rosy maple moth, Dryocampa rubidunda

I met the visitors out by the entrance gate and looked off into the distance.  There were some really dark clouds out there, but they looked like they were headed a different direction and wouldn’t cause us problems.  I decided to press on with the event, hoping that we could sit out any rain in the outdoor classroom and then carry on as planned.  I took everyone down to our outdoor classroom and did my little introduction to the moths.  Then we wandered out to some of the lights.  A few people disappeared down the path to see the trap and baits that one of the entomologists had set up and I took people over to my blacklight.  But the clouds kept coming.  It was soon clear that it was going to rain, so about half the people left.  The other half headed inside the classroom and watched as a wall of black clouds engulfed us.

Then it rained.  Oh boy did it rain!

Ailanthus webworm moth

Ailanthus webworm moth, Atteva punctella

It was what I imagine sitting through a hurricane would feel like!  I am never one to shy away from watching a storm, but it’s one thing to watch a heavy storm from the safety of the indoors and quite another to watch from a glorified screened porch.  It was unbelievably noisy.  Rain slammed down onto the roof.  There was lightning crashing all around.  Thunder boomed as wind blasted through the room.  Rain started blowing over everyone taking shelter in the classroom and everything got wet.  I’ll admit: it was a little scary.  But, oh!  It was so beautiful!

Sadly, most of the remaining people bailed as soon as the rain let up well over an hour later, but some hearty souls stuck it out.   A couple of people stayed after midnight and one person stayed until close to 1 am.  In the end it was just me and one other bug person from the Museum sitting on the porch of the classroom watching the moths that came to the mercury vapor lights.  We were out there until 3:30 am, watching moths and talking about bugs.  I even saw my very first flying squirrel and that alone would have made the whole night worth it.

Unidentified moth

White-dotted prominent, Nadata gibbosa

But we saw a lot of moths too!  It certainly wasn’t the explosion of thousands of huge moths that I’m used to from the Arizona monsoon season and we never did get any of the big silkworm moths or hawk moths, but we still saw several gorgeous species.  Nearly all of them were new to me and therefore exciting.  I didn’t start photographing the moths until late in the evening and I missed documenting several of the early evening species, but I still walked away with photos of thirty species.  (You’ll notice I don’t have the species names on two of the photos here – I’m waiting for confirmation so I don’t reveal my abysmal moth identification skills!)  The moth expert with the trap sent me a list of the things he caught and brought my total up to 40 species.  A very few participants also left photos with me before they left and added another five.  45 species ain’t half bad, especially considering the circumstances.

Southern pine sphinx moth

Southern pine sphinx moth, Lapara coniferarum, the largest moth I saw

And now I have a moth evening program planned too!  I can easily do another one of these moth nights as I have all the equipment, books, and handouts I need ready to go.  I’m thinking of trying again in a month or so.  It won’t be National Moth Week anymore, but I love spending nights by blacklights and sharing that with the public is so much fun.  It will be good to get back out there and work on my moth identification skills too.  I really need some more practice with that.

So, my National Moth Week event wasn’t the huge success I hoped for, but I still walked away happy.  I can think of worse ways to spend an evening than sitting through a gorgeous storm, talking to people about bugs, photographing insects, and seeing a flying squirrel.  Not a bad night.  Not bad at all.

_______________

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

Swarm Sunday – 7/22/2012 – 7/28/2012

Dragonfly Swarm Project logo

Lots of swarms again this week!

USA:

Brookfield, AL
Phoenix, AZ
Gentry, AR
Greenbrae, CA
Larkspur, CA
Malibu, CA
Boulder, CO (2 reports)
Erie, CO
Guilford, CT
Milford, CT
Westport, CT
Newark, DE
Wilmington, DE
Breese, IL
Evanston, IL
Springfield, IL
Western Springs, IL
Atlanta, IN
Arkansas City, KS
Emporia, KS
Louisville, KY
Shreveport, LA
Elkton, MD
Glen Burnie, MD
Perry Hall, MD
Rosedale, MD
Easthampton, MA
Erving, MA
Eureka, MO
Joplin, MO
Purcell, MO
Aberdeen, NJ
Cumberland. NJ
Eeison, NJ
Egg Harbor Township, NJ
Hamburg, NJ
Milford, NJ
Mine Hill, NJ
Montclair, NJ
Londia, NY
Miller Place, NY
New Windsor, NY
New York City, NY
Greenville, NC
Raleigh, NC
Richlands, NC
Midwest City, OK
Ponca City, OK
Bensalem, PA
Dyberry Township, PA
Philadelphia, PA
Southampton, PA
Spring Grove, PA
Virginville, PA
Yankton, SD
Cleveland, TN
Sewanee, TN
Deer Park, TX
El Paso, TX
Pflugerville, TX
Orem, UT
Richmond, VA
Viroqua, WI

Canada:

Athabasca, AL

Costa Rica:

Langosta

With the exception of the recent swarm boom in Colorado, the western US hasn’t seen a lot of dragonfly activity so far this year.  That changed this week with reports cropping up in Utah, South Dakota, Arizona, and California.  There’s not a whole lot of activity there, but it’s a pretty good showing for the west where swarms are far and few between.  Otherwise, things seem to be continuing along as they have been, with activity centered over New Jersey/New York/Pennsylvania and spread throughout the southeast.  The eastern part of the country seems oddly consistent this year.  Interesting!

I got to see another swarm this week too!  It was the exact sort of swarm I’ve heard about so many times from people who have participated in my project too: green darners flying just overhead as it became dark and just before a huge storm blew into the area.  Having spent so much time working on this project in the west where swarm sightings are incredibly rare, it’s great to see firsthand a swarm like the ones I’ve been hearing about for the past three years!  Considering I’ve seen two swarms in two weeks, I am hopeful I will get to see several more swarms before the season is over.

It’s been a great year for dragonfly swarms so far, and the peak of the season hasn’t even begun.  I think this is going to be the best year yet!

_______________

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

_______________

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!

_______________

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

_______________

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

Friday 5: Verdant Eaters of Insects

Green Swamp

Longleaf pine forest in the Green Swamp

Earlier this week, I got to go on a trip to some of North Carolina’s awesome wild areas with a bunch of other people from the museum where I work.  We ended the day at Lake Waccamaw, a fascinating bay lake in the southeastern part of the state.  The water was bizarrely warm but oh so clear, so I enjoyed my swim in it quite a bit.  The highlight of the trip for me, though, was getting to see the carnivorous plants in the Green Swamp.  One of my favorite memories as a kid was the venus fly trap my mom bought my sister and me, how we fed it flies and were fascinated by how it consumed its prey.  I never knew then that they were native to North Carolina, nor that North Carolina is one of the best places in the world to see carnivorous plants.  Now I’ve had a chance to see the carnivorous plants I grew up reading about in the wild!  Today I’m going to share the five carnivorous plant species I saw at the Green Swamp because who doesn’t love a good carnivorous plant?

Venus Fly Trap

Venus fly trap

Venus fly trap

There is something so alien about this plant!  It certainly looks strange with all the spiky bits coming off the leaves, but this plant is quite mysterious too.  It sort of remembers things, and no one really knows why.  The exact mechanism behind the trap that snaps shut on helpless prey remains uncertain.  This plant knows the difference between a living organism and a non-living organism too.  It’s just weird and oddly sentient for a plant.  But how beautiful!  And it was absolutely amazing to see them scattered all across the ground underfoot.  I was so happy I nearly cried.

Yellow Pitcher Plant

Yellow pitcher plant

Yellow pitcher plant

Pitcher plants are super cool plants too!  This plant doesn’t snap shut on its prey like the venus fly traps do, but they have an effective alternative system: downward pointed hairs guide the insect victims into the digestive soup at the bottom of the trumpet-shaped leaves where they are slowly digested.  If you pull an old, dead leaf off a plant and cut it open, you can sometimes see the exoskeletons of consumed bugs!  Another beautiful plant, and, as an added bonus, many of these had green lynx spiders sitting on the “lid” of the plant too.

Purple Pitcher Plant

Purple pitcher plant

Purple pitcher plant

Purple pitcher plants are closely related to the yellow pitcher plants and were found within a few feet of their yellow brethren in the Green Swamp.  These plants are very different though!  Unlike the yellows that use digestive juices to digest their prey, the purple pitcher plants depend on a variety of invertebrates, including a mosquito and a midge larvae, to break down the insects that fall into the puddle of rainwater that accumulates at the bases of the leaves for them.  How awesome is that?!

Bladderwort

Bladderwort

Bladderwort

Bladderworts are fantastic aquatic plants!  They store little bubbles of air in special chambers armed with triggers.  When a small insect, other invertebrate, or even a small fish swims by and bumps the trigger, the door to the chamber snaps open and water floods in, dragging the prey animal inside.  Then the plant secretes digestive chemicals and consumes the prey.  It’s hard to imagine that such an adorable little flower is attached to such a violent plant!

Sundew

Sundew

Sundew

Until about 6 months ago, I had never even heard of a sundew.  Then I saw a picture of one on a blog somewhere and fell instantly in love.  I knew I HAD to see one!  And I did!  These tiny plants are capable of catching things much larger than they are, including strong flying insects such as damselflies.  They lure prey in with tasty globs of sweet mucus that line their leaves, but the globs are very sticky and trap insects that come too close.  Once the insect dies, usually from exhaustion or asphyxiation, the plant secretes digestive chemicals and absorb the nutrients through the leaves.  They’re adorable, yet surprisingly deadly.

Aren’t carnivorous plants fun?  I just love them!  And now that I know I can go see them any time I want without even leaving my state, I suspect I’ll find my way back to the swamp many times to see them again and again.  Nothing beats going out into the wild and seeing these things growing out there!  I was battling the last dregs of a cold and I found it very nearly unbearably warm the day we went, but I came away from the swamp happier than I’ve been for a long time.  Funny what nature can do for a person’s emotional state!

_______________

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: How Not to Take Firefly Photos

There’s a right way to take photos of firefly flashes in the dark.  This is not it:

bad fireflies

World’s worst firefly photo?

Apparently iPhones just aren’t capable of taking night photos.  Look at that one tiny little yellow streak up there!  Sorta sad and lonely on an otherwise lovely, firefly filled night.

_______________

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

New June Bugs

I wrote about June bugs about a year ago and discussed how everyone has their own idea of what makes a June bug based on where they first learned about them.  I got a lot of responses to that post, people sharing what a June bug is to them, and I loved it!  One person even told me that their June bug was red, something completely new.  My June bug has always been a metallic green beetle, Cotinis mutabilis.  I learned that from my dad, who happened to grow up about 2 hours east of where I live now.  When he moved to the west, he latched on to the thing that most closely resembled the June bug from his childhood and taught it to my sister and me.  When I hear the words “June bug,” I automatically think of that gorgeous metallic green beetle I grew up loving.  Anywhere those beetles live will always feel like home.

Now I find myself in a new place with new bugs – and a new June beetle!  Meet Cotinis nitida, the green June beetle:

Cotinis nitida5

Green June beetle, Cotinis nitida

Moving cross-country meant I had to trade in my childhood June bug for this one.  However, it’s darned close to what I grew up with.  Both beetles are silky, smooth green on top and brilliant metallic green with bronze highlights on the bottom:

Green June beetle, Cotinis nitida

Green June beetle, Cotinis nitida

In fact, this beetle is so similar to the June bug I grew up with I might have mistaken it for the exact same beetle if I didn’t know better.  My western June beetle and this eastern one are quite closely related, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was an area where they hybridized somewhere between their ranges.  There are some subtle differences though.  One is the color on the back.  Though there is a lot of variation in the colors of the elytra (those hardened upper wings characteristic of beetles) on the eastern species, they tend to be a bit more bronze than the western beetles:

Green June beetle, Cotinis nitida

Green June beetle, Cotinis nitida

They also have little pale patches on their rumps, though these apparently vary in size quite a bit as well:

Green June beetle, Cotinis nitida

Green June beetle, Cotinis nitida

C. mutabilis in the west tends to be mostly to all green on top, lacks the pale rump, and has a slightly longer “horn” protruding off the front of the head.  Otherwise, they’re quite similar in size and shape.

One thing that seems very different to me about this new June bug is the huge number that are out at one time.  There were a few June bugs out when I arrived in North Carolina, about the same number that I was used to seeing in Arizona.  You’d see one or two a day, lazily flying about in the hot, humid air.  Then one day they were everywhere!  I’ve seen thousands and thousands of these beetles flying over the grasses where I work and around the grounds at my apartment complex.  It was like they appeared out of nowhere!  And there were so many of them the even form these little swarms around a lot of trees:

It’s possible that the June bugs in Arizona exploded onto the scene like this too, but I never saw it, and I lived in Arizona for 20 years altogether.  It was pretty amazing to see so many of these beetles flying at once, and they’re still at it!  I have no idea how long to expect them to continue, but I almost always find them swarming around the trees at work.  It’s fantastic!

So, new home = new June beetles.  I couldn’t be happier with either!

_______________

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

Swarm Sunday – 7/15/2012 – 7/21/2012

Dragonfly Swarm Project logoIn the past few years, this has been about the time of year when I started seeing a jump in the swarming activity around the US and started getting more than 3-5 reports a week.  Clearly, something else is happening this year.  Look how many swarms were reported!

USA:

Apache Junction, AZ
Bentonville, AR
Rogers, AR
Yellville, AR
North Highlands, CA
Estes Park, CO
Glastonbury, CT
Ledyard, CT
West Haven, CT
Winter Springs, FL
Alton, IL
Cedar Lake, IN
Benton, KY
Ft. Mitchell, KY
Catonsville, MD
Severn, MD (2 reports)
Upper Marlboro, MD
Somerset, MA
Plymouth, MN
Fairdealing, MO
Mansfield, MO
Franklin Lakes, NJ
Hillsborough, NJ
Keyport, NJ
Marlton, NJ
Middletown, NJ
New Providence, NJ
Old Bridge, NJ
Toms River, NJ
Johnsburg, NY
Long Island, NY
Manorville, NY
West Haverstraw, NY
Raleigh, NC
Rocky Mount, NC
Cincinnati, OH
Streetsboro, OH
Westerville, OH
Bethlehem, PA
Boothwyn, PA
Dillsburg, PA
Harleysville, PA
Kutztown, PA
Media, PA (2 reports)
Morrisville, PA
Perkasie, PA
Philadelphia, PA
Radnor, PA
West Chester, PA
Jamestown, RI
Nashville, TN
Houston, TX (3 reports)
Katy, TX
Kingwood, TX
New Braunfels, TX
San Antonio, TX (2 reports)
Spring, TX
Saluda, VA
Tappahannock, VA
Topping, VA
Urbanna, VA
Virginia Beach, VA

Canada:

Red Deer, AL
Strasbourg, SK

Wow!  That’s a lot of swarms!  Most of the activity is currently centered over the New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania area and Texas this week, though the southeastern US is still seeing a lot of activity.  Considering that this is the third week of long lists of reports like this too, I think it’s safe to say that the swarming season started earlier this year.

I suspect the early flurry of activity is a result of the mild winter last year.  Unusually warm winters were reported throughout many parts of the US and there were strange weather patterns occurring into the spring.  Many areas didn’t get the typical heavy snows or frosts, even in the northern regions of the continent, and then warmed up earlier in the spring.  A lot of aquatic insects depend on water temperature to let them know that spring has arrived and that it is time to complete their transformation into adults, so warm water in an atypical time of year can result in huge emergences of species before their usual time (sometimes with disastrous consequences).  I think the mild winter and early spring warming both contributed to the early swarming activity we’ve seen this summer, though I’ll have to collect data for a few more seasons to be sure.

Whatever the reason, I’m thrilled by all the dragonflies!  I even got to see another swarm last weekend.  It was made up of 6 different species, including one that isn’t typically reported in swarms (the widow skimmer, Libellula luctuosa).  That brings the total number of swarms I’ve personally seen up to 4 now, and I hope I’ll get to see many more!

_______________

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

_______________

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!

_______________

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

_______________

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

Friday 5: From the Garden

I am in love with the native plant garden at work.  It’s full of beautiful flowers, and those flowers attract a lot of insects, so it’s a fantastic place!  I haul my camera out there and photograph insects sometimes when I have a little downtime and I’ve been surprised by the diversity of insects I’ve come across.  Here are a few of my favorite insects I’ve found out there so far:

Thick Headed Fly

Wasp Mimic

Wasp mimic fly. Family Conopidae, genus Physocephala

This fly is an amazing wasp mimic!  I honestly thought I was photographing a wasp and it wasn’t until I looked at the photo later and noticed that it didn’t have hind wings and had those little knobby structures (the halteres) instead, that I realized it was a fly.  What a beautiful insect!

Bumblebee

Bumblebee on Milkweed

Bumblebee on milkweed

Most people probably don’t get as excited about bumblebees as I do, but I have always loved them.  In fact, when I started grad school I wanted to work with one of two insects: dragonflies or bumblebees.  I didn’t end up working on either, but that didn’t diminish my love for bumblebees one bit.  It’s so nice to be back in a place where I can see them regularly!  There are tons of bumblebees flying around the garden and if I didn’t have a million other things to do at work I could spend hours and hours watching them buzz about the flowers.

Tumbling Flower Beetle

Tumbling Flower Beetle

Tumbling flower beetle

I’d never seen one of these beetles before I came across this one!  I love the little torpedo shape.  They strike me as particularly cute for some reason.  I know hardly anything about these beetles, but I intend to fix that sorry state of affairs as soon as I have a few spare minutes to delve into some literature.

Pipevine Swallowtail Butterflies

Pipevine swallowtail caterpillars

Pipevine swallowtail caterpillars

We had these in Arizona and I even knew exactly where I could find them on my campus, but I never quite seemed to make it over there to look for them.  Luckily, we have a woolly pipevine in the garden at work and the swallowtails have been going to town on it.  There are quite a few larvae happily munching away out there, and lots of adults flying about too.  As many of you know, I’m not all that fond of butterflies in general, but there’s something about a beautiful black butterfly that’s irresistible and the velvety texture of the larvae is wonderful.

Delta Flower Beetle

Delta Flower Beetle

Delta flower beetle

I was beyond excited when I saw this beetle!  Those colors make this one of the most beautiful beetles I’ve ever seen and, unfortunately, this is the one and only shot I got of this beetle before it flew away.  I was so happy it was even halfway in focus considering I had about 5 seconds to pull my camera out and get the shot before it flew off.  I really hope I get to see more of these.  What a stunning insect!

Clearly I’m still loving my new job and my new city.  Hope you’re all enjoying exploring my new area with me!

_______________

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