Friday 5: Capitol Ladybugs

Last Friday I shared my experience at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History’s butterfly house with you all.  After a delightful end-of-the-day 45 minute session in the NMNH 3D IMAX theater, where we were able to both sit down long enough to rest our very tired legs and watch the movie Flight of the Butterflies about the monarch migration, we were quickly shuffled outside by the guards who were eager to close down the building for the night.  On the way back toward the Metro station, we walked through the Smithsonian’s pollinator garden.  I didn’t see very many butterflies, flies, or bees, but I did see some beetles.  In particular, I saw one type of beetle: ladybugs.  There were ladybugs everywhere!  And there weren’t the kind of ladybugs I was hoping to see either.  There were all Asian multicolored ladybeetles, Harmonia axyridis, an invasive species that was imported from (big surprise) Asia.  In case you missed it, these ladybugs have been featured heavily in the news recently, thanks to a report in Science that suggests that H. axyridis carries a pathogen that actively kills other ladybugs in areas where they become established.  The study looked especially at how the Asian multicolors could quickly kill the seven spot ladybug (Cocinella septempunctata), which I think is interesting largely because the seven spots and Asian multicolors are far and away the most abundant ladybug species I’ve seen in the Triangle Area in North Carolina.  It will be interesting to see if Harmonia will eventually become the dominant non-native species in the area over time if they really are capable of killing their seven spotted relatives.

But back to those Asian multicolors in D.C.!  I took several photos of adult beetles (and I’ll just warn you now: my eyes were completely worn out by the time I took there, so they’re all just slightly out of focus), which I intend to submit to the Lost Ladybug Project over the next few days so I can document my finds.  This one has a lot of big, bold spots:

Asian multicolored ladybeetle adult (Harmonia axyridis)

Asian multicolored ladybeetle adult (Harmonia axyridis)

Asian multicolored ladybeetles get this particular common name (they’ve got others) from their enormous variation in colors and patterns.  You can’t simply rely on spots or colors to indicate that they’re H. axyridis.  See, this one is the same species:

Asian multicolored ladybeetle adult (Harmonia axyridis)

Asian multicolored ladybeetle adult (Harmonia axyridis)

Completely different spot patterns.  Still, there are similarities between these two individuals, especially their very round shapes and the pattern on the front of the thorax.  Not all Asian multicolors have this pattern, but these two individuals had something very similar to this:

Asian multicolored ladybeetle adult (Harmonia axyridis)

Asian multicolored ladybeetle adult (Harmonia axyridis)

If you see a pattern and shape like that, you’re most likely looking at an Asian multicolor.  And did you happen to notice the tasty ladybug snacks lurking on the leaves at the right of the image?  That’s practically a ladybug buffet!

I found three of the four life stages all mixed together on the same plants.  You’ve seen the adults, but now I give you a larva:

Asian multicolored ladybeetle larva (Harmonia axyridis)

Asian multicolored ladybeetle larva (Harmonia axyridis)

When I do my ladybug hunts at work, it is really fun to see the look on the faces of the participants when I hold up the first ladybug larva I find.  By and large my attendees are absolutely shocked that an immature ladybug looks nothing like an adult.  And how cool are ladybug larvae?  They look like bizarre aliens from another world, though perhaps not so much so as the pupae:

Asian multicolored ladybeetle pupa (Harmonia axyridis)

Asian multicolored ladybeetle pupa (Harmonia axyridis)

Now that is one strange looking animal.  Look at all those crazy spikes at the base!  And apparently, a little plague carrying ladybug will eventually crawl out of that pupa and wreak havoc on the local ladybug species…

While it makes total sense that I would find an invasive ladybug species in the heart of an incredibly urbanized area, I was disappointed to see nothing but Harmonia axyridis in the Smithsonian pollinator garden.  I’m sure I am far from the most patriotic person in the U.S., but when you’re in D.C. and on the Mall and taking in the spectacle of all that pure, unadulterated Americaness, it somehow  seems wrong to look at the plants in the garden and see nothing but imported ladybug species.  I wanted some good ol’ ‘Merican ladybugs, gosh darn it!  It makes me a little sad to think that out of the 400 or so ladybugs I’ve photographed over the last few months, I’ve gotten photos of 5 native ladybugs. FIVE!  That’s just terrible.  And those ladybugs up there, cute and aphid-hungry as they are, might be one source of all that terribleness.

And just so I’m not ending this post on a total downer, next Friday I’m bringing you back to North Carolina, where the holly bushes have been blooming.  The insects on the holly flowers: spectacular.  Look for some examples next week!

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: First Dragonfly Photo of the Year

Well, this is it: my first dragonfly photo of the year.  I’ve seen loads of dragonflies, but I am often busy teaching when I am at the pond and never seem to have a chance to get photos.  I got this shot one day when the system locked me out of my computer at work and I needed to kill some time while I waited for it to be unlocked.  Took it with the entirely wrong kind of camera too, but it turned out alright.  I give you the common whitetail:

Plathemis lydia

Common whitetail, Plathemis lydia

This is, as the name suggests, a truly common species in the US.  We have dozens of males flying around the pond each day while many females stalk prey on the prairie.  But, they are spectacular!  They might be common as dirt, but how can anyone tire of seeing something that beautiful?

Speaking of dragonflies, I got some fun photos over the weekend that I’m eager to share.  Look for them soon!

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

Friday 5: Dreamy Butterflies

I’m back online!!!  My husband and I went on a short vacation this week too, but we got a new cable modem and router when we got home and we’re back to our regular virtual lives.  And, since I first had problems getting photos uploaded from my memory cards to my computer and then had the internet connection issues, I’ve got a huge backlog of photos to share!  First up, I’m going to share 5 photos from my recent mini-vacation.  But first, a little story.

When I was in high school, my sister and I did a National History Day project together, a video about a railroad war in Colorado.  In the end we made it to Nationals in Washington D.C. and went with a group of other students from my high school to compete and sight see in the nation’s capitol.  It was the first time my sis and I had ever been east of Arkansas or to a truly big city, so we were fascinated by everything.  We especially loved our trip to the Smithsonian.  Unlike most of the rest of the people in our group, we didn’t want to spend our precious 4 hours at the Smithsonian in the Museum of History, so we ditched our group and headed to the National Museum of Natural History instead.  However, we had so little time there that we had to rush through most of the exhibits and we missed several of them entirely.  I have always wanted  to go back to D. C. and do things on my own schedule, largely so I could see the rest of that fabulous museum.

When my husband and I had 3 days of vacation together and he suggested we go to D.C., I readily accepted.  This time, I got to spend almost the entire day in the Museum of Natural History!  We still didn’t see all of it, but I saw the things I most wanted to.  The insect zoo was largely as I remembered it, except now they have a butterfly house too.  My husband, being the terribly good sport that he is (he’s scared of insects), handed over the $12 necessary for us to see the butterfly exhibit and in we went!  We spent over a half hour in the exhibit and I shot a good 300 butterfly photos.  However, I didn’t have my flashes with me, so I had to rely entirely on the lighting in the room.  That meant that the lighting is really wonky on a lot of the photos I took, but some of them look positively dreamy.  Here are my five favorites in the latter category:

Buckeye  Lemon Pansy

Buckeye

Lemon pansy

Thanks to Katie at Nature ID for pointing out that this butterfly is NOT in fact a buckeye!  I didn’t think it looked quite right because it was missing the second eyespot on the hind wing, but I assumed that the signage in the exhibit was up to date and accurately reflected the butterflies flying the day I was there. That was not the case, but Katie hunted down an ID for me: lemon pansy.  Thanks Katie!  What I wrote before is completely inaccurate, so now there’s no story associated with this butterfly apart from this: I thought it was pretty, so I took a photo.  Do I really need to say more?  :)

This is a local, American butterfly, but they have always held a special place in my heart.  Until I moved to North Carolina and started seeing them often, these were a really rare find for me.  My one and only buckeye has always been my most prized butterfly in my collection.  It was great to see them featured at the Smithsonian!

Monarch

Monarch

Monarch

An American species, but this butterfly is amazing!  I’m sure you all know about the migration of the monarchs, how they fly from Canada and the northern US south to Michoacan, Mexico every fall and hang out in truly astounding numbers on just a few mountain tops.  Seeing the monarchs overwintering is on my life to do list, and I fully expect it to be one of the most amazing things I will ever see in my lifetime.  Plus, monarchs are just so darned pretty!

Julia Longwings

Julia Longwing

Julia longwing

And one more American butterfly species!  This one only barely makes it into the US on the very northern edge of its range, but it will occasionally make it as far north as Nebraska.  I have never seen one of these out in the wild, but I’ve rarely been to areas where I might expect to see them at the proper time of year. Maybe someday!  In the meantime, I go to a lot of butterfly houses and these are pretty common in both the tropical and the native butterfly exhibits.

Leopard Lacewing

Leopard Lacewing

Leopard lacewing

These gorgeous butterflies are native to southeastern Asia and feed on passionflower.  While our American monarchs are suffering a huge decline this year, the leopard lacewing range is actually expanding and they are becoming more abundant and common.  The caterpillars are fantastic, striped with black, yellow, and red and sporting long filaments.  The pupae look rather like bird poop.   You have to admire an insect that goes from a bright stripey wormy looking things to something that looks like bird crap to the spectacular butterfly you see above!

Paper Kite

Paper Kite

Paper kite

I know they’re just black and white, but I have always had a thing for white with bold, black markings.  I love these butterflies!  Like the leopard lacewings, the paper kites are native to southern Asia where they feed on a variety of dogbanes.  They’re very popular in butterfly houses, so I’ve seen these in nearly every tropical butterfly house I’ve ever been to.  The pupae make a spectacular addition to any butterfly exhibit as well: they’re metallic gold!  Just spectacular.

I am so thrilled that I got to go back to the National Museum of Natural History! And I am already planning all the exhibits I’ll make time for the next time we go. At least now I live a mere 4.5 hours from D.C., so I can make an easy, quick trip there on nearly any three-day weekend.  And speaking of three-day weekends, I hope all my American readers have a great Memorial Day!

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

Massive Internet Issues

Hello everyone!

My home internet connection has been having massive problems for over a week.  I haven’t been able to stay connected long enough to get photos uploaded or anything posted (took SEVERAL tries to get the Wednesday photo through last week…).  I’m going to try to get this up just so you know the deal-ee-o, so you know why I’ve seemingly dropped off the face of the Earth.   Meanwhile, I am working on getting our internet working here again ASAP!

Hope to have some pretty bugs to share with you soon!

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Eggs on Pipevine

In my post on Friday I mentioned that I got to see a pipevine swallowtail laying her eggs on the woolly pipevine at work.  Here’s proof!

Pipevine Swallowtail

Pipevine swallowtail, Battus philenor, laying eggs on woolly pipevine

I took this with a point and shoot camera, so you can imagine how close she let me get.  I was so thrilled to have the opportunity to see this!  Now I need to keep checking on the eggs so I can see what they look like when they first hatch.  Pipevine swallowtail caterpillars are one of the more interesting looking caterpillars I’ve seen, so I can’t wait to see the brand new ones, fresh out of the eggs!

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

Friday 5: Insects on Milkweed

I finally got Lightroom working on my computer again, so I’ve uploaded about three weeks worth of photos over the last few days.  Three weeks of photos in my first ever real spring is a LOT of photos!  But it also means that I have lots of photos I can choose from for Friday 5 this week.  I decided to go with 5 I took today.  I had gone out with my camera to photograph the dogwood trees for a piece I was writing about the trees for my work “blog,” but I went to look at the common milkweed to see if there was anything interesting monarch activity happening yet.  I didn’t find any monarch eggs or larvae, but I did find several other insects!  They included…

Earwigs

Earwigs

Earwigs

I have no idea what the earwigs are up to recently, but they are PACKED into the tips of nearly every milkweed plant at Prairie Ridge.  Lots and lots of them.  And they scatter when you start to peel the leaves back to photograph them.  Kinda creepy, but kinda cool too!

Ladybugs

Seven spotted ladybug

Seven-spotted ladybug, Coccinella septempunctata

This is one of the many, many, many non-native ladybugs that I’ve found at Prairie Ridge in the last few weeks.  There have to be thousands of these out there!  We found 103 of them during a program I did on Monday, and we only looked for 20 minutes…  The kids are always so shocked to learn that the majority of the ladybugs we have at our site are non-natives since it looks like such a great, natural place, but nope.  It’s non-native ladybug central!  Those 103 ladybugs we found?  Every single one was a seven-spotted ladybug, like the one you see in the photo above.  I can’t even begin to describe how many of these we’re finding, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: they may be non-native, but I still kinda like them anyway.  After all, how can you hold a grudge against a ladybug?!

Kudzu Bugs

Kudzu bug

Kudzu bug, Megacopta cribraria

Speaking of non-natives, the kudzu bugs are also visitors in our area, though these are quite unwelcome.  They’re a highly destructive pest species of several plants (including kudzu, which is also non-native and highly invasive – the only silver lining to having kudzu bugs in the US!) and are spreading across the southeastern US.  I saw hundreds of these today, all over the common milkweed, bronze fennel, and a few other plants.  One of my coworkers told me about a tree that is covered with them somewhere on the grounds and said it was almost too much to look at. She’s an entomologist too, so it must be spectacular if she said it was gross!  Of course, I really want to go see that tree now.  To me, looking at insect infestations is sort of equivalent to how many people can’t help but look at car accidents: you are morbidly fascinated, even if it makes your skin crawl.

Stink Bugs

Stink bug

Stink bug

I’m honestly not sure what kind of stink bug this is as it seemed awfully small for a brown marmorated stink bug (also a pest in the southeast – we’ve got a lot of problems like that!), but has a lot of the right markings…  Regardless, I thought this little guy was rather handsome.  I have a soft place in my heart reserved for the true bugs and think they’re adorable.  What can I say?

Flies

Long legged fly

Long-legged fly

There are long-legged flies all over the grounds at work recently!  I’ve seen hundreds of them myself, and that’s just in the upper parts of the ground that are easily accessible from my office.  These little guys are gorgeous though!  I caught this one in the shade, but in the sun they sport iridescent bronzes and greens and blues.  These flies are also predators of other small insects, which makes them so much more than just a pretty face.  :)

I saw several other fly species in the milkweed, as well as a wonderful treehopper that I wasn’t able to photograph before it got away.  Then a few minutes later I came across a pipevine swallowtail laying her eggs on the woolly pipevine and got to watch her as she carefully deposited her eggs on a tender young leaf stem.  I even saw a bunch of dragonflies and damselflies out over the grasses as I headed back to my office.  What a great way break from working on my computer!  I hope some of the rest of you get to take insect breaks now and then too.  :)

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

 

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Pests on Green Background

I’ve had massive problems getting photos uploaded from my camera’s memory card to my computer (think the card is on its last legs…), so I haven’t been able to do the last few posts I’ve wanted to do.  Hopefully I’ll get things working soon!  In the meantime, here are some aphids on a very green plant:

Aphids

Aphids

My part of North Carolina is unbelievably green right now!  It was looking bright and springy a couple of weeks ago, but then we got a few good rains and… wow!  It’s amazing.  Just amazing.  Even though aphids aren’t always the most exciting insects to look at, I can’t help but love the way they look against that amazing green.

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