Friday 5 (a day late): Insects on Holly

I never managed to get this finished when it was current, so everything in this post happened about a month ago now. But it was also just sitting there, one paragraph away from completion, so here goes!  Can’t let a nearly finished post go to waste!

The holly trees have bloomed in Raleigh and are now headed toward producing the lovely red berries they’re so well-known for. The bloom was spectacular! It wasn’t because the flowers were all that impressive as they’re small blooms that blend well with the foliage.  You can barely even tell a holly is in bloom looking at it. But, walk by one of the blooming trees and you know instantly. They positively hum with all the life that surrounds them! The flowers attract dozens of different pollinators, all eager to drink their fill of nectar, and I found some amazing things lurking among the leaves. Allow me to share a few of them with you.  We’ll start with…

Fly Number One

Fly on holly

Fly on holly

I’ve essentially given up trying to ID flies from photographs because I never look at them closely enough in life (bad habit!) nor collect enough specimens to feel confident in my identifications. It’s one of those things that’s been on my “Someday, when I have more time…” to do list for ages, but then I never seem to have more time. That said, I really want to say this is a member of the Bibionidae, the March flies.  Assuming I’m right about my fly’s ID, these are water-loving flies! You all know how much I enjoy insects that appreciate water.  :)

Fly Number Two

Fly on holly

Fly on holly

I was initially drawn to the particular holly bush where I found all the insects pictured here because I walked past it and caught this fly out of the corner of my eye.  I ran inside to get my camera, but by the time I got back it was gone.  I spent kept looking for another one because I liked the pattern on the wings so much.  Thankfully my persistence paid off! I only got the back of the fly in the photos that weren’t horribly blurry, but such is life sometimes.  At least you can see the gorgeous wings that drew me to this fly in the first place.  What a beauty!


Mantid on holly

Mantid on holly

There’s something about this mantid that I found especially adorable.  It wasn’t doing the normal mantid thing where it nervously skittered away the moment I brought the camera near it.  Instead, it just sat there on the leaf, boldly holding its ground as I stuck the camera right up in its face.  I imagine the blooming holly was a very, very good location for a little mantid nymph to set up shop, like an mantid all you can eat buffet of little prey insects.  I never did get to see it eat anything, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Maybe his sluggishness was due to overeating?

Longhorn Beetle

Longhorn beetle on holly

Longhorn beetle on holly

Who doesn’t love a good longhorn beetle? They look so elegant with their slender antennae that nearly double the length of their bodies.  This particular longhorn is in the Typocerus genus (likely T. zebra), a group of longhorns that feed on wood as larvae.  I’ll be honest though: I mostly snapped a photo of it because I thought it was pretty.  Sometimes you just have to admit these things to yourself.


Scorpionfly on holly

Scorpionfly on holly

I’ve made insect collections for four different classes at this point, two in Colorado and two in Arizona.  I have also taught classes that included insect collections as part of the requirements.  I can say with confidence that the insect in the photo up there is one of THE most coveted insects for entomology students in the southwest.  There are no scorpionflies in the southwest, so they are precious. You have to either go visit family or friends further east or have family/friends collect and send them to you if you want to have scorpionflies in your collection.  If you’re lucky enough to have extra specimens and are willing to trade them for other things, you can trade a scorpionfly for nearly anything else you might want because they’re “worth” more than most other insects in southwestern collections.  Imagine my delight when I learned that they’re a dime a dozen in North Carolina! I’ve seen loads of them at this point.  That said, I doubt that there will ever come a day where I don’t squeal with childish glee every time I see one because I’m always going to remember how I wanted one SO badly for my collection, but none of MY friends or relatives ever sent me one…

There were dozens of other species hiding in the holly while it was blooming, predators, nectar feeders, and insects that simply sought a place to rest for a moment or to seek shelter from the near constant wind.  The bush was absolutely crawling with insects!  I’m sure this image will be horrifying to some of you, but I thought it was marvelous.  What a sight!  Can’t wait to see it again next year.


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


19 thoughts on “Friday 5 (a day late): Insects on Holly

  1. Great pictures. Do you collect dead insects? I am having a hard time coming to terms with the advice that you need a collection if you want to ID and study bees. There are a lot you cannot ID from a photograph.

    • I will collect dead insects from time to time, yes. However, when I say you need to collect to get a really good ID on an insect, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to kill what you’ve collected! A lot of insect identification is based on tiny structural differences, and you need to be able to take a very close look at specific structures on some insects that you can’t see in photos or just by looking at them to be able to ID them with reasonable certainty. However, you can often look at those structures on live insects, and then simply release them back into the wild. For example, there are some dragonfly species that look so similar that you have to get them into your hands to be able to tell them apart. You can catch the dragonfly, look at the parts you need to see to get an ID, and then let it go without any harm coming to it. So, I don’t mean to imply that you either can’t use photos to ID insects (you can in many cases!) or that you have to capture and kill things to get the IDs, just that for some groups you’re relying on subtle, tiny differences and you have to get a good look at specific structures to ID them properly. Make sense?

      • It does make sense but if I want to look closer to differentiate some of the bee species it does involve some fiddily bits that you couldn’t do on live bees. The advantage of dragonflies is that they are big and I can imagine you having a good look then letting them go. It is a good point though, I have caught some bees and put them in the fridge for 20 minutes which keeps them quiet for a bit before I let them go.

        • You’re absolutely right about dragonflies – very easy to see most parts on them by just holding their wings back and getting up close! Bees… They’re a lot harder to do live for sure, plus there’s the whole stinging thing to consider. Cooling them down is a great idea, though I myself am not opposed to killing a few insects for good reasons. I know people who are, and I respect that choice, but I think that sometimes it’s more important to kill a few insects to get a good, solid ID than it is to leave them be, guess, and risk being wrong, you know?

    • That’s too bad! We recently lost one of the hollies to a wind storm, so we’re down one, but they’re looking pretty good. It’s really amazing how many different species you could find, even on that single bush! Reminded me of the creosote in the west, or desert broom, both crawling with insets when they bloomed.

      • I’m glad to hear that. I wanted to give you the recommendation so you know he’s a person of considerable accomplishment and not just some blogger who doesn’t want to do the work himself. Unfortunately, not everyone is worth spending one’s precious time to help out.

        Speaking of which, I found another neoscona spider, this one at the botanical gardens. It had the same distinctive markings as the one you helped me identify, but was half the size. Same type of huge web though.

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