Swarm Sunday – 7/7/2013 – 7/13/2013

Dragonfly Swarm Project logo

It’s Sunday, so it’s time once again for Swarm Sunday!  This week, dragonfly swarms were reported from the following locations:

USA:

Auburn, MA
Floral Park, NY
Lindenhurst, NY
Manhasset, NY
Austin, TX

Canada:

Russell, MB

And the map for this week:

Map of swarms reported 7/7/13 - 7/13/13

7/7/13 – 7/13/13

The red pins are static swarms and the blue pins are migratory swarms, and you can click on the image to make it larger.  The swarms are oddly spread out so far this year, rather than occurring in clumps the way they normally do.  Honestly, I don’t know why, though many the reports coming in have reported severe storms or rains after several weeks of very hot, dry weather.  It wouldn’t surprise me if these weather events were involved in the swarming activity.  There has been really strange weather in a lot of places this year and it will be interesting to see if the dragonfly swarming we see will reflect the odd weather.  For example, here in Raleigh we’ve had endless rain, flooding, and heavy winds.  Coincidentally, there are also conspicuous species missing from our pond.  We have had very few green darners when we had dozens a year ago and I have only seen one of the gliders so far.  I wonder if the abnormally rainy, cool weather has interfered with either the northward migration or the emergence of local nymphs from the water.  If so, it may impact the swarming we’ll see this year.  Interesting, very interesting!

That’s it for this week – short and sweet.  Keep looking for those swarms!

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

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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

The Power of Water Moving Downhill

A while back, I wrote about the microhabitats in the stream where I work and mentioned how the stream is missing some insects I would expect to see in this area.  Most significantly, it’s missing the swimmers.  I haven’t seen a single swimmer in the creek, and I’ve gone looking for insects dozens of times.  The absence of swimmers is curious.  To be missing things like the predaceous diving beetles and the water scavenger beetles…  Well, that just doesn’t happen!  That suggests that there is something happening in the stream that prevents those groups of insects from establishing themselves, and it presents a nice little puzzle to solve scientifically.  With the help of a group of high schoolers and a couple interns, I’ve been monitoring several characteristics of the creek.  The water quality isn’t bad, so it is unlikely to blame for the lack of swimmers.  However, there is another, more likely explanation: flooding.

The Prairie Ridge creek is small, but it drains a large part of the surrounding area.  Let’s take a look at a map for a moment:

Map of Prairie Ridge

A lot of the land to the right of or below Prairie Ridge (outlined in white) on the map drains into our creek.  Everything that is dirt in the center of the map is currently covered in either asphalt or buildings, neither of which absorbs water well.  So, every time it rains, the water runs downhill and ends up in our creek.  The result: we get a big pulse of water entering the creek with every rain event.  Small rain events cause a bump in the stream flow, just enough to make everything look muddy for a few hours, maybe overnight:

muddy creek

Muddy creek

Significant rain events, however, can cause the water to rise so quickly and the flow to blast downstream so hard that it carves new channels, rips banks down, pulls trees out by the roots, and washes it all downstream.  It’s impressive to watch the water in that creek during long and/or heavy rains!  It flows hard and very fast.

Now imagine a little beetle in the stream.  Heck, let’s imagine a big beetle, one of the Cybister predaceous diving beetles that are over an inch long and strong swimmers.  It’s there minding its business, swimming around a deep pool and hunting for food, when it starts to rain.  What do you think happens to that beetle when a huge pulse of water suddenly washes into the stream?  When there’s enough water to rip whole sections of the bank away?:

bank collapse

Bank collapse

The substrate of this stream is mostly sand and small cobbles with few larger rocks.  When it rains hard and you get a big pulse of water flowing downstream, that water picks up the lightweight substrates in the stream and washes them away.  That means that not only is there water flowing downstream very quickly and powerfully, but that it’s churning up sand and rocks as it goes.  Now think about that beetle again.  It’s not built to hold on during floods.  It’s got legs adapted for swimming, not clinging, and probably couldn’t hold on if it tried.  It’s left exposed, so down the stream it goes!  It may be carried miles downstream, assuming that it manages to escape being sandblasted by the churning, roiling mix of water and sand along the way.

We do find some insects in the creek, and they tell an important story.  There are caddisflies, tightly attached to the underside of heavy rocks.  Those rocks will move if the water is flowing hard enough, but for the most part they stay in place.  If you’re a small insect in a stream, living under one of those rocks is smart.  We also have calopterygid damselflies (the jewelwings) lurking in the root mass on the upper left side of this photo:

Prairie Ridge stream

Prairie Ridge stream, showing root mass

More of those roots are exposed every time a flood moves down the creek and the tree will likely fall over one day, but for now it provides a safe haven from floods for clinging insects like damselflies.  I imagine that they hold on for dear life in floods, hoping they won’t be swept downstream. 

We’ve found a few black fly larvae in our samples, insects that use silk to secure themselves to the tops of rocks.  In good black fly habitat, you might see thousands of them coating the rocks in huge mats.  Our stream is not good black fly habitat because we’ve only found a few black flies, but that’s not surprising.  Sitting on top of a rock, even a big, stable rock, isn’t necessarily the safest place to be in a flood.  Imagine standing on top of a house, or clinging to a tall tree, as a huge tornado is headed your way.  You can hold on as tightly as you can, but there’s still a good chance you’ll be knocked from your perch or mortally injured if something big hits you as the tornado engulfs you.

We find insects in the protected areas of the stream, but they are conspicuously absent from other areas.  The pooled areas are wholly devoid of insects, which leads to other interesting questions.  Are the insects colonizing the creek, only to be washed downstream in the first big rain?  Are they colonizing, then starving because there isn’t enough food available?  Or are they actively avoiding colonizing this creek altogether?  I hope someday I’ll be able to test these questions, but for now they’re merely interesting questions to ponder.

With the ease and speed with which the creek rises and falls, it’s little wonder that it’s missing a few groups of insects!  I’ll write about this project again when we have more concrete evidence to explain what’s happening in the stream, but for now I leave you with this thought: water moving downhill is an amazing, terrible, and awe-inspiring force of nature.  It carves canyons and carries with it the power of life and death.  There are few things water can’t move when there’s enough of it, so give it some respect!  You won’t be sorry you did.

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

Friday 5: Insects on My House

I am going to try not to bore you with endless photos I’ve taken with my new camera, but I feel like I want to share a few more this week.  I also don’t have a lot of time to get this blog post up, so it’s going to be photo heavy and text light tonight.  Sometimes that’s just the way life works – I have to work tomorrow!

A friend of mine recently asked about the macro twin light flash that I got for my new camera rig to see how I liked it.  It was just after I’d returned from California and I hadn’t actually had a chance to use it yet, but a request for information like that is the perfect excuse to practice with the new gear!  So, I switched on my porch light, waited a few hours, and headed out to snap a few photos.  I have white siding on my house, which provides this sort of white box-like effect that I enjoyed very much.  Here are a few of my favorites!

Click Beetle

Click beetle

Click beetle

Click beetles are fabulous beetles!  I’ve written about them before, so I’m not going to go into much detail here, but this was one of the smaller click beetles I’ve seen.  I thought it was rather cute!

A Bug

A bug

A bug

I’ll eventually get to attempting to ID this one (I haven’t ever claimed to be great at sight identification of terrestrial insects!), but for now I’m just calling it a bug because it’s a true bug.  Want to know what makes an insect a bug?  I’ve got a post for that!

Another Bug

Another bug

Another bug

Another unidentified bug!  Check out those crazy antennae.  Wow.  This is a beautiful bug, and I might not have noticed it at all if I hadn’t photographed it.  It was rather small and the details weren’t obvious to the naked eye.

Two Lined Spittlebug

Two lined spittle bug

Two lined spittle bug

These bugs are crazy common in Raleigh!  I see them everywhere in the summer.  I even had one hitch a ride into my house on my shirt the other day.  They’re awfully pretty, for bugs that spend part of their lives hiding in a foam that looks a whole lot like a bubbly loogie.

Scarab

scarab

Scarab

This beetle was hiding under the decorative trim around the front door.  There’s something about insects shot from this perspective, with the insect clinging to a substrate and peering at you from behind it, that I just love.  I know I shouldn’t anthropomorphize like this (bad Dragonfly Woman!), but they just look so friendly!  This beetle would likely be called a June bug by the people of the Midwest (and a few other regions of the US), one of the common brown scarabs you see so many of during the summer.

The trip out to my porch light confirmed two things for me.  First, there is a shocking diversity of insects that come to my regular old compact fluorescent bulb-lit porch!  I hadn’t actually spent much time photographing the insects out there since we moved into the house almost a year ago, but it’s pretty impressive.  Plus, it’s high time I start scaring the neighbors by lurking around my front door and bushes with a camera late at night!  Second, I am very fond of the Canon twin light flash.  I diffused both flashes with a piece of frosted mylar that I got at the last BugShot I attended, and that was all it took to produce some lovely light that filled in the shadows produced by the porch light nicely.

And with that, I think I might head out to snap a few more photos before I go to sleep!

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: New Toys!

I mentioned in the post I wrote just before my recent trip to California that I had gotten some new toys: new cameras.  Most excitingly, I have long coveted the Canon MP-E 65 lens, so I bought myself my first Canon DSLR!  I couldn’t be happier with that purchase.  I knew the lens would have a bit of a learning curve as it doesn’t have a focusing ring, but I LOVE the lens!  You’ll be seeing a lot more photos taken with that camera, I’m sure, but this is one of my favorites from my very first Canon DLSR shoot:

Green lynx spider

Green lynx spider

That’s a green lynx spider sitting on one of the black-eyed susans that’s awaiting planting in my native plant bed.  I can already tell that I am going to get a LOT of use out of my new toy.  :)

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

Swarm Sunday – 1/1/2013 – 7/6/2013

Dragonfly Swarm Project logo

Well, it’s that time of year again, the start of year 4 of my Dragonfly Swarm Project data collection!  Things have gotten a fairly slow start so far this year.  Swarms reported so far in 2013 include…

USA:

Smyrna, DE
Coral Springs, FL
St. Millis, MA
Arapahoe, NC
James City, NC
Otisfield, ME
Norfolk, VA
Brinnon, WA

Canada:

Alberta

Argentina:

Buenos Aires

Peru:

Lima

Canary Islands:

Punta Mujures, Lanzarote

Latvia

As you can see, swarms have occurred all over the world!  I think that’s exciting.  On the other hand, there haven’t been very many reports made yet.  It makes me wonder if people just haven’t been seeing as many this year so far (I haven’t seen any yet!) or fewer people are making reports this year.  It’s impossible to tell of course, but these are the kinds of things I like to ponder.  There have also been some really big storms along the east coast over the last few months, a lot of flooding, and those could be contributing to the slow start.

This year I’m going to include maps of the weekly North American swarms on Swarm Sunday.  Here’s the map for 2013 so far (click to make bigger):

swarms from 1/1/13 - 7/6/13

1/1/13 – 7/6/13

The red pins are static swarms and the blue pins are migratory swarms.  The map isn’t all that exciting yet, but you can see that all but one of the locations so far has been coastal.   I suspect that most activity reported thus far has been related to the dragonflies moving north for the season, their movements from wherever in South or Central America they overwinter to their summer hunting and breeding grounds in the US and Canada.  Hopefully, now that the dragonflies are well dispersed throughout their summer habitats, we’ll start to see more swarming soon!

Until next week!  And keep looking out for those swarms.  Every little bit of information helps!

_______________

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 (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

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

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.

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Silhouette

I took my camera out after work a few days ago to document the pipevine swallowtail caterpillars on the pipevine. It was a cloudy, rainy day (like most days recently), so I snapped one shot of a caterpillar against the clouds. I rather liked the way the insect is silhouetted against the white sky:

Pipevine swallowtail caterpillar, Battus philenor larva

Pipevine swallowtail caterpillar, Battus philenor larva

It was fun to get a white box style shot in nature, so I think I’m going to try to do some more of these!

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