Friday 5: Dragonfly Grins

Warning: this is going to be about the least scientific post I’ve ever written.  I am about to commit behavioral entomological blasphemy and attribute human traits to insects.  Just wanted to give you a head’s up so you know what you’re getting yourself into if you choose to read this post.  :)

<commence anthropomorphization>

Have you ever taken a good, close look at a dragonfly’s head?  Ever notice how they almost always look like they’re smiling?  I know I’m going to ruin dragonflies forever for you all by posting this, but I took a photo of a nymph yesterday and was struck by how happy it looked.  It got me thinking of the other photos I’ve taken of dragonflies and after looking back through my collection, I’ve noticed a trend.  Today I give you five photographs of dragonflies that look like they have huge grins on their faces, just because I felt the need to share this revelation of smiling dragonflies with the world.

Exhibit A: Comet Darner Female

Comet darner

Comet darner

This gorgeous gal was captured in a mist net by the ornithology group at the Museum a while back.  They trap birds with the nets at Prairie Ridge every other week or so to band and track the birds on the grounds.  Someone found this beauty in the net and brought her for me to see.  Look at that big smiley face!  She might be a cold-blooded killer (pun intended!), but she looks so pleased with herself.  She almost looks like she’s grinning at you.  Or maybe she knows something you don’t know.  Perhaps that she’s going to try to bite you on the leg in a moment…  (Happily, she got my pants instead!)

Exhibit B: Flame Skimmer

flame skimmer

Flame skimmer

This is one of my all time favorite dragonfly photos I’ve taken.  But look at his face!  There’s that big ol’ dragonfly grin.  But that grin doesn’t even come close to this one:

Exhibit C: Green Darner

Green darner

Green darner

When you look at dragonflies head on, they definitely look like they’re smiling! Does this darner not look absolutely thrilled that I’m holding him?  It’s like he was asking for me to capture him in a net and take photos of him.  Like his comet darner relative, there’s always a chance he was smiling because he was daydreaming about the day he could take revenge against me for interrupting his day of eating and looking for girls to hook up with.  Those activities are important to these guys, and I had to go and ruin his day by insisting he pose for photos…

The smiles aren’t just a trait of the adults either!  Check out this nymph:

Exhibit D: Green Darner Nymph

Green darner nymph

Green darner nymph

This nymph is giving you a more bashful, sideways sort of grin, glancing at you out of the corner of its eye.  Hard to believe that an insect with that sort of adorable face could be a mass murderer of insects, but then it’s never the ones you expect…

And finally…

Exhibit E: Saddlebags Nymph

Saddlebag nymph

Saddlebag nymph

This one looks happier than a kid on pixie sticks! Just look at that smile.  He (or she) is positively grinning from ear to ear!  Nevermind that that grin is made up of the grabby parts of the dragonfly mouthparts or that you can see the sharp, chewy bits underneath.  This smile probably strikes fear into the hearts of many insects, small fish, and tadpole – and might be the last thing many of them will ever see!

So there you have it, folks.  Smiling dragonflies.  Who knew?  I think this might be part of the reason people are under the impression that dragonflies are “cute” or “girly” insects, why I see them so often on jewelry and silk scarves and purses.  They look all cute and happy!  But these insects are fierce predators. They will happily eat other dragonflies and damselflies if given the chance, along with anything else they can catch and hold onto long enough to eat.  A dragonfly was once recorded taking down a hummingbird – a BIRD!  They’re vicious, voracious little hunters, not the little flimsy, fairy-like things so many people seem to think they are.  And maybe that’s why they’re smiling.  They know they’re completely bad a** – and they don’t care who knows it!

<end anthropomorphization>

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

 

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Happy Turkey Day!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  Have some turkey:

Turkeys

Wild turkeys, Cataloochee Valley,. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I know it’s not a great photo – those turkeys will really far away from where I was and I didn’t have a tripod – but you get the idea.  :)

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Summery

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve been cold lately!  It’s been chilly here, so today I thought I’d share an image that I took when the weather was warmer to make myself feel better about the cold:

Delta flower scarab, Trigonopeltastes delta

Delta flower scarab, Trigonopeltastes delta

That’s a delta flower scarab on the flower of a rattlesnake master plant.  These are, I think, my favorite beetles in North Carolina.  Granted, I haven’t done a whole lot of blacklighting yet, nor have I come across any of the eastern Hercules beetles in the wild, but I think these beetles are marvelous.  They also scream “summer!” to me!  Ahh, that was a lovely warm summer day.  Is it bad that I already miss summer when the winter hasn’t even begun?

In case any of you are interested, I wrote a blog post yesterday about aquatic insects and how they can remain active even in cold weather.  It’s up on the blog for my museum. Please feel free to check it out!

Hope everyone stays warm – and happy Thanksgiving to all of you ‘Mericans out there!

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Bad Ladybugs

I went to the American Museum of Natural History on my recent trip to New York City.  It was an amazing museum, but it was also the source of a lot of stress.  I wanted to remember something I saw in the gift shop right before we left, so I snapped a photo of it.  Then I set my camera down.  Then I walked off.  I didn’t realize until a good 3 or 4 hours later that I left the camera behind.  I was horrified!  I NEVER set my camera down like that, and that particular camera had been my dad’s, i.e. irreplaceable.  I called and left a message with the lost and found office that included a description of the camera itself and the photos, that they started with a bunch of ladybug photos and ended with a bunch of museum photos.  I didn’t get a call back, but the next day I decided to pop in and see if they’d found it, just in case.  After a very long wait in the lost and found area, two security guards walked down to the desk with a couple of cameras and asked me to describe mine.  I gave them the same description that I had left in my message, including the photos that were on the camera.  The security guards laughed heartily and one said, “Oh!  You’re the LADYBUG lady!  You called yesterday.”  They giggled a little as he pulled the camera out of the bag and held it up for me to see.  Then he leaned over the counter as he handed the camera to me and said, “You know, those ladybug photos aren’t too good.”  I laughed and told them why I had a hundred crap photos of ladybugs on my camera while I signed their paperwork.  At any other time, I might have been a little offended, but I was so happy to have my camera back I didn’t care that they were laughing at me and my bad ladybug photos.  So, I give you a photo of a ladybug that isn’t too good, one of the ones that got me my camera back after leaving it in a very crowded museum in New York City:

Bad ladybug photo

Bad ladybug

Thank you bad ladybugs!

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

Friday 5: Recent Bugs

Well, it’s starting to get cold in Raleigh.  Earlier this week, I was the last person in the office when I heard what sounded like freezing rain hitting the window.  As I looked out the window, a few snowflakes started to fall.  I had planned to stay and finish something I was working on, but I know how people in Raleigh get when there’s even a hint of snow (i.e., they freak), so I dashed out to my car to try to beat the traffic the “snow” would cause.  No such luck!  My 20 minute drive home took well over an hour, just because it was dark and everyone was panicking about the “snow.”  But I digress!  Apart from the tiny flurry of snow, the cooler weather also means that the area’s insect population has started to dwindle.  I’ve started to see ladybugs moving into the office again (a sure sign of winter!) and fewer and fewer insects can be seen outside.  But, I still have a good store of insect shots I haven’t shared with you all yet!  Here are a few of my recent insect photos:

Ladybugs

Ladybug boxes

Ladybug boxes

I mentioned last week that we recently opened a play area at the field station where I work as a way to draw in more families with young children and connect the young’uns to nature.  The grand opening was a major affair.  As part of the event, I led a ladybug hunt and took about 25 kids, plus their parents, out into the prairie to collect ladybugs.  They came back with about 70 ladybugs after just 10 minutes of searching!  We were collecting data for the Lost Ladybug Project, so after the hunt I photographed the ladybugs we found.  It took ages!  The ladybugs run all over the place, so you have to chase them around with the camera, panning as they run, and snap a half-dozen photos of every ladybug, hoping that at least one shot is clear enough to see the spot pattern.  It’s a grand photographic adventure!  Much easier to take a shot of half of the ladybugs still in their boxes.  :)

Florida Predatory Stink Bug Eating Cricket

Stink bug eating cricket

Florida predatory stink bug (Euthyrhynchus floridanus) eating cricket

I’ve always wanted to see one of these stink bugs!  I had someone call me over to ask a question one day at work and I happened to catch this bug’s movement out of the corner of my eye as I walked past.  Happily, I had been out to photograph something else and had my camera in hand, so I just climbed right into the bush and snapped a bunch of shots after I answered the question.  What a gorgeous  bug!  I can’t resist a good predatory bug.  Look how the cricket is impaled on the flaming orange mouthparts!  Gruesome, but kinda awesome too.

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Pupating

Black swallowtail caterpillar pupating

Black swallowtail caterpillar pupating

One of my coworkers is the official educator for the field station where we work and occasionally catches caterpillars to show the kids she teaches.  This black swallowtail caterpillar was only in the cage one day, but it was ready to pupate.  I took this shot right when it had started to form the silk pad that would anchor it to the wall.  It’s hard to move them once they’ve started pupating, so I suspect it will remain in the box until spring.  Maybe I’ll be able to get a few shots of it emerging too!

Green Darner on Big Leaf Magnolia

Darner on big leaf magnolia

Darner on big leaf magnolia

I was walking down a trail when this dragonfly swooped right in front of my face and landed on a tree just a few feet away to roost for the night.  What luck!  I took advantage of the cool weather to get in close with my point and shoot and snap a few shots.  I was able to get within inches of this dragonfly and probably took 50 shots without it moving a bit.  So exciting!

Swallowtail Chrysalis

Swallowtail chrysalis

Swallowtail chrysalis

I went on a work trip to the Smokies a few weeks ago, and one of my favorite parts was a lichen citizen science activity we did with a couple of the education rangers at Great Smokies National Park.  I really love lichens, so I was thrilled to have an excuse to take a really close look at lichens on a tree.  However, the best part of the activity for me was not the lichens themselves, much to my surprise. Instead, the lichen activity had caused people to take a good, close look at the trees, which meant that suddenly they were seeing all sorts of tiny things they never would have noticed otherwise.   I was called over shortly before we discussed our lichen monitoring results because one of the other groups had found a really cool spider lurking in their lichens and wondered if I knew what it was. I didn’t, but we snapped some photos and oohed and awwed over the it until another group called me over to look an insect they’d found, a caterpillar that had been severely parasitized.  Snapped a few photos of that and was about to walk back to my group when someone found the chrysalis in the photo.  Suddenly everyone started seeing insects!  We found a rainbow-colored stink bug nymph, some more chrysalids, cool flies, more spiders.  It was awesome!  The trip leaders had to sort of drag everyone away after we were done or we probably would have spent the next hour looking at cool, tiny things on trees.

So those are a few of my recent insects, but I suspect their numbers will dwindle even to almost nothing in the next few weeks.  Sigh…  Anyone else out there still getting to see insects?  Would love to live vicariously through your insect encounters, so tell me about them!

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Late

A couple of weekends ago, I was leading a program at work on how to use nature photos to contribute to citizen science projects.  As part of the program, we head out onto the grounds of the field station to look for interesting things to photograph.  We were just about to finish up by breezing through the native plant garden when I noticed this:

Monarch on aromatic aster

Monarch on aromatic aster

I started jumping up and down, saying, “A monarch!  A monarch!” and pointing like an idiot.  I snapped one quick shot, then sacrificed my position to let my “students” get in close.  Everyone lunged in, and a few people got some really decent shots of the butterfly.  She unfortunately flew off before I had a second go with my camera.  However, even if I didn’t get a really good shot of her, I was still thrilled to see her.  Monarch numbers are WAY down in many places this year, and it was great to see one more so late in the year.  November 2!  Couldn’t have been happier to see her!

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

Friday 5: In the Stream

Hey everyone!  Took me a bit longer to get back on track after my recent travels and some very busy time at work, but I’m getting a Friday 5 up today.  Woo!  Feeling good about that.

I spent a big chunk of today working with various volunteers to collect data around the field station.  We tracked one of our box turtles this morning, and then I had a quick lunch before one of my school groups came out for their regular data collection.  The group I was working with today is a really excellent group of high schoolers from a nearby charter school.  They’re incredibly smart (they know it, but they’re really down to earth too) and they are all excited about learning.  They come every three weeks after school with their biology teacher to work with me as part of a research club they’ve developed at their school.  That’s right: these young men and women are coming to do science for fun on their own time, just because they want to learn something.  How can you resist loving a group like that?!

We have examined the stream to try to understand why there are so few insects living in what seems to be lovely water.  I’ve mentioned in a past blog post that I think flooding is to blame in this particular case, but my high schoolers are helping me monitor the stream as we try to solve the mystery of the missing bugs together.  They actually did a lot of the prep work for the project and have developed their own protocols and methods for the sampling they do.  I think it’s awesome, so let me take you through today’s visit so you can learn about what they’re doing!  First, we measured several water quality parameters:

Measuring water

Measuring the water

We’re using Vernier probes for this.  Someday I’d love to get a grant to buy a Hydrolab or some other swanky probe so we can measure all the water quality parameters at one time rather than plugging and unplugging every probe to get the readings, but for now it’s a long, involved process to get the data recorded.  We’re looking at temperature, dissolved oxygen, flow, salinity, nitrate, conductivity, turbidity, and pH.  Then we collect an insect sample from the stream.  I sadly didn’t get a photo of this part of the process, but they lay down what is essentially a quadrat (a plastic frame they built themselves) in the stream, hold a net at the end, and shake the hell out of the materials inside the quadrat to wash any insects into the net.  It’s a sort of MacGuyvered serber sampler.  Works pretty well!

Once we have a sample in the net, we sort the insects from the rest of the crud that ends up in the net with the insects:

Picking bugs

Picking bugs

Picking is a pretty easy process.  You just dump the sample into a white dish pan and remove any bugs you find.  We transfer any bugs we find into a super fancy sorting tray:

Sorting tray

Sorting tray

Okay, okay, so our sorting trays are ice-cube trays.  They work well!  At this point, all the insects are still alive, swimming around in the water.  Everyone watches them moving around and makes comments about what they think they might be doing.  However, because we can’t identify them down to a useful level at the stream, we preserve the bugs in alcohol and the group takes their samples back to school with them.  We’re planning a sorting/identification date so we can identify our insects to family and genus, and then all the data will go into a database.  At some point, we’ll tackle the data analysis and see what sorts of water parameters might be leading to the lack of insects in the stream.  Over the 3-4 years we’re planning to keep this project going, we’ll also be able to see seasonal patterns in the life histories of several of the insects and will document the aquatic insects living in the Prairie Ridge stream in a systematic way for the first time.

While I know the group enjoys the data collection part of the experience, we typically take the scenic route back to the top of the hill, wandering slowly about the grounds.  We’ve sampled grapes and persimmons.  We’ve watched birds and looked at plants. We go exploring up and down the stream.  A couple of trips ago, the group found an enormous cow femur in one of the pools upstream of their sampling area, and that was absolutely thrilling to them!  This time we wandered down to look at the pool where the damselfly nymphs live, and it had some lovely reflections:

Roots

Roots at the stream

And just because they hadn’t done it yet, today we wandered into the Nature PlaySpace, a nature-based play area we recently built for families with young kids to help get everyone out in nature.  I’ve got to say that it was really entertaining to see high schoolers running all over the play area like maniacs, sliding down the slide, and climbing up the center of the mole hill:

Mole hill

Mole hill.  The port with the ladder comes out of the center of the hill.

Five of them packed into the opening at the top of the mole hill at one point and had their teacher take a picture of them.  They all giggled the whole time!

All in all, a pretty good day!  A little chilly, but I spent a lot of time in the water, and that’s always good.  Add a bunch of enthusiastic volunteers into the mix and it’s even better!

Hope everyone has a good weekend, and to my American readers, have a great LONG weekend!

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