Friday 5: All The Right Bugs in All the Right Places

I told you about my trip to Ireland a couple of days ago, and prepping for and going on that trip sucked up close to 4 weeks of blogging time.  Here’s what I’ve been up to since I got back from my trip!  There will be bugs, oh yes, there will be bugs.

LOTS of Work

Dragonfly swarm!

Dragonfly swarm!

I have had three days off in the month of September.  Total.  A lot of those abundant work days were long days too.  However, it’s also dragonfly migration season, so there has been a LOT of dragonfly swarm activity.  I still haven’t gotten what I’d consider a “good” photo of a swarm that really represents what you see when you come across one, but at least you can see 7 individuals easily in one shot in this photo.  Most of the dragonflies in these swarms have been common green darners, but some have been black saddlebags, wandering gliders, and the Carolina saddlebag makes an occasional appearance.  I’ve stayed at work late several nights this month watching dragonflies.  They are 100% worth staying late for!

My First Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

Spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

Spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

I took this photo with my phone and it’s really not great, but I was showing my intern around the field station where I work on her first day and wandered over to the spicebush in the off-chance that I was going to see a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar on it for the first time ever.  My intern is doing a project focused on pollinator gardens this semester, so I was familiarizing her with the garden plants, and I always feel the need to check that spicebush.  I’ve looked for those stupid caterpillars dozens of times and was just telling my intern how we weren’t actually going to get to see one given my track record when I spotted one on the very first branch I saw!  It was heading downward, presumably to pupate and turn into one of the gorgeous black and blue swallowtail adults that have been flying around lately.  These are really stunning caterpillars, so I was thrilled to see one.  Those little eyespots and the way they curl themselves up is just so cute!

Caterpillar Hunting

Florida predatory stink bug eating a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

Florida predatory stink bug eating a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

Bolstered by my successful spicebush swallowtail caterpillar sighting, I took one of my coworkers out to the spicebush when she was lamenting that she couldn’t find any caterpillars to use in the weekly nature storytime for young children that she heads. She is a herpetologist and relatively new to North Carolina, so I took her to the spots I KNEW we could find caterpillars.  Pipevine swallowtail caterpillars on the woolly pipevine, check!  Black swallowtail caterpillars on the fennel, check!  Silver spotted skipper caterpillars on the American wisteria, check!  Spicebush swallowtail caterpillar on the… oh god no!  Our one lone spicebush caterpillar sighting was the one above, of a Florida predatory stink bug sucking the caterpillar dry.  Still, that particular day was fun because I was incredibly busy prepping for programs and a couple of upcoming presentations and had a zillion things I needed to do on my computer and I worked something like 12 hours that day, but for an hour I went outside and looked for caterpillars with someone who knows virtually nothing about them and was able to convince her that insects are just as cool as those sea turtles she studied for her master’s degree.  It was a good day.

Pollinator Garden Extraordinaire

soldier beetle

soldier beetle

Speaking of prepping for presentations, one of the presentations I did was a 6-hour citizen science workshop at an environmental educator’s conference that a couple of my coworkers and I developed.  We had some time to kill on the drive there, so one of my coworkers suggested that we stop at a “killer pollinator garden” in Pittsboro, NC she knew of.  This pollinator garden is, turns out, just outside a co-op health food grocery store, which seemed like an odd place for it to be (I constantly marvel at how much my museum coworkers know about all the nooks and crannies of North Carolina!), but it was stunning!  We have a lot of the same plants in the native plant garden at work, but the plants in Pittsboro were a good 3 weeks behind ours, so many of them still had a lot of flowers on them.  Lots of flowers, of course, means lots of insects!  One of my coworkers has a master’s degree in entomology, so the two of us regaled our turtle researching coworker all about the wonders of insects as we wandered through the plants sipping cold beverages and eating snacks.  After so very many hours working and looking forward to three more days at a conference, it provided a much-needed break as well.

The Workshop

robber fly

robber fly

Pretty much the whole month was leading up to the citizen science workshop so it was really exciting when the big day finally came!  Personally, I think we nailed it, and I was completely pumped after it was over.  It’s lovely when something works exactly as you envisioned – and people seemed to have a good time too!  At one point we were outside doing a photographic biodiversity scavenger hunt and I found this little guy dead on the ground.  A robber fly!  And a really big one at that!  This was easily the most impressive thing we saw that day though.  Given that the conference was held at a summer camp facility in the woods, it was strangely lacking in biodiversity.  We had a hard time finding BIRDS there!  It’s a strange day when a big robber fly is one of the best things anyone sees.

So that’s my last month and a half or so!  Hope you all have been doing fun things while I’ve been offline.  Anyone want to share what you’ve been up to?  Would love to hear some stories if you’d like to share!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth
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2 thoughts on “Friday 5: All The Right Bugs in All the Right Places

  1. I enjoyed hearing what you were up to and seeing the pictures of it all! I didn’t realize that yellow bug was called a soldier beetle. Are they beneficial or parasitic? I see them at the botanical gardens quite a lot.

    Nancy

    • I believe soldier beetles are primarily pollen feeders and harmless to plants, though there always seems to be an exception among insects. It’s entirely possible there’s one that does some damage – I don’t know enough about the group to say!

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