Miraculous Mantids

I work on Saturdays, so today was just an average work day for me.  I opened the field station, unlocked the bathrooms, and fed the birds before gathering the things I needed for my weekly public citizen science walk.  Many of my volunteers come on Saturdays, so I typically have a good stream of them coming in and out of my office all morning.  I chat with them for a bit, then hand them a clipboard and send them off to collect data of various types.

This morning, one of my volunteers came in and took a seat as he waited for his data collection teammate to arrive.  He looked down at the desk, pointed, and said, “Is that a mantis?”  And sure enough, it was!

Chinese mantid

Chinese mantid

I was surprised to see a mantid in the office at all, but this was a small mantid with the fresh look of a recently hatched baby mantid.  I told my volunteer to look for more and, between my desk and the one next to mine, we found about 15 or 20 of them.  That could only mean one thing: there was a mantid egg case somewhere in my office, and it had recently hatched.

My second volunteer arrived and they both went out to collect data as I started searching for the case.  One of my office mates is an entomologist and the primary K-12 educator at the field station, so she often brings things in like egg cases that she’s going to use for upcoming programs.  But there was no mantid egg case on her desk.  I knew I hadn’t brought one in, so it wasn’t going to be on my desk.  That left one desk and my heart fell a bit: no mantid egg case anywhere!  I was just about to go look in the other two rooms of the lovely construction trailer that we work in when I caught something out of the corner of my eye.  It was this:

Charred Chinese mantid egg case

Charred Chinese mantid egg case

The annual controlled burn of the prairie took place earlier this month.  One of my coworkers had noted how many mantid egg cases were in the field and she mobilized her volunteers to clip off as many as they could before the burn took place.  They didn’t get all of them, however. The charcoaled egg case above was discovered after the burn went through.  The woman who sits next to me had brought it in and displayed it in a vase on her desk.

When I noticed the blackened egg case, I thought, “No…  Surely that can’t be it!”  But there was this little nagging feeling in the back of my mind that said I should take a closer look.  When I did, I saw a mantid wiggling its way out of the case! There were also telltale stringy bits coming out of the front seam. The eggs in that egg case, which we had all assumed had been charred to a crisp, was HATCHING!  And there were a surprising number for an egg case that left ashy dust on your hands and crumbled apart when you handled it.

And that’s one of many things I learned at work today, that mantid eggs cases are WAY more protective of the eggs inside than I had ever thought!  That egg case looked hopeless, absolutely beyond hope, yet it still produced new life.  I caught as many mantids as I could get my hands on and released them outside.  The last I saw of the last one I released was this, a momentary pause before it dashed off into the depths of the tree and disappeared:

Chinese mantid

Chinese mantid

Nature is so cool.  You could go out every day and see as many things as you possibly could and never even scratch the surface of what’s possible.

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

Architecture

When I first saw the topic for today’s Photography 101 assignment, architecture, my first thought was, “Well, guess I won’t post anything today because there is no way I can tie buildings into my insect blog!” Then I thought about it a bit and realized the insects build structures too. I’ve heard the phrase “insect architecture” many times in reference to these structures, so I went looking for some examples after work today. Some of the insect-made structures I found were formed from bodily secretions by the insects using the structure. Tent caterpillars build their tents out of silk that they excrete:

 
Some of the tents are getting quite large! I suspect several will get even bigher before the caterpillars abandon them.

This structure is also built from bodily fluids:

 
That’s the backside of a mantid egg case. When the female mantid first lays her eggs, they are embedded in a sort of foam. That foam hardens into a case that protects the eggs inside. And speaking of eggs, this structure started because of the egg of a fly:

 
Goldenrod galls are not built by the insect directly – they make the plant do it for them! The fly lays an egg in the stem of a goldenrod plant and the larva that eventually hatches out hollows out a little space around itself as it feeds. Their feeding stimulates the plant to grow more cells around the larva and, over time, the structure in the photo is formed. The gall feeds the developing larva until it pupates and emerges as an adult. In this case, the structure wasn’t directly built by the larva, rather the insect caused the plant to grow  more vigorously around it.

And last, a paper wasp nest:

 
Or the beginning of one at least. Paper wasps gather bits of dead wood and plants, mix them with saliva, and build these amazing structures. Pretty cool for a home held together by spit!

And with that, my work here is done for the day. See you again tomorrow!

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

Big

The Photography 101 topic for today asks participants to explore the concept of big, either by showing something really big, a part of something really big, or making something small very big.  I will, of course, always choose the latter!  I found a fly crawling around on a metal pipe in my house last night and got some shots of it.  This is my favorite:

Fly

Fly

It really highlights the bizarre mouthpart of some flies, the strange sponging device that they use to regurgitate onto their food and suck up the resulting mess.  This pipe was apparently rather dirty (nothing like a really close up macro photo to highlight the dust and grime you never noticed!), so the fly spent several minutes wandering around and slurping up dog hair and whatever else is on this surface.  Gonna clean that off with some cleaner ASAP!

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

Connect

“Connect” is today’s Photography 101 topic and I decided that a photo of pollinators was in order.  After all, the connection between pollinators and the plants they pollinate is incredibly important.  The mutually beneficial (usually) relationship means the bees get fed lots of sugary nectar and/or protein-rich pollen and the plants get their pollen moved about.  It’s a pretty good deal for both the pollinators and the pollen producers!

I did a program about tree phenology citizen science for a bunch of college students today and when we visited the redbud on our tree trail, everyone refused to go near it because it was absolutely covered in bees.  All I had with me was my iPhone, so that’s what I used for this photo:

Bees swarming redbud

Bees swarming redbud

The number of carpenter bees flying around this tree was astounding!  I loved it, stood under the tree for a while and let the bees swirl around me.  A rather magical experience overall!

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

Solitude

I wasn’t able to get this online yesterday, but this is my photo for the Photography 101 theme “solitude:”

Fly on flower

I spent a lot of time on my recent trip to Arizona looking for insects, and happily it was just late enough in the year for a few to be out.  It was also the middle of the bloom, so I spent a lot of time wandering from clump to clump of flowers looking for insects.  This lovely fly was the only insect on a cluster of these fabulous yellow flowers.  It had a huge group of flowers all to itself and I think it exemplifies the idea of solitude.

I believe this is a tachinid fly, but I would welcome any corrections from those of you who know more about flies than I do!  You know who you are. :)

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

Mating Moth Flies (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Dunno why I’m choosing this one exactly, but I really love moth flies and was thrilled to see a pair of them together:

moth flies mating

Moth flies mating

How cute are these flies?  And they’re making more, which makes me happy.  That means I’ll have plenty more to photograph in the future.  :)

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

Tagging Monarchs (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Hey everyone!!  I know I’ve been offline for ages, but things are finally slowing down at work enough that I can get back into blogging at least semi-regularly.  It’s been so long since I last posted that I have a massive backlog of photos.  It was hard to choose just one today!  But here’s what I decided to share:

Monarch with tag

Monarch with tag

We tag monarchs for Monarch Watch at work and this was the last one we tagged this year.  I got many people involved in the tagging this year and we had a fun couple of months chasing monarchs around the grounds with nets.  However,  this is serious work too as the tags we put on the wings give monarch researchers an amazing ability to track individual monarchs during their migration and see how many actually make it to Mexico.  I won’t be able to look him up for a while and see how far he got (there’s unfortunately a big lag between when you submit data and when you can see the data for your butterflies on the website), but I hope little UMT 654 makes it to the Mexican mountains!

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