A Stream Story

The weekends are technically off for the Photography 101 course I’m taking, but they make suggestions for ways to practice for those who are feeling gung-ho.  This weekend they suggested creating a series of photos that captured an entire scene.  It had been a while since I had been to the stream at work to look for insects, so I decided my series would include the stream…

Stream

Stream

… and the things I was able to find in it.  I’ve wanted to get photos of the insects in the stream for a while now anyway for a little field guide I’m working on for an educational program I do with high schoolers.  I did catch one fish and one crayfish that I put back, so this isn’t a complete series.  However, I was really worried either might try to eat this:

Stonefly

Stonefly

A stonefly!  In the oft-flooding, strange stream I wrote about for my “Mystery” post.  I was so excited to find this that I was jumping up and down and shouting.  Happily it was rainy and cool and there was no one anywhere near me to see me make a fool of myself, but I was excited.  I believe my level of enthusiasm for stoneflies is a holdover from the stream insect work I did in Arizona.  Stoneflies require really clean, flowing, cold water, and you only got two out of the three at best in a lot of the streams I worked on in the desert.  Stoneflies were always this amazing thing to find, something absolutely worth getting excited about, because you just didn’t see them often. They’re far more common in North Carolina, but I rarely find them in this stream, so I still feel my reaction was justified.  :)

Because it had just rained a fair bit and the water was muddy, suggesting at least some minor flooding had occurred, I wasn’t sure I was going to find anything in the stream. I was thrilled to find what I went to look for in the first place on my first dip:

Broad-winged damselfly nymph

Broad-winged damselfly nymph

That’s a broad-winged damselfly, an ebony jewelwing.  They like to lurk in the exposed root masses at the base of trees in the deeper areas of this stream.  I tend to overtop my boots a lot going after them, but they are totally worth it every time.  As you can see in the photo, broad-winged damselfly nymphs have a very long first antennal segment, about as long as all the other segments of the antennae combined, which makes them sort of alien looking.  They also have this sort of jerky movement.  I love them!

These little rock clumps I found on the underside of a larger rock contain insects:

Caddisfly pupal cases

Caddisfly pupal cases

There are pupae of caddisflies developing inside those.  Caddisflies are far and away the most common insects I find in this stretch of the stream, so I was not surprised to find these.  I did not, however, find any larvae, just the pupae.  Guess I’ll have to make another trip down there sometime later in the year for those.  Oh darn…

And last, just because I couldn’t resist, a vertebrate:

Salamander

Salamander

North Carolina is a hotspot for salamanders, so it’s always fun to find these.  (This is another holdover from Arizona – I saw one total salamander there in 20 years, despite working in many salamander-friendly habitats!)  I managed to get a good 20 of these little guys in my net today, and all of them were juveniles that still had their gills.  You can see the gills just above the leg.  These salamanders are awfully cute little buggers! I’ll take a few more photos of this little guy in the morning and then back into the stream he’ll go, along with his temporary stonefly and damselfly roommates.

If I had to work on a Sunday, today was a great day to do it!  It was cool and rainy, not to mention Easter, so I had the entire field station to myself all day.  And even though it had rained and the stream was a little higher and a little muddier than usual, I still managed to get a few things I need photos of for my guide.  Mucking about in a stream on a cloudy day – not a bad way to spend a day!

_______________

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

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.

_______________

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

Landscape

It’s the end of the third of four weeks of my Photography 101 class and today’s topic is landscape. I didn’t have a chance to get out and take a new landscape photo today, at least not the sweepingly magestic sort of image I think of when I think of landscape photography, so I’m posting one of my favorites from Arizona a few weeks ago:

 

Ah, southern Arizona. What an amazing place! The insects there are fabulous and I miss the joy I got from spotting my first palo verde beetle of the year (and bringing it in the house to terrorize my husband), hearing dozens of June bugs buzzing around the trees, and the desert cicadas that make an enormous racket in the hottest part of the middle of the day. I loved the aquatic insects and the dragonflies, all the strange desert insects I could only find there. Not that I don’t love North Carolina – I really do – but I lived in Arizona for 20 years altogether and some of my best memories are from that crazy, wild, spiky place. It’s hard not to miss it, at least now and again.

Have a great weekend, everyone! Me, I’ll be at work the next few days. But, if you have to work through the weekend, it’s nice to work at a natural history museum field station with a wealth of interesting biological phenomena to observe. I still feel lucky, everyday.

_______________

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

Scale

Today’s Photography 101 topic is “scale” and I decided to take a trip to the pond after work today to take this shot:

 
The front half of what you can see in the photo represents about 50% of the territory of the strongest green darner dragonfly at this pond. It will fly back and forth across this area hundreds of times each day that it manages to keep control of the territory. It’s quite a large area for a 3 inch long insect to patrol and maintain control over. In fact, there’s a dragonfly in the photo to give you a sense of how big the space is relative to the insect. Can you find it? Trust me, it’s there, right there:

 
I’m always impressed by how huge the territory for some of the large dragonflies are. Insects never cease to amaze me.

_______________

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

Moment

I knew I wasn’t going to get the right photo to fit today’s Photography 101 theme, moments and motion, because I feel like all the photos I’ve taken that have significant moments associated with them have been utterly serendipitous. I had a perfectly mundane day of meetings and e mails today, not the kind of day where I thought I’d come across a “moment” as I like to think of them.  So, I decided to choose an older photo that represented a good moment for me. For those of you who have been reading my blog for a while, you may remember my sharing another photo from this series a few years ago:


I spent a decade studying giant water bugs (and am still studying them, just not full-time anymore). I absolutely love the species depicted here, Lethocerus medius, and they are giant, scary looking insects that lurk underwater.  I spent several summers collecting and working with the eggs. They hatch late at night, however, and since I kept them in the lab rather than at home, I always missed the hatching.

I got this photo when I was visiting a lab in another city to do some research I couldn’t do at my university. I was in the lab something like 16 hours each day and was just getting ready to leave one night when I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. The tops of the eggs had popped open and the heads of the little bugs inside were visible. I was unbelievably excited – I was going to get to see them hatch! I spent over an hour watching them, taking photos as they progressed. The bugs all hatched at one time, swaying back and forth in unison as they pulled themselves out of their eggshells. I took several videos of their movement, little synchronized rhythmic insectoid waves. I still watch them a couple of times a year and remember.

A short while after I took this photo, it was obvious the bugs were about to come completely free, so I picked up the stick they were attached to. The freshly hatched bugs spilled out into my hands, a hundred or more all at once, and I dashed across the room so they could fall into the pan of water I had waiting. For me, it was a magical moment, little bugs slipping into the water between my fingers, a moment full of movement and life and pure joy, one that to this day I am thankful I was able to bear witness to.

That’s the sort of moment I thought of when I saw the theme “moments and motion,” the sort of moment you don’t expect and instead fall into randomly. My day today was not the sort of day when magical, memorable moments fall into your lap. Those don’t come so often, but I’m always happy to have my camera with me when they do.

_______________

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!

_______________

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

Pop & Color

For the Pop & Color theme for Photography 101, I chose this photo:

red-winged blackbird 

Not an insect, but I think the little yellow and red shoulder feathers of red-winged blackbirds really pop, especially when they are photographed against the sky.

Keeping this short today!

_______________

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