Scarab Grub Locomotion (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Hey everyone!  Long time no see again – been really busy at work and long hours have been preventing my blogging.  However, wanted to share this video I took last weekend after my coworker brought in a scarab beetle larva she found outside.  I set it on my desk, turned my back on it for a minute, and when I went back to take a closer look it was gone!  We looked around for it and found it speeding across the floor like this:

It’s crawling UPSIDE DOWN!!!  Super crazy cool.  Our hypothesis: it’s so huge and fat that the little legs aren’t strong enough to drag that massive body along, so it uses this “backstroke” sort of approach instead.

Yep, nature is cool.  And a little gross.  But mostly cool.

Going to try to get a post up on Friday!!  I have a huge backlog of stuff I want to post, so here’s hoping I’ll have a chance to get one of them online this week…

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

The June Bugs are Back!

This is going to be short and I’m working on a longer post that I’ll get up tomorrow or Thursday, but I just couldn’t help but share an insect sighting from yesterday!  I was driving past the American beautyberry shrub at work on my way to close the back entrance for the night when I spotted a bunch of loudly buzzing insects flying around the flowers that were just beginning to open.  I assumed they were bumblebees and was about to drive off when I realized they weren’t flying quite right for bees.  So, I took a closer look and saw dozens of these little guys sucking down nectar from the flowers:

Green June Beetle, Cotinis nitida

Green June Beetle, Cotinis nitida

June bugs!  Or at least what most people in North Carolina consider June bugs, the green June beetle, Cotinis nitida.  These beetles send me straight back to happy moments from my childhood and I absolutely love seeing them, so I was thrilled to find a bunch of them out and about.  They tend to have a sort of mass emergence here, so apparently the emergence has begun.  I will expect to see hundreds – thousands! – of them over the next month or so!  I want to get some really good photos of them this year, but I am totally happy just watching them do their thing too.

Just had to share because these beetles are something I really love and they represent summer to me.  I hope you all love your June bugs – whether green, brown, or some other color – wherever you are!

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

Friday 5: The Last Two Weeks

I had a relative in town last week, so I never had a chance to get a blog post up.  This week you get two weeks in one!  But before I get to that…

You might have noticed that I changed things up a bit around here.  May 28th was my 5 year blogoversary (FIVE YEARS!!!  Crazy!), so I decided it was time to make some changes to the ol’ blog.  This is only my second overhaul since I started, and Wordpress FINALLY gave me another template option that I liked.  As I was changing the look anyway, I decided to move some things around too.  My copyright info seemed clunky, so I shortened the text on the homepage and have a page with more information about what I allow.  I couldn’t get my links to display the way I wanted them, so I’ve now got a page just for my links.  The info about scientific names is now found under the educational materials tab – just hover over the tab text and the old menu options will drop down.  The photos can be bigger in this theme, so you’ll get larger pictures starting today.  And, I’ve decided I no longer care that just one post shows up on the homepage.  Now you can scroll down through post after post all the way to the very first one, 610 posts ago!  Anyway, I’m liking the new look and new organizational scheme, so I hope you do too.

And now on to Friday 5!  These were some great insect-related moments I had over the past two weeks.  Last time I did this, I tossed a non-insect nature sighting in at the end, and I think I’m going to keep doing that, but we’ll start with the bugs:

Insect ID In the Nature Research Center

Insect ID lab day

Insect ID lab day

I know I’ve mentioned them before, but I have this awesome group of teens from a local high school that have been working with me all year on a citizen science project that they designed and are carrying out in the stream at Prairie Ridge.  They’ve come out every three weeks the entire year to sample insects and we finished up the school year with lunch at the Museum followed by an insect ID session in one of the hands-on lab spaces.  These teens are AMAZING!  They work very hard on this project even though it’s 100% extracurricular.  They don’t get anything out of it except the experience of doing scientific research in the field and they do all of the work on their own time after school.  I’m kinda sad that they’re on summer vacation now because they are really fun to work with, but if all goes well most of them will be coming back next year.  AND their teacher, in the photo above, is going to be teaching a research class next year for the first time and some of these students will be doing the data analysis for this project as part of that class.  I’m really excited about that!

Monarchs!!

Monarch ovipositing

Monarch ovipositing

Last year was such a horrible year for monarchs that I’ve been unusually excited about every single monarch I’ve seen so far this year.  I point at them and yell “monarch!” every time I see one, even if no one’s around to hear me!  Just today I saw 6, two individuals and two mating pairs.  We don’t normally have a lot of monarchs in Raleigh at this time of year, so I’m not entirely sure what they’re doing here, but I hope they’re taking advantage of the very abundant milkweed that we’ve got out in the prairie at the field station.  This is normally the lull in caterpillar and egg production between the two bursts of activity we get in the spring and late summer, so it will be interesting to see if we get the same lull this year with all of these monarchs still flying around.

Speaking of milkweeds, we seem to have a LOT of my favorite milkweed insect this year…

Milkweed Longhorn Beetle

Milkweed longhorn

Milkweed longhorn beetle, Tetraopes tetrophthalmus

These beetles have been very abundant his year, which makes me happy because I really love them.  Now I’ll admit that my love for these beetles began because I simply like the way they look, but they’re super cool.  They’re thought to be red with black spots because they feed on milkweeds and store the toxins from the plants the way ladybugs do.  Their scientific name refers to their eyes, which are split apart by their antennae.  These beetles are four eyed!  Plus, they’re crazy cute.  I’m loving watching these this year!

Randy Morphos at the Museum of Life and Sciences

Morphos in love

Morphos in love

My visitor last weekend (my 70’s something aunt) wanted to go see the Museum of Life and Sciences in Durham, so off we went!  The museum is, I think, a little too heavily geared toward kids, but their butterfly house and insect zoo alone make it worth the price of admission.  As with many other butterfly houses, the bulk of the butterflies are tropical, but the enclosure is huge and they have a lot of butterflies so it’s a really nice one.  Sometimes you can go into an outdoor enclosure and see native butterflies and moths too!  I love people watching in butterfly houses.  I can’t tell you how many people walked by this amorous pair of morpho butterflies and said, “Wow, that one is HUGE!” without even noticing that it was actually TWO butterflies involved in some X-rated action.  Am I the only one that notices the difference?  Another bonus: I got to see a little exhibition of Alex Wild’s photos in the gallery space outside the enclosure.  Woo!

And speaking of randy animals:

Rat Snakes in Love

Rat snakes mating

Rat snakes in love

A couple of weekends ago, one of my volunteers came into my office to tell me that they’d seen a pair of mating black rat snakes outside the classroom building during the citizen science walk he led.  I went down to check it out and found them still at it.  What I hadn’t realized was that the snakes were attracting a lot of attention from the kids attending the first ever Museum birthday party at Prairie Ridge.  Apparently the kids had been watching the snakes for some time before I arrived.  I would be willing to bet some parents got more than they expected at a cute little innocent child’s birthday party when their offspring started asking one of the most dreaded questions: “Mommy, what are those snakes DOING?”  :)

And that’s it for this week!  I’m still working on my post about my recent Bug Shot excursion and look for Swarm Sunday in a few days.  I might even get it up on Sunday this week!

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: The Belly of the Beetle

It’s cold enough in North Carolina that there have been very few insects out and about.  So, I’ve set up a little aquatic insect photo studio in my guest room so that I still have something to photograph.  I’m going to share several aquatic insects with you over the next few weeks, but here’s a little preview:

Agabus disintegratus

Disintegrated diving beetle, Agabus disintegratus

That’s the belly of a really spectacular beetle, the disintegrated diving beetle, Agabus disintegratus.  I’ll show you the other side soon, but I kinda love the undersides of predaceous diving beetles.  You can see all the cool adaptations they’ve got going on their legs (you can just barely make out the suction cups on his forelegs) and you can admire the amazing structure of beetles. Plus, in this image, you can also see the air bubble this beetle uses to breathe. This particular beetle is super skittish and buries itself in the rocks at the bottom of my photo tank, so he’s been hard photograph.  I was happy he sat still long enough for me to get this shot of him!  An instant later, he was back under the rocks.

More cool aquatic insects are coming soon!

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

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: Tortoise

Tortoise beetles are some of my very favorite beetles.  There’s something about their shape that really appeals to me.  Imagine my pleasure when we saw several of these in Florida during BugShot 2012:

Tortoise beetle

Palmetto tortoise beetle, Hemisphaerota cyanea

Isn’t it beautiful?  It’s even kinda metallic!  This beetle definitely goes to 11.

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

Friday 5: Winter Invertebrates

Last weekend I led a public program for work that focused on how people can use nature photos to help scientists by submitting them to a variety of citizen science projects.  I really love doing this program as the people who sign up tend to be REALLY excited about documenting the natural world with their cameras, just like me.  I get people with all sorts of cameras too – really cruddy cell phone cameras all the way up to pro-level photo gear – but somehow the group dynamic just works.  We do a bit of introductory stuff in the classroom and then spend a lot of time practicing our photography and learning about the flora and fauna of North Carolina.  It is a ton of fun!

Last weekend, the morning started off very foggy.  It was supposed to clear off in the afternoon and become a magnificent day, but it was still dark and gloomy only an hour before the program.  Then, all of a sudden, the fog was gone!  The sun came out.  It was 75 degrees!  Toward the end of the program, I was roasting and started stripping layers off and ended up in a tee-shirt.  It was great.  And, not surprisingly, we found several invertebrates active, taking advantage of the most beautifully perfect winter day I could imagine.  Here are some of the spineless creatures we saw!

Ants.  LOTS of ants.

Ant colony under log

Ant colony under log

My most recent group of photographers got really into flipping logs!  We found all sorts of things lurking under them, including this colony of ants.  We have a lot of fire ants in the south, so it was nice to flip up a log, see several hundred ants underneath, and NOT have them come after you, stingers a blazin’, for daring to disturb their nest.  These ants seemed pretty docile as close to a dozen photographers snapped shots of them and the guy holding the log didn’t get stung once.  This was one of my better ant experiences actually.  I tend to have mostly bad ant experiences of the stingy, bitey kind…

Snails

Snail

Snail

There’s something about snails that I love.  I think it’s the eye stalks.  In fact, I’m sure that it’s the eye stalks.  Those things make snails look adorable.  Of course, snails are also important herbivores and detritivores, so they play an important role in the environment that shouldn’t be overlooked.  And, because I can’t think of snails without also thinking about this, I encourage you to watch the snail animated short that Miniscule did a few years back.  You WILL fall absolutely in love with snails after watching it!

Millipedes

Millipedes

Millipedes

Nearly every log I’ve flipped in North Carolina so far has housed at least one millipede under it.  This particular log had a lot of them.  All those little white things…  Those are all millipedes, and there were probably about 100 of them under this one log in a big mass.  Someone’s been getting busy procreating under this log.  :)

Pillbug

Sowbug

Sowbug

Did you know these guys (pill bugs, sow bugs, rolly polys, etc) are actually little land crustaceans?  I’ve always wondered whether they taste like the crustaceans people like to eat, such as lobsters and crabs.  (Don’t suppose any of you out there have tasted one so you can tell me what they taste like?  Because I don’t eat crustaceans.)  Like the millipedes in the previous photo, pillbugs are decomposers and are very important in forested areas like the one where I found this one.  There, they turn dead trees into soils so more trees can grow so more pillbugs can turn them into soil so…

And finally, I present this beetle:

Darkling Beetle

Darkling beetle

Darkling beetle

It never fails!  I tell a group of people that, because it’s been rather chilly the last few weeks, we’re unlikely to find many insects out and about.  Then we started flipping logs and found several insects and insect relatives.  One woman in the group was particularly interested in learning how to take better insect photos and was thus highly motivated to find as many as she could.  This was the largest insect we saw active while we were all together, a darkling beetle that was about an inch long.  It sat there and posed for quite some time as several photographers stuck their cameras right in its face to snap some shots of it.  It was even kind enough to sit on a lovely backdrop of dead leaves!  I thought it was rather beautiful, and I was glad we got to see at least one insect that wasn’t hidden under a log.

Turns out there were other things out as well, but I got wrapped up in helping people identify plants and birds and insects and answering questions about Prairie Ridge and I had to stop taking photos myself.  Sigh…  That’s what happens when you’re leading a group program though!  And it was worth it.  It was a gorgeous day and the group I spent it with a lot of fun, so it was a great day overall!

Not sure how many insects I’ll see for the next few weeks.  It finally snowed last night, so they might stay out of sight for a while as they wait out the cold.  Still, I hope I can bring more winter insects to you all soon!

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