Triumph

Today’s the last day of my Photography 101 course and the final theme is “triumph.”  It just so happens that moments after I read the theme, I managed to get two shots that I’ve been trying to get for 4 years, a clear shot of two beetles that a) either bury themselves in the rocks at the bottom of my tank or b) just don’t stop moving for more than a fraction of a second so there’s no time to focus and get a shot before it moves on.  So, here are my triumph shots, shots that have been a long time coming and very hard-won!  The first is a beetle in the water scavenger genus Berosus (peregrinus, I think):

Water scavenger beetle

Water scavenger beetle

I particularly like this genus.  For one, they’re herbivores, feeding on algae and aquatic plants.  They’re also a very weird shape relative to the other water scavenger beetles. Rather than a long, sleek domed top and a sharp spike on the flattened bottom, these beetle are much more bulbous and round.  I think they’re just adorable.  Their best characteristic though, in my opinion, is the sound they make.  They have a delightful squeak, loud enough to be noticeable without being overbearing, and swim about very quickly while making the sound.  I love that little squeak!  In fact, I can tell immediately when I have scooped one out of the water, no matter how much vegetation and other critters I pull out with them, based entirely on their sound.

This little beetle has become the bane of my existence:

Crawling water beetle

Crawling water beetle

That’s a crawling water beetle in the genus Peltodytes.  They seem to bury themselves in the rocks, dash up to the surface periodically with lightning speed, and then zip back down into the rocks.  SO hard to photograph!  But I happened to look into my tank and it was sitting on one of the little pieces of wood in my tank above the water line.  And it just sat there!  I was able to get about 6 shots before my movement, the flash, or both scared it back into the water, but I got some decent shots of this stupid little beetle after several years of trying.  I was thrilled!  Pumped my fist in the air and grinned like an idiot once it disappeared back down into the rocks.  A triumph for sure!

So, TWO major aquatic beetle photography accomplishments in one day!  I am so excited to have gotten these.  I’ll keep trying to get even better shots, but I consider this a good day’s photography for sure.

Now that my class is over, I’m definitely not going to be posting everyday anymore. This pace is one I just can’t keep up with!  However, I’m going to try to get back into my 3 or 4 posts a week habit and keep that going for a while.  We’ll see how long I can keep that up, but I’m feeling good about the little jump-start this class provided.  Just what I needed to get back into the blogging habit!

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

Beetles at Blacklights (Friday 5)

Last summer I spent almost an entire month blacklighting in my backyard every night.  I’m going to share my blacklighting setup with you all in the not too distant future so you can see what it involves, but I turned on my lights just before it got dark and then went out multiple times each night to document the things I found.  I focused on moths as I was participating in National Moth Week at first, but I saw a bunch of other really cool things too.  Though I have no interest at all in studying beetles (except maybe how various aquatic beetles breathe), I have always rather enjoyed looking at them.  I got some really great ones coming to my lights too!  Today I’m going to share 5 of my favorite beetles from my blacklighting adventure last summer.

A note about my identifications: I’m not 100% certain about any of the IDs I propose for these beetles!  I bought Art Evans’ wonderful book Beetles of Eastern North America, which anyone who has an interest in insects and lives in the eastern US should own, just before I started my month of blacklighting.  I used it for most of my identifications and though it is a remarkably comprehensive field guide that covers 1406 species, beetles are incredibly diverse and the book certainly doesn’t cover all of the species found in the eastern US.  It’s entirely possible (maybe even likely) I have some of these wrong – I welcome corrections if you see a mistake!

LeConte’s Seedcorn Beetle, Stenolophus lecontei

Stenolophus lecontei

LeConte’s Seedcorn Beetle, Stenolophus lecontei

This gorgeous little fellow is found throughout most of the eastern US and is known to come to lights at night.  They’re active from spring into late summer and belong to the ground beetle family Carabidae.  They’re common in fields, gardens, and suburban yards where they feed on live and dead insects and the occasional fruit, seed, or plant.

Prodaticus bimarginatus

Prodaticus bimarginatus

Prodaticus bimarginatus

This little pond dwelling predaceous diving beetle is found throughout the southeastern US as well as the Bahamas and Cuba.  It is surprisingly hard to find information about this particular species, but I would suspect that they are predatory like most of their relatives in the family Dytiscidae and feed on other insects in ponds.  You can tell this one is a male because he’s got suction cups on his front feet.

Leptostylus asperatus

Leptostylus asperatus

Leptostylus asperatus

I was thrilled when this gorgeous longhorn beetle from the family Cerambycidae showed up at my porch light!  It was pretty high up and I didn’t get a good shot of it before I bumped it and it flew away, but wow!  What a spectacular beetle!  These beetles are common throughout the southeastern US and range into New England and are frequently seen at lights in spring and summer.  They feed on oaks and sumacs as larvae.

Long-necked Ground Beetle, Cosnania pensylvanica

 

Cosnania pensylvanica

Long-necked ground beetle, Cosnania pensylvanica

This is a very interestingly shaped member of the ground beetle family Carabidae, with its long, extended prothorax separating its head from the rest of its body.  These are found in the southeastern US and into New England and are common in open grassy areas (like my backyard, for example), on plants along the edges of wetlands, or under piles of debris.  They’re most common in the spring and summer and are known to be attracted to lights.  They are thought to be ant mimics and are suspected to feed on aphids.

Black turfgrass Ataenius, Ataenius spretulus

Ataenius spretulus

Black turfgrass Ataenius, Ataenius spretulus

During my month of blacklighting, I learned that these small, black beetles are far and away the most common thing I find at lights at night in my yard.  There were sometimes hundreds of them!  They belong to the scarab beetle family Scarabaeidae and are active most of the year throughout large parts of the US and into Ontario in Canada.  They are definitely attracted to lights!  They are also a turfgrass pest, which made me worry a bit for my yard.  Not that our grass is perfect anyway (it’s more a collection of neatly trimmed weeds than grass), but there were SO many of these that I was surprised I had any grass left at all!

Apart from this tiny handful of beetles that came to my lights, I found awesome click beetles and loads of aquatic beetles.  There were several scarab species, some of which were very numerous, and some wonderful long-horned and wood-boring beetles.  Some of the beetles had crazy antennae and others were comparatively uninteresting.  My very favorite beetle didn’t stick around long for me to photograph it, a click beetle with absolutely wild antennae!  The experience reminded me, as nature so often does, that there are seemingly endless beetle species in the world of countless colors, sizes, and shapes.  Makes me excited to see what I will find when I start blacklighting again this spring!

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

Friday 5: Bugs with Bubbles

For today’s Friday 5, I’m going to share something near and dear to my heart: aquatic insects that carry bubbles of air with them underwater.  These bubbles are important in the respiration of many aquatic insects and have some cool properties (e.g., they can act like gills!).  I can spend hours watching aquatic insects breathing, so I’m going to share some of the love with you all today!  Let’s start with a couple of simple, very standard types of bubbles.  This beetle is a predaceous diving beetle:

Thermonectus basillaris

Predaceous diving beetle, Thermonectus basillaris

Now it’s a little hard to see the bubble here (it’s just barely visible at the back end), but that’s because this beetle holds its bubble under its wings.  It acts like a SCUBA tank: the beetle uses up the oxygen and then has to go back to the surface to get another bubble.  However, if the beetle exposes that bubble to the water by squeezing a little part of it out the back end (like in the image I posted on Wednesday), this beetle can take advantage of some nifty tricks of physics and turn that bubble into a gill.  Without going into too much detail (read the post linked at the top of the page for details!), oxygen can flow into the bubble from the water and extend the length of time the beetle can remain underwater significantly, but only if the bubble is exposed to the water.  It is thus very common to see predaceous diving beetles of many species swimming around with big bubbles protruding from their posteriors.

Other beetles carry their bubbles on the outside of their bodies, such as in this water scavenger beetle:

Tropisternus lateralis

Water scavenger beetle, Tropisternus lateralis

Aquatic insects with bubbles on the outside of their bodies expose their bubbles to the water all the time and can often remain underwater for extended periods. The bubble won’t last forever though, even when it’s constantly exposed to the water, so this beetle and most other insects with belly bubbles still have to go to the surface to get a refill every now and again.  Unlike the predaceous diving beetle above that goes to the surface butt first, this beetle pops up to the surface and exposes the top of its head and thorax. I can only presume that there are some cool air channels that allow the air at the surface to flow around the side of the beetle and into the air space under the body.  Might have to look into that more closely someday!

Beetles aren’t the only insects with this style of bubble either!  This is a water boatman:

Water boatman

Water boatman

As you can see, it’s got a very similar bubble to the water scavenger beetle above.  It also exposes it’s thorax at the surface when it needs to refill.  However, water boatmen have a really interesting behavior associated with their bubbles. Because oxygen moves incredibly slowly in still water and takes ages to get from the surface to the locations where insects are living, insects such as water boatmen that hang out at the bottom of ponds are exposed to a rather low oxygen environment.  That also means that the bubble’s gill-like properties are diminished because once the oxygen close to the bubble is absorbed, it takes a while for more oxygen to reach it.  Water boatmen solve this problem by using their huge, oar-like hind legs to stir the water around their bubbles.  This creates turbulence in the water, pushing the oxygen poor water away from the bubble and bringing new, comparatively oxygen rich water into contact with it.  Awesome behavior!

Here’s another belly bubble, this time on a creeping water bug nymph:

Creeping water bug, Pelocoris sp

Creeping water bug, Pelocoris sp

Just another belly bubble you might be thinking, but hear me out.  A lot of aquatic bugs hold air stores under their wings.  Unfortunately for the nymphs (= the immatures), they don’t have wings, so they are missing the neat little compartments for air storage their elders have.  Many species store air in belly bubbles instead.  That means that, in several groups of aquatic bugs, the entire respiratory system moves from the bottom of the bug to the top when they undergo their final molt into adults.  Now that’s just cool!

And finally, we come to this gorgeous, tiny beetle:

Crawling water beetle, Peltodytes sp

Crawling water beetle, Peltodytes sp

That’s a crawling water beetle, and it holds air under its wings like a lot of other beetles.  What makes this beetle special is its hind legs.  If you’ve ever identified beetles using the entomology textbook An Introduction to the Study of Insects (originally by Borer and DeLong), one of the first couplets you come to mentions expanded hind coxae that are fused to the metasternum.  If that didn’t make any sense to you, this means that the portion of the legs where they attach to the body has been modified into a large flattened plate that is fused to the body.  The rest of the leg sticks out from under the plate.  These beetles use the space between that plate and the abdomen as a backup air store!  They pack some little air bubbles in there that are thought to supplement the main bubble held under the wings, and they’re right out there where they’re exposed to the water.  With a name like crawling water beetle, it should be obvious that these beetles are not strong swimmers, so they like to stay underwater as long as they can.  Carrying little leg bubbles likely gives them a valuable respiratory boost.

So there you have it!  A bevy of bubbles for your enjoyment.  Next time you see an aquatic insect, I encourage you to look for a silvery sheen on the body.  That’s a good indication that you’re looking at an air store, and you’re one step closer to understanding how that species breathes!  I don’t know about you, but I find that terribly exciting.  :)

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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: Love is in the Air

Well, I’ve had pretty much zero time for blogging since the last post on Friday and won’t have time to blog again until Sunday, so this is going to be a light week. You’ll get a double dose of Swarm Sunday this week, but until then I can at least throw a photo up for Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday.  This week, I present a pair of soldier beetles in love:

Soldier beetle lovin

Soldier beetle lovin’

Found these little lovebirds (and hundreds of their closest relatives) on a flower about three weeks ago at the Duke Gardens in Durham, NC.  The gardens were so wonderful that I actually took more photos of flowers than I did bugs.  That’s a rare thing for me!  But now I feel like I need to get in all the insect photos I can.  It’s cooled down a lot over the last few days, so it’s only a matter of time before winter sets in.

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

Friday 5: Insects on My House

I am going to try not to bore you with endless photos I’ve taken with my new camera, but I feel like I want to share a few more this week.  I also don’t have a lot of time to get this blog post up, so it’s going to be photo heavy and text light tonight.  Sometimes that’s just the way life works – I have to work tomorrow!

A friend of mine recently asked about the macro twin light flash that I got for my new camera rig to see how I liked it.  It was just after I’d returned from California and I hadn’t actually had a chance to use it yet, but a request for information like that is the perfect excuse to practice with the new gear!  So, I switched on my porch light, waited a few hours, and headed out to snap a few photos.  I have white siding on my house, which provides this sort of white box-like effect that I enjoyed very much.  Here are a few of my favorites!

Click Beetle

Click beetle

Click beetle

Click beetles are fabulous beetles!  I’ve written about them before, so I’m not going to go into much detail here, but this was one of the smaller click beetles I’ve seen.  I thought it was rather cute!

A Bug

A bug

A bug

I’ll eventually get to attempting to ID this one (I haven’t ever claimed to be great at sight identification of terrestrial insects!), but for now I’m just calling it a bug because it’s a true bug.  Want to know what makes an insect a bug?  I’ve got a post for that!

Another Bug

Another bug

Another bug

Another unidentified bug!  Check out those crazy antennae.  Wow.  This is a beautiful bug, and I might not have noticed it at all if I hadn’t photographed it.  It was rather small and the details weren’t obvious to the naked eye.

Two Lined Spittlebug

Two lined spittle bug

Two lined spittle bug

These bugs are crazy common in Raleigh!  I see them everywhere in the summer.  I even had one hitch a ride into my house on my shirt the other day.  They’re awfully pretty, for bugs that spend part of their lives hiding in a foam that looks a whole lot like a bubbly loogie.

Scarab

scarab

Scarab

This beetle was hiding under the decorative trim around the front door.  There’s something about insects shot from this perspective, with the insect clinging to a substrate and peering at you from behind it, that I just love.  I know I shouldn’t anthropomorphize like this (bad Dragonfly Woman!), but they just look so friendly!  This beetle would likely be called a June bug by the people of the Midwest (and a few other regions of the US), one of the common brown scarabs you see so many of during the summer.

The trip out to my porch light confirmed two things for me.  First, there is a shocking diversity of insects that come to my regular old compact fluorescent bulb-lit porch!  I hadn’t actually spent much time photographing the insects out there since we moved into the house almost a year ago, but it’s pretty impressive.  Plus, it’s high time I start scaring the neighbors by lurking around my front door and bushes with a camera late at night!  Second, I am very fond of the Canon twin light flash.  I diffused both flashes with a piece of frosted mylar that I got at the last BugShot I attended, and that was all it took to produce some lovely light that filled in the shadows produced by the porch light nicely.

And with that, I think I might head out to snap a few more photos before I go to sleep!

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

Friday 5: Biodiversity of a Windowsill

Yesterday I had a meeting where we were discussing citizen science ideas.  We brought up the Lost Ladybug Project to the woman we were meeting with and I assured her that even though it might not seem like she couldn’t do the project now, in January, that I had just that morning found a live ladybug outside my office.  A few minutes later, the woman spotted a ladybug crawling on the window behind me.  (If that didn’t reinforce my point, I’m not sure what would!)  I turned to the window to scoop the ladybug up and happened to notice something.  There was a huge, gorgeous, amazing (but dead) beetle in there!  After the woman left, I returned to the windowsill to retrieve the beetle.  It was spectacular!  But it wasn’t the only thing in there.  In fact, there were five different species of insects in there.  You all know what I do with 5 of any insect related things.  Friday 5!  Today, I bring you the dead insect biodiversity of that windowsill.

The Big, Beautiful Beetle That Prompted This Post

Sculptured pine borer

Sculptured pine borer

I have to say that even though it would have been more exciting to find this guy alive, this is one spectacular beetle!  This also had to be about the easiest beetle I’ve ever tried to ID online.  Found it in less than 30 seconds: the sculptured pine borer, Chalcophora virginiensis.  This beetle is about an inch long with a lot of great texture.  I’m going to make a block print of this one!  The texture is wonderful and it would make a fabulous graphic.

The Ladybugs

Multicolored Asian lady beetles

Multicolored Asian lady beetles

There are a lot of multicolored Asian ladybugs (Harmonia axyridis) in North Carolina.  As the name suggests, they come in a shocking array of different colors.  I believe all the ladybugs in this photo are the same species.  They’re pretty, but they’re not native to the US either.

Unknown Fly

Unknown fly

Unknown fly

I really don’t know my flies very well, but I thought this fly was rather elegant.  It was reasonably large, about a half-inch, and skinny.  A hover fly perhaps?  Any of the fly people out there want to help me out?  I’ve got a good, clear shot of the wing veination if you need it!

(Note: Thanks to Morgan Jackson for identifying this fly as a soldier fly in the family Stratiomyidae and the genus Ptecticus.  According to Morgan, it’s typically found around compost or decaying vegetation and leaf litter.  You’re the best Morgan!)

Headless Leafhopper

Headless leafhopper

Headless leafhopper

This was, surprisingly, the only insect that was missing its head before I removed it from the windowsill.  This one was a lovely pale green on the back, and quite a pretty little bug.  I never did find its head though.  Perhaps decapitation was the cause of death?

Stink Bug

Brown marmorated stink bug

Brown marmorated stink bug

Ah, the brown marmorated stink bug, Halyomorpha halys.  We hadn’t really gotten them in Arizona yet by the time I moved, but there sure are a lot of them here!  They come into buildings during the winter and I’ve seen several live ones over the last month or so.  This one looked like it had languished in the windowsill for some time though – dry and very crispy.  You’ll notice the head is detached in this photo.  That’s my fault – knocked it right off when I was setting it up for the photograph.  Grrr…  I hate it when I do things like that!  

Looking at that windowsill was more exciting than I’d expected it to be!  It prompted me to start looking in some of the other windowsills and the light fixture above my desk to see what I could find.  The latter was a goldmine!  Perhaps I’ll share those finds with you sometime too.  :)

Have a great weekend everyone!

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