Question Mark (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

It’s cooled down a lot in North Carolina recently and we’ve had some chilly days.  The number of insects I see out and about has decreased with the decreasing temperatures, but you can still find some great things on warmer days in sunny patches.  This question mark was one of my favorite recent finds:

Question mark

Question mark

I don’t see a lot of these butterflies in general, so I was surprised – and very happy – to see one this late.  So beautiful!

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

Butterfly Taunts (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

I found myself in California for the second time in two months for a friend’s wedding last weekend. A group of us went on a hike at a little roadside attraction and saw a bunch of these butterflies:

California sister

California sister, Adelpha californica (I think…)

They kept darting away right as I hit the shutter release so I ended up with dozens of photos of random grasses with no butterflies.  Fun times with insect photography!  I got this one on something like the 50th try.  Good timing too.  Was about ready to throw my camera at one of them out of sheer frustration…  :)

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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: Late

A couple of weekends ago, I was leading a program at work on how to use nature photos to contribute to citizen science projects.  As part of the program, we head out onto the grounds of the field station to look for interesting things to photograph.  We were just about to finish up by breezing through the native plant garden when I noticed this:

Monarch on aromatic aster

Monarch on aromatic aster

I started jumping up and down, saying, “A monarch!  A monarch!” and pointing like an idiot.  I snapped one quick shot, then sacrificed my position to let my “students” get in close.  Everyone lunged in, and a few people got some really decent shots of the butterfly.  She unfortunately flew off before I had a second go with my camera.  However, even if I didn’t get a really good shot of her, I was still thrilled to see her.  Monarch numbers are WAY down in many places this year, and it was great to see one more so late in the year.  November 2!  Couldn’t have been happier to see her!

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Nom Nom Nom

When I was a kid, I never would have expected that I would own a cell phone, that I would spend a lot of my time sharing things I write via the internet, or that anyone other than James Bond could capture videos with a tiny device that you could hold in your hand.  Younger me carried an enormous 126mm camera around with her, took 3.5 inch square photos, and had to take them to a drug store and pay someone to have them developed.  Take a moment to appreciate this fact: we can do truly magical things with our phones!  Case in point, I took this video last week to test out Instagram’s new video function.  A cell phone, an inexpensive macro lens attachment, and a woolly pipevine plant, and here’s what you get:

That’s a pipevine swallowtail caterpillar, munching away on its host plant.  How awesome is it that we can do this sort of thing with our phones??

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Eggs on Pipevine

In my post on Friday I mentioned that I got to see a pipevine swallowtail laying her eggs on the woolly pipevine at work.  Here’s proof!

Pipevine Swallowtail

Pipevine swallowtail, Battus philenor, laying eggs on woolly pipevine

I took this with a point and shoot camera, so you can imagine how close she let me get.  I was so thrilled to have the opportunity to see this!  Now I need to keep checking on the eggs so I can see what they look like when they first hatch.  Pipevine swallowtail caterpillars are one of the more interesting looking caterpillars I’ve seen, so I can’t wait to see the brand new ones, fresh out of the eggs!

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

Something Happier for a Sunday

I feel like I need to replace my doom and gloom post from Friday with something cheerier.  I’m not going to be able to get the maps for the Dragonfly Swarm Project year-end report up today as I’d hoped, but instead I want to share a photo of part of our natural world, a reminder that the world is an unbelievably beautiful place teeming with life.  This is a black swallowtail chrysalis:

Black swallowtail pupa

Black swallowtail pupa, Papilio polyxenes, taken with an iPhone

We had the caterpillar in a cage for a program at work a while back and it transformed into a pupa inside the cage.  Now it’s sitting there, massively reorganizing  its entire body and building a new body through the winter months.  This immobilized stage represents the nigh-miraculous transformation between this…

Black swallowtail caterpillar

Black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) caterpillar, taken with a Nikon D80 with a Nikkor 70-300mm zoom kit lens

… and something that resembles this (because I don’t have a photo of an adult black swallowtail and I have to substitute a black form eastern tiger swallowtail)…

Eastern tiger swallowtail black form

Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) black form, taken with a Nikon D80 and a Nikkor 70-300mm zoom kit lens

You all know that I’m not the biggest butterfly lover, but even I will admit that being able to transform from a plant munching little worm into a beautiful, winged sugar fiend is a pretty neat trick.   If that doesn’t make you appreciate this amazing planet we live on and the myriad forms of life that surround us, I’m not sure what will.

I took the photo of the chrysalis with a new little photo gadget that I’m very excited about.  I’ll share the details in a future post, so look for that, coming soon!

Enjoy your Sunday everyone!

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