Late Season Pollinators 2016

We’ve had a few cool days in Raleigh so far this fall, but it’s been quite warm overall. This means that a lot of insects have been out later than usual, in some cases quite a bit later than usual. A couple of weeks ago, I had lunch at a nearby arboretum, just to get outside in a pretty place for a while, and I came across this field of cosmos:

flower-field

That photo was taken on November 10th, so I was very surprised to come across so many blooming flowers! Several other flowers were also in bloom, so there were quite a few different insect species making use of the nectar. There were, of course, many bees, including honey bees:

honey bee with cucumber beetle

There were also at least three different species of bumble bee, though I’ll admit that I am terrible at figuring out which species is which:

bumble bee

Most of the bumble bees I come across in my area are the common eastern bumble bee, and I suspect this one is as well, but I couldn’t say for sure.

On the same flowers, I came across a few butterflies. I hardly ever see cabbage whites, so I was excited to see this one:

cabbage white

I know they’re a pest species and a lot of people really dislike them. And yes, they did once eat all of the broccoli I planted in my garden. However, they’re really beautiful and they’re just doing what they do when they eat my broccoli, so I like them anyway.  :)

There were tons of these checkered skippers in the field of flowers:

checkered skipper

I don’t know why, but I rarely see these at the museum field station where I work, even though it’s just a mile or so away from the arboretum where I took these photos. There are tons of them at the arboretum though, almost every time I go! I spotted at least two other skippers the same day, but only got a photo of this one:

fiery skipper

I believe this is a fiery skipper, but I’m not 100% sure about my ID. What can I say? Butterflies are not my best group as I just took a real interest in them recently, but I’m working on getting better. Skippers are harder to ID than a lot of other groups, so they’re my weakest group and probably will remain so for a while.

You might have noticed the cucumber beetle in the photo with the honey bee. Once I saw one, I started looking for them and found dozens more, about one per 2-3 flowers:

cucumber beetle

Apparently they really like these flowers. They’re an agricultural crop pest, so it made me wonder if all the holes in the petals I was seeing were caused by the beetles. A lot of the most heavily damaged flowers had the beetles on them, but that could just be coincidence. There were a lot of beetles on a lot of flowers!

I spent a long time watching the insects in this field of flowers, but I saw several more as I walked back to my car. There were more butterflies out, including this common buckeye (one of my favorite butterflies!):

common buckeye

… and this American lady:

American lady

I didn’t manage to get a photo of the swallowtail that was flying around as it wouldn’t sit still long enough, but there was one eastern tiger swallowtail floating around the area. There were also a ton of hover flies, of multiple species. This one:

hover fly

… and this one:

hover fly

… seemed like particularly good bee mimics, about the same size and had rather similar behavioral patterns as honey bees. In fact, a pair of women came up to this planting while I was there and said, “Wow! Look at all those bees!” I, being the annoying person that I am sure I sometimes am, couldn’t let that pass, so I told them that a lot of what they thought were bees were actually flies and pointed out the differences. Not sure they really wanted the entomological lesson right then, but I just can’t help myself sometimes.

Fall has been coming on a lot more slowly in my area than normal this year, so I’ve been surprised more than once by the things that are still visible that are usually gone by now. I found a monarch caterpillar a few days ago and there are still a few milkweed plants alive! A few years ago, I remember seeing a monarch adult on November 2 and thinking it was terribly late, but this year I’m still seeing caterpillars.  Strange, and a little disturbing that it’s so warm so late, but I’m going to enjoy seeing insects out as long as they last – and welcome winter with open arms when it finally arrives.

flower in bloom

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

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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.

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Late Season Odonates

I finally made it to the North Carolina Zoo a few days ago!  I had wanted to go since I moved here, largely because they have a Sonoran Desert exhibit with a lot of the species I miss from Arizona, and I was excited I finally had a chance to go.  The Sonoran Desert exhibit was not my favorite part, however.  It was this:

 

Lestes sp

Archilestes grandis?

There were dozens of dragonflies and damselflies (=odonates) out flying around the marshy area near the entrance!  I am not 100% sure which species this is as they were a ways off and I am really that not great at IDing lestid damselfly species anyway, but they were huge so probably Archilestes grandis? And there were a lot of them.  I was excited to see any dragonflies or damselflies out this late in the year!

Anyone else still seeing dragonflies and damselflies?

(Thanks to Mike Powell for making me question my initial identification of this damselfly as a Lestes sp.!)

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

Late Season Pollinators

Central North Carolina’s weather has been a bit schizophrenic recently, alternating wildly between warm and cold, seemingly at random.  I keep thinking this sort of switching will kill off the last of the insects, but I am constantly proven wrong.  Every time it gets warm, the insects reappear.  Many of the pollinators are taking advantage of the late-blooming flowers at Prairie Ridge, the aromatic asters, frost asters, and narrow-leafed sunflowers:

narrow-leafed sunflower

Narrow-leafed sunflower

There are quite a few flowers in bloom right now, so I keep seeing pollinators.  There are lots of honey bees out still:

honey bee

Honey bee

That particular shrub is no longer in bloom, but the honey bees have simply moved on to other things that provide the nectar they crave.  There are lots of other bees out too, including bumblebees (my favorites):

Bumblebee

Bumblebee on aromatic aster

… and eastern carpenter bees:

carpenter bee

Carpenter bee

Bumblebees and carpenter bees look rather similar in this part of the country, but you can tell them apart pretty easily.  Fuzzy butt = bumblebee.  Smooth, shiny butt = carpenter bee.   I’m sure there are behavioral difference between the two I’ve yet to see too, but I haven’t been around them quite long enough to notice them.

There are other Hymenoptera out and about too.  I was introduced to the existence of scoliids earlier this year, and I have been shocked by how many different types of them I’ve seen in North Carolina!  I love the white patches on this one:

Scoliid wasp

Scoliid wasp

It looks almost elegant!  Scoliids, if you don’t recall, are parasites that lay their eggs on scarab larvae.  We’ve got tons of eastern green June beetles at Prairie Ridge, among other species, so there are probably a lot of scoliids around because due to our wormy bounty.  I haven’t seen many of these around recently, but every now and again I’ll come across a straggler.

I’m not entirely surprised to see bees and wasps around this late in the year, but I have been surprised by all the butterflies.  There are still quite a few sulphurs flying around:

Sulphur butterfly

Sulphur butterfly

I’ve also seen some American Ladies, a few whites, and a few skippers.  It seems odd to see them in November, but I’ve been told this isn’t completely unusual.  What seems very really odd, however, are the number of caterpillars we’re still seeing.  We’ve had a few very cold nights already, but the caterpillars keep on going on.  The monarchs were out until just a few weeks ago, but seeing as I haven’t made any sightings since then, I assume they’re done for the year.  However, one of my coworkers JUST found one of these:

Pipevine swallowtail caterpillar

Pipevine swallowtail caterpillar

Pipevine caterpillar!  I have a feeling the pipevine caterpillar she found won’t make it as it looks too small to pupate and winter is coming, but we’ll see.  Maybe it will surprise me!

There have been flies all over the flowers too, doing their part to help plants reproduce.  Flies provide valuable pollination services, though they certainly aren’t as widely beloved as the butterflies and the bees.  Although it’s not pollination, the flies are also helping another species spread its genes around:

Stinkhorn

Stinkhorn

Flies are important to stinkhorn fungi and help spread fungal spores to new areas.  I’ve become very good at finding these mushrooms based on their smell and I enjoy looking to see what insects they’ve got crawling on them.  Typically I see flies, lots of flies.  Over the weekend, however, I found several stinkhorns that had ants all over them, including this one.  I wonder if the ants are helping spread fungal spores around too…

I suspect I’ll continue to see pollinators as long as there are occasional warm days and plentiful flowers.  I have no idea how much longer I should expect them to last, but in the meantime I’ll enjoy seeing all the flowers and hearing the happy buzzing sound coming from the prairie.

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

Friday 5: Fall

I have struggled against this idea in my head for the past few weeks, but I’m giving in: I’m doing a Friday 5 that has nothing to do with insects!  I posted a photo for Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday almost exactly a year ago that depicted the sorts of non-fall that I have experienced through most of my life.  For the first time ever, I find myself in a place that has a REAL fall, where the trees change colors, the days are full of crisp, cool weather, and the afternoon sun takes on the most magnificent warm glow.  I have always loved fall, but fall on the American east coast is an entirely different experience.  Today, I give you give photos of fall in North Carolina.

home leaves

Maple tree out front

This is the maple tree in my front yard.  I grew up with a maple tree in my front yard in Colorado, but the leaves on that tree turned yellow, not red.  The red is a whole lot more impressive!  Of course, many of the leaves were blown off by the Hurricane Sandy wind right when they were turning red, so I didn’t get to see my sadly deformed tree (it was hit by a tornado a few years ago apparently) in all its fall glory.  There’s always next year!

There are also a lot of red trees downtown:

downtown

Downtown Raleigh

Every time I go downtown to the museum for meetings and other activities, I’m shocked by how brightly colored the trees are.  Man I love red maples!  They’re amazing!  And it’s fun to have the leaves all over your car when you’re ready to leave too.  I pick up a new leaf that’s the most beautiful leaf I’ve ever seen every time I’m down there.  I’ve got quite the collection of the most beautiful leaves ever now.

Prairie Ridge is awfully pretty right now too:

Prairie Ridge

Prairie Ridge

The bulk of the trees on the field station property are along the stream in the riparian area and they get more colorful each day.  This was taken a few weeks ago.  Now these trees are even more yellow, and some have turned orange or red.  It’s spectacular!

If you walk around the grounds, you can also find the last of the fall harvest:

Persimmons

I never did try any of the persimmons this year.  Probably should have.  The grapes though…  Lordy were they tasty!  I hear the persimmons are fantastic too, but I never had a chance to go get one while they were at their peak.  Now they’re all wrinkly and misshapen, so I’m reluctant to eat them.  If there’s one thing people know about me, other than the fact that I love insects, it’s that I am strongly anti-fruit.  Persimmons are lovely though, so next year I’m taking advantage of my workplace bounty.

And finally, this is the view I’m greeted with when I pull into the parking lot in the morning:

my view

The view from the parking lot

Most of the yellow and red leaves you see on the trees, wrapped around the trunks, are my nemesis, poison ivy.  But I love that one bright red tree hiding back there.  The sun comes up behind that tree and when you look out in the morning, the light streaming through the leaves is more beautiful than anything I can imagine.  It’s just stunning.

Ah, fall.  What a fantastic time of year!  I love being a little chilly in the morning, having a real excuse to wear my sweaters, and dreaming about seeing snow for the first time in several years.  Granted, I also thought some major astronomical event had occurred when it got dark a whole hour earlier on Monday than it did on Friday.  Yeah, haven’t done daylight savings time in a while either…  There are a lot of new things to get used to in my new home, but fall is one of the things I know I am never going to get tired of.  Nature is magnificent!  I hope you all enjoy it as much as I do.

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

Adventures with Autumn Arthropods

When I moved to North Carolina, I was excited to see a real fall.  The trees are changing colors and we’ve had some gloriously crisp nights, but I have to admit I expected it to be cooler at this point.  It’s getting to be late October, yet there are still days when I get so warm that I shed clothes down to the base layer.  I also expected most of the insects to be gone by now, but that hasn’t been the case at all!  The dragonfly season is largely over as I’ve seen only one lone green darner and one blue dasher at the pond over the last month, but there are otherwise lots of insect activity still.  Let me give you a brief overview of some of the highlights of the last month.

This is cheating a bit as this was the live butterfly exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, but I got to see my first butterfly emerge from its pupa in several years:

A beautiful owl butterfly!  It was shocking how fast that little guy wiggled out of its pupal case and puffed its wings out too – under 2 minutes from a shriveled butterfly to this.  Wow.  Nature is amazing.  Truly.  The macro capabilities of my iPhone without any adapters leave much to be desired, however.

I’ve seen more of these…

Chinese mantids over the past month than I’ve seen in my entire life!  This beauty was incredibly pregnant and I’m sure she laid a huge egg case out in the prairie somewhere after she was re-released back into the wild after her trip to BugFest.

I have two eighth grade volunteers who are doing a service learning project with me in the citizen science center in the museum where I work.  We promote a new citizen science project, or group of related projects, each week.  A few weeks ago, we promoted monarch butterfly projects and I was shocked that I was able to find so many of these out and about still:

What sort of self-respecting butterfly is still in the caterpillar phase in the middle of October?  Crazy!  I haven’t seen any larvae since then, but up until the last few days I’d seen many adults flying around.  Last Thursday I saw a good 50 or 60 of them in just a few hours!  Some were tagged with the little Monarch Watch tags (thanks to our trusty 10-year-old butterfly catcher/tagger – he is awesome at it!), and some had yet to have found themselves in the clutches of citizen scientists eager to report their findings.  Is seeing monarchs on October 19 strange?  I really don’t know yet.

Speaking of pollinators… I walked through the prairie yesterday (it was my weekend to work) and stood there for a moment, marveling at the incredible sound the bees, wasps, and flies were making as they gathered nectar and spread plant reproductive cells bits about.  Bumblebees still make me happy every time I see them, and probably always will:

Look at that cute little fuzzy butt!  Bumblebees are adorable.  I have been amazed at how very many pollinators, like the bumblebees, are still out, but I suppose I shouldn’t when vast swaths of the prairie look like this:

Wow!  There are a lot of opportunities for a pollinator to both dine and spread plant genetics around out there!  Those are frost asters, in case you were wondering.  I’m slowly learning my prairie plant species, so I feel the need to show off my latest bit of acquired plant knowledge.  :)

Speaking of reproduction… One of the most exciting of the natural events I witnessed in the past month was the rise of the stinkhorns after a series of soaking rains.  If this doesn’t remind you of a particular anatomical part, I don’t know what will:

Then there are these:

Those are actually commonly called dog phallus mushrooms.  It might be a little hard to see, but flies LOVE stinkhorns, and both of these fine specimens have flies on them.  It’s nice being in a place where things like this actually have a shot at growing.  Shortly before I moved away from Arizona, we had a big rain and a mushroom popped up in my backyard.  It was the first mushroom I’d seen growing in the wild for a few years and I was SO excited!  Now I can step outside on any given day and typically find 5-10 species.  It’s great!

But this blog isn’t about mushrooms.  It’s about insects.  There were a lot of insects at the North Carolina State Fair, where I helped out with the museum’s tent.  This fine specimen was in the garden exhibit:

Love the creative use of recycled materials!  There were also a ton of these around:

Adults using them outnumbered kids 3 to 1.  I found that very amusing, and happily took a photo of a pair of women who asked if I could get a shot of them as the butterfly and bee.  I love it when these sorts of things get used by adults more than kids.  I’ve even considered making one for a party sometime and setting up a little photo booth with it.  I think it would be heavily used!

For all the ant loving people out there, I got to see a really cool battle between an ant colony and a termite colony recently:

The ants won.  Handily.  I watched several termites get stung by the ants and it looked awful.  Poor little guys…

Finally, I was photographing some moss sporophytes yesterday when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye.  It was this lovely creature:

… crawling down a moss-covered tree trunk.  That’s the American dagger moth, Acronicta americana.  Awesome caterpillar!  But, I say it again: what sort of self-respecting moth is still in the caterpillar stage as of October 21?  I can only hope it was headed down the tree to find a nice, cozy place to pupate for the winter.

I suppose I should be grateful that it’s still warm enough to see butterflies and grasshopper and bumblebees out, but I do hope it cools down more soon.  I have a whole store of sweaters ready to go that I rarely got to wear in Arizona.  Come on, North Carolina: bring on the winter!

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Fall

Fall has always been my favorite season, though I have never lived in a place that has the sort of fall where all the leaves change colors and everything takes on the glorious warm color palette that is normally associated with the season. Instead, I’ve lived in two arid regions, both of which had a “fall” that last approximately three weeks. Colorado at least had some trees that changed colors when it started getting cool (it is famous for it’s fall aspen display at higher elevations, and for good reason!), but Arizona doesn’t even give you that much. That doesn’t make fall in the desert any less beautiful though! Check out this photo of a desert grassland:

Los Fresnos grasslands

The grassland at Los Fresnos, a historic ranch turned nature preserve in Mexico along the US border with Arizona. The mountains in the background are the Huachucas.

Everything took on this lovely golden color and the air was crisp.  Just perfect, even without the red and gold leaves.

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © TheDragonflyWoman.com