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!

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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!

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

A Weekend of Clouds

The assignment for my Photography 101 class for the weekend was to explore light and suggested that you compare the light conditions at different times of the day. Given that I post mostly nature photos, my typical outdoor photography was complicated greatly by the cloudy conditions all weekend. Clouds, clouds, and more clouds:

clouds

That meant that the light simply got a little lighter and dimmer rather than changing the direction of shadows so I could really look at how the light changed throughout the day. However, clouds create this lovely, soft, diffused light, so I chose to use that to my advantage and explore signs of spring in my area instead.

The field station for the museum where I work has this amazing open sky and vast horizon compared to many other sites in this area:

Prairie after the burn

Because it’s up on a hill and it’s mostly grassland rather than forest, there’s often a harsh glare when you shoot photos of this field. This weekend, it had this lovely vibrant green color thanks to the low clouds and diffuse light. I took this photo as a sign of spring because the annual controlled burn takes place in the spring and you can see the results – no tall prairie grasses – in this shot. The burn took place just 10 days before I took this photo and the whole field was a blackened, ashy expanse after the burn.  Everything smelled like campfire. It’s amazing how fast things start to grow back after the burn!

I walked down to the pond at one point on Saturday. I’m leading a training for a dragonfly educational program for kids this week, so I have been looking for darners everyday in hopes we’ll be able to find some during the training. The pond looked lovely with the clouds!

Prairie Ridge pond
There was little wind for once too, so the reflections on the water were unusually distinct. However, off to the right of this image is a sort of “input,” a narrow channel where the runoff from the prairie flows into the pond. It’s been absolutely full of tadpoles for a few months now, and they were all coming up to the surface when I walked by:

tadpoles gulping air

Perhaps the cloudy conditions were slowing photosynthesis down sufficiently to drive the oxygen levels of the pond down? I’ve been told tadpoles come to the surface like this to gulp air. Apparently a lot of them needed a little extra oxygen as there were hundreds bobbing up and down in the water. There are 5 tadpoles breaking the surface in this shot, but all those bubbles were the result of other tadpoles surfacing!

There were lots of flowers starting to bloom, and they generally looked great in the diffuse light. The dogwood flowers haven’t opened yet, but the big white bracts had pulled back enough to see the little green flower buds inside:

dogwood flower buds
The bradford pears, a non-native species in North Carolina, have been putting on quite the show recently as well:

bradford pear blossoms
They smell awful, but the flowers are gorgeous! And there are small flowers growing in the ground all over the place, like these little violas:

viola blooms

There weren’t very many insects out, likely because it was relatively dark and cool, but I did come across an area with heavy tent caterpillar activity:

tent caterpillars
We get tent caterpillars in the crotch of trees in the spring and fall webworms at the branch tips in the fall, but neither in big enough numbers to cause problems for the trees. These are another insect I see early in the spring each year:

boxelder bug

The light made this boxelder bug look pretty good, but the overall darkness made getting a clear shot hard. The shutter speed had to be pretty low to get enough light for the photo, which meant that every tiny movement resulted in blurriness in the photo. Motion blur is alway a problem when you take macro photos of moving subjects like insects, but it’s doubly difficult to overcome when heavy clouds are making it dark and you don’t have a flash with you.

It’s been dark, cool, and a little rainy all weekend, so we’ll see what the insect situation next week ends up looking like.  Here’s hoping all those dragonflies and damselflies I saw last week make it through the chilly evenings this weekend.  There’s warm weather coming again just a few days from now!

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

Mystery

Today’s Photography 101 topic is mystery, and here’s my photo:

Stream

I post this photo because I’ve been working on this stream for a while to solve a mystery.  The water quality is good here – surprisingly good for an urban stream – and the insects you find here frequently back that up.  I’ve found riffle beetles and stoneflies here on occasion, insects that are only found in very clean waters.  However, you don’t find them every time.  In fact, you usually find almost no insects at all!

For the past three years, I’ve been working with some high school students to study this stream to try to explain the lack of insects.  What we’ve found so far suggests that flooding is the primary factor influencing the insect population in this stream.  While we still need to collect more data, particularly after a flood event, to be sure that it’s the flow that drives the lack of biodiversity in this stream, but I’m feeling more and more confident that this is the case and that we’re close to finally solving this mystery.

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

Warmth

It has been unusually warm in North Carolina this week.  Things are blooming – in March – and several damselfly and one dragonfly species are out – in March – and I’ve seen several snakes and frogs – in March.  Some of these things are happening a full month early this year, so biological events I might never expect to see in March have been surprisingly visible.  The dragonflies and damselflies are making me particularly happy, so I’ve got another damselfly photo to share for today’s Photography 101 topic, warmth:

Spreadwing damselfly

Spreadwing damselfly

Dragonflies are warm weather insects by and large, so you really only see them when it’s warm enough to boost the water temps a bit and encourage the nymphs to emerge. It’s been sufficiently warm just long enough, in spite of how early it is, that damselflies are starting to make an appearance for the year.  I also like the warmer colors of the background of this photo, which I think contrasts nicely with the cooler colors of the damselfly and the cattail.

I am not 100% sure on the ID for the spreadwing damselfly above, but I believe it is a southern spreadwing.  They’re very common and smaller than most of the other spreadwings you might find in my county in North Carolina.  Unlike the damselfly I shared yesterday that is very easy to identify, the spreadwings, at least in the southeastern US, all look about the same and can be hard to identify without catching one and taking a close look at its undercarriage.  You can see in the photo where the spreadwings get their name though!  Most damselflies hold their wings pressed together over their backs at rest, but spreadwings hold them slightly apart.  These are also quite large damselflies and the family includes many of the largest species in the US.

It’s going to cool down a bit this weekend before the temperatures soar next week, so it will be interesting to see what impact the cooler weather has on the early spring!

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

Natural World

The Photography 101 topic for today is “natural world,” which is perfect for me!  I went wandering today to find interesting things and this is my favorite shot:

fragile forktail

Fragile forktail

This is a fragile forktail, the first I’ve seen for the year.  They’ve been the first damselfly species I see in North Carolina each spring since I moved here, though they’re my second species this year.  El Nino at work most likely!

It’s easy to tell fragile forktails from other species.  See the exclamation point marking on the sides of the thorax?  That’s a good indication that you’re looking at a fragile forktail.  The males and females look very different too, so it’s very easy to tell them apart at a quick glance.  The males look like the one above, bright lime green and black, while the females are blue with black markings.  Damselflies can be hard to identify because so many look so similar, so it’s nice to come across the easy ones in the field!

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

Big

The Photography 101 topic for today asks participants to explore the concept of big, either by showing something really big, a part of something really big, or making something small very big.  I will, of course, always choose the latter!  I found a fly crawling around on a metal pipe in my house last night and got some shots of it.  This is my favorite:

Fly

Fly

It really highlights the bizarre mouthpart of some flies, the strange sponging device that they use to regurgitate onto their food and suck up the resulting mess.  This pipe was apparently rather dirty (nothing like a really close up macro photo to highlight the dust and grime you never noticed!), so the fly spent several minutes wandering around and slurping up dog hair and whatever else is on this surface.  Gonna clean that off with some cleaner ASAP!

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