Readers’ wildlife photos

January 7, 2020 • 8:00 am

We have two contributions today. First are some photos from reader John O’Neall, whose notes are indented. If you can identify any of his insects, please put the IDs in the comments.

I’m not sure these qualify as “wild”, although at least one does qualify as dangerous. The pix were all taken in my backyard.

This one I found on a drain chain. My science is physics, not biology (but I’m learning, thanks to WEIT), so I have no idea what he (or she) is called. She’s quite pretty, though.

The next one is a chap who came back several years in a row to my composter, then disappeared for several years, and came back last summer. I think of Poe’s story of course. He is quite lovely, in my opinion. I don’t imagine it’s the same one.

Next is a more menacing variety, the one I said is dangerous. We had a gorgeous pine tree in the back yard, but it became infested with these things. I didn’t know until I came our one morning and found this: a line of pine processionaries about 5 meters long. They are really nasty things, with poisonous barbs which fly up if the caterpillars are disturbed. If an animal gets the barbs in its eyes or on its tongue, it can go blind or suffocate from a swollen tongue. They are curious in the way each one hangs onto the tail of the preceding one. I used a long stick to push one aside, and it went right back to its place in line.

Here’s a closer shot:

For years, we had insects which are a kind of shield bug and which are here (France) called gendarmes, yes, like those gendarmes. In Latin, Pyrrhocoris apterus [JAC: the “firebug”]. The patterns on their backs are quite pretty. They occurred in huge numbers on the fruit of hibiscus althea. Trouble is, we have seen almost none last year, just the few you see in the pic. The gendarmes are the ones with the white and red spots.

They have interesting sex lives, sticking together thru thick and thin for hours, if not days. But now they are being displaced by another variety of insect, with a mass of colors. I don’t know what they are called. I call them gendarmes nouveaux.

Randy Schenck in Iowa thinks he’s solved the identity issue of the water birds who successfully ducked the eagle attack (see yesterday’s post).

Recall that earlier today you put up the video of the eagle going after the birds on the water. I suspect the prey in question were grebes.  During the winter a few years ago when I was still living at the lake in Iowa, I took several photos of this little guy one day. [JAC: I’m showing one; does anybody know the species?]

During that same winter, as things would thaw out, the bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) would show up to check things out for fish in the ice.  After a long freeze the kill of fish would be in the ice just waiting to warm up. The eagles keep close watch and cover the area to claim the fish during the thaw.  This particular lake is shallow so a long hard freeze would usually kill some fish.  Notice the third photo has about 7 juveniles and one adult. Lots of young eagles.  The last one is kind of an action photo.

I have seen close to a hundred eagles on the lake during a really busy period.  Eagles would much rather do this than try to catch a live bird on the water.

21 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. From my entomology class in 1970, I believe the first picture might be a snake fly, family Raphidiidae. Harmless to humans. Predators of aphids, etc. Preyed upon by birds like nuthatches.

  2. The second picture appears to be a scarab beetle, family Tenebrionidae. Note the clubbed antennae and the hardened front wings (elytra) which form a protective “shell” (my term) over the other pair of wings beneath. From the order Coleoptera … beetles.

  3. I am pretty sure that the birds in yesterday’s video are coots for three reasons: (1) coots bob their heads when they swim and the birds in the video bob their head, grebes do not stick their butts in the air, coots do, and the birds in the video often have raised butts, and (3) coots have a very characteristic white butt (they flash each other with this butts after fights) and one of the birds in the video clearly flashes a lot of white. And, eagles are well know to favor coots in many areas in winter.

  4. You write that those caterpillars infested a pine tree. Where do you live? If you do not live in North America, they must be pine processionary caterpillars because “No processionary caterpillars occur in North America.”

    If you do live in North America and they are processionary caterpillars of any kind, they must be an invasive species.

    Processionary caterpillars are nasty critters, not only to the host tree but to anything that disturbs their processions.

      1. Thanks. I was so engrossed by the caterpillars and glossed over that. Then they must be pine processionaries “The pine processionary caterpillar is responsible for most of the defoliation of southern Europe. Although pines are most susceptible to the caterpillar, other trees such as larches are also vulnerable. The caterpillars can completely defoliate trees if large quantities are present.” setae

        Though the images show them as having some golden setae, perhaps there’s natural variation in color?

        Wikipedia also says that Europe is experiencing a plague of oak processionary caterpillars.

        I also learn that maggots can migrate en masse and resemble writhing snakes.

        1. That is disturbing. We finally had our pine tree cut down, preferring our 2 cats and a dog to the tree. Many of our neighbors have done the same. And yes, they are pine processionaries. My trick is to look them up in French Wikipedia, because I know what they are called here, then change languages.

    1. The oak processionary moth caterpillars are invasive in the UK – but we could argue they are merely extending their natural range in Europe, & were probably more widespread before the cold period of the present ice ages…

  5. The first picture is an adult antlion, family Myrmeleontiidae. They are numerous species and I cannot be sure which one it is.
    The second photo is a rose chafer, Cetonia aurata. The larvae live in compost, the adult on flowerrs. They eat pollen,nectar – and the whole flower if hungry. They are efficient flyers.
    The “gendarmes nouveaux” are larvae of e pentatomid bug, probably Nezara viridula. The mother lays about 30 eggs under a leaf, and the youngs, bearing an aposematic (warning) color, stay together for common defence.

  6. When we lived in Utah we liked to go in winter to the Bear River Refuge or Farmington Bay to see the eagles, many of which winter in that area (converging, I think from all over the west). In those areas, water management strategies sometimes involve draining large “ponds”. That leaves some fish high and dry and their corpses are a prized source of food for the eagles.

  7. Great birds and bugs. Yes, bald eagles are big time scavengers. Up in Alaska, they hang around in large groups where they can scavenge fish carcasses.

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