Readers’ wildlife photos

Today’s photos are from regular Mark Sturtevant, whose narrative and captions are indented.

These are photographs of insects taken from a couple summers ago. The first two pictures are of caterpillars, beginning with the variable oakleaf caterpillar (Lochmaeus manteo). This is a member of a large family called the ‘prominent moths’. It was not easy to identify this one! The link with the picture shows that the caterpillars are indeed variable.


The next caterpillar is a small inchworm (Melanolophia sp.). Although not remarkable, it was rather impressive that this larva was able to firmly hold this ‘planking’ position for several minutes while I took pictures.

The next picture is of a Northern pearly-eye butterflyEnodia anthedon. I frequently see these near the edges of forest trails. They’re always alert, but this one was willing to let me get close enough.

The mourning cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa) shown in the next picture is by no means uncommon, but they have been difficult to photograph. I will often see them zipping quickly through the woods, and I can only gaze forlornly at their passing. A further complication is that they are not into visiting flowers, but instead do most of their feeding on sap flows high up on tree trunks. So I was very pleased to see this one sunning itself on an old dead tree. Mourning cloaks spend the winter as adults, and it may even be seen flying through woods in the later days of winter while there is still snow on the ground.

I close this posting with pictures of mantidflies, which are rather strange insects.  Mantidflies belong to the order Neuroptera, and so are related to lacewings and antlions. Like other Neuropterans, mantidflies are predators. However, these insects show convergent evolution to praying mantises, and the resemblance is rather startling even though they are very far from being related.

The first pictures show the largest mantidfly in my area (Climaciella brunnea). This individual is clearly a Batesian mimic of a local species of paper wasp, and apparently there are variations among them that mimic different wasp species. Some examples can be seen in the link to this picture. Mantidflies have a difficult upbringing since their larvae are parasitoids on the egg sacs of wandering spiders. The tiny larva must first search for a female spider and hitch a ride on it, hanging on until she makes an egg sac. As the spider does this, they crawl inside and while the mama spider is guarding her eggs, the mantidfly larva is meanwhile eating them! The host of this large mantidly will be a large wandering spider like a wolf spider or nursery web spider.]

The last pictures are of a second species of mantidfly (Dicromantispa sayi) that I found on my shed. These are staged pictures of this smaller species, and they were taken indoors against a large window since this one wanted to fly. This species is known to favor the egg sacs of jumping spiders, and that is suspicious since this is the second  Dicromantispa that I found on my shed, and there is always a good population of jumping spiders on it. So, hmmmm!


  1. Mark Jones
    Posted January 31, 2020 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Love the Camberwell beauty (as we call the mourning cloak), which are pretty rare in the UK, so cause great excitement when seen! Here’s the excited post when one was found here last August

    • Mark Jones
      Posted January 31, 2020 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      (Wait for the web page to load to see the photos)

    • Serendipitydawg
      Posted January 31, 2020 at 8:35 am | Permalink

      That was a real ‘hang on a minute’ for me: I had no idea they were endemic to the US under another name… thanks G**gle. I have only ever seen a single specimen and that was back in 1968!

      • loren russell
        Posted January 31, 2020 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

        very common when I was a child in nw Washington state. NOt surprising since larvae feed on nettles, which were the chief understory species in our woodlot.

        Like most butterflies, they seem to be markedly rarer now in the PNW.

    • Posted January 31, 2020 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      It startled me to see pictures of one on flowers! They are pretty common over here, but I never see them do that!
      Interesting web site. I would very much wish to see your fabulous peacock butterfly.

  2. Posted January 31, 2020 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Superb pictures as always, Mark. The resemblance of the mantidfly to the praying mantis is quite remarkable.

  3. rickflick
    Posted January 31, 2020 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Fascinating group. I had never heard of the mantis imitating flies. Some of those are shaped like giant, space-alien, Hollywood-monsters, none of which would I, in the least, want to be physically entangled. Fine shots all.

  4. Posted January 31, 2020 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    I badly want to see one of those mantisflies. I’ve never seen one in the US. What excellent photos! And crazy life history story.

    • loren russell
      Posted January 31, 2020 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

      They are sneaky. I probably spent thousands of hours collecting insects in my younger years, but have seen exactly two individuals. One, in southern Oregon, landed on my car mirror while I was parked, sitting in the driver seat eating lunch.

      The second, when visiting my sister in nw Washington, landed on my arm. Apparently satisfied that I wasn’t harboring spider eggs, it flew to a nearby shed.

      The PNW species [is/are: not sure if there ia more than one here] small, not wasp-mimics, and might be dismissed as some other neuropteran.

  5. Posted January 31, 2020 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Extraordinary pics love it!

  6. Posted January 31, 2020 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Great eye and camera skills, Mark. Your work never disappoints! I bet you’re a study in patience too.

  7. Mark R.
    Posted January 31, 2020 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Great photos and commentary. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mantidfly…aptly named.

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