Readers’ wildlife photos

Today we have regular Mark Sturtevant with some lovely photos of insects. His captions are indented:

These are some pictures of insects taken during the previous summer.

Let’s begin with a few Lepidoptera. The moth shown in the first two pictures is the tufted bird dropping moth (Cerma cerintha). This form of mimicry (or is it considered camouflage?) is widespread with insects and spiders, but for it to work they must behave like a bird dropping. This means the individual must sit out in plain sight.

Next is another moth that is also a bird dropping mimic. This is called the beautiful wood nymph (Eudryas grata), and it is a rather famous example of this form of deception because they habitually hold out their front legs to resemble a splattered bird dropping. When disturbed they scooch over a bit, settle, and out go the legs again.

I came across the next caterpillar while wading in a marsh. This is the larva of the  Baltimore checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas phaeton), a lovely little butterfly that features bright warning colors, as does the caterpillar and the chrysalis, as is shown in the link. I don’t know if it is advertising toxicity, but even the chrysalis?!

Finally, this delicately colored caterpillar in the next picture is the larva of the copper underwing moth (Amphipyra pyramidoides). It is a caterpillar that I find pretty regularly on cherry. The adult moths are common in my yard, but I have yet to get around photographing one.

Moving to a different insect order. This insect is called a stonefly, and it belongs to the “primitive” order Plecoptera. I don’t know how to ID it any further without resorting to looking over wing venation (sorry!). Stoneflies grow up in water, and the short-lived winged adults emerge en masse. This was one among thousands found along a local river early last season. The link goes to a short video that describes their life cycle.

The order Coleoptera is next. This fairly large beetle with the impressive headgear is a longhorn beetle known as the white-spotted sawyer (Monocahamus scutellatus). The larvae of these insects feed in dead or dying wood, and the adults are known to find new sources of suitable timber by tracking the sex pheromones released by bark beetles. This makes the bark beetle pheromone a “kairomone”, which is a chemical signal exploited by a different species.

Next is a strikingly colorful beetle called a net-winged beetle which I have tentatively identified as Calopteron discrepens. Net winged beetles are toxic, and several species form a mimicry complex with each other and with other insects.

The next picture shows a mating pair or rose chafer beetles (Macrodactylus sp.). This introduces a slightly new direction in my photography, which is to use focus stacking to extend the depth of focus in pictures. This picture is an early attempt, and it was made from 3 hand-held pictures that were merged in the program known as Zerene Stacker.

A beautiful ebony jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata) brings up the rear. The associated link is to a short video that summarizes some of the interactions that commonly occur between these insects. I have watched their interesting displays many times and I shall never tire of watching them.

Photographing ebony jewelwings has been challenging for me since they have metallic colors that don’t record well with a camera flash. So this picture is another focus stacked image made from two pictures that were taken without the flash but at wide aperture in order to handle the low light levels. Perhaps this is the answer to the “ebony jewelwing challenge”.

Focus stacking is fun to do and it’s not too difficult. In later installments I will show some focus stacked pictures that are far more ambitious. Stay tuned!


  1. Posted August 10, 2020 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Beautiful photos, Mark, thanks for sharing these. I love your crisp IQ in your images.

  2. Eddie Janssen
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    The first thing that came to my mind when I saw the first tufted bird droppings moth picture was: Delfts Blauw (Delfts Blue).

  3. Posted August 10, 2020 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Very nice! 😁

  4. rickflick
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Watching the film of the stone fly molting is reminiscent of the process in the cicada. They both climb the bark of a tree, split along the back and squeeze out. The wings are pumped up with hydrophilic pressure.

  5. john avise
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Beautiful photos and associated commentary!

  6. Posted August 10, 2020 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Great bug pics, as always. The bird poop moths look just like something I find on my car windshield.

  7. phar84
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful insect photos.
    Will now try to catch and release instead of squashing them.

  8. Mark R.
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Most enjoyable. Thanks for these lovely photos.

  9. Posted August 10, 2020 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    Great work, Mark! Thanks again.

  10. Posted August 10, 2020 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    I love the delicate green iridescence on those poop moths. I wonder why, though. Bird poop is as far from iridewscent as it is possible to get.

    And three cheers for focus stacking!

  11. Posted August 10, 2020 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    Oh the insects are always my favorites – even above the birds which I also like.
    And insect porn — top notch! Just look at those bugs go!
    D.A., J.D., NYC

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