Readers’ wildlife photos

Please send your photos in, as to keep this feature going I need seven contributions per week. We don’t want to lose our beastie pics, right?

Today we have diverse photos from reader Dave Campbell, whose notes and IDs I’ve indented:

Here are some photos to replenish the cache with accompanying text.  I tossed in a photo with a connection to Charles Darwin and a gratuitous reference to a fictional rabbit from Brooklyn.

Eastern Spadefoot Toad (Scaphiopus holbrookii). In June, Tropical Storm Cristobal dumped five to six inches of rain on us and the following night the spadefoot toads came out.  They spend most of their lives buried underground waiting for heavy downpours.  Immediately following the rain they emerge for a few days and eat and mate and then burrow back underground to wait for the next rain.  I live on a high sandridge that is usually pretty dry so the emergence of these amphibians is a major event for us.  The adults look like little porcelain frogs with beautiful eyes.

Three weeks after the adult was photographed my property was overrun by thousands of spadefoot toadlets, sometimes as many as 20 per square meter.  21 days after the adults emerged the next generation is fully metamorphosed and hunting on dry land.  They are tiny, only about three to four millimeters long (those little white things are sand grains).  We were still seeing them three week later but the numbers decline rapidly.

Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus obscurus).  The vermilion flycatcher is a western bird but one or two seem to take a wrong turn at Albuquerque every year and wind up in the Florida panhandle.  This male showed up at St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge southeast of Tallahassee, Florida last November and set up shop at the first roadside pulloff after entering the refuge marshes.  The first description of the vermilion flycatcher was made by John Gould based on a specimen collected by Charles Darwin in the Galapagos.

Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor)  Every spring the trees around the boardwalk over the alligator ponds at the Saint Augustine Alligator Farm become a large rookery for hundreds of nesting wading birds.  The rookery flourishes because alligators in the ponds below prevent predators like raccoons from reaching the nests.  Photographers flock to the boardwalks over the alligator ponds for a chance to capture images of the birds at very close range.  The gators get the occasional careless hatchling which bothers some of the tourists but I have never seen anyone jump off the boardwalk to effect a rescue.  This bird is reacting to the approach of its mate.

Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)  Photographed along a stream in the state forest near my home.  The metallic exoskeletons have structural colors that change from blue to green to blue as the angle of incidence of light changes. They are common along wooded streams.  Damselflies are my favorite insects both because they are beautiful and because they eat mosquitoes.

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis).  Immature bird on short final for landing photographed at  Bottom Road near St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.  Notice how individual flight feathers are manipulated to maximize lift in slow flight, not unlike the slats and flaps on airplanes.

Ghost Crab (Ocypode quadrata). Photographed at Long Point Park on the Florida Gulf Coast.  This young one paused at the entrance to its burrow just long enough for me to record it for posterity.

Sanderling (Calidris alba). Sanderlings are common, conspicuous, and entertaining shorebirds.  They race along the beach, following the edge of advancing and receding waves like little clockwork toys.  This bird is in fall plumage, a study in white and gray, and ignored the humans as it ran back and forth.

Paper wasp (Polistes carolina) feeding on a monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) larva.  Not long ago, another photographer who had submitted images wondered what happened to some of the monarch larva.  This is one likely answer.  Our first brood last spring had an adult emergence rate in the high ninety percent range.  The second brood, mostly offspring of the first one, had a success rate from first instar to adult in single digits.  The difference was at least three species of Polistes that found my milkweed patch and chowed down on larvae and two pupae.  Last fall I found bald-faced hornets (Dolichovespula maculata) feeding on monarch larvae as well.

5 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Your reasons for liking damselflies are thoroughly convincing! Great photos.

    Your last photo reminded me of a thought I had just yesterday, that someone should write a “spoof” sequel to the kid’s book “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” called “The Very Fertile Wasp”, perhaps detailing the fate of the original titular character’s sibling. Darwin could make an appearance at the end, with a comment about the implications for the possible nature of any “God”.

    It wouldn’t be a children’s book, I guess.

    1. The toxic chemicals are cardenolides aka cardiac glycosides. When ingested by vertebrates they cause electrolyte imbalances in cardiac muscle leading to heart failure. The chemicals also have a strong, bitter taste (Personal experience. Milkweed, not monarchs) and are powerful emetics in smaller doses. Invertebrates are apparently not bothered by the chemicals. Tachinid flies regularly parasitize monarch and related butterfly larvae and braconid wasps attack milkweed feeding aphids. Multiple species of insects from several orders eat milkweed including beetles, true bugs, aphids, and butterflies. All except the aphids are brightly colored with orange and black or (occasionally) yellow and black markings.

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