Readers’ wildlife photos

August 9, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today’s photos—mostly orthopterans—come from regular Mark Sturtevant, whose IDs, links, and captions are indented. You can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Here we continue with pictures of a big Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis), followed by pictures from a recent summer vacation. All were taken in 2019, which seems a lifetime ago now.

The first picture is a kind of poster that I made for fun, showing the dramatic changes in mantis eyes between day and night. By day, the eyes are pigmented to match their general camouflage. The dark spot on the eyes is called the pseudopupil, and it is really a sort of optical illusion of compound eyes. As a mantis turns its head, the pseudopupils always seem to be looking at you! But at night the surface pigments in the eyes migrate away to let in more light. Then, mantis eyes turn black and mysterious.

Next is a posed picture taken shortly before this mantis was released. I always get a bit attached to these huge and interesting insects when I keep one for a few days. But upon release, they of course are completely indifferent to our bond, and they don’t even look back (*sniff*).

The mantis shown next is not the same one, but it conveys some idea of how big these insects can be. A Chinese mantis is commonly over 4 inches long. Although not native to the U.S., they are our largest species.

Next up are more pictures from a vacation in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. For my last outing with the cameras, I referred to a detailed map that showed the many remote back roads and trails. I selected a site that was a long drive from the cabin, as it offered the possibility of getting to a river (dragonflies!). It was a good thing to have the paper map since cellphone access soon dropped out during the drive, with miles still to go through many left and right turns on unmarked single-lane dirt roads. Before we left for vacation, a very close friend of ours named Ali told me to be careful about going off the grid on my own as there is a significant bear population in the U.P. This conversation comes up later.

I eventually reached the intended hiking trail, and this led through a large field and then into woods. Both familiar and new insects were abundant.

First up is one of the many annual cicadas that were hanging everywhere on the tall weeds. It is hard to know the species exactly, but it does look like Neotibicen canicularis. The sound of their singing was deafening.

Numerous large robber flies were also flitting about. I had no trouble getting pictures of males like this one, as they were completely absorbed in keeping an eye out for females. I suggest they are in the genus Promachus.

A big highlight for me were the many kinds of grasshoppers. The first of these is the clear-winged grasshopper (Camnula pellucida). This is in the band-winged grasshopper subfamily (meaning they typically have brightly colored hind wings), but the hind wings of this species are transparent.

Next up is another band-winged grasshopper, the northern marbled grasshopper (Spharagemon marmoratum). These have pale yellow hind wings. The photo is followed by a member of the spur-throated subfamily, the pine tree spur-throat grasshopper (Melanoplus punctulatus). Spur-throated grasshoppers are a huge subfamily, and are characterized by a distinct tubercle on their throat. Pine tree spur- throats are commonly found in trees — ‘tree grasshopper’!

More grasshoppers, as the weeds were thick with them. A marsh meadow grasshopper (Chorthippus curtipennis) is shown next. This is a member of the slant-faced subfamily.

Finally, in the shadier areas near the approaching forest were many two-striped grasshoppers (Melanoplus bivittatus). These are again in the spur-throat subfamily.

Ahead loomed the dark forest, with enormous trees and a lush undergrowth of tall ferns. The trail, such as it was, narrowed considerably. The bright sunlight and cacophony of cicadas and Orthopterans quickly receded to be replaced by a starkly different environment.

After the forest entrance was far behind, there was little to find until a butterfly made a sudden appearance, flying in and out through the broken sunlight. My heart fairly leapt at the site since this was a butterfly known informally as a white admiral, and it is a bit legendary. Once given its own species name, it was soon discovered to be the same species as the red-spotted purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis). The white admiral form is more common up north, while I am very familiar with the southern form that lacks the broad white markings. This made my entire vacation!

After the butterfly had gone, the trail began to go steeply downhill and I estimated there was at least another mile to go to the river. But gradually, the feeling of complete isolation finally caught up. I was utterly alone, surrounded by forest, and no one knew where I was. The nearest human would be miles away, and it was getting late in the afternoon. Ali’s words about bears then came back to me, and suddenly the looming trees did not seem friendly. Not safe and friendly at all!

I looked up to the trees and shouted “Dammit, Ali!!” and marched out of the forest and back to the car and civilization. To this day Ali still teases me about this story.

15 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. It’s sad that the mantises don’t even look back or care about the “bond”, but remember, “there’s a mantis who leads a life of danger. To everyone he meets he stays a stranger.” Odds are he won’t live to see tomorrow. 🙁

    Beautiful photos!

  2. As said before: Mark the master of Macro.
    And a nice story, maybe Ali was right to warn you?

  3. Hi Jerry,

    I enjoy your blog very much and enjoy the wildlife photos that are submitted by your readers. I am an amateur photographer who enjoys taking pictures of wildlife.

    I would like to contribute some of my wildlife photos to your “Readers’ Wildlife Photos’ section. I have not been able to determine how to send you the photos. Could you provide instructions for sending you wildlife photos?


    1. At the upper-right corner of this page there’s a link to Jerry’s “Research Interests”, which will reveal his university email address. We all look forward to seeing your photos!

  4. To Mark: If your vacation jaunt was anywhere near Seney, some of those hoppers might have been the kind that Nick caught during his solo trek in Hem’s great story, “Big Two-Hearted River.” I know, it’s weird, but your story reminded me of that story–without the fishing, and with bears instead of the swamp. Thanks for the great pics.

  5. Mark, as usual, your photos are stunning! The one of the mantis on the red leaves is one of the most remarkable insect photos I’ve ever seen. Great work!

  6. Great photos, Mark, as always. I grew up in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula, so that wonderfully uncrowded region will always be my beloved home (bears and all!).

  7. I suspect that pseudopupils are explained by the fact that ommatidia (eye-pixels – had to look up that word on Wiki) are effectively each a deep well. Any deep hole has high emissivity and absorptivity for photons that originate/travel to locations directly in front of its opening.

    When you look into the abyss, the abyss sends thermal photons back into you.

  8. Great pics and a cool story to go with them. Thank you. The insect ones are my favorites in this section.

  9. I have had one hangin out with me for a few days in my trailer that I work out of. I have tried to let him out and he keeps coming back. He finally let me put my hand out and came up onto my hand. I completely understand your feeling that when you let him go, he doesn’t even look back. (sniff sniff) haha. I have become quite attached to his companionship, although very little and still very sketchy I feel responsible to make sure he is OK. Monty the Mantis will be free.

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