Readers’ wildlife photos

January 17, 2022 • 8:30 am

Our contributor today is Christopher Starr, a retired Professor of Entomology at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago.  His photos span a range of taxa. Christopher’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them. (See his first contribution here.) His captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

In the early morning, before the sun got hot, I consistently saw bright red velvet mites (Trombiculiidae) walking in the open on a sandy surface.  They were large (about the size of a raisin), soft-bodied and very conspicuous, yet the abundant agamid lizards were not eating them.  Wondering if they were protected by defensive chemicals, I tasted one, and sure enough.  It was so dreadfully bitter that I couldn’t bring myself to try another, so my sample size remains at one.  Ghana.

We are all familiar with mimicry, in which the mimic gains an advantage when the predator mistakes it for something else: a type-1 error.  Those of us with an eye for mimicry sometimes make a type-2 error by mistakenly seeing a deception where there is none.  Coming upon this dried, twisted vine, my reaction was “Aha, a snake camouflaged as a vine.”   Georgia.

The pachyrhychine weevils are a distinctive, extremely hard-bodied group almost entirely restricted to the Philippines and the Pacific islands fringing Taiwan. Pachyrhynchus tobafolius (first photo) is sympatric with an unidentified otiorhychine weevil (second photo), which has the appearance of being one of its mimics.

Although it is highly venomous, the fer-de-lance, Bothrops asper, avoids contact with humans and other large animals.  Note the effective camouflage of this one, which was lying immobile against a backdrop of vegetation. Trinidad.

This male Anolis lizard in the process of shedding his skin ate the old skin as it came loose.  Costa Rica.

Trinidad’s Pitch Lake is analogous to the La Brea Tar Pits in California.  Unlike La Brea, the Pitch Lake has not been mined for fossils, which it very likely contains.  This caiman was trapped in the surface tar and gradually sinking into it, possibly on its way to becoming a fossil.  Trinidad.

JAC: I’ve inserted a 2016 photo of Pitch Lake taken from Wikipedia:

A primary defensive feature is one that operates all the time, while a secondary defensive feature comes into play only when a threat is perceived.  Tortoises present my favorite example of a primary defense enhanced by a secondary defense.  The hard shell is always present, but when the tortoise is threatened it withdraws its head and feet tightly inside the shell. Mexico.

This newly-hatched Gonnatodes gecko was fully active from the moment it broke out of its shell.  Trinidad.

In studying the responses of various orb-weaving spiders to a simulated predatory disturbance, I found that common cross spiderAraneus diadematus, has one that I have not seen in any other. In the early stages of the disturbance, the spider raises its forelegs as if to parry the intruder.  Italy.

In some parts of its range, the large pink-toed tarantula, Avicularia avicularia, is common in rural buildings, including in my house.  I have often seen visitors startled and even fearful when encountering one fo these, but I like having them around. Trinidad.

I have usually found this Hersilia sp. building its web on the surface of tree trunks and sitting in the middle of it, flattened and well camouflaged.  Philippines.

Cnidoscolus urensl is commonly known as “burn bush” or “mala mujer” on account of the highly urticating needles on its leaves, stems and fruits.  Where this plant is very abundant, we found the orb-weaving spider Argiope argentata preferentially basing its web on this plan. St Vincent & the Grenadines.

This Myrmarachne sp. [JAC: note that this is a spider] has the appearance of a specific Batesian mimic of a Crematogaster ant that is abundant in its habitat. Taiwan.

11 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Thanks for the photos and interesting commentary.

    Regarding the fer-de-lance: my wife and I were staying at a lodge in Costa Rica a few years ago when one of the guides mentioned that there was usually a fer-de-lance near one of the lodge’s many trails. When I expressed interest, the guide had no qualms about giving instructions to my wife and me on how to get to the spot. (We later agreed that the guides at this lodge had a rather laissez-faire attitude towards guest safety, as they neglected to mention the bullet ants that were common around the lodge.) My wife and I set off, but I have to admit that I got more and more nervous as we approached what we felt was likely the spot. I live in a cold climate without any venomous snakes and just about my only experience with them is almost stepping on a big copperhead in Virginia. As for my wife, she was very nervous from the start and it was only getting worse. Just as we reached what we guessed was the spot, a large bird exploded out of the underbrush and we just about jumped out of our skin.

    We never did see the fer-de-lance, but my wife did spot a small beautiful viper of another species.

    1. It’s a good thing you didn’t continue. I have to strongly disagree with Dr Starr’s statement that fer de lance avoid humans and large animals. They are often seen around clearings and in pastures, and they kill more people in Central and South America than any other snake. They make no effort to move away when a human or other large mammal approaches. Sometimes they attack unprovoked from quite a distance (one charged me from more than a meter away in Costa Rica, repeatedly striking the air as it did so), though usually they just freeze.

  2. Fantastic post! Glad to get the information on the tortoise and primary and secondary defensive features.
    Living with tarantulas would be a tough one for me. So would eating mites.
    Thank you for sharing!

  3. I felt like I was in a fun biology class while viewing your photos and reading the commentary. As Debra mentioned above, I appreciated the primary/secondary defensive features as displayed in tortoises/turtles.

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