Readers’ wildlife photos

February 2, 2023 • 8:15 am

Again I appeal to readers to send in their good wildlife photos. Let’s keep this feature going!

Today’s post features photos by stalwart regular Mark Sturtevant. Mark’s captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Here are insect pictures from two summers ago.

I had recently shown the European earwigForficula auricularia, and here we go again. The rear pincers are modified cerci appendages that many insects have. Cerci are commonly used as sensory appendages, but earwigs have adapted them for a number of uses that include defense, handling prey (they are omnivores), and males use them for jousting. Toward that end, earwig cerci are dimorphic between the sexes. The first picture is a female, and the next are males. Besides being larger, male cerci come in different sizes and sometimes they are asymmetric. You can see males fighting with their cerci in this video. It also explains why some cerci are a bit lopsided.

There seems to be some debate about name “earwig”. There is the myth that they may crawl into peoples’ ears, but another claim is that the name has to do with their remarkable hind wings that are ear-shaped when unfolded. The unfurling of their wings is pretty impressive, and you can see that in slow motion below:

Next is a picture of a spined assassin bugSinea diadema. This is a predatory insect.

I was in the woods one day when I came across this unidentified leaf beetle (Chrysomelidae) in a bush. I was negotiating how to photograph the beetle, but a stink bug nymph suddenly appeared from behind and impaled it! Some stink bugs are predators, and I have seen them with dispatched prey that are much larger and more powerful than they are. One can fairly wonder how such slow insects might be predatory, but I guess it just takes a poke from their proboscis and their victim is secured. The stink bug is Podisus sp.

The beetle dragged the bug behind for several minutes, but the bug grimly hung on. Meanwhile, a bundle of needle-like styli would be scissoring their way into the beetles’ innards, and digestive juices would be injected.

Gradually, the beetle began to slow, and then it was immobilized. A small murder in the woods!

Next up is a two-striped planthopperAcanalonia bivittata. “Planthoppers” encompass a number of insect families, this one being Fulgoridae. There are also “leafhoppers” and “treehoppers”. One day I should try to memorize what the differences are supposed to be. All of these and other related families were once in their own insect order, the Homoptera (“uniform wing). But now they are awkwardly but I expect correctly absorbed into the order Hemiptera (“half wing”), along with the above stink bug.

Here is a nymph of what is likely the two-spotted tree cricketNeoxabea bipunctata. This is a young male, and you can see it is developing the specialized front wings that are used by males for chirping, and the larger fan-like hind wings which they fly with. In adults, the hind wings are of course folded up and covered by the front wings. But at this earlier stage the position of the wings are curiously reversed so that the hind wings cover the front wings.

I had found this tiger beetle that was disabled, and so I could pick it up. Tiger beetles are predators that use their good vision and considerable speed to tackle small prey. There is dispute about the taxonomy of this group. They had long been placed in their own beetle family (Cicindelidae), but others have placed them within the ground beetle family (Carabidae). I can say only that there are many ground beetles that resemble tiger beetles, and tiger beetles that look like ground beetles, and whatever side you are on there is agreement they are closely related. Tiger beetle mandibles look pretty imposing, but the bite strength of this small one isn’t detectable. I did not think to get the species.

Next is a large ichneumon wasp, Megarhyssa macrurus, which had apparently recently emerged as an adult and was not quite ready to fly. The extraordinary ovipositor hanging off the rear is considerably longer than its body, and is used to drill into wood to lay an egg in a wood-boring sawfly larva.

Finally, I expect that most people know that scorpions fluoresce under UV light. Actually, UV fluorescence appears here and there among arthropods in general, and plants will also fluoresce under UV. It’s fun to go out at night with an inexpensive LED UV flashlight to see what turns up.  Your own back yard becomes fairly transformed into a semi-alien world. Leaves, flowers, and sometimes arthropods will blaze in day-glo colors.

I had found that aphids also fluorescence under UV light. Here are poplar tree aphids (Chaitophorus populicola), first in regular light, and then under UV light. There are two issues here, though. There is some motion blur from the aphids because the exposure needed to be long. And although the aphid fluorescent color seems pretty accurate, the leaf color is wrong since it is supposed to be deep red under UV. My current flashlight is cheap, and it certainly does not put out only UV light.

17 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

    1. I was just dropping in to say the same thing. Earwigs were among the first insects I can remember from when I was very small, but after all this time I had no idea they had those beautiful wings.

  1. [ scene : ]
    [ royal court ]
    [ trumpet voluntary ]
    [ royal livery ]

    Sturtevant the Stalwart, my leige – freshly returned from the wild, with great gifts for the kingdom!

    [ end Medieval movie clichés… ]
    [ … for now …]

  2. Earwigs have another name in the North of England and Scotland, where they are called forkytails—-a bit more descriptive than earwig.

  3. Folded behind the earwig flight video on YouTube, I found this film showing a variety of flying insects filmed at 6,000 frames per second:

  4. I didn’t know scorpions fluoresce under UV light. How did I ever miss that useful tidbit?!

    Great post, Mark. The jousting/wrestling earwig video is also fascinating. Thanks!

    1. Scorpions, and their relatives as well. Some harvestmen (another arachnid), various caterpillars, …. . Generally the color is a bright blue-green, like the aphids here.

  5. Count me as another who had no idea earwigs had wings- and pretty wings at that. Since I was a kid, I thought they smelled like bacon. Weird, I know.
    Thanks for these excellent photos. That tiger beetle head is amazing.

  6. The “earwigs crawling into people’s ears” is not, in my experience, only a myth…

    Once, some fifty years ago, my friend Bill and I were exploring the outback of California’s northern Coast Range. I was collecting beetles, while Bill was looking for the elusive native earthworms. A couple of days in, Bill suggested we visit a horticulturally-oriented commune in the area, where some of his friends lived.

    Long story short: we were given a nice vegan meal with home-made tofu and invited for the night, as long as we slept in their pounded earth, straw covered guest room [no synthetic tent, no synthetic sleeping bag on the ground].

    So, of course, I woke up with something in my ear. One slap produced a nice female European earwig. Ever since I’ve avoided sleeping on straw and home-made tofu….

  7. Mark, great photos and text as always. You can usually clean up your fluorescence photos very easily by using a Zeiss T* clear filter on your camera lens (this removes all reflected UV light), and a good UV filter on your flashlight (which will block purple visible light). This is pretty effective if your flashlight has a 365nm LED. Some of the cheapest UV flashlights use a 380nm LED which emits lots of violet (400-410nm) light; these might be harder to clean up.

  8. As always you post amazing photos. I have known about earwigs for over 70 years and never knew they had wings. Every single one of them conspired to keep me ill informed.

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