Readers’ wildlife photos

May 16, 2023 • 8:37 am

Today we have a batch of insect and arthropod photos from regular contributor Mark Sturtevant. Mark’s captions and narrative are indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

This set of pictures, taken a couple of summers ago, begins with rather ordinary examples of the arthropods from where I live (in Michigan). But to our mutual delight, the later pictures become rather weird.

First, here is a new species of meadow katydid that I had found near where I work. Normally, the small meadow katydids that abound in late summer fields are a short-winged species. But this one was clearly different. This is the slender meadow katydidConocephalis fasciatus It is a small but still satisfying thing to be able find a new katydid after so many years in the hobby.

Next is a weevil that I always call “that lumpy weevil”, because I’ve seen many of them in our yard but have never photographed because they were the size of a poppy seed. But now I have a super-macro lens (the manual Venus/Laowa 2.5-5x lens), and that can make short work of small things like this. So here is a manually focus-stacked picture of that lumpy weevil. Because of this picture I now know that they are really called the plumb curculio (Conotrachelus nenuphar), and that they are serious pests of fruit trees. We do have a couple of apple trees, and we have a neighbor who somehow manages to have a peach tree. So there’s little wonder that the plum curculio is common in our yard.

Fall comes quickly here, with cold mornings even while the insect season is still thriving. I had gone out one chilly morning to a nearby field (I think it was to find critters to feed to a praying mantis), but of course the camera tagged along in case. On this occasion, I came across a female green darner dragonfly (Anax junius) nestled deep in a tree. She was much too cold to fly, and so it could be moved to a perch for pictures. These are manually focus stacked images. Soon after, the sun had warmed her sufficiently and she was off in a flash.

The next two pictures are of spiders, and they both came to me via a close friend who lives down the road. After visiting down the road one evening, I came home late at night but then noticed there was a tiny spider dangling from the brim of my hat. It turned out to be one of those ant-mimicking jumping spiders, but this one was definitely a new species to me since it had ginormous chelicerae. This little oddity is Myrmarachne formicaria, photographed with that Venus/Laowa wonder-lens. The large chelicerae means that it is a male, but what they do with them I am not sure although no doubt it has something to do with mating. This species was recently introduced into the U.S., and it may be the first recorded citing of it in my state.

The second spider arrived when the same friend called me on the phone to tell me that a spider had ridden with him on his motorcycle to a store and back. Do I want it? Sure! So he pulls up on his ride and the spider turns out to be a flower crab spider (Misumenoides sp.). Nice, but not unusual. Here she is, a little gritty from the road. But things became weird while processing this picture. First, look at those two frontal eyes in the middle of her face. Do you see the expanded dark areas of color around them? Those are pigmented retina cells inside the head of the spider, and you can see them because the cuticle is translucent.

While assembling the focus stack for the above picture, I noticed that the dark retina cells were moving around in the head. You can see that with this two-frame gif animation made from pictures that focused on the eyes.

What is going on? It is well known that jumping spiders, which have very large frontal eyes, use little muscles in their head to move their retinas around to look out in different directions. You can see this clearly from this video. But this crab spider was evidently doing the same thing! After some research, it was learned that being able to move retinas around from behind the frontal eyes is a pretty widespread thing among spiders, so jumping spiders are not unique in this ability. These discoveries are one of the great joys of this hobby. After an entire life being absorbed by insects and spiders and such, and years spent photographing them, there are still new things to learn.

11 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Awesome “discovery”!

    As in observation, of course – or surprise – unless you can publish it!

    But such a great moment either way! The layers beneath the ostensibly ordinary …

  2. As always, great photos! That ant mimic spider with the (somewhat understated) “ginormous” chelicerae is amazing. They’re bigger than his head! The fights must be dramatic and likely hilarious.

  3. Nice batch of photos today. Thanks for passing on the knowledge you learn to others. And even if you just studied one type of arthropod, say arachnids, you could probably spend a few lifetimes gathering knowledge. Hell, we’re still learning about trilobites and they went extinct 250 m.y.a.!

  4. It’s wonderful that friends will pay attention to and rescue spiders for your inspection. Also a win for the spider who gets to be professionally photographed and safely released.

  5. Loving the spider content. Myrmarachne are great, I haven’t done any research into it yet but my suspicion is that the males use these enlarged chelicerae for male-male competition, like antlers. Wonderful observation of the moving retina in the crab spider.

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