Readers’ wildlife photos

August 29, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today we have insect photos by regular Mark Sturtevant. Mark’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Here are more pictures from the previous summer. All were photographed near where I live in eastern Michigan, and most come from a single park about a two-0hour drive to the south of me.

In the woods of this park, there were many of these interesting caterpillars on the ground vegetation. I believe they are the larvae of the Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), which has been a challenging species to photograph. On a return visit, I would like to bring some back to raise since I’ve never been completely satisfied with my pictures of the adults:

The woodland trail followed a lovely river, and periodically the woods would open up into a meadow. At one such riverside meadow was a stand of interesting flowers (maybe wild mint?) being worked over by the large black butterfly shown in the next 2 pictures. This was for me one of the most exciting finds of the whole summer! This, people, is the melanistic form of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly (Papillio glaucus). I swear this is the same species as the familiar black and yellow swallowtail! This dark form is always female, identified by the splash of blue on the hind wings. The melanistic Tiger Swallowtail is not recorded where I live, but it becomes more common to the south, via natural selection, because there it starts to overlap with the toxic Pipevine Swallowtail which it resembles. But only females can pull off the mimicry trick for some reason. Anyway, I was pretty much hyperventilating while taking these pictures. From the ventral view you can still see the faint Tiger Swallowtail stripes:

JAC: Species in which females mimic another toxic form but males keep the ancestral pattern are far more common than the reverse. Can you guess why males don’t evolve to change their pattern? I’ll put the answer in the comments later.

Turning up tree leaves hanging over a forest trail will commonly reveal something of interest. One leaf along this riverside trail had this weird Derbid Planthopper (Anotia uhleri). I am sometimes asked about the yellow thingies below the eyes of this insect. Those are the antennae, which tend to be oddly distinct in this group of planthoppers:

Another thing that one can find under leaves are insect eggs or recently hatched insects. Here is a group of Leaf-footed Bug hatchlings (Acanthocephala sp.), staying close together to amplify their colorful advertisement that they are chemically protected. Whenever I find these groups, I have to take a deep breath and just do my best. Step to one side, prepare the camera for an extreme close-up, and do some test shots on a random leaf to figure out the correct exposure. Then lift up the leaf again and frantically fire away as the nymphs scamper off:

Along the river bank of the park were some sandy areas, and on the sand were quite a few of these well camouflaged insects. This is a young Big-eyed Toad Bug (Gelastocoris oculatus), which are aptly named predatory Hemipterans that are entirely invisible until they hop:

Here are a couple more finds. This tiny beetle, about the size of a sesame seed, is the Basswood Leaf MinerBaliosus nervosus:

And the unsavory face in the next picture actually belongs to a rather cute and mild-mannered Two-spotted Tree Cricket, Neoxabea bipunctata:

I’m not always sure which critter in this set was from that distant park that I mentioned. But this one sure was! There, I was delighted to find this large katydid known as the Common True Katydid (Pterophylla camellifolia), which is another insect that does not occur in my area. Despite their large wings, True Katydids are flightless. At dusk, this male will begin its song; with some imagination, it is described as sounding like: “Katy did! Katy did !! She didn’t! She did !!!” Readers who live in its range will know it well, as they can be fairly deafening. Here is one singing. If it doesn’t hurt your ears a little, you aren’t playing it loud enough:

And finally, for the heck of it, here is what I believe is a Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens) although there is also the similar species called the Pickerel Frog. The two differ in the form of their spots plus some other details. We see some colorful frogs from far-off places on this website, but this domestic one is still quite lovely, I think:

17 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Dang, that butterfly would have totally convinced me it’s a Pipevine Swallowtail. Remarkable! Thanks for the tour of the worlds-within-worlds of your local park.

  2. Brilliant, and Intriguing…

    When is the subscribe-to-thread button going to work? I’ll try again, but…

  3. Awesome! Interesting melanistic variant! I’m interested in why this variant only occurs in females. Do females have only a single functional sex chromosome while males have two? This could explain females becoming melanistic, since the genes on the one functional chromosome are not counteracted by genes on the other. The females would only need one copy of the melanistic gene to produce the melanistic phenotype.

    1. In butterflies, the sex chromosome are sort of the opposite of ours in that females have two different sex chromosomes (called Z and W rather than X and Y), while males have two copies of the same chromosome (ZZ rather than XX).
      I will leave it at that.

      So that was the previous summer. This summer I saw and photographed another one of these swallowtails in Indiana. Once again I was all excited, but the group that I was photographing with see them there all the time.

  4. I always enjoy these posts, Mark.

    One of the joys of a southern summer is sitting outdoors at night near wooded land and listening to the songs of the katydids.

  5. Is it possible that the swallowtail shows this dimorphism because females exercise mate choice and will preferentially mate with males exhibiting the normal colour pattern?

    1. As far as I’ve ever read, the dark form does not (and I think can not appear in biological males. That and my comment above is probably all the hinting I will do as to what causes the dark form to appear at all.
      Meanwhile the dark form females do not take over even when mimicry for the other toxic species might favor it. I don’t know why. Perhaps males have a preference for the regular females? Or it could be bc of steady immigration of yellow and black Tiger Swallowtails.

      1. That suggests that the relevant gene is sex-linked (on the W chromosome) and the allele for dark colouration is recessive, but if this is true, it still doesn’t explain why you never get dark males. Unless the dark colouration allele is homozygous lethal.
        Just speculation – I await a proper explanation from those better-informed than me.
        Incidentally, that looks like a leopard frog to me. Pickerel frogs have squarish dorsal spots.

  6. Excellent pics, thank you very much. The bug pics here are usually my favorite. If insects were scalably larger we’d have Jurrasic Parks everywhere and it’d be FANTASTIC!


  7. Another magnificent group of photos. I love the head shots and admire your ability to get those wee nymphs on the under side of a leaf. Very cool shot!

  8. “Can you guess why males don’t evolve to change their pattern?”

    Sexual selection;
    there are fewer eggs / females than sperm / males;
    males are eaten before reproducing;

    I give up.

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