Readers’ wildlife photos

December 13, 2022 • 8:15 am

Today we have a new contributor: Gerfried Ambrosch, who sends us lovely pictures of herps. Gerfried’s notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

I took all of these photos on my iPhone. Most of the amphibians depicted are nocturnal. Only the picture of the Alpine newt was taken during the day. Interestingly, some of the most important European green toad populations are found in urban areas, which is why they’re sometimes considered a synanthropic species. However, one main reason this endangered, steppe-dwelling species of toad now mainly populates these secondary habitats is that its primary habitats have mostly been destroyed. Once common, the European tree frog ­– Central Europe’s only tree-climbing frog – is now also a threatened species. Fortunately, there are many wildlife-protection and biodiversity projects (some of which I’m involved with) in Austria and Germany that work hard to mitigate these problems.

European green toad (Bufo viridis), Vienna, Austria:

European green toad (Bufo viridis), in amplexus, Vienna, Austria:

Common toad (Bufo bufo), in amplexus, near Graz, Austria:

Agile frog (Rana dalmatina), near Vienna, Austria:

European tree frog (Hyla arborea), near Graz, Austria (had to climb up a tree to take this photo!):

European tree frog (Hyla arborea), mating call, near Graz, Austria:

Alpine newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris), near Graz, Austria:

Fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra), near Graz, Austria:

Spot the frog!

December 7, 2022 • 8:15 am

I’m taking a break from wildlife photos today as I’m conserving them and am also tired. But reader Pradeep has contributed a “spot the” picture. In this pile of rocks, there is a frog. Can you spot it? If you do (or don’t), just say “I did” or “I didn’t” in the comments so to allow readers to look for themselves. The reveal will be at noon Chicago time.

Click to enlarge the photo. I’d call this “medium hard”.

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 28, 2022 • 8:15 am

Today we have photos from regular Mark Sturtevant. His notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them. I’ll remind readers to send in your good photos, as we’re running low.

Mark:

Here are some pictures of mainly arthropods, taken in 2021 as the weather began to finally warm near my habitat in eastern Michigan.

An early opportunity was a European paper wasp (Polistes dominula) that emerged from hibernation on the front porch. It was still quite cold, so she was motionless most of the time. After a long winter, I was glad to see her even though the species is invasive and problematic in the U.S. because it has reduced populations of the native paper wasps. These pictures are focus stacked from about 100 pictures each, taken with the assistance of a Helicon Fb tube. That is a device that lets you do rapid focus bracketing with a DSLR camera.

Next is a ground spider (Gnaphosidae), a family of free roaming spiders that include some ant mimics. This is Zelotes fratris. This too is focus stacked, but from a few pictures taken by hand. Note the red velvet mite photo bomb.

Here is a very young green frog (Lithobates clamitans), only recently transformed from a tadpole. Often mistaken for the closely related bullfrog, green frogs can be identified by the dorso-lateral ridge that you can see here. This youngster may one day grow to be the size of both of your fists put together.

The big event for the early part of the 2021 season was a possibly once-in-a-lifetime chance to photograph 17-year cicadas, Magicicada septendecim. Cicadas spend most of their lives as nymphs living underground, where they feed on sap from tree roots. “Periodical” cicadas include a 13-year species and the 17-year species. After those many years, the nymphs emerge en masse in biblical plague numbers, mate, lay eggs, and die over a period of several weeks. It is believed their reproduction cycle evolved to overwhelm predators who cannot grow their population in response. The 2021 season was due to have “Brood X” of the 17-year cicadas, which is the largest population of this species. Brood X extends over multiple states in the US, and one edge of this group extends into southern Michigan. So, with the help of the internet, which provided records about their last emergence, I made the long drive to a likely park to see this marvel. The trip was well rewarded with high thousands of cicadas.

Here are various pictures showing perching cicadas, and a bush with quite a few of them. Cicadas were flying everywhere, and collisions with them were pretty frequent. Males are especially distinct with their bright red eyes.

The eerie sound of thousands of cicadas filled the air over the field. But it was evident that there were far more of them in the trees that surrounded the park, since the trees were fairly deafening with their shrill, spooky music. Accounts from other areas of the Brood X emergence described even heavier population densities, where pretty much everything gets covered by them.

It’s the males who sing, and they do so by forcing air past a stack of vibrating membranes under a pair of “tymbal” plates on the abdomen. This picture showing the plates is blurry because the male was continually squalling in protest.

Here is a wide angle macro picture of a cicada posing with my good friend Gary Miller. Gary is an excellent macro photographer in his own right. It was not even summer, and this is one of my favorite pictures of the entire season.

I wanted to find a video that conveys what this natural wonder is like. This amateur recording is a very good match to what the emergence was like in this field, right down to the screaming trees in the distance:

Readers in the eastern U.S. may have direct experience with seeing a periodical cicada mass emergence, and if you’d like to make plans for seeing one, here is a map that can get people started.

Thank you for looking!

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 22, 2022 • 8:00 am

Well, it’s not wildlife, exactly, but it’s appropriate to the Halloween season. These photos come from reader Steve Pollard, whose narrative is indented. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Not exactly wildlife, but anyway…
Motts Mill is a hamlet of about a dozen cottages situated down a quiet lane in East Sussex. Each September the village is filled with scarecrows, all made by a local genius. Here’s a selection (cameraphone only; sorry).
JAC: This one looks like Toasty—before he became depilated.

The last scarecrow is to celebrate the English footballer Chloe Kelly, who whipped off her shirt after scoring a goal in this year’s Euros. Original image below.

There were two brief videos of scarecrows that moved, which were great, but I can’t embed them. Here are the screenshots of those:

Finally, today’s token wildlife from reader Christopher Moss. Note: the species is now called Pseudacris crucifer.

One of the interesting things about living next to a pond is that it not only provides the mosquitoes that to try to enter the house, but also spring peepers (H. crucifer – note the ‘X’ on his back.). These are the tiny frogs that start to sing in the first week of May here, making the night ring just like tropical tree frogs. This guy was on the inside of our bathroom flyscreen today. How that was accomplished, I’m not sure, unless he has octopus-like skills. We managed to remove the flyscreen and he jumped, but survived the landing OK.

Readers’ wildlife photos and videos

October 1, 2022 • 8:30 am

Reader Lou Jost—or rather the reserve guards on an expedition he was leading—found a new species of frog in the Machay Reserve in the rainforest of east-central Ecuador. He and others have described the species formally and introduces you to it in this post.  It’s a “poison arrow” frog and one of the prettiest frogs I’ve ever seen. (The loveliest, of course, is Atelopus coynei, present in another reserve—the Dracula Reserve—in NW Ecuador). These two areas, and ten other reserves, are part of the EcoMinga Foundation, for whom Lou works. His narrative is indented, and you can enlarge the photo by clicking on it.

Some time ago you featured some pictures of a crazy black and red frog that we had discovered in one of our reserves in Ecuador. After four years of work, we finally published the species’ scientific description last Thursday:

Here’s the frog. Isn’t she a beaut? It’s the first individual found: an adult female.  Note below that every individual of this species has been collected within a few meters of this one.

Click on the screenshot to see the description:

We needed these four years to find more individuals, in order to make a more complete description. We only find an average of one of these per year! All were found in exactly the same place, within two or three meters of the place we found the first one, high on a ridge of a very remote mountain in east-central Ecuador.

Here’s a video of a subadult:

Our drone video of the remote ridge where the frog lives

The most interesting conclusions of our paper were based on genetics. For starters, our two sequenced individuals showed a normal amount of genetic variation between them, suggesting that the population is not so small as to be inbred, in spite of the frog’s apparent rarity.

But the most interesting thing was the “age” of the species, the time since the species diverged from its relatives. For the locally endemic orchids that my students and I had discovered on that same mountain, the divergence times we have measured are less than two million years. But this frog had diverged from its relatives about nine million years ago, +/- four million years. To put that in perspective, humans diverged from chimps about three million years ago. This is a very distinctive species.

As you’d expect from the warning colors, this is a highly toxic frog. Many of the famous “poison dart frogs” (which are not closely related to the genus which contains our new frog) are safe to handle even though they are deadly if ingested. But our frog caused painful itching from hand to elbow after just very brief handling, something I have never experienced when handling the local poison dart frogs.

The frog is named Hyloscirtus sethmacfarlanei, after television producer Seth MacFarlane, who produces the popular adult dark-humor cartoon program “Family Guy”.  Seth is a passionate conservationist and we honor his efforts in that field, at the request of one of our conservation partners, Rainforest Trust.

Readers’ wildlife photos

September 19, 2022 • 8:20 am

A few readers have come through with photos, so we’re saved for at least a week. Thanks to those who sent them in!

Today’s pictures come from reader Tony Eales in Queensland, including his favorite group, whose members have eight legs. Tony’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them;

A random assortment of recent photos. I’ve been travelling for work of late and had a chance to go out at night and explore some national parks I don’t usually get to.

First some chordates. With the onset of spring and continued La Niña conditions bringing rain to eastern Australia, the frogs have been calling—making them easy to find. I finally got a photo of the threatened Tusked Frog (Adelotus brevis). While pressure from habitat destruction and invasive egg-consuming fish species has caused crashes in populations of this widespread frog, when you find them, they usually have a healthy local abundance:

Also, the Great Barred Frogs (Mixophyes fasciolatus) were calling so again, very easy to track down:

I had a couple of days in the outback town of Winton and got to see Gehyra robusta or Robust Dtellas for the first time [JAC: it’s a gecko]:

Also, while in the outback, I saw a female raspy cricket (Family Gryllacrididae) moulting into its winged adult form, which made for a very nice dramatic shot as it slowly pumped blood into its wings and dried them.

I found a species of Hylaeus bee that I haven’t seen before. This is my favourite group of bees. I love their striking patterns and colours. I haven’t had confirmation from experts but I believe this might be Hylaeus husela:

But, of course, my real love is spiders and I’ve found a few nice ones of late. These Brown Trapdoor Spiders (Arabantis sp.) are to my mind, honorary cats. If you come across a burrow at night and wiggle a stick outside the burrow, they will come out and grab it. Unlike many other trapdoor spiders, they won’t immediately let go of the non-prey item and retreat. In fact, you can get a good tug of war going, much like a kitten with dangling yarn. It makes them a really fun subject to photograph.

There were a few more large spiders around. I always get a shock at how large the Giant Golden Orbweaver (Nephila pilipes) is. Especially because I come across them at night, they are usually just above head height, and their web spans are so large there’s usually no tree nearby. They just emerge from the darkness. Their bodies can be 50mm long with a leg span of 200mm and this one was certainly in that maximum range.

I also found a large male huntsman (Heteropoda hilleri). While not one of the really large huntsmans, this was a big one for the species:

A good thing about observing spiders at night is that you get to see behaviours that they don’t necessarily engage in during the day. Like this Hump-backed Net-casting Spider (Menneus sp.) waiting for prey with the net.

Or these two spiders that had come out to hunt but were carrying their egg sacs with them on a thread while they waited.
Colourful Rainforest Miagrammopes (M. flavus):

Stretched Thief Spider (Rhomphaea sp.):

Closer to home, I got to watch a large bulldog ant (Myrmecia gilberti) clumsily dragging a subdued wolf spider (Venatrix sp.) while smaller rainbow ants (Iridomyrmex rufoniger) tried to overwhelm and make off with the prize:

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 22, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today Colin Franks has returned, but this time not with birds but amphibians. His captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them. Colin’s photography site is here, his Facebook site is here and his Instagram site is here.

Here are a dozen images of our local “Pacific Tree Frog”  [Pseudacris regilla]. At this time of year, the juveniles are about the size of your fingernail.  Cuteness defined.

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 6, 2022 • 8:00 am

I have about five days worth of photos left, so please send yours in.

Today we have contributions from several readers. Leading off is Bryan Lepore, whose captions are indented. Click the photos to enlarge them:

Dear PCC(E) – here’s a photo of a gray treefrog (Dryophytes versicolor) in my area. I like the anthropomorphically pleasurable facial expression. These little guys use the gutters as resonating chambers to sound their mating calls. This one is near the gutter, but is hiding well with coloration (second photo).

From Christopher Moss, a great blue heron (Ardea herodias):

Found a feathered dinosaur eating my fish and frogs, early this morning. At least he (or she) stands in the shallows and takes the little ones. I noticed on getting up that the bullfrogs were silent this morning, and I wonder if they have the sense to keep quiet when such a monster is looking for breakfast?

That bulge in his neck is one of my fish!

I found this one from Christopher sent last year during our email conversation about this fine dessert, and I couldn’t resist adding it. Maybe we should introduce food posts from readers? I LOVE rice pudding!

Today I decided to make a rice pudding to illustrate the process. I used one Japanese cup of long grain rice, and one of sticky rice, well-rinsed beforehand (the Japanese cup measure that comes with the Zojirushi cookers is about ½ a US cup measure). I didn’t have any short grain rice in the house, and since I’m not allowed out , I decided to wing it. Filled the rice cooker to the 2 cup mark with home made soy milk (I had this and skim milk. Again, not allowed out – my ANC is zero this week! – so I improvised). Switched it on to the white rice program and set a timer for 30 minutes. At that point there is only a little milk left unabsorbed, so I take out the inner liner and put it on the stove to finish the job. I added a total of four TBSP white sugar, one pinch of ground nutmeg and about another cup (US) of soy milk, along with a can of evaporated milk as it simmered very slowly for about another twenty minutes.

Here it is just after going on the stove:

. . . ..and here after cooking. I shall keep it in this container in the fridge and it will be eaten over the next two or three days by three of us. The ludicrously clever Zojirushi is next to it.

And northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis), looking a bit shopworn, from Divy in Florida.

The cardinals are the most common and give us the best show. We’ve seem them in all stages, from courting to pairing up, and seeing the brood make their way to our feeders and to our mulberry trees to pick the ripe berries.

Readers’ wildlife photos

July 28, 2022 • 8:00 am

Please send in your good wildlife photos!

Today we have Mark Sturtevant’s photos of some carnage in spiders, leavened with orthopterans and a tree frog as lagniappe. The indented IDs and captions are Mark’s, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

I came across a pirate spider (Mimetus puritanus) in the yard. Pirate spiders are specialists in that they pretty much just eat other spiders. The first two pictures are focus stacks in a staged setting.

With some mixed feelings about it, I decided to try to photograph this spider while it was doing its thing. There were orb weavers (I think cross orb weavers, Araneus didematus) in the yard, so I got the camera and put the pirate spider near the web of one of the orb weavers. You can see Mimetus in this picture in the upper left. She froze the moment she contacted the orb weaver web. There was a definite impression that she was deciding on what to do next. 

Unfortunately, I then discovered that the batteries for the flash were dying, so I ran off to replace them. Just a couple minutes, but it was already over when I returned (@$#%$$!!). I wanted to see what happened! 

There are different descriptions about how pirate spiders take down a resident spider from their own web. One is that they delicately pluck on the web, enticing the other spider to come close to investigate. The pirate spider can use its long legs, with prominent spines, to hold the other spider at bay while it bites it with venom that is especially potent against spiders. Here is a sequence showing just that. In any case, when I got back the orb weaver was loosely wrapped up and motionless. 

This last picture shows what I think are rather maniacal markings on the abdomen of the spider killer. 

After that, it seems a good time for some cuteness. There is a river shore where one can collect our smallest grasshoppers, and here are their super tiny nymphs. The first is a pygmy grasshopper (Tetrix sp.). Adults are about a half inch long, but this little hopper is the size of a sesame seed.

And here is an even smaller nymph of a pygmy mole cricket. They are just adorable! Pygmy mole crickets are rather strange in that they are not crickets at all, but are classified instead as being within the same suborder as grasshoppers. The species here is Ellipes minuta, and adults are about 5mm long. I placed it on a thin film of water to get it to sit still (it was pretty jumpy otherwise). A thing to note is that in the side view you can see a pair of long rods under the body. These are long tibial spurs that they have on the ends of their hind legs that they use to stand on water. 

Finally, here is a baby tree frog, and it’s the size of your thumbnail. It could be one of two species that are around here, either Hyla chrysoscelis, or Hversicolor. These are identical in appearance, although their songs are different. Interestingly, the second species is a polyploid descendant of the other species.