Readers’ wildlife photos

January 1, 2022 • 8:30 am

This is the second part of a two-part batch of photos by Matt Young (part 1 is here). His IDs and captions are indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

I was in the Galápagos Islands during the end of December 2005, and the beginning of January 2006, bearing my trusty Canon PowerShot S30, with 3 megapixels and a 3X zoom. I took one or two pictures through an 8X monocular, but other than that I was on my own.

Mammals. The only mammals I saw, other than bipedal, were Galápagos sea lions, Zalophus wollebaeki.

A little snack:

And a nap:

Some geological features. Landscapes.

Lava tunnel. You could have easily crawled inside.

Lava flow.


Stubborn little plant.

Invertebrates. Sally Lightfoot crabs, Grapsus grapsus.

Painted locust, Schistocerca melanocera.

Tourist. Not exactly an invertebrate, but looking kind of spineless at the end of a hot day.

And for good measure, Machu Picchu.

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 25, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today I’ll show my own “wildlife” photos just for fun, but keep sending yours in.  Click the pictures below to enlarge them.

Feeding wild cats at a nunnery in Mystras, Greece, 2002. I always carry a box of dry cat food in my backpack in places like this.

A rare bloom in Death Valley, California, 2005. I don’t know what the moth is, and I’m baffled about where the many pollinating insects come from in those very occasional wet years. They just appear from out of nowhere.

Me feeding a grape (with permission) to a ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) at the Duke Lemur Center, 2006. Note the baby clinging to its belly.

Another ringtail with child:

Sifakas (lemurs, Propithecus sp.):

Cepea nemoralis snails on a fencepost, Dorset, England, 2006. The riot of colors and banding in this species was subject to a lot of investigation when I was in college, but evolutionary geneticists still don’t have an explanation for why the variation persists:

A butterfly (I don’t know the species) in the garden at Thomas Hardy’s boyhood home, 2006:

Snail and fly near Clouds Hill (T. E. Lawrence’s cottage), Wareham, Dorset, 2006:

Gooseneck barnacle, a rare and expensive delicacy. Galicia, Spain, 2006:

The one above was found on the rocks at low tide. Here are some for sale in the market. You eat the meat underneath the leather skin. It’s very good.

Me feeding a Texas longhorn on David Hillis’s and Jim Bull’s Double Helix ranch outside Austin, 2007:

Groundhog (Marmota monax), Capitol grounds, Ottawa, Canada, 2007:

Greg Mayer’s pet common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina); I believe its name was “Snappy”), Kenosha, Wisconsin, 2008:

Butterfly and orchids (species unknown), Guatemala, 2009:

Statue dedicated to all the lab cats “sacrificed” in medical research. St. Petersburg, 2011:

Gulls, Lake Geneva, Switzerland, 2011

Trees in autumn, Switzerland 2011:

I have many more, and perhaps I’ll post some of them on another holiday (Chanukah, Christmas, and Coynezaa are coming up).

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 16, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today we have a series of photos of ghost crabs from reader Jim McCormac, who has a blog and a “massive photo website“.  His captions are indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them. Do note the amazing camouflage of young crabs shown in the final photo.

Here’s something a bit different: Ghost crabs!

A common but always interesting sight along the beaches of Cape May, New Jersey – and far beyond – is the Atlantic Ghost Crab (Ocypode quadrata). They’re well named, as the crab’s sandy coloration and fleeting movements, combined with general wariness, makes them wraithlike. People new to them might wonder if they actually saw something and if so, what it was. But with minor perseverance it isn’t hard to get good looks at these fascinating decapods (ten-legs).

On a recent trip to Cape May – a birding Mecca of the East Coast – I was distracted by ghost crabs and ended up spending a fair bit of time watching and photographing them.

A crab lurks at the entrance to its burrow. They are accomplished diggers and always seem to maintain burrows to which they can retreat. Some tunnels can apparently be four feet deep. But the excavation is easy in soft beach sands and it does not take them long to mine out a new hole.

A crab in the act of construction. It uses its first two legs and the claw on that side (the claw, or cheliped, is actually part of a highly modified leg) to create a basket in which it scoops sand from the excavation.

Once the subterranean dwelling is complete, it becomes the crab’s home base. They retreat to it in the blink of an eye if threatened or disturbed. When exiting, I noticed that a crab would sometimes pause below the opening, and use its long-stalked periscope-like eyes to check the surroundings before emerging. They can rotate the eye stalks 360 degrees, increasing their efficiency at predator detection. I would imagine that gulls are one of the major threats. Great Black-backed, Herring, Laughing, and Ring-billed gulls are constantly patrolling the shoreline and would snap up a crab in a heartbeat if given a chance.

A crab dines on what appear to be the remains of another crab. They are omnivorous opportunistic scavengers, cleaning the beaches of various edible detritus. The chelipeds are used like hands, and the crabs quite dexterously handle their meals. They also will thump the claws on the sand, apparently to send signals to other crabs, and may use them as semaphores in mating rituals as do some other crabs, but I’m not sure about the latter.

There is also another use for the claws: jousting with rivals. I saw this several times, and finally got an opportunity to photograph a joust. Occasionally a foraging crab would stray far from its burrow, or venture to the sea to wet its gills. On these trips, if it would trespass too closely on another occupied burrow, the offended crab would sometimes pop out and do battle with the interloper. That’s what happened here. The guy on the left owned the burrow, and the intruder on the right was quickly vanquished after a brief locking of the horns. He sidled speedily back to his own burrow.

Atlantic Ghost Crabs take about a year to reach sexual maturity. After mating, the female deposits eggs in the ocean. The larvae develop there, and then head ashore as young crabs. I saw many juveniles on the beaches, but only because I was looking. They can be really tough to spot. The crablets are small, and their camouflage is incredible. If immobile or partially buried in the sand, they are essentially invisible. At this stage, I imagine various shorebirds – plovers, sandpipers, etc. – are major threats. The coloration and patterning of the carapace and upper legs is amazingly sand-like – a textbook example of crypsis.

After my crustacean hiatus, it was back to the business at hand: bird photography, and there was no lack of subjects there.

Readers’ wildlife photos

September 12, 2020 • 7:45 am

Please send your photos in, as to keep this feature going I need seven contributions per week. We don’t want to lose our beastie pics, right?

Today we have diverse photos from reader Dave Campbell, whose notes and IDs I’ve indented:

Here are some photos to replenish the cache with accompanying text.  I tossed in a photo with a connection to Charles Darwin and a gratuitous reference to a fictional rabbit from Brooklyn.

Eastern Spadefoot Toad (Scaphiopus holbrookii). In June, Tropical Storm Cristobal dumped five to six inches of rain on us and the following night the spadefoot toads came out.  They spend most of their lives buried underground waiting for heavy downpours.  Immediately following the rain they emerge for a few days and eat and mate and then burrow back underground to wait for the next rain.  I live on a high sandridge that is usually pretty dry so the emergence of these amphibians is a major event for us.  The adults look like little porcelain frogs with beautiful eyes.

Three weeks after the adult was photographed my property was overrun by thousands of spadefoot toadlets, sometimes as many as 20 per square meter.  21 days after the adults emerged the next generation is fully metamorphosed and hunting on dry land.  They are tiny, only about three to four millimeters long (those little white things are sand grains).  We were still seeing them three week later but the numbers decline rapidly.

Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus obscurus).  The vermilion flycatcher is a western bird but one or two seem to take a wrong turn at Albuquerque every year and wind up in the Florida panhandle.  This male showed up at St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge southeast of Tallahassee, Florida last November and set up shop at the first roadside pulloff after entering the refuge marshes.  The first description of the vermilion flycatcher was made by John Gould based on a specimen collected by Charles Darwin in the Galapagos.

Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor)  Every spring the trees around the boardwalk over the alligator ponds at the Saint Augustine Alligator Farm become a large rookery for hundreds of nesting wading birds.  The rookery flourishes because alligators in the ponds below prevent predators like raccoons from reaching the nests.  Photographers flock to the boardwalks over the alligator ponds for a chance to capture images of the birds at very close range.  The gators get the occasional careless hatchling which bothers some of the tourists but I have never seen anyone jump off the boardwalk to effect a rescue.  This bird is reacting to the approach of its mate.

Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)  Photographed along a stream in the state forest near my home.  The metallic exoskeletons have structural colors that change from blue to green to blue as the angle of incidence of light changes. They are common along wooded streams.  Damselflies are my favorite insects both because they are beautiful and because they eat mosquitoes.

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis).  Immature bird on short final for landing photographed at  Bottom Road near St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.  Notice how individual flight feathers are manipulated to maximize lift in slow flight, not unlike the slats and flaps on airplanes.

Ghost Crab (Ocypode quadrata). Photographed at Long Point Park on the Florida Gulf Coast.  This young one paused at the entrance to its burrow just long enough for me to record it for posterity.

Sanderling (Calidris alba). Sanderlings are common, conspicuous, and entertaining shorebirds.  They race along the beach, following the edge of advancing and receding waves like little clockwork toys.  This bird is in fall plumage, a study in white and gray, and ignored the humans as it ran back and forth.

Paper wasp (Polistes carolina) feeding on a monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) larva.  Not long ago, another photographer who had submitted images wondered what happened to some of the monarch larva.  This is one likely answer.  Our first brood last spring had an adult emergence rate in the high ninety percent range.  The second brood, mostly offspring of the first one, had a success rate from first instar to adult in single digits.  The difference was at least three species of Polistes that found my milkweed patch and chowed down on larvae and two pupae.  Last fall I found bald-faced hornets (Dolichovespula maculata) feeding on monarch larvae as well.

Sequential shell swaps in hermit crabs

January 23, 2020 • 2:30 pm

Here’s another Attenborough video featuring the lifelong attempts of hermit crabs to find shells that fit them as they grow. A hermit crab without a shell is a pathetic thing (see several at 2:39), easily taken by predators or cooked by the sun. Here’s a stunning behavior in which a line of crabs forms in order of size, with the aim of each one swapping up to a bigger shell within a matter of minutes. Or course, the biggest crab needs an empty bigger shell to move into, which apparently is the case here. The picture of the lineup at 1:32 is fantastic.

The video comes from “Life Story,” part of the great BBC Earth series.

True facts about the Sand Bubbler Crab

October 17, 2019 • 2:15 pm

Reader Vampyricon called my attention to this video about a crab unknown to me: the sand bubbler crab. It eats sand, extracts the organic material, and then spits out the sand in a series of little balls. Moreover, as Wikipedia notes,

In each burrow, the crab waits out the high tide in a bubble of air.

These are pretty amazing animals, and Ze Frank, as usual, gets the biology right.

Readers’ wildlife photos

May 19, 2019 • 7:30 am

Today we have several photos of a rodential nature, and from two readers, whose comments are indented. As lagniappe, there’s a crustacean and a bird.

The first batch comes from Gary Womble:

Only whole grains for this little guy:

I would not want to get between him/her and those nuggets:

And finally, the kill!

A crustacean from Gary:

This little guy at Curry Hammock State Park in the Florida Keys takes its home everywhere it goes.

Another squirrel from Joe Dickinson (photo sent May 8):

Here is a squirrel photo with a moral:  don’t leave food unattended in your campsite.  It was taken this morning at New Brighton State Beach near Santa Cruz, CA .    It is a neighboring campsite, not ours.  The subject is on top of a cabinet inside of which is meant to be secure food storage.  Clearly, the top doesn’t work so well.

From reader Tom Carrolan, sent March 21, who saw an American woodcock (Scolopax minor):

This morning, Blue Tusk owner Tim Yorton flagged me down coming out of Starbucks to show me a bird that had his staff in a tizzy… naturally.

I then did my “Woodcock Walk” for Tim, his bartender and bar-backs, cleaning crew, and kitchen staff. . . I’ve done dozens such programs on this subject over the years, but this was the first where glassware, brooms, and white chef’s coats were involved. I peented, described the bird’s display flight as a large falling maple seed, tossed in some nocturnal migration… well ya had to be there.
You can hear a “peent” here.

Giant isopods on the sea floor rip apart an alligator carcass!

April 13, 2019 • 12:30 pm

Reader J. J. sent me a link to the fascinating video below along with the commentary below, which, along with the video, tells you all you need to know. I’ll add, though, that this euthanized gator was placed ten miles off the coast of Louisiana and 1.25 miles down on the sea bed. And I have the feeling that this study was motivated as much by simple curiosity than by the more arcane questions the scientists raise in their narration. You can almost imagine a Gary Larson cartoon with a couple of lab-coated nerds saying, “Hey, I wonder what would happen if we dumped this big alligator carcass on the bottom of the sea and watched it?”

Giant isopods are crustaceans that live in the deep sea and scavenge for food. And they are giant. As Wikipedia notes, “the adults generally are between 17 and 50 cm (6.7 and 19.7 in). One of the “supergiants”, B. giganteus, reaches a typical length between 19 and 36 cm (7.5 and 14.2 in), with a maximum weight and length around 1.7 kg (3.7 lb) and 76 cm (30 in), respectively.”  A 2.5-foot, four-pound isopod! I wonder if they would make good eating? They are, after all, crustaceans.

From J. J.:

I just came across this culinary video of giant isopods dining on a dead alligator. I don’t know if you’ve seen it: it’s dated April 5, 2019 on Youtube.  There’s informative narration from two of the scientists involved in the dropping-dead-alligators-into-the-sea-to-see-what-happens project. (The gators were donated from a project to save American alligators, and were humanely killed.)

The meal itself starts about 2 min. in. Grisly but fascinating. However, the video preface is interesting because it shows some crazy denizens of the sea floor that I’ve never seen before, even on WEIT (or missed them), which frequently posts about weird sea creatures — a red fish looks as if it has a propellor on one side, another fish that looks like it’s on stilts,

I’m glad that you had a good trip and showed us photos of your culinary adventures — much more civilized than the isopods eating the gator, but I’m sure their special dinner was just as delectable to them as your Dutch dinners were to you, …especially since they might not eat again for years​. I’d bet it was a 5-star meal to them — some gorged themselves so much that they dropped to the sea floor in surfeit.​


Readers’ wildlife photos

December 21, 2018 • 7:45 am

I’m scheduled to go to Antarctica in the fall of next year, lecturing on evolution on two separate cruises to Patagonia, Antarctica, and the Falklands, so I was excited when reader Daniel Shoskes sent me some photos of a trip he took recently to Antarctica and Chile. I present his photos (bonus Darwiniana!), with Daniel’s words indented.

Darwin visited Santiago Chile as documented in Voyage of the Beagle. Here is a plaque dedicated to his visit on St. Lucia hill that he wrote about (page 279)
Punta Arenas Chile at the “end of the road”, just beyond where the Transamerica Highway ends. I found this local owl having a rest. HMS Beagle sailed through this strait and Darwin may have seen some of the trees here as they are hundreds of years old. Perhaps the owl is a descendant of those Darwin saw (page 252):
Model of the Beagle at Straits of Magellan museum:
Local alpacas [Vicugna pacos]:
Alpaca born a few hours ago:
Hill north of Santiago that Darwin climbed and took survey measurements from:
Gentoo penguin [Pygoscelis papua] carrying rock back to help build its nest:
Humpback whale [Megaptera novaeangliae] fluke:
Landing on an active volcano. The sand was so hot that krill [order Euphausiacea] were cooked on the beach. You can see the stomach filled with green phytoplankton, organisms responsible for 20% of all oxygen on the planet:
Chinstrap penguin (Pygoscelis antarcticus):
I’m going to add here that another reader, Peter Nothnagle, wrote me telling me this about Daniel:

Danny is an accomplished performer on renaissance and baroque lute, and I have engineered three CDs for him. But that’s only his avocation – in his day job he is a highly respected kidney transplant surgeon in Cleveland.

And he sent a link to Daniel playing the lute, which is here:

The remarkable sand bubbler crab

October 5, 2017 • 2:30 pm

Should I have called this “You won’t believe this amazing crab?”. Or maybe “Samantha Bee throws shade on haters of bubbler crabs”? Regardless, you need to know about—and see—this remarkable animal. I knew nothing about it before I came upon this video, taken from BBC’s “Blue Planet” series.

Sand bubbler crabs comprise a variety of species in two genera, and live on Indo-Pacific beaches. As you see from the video below, they form sand into lovely spherical pellets after extracting the organic matter—the “meiofauna”. Sand bubblers forage only at low tide, and then retreat to their burrows.

Now what is “meiofauna”? The answer from

The term “Meiofauna“ is related to microscopically small benthic invertebrates that live in both marine and fresh water environments. Meiofauna is formally defined as a group of organisms by their size, larger than microfauna but smaller than macrofauna. In practice these are metazoan (some researchers include protozoan as well) animals that can pass unharmed through a 0.5 – 1 mm mesh but will be retained by a 30 μm mesh but the exact dimensions will vary from researcher to researcher. Nowadays the term meiofauna is used interchangeably with meiobenthos. Meiofauna is mainly found in and on soft sediments, but also on underwater algae and higher plants as well as on other hard substrates. The heterogeneity of meiofaunal habitats is so large and meiobenthic taxa so diverse.

Now watch and be impressed: