Readers’ wildlife photos

November 26, 2022 • 8:15 am

Today we have photos from several readers. Their captions and IDs are indented; click to enlarge the photos.

First a few photos from reader Ken Phelps:

Attached photos of a fungus growing on a dead Arbutus tree, and backlit bark peeling from a live Arbutus. I believe the fungus is Laetiporus gilbertsonii, although I would take that with a grain of salt – literally, perhaps, as L. gilbertsonii is edible.

And from last year, a Roswell pear. As Ken says, “We are not eating alone!”:

Foggy morning dog walk in the yard:

From Rachel Sperling:

I was saving this photo for when I had more to share, but I saw your request this morning. I’m pretty sure this is a dark fishing spider (Dolomedes tenebrosus). I encountered it on the New York section of the Appalachian Trail earlier this month. In addition to insects (not sure what type of beetle this one has caught) larger ones are able to catch fish. According to Wikipedia, their bodies are covered with hydrophobic hairs that allow them to run on water (suck it, Jesus). When they submerge, the air trapped in these hairs becomes a thin film, allowing them to breathe underwater. The air makes them quite buoyant, so they have to hold onto a twig or a rock in order to stay submerged. I think they’re really cool.

Also sharing a photo I took last night [June 23, 2022] of the ALMOST full strawberry moon. This is from a park in Meriden, Connecticut, which has a lovely ridge that offers views to the east and west. This was taken around 8:30.

Two photos from Divy:

Ivan and I love to relax in our backyard each evening with a cold beer, and just watch the birds and the insects frolic in our garden.

I think this is a Red-tailed Hawk [Buteo jamaicensis].

A Red-bellied woodpecker [Melanerpes carolinus]:

A male Northern Cardinal and two females [Cardinalis cardinalis]:


Readers’ wildlife photos

November 18, 2022 • 8:15 am

Today we have some photos from a regular, Mark Sturtevant. Mark’s IDs and captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

This set wraps up my WEIT-worthy pictures from 2020. They were all taken near my home in eastern Michigan.

A common sight in the woods are these fungus-like buttons on damp logs. But these are not fungi. Rather, they are the fruiting bodies of slime mold colonies. Slime molds are amoeba-like social protists that on occasion gather together like this to then cooperatively disperse as spores. Younger fruiting bodies of this species are pale, white and sticky. Seeing those scattered in the woods probably inspired their common name which is wolf’s milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum).

We now move on to insects. Here is a very large and surprisingly attractive cranefly. This is the giant eastern cranefly, Pedicia albivitta.

During their immature stage, dragonflies and damselflies are called naiads. They live in the water to hunt insects and sometimes small fish, and after they emerge to become adults their cast skins are left hanging on vegetation and tree trunks near the water. I had come across this large naiad cast skin and was able to identify it as belonging to our royal river cruiser dragonfly (Macromia taeniolata) – a lovely species that I had featured here many times. One can definitely say that their immature stage is beautifully ugly, complete with sharpened armor plates and horns coming out of their eyes. The face looks strange because naiads capture their prey with an elongated and hinged lower jaw (the maxilla in official terms) that is normally folded away under the chest. When prey are in range, this is snapped forward to grab them up. One can imagine that this face would be the last thing that some minnows will see!

Next are pictures of one of my favorite damselflies, the American ruby spot damselfly (Hetaerina americana). Many pleasant summer afternoons are spent sitting on river banks, patiently waiting for them to venture close enough for pictures. The first is a female and the second picture is a male. Like many Odonates, females are easy to get close to, but males are considerably more skittish.

The next two are focus stacked pictures of some of our hopping Hemipterans, taken in a staged setting on our dining room table. Some years ago, there was a Big Revision in insect taxonomy where an entire insect Order (the Homoptera) was embedded inside another order, the Hemiptera. This still bugs me (“uniformly-winged Homoptera are really half-winged Hemiptera??), but the revision is probably correct. Anyway, the first is the partridge bug (Scolops sulcipes), although my private name for them is snout bug for obvious reasons, and the second is a thorn-mimicking wide-footed treehopperEnchenopa latipes. For this staged picture,  a simple paint swatch was used to provide a somewhat naturalistic background.

Next is a rather atypical jumping spider called the pike slender jumperMarpissa pikei. These prefer to sit stretched out along grass blades, but here I had moved her onto a leaf to get a clearer shot.

I close this set with one of my favorite pictures of the season. Nothing unusual, really, just a viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus) calmly foraging on wild aster flowers. But the composition was most felicitous.

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 25, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today’s contribution comes from Tony Eales in Queensland; a mixture of invertebrates, molluscs, and even a fungus. Plenty of cool stuff here!. Tony’s notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them:

I was sent to Cairns in tropical North Queensland Australia for work and of course took the opportunity to get out and photograph the amazing invertebrate wildlife.

One of the common orb-weaving spiders is also one of the most spectacular. Gasteracantha fornicata, the Northern Jewel Spider. This was the first species of spider to be scientifically described in Australia in 1775. It was collected by Joseph Banks on Cook’s voyage along eastern Australia in 1770 and later described by Johan Christian Fabricius, student of Linnaeus. As adults they are banded dark black-red with white, but this one is a juvenile and is red and yellow.

Another common invertebrate on the leaves of shrubs in the rainforests around Cairns is the snail Leptopoma perlucidum. I think they have a sweet and somewhat comical face.

On a raised boardwalk in Speewah Conservation Park I was surprised to find this decent sized Lychas sp. Bark Scorpion. I have only ever found them under flaking bark before.

One of my favourite finds was this absolute unit of an ant. It is part of the giant Bull-dog Ant complex and this species is usually given as Myrmecia mjobergi. I’m familiar with the relatives that live in the rainforests further south, but I have never seen one with such long mandibles. As with all these nocturnal giants, I found it to be rather placid and timid and a pleasure to photograph.

But my favourite ant was the trap-jaw ants Odontomachus sp. I’ve found so many false trap-jaws and lookalikes before, and it was great to see the real McCoy. And I was very happy to get this shot of two nest mates greeting one another on a leaf.

Speaking of ants, Green Weaver Ants (Oecophylla smaragdina) were everywhere, hardly a tree didn’t have a nest. As always, I hunted for the Green Ant Mimicking Crab SpiderAmyciaea sp. Apparently, they are not uncommon although hard to distinguish from the ants—but as yet I haven’t seen one.

On the other hand, I did find the much rarer, green ant mimicking theridiid, Propostira sp. These are only officially described from India but various observations at places like iNaturalist show they are more widespread and probably occur in low numbers wherever there are Oecophylla.

First the model.

And this is the spider. Up close the mimicry doesn’t look great but the colour match is near perfect and I thought, at first, I was looking at a dead green ant in a web, until it moved.

I found my first classic tropical forest Cordyceps fungus. This one is a member of the Ophiocordyceps dipterigena species complex. I wonder what the different forms of spikes are for.

The rainforest at night was full of an extraordinary variety of Katydids, most of them nymphs. These spider-katydids, Paraphisis chopardi, however, stood out for their strangeness even amongst this diversity. They are predatory with fearsome forearms for grabbing prey.

 But top of the strange list was this Lace Bug, believed to be Oecharis sp. They only attracted scientific interest in 2020 and remain undescribed as yet. The Lace Bug expert looking into them says they seem to be in the genus Oecharis but look nothing like any known species. I find them charming, like a walking 19th Century glass conservatory.

And finally, a mystery. I’ve exhausted my contacts regarding what this could be. The belief is that it’s some kind of spider egg sac. There appears to be some similarities with “silk henge” from South America which is the egg sac of an as yet unidentified spider.  It’s a beautiful little structure, only around 10mm across.

Readers’ wildlife photos

May 18, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today we have an assortment of diverse photos by Tony Eales from Queensland. His captions and IDs are indented, and please click on the photos to enlarge them.

By the way, if you have good photos you’d like to send me, see the link on the left sidebar of this site, “How to send me wildlife photos.”

I came across this Aseroe rubra Anemone Stinkhorn Fungus the other night. This fungus is relatively common here in eastern Australia but by daytime they have grown into a 100mm high tree-like shape with deep red tentacles and the light brown part collapsed into a dark brown-black goo. They start out as a white egg shape emerging from rotting mulch that then bursts revealing the tentacles. You can see the remains of the egg in the photo.

I don’t often photograph vertebrates but I’ve seen a few cool ones of late. This one is  or Red-bellied Black Snake. They are specialists of frogs and smaller reptiles. They are one of the more common snakes in my area but had their numbers reduced by the spread of the introduced Cane Toad (Rhinella marina), which is highly poisonous. Red-bellied Blacks are dangerously venomous but reluctant biters, even so, being very common they are responsible for a few bites every year.

For their size their venom is among the least dangerous of the Australian elapids with the only recorded deaths being early on and of questionable identification.  My most frequent encounters with them is to see the tail rapidly disappearing into the bush. It was good to have a calm subject to photograph.

Another lovely snake I found recently is Cacophis squamulosus, the Golden Crowned Snake—a rainforest specialist living in the leaf litter hunting insects and small reptiles. Again I normally see only a flash disappearing into the leaf litter, but this one was out on a fence at night time and I managed a few snaps before it retreated.

Another exciting find for me was this Lycid beetle larva. The larvae of these beetles are some of the strangest animals I’ve seen. I have no idea of the species and adult lycids are very similar looking to one another so I have a devil of a time getting them to species level as well.

But by far my favourite find recently was the wonderful Ordgarius magnificus AKA the Magnificent Bolas Spider. These are large spiders, the abdomen being about the size of the end of your thumb.  Their eyes are very strange, being perched on top of a thin red tubercule in the middle of their large cephalothorax.

By day they hide in a retreat composed of leaves and twigs lashed together [below] with a few strong web lines. Most people only see their (up to a dozen) 5 cm-long, dangling egg sacs, each containing up to 600 eggs.

Not only are they large and colourful, but their predatory behaviour is extraordinary. They hang at night from a simple web and create a dangling thread with large globs of sticky glue dotted along it. They exude a pheromone that attracts the male moths of one particular species. When they detect the vibrations of an approaching moth they swing the sticky bolus around and around which catches the moth. I am reliably informed that the vibrations from a nearby diesel engine running will also elicit this predatory behaviour.

The  hideout:

I found this one hunting, but my light disturbed it and it reeled in and reconsumed its bolus unfortunately so I did not get shots of the hunting behaviour.

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 24, 2022 • 9:00 am

Today we’re featuring pictures of fungi by reader David Jorling. His notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them. The identifications of many of the mushrooms are unknown or ambiguous, so fungus-friendly readers can help. Thanks!

At last, here are some photos I took of mushrooms while taking a walk through Tryon Creek State Park in Oregon last fall.  This park is located on the northern border of Lake Oswego, and there is a trailhead about 200 yards from my house.  The identifications I have listed below are from one of those fold-out laminated plant and wildlife guides that are purchased at the visitor center.  But my identifications should be taken with a grain of salt, as I cannot claim to have any expertise with respect to mushroom identification.

An Overhead shot of what I suspect are “Cluster Coincaps” which grow “In dense clumps on decaying conifer wood”.


I suspect these are “Cat’s Tongues“. (The foldout’s apostrophe, not mine.  I suspect all cats have only one).  The card said, “One surface has short teeth”.  I did not know that when I took the picture so I did not get close enough to inspect. The card also says it grows “On well-rotted wood” which is not the case here, but it is the whitest mushroom on the card and best matches the shape.

I think these are “Deadly Skullcaps” which grow “On wood, often in clusters”.  The card says they are “lethal little brown mushrooms”.

I think this is a “Turkeytail“, which grows “On decaying Hardwood” which appears to be the case here. Look closely and you can see raindrops on the undersides of the edges.

I am really not sure of the identity of the mushrooms in the next four photos, although “sex toys” come to mind for the first two.  These may be “Wine Slimecaps” but the caps don’t match the guide. The other possibility is “Matte Stickycaps”  which the guide says “grow under Douglas Firs”.  In this case, they are growing on one.  The caps match the texture of the caps in the photo, but the guide says they can be up to 51/2″ wide.  None of these came close.

This photo caused some delay in getting these to you.  I tried to magnify it but the result was always a bit out of focus.  Tough call on these.  Possibly “Fairy-ring  Mushroom” (which grows in grass” – but not here), or perhaps “Mower’s Mottlegill”, but the guide says they “grow in grassy areas like lawns”.   Does moss count?

I think this is a “Woodland Lepidella” although the texture of the cap doesn’t quite match.  The guide says it grows “on soil in conifer forests, clearings, and roadsides”, which was the case here.

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 21, 2022 • 8:30 am

Today’s photos are from Athayde Tonhasca Júnior, and the topic is biological nomenclature: how these creatures were named. Do read all the captions. The descriptions are of course from Athayde, and are indented. You can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

This beetle had the bad luck of being described in 1937 by Oskar Scheibel, an Austrian amateur entomologist. Scheibel, supposedly an admirer of a powerful compatriot of sinister reputation, named the new species Anophthalmus hitleri. The elusive, eyeless cave beetle was already rare at the time of its description, but since then its numbers have plunged because of collectors and wackos obsessed by Nazi memorabilia: specimens have even been stolen from museums and sold on the black market for hundreds of pounds. Because of poaching, A. hitleri is now endangered and restricted to a few Slovenian caves. This beetle has been a flagbearer for the Woke Brotherhood’s Zoologist Chapter, which is on a mission to change names inspired by disreputable people. The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature has resisted these demands, with good reason. Once a precedent is set, the Latter-day Puritans will demand the renaming of all creatures baptised after shady types such as Darwin, Huxley, John Muir and J.K. Rowling (more than ten species were named after Harry Potter characters); the moth Neopalpa donaldtrumpi and the beetle Agathidium rumsfeldi would have to go, although the spider Aptostichus barackobamai is probably safe. Moralistic renaming would be foolish and cause immense confusion. Also, the Righteous Mob should consider that species naming is not necessarily laudatory: among other taxonomic stabs, Linnaeus made good use of the seed bug genus Aphanus (from the Greek for ‘obscure’) to name a species after his estranged student Daniel Rolander: Aphanus rolandri.  Indeed, naming a blind, cave-dwelling beetle after the Führer could be seen as a less than flattering move.

When a team of herpetologists examined a snake stored in a collection for 42 years, they discovered it had eaten another snake. Such findings are not particularly rare, but that semi-digested dinner turned out to be a hitherto unknown species – in fact, a new genus altogether. The image is an artist’s rendition of the meal before its consumption. The newcomer to science was christened Cenaspis aenigma: the enigmatic dinner snake, a name derived from the Latin cena(dinner) and aspis (snake) (Campbell et al., 2018. J. of Herpetology 52: 458-471). The snake, from Mexico’s Chiapas highlands, has never been seen in the wild, probably because it’s rare, elusive and nocturnal. Or it has gone extinct. This case was not unique:  the ant Lenomyrmex hoelldobleri was discovered in a barf sample collected from an Ecuadorian frog, and named after distinguished myrmecologist and E.O. Wilson’s collaborator, Bert Hölldobler.

It took 42 years for Darwinilus sedarisi to come to light, which is understandable because the creature was hidden in the belly of another snake. One rover beetle on the other hand remained unknown for over 180 years despite being in plain sight, so to speak: the specimen was catching dust in the Natural History Museum (London). American entomologist Stylianos Chatzimanolis borrowed it to discover that the beetle belonged to an undescribed genus. As it had been collected in Argentina by Charles Darwin during a HMS Beagle stopover, Chatzimanolis deservedly named the genus Darwinilus. For the species epithet, he chose sedarisi to honour raconteur David Sedaris, who is famous here in Britain for his books, BBC Radio 4 monologues and litter-picking activism (Chatzimanolis, 2014. Zookeys 379: 29–41).

Every name has a story, even if it’s a sketchy one. Paul Williams, a bumblebee specialist at the Natural History Museum (London), painstakingly tracked down scraps of information about a shabby, mislabelled specimen collected about 200 years ago and sitting in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Paul concluded it belonged to Bombus rubriventris, an extinct bumble bee from the Brazilian Atlantic Forest, one of the world’s richest and most threatened biomes (Williams, 2014. J. of Natural History 10.1080/00222933.2014.954022). We know nothing else about this bee; that pinned specimen lying inside a dark drawer is the only evidence left of a species that once buzzed from flower to flower, probably pollinating some lucky plants. Considering the greatest environmental disaster ever to befall Brazil, that is, the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president, certainly there will be more sad stories about extinct Brazilian species.

Ytu,the word for ‘waterfall’ in Tupi-Guarani (a group of native languages spoken in Brazil and Paraguay), is a suitable name for a genus of water beetles. So when entomologist Paul Spangler discovered a new species, how could he not name it Ytu brutus? (Spangler, 1980. The Coleopterists Bulletin 34: 145-158).

Entomologist Terry Erwin probably was one of the most prolific taxonomic punsters, and he had great fun with the ground beetle genus Agra. Erwin named more than a hundred Agra species, including Agra nola, Agra vate, Agra vation, Agra cadabra and Agra memnon. He also named Agra schwarzeneggeri, a beetle with unusually thick ‘arms’, and Agra eowilsoni, after E.O. Wilson. Erwin was witty, but also a great entomologist. His short, unpretentious paper where he hypothesized the existence of around 30 million species of insect on the planet has been cited hundreds of times (Erwin, 1982. The Coleopterists Bulletin 36: 74–75). One subfamily, 2 genera and 47 species are named after him. Here is Agra vation:

John Epler, an expert on Chironomidae (non-biting midges) and other aquatic insects, made good use of his Classics education to honour his favourite band with a new species: Dicrotendipes thanatogratus, from the Greek thanatos (dead) and Latin gratus (grateful) (Epler, 1987. Evolutionary Monographs 9: 102).

A short explanation for those unfamiliar with the art of biological nomenclature: in scholarly texts, the first citation of a plant or fungus’ scientific name (rules for animals are slightly different) is followed by the name of the person who described the species, e.g., Amaranthus retroflexus L. (L. is a standard abbreviation for Linnaeus). When a name is changed, for example moved to another genus, the original authority goes in parenthesis, followed by the name of the person who made the change, e.g. Hyacinthoides italica (L.) Rothm. So when German mycologist Karl Wilhelm Gottlieb Leopold Fuckel discovered a new species of wood-rotting fungus, it was named Nectria applanata Fuckel. But some years later his compatriot Carl Ernst Otto Kuntze moved the species to another genus, resulting in the delightful Cucurbitaria applanata (Fuckel) Kuntze (Gräfenhan et al., 2011. Studies in Mycology 68: 79-113).

The people of Guadeloupe have a soft spot for their only large wild mammal: the raccoon. The masked creature is pictured on stamps, toys, and in a national park logo. Raccoons are notorious for raiding crops and wrecking nests of wild bird and sea turtles, but these shenanigans do not dent their popularity: islanders have long treated the Guadeloupe raccoon (Procyon minor) as a protected species. Then in 2003, the celebrity status of the Guadeloupe raccoon suffered a serious blow. By examining museum specimens, taxonomists discovered that Procyon minoris in fact a subspecies of the common raccoon, Procyon lotor. (Helgen et al., 2008. J. Mammalogy 89: 282–291). This seemingly finicky academic study led to all hell breaking loose: the common raccoon is an alien species in the Caribbean islands. Even worse as PR goes, Guadeloupe is an overseas department of France, so legally speaking, the archipelago is part of the European Union. As the common raccoon is listed as a European invasive species, France has the obligation to eradicate or control it. The people of Guadeloupe were not having any of it: there have been strong words between locals and authorities.

Nessiteras rhombopteryx– The scientific name given to the Loch Ness monster by Sir Peter Scott, renowned ornithologist, conservationist, naval officer and Olympics medallist, and Robert Rines, American lawyer and composer (Scott & Rines, 1975. Nature 258: 466-468). Many were bewildered by Scott’s action – Rines on the other hand was well known in the woo-woo field of cryptozoology. That Nature went along with it was equally puzzling – one can imagine that Scott’s reputation helped the publication. Scott reasoned that a scientific name would give legal protection to the beast, in case it was real. But Scott was lambasted for promoting pseudo-science. Later, a British politician and newspaper – perhaps in an effort to protect the reputation of a British icon – claimed that the name was an anagram for ‘Monster hoax by Sir Peter S’. Rines denied it, pointing out that ‘Yes, both pix [a reference to the paper’s pictures] are monsters – R‘ was an alternative letter arrangement. In other words, the confession anagram was a coincidence. The paper was unlikely to have been a hoax, considering the time and effort Scott dedicated to this fantasy. He created the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau, goaded colleagues into reviewing evidence, and even pulled strings with the Royal Navy to obtain military searchlights to sweep Loch Ness. Incidentally, Scott & Rines taxonomic foray was in vain: the scientific name (which was drawn from the Greek for ‘Ness inhabitant with diamond-shaped fin’) was not valid because it lacked a type specimen (a specimen on which the description and name of a new species is based). The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, which rules on these things, would recognise a description based on photos. But certainly not the paper’s blurred images, which in all likelihood were doctored (but not taken by the authors). Scott may have gone momentarily wobbly, which happens to the best: Newton was an alchemist, Nobel Prize double winner Linus Pauling promoted vitamin C to cure cancer, and Alfred Russel Wallace believed in communicating with spirits.

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 20, 2022 • 8:30 am

Today Mark Sturtevant is back with some lovely wide-angle photos. Mark’s IDs and comments (links are also his) are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them:

A specialty area of macrophotography is wide angle macrophotography. Here, a subject can be seen in extreme closeup while its broader surroundings are also in view since the lens is also a wide angle lens. The best-known wide angle macro lens is one made by Laowa, but that lens is rather expensive. But there is a near clone of that lens made by Opteka—the Opteka 15mm f/4) which retails for just over $100. So. . . I bought the Opteka. It took a while to figure out how to get along with it since these kinds of lenses are very challenging, but I can definitely say that this is the most fun lens that I own. Here are some wide angle macro pictures.

This is a ground-level view of my favorite spot to look for aquatic fishing spiders on lily pads. None were here that day. You can see that the depth of focus is pretty amazing when stopped down all the way to f/32 (!):

Views up a tree are always interesting. This lens encourages one to look for unique angles. The picture is focus-stacked from several pictures:

Mushrooms near a forest trail:

But of course, photographing spiders and insects is especially fun (for me). Here is a nursery web spider (Dolomedes tenebrosus), which is one of the biggest and scariest spiders around here. I could trust that she would not leave her babies in the web nursery, though, even though the lens is practically touching her:

Black and yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia):

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus):

European praying mantis (Mantis religiosa). I rather like the solar flares that often turn up in this lens. There is a short lens hood, but it’s pretty useless because the working distance is often just a few millimeters for wide angle macro lenses.

Chinese praying mantis (Tenodera sinensis):

Thanks for looking!

If anyone wishes to learn more about this kind of photography, one cannot do better than watch this delightful review from the great Thomas Shahan. He concentrates mainly on the Laowa wide angle macro lens, but it really is like the Opteka model as far as I am aware.

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 20, 2021 • 8:30 am

Mark Sturtevant sent me these photos last October, and I’ve been remiss in not posting them. (BTW, readers, how about giving yours truly a gift of photos for the site as a Coynezaa present?)  Mark’s captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Here are more pictures of arthropods. Well, mostly arthropods.

Deep in a remote forest, a strange but also new kind of moth suddenly dropped onto a leaf in front of me. This is the dark-spotted palthisPalthis angulalis.

Next up is a broad-headed bug nymph (Alydus eurinus). These Hemipterans are seed feeders, but the nymphs are great ant mimics. In keeping with that, they are also very erratic and darty in their movements. Different species resemble different ant models. This one looks like a common species of carpenter ant.

Here is a differential grasshopper nymph, Melanoplus differentialis. Very common and ordinary, although I really like photographing grasshoppers.

The tiny insect shown next is a male minnow mayfly (Callibaetis sp.), with its very weird compound eyes that are thought to be used to look for females. The picture is focus stacked from pictures taken by hand on the dining room table. 

The caterpillar shown next is kind of beautiful, but it is not welcome! This is the larva of the Lymantria dispar, a.k.a. the gypsy moth (although that common name is now being retired, and I have not seen a new name for it). Introduced into this country in the 1800s, it has been slowly migrating westward. I began to see them a couple years ago, and now they are getting obnoxiously common. The reason they are bad news is because gypsy moth caterpillars can become highly numerous at times, and do severe damage to a wide range of hardwood tree species on which they feed. I have more pictures of their different life stages to share later (unfortunately).

Continuing with caterpillars, here is a tiny and rather weird Geometrid larva that is called the horned spanworm (Nematocampa resistaria).

One day I foolishly waded out into a sandy river with the “big camera” to take this rather atmospheric picture of bluet damselflies. Damselflies in this group are tricky to identify, but it looks like a mixed group here. I’ve tentatively identified the three in the middle to be azure blueets (Enallagma aspersum), and the ones on the far left and right as skimming bluets (E. geminatum). There is a tiny squabble going on at far right, where a male skimming bluet has landed behind a mated female azure bluet who is being guarded by her mate. The female is saying “buzz off!” to the cheeky male by beating her wings and arching her abdomen.

The spider shown in the next picture came as a present to be unwrapped. There was this leaf, neatly woven together with silk into a distinct ball. I carry scissors with me, and this was used to carefully cut open the leaf to reveal the darker form of one of our nursery web spiders (Pisaurina mira) with a freshly made egg sac. Not nearly as big as the other species I see around here, which is scary big, but this one had a leg span over two inches. I am holding the leaf in my hand, knowing that she will be very reluctant to run out of her retreat.

I later carefully fastened the leaf deep into a bush so that the budding family was well protected.

And finally, deep in a remote forest, I came across a creepy kind of fungus that is appropriately known as “dead man’s fingers” (Xylaria polymorpha). Every time I see these, I am reminded of a story related to me about some parents who were on a nature hike with their young daughter. They came across this fungus protruding from the ground at the daughters’ feet, and so they excitedly pointed it out and said “Oh, look! Dead man’s fingers!” It did not go over well.

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 26, 2021 • 8:00 am

Here’s the first installment of rainforest photos from reader Athayde Tonhasca Júnior.  Click on the photos to enlarge them, and his notes and IDs are indented:

You asked for readers’ photos, so here’s a tour through the Brazilian Atlantic Forest.


Access road:

Bad-tempered toad:

Black-faced hawk (Leucopternis melanops):

Bothrops sp. (fer-de-lance). Keep your distance!


Another bromeliad:

Cheeky lizard:



Fungus 1:

Fungus 2:

Fungus 3:

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 17, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today I’m going to gather the few singletons, doubletons, and tripletons sent in by readers. Although I like sets of photos of ten to a dozen or so, I do appreciate a good single wildlife photo. Here are some from diverse (I mean by that “different”) readers. Their captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Do sent in your photos, please; we’re running low again.

First, fungi by Alexandra Moffat:

White tree mushroom, Tremella fuciformis (?), New Hampshire hardwoods. When sunlit, an eye-catching white beacon in the woods. Not sure of the ID, an awful lot of similar fungi!!!   Huge fungi year around here.

From Ken Phelps, who calls this a “Roswell pear”.

Friends on Gabriola Island, just off Nanaimo, gave me a few pears last weekend. The Gulf Islands have an underlying vibe of getting-a-bit-geriatric woo, so it’s entirely possible that a Grey got waylaid in a New Mexican harmonic convergence and accidentally popped out here. Or something.

From Christopher Moss, “Apple Thief”.

I was just thinking my Russets are ripe enough to pick this weekend, when I see those scoundrels have got there first!

And from Joe McClain in Williamsburg, Virginia:

We had a mother Procyon lotor give birth to quadruplets here in the Blue Ridge of Virginia. My daughter once saw them walking, all in a line, at dusk. She involuntarily exclaimed at the cuteness of it all. The mother stopped abruptly to look at her, starting a chain reaction of raccoon-bumping. These creatures soon found our peach trees. So we named the mother Peaches and the babies Pitt, Fuzz, Pie and Cobbler. The one photo is of Pitt, Fuzz and Pie regaling themselves upon our peach crop. Cobbler separated from the rest of the family rather early and I think that is him or her on the deck of my office. I don’t know what happened to the rest of the family, but it’s a tough world around here for raccoons, with foxes, coyotes, dogs and cars taking their toll and farmers resenting attacks on chickens, etc.

Then there is a praying mantis on the siding near my beer cooler. Don’t know species.

And a stunned Sitta carolinensis. This white-breasted nuthatch hit the window of my office. I went out and picked it up, folding its wings back. He seemed just a bit dazed, so I put him down on the deck. After a minute of looking around, he hopped a couple times, then flew off.