Readers’ wildlife photos

June 15, 2021 • 8:00 am

Once again the photo tank is getting close to empty, so please send in your wildlife photos.

Today’s odonate photos come from Mark Sturtevant, whose notes and IDs are indented. Click on the photos to enlarge them. Mark adds that you can see his most recent photos on his Flickr page.

Here is a set of dragonfly pictures that were taken two summers ago. I seek to photograph nearly any kind of arthropod, but my thoughts are never far from dragons.

Clubtail dragonflies are an enormous family. Most species are boldly marked with black and yellow, and then there is that ‘clubbed’ tail, although that is often not so distinct in females. This striking individual is a female arrow clubtail (Stylurus spiniceps). a species quite common in the ‘Magic Field’. The picture was focus stacked from a small number of pictures taken by hand.

There is a quick story attached to this find, which is that the dragonfly was found for me by another dragonfly. I was following a male dragonfly that wasn’t even a clubtail when it suddenly paused to inspect a branch before moving on. On that branch was this fine female arrow clubtail! I have seen before that males are very attuned to spotting other dragonflies in their endless pursuit of a mate, so I’ve learned to watch their behavior to help me find a perched dragonfly that I would have overlooked.

The next picture is another clubtail, and a goal of mine is to get better pictures of it. This is a male Dromogomphus spinosus, but its common name is black-shouldered spinyleg. The name is very literal, as you can see from its shoulders and wicked looking hind legs.

The next two pictures are different species of “mosaic darners”, which are a group of darner species with intricate markings and a strong resemblance to one another. The first is a male green-striped darner (Aeshna verticalis); the second is a female lance-tipped darner (Aeshna constricta) – at least that is what I think they are, and I could easily be wrong. Other than the differences in appendages at the rear of the abdomen, which mainly identify the sex, there is scarcely a difference. You can’t rely too much on the slightly different colors since that is pretty variable.

I was out photographing insects with a camera buddy. After a long summer day goofing off in fields and woods with cameras, we were slogging it back to the parking lot when a drab and “fluttery” dragonfly landed along the trail right in front of us. What the heck was this?? It was a female fawn darner (Boyeria vinosa), a completely new species to me, and one I thought I might never see! Fawn darners are one of a small number of dragonfly species that become more active late in the afternoon. They will continue to fly well into dusk.

In closing, here are some egg laying pairs of green darners (Anax junius). While they were securing the next generation, a frustrated male was dive bombing them but I was never fast enough to catch that.

Readers’ wildlife photos

May 20, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today’s photos come from reader Tony Eales in Queensland. His captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

I recently went on a citizen science weekend called the Cooloola Bioblitz. This consisted of guided survey and collecting, IDing and cataloguing of life within the Cooloola Section of the Great Sandy National Park. There were many teams with different foci and interests. I was with the spider group for the weekend but we were encouraged to photograph and/or collect anything that caught our eye and the results are being uploaded into iNaturalist.

While there’s something to be said for just getting out into nature by yourself =, which I do as often as I can, it’s amazing what many eyes all searching a given area can turn up. I thought I’d share some of my favourite observations.

First is a small species, Araneus transversus, which I have been looking for for some time. They weave a small orb web across the surface fold of a large leaf and sit on the underside of this horizontal web. I gently encouraged it out of the web to take a photo of the hockey-mask looking abdomen.

Next is from my favourite family of spiders, the Australiasian endemic Arkydidae family. Arkys dilatatus, here shown happily consuming a small fly.

Hands down the find of the weekend for me was this undescribed Crab Spider, Phrynarachne sp. While it is well known that this genus is in Australia, so far there are no described species from this location. My son found this specimen which he thought was some bird droppings on a leaf until it, in his words, “suddenly grew legs and started walking”. Not only does this spider look remarkably like bird poo, it also smells really sour and bad, something we never tired of demonstrating to people by opening the vial it was in and inviting them to take a whiff.

We found many of the strange Gasteracantha quadrispinosa. If I have a second favourite group of spiders it is these Gasteracanths. They’re colourful, shiny and spiny.

We spent the better part of half a day searching the grass for a peacock jumping spider species that had been reported here a year ago, well outside of its usual range. Alas, to no avail. But we did go to the sand dunes to look at the Maratus anomalus peacock jumping spiders we knew were there.

The rainforest section was full of these net casting spiders, Menneus sp. The common net casters are also known as ogre-faced spiders for their gigantic forward-facing eyes. Menneus on the other hand have small pin-prick eyes that still seem to do the job, allowing the spiders to drop their net on any passing beetle or other prey item walking past. The net is made of a different type of silk that does not have the sticky globules but is instead woolly. It tangles up all the claws and spines and legs and wings of the prey, holding it fast for wrapping and consumption.

We also came across a few oddballs one doesn’t normally encounter. A strange mite in the family Erythraeidae was uncovered while sifting through leaf litter.

In the rainforest section at night were members of the insect order Archaeognatha or Jumping Bristletails, in the family Meinertellidae. They sat on the trunks of palm trees grazing on lichens under the cover of darkness.

Lastly I saw two interesting Longicorn Beetles, family Cerambycidae.

Phlyctaenodes pustulata was sitting on a leaf during my nightwalk in the rainforest. I don’t know too much about these beetles. The warty elytra is unusual for this family and the huge eyes are presumably for night vision.

The other cerambycid was Uracanthus triangularis. This one I found in the kitchen back at the accommodation. I think it had attached itself to my camera bag when I was out in the field.


Readers’ wildlife photos

May 11, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today’s photos come from regular Mark Sturtevant, whose captions are indented (the links are also his). You can enlarge the photos by clicking on them:

First up is our largest skipper butterfly, the silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus), named after the large silvery spots under its wings. These tend to perch with their wings up, but this one wanted to be different.

Next is a super common late season caterpillar, the fall webworm (Hyphantria cunea). They are everywhere late in the summer, feeding on a wide range of host plants. Fall webworms are in the tiger moth family.

The gnarly looking inchworm caterpillar in the next picture was found doing its “nobody here but us twigs” pose.. This looks to be the larva of Anavitrinella pampinaria, or ‘common grey’ moth. Once again BugGuide makes me look like someone who really knows their caterpillars (no, I don’t). Since I recalled the plant it was on (goldenrod), a simple search in BugGuide for ‘caterpillar on goldenrod’ yielded a probable ID in seconds.

The reason why I even noticed the above caterpillar is shown in the next picture. The boldly colored yellow-collared scape moth (Cisseps fulvicollis) looked obviously “wrong”, and closer inspection showed it had a terminal encounter with a crab spider. Probably one of the running crab spiders, and I don’t know the ID other than that.

A favorite grasshopper in my area is in the ‘bird grasshopper’ group, genus Schistocerca. Members of this genus include species that can become swarming locusts, but our species, known as the spotted bird grasshopper (S. lineata), is not like that. Two of them are shown in the next two pictures. These long-legged and energetically flying grasshoppers become common in the Magic Field in the late summer. The name lineata refers to the pale stripe down the middle of the back, although not all individuals have the stripe. The stripe-less one in the second picture is biting me, and I was wincing a bit while snapping the shutter.

An extremely common butterfly is the hackberry emperor (Asterocampa celtis). I assumed that the butterfly shown in the next two pictures was yet another one but it turns out to be the related tawny emperor species (A. clyton). A small difference in the wing color pattern here and there and it’s a new species for me! I don’t know why these are called ‘emperors’, but perhaps it comes from the impressive headgear worn by the larvae in this group:  I have yet to find one the caterpillars, although they should be common. I must keep looking.

The late summer has its down-side, with its hints that the “bug season” will soon come to a close. But there are insects that suddenly become common late in the season, and that at least is a positive thing. One of these are the large walking sticks that feed on the abundant oaks around here. The last picture shows one of the colorful males of our local species (Diapheromera femorata). The body is easily 3 inches long, but the females are significantly larger. I seldom see those as they tend to stay up in the trees.

Readers’ wildlife photos

May 3, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today’s diverse photos come from reader, anthropologist, and photographer Tony Eales from Queensland. You can enlarge his photos by clicking on them, and his captions are indented.

To answer the call for the readers’ wildlife segment and boost the tank I present some of the other critters and one plant that I photographed on my road trip to the tropical north of my state of Queensland.

First is Cosmophasis micarioides, a small jumping spider found throughout eastern Queensland, and highly variable. The mature males all look the same, with stripes of iridescent aquamarine, white and black; indeed all the male Cosmophasis in Australia are variations on that theme. The females are more colourful with patches of red, green, sometimes purple and golden brown. This one is a juvenile, which in the tropical north are the most colourful of all. In South East Asian species these spiders are often colourful wasp mimics. That may be what the juveniles are going for here, but I can’t think of a wasp model offhand.

Ethmostigmus rubripes is the Australian giant centipede. It’s not as big as the giant centipedes I encountered in Borneo, but they’re still very impressive beasts. This one was probably a shade over 160mm. It was very fast and darted about looking to hide from my light. I can imagine it would deliver a very painful bite if one attempted to handle it.

The Peppermint Stick insect (Megacrania batesii) likes to eat the leaves of the many Pandanus trees in north Qeensland. I had seen pictures of them and have always been struck by their odd colouration. They look more like a plastic toy version of green than one that would really help with camouflage.

I’m sad that I didn’t get a good shot of these prehistoric looking Orange-footed Scrub Fowl (Megapodius reinwardt). They were common enough around the gardens of Port Douglas where we were staying. From a distance you could watch them scratching the leaf litter, but they would slip off into the dense plants when approached.

It was great to see these relatively large Southern Spotted Velvet-Geckos (Oedura tryoni) around Eungella National Park. During my lifetime, my home town of Brisbane has been overrun by introduced Asian House Geckos (Hemidactylus frenatus,) displacing the shyer natives and patrolling every outdoor light. It’s hard to describe the happiness of seeing a gecko running around the walls and noticing that it wasn’t one of those intruders.

Real treat for me was to see my first Emperor Gum Moth (Opodiphthera eucalypti). Technically, I have seen the caterpillars, which are spectacular in their own way, but this was my first adult attracted to the lights at a lonely highway rest stop.

I kind of bombed out on my bucket list spiders for this trip, but one long-desired species that I did photograph was the Australian Lichen Huntsman (Pandercetes gracilis). The camouflage is so good I was only able to see it because of the eyeshine. Night hunting Wolf Spiders and Huntsmans have very strong reflective eyeshine, making them easy to find at light with a torch.

It was only because I had stopped to look at the Huntsman that I noticed this other master of camouflage nearby. This is the Northern Spiny Rainforest Katydid (Phricta spinosa). I was on a night walk with my wife and a friend, and this friend and I were exclaiming about how crazy this Katydid looked and my wife, who was standing with her face only a foot or so away from it, was saying “Where? What are you looking at?” When I pointed it out, she yelped and literally jumped back as it was hidden right under her nose.

I also found several of these strange Theridula sp., one of the comb-footed spiders. The photo suffered from my inability to see what I was focussed on because the humidity of the rainforest fogged up my camera viewfinder and my glasses all the time. I didn’t get a single shot that wasn’t focused on the leaf background instead of the spider.

Lastly, the classic shot tourist shot of the Daintree Rainforest includes these beautiful North Queensland Fan Palms (Licuala ramsayi). Sunlight shining through their leaves graces nearly every piece of tourism advertising for world heritage rainforest.

Readers’ wildlife photos

September 29, 2020 • 7:45 am

Keep those photos coming in!  Today’s contribution is from a regular, Mark Sturtevant, who sends us a panoply of insects (and one arachnid). His notes are indented:

Here are pictures of insects that were taken during the previous summer.

The first pictures are of carpenter ants (looks like Camponotus pennsylvanicus) tending a colony of poplar tree aphids (Chaitophorus populicola). I think it is well known that ants can guard aphids, and feed on the sugary secretions that they supply in return. In the second picture you can see an ant give food to another.

In the next picture is the familiar monarch caterpillar (Danaus plexippus) on milkweed. Besides the bright colors that advertise their toxicity, the paired tendrils on each end is a deception so that predators may doesn’t know which end is the head.

On the campus where I used to work (now I teach online), there are cherry trees which always have dozens of large bagworms, which are caterpillars that form a protective bag that is about two inches long. So I brought a few home and put them on our cherry tree for pictures. These odd caterpillars never leave their bag entirely as they move around clumsily along the twigs and leaves of their food plant. You can see some fresh silk in the pictures. They quickly make a security tether in case they need to retreat into their bag, and eventually they will build on this tether to make a stout strap of silk that holds them firmly in place. To move to a different location, they must first chew thru their tether. The species is Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis, or ‘evergreen bagworm‘, which means they will also feed on conifers. When photographing them, if I sat for a time they would soon emerge and start crawling along a twig. But any disturbance would cause all of them to immediately retreat into their shelters. One wonders how they poop in there.

Bagworms are weird in other ways. They pupate in the bag, and the males emerge as about the plainest, drabbest moths in all of existence. I have never seen one. Adult females don’t emerge from the bag, as they are wingless and legless and rather maggot-like. Males find them through pheromones. After mating, the female lays an egg mass in her bag, and then dies. The pictures in the link above show the strange adults.

Next is a tiny moth. This is Mathildana newmanella. It is a member of the ‘concealer moth’ family, where larvae stay hidden in leaf rolls or in woven bundles of plant debris. Note the ‘Trumpian’ wig.

It’s time to dip into the long queue of Odonate pictures. Here are a pair of amber spreadwing damselflies (Lestes eurinis). I somehow have never noticed these before, even though they become exceedingly common along certain woodland trails. The male shown in the first picture is positively luminous, but the female is also quite lovely. Amber spreadwings develop slightly tinted wings as they mature.

‘Bluet” damselflies are among the most challenging group to identify because there are so dang many species, and many look very much alike. I have a couple of online acquaintances who can identify them in an instant, but I have yet to get the hang of it. In any case, after much lip biting and stress, I suggest that the first bluet damselfly here is a male azure bluet (Enallagma aspersum) [at least I am sure it’s a male], and the second, which is a real eye-popper, looks to be a male northern bluet (Enallagma annexum). Y’all should double click on that one.

Finally, I always check myself for ticks after an outing, and sometimes one or two manage to take a ride home with me. They are almost always American dog ticksDermacentor variablis, a tick that accepts a wide range of mammalian hosts. The color pattern informs us that this one is a male. Males take only a brief blood meal. One thing I had learned recently, which makes ticks even weirder, is that they have eyes that are a bit larger than expected. You can see one here as the pale circular spot just above the base of the second leg. Of course, after pictures were taken, this little guy took a ride down the loo.

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 10, 2020 • 7:45 am

Today we have regular Mark Sturtevant with some lovely photos of insects. His captions are indented:

These are some pictures of insects taken during the previous summer.

Let’s begin with a few Lepidoptera. The moth shown in the first two pictures is the tufted bird dropping moth (Cerma cerintha). This form of mimicry (or is it considered camouflage?) is widespread with insects and spiders, but for it to work they must behave like a bird dropping. This means the individual must sit out in plain sight.

Next is another moth that is also a bird dropping mimic. This is called the beautiful wood nymph (Eudryas grata), and it is a rather famous example of this form of deception because they habitually hold out their front legs to resemble a splattered bird dropping. When disturbed they scooch over a bit, settle, and out go the legs again.

I came across the next caterpillar while wading in a marsh. This is the larva of the  Baltimore checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas phaeton), a lovely little butterfly that features bright warning colors, as does the caterpillar and the chrysalis, as is shown in the link. I don’t know if it is advertising toxicity, but even the chrysalis?!

Finally, this delicately colored caterpillar in the next picture is the larva of the copper underwing moth (Amphipyra pyramidoides). It is a caterpillar that I find pretty regularly on cherry. The adult moths are common in my yard, but I have yet to get around photographing one.

Moving to a different insect order. This insect is called a stonefly, and it belongs to the “primitive” order Plecoptera. I don’t know how to ID it any further without resorting to looking over wing venation (sorry!). Stoneflies grow up in water, and the short-lived winged adults emerge en masse. This was one among thousands found along a local river early last season. The link goes to a short video that describes their life cycle.

The order Coleoptera is next. This fairly large beetle with the impressive headgear is a longhorn beetle known as the white-spotted sawyer (Monocahamus scutellatus). The larvae of these insects feed in dead or dying wood, and the adults are known to find new sources of suitable timber by tracking the sex pheromones released by bark beetles. This makes the bark beetle pheromone a “kairomone”, which is a chemical signal exploited by a different species.

Next is a strikingly colorful beetle called a net-winged beetle which I have tentatively identified as Calopteron discrepens. Net winged beetles are toxic, and several species form a mimicry complex with each other and with other insects.

The next picture shows a mating pair or rose chafer beetles (Macrodactylus sp.). This introduces a slightly new direction in my photography, which is to use focus stacking to extend the depth of focus in pictures. This picture is an early attempt, and it was made from 3 hand-held pictures that were merged in the program known as Zerene Stacker.

A beautiful ebony jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata) brings up the rear. The associated link is to a short video that summarizes some of the interactions that commonly occur between these insects. I have watched their interesting displays many times and I shall never tire of watching them.

Photographing ebony jewelwings has been challenging for me since they have metallic colors that don’t record well with a camera flash. So this picture is another focus stacked image made from two pictures that were taken without the flash but at wide aperture in order to handle the low light levels. Perhaps this is the answer to the “ebony jewelwing challenge”.

Focus stacking is fun to do and it’s not too difficult. In later installments I will show some focus stacked pictures that are far more ambitious. Stay tuned!

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 25, 2020 • 7:45 am

Tony Eales, a Research Officer from Queensland,  writes in with some lovely arthropod photos. His notes are indented.

So it’s winter in the southern hemisphere, and insects and other arthropods are more difficult to find. However when that happens I turn to the leaf litter. I collect a bag of litter from a likely looking spot and then sort through handful by handful on a white bucket lid, looking for movement. The bucket lid helps me see the tiny things crawling around but also has another effect. With a little manipulation of black/white levels on photoshop and some erasing I can isolate the subject in the photo against a white background. This effect can really help bring out the details of these tiny ground-dwelling creatures. Here’s a sample of some of the things that I’ve pulled out of the litter.

Having said all that the first subject is one from the trees rather than the ground. It’s a small male orb-weaving spider Araneus arenaceus the Sandy Orb-weaver. When disturbed, it heads to a twig and hunches up into this shape and becomes basically invisible, looking like any other small protrusion.

Commonly in the rainforest leaf litter I find harvestmen, arachnids in the Order Opiliones. The commonest are these peculiar creatures in the genus Bogania. I can’t find much information about them but I find the huge articulated spiked jaws fascinating. I’d love to observe them catching prey.

The thing about looking at the small stuff is that you’re going to be finding the unstudied stuff fairly regularly. This photo is of a spider in the cobweb spider family Theridiidae. Consulting with the experts on the spiders of my state, we can get it down to the subfamily Hadrotarsinae, but that’s as far as anyone can get. Despite many surveys of the leaf litter in my part of the world, some groups are just not known. I love the long setae on the back.

Next is an insect I’ve shown before. It’s a Trilobite Roach genus Laxta. This one is a nymph although females remain wingless like this but are much darker with thicker exoskeletons.

This is a tiny ant from a genus restricted to the Indo-Australian region. There are only nine described species and they live in small colonies of around 100 ants, foraging in the leaf litter. I think I’ve keyed this one out to Mayriella abstinens, but it’s definitely Mayriella sp. as identified by the deep antennal scrobes (grooves) in the head.

The rainforest leaf litter contains many tiny land snails, most often in the Family Charopidae. There are numerous species with very similar form and thus it is difficult to even get to genus with most that I find. This one, Nautiliropa omicron, however, is quite distinctive with a bi-concave nautiloid shell, delicate ridges and zig-zag patterning.

I’m not sure why this tortoise leaf-beetle was in the leaf litter, as I normally find them in the bushes on live leaves. It’s definitely in the genus Paropsisterna related to P. decolorata, but there’s a problem for researchers describing these beetles, as they have distinctive colours and golden iridescences until they’re dead, and then they lose their colour. It makes it very difficult to compare with the holotypes, many of which were sent to Europe and researchers here aren’t sure if a particular beetle already has a name or not.

Last, some more from my favourite order, spiders. This hairy one is a crab spider. An undescribed member of genus Sidymella. They appear to be fairly common in the leaf litter which is quite unusual for crab spiders. I can’t think of another one that lives on the ground.

Next, I am told by someone more capable in spider ID than I, is genus Spermophora…maybe. It’s a cute little jack-o-lantern-faced cellar spider, Family Pholcidae. I was trying to get to the bottom of what species it is and the key paper on Australian Pholcids has this to say “Spermophora is probably the most chaotic genus within pholcids”, plus it lists only two species in that genus—both far in the tropical north. So who knows. Cute, though.

Last is a jumping spider in the small genus Tara. It’s one of two types I always find in the rainforest leaf litter. Not very colourful for a jumping spider but with those big forward facing eyes they are the most appealing of all spiders.

Readers’ wildlife photos

May 29, 2020 • 7:45 am

Tony Eales from Brisbane has sent us a collection of mixed arthropod photos. His notes are indented:

I just thought I’d throw together some oddballs for fun.

First, a tiny little mite known as a whirly-gig mite family Anystidae. These guys are so small and fast that I rarely attempt to photograph them even if I see one. However this one stopped for half a second and I just managed to get the focus.

Next, a particularly pretty planarian worm called Australopacifica regina, found in the local subtropical rainforest under a log.

This is one of the cup moth or slug moth caterpillars. Calcarifera ordinata. The stings are said to be particularly fierce. Happily so far I remain un-stung, touch wood (actually don’t touch anything in the bush, it probably stings or bites, just take photos).

Next a few spiders. First, an undescribed member of the genus Celaenia. This genus generally imitate bird droppings though this one not so much. Still, it l doesn’t look very appetising.

Second an ant-mimicking jumping spider. Not as convincinga  close-up as the more well-known Myrmarachne species, but from above at a glance, it’s still very ant-like. This one is genus Ligonipes sp: .‘white brows’. A very common but as yet undescribed species.

The last spider is an Oonopid aka goblin spider. Maybe, genus Grymeus. I’ll know more later as there’s a person at the Qld Museum currently working on the family and I’m sending the specimen in to go into the collection. For fun I’ve added a picture of the spider in the test tube. See if you can spot it.

I picked up something fairly rare the other day, a species of lace bug, Tingidae. To me it looked like the fairly common pest known as the Azalea Lace Bug Stephanitis pyrioides but the experts said “Oh no, The shape of the hemelytron is distinctly different. This is an Australian endemic, Lepturga magnifica. In any case, it’s an interesting looking bug.

Weevils are so diverse and there are some extreme variations on the weevil bauplan. This is one of the odder ones Rhadinosomus lacordaireei or Thin Strawberry Weevil.

Last but not least, a weird offshoot of in the lacewing Order Neuroptera, a Beaded Lacewing in the family Berothidae. These are unusual within the Neuropterans for having particularly hairy wings. The one pictured is  Stenobiella sp. The larvae of these lacewings live in termite mounds, apparently unmolested, snacking on a passing termite when hungry. Wired did an article on how the larvae have been observed to paralyse the hapless termite with termite-stunning farts


Readers’ wildlife photos

April 17, 2020 • 7:45 am

Mark Sturtevant sent some nice insect and arachnid photos, including SEX, and I’ve indented his captions and IDs:

The narrative and pictures in this one (from 2018) are a bit different, since the pictures of the caterpillar are ‘interrupted’ with pictures of Arachnid sex.

In the first picture is a delicately lovely female Eastern forktail damselfly (Ischnura verticalis). I find this species to be exceptionally difficult to photograph since they are very shy, but also too small for the usual method of using a zoom lens. But this one allowed me get close with the 100mm macro.

Next is a velvet ant (Timulla vagans). These are actually wingless wasps that parasitize a range of insects, depending on the species. This is one of the rare occasions where one of these insects was sitting still. They don’t often do that.

The tiny moth shown in the next picture is the Ailanthus webworm moth (Atteva aurea). The larvae are commonly found on an invasive tree called “tree of heaven” (Ailanthus altissima), and there might be an interesting story here. The details are not clear, but the moth used to be restricted to Florida and points south, where the larvae fed on various trees. But beginning in 1700s, the tree of heaven was introduced to North America as an ornamental tree. It was soon discovered that the tree itself is highly aggressive and it is now considered a pest. Anyway, the moth has expanded its range northward, and in its expanded range its main host is tree of heaven. Here, the moth is even given its own species name (A. aurea), classifying it as separate from the southern group (A. floridiana),  although of course that does not necessarily mean it is a different species in the biological sense.

Next is a well known kind of arachnid commonly known as a harvestman or daddy-long-legs. This handsome male (Leiobunum vittatum) sports long and artfully shaped pedipalps, and the reason for them emerges in the story that follows.

I often write about the Magic Field, but in fact this field is but a small part of a very large and very old park. In the main area of the park are enormous trees and ancient-looking but massive picnic shelters. A large stone and timber bridge crosses the river (it is the widely known Flint River) that bisects the park, and just over the bridge is a peaceful glen. Not even a quarter acre in size, this glen has given me more special finds than any other area save for the Magic Field.

I was just entering the glen late in the summer when I noticed a strange symmetrical shape sitting under a leaf of a red-bud tree next to the river. Closer inspection revealed a very good find, which was one of the larger species of slug caterpillars as shown in first pictures. This is the spiny oak slug caterpillar (Euclea delphinii). Slug caterpillars do not have well defined legs, so they crawl slowly with peristaltic waves under the body. This species has poisonous spines, and the bright colors are nature’s way of saying Do Not Touch.

I had plucked off the leaf that it was on to take pictures of the caterpillar, but the lighting was not optimal in the full sun. There was a large log in the shade which was perfect for sitting, but at the moment a harvestman was trundling across the log and so I waited for it to make its way across. But then a second, leaner-looking harvestman rushed out and tackled the first one!  !!???  They rolled around briefly in a blur of tangled legs before settling out, facing each other in a close embrace. This was an attempt at mating! I have never seen the entire process in these arthropods, so the caterpillar was put down in order to take pictures of their liaison.

As shown in the next several pictures, the male (on the right) protrudes something weird. I suppose there is sperm transfer going on somehow. Note too the elongate pedipalps of the male that were mentioned above. They are being used here to enwrap the female in a specific way. The red thingy on the females bum is a parasitic mite.

For these hi mag pictures, a Raynox 150 diopter lens was attached to the macro lens to boost magnification. Readers might be interested to know that this diopter lens is a flexible but also inexpensive way to convert a regular camera into one that can take closeup pictures. This is how this rewarding hobby can start.

After several minutes, the pair went their separate ways and I could claim the log for more caterpillar pictures, as shown below. The slug caterpillar was of course returned to its tree when I finished with it.

Excavating an army ant nest (and finding the queen)

April 15, 2020 • 2:45 pm

Matthew called my attention to this tweet about the excavation of a driver-ant (army ant) colony, and I’ve put the video at the bottom.

Dorylus molestus is an African army ant, some of whose drones are the largest ants in the world, not to mention the huge queen, who appears at 2:52 in the video below.  Some Wikipedia notes:

Some Dorylus molestus queen are the largest known extant ants. Queens typically grow to 5.2 centimetres (2.0 in) but can reach 8 centimetres (3.1 in).

Its size of Molestus queens allows it to hold the world record in egg laying. Workers (sterile females in the presence of the only living queen) range from .3–1.1 centimetres (0.12–0.43 in). Huge and specialised soldier morphs (permanent sterile females) provide protection during migration raids.

Here are the YouTube notes on the excavation, and they’re biologically quite informative.

Join us on a hunt for the elusive army ant queen (Dorylus molestus) at Mount Kenya. Army ant queens are the biggest ants on the planet and highly unusual looking. First, their gasters [JAC: abdomens] are massively enlarged to accommodate the huge ovaries. Second, unlike the queens of most other ants, they are permanently wingless, reflecting the fact that army ant queens never leave the colony, and colonies reproduce by fission. This video provides background footage for my upcoming book “Army Ants: Nature’s Ultimate Social Hunters“, which will be released by Harvard University Press later this year [JAC: in October]

I’m a bit pissed off that they dug up such an extensive colony and removed the colony’s heartbeat and sole source of propagation: the queen. Perhaps there was a research objective to this, but it would have to justify destroying a colony.

Or perhaps they put the queen back.