Readers’ wildlife photos

January 17, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today’s photos are a batch of microorganisms and small creatures sent in by reader Mary Rasmussen. Her captions and narrative are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

If there’s water, there’s probably something living in it.

I collected a half gallon of water, muck, detritus, rocks, a tiny aquatic plant and 3 snails from some very shallow temporary pools along the Lake Michigan shore. Lake Michigan’s depth varies year-to-year. The pools sometimes last a few years and sometimes just a few weeks. This year the lake level was down and the pools dried up by the end of summer.

I put the water etc. in a 12 inch square glass aquarium with an L.E.D. light on top. These are the creatures living in the water that I was able to photograph.

The last 2 photos are Seed Shrimp that were living in 2 inches of water that had collected in a truck rut in a gravel road.

Aquatic Sowbugs (order: Isopoda) a freshwater crustacean, lived at the bottom of the tank, feeding on organic matter.

Two Hydra (phylum Cnidaria, class Hydrozoa, genus Hydra) After a month there were many of these predators in the tank. I could watch them for hours.

Hydra don’t show any signs of deteriorating with age, and there is speculation that they may be immortal. (I’m sorry but I can’t identify that creature on the left.)

Hydra with bud. The bud is a clone of the parent and will break free when mature.

A freshwater snail laid a trail of eggs on the aquarium wall. These are close to hatching.

Male Cyclops (Cyclops bicuspidatus), the dominant cyclopoid species in Lake Michigan has a single red eye.

Female Cyclops carrying two egg sacs.

Seed Shrimps (subphylum Crustacea, class Ostracoda) have a hard shell and use their antennae to move through the water. These were barely visible in the water of a truck rut.

I used a Nikon D500 camera with three off-camera flashes. For larger creatures (Sowbug, Hydra) I used a Nikkor 105mm macro lens with extension tubes. For smaller creatures (snail eggs, Cyclops, See Shrimp) I used a Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro lens with extension tubes.

 

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 11, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today’s reader introduces himself and his pictures below. Semyon’s words are indented, and you can click the photos to enlarge them. I believe this is the first Russian contributor we’ve had. Welcome!

My name is Semyon Morozov. I’m sending you my wildlife photos.

These photos were taken in August 2016 in my small homeland, Kurgan Oblast (Russia, the south of the West Siberian Plain). Photo hunting was successful at that time!

Here’s a female wasp spider (Argiope bruennichi). Look at these white things on her web: they are called stabilimenta. Their function is not completely clear. Scientists assumed that these structures stabilized the web, but then other explanations appeared, such as protection from predators or attracting prey.

Eurydema ventralis is a shield bug that feeds on crucifers and some other plants. The bug sits on a leaf of Parthenocissus that has been cut by a leafcutter bee (Megachile sp.).

The yellow-winged darter (Sympetrum flaveolum) is one of the most common dragonflies in this area.

This is an odd caterpillar of the grey dagger (Acronicta psi). It was ready to pupate, so I took it home for observation.

But instead, a fat larva of some parasitoid wasp crawled out of the caterpillar! Then the larva pupated, and after 16 days an imago appeared from the pupa.

And here’s the Roesel’s bush-cricket (Roeseliana roeselii). This individual has a saber-like ovipositor at the end of the abdomen, which indicates that it’s a female.

All these arthropods were dwellers of the garden. Now let’s go beyond it. What are these cupcake-like things on the rotten stump? These are the fruiting bodies (aethalia) of the slime mold (Fuligo septica, I guess). These are not fungi but organisms, the life cycle of which includes both a single-celled amoeba-like stage and a macroscopic one.

In the meadow, I found a wasp spider again. This female caught another predator, a dragonfly (it’s most likely the yellow-winged darter).

There was a pond nearby, next to which I met a caterpillar of the drinker moth (Euthrix potatoria). It’s said that the insect was so named because of the caterpillars’ passion for dew.

I found another caterpillar on the pond shore. It was a larva of the reed dagger (Symira albovenosa = Acronicta albovenosa), a moth that likes reed beds.

And finally, here are exuviae of some dragonfly. These are the remains of an exoskeleton that a larva left after molting.

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 22, 2022 • 8:15 am

It looks as if I’ll be in Chicago over Coynezaa, so do send in your photos, and we’ll see if we can keep this feature going over the holidays.

Today’s batch of photos come from Mark Sturtevant, whose IDs and captions are indented. Click the photos to enlarge them.

First up is a bundle of assassin bug eggs. A very common species of this predatory insect is Zelus luridus, and so that is most likely what will hatch from these eggs:

The European earwig (Forficula auricularia) is commonly seen up on plants, and they can accumulate in considerable numbers. Because they nibble on flowers and leaves, gardenersgenerally view them as pests. However, they also eat small arthropods, including aphids. I like them because they are so weird looking, and their matte finish photographs so nicely. The pinchers on the rear are modified cerci (those being appendages that many insects have). When alarmed, they will curl their abdomen like a scorpion, and they do look pretty fierce that way but it’s all a bluff since they cannot pinch in the slightest. But there are claims that other earwig species can use them as weapons of a sort:

In my younger years, the pink spotted ladybeetle (Coleomegilla maculata) was a common sight, but they are pretty rare where I live now. It was therefore exciting to at last find a pink ladybeetle when I was out “bugging” with the camera, but for some reason this one wasn’t moving. One can see why in the picture. Do you see the small cocoon underneath the beetle? That is the cocoon of a parasitic Braconid wasp! So this beetle was unfortunately parasitized, and its body was being used as a kind of protective shield:

Wolf spiders are most active at night, and then they can be easily found by using a flashlight to spot them through their brilliant eye-shine. So I went out to a remote park one evening to look for wolf spiders. The experience was rather startling, since a walk through the woods at night (which was a bit creepy, to be honest) revealed a veritable milky way of tiny glowing green eyes lighting up the trail. The wolf spiders on the trail were all small, but I had no idea they would be so numerous! After about a mile, the woods opened up to a large field and a full moon. More tiny glowing eyes, but not so many. Then I came across a set of eyes that were much bigger, and behind those was a very big wolf spider! A strikingly colored female. After admiring her, she was respectfully scooted into a bug cage. A bit more searching turned up a male of what was clearly the same species. Fortunately, I had two bug cages, and so in he went. Then it was time to go home with the prizes.

When I could get out again, I returned to the field in the day time with the spiders so that they could be properly photographed and then released. The species is Hogna baltimoriana. The female easily had a leg span of about 3 inches, while the skinny male was much smaller:

Bringing up the rear are male and female jumping spiders (Phidippus clarus) that are in an endearing and committed relationship. The male is in plain view, while the female is seen as a vague outline in her silken retreat. According to BugGuide, females of this species are frequently seen hanging out at the top of plants like this. The male, having found her, is now guarding his “intended” against any rival males. Although disturbed by my presence, he would not leave her side:

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

August 27, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today we have a mixture of animals and astronomy. The readers’ captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

The first three photos are from reader Terry Platt.

The weather hasn’t been helpful recently, but here are some H-alpha images of other objects in the Cygnus region. The NGC7000 image shows an impressive ‘wall’ of hot hydrogen with dark dust clouds. This region is part of the ‘North America’ nebula, which is a very large area of hydrogen emission to the northeast of the bright star Deneb. The nebula overall is vaguely similar to the shape of the USA and this part is ‘California and New Mexico’. It is about 2590 light years from Earth.

The other two images are of the planetary nebula M27. One is processed to show a ‘visual’ appearance, as the eye might see, while the other is very strongly contrast boosted to show the extensive, but faint, outer extensions. Planetary nebulae are the remnants of Sun-like stars, which have exhausted their hydrogen and blown most of their outer layers into the surrounding space. This process begins with ‘helium flashes’ where the helium rich star detonates helium burning for short periods and blows away its outer layers – this is the source of the faint extensions. As the star ages further, the process becomes more continuous and the core of the star is finally exposed as a very hot, but tiny, ‘white dwarf’ . M27 is at this stage and the white dwarf core can be faintly seen at its centre – the Sun may look something like this in about 10 billion years from now. M27 is about 1350 light years away in the constellation of Vulpecula.

Visual image:

Contrast boosted:

And two arthropods by Tony Eales:

More proof, if needed, that jumping spiders are the cats of the arachnid order. A study was published showing sleeping jumping spiders twitch in their sleep and even show what looks like REM periods associated with these twitches. Spider dreams? [JAC: Photos are Tony’s]

And then only a week later I see a story on consciousness in bees.  Here are some small stingless bees looking at me and presumably wondering if I am sentient:

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 15, 2022 • 8:00 am

Well, folks, we’re going to run out of photos by the weekend, so if you want this feature to continue, and have some good photos, send ’em in.

Today’s batch includes some lovely arthropod photos by regular Tony Eales from Queensland. His notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the pictures by clicking on them.

I have been trying to get good at taking intimate portraits of insects and spiders where they are looking right down the barrel of the camera, with varying success. Here’s a few of my more favourite ones.

The best I’ve achieved, in my opinion, so far is this portrait of Myrmecia brevinoda, the Giant Bull Ant. At 35mm and armed with large jaws and an impressive sting, these are terrifying looking ants but actually they are very calm. They are entirely nocturnal and construct fairly large mound nests with multiple entrances in wet forests. I was able to sit right beside their nest and observe the colony doing maintenance without even a threat display let alone a sting.

Another large rainforest ant is Notostigma foreli. Workers are around 15mm long and quite robust. They are in the subfamily Formicinae, and as such do not have a stinger. These ants defend themselves with sprays of formic acid, but generally in interactions with large creature like ourselves they tend to just run. Like the Giant Bull Ant, they are nocturnal.

Other good subjects for front on shots are Jumping Bristletails. This one is a member of the Rock Bristletail family Meinertellidae.

Not only do you want a subject that will keep still, but for a really nice close-up it’s good if they have a fairly flat face. This reduces the need for photo-stacking which can be a bit of a pain and hard to do with live subjects that might move between shots.
An obvious candidate is the so-called Flat-faced Longicorns sub-family Lamiinae. This one is Rhytiphora albocincta, a fairly common species that feeds on acacia.

Another one I love to get in face-on shots is a small treehopper with a large head adornment Eutryonia monstrifera.

Raspy crickets also photograph well head on. In fact some will face off against threats and display with their wings, like this Nunkeria sp.

One of the more difficult ones for me are harvestmen, but I do love their little eyes up top. No idea of the ID for this one.

But the best all round subjects for front on portraits are spiders. No wavy antenna, no protruding mouthparts and sit as still as a rock.

Menneus sp.

Poltys sp.

Simaetha tenuidens:

 

Readers’ wildlife photos

February 2, 2022 • 9:00 am

As the snow falls slowly, covering the grave of Michael Furey, I proffer some wildlife photos taken by Aussie reader Tony Eales. Tony’s notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

As summer rains have kicked in around my local area, I’ve had the good fortune to come across some new and interesting species. Here are some of the more  odd ones I’ve found.
This small beetle is, a member of the clown beetle family Histeridae. These beetles are cryptic and highly speciose as well as being understudied. I was informed that while it’s currently under , that this species would likely to be split into several species if anyone does a revision.
They are a myrmecophilic genus that live in ant colonies feeding on larvae. They can fold up into a compact little pill that ants would find hard to gain purchase on. My reading indicates that they are likely to be associated with Rhytidoperan ant nests but host specifics are largely unknown as species are usually gathered by flight intercept traps rather than from ant nests.

 

The area I found it in has several such ant species and here’s a queen of R. croesus I found recently.

Rhytidoponeran queens are what is known as semi-claustral. That means they look more like workers and do not have large abdomens. This means that rather than hiding away until the first set of workers enclose, semi-claustral queens must periodically venture out for food until they produce workers to do that for them.

At a local council bush reserve, I found this extraordinary wasp-mimicking fly. I’ve managed to narrow it down to subfamily Tachininae and looks superficially similar to but there are some differences which may just be variation or indicate a different species. I’m waiting on experts to weigh in.

Another one that I’m yet to get to the bottom of is this little flat bark bug, family Aradidae. I suspect it’s in the genus Drakiessa but bugs are so confusing. I found it at night feeding on fungi on a tree trunk.

I recently recorded two new species of Goblin Ant Orectognathus antennatus and O. phyllobates, the former being nocturnal and the later diurnal. These are tiny ants and it’s very difficult to notice their unusual shape until one looks at the photos but happily they are slow moving and easy to snap shots of.

I found my first Ozphyllum naskreckii, which are an unusual nocturnal katydid of wet forests and rainforest. You can see in the photo the “ear” of the katydid just below the bend of the front leg.

While we don’t have tree-hoppers as outré as some of the South American and South-East Asian there are a few with pretty impressive head gear. This one is in the tribe Terentiini but may be a new genus or at least species.

Lastly a cup moth caterpillar, Doratifera vulnerans. The first photo shows the normal feeding look and the second after I tapped it on the head with a twig to get it to raise its fearsome venomous spikes.

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 26, 2022 • 8:45 am

Today we have a panoply of taxa from reader Scott Goeppner. His notes are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

These photos were all taken around Stillwater, Oklahoma:
Physa acuta at Sanborn Lake in Stillwater OK. These freshwater snails are common at pretty much any location in Oklahoma with water, along with other species of Physa.

Planorbella (Helisoma) sp., most likely Planorbella trivolvis from Sanborn Lake. Another very common freshwater snail in Oklahoma.

Spined micrathena (Micrathena gracilis) near Sanborn Lake:

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) next to Sanborn Lake:

Pearl Crescent butterflies (Phyciodes tharos) on the edge of Boomer Lake in Stillwater OK.:

Green-striped grasshopper (Chortophaga viridifasciata) – Teal Ridge wetland in Stillwater OK:

Obscure bird grasshopper (Schistocerca obscura) – Teal Ridge wetland:

Southern Leopard frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus) at the Teal Ridge wetland:

Hackberry emperor butterfly (Asterocampa celtis) at the Teal Ridge wetland:

Here’s another one from Boomer Lake with its wings open:

Common Green June beetle (Cotinis nitida) at Teal Ridge:

Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) near the Teal Ridge Wetland in Stillwater OK:

Sachem (Atalopedes campestris) from Teal Ridge:

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 17, 2022 • 8:30 am

Our contributor today is Christopher Starr, a retired Professor of Entomology at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago.  His photos span a range of taxa. Christopher’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them. (See his first contribution here.) His captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

In the early morning, before the sun got hot, I consistently saw bright red velvet mites (Trombiculiidae) walking in the open on a sandy surface.  They were large (about the size of a raisin), soft-bodied and very conspicuous, yet the abundant agamid lizards were not eating them.  Wondering if they were protected by defensive chemicals, I tasted one, and sure enough.  It was so dreadfully bitter that I couldn’t bring myself to try another, so my sample size remains at one.  Ghana.

We are all familiar with mimicry, in which the mimic gains an advantage when the predator mistakes it for something else: a type-1 error.  Those of us with an eye for mimicry sometimes make a type-2 error by mistakenly seeing a deception where there is none.  Coming upon this dried, twisted vine, my reaction was “Aha, a snake camouflaged as a vine.”   Georgia.

The pachyrhychine weevils are a distinctive, extremely hard-bodied group almost entirely restricted to the Philippines and the Pacific islands fringing Taiwan. Pachyrhynchus tobafolius (first photo) is sympatric with an unidentified otiorhychine weevil (second photo), which has the appearance of being one of its mimics.

Although it is highly venomous, the fer-de-lance, Bothrops asper, avoids contact with humans and other large animals.  Note the effective camouflage of this one, which was lying immobile against a backdrop of vegetation. Trinidad.

This male Anolis lizard in the process of shedding his skin ate the old skin as it came loose.  Costa Rica.

Trinidad’s Pitch Lake is analogous to the La Brea Tar Pits in California.  Unlike La Brea, the Pitch Lake has not been mined for fossils, which it very likely contains.  This caiman was trapped in the surface tar and gradually sinking into it, possibly on its way to becoming a fossil.  Trinidad.

JAC: I’ve inserted a 2016 photo of Pitch Lake taken from Wikipedia:

A primary defensive feature is one that operates all the time, while a secondary defensive feature comes into play only when a threat is perceived.  Tortoises present my favorite example of a primary defense enhanced by a secondary defense.  The hard shell is always present, but when the tortoise is threatened it withdraws its head and feet tightly inside the shell. Mexico.

This newly-hatched Gonnatodes gecko was fully active from the moment it broke out of its shell.  Trinidad.

In studying the responses of various orb-weaving spiders to a simulated predatory disturbance, I found that common cross spiderAraneus diadematus, has one that I have not seen in any other. In the early stages of the disturbance, the spider raises its forelegs as if to parry the intruder.  Italy.

In some parts of its range, the large pink-toed tarantula, Avicularia avicularia, is common in rural buildings, including in my house.  I have often seen visitors startled and even fearful when encountering one fo these, but I like having them around. Trinidad.

I have usually found this Hersilia sp. building its web on the surface of tree trunks and sitting in the middle of it, flattened and well camouflaged.  Philippines.

Cnidoscolus urensl is commonly known as “burn bush” or “mala mujer” on account of the highly urticating needles on its leaves, stems and fruits.  Where this plant is very abundant, we found the orb-weaving spider Argiope argentata preferentially basing its web on this plan. St Vincent & the Grenadines.

This Myrmarachne sp. [JAC: note that this is a spider] has the appearance of a specific Batesian mimic of a Crematogaster ant that is abundant in its habitat. Taiwan.

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 8, 2021 • 8:00 am

Please send in your wildlife photos AND PHOTOS OF YOUR POLYDACTYLOUS CAT, if you have one (two photos please: cat and its paw, and please give name of cat and a few details). Thank you. The cats will be featured tomorrow.

Today’s wildlife photos come from Mark Sturtevant, whose ID’s and links are indented. You can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Here are pictures taken early in the 2020 bug season.

A friend down the street called to say their dog had a large tick on them, and would I like to have it? Yes I would! So off I went to collect it. As expected, this is the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), well engorged with its last blood meal.

I kept her around for a couple weeks, and sure enough she eventually produced an egg mass, as shown next. The eggs are crowded around the head because her reproductive opening is immediately underneath. By honored tradition, of course the entire family went down the loo afterwards.

The tiny insects shown in the next two pictures are minnow mayflies (Callibaetis sp.). The female looks pretty ordinary, but the males sport weird compound eyes that are thought to have evolved to look for females. 

A hike in the spring woods produced this lovely male jumping spiderPhidippus whitmani. The little guy was pretty restless, so a lot of pictures had to be taken—but it was worth it. 

The unpleasant looking critter shown next is a focus-stacked picture of an antlion larva (possibly Brachynemurus abdominalis). These are famous for digging a conical pit in sandy soil, and lying in wait at the bottom to trap passing ants and other small insects.

A detail worth noting here is that the reflective plastic lets you see a nice detail about their mandibles. Do you see the dark stripe on the underside of the mandibles? Those are the maxillae, which are the next set of mouthparts for insects. In antlions the maxillae are nestled into a groove under the mandible, and together the mandibles and maxillae form a hollow tube which is used to inject digestive enzymes into their prey, and to then drain them dry. 

The next picture shows an adult antlion, most likely the same species as the larva. One can well appreciate that these are commonly called long-tailed antlions! 

Back to the woods. The lovely caterpillar shown next is the larva of the copper underwing moth (Amphipyra pyramidoides). I flush out a lot of the adult moths of this species when doing yard work, although I’ve never gotten around to photographing one.

Rounding up the invertebrates is an early-season stonefly (Acroneuria sp.). These strange insects have an aquatic larval stage, and one can find large numbers of them along rivers over a brief interval in the spring.  

I rarely photograph vertebrates, but here is a very ill-tempered snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) that was wandering the woods. S(he) would repeatedly turn to follow me, lunging and snapping its jaws with a definite “clomp”!  

And finally, here is a very kindly toad, possibly the eastern American toad (Anaxyrus americanus). But getting staged pictures of this little one was a lesson in what Hobbes said in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip: “They drink water all day just waiting for someone to pick them up”.