Readers’ wildlife photos

August 7, 2023 • 8:15 am

Well, folks, this is the last substantive batch of photos I have in the tank. If you want more this week, you’ll have to provide them. These come from our most regular regular, Mark Sturtevant; his captions are indented and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

This post has been on my mind for several years, beginning with an encounter that I had with a weird little fly on a bridge. Here is that fly (I think Pseudotephritina sp.), and I had probably shared it here once upon a time. It was marching up and down on the bridge rail while continually waving its wings. I did my best to photograph the little insect, which was no bigger than a fruit fly, with my little 50mm lens on extension tubes. But I wasn’t the only one interested in the fly. There was also a jumping spider, and it definitely was intent on having the fly for a meal! As the spider stalked closer, the fly would suddenly turn to it, waving its wings, and the spider would flee! This was repeated several times until the spider gave up. Did the stripes on the wings look like spider legs to the jumping spider? Jumping spiders do signal to each other by waving their legs. This is how they avoid conflict.

Now one must not make too much of this impression from a one-time encounter like that. But many flies in several different families have boldly patterned wings which they wave around. While this is known to act as intraspecific communication, it is thought that in at least some species flies also use this kind of display to scare off free-roaming spiders like keen-eyed jumping spiders. There is, for example, a classic paper concluding that another fly, Rhagoletis zephyria, would frequently display its patterned wings when stalked by jumping spiders, and spiders would tend to stop their approach in response. Here is a picture from that study, and one can definitely see that the fly does look like a jumping spider:

R. zephyria is part of a large species complex of flies that all strongly resemble each other. From the BugGuide web site, I count 18 species in North America. One of these is the apple maggot fly (R. pomonella), and I do have two apple trees and I see what I presume is that species of fly in the yard from time to time. It should be mentioned that the apple maggot fly is also a classic example of sympatric speciation, since the flies originally relied on hawthorn trees as their host. [JAC: the idea that the two host races of this fly formed sympatrically is probably not correct; see Coyne and Orr 2009). But with the introduction of apples into the country, some of them jumped to apple trees and there is now significant reproductive isolation between the two populations. Anyway, one of the flies appeared on my back porch last summer, and because I was able to catch it I could at last act on what has been on my mind for many years. Would this fly use its wings to deter a jumping spider? Mind you, this is a different species from the one described above, but … maybe? The following pictures record the results of this admittedly informal attempt to test that hypothesis.

Here is the fly, feeding on slices of sour green apples. It was quite content to just sit there and feed since I had starved it for a day.

Now when this fly turns away from the camera, one can certainly see that its wing markings are very much like spider legs. Both males and females display their wings when encountering one another, but what would happen if I introduced a jumping spider?

So out to a local field I went, and soon returned with a test subject—a handsome male Phidippus clarus [see citation below]. What would happen if the two met? Would the fly react to the spider? Would the spider react to the fly (other than making a meal of it)?

In my arena I had the fly, feeding away, and the spider was kept several inches away under a clear plastic cup. When the spider was facing the fly, I would then lift the cup and make ready with the camera. After about 10 tries (I should have counted, but I didn’t), I could definitely say: I am not sure! Most times the spider did look at the fly, and sometimes it paused to look at it, as it was doing here for some seconds. But then it would turn and walk away. At no time did it stalk the fly, nor did it hustle off like it was fleeing. So I can’t “read” what the spider saw of the fly other than that it wasn’t prey.

Meanwhile, the fly just kept feeding, and it did not seem to react to the spider at all. But on one occasion – just one! – the fly certainly did seem to react to the spider by suddenly spinning around (it was facing away before), and it held out its wings. Here is that moment, with the fly out of focus in the background.

And here is a second picture, now focused on the fly. That is not a relaxed posture. The spider for its part just paused briefly, and then moved away.

I don’t know what to say about this informal experiment, other than that the one response from the fly encourages me to try it again. I am currently keeping an eye out for more of the flies.

As a kind of postscript, there is this lovely paper which proposes that many species of insects from several different orders may be mimicking jumping spiders to ward off predation. There are lots of cool and enticing pictures, and the readers here will certainly enjoy having a look.

Thank you for looking!

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 5, 2023 • 8:15 am

We’re down to two or three sets of photos, so things are getting dire. If you have good wildlife photos, send them in now (but not between the 11th and 21st, when I’ll be gone). Thanks.

Today Tony Eales, back from his African safari, now sends us photos of African bugs. His captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

As I said in an earlier post, there were not many bugs, June being well into winter in southern Africa. There were, however, still bugs and creepy crawlies of different kinds. Here are a few of them. Unfortunately I don’t really know much about most of these species but I’m reaching out to various places to learn more.

Found this cool grasshopper nymph in Moremi Game Reserve:  Abisares viridipennis:

At the same camp I found this lantern fly, probably Druentia sp.:

I found this strange bark mantis in Chobe. It barely has the classic raptorial forelegs that are usual for mantises. Amorphoscelis sp.:

At the same camp we found this elongated assassin bug, Rhaphidosoma sp.:

This mantis, while more classically armed, was very weirdly adorned to help it blend into the background. Sibylla pretiosa Cryptic Mantis:

We saw the evidence of a very unusual moth that could really only live in an area with thousands of grazing mammals like southern Africa. Ceratophaga vastella, the Horn Moth. Unlike the majority of moth larvae, these feed on mammal horns rather than plants. [JAC: the marks on the horns are caused by larvae; as Tony explained, “You can see the worm-like tunnels On the surface of the horn and empty pupal cases sticking out of the horn”]:

Here’s one of the major shapers of the landscape, Macrotermes sp. I don’t know if the species I photographed here are the same ones that are responsible for the large mounds that we observed, especially in the Okavango, but they are in the same genus. These termites are unusual in they are fungus farmers rather than eating the plant material directly:

Some of the more impressive insects I encountered were hymenopterans. Here is a Slender Tree Ant in the Tetraponera natalensis species complex:

Stingless bees Meliponula bocandei, much larger than the Australian and Southeast Asian species I’ve encountered:

Paltothyreus tarsatus, the large African Stink Ant:

A large velvet ant, Stenomutilla sp.:

And of course, I found a wide variety of my favourite group, arachnids. Including my very first member of the Solifuges, or Sun Spiders. Apparently this family (Solpuginae) of Sun Spiders is called Common Romans. I’m not sure what that is about.

I also found an Orange-lesser Thicktailed Scorpion (Uroplectes planimanus):

And these spiders were absolutely everywhere after dark. I was confused as by size and habit they seemed so much like the huntsmans (Sparassids) that I know from home, that I assumed that’s what they were. But in fact they were what are known as Flatties or Wall Crab Spiders (Selenopidae). I should have noticed the different eye arrangement. This one is probably Selenops sp.:

But my favourite spider was this impressive Wandering Spider (Ctenidae). As yet, I have no ideas about the genus but I’m asking a few knowledgeable folk about it:

Readers’ wildlife photos

July 18, 2023 • 8:15 am

Regular Mark Sturtevant is back with a batch of lovely arthropod photos. Mark’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge his pictures by clicking on them.

Here are more pictures of arthropods. Some are from area parks, and others are from my house here in Michigan.

First up is an Antlion larva, Brachynemurus abdominalis. One can find the conical pits that these little beasties make all over what I call the Magic Field. How they use their pit to ensnare passing insects is shown in this video.  Although they are easily extracted with a spoon to be taken home for pictures, actually getting pictures was not that easy since they generally want to scuttle backwards in an attempt to bury themselves. Right now, I am keeping a few larvae in cups of sand and feeding them ants (which is always entertaining), with the aim of later photographing the pupal stage. Antlion pupae are interesting in that they are still ill-tempered and they bite:

I came upon this wasp-mimicking beetle (Necydalis mellita) along a woodland trail. That it is indeed a beetle is proven by its elytra, even though they are very short. I’ve seen these before but could never get a picture because they are alert and flighty (wasp mimics tend to be wasp mimics all the way). But this one allowed a few pictures. It belongs in the longhorn beetle family:

Next up is a Big Sand Tiger Beetle (Cicindela formosa). These lovely but very alert beetles are common around here in sandy areas. Some days, nothing will get you a picture of one, but on this rather cool and overcast day the task was pretty trivial. Tiger beetles used to be in their own family, but now they have been absorbed into the ground beetle family:

Another challenging beetle is shown next. This is a tumbling flower beetleMordella marginata. Tumbling flower beetles belong to their own rather obscure family, and they are normally found on flowers where they eat pollen. There, the least disturbance will cause them to live up to their name as they curl up and fall to the ground:

Next are two grasshoppers because I really like grasshoppers. The first is a ‘hopper nymph of uncertain identity, but it most resembles the Two-striped Grasshopper, Melanoplus bivittatus.

Following that is the Northern Green-striped GrasshopperChortophaga viridifasciata:

Over the previous summer, I made it a regular habit to scour the front porch in the morning to look for insects that were drawn in overnight by our porch light. Among the more common squatters were these very small Mayflies which I believe to be Callibaetus ferrugineus. First are two females. The close-up picture is focus-stacked with my super macro lens, as are all of the remaining pictures here. She looks pretty strange, as all Mayflies do, but get a load of the male in the next picture.

Here is a male. I still remember my astonishment seeing the first of these! The upward turret-shaped portion of their compound eyes are thought to be used to watch for females:

This set finishes with a couple spiders. First up is a Slender Crab SpiderTibellus sp. These are shaped to stretch out along grass blades:

And finally, here is a Ground Crab SpiderXysticus sp. The super macro lens lets me peer into a new world, but I wasn’t expecting that face to look back from it!:

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 16, 2023 • 8:15 am

Mark Sturtevant is back with another batch of spider and arthropod photos (“harvestmen” aren’t spiders). His captions and IDs are indented, and  you can click on the photos to enlarge them. Our photo tank is nearly empty, by the way. Sunday may be our last day!

Last summer was a good one for getting some especially nice buggy pictures, although work and being dragged to vacation in urban areas did reduce the volume of pictures that I could gather. But I did my best. This set is all about some early-season spiders.

There was a big marbled orbweaver (Araneus marmoreus) in the garden late in the previous season (you saw pictures of her), and she left an egg sac. So early this summer my wife reported that they had hatched, and here are the bebbies. They would disperse when disturbed, but after a time they would gather together again into a tight little ball of tiny spiders. I love all those little baby bums! 

Here are some focus stacked pictures of jumping spiders, taken with the manual Venus/Laowa 2.5-5X wonder-lens. Jumping spiders are of course very active, so high dozens to over a hundred of pictures were needed to get successful but short stacks. It also helped to use psychology on the subjects, as explained below. 

The first one is a tiny ant-mimicking jumping spider, Myrmarachne formica. Readers may remember a male of this species that I had recently shown which had over-sized chelicerae. The one here is a female. To get her to stay in one area, she was marooned on a leaf that was pinned out in a cup of water. Since she was unwilling to cross the moat, I could zero in on her much more easily. No subjects were harmed in taking these pictures, btw. 

And here is our charismatic bold jumping spider (that is its common name), Phidippus audax. It is useful to think of jumping spiders as being like cats, so here I fashioned a tiny cup out of a leaf and let her explore it. Being cat-like, she had to sit inside the cup, and she even sat still for almost a minute which is an eternity for such spiders! 

Here she is again, but now she’s pausing atop a foam rubber stopper while sizing up the distance between her and the lens (she attempted the leap several times). You can see that one of the front legs had been regenerated. 

Here is a close crop of the previous picture, and this show-cases the incredible quality of this super macro lens. Y’all should click again to embiggen this one! Many hours were needed to clean up most of the artifacts from the focus stack and from the Topaz Sharpen AI program that I’ve also started to use, but the result is a contender for my favorite critter picture. The eye reflections are the diffusers that were used on the twin flash. Those diffusers are now being re-built, as is required since that is one thing that must be regularly fussed over in this hobby.


Next up is an unknown species of wolf spider carrying her egg sac. I did not know that adult wolf spiders could be this small. 

And finally, this is a focus stacked picture of a female harvestman (likely Phallangium opillio). OK, it’s not a true spider, but just look at that weird little face! Male faces are even stranger, but they are super restless. I will do my best to get the picture this summer. 

Readers’ wildlife photos

May 16, 2023 • 8:37 am

Today we have a batch of insect and arthropod photos from regular contributor Mark Sturtevant. Mark’s captions and narrative are indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

This set of pictures, taken a couple of summers ago, begins with rather ordinary examples of the arthropods from where I live (in Michigan). But to our mutual delight, the later pictures become rather weird.

First, here is a new species of meadow katydid that I had found near where I work. Normally, the small meadow katydids that abound in late summer fields are a short-winged species. But this one was clearly different. This is the slender meadow katydidConocephalis fasciatus It is a small but still satisfying thing to be able find a new katydid after so many years in the hobby.

Next is a weevil that I always call “that lumpy weevil”, because I’ve seen many of them in our yard but have never photographed because they were the size of a poppy seed. But now I have a super-macro lens (the manual Venus/Laowa 2.5-5x lens), and that can make short work of small things like this. So here is a manually focus-stacked picture of that lumpy weevil. Because of this picture I now know that they are really called the plumb curculio (Conotrachelus nenuphar), and that they are serious pests of fruit trees. We do have a couple of apple trees, and we have a neighbor who somehow manages to have a peach tree. So there’s little wonder that the plum curculio is common in our yard.

Fall comes quickly here, with cold mornings even while the insect season is still thriving. I had gone out one chilly morning to a nearby field (I think it was to find critters to feed to a praying mantis), but of course the camera tagged along in case. On this occasion, I came across a female green darner dragonfly (Anax junius) nestled deep in a tree. She was much too cold to fly, and so it could be moved to a perch for pictures. These are manually focus stacked images. Soon after, the sun had warmed her sufficiently and she was off in a flash.

The next two pictures are of spiders, and they both came to me via a close friend who lives down the road. After visiting down the road one evening, I came home late at night but then noticed there was a tiny spider dangling from the brim of my hat. It turned out to be one of those ant-mimicking jumping spiders, but this one was definitely a new species to me since it had ginormous chelicerae. This little oddity is Myrmarachne formicaria, photographed with that Venus/Laowa wonder-lens. The large chelicerae means that it is a male, but what they do with them I am not sure although no doubt it has something to do with mating. This species was recently introduced into the U.S., and it may be the first recorded citing of it in my state.

The second spider arrived when the same friend called me on the phone to tell me that a spider had ridden with him on his motorcycle to a store and back. Do I want it? Sure! So he pulls up on his ride and the spider turns out to be a flower crab spider (Misumenoides sp.). Nice, but not unusual. Here she is, a little gritty from the road. But things became weird while processing this picture. First, look at those two frontal eyes in the middle of her face. Do you see the expanded dark areas of color around them? Those are pigmented retina cells inside the head of the spider, and you can see them because the cuticle is translucent.

While assembling the focus stack for the above picture, I noticed that the dark retina cells were moving around in the head. You can see that with this two-frame gif animation made from pictures that focused on the eyes.

What is going on? It is well known that jumping spiders, which have very large frontal eyes, use little muscles in their head to move their retinas around to look out in different directions. You can see this clearly from this video. But this crab spider was evidently doing the same thing! After some research, it was learned that being able to move retinas around from behind the frontal eyes is a pretty widespread thing among spiders, so jumping spiders are not unique in this ability. These discoveries are one of the great joys of this hobby. After an entire life being absorbed by insects and spiders and such, and years spent photographing them, there are still new things to learn.

Readers’ wildlife photos

May 11, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today’s photos come from Israel and the camera of Scott Goeppner, a postdoctoral researcher at the Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research (BIDR), Mitrani Department of Desert Ecology. His narrative and captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Here are some pictures from around the town of Midreshet Ben-Gurion, which is located in the Negev desert of southern Israel:

First, a Nubian Ibex (Capra nubiana), which are common in the town. This one was taken by the cliffs on the southern edge of the town. Ibex are excellent climbers and they like to hang out on the cliffs which provide safety from predators.

Next, the gravesite of David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel and the namesake of Ben-Gurion University. Ben-Gurion led efforts to settle the Negev desert, and moved to Sde Boker, just north of Midreshet Ben-Gurion, after his retirement. He is buried with his wife Paula at the edge of a cliff overlooking the Zin valley.

Behind Ben-Gurion’s grave is a lush park, where the ibex also like to spend time. Here are some more ibex in the park:

Next, a panorama of the desert:

Next, some invertebrates from the area, including:

A Mediterranean red bug (Scantius aegyptius):

A harvestman (Order Opiliones, species unknown):

A cool beetle (Sepidium tricuspidatum):

A terrestrial snail (I’m not sure of the species). The Negev desert does not get much rain, but it does get a fair amount of dew. The dew is enough to support the growth of lichen and algae which the snails pop out and eat during the rainy season:

And a scorpion (Buthus israelis). Probably would not be pleasant to be stung by this!:

Next, some photos from Ein Avdat, an oasis with permanent spring fed pools about 2.5 miles from town.

The waterfall in Ein Avdat:

An Atlantic Terebinth tree (Pistacia atlantica):

On December 25th and 26th, there was an intense rainstorm over the desert that temporarily refilled many of the dry riverbeds near the town. Here is a photo of one of the waterfalls that formed as a result:

Readers’ wildlife photos

May 4, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today’s batch of photos comes from regular reader and photo-provider Mark Sturtevant, who notes, “This batch is unusual in that it includes a vertebrate.”  Mark’s notes and IDs are indented (the links are also his), and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Here are more wildlife pictures that were taken a couple summers ago, all in the general vicinity of where I live in Michigan.

One of the locally unique kinds of insects that can be found in what I call the Magic Field is the oil blister beetle (Meloe sp.). I don’t think it a stretch to say that they have one of the strangest reproductive biologies in the animal kingdom, as summarized here.  The individual shown below is a male, and I have just learned at this writing that their specialized antennae are used to clasp the female antennae during mating. The second picture was taken with my wide-angle macro lens.

Next up are a couple staged pictures of a brown lacewing, possibly Micromus posticus, which came to the porch light one evening. A trick well known in the hobby is that membranous wings can give a nice iridescent effect if you photograph them against a dark background.

Here is a thread-legged bug, Emesaya brevipennis, which also came to the porch light. These large-ish walking stick-like predatory Hemipterans have incredibly long rear legs, as can be seen in the linked picture. When sitting still, they eventually take on this pose where their mantis-like fore-legs are positioned as shown.

Next up is a staged photograph of a helmeted treehopper, Glossonotus acuminatus. I don’t see this species in my immediate area, but they are common a couple hours south of me.

Next up is a monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, sleeping in a cherry tree at a local park. Taken very late in the season, this one was perhaps on its southward migration.

Lastly, I have a cherry tree in the yard, and here is an Eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus),having a nibble from some of the old fruits as fall and winter began to set in. It was definitely suspicious of me.

I decided to have the AI art generator Dall-E 2 produce some different interpretations of that last picture, and here are some results. All I did was drop the picture in, and these came out. I don’t know how it seems to know what it’s looking at.

Readers’ wildlife photos

March 22, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today we have some insect and spider photos from Mark Sturtevant. His narrative and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Here are more pictures from a couple summers ago.

All summer, there will be webs of orb weaving spiders in my yard, and these will reliably be owned by a couple species in the genus Araneus. There was an especially large web in the garden, and so I set out to see if the lady was still around (they often aren’t). The inspection involves looking for a “sincere” looking curled leaf, either at 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock. This would be where they will hide. Sure enough, at one of those positions was a curled leaf with a tell-tale foot sitting on a special strand of silk that ran to the hub of the web. She was home.

But what did she look like? I coaxed her out, and here she is. Identifying these things can be tricky. I lean toward the marbled orb weaver (A. marmoratus), based especially on markings on the underside, but it could also be the cross orb weaver (A. diadematus), which was introduced from Europe. Anyway, she was fat with eggs. A postscript to this story is the following spring I found a large mass of tiny orb weaver spiderlings in the same area, and pictures are in the queue.

During the same time period, I found two new species of orb weavers in the yard. First was this neat little green one with beautiful lichen-like camouflage. This is the humpbacked orb weaverEustala anastera. Here I photographed her on a background of lichens.

And then there was this other new one that had this lovely woven basket retreat. Here is the retreat, and you can see the spider inside. I did not know that orb weavers could do that!

Here is the spider. It’s the lattice orb weaverAraneus thaddeus. She really wanted to be back in her retreat, so of course that is where she went afterwards.

One day when out in a local park, this mating pair of bumblebees sort of plopped down on the boardwalk in front of me. They appear to be the common Eastern bumblebeeBombus impatiens, which is by far the most common of our bumblebees here. Can you spot the stinger?

While we are going at it, here is a mating pair of locust borer beetles (Megacyllene robiniae) on goldenrod— their most common host flower. These two gave me quite a work-out, chasing them around the plant while I tried to get pictures of their stripey undersides. Locust borers are thought to be mimics of yellowjacket wasps.

One day while deep in the woods (slightly lost, but what else is new), I came across this lovely fly diligently feeding on bird poo. This is a member of a small and obscure family called flutterflies, after their long wings. The species is Toxonerva superba.

Returning to the yard, one evening there was this loudly singing insect in the back yard. It turned out to be this conehead katydidNeoconocephalis sp. As a kid, I used to be rather afraid of these things since they can give a nasty bite and they do have a taste for meat. But here, a piece of lettuce was sufficient bribery for this one to settle down for pictures.

The last pictures are two of my favorites from the summer, as it does sort of capture how I look at times.

Readers’ wildlife photos

February 15, 2023 • 8:15 am

Thank Ceiling Cat, for readers have responded by sending in several batches of new wildlife photos. Today’s is from regular contributor Mark Sturtevant, who loves his arthropods. Here are photos of some, along with two mushroom photos (click all to enlarge); Mark’s notes are indented:

Here are more pictures of mostly local arthropods from two summers ago. The photographs were taken from area parks where I live in eastern Michigan. Many pictures are manual focus stacks to increase depth of focus.

The spiders shown in the first pictures are different species of sac spiders. These are small wandering spiders. The first is the long-legged sac spider (Cheiracanthium sp.), a common year-long resident in houses. They are a welcome sight on our walls during the long winters here, although I have learned in preparing this that their venom can cause necrotic effects in humans:

The second species is the broad-faced sac spiderTrachelas tranquillus. I don’t see these in houses, but they commonly turn up in bushes near the house. Their bite can also result in complications:

The spiders shown in the next pictures are in the nursery web spider family, so-named because females tend to their hatchlings in a web “nursery” on top of plants. The first is pretty much our largest spider, Dolomedes tenebrosus. You can have a gander at the linked picture to learn that these are indeed spiders of impressive size:

The second species is a smaller kind of nursery web spider called Pisaurina mira. It took a lot of experimentation with camera settings to combine flash and ambient light to preserve the glow of sunlight through the leaf:

The next picture shows a handsome male Pike slender jumping spider Marpissa pikei. I can sometimes get them by using a sweep net in tall grasses. These elongate jumping spiders are a delight to work with because unlike most jumping spiders they are willing to sit still for me so long as they can align themselves on a blade of grass:

The grasshopper nymph shown next was also picked up in a sweep net. This is the northern green-striped grasshopper (Chortophaga viridifasciata) that I posed on my straw hat for pictures:

This is a predatory robber fly. I can’t get the ID on this small one, and that will be the case for some of the other pictures below (sorry!):

Next is a rather strange caterpillar that I also have not been able to identify. It looks like an inchworm, but actually caterpillars from different families also have this look.

The cryptically shaped moth shown next is definitely known to me. This is a common looper mothAutographa precationis, that turned up at a porch light one evening:

The last pictures are of mushrooms (species unknown), and they were taken with the inexpensive Opteka wide-angle macro lens. I always carry that lens around when I’m out with the cameras in case scenes like these turn up. The pictures are assembled from two or more pictures taken at different flash powers and shutter speeds to either expose for the foreground or the background. The different pictures were then blended together thru layer masks. A thing that is rather strange about wide angle macro lenses is that although it does not look like it, the subjects are less than an inch away from the lens:

Readers’ wildlife photos

February 2, 2023 • 8:15 am

Again I appeal to readers to send in their good wildlife photos. Let’s keep this feature going!

Today’s post features photos by stalwart regular Mark Sturtevant. Mark’s captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Here are insect pictures from two summers ago.

I had recently shown the European earwigForficula auricularia, and here we go again. The rear pincers are modified cerci appendages that many insects have. Cerci are commonly used as sensory appendages, but earwigs have adapted them for a number of uses that include defense, handling prey (they are omnivores), and males use them for jousting. Toward that end, earwig cerci are dimorphic between the sexes. The first picture is a female, and the next are males. Besides being larger, male cerci come in different sizes and sometimes they are asymmetric. You can see males fighting with their cerci in this video. It also explains why some cerci are a bit lopsided.

There seems to be some debate about name “earwig”. There is the myth that they may crawl into peoples’ ears, but another claim is that the name has to do with their remarkable hind wings that are ear-shaped when unfolded. The unfurling of their wings is pretty impressive, and you can see that in slow motion below:

Next is a picture of a spined assassin bugSinea diadema. This is a predatory insect.

I was in the woods one day when I came across this unidentified leaf beetle (Chrysomelidae) in a bush. I was negotiating how to photograph the beetle, but a stink bug nymph suddenly appeared from behind and impaled it! Some stink bugs are predators, and I have seen them with dispatched prey that are much larger and more powerful than they are. One can fairly wonder how such slow insects might be predatory, but I guess it just takes a poke from their proboscis and their victim is secured. The stink bug is Podisus sp.

The beetle dragged the bug behind for several minutes, but the bug grimly hung on. Meanwhile, a bundle of needle-like styli would be scissoring their way into the beetles’ innards, and digestive juices would be injected.

Gradually, the beetle began to slow, and then it was immobilized. A small murder in the woods!

Next up is a two-striped planthopperAcanalonia bivittata. “Planthoppers” encompass a number of insect families, this one being Fulgoridae. There are also “leafhoppers” and “treehoppers”. One day I should try to memorize what the differences are supposed to be. All of these and other related families were once in their own insect order, the Homoptera (“uniform wing). But now they are awkwardly but I expect correctly absorbed into the order Hemiptera (“half wing”), along with the above stink bug.

Here is a nymph of what is likely the two-spotted tree cricketNeoxabea bipunctata. This is a young male, and you can see it is developing the specialized front wings that are used by males for chirping, and the larger fan-like hind wings which they fly with. In adults, the hind wings are of course folded up and covered by the front wings. But at this earlier stage the position of the wings are curiously reversed so that the hind wings cover the front wings.

I had found this tiger beetle that was disabled, and so I could pick it up. Tiger beetles are predators that use their good vision and considerable speed to tackle small prey. There is dispute about the taxonomy of this group. They had long been placed in their own beetle family (Cicindelidae), but others have placed them within the ground beetle family (Carabidae). I can say only that there are many ground beetles that resemble tiger beetles, and tiger beetles that look like ground beetles, and whatever side you are on there is agreement they are closely related. Tiger beetle mandibles look pretty imposing, but the bite strength of this small one isn’t detectable. I did not think to get the species.

Next is a large ichneumon wasp, Megarhyssa macrurus, which had apparently recently emerged as an adult and was not quite ready to fly. The extraordinary ovipositor hanging off the rear is considerably longer than its body, and is used to drill into wood to lay an egg in a wood-boring sawfly larva.

Finally, I expect that most people know that scorpions fluoresce under UV light. Actually, UV fluorescence appears here and there among arthropods in general, and plants will also fluoresce under UV. It’s fun to go out at night with an inexpensive LED UV flashlight to see what turns up.  Your own back yard becomes fairly transformed into a semi-alien world. Leaves, flowers, and sometimes arthropods will blaze in day-glo colors.

I had found that aphids also fluorescence under UV light. Here are poplar tree aphids (Chaitophorus populicola), first in regular light, and then under UV light. There are two issues here, though. There is some motion blur from the aphids because the exposure needed to be long. And although the aphid fluorescent color seems pretty accurate, the leaf color is wrong since it is supposed to be deep red under UV. My current flashlight is cheap, and it certainly does not put out only UV light.