Spot the butterfly!

November 4, 2023 • 9:00 am

Reader Scott Rubarth sent this photo of leaves on steps two days ago. Can you spot the butterfly mimicking a dead leaf? His notes:

I took these pictures this morning here in Orlando, Florida.  I thought you might be able to use this for one of your “Can you spot” posts.

I rate this “medium.”  The reveal will be up at 11 a.m. Chicago time.

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 11, 2023 • 8:15 am

Please send in your good wildlife photos.  I have enough for about five days, but they’ll run out quickly.  Thanks!

Today we have the second part of Matt Young’s two-installment series of photos (he often posts at The Panda’s Thumb). Part 1 of the series is here.  Matt’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Jerry very kindly displayed some photographs in the category of things that are not insects in an earlier post; here are some photographs in the category of things that are insects. These pictures were likewise taken this year with my Lumix ZS200.

In August, I saw someone trying very hard to photograph what I thought was a cabbage white butterfly. On closer inspection I realized it was something else. Now, I can identify a creature only if I can either find a dead body in good condition or take a picture. I took some pictures and identified it as a checkered whitePontia protodice:

A few weeks later I snapped a picture of a cabbage whitePieris rapae – for comparison:

On the same day as I photographed the checkered white, I took pictures of some dragonflies just begging to be photographed. The picture below is a band-winged meadowhawk, – Sympetrum semicinctum – as demonstrated by the brown bands on the wings.

When I examined the photographs, I found that not all meadowhawks are alike. Below is a white-faced meadowhawkS. obstrusum – which to my eye looks identical, except that its wings do not display the brown, translucent bands.

While we are discussing dragonflies, the following picture, which I think is a vivid dancer (Argia vivida), is actually a damselfly, as you can tell by the way it folds its wings upward. It was less happy about being photographed and unfortunately lighted on a concrete path, which provides a somewhat busy background.

I got extremely lucky with this profile of what i think is an eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly – Papilio glaucus. If you look closely, you can see his proboscis (or whatever they call it) reaching out and preparing to take a sip:

Finally, two butterflies in top view: a field crescent butterflyPhyciodes pulchella – and a variegated fritillary – Euptoieta claudia.

Hot off the press. When I got into my car the other day, I saw this pale green assassin bugZelus luridus – on the windshield, so I snapped a few photographs:

This specimen is a nymph, but do not ask me for any more information. I did not think to capture it, but when I got home it was still on the windshield. It is disquieting to think that it was too dirty to take a decent picture, and we breathe that air all the time.

Acknowledgements. Thanks to Prof. Coyne for posting these 2 sets of pictures. I cannot distinguish one orange butterfly from another, but the experts at BugGuide identified the 2 orange butterflies and also verified the white-faced meadowhawk; the rest I managed to figure out myself.

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 31, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today we have the life of a butterfly, with photos by Mary Rasmussen. Mary’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

The Red Admiral Butterfly

I always leave a few Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) plants in my garden here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The Nettles are popular with the Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) but also feed a variety of other moth and butterfly caterpillars.

Like many Monarch butterflies, Red Admirals are migratory. Most northern Red Admirals are thought to migrate south each fall, but some may overwinter. Red Admirals do not survive the coldest winters and most of North America is re-populated by southern butterflies migrating north in the spring. They are a very welcome sight here in mid-spring:

Female laying an egg.  The butterfly’s reproductive organs are located near the lower tip of the abdomen. You can see the tiny green egg that she will deposit on a Nettle leaf. The egg’s  surface has a glue that will hold it on the leaf:

Macro shot of a Red Admiral egg on a Stinging Nettle leaf. You can see the hollow stinging hairs of the Nettle leaf. I’ve learned that I can grasp the plant while moving my hand upwards and not suffer any consequences. Moving your hand down along the plant is definitely not recommended.

Caterpillars feed primarily on plants in the Nettle family (Urticaceae).  They sew a leaf closed around them to make a protective nest and then eat their way out. They do this several times while they are maturing:

The caterpillar hangs down and forms a “J” shape, signalling that it will soon pupate.

The chrysalis:

The newly emerged butterflies have brilliant coloration. Their underwings are particularly beautiful:

I use a Nikon D500 camera with Nikon VR 105mm f/2.8G macro lens. For the butterfly egg I used a Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro lens with extension tubes.

Recommended reading:

Caterpillars of Eastern North America, Princeton Field Guides, by David L. Wagner

This guide has an index of the caterpillars and most useful is the index of food plants. Many times I have been able to identify a caterpillar by looking up the plant it is munching.

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 29, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today we have insect photos by regular Mark Sturtevant. Mark’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Here are more pictures from the previous summer. All were photographed near where I live in eastern Michigan, and most come from a single park about a two-0hour drive to the south of me.

In the woods of this park, there were many of these interesting caterpillars on the ground vegetation. I believe they are the larvae of the Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), which has been a challenging species to photograph. On a return visit, I would like to bring some back to raise since I’ve never been completely satisfied with my pictures of the adults:

The woodland trail followed a lovely river, and periodically the woods would open up into a meadow. At one such riverside meadow was a stand of interesting flowers (maybe wild mint?) being worked over by the large black butterfly shown in the next 2 pictures. This was for me one of the most exciting finds of the whole summer! This, people, is the melanistic form of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly (Papillio glaucus). I swear this is the same species as the familiar black and yellow swallowtail! This dark form is always female, identified by the splash of blue on the hind wings. The melanistic Tiger Swallowtail is not recorded where I live, but it becomes more common to the south, via natural selection, because there it starts to overlap with the toxic Pipevine Swallowtail which it resembles. But only females can pull off the mimicry trick for some reason. Anyway, I was pretty much hyperventilating while taking these pictures. From the ventral view you can still see the faint Tiger Swallowtail stripes:

JAC: Species in which females mimic another toxic form but males keep the ancestral pattern are far more common than the reverse. Can you guess why males don’t evolve to change their pattern? I’ll put the answer in the comments later.

Turning up tree leaves hanging over a forest trail will commonly reveal something of interest. One leaf along this riverside trail had this weird Derbid Planthopper (Anotia uhleri). I am sometimes asked about the yellow thingies below the eyes of this insect. Those are the antennae, which tend to be oddly distinct in this group of planthoppers:

Another thing that one can find under leaves are insect eggs or recently hatched insects. Here is a group of Leaf-footed Bug hatchlings (Acanthocephala sp.), staying close together to amplify their colorful advertisement that they are chemically protected. Whenever I find these groups, I have to take a deep breath and just do my best. Step to one side, prepare the camera for an extreme close-up, and do some test shots on a random leaf to figure out the correct exposure. Then lift up the leaf again and frantically fire away as the nymphs scamper off:

Along the river bank of the park were some sandy areas, and on the sand were quite a few of these well camouflaged insects. This is a young Big-eyed Toad Bug (Gelastocoris oculatus), which are aptly named predatory Hemipterans that are entirely invisible until they hop:

Here are a couple more finds. This tiny beetle, about the size of a sesame seed, is the Basswood Leaf MinerBaliosus nervosus:

And the unsavory face in the next picture actually belongs to a rather cute and mild-mannered Two-spotted Tree Cricket, Neoxabea bipunctata:

I’m not always sure which critter in this set was from that distant park that I mentioned. But this one sure was! There, I was delighted to find this large katydid known as the Common True Katydid (Pterophylla camellifolia), which is another insect that does not occur in my area. Despite their large wings, True Katydids are flightless. At dusk, this male will begin its song; with some imagination, it is described as sounding like: “Katy did! Katy did !! She didn’t! She did !!!” Readers who live in its range will know it well, as they can be fairly deafening. Here is one singing. If it doesn’t hurt your ears a little, you aren’t playing it loud enough:

And finally, for the heck of it, here is what I believe is a Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens) although there is also the similar species called the Pickerel Frog. The two differ in the form of their spots plus some other details. We see some colorful frogs from far-off places on this website, but this domestic one is still quite lovely, I think:

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 9, 2023 • 8:15 am

Mark Sturtevant has rescued us from a day with no wildlife photos (I have about four batches left and will have to do this only sporadically if I run out). PLEASE send in your good photos.

Mark’s IDs and notes are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Here are pictures from the previous summer. The pictures were taken generally in May, near where I live in eastern Michigan.

First up is a lettered sphinxDeidamia inscriptum. The larvae will feed on wild grape and Virginia creeper:

European pine sawfly larvae, Neodiprion sertifer. These were accidentally introduced into the U.S. in the early 1900s, and they feed, en masse, on several species of pines. I regularly see them by the thousands in some areas. This group of early-season youngsters are in a defensive posture where they are ready to collectively spit toxic chemicals if necessary:

Next is a flower chafer beetleTrichiotinus sp. I always find them on white flowers. Always:

I have been using my 2.5-5x Venus/Laowa super macro lens to try to get facial portraits of arthropods. The next picture is an early effort. This bizarre spider is a female long-jawed orb weaverTetragnathaelongata, and they are super common near water. People recreating on rivers and lakes may learn to hate them for their scary jaws and habit of dropping in on you from where they concentrate near shore. But they really are as benign as ladybugs, and their long jaws are used as forceps to delicately pluck small flying insects from their webs. Getting this manually focused stacked picture took a lot of work since these spiders can pretty much fly. By that I mean they will run away, clamber up high, and stand on their head to send away delicate silk draglines into the air currents. As soon as they get a tether on something across the room, they secure the near end and off they go – a flying Wallenda on a tightrope. I had to chase after this one dozens of times to return it to its perch, and so this picture required a determined sense of humor. Right now I am fixing to exhaust myself again with a male spider, simply because they have an even more gnarly face:

Late last summer I had collected several egg cases (oöthecae) of one of our largest insects, the Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis). The plan was to photograph them while hatching, as that is quite a sight. Over and over, the oöthecae would hatch in the pre-dawn hours and I would miss the whole thing. But one batch was slower and I managed to get something of it as shown in the next two pictures. The babies all wiggle out while wrapped in a tight membrane. They will later break free of that, and soon they are moving around:

And here is a youngster that is about the size of a mosquito posing on a tiny mushroom. I released all of them in a field near home:

Finally, here is a fuzzy bumble bee bum. It is a small internet meme to get pictures of bees deep in a flower, with their cute little butts sticking out, and here I finally got one! I am not sure about the species:

Readers’ wildlife photos

February 25, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today we have a contribution from reader Aaron Hunt, who sent photos of moths and predation. Aaron’s notes and IDs are indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.


Moths form a huge link in terrestrial food webs between plants and insectivores, but I don’t often see the moths that come to my lights get eaten by other arthropods. (I can’t say ‘predators’ because I often see a catbird show up at first light to pick off any moths still near the lights.)

This was an one of my absolute favorite photography sessions. I came across a striking jumping spider, a male Hentzia palmarum, and captured it to take photos. I soon realized that I could make things a lot more interesting by offering my temporary pet some food. That night, I collected a very common moth species, Pigritia murtfeldtella (Gelechioidea: Blastobasidae), that seemed the perfect size for the spider, which I had under a wine glass resting upside down on a plate. I chucked the moth into the spider’s tiny enclosure, and it took the spider only seconds to capture its meal. After taking a few photos, I shook the glass, and the spider dropped onto the plate, slowing its fall by hanging on a strand of silk. After taking more photos, I decided to take on the challenge of photographing the moth while it hung in midair. It took me several minutes and many tries making the spider fall to get a good photo. I got a few more photos, including a ventral shot through the glass and let it finish its meal in peace. Note the several puncture wounds in the moth’s thorax! I released the well-fed spider in the morning. I posted a longer sequence of photos on BugGuide.


The piercing, sucking mouthparts of Hemiptera are generally used for drinking plant juices, but some groups have repurposed them for predation or parasitism. Predatory stink bugs (Pentatomidae: Asopinae) like these Podisus maculiventris can capture prey much larger than themselves! The victims pictured here are Biston betularia (of industrial melanism fame), Prochoerodes lineola, and Campaea perlata (all Geometridae: Ennominae). Predatory stink bugs are not the only Hemiptera that eat moths; I have posted to YouTube a cellphone video of the comical efforts of a Lasiomerus annulatus (Hemiptera: Nabidae) to eat a Dyspteris abortivaria (Geometridae: Larentiinae).

You might not recognize the spiders from these photos, but they’re agelenids, the family responsible for those ubiquitous (here in the Northeast US, at least) dense horizontal webs with a funnel-shaped retreat. Three of these spiders (and a ghost spider, Anyphaenidae) all wandered onto the same sheet one night in late September and all captured prey, two moths and two crane flies. The prey items here are Campaea perlata and Glenoides texanaria (also Geometridae: Ennominae). The latter species is notable for having markedly expanded its range northwards in the last few decades.

A species of large jumping spider, Platycryptus undatus, is quite common on my siding. Over the years, I have seen them catch a variety of prey, including several moths. I once got a video of one capturing a midge. The above photos, both from July 2021, show fully grown individuals stealing moths from my lights. I wasn’t able to figure out what the mangled prey in the first photo is; the second victim is Parapediasia teterrellus, a pest of lawns that feeds on grass roots as larvae.

In 2020, a single female P. undatus hung out by one of the porch lights at least from late July through late September, often emerging from the same hiding spot to look for prey while I recorded the moths. In the first photo (30 July), she is looking at some insect or another. In the second (20 August), she is covered in scales, probably from a moth she ate before I arrived to check the lights. In the third (23 September), she is covered in even more scales and has molted since posing for her previous photos.

Here are photos of adult female (white below eyes) and male (orange below eyes) P. undatus I found wandering around on the porch last summer.

Finally, a mason wasp, Ancistrocerus adiabatus, with an unidentified caterpillar.

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 26, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today’s contribution includes collages of moth photos by reader Aaron Hunt; the theme is “polymorphism”, or variability in appearance among individuals within a species.  The photos were taken on Block Island, off Rhode Island. You’ll have to enlarge the photos by clicking on them (preferably twice in succession with a pause between clicks).  Aaron’s narrative is indented.  Especially note the last species group, which has wing patterns mimicking salticids (jumping spiders).

The theme of this batch of images is identification. Moth identification presents a variety of challenges, not least of which are the very incomplete state of knowledge of many taxa and the enormous species diversity of the order. The more than 13,000 described species of moths found in North America north of Mexico represent less than a tenth of the global described fauna. Perhaps a thousand more Nearctic species, and probably several tens of thousands globally, remain undescribed, In principle, most moths can be identified to species from wing pattern alone, but reliable sight recognition of unfamiliar species at higher taxonomic levels takes an enormous amount of experience. At the species group level, intraspecific variability in markings often visually overwhelms the modest consistent differences between species. Identification of higher taxa is easiest using a combination of structural characters of the head, labial palpi, and antennae in combination with the subtle, basic wing pattern elements that are most resistant to change over evolutionary time scales.

Most of the images shown here are collages showing numerous individual moths to illustrate variation and differences in pattern and color. Dimensions of individual photographs in each of the four large collages range from 500×500 to 900×900 pixels, so each collage is much too large to show up here at full resolution. Each has also been compressed into a smaller jpeg to reduce file sizes. At the end of the text corresponding to each collage [JAC: Pictures are beleow the text] is a link to the image (hosted in my Google drive) at full resolution in its original png format. There, you’ll be able to view the individual moths included in the collages in much greater detail than can be shown on this page.

Macrochilo orciferalis (Noctuoidea: Erebidae: Herminiinae) — This specialist of dune habitats is bivoltine on Block Island, with adults on wing mainly in June and August. Both sexes are highly variable in forewing maculation, with several characters seeming to vary independently and with no sexual dimorphism in markings apparent. (Males, which have bipectinate antennae, are much commoner at lights than females, which have simple antennae.) One photographer on the coast of New Brunswick across from Prince Edward Island reports seeing mostly dark (like those at bottom right and one below top left in my collage) or striped (like four individuals in my collage) moths of this species, whereas I see mostly lighter specimens on Block Island. One wonders what mix of environmental and genetic factors underlie color and pattern variation in this species and what selective forces sustain it. Click here for the collage at full resolution.

Hypsopygia olinalis (Pyralidae: Pyralinae) — This species is quite common on Block Island, where it is univoltine, flying June through early August. (I have seen a handful of fresh specimens in August and September that are either extreme stragglers or overly precocious offspring of the main generation; either way, I imagine any offspring they produce fail to complete development so far out of season. Still, this phenomenon illustrates how species can adapt to changing climate; if Block Island’s climate warms enough in the coming decades, some populations not quite able to complete a second generation each season will become able to do so with a slightly longer growing season.) Adults vary dramatically in coloration from pale greenish yellow to a dark brick red. This variability helps to make the species easy to confuse with a few similar congeners with overlapping ranges in eastern North America. I photographed all the moths in this collage on a single sheet one night last June. Unfortunately, I just now noticed that I missed a duplicate, so I got good photos of only 19 individuals, not 20 — see if you can spot the moth shown twice. Click here for the collage at full resolution.

Phyllocnistis Vitaceae feeders (Gracillariidae: Phyllocnistinae) — At least two or three species form long, narrow leaf mines in plants in the grape family (Vitis and Parthenocissus) in eastern North America. Species boundaries need to be sorted out in this species complex of minute moths. On Block Island, mines in the Virginia creeper around my yard yield at least two generations of moths that regularly come to lights. Adults in the summer generation (large photo) are shining white with faint black and yellow markings in the distal half of the forewing; those in the fall generation (small photos at right) are somewhat to much more strongly and extensively marked. This species complex offers a good example of seasonal dimorphism as well as confounding external similarity of same closely related species.

Acleris (Tortricidae: Tortricinae: Tortricini) — A number of species in this large, mostly Holarctic genus are highly polymorphic. The group has been popular with collectors since the dawn of modern taxonomy, with European lepidopterists naming up to dozens of color forms for some species from the early 19th century to the early 20th century. Very similar color forms often occur in two or more polymorphic species; genitalic dissections finally established species boundaries in the early- to mid-20th century. Block Island is mercifully short on polymorphic Acleris, with only two similar species present. The island’s population of flavivittana exhibits four highly discrete color morphs, two of which closely resemble the two local color morphs of robinsoniana. A non-polymorphic species found on Block Island, inana, very closely resembles one of the local morphs of flavivittana and somewhat less closely the corresponding robinsoniana morph, which happens to be the predominant of the two. At least inana is univoltine, though its flight window overlaps with those of second generation flavivittana and robinsoniana. Another species found on Block Island, maculidorsana, resembles inana. All four of the aforementioned species are pictured in the collage below, and in a sensible arrangement, but I’ve left identifying the specimens as a challenge to the reader. For the answers and the full resolution version of the collage, click here.

Euxoa detersa (Noctuoidea: Noctuidae) — With 182 species currently recognized in North America north of Mexico, Euxoa is one of the most speciose genera on the continent. Euxoa is primarily a genus of arid and semiarid habitats of the northern hemisphere and is nearly absent from tropical and humid subtropical habitats. Nearly all New World Euxoa are found in the western US and Canada, where some species are among the most abundant medium-large moths. About 30 occur in eastern Canada, but most of them are species of boreal forests found across the continent. Only five species are found in eastern deciduous forests, and only three aridland species occur on the Atlantic Seaboard; the genus is entirely absent from most of the Southeast US. Despite being very well studied, Euxoa presents a daunting identification challenge in western North America. Many species are highly variable in pattern and color, and some closely related species covary in maculation across habitat gradients. Characters of wing maculation recur across and vary greatly within phylogenetic species groups, making subgeneric taxonomy of little use in narrowing down identification possibilities using only wing markings. Just a few Euxoa species occur on Block Island, and telling them apart is straightforward. However, the island’s population of Euxoa detersa, which flies in abundance in dune habitats throughout September, provides a striking example of the remarkable variability so many Euxoa species exhibit. The image shown here depicts 49 individuals of this species from Block Island and is cropped for size from a larger collage of 121 individuals. Click here for the uncropped version at full resolution.

Tebenna sp. (Choreutidae), Eoparargyractis plevie (Crambidae: Acentropinae), Chalcoela iphitalis (Crambidae: Glaphyriinae), and Eucosma annetteana (Tortricidae: Olethreutinae: Eucosmini) — These species are all mimics of jumping spiders (Salticidae). Jumping spiders are highly visual ambush hunters and among the top predation threats to small moths. Salticid mimicry has evolved a few dozen times in more than a dozen moth families globally, producing very strong convergence in wing maculation in many completely unrelated groups of moths. It has evolved in other insect orders as well, including numerous times in planthoppers (Hemiptera: Fulgoroidea). Salticid-mimicking moth lineages are easily mistaken for each other and often are very different from their closest relatives in superficial appearance. Salticid mimicry in Lepidoptera is little-studied, but the few species studied have been found to produce aggressive displays in jumping spiders, resulting in markedly lowered rates of predation success.