Readers’ wildlife photos

August 7, 2021 • 8:00 am

Send in your photos, please! Today’s batch comes from Rik Gern. His captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

The last pictures I submitted for your Reader’s Wildlife Photos feature pretty much drained my tank of prepared photographs,  so I’ve gone thru the files to find some pictures that might be worth processing and sending your way.

These pictures revisit a Spineless Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia ellisiana), pictures of which I sent you about this time last year. Same plant, new pictures.

In the springtime it’s always the yellow flower that catches the eye, so we start with an overhead view of a fresh flower, pollen intact and unmolested by bees or wind. Going in close and then pulling back we focus first on the female part of the flower, the stigma, at the tip of the pistil. Taking a wider view we can see the anther and filament of the stamen, or male part. Surrounding all that are the petals, one of which has a little pointy spike.

The cactus also sprouts fresh pads in the spring, and they’re briefly covered with funky little vestigial leaves that eventually fall off and leave glochids–clusters of prickly little pins.  This particular pad is growing on the underside of the cactus, from the stump of a pad that was lopped off to make room for pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk. Just below the base of the fresh pad you can see a small snail on the underside of the cactus plant.

Here’s the snail in closeup; it’s a Globular Drop Snail (Helicina orbiculata).

There were a number of them residing on this cactus; here’s another that was cruisin’ along the edge of a pad in the early sunlight.

Besides picturesque snails and bees, the Spineless Prickly Pear is also home to the very buggy looking bug, Cactus Coreid (Chelinidea vittiger). They give me the willies when I see bunches of them on the sides of the pads, but viewed individually they’re very interesting. Here is one reaching the top of the cactus and finding a crater where the flower used to be.

Where is the flower? I don’t know if it’s the same one, but here is a flower fallen from it’s perch and lying among the undergrowth, dethroned but still radiant.

For those who might be interested, the pictures were taken with a Canon PowerShot SD400 and processed with Photoshop CS6.

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 3, 2021 • 8:00 am

I’m running out of photos to post, so once again I importune readers to send me their good wildlife/landscape/street photos. The need is urgent. Thanks!

Today we have a melange of photos from several readers. Their captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

First up are moose and elk photos from Stephen Barnard in Idaho.

I had another visit from mama moose and the twins. Not knowing the moose [Alces alces] were in the front yard, I let my dogs out to confront them face-to-face. The dogs started barking like crazy, of course, but obediently came back in. Mama and the twins were unperturbed and kept browsing on my shrubbery, finally crossing the creek in the usual place.

I don’t normally see elk [Cervus canadensis] herds in this field this time of year, because I’m normally growing barley or alfalfa so the farm hands scare them off. This year, because of the irrigation restrictions, I’m not growing anything, so there’s no one to bother them. The air is clouded with smoke from wildfires.

From Leo Glenn:

Here are a few that I took back in May of a white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianusdoe and newborn fawn. This was just beyond our orchard in our back yard, in western Pennsylvania.

 

From Laurie Berg:

Immature eagle with former mouse

Limpets from  Ken Phelps:

And from Diana MacPherson:

I took this on my iPhone of the tiny little thing. This pseudoscorpion lives in my bathroom enjoying the humidity.  Isn’t he/she cute?

Recommended film: “My Octopus Teacher”

July 25, 2021 • 1:30 pm

When I was getting my teeth cleaned the other day, my hygienist Maria and I were talking about travel and biology, both of which she likes, and she recommended a movie I hadn’t heard of: “My Octopus Teacher“. She couldn’t say enough good things about the movie, so I investigated it. I found out that it was a Netflix film made in 2020, won the Oscar that year for the Best Documentary Feature, and had a high critics’ rating of 95% on Rotten Tomatoes (91% critics rating).  And it was about a man forging a relationship with an octopus. How could I not watch it?

I did, and I was entranced. It is a fantastic film, and you really must watch it.

The story is simple: South African filmmaker Craig Foster, burned out from work, unable to relate to his family, seeks peace in getting away from everyone, snorkeling in the local kelp forest. There he finds a female common octopus (Octopus vulgaris), and, after days and weeks of effort, befriends her. Not interfering in her life, he simply visits her every day for over 300 days, marveling at her intelligence and adaptations, living through her travails. The experience is bittersweet because he knows that her lifespan is about a year, and he’s with her to the end.

What did the octopus teach him? I’ll leave you to watch the film to see the marvelous ending that sums up what he learned. I have to say, though, that I’ve formed a similar bond with my ducks, seeing them several times a day from when the day they hatch until they leave the pond in the fall. When you spend hours and days with an animal, you learn a lot about them, and it does change you.

Here’s the trailer. SEE THE MOVIE!

Readers’ wildlife photos

April 7, 2021 • 8:30 am

Today we have a contribution from Tony Eales of Queensland. His notes are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

My wife and I did a road trip back up to tropical North Queensland to stay at Port Douglas and visit various places of natural beauty including the 40-million-year-old World Heritage Daintree Rainforest and the remnant isolated rainforest in the Clarke Range with its high degree of species endemism.

While bugs and spiders are my thing, I must say, though, that the vertebrates took a front seat on this trip with some truly fantastic sightings of mammals, birds and reptiles unique to these places, alongside some very interesting arthropods.

We were very lucky to come across two cassowaries (Casuarius casuarius) on our first day in north Queensland. We saw a third on our last day as well. These are wonderful birds to see, particularly because we were in the car rather than on foot. I’m not sure I’d like to come face to face with a cassowary without some barrier between it and me. They’re known as the most dangerous bird in the world and have killed at least two people that I am aware of. There are numerous videos of cassowary attacks on YouTube, this one is particularly alarming.

The absolute highlight of the trip and one of my best experiences with wildlife was finding this small family of Bennett’s Tree-kangaroos (Dendrolagus bennettianus) while on a night walk in the Daintree. These are a very rare animal: their ranges is only 70 km north-south and 50 km east-west. They are very quiet and stay high in the canopy. My wife noticed the red eyeshine but they were so far up in the dark it was difficult to determine at first what we were looking at. It was a long frustrating struggle to coax my camera that was set up for insects to focus on and capture an image of these animals. I am informed that this is the first photographic evidence of them living in small family groups. An unforgettable experience.

It was a good night for arthropods as well. I found this predatory katydid, the Pink-jawed Katydid (Emeraldagraecia munggarifrons), formally described only in 2012. It was just chilling out on a handrail waiting for something tasty to wander along.

Daytime was amazing too in the Daintree. We went to the Daintree Discovery Centre which had walking trails with lots of informative signage and displays. The best was a tower that took you up into the canopy. Right beside the tower was a huge Black Bean tree (Castanospermum australe) and while looking at the leaves I noticed this giant colourful bug, a Yellow-horned Giant Stinkbug (Oncomeris flavicornis). The bug was the size of a matchbox but only has a tiny head which is apparently typical of this family.

While leaning out over the edge of the railing to try and photograph the bug I noticed this large beautiful longicorn beetle Rosenbergia drouini. As soon as I put the picture up on Facebook, I was inundated with friend requests from beetle collectors asking if I had collected the specimen. This was apparently a very rare find and is not in many collections.

After our time up in the north we took our time coming home and spent a bit of time at Eungella National Park up in the Clarke Range. This rainforest is large but isolated and is recognised as a centre of endemism. I was able to find two of the key endemics while there. The Eungella Spiny Katydid (Phricta zwicka) and the Eungella Leaf-tailed Gecko (Phyllurus nepthys).

JAC: Look at that camouflage!

Also, on a night walk in the rainforest I snapped a photo of a pretty moth Ecnomophlebia argyrospila. It turns out that this is the only known live photo that the Australian moth experts I talked to have seen and it’s only known from a single specimen collected in 1927.

Two other notable endemics I photographed on the trip home were a land snail Pedinogyra cania that is restricted to a single locality called Cania Gorge and the cute Mareeba Rock-Wallaby (Petrogale mareeba) that lives only in the granite hills around the north Queensland town of Mareeba.

Readers’ wildlife photos

March 23, 2021 • 8:00 am

Please send in your photos. I will probably put this feature on hold while I’m in Texas, but, except when I’m gone, the tank is always emptying.

Today’s photos come from regular Tony Eales, an anthropologist in Queensland who loves natural history. Tony’s captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Tropical North Queensland part II (part I is here)

Here are a few of the other wonderful organisms I encountered on my brief trip up north to the jungles.
Australian Prismatic Slug (Atopos cf australis). I’m pretty sure there are several species of this slug around, but they all seem to be labelled A. australis. They are predatory slusg with curved teeth in the radula, and they spit acid onto snail shells to help rasp through to the snail inside.
The tracks at Speewah Conservation Park were empty of other humans, which was great for spotting wildlife. I got to approach this Northern Tree Snake (Dendrelaphis calligaster) quite closely without alarming it too much. It’s a slightly built rear-fanged colubrid and presents no danger to humans.
These beautiful Tropical Rockmasters (Diphlebia euphoeoides), a type of flat-wing damselfly, were common around Cairns and the surrounding area. I wish we had such beauties near me. This photo shows a male and female at Lake Eacham.

This is a lichen-mimicking caterpillarEnispa prolectus. These caterpillars fasten small pieces of lichen to their backs with silk as a form of camouflage.

As the area is a tropical rainforest and it was actually raining while I was there, I was inevitably attacked by many, many leeches. However, I spotted this one (Haemadipsa sp.) on a railing at night actively questing, and I was struck by the bright colours. I have to wonder, are these colours signals to each other, warning, camouflage or just random?

One for Mark Sturtevant: a Pisuarid spider, related to the Dolomedes triton that he featured recently. This one is Hygropoda lineata. These were very common in the north. Rather than living by the water, these spiders make a simple web platform across the surface of broad leaves and sit on top of it, often looking like they are hovering in thin air.
Nephila pilipes, the Giant Golden Orbweaver. These are well named. We have Golden Orbweavers at home, which are big spiders, but these northern ones are mind bending. This one had a body length of about 50mm and was eating a cicada the size of my thumb. The span of the web was about 6 metres from attachment to attachment and the main orb about a metre and a half across.
They are only weakly venomous to humans and very reluctant to bite even when handled, preferring just to climb away.
There were a huge variety of amazing ant species to be found in the forests, but by far the most common were the Green Weaver Ants, Oecophylla smaragdina. I was always checking their trails for signs of the spiders that mimic them. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any. I did however observe their interesting behaviour of holding leaves together like living stitches. Inside the ball of leaves larvae are being hatched. The larvae are then taken by workers and produce silk to tie the leaves together more permanently.
In Speewah Conservation Park there were lots of climbing palms, Calamus caryotoides. The mature stems are festooned with black spines to ward off herbivores. However, these caterpillars, which I’ve yet to ID, use the spines to create a protective home as the crawl around and eat the leaves.
These long-jawed orbweavers, Tetragnatha rubriventris, were very common around Cairns. They have massive hinged chelicerae and the males have large clubbed pedipalps with complicated spiralled spines for placing a sperm packet into the female epigynum. all this weirdness makes them great photo subjects for a really alien look.
Also in Speewah Conservation Park I found this amazing fruiting bodies of the slime mould Tubifera microsperma.
And back at my motel there was a large Peacock Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa (Lestis) sp.) in the flowers of a Monkey Rope vine (Parsonsia sp).

 

Octopus sex

March 19, 2021 • 2:30 pm

Let’s end the work week with some animal behavior: in this case, octopus sex. I don’t even know how a male octopus determines that another individual is female!

The narration is pretty twee, but if the males really compete to see who has the bigger suckers, that would be fascinating.  And the arm that delivers sperm is pretty cool.

I wish the video were a bit more informative about biology, for even ZeFrank, funny as he is, has more useful information than does this National Geographic production, which seems dumbed down.

Readers’ wildlife photos

February 26, 2021 • 8:15 am

Today’s photos come from Dom, who’s spent the lockdown in Cromer, a seaside town on the east of England. Dom’s notes are indented, and you can click on his photos to enlarge them.

Here are some snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, in the Cromer woods. Not a native species in the British Isles, they have however become naturalised. They hang their flower heads- I suppose it protects the flower from precipitation…

This is a mass of hornwrack, not the same as horned wrack which is a seaweed, but a form of sea-mat and a Bryozoan or Polyzoan. With the iPhone it is hard to get a good close-up, but you can see the spaces individuals live in—a bit like a honeycomb. They live below the tideline & presumably dead ones get thrown up on shore in storms. This mass of hornwrack was 2-3 feet deep, & full of bits of shore crab; and I found part of a lobster shell. There was a dead black-headed gull, probably the victim of one of the peregrines that nest on the church tower, also remains of 6 dead woodcocks – wings & breastbones- possibly  also eaten by the peregrines.

There were also masses of Whelk eggs – Buccinum undatum – astonishingly large compared with the size of the whelk. They look like bubble-wrap. Apparently of all the eggs in each bubble, only one hatches, after consuming its fellows! Common Whelks, found on shores of the North Atlantic as far south as New Jersey and France, do not tolerate waters warmer than 29° C. They are also affected by marine pollutants, like the coatings used on ships to inhibit growth of marine life – Tributyltin or TBT.  These can cause female whelks – they have male/female sex unlike some molluscs – to develop male gonads, which is called ‘imposex’.
Photo attached is a rather bashed whelk shell. I threw the egg cases in the sea – some eggs were still unhatched – but they could easily have been washed up again. I imagine whelks attach them to something. I cannot understand how one whelk can produce so many eggs!

Some pictures from Cromer this week. The only visible flowers are on the gorse which can be seen with some flowers every month of the year, though I wonder what insects would take advantage of that—perhaps winter flying gnats Trichoceridae? But they tend to be in the woods rather than heath-like habitat.

 A couple of pictures show snow showers blowing in from the north-east.

We have unusually had snow lying here for over a week – one of the crab fishermen said he’d never seen it last this long. Usually being by the sea moderates the cold, but that means it is often cooler in summer of course.

Divers save a baby octopus

December 20, 2020 • 2:00 pm

This tiny octopus found its only refuge in a plastic cup, which of course would spell doom since predators could see it clearly. Then a group of divers came along and spent a lot of time trying to give it a better home. They finally succeeded.

I love videos like this, for they represent true altruism: the concern of our species for animals of other species. Every time I see something like this, it effaces, at least temporarily, the hatred and division that roils our planet.

The YouTube notes (there’s sound):

We spent a whole dive and most of our air saving this octopus from what was bound to be a cruel fate. The coconut octopus, also known as veined octopus, is born with the instinct to protect itself by creating a mobile home out of coconut or clam shells. This particular individual however has been trapped by their instincts and have made a home out of a plastic cup they found underwater. While a shell is a sturdy protection, a passing eel or flounder would probably swallow the cup with the octopus in it, most likely also killing the predator or weakening it to a point where it will be soon eaten by an even bigger fish.

We found this particular octopus at about 20 meters under the water, we tried for a long time to give it shells hoping that it would trade the shell. Coconut octopus are famous for being very picky about which shells they keep so we had to try with many different shells before it found one to be acceptable.

Filmed in: – Lembeh, Indonesia – December 2018

Look at that octopus check out each shell with its tentacles!

Readers’ wildlife photos and videos

September 5, 2020 • 7:45 am

We have a couple of contributors today, and once again I urge you to get those good wildlife photos in.

First up are DUCK photos by a reader who introduces himself (yes, I drew a picture of a cat of his choosing—a lynx—in his copy of WEIT). All readers’ comments are indented:

I am John Rayner of Carleton Place, Ontario, Canada. But if you want to note place, just say Ottawa; it’s easier for all concerned. 🙂  BTW I attended your lecture in Ottawa several ago and had my WEIT book signed and lynxed.

There is a Mississippi River in Eastern Ontario. It flows into the Ottawa River which in turn flows into the St Lawrence and then the Atlantic. I was sitting on the riverbank hoping for seagull photos when a mallard [Anas platyrhynchos] came and sat on a log and preened to her heart’s content. I say her, but could it have been a juvenile male? I don’t know these things.

© AnvilcloudPhotography

 

© AnvilcloudPhotography

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© AnvilcloudPhotography

 

© AnvilcloudPhotography

 

© AnvilcloudPhotography

A bedraggled but tenacious cardinal from Christopher Moss:

Remember I mentioned that the two male Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) that spent the winter here in Nova Scotia, where no cardinals are supposed to be, left just before this female turned up? She has spent a lonely, virtuous and celibate summer here on her own. It rained hard overnight so she looks particularly bedraggled and sad today.

A praying mantis from reader Amy:

I no longer have a back yard as I’ve moved to an apartment with a balcony.  This balcony has evergreens at arm’s length, though, so I have some wildlife.  This morning I discovered this little dude on my majesty palm.  After several tries, I managed to get him/her into focus.  Not colorful or beautiful in the least, which is why I almost didn’t see it at first!

And we have two videos by reader Darren Garrison, sent in August 28:

I thought this was worthy of sharing. Making this video last night of a pair of snails I discovered under a mushroom involved two 10-minute sessions of lying on my side on the ground holding my phone just in case anything interesting happened. It paid off with probably the best nature video that I have ever made. Main video is sped to 8x realtime, zoomed clip at the end 4x.

(Earlier in the day I had found a bunch of *really* small snails, all inside around 2 square feet in my yard.) Video at 4X:
Some photos are here.

Readers’ wildlife photos

July 21, 2020 • 7:45 am

Today’s batch of lovely photos comes from our old friend Tony Eales in Brisbane. His notes and IDs are indented.

I went for a weekend up to the Bunya Mountains, a high elevation subtropical rainforest area near my home town of Brisbane QLD. The Bunya Mountains is named after the gigantic Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwillii). This pine fruits heavily every two to four years with massive cannonball-sized pinecones containing large edible pine nuts. These years of heavy fruiting were a focus for aboriginal groups of the region with people traveling from hundreds of kilometres to take part in the Bunya Festival. The combination of forest type and high elevation is unique in the region and is home to a lot of endemic diversity. It’s winter at the moment, so the wildlife wasn’t as abundant as in the warmer months but I still found a number of interesting photographic subjects.

The first is a dealate  queen (a queen that has shed its wings in preparation for forming a new colony) of the species Amblyopone australis. These are part of the Dracula Ant sub-family, so called because the workers pierce the skin of larvae and drink their haemolymph for sustenance.  Normally ant workers collect sugary foods like nectar to sustain themselves, but these ants live underground and hunt termites so never get the opportunity to forage for nectar and drink protein only from prey or their own larvae.

Araneus circulissparsus is one of the most beautiful orb-weaving spiders, in my opinion, that I regularly encounter. It’s believed that they are a species complex rather than a single species. Certainly there’s a huge range of colours and abdomen patterns in these spiders. This one is rather simple compared to many but I still find the translucent green very appealing.

Cephalodesmius sp. is one of our native dung beetles. Only small as dung beetles go, these little beetles are endemic to Australia and live only in rain forests. Because of the scarcity of dung in these environments, they also include rotting leaf litter in their balls, which the pair-bonded males and females work on together.  The male collects leaves and plant matter and the females shred it to help form it into a ball for the larvae.

This Armadillid [pillbug; a crustacean] was tentatively identified on iNaturalist as Cubaris sp. I can’t find any good resources on Australian Armadillids so I have no idea if this is correct. These were the second most common creature I saw on my night walk in the rainforest after another isopod in the Trichoniscidae family. Every plant and tree trunk was covered with them, and as you shone your torch-light on them they would drop off into the leaf litter below to escape.

The Gympie Gympie or Giant Stinging Tree (Dendrocnide moroides) has a fearsome and well-earned reputation as a bringer of extraordinary pain. I have personally experienced it myself and can confirm that in 52 years of life I have never had a greater pain inflicted on me—and I only brushed a knuckle against a leaf. The pain felt like I had rusty serrated knife drawn across my finger to the bone and the pain flared anew with slowly diminishing intensity, whenever there was a sudden temperature change, for months. Even so the flowers are fascinating and apparently the berries after flowering re sweet if you’re willing to brave it. There’s a YouTube video of a National Geographic host brushing his knuckle against one in almost exactly the same place I did that is very instructive.

This member of the superfamily Eupodoidea is probably Eriorhynchus sp. but really, it’s the same story as with the isopods. It’s very hard to find any good, amateur-friendly resources on mites aside from those that cause human problems. These little guys never stop and wander about waving their front legs like antennae, seemingly oblivious to my presence, making them fairly easy to photograph. They were common under every log and within the leaf litter.

I ended up with a few of these venomous little buggers on me after crawling around in the forest photographing bugs. The Australian Paralysis Tick (Ixodes holocyclus) was something my mother was always warning us about whenever we went walking in wet sclerophyll bush or rainforest. Children can be particularly susceptible as they can often leave a tick on for days getting a large dose of the saliva protiens which can case partial paralysis, flu-like symptoms and even anaphylactic shock as well as being carriers of typhus. I’ve had so many by now that I no longer freak out but they’re still creepy.

 

Smaller than a tick is this little Goblin SpiderOpopaea sp. They are an important part of the leaf litter fauna and are often overlooked due to their small size. Goblin spiders are notable for the hardened scute on the dorsal surface of the abdomen which can cover the whole dorsal are like with these Opopaea or just be a small oval as in Ischnothyreus sp. I’m a little bit obsessed with photographing this family of tiny cuties.

This ant had me confused for a time. It looked really familiar but I couldn’t place it. That was because it was only a millimetre or two long and most Podomyrma species are large, 10-12mm and very robust. A friend of mine pointed me in the right direction, apparently this is an undescribed species that has been found in other similar environments as shown here on AntWeb.

Terrycarlessia bullacea is one of only two species in this genus of carnivorous snails. They hunt the rainforest for soft-bodied prey including other snails, including other smaller T. bullacea.

And after many decades of not seeing one, I found a Red-triangle Slug (Triboniophorus graeffei) on my night walk. I’ve found a few juveniles over the years but this was a full sized adult. Red-triangle Slugs will appear in the day, infrequently, when conditions are right (ie raining for weeks on end), even in urban settings, startling people who didn’t know they shared the world with such crawling horrors. They are a striking animal, some being 150mmm [about 6 inches] long and often bright white with a blood-coloured non-symmetrical triangle on their dorsal surface, one vertice at their air-hole. They come in many colour forms, including a hot-pink form found only on a single mountain in New South Wales. While not so garish as that, the one I found was still an impressive specimen about 140mm in length.  Normally all we ever see are the radula marks on the side of gum-trees, letting us know that they’re around.