Readers’ wildlife photos

November 25, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today I’ll show my own “wildlife” photos just for fun, but keep sending yours in.  Click the pictures below to enlarge them.

Feeding wild cats at a nunnery in Mystras, Greece, 2002. I always carry a box of dry cat food in my backpack in places like this.

A rare bloom in Death Valley, California, 2005. I don’t know what the moth is, and I’m baffled about where the many pollinating insects come from in those very occasional wet years. They just appear from out of nowhere.

Me feeding a grape (with permission) to a ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) at the Duke Lemur Center, 2006. Note the baby clinging to its belly.

Another ringtail with child:

Sifakas (lemurs, Propithecus sp.):

Cepea nemoralis snails on a fencepost, Dorset, England, 2006. The riot of colors and banding in this species was subject to a lot of investigation when I was in college, but evolutionary geneticists still don’t have an explanation for why the variation persists:

A butterfly (I don’t know the species) in the garden at Thomas Hardy’s boyhood home, 2006:

Snail and fly near Clouds Hill (T. E. Lawrence’s cottage), Wareham, Dorset, 2006:

Gooseneck barnacle, a rare and expensive delicacy. Galicia, Spain, 2006:

The one above was found on the rocks at low tide. Here are some for sale in the market. You eat the meat underneath the leather skin. It’s very good.

Me feeding a Texas longhorn on David Hillis’s and Jim Bull’s Double Helix ranch outside Austin, 2007:

Groundhog (Marmota monax), Capitol grounds, Ottawa, Canada, 2007:

Greg Mayer’s pet common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina); I believe its name was “Snappy”), Kenosha, Wisconsin, 2008:

Butterfly and orchids (species unknown), Guatemala, 2009:

Statue dedicated to all the lab cats “sacrificed” in medical research. St. Petersburg, 2011:

Gulls, Lake Geneva, Switzerland, 2011

Trees in autumn, Switzerland 2011:

I have many more, and perhaps I’ll post some of them on another holiday (Chanukah, Christmas, and Coynezaa are coming up).

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 11, 2021 • 8:00 am

Please send in your good photos, as the tank is depleting faster than I’d like. Thanks.

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

The first photo is by Jamie Blilie:

Winter plumage American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) in the middle of a snowstorm.  Taken Dec 23, 2020, in a tree in our back yard, Minnesota.  We have many winter resident birds.  We have many feeders in our yard to help them through the winter (we feed much less in summer).

Reader Bryan found slugs making The Beast with Two Backs in Middlesex County, Massachusetts:

I saw this the other day (cool fall day in N. hemisphere).Reading a bit tells me it is gastropod copulation involving Spanish slugs, Arion vulgaris.  It was satisfying to know I stumbled (figuratively!) on a fascinating biology topic.

From Thomas Czarny, sent September 8:

Yesterday an epic line storm coming across Lake Michigan slammed into the Traverse City, MI area causing widespread wind, rain and hail damage.  Below is a sequence of photos of the advancing front as it swept inland from the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Shoreline.  Only the first one is my photo, the rest are from friends and other local sources.  At last report the Cherry Hut in Beulah is still intact.🍒

From Divy:

 We went to the Ubud Monkey Forest in Bali a couple of years ago.  If I remember correctly, this was a tourist conservation, owned by the local community.  There were several Hindu temples within the forest which were closed-off to the public; only the monkeys could enter. I believe these were Balinese long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis).

Reader Reese sent in some photos he got from a friend who tends ducks in a pond by his house. I’m going to show these photos to Honey.

From my friend John Williamson who feeds ducks and other wildlife on a resaca in Brownsville, Texas.  I hope some of your pals are planning on wintering there.  His house backs up to Town Resaca (which appears to be a body of water that goes nowhere) in Brownsville, not far from the Gladys Porter Zoo.  I attach a few more photos so your ducks have a better idea of the winter spa awaiting them:

Note that he has built a duck-feeding platform (and also a Buddha platform).

Nutria (rodents also known as coypu; Myocaster coypus) also appreciate the duck corn.  There also seem to be duck pellets:

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!