Readers’ wildlife photos

February 20, 2021 • 8:00 am

We last heard from reader Lance Emrick five years ago, but he promises to be more regular with his photos. I hope so, as these ones are good, and include WILD FELIDS! (And please send in your own photos.)

Lance’s captions are indented; click on the photos to enlarge them.

Here are some snapshots of the neighbors for Reader Wildlife. We’re at 8600 feet north of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado; these are all from within 200’ of the front door, some through the living room windows.

Moose (Alces alces) were reintroduced to the North Platte headwaters area about 40 years ago, and have been very successful. We see them frequently through the Summer and Fall. This fellow is in July velvet:

Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus) are common and surprisingly casual around us and our noise:

There are a couple of large Elk herds (Cervus canadensis) in the area, but we rarely see them in daylight. The recent wildfires funneled them through our neighborhood more than usual this Fall – night time bugling from the nearby meadow!:

This American Badger (Taxidea taxus) had been digging around in well tailings, giving him this odd coloring:

We’ve been here long enough to watch several predator/prey cycles play out, particularly with the Bobcats (Felis rufus). They take over the area when they’re around – looking in windows, hanging out on the deck:

And here waiting for a vole under the bird feeder:

Opposite the cats are the Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus lateralis):

. . .and Mountain Cottontail (Sylvilagus nuttallii) – both with strong comebacks the past couple of years while the cats have been elsewhere:

The indoor Shelter fauna have appreciated the current swing of the cycle:

Long-Tailed Weasels (Mustela frenata) will take over prime housing spots from the rabbits and ground squirrels. Around here they still turn pure white with a black tail tip during Winter:

The Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) are fascinating to watch, but get really messy and aggressive as the guys get to their most colorful and romantic. I had to try the Parks and Wildlife recommendation of “run around, wave your arms like a big turkey” as a deterrent last Spring:

Pine Squirrels (Red Squirrel or Chickaree) (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) are a busy year-round presence, in this case apparently unconcerned about hawks. [JAC: I’d title this: “This squirrel approves of this post.”]

Readers’ wildlife photos

February 4, 2021 • 8:00 am

Keep sending in your photos, folks! I am getting some, but the pace is slower than usual.

Today’s contribution is from regular Mark Sturtevant, who has a single series of a fishing spider. Mark’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Here are more pictures, which mark the beginning of a rather dramatic series.

The six-spotted fishing spider (Dolomedes triton) is a large semi-aquatic spider that sits out on floating vegetation on lakes, ponds, and rivers, often far from shore according to reports. From these vegetation rafts they hunt insects and small fish. I am fortunate that they live in my area. The first picture was posted earlier in WEIT a few years ago, and it records one of my first encounters with these spiders. This big female has captured a blue dasher dragonfly (!) You can see how this sort of thing might leave a lasting impression on Arachnophiles like me!

Ever since then, I had it in the back of my mind to one day catch a fishing spider, bring it home, and document some of their special behaviors in staged settings. And so begins a series of posts about the results of those plans. Catching one proved to be a very enjoyable day, as it involved going down a wide and lazy river in a kayak and visiting the many patches of lily pads that grew around bends and obstructions. Fishing spiders were here and there on them, and a dip net and a bug cage was used to take one home.

You can see the spider I brought home in the next pictures. While she was with me, she was kept in an aquarium with a few inches of water and lily pads.

She seemed pretty content, although never far from doing a full set of  ‘feet cleaning’. All …. 8 …. of …. them.

The aquarium had a glass bottom and so I could lie underneath it and photograph from below to see the spider in silhouette. This was quite an exciting moment! For a couple years I had this specific picture in mind, and here it is!

When these spiders are alarmed, they quickly duck under the water to hide. Since they are covered in a dense pile of fine hairs, it seemed likely they would become enclosed in an air bubble while under water. This turns out to be the case, as shown in the next two pictures. For the second of these, it should be explained that you are looking up at an alarmed spider through the bottom of the aquarium, while the spider is meanwhile under water. Air is around her body, and this makes her buoyant so she can sit upside down under the lily pad.

After a few minutes she will pop back to the surface; barely wetted by her plunge.

And then there is the fish in the picture. Remember that fishing spiders aren’t given that name for nothing, since they really do catch fish! That will be in the next installment.

Stay tuned!

Readers’ wildlife photos

February 1, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today we have some science-themed photos by Joe Routon, and some lagniappe: an art photo with a cat. Joe’s IDs and captions are indented; click on the photos to enlarge them.

Here are a few science-related photos that I made on trips to Italy. The first shows the bell tower in Venice where Galileo tested his telescope.


This sign at the top of the bell tower tells about Galileo’s demonstrating his telescope to the Doge.

The burial place of Galileo is in Santa Croce Church in Florence. Here is his tombstone.

Pertaining to anatomy, which artists began studying in Italy around 1500, I’m posting my photo of the sculpture of St. Bartholomew in the Duomo in Milan.  Bartholomew, one of Christ’s twelve apostles, was skinned alive and then beheaded for his Christian faith. His crime was converting the King of Armenia to Christianity.  The drapes surrounding him are his skin.

A must-see in Milan is the National Museum of Science and Technology of Leonardo da Vinci that houses working models of Leornado’s inventions.

Around 1590, Galileo is said to have dropped two different sized spheres from the leaning Tower of Pisa to demonstrate that their rate of descent would be the same.

In Vinci, where Leonardo was born, there is a museum with working models of several of his inventions. Near the museum is this statue of the Vitruvian Man.

Lagniappe: A photo Joe sent earlier.

I made this photo at the convent of San Marco in Florence, Italy. The Last Supper was painted in 1482 by Domenico Ghirlandaio. The cat, sitting patiently behind Judas is obviously waiting for someone to toss him a scrap of food. In an almost identical setting of the Last Supper at the Franciscan Church of Ognissanti in Florence, Ghirlandaio omitted the cat.

Googling cats, I learned that in the Bible cats are often a sign of pending misfortune and could indicate someone is being deceitful or cunning, which would be appropriate in the painting, since it’s seated behind Judas. Or, perhaps, the church’s main priest wanted his pet cat immortalized.

JAC:  Did you spot the kitty?  Here it is!

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 30, 2021 • 8:00 am

Reader Dave, whose photography website is here, sent some diverse photos. Click to enlarge them; the captions (indented) are his:

Heliospheric, ©DSF_ All Rights Reserved.
English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) & Cabbage White Butterflies (Pieris rapae):, ©DSF_ All Rights Reserved.
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus):, ©DSF_ All Rights Reserved.
Freija Fritillary Butterfly (Boloria freija):, ©DSF_ All Rights Reserved.
Sculptural Spectroscopy:, ©DSF_ All Rights Reserved.
Mauna Kea Observatories:, ©DSF_ All Rights Reserved.

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 18, 2021 • 8:00 am

We have diverse photos from reader Tom MacPherson today. Tom’s captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Here are some pictures I took during a pre-pandemic trip to south-west Florida in February, 2020.

Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga). It made me think of a common loon in formal evening attire.

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia).  These owls are protected in Florida, which is why the burrows were roped off. I don’t know who installs the ropes and short perch, but they all have them. If they move onto your vacant lot, you can’t build until they willingly move out. However, apparently it is legal to dig a fancy burrow down the block on someone else’s vacant lot to entice them to move out. They seem habituated to humans wandering by. They don’t hide or leave, they just watch you carefully. They also gave me a fright a couple of times while I was out stargazing after dark, soundlessly gliding by three or four feet off the ground.

Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger).  Notice the elongated lower half of the bill, used to feed while skimming low over the water.

Royal Tern (Thalasseus maximus). The Elegant Terns would gather in a group on the beach right beside a group of Black Skimmers, but the two groups never seemed to mingle.

Little blue heron (Egretta caerulea)

Cardinal airplant (Tillandsia fasciculate). This is an epiphyte, described in Wikipedia as “an organism that grows on the surface of a plant and derives its moisture and nutrients from the air, rain …. or from debris accumulating around it.”

Florida Strangler Fig (Ficus aurea). The Strangler Fig starts as an epiphyte, but once it gets a root down to the ground, it takes over, wrapping around the host tree and killing it before developing into a large tree itself.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea Herodias). This particular specimen of this famously patient species ran out of patience and started edging towards the center of the pond where a few small fish were splashing around. He better be careful. Bonus activity – spot the alligator!

Brown anole (Anolis sagrei). These little guys were all over the place, and tended to pose perfectly until I got a millimeter too close, and then they would dart off at warp speed and disappear. This is the final of about 20 pictures I took as I slowly crept closer. Digital photography is very freeing!

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 12, 2021 • 8:00 am

Thanks to several readers for heeding my request for photos. I always need pictures, though, so do think of sending me some if you’re in possession of good ones.

Today we have regular Mark Sturtevant with his customary lovely and informative pictures of insects. Mark’s comments and IDs are indented; click on photos to enlarge them.

First up is one of our larger insects, the summer fishfly. For scale, it is approximately the size of your index finger. Fishflies are members of a somewhat obscure order, the Corydalidae, and in various respects they are fairly primitive insects even though they have complete metamorphosis with a larval and pupal stage.

An unusual thing about the pupa is that they can crawl around. This particular species is Chauliodes pectinicornis, and I found it at some lights that were left on overnight at a local park. If you are wondering about the white spot on its head, that is one of its large and reflective ‘simple eyes’.

Next up are two larvae that strongly resemble caterpillars, but are actually the vegetarian larvae of wasps known as sawflies. Sawfly larvae and caterpillars (the larvae of butterflies and moths) are examples of convergent evolution. The first is Macremphytus testaceus, on dogwood, and the second is Allantus cinctus. This species is a pest on cultivated roses, although this one was in a forest, possibly on wild rose.

At one of the parks I visit, there is a community garden area where locals can grow various crops. It is always profitable to prowl up and down the narrow lanes between the gardens. One day I came across this large and strange bee that was foraging along a row of sweet peas. The extra furry underside of its abdomen identifies it to the family Megachilidae, and familiar examples of these bees are leaf-cutter bees. But this was a big ‘un, easily twice the size of those bees. So what is it? This is the giant resin bee (Megachile sculpturalis sculpturalis), an introduced species from Asia. The bee was presumably provisioning a nest in a wooden retreat somewhere, and in there larvae will be raised in separate cells made from mud and tree resin. 

At the same park I got a very big surprise. I noted what looked like a simple leaf gall, only it had this suspicious symmetry. So I touched it, and it immediately unfurled into this weird little spider! This is a species of bolas spider, specifically Mastophora yeargani. These are orb-weaving spiders that do not build typical webs, but instead sit on the end of tree branches at night to dangle a single silk strand with a glob of sticky glue at one end. When a flying insect comes close, it flings this ‘bolas’ at the insect, snagging it in mid-air and then reeling it in for a meal. I did not know they were in Michigan (none are recorded in BugGuide, so I will be sending this to them).

The best parts of this story are colorfully told in this True Facts video by Ze FrankDo watch it, and someone can then report back and tell us what those loose flakes are on the spider. 

Next up is a well concealed flower crab spider that got quite a catch. This one looks to be in the genus Misumenoides, based mainly on the arrangement and relative sizes of the eyes.

Moving back to Hymenoptera. A place I call the Magic Field hosts many wildflowers, including spotted beebalm (aka horsemint), and these are super attractive to large solitary hunting wasps. The wasps include a large species of spider wasp (Anoplius americanus), so-named because it hunts spiders, paralyzing them to feed to their larvae. This spider wasp is very difficult to photograph (at least for me), since they forage through the flowers at break-neck speed—even faster than the swift golden digger wasps and great black wasps that also frequent these flowers. So here I cheated a little by catching a spider wasp in a net, and I then attempted to immobilize it for a time with COfrom a few Alka Seltzer tablets. This old trick of using COas an insect anesthetic does not always work, and that was the case here since the wasp was slowed only a little. She flew off in a few seconds, and I was lucky to get this single acceptable picture.

The Magic Field also hosts the main prey for the above spider wasps, a burrowing wolf spider (Geolycosa missouriensis). These large spiders are seldom seen during the day, except they occasionally sit at their burrow entrance in the early morning. Of course they will retreat underground when approached, but will pop back up after several minutes once they think the coast is clear. Although I don’t normally bother with a tripod, it was helpful here to remotely get a low-angle picture of a wolf spider at their burrow entrance. The next picture shows the result. These wolf spiders are not fans of spider wasps! I expect many are taken, although I have never seen it happen.

Finally, sometimes readers are curious about equipment that is used to photograph arthropods. In truth, almost any dslr or mirrorless camera and macro capable lens will take excellent pictures. But the last picture shows how the above wolf spider was photographed. Come to think of it, all the pictures up there were taken with this rather old camera, the Canon t5i, and the lens is the Canon 100mm f/2.8L macro lens. That’s a fancy lens, but any true macro lens will be essentially as good. You can see in the background the external flash that I normally use for this camera, which is the Kuangrendual head flash with a couple of instant-noodle soup bowls mocked up to be diffusers. That flash was too cumbersome for this particular situation, so I had to improvise.


Readers’ wildlife photos

January 9, 2021 • 8:00 am

Please send in your photos, lest I have to pause this feature!

Today we have “street photos” from Joe Routon, and from my favorite country: India. They are also from Varanasi (formerly “Benares”), the most sacred of Hindu cities. I visited it, too, but don’t have pictures like these. Joe’s notes are indented; click on photos to enlarge them.

Since India is one of your and my favorite countries, you might be interested in including these photos that I made in Varanasi. I don’t pretend to be an expert on India and Hinduism, so I hope there aren’t too many errors in my commentary.
Undoubtedly, the most remarkable, memorable city I’ve ever visited was Varanasi, India, one of the world’s oldest cities, dating back 5,000 years. The spiritual capital of the country, it was here that Buddha founded Buddhism. [JAC: I think the Buddha is supposed to have given his first sermon near here, but am not sure that that is counted as the “founding of Buddhism.”

Located on the banks of the Ganges River, it draws millions of pilgrims every year to bathe in the sacred river.
The pilgrims believe that bathing in the Ganges will purify them and wash away their sins.

With millions of gallons of untreated sewage, pesticides, dead bodies, animal waste, fertilizer, and other pollution, the water is some of the dirtiest in the world. Efforts to clean the river are under way.

It is believed by Hindus that bathing in the Ganges helps a person get rid of sins he or she has committed in their previous lives.

In spite of the obvious pollution, we were told that the water of the Ganges is extremely pure and sanctifying, killing germs. Various scientists have tested the water and, finding antiseptic minerals, have used it to treat different diseases. Seeing the garbage and litter floating on the surface makes me wonder. [JAC: When I was there, I saw a guy brushing his teeth with Ganges water, only a few feet from the bloated corpse of a child floating by, with a crow perched on its belly]

Devout Hindus go to Varanasi to die so they can be cremated on the pyres or on floating rafts. Their ashes are then spread on the water so their souls can be transported to heaven, releasing them from the cycle of death and rebirth and freeing them from the worry of returning to life as a squirrel or a grasshopper.
The pyres burn 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with hundreds of bodies burned in plain sight each day. Estimates put the number of cremated bodies dumped in the Ganges at 100,000 per year.
Often, if a family cannot afford a proper cremation, they will dump the body into the river.

It’s an amazing place to visit and experience. India is one of my favorite countries, and Varanasi makes it worth the trip.

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 15, 2020 • 8:00 am

Thanks to the several readers who sent me sets of wildlife photos. My stock will keep me going for at least two weeks, but remember—I can always use more.

Today’s photos come from Bob Fritz; I’ve indented his captions.

A few photographs taken at the San Joaquin Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary located in Irvine, California (near the UCI campus).  There are many trails and frequent wildlife.  Although located in the city, it can feel as though you are out in the country.
Say’s Phoebe (Sayornis saya):

American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana):

Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata):

Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor):

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus):

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos):

Moonrise over the marsh with the Santa Ana Mountains in the distance:

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 2, 2020 • 8:00 am

I importune you once again: send in your good wildlife photos.

Today Stephen Barnard is back with some lovely bird photos. His narrative is indented; click photos to enlarge.

Here are some Northern Harrier [Circus hudsonius] shots from yesterday afternoon. There were two birds in female plumage “harrying” flocks of mallards in Loving Creek, looking for cripples. The healthy ducks mostly ignore them. They seemed to work as a team, or at least were closely interacting. It’s common to see a male and a female hunting together, but I was a little surprised to see two females apparently cooperating. I may have it all wrong, though. Maybe they were competing. I’ve included an old photo of a male in breeding plumage for comparison.


Readers’ wildlife photos (and video)

November 28, 2020 • 8:00 am

The photo tank is inexorably draining, so please send in your good wildlife photos.

We have three contributors today, the first being John Crisp, who sent a video:

Here’s a short video of family interactions between gorillas I was fortunate enough to capture four years ago in the Rwandan highlands. Personally, I find the commentary by the guide a little irritating, because I don’t think it is correct, but I could be wrong.

These photos are from John Egloff:

My wife, Cindy, and I live in Carmel, Indiana, just north of Indianapolis.  We are both attorneys – Cindy works for the state of Indiana and I am a business lawyer in private practice.

We have been long-time fans and have both of your books. Cindy even got you to autograph her copy of “Why Evolution is True” (along with a cat drawing) when she traveled to Purdue University several years ago to attend your lecture there.  We read your website religiously (pun intended) and I often post comments under the name “JohnE”.

Cindy and I are also big fans of our national parks, and over a two-week period early last fall we visited Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion National Parks.   I’ve attached several of the wildlife photos we took at Zion (I hope the total size of the files isn’t too big for the email).  The photos are labeled with my best guess as to the scientific names of the various critters.  The photos of the condor and her chick (which include a photo of the mother feeding the chick) were taken at quite a distance, so they are a bit grainy.

California condors (Gymnogyps californianus):

Cicindelinae (tiger beetle):

Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus):

Prickly pear (Opuntia):

Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis):

Cindy and John: 

From Robert Lang, who calls this “a kitty from Botswana” [Panthera leo]