Readers’ wildlife photos

November 28, 2023 • 8:15 am

Physicist and origami master Robert Lang has bestowed upon us a batch of photos from New Zealand (and two other batches, which will appear later)! Robert’s notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

New Zealand, Part 1: Birds of the Water

In January, my wife and I got to visit the South Island of New Zealand, a long-time goal for both of us. I took a lot of pictures, and will send three parts. In this first group, birds that we saw on the waters, some in Milford Sound, others in other boat journeys near the southern end of the island.

Two albatrosses. First, a White-Capped Albatross (Thalassarche cauta steadi), flying. Look at the length of those wings!:

And another White-Capped Albatross, close-up on the water:

Next, a Buller’s Albatross (Thalassarche bulleri), which has different coloration on the bill. When I was looking for that one, I couldn’t resist asking “Buller’s? Buller’s?” Alas, that joke is not long for this world, as the American Ornithological Association will someday name it something like “The doubly-yellow-billed albatross,” or some such thing:

A Kelp Gull (Larus dominicanus), showing the red spot that is the target for chicks demanding a feeding:

A Red-Billed Gull (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae scopulinus), which could also be called the Red-Eyed Gull, or the Red-Legged Gull; there’s a lot of red to choose from. (Or we could just call it the tarāpunga, which is the Maori name.):

A Cape Petrel (Daption capense), swimming:

A Variable Oystercatcher (Haematopus unicolor) (I think; I invite our birding experts to chime in on this, or any of these, if they have corrections). A little bit fuzzy because it was quite some distance away:

A pair of Australian Pied Cormorants (Phalacrocorax varius), also called the Pied Shag. I will resist the obvious jokes here:

And finally, our first penguin. Merlin ID is telling me it’s a Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor) (but aren’t they all rather little?). Again, I invite correction or further precise IDs from our experts.

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 22, 2023 • 8:15 am

I’m still in dire need of photos, though a few kind readers have saved my onions by sending in wildlife pix. But please send in what you have: wouldn’t the Thanksgiving break be a good time to gather up your photos.

One regular who filled the gap was the reliable and skillful Mark Sturtevant, who sent in spider photos. His captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

There will probably be no photos tomorrow as it’s a holiday and even PCC(E) needs a break. We shall see.  Now, from Mark:

This set of pictures is dedicated to spiders that I found over a year ago.

First is a Parson Spider (Herpyllus ecclesiasticus), a running spider that commonly turns up in peoples’ houses. That is where I found this one. They are named after their white markings which are similar to the old style clergyman cravat.

We did some traveling in the summer to visit family here and there. On a trip to New Jersey, I found this Spotted Orbweaver (Neoscona domiciliorum). This was a new species for me.

We stopped off at Niagara Falls on our drive back home. Lovely water and all that, but what about the critters? There were orb webs everywhere, and here is one of the spiders. To get the view in the first picture, I am lying on my back looking straight up. Spiders in this genus (Araneus) can be challenging to identify, but based on the markings on the underside I believe this is a Marbled OrbweaverA. marmoreus.

On a later trip to Iowa to visit my side of the family, there was this strikingly different spider, and yet it too is probably a Marbled Orbweaver, again based on critical markings. This species is highly variable, and to me some variations can even make one species look like a member of a different species.

Lets’ stay in Iowa for the next pictures. There were many Wolf Spiders around my brother’s house, and this very large and boldly marked one came up onto the porch one night. Here, I had encouraged it to come inside the house for pictures, lest it escape. This is Tigrosa aspersaand you can see its size from the link (I would not pick one of these up, though!). I later took this lady back home in order to photograph wolf spider eye shine (they are famous for that). That will be a subject in a later post.

In the next picture is a dramatic scene where a male of the same species of Wolf Spider is being dragged away by a Rusty Spider Wasp (Tachypompilus ferrugineus). This picture was taken in haste just before they disappeared under a shed. There the wasp will lay an egg on her paralyzed prey, and the spider will be eaten alive.

Back in Michigan, I made an interesting find while looking for subjects to photograph at night. This little spider could not be identified, but the good folks at BugGuide leapt into action and managed to narrow down the ID to be a cobweb spider in the genus Theridion. Its victim appears to be a Cellar Spider.

The next spider is the Spined Micrathena (Micrathena gracilis). In some woods they can be seen hanging from their orb webs every few feet, so one may forget just how weird they are. With their top-heavy weight distribution, they practically helpless when forced to leave their web. But while in their orb web they are surprisingly nimble.

The last picture is a portrait of our lovely Striped Lynx Spider (Oxyopes salticus). These ambush spiders wait at the tops of plants for prey to come to them. This one provided some amusement during the staged session for this manually focus stacked picture, since it would at times take off to go boinging around on the dining room table like a little jumping bean.

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 4, 2023 • 8:30 am

Today we’ll have a mélange of photos that have accumulated over the past months from readers who sent in just a couple of pix. The captions are indented, and click on the photos to enlarge them.

From Jon Alexandr:

I’m not a biologist, but I do occasionally like to take photos of plants and animals, including “bugs.” Because I favor its handy small size, I’m still using an old, first-generation iPhone SE (2016 or 2017), so it’s not “professional” photography. Still, I think the attached impromptu photo of a “grasshopper” in a wood pile next to my house has a certain presence, which is maybe amplified by the lighting, shapes, and textures.
The grasshopper’s body was just slightly more than an inch long, I estimate, not counting the extremities. Location is San Francisco East Bay, Contra Costa County.

From Bryan Lepore, sent October 29:

 I spotted what I think is a tree frog, genus Dryophytes, today. Middlesex county, MA.She is about the size of my thumbnail and has a very long jump span. Usually, I see what I think are Leopard frogs (genus Lithobates) jump like that but they’re green. Maybe she’s a brown variant, or a differeny frog.

Two animals photos and an architecture photo from reader joolz:

 Two of my photographs from the Oceanographic Museum, Monaco 2023.  Taken through glass.
Lion fish [Pterois sp.]. Oceanographic Museum, Monaco 2023. Didn’t take a photo of the info.
Longspined Porcupine Fish – Diodon holocanthus. Info on sign: “At the slightest danger it inflates its body, pushing its spines outwards to protect itself. The fish of the Diodontidae family are toxic and unfit for human consumption. In Japan, where they are eaten in sushi, a special licence is needed to cook them.”

Queen Hatshepsut‘s Temple at Deir El Bahri, Egypt. Taken from a hot air balloon decades ago.

Hatshepsut was very powerful and took on the role of Pharoah. She wore the pharaonic regalia, which includes a false beard, so trans activists claim she was transgender, but there is no basis for this assertion. She just wore the standard regalia that all pharaohs wore. Her stepson Thutmose III had her name erased from monuments and she was unknown for centuries. Thankfully her legacy as a female Pharoah was restored when the hieroglyphs at this temple were translated in the 1800s.

Photos of the solar eclipse that occurred on October 14. The first is from Don McCrady:

Thought I’d send you a hot-off-the-press shot of this year’s annular solar eclipse, this one from Winnemucca, Nevada.An annular solar eclipse is a total eclipse of the sun by the moon, where the moon is far enough away from the earth that its disk does not fully cover the sun’s, creating a “ring of fire” effect such as this one.  I took this with a Canon EOS R5 with an RF 100-500 x1.4 extender, for a total focal length of 700mm.

From Avis James:

Bill and I went to a field half way between Ruidoso and Roswell New Mexico in the path of the annular eclipse this morning.  We took a colander- it is has the Star of David pattern:
Here is the shadow it made at full angularity!  The dot in the middle of each circle is the moon in the middle of the sun!

From John Runnels, “Unknown mushroom species, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.” (Readers: can you ID?)

Finally, a weird giraffe from Bob Wooley of Asheville, NC:

I know you don’t usually do zoo photos, but if you feel like making an exception for an exceptional animal, you’re welcome to use these. You featured a story about this amazing unspotted baby giraffe the other day. I live about 90 minutes from Brights Zoo in eastern Tennessee, where she was born, so today I went there to see her for myself. It’s very difficult to get good pictures of her because her enclosure has a tight-mesh fence that you have to shoot through (unless you have a 12-foot-long photo stick). That’s why most of the news stories just use pictures and videos given to them by the zoo. But I got several that I think are worth sharing, and hold up to on-screen embiggening. She’s a seriously beautiful creature.

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 3, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today we have a story and photo contribution about weevils by Athayde Tonhasca Júnior. Athayde’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

See no weevil, hear no weevil

As the story goes, J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964), British/Indian geneticist, evolutionary biologist and mathematician, found himself in the company of a group of theologians. On being asked what one could learn about The Creator from studying his creation, the atheist Haldane is said to have answered ‘an inordinate fondness for beetles.’ Haldane may have said something like that, and indeed a Great Architect of the Universe would have had to be partial to the order Coleoptera. With nearly 400,000 known species, beetles lead the biodiversity table, making up about 25% of all known animal species. But if the Almighty Creator liked beetles, he was especially fond of weevils (superfamily Curculionoidea): there are over 97,000 described species, of which 76,761 are snout beetles (family Curculionidae) (Global Biodiversity Information Facility). But we know these figures are gross underestimates because in poorly studied areas, i.e., most of the world, the majority of weevil specimens collected are members of unknown species.

A circular tree of life for some described eukaryote groups (all organisms except bacteria and bacteria-like Archaea). Insects – in the left column – make up about 63% of the total [JAC: weevils are the black bar]. Vertebrates, together with other deuterostomes (animals for which the anus is formed before the mouth during embryonic development) are a mere ‘etcetera’ in the big scheme of life. Their biodiversity is comparable to weevils’ © Adam Dent, Wikimedia Commons:


Weevils are found practically everywhere, and almost all of them are plant eaters. They feed on plants from any terrestrial or freshwater habitats and on a range of tissues: roots, stems, phloem, fruits, flowers or seeds. Many species are among the most damaging pests of stored grain, field crops, orchards, ornamental plants and commercial forests. Weevils’ destructive potential can’t be overestimated. The boll weevil (Anthonomus grandis) wrecked the American cotton industry in the 1920s and 30s, then invaded South America in the 80s causing further mayhem. In the US, the Southern pine beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis) is able to wipe out thousands of hectares of pine in less than two years, while grain weevils (Sitophilus spp.) can completely destroy rice, maize, wheat, oats, and many other products stored in silos around the world. You may have had your own experience with weevils infesting a bag of flour or a box of pasta in your pantry.

Rice weevils (S. oryzae), a pest of stored grains and cereal products. Some weevils don’t have the long snout characteristic of the group, and not all long-snouted beetles are weevils © CSIRO, Wikimedia Commons.

Considering weevils’ charge sheet, we would be tempted to dump the lot in the ‘creepy crawlers’ category. But that would be hasty and unjustified. Only a tiny minority of weevils are harmful, while the great majority contribute to the functioning of ecosystems. One way they do this is by pollinating a range of plants.

Cantharophily (from the Greek word kántharos for beetle), or pollination by beetles, is not well understood or researched, despite being one of the first pollinating systems in the evolutionary history of flowering plants. With time, bees, flies and moths became the main pollinators, but many plants, especially of ancient lineages such as magnolias (Magnoliaceae), retained cantharophily. Some custard apple-related plants (Annonaceae), arums (Araceae), palms (Arecaceae) and orchids (Orchidaceae) are also pollinated by beetles.

Most beetles don’t handle pollination skilfully and gently: they plough through flowers, gobbling down nectar, pollen or petals, defecating as they go, often spilling more pollen than they eat – that’s why they are called ‘mess and soil’ pollinators. During these raids, beetles become contaminated with pollen grains, which are deposited on the next plant they visit. Weevils, however, have a more intimate and nuanced rapport with their hosts. They lay their eggs on the flowers, where their larvae will grow and mature by feeding on pollen, ovules, or other floral parts. By hosting weevils during a significant portion of their lives, plants are almost guaranteed being pollinated for the price of a fraction of their reproductive parts.

This type of mutualistic relationship is known as brood-site pollination or nursery pollination and it has been reported dozens of times for different groups of insects, mostly in the tropics; the interactions between figs and wasps and between yuccas and moths are two of the better known examples. In the case of weevils, hundreds of species have coevolved brood-site associations with a range of plants, but mostly with palms (family Arecaceae).

Pupa (A), egg (B) and larvae (C-F) of weevils growing in different inflorescence parts of palms. Credits: A, F: J. Haran, B-E: B. de Medeiros © Haran et al., 2023:

One instance of weevil-palm mutualism has particular relevance for its ecological and economic implications: the pollination of African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) by the African oil palm weevil (Elaeidobius kamerunicus). Male weevils feed on the palm’s flowers and pollen, while females oviposit in the flower structures, in which the larvae feed and develop. You can watch the weevils in action.

When oil palm growers around the world, but mostly in Indonesia and Malaysia (the leading producers and exporters of palm oil), began to import the pollinating weevil in 1981, the industry changed radically. The beetle adapted well to its new habitats and boosted African oil palm pollination, which resulted in sharp increases in production, revenue and applications; palm oil made its way into margarines, chocolates, baked products, cooking oils, soap, detergents, cosmetics – you name it. The “million dollar weevil” had been found (Robins, 2021).

A female African oil palm weevil, and weevils clustering on palm flowers © Ken Walker, Museum Victoria, CABI (L) and Susenoqurnia, Wikimedia Commons:

But as sociologist Robert K. Merton warned us, purposeful actions are bound to have multiple outcomes, some of them unanticipated. This law of unintended consequences (flippantly identified as Murphy’s Law) suited the case of the million dollar weevil to a T. Large-scale oil palm production resulted in massive deforestation that is destroying the habitats of large numbers of plant and animal species, and increased levels of erosion and pollution.

Fortunately, the introduced African oil palm weevil is an isolated case of ecological mishap. All other known examples of beetle brood-site pollination are mutualisms that help maintain biodiversity. Seres & Ramirez (1995) estimated that more than 45% of palms and herbs in some cloud forests are beetle‐pollinated, and Haran et al. (2023) have recorded at least 600 cases or suspected cases of palm-weevil interactions: the true number is likely to be much larger. We have the vaguest understanding of the pollinating services played by these weevils, but it mustn’t be something to sniff at considering that the number of Curculionidae species alone is almost four times bigger than the number of bee species (~20,000).

Palms and many other types of plant pollinated by weevils are sources of food, building materials, cosmetics and medicines; a good portion of those products are consumed locally or sold abroad, generating much needed income to developing countries. Not so bad for those maligned big-conked characters.

According to biblical sources, Noah’s ark had ~42,500 m3 of available space, the equivalent of 570 standard railroad stock cars. We can deduce that Noah’s ship was not a run-of-the-mill zoo because most species competing for a berth comprised parasites and weevils. Art by Simon de Myle, 1570. Wikimedia Commons:

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 1, 2023 • 8:15 am

I haven’t been monitoring the level of the photo tank, but it’s low, and I have about four days’ worth. If you have some good wildlife photos, send them in.  Note that I’ll be going to the Galápagos Islands from August 11 through the 20th, lecturing on an alumni cruise, so I won’t need photos during that time, and you should refrain from sending me posting items, as I might not be able to post. (Hili will continue.)

Today we have several items, first two videos from reader Gary Radice sent on July 22. The videos were taken in Corvallis, Oregon.  Gary’s notes (and those of others) are indented:

I saw these critters at 6:00 this morning when I took my dog out for a walk. The house you see in the background is right across the street.

I had seen a fox occasionally on my morning walks recently but I thought it was just one. Turns out it was probably one of a family of at least five! I believe these are gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), based on the black stripe on the tail.

And here is one of them barking. [JAC: Note that a fox bark sounds nothing like a dog bark.]

. . . And here’s an amphibian to identify, sent in on July 3by Linda Calhoun in New Mexico.

John found this toad in our garden yesterday.  Don’t know the species, and have never seen one before.  Most of the toads around here are NM Spadefoots, which are tiny compared to this one.

When he checked last night before closing up shop, it was gone.

. . . ,. We have only had a little rain in the last few weeks.  The spadefoots come out when there has been enough rain for them to spawn in the puddles.  Their eggs hatch rapidly and the tadpoles grow quickly, lest the puddles dry up.  The adults are only as big as a half-dollar when fully grown.

This guy is about the size of a softball, or maybe a little bigger.

If you put it out there, maybe somebody with a lot more expertise than I could tell us.

Name the toad!

From Don Bredes:

Here’s a great clip pf a first-year American black bear cub (Ursus americanus) exploring.  No doubt his mama wasn’t far off.

These were collected on my trail cams mounted 100 yards or so from our place high in the wooded hills of Wheelock, Vermont, in the northeast corner of the state (known as the Northeast Kingdom).

A year earlier I got a few still images of an adult bear in about the same spot.   Might have been the mama.


And unidentified hummingbird photos by Emilio d’Alise.  Can you ID these?

2014 Flowers,

2014 Flowers,

Readers’ wildlife photos

July 30, 2023 • 8:15 am

It’s Sunday, and we have a themed bird post by John Avise, this time on the runner-up to the “Most photogenic bird” competition. John’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them,

Runner-up to Most Photogenic Songbird? 

Last week I showcased the Northern Mockingbird as the most photogenic North American songbird, in my experience.  This week showcases my personal runner-up for this honor: the White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys).  This species is attractive, relatively tame and very common here in Southern California during the winter months.


Adult frontal:

Adult back view:

Adult portrait:

Another adult portrait:

Adult on flower:

Adult head portrait:

Adult pair:


Juvenile (note the tan median head stripe):

Juvenile back view:

12) parting shot for the species:

Readers’ wildlife photos

July 17, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today’s photos come from evolutionist Jody Hey from Temple University. His narrative and captions are indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

The coast of Maine offers a lot of beautiful scenery and some great wildlife watching. My visits there are usually in mid-summer,  which if you are inland is not the best time of year for watching birds. However,  the seaside has lots of visible action year round.  On or near the coast, many of the birds are large, and the sightlines have few obstructions, so getting passable photographs can be relatively easy.  Below are some pictures taken at Marshall Point, the location of a much photographed lighthouse near Port Clyde, and the island of Monhegan,  home to a small community of lobstering folk and artists, and just a  12 mile ferry ride from Port Clyde.

Marshall Pt is a public park and makes a popular and idyllic picnic  spot when the weather is good.    This photo shows the Marshall Pt lighthouse at high tide.  Many will recognize it, as it was famously the eastern terminus for one of Forest Gump’s cross-country runs.

One day I had just finished my picnic lunch and was walking on the beach facing the harbor of Port Clyde, and saw this Great Black-backed gull (Larus marinus) enjoying its own lunch, an Atlantic rock crab (Cancer irroratus).

The tidal range is quite large in coastal Maine, especially further north and east, so the things to see vary widely throughout the day.  Here is a Least sandpiper (Calidris minutilla) exploring the barnacles at low tide.

Marshall point is separated from ocean waters only by a few islands, unlike much of the jagged cost of Maine most of which is some distance from the open ocean.  This means that Common Eiders (Somateria mollissima) can be seen there year round.   In the summer their markings are fairly dull,  but in the winter and spring,  they are spectacular.

The ferry ride from Port Clyde to Monhegan offers some great opportunities to see marine mammals,  including a couple varieties of seals and Harbor Porpoises (Phocoena phocoena):

Monhegan island itself is less than 5 square miles in area,  however the majority of it is owned and maintained as wild land by a private non-profit land trust.  Visitors are free to explore the beautiful woods and rocky cliffs that dominate the eastern side of the island, as well as eat and shop in the little village.  The cliffs also offer great viewing of a variety of coastal and ocean-going birdlife.

Northern Gannets can often be seen from the cliffs  (as well as from the ferry).  Here is a somewhat blurry adult,  and a more in-focus juvenile:

This Double-crested Cormorant (Nannopterum auritus) obligingly flew directly below me at the same time as the waves were crashing:

The cliffs are also a popular nesting site for Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus):

These Cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) were also at the Monhegan clifftops one day,  though the coastal location was fortuitous as they are a widespread and common species:

And closely things out for Monhegan,  I go this lucky shot of a Common Raven (Corvus corax) one day, deep in the spruce woods:

Lastly,  a lagniappe  (as Jerry would say).  Not far from Monhegan and Marshall Point is Eastern Egg Rock,  home to the world’s first restored colony of Atlantic Puffins (Fratercula arctica).  The story of that restoration is fascinating,  and now it is apparently safe for the birds to be seen by tourists during the breeding season (from a boat, that is).  I took the boat tour one day a couple years ago,  just before the end of the season when there were only a few puffins to be seen,  but at least I got a picture:

Readers’ wildlife photos

July 16, 2023 • 8:15 am

Sunday is John Avise Themed Bird Photo Day, and today we have some favorites of Matthew and me, swallows and swifts. John’s narrative and IDs are indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

Swallows and Swifts

Swallows (Hirundinidae) and Swifts (Apodidae) are aerial insectivores that spend most of their lives in flight, catching insects while on the wing.  Despite their aerodynamic body forms and similarities in behavior, these two families of birds are not closely related, but instead gained this lifestyle independently, via convergent evolution.  Nevertheless, in a sense their common names could have been interchangeable, because it is certainly true that Swallows are swift, and Swifts do swallow lots of insects.  Altogether, each family has close to 100 species collectively distributed worldwide. This week’s post shows several North American species of Swallows and Swifts.

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica):

Barn Swallow in flight:

Another Barn Swallow in flight:

Barn Swallow on nest with chick:

Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota):

Cliff Swallow in flight:

Cliff Swallow mud nests:

Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis):

Northern Rough-winged Swallow in flight:

Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor):

Tree Swallow in flight:

Violet-green Swallow in flight (Tachycineta thalassina):

Vaux’s Swift in flight (Chaetura vauxi):

White-throated Swift in flight (Aeronautes saxatalis):