We’re running low on photos, folks, so if you have some good ones, you know what to do. .
Today’s batch comes from Brian Cox, an instructor at Assinboine Community College in Manitoba (see his earlier photos here). Brian’s notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.
A crayfish claw jammed between dock boards in Kenora, Ontario, Canada. I don’t know the species of crayfish, but here are some possibilities.
A neighbour threw his Christmas tree on a bonfire. I was able to capture the vibrant colours, but I can only guess at the tree species. Is it a white or black spruce? Perhaps a jack pine?
Capturing a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) in flight with a manual-focus zoom lens can sometimes come down to luck. My city is surrounded by farmer’s fields, prime hunting grounds from these hawks.
This red-tailed hawk was happily stripping pieces off a Northern pocket gopher (Thomomys talpoides) until I got too close. The image is a little out of focus…
And this gopher completely objects to the hawk’s lunch preferences.
I startled this North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum), but waited for it to find the right safety-tree to climb up. I think it gave me a little smile.
Today is Sunday, the day for our weekly display of bird photos from biologist John Avise. His topic today is turnstones. John’s narrative and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them:
Turning To Turnstones
This week we turn our attention to Turnstones, of which two species can be found here in Southern California: the Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) and the Black Turnstone (Arenaria melanocephala). Turnstones get their name from their habit of using their chisel-like and slightly upturned bills to flip over small pebbles or pieces of seaweed, looking for sand fleas and other bits of food while walking along the seashore. The two sexes are nearly identical in plumage. As with many shorebirds, nesting takes place in high-latitude Arctic tundra, after which the birds migrate south to spend their winters livening up our California beaches and rocky shorelines.
Ruddy Turnstone in basic (non-breeding) plumage:
Ruddy Turnstone in alternate (breeding) plumage:
Ruddy Turnstone showing the chisel-like upturned bill:
Ruddy Turnstone turning a piece of seaweed:
Ruddy Turnstone in flight:
Ruddy Turnstone flock in flight:
Black Turnstone in basic (non-breeding) plumage:
Black Turnstone molting into breeding (alternate) plumage (notice the white patches around the eye):
Black Turnstone showing the chisel-like upturned bill:
Reader Lou Jost—or rather the reserve guards on an expedition he was leading—found a new species of frog in the Machay Reserve in the rainforest of east-central Ecuador. He and others have described the species formally and introduces you to it in this post. It’s a “poison arrow” frog and one of the prettiest frogs I’ve ever seen. (The loveliest, of course, is Atelopus coynei, present in another reserve—the Dracula Reserve—in NW Ecuador). These two areas, and ten other reserves, are part of the EcoMinga Foundation, for whom Lou works. His narrative is indented, and you can enlarge the photo by clicking on it.
Some time ago you featured some pictures of a crazy black and red frog that we had discovered in one of our reserves in Ecuador. After four years of work, we finally published the species’ scientific description last Thursday:
Here’s the frog. Isn’t she a beaut? It’s the first individual found: an adult female. Note below that every individual of this species has been collected within a few meters of this one.
Click on the screenshot to see the description:
We needed these four years to find more individuals, in order to make a more complete description. We only find an average of one of these per year! All were found in exactly the same place, within two or three meters of the place we found the first one, high on a ridge of a very remote mountain in east-central Ecuador.
Here’s a video of a subadult:
Our drone video of the remote ridge where the frog lives
The most interesting conclusions of our paper were based on genetics. For starters, our two sequenced individuals showed a normal amount of genetic variation between them, suggesting that the population is not so small as to be inbred, in spite of the frog’s apparent rarity.
But the most interesting thing was the “age” of the species, the time since the species diverged from its relatives. For the locally endemic orchids that my students and I had discovered on that same mountain, the divergence times we have measured are less than two million years. But this frog had diverged from its relatives about nine million years ago, +/- four million years. To put that in perspective, humans diverged from chimps about three million years ago. This is a very distinctive species.
As you’d expect from the warning colors, this is a highly toxic frog. Many of the famous “poison dart frogs” (which are not closely related to the genus which contains our new frog) are safe to handle even though they are deadly if ingested. But our frog caused painful itching from hand to elbow after just very brief handling, something I have never experienced when handling the local poison dart frogs.
The frog is named Hyloscirtus sethmacfarlanei, after television producer Seth MacFarlane, who produces the popular adult dark-humor cartoon program “Family Guy”. Seth is a passionate conservationist and we honor his efforts in that field, at the request of one of our conservation partners, Rainforest Trust.
Today’s photos are from reader Kevin Elsken, who hails from Arkansas. His captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them. (There’s a bit of politics, too.)
I would like to share some outdoor photos depicting some sights of interest in the part of the world where I grew up: Northwest Arkansas. It is truly beautiful here, not that I would compare it with the Grand Canyon or Yosemite, but the Ozark Mountains do have their charm. The downside of living here is that it is Trump Country. There is a church on every corner, sometimes two or three. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the loathsome former press secretary for Trump and daughter of a former Arkansas governor (a person perhaps even more loathsome than Trump) has secured the Republican nomination for governor. Her opponent is a black man, the son of two preachers, who has a BS in math and physics, a Masters in nuclear engineering and a PhD in urban planning, the latter two from MIT. Unfortunately the vote will start at 60-40 in favor of Sanders. I think that the vote gap will close, but I cannot dare to hope he might win.
Enough of the whining and on with the photos. First, just a couple of fall panorama photos to give you a feel for the terrain. The first is a spot which is humbly called the ‘Grand Canyon of Arkansas’ near Jasper, Arkansas. I guess Arkansans like to think big. The second photo is a random panorama along one of the country roads my brother and I favor for our cycling trips.
The next photos are of Hawksbill Crag, sometimes called Whitaker Point, a popular hiking destination and often featured on any Arkansas tourism brochure. The first two photos are of the crag itself, one from a distance and a second (on a different day) featuring my brother and I for some perspective. The last photo is an interesting boulder perched on the edge of the cliff along the hiking trail to the crag. While it looks like it could fall with a light push, it is pretty firmly in place.
Devil’s Den State Park is a lovely spot, built in those halcyon socialistic days of the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The park features a creek with a small dam forming a lake, along with numerous hiking trails. Lovely in the fall. Great place to get away from college on the weekend and spend the night on a bluff while enjoying the effects of a psychedelic, or so I’ve heard…
The Lost Valley trail is located near the Buffalo National River, the first to be declared a national river. The Buffalo River is great for canoeing, kayaking, and hiking, and the Lost Valley trail features some excellent scenery concluding with a small limestone cave and a waterfall. Unfortunately on the day we were there water was hard to come by.
And if you are in the Ozarks and feeling a bit hungry, visit the Oark General Store. It is another tourist brochure favorite, but it serves a mighty tasty burger.
Lastly, a couple of fun photos. The first is an old truck my wife and I ran across in the middle of the woods. No idea why it was there.
I mentioned cycling with my brother, and I took this photo of him tooling down a country dirt road in fall. It is kinda what life is all about.
Today we have a batch of lovely moth photos by reader Mary Rasmussen. Her notes and IDs are indented (photography specs at bottom), and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.
After seeing Paul Doerder’s great moth pictures, I was inspired to put together a group of images that I took at night at our cabin in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan during and around National Moth Week. Our cabin is on the shore of Lake Michigan with a small lawn surrounded by cedar swamp. I used a 6 foot tall by 3 foot wide sheet of 1/4 inch plywood to which I taped a 6 foot length from a roll of soft white photo background paper. The plywood was propped against the front screen door and a porch light above the door and a 2-foot UV fluorescent light attached to the top of the plywood provided the light that attracted the moths.
Some nights the entire porch was covered in moths. I had to tuck my pants into my socks and wear long sleeves to keep moths from climbing up my arms and legs. I wanted to see what was flying around here at night. Moth photography showed me creatures more spectacular than I could imagine.
Side view of Hologram Moth, green and gold metallic colors change with your angle of view:
Camera Setup for Mothing:
I use a Nikon D500 camera with Nikon VR 105mm f/2.8G macro lens. For smaller subjects I add a Raynox DCR-150 snap-on macro lens. For greater depth of field, some images comprise multiple hand-held shots put together in Zerene Stacker software. I’m currently using a folding flash diffuser from AK Diffuser (akdiffuser.com) which has many thoughtful features. It folds flat for storage, has a built-in LED modeling light for help focusing on subjects at night, and a holder for my Raynox snap-on lens. An internet search will show cheaper home made diffuser options—I used to use paper towels and a clear file folder, but the AK Diffuser is now my favorite for mothing.
Note: these were all live specimens that flew off after turning the lights off.
Shout-out to Alex Wild and the folks at Bugshot.net where I first learned insect photography.
Time to root around in your photo collection and send me the good ones. I use seven contributions per week, though I’m still amazed that I get enough to keep this going. So do your bit: God save the King!
Today’s contributor is Kevin Krebs with some photos of Hymenoptera. His intro, notes, and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them..
I recently read Dave Goulson’s fantastic (and disconcerting) Silent Earth: Averting The Insect Apocalypse and was struck by how I little I know about insects in general, and pollinators specifically. I decided to take matters into my hands and learn something in the way that works best for me — get out and photograph!
So, I dug up my neglected macro lens and headed out into the garden and alleyway behind my building to see what I could find. Surprisingly, even here in the heart of urban Vancouver, BC, I discovered a world of insects I’d never seen before. I wanted to share both the photos and a scattering of the information I learned with a wider audience.
I’ve attached 13 photos and brief writeups of each.
I’ve been helped on many of the identifications by people who know much more than me on iNaturalist, but some IDs are tentative and I welcome any of your readers who know more to correct any inaccuracies.
Finally, despite days of cramming my face right up to many of these bees and wasps, I was not stung once. However, another book I’d love to recommend is the entertaining Sting of the Wild by Justin Schmidt, which examines why venomous stings are important for the development of social insects, as well as his brave and seemingly foolhardy quest to establish an objective pain scale for stinging insects.
Western Honey Bee aka European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera). A common sight in gardens, the Western Honey Bee was domesticated by humans at least 5,000 years ago. The evolutionary history of Western Honey Bees is described as ‘enigmatic’ but evidence points to the species having originated in tropical East Africa. Surprisingly, A. mellifera is considered rare or even possibly extinct in the wild:
Unknown Species of Bumblebee (Genus Bombus). There are approximately 250 species of Bumblebees ranging throughout the Northern hemisphere and parts of South America. Their distinctive hairy covering acts as insulation allowing them to be active in temperatures too low other bees. Like Honey Bees they are social insects, but nests rarely have more than a few hundred individuals:
Small Long-horned Bee (Melissodes microstictus). Long-horned Bees are named for the long antennae found on males, with the genus Melissodes recognizable by their especially hairy rear legs. Almost all species of Melissodes are solitary bees that excavate nests in dirt:
Prunus Miner aka Purple Miner Bee (Andrena prunorum). Native to North and Central America, this is another solitary ground nesting bee. Visible in this photograph are the three ocelli (Latin for ‘little eyes’). The consensus is that these eyes perceive only light and dark but do so much quicker than the large compound eyes. It is also theorized they may help with maintaining flight stability:
Unknown Species of Mason Bee (Family Megachilidae, Tribe Osmiini).. Mason Bees are another solitary species which many people know from their nesting habits in hollow tubes. In fact, they are quite creative in their choice of nesting location – some even been recorded as using empty snail shells. If you look closely, you can see a powdering of white pollen grains on this bee’s head and thorax.:
Texas Striped Sweat Bee (Agapostemon texanus). This vibrant metallic green bee is a type of Sweat Bee — so-named as they are attracted to human sweat, from which they extract salt. The yellow and black striped abdomen indicated this individual is a male; females are uniformly metallic green. Ranging from Canada to Argentina, some Sweat Bees are social, but the species that are do not exhibit the division of labour seen Honey Bees:
Red-footed Cuckoo Leafcutter (Coelioxys rufitarsis). We now come to a Cuckoo Bee, named after Cuckoo birds for their practice of brood parasitism. These bees sneak into the nests of other bees, laying their eggs in the brood chamber. When their larvae hatch, they consume the food left for the host’s larvae. When they finish that, they devour the host’s larvae too:
Unknown Species of Cuckoo Wasp (Family Chrysididae, Genus Omalus). Cuckoo wasps, sometimes known as Emerald wasps, are brood parasites like their Cuckoo Bee cousins. These wasps are solitary and often parasitize other solitary bees or wasps, though some species specialize in other insects. This wasp was extremely small – less than 5mm long:
Bald-faced Hornet (Dolichovespula maculata). Many in North America are familiar with the feared and loathed Bald-faced Hornet. Despite our hominid malice, they are considered beneficial insects due to their effective predation of flies, caterpillars, and spiders. Unique among wasps, Bald-faced Hornets defend their nest from vertebrates not only by stinging, but by spraying venom from their stingers that irritates eyes and can even cause temporary blindness:
Mexican Grass-carrying Wasp (Isodontia mexicana). These solitary wasps nest in small cavities which they line with grass and other plant fibres. They prey on grasshoppers and crickets, which they paralyze and feed to their larvae:
Unknown Species of Beewolf (Genus Philanthus). Also known as Bee-Hunters or Bee-Killer Wasps and as the name clearly suggests they make their living by hunting bees. Like so many parasitoid wasps, their sting does not kill their prey, but paralyzes it. When it is entombed with their eggs, this ensures the prey stays fresh for the hungry developing larvae. Think about this when you’re having a bad day:
Yellow-legged Mud-dauber Wasp (Sceliphron caementarium). Native to North and Central America, the Yellow-legged Mud Dauber is an adaptable species has been accidentally introduced in many countries around the world. Not surprisingly, these solitary wasps build their nests out of mud and provision their developing larvae with paralyzed spiders (6-15 per cell!). These wasps are also an extreme example of what entomologists call the petiole – the narrow waist exhibited in some Hymenoptera insects:
Metallic Bluish-green Cuckoo Wasp (Chrysis angolensis). Finally, this beautiful jewel of a wasp is known as the Metallic Bluish-green Cuckoo Wasp. This wasp is a parasite on Mud-daubers, especially the Yellow-legged Mud-dauber Wasp we just met above. While it seems astounding to primate sensibilities to base your lifecycle around sneaking into a wasp nest and laying your eggs at just the right time, it’s been a successful strategy for longer than we’ve been around: Cuckoo Wasps have been found in amber dating from the Cretaceous era:
Today we have some lovely landscape photos from Gareth Price. His captions are indented, and you should (i.e., must) enlarge the photos by clicking on them.
I sent you some landscapes a couple of years back, taken mainly in Oregon. Largely because of the current price of gas, I haven’t been out of town taking photos much recently but I have taken some landscapes in Portland itself. I am attaching a few.
Two are views of the Willamette River, taken one January evening from Elk Rock Island and the waterfront at Milwaukie; one is of the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge taken in the Fall; there is the Redwood Grove in the Hoyt Arboretum in Washington Park taken one summer evening: the path is the Wildwood Trail which runs for nearly 30 miles; the only photo not taken in Portland is the view of the Clackamas River which was taken in Estacada; finally, I include a cityscape (which you are welcome to discard), a view of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall and the Heathman Hotel. I was walking past these buildings late one afternoon and I noticed that the sun, which is off to the left, was reflecting off the building across the road and illuminating the Heathman Hotel in an interesting checkered pattern. I didn’t have my camera with me but I went back the following day, at the same time, and the light was very similar.
He adds that these are “high dynamic range photos.”
Send in your photos, matey! The tank goes down at the rate of one post per day, though I’m contemplating putting them up more spordadically when submissions are scant.
Today’s plant photos are from Tim Anderson, who took them on a trip to Queensland. His notes are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them. As you see, Tim’s a bit of a wag. But if you know the species names, please put them in the comments.
I blundered into these oddities while on a recent jaunt to sunny Queensland.
Carnivorous plants would rule the world if only they could make progress on evolving opposable thumbs.
The rare and elusive 32-winged green bat in search of its favoured prey, the Fur Elizard.
Deep in the Queensland rainforest, a squadron of Humpybong Flappy Palms takes to the air. Naturalists are unsure about when these creatures developed powered flight.
Frustrated by their inability to climb the South American Spiky Horror Tree, the local monkeys are reputedly on course to evolve thick-soled Wellington boots.
This here is the famous Australian Toilet-brush Tree. It is a mystery why natural selection would have produced this marvel 50 million years in advance of the flushable commode. Take that, Darwinistas!
The Amazonian Petticoat Palm always wows the crowd at the Rio Carnivale with its exquisite sense of rhythm in its signature samba performance.
Nature’s attempts to evolve the football have, thus far, fallen short of expectations.
We have a very few large sets of photos left, so I’m conserving them by putting up just a few today. Get those photos in! Reader’s notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.
As someone who’s both familiar with the Cambridge area and who appreciates wildlife photos, I thought you’d appreciate these two photos I took of a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) standing at the edge of the Charles River at night. In, you’ll see the shining dome of MIT (yes yes, second fiddle in Cambridge!) as well as some other accompanying buildings on the Cambridge shoreline that you may or may not be familiar with. One of the photos offers a wide-angle view, while the other – taken shortly after, is a bit more zoomed in on the heron.
And from Lenora Good in Kennewick, Washington.
“Just a block from my apartment complex. We get them in our ‘lake’ too.”
Today’s photos come from Arthur Williams, whose narrative and IDs are indented. You can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.
Recently I got to spend some time with my brother, on Kentucky Lake, near the Big Sandy River, where the wild raptors were everywhere. The osprey, Pandion haliaetus, were everywhere, diving and squawking for their mates to bring more food to the nest. The bald eagles have returned but were camera shy the day we explored the area.
The bald cypress trees, Taxodium distichum, are especially beautiful: proud, stoic lignin, unfazed by their submersion in the sometimes still water of the once paltry Big Eagle Creek, turned expansive bay by the dam one hundred or so miles downstream.
A stoic great blue heron, Ardea herodias, eyed us suspiciously but held her ground. It is heartwarming to see the cornucopia of wildlife in the place where I spent my youth where there were no osprey, nor eagles and only a smattering of red tailed hawks scattered about.
We came upon a nest of red-shouldered hawks, Buteo lineatus, (I think) and found the chicks waiting for mom to return, hopeful for a late-day snack. Spring is a wonderful season in this part of the country—Tennessee and the area they call the Land Between the Lakes. The flood of memories of my youth came rumbling in on this trip, induced by the smells and sounds of the chop from the propeller from the old outboard motor that propelled us across the water. It was great to be with my brother and share our love of wilderness and hope.