Readers’ wildlife photos

March 21, 2023 • 8:15 am

I’m back in Chicago, so end along your good wildlife photos. Note that there are guidelines for sending photos on the left sidebar. Thanks!

Reader, classical music recorder, and Jesus debunker Peter Nothnagle contributes some photos of ice on this first full day of Spring. His captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Water Behaving Strangely

I have made a small collection of pictures of snow and ice doing odd things.

A coating of ice sliding off a street sign:

Wet snow sliding off a car, looking just like folds in cloth:

A coating of ice sliding off another car – you can see the manufacturer’s name, Saturn, embossed in ice:

On warm-ish days snow and ice melt on the city streets, and the meltwater runs down a sewer into a creek. But it’s still cold under the bridge where it comes out – hence a big, horizontal icicle forms (the pipe is about a meter in diameter).

Our house has a steel roof, and sometimes on the south-facing side, snow thaws and re-freezes and forms a sort of glacier that flows v-e-r-y slowly downhill. I didn’t know ice could bend like this! Note in the second photo that the icicles have rotated more than ninety degrees.

Readers’ wildlife photos

March 20, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today’s photos come from Rodney Graetz in Australia. His captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

A Wetlands story.

Australia is the driest of all occupied continents; the central latitude of Australia is the same as that of the Sahara Desert.  Accordingly, the majority of Australians live close to permanent water, choosing either the ocean, or the inland rivers and wetlands.  Because we are an urbanised nation, and seven of our eight capital cities are coastal, oceans and their beaches are our first choice.

A beach environment is always vibrant, but the repetition of waves and tides does not easily generate any long-lasting appreciation.  Because it is daily renewed, a memory of yesterday can be as fleeting as your footprints.

In contrast, my preference is the tranquillity of freshwater bodies, the rivers, and lakes – the wetlands.  Here the most important cycle is the slow and noiseless day-night cycle, and much of the surroundings suggest timelessness, such as these centuries-old trees.

And, even with an approaching death, it can be interesting and informative.

With tranquillity, beauty comes easily.  Such as the visual delight of the mirroring by water, as here on a small scale.

And likewise, on a larger scale:

Calm waters can soften the visual impact of a gathering of dead trees.

And duplicate the sky colours as Earth rotates away from the Sun.

In southern Australia, the boundary between land and water is usually sharp, static, and hugged by trees (Eucalyptus species) whose dense wood makes for long-lived, bleached remains.

In northern Australia, in the many extensive tropical wetlands, the land-water boundary is neither sharp nor static, and the bordering trees are varied and mostly short-lived.  One of their compelling attractions is the (edible) aquatic plants, the ‘water lilies’, which decorate their surfaces (Nymphaea species?).

All wetlands are nutrient-rich islands of fertility, and thus productivity, typified by this gathering of waterbirds – mostly (sleeping) Plumed Whistling Ducks .

Regrettably, people have initiated serious, lasting problems for wetlands, particularly in northern Australia.  The churned, dried mud these Burdekin Ducks are resting on was pushed up by feral pigs rooting for plant or animal material.  Non-aboriginal Australians introduced domestic pigs which have now joined a lengthy list of serious invasive pests.

The yellow light of a setting sun contrasts the dark clouds of a coming storm.  A beautiful, unspoiled floodplain?  No.  The little palm tree-like plants in the foreground, and patchily across the floodplain, are an introduced plant (Mimosa pigra) that is now a very serious weed invading large areas of floodplains and wetlands.  How to eradicate it is not yet determined but one of its spreading agents can be minimized.

This is the principal weed spreading agent, the Asian Water Buffalo (Bubalis bubalis).  Deliberately introduced into tropical Australia for tropical meat and milk production, which with abandonment in the 1850s, have quickly grown into huge feral populations.  Scroll down for their Australian history in this link here.

The buffalo’s preferred habitat is the floodplains and wetlands.  Strongly social animals, their collective wallowing – to avoid the high midday temperatures and mosquitos – generate swimming pool sized eroded pits.

The combined effects of buffalo grazing and wallowing is deeply destructive of both wetland vegetation and soils.  The totality of their destruction is shown by this fence line contrast between no buffalo (LHS) and buffalo (RHS).

The current estimated feral buffalo population in northern Australia is 200,000 animals.  Mustering for sale (back to Asia) and culling by shooting (from helicopters) continues to be the only large scale management options.  On the much smaller scale is trophy hunting with clients from Europe, and the USA.  I use this borrowed image to illustrate just how massive the buffalos can become, and why they can be lethal animals.  From the hunter’s hats and suntans, can you pick which of the two men is an American?

Finally, a personal note.  About 35 years ago, I was surveying buffalo damage (on foot) in northern Australian wetlands where buffalos were thick on the ground.  To survive a buffalo charge I was ordered to carry a weapon at all times, so my colleagues provided this massive 44 calibre handgun.  Their user advice was simple: (1) wait until the charging buffalo is about 3 metres (10 feet) away, then try a double-handed, head shot; (2) if unsuccessful, then drop the handgun and quickly climb a tree.  Workplace conditions were really interesting back then.  I borrowed 3 (black-edged) photos to complete this story.

Readers’ wildlife photos

March 19, 2023 • 8:15 am

It’s Sunday, and John Avise is here with his collection of themed bird photos. His narrative and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Building Birds

Several avian species are named after human buildings (such as houses or related structures, or parts thereof).  Such birds provide the theme for this Sunday’s post.  Except where otherwise indicated, all photographs were taken here in Southern California.

House Wren, Troglodytes aedon:

Another House Wren:

House Finch male, Haemorhous mexicanus:

House Finch female:

House Sparrow male, Passer domesticus (don’t forget that it’s World Sparrow Day):

House Sparrow female:

House Sparrow pair:

Chimney Swift, Chaetura pelagica (Georgia):

Barn Owl, Tyto alba:

Barn Owl head portrait:

Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica:

Barn Swallow flying:

Readers’ wildlife photos

March 18, 2023 • 8:15 am

Tony Eales from Australia has sent us some insects and spiders fatally infected with parasitic fungus. TRIGGER WARNING: ARTHROPOD DEATH!  His captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

With the TV show The Last of Us and its fungi infected zombie antagonists in the zeitgeist, I thought I’d send through some pics of entomopathogenic fungi that I haven’t sent before.

This first one is either icing sugar fungus or a close relative, Beauveria sp. infecting a native wood cockroach (Family Ectobiidae) of some sort. It was hard to tell if the picture was in focus or not with the diffuse fuzzy nature of the fungus

Next might be a fungus in the family Entomophthoraceae. This family generally infect flies and other dipterans but there is a genus that specialises in cicadas, Massospora spp. Perhaps this is related? The host cicada is  or Frog Cicada.

Both the previous fungi I found in the tropical rainforests of North Queensland. The rest of these are from the subtropical areas around Brisbane, southeast Queensland.

Here we have the more typical form and host of Entomorpthoraceae, one of the fly-death fungus species complex. They are easily recognised by the way the light-coloured fungi bursts from between the darker abdominal tergites forming a striped look to the dead fly.

The rest of the fungi are in the family Cordycipitaceae as was the Icing Sugar Fungi up top.

Since I spend a lot of time looking for hidden and well camouflaged spiders, I come across a lot of  Gibellula ssp. This group of fungi really like spiders and I am presuming that the hosts in all of these following five pictures are small spiders of one sort or another (although with some it’s very hard to tell).

The only one that I can ID to species is the last one. This unfortunate is a male Green Jumping SpiderMopsus mormon, the largest jumping spider in Australia and common garden resident in subtropical areas.
Next is what I suspect is Hirsutella sp. I really can’t tell much about the host but I have seen Hirsutella on planthoppers before and the location under a leaf would be consistent with this group.

And lastly Ophiocordyceps dipterigena, another species that targets flies. I often found it on robber flies perched out on the end of twig in drier forests in SE Queensland.

Readers’ wildlife photos

March 14, 2023 • 8:15 am

Athayde Tonhasca Júnior sent another text-and-photo lesson, which is indented below. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Tiny killers’ gigantic army

The bark louse Echmepteryx hageni (order Psocodea), an obscure fungus-eater from North America, is no more than 10 mm in length. Unsurprisingly, its eggs are miniscule. But these small dollops of nutrients are plenty for the egg parasite Dicopomorpha echmepterygis, a wasp in the family Mymaridae, which are known as fairyflies or fairy wasps. We have little information about this parasitic wasp, but we do know that males are blind, wingless and phoretic, that is, they need to cling to another organism to move about; in this case, females are their ride. Males also have no mouthparts, so they cannot feed.

A bark louse E. hageni; its eggs are parasitized by D. echmepterygis © Katja Schulz, Wikimedia Commons:

If you suspect that a male D. echmepterygis shouldn’t expect a long and prosperous life, you are right. He lives off the nutrients taken as a larva from one of his host’s eggs, and those reserves won’t last long. But that’s of no consequence for the male; his only purpose during his short existence is to impregnate a female, which, conveniently, is his means of transportation. He only needs to crawl to the appropriate spot on her body to do the deed. This lifestyle is by no means unusual; many other parasitic wasps have similar traits. But D. echmepterygis males have a unique claim to fame: they are the smallest adult insects on Earth, measuring 139 µm in length (Mockford, 1997). [JAC: that’s a little more than a tenth of a millimeter!]

Male D. echmepterygis ventral view (scale line = 50 μm) and head (scale line = 20 μm) © Huber et al., Wikimedia Commons:

To have wings and be able to fly, other fairyflies have to be bigger, but not by much: the winged and marvellously named Tinkerbella nana is 250 µm long. We can have a better appreciation of these fragile fairy creatures by considering the hardships of being small:  the risk of desiccation and barriers unknown to larger animals such as surface tension and fluid viscosity. Michael LaBarbera’s The Biology of B-Movie Monsters is a highly entertaining and illuminating discussion on the physical limitations of body sizes. For a deeper exploration, D’Arcy Thompson’s underappreciated classic On Growth and Form is a tour de force of the physical properties acting on biology.

L: The fairyfly Tinkerbella nana (scale line = 100 μm) © Huber & Noyes, 2013. (CONTENT WARNING to University of Aberdeen’ students: the following refers to J.M. Barrie’s emotionally challenging Peter Pan). The genus Tinkerbella was named after Tinker Bell, while the nana epithet was inspired by the Darlings’ dog Nana – which is also a derivation from nanos, the Greek word for dwarf. R: A micrometre scale for comparing the sizes of D. echmepterygis and T. nana © Zeiss Microscopy, Wikimedia Commons:

There are many fairyflies besides D. echmepterygis and T. nana: over 1,400 of them. And these are the known species; certainly the true number is much higher. All described species are egg parasitoids (their young develop on or inside another organism, eventually killing it) of a range of insects, and they are good at finding their victims: some fairyflies parasitize eggs embedded in plant tissue, buried in the soil and even submerged in water.

Fairyflies belong to one of the many families of Chalcid wasps or chalcidoids (superfamily Chalcidoidea). This is an enormous group of about 22,500 known species, although the total could reach over 500,000 (Noyes, 2019). Most of them are small (less than 3 mm) parasitoids of different life stages of many insects and arachnids (spiders, mites, scorpions and others).

L: A female Richteria ara justifies the fairyfly epithet. Scale line = 1000 μm (1 mm) © Huber, J.T. R: A much larger chalcidoid: Conura sp. © Judy Gallagher, Wikimedia Commons:

A great number of insects and other arthropods have to live with the high probability of bumping into a chalcidoid wasp, but that’s not the half of their problems. Around 25,000 species of Darwin wasps, or ichneumonids (family Ichneumonidae), and some 17,000 species of braconids (family Braconidae) join forces in a vast army of parasitic wasps – and again, these figures are likely to  grossly underestimate the real number of species.

As the story goes, J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964), British/Indian geneticist, evolutionary biologist, mathematician and more, 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 of the sort, and indeed a Celestial Big Cheese would be seen as partial to the order Coleoptera. With nearly 400,000 known species, beetles lead the biodiversity table, comprising about 25% of all animal species (excluding Bacteria and bacteria-like Archaea). But there is strong bias here: beetles are popular and relatively easy to find, while most parasitic wasps are very small, hard to identify, and tricky to handle and preserve in collections. It’s a lot of work, and there are not many specialists in the area. But the more they look for parasitic wasps, the more beetles’ predominance is challenged. Most holometabolous insects (those with four life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult) are attacked by one or more hymenopteran parasitoid, sometimes five or even ten, although we may not know their identities. By modelling parasitoid-to-host ratios for some groups of insects, Forbes et al. (2018) estimated that hymenopterans easily beat beetles in the biodiversity league. Some coleopterists may not like to hear that.

Number of named species as of 2022 © Hannah Ritchie, Our World in Data. “To a rough approximation and setting aside vertebrate chauvinism, it can be said that essentially all organisms are insects” (May, 1988). Parasitic wasps may be greatly responsible for that:

Parasitic wasps are practically everywhere. In just one suburban garden in Leicester, England, Owen et al. (1991) collected 455 species of Darwin wasps, some new to the British list, in a two-year period. These wasps have an enormous sway in the structure and composition of biological communities. They limit the numbers of insects and spiders, and, by keeping herbivores in check, they have an indirect but vital influence on the diversity and abundance of plants.

Trioxys complanatusovipositing into the body of a spotted alfalfa aphid (Therioaphis maculata) © CSIRO, Wikimedia Commons. ‘Insects. . . in all likelihood exert a greater impact on terrestrial ecosystems than any other type of animal. They are the glue holding an ecosystem together: in their millions they consume plants, and in their millions they are consumed by other organisms’ (LaSalle & Gauld, 1991). And in their millions they are killed by parasitoids:

We can gauge the regulatory power of parasitic wasps by their efficacy as commercial biological control agents. For example, Encarsia formosa is one of the most efficient weapons against whiteflies in greenhouses, while Anagyrus lopezi saved cassava crops from the ravages of mealybugs in Africa and Asia.

L: Cards containing E. formosa eggs to be placed in glasshouses © Dekayem. R: A. lopezi, a scourge of mealybugs © CIAT, Wikimedia Commons:

LaSalle & Gauld (1993) estimated that at least 50% of the 150,000 or so species of Hymenoptera are parasitoids. They all have the alarming habit of eating their hosts from inside their innards while they’re still alive, which seems execrable and cruel. Darwin was dismayed by it, as he expressed in a letter to his friend Asa Gray in 1860:

‘I am bewildered.— I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I shd wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.’

Despite Darwin’s misgivings, parasitic wasps are not particularly shocking, considering that approximately 40% of all known species are parasitic (Dobson et al., 2008). And these tiny, fragile agents of doom are just a fraction of many others such as viruses, fungi, protozoa and worms, who have an array of imaginative ways to cause sickness, suffering and ghastly deaths. Haldane’s god, so fond of beetles, also has a kinky sense of humour.

Relative abundance of different taxa, and the proportion of parasitic species in those taxa. The area of a circle corresponds to the natural log of the total number of species in a taxon © Dobson et al., 2008:

But such anthropomorphic considerations are misguided. Parasitoids, parasites and predators are regulators of the natural world. They prevent excessive population growth, including of agricultural pests and disease vectors, and remove the old and sick from the general population. Parasitism helps shape biodiversity and ecosystems, so it is not intrinsically bad or good. It is a characteristic of life on our planet. It is as it is.

‘Morality is a subject for philosophers, theologians, students of the humanities, indeed for all thinking people. The answers will not be read passively from nature; they do not, and cannot, arise from the data of science. The factual state of the world does not teach us how we, with our powers for good and evil, should alter or preserve it in the most ethical manner’ (Gould, 1982).

‘We entomologists, who have no charismatic elephants to hide behind, no cuddly panda bears to hug before the public, no aesthetic whooping cranes, no passion-inducing spotted owls, no thousand-year old forest giants – we entomologists are at the forefront of the biodiversity battle with only our bugs for a shield’ (Grissell, 1999):

Readers’ wildlife photos

March 13, 2023 • 8:15 am

I am getting wildlife photos sent to Poland, and though I don’t encourage that as they may get lost in my email, I manage to keep up by posting them as they come in (but still, keep them till I return on Friday).

Today’s batch is from Vanderbilt professor emeritus Paul Edelman. His captions and intro are indented; click on the photos to enlarge them.

Some more grist for the photo mill featuring some odd ducks.

This time of year in Nashville can be pretty slow for birding.  One’s best bet is to look around lakes and ponds as more waterfowl are around in the late winter and early spring.  So my wife and I went to Shelby Park to a small pond to see what we could see.  It turned out to be an interesting visit.

Up in the trees around the park we found an Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) looking for insects. We also spotted a Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) and an Eastern Bluebird (Siala sialis) sharing a look-out.  Overlooking them all was a Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus).  In the marshy area next to the pond was this Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus).

Eastern Phoebe:

Belted Kingfisher and Eastern Bluebird:

Red-shouldered Hawk:

Red-winged blackbird:

Even more interesting were the birds in the pond.  There was a large group of Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis) and some Canada Geese (that I didn’t photograph—they are really nasty birds, one of only a few I actively dislike!).  Finally, there was a mix of dabbling ducks.  We saw a female American Wigeon (Mareca Penelope) swimming alone and with a male Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos). Female Mallards were also paddling around.   On the shore was a male Mallard with a hybrid of a Mallard with an American Black Duck (Anas rubripes).  This  cross is common enough that it often appears in field guides.  Less common, at least for me were male and female crosses of a wild Mallard with the domesticated Khaki-Campbell breed.  Further research indicates that this isn’t particularly rare—I saw similar pairs more recently at a park north of Nashville.  This proliferation of cross-breeds does make for a nightmare for novice birders, though!  My thanks for help in these identifications go to Nicole Reggia, Queen of Ducks.

Ring-billed gull:

American Wigeon (female):

American Wigeon and male Mallard:

Female mallard:

A male Mallard with a male hybrid between a Mallard and an American Black Duck (Anas rubripes):

Female hybrid between a wild Mallard and the domesticated Khaki-Campbell breed:

Female hybrid between a wild Mallard and the domesticated Khaki-Campbell breed:

Readers’ wildlife photos

March 12, 2023 • 8:15 am

I left the wildlife submissions in Chicago, but John Avise, who has a string of hundreds of uninterrupted Sunday photo posts, sent me a new bird-themed batch on Friday, and so the streak continues. John’s test and IDs are indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

Compass Headings

Several North American bird species have compass headings in their official common names.  These are the subject of this Sunday’s post. Generally, these names reflect the portion of the continent where these birds can be found, but sometimes there are counterpart species that reside in the Southern hemisphere, in which case a “Northern” in the species name simply refers to anywhere in North America.  For example, other species of Cardinals, Mockingbirds, Pintails, and Shovelers reside in South America.

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis):

Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana):

Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus):

Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis):

Eastern Screech-Owl (Otus asio):

Western Wood-Pewee (Contopus sordidulus):

Western (California) Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica):

Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana):

Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis):

Northern Parula Warbler (Parula americana):

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis):

Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos):

Northern Pintail (Anas acuta):

Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata):

Readers’ wildlife photos

March 5, 2023 • 8:15 am

John Avise is back today with his weekly batch of themed bird photos. His notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Lonely  and Sad Birds?

As judged solely by their official common names, each of the following birds must be rather lonely and perhaps sad.  So that’s the theme of this week’s post.  The state where each photo was taken is indicated in parentheses.

Solitary Sandpiper, Tringa solitaria (Michigan):

Another Solitary Sandpiper (Louisiana):

Solitary Vireo, Vireo solitarius (this species was recently split up by taxonomists and its new name is the Blue-headed Vireo) (Florida):

Townsend’s Solitaire, Myadestes townsendi (California):

Hermit Warbler, Setophaga occidentalis (California):

Another Hermit Warbler (California):

Hermit Thrush, Catharus guttatus (California):

Another Hermit Thrush (California):

Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura (California):

Another Mourning Dove (California):

Readers’ wildlife photos

March 4, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today we have some lovely photos of Hawaiian (and “imported”) flowers and plants by Emilio d’Alise—the second set of photos from a group that was posted in January, 2022.  Emilio’s intro is indented, but there are no IDs (explanation below). Readers are welcome to identify any plants they know. I don’t know which ones are native and which are not. Click the photos to enlarge them:

While living in Hawaiʻi, I photographed a lot of stuff. Occasionally I paired my D7000 with the great Nikon 105mm f/2.8 VR Macro lens for flower shooting sessions around Kona or at the Kona Old Airport park. These are some of those photos.

There was a time when I would have researched the names of each and every flower . . . that time has passed. Now, I just enjoy them. If anyone really must know each and every one, HERE is a link to Hawai’ian flowers, but know that in the past I’ve not had a tremendous amount of luck with any but the most common varieties. Plus, some are imported species and not native to the islands, and only seen in gardens and the grounds of resorts or condominium complexes.

Readers’ wildlife photos

March 3, 2023 • 8:15 am

We have enough photos until Monday, but then the tank will be nearly empty. However, I’m not going to post Readers’ Wildlife while I’m in Poland, so I ask readers to put together any photos they may want to contribute, and then send them to me after March. 15. Thanks.

Today’s batch is by our faithful regular Mark Sturtevant, a crack arthropod photographer. His notes are indented, and you can enlarge his pictures by clicking on them.

One day when out in the woods near where I live (in eastern Michigan), I glanced up along a Virginia creeper vine and by dumb luck saw a gorgeous caterpillar on it that was new to me. It turned out to be the larva of the pandora sphinx moth (Eudorpha pandorus). I brought it home for pictures and to finish raising. Here is the caterpillar. For scale, it’s a bit larger than your thumb:

Unlike most sphinx moth caterpillars, mature pandora sphinx caterpillars like this don’t have a horn on their rear end. Instead, they have a hard “button” that looks like an eye, as shown next:

Younger larval stages do have the characteristic horn, as shown in the linked pictures. I am not sure why sphinx cats have a horn at all, let alone why some species have secondarily reduced it.

Members of this family will pupate underground, so when it began to wander in its container, I put it into a bucket of dirt in the basement to let it burrow down and do its thing. Later, I placed the pupa in a protective box in the refrigerator, and there it stayed all winter until the weather warmed. Here is the pupa:

Once it was time to move things along, the pupa was placed in a bowl of moist dirt in a bug cage, and I checked on it every morning. The big day came in June when a large and beautiful sphinx moth was in the bug cage, and here it is!

That same day, I put the moth deep into the same woods in a sheltered spot near where I had found the caterpillar, along with fervent wishes for its reproductive success.

Wide-angle macrophotography is a niche within the area of macro- and closeup photography. In this form of photography, one can get a close view of a subject while also getting a lot of the surroundings in as well. The combination can create a unique perspective. For a highly inspiring summary of this variety of photography, one can do no better than to watch this well produced video by the Great Thomas Shahan.  In it, he mainly reviews a particular lens, but I use a much less expensive lens instead that seems equally good (the Opteka 15mm wide angle macro lens).

Like Shahan says, this kind of photography is not easy since these fully manual lenses are commonly used with the subject very close to the glass. Also, it is best to close the aperture way down for depth of focus, although that means one can then be pretty much shooting in the dark. Anyway, here are pictures of praying mantids, and most of them were taken with my Opteka wide angle macro lens.

The first pictures are of a female European mantisMantis religiosa, that I found in what I call the Magic Field. There, one can regularly find European mantids along with a great diversity of other cool things:

In a different field that is near where I work, I came upon a population explosion of much larger Chinese mantids (Tenodera sinensis). It all began with seeing a male taking flight across the field. It landed in the tall weeds, and here it is:

Now let me say that photographing male mantids can be a total pain in the rear since they don’t like sitting still. But I managed to get a couple pictures with the regular 100mm macro lens. 

But then I became aware that there were other Chinese mantids. A lot of them. 

Just a couple feet away was a big female. Then another. And … another. There was another one sitting on a pine tree. And there was one walking up a nearby fence post. What the hell?? Over the space of an hour I found about 2 dozen Chinese mantids, all in a small area of this field! Incredible. 

Female mantids are a lot easier to work with, so out came the wide angle macro and I took many pictures. Of course this one could not resist climbing on the shiny lens that was within easy reach:

Sometimes adult Chinese mantids come in a green form, but I had never seen one. But in the “mantid field”, as I now call it, there was this lovely example. Although she resembles the above European mantid, a Chinese mantid could eat the European for lunch! And just look at how nicely she is sitting. She sat there for me for a good 10 minutes, and there is no way would a male do that!:

With so many of these monsters, I had to come back in the late fall to look for egg cases (oöthecae). They were everywhere, so I took several home to try photographing them as they hatched. The attempt was successful, and there will be pictures to show later.