Readers’ wildlife photos

June 23, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today we have photos of fantastic spiders from Tony Eales of Queensland.  His notes and captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them:

Not for the arachnophobes. We’re in the depths of a particularly cold winter at the moment so I haven’t been out photographing much. This has given me a chance to look over my spider photos from the last several months and here’s some of the interesting ones.

First a large orb weaver. Currently undescribed but will likely be placed in the genus Backobourkia (in Australia one phrase for the outback is “the back o’ Bourke” Bourke being an outback town once considered the edge of civilization). Currently it goes by the temporary name ‘Morningstar Orbweaver‘ on account of the shape of its abdomen.

Next is a Pirate Spider (Australomimetus sp.) doing what Pirate Spiders do, eating another spider, in this case a Calamoneta sp., one of the long-legged rainforest sac spiders in the family Cheiracanthiidae.

In my last set I showed a close-up of the face of this hump-backed net-casting spider, Menneus sp. This photo shows the full body.

Only last week I found this feather-legged venomless spider, Miagrammopes sp. At night they hang in these high tension three strand webs. I read that when an insect touches the web one end is detached and the strand immediately tangles up ensnaring the prey. The silk used is cribellate silk, a fuzzy wool-like silk that doesn’t have adhesive droplets. A paper I looked at recently said that despite the lack of adhesive, the silk bonds with hydrogen bonds to insect hairs and exoskeletons, making it nearly impossible to escape from.

I recently found my first juvenile Poecilopachys australasia which I’ve been after for a while. Hairy little things, aren’t they?

This is the adult.

At the same location I found a lot of these Poltys illepidus, Tree Stump Spider. While large for a Poltys, I think ‘tree stump’ is quite the exaggeration. But when all folded up they do resemble a snapped off twig.

And last but not least a few of my recent Arkys finds

Arkys cornutus, Horned Arkys:

Two female Arkys tuberculatus, Blobby Arkys.

. . . and a tiny male Arkys tuberculatus.

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 15, 2022 • 8:00 am

Well, folks, we’re going to run out of photos by the weekend, so if you want this feature to continue, and have some good photos, send ’em in.

Today’s batch includes some lovely arthropod photos by regular Tony Eales from Queensland. His notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the pictures by clicking on them.

I have been trying to get good at taking intimate portraits of insects and spiders where they are looking right down the barrel of the camera, with varying success. Here’s a few of my more favourite ones.

The best I’ve achieved, in my opinion, so far is this portrait of Myrmecia brevinoda, the Giant Bull Ant. At 35mm and armed with large jaws and an impressive sting, these are terrifying looking ants but actually they are very calm. They are entirely nocturnal and construct fairly large mound nests with multiple entrances in wet forests. I was able to sit right beside their nest and observe the colony doing maintenance without even a threat display let alone a sting.

Another large rainforest ant is Notostigma foreli. Workers are around 15mm long and quite robust. They are in the subfamily Formicinae, and as such do not have a stinger. These ants defend themselves with sprays of formic acid, but generally in interactions with large creature like ourselves they tend to just run. Like the Giant Bull Ant, they are nocturnal.

Other good subjects for front on shots are Jumping Bristletails. This one is a member of the Rock Bristletail family Meinertellidae.

Not only do you want a subject that will keep still, but for a really nice close-up it’s good if they have a fairly flat face. This reduces the need for photo-stacking which can be a bit of a pain and hard to do with live subjects that might move between shots.
An obvious candidate is the so-called Flat-faced Longicorns sub-family Lamiinae. This one is Rhytiphora albocincta, a fairly common species that feeds on acacia.

Another one I love to get in face-on shots is a small treehopper with a large head adornment Eutryonia monstrifera.

Raspy crickets also photograph well head on. In fact some will face off against threats and display with their wings, like this Nunkeria sp.

One of the more difficult ones for me are harvestmen, but I do love their little eyes up top. No idea of the ID for this one.

But the best all round subjects for front on portraits are spiders. No wavy antenna, no protruding mouthparts and sit as still as a rock.

Menneus sp.

Poltys sp.

Simaetha tenuidens:

 

Readers’ wildlife photos

May 26, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today’s batch comes from regular Tony Eales from Queensland.  His notes and IDs are indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

One of my favourite habitats is leaf litter, I think because it is often overlooked by the general public unless you’re a little kid. Something about lying down in the dirt, watching what is going on brings back my childhood wonder at the variety of life all around us.

So here’s a random selection of leaf litter denizens from around Brisbane Queensland.

First a common little jumping spider called Bianor maculatus. These spiders live in open grass and leaf litter. I was out one day hunting for Peacock Jumping Spiders (Maratus sp.) but all I found was dozens of these little guys.

What they lack in colour they make up for in their charming way of constantly being on the move and waving their forelegs around like antenna. To me this seems to be the first steps towards ant-mimicry, which is highly advanced in some tribes of jumping spider.

It did this individual no good however because shortly after I took this shot it was nabbed and consumed by a wolf spider.

This strange beast is a Short-tailed Whip Scorpion, which is a small order of arachnids called Schizomida. There are only fewer than 250 described species and externally they are all very similar. Generally, the largest are 5-6mm long and are found in humid tropical and subtropical leaflitter and soil in Africa, Australia, Asia and the Americas. The most common genus in Australia is Brignolizomus and that’s likely what this one is.

They have no eyes, but are active predators using their antenna-form forelimbs to find and investigate prey and their relatively large pedipalps to seize, subdue and grind up their victims.

Another strange beast that is common in the litter is millipedes in the Bristle Millipede order Polyxenida. Probably Polyxenus sp.

And I always love finding these blue-legged beauties hunting through the sticks and leaves. Rhysida nuda, the Northern Blue-Legged centipede.

The leaf litter in Australia is the kingdom of ants. It’s nearly impossible to find anywhere without several species. This is a large Camponotus sp. that I’ve yet to identify.

This ant is perhaps my favourite but they are extremely difficult to photograph as they are always on the move. It is one of the so-called spider ants, Leptomyrmex rothneyi, found in subtropical rainforest leaf litter.

And another favourite is the Painted Strobe Ant, Opisthopsis pictus. These are less common in my area and tend to be in the drier open forests to the north and west. They have an odd stuttering gait that appears to be to confuse predators. It has been observed that they never walk with their strobe gait when inside their nests, only when out in the open.

The subtropical rainforest near where I live has plenty of species of snail but this one is the most spectacular. This is the Giant Panda Snail (Hedleyella falconeri). They are leaf litter specialists and are never found more than half a metre above the ground—unlike many of the other snails that regularly feed on the trunks and leaves of trees.

This is unsurprising given that an adult snail is the size of a tennis ball and a fall from any great height would be potentially fatal. They are under threat from collectors and the pet trade. They are almost impossible to keep in captivity as they require a high humidity and a thriving population of particular fungi on which to feed. Hence many are captured only to die in peoples’ vivariums.

Leaf litter in the open eucalyptus forest has many species of small orthoptera and this is one of my favourites. Macrotona mjobergi the Handsome Macrotona. Macrotona is a genus of spur-throated locusts mostly from Australia often associated with spinifex grasses.

Other common Hymenopterans in the leaf litter are various parasitoid wasps, the most common being velvet ants (Mutilidae), which is what I thought this was at first. However, as it turns out, this is Myrmecomimesis sp., a member of the cuckoo wasp family Chrysididae. Unlike many other cuckoo wasps (but like Mutilids), the females are wingless and spend their time hunting for Phasmid eggs in which to lay their eggs.

Phasmids in Australia produce seed-like eggs that are dropped into the leaf litter. Some have a part to the egg that is meant to be eaten by ants, who take the eggs into the nest where they develop in safety. These wasps run around manically tapping everything with their antenna looking for these eggs before the ants take them.

Another predator, this tiny Carabid beetle, Scopodes sp. hunting through for tiny prey, I’m guessing probably larvae.

One of those potential prey, defending itself with camouflage and silk with leaf-plate armour. One of the case moths in the family Psychidae. Maybe an early instar Lomera sp.

x

 

Readers’ wildlife photos

May 18, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today we have an assortment of diverse photos by Tony Eales from Queensland. His captions and IDs are indented, and please click on the photos to enlarge them.

By the way, if you have good photos you’d like to send me, see the link on the left sidebar of this site, “How to send me wildlife photos.”

I came across this Aseroe rubra Anemone Stinkhorn Fungus the other night. This fungus is relatively common here in eastern Australia but by daytime they have grown into a 100mm high tree-like shape with deep red tentacles and the light brown part collapsed into a dark brown-black goo. They start out as a white egg shape emerging from rotting mulch that then bursts revealing the tentacles. You can see the remains of the egg in the photo.

I don’t often photograph vertebrates but I’ve seen a few cool ones of late. This one is  or Red-bellied Black Snake. They are specialists of frogs and smaller reptiles. They are one of the more common snakes in my area but had their numbers reduced by the spread of the introduced Cane Toad (Rhinella marina), which is highly poisonous. Red-bellied Blacks are dangerously venomous but reluctant biters, even so, being very common they are responsible for a few bites every year.

For their size their venom is among the least dangerous of the Australian elapids with the only recorded deaths being early on and of questionable identification.  My most frequent encounters with them is to see the tail rapidly disappearing into the bush. It was good to have a calm subject to photograph.

Another lovely snake I found recently is Cacophis squamulosus, the Golden Crowned Snake—a rainforest specialist living in the leaf litter hunting insects and small reptiles. Again I normally see only a flash disappearing into the leaf litter, but this one was out on a fence at night time and I managed a few snaps before it retreated.

Another exciting find for me was this Lycid beetle larva. The larvae of these beetles are some of the strangest animals I’ve seen. I have no idea of the species and adult lycids are very similar looking to one another so I have a devil of a time getting them to species level as well.

But by far my favourite find recently was the wonderful Ordgarius magnificus AKA the Magnificent Bolas Spider. These are large spiders, the abdomen being about the size of the end of your thumb.  Their eyes are very strange, being perched on top of a thin red tubercule in the middle of their large cephalothorax.

By day they hide in a retreat composed of leaves and twigs lashed together [below] with a few strong web lines. Most people only see their (up to a dozen) 5 cm-long, dangling egg sacs, each containing up to 600 eggs.

Not only are they large and colourful, but their predatory behaviour is extraordinary. They hang at night from a simple web and create a dangling thread with large globs of sticky glue dotted along it. They exude a pheromone that attracts the male moths of one particular species. When they detect the vibrations of an approaching moth they swing the sticky bolus around and around which catches the moth. I am reliably informed that the vibrations from a nearby diesel engine running will also elicit this predatory behaviour.

The  hideout:

I found this one hunting, but my light disturbed it and it reeled in and reconsumed its bolus unfortunately so I did not get shots of the hunting behaviour.

Readers’ wildlife photos

May 10, 2022 • 8:30 am

Send in your photos, and please make sure they’re of the quality consistent with what appears in this feature.  With luck, a new link will appear on the sidebar today with the instructions, “How to send me photos”, with all kinds of useful information (including the email). Keep your eye peeled and get those photos ready.

Today we have insect and spider photos from regular Mark Sturtevant. His IDs, links, and captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Here are more pictures of arthropods taken near where I live, which is in eastern Michigan.First up a plume moth, so-named by their having wings that are divided into feathery plumes. One can see this better in the attached link. This particular plume moth is in the genus Geina.

Next up is a clear-winged sphinx mothHemaris thysbe. There are a large group of similar species of these diurnal moths that are clearly bumble bee mimics. This one was lingering over a large patch of bergamot. As it circled each flower, pausing to probe each floret, I could at times anticipate where it would be next and get into position to take pictures. There were still many misses, like the last one, but I still like how it turned out. Can you spot the weevil?

The odd-looking colony of insects in the next two pictures are bark lice. These belong to the insect order Psocodea (formerly known as Psocoptera), and that includes the parasitic lice that live on mammals and birds. But bark lice mainly feed on lichens and algae on plant stems. This species (Cerastipsocus venosus) is known as “tree cattle” because of their herding behavior, and that is a species where males grow wings while females remain wingless.

I was quite unfamiliar with their behavior as I’ve not seen them before. But this herd demonstrated that although they are kin to parasitic lice, bark lice are surprisingly alert and zippy. After the slightest vibration on their twig they rapidly began to spread out in sudden, synchronized little stampedes. In moments they were well dispersed.

Next up is a group of linden lace bugs (Gargaphia tiliae). Those black dots on the leaves seem to always accompany them, but I don’t know what they are. Maybe egg masses, or a fungus that grows where they feed? In any case, if you want to find lace bugs (there are many different species), look for the black dots on the underside of leaves. Lace bugs will not be far. Different species prefer different host plants.

Finally, here is a crab spider. The eye morphology and the relative length of its legs identifies it to be a ground crab spider in the genus Xysticus. She was feeding on a beetle when I started photographing her, but the disturbance made her drop it just before these pictures were taken. She looks annoyed with me in the last picture (Sorry!)

Readers’ wildlife photos

April 18, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today’s set of photos, comprising birds and arthropods, comes from reader Chris Taylor in Australia. Chris’s notes and IDs are indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them,

Here’s another set of photographs, again, all taken on my property near Canberra.

We’re past high summer here, although you wouldn’t know it because it’s been unusually cool and wet.  In fact, one of the wettest Novembers on record. This means that the spring grasses have grown so tall that the ewes and lambs often disappear from view!

But this has been a good year for the wildlife around here. The Welcome Swallows and Willie Wagtail (photos were in a post last month) have successfully raised three young each. Now the Black-faced Cuckooshrikes (Coracina novaehollandiae) have been kept busy going backwards and forwards to a nest in the poplar trees. Australasian grebes (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) built a floating nest on one of the dams, and they have four stripy young.  The young were quite accomplished swimmers even straight after hatching. They will dive under the surface at the first close approach, only to resurface amongst the reeds.

Black-faced Cuckooshrike (Coracina novaehollandiae):

Australasian grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae):

Australasian grebe youngster:

There has also been a family of Maned Wood Ducks (Chenonetta jubata) on the house dam. They started off with nine ducklings, and have successfully raised six of them to adulthood. The photograph is of the two adults and five of the young, but also includes two interlopers, a pair of Grey Teal (Anas gracilis) identified by their longer bills.

Maned wood ducks (Chenonetta jubata) and gray Teal (Anas gracilis):

I have had to be especially careful to isolate myself on my farm during the latest Covid outbreaks, but this has meant that I’ve had the time to investigate some of the smaller denizens.

The first group I noticed were the dragonflies and damselflies that live on my farm dams. I knew that they were around, but did not realise that there was such variety within such a small area. I first spotted them by noticing the intense blue spots on a couple of the species, and started to search for them.  I spoke to a friend about this, and she immediately found the key to the Australian Odonata and sent it to me – all 270 pages of it! Here are photographs of some of the species that I found; there are others that I have not been able to photograph or identify yet.  Most of these I am confident with the identification, less so for one or two.

Aurora BluetailIschnura aurora. This is the smallest of the damselflies, its total length is about 20 mm. It flies quite slowly through the Juncus reeds, the blue spot at the end of its abdomen glowing brightly.  It’s not until you get close that you really see the bright colours on its thorax.  One photograph is of a male, the other of a mating pair, the male is clasping the female behind the head.

Mating:

Common bluetail, Ischnura heterosticta,  35mm. Bigger and faster than the aurora, but with a similar glowing blue spot

Wandering RingtailAustrolestes leda, 35mm. Female:

Inland Ringtail, Austrolestes aridus, 35mm. Female:

Blue RingtailAustrolestes annulosus, 35mm:

Blue SkimmerOrthetrum caledonicum at 65mm one of  the biggest of the Odonata here, and a powerful flyer, hawking for prey over the surface of the dam:

Finally, two of the other dwellers in the reeds.  First, a Crane Fly, Ischnotoma rubriventris. overall 50 mm, body 15mm:

A Long-Jawed SpiderTetragnatha sp. 15mm.

Readers’ wildlife photos

April 11, 2022 • 8:00 am

Tony Eales from Australia sent in some lovely photos of spiders. His notes and IDs are indented, and click the photos to enlarge them.

The taxonomy of spiders just passed a milestone. 50,000 species described worldwide!
While not a patch on some of the more speciose insect orders, that’s still a lot of species. Estimates are that this number represents less than half of the extant species out there. So, there’s still plenty of work to do.
And on that subject, I have decided that my mid-life crisis project is to name a new species of spider. Some men rebuild a muscle car, some build a boat, I’ve decided to name a species.
Back in June 2021 I found a female of what I believe is an undescribed species of Arkys (family Arkyidae) near Brisbane and shared it here in Readers’ Wildlife.
Just recently a park ranger friend of mine found a male of what I believe is the same species.

And that’s what I needed to be able to write a good description. The most reliable way to characterise different species of spider is by looking at the genital organs; palpal bulbs at the end of the pedipalps in males and the epigyne on the underside of females.
Since I’m doing this in my leisure time, I estimate it’s going to take me about 12 months to do all the microscopy, photos, drawing and writing to get the paper ready for submission.
And of course, I’m already getting sidetracked. In that same Readers’ Wildlife post I showed a picture of what I suspected was a male Arkys alticephala. Since then, I have become convinced that this is actually a male A. dilatatus. The problem is that male A. dilatatus has never been described (and the description of A. alticephala is from the 1800s and the species is in need of review).
Here’s one I found recently.

So, now with these putative dilatatus males I can describe the palpal bulb and tie off that species description….except.
I’ve seen a lot of people find these in closed wet forest, and they seem consistently different to the one above, especially with resect to the central abdominal tubercule.

And I’ve noticed that the females I’ve been calling dilatatus from closed forest look somewhat different to the females I’ve found elsewhere.

Closed forest dilatatus female:

Open forest dilatatus female:

Of course in order to know whether I’m right or not, looking at the palpal bulbs and epigynes is going to be the determining factor.
And lastly, I recently found a juvenile Arkys which I think is from an undescribed species currently called informally “candy-coloured Arkys” so I guess if I find a male of that species I may be up for more descriptions. Here’s my juvenile

Readers’ wildlife photos

February 16, 2022 • 9:00 am

Today’s photos come from Scott Goeppner, a Ph.D. candidate in Integrative Biology at Oklahoma State University. His narratives and captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

During the spring, summer, and fall, many of the hedges and flowerpots around Oklahoma State University have flourishing insect populations. All of these photos were taken on hedges and flowerpots on OSU’s campus from August – November of 2021.

White lined sphinx moth (Hyles lineata) – An enormous moth that from a distance looks like a small hummingbird. They are common on campus but difficult to photograph because they do not like to land.

Question mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) – Named for the white question mark shaped marking that you can see on the outer wing. These are common in Stillwater in the summer and fall.

A slender flower moth (Schinia gracilenta) photographed on a warm September night.

A resh cicada (Megatibicen resh) in the middle of a sidewalk at night. Cicadas are very common on campus during the summer and early fall and they make quite a bit of noise at night.

A Common Short-tailed Cricket (Anurogryllus arboreus) located in the same area as the cicada.

A cardinal jumping spider (Phidippus cardinalis) hanging out in a flower pot and waiting to ambush some unfortunate pollinating insect. Its coloration is an example of Batesian mimicry as its red coloration resembles wasps in the family Mutillidae which have a nasty sting. This one was missing a leg on its right side, though, so I guess it’s not foolproof!

Red-shouldered stinkbug (Thyanta custator accerra) sitting in a hedge.

A paper wasp (Polistes sp.) landing on a hedge. It flew off again almost immediately.

A black caterpillar hunter (Calosoma sayi) eating a dead cicada outside of the Life Sciences West building where I work. I’m not sure if it actually killed the cicada or just happened to come across the carcass.

A bold jumping spider (Phidippus audax) who was considerate enough to sit still for a focus-stacked photo. While these spiders are quite common, they usually don’t sit still long enough to take close up focus-stacked photos. I think this one may have been suffering from cold; temperatures in Oklahoma swing from the 70s to the 40s during the fall, and this was taken on a 40-degree day. This species has bright blue chelicerae which you can just make out in the photo.

Readers’ wildlife photos

February 14, 2022 • 9:00 am

I’ll be leaving in less than two weeks, so either get photos to me now, or hold onto them until I return at the beginning of April.

Today’s photos come from regular contributor Tony Eales from Queensland.  Tony’s celebrating today with his favorite spiders, and they are beauts. Tony’s captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Red letter day for me today. My favourite genus of spiders is the Australasian genus Arkys, and today I found five species in one day, including a new one for my life list that I’ve been searching for for years.

Arkys alatus, also known as the winged arkys. It was a big specimen, around 8mm long.

As it is starting to get late in the summer, the arkys are all fully grown and many are gravid with eggs. Like this Arkys lancearius, or common triangular spider.

I also managed to find a fairly young Arkys furcatus. As they age they get red and gold colouring but juveniles are more white.

I started the morning in closed canopy subtropical rainforest. There were many Arkys speechleyi sitting on the surface of leaves of low shrubs in the understory, including this large gravid one.

Arkys speechleyi are a variable species and several of them had dark cephalothorax with white abdomens.

And on the forest edge I found a tiny Arkys curtulus or bird-dropping arkys. [JAC: doesn’t this look like a cat face?]

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 26, 2022 • 8:45 am

Today we have a panoply of taxa from reader Scott Goeppner. His notes are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

These photos were all taken around Stillwater, Oklahoma:
Physa acuta at Sanborn Lake in Stillwater OK. These freshwater snails are common at pretty much any location in Oklahoma with water, along with other species of Physa.

Planorbella (Helisoma) sp., most likely Planorbella trivolvis from Sanborn Lake. Another very common freshwater snail in Oklahoma.

Spined micrathena (Micrathena gracilis) near Sanborn Lake:

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) next to Sanborn Lake:

Pearl Crescent butterflies (Phyciodes tharos) on the edge of Boomer Lake in Stillwater OK.:

Green-striped grasshopper (Chortophaga viridifasciata) – Teal Ridge wetland in Stillwater OK:

Obscure bird grasshopper (Schistocerca obscura) – Teal Ridge wetland:

Southern Leopard frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus) at the Teal Ridge wetland:

Hackberry emperor butterfly (Asterocampa celtis) at the Teal Ridge wetland:

Here’s another one from Boomer Lake with its wings open:

Common Green June beetle (Cotinis nitida) at Teal Ridge:

Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) near the Teal Ridge Wetland in Stillwater OK:

Sachem (Atalopedes campestris) from Teal Ridge: