Readers’ wildlife photos

March 25, 2021 • 8:00 am

Please send in your photos. I know that a lot of you have good photos saved, and what better place than here to have them admired?

Today’s photos come from regular Mark Sturtevant, who graces us with pictures of arthropods. His captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

These are some of the focus stacked pictures of insects and spiders that I took over a year ago.

The first is a nymph of the beautiful and well camouflaged coral-winged grasshopper (Pardalophora apiculata). These are common among the mosses and lichens that abound in a place I call the Magic Field, but the nymphs don’t appear until very late or very early in a season since they spend the winter as nymphs. One can well appreciate how this grasshopper can’t be seen in this environment unless they move! The stacked picture was made by focus bracketing 3 or 4 hand-held pictures (I don’t recall exactly), with the focus increments done by slightly scootching the camera forward each time. I’ve done this sort of thing many times, and it demonstrates that you don’t really need fancy equipment to get the pictures for focus stacking.

Next is a more ambitious stack of Northern marbled grasshopper (Spharagemon marmoratum), another band-winged species that is also common in the Magic Field. Here the pictures were taken with the help of the Helicon Fb tube, a device that enables a camera to do automatic focus bracketing. I don’t know the number of pictures, but there were “lots”. 

While I was taking the above stack, my macro-buddy who shares my interests took this picture of me. This patch of ground is near a trail so it’s a bit trampled, but you can see abundant lichens and star-shaped puffballs. The terrain I think is referred to as an “oak savannah”.

The next picture is a focus stacked micro-landscape of the ground cover in the Magic Field, taken in the early morning light on a crisp autumn morning. I don’t really know what some of these things are, and perhaps a reader could enlighten us.

Pictures that follow are all staged indoors in my “studio”, which is the dining room table either before or after dinner. Here, the camera would be mounted on a tripod clamped to the table, and many pictures are taken with very small focus increments under the assistance of the Helicon Fb tube.

The first three of these are of a kind of “bark” crab spider.  (Bassaniana sp.).  These are typically not found on leaves. Rather, they prefer to lurk on tree trunks and in detritus.

Finally, here is another staged picture of a flower crab spider this time, probably Misumenoides formosipes. I found her as they are often encountered—by seeing an insect on a flower that looks “wrong”. This one had done well since she had taken a honey bee that had unwisely decided to forage on her patch of goldenrod. I took her home with the intention of doing this stack, but by then the goldenrod flowers were wilted and she was restless. So I gave her a yellow flower from our garden, and she immediately snuggled down into it. During this session she was a total sweetheart since yellow flowers were her happy place. I call this picture “The Queen On Her Throne”, and it stands as one of my personal favorites of all my pictures.

Thanks for looking!

Readers’ wildlife photos

March 23, 2021 • 8:00 am

Please send in your photos. I will probably put this feature on hold while I’m in Texas, but, except when I’m gone, the tank is always emptying.

Today’s photos come from regular Tony Eales, an anthropologist in Queensland who loves natural history. Tony’s captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Tropical North Queensland part II (part I is here)

Here are a few of the other wonderful organisms I encountered on my brief trip up north to the jungles.
Australian Prismatic Slug (Atopos cf australis). I’m pretty sure there are several species of this slug around, but they all seem to be labelled A. australis. They are predatory slusg with curved teeth in the radula, and they spit acid onto snail shells to help rasp through to the snail inside.
The tracks at Speewah Conservation Park were empty of other humans, which was great for spotting wildlife. I got to approach this Northern Tree Snake (Dendrelaphis calligaster) quite closely without alarming it too much. It’s a slightly built rear-fanged colubrid and presents no danger to humans.
These beautiful Tropical Rockmasters (Diphlebia euphoeoides), a type of flat-wing damselfly, were common around Cairns and the surrounding area. I wish we had such beauties near me. This photo shows a male and female at Lake Eacham.

This is a lichen-mimicking caterpillarEnispa prolectus. These caterpillars fasten small pieces of lichen to their backs with silk as a form of camouflage.

As the area is a tropical rainforest and it was actually raining while I was there, I was inevitably attacked by many, many leeches. However, I spotted this one (Haemadipsa sp.) on a railing at night actively questing, and I was struck by the bright colours. I have to wonder, are these colours signals to each other, warning, camouflage or just random?

One for Mark Sturtevant: a Pisuarid spider, related to the Dolomedes triton that he featured recently. This one is Hygropoda lineata. These were very common in the north. Rather than living by the water, these spiders make a simple web platform across the surface of broad leaves and sit on top of it, often looking like they are hovering in thin air.
Nephila pilipes, the Giant Golden Orbweaver. These are well named. We have Golden Orbweavers at home, which are big spiders, but these northern ones are mind bending. This one had a body length of about 50mm and was eating a cicada the size of my thumb. The span of the web was about 6 metres from attachment to attachment and the main orb about a metre and a half across.
They are only weakly venomous to humans and very reluctant to bite even when handled, preferring just to climb away.
There were a huge variety of amazing ant species to be found in the forests, but by far the most common were the Green Weaver Ants, Oecophylla smaragdina. I was always checking their trails for signs of the spiders that mimic them. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any. I did however observe their interesting behaviour of holding leaves together like living stitches. Inside the ball of leaves larvae are being hatched. The larvae are then taken by workers and produce silk to tie the leaves together more permanently.
In Speewah Conservation Park there were lots of climbing palms, Calamus caryotoides. The mature stems are festooned with black spines to ward off herbivores. However, these caterpillars, which I’ve yet to ID, use the spines to create a protective home as the crawl around and eat the leaves.
These long-jawed orbweavers, Tetragnatha rubriventris, were very common around Cairns. They have massive hinged chelicerae and the males have large clubbed pedipalps with complicated spiralled spines for placing a sperm packet into the female epigynum. all this weirdness makes them great photo subjects for a really alien look.
Also in Speewah Conservation Park I found this amazing fruiting bodies of the slime mould Tubifera microsperma.
And back at my motel there was a large Peacock Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa (Lestis) sp.) in the flowers of a Monkey Rope vine (Parsonsia sp).


Readers’ wildlife photos

February 9, 2021 • 8:00 am

I have a bad feeling about running out of photos, so now is the time to send them in!

Today we have the second part of Mark Sturtevant’s February 4 post on a spider that lives on water lilies and eats fish. Have a look at the earlier post first, then this one. Mark’s notes are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

I had recently introduced the six-spotted fishing spider (Dolomedes triton). This species is widespread, and can be found on floating vegetation on lakes and ponds or on river areas with minimal current. From there they will hunt a variety of prey, including small fish. This will be a special post since it is that latter talent that you will see today.

I had brought home a fishing spider, and she was kept for a time in a glass-bottomed aquarium with water and some lily pads. Here she is again. For scale, her leg span was a bit over 2 inches. They do get larger.

The aquarium was put in my backyard for a time, and I could park myself underneath it to photograph activities from below. One tries not to imagine what the neighbors were thinking. Minnows (fishing spider food) were introduced, and I really had no idea if she would even go hunting for one. But from time to time she would extend her legs out onto the water. As I understand it, this is how they monitor for moving prey below, so that was encouraging.

By the way, all of these pictures from the underside were extensively processed since I had put a screen cover over the aquarium to keep her inside while I was directly below. The screen was plainly visible in the pictures, though, so it had to be digitally removed. That was a lot of work!

Anyway, it took a little while, but then something started to happen. At this point I was freaking out!

The actual attack was very fast, and these are among the few pictures that I have of it. What I saw was that the spider strode out onto the water, and suddenly “clawed down” to gather up the fish before retreating quickly back to the lily pad.

The shadow tells the tale.

Here she is again up top. The photographs were taken through glass which was by now rather steamy with the summer heat, and so the pictures required some de-hazing treatments in post-processing to rescue them.

She was deftly turning her prey over and over with her chelicerae and pedipalps, working in the venom. In just a few minutes the tissue dissolving effect of spider venom was very obvious.

Fishing spider hunting has been captured in video. Here are two examples. They really seem to go after fish! [JAC: don’t miss these videos!]


Thanks for looking!

Readers’ wildlife photos

February 8, 2021 • 8:00 am

Send in your photos, please!

Today we have a potpourri of pictures from various readers. First, Tony Eales sends us photos of a very bizarre spider.  It was inspired by a post on this site, and you must look at that post (link below).

All contributors’ captions are indented; click on the photos to enlarge them:

Ever since I saw your piece on assassin spiders I’ve been kind of low key obsessed with finding one to photograph.
This weekend I got to do the next best thing. A young friend of mine has been collecting some of these spiders and I got the chance to photograph a penultimate male Austrarchaea judyae.


Here’s a video I posted in my last post, which also has some photos of this extremely bizarre group. They make their living by hunting other spiders, and thus have to avoid being jabbed. The video is by Hannah Wood.

This photo was sent January 10 by Chris Garvey:

Here’s a photo taken yesterday of a swan on a slightly frozen Royal Canal in Dublin. It kept stretching it’s neck out over the thin layer of ice and I’m not sure why. It’s taken with my phone so the quality isn’t great.

A video from Michael Schrank, sent January 23. As he said, turn the sound up to hear the elk calling.

I thought you might enjoy this video we captured last Friday night. We live in Idaho and keep our horses in the foothills around Boise. In the winter we get a lot of elk coming down to steal hay from our horses. The horses are usually not too upset by this surprisingly, so the elk come almost nightly. This was a particularly busy little night. Please turn up the sound to fully enjoy.

Here’s a photo of the elk at the hay feeder.  It’s tough to get a good quality shot at the hay because if you get close enough to make an interesting photo with the iPhone, then they begin to run off.

It’s really quite expensive, they eat a lot of hay. But you can spook them off only for a few minutes, they hang in the distance, wait for you to leave and come right back in. It’s just factored into the barn budget.

Readers’ wildlife photos

February 4, 2021 • 8:00 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned!

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 27, 2021 • 8:00 am

Please send in your best wildlife photos. I have a reasonable backlog, but it gets depleted quickly.

Today’s arthropods are from regular contributor Tony Eales from Queensland. His notes and IDs are indented; click on the photos to enlarge them.

I’m afraid I’m going to spam you with a few because I’ve had a good couple of weeks finding new weird beasties that I’m keen to share.

There’s been a lot of new life of late in the rainforest, with the spiders in particular producing slings (that’s what we spider lovers call ‘spiderlings’)

My favourite rainforest cellar-spiders, Micromerys raveni, are producing eggs and babies, and I managed to capture three stages in one afternoon. A gravid female, a female with eggs and a female with newly hatched slings on her back.

Also, at the tips of some palm leaves are folded tetrahedrons held together with silk. If you can carefully open them a crack there is a mother long-legged sac spider, Cheiracanthium sp. with her newly hatched young.

There seems to be no season to the little green jewel-like Chrysso sp.: I rarely see one without a clutch of humongous (relative to the mother) eggs.

I also love to find these tiny white Theridiids, currently undescribed but will probably go into the genus Meotipa. Looking at the developed eggs I suspect that spider eggs don’t so much hatch as just develop into slings. Does anyone know?

Finally, an unknown Theridiid mother inside a cured leaf retreat with her brood.

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 1, 2020 • 8:00 am

Bring out your photos, please: I go through seven sets a week from generous readers, and I always need more. Thank you!

Today’s photos come from regular contributor Tony Eales, who hails from Queensland.  His notes are indented.

Spring has really taken hold now and the colours of nature are showing. We just recently took a trip a few hundred kms to the north of my city of Brisbane to a lovely coastal spot. The nearby national park is mainly a dense coastal heathland called “Wallum” named after the dominant tree the Wallum Banksia (Banksia aemula). This is a very diverse habitat with much of the diversity on a tiny scale, which for me is perfect.

Many of these photos are from one misty evening when I went spot-lighting in the national park, and the subjects are covered in a fine layer of dew, as with this St Andrew’s Cross Spider (Argiope keyserlingi) and the less common Argiope probata (second photo). These will look familiar but different to most people as the genus Argiope occurs on every continent except Antarctica and are common garden orb-weaving spiders.

If there is such a thing as a beautiful cockroach, it is these ones in the genus Balta. Their transparent edges and fine lined patterns are really worth seeing up close. They occur only in intact native habitats and don’t invade our homes like the introduced cockroaches.

The small shiny green scarabs of the genus Diphucephala appear in great numbers in spring time to feed on flower pollen and new growth. Some species are even commonly known as green spring beetles. I don’t think I’ve seen this particular species before. Its iridescence is more uniform—like metallic paint—than most of the ones I’ve seen.

The delicious coastal pigface (Carpobrotus sp.) were all in flower, attracting hundreds of small native sweat bees like this Lasioglossum (Homalictus) sp.

I finally managed to photograph the very fast and flighty beach tiger beetles (Hypaetha upsilon). I couldn’t get close enough to use the macro lens, and so had to take the photos with a cheap telephoto lens. This lost some detail, but they are beautifully iridescent and shine in the sun.

Speaking of beautifully iridescent beetles, I just had to show this one I found in a local park. It is a species of leaf beetle (Johannica gemellata). I’ve seen beautiful leaf beetles before, but this one takes the prize. I can’t find much info on these beetles. They appear to be endemic only to my little corner of the world with records from only a couple of hundred km north and south of my city. I wonder what use they have for those remarkable antennae?

Also from my night walk was this colourful and probably undescribed katydid (sp.). I actually found a number of remarkable orthopterans that night, which I’ll send in a separate email. This one was by far the most colourful.

And lastly the beach, with thousands of Greater Crested Terns (Thalasseus bergii) roosting on sand bars waiting for the right tide to go hunting. The colours of the water here are so many shades of magical blue that I really didn’t want to go back to work.


Readers’ wildlife photos

November 23, 2020 • 8:00 am

Today we have photos of Iguazu Falls, the world’s largest waterfall, from reader Peter Klaver and his partner Rachel Wilmoth. Their captions are indented. (Their Antarctica photos will be up soon.) Notice that there is an unidentified heron-like bird that readers are welcome to name.

Before the corona pandemic, my girl friend Rachel Wilmoth (who has submitted wildlife photos to you before, and who has provided both the English and Latin names for animals) and I had a trip to Antarctica for our 10 year anniversary. On our way South we stopped by Iguazu Falls on the border between Brazil and Argentina. Apart from the waterfalls there, you also get to see some wildlife. 

On the day we arrived, we spent the afternoon looking at the Brazilian side. On our way to the falls we spotted South American coatis, Nasua nasua:

On the Brazilian side there are walkways over the water that let you stand at a point where you are half surrounded by the falls:

While impressive, the falls above are not the big falls of Iguazu yet.

The next day we walked along the Argentinian side. There you walk through a beautiful sea of green rain forest.

And in the forest you see various smaller animals, like this orb weaver spider in the Araneidae familiy:

plush-crested jay, Cyanocorax chrysops:

A bird we can’t identify (readers?):

An Argentine black and white tegu, Salvator meriana:

And a tiger swallowtail butterfly, Papilio glaucus:

Along the Argentinian side you also see many ‘smaller side arteries’ of the falls again:

And then after the hiking, a short train ride and a board walk, you get to the very big falls at the beginning, called the Devil’s Throat. It’s so big that the spay of tiny droplets covers the lower 2/3 or so of the falls. But you do get a rainbow from the spray, and you can still see the upper part of this biggest falls of Iguazu:


Readers’ wildlife photos

November 10, 2020 • 8:00 am

Don’t forget to send in your photos!

Today we have three contributors, whose words I’ve indented. First, reader Dom in England sent some spiders:

Some nice big hairy spiders for you! These are probably all Eratigena genus, but they were formerly Tegenaria. In addition, in April the view that Eratigena atrica was, in fact, three species, was endorsed by the authority, the World Spider Catalog.

These are the biggest European spiders, and consequently the ones that induce the greatest panic in phobics. I photographed them with the iphone, and the flash made their little eyes light up.

Mars from reader Terry Platt in Berkshire:

Here is a recent image of Mars that I took on the 10th of October, from my observatory in the UK. The telescope used was a 317mm off-axis reflector that I built back in 1986. As you probably know, Mars is at its closest for some years and so it is a good time to take images.

The picture is centred on longitude 230 degrees and shows the region of Mare Cimmerium (the dark region near centre) and Elysium (the pale patch below centre). Mars was about 22.5 arc seconds in diameter at this time.


And some lovely hummingbirds from Ken Howard in Arizona; “Kelly” is his partner, artist Kelly Houle:

For your consideration.  Kelly and I maintain five hummingbird feeders around our home to support the migration given the backdrop of local severe drought, forest fires, and heat of this past summer and fall.  Attached are images from Sunday’s visitors – a juvenile male Calliope hummingbird (Selasphorus calliope) and a broad-billed hummingbird (Cynanthus latirostris).

The first two are Calliopes, the second two broad-billeds:

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 2, 2020 • 8:00 am

Today’s photos come from reader Bruce Budris; I’ve indented his notes and IDs:

I’ve attached a number of photos; as before, these are all taken in upstate New York.  Below is a brief description for each.
A pale green assassin bug nymph (Zelus luridus) lays claim to a ripe tomato from our garden.
At the time it was the closest thing we had to a yellow flower, so this yellow crab spider (Misumena vatia) tries to make do on an orangy mexican sunflower.

An eastern black swallowtail caterpillar (Papilio polyxenes) chowing down a dill plant in our herb garden.  I was hoping to capture the pupation stage but we never did find where any of the half dozen or so caterpillars slunk off to.

You know it’s getting late in the season when members of the wasp family start turning to flowers for sustenance, including this Bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) covered in autumnal goldenrod.
Ants are known to “farm” aphids for honeydew.  Here we have a carpenter ant (Camponotus spp.) herding its flock of aphids on a stalk of wheat.
An Eastern common bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) is still at it even though we are approaching late October.
Lastly, a bonus mammal.  A photo by my son of one of our resident Eastern chipmunks (Tamias striatus) coming by to see if we have any of those delicious nuts we frequently dole out.  This one’s name is Longtail.