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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
Today we have photos from a regular: Tony Eales of Brisbane. Tony’s notes and IDs are indented, and check out the spider and its egg sac in the fourth photo.
Spring has sprung but life is only slowly struggling out from under winter where I am, as it has remained very dry for a few months now. Even so, the signs are here if you look hard enough.
I hardly ever see these little Theridiids without a clutch of giant eggs. I’m told that these are undescribed but will probably fall in the genus Chrysso. I’ve posted pics of these before but they are a personal fave.
I found my first masked bee of the season and a new one for my life list. A female Hylaeus (Hylaeorhiza) nubilosus. She was warming up on the back wall of my house.
In the local sub-tropical rainforest there was some activity despite the dry conditions. I found these little Lioponera sp. ants moving house. These ants aren’t often seen above ground. They specialise in raiding termites for their larvae and generally stay underground and within logs.
I was stunned by the weird long egg sac of this Miagrammopes sp. These are strange enough spiders already but I’ve never seen an egg sac like this before.
In the same family with a more normal egg sac is this little Philoponella sp. Both these spiders have no venom and don’t have sticky droplets on their web. Spidering on hard mode.
Finally I came across this clump of newly hatched spiderlings. No idea what species they are but a definite sign that spring is here.
Today we have a potpourri from several readers. Their captions are indented.
First, a photo from Kristin Wells (click to enlarge):
The picture attached was taken this month at Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.
Reader Cate found a debilitated baby squirrel (probably dehydrated) and wrote me asking what to do with it (she’s local). I told her to call the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, who would know what to do with it. They did, and took it for rehab. Her notes:
Thanks Jerry, you were spot on. I called the bird people, and I was able to drop the poor little guy off with Annette downtown so she could bring him along with this morning’s wounded birds to Willowbrook. If you want to post anything about it to alert people about the wonderful people saving birds again, and that they can also take and safe squirrels, I can send you a picture of Annette holding the box with the squirrel too. He or she was a lovely specimen, an incredible tail.
The poor baby after rescue:
Annette taking it to Willowbrook (a rescue/rehab facility where I’ve sent several orphaned or abandoned ducklings). Chicago Bird Collision Monitors is a fantastic organization, made up largely of volunteers. Their main job is to find birds downtown that have been stunned by flying into buildings, and rescuing them. But they go all over the Chicago area rescuing wildlife in trouble.
A spider from Jorg Driesener:
A friend of mine, Peter Simpkin, suggested I send you some photos of wildlife I have taken in my yard in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. I don’t know the scientific names of the animals, but I enjoy macro photography and thus take photos at every opportunity.
If you know the spider, weigh in below:
From Tim Anderson:
Messier 16 is a bright emission nebula in the Serpens constellation. This image was compiled from forty 180-second frames captured with a 100mm refracting telescope and a colour astronomical camera.
In the centre of the image is a structure known as “The Pillars of Creation“, made famous by the Hubble Space Telescope:
Thanks to the many people who sent me photos for this feature; I hope we can keep it going. (I had to abandon the “photos of readers” features as we ran out of submissions.)
We have a new contributor today: Bruce Budris from New York State. His captions and IDs are indented
With all of the extra time spent at home this year, I decided to finally try my hand at photographing insects in our backyard garden as well as on our family walks through Columbia County’s (NY) numerous conservation areas (clctrust.org). Also, it gives my son a chance to earn a little extra allowance by helping me find new and interesting insects to photograph 🙂
The first photo is a Robber Fly or “gnat ogre” (Holcocephala fusca) with noms perched on a Tulsi flower. Of the robber fly species I’ve photographed, this is probably the smallest at about 1 cm in length.
Next is a Bold Jumping Spider (Phidippus audax), who was kind enough to model her iridescent chelicerae for me. The behavior of jumping spiders is always entertaining. Whenever there was a visitor to the flower she would climb up the outside and just peer over the top to see if the visitor was a candidate. After a steady stream of large bumblebees however, she decided to move on.
Next is a tiny sweat bee with stunning metallic coloring covered in the pollen of a nine-bark flower (Augochlora pura).
Get those wildlife photos, in, folks! (And remember, landscapes and general high-quality photos count as “wildlife”.) Today’s photos come from Kevin Elsken, who lives in Arkansas. I’ve indented his captions and IDs.
So many of your reader submitted wildlife photos are so remarkable and so well done, I use them as aspirational motivation for the photos I take. Hopefully these photos will be of interest to you and your readers.
The first three photos are of everyone’s favorite black and yellow garden spider, Argiope aurantia. Truly a gorgeous animal, though I wouldn’t want to be a small critter on the receiving ends of those fangs.
The second spider I think is a Mabel Orchard Orb Weaver, Leucauge argyrobapta. Much smaller than the yellow garden spider, but almost iridescent and gleams in the sunlight. Loves to build webs in and about the compost piles—great place to catch a fly or two.
The last spider I would like to share is the Hentz’s (sometimes called Spotted) Orb Weaver, Neoscona crucifera. These spiders become very active in late summer and are nocturnal, so I thought I would share photos that depict both their magnificent orb webs and their propensity to scare the beejeebers out of you at night.
On to the snake portion of the program. The first one is a RIng-necked snake, Diadophis punctatus. My brother spotted this guy on a recent bike ride, and let me tell you he may look tough but this guy was all of about 2 inches long. According to Wikipedia these snakes are secretive and nocturnal (my 82 year old father in law has lived here his entire life and had never seen one). While they are believed to be abundant, the author of the Wikipedia article suggests detailed research on this snake is lacking.
The second snake will get your attention: the Eastern Copperhead, Agkistrodon contortrix. This two-foot-long specimen was lazing in the middle of a country road on a different bike ride. Again according to Wikipedia, these snakes are not aggressive and their bites rarely fatal (I will take their word on the matter).
If I may indulge you with a cat story (I know, twisting your arm!):
It was the second day of July, 2019. I was sitting in our backyard reading when I became aware that the robins were raising a fuss – something was bothering them. It was then I became aware of another sound. . . mew, mew, mew, mew. I peeked through the fence and you can guess what I saw. I called my wife and after a little work and few bleeding cuts, we brought this guy home:
He appeared to be only 5 or 6 weeks old, but we have no idea where he came from (we did check around the neighborhood). He was a little rough around the edges, hungry, but he did not have fleas but only a few ear mites. He seemed well socialized, did not mind being picked up or petted, and he has used the litter box from day one. We named him Rocket, in honor of either a) the best friend of Bullwinkle J. Moose or b) the best friend of Groot. He can exhibit characteristics of either of his namesakes.
Well he both grew and grew on us, as cats can do. Our last cat, Simba, who had graced the pages of your esteemed blog, passed away before we moved back to Arkansas. We were not sure we wanted another cat, but when a cat like Rocket shows up, what can one do?
But unbeknownst to us, about one month before Rocket appeared to us, a stray tabby with a severely broken back leg was brought to the attention of Keely’s Fund, a charity which assists pets in need in Northwest Arkansas.
With a grant from a local trucking company, JB Hunt, the one year old cat had the surgery he needed to repair his leg. And he earned a name: JB. But he had no home except for the local vet’s office where he spent nights and weekends alone in his cage.
Fast forward to December of 2019. We had gone on a trip and boarded Rocket with his vet. We went to pick him up and the technician, with a bit of a tear in her eye, told us that they had this tabby who had never really been friendly with any cats who came in, but Rocket was different, and would we want to take home a friend? Well who could resist this lovable tabby?
There were a few tears shed at the vet’s office when we took JB home, but when we sent them this photo they cried for joy:
I importune you again to send your good wildlife photos, as I depend on the skill and goodwill of readers to keep this feature going.
Today’s lovely photos come from Tony Eales of Queensland, and he’s given his series a title (in bold at the top).
Here’s looking at you.
Here’s a series of photos of aware animals looking right down the lens.
Stick Mantis (Archimantis latistyla). This is kind of a cheat since mantises have what is known as a pseudo-pupil that, like the Mona Lisa, makes the eyes seem to follow you around the room. It’s actually an illusion made by the way light refracts in the compound eyes.
A small unknown fly. I was lying in the leaf litter looking for small spiders when this little fly landed and stared straight at me; and I decided to take the shot.
More illusionary eyes. These are eye spots on the wings of the large-eyed box owlet moth (Grammodes ocellata), presumably to deter predators.
The Grey Huntsman (Isopeda vasta) is a very large spider that one often finds peeling away eucalyptus bark. They are very sedate (until they aren’t) making close up portraits very easy as long as you hold the piece of bark steady and are willing to risk one suddenly running up your sleeve.
One of my favourite animals of all are ant-mimicking spiders and some of the best are jumping spiders. This is one of the common ones, a polyrhachis ant mimic (Myrmarachne luctuosa). This one is a large gravid female I found while looking for peacock spiders. I could fill this whole post with jumping spiders; they are very aware of their surroundings and find camera lenses extremely intriguing, possibly seeing their reflection in the glass.
Another animal that is always very aware of you are bull ants, which will watch you closely. This one is known as a jumping jack (Myrmecia nigrocincta) but they display this terrifying behaviour only if you disturb the nest. Otherwise they just watch you warily.
Another common species is the small variable lynx spider (Oxyopes variabilis). These too can jump wildly to get away from you, but if you’re careful you can catch their typical ambush pose, seen here.
A very handsome lion (Panthera leo) at Melbourne Zoo. I love the calm disdainful look on its face.
Little red flying-foxes (Pteropus scapulatus). I just love that these animals are happy to live in cities and we get to see and hear these amazing beasts nightly.
A beautiful Spectacular Crab Spider (Thomisus spectabilis). These are large for a crab spider, usually hiding flowers waiting for visiting insects, I’ve seen them take prey many times their size, including praying mantis and butterflies.
Occasionally in some species—mostly insects—we see the phenomenon of gynandromorphs: individuals that, through a genetic or developmental accident, have parts of the body that are male, and other parts that are female. They are patchworks of sex. These are most easily spotted in insects, but may have been missed in other species (alternatively, gynandromorph insects may be more viable than, say, gynandromorph mammals or birds, though I have posted on a gynandromorph cardinal). The various posts I’ve done on gynandromorphs are collected here.
Five years ago Matthew and I wrote a post about how gynandromorphs are formed, something well known genetically in our fruit flies (Drosophila). Using special genetic tools, we can also produce gynandromorphs at will. This involves a special X chromosome that gets lost easily during cell division. If you put one special X in females (XX), the tissues in which the X gets lost become XO, which happens to be male tissue, though XO males are sterile. The chromosome loss can happen at various stages of development, so you can get flies split straight down the middle (if the X gets lost at the first cell division), or flies with various-sized patches of male and female tissue.
Here are a few examples from flies (white bits are XO male parts and shaded are XX female parts). Note that the upper-left fly is split straight down the middle. I’ve seen a few of these in my time.
Finding gynandromorphs in nature is rarer, as wild insects are small, mobile, and not easily inspected. But the researchers on the paper below, published in The Science of Nature, found a gynandromorph jumping spider whose right half was male and left half was female. This is easily seen (given that the spiders are tiny: 4-6 mm, or 0.15-0.25 inches), for the spiders are sexually dimorphic, with the males having much larger fangs and chelicerae (mouthparts) than females, as well as different pedipalps (“palps”), distal segments of the legs that serve not only for sensory detection, but also for courtship display and sperm transfer in males.
Having a live spider whose right half is male and whose left half is female immediately gives you the chance to answer a question: “Does this weirdo spider behave as a male, as a female, or both?” This is the question that the researchers answered in the paper below.
You might be able to access the article by clicking on the screenshot, as it’s free with the legal UnPaywall app. The pdf is here and the full reference is at the bottom of this post. If you can’t get the pdf, make a judicious inquiry.
The jumping spider Myrmarachne formicaria is palearctic, and has been introduced in the U.S. The authors found one gynandromorph in Japan in October of 2016, as well as a bunch of normal males and females, which could be used to test the sexual/antagonistic behavior of the gynandromoprph. Here’s what it looked like (see caption below). The very large fangs and chelicerae can be seen on the spider’s right—the male side, as they’re much larger in males than in females. (We don’t know how this individual came about, though I suggest one way below.)
And the palps were also different on the two sides, for the male palps—the spider equivalent of a penis—differ from those of females. (a) shows the ventral view of the right palp in the gynandromorph, and (b) the ventral right palp of a normal male. As you see, the right palp is male, designed to hold sperm. The left palp of the gynandromorph (c) is identical to a normal female palp (d). Females receive sperm in the genital area (“epigyne”), put there by the male’s palps.
The genitals were also split down the middle, with the gynandromorph having a normal female epigyne (the female genital opening that receives sperm) on the left side (e), with a normal female shown in (f), while the right side of the gynandromorphs (arrow) is screwed up, as males don’t have epigynes.
So we have a spider split straight down the middle, from fore to aft. This may have involved the loss of a chromosome in an original female zygote, as normal female spiders are XX and males X0, lacking a Y chromosome. If an XX female zygote lost one X chromosome at the first cell division, one half of the spider would be female (XX) and the other half male (X0), and it could be split down the middle, as this one is. There are other explanations, but this seems the most likely.
So how did this gynandromorph behave—as a male or a female?
The results can be stated briefly: the spider behaved as a male and was perceived as a male by other males. In the (a) part below, you can see the behavior of normal males, who, when they recognize each other, bend their abdomens, move from side to side, open their legs and raise their chelicerae, and, occasionally, engage in battle, trying to topple each other with their chelicerae. (The numbers show the number of pairs in which different behaviors were seen; the one fight is at the bottom.)
(c) shows the gynandromorph male pitted against other males (four trials). The red spider is the gynandromorph; the black one a normal male. The same bending of the abdomen and moving from side to side (“pre-fighting behavior”) was seen in both spiders, indicating that the gynandromorph was not only perceived as a male, but itself behaved as a male. The arrow shows that all four antagonistic interactions terminated without a fight.
What about the gyandromorph faced with a female? Normal male-female courtship behavior is shown in (b). Males approach the female from the front, stretch their legs out to touch the female, and sometimes the female stretches out her legs, too. Neither of the two regular courtships resulted in a mating, which isn’t surprising. (Females are picky.)
Finally (d) shows the gynandromorph (red) encountering a female (black); there were two trials. The gynandromorph male approached the female and reached out his front legs to touch her, just like “normal” males. In these cases, though, the females ran away when this happened, so we don’t know if the females perceive the gynandromrph as male or as some kind of weirdo.
The paper also has videos of the mating and antagonistic behavior here.
The upshot: The gynandromorph, though morphologically half male and half female, behaves as a male, both in interactions with other males and with females. Further, it’s perceived as male by other males, while we don’t know how the female perceived its sex (she might even be confused). This shows that although morphology is split down the middle, behavior seems to be male-specific.
Why is this? We don’t know if the brain, presumably the seat of behavioral repertoires, is split down the middle, which might cause muddled behaviors. The inside of the spider might not show the same pattern as the outside. Alternatively, even though the brain might be half male and half female, the hormones and other chemicals that militate behavior might show male dominance, effacing any female behaviors. It’s interesting that the authors list seven other cases of gynandromorphs in spiders and insects, and in six of these the piecemeal individual behaved as male (the exception was a bee that didn’t show male-specific behavior towards a queen).
This experiment needs to be tried with Drosophila, and I don’t think it has been yet. For in flies we have far more sophisticated ways of changing very small parts of the fly from one sex to the other, and it would be better to use those methods than to use the relatively crude method of manipulating the parts of the fly visible only from the outside. With these techniques in flies, we could determine what parts of a fly must be male to show male behaviors, and what parts female to show female behaviors. That’s a really good question but, as Matthew said, “the cool kids aren’t interested in it.”
Suzuki, Y., Kuramitsu, K. & Yokoi, T. 2019. Morphology and sex-specific behavior of a gynandromorphic Myrmarachne formicaria (Araneae: Salticidae) spider. Sci Nat106, 34.. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00114-019-1625-x