What appears to be a flower here is actually a group of caterpillars working their way down a sapling trunk.
They look like they could do a decent job sharpening a pencil, about the same width as this tree(?) trunk.
Despite the black background, this was taken a few hours before sunset. At the time there was probably a few feet of the trunk left. I marked the location and returned after dark. I found no trace of the trunk or the caterpillars. They apparently ate the whole tree.
I know there are defoliating caterpillars. I know there are wood boring caterpillars. I never imagined there are caterpillars that consume an entire tree though. That’s assuming they eat leaves, which I didn’t observe.
This reveal for Sign Challenge #1 is long overdue. Here’s the challenge photo again:
Commenter Daniel Heald correct guessed it was a spider egg sac. Here’s another angle:
When I took the photos, I assumed it was a cocoon. I was curious to see what moth would emerge, so I took it home with me.
After looking through Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates, I realized it was actually an egg sac for a Spinybacked spider (Gasteracantha cancriformis). In fact, I had seen many of those spiders in the area. The egg sac’s yellow silk, dark longitudinal line, and placement on the underside of a leaf all point to this species.
In Spiders of the Carolinas, L. L. Gaddy notes that in over twenty years of fieldwork he’s not seen the egg sac or male of this species. Perhaps I’m just lucky, but I suspect I’m more of a leaf flipper than Gaddy. The egg sacs are placed on the undersides of leaves, which is where I’m always checking for caterpillars.
I was curious to see the spider eggs, so I peeled back a few layers of the silk and found the spiderlings had already hatched. Turns out they stay in the egg sac for weeks before emerging.
I had hoped to see the spiderlings grow, but they all died after a few weeks.
In Fall, bald-faced hornets enter the autumn of their lives. Surviving adults, no longer responsible for providing masticated prey for the colony’s growing young, enter into a retirement of sorts. They abandon their nest and spend their last days, up until the first frost, feeding on nectar. Only mated queens survive to found new colonies the following year.
I wasn’t properly excited when I photographed this tiger beetle. I now know this species, Cicindela highlandensis, is a somewhat rare endemic species. There were no shortage of them at this particular spot though.
Honestly, I ignored them at first, not being sure I wanted to invest the effort required to get some good shots. Eventually, I had already prostrated myself for some shots of other subjects, so I figured what the heck. I’ll admit I was also somewhat motivated by a desire to share some tiger beetle shots here for frequent commenter Ted C. MacRae to see.
I like those single small hairs that stick up from above each eye.
These really are relatively small tiger beetles. I’m guessing that doesn’t stop them from tangling with big prey though. Looks like this one perhaps bit off more than it could chew, since it seems to be missing some antennal segments.
Their dark color allows them to blend in quite well with all the other debris scattered about their sandy habitat. You don’t really notice them until they take flight.
I’m going to follow Ted’s lead and not reveal here the exact location where these were found. Looking at the timestamps of my images, I spent less than five minutes chasing this one beetle. If I go back, you can be sure I’ll spend more time photographing this species.
These mating treehoppers (Acutalis brunnea) picked a good place to get together, at least from a photographer’s perspective. I like the composition of this full frame image, but there’s so many different ways I could crop it.
Here’s a closer look at the pair.
I’ve stared at the full size image, but I can’t decide which one is male and which one is female.
I enjoyed BugShot 2012, but didn’t take as much advantage of the setting as I’d hoped. By the time I got to Archbold Biological Station, I was coming down with what turned out to be an upper respiratory infection that would last for several weeks. At the end of each day I mostly just wanted to sleep. Not wanting to totally waste the opportunity, I did venture out for several hours on the final night.
Wolf spiders were everywhere and were easily found by the reflections of their eyes from my headlamp. This lighter colored one was my favorite.
That initial shot was more for documentation purposes to aid in potential identification later. With that out of the way, I decided to get closer…
Having been stationary for awhile, my headlamp started attracting insects. The wolf spider capitalized on the situation, yielding my favorite shot.
To get these shots I ended up chasing it around quite a bit. Each time, I’d try to carefully remove as much debris as possible from around it for a cleaner background. I got rid of the bigger bits, but there was still lots of smaller stuff left. I suppose controlling that sort of thing is one advantage of studio shots.
I ended up with a few decent shots and lots of sand all over myself and my equipment.
There were also some darker colored wolf spiders that really stood out against the white sand. When viewed amid the dry vegetation, however, they were difficult to spot.
This particular spider captured my attention in a way I hadn’t expected. When you’re shining for spiders using a headlamp, you usually see just a few reflections from their large forward facing eyes. When my lamp light shone on this one, however, I thought I’d found a walking jewel. Light reflected from all the eyes of the babies she carried on her back, as if from a multifaceted gemstone!
While on my way to BugShot 2012, I spent several days exploring parks along the way. My favorite spot was the Nature Conservancy’s Tiger Creek Preserve for the variety of habitats its trails pass through.
Here, I was curious about some some palmetto leaves that had been sealed up. Peeling a layer of leaves away, I found a red widow guarding her egg sac.
This’ll be the first in a new series of challenges focused on sign. What is “sign”, you might be asking? Generally, it’s something whose presence indicates the presence of something else. Here on this blog, of course, I’m referring to sign in nature. That could be tracks an animal left behind, scat or other droppings, a shed skin, feeding damage, and so on.
So, with that in mind, what is this sign and what critter does it reveal?
I highly recommend Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates. I find that it’s one of my most used references of late. If you already have it, you’ll find the answer to this challenge in it.