Tree Sharpening Caterpillars

November 2nd, 2013 - 4:38 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment
~30mm long | January 5, 2013 | Panga Ecological Reserve, Minas Gerais, Brazil

~30mm long | January 5, 2013 | Panga Ecological Reserve, Minas Gerais, Brazil

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.

Side view | Trunk ~5mm wide

Side view | Trunk ~5mm wide

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.

Sign Challenge #1 Reveal: Spinybacked Spider Egg sac

February 10th, 2013 - 12:25 PM | Filed under Sign Challenges | 2 Comments

This reveal for Sign Challenge #1 is long overdue. Here’s the challenge photo again:

~15mm long | August 23, 2012 | Sebring, FL, USA

~15mm long | August 23, 2012 | Sebring, FL, USA

Commenter Daniel Heald correct guessed it was a spider egg sac. Here’s another angle:

Dorsal view

Dorsal view

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.

Spiderlings revealed

Spiderlings revealed

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Closer look

I had hoped to see the spiderlings grow, but they all died after a few weeks.

References:

Spiders of the Carolinas
by L. L. Gaddy
Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates:
A Guide to North American Species

by Charley Eiseman and Noah Charney

Highlands Tiger Beetle

October 10th, 2012 - 11:06 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 5 Comments

~7mm | August 21, 2012 | Lake Wales Ridge, Polk County, Fl, USA

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. :)

Head on view, Ted’s trademark shot I think.

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.

Another view from the front, showing missing 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.

Dorsal shot

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.

Female Amanda’s Pennant

October 8th, 2012 - 9:07 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 3 Comments

~30mm long | August 22, 2012 | Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve, Haines City, Fl, USA

A female Amanda’s Pennant, Celithemis amanda, perches along a sandy trail in a relatively unvisited state park.

Red Widow with Egg Sac

September 25th, 2012 - 8:59 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

~15mm long | August 21, 2012 | Tiger Creek Preserve, Babson Park, Fl, USA

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.

Sign Challenge #1

September 18th, 2012 - 9:22 PM | Filed under Sign Challenges | 5 Comments

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?

~15mm long | August 23, 2012 | Sebring, FL, USA

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.

Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates:
A Guide to North American Species

by Charley Eiseman and Noah Charney

 

Black-Dotted Ruddy / Holly Looper

July 23rd, 2012 - 11:10 PM | Filed under Featured Creatures | No comments

Being National Moth Week, I have every excuse to post about one of my favorite subjects. Admittedly, I get more excited about caterpillars, but I enjoy seeing the moths that most of them become.

Back at the end of April, I was distracted by something while going to check the mailbox. Actually, I’m often distracted any time I venture into my yard, but that’s kind of the point of having one for me. Anyway, some large hollies form a hedge along part of my driveway. I spotted a caterpillar dropping from from the holly to the ivy beneath it. I grabbed it for a closer look and started scanning the holly for others. I quickly found another one and brought them inside for rearing. Less than a month later, I was rewarded with a Black-Dotted Ruddy, Ilecta intractata.

25mm | May 17, 2012 | Twelvestones, Roswell, GA, USA

The common name refers to the four black dots, one centrally located on each wing, which help identify it.

The plumose antennae identify this specimen as a male.

Male, based on the feathery antennae

The caterpillars were plain green, which camouflages them well in holly foliage.

~19mm | Dorsal view of plain green caterpillar

Because of their plain appearance, I figured they would be difficult to identify. As it turns out, if I’d just cross-referenced the food plant, I’d have identified them pretty easily. The caterpillars are in fact known as Holly Loopers.

Demonstrating the source of its common name, looper.

They feed exclusively on holly, but don’t seem picky about which variety. I have a different type of holly in my backyard, and I found a dozen or so feeding on it as well. In fact, it was difficult to find a leaf that didn’t show evidence of their feeding behavior. As they feed, they notch out deep cuts.

Notching the leaf as it feeds

It didn’t spin a cocoon, so it probably pupates in soil normally. That would explain why it was dropping from the holly when I first encountered it.

10mm | Pupated around May 3, 2012

Here’s hoping that you’re distracted by a few moths this week. Just leave an outdoor light on for them, and you’re sure to be rewarded with something interesting.

References:

Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America
by David Beadle and Seabrooke Leckie
A Field Guide to Moths of Eastern North America
by Charles V. Covell, Jr.
Caterpillars of Eastern North America
by David L. Wagner

Striped Anole, Displaying

July 14th, 2012 - 10:22 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

April 23, 2012 | Arikok National Park, Aruba

The Striped Anole, Anolis lineatus, was probably the species of lizard I most encountered in Aruba. I assume the common and scientific names refer to those dark broken lateral stripes, but it’s known locally as Waltaka.

Here’s another one, a female perhaps.

Female? Or a young male?

My earlier post of the lizard on a tree is also one.

After a good bit of googling, I came across a good free resource on the reptiles and amphibians of Aruba, link below.

Reference:

Amphibians and Reptiles of Aruba
by R. Andrew Odum
PDF hosted at WildAruba

Yellow/Black Treehoppers with Ants

July 14th, 2012 - 9:06 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

~5mm | January 7, 2012 | Tupaciguara, Minas Gerais, Brazil

Here’s yet a different species of colorful treehopper. These too were found in association with ants.

A busy photo, but packed with natural history.

Ants Tending Treehoppers, Poorly Perhaps

July 9th, 2012 - 11:36 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

~3mm | January 7, 2012 | Tupaciguara, Minas Gerais, Brazil

I had planned to post just a single photo of this scene with ants tending treehoppers. Here we see at least two different colorful treehopper instars, with one actively molting. Ants like the one shown above tended to this small grouping of treehoppers. As I was choosing a photo to post, I noticed something strange about the treehoppers though. Do you see it too?

Look closely and you’ll see that a few nymphs have parasites. I wasn’t sure at first, so I started looking through my other photos. Sure enough, almost every one had one or more parasites. The parasites seem to prefer hiding under the wing pads and below the thorax.

Note the orange parasites hanging below the uppermost treehopper nymphs

See the parasites peeking out from beneath the wing pads of the lower nymph?

Most of the parasites were small, but there were at least a few plump ones.

Note large parasite on uppermost nymph

None of the photos provided a clear view of the parasites, but I suspect they are mites. In any case, apparently the services provided by the ants don’t include grooming.