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Behaviors Parenting : Nature Closeups

BugShot 2012: Wolf Spiders

September 26th, 2012 - 9:55 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment

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.

Wolf Spider | August 25, 2012 | Archbold Biological Station, Venus, Fl, USA

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…

A closer view

and lower.

Side view

Having been stationary for awhile, my headlamp started attracting insects. The wolf spider capitalized on the situation, yielding my favorite shot.

A wolf spider with prey attracted by the photographer’s headlamp.

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.

Wolf spider camouflaged in grass

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!

Lynx Spider Guarding Egg Sac

July 8th, 2012 - 5:56 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

~10mm | January 7, 2012 | Tupaciguara, Minas Gerais, Brazil

On the underside of a leaf, an attractive lynx spider guards her egg sac.

Dorsal view


November 26th, 2011 - 9:22 AM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment

11mm long | July 8, 2011 | Victorio Siqueroli Park, Uberlandia, Minas Gerais, Brazil

This atypical treehopper belongs not to the family Membracidae, but to a separate family, Aetalionidae.

Searching around on the internet, it seems most photographers generally seem to catch these hoppers while tending their eggs, as shown here.

To learn a bit more about the family check out Ted C. MacRae’s post from earlier this year.


500 Insects:
A Visual Reference

by Stephen A. Marshall

Apterostigma collare

May 15th, 2011 - 8:38 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment

4mm | January 19, 2011 | Armonia Nature Preserve, Limon Province, Costa Rica

I spotted the structure below on the underside of a large leaf. I really didn’t know what it was, and I gently poked at it. It was quite fragile as it turns out, and it fell open to reveal an ant nest. I then immediately regretted not having taken a photo beforehand. The next day I was lucky enough to find another one, also pictured.

6cm x 4cm | Unexpected ant nest

4cm x 2cm | Nest with an ant entering

These nests are the work of an ant in the genus Apterostigma. Ants of Costa Rica has an info page for this genus in Costa Rica. I tried to use the key there to identify these, but it was a bit technical for me. I’m basing the species identification on the statements from the site that seem to indicate that only Apterostigma collare builds these nests under leaves. There are some more photos of nests at that same site.

Like the well-known leaf-cutting ants, Apterostigma ants grow fungus for food. They make their nests out of the fungul hyphae.  Other Apterostigma species in Costa Rica build their nests underground, in leaf litter, inside rotting logs, and in other protected locations. At least one other species, Apterostigma robustum, builds its nests on exposed tree trunks, but it takes care to camouflage them with bark fragments. Apterostigma collare nests, in contrast, visibly stand out on the undersides of leaves.

Ants inside nest, fungal hyphae visible on leaf surface

I counted around 20 ants in that nest that I unintentionally opened. It didn’t occur to me at the time to try and identify the queen. In any case, none stood out as any different than the others at the time or in the images after review.

It’s not clear to me what exactly the ants provide for the fungi to grow on. I did notice what looked like some bits of insect exoskeletons mixed in.

Ant worker

There’s definitely all sorts of odd bits visible inside the nest.

Frontal view

These long-legged ants move about pretty slowly, so I took advantage of the opportunity to take quite a few photos.

On the move, albeit slowly

The ants themselves were varying shades of orange, some darker than others.

Individual coloration was variable

After a while, I could see some of the workers were picking up small globular items. I’m still not sure if those are larvae or pupae, but I assume it’s one or the other.

Worker carrying larva?

Here’s a closeup view of one, where at least a few structures are visible.


Here are just a few more images of these interesting ants.


All Apterostigma ants, by the way, are hairy like the ones shown here.

Worker, preening

Maybe one of the ant people who read this blog can share a few more interesting tidbits about these ants. Hopefully I won’t get corrected on my identification.

Amplypygids – Tailless Whip Scorpions

May 14th, 2011 - 9:00 AM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment

20mm | January 19, 2011 | Armonia Nature Preserve, Limon Province, Costa Rica

These fearsome looking arachnids have an order to themselves, Amblypygi. Though commonly called tailless whip scorpions or whip spiders, they are neither. Intimidating though they may look, they aren’t dangerous and possess no venom. They are quite timid in fact, and I had to take care not to scare them away while photographing them.

Here’s how you might expect to see one actively moving about, with its oversized first pair of legs outstretched.

Longest legs extend outside frame

That first pair of legs is modified for use as antennae. They wave them about, sensing and probing. While the body of this one measured only 2cm, each one of those antenniform legs was 8cm long!

Eight Eyes

The have flattened bodies, useful for hiding in crevices and other tight places during the day. They hunt at night, and I usually see them on the trunks of trees. These first images, however, were of one I spotted on the side of a creek bank. This next one was on a downed tree that had fallen across the same creek.

Raptorial Palps Extended

Its palps were initially extended as shown here, perhaps in preparation for an ambush. After I spooked it, it drew them in closer to its body.

What I found most interesting though, were a few females I spotted carrying egg sacs.

Female with egg sac

Actually, the egg sac is glued in place. She’ll carry her eggs around like this for at least 3 months, during which time she generally won’t eat. If she did, the eggs might become unglued.

Egg sac closeup of another female

Based on this genus key, all these individuals appear to be in the genus Paraphrynus. In fact, they must be Paraphrynus laevifrons. I realize the linked pages are for La Selva specifically, but La Selva and this location are both in the Caribbean lowlands. Further, iabin shows only this single species for that genus, and even has a collection record not far from my site.

Amblypygids really are fascinating creatures. If they lived in my area, I’d probably keep them temporarily as pets to observe them further.


by Jan Beccaloni

Green and Black Poison Dart Frog

April 11th, 2011 - 5:19 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 2 Comments

20mm | January 19, 2011 | Armonia Nature Preserve, Limon Province, Costa Rica

Unlike the drab poison dart frog I posted recently, this one lives up to my expectations of having bright warning colors.

Do you notice anything strange about this frog’s back? Take a closer look.

Hitchhiking tadpole

All Costa Rican dendrobatids lay their eggs on the forest floor. Parenting behaviors beyond that vary by species. One or both of the parents care for the eggs, keeping them moist until they hatch (sometimes by the male urinating on them). After hatching the tadpoles are carried by one or both of the parents, sometimes singly, sometimes en masse, to suitable sites to complete their development.

In this species, Dendrobates auratus, it’s usually the male that ferries the tadpoles, one at a time. He will seek out a small pool of water, in a tree hole or a bromeliad perhaps, to deposit the tadpole.

This frog was difficult to photograph. It just wouldn’t stay still. This is the only other shot that I didn’t end up deleting.

Side view


The Amphibians and Reptiles of Costa Rica:
A Herptofauna between Two Continents, between Two Seas

by Jay Mathers Savage

[Google books link to Dendrobates auratus text]

A Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Costa Rica
by Twan Leenders

Some Army Ant Observations

October 31st, 2010 - 11:06 AM | Filed under Featured Photos | 8 Comments

January 27, 2010 | Caraça Natural Park, Minas Gerais, Brazil

That’s the general scene. I encountered these army ants on the side of the trail towards the end of the afternoon. The odd thing is that I didn’t see much more than what’s shown here. There were a couple of holes in the ground, outside the shot above, but roughly in the upper left and lower right. Despite some searching in the nearby vicinity, I didn’t find any other ant trails. But there were ants streaming in and out of the two holes, forming roughly two paths. The bottom path was moving to the right and the top to the left.

Usually when I encounter army ants, I’m hesitant to get down on my hands and knees and start taking pictures. I’m always afraid they will branch off in my direction while my vision is reduced to what’s in the viewfinder, and the next thing I know I’m covered in them. Having said that, army ants don’t generally give me much pause. Even if they have spread out across the trail, it’s pretty simple to just walk right through them.

On this occasion, they seemed pretty contained, so I sat down and started looking closer. It didn’t take long before I started seeing some myrmecophiles (things that live among the ants). Mostly I saw these:


Like the ants, they are fast moving and difficult to photograph. I’d spot one, but it would then be hard to frame it. I decided to mostly keep the camera trained on one of the holes, wait to spot one approaching, and then try to get a picture of it before it disappeared underground. What you see above is the best shot I managed to get of one. I believe it’s a beetle, a rove beetle perhaps.

I also occasionally spotted ant pupae being transported.

Ant pupa

Another ant pupa

Here’s one of the larger soldier ants.

Ant soldier towering over workers

Darkness was approaching, and then something unusual happened. The scene became one of chaos as the paths all but disappeared and instead the ants just sort of carpeted the area. Then, paths became discernible again, but the ants had switched directions!

I would have loved to have watched longer, but there just wasn’t enough light so I continued on the path back towards the sanctuary.

I know that some species of army ants are subterranean, so perhaps these are one of those species.


Latin American Insects and Entomology
by Charles L. Hogue
American Insects:
A Handbook of the Insects of America North of Mexico

by Ross H. Arnett, Jr.

Longhorned Beetle Damaging Stem

October 25th, 2010 - 10:37 PM | Filed under Easter Eggs, Featured Photos | No comments

January 28, 2010 | Caraça Natural Park, Minas Gerais, Brazil

This longhorned beetle blends in pretty well with these stems.

Some longhorned beetles are known as girdlers and that name might be aptly applied here. See the damage to the stem in the upper right? I didn’t witness it, but I suspect this beetle is responsible. In fact, given the bending of the stem under its head, it may very well have been chewing away when I took this photo. Further evidence is the frass present, indicating it’s been here awhile.

Why girdle? Some beetles that do it deposit an egg in the stem and then effectively kill the stem by chewing a ring into it. The stem beyond the girdle eventually dies and falls to the ground. The stem provides nourishment for the beetle larva and is then well placed for the grub to later escape into the soil where it completes its development.

Paper Wasps and Parasitoids

September 27th, 2010 - 9:44 PM | Filed under Easter Eggs, Featured Photos | No comments

January 26, 2010 | Caraça Natural Park, Minas Gerais, Brazil

When I spotted these paper wasps alongside the trail, I only halfheartedly took a few shots. Mostly, I just didn’t think I’d be able to get an attractive photo out of it. So when I was reviewing my shots, I just about deleted all of them, including this one.

At the last second though, I noticed something unusual in the photo. I call these sorts of discoveries where I notice something in the photo that I didn’t realize was there when I took it “easter eggs.” It happens often enough that I just decided to add a new category for that here on my blog.

Back to the photo though. What caught my eye are the little black things in a few of the cells near the top center of the nest. Zooming in, you see this.

Closeup of cells with eggs and parasitoids

I assume those are some sort of parasitoid flies or wasps. You can see a few paper wasp eggs at the top. I’m not quite sure what to make of the contents of the cells with the adult parasites. There’s an extra little white blob with the one on the right. Could that be the parasitoid larva? If so, why would there be an adult in the cell with it? Seems too big to be a parasitoid egg. And what are the pinkish blobs with the adult on the left and in the lower right? Are those the parasitoid larvae or is that what the paper wasp larva look like at that stage?

As usual, I have many more questions than answers. I’d love for someone to help fill me in if they know what’s going on here.

This has definitely fueled my curiosity though. I’m likely to brave some stings and try to get some closer and better focused shots of nest cell contents on future encounters.

Treehopper with Eggs

August 28th, 2010 - 10:00 AM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

January 26, 2010 | Caraça Natural Park, Minas Gerais, Brazil

This treehopper appears to have deposited eggs in this twig.  I’m not sure if she’s still ovipositing or perhaps just guarding the eggs.