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.

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!

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.

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.

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

Checkered-Fringe Prominent Rearing

July 4th, 2012 - 5:43 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

30mm | 29 October 2011 | Suwanee, GA, USA

This was one of the last caterpillars I collected last year for rearing. I generally stop looking around the end of October.

This particular caterpillar is fairly distinct and easily recognized as Schizura ipomoeae. The stripes on the head capsule are diagnostic.

Head on view

The adult on the other hand is more difficult to recognize, I think. I’d have probably given up identifying it if I didn’t already know what it was based on the caterpillar. This particular one emerged in early May.

20mm long | 11 May 2012

You might have noticed I haven’t posted anything in awhile. I get a lot of enjoyment from posting here, and I remain committed to doing so whenever possible. Lately it just hasn’t been a priority for many reasons. Hopefully, I’ll now be able to get back to posting more regularly.

Poison Ivy Caterpillar / Dimorphic Macalla Moth

May 20th, 2012 - 4:36 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 3 Comments

For many years I’ve noticed colorful little caterpillars that live individually in silken retreats on the surface of leaves of poison ivy. At a recent BugGuide gathering, a photo of one of these caterpillars was shown and I realized we still didn’t know what these were. I resolved then to rear a few to try and arrive at an identification. There’s plenty of poison ivy near my home, so I didn’t anticipate much trouble finding a few.

Here’s the first one I found. The white area just behind the head is atypical. The caterpillar is smaller than usual, so it might be an early instar. It could also represent some sort of injury.

13mm | August 20, 2011 | Roswell, GA, USA

The next day I collected another one, larger.

20mm | August 21, 2011 | Roswell, GA, USA

The next weekend I collected one more.

20mm | August 27, 2011 | Roswell, GA, USA

Here’s a cropped version of the image above, showing the head. Checking these specimens and other photos on BugGuide, there appears to be quite a bit of variability in the head coloration. They all have a white band across the lower part of the head capsule though.

Closeup of head

At that point I figured I had a good chance of successfully rearing at least one.

The last one I collected was the first to pupate. A few days before pupating it started to change color. That’s not unusual for caterpillars as they prepare to pupate. In this case it darkened to become more orange.

Prepupal stage of final instar | 9 September 2011

Another closeup of head

I neglected to photograph any of the pupae.

Earlier this month, an adult eclosed. It’s attractive and quite distinguished looking with an elaborate headdress.

20mm wingspan | 4 May 2012

Lateral view

Front view

Closeup of head

After searching through various guides, I decided this must be what’s currently known as Macalla superatalis. My books actually identified it as part of a genus it was previously placed in, Epipaschia. The common name, Dimorphic Macalla (previously Dimorphic Epipaschia), refers to the fact that it comes in two color forms: green as above, or tan.

Having arrived at the identification, I checked BugGuide and found that someone had beat me to the identification based on a literature search. Oh well, it looks like I might be the first there to have successfully reared them though.

References:

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

Membracis Treehoppers and Nymphs

April 29th, 2012 - 6:15 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 4 Comments

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

When I spotted a group of treehoppers like the one above, I settled in for a while. With such a beautiful subject, I was determined to get some good photos. The shot above is probably my favorite out of around 300 or so shots. I struggled to get something in the background to avoid the usual black background that usually happens with macro flash photos. A black background wasn’t going to serve very well for these mostly black treehoppers.

Not only are the adults pretty, but the nymphs are also attractive in their own way. I prefer the black background here.

5mm | Nymph

The treehoppers cluster together in small groups.

Adult with nymphs

Somewhat surprisingly, these treehoppers didn’t appear to be attended by any ants.

More nymphs

I thought this exuvium was interesting. The interior is orangish, like the spikes on the abdomen. I suppose the base color is really mostly orange with black spots. The white color must really just be white scales.

Exuvium

They were on a good sized tree.

Underside of host branch

While looking around for an identification, I encountered a similar looking species on this plate from the Biologia Centrali-Americana identified as Membracis foliata. This article indicates there’s been confusion around that species though, so it could very well be one of the other species mentioned there (unfortunately I can’t access the full text).

Hunting Spider on Grass

April 14th, 2012 - 3:06 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 2 Comments

18mm long | December 30, 2011 | Quirinópolis, Goiás, Brazil

This attractively marked hunting spider spider was resting on a blade of grass after a rain. I’m being intentionally vague by saying hunting spider here, because I really don’t know how to narrow it down to even a family.

With those racing stripes, one wonders how quickly it moves.

Closer view

Jumping Spider with Hooked Chelicerae

February 13th, 2012 - 8:20 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment

5mm body | July 8, 2011 | Victorio Siqueroli Park, Uberlandia, Minas Gerais, Brazil

This attractive male jumping spider has some interesting hooks on his chelicerae. Take a closer look at this crop from the image above.

Hooked chelicerae

He really has a lot going on colorwise as well. I imagine those banded front legs might be used in some sort of courtship ritual. One has to wonder if and when those hooks come into play though.

Dorsal view