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.

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.

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

Another Unidentified Caterpillar

April 30th, 2012 - 10:04 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

~30mm | January 7, 2012 | Tupaciguara, Minas Gerais, Brazil

Even though I can’t identify it, it’s pretty enough that I had to post it.

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).

Dictyopharid Planthopper with Dryinid Wasp Parasite

April 18th, 2012 - 8:50 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment

~20mm | January 7, 2012 | Tupaciguara, Minas Gerais, Brazil

When I encountered the planthopper above, I had no idea what was going on. While not entirely sure, I assumed that might be a parasite on its abdomen. I had wanted to get a closeup of just the parasite, but when I went to grab the planthopper, it jumped and flew away with little difficulty. The parasite must not have been as much of a hindrance as it would appear.

Here’s a crop of the image above showing the parasite.

Closeup of parasite

It didn’t take much searching on the internet to determine that this must be the larva of a wasp in the family Dryinidae. There are plenty of images of larvae on BugGuide. According to Wikipedia, a larva initially feeds internally on the host. Only later in its development does it protrude the host as shown here.

I feel lucky to have seen this. As is usually the case, this just whets my appetite for more. Now I’ll be on the lookout for the odd looking adult.

Cobra-cega (Blind Snake)

March 10th, 2012 - 2:47 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

~12cm | January 8, 2012 | Tupaciguara, Minas Gerais, Brazil

I came across this small blind snake as it slowly wormed its way along a clear patch of ground next to a corn field. I thought it first it might be a worm, but something just looked a little odd about it. I picked it up and through my hand lens I could see it had scales. I also spotted its tongue darting in and out of its tiny mouth.

I didn’t know it then, but I was in the initial stages of chicken pox. All I knew was that I was feeling poorly and wasn’t motivated to take pictures in the field. I stuffed it in a small container for pictures later. The next day I took a few photos as I held it in my hand. I released it later that day in a field much like the one where I found it.

My brother-in-law’s family suggested it was a cobra-de-duas-cabeças (snake with two heads). It does indeed have a rounded off tail, making it difficult to tell which end is which. Some digging this morning though suggests that that name is more properly applied to a different type of reptile which isn’t a snake at all: amphisbaenians or worm lizards. In addition to not being able to easily tell which end is the head, they have the ability to move equally well both forwards and backwards. Probably the more likely common name for the critter I found is cobra-cega (blind snake).

It actually does have eyes, but they’re vestigial. It simply doesn’t need them since it mostly lives underground. Here’s the best closeup I could get of its tiny head. Too bad I didn’t happen to get one with the tongue flicking out.

Head showing vestigial eye

Blind snakes belong to three families in the  infraorder Scolecophidia. Some reading this morning suggests I probably can’t determine which family this one belongs to based on external characters alone.

I suspected at the time and confirmed this morning that they mostly feed on ants and termites.

 

Lichen Moth Caterpillar

February 20th, 2012 - 8:09 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

10mm long | July 8, 2011 | Victorio Siqueroli Park, Uberlandia, Minas Gerais, Brazil

This cryptically colored little caterpillar reminds me of lichen moth larvae I’ve seen closer to home (Family Arctiidae, subfamily Lithosiinae). If so, it’s in the right place!

Tortricid Moth

February 19th, 2012 - 7:41 AM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

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

Whenever I see a moth shaped like this, I assume it’s a tortricid. Probably not a bad guess, considering Tortricidae is one of the largest familes of Lepidoptera.