Abandoned Hornet Nest over the Chattahoochee River in Fall

October 14th, 2012 - 10:04 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

October 13, 2012 | Roswell, GA, USA

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.

 

 

Mating Treehoppers

October 1st, 2012 - 9:11 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 4 Comments

~4mm body | September 29, 2012 | Roswell, Ga, USA

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.

Cropped view

I’ve stared at the full size image, but I can’t decide which one is male and which one is female.

 

2012 International Rock Flipping Day

September 10th, 2012 - 10:33 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 3 Comments

Yesterday was International Rock Flipping Day. I’ve read about it in the past, but this is the first year I’m participating.

I don’t really need an excuse to flip a rock and explore what’s beneath, but the whole event certainly motivated me to get my blog posts going again. I have been busy outside of blogging, so there’s plenty of good stuff coming up, so don’t give up on me.

Yesterday was beautiful here in my area, so I already had plans to go bug hunting. Knowing I’d be looking for a rock to flip, I chose a nearby park where I knew there were lots of good candidates. Here’s the rock I settled on after being distracted by lots of other interesting critters along the way.

A stone lies on the sun-dappled floor of an eastern deciduous forest, begging to be flipped.

I carefully turned over the rock, hoping for something blogworthy. On the ground beneath, a centipede uncoiled, drawing my initial interest. Scanning the scene, I also saw a millipede and a few ants. Then, movement on the underside of the rock itself drew my attention. A harvestman in the family Cosmetidae betrayed its presence.

~5mm body | September 9, 2012 | Roswell, GA, USA

I’ve seen this type of harvestman before, and a photo of that one submitted to BugGuide has since been identified as belonging to the genus Vonones.

Here are some of my favorite shots of this harvestman, the only thing from that rock that I chose to photograph for the 2012 International Rock Flipping Day.

Coming over a ridge in the rock and exposing some interesting anatomy.

The harvestman shows its butt.

Having made its way around to the top of the rock, the harvestman continues its evasive maneuvers.

Tiring now from the constant corralling of the photographer, it attempts a stare-down.

The photographer having tired of the chase, the harvestman finally escapes.

 

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

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

Tapinoma Ant Observations

May 2nd, 2012 - 10:31 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment

April 13, 2012 | Twelvestones, Roswell, GA, USA

For several days I had noticed ants racing along the bricks at the base of one of my garage doors. I finally took a closer look to see what could be keeping them so busy for so long. They were streaming between a hole in my house and somewhere out in the front yard. I tried following, but these ants are tiny, only a few millimeters long. I quickly lost them in some pine straw.

Moving out

Turns out they were moving out of my house. The ones heading toward the yard were carrying eggs, larvae, and pupae. As I watched them though, I noticed something else leaving with them that didn’t look quite right.

That's not an ant

When I first saw one of the critters above, I knew it wasn’t an ant. My initial thought was it must have been a tiny roach. That first one was gone before I could react, but I headed inside to grab some containers in hopes of seeing more. Over the course of an hour and a half, I spotted three more and managed to grab a couple of them.

Watching one, it seemed unsure of its course. At times it would bump against some incoming ants and dart away. It would always rejoin the column, but sometimes moving in the wrong direction.

About to right itself

Eventually it would right itself, almost always after encountering an ant carrying a larva or pupa. I’d guess it can’t follow whatever chemical signals the ants are tracking and instead relies on following the cargo.

Follow the larvae

It got me wondering how the ants know which direction to go in. I know they follow a chemical trail, but what tells them which direction they should go? Actually, lots of questions came to mind as I watched them. How do they know it’s time to move? How do they decide on a new nest location?

Later, I gave the freeloaders the white paper treatment.

Dorsal view

I began to wonder if these weren’t crickets. I grabbed Arnett’s American Insects and started skimming the cricket families listed there. When I came to Myrmecophilidae (Ant-loving crickets), I figured that must be it. I briefly thought I might even be able to contribute something to BugGuide, but it turns out there were plenty of photos there already, confirming the identification.

Dorsolateral view

Both the specimens I captured have ovipositors and so must be female.

Frontal view

Rear view

Another shot

I found some good info on these in my Field Guide to Grasshoppers, Katydids, and Crickets of the United States. These crickets only live in ants nests. They apparently feed on oily secretions from the ants bodies, causing no ill effects. Only one species occurs in my area, the Eastern Ant Cricket, Myrmecophilus pergandei. This particular cricket species has been found living with eleven different species of ants.

Speaking of ant species, I decided to try and identify the host ants. Using the key in Ants of North America: A Guide to the Genera, I arrived at Tapinoma. Based on the remarks there, I believe these ants must be Tapinoma sessile. I sacrificed one to see how well the common name of Odorous House Ant applies. It was indeed odorous, and as I mentioned, they were leaving my house.

As I watched the ant column, one other thing caught my attention. Fairly often, I’d notice a much larger ant passing by, about twice as big as the others. I snatched one of those as well.

Queen

Remembering some of Alex Wild’s comments from his blog entry on how to identify queen ants, I recognized this as a queen. That only confused me though, since I had seen perhaps half of dozen of these in the brief time I observed the column. I naively thought that ant nests generally had a single queen. The wikipedia entry for this species says that its nests can actually have hundreds of queens!

I wasn’t familiar with either of these interesting insects when I started watching them. Had I encountered them a week later though, I’d probably have recognized them from a recent post from Alex Wild. He scooped me, but I couldn’t let the opportunity to blog about them pass.

What happened to the ants you might be wondering? Well, they can’t seem to make up their mind. As I write this there is still a column going strong, weeks later. They were steadily moving out for almost a week, but then at some point I noticed they had reversed course and were moving back in. I don’t want to imagine just how many thousands of ants there are somewhere in the walls of my home.

References:

American Insects:
A Handbook of the Insects of America North of Mexico

by Ross H. Arnett, Jr.
Field Guide to Grasshoppers, Katydids, and Crickets of the United States
by John L. Capinera, Ralph D. Scott, and Thomas J. Walker
Ants of North America:
A Guide to the Genera

by Brian L. Fisher and Stefan P. Cover

Leafrolling Mystery Caterpillar

April 29th, 2012 - 7:43 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

20mm | April 5, 2012 | Twelvestones, Roswell, GA, USA

Earlier this month I was checking for anything interesting in my backyard when I came across this caterpillar in a rolled up leaf on viburnum. I decided to try and rear it to get an identification.

It turns out it was a final instar because it pupated beneath its leaf within a week, sometime around the 9th.

Pupa within leaf shelter

I removed the pupa from its webbing for some cleaner shots.

11mm | Underside of pupa

Dorsolateral view

I checked daily for the adult, but sadly it eclosed while I was away on vacation, sometime around the 20th give or take a few days. When I got back I found a dead and beat up adult. I prefer live images of a fresh adult that I can release later, but I’ll take what I can get here I guess.

10mm | Adult

Based on similar looking moths, I decided it must be a Tortricid moth in the genus Archips. Looking through all the species images on BugGuide, I decided it most resembled Archips grisea.

It has what appears to be a costal fold on the forewing, indicating it’s probably a male.

Note enlarged area near base of forewing

This page has a description of the larva which is consistent with the caterpillar I found. One distinguishing feature is a completely black head and prothoracic shield.

Uniformly black head and prothoracic shield

The page also says the first pair of legs are black while the other two pair are pale green and unmarked. Check.

Leg colors consistent with larval description

Everything suggests this is Archips grisea except the host plant. Either this is something else, or viburnum hasn’t been recorded for this species.

I’m asking for some expert help here. If it checks out I’ll update BugGuide as there are currently no larval images for this species (or anywhere on the internet that I can find) and no record for Georgia.

Identification Challenge #14 Reveal: Arched Hooktip

April 7th, 2012 - 11:00 AM | Filed under Identification Challenges | No comments

27mm wide | March 24, 2012 | Twelvestones, Roswell, GA, USA

No one commented on the latest identification challenge. Despite showing just the tip of the forewing, the image provided showed the distinctive feature of a subfamily of moths commonly called hooktip moths. If you got that far, it’s a pretty simple process of elimination since there are only a handful of North American species, each one easily distinguished from the other. This species is the Arched Hooktip, Drepana arcuata.

This individual appears to be a male, based on the widely bipectinate antennae.

Male, based on antennae

As I mentioned in the original post, this moth was reared from a caterpillar I encountered late last year. They feed on alders and birches. I found this one on alder, within a leaf it had folder over using its own silk.

Sheltered within a folded alder leaf | 20mm long | October 29, 2011 | Buford, GA, USA

I raked my fingertip through the silk, in order to get a clearer view.

Clearer view

These caterpillars have enlarged warts, shown here.

Closeup of enlarged warts

It’s actually quite a handsome caterpillar. Note the bands on the head capsule, which no doubt inspired its common name, Masked Birch Caterpillar.

Frontal view

One other interesting thing about these caterpillars is that they scrape or beat parts of their anatomy against the leaf in order to advertise their presence to neighboring individuals. In this way they can space themselves out and avoid unnecessary competition.

Reference:

Caterpillars of Eastern North America
by David L. Wagner

Identification Challenge #14

March 24th, 2012 - 3:57 PM | Filed under Identification Challenges | 1 Comment

March 24, 2012 | Twelvestones, Roswell, GA, USA

Today I found my first moth in the overwintering container I keep outside. Can you identify it from this wing fragment? I’ll keep the comments hidden for awhile, but this should be an easy one.