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.

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.

 

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.

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

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

More Ants and Scales

February 17th, 2012 - 5:45 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 2 Comments

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

Besides the turtle ants, there was one other type of ant crawling around in the same area. They were quite aggressive, often taking a threatening stance with their gaster turned down and under their body. The one above seems to be saying, “Back! This scale is mine”. The scale above, by the way, differs from the ones I posted about earlier.

Forager?

The ants above were fairly active. The one below, however, never moved from the spot I found it. While I assume it’s the same species, it has a slightly different body build. Note, for example, how much wider the head is. Maybe it’s a soldier?

Soldier?

Side view

Foraging Turtle Ants

February 15th, 2012 - 5:42 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment

4mm long | July 8, 2011 | Victorio Siqueroli Park, Uberlandia, Minas Gerais, Brazil

I spotted these turtle ants (Cephalotes sp.) crawling around on vegetation, occasionally stopping to solicit honeydew from scale insects. I’ve been somewhat enamored with these ants ever since seeing some of Alex Wild’s photos, particular the specialized nest guarding soldiers. Sadly, despite watching the workers, I’ve yet to successfully find a nest for an opportunity to photograph one.

I’ll have to satisfy myself with the foragers for now.

Dorsal view

Here’s another one taking honeydew from a scale insect.

Feeding from scale insect

Phorid Fly Attempting to Oviposit on a Leafcutter Ant

January 22nd, 2012 - 6:51 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 2 Comments

Leafcutter ants are a common sight in the Brazilian cerrado. I admit to being apathetic when it comes to photographing them. In order for me to turn my lens on them, something unusual generally has to be happening. In this case, I first noticed something odd occurring around one of the nest entrances. Looking closer, I could see the ants were being attacked by a small fly. I had read about that, but had never seen it personally. Intrigued, I figured I’d spend a few minutes shooting, even though I fully expected to end up with nothing usable. I was pleasantly surprised that one of the images managed to get both an ant and the fly in focus.

Fly ~1mm | January 7, 2012 | Tupaciguara, Minas Gerais, Brazil

The fly was almost constantly in motion, occasionally dive bombing an ant. I assume this is a female fly in the family Phoridae. Look carefully above and you can see the fly’s ovipositor.

At one point I saw a fly at rest near the nest entrance, possibly the same fly as above.

Fly at rest

Stingless Bees

November 21st, 2011 - 10:27 AM | Filed under Easter Eggs, Featured Photos | No comments

10mm wide entrance | July 6, 2011 | Victorio Siqueroli Park, Uberlandia, Minas Gerais, Brazil

These stingless bees have made their nest inside a termite mound. Earlier in the day, the bees weren’t clustered around the entrance like they are here. Instead they were simply flying in and out occasionally. This was taken late in the day though, and I suspect they are preparing to seal the entrance for the night. In the photo below, you get a better sense of how the nest is situated in the termite mound.

Though these bees are stingless, they aren’t defenseless. Do you see the clump of resin in the upper left? Looks like an ant has been encased there. I wonder if the bees perhaps mobbed it and secreted all that resin.

Nest in termite mound

One of the common names for these bees in Brazil is torce-cabelo, which means hair-twister. I once got a little too close to a nest for the bees’ comfort. In return they made me quite uncomfortable. At first I didn’t realize what was happening. Suddenly they were crawling all over me, getting tangled up in the hair on my head, my arms, and anywhere they could grab hold. Having experienced that, I’m not likely to forget their common name.