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.

 

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

Striped Anole, Displaying

July 14th, 2012 - 10:22 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

April 23, 2012 | Arikok National Park, Aruba

The Striped Anole, Anolis lineatus, was probably the species of lizard I most encountered in Aruba. I assume the common and scientific names refer to those dark broken lateral stripes, but it’s known locally as Waltaka.

Here’s another one, a female perhaps.

Female? Or a young male?

My earlier post of the lizard on a tree is also one.

After a good bit of googling, I came across a good free resource on the reptiles and amphibians of Aruba, link below.

Reference:

Amphibians and Reptiles of Aruba
by R. Andrew Odum
PDF hosted at WildAruba

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

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

 

Male Wandering Spider

June 16th, 2011 - 9:16 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment

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

This wandering spider in the family Ctenidae was spotted at the base of a large tree.

The large palps leave no doubt that this is a male.

Palps indicate a male

The eye arrangement was my first clue to the family. They also have a deep groove along the mid-line of the carapace, called a fovea, just barely visible in these photos.

I wasn’t able to identify this one any further than family. It’s quite a large spider though. The body measured 25mm (~1″) and with legs it was around 80mm (~3″).

Some species of Ctenidae have a nasty reputation. Suspecting at the time that this was a Ctenid, I kept a respectful distance.

A large spider, measuring around 80mm overall.

Did you notice something missing for this spider? I surprised myself by only just now noticing that it’s missing a leg!

Speaking of missing, you might have noticed that it’s been awhile since my last post. My computer’s hard drive failed recently. Nothing was lost, but it took me awhile to reinstall everything.

Hammerhead Fly

May 13th, 2011 - 8:12 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 3 Comments

7mm | January 19, 2011 | Armonia Nature Preserve, Limon Province, Costa Rica

I spotted this little fly on the underside of a large leaf. I was really thrilled to find something so unusual. I probably spent about a half hour chasing it around from one perch to another. Luckily, it always flew just a short distance.

Dorsal view

I had heard of antler flies before, and I figured this was a good candidate to be one. Initial internet searches using that phrase didn’t turn up anything though. On a whim I tried searching for “hammerhead fly” since that seemed like an obvious common name for this fly. That turned out to be a good guess, and I found lots of similar looking images of Richardia telescopica in the family Richardiidae. I’ve been unable to eliminate the possibility of similar looking species. If not for that uncertainty, I’d have made this into an identification challenge.

Grooming

This “species of the day” page has some excellent illustrations and a bit of info on Richardia telescopica. The length mentioned there (15mm) seems off though. The same illustration appears in one of my references and it includes a scale which is consistent with the size I measured for this specimen.

Frontal view

Here’s a nice YouTube video of a similar species, Plagiocephalus latifrons.

Reference:

Diptera of Costa Rica and the New World tropics
by Manuel A. Zumbado and Fernando Zeledón

Yellow-headed Gecko

May 3rd, 2011 - 6:53 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment

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

This species, Gonatodes albigularis, can usually be found on surfaces two to three meters above the ground. Not surprisingly then, I spotted this male just above eye-level on the side of a tree, shortly after dark.

Male coloration as shown here is distinctive among Costa Rican lizards. Interestingly though, coloration changes after dark. The head darkens a bit and the body lightens somewhat. Both still remain distinct from each other. What you see above then is the night color phase, or perhaps a transitional phase between the two. Males also have that white-tipped tail.

As the round pupils suggest, this is a diurnal lizard.

I didn’t measure this one, but they generally grow to around 9cm.

Reference:

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

Golden Silk Spiders, Mating

March 31st, 2011 - 10:09 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 4 Comments

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

When I first spotted this female Nephila clavipes, she was positioned rather low in her web. Her background was cluttered and shaded. I prodded her a few times, and as I’d hoped, she retreated to a higher position in her web where I thought I might be able to get a more pleasing background.

Unexpectedly, her quick movements drew the attention of a male that was also hanging out in her vicinity. I’ve read that males prefer to mate when the female is preoccupied with a meal (so they’re less likely to become a meal themselves). Perhaps he mistook her quick retreat as movement toward prey. At any rate, he wasted no time approaching her and getting into a mating position.

I kept snapping away the whole time. This was the only keeper, which I’m pretty happy with. I took awhile to settle on the right settings that yielded a pleasing background with adequate depth of field. Then I just shot away and hoped some would yield the right plane of focus. I didn’t quite nail it, but it looks pretty good at this resolution.

It was complete luck that this photo shows pretty clearly the tips of the male’s palps, where he stores sperm prior to mating. The tip of one can be seen pointing rearwards. The tip of the other is inserted into the female’s reproductive opening, the epigyne.

Finally, is it just me, or does it seem like the females of this species might just be putting on some sexy lingerie for the males? Just look at the pattern on the underside of her abdomen!

Photo Details:

Canon EOS 60D
Canon EF100 Macro lens
Canon MT-24EX flash
Shutter priority AE, 1/160 sec, ISO 800, f/6.3
Exposure compensation -1 1/3
Flash exposure compensation -1