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

Parasitoid Wasp Emerging

December 7th, 2011 - 9:34 PM | Filed under Easter Eggs, Featured Photos | 1 Comment

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

Each one of these eggs from the underside of a leaf was parasitized by a wasp.  Their barrel shape with round fringed caps suggests they might be stink bug eggs. Had a stink bug nymph emerged, the caps would have been neatly opened. Instead, they each have a roundish hole chewed in them. In fact, there’s a parasitoid wasp straggler chewing its way free from the rightmost egg.

I might be seeing things, but you can almost make out the wasp’s body through the transparent egg shell.

View from the other side

I didn’t notice at the time, but a mite came along.

Mite approaching

Reference:

Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates:
A Guide to North American Species

by Charley Eiseman and Noah Charney

Ant Mimicking Spider and Possible Model

November 28th, 2011 - 8:24 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment

July 8, 2011 | Victorio Siqueroli Park

Uberlandia, Minas Gerais, Brazil

These two photos of critters both 4mm long were taken less than an hour apart in spots just a few feet apart. I believe these two are probably a mimic and its model.

I first photographed the jumping spider. I only got a few shots before I lost it. Later I spotted the ant and took quite a few photos. Here I selected one that would show roughly the same pose as the spider.

The area around the rearmost eyes of the jumping spider is darkened to better match the larger black eyes of the ant. The dark spots on the spider’s abdomen are an anomaly though. Maybe this ant isn’t the model after all?

I’ve actually seen many tiny jumping spiders like this one in parks around my house. I got somewhat obsessed late last year after finding the first one. Once I started looking, they were really quite easy to find on the undersides of sycamore leaves. That’s the subject of another post though.

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.

Leafcutter Ant

November 13th, 2011 - 2:22 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment

July 6, 2011 | Victorio Siqueroli Park, Uberlandia, Minas Gerais, Brazil

I mostly ignore these ubiquitous ants, but I thought the plant part this one was carrying might make for an interesting photo.

Chrysalis Surprise

July 14th, 2011 - 11:29 AM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment

10mm | July 4, 2011 | Tupaciguara, Minas Gerais, Brazil

I collected this little chrysalis while I was in the field the day before I took this photo. I didn’t think I’d be able to get a good photo at the time, and I was curious to see what might emerge. Strangely, looking at this with my own eye, it appears opaque with a silvery and gold surface. With the camera and flash, it appears as above, somewhat transparent and showing what looks like a wing inside. I figured it would only be a short time to see the butterfly that might emerge. Well, I was half right.

About a week later, I found this in the rearing container.

10mm long

Side view

With those enlarged hind femora this must be something in the superfamily Chalcidoidea, perhaps in the family Chalcididae. The natural history fits, since Chalcidids are parasites of Lepidoptera and Diptera pupae.

Here’s what’s left of the chrysalis.

Chrysalis showing where parasitoid emerged

Velvet Ant

July 13th, 2011 - 2:02 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

4mm body | July 3, 2011 | Tupaciguara, Minas Gerais, Brazil

Velvet ants are challenging to photograph. They always seem to know when you’re after them. They are either running so fast you can’t keep them in the frame (much less focus) or they find cover to hide under. I always just shoot like crazy and hope for the best.

Parasitised Caterpillar

July 11th, 2011 - 5:52 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment

13mm | July 9, 2011 | Tupaciguara, Minas Gerais, Brazil

The more I observe nature, the more I realize that parasites rule.  So far this trip, I’ve accumulated dozens of photos to prove my point, including the one above.

Believe it or not, this caterpillar was still alive. The parasites, wasps presumably, are long gone.

Marimbondo-chapéu – Hat Wasp

July 11th, 2011 - 2:15 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

July 9, 2011 | Tupaciguara, Minas Gerais, Brazil

The local common name for these social wasps is marimbondo-chapéu in Portuguese or hat wasp in English. The name refers to the form of the nest, seen above.

Seen from below, I’d say it looks more like a sunflower. They are really packed in there. I’d estimate there are probably a couple of hundred of them.

Sunflower?

Here’s another crop that I like of that same image.

A different crop

You’ve probably noticed by now these images were taken during the day. So what are all of them doing hanging out on the nest? Taking a siesta? I wondered the same thing. I spent around 45 minutes taking pictures and attempting to gauge just how closely I could approach without alarming them. During that whole time, not a single one flew off or arrived.

Hanging out

I began to wonder if these wasps might be nocturnal. When I returned a few hours after dark, I had my answer. At that point, the nest was quite active, with dozens flying around. A quick internet search for “nocturnal wasps Brazil” gave me the genus, Apoica, a genus known for its nocturnal habits.

When reviewing the images, I noticed they have relatively large ocelli, which undoubtedly helps them navigate and find prey at night.

Note the large ocelli

Most of these photos were taken with my 100mm macro, sometimes combined with my teleconverter. The closest I ventured was for this habitat shot, taken with my wide angle zoom at its widest 18mm setting.

Habitat shot

I don’t have my copy of Latin American Insects with me, but I just checked it via google books. Hogue refers to this genus as parasol wasps, also because of the shape of the nest. He notes that only the common species, Apoica pallens, has a yellow abdomen.

Reference:

Latin American Insects and Entomology
by Charles L. Hogue

Ants Tending Leafhoppers

July 6th, 2011 - 7:37 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 3 Comments

July 2, 2011 | Monte Alegre, Minas Gerais, Brazil

These ants are tending to some treehopper nymphs. Most of the ants are busy collecting honeydew, but the one on the bottom has noticed me and is on alert. I accidentally bumped the branch after this shot and all of the ants started running around looking for something to attack. I held up a leaf for a background here so that the ants would stand out.

In this next shot, I’m assuming the white areas are either treehopper eggs or a protective covering for the eggs. One of the adult treehoppers is also visible here, a darker shade of red than the nymphs.

Egg mass and adult treehopper

In this final shot, there are more eggs, another adult and some late instar nymphs.

More eggs and some late instar nymphs