Fungus Gnats Among Us

When I photograph nature, I love finding some creature or behavior that I did not know existed until I photograph it.  Almost as good, though, is seeing something I have read about or heard about and not seen in real life to date.  I saw something like that today.

As I was leaving for work, I saw a slime trail on the sidewalk.  Looking down, I saw what I thought was a large slug–two or three inches long.  We have slugs that large here, but they are not common.

But on closer inspection, I saw it was not a slug at all.  It was a mass of fly larvae all travelling like one super organism.


I had read about this just recently on the bug tracks blog.


These are the larva of the dark-winged fungus gnat, and they are apparently moving to find a place to pupate.


I took a few quick photos then headed off to work.  I still had mud on the knees of my jeans when I left.  That’s the price you pay.

The whole mass moved slowly, just about as fast as a slug would.  You can read more about the group here.

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A Brushfoot Fetish

The Nymphalidae family of butterflies are called brushfoot butterflies because the front pair of legs are greatly reduced and the hairs on those legs remind some people of little brushes.  The legs are difficult to spot in the field, but sometimes can be seen on a good photograph.  I thought it might be interesting to show a little gallery of the legs of different species to compare them.


The brushfoot can be seen on this American lady right behind the eye, and pointing down.  It is fairly large on this species.


This photo might show the brush better than any other photo I have.  It starts near the bottom of the eye and goes straight down.  The foot of this red admiral clearly has a lot of hair and does look like a brush.


The brushfoot on this mourning cloak is a little harder to pick out of the background, but if you look at the back of the eye you can follow it down.


They are easy to spot on this Baltimore checkerspot because all of the legs, functional or not, have a contrasting orange color.


On pearl crescents, the non-functional legs are skinny and don’t have much hair.


The legs are extremely difficult to spot on monarchs.  I think that in this photo the leg comes down vertically from the eye, and has a long white mark but is black on the tip.  I have looked at my photos of monarchs and have not found a better picture.  It does not show up well because the white dash breaks up the profile.


I had to show all of this winter form common buckeye.  The brushfoot is clearly visible behind the eye and going back along the body.


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Autumn is Coming

Fall will soon be here, and everything seems to be in a hurry.

It’s a cool, windy day.  I have to confess, I don’t know my birds.  These seemed to be one of the swallows.


I know some of the bugs, however.  I think this is the transverse flower fly, Eoseristalis transversa.


This monarch caterpillar, Danaus plexippus, pretty much devoured this common milkweed.


This is a common green darner, Anax junius.  Soon it will migrate south, joining the flocks of monarch butterflies.

This northern pearly-eye, Enodia anthedon, was trying to squeeze the little bit of summer that its battered wings would allow.

I went to the Lincoln Access at Saylorville reservoir, where everyone who owns a boat and lives within 50 miles had gathered.


The wind was strong, and dozens of Hagan’s bluets, Enallagma hageni were facing into it.

Rush outside.  Summer will soon be over.


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Skipper IDs Can Be Tricky

Yesterday I posted a photo that I identified as a “little glassywing.”  I think I was wrong, though.


The shot is far from perfect.  It could be that, but I think that it is more likely that it was a female sachem.  That is based on the flight times of both butterflies, and the fact that I saw a number of sachems the same day.  The white spots are about the same on both.  Sachem had not even entered my mind when I was trying to figure out what it was.


This is another view of a sachem.  It becomes a very common butterfly in the late summer.

Here is another skipper that I have tried to identify.


Unfortunately I was not able to get as good of a photo as I wanted.  Here is another shot of the same butterfly.


I am thinking wild indigo duskywing, based on eliminating the other possibilities.  The next closest would be Horace’s duskywing.  Both would be possible at this site, but I am leaning heavily towards wild indigo.

This is a tawny-edge skipper.


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More Butterflies

Saturday I went to West Woods Park which is north of Glenwood Iowa.  This small county park is a wooded loess hill area, with a prairie on the top of the hill.  The butterflies were spectacular.

There were several giant swallowtails.  I did not get any photos of them sitting still, but I got a lot of them flying by.


This little glassy wing was a first of the year butterfly for me.  It is one I have not seen very often.


This Hayhurst’s scallopwing was a first ever for me–a lifer.

More later…

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The Black Digger wasp

This black digger wasp, Sphex pensylvanicus, was visiting the extrafloral nectaries of partridge pea.


It visited several in rapid succession, spending about a second or two at each one.


Partridge pea is an annual plant found in tallgrass prairies.  It has extrafloral nectaries which secrete a sweet fluid.  The purpose of these structures is thought to be to attract ants which protect the plant from insects which would harm it.


This wasp was not bothered by ants.  Many insects visit the nectaries, which seem more attractive to nectar-loving insects than the flowers themselves do.

Digger wasps capture insects–usually katydids or crickets, paralyze them, and bury them in holes as a provision for their young.

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Today’s Butterfly Action

This afternoon was pretty good for butterflies.  They were out in force.


This was one of a handful of silver-spotted skippers.


I only saw one Delaware skipper, but there were lots of least skippers.


I don’t think I saw any black swallowtails last year.  I saw about a dozen tonight, and saw several pairs in mating chases like this.


This orange sulfur has gone to butterfly heaven.  The ambush bug that was the likely culprit is still enjoying his supper on the underside of the dogbane flower.


These orange sulfurs were enjoying liquid refreshments at the old watering hole.

And I enjoyed all the action.



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Today’s Bugs

I was able to take a little time today to travel to a local prairie and met some friends there.  Officially it was a prairie walk, but several of us were more into the insects, and we had a good time photographing them.


This guy was very rare and exotic-looking, but it is in reality quite common.  It is the helmeted squash bug, Euthochtha galeator.  It seemed to be eating this bird dropping.


There were a number of eastern amberwings, Perithemis tenera.


There were a lot of butterflies, including this worn great spangled fritillary, Speyeria cybele.

This unidentified bee was working Liatris.


This is a small dance fly, probably  a Rhamphomyia species.

It was hot an humid, and we were out for less than two hours, but I loved it.

Taking bug pictures is fun, especially when you can do it with other like-minded people.

Update:  8-18-15

MJ Hatfield has suggested that this could be Empis clausa.  It does look like a match.  See here.

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Baby Blues

I got a good look at the underside of a damselfly which I think was Lestes unguiculatus, the lyre-tipped spreadwing.


The eyes captured my attention.

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Recent Butterflies

I have been lucky enough to have some time to photograph butterflies recently, and here are a few I have seen. This red-spotted purple was at The Ledges on Sunday. 7-21-150052 This eastern tiger swallowtail was visiting a wild bergamot in the ditch near our house on Tuesday. These butterflies were drinking from the mud on the access road to Medora Prairie on Saturday.  The two on the left are eastern tailed-blues and the individual that is flying is a summer azure.

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