Snow and Lichens

So it is the middle of winter and I have recently relocated.  I haven’t had the camera out for a while, but with the little bit of snow we got today and the lichens, I had to take a few photos.

Just a short session of photo therapy.  But it felt good.

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How do Snails Move?

My life has taken some turns that I don’t like and didn’t want, and as a result I have had many sleepless nights.

I have been able to calm my nerves by working on some projects that take my mind off of my problems.  I will be conducting a snail workshop at this year’s Day of Insects at Reiman Gardens in Ames, Iowa this March.  I am an enthusiast, not an expert.  So I have been putting together information and materials for that.

In my extensive research (ok, several minutes of googling) I have not seen anything that explains how snails move.  Not just sinusoidal waves on a slime trail, but how do their muscles work?

Most animals have a skeleton.  It is either internal or external, or some kind of hydrostatic thing.  Muscles must pull against something.  Snails are capable of moving in ways that are different than the movements that other animals are capable of doing.

Maybe it has something to do with the rough patterns visible on the foot.

So I spent a sleepless night last night, wondering how snails move.

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Bird Feeder Action

Yesterday was cold.  So is today.  We have a bird feeder near one of the windows, and the birds were visiting it a lot.

They would often fly up to the feeder, then flutter around looking for just the right spot.

I enjoyed my little exercise in photography.  I am not close to being competitive with the bird photographers out there, however.

Have a Happy New Year.

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A Little Snow for Christmas

We got a little bit of snow yesterday.  Just in time for Christmas.

Christmas blessings to you and yours.

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Muddy knees, Wind Blown Seeds, and Butterflies

Yesterday and today I got outside and did a little bit of photography, after a hiatus that has been caused by weather and life events.

These are the seed pods of common milkweed.

Here is a single seed that has separated from the mass.

I did spot a single butterfly flying around today near our apple tree–an eastern comma I think.  Even though I had my camera at the time, I was not able to get a photo of it.

This butterfly was easier to photograph.  It no longer flaps its wings, but does blow around in the wind.  Thanks Mary Jones for a little bit of happiness you brought to my day.

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Chasing, Commas

It is sunny and windy today.  About a half-dozen eastern commas are visiting the fallen apples, along with a host of other insects.

Eastern commas cannot resist the juices of the fermenting apples.

When they find it they sit and drink.

When they are searching for it they stagger around like drunken sailors until they do find it.

They go all in for the task at hand.

Then they bask briefly in the sun.

Other butterflies seen recently include this sachem.

And this gray hairstreak, which I saw on my recent trip to Pennsylvania.

It seems ready for winter, bundled up with a hairy sweater.

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More Bug Watching

Thistles are spectacular for their ability to attract butterflies and other pollinators.  When the thistles are at their peak, they attract not only the largest, most beautiful butterflies, but also the smaller skippers and bees, wasps, and flies of all kinds.

The thistles are past their peak now though.  Two out of three have already started their transformation into wind-dispersed seed heads.  But the flowers that remain continue to attract pollinators.  With our recent irruption and migration of painted ladies I was noticing several thistle flowers that contained more than one butterfly and or bee.

I took several photos Saturday that had multiple pollinators.  When I looked at my photos, though, my attention was drawn to the ants under the flower.  I enlarged the picture and could see that there were aphids there as well.  So Sunday I went back to the same flower to photograph the ants and the aphids.

Aphids are polymorphic–they can have more than one form throughout the growing season.  They have incomplete metamorphosis–there is no pupal stage and the juveniles resemble the adults.  Some of these forms may end up as winged adults, and some may end up as wingless adults.  Still, I am not sure I understand completely what is going on here.  Some of the aphids may end up being transported to the ant nest for the winter–or not.  It does happen with some species, but I don’t know that it is happening here.

There does seem to be pretty good variation within the aphids.  I think they are all the same species (but I don’t know that for sure).

I find them interesting, although I don’t totally understand what is going on.

A whole world of partially understood interactions.


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A Pleasant Morning

I went to an Iowa Prairie Network event today, at the Lomp Lengeling Farms near Collins, Iowa.  Parts of the farm, including a small but diverse prairie remnant and some degraded savanna are being managed in order to aid the original biological diversity.

It was a fairly laid-back event, and I wandered around and took photos and might have even learned a few things.

It was cloudy and even a little rainy, but I saw this familiar bluet perched in the grass.

I am not sure which true bug this was, but I liked its weird looks.

Leatherwing beetles were pretty common, including this on on a great blue lobelia.

I found this striped blister beetle on a small patch of bare ground.

It is late in the year and butterfly numbers are down.  With the cloudy weather and sprinkles of rain it was surprising to see butterflies at all, although I did see several, including this eastern tailed-blue.

I never get tired of the spectacular colors of syrphid flies.

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When Butterfly Photography is Easy

Butterfly photography is often a challenge.  It can be difficult to get close enough to an individual to get a good shot.  If you scare it away, it will be a while before you get close to another one.

Not today, though.

We are in the middle of a massive irruption and migration of painted lady butterflies.  It is easy to get close to them, and if I happen to scare one off another one will land on the same flower or one nearby within less than a minute.

So I played around a little bit.  I tried to get unusual angles, and views of these butterflies that are not normally seen.

I used flash and a slow shutter speed, trying to get detail in the foreground with the butterfly, but still have a fairly bright background.

I tried some different things, and liked some of the results.

The butterflies could not have been more cooperative.

I haven’t had as much fun taking pictures as I had tonight.  Not for quite a while, anyway.

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A Big Painted Lady Migration

Here in Iowa we are having a big painted lady migration event.  The numbers we are seeing probably happen less than once a decade.  We do have a pretty good scientist that keeps track of such things–Dr. Royce Bitzer has a web site on the migration patterns of several Vanessa species.

I am seeing painted ladies all over the place–covering the flowers and resting in the grass.  Watch the sky and they can be seen flying by.

Often they are in competition for the same flower.

They visit about any flower they can find.  I counted 57 individuals in a little over half an hour today.  Most days this summer I have seen less than 10 butterflies of any species in about the same time.

The migration of painted ladies is probably not as well known as that of monarchs.  Most years we have far fewer than we have now.

Monarchs will be migrating through here soon.  Right now, though, they are overwhelmed by the painted ladies.

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