Yesterday’s Critters

I saw some neat critters yesterday as I was wandering around with my camera.


This is a tachnid fly, probably a Cylindromyia sp.



A bullfrog found his way across the lawn.


A Blanchard’s cricket frog hopped along the edge of the road.


The gorgone checkerspot is fairly rare and easily confused with the more common pearl crescents or silvery checkerspots.


Finally, this is the year of the silver spotted skipper.  Most years I can find a few, but they can be found in much higher numbers this year than I have seen.

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Failed at Frogger

Life is made mostly of proteins.  Protein is about 16% nitrogen.  Plants convert sunlight into sugars, and the structures of plants are made of cellulose.  Sugars and cellulose don’t contain nitrogen.  As a result, plants contain a significantly lower percentage of nitrogen than do animals.

Butterflies can assist the survival of their caterpillars by starting them out with a little more nitrogen than they would normally get.  Male butterflies concentrate salts, including nitrogen salts by sipping water from mud.  They excrete the water and concentrate salts, which are transferred to the female during mating.

Sometimes butterflies will seek out things like dung and carrion from which they can obtain fairly concentrated solutions of nitrogen salts.

Which brings us to a road-killed frog and a butterfly.


The frog’s loss is the butterfly’s gain.  This hackberry emperor will enhance the survival of its offspring with the juices of the frog.

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Against the Wind

Cool August days with puffy clouds are absolutely gorgeous.  I love being out in them.  But often they are windy, and wind does not help the butterfly photography.


The wind doesn’t help the butterflies, either.  This viceroy was fighting the wind.  I wanted a photo of it holding its wings upright and vertical.


This was the closest I came to that.  This monarch mimic was resting on the leaf of common milkweed.


Mostly it just hunkered down against the wind.

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I’m Sorta Back

I lost my camera–in fact, several cameras and lenses to a break-in a couple of weeks ago.   But I find that I need to take pictures.  Call it an investment in my mental health.  So I traded in an old camera that had not been stolen and bought a new camera and a used macro lens.


This eastern cicada killer, Sphecius speciosus, has been hanging out on our front door steps for several days.  It is big and scary-looking, and can sting but probably won’t.  It is reported to have only a mild sting.


This dragonfly is probably one of the meadowhawk species.


These are silver-spotted skippers.

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There is always another way

I was sitting on my porch, feeling sorry for myself.  I lost my camera to a recent break-in.  Then I saw first one then three or four silver-spotted skippers.  Two landed on a decorative paving brick that someone gave us sometime back.

I took their photo with my cell phone.  It was not the same as with the SLR camera.  There is something viscerally pleasing about using a good camera with a fixed focal length macro lens.  Still, I enjoyed the exercise.

Sooner or later I will be buying another good camera.  Until then, I do have an option.


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Forced Early Retirement

I am forced to stop taking bug photos for the time being.

Someone broke into our house, breaking a patio door window to get in.  They took some stuff from us, including my camera.

I will have to spend a bunch of money to get back into the hobby, and I probably will.  Right now I have other priorities I have to deal with though.

I do have a bucket of glass.

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Highly Modified Nature

Yesterday I did some photography along Saylorville Reservoir.  This is a flood-control reservoir on the Des Moines River.


From an ecological standpoint, flood control reservoirs are a really bad idea.  They create environments that are highly modified by man.  Still, there is nature all around if you open your eyes to it.



Viceroys were flying around in high numbers.  Their caterpillar host plants are willows which grow in profusion in the frequently flooded landscape.


This male red-winged blackbird took exception to my presence in his territory, and took to the air to scold and threaten me.


Damselflies and dragonflies were everywhere.  I was looking for a trio of butterflies–bronze coppers could not be found, nor could dainty sulfurs.  Little yellows were present, but I had to look around for them before I found them.  Viceroys, orange sulfurs, and common buckeyes could be found in large numbers.


I especially liked this photo of an eastern amberwing on fleabane.

I walked past the boat loading ramps and had a brief conversation with a fisherman who was leaving before “all the crazies get here.”   I might have been one of the crazies he was talking about.

But I walked along the sand and found a little area that was damp.   There I saw a very tiny blue butterfly.


I was fortunate enough to follow its flight as it darted around.  This is a butterfly I have seen once before, so I was happy that it let me take a number of pictures.7-9-160049

Reakirt’s blue is rarely seen in Iowa.  It is most often found in prairie areas with leadplant, which is its host plant.   I did not see the plant nearby, and I would have been surprised to find it in that habitat.  This area was not where I would have expected to find this butterfly at all.

I have seen this butterfly before, so it is not a “lifer.”  I haven’t seen it in over a decade, though, so it was a really good find.


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Swamp Milkweed and Three Butterflies

I saw this in the road ditch today.


Two great spangled fritillaries and a monarch on swamp milkweed.

I love summer.

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The Eye of the Monarch

In the past, I have posted my opinion that monarch butterflies are one of the more difficult butterflies to photograph.  The key to great butterfly photography is to get the eyes in focus.

Monarchs hide their eyes with little white spots on a black background.


This greatly cropped photo is from one of the clearest photos I have taken to date of the eyes.  Still, they don’t really pop out at you, do they?

If you look closely, right below the back part of the eye you can see the small, vestigial front legs common to all butterflies in the “brushfoot” group.  They don’t show up well, either.

Why do monarchs hide their eyes?



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Butterfliers have a term (probably borrowed from the birders) for butterflies that are difficult to identify.  “LBJ” stands for “little brown job.”

In the last few days I have been photographing some butterflies that can best be called LBJs.  They are grass skippers–small, active butterflies that have a unique way of resting that reminds people of jet fighters.


This is a little glassy-wing, Popmeius verna.


This is the butterfly when its wings are closed.  It has a bunch of subtle little light marks on a dark brown background.  But sometimes the markings are very faint, especially on worn individuals.


On the same milkweed and at the same time there were a couple of these butterflies.  They look very similar, but don’t have the markings.  Or do they, and are they very faint?


This is the skipper at rest.  I think it is a dun skipper, Euphyes vestris.  On about six common milkweed plants along the edge of the road there were at least two dun skippers and a half dozen little glassy wings.

About a week later I found this skipper in our flower garden:


This is a crossline skipper, Polites origenes.  Looks kind of  similar to the other two, doesn’t it?

Here is what it looks like in the jet fighter pose:


I am pretty certain on the IDs of these butterflies–maybe not quite as certain on the dun skipper as for the others.  What tips the scales is that I have a number of photos of the same individuals, so I can see some of the markings from different angles.

These butterflies are sometimes called “witches” because no one can tell which is which.

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