The Coolest Fly Ever!

Today I did a little bit of walking around with my camera, and came across what is probably my favorite fly.  These flies are pretty impressive.

Mydas flies are huge.  This one is probably Mydas tibialis, the golden-legged mydas fly.

For being the biggest, baddest looking fly around, mydas flies are not very well known.  The adults feed on nectar and do not live very long.  The larva apparently feed on beetle larva found in rotting wood, and they may spend two or more years in that stage.

This species has a particular affinity for the yucca-like tallgrass prairie plant called rattlesnake master.  It is most likely a mimic of the large wasp, Sphex pensylvanicus which provisions its nests with grasshoppers and katydids.

One of those wasps was flying around.  While they do frequent flowers for nectar and pollen, this one was busy hunting.

Other insects were visiting the flowers, like this syrphid fly.

Not too many butterflies though.  Here is a least skipper.



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More Bugs

I spent a little bit of time yesterday at Big Creek State Park.

This is a sand wasp, a Bembix species.  This was a very noisy, active wasp.  It was hard to photograph because it was so active.

Another wasp–smaller, not so aggressively active.  I have no idea what this one is.

I spent a lot of time trying to get close to this common whitetail.  I could get sort of close, and slowly move towards it then it would fly farther away.  I repeated this several times without any luck.  Finally, while I tried to sneak up on it, it flew away then came back and landed about a foot away.  Sometimes you just get lucky.

I chased this silver-spotted skipper on the gravel road where it was mudding.  Once again, I never got close.  Finally it flew up and landed on the swamp milkweed.  It did not nectar for long, but I did get close enough to get one photo.

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Two Bees or Not Two Bees

I made a brief stop in the I-35 Huxley-Slater interchange today to see what insects were flying.

This bee, probably a leaf cutter bee, was on purple coneflower.

Wild bergamot also had an insect visitor.  I am pretty sure it was another bee but I did not get another view of it.  On the left side of the flower is a small geometrid caterpillar.  Look for the plant part with the stripe on it.

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A Nice Summer Day

We had a really nice day today–warm but not too hot.  I took advantage and visited Big Creek Park near one of the backwater areas.  Swamp milkweed was in bloom and attracting lots of visitors.

This unusual fly is common enough that I have seen it before.  It is a thick-headed fly, Physocephala tibialis.

Swamp milkweed is one of our most spectacular wild flowers.  It blooms a few weeks after common and butterfly milkweed.  It seems to me that it attracts large butterflies, but does not attract the smaller hairstreaks and skippers as well as common or butterfly milkweed.  It does, however, attract a large number of other pollinators, including wasps, bees, flies, and moths.

This is the northern paper wasp, Polites fuscutus.

This is the large, spectacular eastern cicada killer, Sphecius speciosus.

This is the thick-legged hoverfly, Syritta pipiens.

Not everything was on the swamp milkweed.

This was a blue-fronted dancer.  It was quite spectacular in the bright sunlight.

This is a viceroy, a fairly common monarch mimic.

Speaking of monarchs, swamp milkweed is also a host plant for monarchs.  This caterpillar is getting quite fat.

I still struggle with bumblebee identification.  I think this is the brown-belted bumblebee, Bombus griseocollis.

This moth looks and flies like a bee.  It is the snowberry clearwing, Hemaris diffinis.

In addition the the spectacular beauty of the swamp milkweed and its visitors, the flowers have a hypnotically sweet scent that just has to be experienced.

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Butterflies of the Interstate

In Iowa we have had some long-term efforts to manage roadsides with native prairie plants.  The Tallgrass Prairie Center at the University of Northern Iowa has been a leader in the effort.

So if you go to the Huxley-Slater interchange off of Interstate 35, this is what you might see:

The most conspicuous plants are spiderwort, which have a brilliant blue flower in the morning.  The petals dissolve and fall off by the evening.

Get a little closer and you might see black-eyed Susan and fleabane.

On a day that was a little too cloudy and wet for butterflies there were still monarchs feeding on the butterfly milkweed.

But the real prize was this gorgone checkerspot.

The underside of the wings are colorful and have a striking pattern.  Unfortunately, this butterfly did not cooperate, so I will have to settle for a closeup.


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Another Attempt to find the Poweshiek Skipper

Oarisma poweshiek is a small butterfly that was discovered and first described from Grinnell, Iowa in 1870.  When the prairies were here it was probably quite common, although it only flies as an adult for about a week or two.  It has recently been extirpated from Iowa and Minnesota, but was found in two locations in Wisconsin within the past few years.  I visited one of those two sites, Puchyan Prairie, with the hopes of finding it.  I am not sure when it was most recently seen there, but it might have been as much as five years ago.  I have yet to see and photograph this butterfly, although I did get a photo of its caterpillar in captivity at the Minnesota Zoo some years back.

I was not optimistic that I would find this particular butterfly, but I did visit the site a few years ago and found some other butterflies that were pretty neat.  So I took a couple of days of vacation from work, and made reservations to stay at a hotel in Wisconsin.  If I could not find O. poweshiek I should at least be able to get some photos of butterflies that we don’t have around here so much.

Thursday, the first day of my trip, it was sprinkling a light rain when I left.  I hit some heavy rain for part of the trip, and light rain for the rest.  I used my windshield wipers until I was within ten miles of Puchyan Prairie.  Things did not look good for seeing butterflies.  But when I got to the site I saw a summer azure right away.  And it was flying.

A lot of the area is a marsh–water deep enough to sink down in, but with vegetation that emerges above the surface.  The whole site was wetter than the last time I visited, as Wisconsin had recently had very heavy rains.  One butterfly that likes these conditions is the least skipper.  I always see them around water.

In fact, they get quite close to the water.

There are areas of dry ground at Puchyan Prairie, but dry is a relative term.  The ground is soft and muddy, and if you stay too long in one place you will sink in.  Still, I left the access road and headed for a relatively dry area with some two-foot high grasses.  Deer flies and mosquitoes were busy around my head and eyes, but I had butterflies to photograph.

Crescent butterflies are quite variable, but some species have subtle differences.  In Iowa, the pearl crescent, Phycoides tharos, is common.  I thought what I was seeing here was the northern crescent, P. cocyta instead.  In order to see the definitive markings you have to see the lower surface of the wings of a male.  It is more difficult to do with crescents than you might imagine–the usually bask with the wings spread out.  But I did finally get a shot, and I am satisfied that I have the northern crescent.

I was almost ready to head for the hotel but I decided to work a little patch of ground on the south end of the site.  There I found a spectacular long dash skipper.

On Friday I visited some of the state natural areas along the Fox River, then went back to Puchyan Prairie.

I saw this golden-backed snipe fly, Chrysopilus thoracicus.  They are very photogenic little flies.

We have summer azures in Iowa, but the ones I was seeing here seemed a little different than ours.  For one thing, they seem a little larger.  This female basked for a while and showed her spectacular upper wings.

While I never did see the Poweshiek skipper, and I did not find any butterflies that were new to me, I did enjoy the trip.  One thing I will never get tired of while visiting Wisconsin it how often sandhill cranes can be seen out in the open.  Even in the corn fields.

I enjoyed my short trip.



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A Really Short Parade

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Unintended Consequences

A young man from Des Moines recently died in Mexico.  The story was widely covered in the news.  He ran afoul of some of the rules relating to immigration, and took a voluntary deportation to a country he did not know, where he was murdered, apparently by drug cartel members.

I heard some of my conservative friends talking about this.  I know they felt a little guilty about this, but they had a number of points about why they shouldn’t.  The kid had a conviction for driving while intoxicated.  The kid’s father also had convictions for drug related offenses.  The deportation was “voluntary.”  And, of course, the kid getting killed in Mexico was not the fault of the immigration policies that the conservatives push–it was an unintended consequence.

This reminds me of an incident that happened over a century and a half ago.

People who had known only one land were being removed from that land.  The policy that was in place was cruel in the extreme.  But the unintended consequences were even worse.  Instead of ending up “safely” in the land that is now Oklahoma, almost half of those on the boat ended up dead.

You should feel guilty for the intended consequences of your immigration policy.  You should also feel guilty for the unintended consequences of your immigration policy.

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Little Riddles of Nature

I went to Medora Prairie today, with a plan to photograph butterflies and any other type of critter I might find.  I walked out onto the prairie and saw that the butterfly milkweed was in bloom all over.  An eastern tiger swallowtail flew onto the prairie and found the milkweed.

There was a little mystery regarding the butterfly milkweed, however.  Except for the swallowtail, other pollinators were not visiting it.  It was in full bloom all over the prairie, and butterflies were just not visiting it, nor were bees, flies, or other insects.  There were plenty of butterflies on the prairie however.  Plenty of great spangled fritillaries and pearl crescents, among others.  I have seen butterfly milkweed loaded with butterflies, but not today.

The common milkweed that was on the access road was a different story.  It was in full bloom, and had a fragrance that could be detected from several feet away.  The common milkweed was in full bloom.

Banded hairstreaks were easy to locate, and I was lucky enough to see two on the same cluster of flowers for a short time.  There were also bees, flies, and soldier beetles visiting the flowers.

I find the small bee flies to be especially charming.

I saw this brief interaction briefly.  I think the flies are Physocephala tibialis, a thick-headed fly.  I got two photos of about the same thing before the took off and I lost sight of them.  The haltares (the little white dot things that are the vestigial hind wings) were twitching in kind of a hypnotic motion.  I think this was some kind of pre-mating behavior, but it could also have been some kind of aggression.

A muddy area in the middle of the prairie had several visitors, including this male pearl crescent.

If you really pay attention, you can come up with lots of questions about nature.  Sometimes there is an answer, but often the answers only bring more questions.

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A Few More Bugs

I went to Christiansen Forest Preserve tonight and wandered around with the camera.  I found a few cool looking insects.

This plains clubtail was fairly active.  It spent some time in the short grass of the mowed path, but took off into the tall prairie plants.


This gray copper was a first of the year for me.  There were a handful of them flying around in the prairie area.

This widow skimmer is starting to color up pretty well.

I had a nice short outing.  Walking around with my camera clears my mind.

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