Wasps by the Apple Tree

We have an apple tree with a lot of fallen apples.  Saturday I spent some time photographing butterflies in, under, and around the tree.  But butterfly photography has a little bit of danger as well.  There were several species of social wasps on the apples.


These are yellow jackets–probably a Vespula species, but I am not sure which one.


I think this is Polites metricus, and probably a male.  The common name for this is paper wasp, but there are several species of paper wasp.


These are bald-faced hornets, Dolichovespula maculata.


This is a northern paper wasp, Polites fuscutus.  Most of the other wasps stayed on the apples, but this one staggered around slowly like it was drunk.

I could show you some butterfly photos, too, but I will save them for another day.  The wasps were more fun.

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Butterflies in the Apple Tree

I saw some butterflies in the apple tree tonight.


These monarchs were trying to find a roost for the night.  As it was not yet dark, they were still quite easily spooked and flew off shortly after I photographed them.


The similar-looking viceroy was there for another reason altogether.  It had located a rotten apple and was drinking the fermented juices.

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Pea’s Creek Damsels

Yesterday was hot and muggy.  I wanted to go someplace and photograph critters but the weather was not good for what I was trying to do.  Some butterflies were flying but were not nectaring for the most part.  Mosquitoes, heat, and sweat interfered with my concentration.

Finally I went up to The Ledges State Park and found a small area along Pea’s Creek that wasn’t too crowded with people.  I watched ebony jewelwings as they flitted along the banks and over the water.


This is a female.


This seems to be a male.


The flights were about mating, or fighting about mating.


The short little flights were fun to watch as the damselflies dashed about in the sun.

9-6-150050It was also fun to watch people as they waded by in Pea’s Creek.

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Trying to Understand Aphids

We have giant ragweed, Ambrosia trifida all over our place.  It’s a weed that grows where weeds grow.  A couple of smaller plants are growing along the driveway and they are covered with aphids.

There is a lot of cool stuff that happens with aphids, biologically speaking.  Aphids have an unusual strategy for survival.  They suck plant juices for food, and they cannot hide from predators.  Instead, they try to out-reproduce them.  Some attract ants which provide them some protection–the group that I saw did not have any ants, however.

I took a whole bunch of photographs, and tried to sort out what I was seeing.  Aphids have many generations per year, and those generations fluctuate between winged, sexually reproducing and egg-laying individuals to wingless, parthenogenetic females which give birth to live young.


Here is such a female.  They pretty much stay in the same spot, sucking plant juices.  They are capable of crawling along the stem, but I only saw a couple of individuals do that.  They do jerk rapidly on occasion, ending up at about a 90 degree angle from where they started.

As you might expect, mixed in with the live aphids is a bunch of debris–shed exoskeletons from aphids that are growing, and the discarded exoskeletons of aphids that were prey to some creature or another.  On some parts of the plant there is a lot more debris than there are live aphids.


This is a winged aphid that has some sort of deformation to its wing.  It seemed to be alive but I suspect it will not survive.

In addition to the debris of exoskeletons, there are “aphid mummies.”  There is a wasp that inserts its eggs into the living aphid, then the larva of the wasp eats the aphid from the inside out.  This is the shell of an aphid mummy, after the larva has eaten its way out.

Here is a link to a wasp emerging from an aphid mummy.


Here is a tiny wasp on top of an aphid mummy.  But it did not emerge from the  mummy–in fact I observed it flying around.  I think this is a hyper-parasite–it lays its eggs in the body of the wasp larva that is living within the aphid.  But I don’t know that for sure.


These charming fellows seem to be fly larva.  Once again, I can’t be sure, but I think they might be aphid midge larva.


This is a brown lacewing nymph.  Below it you can see an aphid mummy.


This colorful creature is the larvae of a syrphid fly.  It seems to be surrounded only by corpses.


Here is a smaller syrphid fly larvae actively consuming an aphid.


I don’t know which species of syrphid the larva represent, but these adult syrphid flies visited the ragweed and aphids quite often.

I would love to give the species names for all of the creatures I have shown, but it is next to impossible to make that determination from photographs, even for experts (which I am not).  I think I got the general story right, but feel free to correct me if you know better.

Aphids are strange creatures, and the things that feed on them are even stranger.

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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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