Sunday, December 29, 2019

HumBug: Things that Need Bugs

Posted By on Sun, Dec 29, 2019 at 10:50 AM

I didn't expect to see a lot of insects but it was sunny today so I went for a walk along “my” stretch of the Van Duzen River. I saw exactly two flies, a lone wolf spider and some flying things too tiny and far away to identify. I did see a couple of creatures that depend on insects for their survival, however.
Horsehair worm in a puddle. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Horsehair worm in a puddle.
One of the creepiest critters I know is the horsehair worm (Phylum nematomorpha). Parasites of grasshoppers and their kin, they're found writhing in ponds or other stagnate water. Very likely the one I saw developed inside a grasshopper, consuming it from the inside out. Once mature, it dominated its host's nervous system, causing it to seek water in which to drown itself, allowing the worm to escape into the puddle where I found it. I am glad to relate they are not a serious threat to humans or our livestock.
Ruby-crowned kinglet led me a merry chase. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Ruby-crowned kinglet led me a merry chase.
At the other end of the creepy/cute scale, I was delighted to see a ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula). These tiny, nervous songbirds are constantly on the move, scouring the brush for insects to eat. Recent studies have shown that songbird populations have dwindled throughout North America. Conversion of natural habitat to farmland and the use of neonicotinoid insecticides used to protect our crops appear to be contributors. Apparently it's us or them.

Swallow parent feeding regurgitated bugs to its young. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Swallow parent feeding regurgitated bugs to its young.
Of course, as soon as I got home and put down my camera, I noticed the sun glinting off the wings of a small dragonfly in my front yard. Although the glimpse was brief,  I am certain it was a variegated meadowhawk, the only dragonfly I know of that endures the cold temperatures and survives our local winters.
Variegated meadowhawk taken Christmas Eve a year ago. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Variegated meadowhawk taken Christmas Eve a year ago.
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Sunday, December 15, 2019

HumBug: Best of the Bugs

Posted By on Sun, Dec 15, 2019 at 11:04 AM

After almost five years doing a weekly blog it had to happen. With rainy, cold weather and the fact that over the last several years I've already written about most of the noteworthy entomological subjects hereabouts, this week I didn't see any new critters worth photographing or writing about. So I think I'll do what other writers do in similar circumstances and resort to a “Best of” article, selecting a half dozen of my all time best photographs with an explanation of what makes them my personal favorites.
Hoary skimmer (Libellula nodisticta), very young, not grayed out by time yet. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Hoary skimmer (Libellula nodisticta), very young, not grayed out by time yet.
In 2009, driving across State Route 36 for work, I stopped at a wide spot near a small spring to stretch my legs. I got out my new digital camera and took a shot at a dragonfly perched on a stick. When I downloaded it onto my computer, I was amazed at how well it turned out. That one shot got me hooked.

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Sunday, December 8, 2019

HumBug: Preserved for Posterity

Posted By on Sun, Dec 8, 2019 at 11:06 AM

I recently did something I haven't done in a long time. I went looking for glow worms in my backyard. Locally I've found them to be amazingly common in the leaf litter beneath our local redwoods but lately they had been absent from our usual haunts. This time though, I was greeted by at least half a dozen in my little area. (For a more detailed introduction to our local luminaries check out my previous post "Glow Worm vs. Snail," Dec. 11, 2016.)
A glow worm (Pterotus integrippinis) was photographed and returned to the wild unscathed. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A glow worm (Pterotus integrippinis) was photographed and returned to the wild unscathed.


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