Outdoors

Sunday, October 13, 2019

HumBug: Fall along the River

Posted By on Sun, Oct 13, 2019 at 3:13 PM

There are next to no flowers blooming now. Most adult insects have lived out their lives, their eggs and larvae sequestered in anticipation of winter. The showiest life is along the river. The large body of moving water moderates the temperatures and many species employ this time of reduced predator numbers to complete their lifecycles unmolested.

Yesterday I did see a monarch butterfly, presumably migrating South toward Mexico. Their miraculous lifecycle having been disrupted in many ways so there is a movement to plant Milkweed in gardens and plots along their known migratory lanes. Theirs is a multi generational journey and their young depend on milkweed as food. Their bodies not only tolerate the plant toxins, but concentrate them in their tissues which makes them toxic to many predators.
Carolina grasshopper blends into the rocks behind. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Carolina grasshopper blends into the rocks behind.

Cryptically colored Carolina grasshoppers (Dissosteira carolina) are still with us. They leap forth and fly on white edged black wings, occasionally startling us as we walk along the river bar.


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Sunday, October 6, 2019

HumBug: Hello, Handsome

Posted By on Sun, Oct 6, 2019 at 4:54 PM

While moving firewood, I happened on a small beetle with an interesting pronatum. Its orange thorax was flared outward. A quick look up in Pacific Northwest Insects showed me it was a handsome fungus beetle” (Aphorista lactus). I've never seen the words "handsome" and "fungus" in the same sentence before. No accounting for taste, I guess.
Handsome fungus beetle. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Handsome fungus beetle.
A quick walk down to the river emphasized that the seasons are indeed changing. Most flowering plants are done for the year but the occasional late bloomer still provides sustenance for the insects that are still around.

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Sunday, September 29, 2019

HumBug: Friends and Enemies

Posted By on Sun, Sep 29, 2019 at 11:22 AM

This week I started to write about spiders and ended up buying a book on mosquitoes. In the recently published book The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator, author Timothy Winegard calculates nearly half the people who ever lived died of mosquito bites.
A mosquito skates on the water surface, most likely laying eggs in a pan of water in my backyard. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A mosquito skates on the water surface, most likely laying eggs in a pan of water in my backyard.
To put things into a modern perspective, mosquitoes kill on average 750,000 people per year, mainly in tropical countries. Some estimates range as high as 1 million.


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Sunday, September 22, 2019

HumBug: An Autumnal Walk

Posted By on Sun, Sep 22, 2019 at 11:03 AM

Walking along the Van Duzen River, we spotted a medium sized black and orange wasp industriously digging a hole in the sand. Although similar in many ways, she was smaller and had a slightly different color pattern than the locally common great golden sand digger. I posted my photo and ID request on www.Bugguide.net and shortly got a reply. This wasp was from the related genus Prionyx, another hunter of grasshoppers.
Prionyx wasp prepares a den in which she will deposit a paralyzed grasshopper and an egg to perpetuate her species. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Prionyx wasp prepares a den in which she will deposit a paralyzed grasshopper and an egg to perpetuate her species.
I spotted several species of butterfly including a California tortoiseshell a variety that in some years have had tremendous population explosions. The reasons for this are not well understood. This hasn't been one of those years as this is the only individual I've seen lately.

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Sunday, September 8, 2019

HumBug: Caddisflies and Fishing Flies

Posted By on Sun, Sep 8, 2019 at 11:19 AM

When I was a boy, my dad introduced me to the joys and frustrations of trout fishing. In his opinion the best bait were what he called "periwinkles," little bugs that cover themselves with twigs or stones and crawl around in creeks. Skip forward to 1981 and Gary LaFontaine, a noted writer, published a book that was a revelation in the world of fly fishermen. It was named simply Caddisflies. It extolled the virtues of the insect order trichoptera (meaning "hairy wing") and its hitherto underappreciated role in the lives of our freshwater fish.
A rather large adult specimen at a light trap. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A rather large adult specimen at a light trap.
Until his groundbreaking work, the main group of insects imitated by fly tyers was the Mayflies (ephemeroptera) known for their brief lives and showy "hatches" when the air can be filled with millions of them.

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Sunday, September 1, 2019

HumBug: Butterflies vs. Moths

Posted By on Sun, Sep 1, 2019 at 10:59 AM

One of the most common questions I get as a bug guy is, “What's the difference between butterflies and moths?” Although most consider them separate clades within the order lepidoptera, another answer is “maybe nothing.” Some authorities regard butterflies as a day flying sub group of moths.
Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus). - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus).
Their lifestyles are very similar. Starting life as eggs usually deposited on the plant on which the young caterpillars will feed. They chew leaves and in some cases cause extensive damage to their host plant. As they grow, they shed their skin about five times before they into a resting phase (pupa) where they transform from the caterpillar to the final (usually winged) adult phase we think of. With some exceptions, they live as adults for only a few weeks.

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Sunday, August 25, 2019

HumBug: Mayflies on the Van Duzen

Posted By on Sun, Aug 25, 2019 at 11:10 AM

Getting a late start, I made my way down to the river after the sun had gone from the canyon. I noted many tiny flying insects 6 inches on either side of the water's edge. A spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularius) strolled up the minute beach pecking here and there as it went. The insects I saw were small mayflies, thousands of them. 
A specimen of a large species native to the Van Duzen River. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A specimen of a large species native to the Van Duzen River.


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Sunday, August 18, 2019

HumBug: Damsels vs. Dragons

Posted By on Sun, Aug 18, 2019 at 11:50 AM

At a party I was recently asked the difference between damselflies and dragonflies. Although close relatives (order odonata) that live very similar lives, there are some differences.

Both groups spend the majority of their lives as aquatic larvae breathing water. They are all hunters but with varying specialties. Some hide in the detritus in the bottom of ponds, others swim freely like tiny fish and still others stalk prey through submerged weeds and algae.
Male American rubyspot damselfly. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Male American rubyspot damselfly.
There is, of course, an exception, possibly the most ancient group of dragonflies, the petaltails. This family, considered the most primitive, spend their juvenile years amphibiously, in wet burrows on mud banks and bogs often venturing out at night to hunt. These particular nursery requirements make them very uncommon.

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Sunday, July 28, 2019

HumBug: Nymphs Patrolling

Posted By on Sun, Jul 28, 2019 at 11:20 AM

A western river cruiser. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A western river cruiser.

I have seen alarmingly few dragonflies along my stretch of the Van Duzen River this year. Where I'm used to seeing dozens in a day, I'm seeing one or none. About the only species I've seen recently hereabouts is the large black and yellow western river cruiser (Macromia magnifica) patrolling along gravel roads parallel to the river's course. Dragonflies, being an apex predator in their arena, can be an indicator of the overall health of a stream.

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Sunday, July 7, 2019

HumBug: Dragonflies Remembered

Posted By on Sun, Jul 7, 2019 at 2:46 PM

Eight spot skimmer. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Eight spot skimmer.

Sometimes it takes a little excursion to get back home. A fond memory from childhood was watching eight spotted skimmer dragonflies (Libellula forensis) over the little creek at my great aunt's and imagining them as World War I fighter planes in dogfights high overhead. I didn't know their names or what their aerobatics were about, but to me they were beautiful and heroic. As I grew up, I traded their beauty and wonder for facts, Latin names and “knowledge.” They became “specimens,” representatives of the macro invertebrate fauna of our local rivers.

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