Outdoors

Sunday, April 14, 2019

HumBug: Bugs Between the Raindrops

Posted By on Sun, Apr 14, 2019 at 1:30 PM

An as yet to be identified bumblebee on dandelion - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • An as yet to be identified bumblebee on dandelion

Despite the dreary weather, life must go on. Eager to get along with their lives, our local insects show up even for the brief patches of sunshine that occasionally grace my back yard. Mostly disdained by the local honeybees, oxalis, dandelions and English daisies draw a crowd.

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Sunday, March 31, 2019

HumBug: Partial Sun, Chance of Butterflies and Bees

Posted By on Sun, Mar 31, 2019 at 11:09 AM

California tortoiseshell populations fluctuate erratically. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • California tortoiseshell populations fluctuate erratically.

Well, at least we had one sunny day. Along with the rest of us, the insects crawled from their hidey holes in bark crevasses, burrows in the ground and old wood.

A couple of days ago I got a brief glimpse of what I suspected was a California tortoiseshell butterfly (Nymphalis californica). Sometimes, for reasons that aren't clear, their population can explode. Some years ago I counted nearly 100 of them apparently migrating upstream along the Van Duzen River. On Thursday a dozen or so flitted about the plum trees in my yard. They were accompanied by nearly as many painted lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui), purported to be the most widespread butterfly in the world seen on all continents except Antarctica.

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Sunday, March 24, 2019

HumBug: Spring May Have Finally Sprung

Posted By on Sun, Mar 24, 2019 at 9:00 AM

Celastrina echo butterfly as we usually see them. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Celastrina echo butterfly as we usually see them.

After a few false starts it feels like spring is finally underway. Days ago, a walk in the woods with my dogs produced a tick. I've said before I do not like ticks but as a community service I try to give a heads up when I see them about.

I also kicked up what I believe was an Echo Azure (Celastrina echo) butterfly. These tiny shiny blue butterflies flit along the damp places of the river bar. Unfortunately, when they land, they usually hold their wings over their back exposing the gray undersides and hiding the bright blue uppers. Only occasionally opening them when perched and displaying to attract a mate.

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Sunday, March 10, 2019

HumBug: Going into the Light (Fixture)

Posted By on Sun, Mar 10, 2019 at 2:00 PM

About a month's worth of bugs from my kitchen light fixture. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • About a month's worth of bugs from my kitchen light fixture.

In an effort to make one of those yucky housecleaning tasks a tad more interesting, I decided to check out the dead bugs in my kitchen light fixture before feeding them to my goldfish. In the past I've found millipedes and, once upon a time, even a potato bug (Jerusalem cricket). How that got up there is anybody's guess.

It is well known that many insects are phototrophic (attracted to lights) but in the case of the Jerusalem cricket, it is just the opposite. They live under rocks and logs and ordinarily shun the light.

Electric lights can be deadly to insects, especially semi-enclosed ones that get warm. Small as they are, insects are continually fighting a battle to maintain the proper water content in their bodies. That is why insecticidal soaps work. They dissolve a thin layer of waxy material that helps slow the animal's water gain or loss.

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Monday, March 4, 2019

HumBug: Blooming too Early or Bugs too Late?

Posted By on Mon, Mar 4, 2019 at 9:24 AM

Fungus gnats on fetid adder's tongue. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Fungus gnats on fetid adder's tongue.

Despite the weather lately, spring is happening, at least in the plant world. Last night on a walk, I saw fetid adder's tongue (aka “brownies,” aka Scoliopus bigelovi), and Indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) and a patch of naturalized daffodils, all in bloom. Along with brilliant yellow acacia and the pink and white fruit trees along the side of our local roads, the spring blooming season has started, insects or no.


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Sunday, January 27, 2019

HumBug: Archaeognatha

Posted By on Sun, Jan 27, 2019 at 11:07 AM

Hump backed, jumping bristletails look like tiny shrimp. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Hump backed, jumping bristletails look like tiny shrimp.
When I set out to take a couple of photos of the jumping bristletails on the back of my garage, I was not prepared for what I got.

They're interesting for being such an old order. The name Archaeognatha means “ancient jaw.” This refers to the primitive structure of their jaw. Jumping bristletails are one of the first insects to show up in the fossil record (about 390 million years ago) When our first vertebrate ancestors crawled onto land, they were probably greeted by something that looked much like what we see today and ate them. Early colonization of the land by arthropods created a food rich environment for the first tetrapods to exploit.

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Sunday, January 20, 2019

HumBug: Winter Critters

Posted By on Sun, Jan 20, 2019 at 5:27 PM

Closeup of a variegated meadowhawk. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Closeup of a variegated meadowhawk.

Five years ago I started reporting seeing a small dragonfly in the middle of winter on sunny days, even following frosty nights. Dragonflies usually spend the cold months as larvae in the water. Up until then, none of the other dragonfly enthusiasts were reporting anything at all. I've been able to photograph and report this one species in December and January every year since.

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Sunday, January 13, 2019

HumBug: Earwigs

Posted By on Sun, Jan 13, 2019 at 11:29 AM

Female earwig cerci. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Female earwig cerci.

I have not been a big fan of earwigs ever since they ate the ceanothus moth I was trying to rear. Reading a bit about them, I found they indeed have some interesting and worthwhile features. The most common variety around here is the European earwig (Forficula auricularia).

We called them “pincer bugs” when I was a kid due to the pair of forceps-like cerci that adorn their tail. When assaulted by grabbing their head between your fingers, they will indeed try to pinch you with them. The shape of the cerci can be used to differentiate the sexes. The male's are rounded and sickle shaped, while the females' are straighter and appear parallel.

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Sunday, December 30, 2018

HumBug: Insect Armageddon

Posted By on Sun, Dec 30, 2018 at 5:31 PM

Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) known to supplement their diet with flying insects and line their nests with spider silk. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) known to supplement their diet with flying insects and line their nests with spider silk.
I have had a lifelong interest in insects, collecting, observing, studying, and photographing them for more than 60 years. Looking back, I've noticed progressively fewer insects around my porch lights at night and far fewer splattered across the windshields of my various cars.

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Sunday, December 23, 2018

HumBug: Millipede by the Millimeter

Posted By on Sun, Dec 23, 2018 at 7:08 PM

Panoramic image of a Eurasian millipede on a mirror. The photo was an all-nighter. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Panoramic image of a Eurasian millipede on a mirror. The photo was an all-nighter.

I didn't intend to spend all night working on a single photograph but a Eurasian millipede (Ophyiulus pilosus) trapped in a measuring cup was an opportunity to try some equipment in a new way. Instead of using the computer-controlled StackRail to move the focus point, I set it up to travel along the critter, acquiring an image every millimeter. Panoramic software, usually applied to landscapes, allowed combining the 76 resulting exposures into a single image. After positioning the subject, several passes of image acquisitions, adjusting lighting, software fails and crashes, I set everything up, hit the “Stack” button and went to bed at about 5:20 a.m. Post processing the resulting image took several hours as well.
Cyanide millipede. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Cyanide millipede.
Millipedes are among the oldest land animals and in ancient times some Arthropleura grew to be the largest land invertebrates ever, attaining lengths of over 2 meters.
A millipede under black light, possibly a young cyanide millipede. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A millipede under black light, possibly a young cyanide millipede.
Locally I have noted at least four species, all of which are harmless to humans. Being slow moving creatures without sting, bristles or venom their defenses are coiling into a tight spiral and secreting noxious substances along their sides. At least one local species, the yellow spotted Harpaphe haydeniana, or a close relative, includes cyanide in its arsenal. I think the young of this variety are the ones I've seen glow when illuminated with black light.
A large millipede curled into defensive position. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A large millipede curled into defensive position.
A pale yellow one I found in a rotten log remains unidentified and may not be known to science yet. Unfortunately, I managed to get only one photograph of it several years ago.
Unidentified millipede, most likely of order Polyzoniida. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Unidentified millipede, most likely of order Polyzoniida.
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