Outdoors

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.


Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , ,

Sunday, November 24, 2019

HumBug: Revisiting Old (Poisonous) Friends

Posted By on Sun, Nov 24, 2019 at 4:27 PM

Back on Oct 2., 2016, I posted an article on the infestation of western black widow (Latrodactus hesperus) spiders at the Carlotta Post Office. Just this week my wife and I had occasion to visit the area again. Guess what?
Cell phone photo of black widow crossing sidewalk in front of Carlotta Post Office. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Cell phone photo of black widow crossing sidewalk in front of Carlotta Post Office.
As we strolled along the walkway directly in front of the post office, I nearly tripped over a large black spider. One look an I knew they were back. Adult widows are distinctive. Their backs are very black (juveniles sport white markings), as if they had been carved from a piece of obsidian. Their abdomens have a distinctive red or orange hourglass mark. This one was definitely not a false black widow, like those I wrote about on Nov. 3 this year but the real deal.


Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , ,

Sunday, November 17, 2019

HumBug: Late Butterflies, Hornets and Moths

Posted By on Sun, Nov 17, 2019 at 5:37 PM

A quick walk along the Van Duzen River turned up one each variegated meadowhawk and shadow darner dragonflies neither of which allowed me to get close enough to get a photo. It's OK, I have hundreds of shots of the meadowhawk and dozens of the shadow.

We got glimpses of a California sister butterfly, a cabbage butterfly, and an American rubyspot damselfly. They were all too active for pictures.
Mylitta crescent, notches out of its wings show it has been around. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Mylitta crescent, notches out of its wings show it has been around.

Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , ,

Sunday, October 27, 2019

HumBug: Ashes and Dancers

Posted By on Sun, Oct 27, 2019 at 1:30 PM

While I was doing a bit of outside work atop a ladder, several tiny chalk white dots flew with slow grace. They often appeared almost magically as they meandered through shafts of sunlight and then disappeared into the shadows. They were out of range of my cameras and I was too busy to investigate.

Wooly Aphid on my fingertip.  the "Smoke" over its head is actually a cloud of fine filaments. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Wooly Aphid on my fingertip. the "Smoke" over its head is actually a cloud of fine filaments.
The following day, however, when I saw them again, I was armed with a good camera and had my feet firmly on the ground. I reached out and scooped one from the air. On the wing it looked more like a tiny bit of ash than a living thing, but in hand it turned out to be a “wooly aphid,” most likely of the subfamily Eriosomatinae. They grow tiny white filaments of waxy exudate. Many members of this group cause galls on herbaceous plants and can carry plant diseases.

Vivid dancer cleared up a case of mistaken identity. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Vivid dancer cleared up a case of mistaken identity.
A tad farther along, I saw a damselfly. On downloading the photos, I thought it might be an Emma's dancer, the only lavender insect I know off hand. But this specimen had blue patches on it and a few minor markings didn't quite match, so I posted it in a local Facebook group and got an authoritative ID from an expert. This was not Emma's, but a vivid dancer. In this case the word “vivid” is not just descriptive; it is actually its name (Argia vivida). Its unusual color may be from it having gotten cold.

A grouse locust. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A grouse locust.
I saw two grouse locusts, which resemble tiny grasshoppers to whom they are closely related. At about half an inch long, they can be found along stream banks where they eat algae from the rocks. Unlike their larger relatives, they can and do overwinter.

The flower fly, a harmless wasp mimic. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • The flower fly, a harmless wasp mimic.
Finally,  a flower fly caught my eye nectaring on a coyote bush. Mimicking a wasp's black and yellow warning coloration may give this inoffensive species some protection from predation.
  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Sunday, October 20, 2019

HumBug: Late Bloomers Get All the Action

Posted By on Sun, Oct 20, 2019 at 3:23 PM

Flowers being few and far between lately, nectar-sipping insects are also scarce. A few straggling rabbit brush plants concentrate relict butterflies, having completed their reproductive cycle living out their lives on instincts alone. I saw five species today, only two of which allowed me to get close enough to take their pictures. Tattered wing margins betray a long and adventurous life for the single American painted lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis) I saw.
American painted lady. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • American painted lady.

I did see several acmon blues (Plebejus acmon). This tiny butterfly has multiple generations throughout the year. It seems the specimens get progressively smaller with each brood, starting out with wings as large as my thumbnail and decreasing to the size of my ring finger nail by this time of year.

Acmon blue. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Acmon blue.
Although the weather has been getting colder and wetter, there were at least two species of dragonfly out, variegated meadowhawks and shadow darners. Both notably late season species hereabouts.
Darner dragonfly, species not determined. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Darner dragonfly, species not determined.
One local native late blooming plant is coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) which attracted quite a bit of activity from wasps and flies. Two tachnid flies stood out, one with an orange abdomen and the other with a bright yellow one (Xanthoepalpus bicolor).
Orange and black tachnid fly. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Orange and black tachnid fly.
These punk rock-looking, spiny parasitoid species lay eggs in or on the larva of other insects which their larvae consume alive from the inside out. They can play a significant role in controlling populations of their host species. Like wasps with a similar lifestyle, the adults feed on nectar.

Yellow and black tachnid fly (Xanthoepalpus bicolor). - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Yellow and black tachnid fly (Xanthoepalpus bicolor).
  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , ,

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.


Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , ,

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.

Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , ,

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.


Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , ,

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.

Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

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.

Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , ,

the most

Read | Commented

Recent Comments

Top Tags in
Life + Outdoors

spiders


butterflies


dragonflies


black widow


flies


socialize

Facebook | Twitter

© 2019 North Coast Journal

Website powered by Foundation