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Sunday, November 11, 2018

HumBug: Lepidoptera

Posted By on Sun, Nov 11, 2018 at 11:00 AM

Mylitta crescent on dried Queen Anne's lace seed head. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Mylitta crescent on dried Queen Anne's lace seed head.
Walking along the Van Duzen River today after three frosty nights, I noted four different kinds of butterflies. We saw many Mylitta crescents (Phyciodes mylitta), got a brief glimpse of what was most likely a woodland skipper (Ochlodes sylvanoides) and a West Coast lady (Vanessa annabella). A California sister (Adelpha californica) flitted up and posed at the last minute.
West Coast lady that may well be a male. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • West Coast lady that may well be a male.
Woodland skipper. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Woodland skipper.
Butterflies and moths make up the order lepidoptera. Although butterflies get a lot more attention, many experts find moths more interesting. Typically butterflies fly in day and moths by night. While butterfly antennae are thin and end in a knob, moth's antennae have other shapes from thin filaments to elaborate fronds. In North America it is estimated there are about 700 species of butterfly while moths may number more than 11,000. Some experts consider butterflies merely a family of day-flying moths.
California sister showing some wear on its wings (gender undetermined). - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • California sister showing some wear on its wings (gender undetermined).
In the age old arms race between insectivorous bats and night flying moths, moths have developed several survival strategies. One of which is early detection of the bat's sonar which triggers evasive flying tactics. Others have developed a form of acoustic stealth. Many night-flying moths are extremely fuzzy. A recent article in Science News points out that this fur can deaden the bat's sonar echoes.
Fuzzy moth showing plumose antennae and what may be nature's anti-sonar stealth suit. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Fuzzy moth showing plumose antennae and what may be nature's anti-sonar stealth suit.
As there are so many more types of moth than butterfly and they have been around many times longer, it stands to reason they might have an even more diverse set of lifestyles. Like butterflies the majority of moths mainly eat higher plants as larvae and sip nectar as adults, but there are exceptions. Some moth larvae are known to eat natural fiber fabrics, a couple of species of wax moths inhabit beehives, eat wax and can actually digest some plastics.

Perhaps the oddest moth lifestyle is that of the genus, Calyptra. Known as “vampire moths,” they do indeed suck blood from higher mammals but, have no fear, that group doesn't live anywhere near here. Yet.
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Sunday, November 4, 2018

HumBug: Who's Your Daddy Longlegs?

Posted By on Sun, Nov 4, 2018 at 8:38 PM

Daddy longlegs Nelima passleri with eyes like a tiny turret. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Daddy longlegs Nelima passleri with eyes like a tiny turret.

As soon as the UPS delivered my newest camera lens, I had to go a hunting. Since it's fall, many insects are gone until next year but there's always something interesting out there.

Today was no exception. Before I even got out the door, I noted a daddy longlegs on my window screen. It only took a ladder and a couple of strenuous yoga poses to get the shot, but the lens performed well.

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Sunday, October 28, 2018

HumBug: Halloween Romance

Posted By on Sun, Oct 28, 2018 at 11:18 AM

Closeup of male cross orb weaver. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Closeup of male cross orb weaver.
You see them nearly everywhere this time of year, the big female cross orb weaver spiders (Araneus diadematus). If you get close you can see the emblem of the cross for which they're known.
Female cross orb weaver showing distinctive cross pattern on her back. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Female cross orb weaver showing distinctive cross pattern on her back.
As I looked at one particularly large female spider, I noticed another spider with a leg span nearly as large as the lady but a much smaller body was plucking a couple of her web's support cables.
Male approaches female spider. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Male approaches female spider.
With some apparent trepidation, he made his advance going a little way out on her web. For her part she scurried right after him and he ran away. He tried this several times always with the same result. She chased, he ran.
He finally gave up and, sliding down a strand of webbing like a man rappelling, he disappeared behind a leaf. I moved trying to get a better vantage to get a shot of his back to see if he, too, sported the distinctive cross seen so plainly on the females.

What I hadn't realized was that he was already on the job with another lady whose web was positioned almost directly the below the first.
Female shows her fangs. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Female shows her fangs.
He plucked at her web from the side as he had done before, but this lady's response was completely different. She retreated from the silk wrapped sink bug on which she'd been feeding and took up a position facing him at the center of her web, motionless. With the same trepidation he'd shown before, he approached but this female did not pursue him. Instead she just hung there, moving little until he got close enough to touch her front legs with his. Then she moved a little and he retreated. This happened over and over again, me snapping photos each time. It looked like she was baring her fangs when he got really close but it was hard to tell at that range.
The male swoops in to seal the deal. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • The male swoops in to seal the deal.
Finally he touched her, which she allowed, and then suddenly they were one big tangle of legs. As I snapped away, I suddenly realized she was wrapping him in silk. She revolved his now immobilized body like a chicken on a spit.
The male attempts to get away. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • The male attempts to get away.
When she was satisfied that he was completely immobilized she left his swathed form dangling in her web and she returned to her stink bug.
The female starts to wrap male spider. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • The female starts to wrap male spider.
That's a wrap for the male. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • That's a wrap for the male.
I returned several days later. The stink bug long gone but, like a horrific trophy, the webbed, tangled mass of male spider legs hung there. Or maybe this was another male lured to his doom.
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Sunday, October 21, 2018

HumBug: Spiders in the House

Posted By on Sun, Oct 21, 2018 at 11:33 AM

Common house spider next to my front porch light. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Common house spider next to my front porch light.

The month of October, ending in Halloween, is the perfect time to check out our local spider fauna. Many of the largest and showiest species are at their finest at this time of year.

With that in mind, I've seen quite a few lately. At my house, at least, the common house spider (Parasteatoda tepidariorum) indeed lives up to its name. They are disturbingly common, especially around my outside lights, preying on all manner of phototropic insects.


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Sunday, October 14, 2018

HumBug: Creepy, Cute and Unusual

Posted By on Sun, Oct 14, 2018 at 3:00 PM

The business end of the centipede, believed to be Scolopocryptops gracilis, no common name. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • The business end of the centipede, believed to be Scolopocryptops gracilis, no common name.

Looking closely at more crawling critters than most folks, you'd think I'd get used to them. But there is one critter that still holds a Class 4 creep factor for me: the common centipede. If you could cross a spider and a snake, centipedes would be the result. Flexible, fast and venomous — in their world they are a force to be reckoned with.
At about 4 inches long this centipede was just too long for my macro lens. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • At about 4 inches long this centipede was just too long for my macro lens.
The most common and largest I've encountered hereabouts seem to be members of the bark centipede family, Scolopendromorpha. Found under logs, they are brick red, some specimens measure nearly 4 inches long. The "fangs" on the underside of their head, technically called forcipules, are actually highly modified legs complete with venom glands. No known centipede is considered lethal to a healthy adult human and I've never encountered anyone that's been bitten.
While “centipede” translates to “hundred foot,” since adults have an odd number of body segments, and only two feet per segment, it is impossible for any species to have exactly 100 feet.
Mylitta crescent butterfly on Queen Anne's lace. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Mylitta crescent butterfly on Queen Anne's lace.
At the other end of the cuteness scale are the little Mylitta crescent butterflies. I've been seeing a great many of these little guys out and about nectaring on Queen Anne's lace and vigorously defending their territories. This species can have multiple generations in a year and their larvae feed on thistles, altogether a good thing.
Variegated meadowhawk basks in the sun. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Variegated meadowhawk basks in the sun.
Once again the migratory dragonfly, variegated meadowhawk, is gracing our county. I have photographs every winter of this particular species going back to 2010, when I first noticed one on a cold sunny winter day. Surviving frosty nights and temperatures which put windowpane ice on puddles is unusual for what is considered a warm season order of insects.

Variegated meadowhawk photo for positive ID. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Variegated meadowhawk photo for positive ID.
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Sunday, October 7, 2018

HumBug: The Girls of Autumn

Posted By on Sun, Oct 7, 2018 at 5:28 PM

Closeuo of Sierra dome spider (Neriene litigosa). - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Closeuo of Sierra dome spider (Neriene litigosa).
If spring is the season of butterflies, autumn must be the season of spiders. A short walk across some brushy terrain yielded several dozen spiders of at least half a dozen species. Among spiders, females are often much larger and more conspicuous than the males and, for ones with an annual cycle, this is when they get their biggest, preparing to lay eggs either now to over winter, or protected in their dormant bodies until spring.
Ant tries to steal funnel web spider's prey. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Ant tries to steal funnel web spider's prey.
Funnel webs were everywhere, each one with a spider with a leg span a bit larger than a quarter standing near the entrance to its lair. This family, Agelenidae, is not related to the dangerous Australian spider of the same name. Last night's rain dotted their webs like glitter.
Cross orb weaver female, Araneus diadematus, retreated to thistle where she was well camouflaged. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Cross orb weaver female, Araneus diadematus, retreated to thistle where she was well camouflaged.
The large cross orb weavers spin their neat vertical webs near the edges of the forest where open meadow gives way to brush. The large females hang in the center of their webs waiting for food to deliver itself and a prospective mate to come calling.
Dome web spiders (family Linyphiidae) hang upside down in their characteristic bell shaped webs.
A wolf spider paused just long enough to get a shot. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A wolf spider paused just long enough to get a shot.
Literally hundreds wolf spiders (family Lycosidae) raced through the grass ahead of me as I walked. Agile running hunters, about the only webs these spiders spin is an egg sack holding the next generation to the mother's abdomen. For a few days after they hatch they will cling to their mom's back, getting a free ride.
Johnson's jumping spider Phidippus johnsoni. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Johnson's jumping spider Phidippus johnsoni.
There is much to like about the little jumping spiders (family Salticideae). Agile runners and jumpers some of their movements are so quick it looks like they've mastered short-range teleportation.
Goldenrod crab spider Misumena vatia, missing one front leg menaces the camera. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Goldenrod crab spider Misumena vatia, missing one front leg menaces the camera.
Lurking on or near flowers you can find crab spiders (family Thomisidae). This family doesn't spin a snare either, but is an ambush predator.

Although sometimes they give me the willies, spiders are one of mankind's greatest allies, estimated to killing and devouring between 500 and 800 million tons of insects annually.

I recently ordered yet another insect identification guide, Pacific Northwest Insects by Merill A. Peterson. Although it is billed as a field guide, this 2-pound 6-by-9-inch book will not fit in my back pocket. It couldn't, as it is the most complete guide to the insects of our area all the way up to British Columbia. Abundantly illustrated with 1,725 good identification photos, it has already helped me verify half a dozen IDs including some mentioned here. I can heartily recommend this book.
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Sunday, September 30, 2018

HumBug: A Dead Crane Fly and a Strange Nursery

Posted By on Sun, Sep 30, 2018 at 3:30 PM

Crane fly rescued from the oblivion of my vacuum cleaner and given a new existence. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Crane fly rescued from the oblivion of my vacuum cleaner and given a new existence.

I grew up calling them “mosquito catchers.” Other folks know them as daddy longlegs (a name also used for Opiliones,a type of arachnid) or mosquito hawks. More properly they are known as crane flies, or family tipulidae of the order diptera — true flies.

Resembling giant mosquitos, they inspire fear in some people. But unlike their more bloodthirsty cousins, they cannot bite. As adults, most species don't even feed, living for only a week or two following their final molt.

Moving a dresser that had not been moved in years I found a very dead specimen which had interesting wing markings.

Adult crane flies often lose legs, sacrificing appendages to escape with their lives. They are extremely fragile, making them an unlikely subject for displays, so I decided to give it a go. Not finding any relaxing fluid in my paraphernalia, I resorted to an old school method I'd only read about. I put the tangled mass of legs and wings in a jar with a piece of paper towel dampened with distilled vinegar. In a day I was able to move the legs around and set them into position before allowing it to re-dry. Although I can't think of anything more fragile, it survived the process in perfect condition. 
Robin's pincushion gall on the leaf axil of a wild rose. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Robin's pincushion gall on the leaf axil of a wild rose.

One can often discover an odd growth on some of the local wild roses. Known as robin's pincushion gall, it is caused by a tiny gall wasp (Diplolepis rosae) which deposits its eggs on a growing rose bush. The larvae emit a chemical that causes the plant to grow a wild, spiky red tangle, providing some protection as they feed and mature. There are, however, known parasitoids that still attack them.
Tiny grubs of the gall wasp that produces the robin's pincushion. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Tiny grubs of the gall wasp that produces the robin's pincushion.
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Sunday, September 16, 2018

HumBug: Locals Among the Invaders

Posted By on Sun, Sep 16, 2018 at 11:16 AM

Tachnid flies are parasitoids, often infecting caterpillars of butterflies and moths with their eggs. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Tachnid flies are parasitoids, often infecting caterpillars of butterflies and moths with their eggs.

Finding myself with an uncommitted day and the Himalaya berries in season, I went blackberry picking along some of my favorite logging roads. I did OK but the best part of the day was wandering through patches of Queen Anne's lace, cat's ear, pampas grass, Scotch broom and bird's foot trefoil. One and all thriving invading alien species. Many of these bloom later in the season than the locals, providing food to many species of insects and prolonging their season as well.


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Monday, September 3, 2018

HumBug: Honeybees are Loveable and Love Plums

Posted By on Mon, Sep 3, 2018 at 5:44 PM

A honeybee gorging on a green gage plum. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A honeybee gorging on a green gage plum.
Honeybees are everyone's favorite. After all, they pollinate our crops, make wax and honey, their language is a dance and they are the perfect model of a socialist society. They toil tirelessly gathering nectar and pollen, cleaning and building their home, and tending to the needs of the queen, who in turn produces eggs which replenish the ranks of the working class when they grow old. She maintains order and regulates things through pheromones. Each and every worker is willing to die in defense of the colony.


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Sunday, August 19, 2018

HumBug: A Day for Beetles

Posted By on Sun, Aug 19, 2018 at 10:53 AM

A 4 millimeter-long beetle was persistent and despite being shooed away several times repeatedly returned to its excavation. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A 4 millimeter-long beetle was persistent and despite being shooed away several times repeatedly returned to its excavation.

Yesterday was a day for beetles. Moving some large pepperwood planks to my garage for curing, I noted several small beetles on the freshly sawn surfaces.

One was actively chewing its way into the surface. There are quite a few species of small cylindrical wood boring beetles, many choose a single species of host tree. At about 4 millimeters long this one makes holes about 2 millimeters across and seems particularly fond of pepperwood. I noticed several “shot holes” already in the wood. I am not yet sure how I will deal with the insects that have already invaded the wood I intend to use for countertops.
Tiniest beetle I've seen so far. Probably attracted to fungus invading felled wood. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Tiniest beetle I've seen so far. Probably attracted to fungus invading felled wood.

Some time ago I reported on the tiny feather winged beetle I'd caught, and that it was a member of the family containing the smallest beetles in the world. Well, I found one even tinier than that specimen. Smaller than the period at the end of the sentence, at first it looked like it might just be a speck of dirt, but it moved in a purposeful way so I took a magnified photo. Only after I downloaded the image could I make out any details. The tiny dot was a beetle. Although it has been tentatively identified as a spider beetle, I'm not sure that's correct. I'm still working on it.
Tumbling flower beetles on Queen Anne's lace. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Tumbling flower beetles on Queen Anne's lace.

On some nearby Queen Anne's Lace flowers I noted the black teardrop shapes of some tumbling flower beetles (family mordellidae), a species which escapes predators by making a series of tiny jumps causing it to tumble off the flower and to the ground. Although not uncommon, their wariness and this behavior makes them a challenging photographic subject.
The common and distinctive 10-lined June bug on my front porch. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • The common and distinctive 10-lined June bug on my front porch.
Leaving the house for a late-night date, I noted a thumb sized striped lump on my front porch. It was a 10-striped June bug (Polyphylla decemlineata). Flying to lights this large scarab is fairly common hereabouts. Until now I've never had an opportunity to photograph one. Of course I had to stop and take a few pictures. Fortunately, my wife is tolerant and kind.
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