Outdoors

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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Sunday, June 23, 2019

HumBug: Deadly Darlingtonias

Posted By on Sun, Jun 23, 2019 at 10:50 AM

The Bog of Doom off of State Route 199. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • The Bog of Doom off of State Route 199.

About two hours north of Eureka on State Route 199, a few miles past Gasquet, a small sign announces “Botanical Trail.” It's a very short drive on a good gravel road to the parking area. A little walk on the well-marked trail puts you in the middle of a Darlingtonia Bog. Here, where soggy conditions and serpentine soil discourage most plants, is the ideal habitat for California's signature carnivorous plant, the cobra plant (Darlingtonia californica), aka California pitcher plant, aka cobra lily. It's not truly a member of Liliaceae.


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Sunday, June 9, 2019

HumBug: Dining Out in June

Posted By on Sun, Jun 9, 2019 at 11:15 AM

Wear on this Anax junius' wings hint it's had an adventurous journey. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Wear on this Anax junius' wings hint it's had an adventurous journey.

The fifth of June invited me to take my favorite stroll along the Van Duzen River. Things are at last heating up in the insect world.

While I was checking out some daisies, a shadow flitted past me. It was member of the well-known migratory dragonfly species, the common green darner (Anax junius). This is the first one of these I've seen this year. It is one of the largest dragonflies that frequents our area. Wear on its wings hints that it has travelled far. I reported the sighting to the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership, a citizen science project coordinated by the Xerces Society. The partnership collects sighting data on this and four other species of known migrators to better understand this behavior.

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