Science

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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Sunday, June 2, 2019

HumBug: A Walk in the Woods

Posted By on Sun, Jun 2, 2019 at 12:08 PM

Lorquin's admiral standing watch over his territory. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Lorquin's admiral standing watch over his territory.

When I looked out today the sun was shining and the bugs were out. I set my computer and camera to acquire a stack of photos of a snail hunting beetle I'd collected on a late night walk, and out the door I went.

I managed to identify four different species of butterfly and the first Lorquin's admiral (Limenitis lorquini) of the season. They will set up a perch and defend their territory even rising to chase away birds. There were several painted ladies, an anglewing and a California hairstreak (Satyrium californica).

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Sunday, May 26, 2019

HumBug: A Patch of Daisies

Posted By on Sun, May 26, 2019 at 2:57 PM

Bumblebee on daisy. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Bumblebee on daisy.

Driving along U.S. Highway 101 lately, you see patches of newly emerging ox-eye daisies (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum). As idyllic as they might seem from a distance, there's a lot going on up close. This European species was introduced to North America in the 1800s and has become widely naturalized. Although considered an invasive weed by some, their seeds are often included in wildflower mixes.

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Sunday, May 12, 2019

HumBug: The Bald Faced Truth

Posted By on Sun, May 12, 2019 at 5:32 PM

A profile shot of a worker bald faced hornet. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A profile shot of a worker bald faced hornet.

I decided to devote this week's contribution to a single unpopular species. Known for its large size, aggressive behavior and powerful sting, the bald faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) is liked by few people. They're neither completely bald faced nor technically hornets. Their white faces are sparsely covered with setae (hairs) and they are, in fact, the largest member of the yellow jacket clade of wasps.

When I spotted one building a slender, gray stalactite from the ridge of my greenhouse, I knew it was preparing to build a nest. Instead of reaching for the wasp killer, I reached for a camera. I really wanted to find where she was gnawing the wood she ground into a pulp to build her nest. I was going to stain some paper with food coloring and try to get her to build a multi colored hive. Sadly, I never found the source of her building materials.

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Sunday, May 5, 2019

HumBug: Beetles in the Spring

Posted By on Sun, May 5, 2019 at 12:12 PM

Omus, probably californicus. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Omus, probably californicus.

While beetles were my first love when I started studying insects and are believed to have the greatest number of species of any of the insect orders, I find I seldom write about them. There are plenty to write about. The following are just a few I've seen in the last week.

Two years ago I wrote about the night stalking tiger beetle (Omus californicus), a nocturnal terror with a Darth Vader demeanor. That was the first one I'd ever seen, and I was impressed by its ferocious face. This year I've seen several both at night and in the daytime. Like their cousins within the family cincidela, they possess huge mandibles to subdue prey and with which the males hold onto their mates.

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Sunday, April 28, 2019

HumBug: Spring Bug Break

Posted By on Sun, Apr 28, 2019 at 11:16 AM

California darner (Rhionaeschna californica). - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • California darner (Rhionaeschna californica).

Spring is finally, really, underway. I took a walk along the Van Duzen River got nearly 100 photos of invertebrate wildlife. There were three different kinds of dragonfly: California darners, variegated meadowhawks and a single female red rock skimmer.

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