Science

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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Sunday, August 12, 2018

HumBug: A Mixed Bag of Beauties

Posted By on Sun, Aug 12, 2018 at 11:20 AM

A spunky little skipper on a thistle. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A spunky little skipper on a thistle.


It's getting late in the season, the time when all the insects that overwintered as eggs have hatched, grown through their larval stages and are now wearing their adult colors.
Fritillary on thistle. Likely a great spangled fritillary, there are several species with subtle differences. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Fritillary on thistle. Likely a great spangled fritillary, there are several species with subtle differences.
There were quite a few of one my favorite late season butterflies out today.
A fritillary (genus Speyeria) was nectaring on thistle blossoms. I looked through my archive of photos and found almost all of the shots I have of these are on thistles. It makes sense that their maturation is timed to coincide with the blossoms on which they commonly feed.
Western tiger swallowtail on thistle. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Western tiger swallowtail on thistle.
Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus), our largest butterfly, feeds on almost any flower.
Buckeye on mint. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Buckeye on mint.
Buckeyes (Junonia coenia) sport striking eyespots and put on quite a show defending territories and pursuing mates whenever another one enters their airspace.
Skipper basks on redwood. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Skipper basks on redwood.
I've seen quite a few skippers (family hesperiidae) lately. This group of little butterflies are, I think, vastly under-appreciated pollinators. I have always liked the way they hold their wings at rest, like a little jet fighter.


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Sunday, July 29, 2018

HumBug: Beetles and Weevils and Dragonflies

Posted By on Sun, Jul 29, 2018 at 5:54 PM

Flame skimmer recreates a carboniferous-era scene perching on a horsetail, which, like the dragonfly itself, far predates the dinosaurs. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Flame skimmer recreates a carboniferous-era scene perching on a horsetail, which, like the dragonfly itself, far predates the dinosaurs.

A recent walk along the Van Duzen River yielded a couple of interesting things. The only dragonfly I saw was a flame skimmer (Libellula saturata). This is the brightest orange dragonfly I know. I rarely see this species; I suspect they travel through my area just stopping to catch a quick bite.
A pair of tiny weevils. Is the smaller one "The lesser of two weevils?" - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A pair of tiny weevils. Is the smaller one "The lesser of two weevils?"
I felt something on my hand which at first I thought might be a tick. When I looked it was tiny and gray. Then I thought maybe it was an aphid, although I'd never seen one of that exact color before. It was only after I took a very close look with my little Olympus camera in maximum optical magnification (4X) mode that I realized it was two of the tiniest weevils (family curculionidae) I've ever seen.
Blue willow beetles can strip entire branches of leaves. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Blue willow beetles can strip entire branches of leaves.
There was a lot of damage to some of the little willows that grow right down on the river bar. On close inspection, I found a great many blue willow beetles (Phratora vulgatissima).
A tiger beetle unable to run away. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A tiger beetle unable to run away.
A bit farther upstream I saw the one and only tiger beetle (Cicindela oregona) for the day. While in the past they have been very common, flying ahead of me when I walked along the sandy places, I've seen very few lately. They are usually pretty skittish but this one seemed oblivious to me and my camera. I suspect something was impairing his normal neurological responses.
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Sunday, July 22, 2018

HumBug: Underfoot

Posted By on Sun, Jul 22, 2018 at 10:57 AM

A snail-hunting cychrini beetle. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A snail-hunting cychrini beetle.

On a recent walk through a local redwood grove, my young companion, knowing I'm interested in bugs, pointed out a beetle on the path. It was dead and, although it was in the middle of a footprint, externally undamaged. So I collected it. Hey, it was dead when I got there. Interestingly enough, it was still pliable, which indicated it hadn't been dead long enough to dry out. But it wasn't playing possum because two days later it was still in the exact same position we'd found it in and rapidly losing flexibility.

So I put it in my killing jar to be 100 percent sure and a day later pinned it. It is one of the Cychrini tribe of ground beetles. This group is notable as snail hunters, using their narrowed heads to access the last little bits of escargot from the shell.
Anglewing perches, standing guard on its territory. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Anglewing perches, standing guard on its territory.
On another recent outing into the deep woods several orange butterflies displayed serious territoriality, chasing others away from their perches and through the patches of sunlight filtering down through the trees. These are Polygonia satyrus, named for their apparently ragged wings.
Genus Colletes fuels up on marigold. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Genus Colletes fuels up on marigold.
My little marigold patch is now hosting several species of native bees and, notably, I haven't seen any honeybees on them. One little native was a digger or polyester bee (genus Colletes), known to line their burrow with a cellophane-like coating, protecting their brood from water and fungi.
Bumblebee on marigold. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Bumblebee on marigold.
Attracted by the scent of fermenting vegetables in my most recent batch of homemade kimchi, a fruit fly was an unwelcome guest in my home. Rest assured it did not survive the experience.
Close up of fruit fly on fermenting lid. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Close up of fruit fly on fermenting lid.
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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Drafting Along with Whirligig Beetles

Posted By on Sun, Jul 15, 2018 at 1:25 PM

Blue eyed darner on an ornamental tree in my back yard. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Blue eyed darner on an ornamental tree in my back yard.
The other day I was talking on the phone with my fiance when I saw a large flying insect investigate a tree in my back yard. I made my excuses, set down the phone and got my camera. The critter in question was a Blue Eyed Darner (Rhionaeschna multicolor) dragonfly. Thankfully, they were both quite patient with me, and I got the photo.

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Sunday, July 8, 2018

Humbug: That's One Big Moth

Posted By on Sun, Jul 8, 2018 at 3:21 PM

A Polyphemus moth on my hand, showing scale. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A Polyphemus moth on my hand, showing scale.
Coming home late from the Fortuna fireworks display on July 3, on a whim, I stopped at the Carlotta Fire hall. To my surprise I got to see a species of moth I photographed for the first time last year. Near the light was a Polyphemus Moth. At 6 inches it has the largest wingspan of any moth in the area. This only the second one of this species I've ever encountered.

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Sunday, July 1, 2018

HumBug: Late Bloomers and Frisky Dragonflies

Posted By on Sun, Jul 1, 2018 at 11:18 AM

Mourning cloak caterpillars mobbing elm branch. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Mourning cloak caterpillars mobbing elm branch.

The walk started off noticing my neighbor's elm tree is infested with mourning cloak caterpillars. They're going to town on one of the branches, stripping the leaves right down to the tough ribs. I didn't tell him. It's a big tree and I doubt loosing a few leaves is going to have much effect on it. And after they pupate they will grace the world with beauty.


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Sunday, June 24, 2018

HumBug: Mr. Big Moth

Posted By on Sun, Jun 24, 2018 at 11:25 AM

Ceanothus moth shows its 5-inch wingspan (Hyalophora euryalus). - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Ceanothus moth shows its 5-inch wingspan (Hyalophora euryalus).

Back when cameras used film, I noticed large sections of leaf chewed away on the madrone tree in my front yard. I found three large green caterpillars gnawing away at them. I watched carefully over the next few weeks until they each spun a cocoon. I put a mesh bag over each of them and waited. Sadly, I hadn't tied the mouths of the bags tightly enough to keep out earwigs, which ate the newly emerging moths. Ever since, I've been trying to get a shot at one of the giant silkworm moths, locally known as redwood moths. I've also heard them referred to as Gypsy moths, which a really completely different creatures.
Underwings of ceanothus moth with ruler (Hyalophora euryalus). - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Underwings of ceanothus moth with ruler (Hyalophora euryalus).
After a recent trip, it was 1:30 a.m. by the time I arrived home and started to unload the car. After 20 years looking for a specimen of the ceanothus moth (Hyalophora euryalus) one was hanging on my window screen. This is the second largest moth in our area after the polyphemus moth, both of which are saturnids or giant silkworm moths. The silk on their cocoons is not commercially useful and the adults cannot feed because they have no mouth parts. As big as bats, they are attracted to lights and are often docile enough to handle gently. After I took a bunch of photos of the one that visited my house, I put it outside in the back yard. In a few minutes I heard something banging on the window. It was trying to get to the light through the glass. I turned off the light and went to bed.
Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus), the largest moth in our area wingspan almost 6 inches. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus), the largest moth in our area wingspan almost 6 inches.
Working in the weeds behind my yard I noted a strikingly colored rangeland tiger moth (Platyprepia virginalis). Not as large as the saturnids mentioned above but still big for our area, it is the largest “wooly bear” moth commonly seen in our area.
Rangeland tger moth (Platyprepia virginalis), 3-inch wingspan. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Rangeland tger moth (Platyprepia virginalis), 3-inch wingspan.

Update: In my post on May 6 I mentioned the little beetle I found in my dog's water bowl 10 years ago as being unidentified. BugGuide.net came to rescue: The little scarab is indeed a burrowing dung beetle, known as Odonteus obesus.
Finally identified 10 years later, Odonteus obesus. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Finally identified 10 years later, Odonteus obesus.
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