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 23, 2018

HumBug: Two Killers and a Charmer

Posted By on Sun, Sep 23, 2018 at 11:17 AM

Gray-eyed mantis eyes the camera. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Gray-eyed mantis eyes the camera.

The insect season is winding down. The imported species of praying mantis, (Mantis religiosa) are mature now and can occasionally be seen flying. Insects only get fully developed wings in their final molt. Although there are some exceptions, mantises aren't among them. Flying, they look like less agile dragonfly. The four wings and size are about right, but there are no quick turns going after prey. They fly to get some place. Their hunting is done by ambush, not flight. Mantises are always photogenic. So when one flew overhead and landed in my front yard I got out a camera.

This species comes in either tan or green. This specimen was one of the tan ones. Mantids have the unnerving ability to turn their head and look directly at you. This one though had something unique about it. Its eyes were gray. Checking my image archive all the other ones I've seen all had eye color that matched their body. Why this one was different is a mystery to me.
Robber fly dines on another species of fly. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Robber fly dines on another species of fly.

Another large killer with wings that was out this week is the robber fly (family Asilidae). As lethal as the mantises hiding in the vegetation are, the robber is a killer on the wing. Taking prey on the wing as large or even larger than itself. Although not aggressive toward us, they can deliver what I understand is a very painful bite of mishandled.
This suave little guy in the prison stripes made a beeline for the naked ladies. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • This suave little guy in the prison stripes made a beeline for the naked ladies.

Watching the Amaryllis belladonna, aka naked ladies, in my front yard I noted a moderate sized, extremely quick, starkly black and white striped bee. It was so agile it took a lot of exposures to get a few good images. Later, the photos showed it to be an urbane digger bee (Anthophora urbana). A solitary species these little bees dig holes in the ground and line them with a waterproof material they secrete to protect their offspring as they develop.
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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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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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