Sunday, September 15, 2019

HumBug: Missing Dragonflies

Posted By on Sun, Sep 15, 2019 at 11:17 AM

This summer I have been bemoaning the lack of dragonflies along my stretch of Van Duzen River. The number of species is low as is the number of individuals of the few species I've seen. They just haven't been there. My guess is that they, in their incarnation as aquatic larvae, and their prey have been exposed to agricultural runoff that can contain insecticides, herbicides and other pollutants. I do not have the resources to prove or disprove this, so it is just a very unscientific guess. There are many other possibilities, such as the amount of rainfall we had last winter.
Varigated meadowhawk perches watching for something tasty to fly by. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Varigated meadowhawk perches watching for something tasty to fly by.
I have seen no gray sanddragons, palefaced clubskimmers, flame skimmers, common whitetails, or bison snaketails, all of which have been common residents hereabouts.
Common green darner patrolling over the river. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Common green darner patrolling over the river.

Yesterday the air over the Van Duzen was filled with dozens of dragonflies, patrolling and snatching bugs out of the air. There were two species represented. A few variegated meadowhawks (Sympetrum corruptum) and the greatest number of common green darners (Anax junius) I have ever seen. The former is a small perching species and the latter is a large patrolling one. What they have in common is they are both migratory species, passing through from somewhere else to somewhere else. They didn't have to grow up in our river. The number of green darners may be due to a lack of competition from the locals.
Common green darner resting as its ancestors have for over 300 million years on a horsetail. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Common green darner resting as its ancestors have for over 300 million years on a horsetail.
On a much more cheerful note, today, Facebook reminded me two years ago I reported a black burying beetle at my light trap. These beetles (genus Nicrophorus) are unusual in the insect world that both sexes provide for and tend the young as they develop. One visited me again last night. Like the previous one, this specimen was carrying a host of phoretic mites. They're not parasitic on the beetle but hitchhikers from the last and on to the next small dead animal.
Like an entomological Uber nicrophorus beetle hosts traveling mites. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Like an entomological Uber nicrophorus beetle hosts traveling mites.
Home maker's tip from your bug guy ... Several overripe pears managed to attract a host of fruit flies into my house. They appeared like magic and got to be annoying, so I set my best trap for them. A bowl with a piece of overripe fruit in the center surrounded by a thick layer of soap suds. They try to land on the bubbles and get trapped. The soap interferes with the water balance in their tiny bodies and they die quickly. I replenish the suds every few hours as they dissipate. Works every time.
A semi rotten pear lures hundreds of Drosophila to a soapy doom. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A semi rotten pear lures hundreds of Drosophila to a soapy doom.
  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , ,

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.

Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , ,

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.

Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , ,

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.


Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , ,

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.

Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , ,

Sunday, August 4, 2019

HumBug: New Dragon, Bold Patterns and Teeny Bees

Posted By on Sun, Aug 4, 2019 at 11:13 AM

A walk along the Van Duzen River on a warm, sunny day can produce some surprises. Today I spotted a dragonfly which is new to my “life list” (a term I've adopted from my birding friends). Libellula pulchella, the 12 spotted skimmer. Named for the total number of black spots on their wings, they are common elsewhere, but this is the first of this species I've seen in our area. According to the texts, they normally hang about marshy locations, not rocky riverbeds. So this fella is unlikely to meet up with a lady 12 spot, and make little 12 spots, so his selection of locale is unlikely to be passed on.
A male 12 spot dragonfly. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A male 12 spot dragonfly.


Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , ,

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.

Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , ,

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.

Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , ,

Sunday, June 30, 2019

HumBug: Bugs While You Wait

Posted By on Sun, Jun 30, 2019 at 2:00 PM

Vivid dancer. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Vivid dancer.

When the lady at the tire store said it would be 45 minutes before my car was ready, I said, “Thank-you,” and headed for the door. On the way into the parking lot, I 'd spied a drainage ditch that meanders through Fortuna. It was choked with willows, Himalaya berry vines, Queen Anne's lace, and a host of other weeds too numerous to mention. I expected to see some insects and was not disappointed.


Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , ,

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.


Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , ,

Recent Comments">

Top Tags in
Life + Outdoors

dragonflies


moths


Mayflies


Van Duzen River


herbs


Top Commenters

socialize

Facebook | Twitter

© 2019 North Coast Journal

Website powered by Foundation