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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Sunday, June 17, 2018

HumBug: Giants

Posted By on Sun, Jun 17, 2018 at 11:07 AM

Giant Stonefly on side or public restroom at rest stop. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Giant Stonefly on side or public restroom at rest stop.

On a recent trip up to central Oregon, at a rest area along the Rogue River there were several giant California stoneflies (Pteronarcys californica). This is the largest species of stonefly in the world. Common along my stretch of the Van Duzen River, I recognized them immediately. They are totally harmless and their presence indicates good water quality. Knowing they're out and about indicates there may be good fishing in an area.

A helpful hint: Snapping photos of things others either can't see or don't notice around public restrooms can get you some strange looks.
A robber fly in all its ugly glory. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A robber fly in all its ugly glory.

The big robber flies that abound up there — easily an inch and a half long — are the local aerial insect predator. While flying, their wings made a loud, deep buzz. I suspect the presence of a farm with large animals, dung and the creatures attracted to it, drew these ugly hunters.
Robber Flies mating. I guess there's someone for everyone. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Robber Flies mating. I guess there's someone for everyone.

True flies (member of order diptera, family asilidae), these guys can, if mishandled, deliver a painful bite, injecting a cocktail of neurotoxins and digestive enzymes designed to paralyze then liquify their prey's innards to be sipped out through specially evolved mouthparts.
Nope, that isn't a romantic embrace. The one on top is draining the life out of the other one. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Nope, that isn't a romantic embrace. The one on top is draining the life out of the other one.

I watched as one struggled to fly with prey as large as itself, finally settling among the weeds. At first I thought it might have a cicada, but soon realized it was dining on one of its own. Yes, aside from being hideous, they're cannibals too.
Pandora moth caterpillar on my hand. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Pandora moth caterpillar on my hand.
At another rest area in Central Oregon I spotted some gray and black caterpillars as large as my index finger crawling down the trunks of several pine trees. It turns out they are the larvae of the Pandora moth. During heavy infestations, they can denude entire trees or even swaths of trees and have been cited in many references as a Native American foodstuff of note.
Pandora moth caterpillar on pine tree. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Pandora moth caterpillar on pine tree.
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Sunday, June 10, 2018

HumBug: Back to the River for Swallowtails and Sawflies

Posted By on Sun, Jun 10, 2018 at 3:00 PM

Pale swallowtail on daisies. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Pale swallowtail on daisies.

As the weather begrudgingly warms up, more bugs are emerging. Lately along the Van Duzen River, I've noted pale swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon) and Lorquin's admiral (Limenitis lorquini) butterflies among others.
Two very territorial Lorquin's admirals square off for aerial dogfight. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Two very territorial Lorquin's admirals square off for aerial dogfight.
You can find quite a few stonefly (order Plecoptera) exuvia, or cast off husks, near the water's edge as naiads emerge, shed their last larval shell and emerge as flying adults.
Empty and abandoned stonefly larval shell. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Empty and abandoned stonefly larval shell.
The most remarkable insect I've seen lately was a male elm sawfly (Cimbex americana). Following a dragonfly into the bushes, I saw what I thought was a giant hornet in the weeds. Dark wings buzzing a deep bass note, it fumbled trying to claw its way up a stalk. I watched as it failed repeatedly and I noted its antennae ended in little clubs. That one feature told me it wasn't a stinging wasp at all, but a member of the family Cimbicidae of sawflies. I seldom collect insects but this one seemed seriously impaired and remarkable, so I caught it, took it home, killed and mounted it. It was so large I had to improvise a balsa spreading board to accommodate the thickness and width of its body. Members of the order Hymenoptera, along with ants, bees and wasps, this group eats plants and is totally stingless.
Mounted Elm Sawfly, Missing right hind wing shows life in the insect world, even as a giant wasp-looking thing, can be hazardous. The tick on the microscope slide reminds us they are out and about now. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Mounted Elm Sawfly, Missing right hind wing shows life in the insect world, even as a giant wasp-looking thing, can be hazardous. The tick on the microscope slide reminds us they are out and about now.
As larvae sawflies can be serious garden and forest pests. Looking much like moth caterpillars they are responsible for damage to many crop and ornamental trees and shrubs including rhododendrons, fruit trees, camellias and roses. Many species feed at night and hide in the leaf litter beneath their chosen hosts during the day, the only clue to their presence is the damage they've done to the leaves of the plant above.
Sawfly larvae and tyupical damage they cause on an Asian pear leaf. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Sawfly larvae and tyupical damage they cause on an Asian pear leaf.
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Sunday, June 3, 2018

HumBug: Oregon Butterflies and Wasps

Posted By on Sun, Jun 3, 2018 at 4:40 PM

Cuckoo wasp. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Cuckoo wasp.

One good thing about insects as a hobby is there are so many of them and they're everywhere. The high desert environment of central Oregon is so different from our coastal rainforest it gives opportunities to encounter entirely unfamiliar species. So, I took my cameras on a trip last week. It was easy to add a few critters to my life list.
I spent a lot of time chasing what I thought was an agile and nervous brilliant indigo bee. It turns out it to be Parnopes edwardsii, a cuckoo wasp that lays its eggs in the nests of other wasps. When they hatch, they eat either the host wasp larva, the larder its mother provided or both.
Western pine elfin. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Western pine elfin.

At the Mt. Mazama overlook on State Route 138, a tiny dark butterfly taunted me, flitting from one strawberry blossom to another until I finally got a shot. It turned out to be a western pine elfin (Callophrys eryphon), something I'm never likely to see in my part of Humboldt County.
Juniper hairstreak butterfly. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Juniper hairstreak butterfly.

Outside of Culver Oregon some juniper hairstreak butterflies (Callophrys gryneus) were so intent nectaring on a drab spike of phacelia flowers they paid me almost no heed at all, allowing me to get several nice shots. Researching this butterfly I learned the western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) on which their caterpillars likely feed are considered an invasive species in central Oregon. The presence of that little butterfly indicates a changing local ecology.
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