Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Fun with insects

I made successful another attempt at black lighting for insects a few weeks ago. Actually with a little bit of work, it is hard not to have it be successful: choose a warm, calm night at a location without many competing lights and it is almost sure to bring a good variety of invertebrates to the black light shining on a white sheet. Attracting and photographing them is half the challenge, with the other half being trying to identify them! And that is the main reason for this post being several weeks after the event.

Even using the best reference material can sometimes cause confusion. These next two images are of the same species, the Ipsilon Dart (Agrotis ipsilon), but most references show only one profile.

Another medium sized moth was this Maple Spanworm (Ennomos magnaria).

Some critters are extremely tiny. This next one is a mere 3-4 mm long, and looks at first like a fly. Actually it turns out to be a female Braconid Wasp of the Euphorinae family.
Some variability in a species can also cause some challenges. These next two images are of a Faint-spotted Palthis (Palthis asopialis). There are strong similarities, but subtle differences as well.

Some critters are large and bumbling. This large dark beetle is well over 2 cm in length. It is a member of the water scavenger beetle genus known as Hydrophilus. There was no water within several hundred metres of where I was located, and I had several of them visit my black light set-up, so this species is clearly a hardy flier.
One group of small insects I am becoming more fascinated with is the Leafhoppers (Cicadellidae). They are numerous, with more than 20,000 species described world wide. Some are merely 2-3 mm in length, while some of the larger ones are 6 mm or more. They mostly specialize in feeding on the sap of plants, but can be harmful by transmitting disease to commercial crops. Many are colourful, but being so tiny, are difficult to photograph even with good macro equipment. One of the most colourful ones I have encountered I see regularly on milkweed plants in bright daylight.
Red-banded Leafhopper (Graphocephala coccinea)
Here are a few that came to my black light.
Bespeckled Leafhopper (Paraphlepsius irroratus)

Eight-lined Leafhopper (Gyponana octolineata)

Ponana quadralaba
 This next one reminds me of candy corn.
Saddleback Leafhopper (Colladonus clitellarius)

Sharpshooter (Draeculacephala robinsoni)

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Late Season Backyard Wildlife in Macro Mode

The ongoing warm weather has certainly been a boon for insects. So I have been busily photographing whatever I can find in my yard and immediate area. This colourful Orchard Spider was in our rain barrel.

On our continuing tomato plants was this Tobacco Hornworm, the larval form of the Carolina Sphinx Moth.

 The 'horn' at the tail end is where it gets part of its name.
On some late flowering goldenrod were a number of wasps, but they were more interested in sipping the nectar than they were about my camera lens bearing down on them at close range.
Northern Paper Wasp (Polistes fuscatus)
A Spotted Beet Webworm was visiting the Echinacea. There are still quite a few flowers of the Echinacea in good condition, with more developing heads that will likely continue until the weather takes a serious turn for the cold. As noted in my previous post, there are still butterflies congregating on the Echinacea. It is not surprising to find Painted Ladies and Peck's Skippers still feasting on them, with the occasional Common Buckeye and more numerous Cabbage White, Orange Sulphur and Clouded Sulphur in the well as Monarchs.
Spotted Beet Webworm
Speaking of Monarchs, they are still developing! I had this one form a chrysalis not that long ago, and it finally emerged in due time.
 It is interesting to see the chrysalis case turn clear, showing the folded up adult inside. When it gets to this stage, it is typically ~24 hours until the adult emerges, usually within an hour or two of first daylight.
 The frustrating thing is that the actual emergence can happen in as little as a minute or even less! There has been more than one occasion when I was keeping a close eye on the chrysalis only to step away for perhaps less than 10 minutes and when I returned, it was out with partially opened wings. But for those who have watched this more successfully, it is said to take less than a minute, sometimes no more than 30 seconds. The wings begin to unfold shortly after emergence.
 Eventually the wings are fully extended, and the butterfly spends an hour or two waiting for the fluid it has pumped into the wings to dry and harden, allowing the stiffness required for flight.

After this Monarch finally got its wings spread and dried and ready to fly, it took flight for a ways only to return and land on my shirt. After a minute or so, it then flew off for good. Although it seems a tad late for this stage of monarch life, there are still some in the chrysalis even now. My next door neighbour had a caterpillar on one of several milkweed plants in his yard up until a few days ago, and now has a chrysalis hanging on a wire beside the house. It has been in that form for about a week. I check it every morning, and it could emerge any day now.
Blacklighting after dark is always an adventure. Each time is different. On this occasion when I had the light set up in the back yard for about two hours, it was great to see such diversity of insects arrive at the white sheet. One of the most peculiar critters was this Nut or Acorn Weevil (Curculio sp).

Chickweed Geometer (Haematopis grataria)

Crane Fly

Dingy Cutworm (Feltia jaculifera)

Greater Black Dart (Xestia dolosa)
 This next one is a type of Green Lacewing, perhaps the Golden-eyed Lacewing (Chrysopa sp).
I had seen the following things in the garden earlier, but didn't know at the time what left them. They are the eggs of a Green Lacewing.

Large Yellow Underwing (Noctua pronuba)
 An unexpected but significant visitor was this next one: a Round-tipped Conehead (Neoconocephalus retusus). According to the accepted range maps in a couple of my grasshopper/katydid reference books, it doesn't occur in Ontario or even Canada, and I wondered if it was something else. It does occur both to the east and west of Chatham-Kent at a somewhat similar latitude, however, so not beyond the realm of possibility. I posted it on BugGuide and an orthopteran (grasshopper/cricket/katydid) specialist from the New England states confirmed its identity, so this could possibly be the first Canadian record.

 This next one is anything but rare. It is the Striped Cucumber Beetle (Acalymma vittatum).
 Although insect activity is winding down as the weather approaches more normal condition, undoubtedly there will be more opportunities to capture some late season critters on digital film....stay tuned!