Monday, September 28, 2009

Flower Fly (Ocyptamus fuscipennis)

About the only information I could find on this little Syrphid fly was that it is a beneficial insect. It's larvae are aphid predators. Females lay their eggs in aphid colonies. A BugGuide image shows a female ovipositing on an aphid.

BugGuide: Species Ocyptamus fuscipennis
BugGuide: Genus Ocyptamus

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Chickweed Geometer Moth - Male (Haematopis grataria)

The plumose (featherlike) antennae indicates this is a male. Females have filiform (threadlike) antennae. (Photo taken on 8/22/09.)

Species information from BugGuide:

Range: Found throughout the United States and a large part of central Canada.

Habitat: Fields, meadows, lawns, gardens; adults often fly during the day.

Season: Peak flight time is August but adults may be seen from May through October.

Food: Larvae feed on chickweed, smartweed/knotweed, clover, and other low plants.

Wingspan: 20-25 mm.

Identification: Adult: forewing dull yellow with two pink bands crossing outer half of wing, and pink discal spot in median area.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele)

A worn and faded female Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele) symbolizes the end of butterfly season is near. She is nectaring on a variety of Blazing Star. (There are many varieties of this colorful fall wildflower. I haven't gotten them all sorted out yet.) The two beetles beneath her are Goldenrod Soldier Beetles (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus), a species of leatherwing beetle that is probably the most commonly seen soldier beetle in eastern/central North America during late summer and fall.

Species information on the Great Spangles Fritillary from Nearctica:

Wing span: 2 1/2 - 4 inches (6.3 - 10.1 cm).

Identification: Large. Upperside of male tan to orange with black scales on forewing veins; female tawny, darker than male. Underside of hindwing with wide pale submarginal band and large silver spots.

Life history: Males patrol open areas for females. Eggs are laid in late summer on or near host violets. Newly-hatched caterpillars do not feed, but overwinter until spring, when they eat young violet leaves.

Flight: One brood from mid-June to mid-September.

Caterpillar hosts: Various violet species (Viola).

Adult food: Nectar from many species of flowers including milkweeds, thistles, ironweed, dogbane, mountain laurel, verbena, vetch, bergamot, red clover, joe-pye weed, and purple coneflower.

Habitat: Open, moist places including fields, valleys, pastures, right-of-ways, meadows, open woodland, prairies.

Range: Alberta east to Nova Scotia, south to central California, New Mexico, central Arkansas, and northern Georgia.


Thursday, September 17, 2009


I was working in my basement shop this evening with the door to the outside open.  I looked down and espied what I at first though was some really weird-looking bug.  Well, I guess it is a bug, but not the type suitable for posting on BugGuide -- a mudbug, crawdad, crayfish.  I'm really not up on my crayfish IDs so I have no idea what species it is.  Still, when crayfish start coming inside to get out of the weather, I think it's a sign we've had more than enough rain.  I mean, we live in the hills of Arkansas' Ozark Mountains, not along a southern Louisiana bayou.

Rain:  Nine inches so far this month.  One inch Tuesday and another 3.7 on Wednesday.  Enough already!

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Luna Moth Caterpillar (Actias luna)

Luna Moth Caterpillars (Actias luna) are such a bright lime-green they almost appear translucent. We found about a dozen caterpillars on a couple of sweet gum saplings growing along side the road just up from the house.

From a distance, the Luna Moth caterpillar does an excellent job of looking like a leaf. The weak subspiracular stripe on abdomen and yellow lines that cross the larva's back near the back end of each segment look like leaf veins. We'd probably walked passed these caterpillars many times before noticing them. I actually found the caterpillars by first noticing the eaten leaves on the sapling. I then started looking for the caterpillar that had done the damage.

The larger caterpillar is in its fifth and final instar. I'm not sure about the smaller. Even if the eggs are laid at the same time and they hatch at about the same time, caterpillars often pass through their instars at different rates. (Note: The anal proleg edged in yellow is one of the identifying characteristics of a Luna Moth caterpillar.)

Luna Moth caterpillar demonstrating the coordination between its six true legs and mouth. It's dining on sweet gum in this case. Hickory, walnut, persimmon, and birch are also common host trees. The caterpillar must eat enough now to sustain it through the adult stage of its life cycle because adult Luna Moths are incapable of eating.

For more information on Luna Moths, please see:
BugGuide Species Page.
BugGuide photos of all five caterpillar instars.
Butterflies and Moths of North America.
Animal Diversity Web.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Early Morning Fog (by Jo)

It was foggy early this morning. I'm glad Jo and the dogs didn't meet up with a bear while on their morning walk.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sachem Skippers (Atalopedes campestris)

Mating Sachem Skippers (Atalopedes campestris) on garlic chives.  (Male is on the right.)

Range: Southern United States from Virginia west to California; south through Mexico and Central America to Brazil. Strays and colonizes north to central North Dakota, southern Michigan, Manitoba, and northern Pennsylvania.

Life history: Males perch on or near the ground during most of the day to wait for receptive females. Females lay single eggs on dry grass blades in the afternoon. Caterpillars feed on leaves and live at the base of grasses in shelters of rolled or tied leaves.

Please see Nearctica and/or BugGuide for complete species details.

(Thanks to Doug Taron for the ID on BugGuide.)

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Feather-legged Fly (Trichopoda pennipes)

Identification:  About the size of a large housefly.  Thorax is mostly black.  Abdomen is bright orange.  Has a fringe of comb-like black hairs on rear legs.  Smokey wings.  The wings of males have a darker area.  The abdomen tip of females is black.

Range:  Native to North America and found in most areas.

Food:  Adults feed on nectar.  Larva are parasites of certain true bugs, primarily squash bugs and stink bugs.

Habitat:  Found wherever crops that will attract its host species are growing.  Often hovers over squash plants searching for prey.  (BugGuide Species Page)

Life Cycle:  The female fly lays one to many small, white or gray, oval eggs on large nymphs or adult bugs. The larvae burrow from the egg directly into the bug's body. Only one larva survives within each pest bug. A large, cream-colored maggot exits from the body of the bug, drops to the ground, and pupates in a dark reddish-brown, capsule-like puparium. The bug soon dies.  A new generation of adult flies emerges to lay eggs about two weeks later. Each female fly may lay several hundred eggs, and there may be three generations each year, depending on location. The parasitoid overwinters as a larva within the body of the overwintering bug, emerging in late spring or early summer.  (Cornell University ... site also includes photos of several life cycle stages)

Remarks:  T. pennipes appears to have different biotypes across the country, preying on very specific hosts in different regions. (Cirrus Images)

The stinkbug "stink" that repels many predators, seems to attract T. pennipes.

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

International Vulture Awareness Day

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

This bird lost most of a wing in an accident.   The University of Missouri School of Veterinary  Medicine's Raptor Rehab Project saved the bird and included it in its traveling educational program.  (photo from 6/5/05)

The Turkey Vulture feeds primarily on a wide variety of carrion, from small mammals to large grazers, preferring those recently dead, and avoiding carcasses that have reached the point of putrefaction. It may rarely feed on plant matter, shoreline vegetation, pumpkin and other crops, live insects and other invertebrates. It rarely, if ever, kills prey itself. The Turkey Vulture can often be seen along roadsides feeding on roadkill, or near bodies of water, feeding on washed-up fish. It also will feed on fish or insects which have become stranded in shallow water. Like other vultures, it plays an important role in the ecosystem by disposing of carrion which would otherwise be a breeding ground for disease.  (Wikipedia)

This post made in conjunction with International Vulture Awareness Day. Please see vulture-related posts on other blogs.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Spider versus Mud Dauber

It really wasn't much of a contest. The Black and Yellow Mud Dauber's (Sceliphron caementarium) only hope was escaping from the Cobweb Spider's (Family Theridiidae) web -- and she could not.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Whitebanded Crab Spider (Misumenoides formosipes)

Crab spiders are ambush predators. They sit in strategic locations, waiting for prey to arrive. Some species of crab spiders have evolved to blend in with bark and leaf litter. Others are more brightly colored and "hide" in flowers.

Typically a female crab spider lays her eggs in the fall and they hatch the following spring. The spiderlings spend the summer eating and growing. They will eat just about any insect that happens to come within the grasp of their powerful forelegs (including other spiderlings). By late summer and fall, the mature crab spiders become more conspicuous. Most of the crab spiders you see are females. Males are much smaller and marked differently.

Researchers say the venom of some crab spiders is more potent than most other spiders. This allows the relatively small spiders to quickly immobilize much larger prey. However, crab spider venom is not know to be especially harmful to humans, and unless you trap a crab spider in your hands and began squashing, you're highly unlikely to be bitten in the first place.

Most sources say crab spiders can slowly change their color to match their surroundings, although one claims that color is determined by where the females lays her eggs. I don't know, but I find it much easier to believe a crab spider can slowly adapt its color to its surroundings.

One thing I've noticed, but didn't find mentioned is that crab spiders often curl over a petal or two on a composite flower to help conceal themselves.

Three genera of flower crab spiders are common in North America. They can be a little tricky to identify because all three look similar and there can be considerable variation in color and markings within each genus. The ultimate determining factor in identifying these crab spiders is the position of their eight eyes. BugGuide has and excellent comparison article for helping with identification.

Both of the spiders on this page are Whitebanded Crab Spiders (Misumenoides formosipes). The identifying characteristics are: The white ridge across the spider's face just below its eyes. (Another common name for this species is Ridge-faced Flower Spider.) The forward-pointing, V-shaped marking on the spiders abdomen. The eyes: When viewed from the front and slightly above only six eyes are visible. Four are more or less in a row right above the white ridge. Two are above the four. The spiders other two eyes are at the ends of the top ridge and are actually on the sides of the spider's "head". (BugGuide has a photo showing eye placement more clearly than mine.)

Sources and Additional Information:
University of Kentucky Entomology
Missouri Spiders

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