Category: Science

Photography Challenge Day 199: Odds and Ends

So since I couldn’t just pick one or two pictures to share today, the theme is odds and ends. Basically a little bit of several things–namely insects, arthropods, and maybe either some fungi or a bird or two. In other words–it will be mainly pictures, with a few words here and there.

Viceroy butterfly

I did see a Viceroy butterfly on my morning walk the other day going around Boomer Lake. It was just sitting on the one edge of the bridge soaking up some morning sun before looking for food.

Heron flying overhead

I’m also pretty certain that I got a picture of a green heron in flight. The body type is right for them, and they’re a dark color. It just didn’t help that they had the sun at their back, making it hard to see the actual green color of their feathers.

Red-spotted Purple Admiral Butterfly

I managed to get a good picture of an red-spotted purple admiral this weekend as well. Luckily I spotted one on the street (and there weren’t any cars coming).

Bee on the flowers

Our decorative grass is flowering, and that means I’m starting to see some bees in the backyard again this fall. It’s always nice to see them.

Creepy little spider

Then I noticed that there was this little spider spinning it’s web between the leaves of some of the plants.

So these are just a few of the other pictures that I took this weekend (and I still have others I can share). Most of the pictures are nature/wildlife, as that is what I’m currently most comfortable trying to photograph. Though this fall/winter I may start branching out and starting to do some architecture shots as well. But mainly I’m focusing on enjoying a hobby, and maybe figuring out how to fit in daily with everything else.

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Photography Challenge day 184: A wolf spider, and a day late

So the winner of yesterday’s photography challenge is actually a spider. Now for the most part I do not like spiders—mainly because I know that there are several that if they bite me, they could seriously hurt (or even potentially kill) me. Therefore I usually give any spider I see quite a bit of room so they can disappear—unless we’re in close quarters and I’m fairly certain it could hurt me, then I kill it.

Wolf spider out for a walk.

Yesterday’s spider is actually a small wolf spider I saw on my morning walk this weekend. These are hunting spiders, and usually they’re outside (until cooler temperatures) so I’m good with them. Most of the members of this group don’t spin webs—they will run down their prey (hence the name wolf spider).

Wolf spiders can be found in almost any environment—from mountaintops to lava tubes, to deserts and rainforests. I’m actually shocked sometimes when I don’t see one on a morning walk (though to be totally honest—I don’t go looking for spiders to take pictures of).

Wolf spider walking through the water….

The mother wolf spider will actually carry the egg sac around with her until the young hatch, and then the young will stay with their mother until they are large enough to live on their own.

There are two endangered wolf spider species in the world: the desertas wolf spider in Portugal (specifically found in the Vale de Castanheira on the Deserta Grande Island of the Madeira archipelago). It is thought that there are less than 5,000 adult spiders found within the valley.

The second endangered wolf spider is the Kaua’i cave spider of Hawaii. The Kaua’i cave spider is another spider that is found in a very small geographical area: specifically caves in an old lava area on Kaua’i. These spiders are actually blind (since they spend all their time in the caves they’ve lost their eyes). These spiders only have between fifteen and thirty young per egg clutch (so their numbers are small right there compared to other spiders), and their main source of food is another endangered animal: the Kaua’i amphipod (a tiny shrimp-like crustacean), that is also sightless and reproduces at a slow rate.

One other unique fact about wolf spiders: when cornered by a predator—they will drop a leg that will still twitch. This will hopefully distract the predator while the wolf spider makes a getaway.


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Photography Challenge Day 169: The land snail

The winner of today’s photography challenge is the snail that was moving around the pond about a month or so ago. Snails belong to the class Gastropoda (and there are more than 65,000 species within the class) within the phylum Mollusca. This class is the largest group in the phylum, and includes both snails (land, fresh & sea) and slugs (both terrestrial and sea).

Snail on the move

This is a land snail, and they can go dormant during unfavorable weather conditions (cold, heat, drought).

Snail crawling up the small wall by the pond.

As with any animal, depending on where they are originally from (and then introduced), they can either become somewhat beneficial or harmful. Take the snails of Hawaii—over half are extinct (thanks to destruction of habitats, unintentional introduction of rats and non-native snails, and shell collection), and of the remaining species, most are critically endangered.

There are a small handful that cause health issues (only because they’re intermediate hosts for other parasites); for example there are several snail & slug species that serve as intermediate hosts for the rat lungworm—which can migrate to the brain and cause moderate to severe damage once it encysts within the brain tissue. Schistosomiasis is another disease that is caused by minute blood flukes that have snails and/or slugs as intermediate hosts.

They aren’t all bad though—they do have an important role to play in the ecosystem—they’re decomposers. They will help break down dead plant and animal matter into nutrients and compounds that living plants can uptake through their roots. Other snails are predators, and help keep other insect/snail/slug populations in check as well.

Snails under a rock

Then there as the time I did a little gardening work in the early spring, and when I turned over one of the rocks–I found a good number of snails attached to the bottom of it.

Close-up of some of the snails.

So I try to make sure that they get into the garden, or the compost pile to help break down all the dead leaves and other things that have been accumulating all winter. It will be interesting to see if I get out into the gardens this fall if I will find any snails or not.


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Photography Challenge Day 162: The Mississippi Kite

The winner of today’s photography challenge is the Mississippi kite. I’ve been lucky the past couple of days of seeing them sitting on the utility wires watching for insects to pass by, before they swoop in for the kill.

Mississippi Kite launching from the wire

These are migratory raptors, that breed in either the southeastern part of the country (Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, and parts of southeastern Arkansas), plus the parts of Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. We usually see them as they sail through the sky (usually just over the tops of trees), but every so often I can catch a glimpse of them sitting in trees or on wires.

It’s snack is grasped in one foot.

Last year I managed to get some really closeup pictures of them in the park. So far this year, my seeing them has been at a distance but I’ve still managed to get some good pictures.

It is eating it’s snack

This one I managed to catch it as it was launching into flight to grab it’s morning snack out of the air.

Then it returned to it’s perch to eat—and I’m pretty sure it probably caught a dragonfly (or a damselfly).

I’m still hungry…..

Then it neatly turned around to continue watching for more dragonflies or other insects to fly past, because I think it was still hungry.

Come fall these majestic birds will fly all the way to South America for the winter. One of the most unique things about these birds–they incorporate wasp nests into either their nests or the choice of where their nests go. The presence of a wasp nest will usually help deter any climbing predators away from the nest. They also can peacefully nest near other birds such as mockingbirds and blue jays (both of which are territorial–so it’s three for the price of one in terms of nest protection).

While I couldn’t get close to this kite, I’m pretty sure it’s still an adult (or at least a yearling)–while it would be cool to get a picture of a fledgling, I’m not going to risk getting dive bombed by either the parents or angry mockingbirds and blue jays. Adults and yearlings are the way to go for a good photograph.

I’m thinking that the theme for this coming week is sitting on a wire or gliding through the air.

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Photography Challenge Day 158: The grasshopper

The winner of today’s photography challenge is the grasshopper. One thing about the name grasshopper—it refers to a group of insects (which include locusts), and not just a single species. So far this summer I’ve managed to get a picture of a grasshopper in two different molting stages—as they don’t go through a complete metamorphosis, but they as they grow they molt and become more and more like the adult at each stage.

There are five nymph stages between the egg and the adult grasshopper. Grasshoppers are plant eaters (mainly the leaves of the plants), and can be consider pests of crops if they gather in large numbers (especially locusts). They’re considered food in Mexico and Indonesia, and are one of the oldest living groups of insects (they’ve been found in amber dating back to the Triassic era (~250 million years ago)).

Grasshopper nymph hopping across the table

The first photograph is of an very young grasshopper nymph—probably within it’s first molt (or just hatched for that matter). It was this tiny little green hopping bug on the table. This little critter will then feed, and go through several more molts until it reaches the adult stage (usually the sixth and final molt).

Larger grasshopper nymph on top of the bug spray

The second photograph is probably of a fourth or fifth stage molting grasshopper. It is almost adult size, but still seemed to be a bit on the smaller (and bright) side of a grasshopper. I’m use to the adults being a little more of a dark and drab green, and not this bright leaf green.

This guy then moved on to find leaves to feed on so that it could go through it’s final molting stage and emerge as a fully winged adult within the next couple of weeks. They’ll mate, and the females will lay their eggs so that an new round of grasshoppers will hatch in the spring and begin the cycle again.

The life cycle is unique in that eggs will enter a period of diapause (or a period of suspended development, especially during unfavorable environmental conditions) in the fall/winter and then when the temperatures warm back up—they’ll finish developing and hatch as tiny little nymphs.

I know that it is probably too late this year, but next year I want to see if I’m able to get pictures of a grasshopper in all five nymph stages and the adult. This year I managed two.

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Photography Challenge Day 157: The large milkweed bug

The winner of today’s photography challenge is a orange-red/black bug that we see every so often moving through the backyard. I decided to look on google and see if I could figure out what it possibly could be—and I’m going to wager a guess that it is the large milkweed bug.

Large milkweed bug crawling along the edge of the patio table.

I find it a little funny that a milkweed bug is moving through our yard—we don’t have any milkweed planted. We’ve thought about planting some, we have the seeds sitting in the fridge—but we haven’t planted them. So, that is probably why they’re sporadic travelers in our yard—they’re trying to find some milkweed plants somewhere. Though they may also be feeding on the sunflower seeds that have been dropped from the bird feeders by various birds or squirrels.

They are found throughout North America and down into Central America and the Caribbean islands as well. In terms of their lifecycle—they have incomplete metamorphosis, where they grow in stages (coloration changes, and development of both wings and genitalia). The four instar stages usually occur over the span of a month (but this is dependent on temperature—if it’s warm they may move through the stages a little faster, if it’s cold they may stay longer in a particular instar stage until the temperature warms up).

While the mature milkweed bug can feed off of other plants, though the younger milkweed bugs need to feed off the seeds of the milkweed plant for development and growth. Once young milkweed bugs find a milkweed plant, there may be as many as twenty of them on it feeding at the same time.

One really cool thing about the milkweed bug—it is now being used in research labs for study of evolutionary biology and patterns. I think that I would probably have taken an entomology class as an undergrad, if the bug we had to keep alive was a milkweed bug and not a hissing cockroach.

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Photography Challenge Day 155: The household pest, the house fly

So the winner of today’s photography challenge is actually the common household pest—the house fly. I took a picture of this one outside, when I was sitting on the patio this morning. What caught my attention is it’s coloring—unlike the other flies that were being pests, this one (was still being a pest), but had a white body instead of the darker colored body that the other flies sported.

A white/black housefly in the backyard

Seeing this fruit fly, took me back to my high school genetics class, where we actually had to cross two flies and keep track of the progeny. We learned how to determine male from female flies (before they hatched from the pupa stage), so that we could separate them. Then we would do crosses, check the sexes, separate and look for specific traits (such as body color, eye color, and wing shape).

Just for those three traits, this particular fly has the recessive markers for body color (since it is white and not a darker color; and I’d assume the darker color is more dominant as I hardly see lightly colored house flies), but managed to get the dominant markers for eye color (as red eyes are more common), and the wings look normal (not curled, or thin).

So flies are pests (but can should be considered a semi-beneficial pest). They do help recycle organic matter, but can also transmit diseases as well—this along with their flying around being obnoxious is the reason why they’re considered pests. They are also one of the most widespread insects, as they can basically be found almost anyplace humans are.

They have at least a four week life cycle, and the female can lay up to 500 eggs in her lifetime. The life cycle of a house fly goes from egg to larvae (this stage is ~2 weeks, though can be as long as a month if eggs laid in cooler climates or cold front comes through) to pupae (this stage is 2-6 days, though again can go longer if the temperatures are cooler), then finally the adult. The life span of the adult is anywhere from two weeks to a month.

So this week’s theme for the photography challenge may be insects, or oddly colored objects??

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Photography Challenge Day 138: The fuzzy, little caterpillar (short post)

So today’s winner of the photography challenge was the fuzzy, little caterpillar that I brushed off my leg when sitting outside.

Fuzzy, black caterpillar crawling around outside.

I’ve always heard the old tales that fuzzy caterpillars were a sign that the winters were going to be really bitter and cold. Since this is the first one I’ve seen so far, I don’t know how much I’m going to believe that tale (until I start seeing quite a few of them).

It was really trucking along

I’ve always been curious to know what type of moth or butterfly different caterpillars change into, and so far I haven’t been able to identify the “adult” version of this caterpillar.

Hopefully it isn’t one that is going to strip the leaves off any of the trees or build the really ugly silk tents in the trees (as they strip off the leaves).

Once I’m able to figure out the adult/mature version of the caterpillar I will be back to update the blog post.

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Photography Challenge Day 135: The tiny buffalo treehopper

Today’s winner of the photography challenge was a tiny green bug sitting on the edge of our patio table. Thanks to the sleuthing skills of my cousin (who is an entomologist), it was identified as a buffalo treehopper.

Buffalo treehopper on the edge of the table.

These little green insects are actually garden pests, as they feed on the sap of plants—and they aren’t picky on what plants they suck the sap from. They will feed from crop plants (wheat, alfalfa, corn), garden plants, trees, and ornamental plants as well.

The females will lay eggs either under leaves or in fresh cut sliver on the stem. The young when they hatch will feed to the point that the stem of the plant collapses, and then they’ll move to a new plant or back to a tree. The mature trees can handle the treehoppers better than young, or small trees can.

Front view of the buffalo treehopper

When you manage to look at them from the front–their heads do resemble those of buffalo (hence the name–buffalo treehopper). Well it’s hard to tell from the picture how black the tips are–as those are it’s “horns”. They are unique looking bugs.

They can be found throughout the United States and are most active in the summer time. That can explain why I’ve probably never noticed them before in the yard—I’m usually sitting inside during the summer evenings (I’m not a big fan of high temperatures with high heat indexes).

The only thing I’m not sure of is whether this buffalo treehopper is male or female (and whether it is a mature adult or a newly molted adult). It will be interesting to see if we notice more of them throughout the summer, as living next to the creek—it would be the perfect spot for a large number of them to cluster together for the winter months.


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Photography Challenge Day 134: The jumping spider

So today’s winner of the photography challenge is the jumping spider that was hanging around the patio table and chairs.

We usually have several small spiders hanging around the patio table and chairs during the summer. I know that there are other spiders (such as the black widow) out in the yard under rocks and behind logs—I leave those guys alone.

A jumping spider (I think) on the arm of the chair

So the jumping spider family (Salticidae) is the largest spider family with 610 recognized living and fossilized genera and over 5800 described species.

Other cool facts about jumping spiders include:

Depending on the species, their diet can range from small insect to plant matter, nectar, or even small frogs (for the larger jumping spiders).

They can sing and dance.  Seriously check out some of the youtube videos on the peacock spiders.

They have sensory hairs that detect vibrations and send signals to their brain, and act as “ears”.

While I’m not a big fan of spiders, I go out of my way to leave them alone and hopefully not walk through a web in the morning. The only time I will kill a spider is if I recognize that it is a harmful spider that could hurt me (brown recluse or black widow), it breaks the rule and I see it (but again mainly if it is a brown recluse or black widow), or I don’t realize that I walk right through it’s web (usually first thing in the morning leaving).

I am going to try to see if I can get some more pictures of jumping spiders (as they are the most common “friendly” spiders that I see outdoors) this summer. This way I’m stepping outside of my comfort zone, and controlling how I react to seeing certain things.


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