Category: Science

Photography challenge day 14: the hairy caterpillar; which moth will it turn out to be? Tune in to 2021 to find out…..

So this weekend, when I put up the umbrella on the patio table I noticed that there was a rather large caterpillar slowly crawling around on it.

Hairy caterpillar on the patio umbrella

I managed to get one or pictures of it, and noticed that it was extremely fuzzy and had a distinct alternating series of bristles. Since these types of caterpillars usually have nettle hairs (that usually are hidden)—and can causes rashes if they come into contact with skin.

Still truckin’ along

I’ve noticed over the years that my skin has gotten a little more sensitive to certain things and that it doesn’t take much for me to break out in a rash (luckily the rash disappears within a couple of hours)—therefore I just let this particular caterpillar make its own way off the umbrella.

Hairy caterpillar making its way through the shadows

Since there are quite a few different species of moths and possibly a few butterflies that have hairy caterpillars—I can’t say for certain what the ‘adult’ version of this caterpillar is. Though it probably is a member of the Lymantriinae subfamily of moths (belonging to the family Erebidae). These are large moths, and while the adults don’t feed (they only breed and then die), the caterpillars are known to be pests and are considered pests as they have a broad range of host plants (including trees and shrubs to vines, herbs, and grasses).

It will be interesting to see in the spring what type of large moths I see around the yard and if I can then match a picture of the moth to those online and hopefully also match it to caterpillar. But since it is late in the year—I’m going to hazard a guess that this is the caterpillar of the pale tiger (or banded tussock) moth.

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Daring jumping spider: winner of the photography challenge-Day 12

The winner of today’s photography challenge is a little jumping spider that I noticed around the pond this summer.

I had decided last year, that I was going to try and branch out in photography subjects—therefore not just photographing birds, but looking for the smaller things as well.

In this case, it was a little jumping spider that was moving around the leaves of the decorative grass.

Jumping spider on the decorative grass

Now I’m not really a insect/arachnid/snake type of person (and I just realized I put the phrases of the things that I ‘avoid’ down—since I don’t mind butterflies, turtles, or lizards (can’t think of an arachnid that I ‘like’).

But I do find the smaller spiders to be somewhat cute—especially when I’m far enough away from them that I know we won’t be getting in close contact with each other.

It’s got an orange spot on its back

So this spider is the bold (or daring) jumping spider, and is found throughout the United States, southern Canada, northern Mexico, and introduced to Hawaii. I assume its name came from the fact that jumping spiders hunt their prey—running them down & if needed ‘jumping’ on them. This is a juvenile spider since the spots are tinted orange/red—as the adults usually have white spots.

So it’s nice to know that there are ‘nice’ spiders in the backyard trying to keep the insect pests in check—though, yes I know that if it bit me I could get a rash/welt. But, I’m never going to get that close to any spider to have it be able to bite me.

While I don’t like spiders–I wonder how many other types I can (or have already) gotten a picture of? Are you a spider person? If you are–which spider is your favorite?

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It’s a wasp week: photography challenge day 6: the yellow jacket

Today’s winner for the photography challenge is the yellow jacket wasp, also just known as the yellow jacket.

This is a predatory social wasp that is common to North America. These wasps live in a colony that contains worker wasps, queens, and drones; the colony is annual with only fertilized queens survives the winter and starts a new colony the coming spring/summer.

This queen will then spend the spring and through the summer into the autumn the queen spends the time laying eggs within the nest. Depending on where the queen builds the nest, the size of the colony can range from ~4000 members to larger numbers (upward of say 10,000 members and numerous eggs cells).

yellow jacket wasp flying around the hummingbird feeder

The diet of the yellow jacket wasp varies depending on either the stage of life or the position within the nest. The larval diet consists of proteins derived from insects, fish, and meats. The workers (drones) collect, chew, and basically regurgitate the food before feeding it to the larvae. The larvae feed the workers by secreting a sugary substance, and when there aren’t as many insects to feed to the larvae—the workers will go foraging for sugar sources outside the nest. The diet of the adult yellow jacket wasp consists of fruits, flower nectar and tree sap—plus the sugar water from hummingbird feeders.

Yellow jacket wasp feeding at the hummingbird feeder

Sometimes the nest/colony of yellow jacket wasps are very noticeable, other times they aren’t (as some are built behind/below steps and logs—hidden from sight). I actually remember one summer, when on vacation my dog found a yellow jacket nest—it was built behind a wooden step going down to the lake (after that—she totally hated any small flying insect that came near her—she had gotten stung several times in the snout).

Yellow jacket wasp hanging around the hummingbird feeder

I notice the yellow jackets coming out in the late summer (usually end of July through mid-September) at times feeding at the hummingbird feeder. Usually we don’t have that many issues with them—unless they keep flying around the patio table.

Unlike other insects—I don’t think I want to figure out where the yellow jacket nest is (not willing to risk getting stung); these are insects that I’m not scared of and realize that they are beneficial to have (as they do hunt other insects)—but I’m also not sorry if I don’t see them either.

Have you or your pets ever been stung by a yellow jacket wasp?

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Photography Challenge Day 5: The mighty cicada killer

Today’s entry into the photography challenge is the cicada killer. This is a large wasp that hunts cicadas—though they don’t eat them (the adults feed on nectar and sap)—the female will lay her eggs on a paralyzed cicadas allowing the wasp grub to feed on the cicada as it goes through several larval stages.

Cicada killer looking to dig a nest

Within the US they’re found in the throughout the country (divided between being the Eastern cicada killer and the Western cicada killer)—and since OK is almost central, I’m going with just cicada killer, and then south into Mexico and Central America.

In terms of size—the female cicada killers are larger than the males, only because they cart their ‘prizes’ off to their nests. I have no idea if this one is a male or a female—I’m going to guess female.

These wasps are actually burrow wasps—the female will dig her nest in the ground, and will have ‘egg cells’ off the main burrow. Within each cell the female will deposit one or more paralyzed cicadas and then lay an egg on the cicada. When the female lays a male egg—it goes on top of a single cicada; if the egg is female there may an addition cicada in the cell as well. Each cell is then closed off with dirt, and the female will continue digging cells as needed.

Once the eggs hatch, and after they go through their larval stages, the young will winter in the pupa stage underground and emerge the follow spring. There is only one generation per year.

I think a new photography goal will be trying to get a picture of a cicada killer carrying a cicada off to her nest, or possibly getting a picture of a cicada killer emerging from the nest in the spring.

I’ve never really been afraid of cicada killers—I always seem to have to ‘remind’ them that I’m not a cicada—as they seem to have really weird flight patterns. But we do get quite a few of these around the backyard in the summer.

Question: which would you prefer seeing a lot of during the summer—cicadas or cicada killers?

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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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