Friday, August 19, 2011

Must be the season of the Lynx

Vividly marked

a trail I followed this morning

a trail of dead bees
The trail began here, where I noticed a pair of dead bees laying side by side on a broad leaf.

farther up the trail
A few inches above them was another leaf, and another dead bee. I knew what must be lurking nearby, so I looked farther up on the plant, directly up from the bees, and sure enough, there she was.

The end of the trail
A Green Lynx spider, with her latest victim.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

An expressive face

Is it just me, or does a mantis seem to look you right in the eye? And not only that, depending on the position of its head, or my position relative to its head, the expressions seem to change. I can see it in these photos, and I captioned each one based on the expression I saw:

beguiling
beguiling

mischievous
mischievous

wary
wary

attentive
attentive

perky
perky

crafty
crafty (like a fox)

Oh, and by the way, those little black dots in the eyes? The ones that look like pupils? They're actually not. They're an optical illusion called pseudopupils. It has something to do with the way the light hits the surface of the mantid's large compound eyes. Part of the light is absorbed, part is reflected. Something like that. And it causes the perceived appearance of those little black dots.

Long overdue

mantis nymph
It's been ages since I posted photos of praying mantids. But now that they've reached what I like to call "the fun size", I made the effort to take some pictures.

brown and lovely


Furcula pupation

a few strands of silk
This morning

stemapods crossed for luck
Stemapods crossed for luck. The caterpillar actually kind of folded them up against himself as he was building his cocoon.


Here's a little video of him in action.

Future Furcula
And here's the finished product! I'll update when the moth comes out.

Enjoying the variety and the mystery. And tolerating the smell.

The late summer heat has the hemizonia patch at the arboretum in full bloom, or maybe just a bit beyond.  It's also in full stink.  This plant is nicknamed "tarweed" with good reason.  It has an unmistakable aroma that entices from afar, but becomes less pleasant once it gets on my hands and my clothes.  But I continue to venture into the smelliness to get a closer look at the bugs!
Eating the flowers
Just like last year, these plants are full of grasshoppers and caterpillars.  But this year, the caterpillars look different.  Some of them look like last year's, but some have different markings...

Caterpillar on hemizonia
Or maybe just fewer markings!

Grasshoppers

Grasshopper on hemizonia
Now with the grasshoppers, I know they are all gray birds, S. nitens.  I already know and love that the nymphs can be found in many color variations.  (see the Gray Bird Color Parade in my sidebar, or on Flickr) But what about these caterpillars?  Are they all just different variations of the same thing?   To be sure, there are caterpillar species that can vary in color and markings.  But I think the only way I would really know for sure about these would be to take each one home and rear it out.  And I just don't feel like messing with them right now.  I have reached my limit of bug containers around the house, and keeping up with their various food supplies.  So the true identity of some of these caterpillars may have to stay a mystery for now.
caterpillar on hemizonia

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Spider vs. Spider (arachnophobes, be warned!)

Spider vs. Spider
Early this morning, I came upon a life and death drama on a small scale.  A sowbug killer spider (Dysdera crocata) was trapped in the web of a brown widow spider, (Latrodectus geometricus).  Sow bug killers live under rocks and eat isopods, (you know, "roly-polies".)   In a small corner of my patio, the big orange spider was probably creeping along the base of the wall hunting for one of the many little sow bugs that are there.  The brown widow's messy-style web reached from the lower part of the chimney down to the ground.

Spider vs. Spider
The brown widow was trying to throw silk around the bigger spider to immobilize it.  But she couldn't get close enough.

Defending her life
See the fangs?  They need to be strong to penetrate the shell of a sow bug.  But this spider would be just as deadly to the brown widow, as the widow would be to this spider.

Spider vs. Spider


So the brown widow advanced and retreated, advanced and retreated, lather, rinse, repeat.  The sow bug killer continued to keep her captor away.  I was out there in my bathrobe, sitting on the cement until I grew tired of watching and waiting.  I went inside and busied myself with something for a little while.  When I returned, the bigger spider was gone.  Not captured, just gone.  She must have managed to finally free herself.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Buckeye caterpillar


Buckeye caterpillar
Last week, I was concentrating on the south end of the park.  This morning I was at the north end.   I can't cover it all in one go. I'm too slow, and there is a lot of ground to explore.

Long jawed orb weaver

pretty pattern
Found her while sweeping my bug net over the grass at the park. I thought she had a pretty, tapestry-like pattern on her abdomen.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Furcula caterpillar

habitat
There are some cottonwood sprouts growing in and along the creek. I don't know if they are from seeds, or from the roots of nearby trees, but there are a lot of them, and I know they are likely to be mowed down at any time.

furcula caterpillar
I don't know how I managed to see this caterpillar, or several of his relatives, but they are living and feeding on the cottonwood leaves.

furcula caterpiller
I had never seen this kind of caterpillar before, so of course, I had to collect one to take home with me, where I identified it as genus Furcula. The very back legs, the anal prolegs, have evolved into a forked tail called a stemapod. I was a little afraid that it might be poisonous, but it turns out that it only looks poisonous.

furcula caterpillar with shed skin
After spending the night at my house and not moving or eating, the caterpillar shed its skin.
This was the first chance I had to take a picture of the split tail.

off with his head
I also got this weird shot of his old head capsule.  I think it was dangling by a fine silk thread.  Note the size difference between the old and the new head.

furcula feet
The prolegs are the pairs of legs that a caterpillar uses, and then loses once it pupates and morphs into an adult 6 legged butterfly or moth. I just think prolegs look cool.

And, speaking of butterfly or moth, this will become a moth. I'm not really sure exactly what it will look like, because it could be one of a few different Furcula species that might be found here. So we will have to wait and see.

Additional information from my research:
I came upon this great blog which had a photo of a caterpillar that looked like mine.

I found this page about stinging caterpillars that set me at ease about Furcula.

A visit to the creek

habitat
I live just a few blocks from a county regional park.   It has acres of grassy lawn, 3 baseball diamonds, 3 playgrounds, a lake, and paved walking trails.  My favorite trails are the unpaved ones that lead to the furthest reaches of the park, where not so many people go, and the signs warn of coyotes and rattlesnakes.  This is where I collected my tree frog eggs in the spring, and where I later released the resulting frogs.   This week, I had an urge to go there and explore.  The mornings have been perfect for it, cool and overcast.


Fragile habitat
The creek is still full of plants, which is good, although it doesn't seem to be quite as lush as it was in the spring.

fragile habitat
This is the point where the water enters the park.  Not pretty, is it?  I don't even know what kind of icky stuff is in that water.  But it still supports life.

habitat
It gets a little prettier as you get away from the culvert.

habitat
There are tons of frogs in there!

Are you bigger than a duckweed plant?
They are Pacific Tree Frogs, and mostly tiny ones.  Those aren't lily pads, they're tiny duckweed.

froggie

froggie

frog and grasshopper
The frogs are sharing their habitat with lots of grasshoppers, too.

Big Green Grasshopper
This one was on a nearby castor plant.

Hidden?
This one was pretending I couldn't see him.

I found another insect that I thought was pretty cool.   You will see it in my next post.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A skinny spider-mama

In answer to Tracie's question about whether the female green lynx "gets skinny after bearing children," yes she does!
Green Lynx mama with egg case
I looked back through my old posts, sure that I must have posted a picture of a skinny spider-mama, but I couldn't find one on the blog. I did have one on my computer, though. From November 2003!

After she lays her eggs, she will stay with the egg case and guard it. Even after the babies hatch in the fall, they will all stay in a clump and she will remain with them until they are ready to venture off on their own. If they happen to be located in an area where the flowers are still blooming and attracting insects for her to eat, the mama may fatten up enough to make another egg case.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

When a guy is really a guy

Skinny guy with hairy legs
If I'm not sure of the gender of a particular bug that I've found, I usually default to "he".  I collectively call bugs "these guys", knowing there may well be girls among them.  It's usually good enough for me. But when I'm certain of the sex, I will try to specify male or female.

Skinny guy with hairy legs
Take this guy, for example.  He's a male Green Lynx spider.  I can tell he's a male because his body is smaller and skinnier than a female's body.  And like other male spiders, he has a pair of special little legs called pedipalps that are tipped with what looks like tiny boxing gloves.  Those are "manly" parts that help him transfer sperm to the female during mating.

Green Lynx male
Here's another view of a male's "boxing gloves" from last summer.

Green Lynx female
Here is a female Green Lynx to compare.  See?  Her pedipalps don't have the boxing gloves.  Also she has a much bigger abdomen.  When you see a spider with a big round body, it's a female, full of eggs!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A seldom-seen caterpillar

hairstreak caterpillar
I actually started out looking for a little praying mantis that I'd seen on my oregano plant recently. I didn't find him, but I did notice a little green caterpillar that blended in amazingly well with the little flower heads, now setting seed. Can you see him in there? I'll give you a hint: There's an ant on him.

tended by ants
OK, here he is close up, and still with his entourage. (or should I say ANT-ourage?) This is a hairstreak caterpillar, seldom seen because they're small and they blend in so well with their host plants. They excrete honeydew, which ants favor. (this, according to my son, Michael, is the real-life entomological equivalent of Slurm, and now you know that we are all Futurama fans in this house!)

hairstreak caterpillar
Another view from this morning. I have put this oregano sprig in a little vase on my front porch. The ants have gone for now.
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