Thursday, July 16, 2015

The month of June

When I step outside the house, even when its just for a moment, I try to remember to sling on my camera. If I don't I'm sure to see some interesting creature or bit of behavior that won't be there seconds later.  I often forget, but I often remember and get some of my best pictures. So when I recently glanced through the pictures I took in June, it was quick reminder of some of the neat things I had seen last month. Here are a few.

First, a Western Lynx Spider, a spider I was pleased to see because I thought they were strictly western and didn't occur in Arkansas. Lynx spiders are notorious for the long spines on their legs, but this one has what looks like an almost painful surplus of spines.

Except for its special status and comical spines it's sort of a dull little spider. By contrast here is a jumping spider, Paraphidippus aurantius, that is especially colorful, but very common. It has just caught a small katydid.

In folk wisdom here the very big crane flies we get in the spring are called Skeeter Hawks, and it is believed they hunt down and kill mosquitoes. The logic is obvious: they look like mosquitoes, but are way bigger. Actually there really is something here rather like a Skeeter Hawk. This very large and colorful mosquito (Toxorhynchites sp.) looks formidable to us, but in fact, as you can see by its droopy mandibles, this mosquito does not bite. It feeds innocently on nectar. But its larvae really and truly hunt down and eat the larvae of regular (i.e. biting) mosquitoes. Don't swat this one.

In a previous post I showed some of the courtship of the cellar spiders that occupy my study with me. The last picture I showed was of my favorite female with her new egg sac. I can add another step to the saga now, since those eggs have hatched.

I think they're kind of cute.

Paper wasps of the genus Polistes all die in autumn except for the newly mated young females who overwinter and start up new nests the following spring. Most of those nests fail. The new queen must chew up wood and turn it into paper and start a nest from scratch, often under the eaves of our house. They have to build a few cells, lay eggs in them, and when the new larvae hatch, go out and gather caterpillars to feed them, much like a bird bringing food to its nest. The queen sallying out for food puts herself in the way of several dangers, and if something happens to her, it is all over. Once she can raise the first few up to be workers, then she can remain safely at home laying eggs while the others do the work and take the chances. But it takes a long time to reach that point. Especially with our slow wet spring it was difficult to get started this year, and I saw several attempts fail. But there is one on the edge of a window around the side of our house I have been following.  Here she is, glaring at me for being a little too nosy.

The species I think is Polistes exclamans. The first few grubs have woven cocoons. She has started some new cells and put eggs in them. If she can just get past this moment.

A day later, an important event: She has a worker.

It seems to be a good year for moths shaping up. We were up at Ninestone in the NW corner of the state helping with a bioblitz. We put out a black light and this handsome Giant Leopard Moth was one of the stars of the evening.

A few feet away we found this spectacular Promethea caterpillar feeding on a tulip tree.

The next three pictures we saw during a visit to the central part of the state.

Here is a nice wasp-mimic moth, a Grape Root Borer. This male has got all his pheromone-producing equipment hanging out.

This might be the prettiest creature we saw during the month, a Meadow Purple-striped Grasshopper.

This might be the most bizarre, Rhomphaea fictilium, a spider that often lives parasitically in the web of another spider. The long thing hanging down is its abdomen, which is flexible and bends in the middle.

And, coming back home, this might be the most ordinary. It's a Corn Earworm. We get a lot of our produce from the local farmers' market, and I don't know about you, but I don't mind a bit getting a reminder that this is unsprayed organic food.

Now, tell me, he that knows: What do people who don't love bugs do with their lives?