Saturday, August 31, 2013

Of moths and mites

A Clover Hayworm moth, Hypsopygia costalis, graces my front wall, near the porch light. Beautiful as this moth is, with its maroon wings trimmed in lemon-yellow, it is a rather "weedy" species, as its caterpillars are generalist feeders on a variety of dried plant material, including clover. As I live next to the Ohio State University's farm, there is no shortage of such fare around here, and these beautiful little moths are regular visitors to my lights. I made this image on August 21st.

So, today I was analyzing the image in greater detail with our graphics genius at work, Chad Crouch, to see if it might be suitable for use in one of our publications. With his sharp eye for symmetry, Chad quickly noticed something that I had missed. Click the photo to enlarge, and check the outer portion of the right wing. Mites! Two of them!

Here's a tight crop on that part of the wing, and I've enhanced the mites' color a bit to make them more visible. Well, that was the coolest thing that I had seen all day (yes, I know...), and of course I wanted to know more. Mites are abundant parasites on a huge range of animals, but in spite of the scores of moth photos that I've taken over the years, I had never notice them on moths before.

A bit of research quickly revealed that mites are indeed known as parasites on moths, and the BugGuide website even has a photo of mites - same species presumably - on a Clover Hayworm moth. Presumably the mites in that photo, and mine, are tapping into a wing vein and actively feeding, rather than just hitching a ride.

I found a beautifully written 1967 paper entitled "Mites from Noctuid Moths" that was written by Asher E. Treat and published in the Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society. It appears to be one of the more comprehensive papers on this obscure subject, although as Treat notes, "Here is a garden of wonders for the inquiring lepidopterist, a garden that is virtually unexplored". Although he wrote that 46 years ago, it seems that not many lepidopterists have taken up the quest to ferret out the mystery of moth-borne mites in the intervening years.

Although Treat's work was confined to moths in the family Noctuidae - the Clover Hayworm is in the Pyralidae - much of what he says probably applies to many moth families, and he brings out the commonness with which mites use moth hosts. There is a large group of mites that only infest the ears (EARS!) of moths! These parasites lay in wait on flowers, and when a suitable moth lands and extends its proboscis to tap nectar, the mites quickly scramble up this "gang-plank". Once on the moth, the mites, apparently following a pheromone trail left by the leader, invade one ear, and only one ear, of the host moth. To infest both ears would be a tactical mistake, as the mite colonies apparently result in the loss of the moth's sensory abilities. If mites infested BOTH ears, the moth would not be nearly as capable at detecting bat echolocations and other threats, and thus the moth would be at greater risk of predation. And then the mites' chances of survival and success would plummet.

Now that I am aware that such a Lilliputian world of mites on moths exists, I will keep a much sharper eye for them when photographing living specimens in the field, and perhaps obtain some sharper images. Although, as good as my Canon 100 mm L macro lens is, this is really the job of the bizarre Canon MP-E 65 mm macro lens, and these mites are yet another justification for getting this piece of equipment.


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Friday, August 30, 2013

Eastern Hercules Beetle!

A while back, John Howard emailed me with the news that he had discovered an excellent specimen of our largest beetle, and would I like to photograph it? Of course I would, and John was kind enough to keep the animal in captivity until I could make my way to Adams County a week or so later. When I finally arrived, the beetle was none the worse for the wear, and we set out to liberate it and make some photos in the process.
 
An Eastern Hercules Beetle, Dynastes tityus, a true Coleopteran titan. These insects probably aren't very rare, at least in southern Ohio, but they're hard to find and even people who are in the field a lot don't encounter many of them. I've never lucked into one in the wild, so I was excited to have the chance to make images of this specimen.

A dime inserted into the photo offers scale to the big bug. Those rhino-like horns are the most conspicuous feature of a Hercules Beetle, other than its extreme size. The males use them to joust with one another during mating season, apparently. Even though it looks like this thing could put a serious pinch on one's fingers, I doubt it could do any real harm.

These beetles are quite variable in appearance. Their overall coloration and pattern of spotting is apparently influenced by the environmental conditions in which they are spawned. Whatever their color, a Hercules Beetle can live a long time (for a bug) - six months or so as an adult. The live perhaps three times longer than that as the larval stage - huge wood-boring grubs that live in rotting wood. Finding one of these grubs is the stuff of Pileated Woodpeckers' dreams!

The group of beetles in the subfamily Dynastinae are sometimes referred to as "Rhinoceros Beetles", for obvious reasons. The members of this group are behemoths, and the Hercules Beetle is one of the largest beetles in North America. This spectacular bug was actually featured on a 1999 U.S. Postal Service stamp, a fitting recognition if you ask me.

video
Here's a brief high-def video of the beetle, courtesy my 5D Mark III. As soon as we set the animal on this branch, it set about grazing the moss from the bark. It didn't do a lot otherwise, except twitch its antennae. Soon after these photos and this video were made, we left the beetle in a safe spot not far from where John initially found it, and here's hoping it goes on to help spawn more of these fabulous beetles.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Charismatic Katydids

I've been smitten with the Orthoptera for the better part of a decade. I liked these insects - crickets, katydids, coneheads and their kin - even before that, but didn't make a real effort to learn about them. Then, one day about eight or nine years ago, a woman asked me what was making a metallic clicking sound in a shade tree outside her house. From her description, I recognized the sound as I had heard it too, but I was embarrassed to say that I did not know the causer of the clicks.

It didn't take much research to learn that the mystery clicker was a Greater Anglewing, which is a jumbo katydid and a consummate leaf mimic. I was hooked! From that point, I wanted to know the names of all of the six-legged singers that compose our late summer and autumn symphonies. If you are into birds, as I am, learning the insect songs is great practice for tuning the ear for bird song.

Now, I find myself giving lectures on Orthopteran insects, and taking people afield to learn more about them. Last Saturday night, I led such a gig over at Dawes Arboretum, and our field trip was beyond fantastic. It was as if the insects were jumping from the trees and shrubs into our hands. We got great looks at a number of species, and I would say that the Slightly Musical Conehead was the people's favorite.

The very next day, I was on another expedition, and we found the beauty pictured below. She totally manifests the abundant charisma that defines katydids...

A female Curve-tailed Bush Katydid, Scudderia curvicauda, inspects the tasty skin of her human handler. This animal magically sprang from the grasses and presented herself to the group. Knowing a bit about the habits of these beasts, I set about luring it onto my hand. The larger katydids are often incredibly confiding. All one needs to do is slowly move a hand into the proximity of their antennae. The katydid will tap your skin with its feelers, detect tasty salty skin, and clamber aboard.

Once in the hand, the katydid will begin rasping off the outer epidermal layer of your skin, which kind of tickles. Their jaws are powerful, and every now and then they'll give a decent pinch, but nothing too much. But having one of these animals so near allows for the chance to admire their striking appearance. Note the tricolored eyes and whimsical looks of this beautiful animal.

I knew it was a bush katydid in the genus Scudderia when I saw it, but did not know the species. Females are harder to identify than males; indeed some references say that you must see them in close proximity to their male mate to make a positive identification.

Unless you're friends with Wil Hershberger. Wil literally wrote the book on singing insects, and I sent him these photos for his thoughts. He recognized the animal for what it was, and hence I got a  positive identification.

Speaking of Wil Hershberger, this is his book, which he coauthored with Lang Elliott. It is THE book to have for anyone interested in singing insects. If you aren't interested in this group and pick up this book, chances are you soon will be interested in the Orthoptera. I highly recommend The Songs of Insects, and you can get it RIGHT HERE.

We have another wonderful Orthopteran asset right here in Ohio, in the form of Lisa Rainsong. No one in this state knows the singing insects better than Lisa does, and she has started a wonderful blog devoted to our music-making bugs and Nature's other songsters. Check it out RIGHT HERE.

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Some gorgeous little bugs

Lots of bugs this weekend. Saturday night, I gave a program about "singing insects" - the Orthoptera - at Dawes Arboretum. We limited it to 25 people, and had a full house. After the presentation, we headed out into the dark and I've never had such luck finding cool bugs. Right off the bat, we tracked down and captured a Slightly Musical Conehead, the first of many. A Greater Anglewing was singing from the roof of the building that I gave the talk in. Restless Bush Crickets put in multiple appearances. And on it went - the best nocturnal singing insect foray that I've yet done.
 
Today, Jess Henning and I made a whirlwind trip into the backwoods of Athens County to check out a few spots, and encountered lots of noteworthy plants, and insects. I of course had the camera in tow, and managed some decent images. Following are a few of those...
 
A Snowberry Clearwing, Hemaris diffinis, works the flowers of a Rough Blazing-star, Liatris aspera. The dry meadow where this moth was found was full of blazing-star, and various pollinating insects. Shooting the hummingbird moths is a challenge, as they are in more or less constant motion, and their wings are a blur. When I encounter one and begin the hunt, I flip my camera's settings to shutter priority, and jack the shutter speed WAY up in order to better freeze movement. This image was made at a shutter speed of 1/2,500, with no flash.

A female Zabulon Skipper, Poanes zabulon, was also working the blazing-star. I must confess to largely ignoring the small skippers, and appreciate George Sydlowski for correcting me on its identification.

My favorite shot of the day. This is a TINY braconid wasp, and I think it is a species in the genus Atanycolus. It's a female, as evidenced by the long spikelike ovipositor protruding from the rear of her abdomen, and the entire animal was probably only 5-8 millimeters in length.

Braconid wasps are parasitoids of various insects, and species in the genus Atanycolus go after the grubs of wood-boring beetles. She'll somehow divine the location of a larva deep in a log, and auger that long ovipositor down to it, and lay an egg or eggs on the victim. The newly emergent wasp larvae will bore into their host, and eat it.



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Friday, August 23, 2013

An encounter with the Erect Dayflower, finally!

Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Area near Medaryville, Indiana, a place famous for the thousands of Sandhill Cranes that congregate here in late fall and early winter. But J-P's 8,000+ acres also conserves an outstanding sand prairie and associated wetlands. On my recent foray here, I was especially keen to see and photograph some of the flora, including plants that are either very rare in Ohio, or don't quite make it this far east.

A gridwork of gravelly lanes bisect the wildlife area, and their verges are covered with interesting prairie plants. Exploring Jasper-Pulaski in August will produce a bounty of flora; this is peak time to be in the prairies.

Lush stands of one of the great prairie grasses, Big Bluestem, Andropogon gerardii, tower well above head height.

The nearly naked stems of Western Sunflower, Helianthus occidentalis, support bright yellow blossoms that create lemony drifts in dry sandy ground. This plant is very rare in Ohio, but is a ubiquitous roadside sight in Jasper-Pulaski.

Another great rarity in Ohio is this beautiful mint, the Dotted Horsemint, Monarda punctata. It is everywhere in Jasper-Pulaski, sometimes forming extensive stands. The genus Monarda is famed for its beauty, and Dotted Horsemint may be the best looking of any of them.

This is an oddball in the Amaranth family, and nearly sure to stump someone who is unfamiliar with it. It's Cottonweed, Froelichia floridana, and it looks a bit like a flowering willow that got attacked by a fungus. But this is it - the plant is in its full flowering finery. Continuing with the rare (for Ohio) theme, Cottonweed is endangered in the Buckeye State; only one site is known, near Marietta.

Bluecurls, Trichostema dichotomum, is a tiny mint that would be quite easy to pass over, even when in full bloom. This tiny blossom would be measured in millimeters.

Among all of the fabulous plants that I saw on this trip, this one was my personal favorite, and one that created some interesting history in my life. It is Erect Dayflower, Commelina erecta, a gorgeous species of dry sandy plains, prairies, and barrens.

The genus Commelina was named for Jan Commelin by the great Carl Linnaeus. Jan Commelin and his brother Caspar were brilliant Dutch botanists, and it is said that Linnaeus felt that the plant's two showy blue petals represent the two brothers. The third petal - at the base of the flower - is small, whitish, and quite inconspicuous.

Commelina erecta has a rather broad distribution, occurring to the west, east, and south of Ohio. The species is divided into three varieties, and the one that I saw at Jasper-Pulaski is C. erecta var. deamii, named in honor of the accomplished Indiana botanist Charles Deam.

Given that this plant comes so close to Ohio - the map above shows its Indiana distribution - it would be no stretch to assume that Erect Dayflower occurs in Ohio. We certainly have seemingly suitable habitat, especially in the sandy Oak Openings of northwest Ohio, where many of the species associated with the dayflower grow.

Thus, when Arthur Cronquist's seminal botanical manual Manual of Vascular Plants of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada emerged in 1991, I was surprised to see that he included Ohio in the range of Erect Dayflower. This was big botanical news - did the great Cronquist know something that we did not? Perhaps, with the vast collection of specimens housed at the New York Botanical Garden at his fingertips, he was privy to an old collection that had escaped the Ohio botanists' attention.

So, I took keyboard in hand, and dashed off a letter to Patricia Holmgren at the New York Botanical Garden, inquiring whether any specimens of Commelina erecta from Ohio were included in their collection. It probably never crossed my mind to write the great Cronquist directly, as I probably would have thought that he'd have no time for dealing with such petty matters.

To my great surprise, not long after I sent my letter, I received the letter above, from no less than Cronquist himself! You can click the letter, expand it, and read it for yourself. He, in his humorous way, had taken precious time to answer the inquiry of a young botanist who had absorbed his manual like a sponge, and as it turned out, had found one of the few errors in the book.

I was of course delighted to receive a direct reply from Cronquist, and his letter trumped the lack of Commelina erecta in Ohio. The letter is a treasure to me, and is all the more significant because Arthur Cronquist passed away only 74 days after he wrote it. But I had never seen Erect Dayflower, and resolved to some day cast eyes upon flowering specimens, in the wild. Thus, it was a great pleasure and an especially momentous occasion to finally see the plant in its glory in the hot dry sand prairies of Jasper-Pulaski.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pale Beauty

Yesterday, while exploring a woods in Miami County, Ohio, I came across an exquisite little moth. It's there, in this photo, but it blends rather well with its surroundings. Click the photo for an enlargement, and you'll see it at rest on the withered remnants of a May-apple leaf.

Like so many moths, this one was well worth stopping to inspect. Confident in its crypsis, or camouflage, this Pale Beauty, Campaea perlata, didn't as much as twitch even when I poked near with my macro lens. Its whitish background color is suffused with a light tint of emerald, and the hindwings are scalloped like a leaf. The overall effect is stunning, although to most the moth would be a tiny fluttering blur in the corner of the eye as it was kicked from cover.

Pale Beauties are not rare, and their caterpillars feed on a wide variety of common woody plants. They are probably in a forest near you.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Indianapolis Museum of Art, and Cicada-killers

The interesting façade of the Indianapolis Museum of Art beckons visitors to enter and explore. This institution is jam-packed with thousands of pieces of art of all kinds, and is a state treasure for the Hoosiers, and a national treasure for the rest of us.

I was invited here to give a talk on the subject of Nature as Art, and did that last Saturday. I greatly appreciate the invite from Chad Franer, who manages the museum's 152 acres of grounds, and the support of Tariq Robinson, who manages public programming for the museum. It was a great chance to dust off images of everything from Tufted Puffins to Fringed Gentians to American Lady butterflies to Wheelbugs, and offer up a pictorial traipse through the beauty of the natural world of the Americas. We had a good crowd, and they seemed to enjoy it.

We had set this gig up so that a walk on the grounds would follow, and I didn't know what to expect regarding the landscape. I was utterly blown away. The museum also functions as a park, and it was obvious that many Indianapolisites come to wander the grounds and bask in nature. Chad has artfully woven scores of native plants into the museum's grounds, which already was thick with lots of big native trees. The upshot is that we found oodles of interesting flora and fauna. They had limited the post-talk walk to 50 people, and we divvied the group up into two and rotated them between the museum staff and myself. We could have easily spent several hours working the grounds and I don't think anyone would have gotten bored. Essentially, the museum's grounds are an extension of the buildings' interiors: living art.

Our foray produced lots of notable flora and fauna, including one of our most charismatic insects. Chad had mentioned that a colony of a huge wasp known as a Cicada-killer was on the grounds, and I of course wanted to see the animals and share them with our group, and we did just that.

A big - and I mean BIG - female Cicada-killer, Sphecius speciosus, glares at your blogger from the entrance of her burrow. There is a sizable colony of the wasps in a fairly high traffic area of the grounds, and people often cut through the dry bank where the wasps have taken up residence. There have been no issues, and Chad respectfully allows them to stay.

Later, Joyce Pontius and I stopped by Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Area, which is well known for the numbers of Sandhill Cranes that stop here in late fall and early winter. This area is a wonderful example of a Midwestern sand prairie and also sports some very interesting wetlands, and I wanted to photograph rare plants. Lo and behold, J-P is also loaded with Cicada-killers! This sandy grass parking area was full of them; sometimes 15 or 20 of the giant wasps were in view simultaneously. This was fabulous, as I had long wanted to insert myself into a colony at its peak of activity and try for images.

A male Cicada-killer rockets by, buzzing like a P-52 Mustang. These things are so large they resemble little hummingbirds as they dash madly about. And madly dash they do - a colony is alive with males guarding little patches of turf, and scrambling skyward whenever another male impinges on one's territory. The result is a bunch of huge droning wasps winging about and engaging in lots of airborne tussles - enough to scare the bejeebers out of a person that didn't understand these insects.

A grounded male keeps a constant vigil, ever ready to scramble skyward to deal with interlopers. With patience, I found I could edge pretty close to them for photos. One even used my leg as a perch at one point.

There is absolutely nothing, I mean nothing, to fear from these insects, especially the males. They are six-legged creampuffs; hymenopteran marshmallows. The males do appear daunting, and their large size and aggressive behavior could easily lead a person to fear them. But they pack no punch - males have no stinger. And a slight gesture in their direction usually sends them packing. Females do have a stinger, but they seemed even more passive and I suspect you would literally have to grab one and enfold it in your hand before it would sting.

A female emerges from a burrow. A few times, when I saw one enter her lair, I would lay on the ground within a few feet of the hole and prepare to image the wasp when she returned to the surface. Most of the time, she'd spot me before getting to the tunnel's entrance, and turn around and dash back in. All bark and no bite.

However, if you are a cicada, the wasps are indeed your worst nightmare. Look closely at this photo and you'll see the glazed over, paralyzed eyes of an annual cicada. It was located high in the trees by this female Cicada-killer, jabbed and injected with a paralyzing neurotoxin, and in a feat of incredible brute strength, para-glided to the ground.

Every now and then we would see a female wasp roar aloft and high into the canopy of the surrounding trees. Plenty of Lyric and Linne's cicadas were singing their unmusical droning melodies all about and they were the targets. Occasionally we'd hear the sharp loud distress buzz of a cicada; probably one under attack by a wasp.

It is interesting to actually see a successful Cicada-killer return to earth with a victim. They sort of hover-drop to the ground, like a Sikorski Sy Crane helicopter with engine trouble. The whole package - giant wasp, and even larger cicada - makes for an impressive spectacle. Once on the ground, she rolls the inert cicada onto its back, straddles it and clamps on with powerful mandibles. The poor cicada is then quickly scuttled towards the tombs.

Should you opt to return as a cicada in your next life, do not take up residence anywhere near the proximity of a colony of Cicada-killers. This might be your fate. This wasp is in full trundle, rapidly hustling her victim to her premade burrow. Wasps that were successful hunters did not tarry, and usually had their cicada under the ground in astonishingly short order, which made getting images quite challenging.

The cicada and its wasp attendant disappear into the crypts. Cicada-killer burrows can be a foot or so in length, and the female wasp excavates up to a dozen chambers along its length. Into each is packed one or more cicadas, and the wasp lays an egg on each paralyzed victim. When the wasp grub hatches, it has a fresh supply of meat and digs into the cicada with gusto. It grows rapidly and spends the winter in the ground as a cocoon. Come the following summer, in perfect synchronicity with the emergence of the cicadas, the adult wasps appear and begin the cycle anew.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Gorgeous goldfinches gluttons for grain

 
Male American goldfinches in breeding plumage
                                          
The Columbus Dispatch
August 18, 2013
 
NATURE
Jim McCormac
 
Vegetarianism isn’t popular among songbirds. Few caterpillars or other insects are safe when warblers, wrens or chickadees are about. Even birds that are primarily seed-eaters, such as sparrows, shift to a diet high in animal matter when chicks are in the nest. The rapidly growing youngsters need protein to prosper.

Enter the American goldfinch. The gorgeous little “wild canaries” go against the grain by eating almost nothing but grains and other vegetable matter. Goldfinches commonly visit backyard feeders and especially covet thistle seed. In wilder places, they also seek sunflower seeds, grasses and myriad other types of plant fruits. Although goldfinches occasionally wolf down an aphid or two, for the most part they shun the bugs.

When goldfinches descend on a ripe patch of sunflowers or well-stocked feeders, it’s as if a pack of debonair feathered piglets has landed. Many a collector of wild prairie seeds has been thwarted by the finches. Arrive to the flower patch too late and you’ll be greeted by little flecks of gold bouncing between the seed heads, stripping them of their fruit. Not to fret, though: The finches rightfully have first dibs.

Their vegetarian preferences serve goldfinches well when it comes to parasitic brown-headed cowbirds. Female cowbirds dump their eggs in other bird species’ nests, usually to the detriment of the host. The growth of the cowbird chick outstrips that of the native chicks, which often perish due to the cowbird receiving most of the parent’s food. Cowbirds don’t thrive on plants alone, however, and they soon die when subjected to the vegetarian diet of the goldfinch.

Male American goldfinches are now at the peak of their feathered finery. They sport a jaunty black cap and ebony wings and tail, which form a striking contrast against brilliant golden-yellow body feathers. Females don’t attain the bright colors of males, resembling a somber version of their showy mates. Goldfinches seem to exude happiness, gamboling about with an undulating flight constantly punctuated with sweet singsong twitters. They are social animals, too — quite tolerant of their brethren and prone to flocking at favored feeding sites.

Goldfinches are busily breeding now. They delay nesting to coincide with the maturation of thistles, coneflowers, coreopsis and other plants in the massive sunflower family. The down of ripe thistle, especially, is heavily integrated into their nests, and late summer’s abundant crop of seeds provides fodder aplenty for the chicks.

Enjoy the colorful male goldfinches while you can. Come fall, they will commence the most conspicuous molt of any of our songbirds, rapidly shedding their lemony feathers and taking on the muted tones of the females. They’ll ride out the winter dressed down. But come spring, the male goldfinches will cast off their low-key plumage and flash to life in a living sunburst explosion — Nature’s wild canaries reborn.

Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first and third Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com.

Male American goldfinch in nonbreeding plumage
 

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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Frog, on lilypad

A raft of Fragrant Water-lilies, Nymphaea odorata, blanket a quiet pond on the Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Area in Indiana. Not only is this aquatic plant quite showy, it supports a lot of animal life.

A Green Frog, Lithobates clamitans, regards your blogger with an inscrutable expression. Seconds before I made this photo, it snapped a bee from the air with its long rubberband of a tongue. By wading in, I was able to make a close approach, shoot some images, and leave without even making the amphibian leave his lilypad perch.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Small bugs, beautiful and otherwise

On last Saturday's epic field 20-hour field trip to southern Ohio, I turned my lens to little things, a lot. Macro photography is not easy, and I have been on a more or less constant quest to better photo-document small life forms ever since I got my first DSLR camera. Part of the trick, for me, is getting the right gear to allow handheld shots. Insects, especially, often do not lend themselves to tripod work. Tripods are too cumbersome and time-consuming to arrange, and often the quarry will vanish before one is prepared to shoot it. If you are willing or able to catch the bug and work with it in a controlled environment, tripods can be great. For the most part, I prefer to shoot the animals on their own terms, and that's how all of the following images were made.
 
A Dogbane Beetle, Chrysochus auratus, one of our handsomest insects. Their iridescent colors are dazzling, and change depending upon the light. Investigate dogbane plants (genus Apocynum) and it won't be long until you encounter some of these stunners.

Clad in the colors of Halloween, this Milkweed Leaf Beetle, Labidomera clivicollis, warns would-be predators of its toxicity with bright coloration. The animal apparently sequesters noxious cardiac glycosides that it ingests from its host plants, the milkweeds, and thus enjoys chemical protection.

At one stop, I returned to my car to find this stunning winged ant resting on the roof. When in dispersal mode, ants will sprout wings and thus venture into new terrain. Species unknown (to me).

A Swamp Cicada, Tibicen tibicen, regards your narrator from its perch on a culm of Little Bluestem grass. Annual cicadas such as this are responsible for the loud droning songs that help define the Dog Days of summer.

I was more than pleased to find a beautiful specimen of this Schinia caterpillar still out. Most have gone into pupation by now, but this dotted little jewel's presence allowed me to make my best image to date of this as yet to be described species. I've written about this fascinating moth before, such as HERE.

This caterpillar-like creature did not fare as well as the previous caterpillar. I came across a colony of Dogwood Sawfly larvae, Macremphytus tarsatus, defoliating a Silky Dogwood, and noticed this drama playing out. A pair of Spined Soldier Bugs, Podisus maculiventris, had bookended the creature, stabbed it, and were busily sucking the life from the hapless victim.

A real life grim reaper peers around the flowering head of a Rattlesnake-master, Eryngium yuccifolium. These largish bone-faced tachinid flies (species unknown) were conspicuous pollinators on this day. Tachinid flies are parasitoids; they lay their eggs on insect hosts, and the fly grubs eventually consume their victims.

I found this wasp to be incredibly ornate and visually stunning, albeit on a very small scale. It is a  Wood Wasp, Cryptanura banchiformis, a parasitoid of wood-boring beetle grubs.

Gnat-ogres, genus Holcocephala, are irresistible photographic subjects. These tiny robberflies are a challenge to shoot, due to their small size. This animal would be measured in millimeters, but it is every bit as predatory and deadly as its larger robberfly brethren, just on a much smaller scale.

The late summer flower fields are meadows of doom, teeming with all manner of incredibly dangerous predators. If you are a pollinating insect, your risk factor spikes exponentially when attempting to land on a flower. This is a type of assassin bug in the genus Phymata, and they are everywhere. Looking like little gargoyles, the creatures secrete themselves within flowers, and pounce on unsuspecting insects seeking a nectar bounty.

This assassin bug successfully plies its trade, having captured some sort of small beetle that made the mistake of foraging amongst the disc flowers of this Purple Coneflower. The assassin has jabbed it with a spikelike proboscis and is in the process of sucking out the beetle's innards.

Insect abundance and diversity peaks in late summer and fall, making for a treasure trove on interesting photo ops.

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