Saturday, June 20, 2015

Some Mothapalooza highlights, Part 1

The Tuliptree Silkmoth, Callosamia angulifera, is an impressive beast indeed, and attendees of the recent Mothapalooza conference saw many of them. And scores of other moths, of a great many species. As nearly all of the 175 or so conferees were armed with cameras, the total number of photos taken over the weekend was stupefying. I managed to click off a number of shots as well, and will share some of the mothian highlights in the next post. But for now, a pictorial recap of a few non-moth critters that were encountered.

Butterfly milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa, bustles with Spicebush Swallowtails and Great Spangled Fritillaries. If you want a gorgeous plant that is highly attractive to the fluttery crowd, this is it. Butterfly milkweed was nearing peak bloom during Mothapalooza, and a number of the daytime field trips made a point of loitering near the plants and tallying lots of butterflies.

Banded Hairstreaks, Satyrium calanus, were out in good numbers. Hairstreaks are thumbnail-sized bits of lepidpoteran magic, and sightings are highly coveted by butterfliers. This one was smitten with the turquoise shirt of a field tripper. Normally I prefer shooting subjects on natural substrates, but was struck by the color montage of the butterfly, the shirt, and the clear blue sky in the backdrop.

Candice Talbot, a moth expert from Canada and one of our field station leaders, really wanted to see a black widow spider. It didn't take me long to find one for her. This is a female Northern Black Widow, Latrodectus variolus, guarding her egg case. It is a stunningly beautiful spider, and despite the widows' fearsome reputation, they have always struck me as retiring and passive.

The ponds scattered throughout Shawnee State Forest typically have marshy verges and aquatic plants in the shallows, and can teem with damselflies and dragonflies. This is one of the tiniest of that crowd: A female Fragile Forktail, Ischnura posita. They are easily overlooked as they flutter through sedges and grasses, picking truly Lilliputian prey from the foliage. This one has captured a nymph of some sort of planthopper. The victim is so small that it couldn't be recognized at all with the naked eye.

We all kept a sharp eye out for the larval stages of moths (and butterflies), the caterpillars. This extraordinary animal is an Eight-spotted Forester, Alypia octomaculata. It is one of many insects that requires plants in the grape family for nutrition. If all goes well, this caterpillar will become a showy black and white moth.

Caterpillars face legions of enemies, few of them fiercer than this large beetle, the Fiery Searcher, Calosoma scrutator. These largely nocturnal beetles are large and speedy, and race about the trees seeking caterpillar victims, and other lesser insects. We had quite a few visit the mothing sheets, which is a double-edged sword. On the plus side, they are beautiful and not often seen. To the negative end, they sometimes eat the interesting moths lured to the sheet. At one point, a Fiery Searcher invaded one of our sheets, and unerringly navigated towards a moth known as a sack-bearer, the only one on the sheet and one of few seen during Mothapalooza. It then quickly made mincemeat of the sack-bearer.

I'll devote the next post to moths, and only moths, that were observed during Mothapalooza.


Lisa Greenbow said...

It is exciting to see all the bugs. Great photos.

Wilma said...

Great stuff!