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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Enraptured by Insects

Anania horulata: Small Magpie Moth

Everybody loves an earwig, right?
In recent months, I've become more and more enamored with the power of macro to capture the details of insect life. Last summer is when bees first caught my attention, and while they remain a favorite subject, I have branched out significantly. The way I see it, anyone can take a beautiful photograph of a tulip, even with just a camera phone, but you'd be hard-pressed to get a clear image of a tiny robber fly's glistening whiskers without a powerful lens like mine! As was also the case when photographing birds (see blogposts here and here), photographing insects allows me to immerse myself in the ecosystem I live in. Almost all of these photos were taken in my own yard or on my block; in fact, only two of these photographs include insects I have not seen in my yard or its immediate environs. I collected most of these photos by going out several times a day over the past few days and scanning one particular bank of bushes in the backyard and another in the front. I'm not the kind of person who is keen on insects in the house (I squished the earwig above after photographing it) and I don't like them on my person, but it is neat to be aware of all the different kinds of life that surround you. I trained myself to look for shadows on leaves, for variations in color, for slight movements. I'd watch to see where flying insects landed. I opened my eyes to seeing insects and saw them everywhere! There were, of course, a great many more insects that I saw but wasn't able to photograph, but I feel like this is a decent selection.

I'd like to note that the clarity of these photos can be deceiving, making the insects seem larger than they are. Here is a rhododendron leafhopper, for instance, with my thumb next to it for a size reference. The robber flies are similarly small, not larger than a quarter of an inch. The power of my 100 mm macro lens is so great that it makes even the tiniest creatures seem large.

I decided, as I began compiling this post, that since the only thing more delightful than general knowledge is specific knowledge, I would make a concerted effort to accurately identify the insects pictured here. The internet is very helpful for such things, but I had to do quite a bit of legwork (or, rather, eyework), pouring over images to see if mine were a match. I am not trained in entomology, so when diagnostic criteria got into the specifics of minute bits of insect anatomy, I was left to make my best guess. I relied very heavily on BugGuide and have become quite adept at working my way through the orders to narrow down the family and then the genus and then the species of a given critter, but all errors are my own. Only one insect fully defeated me and defied even general identification!

I've poured an incredible amount of work into this post. I became scraped and sunburned as I stalked insects in the yard, strained my eyes and gave myself headaches as I sought to identify the subjects of the photos, and my neighbors have likely decided I'm quite crazy, or, at any rate, bizarrely obsessed with photographing the bushes. More insect blogposts will follow, as I did not even touch on bees in this post and I also intend to share images of insects eating and then there's the whole issue of arachnids...but those will have to wait for another time. Remember, you can click on any photo to view it in a larger size--as you should! Enjoy!

Order Lepidoptera: Butterflies and Moths

Lophocampa argentata: caterpillar of the Silver-spotted Tiger Moth

Hemithea aestivaria: Common Emerald moth

A male Pieris rapae, or Small White butterfly, known locally as a Cabbage White.

Papilio rutulus: Western Tiger Swallowtail

Order Diptera: Flies

A member of the lacewing family (Chrysopidae) that drowned in the birdbath.

Lacewing larva.

A female member of the Tipulidae crane family.

A member of the Dicrontendipes genus, this non-biting midge resembles a small mosquito.

A male Eudioctria sackeni, a type of robber fly.

This one had become briefly tangled in a spider web. It is cleaning itself off with its back legs. You can see the "mustache" that is common to all robber flies.

Eudioctria sackeni. Robber flies are also known as assassin flies.

I watched this robber fly catch the gnat in midair and was able to photograph it with its prey in mouth when it return to its perch on the leaf.

A member of the Sarcophagidae family. Flesh flies are so-called because that is their preferred medium for depositing hatched maggots. Disgusting habits aside, they are quite attractive. This one is cleaning itself. I'd also like it to be noted that this is my single best fly wing photo ever.

Anthomyia procellaris, a type of root maggot fly. I liked the spots!
Flies (by which I mean Calypratae members, including house flies, blow flies, bot flies, root maggot flies, etc.) come in a great more variety than I had realized. There's a lot more to it than bluebottles, greenbottles, and horse flies!

Meliscaeva cinctella: a hoverfly species.

Like the bees they mimics, these flies feed on nectar. They can often be seen hovering near flowers, hence their other name of "flower fly."

Another member of the Syrphini tribe of hoverflies. This one if from the genus Eupeodes.

Tribe Cicadellini: Sharpshooters

Graphocephala fennahi: Rhododendron Leafhopper.

These leafhoppers are quite snazzy!

This is a Japanese leafhopper nymph. I haven't seen any of the adults, though we have scores of the rhododendron leafhoppers. This is one of the smallest critters I photographed for this blogpost: it was about the size of a crumb, 1/8" long at the very most.

Hordnia atropunctata: Blue-green Sharpshooter, another kind of leafhopper.

Order Coleoptera: Beetles

Xestoleptura crassipes: A type of flower longhorn beetle.

Rhagonycha fulva: Red solider beetle.

Red soldiers beetles are beneficial garden predators.

Red soldier beetle.

Harmonia axyridis: Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle.
We call all of them ladybugs, but there are over 5,000 different species!

This strange creature is the larvae of a Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle.

A ladybug pupa.

An empty pupa casing after the adult lady bug has emerged.

Another Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle variant.

Psyllobora vigintimaculata: Twenty-Spotted Lady Beetle. This isn't a great photo because these little fungus-eating ladybugs move really quickly!

Psyllobora borealis: Northern Psyllobora Lady Beetle. The telling difference between this lady beetle and the one above is that the Northern Psyllobora Lady Beetle has those tiny connections between spots on the top versus the big, blotchy connections between the spots on the Twenty-Spotted Lady Beetle.

 Cycloneda munda: Polished Lady Beetle. Some lady beetles have not spots at all.

This tiny weevil is a member of the subfamily Apioninae, but I am not expert enough to tell one tiny bluish weevil from another! 

Another tiny member of the weevil family.

Order Hymenoptera: Ants, Bees, Wasps & Sawflies

A carpenter ant, most likely a Camponotus modoc, or Western black carpenter ant.

I will make no attempt to identify this run-of-the-mill, medium-sized ant!

I am almost positive this is a Vespula consobrina, otherwise known as a blackjacket, but they are very hard to distinguish from parasitic yellowjackets. Still, I'm pretty sure this is a blackjacket!

Various yellowjackets are also not easy to tell apart, but I'm hazarding (after looking at zillions of photos of yellowjackets found in this part of the world) that this is a Vespula alascensis.

Polistes dominula, or European Paper Wasp, collecting fibers from the underside of a leaf.

A group of paper wasps assembling a nest from chewed wood and plant fibers.

Enicospilus purgatus: This cool type of Ichneumon wasp lays its eggs in caterpillars!

Bembix americana, a type of sand wasp, gathers nectar on a flower.

This was one of the coolest insects I've ever seen. Its jade-green eyes were enormous!

Mystery Bug

If you know what this is, let me know! I'm going to submit it to BugGuide to see if they can help me out.

**ID Update: The general agreement on BugGuide is that this is a birch catkin bug. I saw one again later in the summer and got shots from the top and can say with confidence that it's the correct ID.***

If you liked this, make sure you also check out my recent post on aquatic insects!
I've also created a post with lots of photographs on how insects eat.

I post new photos daily on my c.creativity Facebook page.

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