Monday, July 28, 2014

An agreeable face

To move on from a rather disagreeable tail, here is an agreeable face...

An agreeable face?
... or at least, the face of an agreeable tiger moth (Spilosoma congrua).  Certainly, there is something about this particular specimen that makes it seem distinctly less than agreeable.

The agreeable tiger moth in full.
From the point of view of gardeners, however, these moths should indeed be an agreeable sight.  Adult moths produce caterpillars -- and the caterpillars of this species eat a variety of troublesome weeds, including dandelions (Taraxacum spp.), knotweeds (Polygonum spp.), plantains (Plantago spp.), wild lettuces (Lactuca spp.), and white goosefoots (Chenopodium album).

Explore some more: HOSTS - a Database of the World's Lepidopteran Hostplants

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A taller tail

Wasps with "stingers" the size of hypodermic needles may sound like the stuff of nightmares, but they are quite real.

A giant ichneumon wasp (Megarhyssa nortoni quebecensis).
Happily, they are also quite harmless (at least to people).  Their needle-like "stingers" are used for laying eggs, not injecting venom.

A size comparison.
The ovipositors (literally, "egg placers") of giant ichneumons are so disproportionately long because of where their eggs need to go.  Giant ichneumons, just like their more modest relatives, are parasitoids of other insects.  The unusual challenge they face is that their hosts, the larvae of horntails (a.k.a. wood wasps), feed deep within wood.  To reach them, female giant ichneumons must pierce directly through the wood with their ovipositors.

The giant ichneumon searching for signs of larvae below.
However, first the wasps must complete another difficult task -- locating their hosts within the wood.  The wasp that I watched spent some time circling around and feeling the wood with its long antennae, but it appeared that there were no horntail larvae in reach.

Friday, July 11, 2014

A sticky situation

Even when the beaver ponds are empty of beavers, they are home to a wide diversity of other inhabitants.  Insects are especially numerous -- and where insects abound, so too can their consumers.  In particular, the beaver ponds provide an excellent habitat for carnivorous plants, such as pitcher plants and sundews.

A patch of sundews (Drosera sp.).
Around some of the beaver ponds, the sundews form a red carpet that is both enticing and deadly (at least for insects).

A close-up of the leaves with their sticky tentacles.
Each small sundew leaf is studded with dozens of red tentacles, each of which ends in a dewy ball that glistens in the sunlight.

Another view of the leaves.
These sweet droplets attract insects near, then stick to and engulf any hapless insect that comes into contact with them.

A crane fly (Tipuloidea) caught by the sundew.
Insects trapped in this way are digested by the plant, providing an important supplement to the boggy, nutrient-poor soil.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Eager for lily pads

A few days after my surprise encounter with a swimming beaver, I went on another walk around the beaver ponds.  I had hoped that the beaver I had seen before might be back patrolling its pond, so I was disappointed to find the pond empty (at least of visible beavers).  However, I did not give up, and in a pond a short way down the path, I found two beavers.

A beaver eating a rolled up lily pad.
These beavers were busy with the important task of rolling up and eating lily pads.  One after another, the lily pads disappeared into the beavers.  Fortunately for the beavers, the pond was so full of lily pads that an imminent shortage seemed unlikely.

* To see this video in high definition (1080p), you may need to: 
(1) click "YouTube" to watch on the YouTube website
(2) change the settings at the bottom of the video screen

Monday, July 7, 2014

Lap swim

While on walks in Maine, I frequently come across fresh evidence of beaver activity.  However, the beavers themselves are more elusive.  Beaver ponds seem like the obvious places to look for beavers, so each time I am near one, I scan the water...

A beaver pond with its telltale drowned trees.
... and sometimes even spot a beaver-shaped object... only to realize a moment later that it is only a rock or a log.  The beavers' lodges are easy enough to find, but never appear to be the sites of much activity.

A beaver lodge in the beaver pond.
On this particular occasion, after satisfying myself that there was no beaver in the pond or by the beaver lodge, I started photographing some insects and a frog at the edge of the pond.

A frog by the side of the beaver pond.
Then, when I looked up again, a movement in the water caught my eye.  To my great surprise, it was a beaver!

A beaver!
The beaver was swimming just a few feet from where I was standing at the edge of the pond.  I was startled by it, and it may also have been startled by me, since it made a large "plop" with its tail and dove underwater.  Happily for me, though, the beaver soon resurfaced and started swimming back and forth across the pond for several minutes.

* To see this video in high definition (1080p), you may need to: 
(1) click "YouTube" to watch on the YouTube website
(2) change the settings at the bottom of the video screen

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Fourth (Crab Spider)!

Happy Fourth of July!  To celebrate the date, here is a picture with four crab spiders, including one happy spider with a fly.

Can you find all four crab spiders?
In case you had any trouble spotting all the spiders, here is the picture again, with the spider locations marked...

Three female and one male Misumena vatia crab spiders.
 ... and here is a closeup of the happy spider with her large meal.

The most successful of the four spiders, eating a fly.