Summer Starts to Buzz

The First-of-the-Year Great Blue Skimmer appeared on the 27th of June, perhaps adding to the confusion of novice oders (oders = dragonfly watchers). There are now 3 species of dragonfly cruising the Wetlands in which the mature males are overall blue in coloration. They differ in size as well as in several less obvious characteristics, but to the beginner it can be a tad confusing to sort them out, especially if they’re not perched next to one another.

While leading a group of Museum Summer Campers around the Explore the Wild/Catch the Wind loop, one of the campers noticed a cryptically colored grasshopper on the path. After a closer look the hopper showed itself to be an Orange-winged Grasshopper (pardalophora phoenicoptera).

A brief burst of the buzzy, high-pitched whine of an Annual Cicada, or Dog-day Cicada, was heard on the 17th of June. On the 27th, several were whining away up in the trees.

Delta Flower Scarab

Beetles are everywhere, although not always obvious. It often requires stopping and having a close look at some of the flowers or plants on the side of the path. While carefully inspecting a patch of Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan), I finally succeeded in getting a shot of a Delta Flower Scarab (Trigonopeltastes delta) which was on the Black-eyed Susans in Catch the Wind (see image here and Delta Flower Scarab, Explore the Wild Journal, June 1-15, 2009).


gd_6_16_09ralbJapanese Beetles are common. A Ragweed Leaf Beetle (Zygogramma suturalis) was a first for me. It was on Queen Anne’s Lace. Clay-colored Leaf Beetles (Anomoea laticlavia) must have all emerged on the same day – I saw a half dozen or so on June 16th in an area next to the Sailboat Pond in Catch the Wind. A Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle (Labidomera clivicollis) was on Butterfly Weed in Catch the Wind. If there’s one of those handsome beetles out there, there’s probably more. I saw four or five beetle larvae under one of the milkweed’s leaves.

A search through the Dogbane near the entrance to the Lemur House always turns up a few beetles, especially the Dogbane Leaf Beetle, or Dogbane Beetle (Chrysochus auratus), a shiny, iridescent green insect that eats the toxic leaves of the plant (the larvae eat the roots).

After previously stating that Eyed Click Beetles (Alaus oculatus) haven’t been seen in any other month except May on the Explore the Wild and Catch the Wind Loop (see Eyed Elater, Explore the Wild Journal, May 1-15, 2009), several more have shown up. In May, one flew into Animal Keeper Larry. This time around one of these large beetles flew into Explore the Wild Ranger Gurlal’s beard as he was making his rounds. If you’ve ever seen one of these large click beetles on the wing, you’d surely agree that their flight appears a bit haphazard. Two of them were seen on the path (on different days at separate locations) after they both had been stepped on.

Noteworthy butterflies this period were Cloudless Sulphur, Red-banded Hairstreak (6/20), Banded Hairstreak, fresh Juniper Hairstreaks (6/20 & 6/24), a fresh Gray Hairstreak on Butterfly Weed (6/21), a Red-spotted Purple (6/27), and, spotted on Butterfly Weed by one of the Museum’s Summer Campers, a Monarch caterpillar. Another sharp-eyed camper spotted a Black Swallowtail caterpillar on Queen Anne’s Lace.

Silver-spotted Skippers are still going strong on the Explore the Wild and Catch the Wind loop and a Dun Skipper was observed on the 17th of June nectaring on the tiny, greenish flowers of Dogbane.

A very small and odd-looking caterpillar showed up on the Black-eyed Susans in Catch the Wind during this period. It took a while before I realized that it was indeed a caterpillar. Research indicates that the specific identity cannot be determined without rearing the caterpillar to adulthood. We’ll never know for sure what the caterpillar was (it’s no longer present), but I did discover that it was the larva of a Geometrid Moth, an Emerald.

gd_6_16_09emerEmeralds are small green moths. But what makes this caterpillar interesting is the fact that it camouflages itself with bits and pieces of whatever flower it happens to be dining on. In the image shown here,  you can see the caterpillar clinging to the seed head of a Black-eyed Susan (the caterpillar’s prolegs on the left, head to the right). Seeds, bits of the flower’s petals and other indistinct objects adorn the little larva.


Pair of mating Feather-legged Flies

Feather-legged Flies (Trichopoda sp.) were common on Queen Anne’s Lace during mid June. There were many of these brightly colored flies frenetically working the flowers in Catch the Wind. Although I was able to get several minutes of video of the flies, I could not get one to stop moving long enough to capture a respectable still image from the video, until I saw a pair mating (image at left). To see why they’re called Feather-legged Flies, go here.

On June 20th, I was lucky to run into Boy Scout Troop 9 of Chapel Hill, NC. The scouts were on a mission at the Museum: they were working on an Insect Study Merit Badge. A fine group of people, these scouts and their associates. We had a great time walking the Explore the Wild/Catch the Wind loop searching for, and trying to identify, the many insects encountered along the way.

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