The Wheel, a Hopper, a Borer, and a Carpet Beetle

Dragonfly and damselfly species are picking up. Seen this period were (dates next to names indicate day in which that species was first observed this season) Fragile Forktail, Citrine Forktail (4/18), Orange Bluet (4/27), Skimming Bluet (4/28), Common Green Darner, Swamp Darner, Common Baskettail, Eastern Pondhawk (4/25), Blue Corporal (4/25), Blue Dasher (4/27), Common Whitetail, and Black Saddlebags (4/27).

gd_4_16_09skblThe Skimming Bluets in the image at left are configured in what is referred to as the “copulation wheel.” This configuration usually looks more like a heart than a wheel, although often somewhat distorted and on its side. Perhaps researchers thought that the word heart would sound too sentimental when describing this odonate behavior. Whatever you call it, this is how sperm is transferred from the male to the female. The male attaches himself to the female by grasping her behind the head with special appendages at the tip of his abdomen. The female then moves the tip of her abdomen to the genitalia of the male which is located on the underside of the abdomen just behind the thorax. This is where the sperm transfer takes place. To see this behavior in motion, watch this two-minute video on damselfly life cycle. Although it shows a different species (Powdered Dancer), the behavior is the same.

Insect activity in general is on the increase as we move farther away from the cooler months of the year. Among grasshoppers, American Bird Grasshoppers (Schistocerca americana) are becoming noticeably more common. Typically, they’re not spotted until someone nearly steps on one and they take to the wing, like a small bird, to land in the grass far ahead or in a nearby tree. Recently, I’ve been sending quite a few of them airborne.

A Virginia Pine Borer (Chalcophora virginiensis) was seen on April 18th, the day of the Butterfly Bash. This large species of metallic woodborer (a beetle) was seen last year at this time. Spring is the time to look for them. I don’t recall seeing one at any other time of year.

Another metallic woodborer was spotted on the path in Catch the Wind a few days after seeing the Virginia Pine Borer. Unfortunately, I was not quick enough to capture it and therefore was not able to put a name on it. The beetle was about half the size of the previous species with similar markings.

As I was standing in front of the Ornithopter on the 29th of April, I noticed a very tiny insect on one of the many daisies that are now in bloom. By using my binoculars as a loupe (turn the binoculars around and use one eye to look through one of the objective lenses – the big lens – and get up close to the object that you wish to look at with the other end – small lens), I could see it was a beetle with brown and white mottling. I then noticed that there were others of the same size and color on some of the other daisies. Each patch of daisies that I checked had at least one of these very small (less than 1/8th inch) beetles. A quick check in the insect field guide that I had in my pack revealed the beetle’s identity, a Varied Carpet Beetle (Anthrenus verbasci). I don’t have a picture of one of these little beetles but you can view and read more about them here.

Some new (for the season) lepidoptera species have shown up in the past few weeks. A Hummingbird Moth was observed hovering above the Leatherleaf Viburnum in front of the Ornithopter on 4 April. Red-banded Hairstreak (4/17), Cloudless Sulphur (4/26), Red-spotted Purple (4/28), Monarch (4/24) and Southern Cloudywing (4/29) were observed, in addition to the already present Pearl Crescent, American Lady, American Snout, Mourning Cloak, and Questionmark.

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