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30 November 2010

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28 November 2010

Inquisitive Spiders

The jumping spider at left is from the genus Habronattus, and was spotted on a twig of a Mexican Blood Flower.  Measuring about 1/3 of an inch, it is tiny and inconspicuous, but don't let that fool you.

All jumping spiders have excellent eyesight to aid them in hunting.  And as their name suggests, they have great jumping abilities, allowing them to leap many times their body length.

However, their most interesting behavior may be how they react to humans.  Jumping spiders, when approached by a human, tend to stay put and observe.  They can often be handled, and make excellent macro photography subjects if you find an especially tame one.

This "tameness" is unique among spiders and most insects.  And the image of being tame and inquisitive is further enhanced by their 'facial features', which appear to impart expressions (see photo below for an example).

Spiders, like many "bugs", consist of thousands of species worldwide. In fact, jumping spiders (family Salticidae) alone contain over 5000 species. When you factor in regional and seasonal variances, it becomes quite a challenge to identify species.

Jumping spiders in general can be loosely identified by the arrangement of their eyes - all in a row, with their middle eyes substantially larger.  Behaviorally, they are hunters, so you will not see them with or in a web.  They do spin silk to "tether" themselves when jumping.

Habronattus coecatus, public domain image from wikipedia


And be sure to check out my other Macro photos.

26 November 2010

Bug Guide

I wanted to take a moment and pass along an excellent site that I use extensively in trying to identify insects of all types - BugGuide.net.

BugGuide.net is free to use, and allows anyone to submit photos of insects - unidentified or identified. So many experts use the site that it isn't uncommon to identify a mystery bug within an hour or two.

In fact, BugGuide encourages everyone to submit identifiable photos to help build their collection. You'd be surprised about how little is known about many species of insects, and getting confirmed sitings in new locations, at previously unheard of dates, or performing previously unknown behaviors adds to the collective knowledge.

So check out BugGuide.net and submit a few photos!

21 November 2010

Orb Weaver Spiders

Some of the most interesting spiders are the Orb Weavers - and lucky for us they are some of the most pervasive. Nearly 3000 species exist, and you can find orb weavers on every continent (except Antarctica).

The Orb Weaver above, called a Western Spotted Orb Weaver (Neoscona oaxacensis) has been hanging out in our front yard near a light.  Like many orb weavers, it spins a new web each day after consuming the old web.  It is amazing to see the speed and agility of the spider as it spins the web.


The Western Spotted Orb Weaver's coloration and patterns are known to vary quite a bit. The one above is quite pale, while the one below has a very vivid pattern.



As always, be sure to click on the photos for a full size view. And for fans of macro photos, check out Macro Mondays, where people of many skill levels and interests contribute macro photos.

I've also created a new label for my macros posted here. Be sure to check it out and catch up on past macros.

15 November 2010

Praying Mantis (Mantid)

When I talk to friends and family who have never lived in Arizona, or in some cases never even visited, they are always surprised at what I tell them.

  • Yes, almost 2/3 of the state is mountains.
  • Yes, you can actually ski in Arizona (most years).
  • Yes, we have mosquitoes even in the desert.
  • And the list goes on.

Preying Mantis (Mantid)
One of more surprising insects to take up residence in Arizona (I should say surprising to out-of-state'ers) is the Praying Mantis.

Praying Mantis are more accurately called Mantids, from the family Mantidae.  20 species of Mantids live in the USA and Canada, and over 2000 worldwide. 

Aside from the Mediterranean mantis, Iris oratoria, I'm not sure if other species are around in my yard.  Regardless, I am happy to have them.  They are known to be voracious predators and generally beneficial for suburban landscapes and gardens.

They are harmless to humans, and fun to watch.  In fact, many homeowners and gardeners around the world purchase eggs and adults to populate their gardens. The only downside is that they do not differentiate between what humans consider harmful and helpful insects.

Spotting praying mantis can be difficult since they blend in so well and can hold still and stalk very effectively.  Many are colored green to brown, looking like foliage and sticks.  They often stay perfectly still hoping for some insect prey to wonder by.

I've seen Mantids in most vegetation in our yard, ranging from my mesquite tree, to rose bushes, to Mexican Hat flowers, and even on my Saguaro.  If you are looking for Mantids in your yard, many people recommend checking near porch lights or coach lights in the August and September timeframe, when males may fly in and and take up post waiting for prey.

Preying Mantis (Mantid) Egg DepositOne other tell-tale sign of mantids in your yard is the hard egg encasements they leave behind (see photo of Mediterranean mantis, Iris oratoria eggs found in my yard).  These eggs are deposited on hard surfaces - walls, trellis, sturdy branches, and even the sides of cactus.

As many as four dozen mantis eggs may be inside, so take care not to disturb.
Preying Mantis (Mantid)

12 November 2010

Kiowa Dancer

About a month ago Dr. Pierre Deviche led a dragonfly walk at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.  Pierre has rapidly become a regional expert in dragonflies, and it was a great experience to attend.

The highlight of the walk was a Kiowa Dancer damselfly, Argia immunda.  The Kiowa Dancer is relatively rare in Arizona, and in fact is generally only found in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Southeast Arizona.

Kiowa Dancer Damselfly
Kiowa Dancer
The damselfly was captured by net and held up (though not very still).

Damselflies, like dragonflies, are members of the group Odonata.  Damselflies are much more slender and often less conspicuous.  Their eyes are more spherical, and their resting posture is significantly different than dragonflies.  For those looking to learn more about the differences, I found this blog with an excellent post comparing damselflies to dragonflies.

As for the Kiowa, the blue/violet tail tip is one of the initial diagnostics. And actually, more accurately that long thin tail is the abdomen, which is generally described as consisting of 10 segments. In this case, segments 8-10 are the blue/violet. Segment 7 generally is black in the Kiowa. The Kiowa dancer generally has a good amount of violet on its head and thorax as well. Females tend to be more highly variable in color according to bugguide.net and Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West.

08 November 2010

Western Pygmy-Blue - Encore

The Western Pygmy-Blue's (Brephidium exile) are performing very nicely at the moment, with a dozen or more taking up evening and nighttime residence in our Pink Mulhy Grass.

As a follow up to last week's Western Pygmy-Blue Butterfly article, here is a portrait of one.  Be sure to click on it for a full sized view.

Western Pygmy-Blue Butterfly
Again, that stick it is sitting on is actually a blade of grass, just to give you an idea of how tiny this butterfly is.  This photo was shot with a Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro, at its closest point where it could still focus.

As always, the photo is available for purchase on http://www.naturesarchive.com.

05 November 2010

Western Pygmy-Blue Butterfly

One of my favorite butterflies of the southwest is the Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile), the smallest butterfly found in the USA. This butterfly is so small that most people don't even realize it is a butterfly at all.

Its tiny-ness and abundance make it a wonderful subject for photography, if not a frustrating one.

For an idea of the size of this butterfly, consider the "pinky" fingernail of the average mail adult. The Kaufman field guide, as great as it is, actually overstates the size of this butterfly.
Western Pygmy-Blue Butterfly

One of my favorite photos gives excellent perspective - the photo below is one on a blade of grass.

Western Pygmy-Blue Butterfly


If you want to spot one of these, check around Russian Thistle (aka tumbleweed), salt bush, and many types of ornamental grasses native to the southwest.

Lastly, this Western Pygmy-Blue was spotted at San Pedro in early September this year.
Western Pygmy-Blue Butterfly

02 November 2010

Gulf Fritillary Caterpillars

Gulf Fritillary butterflies are some of the most striking seen in the Arizona low desert - and some of the easiest to attract. Simply plant a passion flower vine (Passiflora species) of any sort - native or otherwise, and it is almost guaranteed that you'll have Gulf Fritillary's flapping around it within a couple of weeks (provided it is not the middle of winter).


Gulf Fritillary Caterpillar
Gulf Fritillary Larva
The Gulf Fritillary loves passion flower vines so much because it is the food source for their larvae (see Growing Success in Desert Butterfly Gardening). This is one of those circumstances where planting the larval food source of the species is more likely to attract it than planting adult food sources. 

They love passion flowers so much that it is common for so many caterpillars to hatch that they literally eat the vine until no leaves remain, ultimately killing the vine.  Passifloras generally do quite well in the Phoenix and Tucson areas, but they are not cheap.  For the good of the plant and for the good of future Gulf Fritillary generations, gardeners often have to selectively remove caterpillars to keep the plant alive.

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly
Gulf Fritillary Adult