The WGNSS Nature Photography Group met on September 1, 2018 at Don Robinson State Park in Jefferson County, MO, with the goal of finding slug moth caterpillars and whatever other macro subjects of interest we could find. Overall, I think we had good fortune on this hot and muggy, late-summer day, finding quite a few interesting caterpillars. The slug moth caterpillars were a little scarce, but we did find a little something extra special – the pin-striped vermilion slug moth (Monoleuca semifascia) (Hodges # 4691). In four summers of looking for slug cats, this is the first one I have seen. It is a southern species and I assumed it would need to be found in the south-western part of our state where the open barren woodlands and savanna type environments this species prefers are more common.
This is the 14th of 15 species of slug moth caterpillars that are found in Missouri that I have been able to see and photograph. One more to go!
Slug cats can be found on virtually any species of woody plant in the state. Although oaks and hickories seem to be the preferred host plants, this animal was found on an eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis).
I hope these photos make it obvious why hunting these cats can become quite addictive.
The WGNSS Photography Nature Group met at Cuivre River State Park on Saturday the 2nd in hopes to find members of Limacodidae (slug moths). Perplexing to me, we struck out in the same time and place I found them in numbers and diversity a year ago.
It was still a good time. We found a number of other macro subjects and explored a couple of new places. I also got to give a first spin to my new lens. A wide-angle macro – the Laowa 15mm f/4 Wide Angle Macro. A rather new lens design and one with a pretty steep learning curve, these photos are really just practice. With time and strategy, I think I can get better at this.
Two areas to focus on in improving with this lens:
1) Getting a better handle on exposing for the environment (background) while getting the right amount of light from the flash to properly expose the foreground macro subject. I think this should be easier to predict with practice. I’m not at all sure that I can ever get it on a first try.
2) Figuring out how much dof is just right. Sometimes getting more detail in the background will be desirable. Other times, it is best to blur it out to bring focus on the primary subject.
This is a funnel web or grass spider (Agelenopsis spp.) that we found protecting her egg sack on the leaf of poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). She will likely guard the eggs here until the winter takes her.
One of the nice finds of the day was this Black-waved Flannel Moth (Megalopygidae – Lagoa crispata (4644)). One of the key features of this lens is being able to focus close enough to the primary subject for macro-level detail while capturing so much more in the subject’s environment. In this case, I tried to give the perspective of what it may be like for the bug when being discovered by entomologists or nature photographers. Pictured left to right are WGNSS members Rich Thoma, Dave Seidensticker and Casey Galvin.
After the group disbanded at Cuivre River SP, Miguel Acosta and I decided to visit and explore Little Lost Creek Conservation Area near Warrenton. We hiked about 6 miles and I camped there the following evening. I took a quick photo hike in the morning and found these two Brown Stink Bugs (Pentatomidae – Euschistus servus) in copulation. They didn’t like that lens being so close and kept moving to the opposite side of the boneset (Eupatorium) blooms.
Members of WGNSS Entomology and Nature Photography Groups met on June 24th, 2017 to see what interesting insects could be found. In this post I am sharing a few of the more interesting that I was able to get photographs of during the day. The find of the day had to be the Cerambycid pictured above that was, by no surprise, found by Ted MacRae.
We found that blooms were a great way to find beetles. It is easy to see how the delta flower scarab (Trigonopeltastes delta) got its name.
Cerambicids like this flower longhorn can readily be found on blooms.
The banded netwing beetle (Calopteron reticulatum) are easy to find, often located in the open atop vegetation. They rely on aposematic coloration to advertise that they carry aboard chemical compounds that make them a distasteful meal.
The Hymenoptera were well represented on blooms of wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), Queen Ann’s lace (Daucus carota) and as pictured above, fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica). I find the native bees to be tricky to identify by photographs, but I believe this can be placed in the genus Agopostemon. These bees nest in the ground and to promote them, leave patches of soil exposed somewhere in your yard.
This cleptoparasitic Coelioxys exclusively parasitizes the nests of bees in the Megachile genus.
Besides being a bizarre little pollinator, this scaly bee fly is a cleptoparasite of cabronid wasps.
Not to leave out the Leps, this double-toothed prominent moth larvae was found. These guys have developed very effective camouflage that allows them to blend in and resemble the toothed, wavy margins of their elm (Ulmus) host plants.
With some extra nature time last week, I hit the trails at Shaw Nature Reserve hoping to get some shots of Claytonia virginica (spring beauty) being visited by its pollinators – particularly the small solitary Halactid bees. The problem I had on this day is that these bees don’t typically like to be very active on cloudy, grey days. There were a few flies visiting the spring ephemerals, but they were much to flighty to bother with. So, I decided to give some attention to the Linderabenzoin (spicebush) that were blooming in abundance along the river bottom trails. My goal then became to document the pollinators that visit this early-blooming bush.
One of the more obvious of these pollinators that I found was this sawfly. This is my best guess on identification. This sawfly was quite small and by the looks of it, is quite an efficient pollinator.
Probably the most abundant pollinator I came across were these Tachinid flies (again, flies are difficult and I could be wrong).
The hair-like setae that probably serve to aid the fly in responding to changing air pressures also serve as nice holders to move pollen from flower to flower.
I also found a number of multicolored asian lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis). Typically predators of aphids, these beetles are also known to feed on pollen. This is what I figure was going on in the image below. Since there are probably few aphids to be found during the early spring, with few leaves being available, pollen is the next best protein source. I suppose there could be aphids to be found hiding within the flowers, but did not inspect closely enough.
Probably my favorite find of the day were several flies of the family Empididae. These are fascinating flies that are primarily predatory, but a few taxa will visit flowers to feed on nectar or pollen.
Within this family are at least a few where the females will not hunt themselves, instead relying on a “nuptial gift” of a prey item from a male. Males of some species will wrap their gift in a silk wrapper. In these taxa the sex roles will often be reversed – the females courting the males to get these gifts and the opportunity to mate. In at least one species, the females will inflate themselves grossly with air to give herself the appearance of being bound with eggs and fecund, to trick the male into thinking she is a prime candidate to provide his gift and have the opportunity to mate with.
At least one species has taken this system a step further. The males no longer provide a prey wrapped in its decorative covering, but simply provide the silken covering, or balloon, giving them the name “balloon flies”. The photo below provides a good look at the dagger-like moth parts that give these guys another of their common names. Another overlooked beneficial fly. Not only do these guys prey on mosquitoes and other potential pest insect species, but their larvae are also predatory, feeding on insects in the soil and leaf litter.
I’ll leave you with one final image. This one isn’t a pollinator of the spicebush, but potentially feeds on its leaves in summer. What I believe this to be is a (Camptonotus carolinensis) Carolina leaf roller that was parasitized by one of the “zombie fungi”, potentially Cordyceps sometime last summer or early fall. This poor cricket was infected with this fungi that took control of its “mind”, forcing it it to climb high up on a branch of the spicebush. Once there, the fungi used the cricket’s resources to fruit and spread its spores from this higher location in order to reinfect others.
This gorgeous redhead is the White-marked Tussock Moth (Lymantriidae – Orgyia leucostigma – 8316). I was amazed at how abundant they were and routinely found on the underside of leaves on woody plants this summer. Most folks have never seen one!
Besides their striking colors and patterns, these moths have toxin-filled hairs that can cause irritation, especially to areas of sensitive skin. I have not yet photographed an adult, but I was interested to hear that the females of this species are nearly wingless and cannot fly.
The final and perhaps most stunning of the slug moth caterpillars that we were able to find this past summer was the Monkey Slug, or “Hag Moth” caterpillar. This particular one was first noticed by Sarah on the upper side of a dogwood leaf during a visit to Horseshoe Bend Natural Area near Houston MO. We went on to find two in this particular tree.
A leading thought on why these guys look the way they do is to mimic the shed exoskeleton of a tarantula.
I found only a few Elegant-tailed Slugs this year and all were found at Hickory Canyons Natural Area in Ste. Genevieve County, Missouri. The image below documents the only occasion where I found more than one slug on the same leaf, here a Spiny Oak Slug was found on the same curled leaf as our new Elegant-tailed Slug.