Sunday, 31 August 2014

And Now for Something Completely Different... 

This might look like an aerial view of a new subdivision but it's actually a leaf mine in a seedling big-tooth poplar, Populus grandidentata, leaf. Besides the apparent architectural similarity, what I find fascinating about this photo is that you can follow the entire larval life history of this insect, be it a fly, a moth (most likely) or a sawfly. Starting at just about the middle of the right hand side of the photo you can see where the life-track begins. Shortly after hatching the larva moulted then you can follow it's gustatory journey up to the top right corner of the photo where, constrained by the leaf veins, it has to turn left and shortly afterwards moults again. You can see it's entire journey, through four moults, each successively longer than the last as the larva grows, to the present time (at least to the time I took the photo at Roaches Pond on August 14th), to where the caterpillar has eaten itself into a corner near the lower left of the photo. Don't you just hate when that happens?

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Two Blue Flower (or Hover) Fly Species! 

Just less than a week ago I posted about Some Large Flower (or Hover) Flies, ending with the pièce de résistance, a large blue flower (hover) fly identified as Megasyrphus laxus. The photo above is not one of my best but it is from the same encounter with the fly on the McIntosh Run in Spryfield on August 19th illustrated in the previous post. Note the abdominal pattern, especially that the blue abdominal spots wrap around the sides and meet the midline, that the hindmost two spots meet in the center, and the light non-blue line separating the terminal black segments. Denis Doucet from New Brunswick wondered how late in the season these flies could be found and I thought I could provide him with an answer. I had photographed some blue flower (hover) flies in early October 2013, except...

...the ones that I photographed on October 11, 2013 at Roaches Pond in Spryfield are NOT Megasyrphus laxus! It turns out that ALL of the photos of blue flower (hover) flies I photographed last year, at three different locations between mid-August and October 2013, are of Didea alneti, a completely different species. Note again the pattern of blue spots on the abdomen. The spots on D. alneti do not reach the midline at the side of the abdomen, the hindmost spots do not meet in the center, the pale line separating the last abdominal segments is missing, AND the foremost and hindmost blue spots are a completely different shape. Nova Scotia has two different species of blue flower flies! Cool, huh?


Added Note: Andrew Young from the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes (CANACOLL) has confirmed that this second blue Syrphid is Didea alneti and not Megasyrphus laxus. Second Added Note: The photo above is of a male D. alneti. My earlier encounters with this species in 2013 were both of females (difference is that the hindmost spots DO appear to meet in females but not in males, see this reference with the illustrations.)

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

You Talkin' to Me? You Talkin' to Me? 

Another jumping spider has stared me down! This one is Phidippus purpuratus and I photographed her north of Debert on August 25th. I always feel like the perp staring back at Harry Callaghan when he asks, "You've gotta ask yourself a question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?" when I get to macro range (about 45 cm or 18" with my setup) with these spiders. But for some reason this one made me feel more like the reflection of Travis Bickle in Taxi. "You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talking... you talking to me?" Then again, maybe I've just got some kind of persecution complex...

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Some Large Flower (or Hover) Flies... 

This large flower (or hover) fly, Sericomyia lata, has quickly become one of my favorites. About 20 mm (3/4") long, it's not as common as some of its relatives in the same genus but is memorable for its large size and its unusual, that is not-striped, abdominal pattern. Most of the genus are mimics of bees and wasps. Photographed at Roaches Pond on August 16th.

One of the better wasp mimics in the flower (hover) flies is the relatively common Spilomyia sayi. They have a habit of swishing their wings, I believe that's the technical term, from side to side as they move about on flowers in imitation of the raising/lowering of the wings of the typically black and yellow wasps that they mimic. This is a mating pair photographed south of Dollar Lake on August 20th.

The eyes of species in the genus Spilomyia can be incredibly patterned. This is the relatively rare, at least in comparison to S. sayi, Spilomyia fusca, also photographed south of Dollar Lake on August 20th. The tip of the abdomen, not visible here, is banded with white stripes that make this fly an excellent mimic of a bald-faced hornet, Dolichovespula maculata (though the hornet does not have eyes like this!).

The pièce de résistance for me is this unusually coloured blue flower (hover) fly. I first "discovered" and photographed this fly at three different locations last year and identified it, using Bugguide, as Didea alneti, the only blue flower (hover) fly in the guide. However a recent discussion on the Birding New Brunswick site suggests that it is actually in the genus Megasyrphus (although I can find no record or evidence of a M. latus, the suggested species on that discussion). So, again in conjunction with Bugguide, I believe it's either a blue variant of M. laxus (M. latus may have been a simple typo) or quite possibly an entirely new species of Megasyrphus. I've found this fly this year in four different locations but this photo is from the McIntosh Run in Spryfield on August 19th.


Added Note: Andrew Young of the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes has confirmed that this is Megasyrphus laxus (and notes that the unusual blue colour may be diet related and that it fades to yellow after death). Another Added Note: Turns out I was wrong...the blue flower flies I photographed at three locations in 2013 were all Didea alneti so all four locations where I found Megasyrphus laxus this year were new. See Two Blue Flower (or Hover) Fly Species! for the complete story...

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Some Fun and Unusual Flies... 

In the past few weeks I've encountered a number of fun and unusual, and mostly new to me, flies. This one, found on August 21st along the McIntosh Run in Spryfield, is not a "true fly," that is it's not a Dipteran, but a Mecopteran. An unusual looking creature, this is a male Scorpion Fly, Panorpa mirabilis. It's perfectly harmless, to people anyway, despite its scorpion-like looking "tail" (which are actually the male sex organs terminating in an enlarged genital bulb). Yes, it was looking at me...

This pretty convincing bee- or wasp-mimic is actually a Soldier Fly in the genus Stratiomys. It may be S. laticeps or S. obesa—they look remarkably alike and I'm not completely sure I can hang a name on it with only a few photos as reference. I thought I was familiar with Soldier Flies but my previous experience is with the genus Hermetia and they look nothing like this Stratiomys with its curiously flattened and laterally-ridged abdomen. Photographed at Roaches Pond in Spryfield on August 16th.

This beauty is a very (very) large Tachinid Fly, Belvosia borealis, photographed north of Debert on August 12th. My in-field guesstimate, and based on my photos, knowing the size of the Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba) flowers that it is visiting is that this fly is about 25 mm (about 1") long. Compare the size of this fly to the size of the soldier fly, in the photo above, visiting the same flowers. As might be expected from such a large Tachinid, it is parasitic on large moth caterpillars, especially the larvae of Saturniids and Sphingids (silk and sphinx moths).

Finally, for this installment, one of the less common Bee Flies, Anthrax irroratus, photographed August 16th at Roaches Pond in Spryfield. I say less common in comparison to the local abundance of Bombylius and Villa sp. bee flies. Despite the ominous sounding genus name, this fuzzy black bee fly is a parasite of wood-nesting bees and wasps and has nothing to do with the bacteria, Bacillus anthracis, that causes the disease of the same name. I love those filigree black-mottled wings...

Friday, 22 August 2014

Another Teeny Tiny Flower (or Hover) Fly... 

Despite the dismally cloudy day on August 21st, I walked the length of the McIntosh Run to Roaches Pond (and back) to see what I could find. While butterflies were understandably scarce, I found many flower (or hover) flies, including this lovely female Toxomerus geminatus. To give you a sense of scale, this fly is only about 6 mm long (about 1/4").

Male Marbled Orbweaver Courting a Female... 

More often than not the spiders that we see in webs are the females. I don't see males nearly as often but when I do they are usually courting a female. Males are justifiably leery of their females (since they tend to get eaten even before the deed is done) and must approach them very carefully. On August 19th, during a survey visit to the Pockwock Watershed Lands, I found a male Marbled Orbweaver, Araneus marmoreus, courting a female. This photo shows the female on the right hanging upside down in her web with the male (also upside down, and downside up, note also his enlarged pedipalps) making his careful approach along a single web strand on the left.

This is the dorsal side of the male on his oh-so-slow approach to the female. Talk about walking a tightrope! But note that his rear legs are grasping his own silk "lifeline" at the top of the photo...that would mean that that single web strand is not so much a tightrope as it is a guidewire!

Monday, 18 August 2014

Another Autumn Orbweaver... 

On August 16th, just a couple of days after posting It's Orbweaver Season Again, and again back at my favourite outdoor photo studio, Roaches Pond in Spryfield, I found another orbweaver web among the ferns. I located the refuge, opened it up and there was this lovely Shamrock Orbweaver, Araneus trifolium. So, once again, I coaxed it out of its refuge to have its portrait taken. Add this to the two previous species and I've found and photographed all three of the large Araneus spiders in the same week. Pretty cool, huh!

A bit further along the path I noticed another orbweaver web and when I opened the refuge I found another Shamrock orbweaver but this one was the white morph. Interestingly (I think) both the Shamrock Orbweaver and Marbled Orbweaver (Araneus marmoreus) come in multiple colour morphs from white through yellow to orange or red but the Cross Orbweaver (Araneus diadematus) shows none of this colour morphism.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Dragonhunters Hunt Dragons and Other Things... 

The very first Dragonhunter, Hagenius brevistylis, that I ever saw was eating one of my favorite butterflies, a Monarch (Danaus plexippus). I was fascinated by the size and appearance of this over-sized clubtail and repulsed by its choice of this particular food item at the same time! Dragonhunters, of course, get their colloquial name from their penchant for eating other dragonflies (and damselflies) but they also attack and eat other large prey items, like one of the largest butterflies in Nova Scotia, the Monarch. Photo: Roaches Pond, Spryfield, August 4, 2008.

Four years later, on July 12, 2012, I found this Dragonhunter chowing down on a Lancet Clubtail, Gomphus exilis, along the McIntosh Run in Spryfield. The Lancet Clubtail is not the smallest of the clubtails in Nova Scotia, by any stretch, but it does nicely illustrate the massive size of Dragonhunters.

About a month later, at Roaches Pond in Spryfield on August 24, 2012, I found this Dragonhunter eating a Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui. Painted Ladies (and Red Admirals and other migrants) were very common in 2012. Still, this Painted Lady is only about one-half the size of an average Monarch.

Skip forward to August 14th of this year, again at Roaches Pond, I found this Dragonhunter eating one of the abundant Meadowhawks (Sympetrum sp) that confound me in more ways than one: Meadowhawks are a major distraction at this time of year, there are so many of them and seeing them out of the corner of my eye keeps my head turning (and saying, "Damn Meadowhawks!"), and there are five species that all look alike and can be difficult to tell apart. Go, Dragonhunter, Go!

Friday, 15 August 2014

It's Orbweaver Season Again... 

Late summer and fall are spider season. It's not that the spiders weren't there in the spring and early summer, although they do become more plentiful as the season progresses, but they were smaller and often go unnoticed. By this time of the summer many of them have grown substantially and they become more visible. Like a lot of organisms, spiders, and in particular the orbweaver spiders, are special favourites of mine. This is a female Cross Orbweaver, Araneus diadematus, that I coaxed out of her refuge at the edge of her web in my backyard on Wednesday, Aug 13.

This is the Marbled Orbweaver, Araneus marmoreus, with her prey. I opened her refuge at the edge of her web to get this photo at Roaches Pond in Spryfield on Thursday, Aug. 14th. Keep your eyes open for webs, in your gardens and on your outings, to discover more "Spiders of Autumn!"

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Where Did It Come From? 

I thought I'd had a great day yesterday, finding and photographing the Gray Comma, but I got trumped! On Monday, Donna and Duff Evers, who have truly spectacular gardens at their home a bit north and west of Halifax, noticed a strikingly eye-spotted, odd-coloured butterfly at one of their many patches of Purple Coneflower. Donna contacted the webmasters of the Butterflies of Nova Scotia website, Linda and Peter Payzant, and they visited the Evers' home yesterday. When I returned from my trip to Debert yesterday, I had an email from Peter with a photo and the intro "a picture is worth a thousand words." The Payzants had identified the Evers' butterfly as a Peacock, Inachis (or Aglais) io, a butterfly common throughout Europe but virtually unknown here.

Looking a lot like the underside of a Mourning Cloak/Camberwell Beauty, Nymphalis antiopa, the ventral pattern of the Peacock is an excellent mimic of the bark of the tree trunks that they like to rest on. The edges of the wings are complex and quite similar to our sap-feeding anglewing Nymphalids, the Commas, the Question Mark, and the two Tortoiseshells (not to mention the aforementioned Mourning Cloak). In the bright sunshine this butterfly tended to keep its wings closed but as soon as I shaded it with my hand or some clouds drifted by... would spread its wings revealing the brilliant red/purple dorsal pattern with the two pairs of brilliant eyespots. It appears to be a male, was very calm and cooperative, never straying far from the Purple Coneflowers, and seemed to be undisturbed by foraging bees or looming photographers. I was pleased as punch to be able to see it and take these photos but the question remains: Where did this European immigrant come from? From what I've been able to find out, there appears to be a small population of these near Montreal and strays do occur with surprising regularity in other places in Quebec and in Ontario. Perhaps it arrived the way most immigrants do, on a plane or ship, although the Evers' yard is some distance, perhaps 20km or so, from either the airport or the port of Halifax. I suspect it will remain a mystery...

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

After Three Years, a Successful Hunt! 

I've been hunting photos of this butterfly, the Gray Comma (Polygonia progne), for the past three years. It is very (very!) hard to get close to and, typically, once you scare it up it disappears completely. Today's encounter, north of Debert again, started like all the others: I scared the butterfly up from the damp mud that it was puddling at and it disappeared into the trees beside the road. Much to my surprise, however, ten minutes later I found it feeding at some fairly fresh dung at a graveled part of the road.

After scaring it away from its dung meal (I repeat this is a very (very!) cagey's very sensitive to movement), I was able to "chase" the butterfly around a fairly small area of the gravel road for five minutes or so. Finally, I just stood in the shade and waited for it to settle down. I was even more surprised when it landed practically at my feet and proceeded to pose for me!

Of course, once it had landed right by my feet, I could apparently do no wrong! I was able to slowly move away, move around the butterfly, and generally play "portrait photographer." When the sun came back out it closed its wings up and gave me the perfect pose for nice underside shots. Note the tip of the proboscis playing on the rock (the butterfly spits out a drop of liquid to dissolve the surface salts then sucks it back up). A very satisfying end to a three year hunt!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The Spring Peepers of Summer... 

On Saturday morning, August 2nd, I once again took advantage of my local park, Roaches Pond in Spryfield, to get some photography done before the clouds and rain kept me home in front of the computer processing photos instead of out taking them. At one point a fairly large robber fly passed me and landed on a maple leaf. Much to my surprise and delight, just a couple of leaves away from the robber fly busily eating its breakfast, I found a pair of Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer). I did take a couple of quick record photos of the fly but I quickly forgot it!

These are the first chorus frogs that I've seen in Nova Scotia and to find a pair of them sharing the same leaf was special. I'm a big fan of frogs and other amphibians, large and small, and have many (many!) photos of chorus and tree frogs from Texas. These two were not the most diminutive amphibians that I've ever seen (that honour belongs to the Great Plains Narrow Mouth Toad, Gastrophryne olivacea) but they were really close...they are tiny!

As you can tell from knowing that the two frogs were sharing only a single lobe of the same Red Maple (Acer rubrum) leaf, each of the frogs was only about three-quarters of an inch (about 19mm) long. I suspect this photo is of the female and the one above is of the male. This may have been a "secret rendezvous" that took a bit longer than expected! Then again, perhaps they were just resting between bouts...

Monday, 4 August 2014

A Butterfly with a Shoe Fetish... 

On Friday, August 1st, I ventured back up to the Debert area of Nova Scotia. I found another Acadian Hairstreak (Satyrium acadica) to add another record square for NS (see Another (!) Rare Nova Scotia Butterfly for the full story), but the event that made my day was finding a fresh male Aphrodite Fritillary (Speyeria aphrodite) with an apparent shoe fetish. It was, to be brief but succinct, very attentive to my shoes, returning over and over, every time I moved it would circle my leg to land again on my shoe, to imbibe the salts off of my shoes. This is the first photo I took of it.

I'll tell you honestly that it was a bit of a PITA to have to repeatedly shake my foot to get rid of an overly-amorous butterfly—a dog, yes, a butterfly, not so much. Eventually I was able to make it move off enough to bask in a more natural situation so I could get an excellent photo of a fresh male Aphrodite Fritillary. I moved off pretty quickly, too, so that it would return to its usual routine...

...but, of course, I had to return back that way and sure enough, guess who was waiting for me? It was almost a half hour later but as soon as I appeared that fool butterfly made a bee-line (butterfly-line?) for my shoes. Truly, a butterfly with a shoe fetish (or at least, one that was salt-starved and hoping to make a big impression on the ladies)!