Snow midge with yellow halteres

Here’s a snow midge I found a few days ago at Hildacy Farm Preserve. I’m not positive about the species, but perhaps Diamesa nivoriunda. I only saw one, but related members of the genus are reported to swarm during the winter. 

What I’d love to know is why the halteres are yellow. They seem to be yellow on majority of diptera I’ve seen, and I’ve never stumbled onto a paper discussing why that is. All I could find was the sentence “Haltere color is often used to distinguish between species” in a Drosophila book .” If you know of a paper, please send link ASAP. Am dying of curiosity.

 Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Snow midge (Diamesa nivoriunda)

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Small winter stonefly

I was out looking for the elusive snow fly yesterday but found this, instead: an eastern stonefly (Allocapnia recta), a member of the Capniidae (small winter stoneflies). At least that’s what I think it is. Larvae are active during the winter, and adults can fly and mate even when temperature is in the teens. Pretty incredible to see them flitting around on a cold day when other insects cannot even move. At Hildacy Farm in Media, PA. Probably emerged from the nearby Crum Creek. 

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Eastern stonefly (Allocapnia recta) Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Eastern stonefly (Allocapnia recta)

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Trigger warning for creationist visitors to National Zoo

Here’s a photograph I took several years ago at the National Zoo’s “Think Tank” exhibit on primate cognition. Darwin Day is one week so I thought I’d share.

Colin Purrington Photography: Evolution graphics &emdash; Think Tank warning for creationists

The text is a little hard to read so here’s transcription:

“This exhibit is about animal thinking. It contains some things you may agree with, some you may disagree with, and others that may even trouble you. Come explore and see what you think.” 

The warning sign was crafted by Smithsonian staff to cater to snowflake creationists who complained about the “Changes over millions of years have resulted in today’s humans” panel that covered the age of the earth, human evolution, and how natural selection works. 

The “see what you think” part suggests to visitors that the facts presented within are up for debate and thus shouldn’t undermine somebody’s alternative views about human origins or the age of the earth. But, of course, the warning signage undermines the experience for all visitors. I.e., a curious but uninformed visit might assume that the exhibits are just wild guesses about what might have happened. A shameful use of tax dollars, in my opinion.

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Apple oak gall

Apple oak gall (Amphibolips confluenta or Amphibolips quercusinanis), backlit to show leaf-like venation. Second photograph is a cross section showing where the wasp larva develops. I’d love to know what the spotting does, if anything.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Backlit oak apple gall (Amphibolips sp.)

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Backlit cross section of an apple oak gall (Amphibolips sp.)

Cynipid wasps love oaks for some reason — over 3/4 of the 1300 species use Quercus as host. People argue about why that’s the case (e.g., Ronquist et al. 2015). Even Alfred Kinsey the sexologist weighed in, back in the days when he was obsessed with gall wasps. 

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Graphopsocus cruciatus

Here’s a photograph of a narrow barklouse (Graphopsocus cruciatus) with a clutch of eggs. I was initially taking a photograph of the domed structure (more on that below), but then examined the photo on my camera’s LCD viewer and saw this tiny insect moving around. Which surprised me — it was December 18th, and cold. It wasn’t freezing, but certainly not a day I’d expect to find an insect out ovipositing. But apparently this group of insects (Stenopsocidae) are known to be active if there’s a random warm day in winter. I might go back in a few weeks to see what’s become of them.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Narrow barklouse (Graphopsocus cruciatus)

Here’s a closeup of the eggs so you can see the silk that holds them down. I watched her apply this webbing (from labial silk glands) for about 15 minutes. Some species in this group are gregarious and can cover an entire tree in such webbing, which tends to freak out homeowners. I’ve only seen that in Puerto Rico, though. 

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Clutch of narrow barklouse (Graphopsocus cruciatus) eggs

I’m not exactly sure what the egg case is (antmimic spider? ground sac spider?), but I’m wondering whether the barklouse might have positioned her eggs near a potential food source. Barklice are reported to eat fungi, algae, lichens, plant tissue, and pollen, but there doesn’t seem to be much published on the species’ natural history or diet prefereces. I briefly thought the structure might be a slime mold like Enteridium lycoperdon, but then I saw (I think) white embryos or larvae through one of the two holes that seemed roughly chewed through the shell-like exterior. If you recognize the contents, I’d love to hear from you.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Close-up of hole in egg case

Many thanks to Ross Hill (Meford, Oregon) for identification, and to Edward Mockford (University of Illinois) for helpful references on the species.

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