Category Archives: Education

Red milkweed beetles

Mating pairs of red milkweed beetles (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) are not rare (they can couple for hours at a time), but I thought this couple looked cute, in a worried sort of way. The half-lidded expression is because their compound eyes are bisected by their antennae. Beautiful beetles.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Red milkweed beetles (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus)

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Hummingbird and snowberry clearwing moths

Here are some photographs of the hummingbird clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe) and the snowberry clearwing moth (H. diffinis).

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Hummingbird and snowberry clearwing moths

Day-active, colorful moths are rare enough, but these take it to the next level in their uncanny mimicry of hummingbirds and bumblebees, respectively. The mimicry presumably protects them from being eaten by predators such as crab spiders, praying mantids, and birds. In addition to the obvious behavioral and morphological resemblance to hummingbirds and bumblebees, the moths also make a slight humming noise that completes the disguise. The noise could easily be an unavoidable consequence of hovering flight (approximately 30 beats/second), but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if their wings are rigged in some way to exaggerate the noise. I’d love to know the answer to that. My other burning question is why the hummingbird clearwing moth has clear wings at all … I would expect selection to favor individuals that did not lose scales, because such a mutant would more resemble a hummingbird, which has opaque wings. I’m guessing that reason is not because fully-scaled wings are too heavy — the hummingbird hawk moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) in the Old World has opaque wings and can manage 70-90 beats/second (wow). I wonder whether a fully scaled wing might damp the humming sound. All photographs were taken at Natural Lands Trust’s Hildacy Farm Preserve in Media, Pennsylvania. Oh, and happy National Moth Week.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Hummingbird clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe) with unfurling proboscis

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Hummingbird clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe) showing wing veination

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Hummingbird clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe) nectaring

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Hummingbird clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe) nectaring at wild bergamot

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Hummingbird clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe) nectaring at wild bergamot

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Hummingbird clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe) arriving at flower

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Hummingbird clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe) nectaring at wild bergamot

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Snowberry clearwing moth (Hemaris diffinis)

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Snowberry clearwing moth (Hemaris diffinis)

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Sycamore tussock moth

Sycamore tussock moth (Halysidota harrisii) caterpillar at Hildacy Farm Preserve in Media, PA. I remember these as a child mainly because of their urticating hairs. But they are also really, really cute. I especially like the white ones because their orange tufts stand out better than on the yellow variety. Don’t you just want to pick it up?? If by chance you don’t know what “urticating” means, I highly recommend the experience. You won’t forget.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Sycamore tussock moth caterpillar (Halysidota harrisii)

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Golden-backed snipe fly

This golden-backed snipe fly (Chrysopilus thoracicus) landed in one of my bird baths and drifted around for a few minutes on the surface tension. I’m not positive, but I think I’ve seen them do this in past years, too. I wonder whether they are looking for mosquito larvae, or perhaps adults. These flies have predaceous mouthparts, so they clearly hunt something. Sure wish somebody would PCR the gut contents of these things and let me know. Anyone ever seen them take something down?

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Golden-backed snipe fly (Chrysopilus thoracicus)

Here’s another one, albeit one with a damaged eye:

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Golden-backed snipe fly (Chrysopilus thoracicus) with dented eye

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Minor victory in my war against yam labeling fraud

In my futile quest to convince people that sweet potatoes shouldn’t be called yams (which are unrelated plants), I discovered that one can actually report vendors who label sweet potatoes as yams. So, for giggles, I reported Giant Foods to the USDA’s Misbranding and Misrepresentation Office. Below is a photograph I took in November of their organic sweet potatoes:

giant-sweet-potato-05 (1)

And now in all of their stores (that I’ve checked), they sell sweet potatoes labeled as sweet potatoes:

Nature's Promise sweet potato at Giant

It might be a small victory, but Giant Foods is giant, so I’m pleased. If you want to know more about my futile war, please see my page on Yams versus Sweet Potatoes. If you want to make your own report, just visit the above USDA site and send the contact person a photograph of the label along with store contact information. They’ll do the rest, and apparently in a persuasive way.

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