Nature pics from a July 2021 trip to Highlands Hammock State Park with my sister and father. The park is situated on dunes that formed during the Pleistocene (approximately 650,000 years ago), during a period when most of current-day Florida was below water. The above-ground portion at the time, an island, is now known as the Lake Wales Ridge. It’s packed with biological gems.
Hiking trail on the higher, xeric part of the park. That’s beach sand from the Pleistocene. And crawling with tiger beetles.
Scabrous tiger beetle (Cicindela scabrosa). In case you haven’t spent time taking photographs of tiger beetles, I’d just like to point out that it’s hard. They are skittish and fast, so I had to approach slowly, prostrate, using my elbows to ratchet myself close enough for a shot. I was covered in sand, plus dripping in sweat. Per Ted MacRae’s blog post on the species, Cicindela scrabrosa and several other species likely evolved when the Lake Wales Ridge was an island.
Trap-jaw ant (Odontomachus sp.) in the grips of an antlion. You can just barely make out the antlion mandibles underneath the ant’s abdomen. The mandibles are hollow and are able to inject venom and digestive juices. Here’s a video I posted on Twitter:
If you have time to waste, I highly recommend watching this YouTube video of a trap-jaw ant escaping an antlion pit. Per Fredrick Larabee‘s research, 15% of the trap-jaw ants can launch themselves to safety by snapping their jaws open.
Io moth (Automeris io) caterpillars feeding on tarberry (Bejaria racemosa). I’ve read that when larvae need to find a new source of leaves they will leave en mass and form tight conga lines.
Disholcaspis quercusvirens galls on live oak. Many of the pics online seem to have ants, and that’s apparently because the gall (like other cynipid galls) excrete something sweet to attract them, potentially as a way to cut down on parasitoid attack. Here’s a pic of the resident. These galls are formed by the asexual phase of the wasp; see figure 1(E,F) of this paper for photographs of the sexual-phase galls.
Juvenile Florida garden spider (Argiope florida). Super common but I can’t stop taking photographs of them.
Basilica orbweaver (Mecynogea lemniscata) with egg cases. Per this site, basillica orbweavers take down their webs every day and use them to wrap the egg cases. But perhaps that’s a variable behavior because my photograph doesn’t seem to show it. These photographs definitely do.
Ant-mimic sac spider. Either Castianeira floridana or C. descripta. If you have a vote, please leave it at the iNaturalist observation. Not sure which ant species it mimics. Could also be a Mutillidae mimic. E.g., looks similar to both the Klug’s velvet ant (Dasymutilla klugii) and the magnificent velvet ant (Dasymutilla magnifica), though neither occurs in Florida.
Gopher apple (Geobalanus oblongifolius), a favorite of gopher tortoises (Gopherus Polyphemus). The fruit is said to have an aroma similar to a freshly unwrapped plastic shower curtain. But quite tasty, apparently, if you can find a ripe one that the tortoises have missed. I still haven’t seen a gopher tortoise.
Photographs from a June visit to Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York. As always, I’m grateful for ID corrections. If you want to see more pics from Mohonk, here’s the album.
View of bedrock in nearby ridge (the Trapps) popular with rock climbers.
Sky Top folly on a gloomy afternoon.
North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) in a tree. At night they travel higher into the canopy to nibble on tender shoots, but apparently fall with some regularity when the small branches snap. This one seems to have a tooth issue that will likely end badly. But seems plump enough for now.
White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) at the lily pond, one of perhaps several dozen that I encountered on walks and trail runs. It’s hard to imagine that the species nearly went extinct in the late 1800s. During that period Mohonk Mountain House used to stock them in a paddock near the current location of the Garden, then later at a larger site near Copes Lookout Road. Meat was used to feed employees, plus the guests enjoyed feeding the deer. It was taken down in 1947 when “the entertainment value of the deer had decreased” (i.e., when wild deer became common).
Common (northern) watersnake (Nerodia sipedon) sunning on a rock near Lake Mohonk. Not venomous but apparently known for their “eagerness” to bite. And if that happens you apparently bleed profusely due to the anticoagulant in their saliva.
Green frog (Lithobates clamitans) attempting to hide under a leaf. In 2018 somebody found blue morph at the Duck Pond. The word on the street is that maybe 1-2% of green frogs are blue and that it’s genetic. Keep your eyes peeled.
Analeptura lineola eating a mountain laurel flower. Or at least I think it is. Per this page the species is hard to distinguish from flower longhorns (Lepturinae) in other genera. A beautiful insect.
Arthromacra aenea, yet another gorgeous insect that inexplicably has no common name. It’s a darkling beetle (Tenebrionidae), which surprised me, but apparently the subfamily (Lagriinae) used to be a family (Lagriidae). Very odd.
Multicolored Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis) larva eating a flower. They can also bore into fruit on peaches, apples, and such. And they bite. This species was first introduced into the United States in 1916 to control aphids and scale insects and is now so common it’s a health problem for humans — adults overwinter in houses in such large numbers that people develop allergies.
Larva of an Asian lady beetle gearing up to pupate. It’s stuck on the leaf but still has the ability to bob back and forth. Which it did, so getting this pic was hard.
Asian lady beetle pupa. Note the pile of legs that’s dropped off just like clothing.
Unidentified fly enjoying some unidentified scat. Don’t judge.
Dioctria hyalipennis. This introduced robberfly is reportedly fond of small wasps and bees.
Common snipe fly (Rhagio mystaceus). Also called the down-looker fly because they usually face down when parked on a tree trunk. Maybe I should just rotate the photograph 180 degrees.
On iNaturalist somebody ID’d this as a fall webworm moth (Hyphantria cunea). It very well could be but the agreeable tiger moth (Spilosoma congrua) is in the area, too, and I don’t know how to tell them apart. The coloration of the forelegs seem more of the latter but I’m likely missing other field marks. In an ideal world I’d have a view of the ventral side. But, alas, this world is not ideal.
Orange-patched smoky moth (Pyromorpha dimidiata). Per BugGuide these moths have a chemical defenses but also seem to be mimicking Lycid beetles such as Calopteron terminale. More good information on Ted MacRae’s blog.
Hemlock angle (Macaria fissinotata) on lichen-covered rock. This also took me hours to identify but hopefully made me a better person. Larvae eat hemlock, balsam fir, and spruce.
Shaler’s Fabiola moth (Fabiola shaleriella). Another tiny moth that should be much larger so people can better appreciate it. For a great photograph, please see this one by David L. Wagner. Thanks to Jason Dombroskie for ID on iNaturalist.
Common bagworm moth (Psyche casta) with case constructed of conifer needles. Larvae are known to eat lichens and mosses, so this individual was well situated. But they can also eat grasses and other plants. Someday when I’m bored I’d like to take apart some of the cases to find a female, which are wingless. Here’s a great site that shows a photograph. Eggs get deposited inside the case. When they hatch, larvae eat mom and then make mini cases out of her original case material. That’s probably TMI.
This looks very similar to Itame sulphurea (now Macaria sulphurea?) on page 196 of Wager’s Caterpillars of Eastern North America. But this group is impossible to ID. But I’m also wondering whether it might be a hemlock angle (see pic above of adult); here’s the caterpillar. If you’re on iNaturalist and would care to weigh in, here’s my observation.
Striped hairstreak (Satyrium liparops) eating a mountain laurel flower. But this is another guess, also based on matching a photograph (page 99 of Wagner’s book). Known to feed on heaths, especially their flowers, so there’s that. More details on BugGuide.
Bumble bee (Bombus sp.) visiting mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia). The anthers are held under tension and snap onto pollinators. I was initially trying to capture that process but gave up almost immediately.
Bumble bee (Bombus sp.) collecting aphid honeydew on a spruce tree. This tree was mobbed with bees that I assumed were collecting pollen, which should not have been happening (not enough protein). But when viewed large on my computer I saw the aphids and I realized what was going on.
Sawfly larva (Macrophya sp., perhaps) on elderberry. It still amazes me that these are hymenopterans not lepidopterans.
Another sawfly (Tenthredinoidea) but I don’t even have a guess as to genus.
Neolygus sp. on mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia). ID not confirmed and I know nothing about its natural history. But I take photographs just in case I stumble onto something interesting years later. There’s always hope.
Harvestman (Leiobunum sp.) molting. I posted a video on Twitter:
Dark fishing spider (Dolomedes tenebrosus) with regrown R-II leg. This was easily the largest fishing spider I’ve ever seen in my life.
This tunnel is likely made by Ariadna bicolor. Thanks to user @chuuuuung on iNaturalist for identification.
Common pill woodlouse (Armadillidium vulgare) with yellow (pteridine) markings that seem to be common on females.
Changeable mantleslug (Megapallifera mutabilis) eating lichen, fungus, or algae. I’m assuming the “changeable” refers to the variable pattern (chevrons on mantle sometimes present, sometimes absent).
Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) in flower. Because deer will only eat this plant when close to death, it’s a big part of the understory around Lake Mohonk. And thus a big reason why I love to visit in June.
Underside of mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) flower. This view shows the little pockets into which the filaments are loaded. They get released when the flower is jostled and launch the anthers onto the pollinator.
Haircap moss (Polytrichaceae), ferns, and lichens on a boulder.
Orange jelly spot (Dacrymyces chrysospermus) at base of conifer tree.
Blistered navel lichen (Lasallia papulosa). ID not confirmed, and might be impossible to confirm without looking at underside. If it’s brown then I’m right. But if black (“necrotic”) it means it’s Lasalliapensylvanica. If by chance you want to read about the lichens on this wall, there’s a paper documenting lichen declines at Mohonk: Smiley, D., and C.J. George. 1974. Photographic documentation of lichen decline in the Shawangunk Mountains of New York. The Bryologist 77:179–187. It’s on JSTOR.
Below are some developments relating to Spartan Mosquito’s attractive toxic sugar bait called the “Eradicator”. It’s a tube filled with water, sucrose, sodium chloride, and yeast.
I was curious whether the Mississippi Attorney General’s office had ever taken legal action against Spartan Mosquito (a Mississippi company), so I submitted a freedom-of-information request and was sent a letter, below, that directed the company to remove all mention of the Mississippi Department of Health from an advertisement.
The Attorney General’s office sent the offending ad, too (below), which purported to summarize an experimental test of the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator. The ad asserts that the Mississippi Department of Health’s entomologist was involved and that the Department approved the results — both were false statements. Spartan Mosquito further emphasized a (non-existent) government collaboration by naming the case study “CSL4GOV-ZIKA”.
Zika health claim
As an aside, the Department of Health’s entomologist was indeed at the site, but she was there to coordinate the massive spraying program that the Department of Health was using to minimize the potential mosquito-borne spread of Zika virus around the house of somebody who had the disease. Therefore, the reason there were no mosquitoes in the area is not because there were Spartan Mosquito Eradicators hanging from trees but because the mosquitoes were all killed by months of insecticide treatments. Spartan Mosquito knew the area was being sprayed with insecticide, too, but ignored that detail when it concluded that the presence of the Spartan Mosquito Eradicators resulted in “the most effective, longest-lasting Zika-control response on record anywhere”. Making a health claim violates both EPA and state rules.
Spartan Mosquito repeated the claim in a Facebook ad:
… and in a television segment (jump to the 40-second mark):
Efficacy claims from boric acid formulation
It’s important to note that at the time of the Zika “case study”, the tubes appear to contain boric acid, not table salt. I determined that by freezing the above television clip (@ 1 min 9 secs) and looking at the ingredient list at the bottom of the label.
Spartan Mosquito even gave one of its tubes to the Mississippi Department of Health’s entomologist, who took a photograph (below). This photograph confirms that the tubes used at the Lamar County site contained boric acid.
This means that the efficacy claims (“kills up to 95% of mosquitoes for 90 days”) on current boxes of Spartan Mosquito Eradicators are based on a version of the product with a different formulation. And, by extension, the graph is based on the boric-acid case study, too:
Sale of unregistered, boric-acid version?
There’s another consequence of using boric acid (a Federally-regulated pesticide) in early versions of the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator — it means that the company was required to get an EPA registration to legally sell the device in the United States. It didn’t have one. I’m not sure exactly which states the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator was shipped to during this time. Or maybe it was just in-store sales in Mississippi.
States banning the Eradicator
You’d think given all of the above that the device would have been banned long ago, but most states allow the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator to be sold without restriction and with no alterations of its original packaging and claims. And retailers in these states can repeat and amplify those claims (“get your yard mosquito free”) to generate sales.
Sales of the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator have been blocked only in California, Connecticut, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. States don’t announce why, usually, but one cited false and misleading claims, lack of acceptable efficacy data, and presence of numerous health claims on the company’s website (here are archived snapshots) and its Facebook page (company is in the process of hiding the claims).
Audit of 25(b)-exempt pesticides
A recent initiative by the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials (AAPCO) is likely generating fresh scrutiny of the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator. Per the group’s website, state regulators in Arizona, Indiana, Maine, Mississippi, South Dakota, Washington DC, and Wisconsin have all volunteered to make a list of “minimum risk” pesticides on the market in their respective areas and then evaluate how the products were vetted. The end goal of this exercise is to help all states standardize how such products are approved. The emphasis will be on efficacy data, and AAPCO has 2-pages of guidance on the topic, all of it very sensible. Here’s a sampling of what the group recommends:
Application should include a complete description of the materials and methods, statistical results, and conclusions.
“Data must be credible, independently collected, reproducible, and replicated.”
“Data should include a minimum of three (3) replicates per test.”
“Data should be generated with the product (formulation) submitted for registration.”
“Data should include an untreated control.”
Study director should have actual experience in designing and conducting experiments.
In regards to the latter requirement, to my knowledge Jeremy Hirsch did not have any experience in conducting mosquito trials. At the time of the study he owned a sandwich shop franchise:
In addition to standardizing the data requirements, participating states will also collect and study products labels. The part of the label that might be discussed for the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator is the name of the product itself. In AAPCO’s guidance, misleading brand names is a concern:
What’s especially interesting about the audit is that Mississippi, Spartan Mosquito’s home state, is participating. And, according to the Mississippi Bureau of Plant Industry, Spartan Mosquito never submitted efficacy data even though doing so is a requirement (screenshot of its rules is below).
In contrast, some of participating states have seen the efficacy data and have banned sales of the device. I think the audit process (which involves numerous rounds of reports and meetings) could easily trigger stop-sale orders in those states that haven’t yet appreciated the device’s shortcomings. I suspect it might also trigger scrutiny of Spartan Mosquito’s new version, the Pro Tech, which reverts to the original formulation of boric acid.