Category Archives: Science

Mosquito traps that work

Spring is officially here so I’ve deployed my collection of mosquito traps (photographs below). In case you haven’t seen them before, each is filled with water and decomposing plant matter (hay and compressed rabbit food), then equipped with special lids (and sticky cards) that prevent females from escaping once they get inside. In addition, eggs that the female might lay are also prevented from developing. All of this happens passively, 24/7, all summer long, without the use of chemicals. I have two from BioCare (~$30 from Gardeners Supply), two from Biogents (~$24 from BioQuip), and one that I made last year (~ $5 in supplies).

Every homeowner should have them. Coupled with other preventative measures (eliminating stagnant water, reducing excess vegetation, etc.), you can knock back mosquito levels and enjoy your yard again. Five units is probably sufficient for an average yard but I plan on making a few more this summer just to make sure.

Ideally, everyone on your block should have them, too, so if you are planning on ordering some you should first send a note to all your neighbors to see whether you can make a bulk order. E.g., if you order a lot of Biogents you can shave a few dollars off of each unit. Buying a bunch might seem like a lot of money but compare it to the cost (~$700) of having a company like Mosquito Squad spray your yard with pyrethroids every several weeks (every year). Using these passive traps also saves all the pollinators that are killed by those pesticides.

Photographs from the Galápagos Islands

It’s taken me several years but I’m finally uploading photographs from my 2015 trip to the Galápagos. Below are just a few of my favorites. To see all 150 or so, please go here.

If you have any burning questions about the Galápagos, please leave a comment or send me a note. I wish I could go back every year.

Photographs from Ridley Creek State Park

Last week when I was at Ridley Creek State Park I crossed paths with a tree tour led by wildlife biologist Gary Stolz (PA Dept of Conservation and Natural Resources). I promised the group that I’d post photographs of things I’d seen at the park. Here are the highlights:

Long-tailed giant ichneumon wasp

Long-tailed giant ichneumonid wasp (Megarhyssa macrurus)

Megarhyssa macrurus

The largest and most colorful was clearly the long-tailed giant ichneumon wasp (Megarhyssa macrurus) that I found ovipositing into a red maple. Actually, there were perhaps a half-dozen of them, all presumably targeting the larvae of Tremex columba (a sawfly) that were busy eating the tree. The presence of the sawflies is given away from probably a mile away (I’m guessing here) due to the odor of the symbiotic fungus they use to help digest the wood. Once on the tree, though, the ichneumon probably locates a larva by sensing the vibrations it makes when chewing. The ovipositor is approximately 2″ long and is tipped with a cutting edge (as you might guess). It also drips out a fluid that helps dissolve the wood. An amazing insect to watch.

Green’s giant ichneumon wasp

(Green's giant ichneumonid wasp) Megarhyssa greenei

Megarhyssa greenei

Also on the same tree were several Green’s giant ichneumon wasps (Megarhyssa greenei). This species has a shorter ovipositor (among several other differences) but does pretty much the same thing as the species above.

Unknown wasp in Tribe Ephialtini

Ovipositing wasp in Tribe Ephialtini.

Also beautiful but much smaller (perhaps 12 mm), I found this wasp ovipositing into a nearby tree that was completely dead and covered with moss. I’m still working on an ID (it’s something in the Ephialtini). Which means, like many of the insects I photograph, I’m hoping that an expert will eventually help me identify it. Sometimes that process can years but I’ll update this page if there’s any movement. For those curious, I post photographs to iNaturalist and BugGuide for help. And I often ask my Dad (Foster Forbes Purrington), an entomologist.

Coelichneumon navus

Coelichneumon navus (female)

Coelichneumon navus

The last wasp of the day is Coelichneumon navus, another ichneumonid but with a concealed ovipositor. This species has been known to parasitize fall webworm (Hyphantria cunea) and cypress looper moth (Iridopsis pergracilis), but like many of the 100,000 or so members of the family Ichneumonidae not much is known about its natural history. I found two caterpillars on this tree but haven’t yet ID’d them.

Gnophomyia tristissima

Gnophomyia tristissima

Gnophomyia tristissima

Another insect with no common name, Gnophomyia tristissima live, love, and die around rotting hardwood logs. These are crane flies and can be identified by their bright yellow halteres (remnants of their second pair of wings) and black bodies. This photograph shows mating but afterwards the male seems to guard the female while she oviposits (if you want to see that, click on image to be taken to a site that has additional photographs). I spent about 30 minutes watching and photographing them and could have stayed longer. But the mosquitoes were exsanguinating me.

American nursery web spider

American nursery web spider (Pisaurina mira)

Pisaurina mira

Earlier on my walk I found a rather orange American nursery web spider (Pisaurina mira). It was also rather large.

Banded fishing spider?

Juvenile banded fishing spider (Dolomedes vittatus)

Dolomedes vittatus?

I can usually narrow down spiders given their eye arrangement and details of web (or lack thereof), but this is stumping me. My tentative guess is that it’s a freshly-molted (teneral), juvenile banded fishing spider (Dolomedes vittatus). I’m trying to get this confirmed so check back if you’re curious. Astute readers will notice that it’s on a tree, not near water, but apparently there are few members of Dolomedes that can live away from water just fine. This is one of those species.

Northern water snake

Northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon)

Nerodia sipedon

This was the first time I’ve seen a northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon) but apparently they are super common. This one was perhaps 2 feet long but they get as big as 4 1/2 feet. Non-venomous, though, in case you were wondering.

Sulphur tufts?

Sulphur tufts (Hypholoma fasciculare) on log

Hypholoma fasciculare?

I’m still working on an identification but my current guess is sulphur tufts (Hypholoma fasciculare). Or, if you prefer, sulfur tufts. I really enjoy photographing young mushrooms but the consequence is that they are harder to identify.

That’s it! If you have any questions, send me a note or leave a comment.