Tag Archives: natural history

Nature pics from Zolfo Springs

Photographs from a week in Zolfo Springs, Florida. In case you’re wondering, the namesake spring was capped with concrete in 1960s, and the large pool it fed has been filled with dirt. But still plenty of nature to photograph.

Cuban tree frog (Osteopilus septentrionalis) on a post

Cuban tree frog (Osteopilus septentrionalis). Apparently arrived in Key West in 1931 or earlier. They eat each other as well as any of the native tree frogs, which is likely why native tree frogs are becoming so rare in the area. Reported to take up residence in bird boxes, too, which is thought to annoy birds and result in their declines. Also fond of hiding in boxes that house electrical components, which doesn’t end well. And they clog toilets. I could go on. All considered, a really awful species for Florida. And it’s spreading to other states.

Juvenile Cuban tree frog (Osteopilus septentrionalis) on lemongrass

Juvenile Cuban tree frog (Osteopilus septentrionalis) resting on a lemongrass leaf. Yes, cute, but don’t be fooled.

Black-tailed red sheetweb spider (Florinda coccinea)

Black-tailed red sheetweb spider (Florinda coccinea) with morning dew. I wonder whether the red color evolved to lure prey, perhaps mimicking a fruit or flower. Would be interesting to compare capture data with similar sheetweavers that have black bodies.

Condylostylus mundus

A male Condylostylus mundus. Longlegged flies (Dolichopodidae) are hard to photograph and ID, but I got lucky here. There just aren’t that many that are blue and chunky like this. Females of this species are green.

Copulating pair of common lovebugs (Plecia nearctica)

Copulating pair of common lovebugs (Plecia nearctica). Probably the most photographed fly on the planet. So definitely had to take one more. In addition to mating, they are fond of hanging out in large numbers on freshly painted surfaces. I have no idea why.

Geranomyia virescens (possibly)

Possibly Geranomyia virescens, a crane fly. The long proboscis is for drinking nectar, not sucking blood. It’s just a harmless pollinator.

Black stink bug (Proxys punctulatus)

Black stink bug (Proxys punctulatus). Here’s the BugGuide info page. The University of Florida has a very nice description of the species, too. Like many insects it’s gone through a half-dozen different Latin names, which makes it hard to locate interesting natural history tidbits that are often only available in old books and journals.

Hyalymenus sp. feeding on scarlet sesbane (Sesbania punicea) fruit

Hyalymenus sp. feeding on a scarlet sesbane (Sesbania punicea) pod. BugGuide says there are three species in Florida but offers no help in distinguishing them. Per some experts it could be the case that all three species are variants of a single species. If you know the answer, please leave a comment on the post or go directly to one of the iNaturalist observations I’ve made.

Yellow ants (Monomorium floricola) on cow skull

Yellow ants (Monomorium floricola) on a cow tooth. This species likes to nest in arboreal cavities so this is a fitting location. If you’d like to see closeups, antwiki has them.

Conura sp. on tomato leaf

Conura sp. (Chalcididae) on tomato leaf. I have no idea which species. And there are a lot in Florida.

Chelonus sp.

Chelonus sp. They’d land for approximately 1 second, then launch themselves for more hovering. So super hard to get a decent photograph. An odd-looking wasp because the abdomen is almost completely smooth due to fused tergites. Using wing venation alone this appears to be Chelonus kellieae (per figure in Marsh 1979), but that’s a species from Costa Rica and I’m not sure it’s in the United States. But I bet it is; its primary host, the potato tube moth (Phthorimaea operculella), is found in Florida. There were thousands of these wasps hovering over the lawn in the morning, so they are certainly eating something that’s in great abundance. They are egg-larval parasitoids (the egg is deposited into the host egg but doesn’t kill the host at that point).

Polistes bellicosus at nest

Polistes bellicosus nest. You can see an egg in the top left cell. They were not happy with me being so close. It was mutual.

New World banded Thynnid wasp (Myzinum sp.)

New World banded Thynnid wasp (Myzinum sp.). I think this is Myzinum maculatum because it has clear wings with brown tips; plus coloration and banding matches that of individuals ID’d as such (e.g.). Also, one source says the species has a cleft front claw (figure 7), and I think that’s the case here. You can tell this is a male by the curved pseudostinger at tip of abdomen. The larvae are parasitoids of scarab beetle larvae.

White-footed leafcutter bee (Megachile albitarsis)

White-footed leafcutter bee (Megachile albitarsis) resting with a section of leaf cut out of air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera). It’s one of thousands of species described by Ezra Townsend Cresson, a guy now long dead but who lived five blocks from me in Swarthmore, PA. I’ve even been to his garden several times.

Twice-stabbed lady beetle (Genus Chilocorus sp.)

Twice-stabbed lady beetle (Chilocorus sp.). Given size of spots I’m wondering whether this might be a cactus lady beetle (Chilocorus cacti). But Chilocorus stigma is super common in Florida and is said to have larger spots in the south, so I’m unsure. I should have taken a photograph of the ventral side. One of life’s regrets. They eat scale insects.

Eudiagogus maryae on scarlet sesbane (Sesbania punicea)

Eudiagogus maryae on scarlet sesbane (Sesbania punicea). Members of the genus are known as Sesbania clown weevils, appropriately. The larvae eat Sesbania, too.

Immature Surinam cockroach (Pycnoscelus surinamensis)

Immature Surinam cockroach (Pycnoscelus surinamensis). Parthenogenetic, apparently.

Assembly moth (Samea ecclesialis) on fern frond. Zolfo Springs, FL.

Assembly moth (Samea ecclesialis) on fern frond. Also called the stained-glass moth (hence the species name, I assume). Larvae eat Mexican clover (Richardia brasiliensis) but perhaps other plants as well (very little information available for such a common moth).

Eggplant webworm (Rhectocraspeda periusalis) on tomato

Eggplant webworm (Rhectocraspeda periusalis) on tomato. I spent a whole day identifying this. I’d assumed that any pest of tomato would be easy to identify, but I guess it’s rare to find it on tomato.

Graylet moth (Hyperstrotia sp.) larva on scarlet Sesbania (Sesbania punicea)

Graylet moth (Hyperstrotia sp.) larva on scarlet Sesbania (Sesbania punicea). ID is very tentative, however, and is just based on visual matches to similar caterpillars on BugGuide and in Wagner’s book. Here’s the iNaturalist observation.

Caterpillar of pale-edged Selenisa (Selenisa sueroides) on scarlet sesbane (Sesbania punicea)

For once, a caterpillar that was easy to identify: pale-edged Selenisa (Selenisa sueroides), on scarlet sesbane (Sesbania punicea). In searching for interesting natural history on this species I stumbled onto a paper by Bushwein et al. (1989) describing the larvae’s habit of chewing through flexible PVC tubing in citrus grove irrigation in search of a good place to pupate. The larvae even sealed off the holes they’d chewed, so I guess it was a good place. The authors estimated that some of the larvae travelled almost 5 meters to find such sites, which is pretty impressive. Anyway, if you have PVC irrigation in your citrus grove, make sure to get rid of suitable (Fabaceous) host plants.

Caterpillar of Brazilian skipper (Calpodes ethlius) on canna lily (Canna sp.)

Caterpillar of Brazilian skipper (Calpodes ethlius) in the process of constructing its leaf-fold retreat on a canna lily (Canna sp.). Here’s a closeup of an older larva (after I separated the leaf folds). The BugGuide information page says that the larvae can forcefully eject frass, perhaps as predator deterrent. Always a nice trick.

Larva of yellow-vested moth (Rectiostoma xanthobasis)

Larva of yellow-vested moth (Rectiostoma xanthobasis) found hidden in between two oak leaves tied together with silk. Unlike many moths, the common name here is spot-on descriptive and worth a look. There’s a nice description of this species on page 47 of Marquis et al. 2019.

Caterpillar of Zarucco duskywing (Erynnis zarucco) on scarlet sesban

Caterpillar of Zarucco duskywing (Erynnis zarucco) on scarlet sesban. NB: I opened up its retreat a bit to get a photograph. Here’s the photograph before.

Caterpillar in retreat constructed on scarlet Sesbania (Sesbania punicea)

Caterpillar in retreat constructed on scarlet Sesbania (Sesbania punicea). I’m stumped by this one, however. Possibly in the Family Tortricidae. I’ve photographed it before, and both observations are on iNaturalist … in case you can help ID it. Here’s a photograph of the retreat before I opened it up. Yes, I really enjoy opening up retreats to see who’s living there; so many caterpillars go unnoticed unless you do that.

Underside of splitgill mushrooms (Schizophyllum commune)

Splitgill mushrooms (Schizophyllum commune) growing on dead tree. Common but always beautiful when hydrated.

Small ball moss (Tillandsia recurvata) on trunk of a pine tree

Small ball moss (Tillandsia recurvata) on trunk of a pine tree. It grows on everything, even on exposed power lines. Part of their trick is the silvery trichomes that capture water and funnel it into the plant.

In the unlikely event you’d like to see even more photographs from Zolfo Springs, please see my SmugMug site.

Photographs from Highlands Hammock State Park

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.

Sandy trail in scrub area of Highlands Hammock State Park. Sebring, FL

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)

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) in the grips of an antlion

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

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

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)

Juvenile Florida garden spider (Argiope florida). Super common but I can’t stop taking photographs of them.

Basilica orbweaver (Mecynogea lemniscata) with egg cases

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 (Castianeira sp.)

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)

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.

Florida prickly pear (Opuntia austrina)

Florida prickly pear (Opuntia austrina), I think. If you have an opinion, here’s the iNatualist observation.

Here are all of my photographs from the park.

Mohonk in June

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.

Trapps in Shawangunk Mountains, New Paltz, NY

View of bedrock in nearby Shawangunk ridge (the Trapps) popular with rock climbers.

Sky Top at Mohonk Mountain House

Sky Top folly on a gloomy afternoon. The rock was formed during the Silurian (430 million years ago). Sedimentary conglomerate, sandstone, and shale, all bound together by quartz. It’s mainly quartz and thus super hard.

North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) in a tree

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.

Eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus) eating conifer seeds

Eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus) eating conifer seeds.

White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) at the lily pond

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

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)

Green frog (Lithobates clamitans) attempting to hide under a leaf. In 2018 somebody found a blue morph at the Duck Pond. The word on the street is that maybe 1-2% (seems high) of green frogs are blue and that it’s genetic. Keep your eyes peeled.

Analeptura lineola eating a mountain laurel flower

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 on a leaf

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

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 (Harmonia axyridis) preparing to pupate

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 (Harmonia axyridis) pupa on leaf

Asian lady beetle pupa. Note the pile of legs that’s dropped off just like clothing.

Fly eating a chipmunk scat

Unidentified fly enjoying some unidentified scat. Don’t judge. If you can help me ID the fly (thanks), here’s the iNaturalist observation.

Dioctria hyalipennis perched on a leaf

Dioctria hyalipennis. This introduced robberfly is reportedly fond of small wasps and bees.

Common snipe fly (Rhagio mystaceus)

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.

Fall webworm moth (Hyphantria cunea) on a leaf

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) on a leaf

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.

Dark brown Scoparia moth (Scoparia penumbralis)

Dark brown Scoparia moth (Scoparia penumbralis). There were hundreds of these around Mohonk and they are super hard to get photographs of due to their small size. The Scopariinae (moss-eating crambid snout moths) are so hard to ID to species that “many people new to moth trapping will often deliberately avoid recording them“.

Hemlock angle (Macaria fissinotata)

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)

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) larva inside case

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.

Possibly a sulphur angle (Macaria sulphurea) caterpillar

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) caterpillar

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)

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

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.

Macrophya larva eating elderberry

Sawfly larva (Macrophya sp., perhaps) on elderberry. It still amazes me that these are hymenopterans not lepidopterans.

Green sawfly larva

Another sawfly (Tenthredinoidea) but I don’t even have a guess as to genus.

Wooly catkin gall wasp (Callirhytis quercusoperator)

Wooly catkin gall wasp (Callirhytis quercusoperator). These were super abundant but I’d never noticed them before. But that’s true of so many galls — they just blend in. The agamic generation makes a completely different gall that is even better at blending in.

Neolygus sp. on mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia)

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.

Pine spittlebug (Aphrophora cribrata) nymphs

Pine spittlebug (Aphrophora cribrata). Or at least that’s one possibility based on the spittle and the host. If ID is correct, the spittle is repellent to ants.

Harvestman (Leiobunum sp.) molting

Harvestman (Leiobunum sp.) molting. I posted a video on Twitter:

Dark fishing spider (Dolomedes tenebrosus) on rock

Dark fishing spider (Dolomedes tenebrosus) with regrown R-II leg. This was easily the largest fishing spider I’ve ever seen in my life.

Funnel web of Ariadna bicolor

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

Common pill woodlouse (Armadillidium vulgare) with yellow (pteridine) markings that seem to be common on females.

Changeable mantleslug (Megapallifera mutabilis)

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

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

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)

Haircap moss (Polytrichaceae), ferns, and lichens on a boulder.

Orange jelly spot (Dacrymyces chrysospermus)

Orange jelly spot (Dacrymyces chrysospermus) at base of conifer tree.

Blistered navel lichen (Lasallia papulosa)

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 Lasallia pensylvanica. 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.

Umbilicaria mammulata

Umbilicaria mammulata. Immature thallus so hard to ID, but the wall is covered with this species (I think).

I’m @colinpurrington on iNaturalist if you’d like to see more nature pics.