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Showing posts from August, 2013

Of moths and mites

A Clover Hayworm moth, Hypsopygia costalis, graces my front wall, near the porch light. Beautiful as this moth is, with its maroon wings trimmed in lemon-yellow, it is a rather "weedy" species, as its caterpillars are generalist feeders on a variety of dried plant material, including clover. As I live next to the Ohio State University's farm, there is no shortage of such fare around here, and these beautiful little moths are regular visitors to my lights. I made this image on August 21st.

So, today I was analyzing the image in greater detail with our graphics genius at work, Chad Crouch, to see if it might be suitable for use in one of our publications. With his sharp eye for symmetry, Chad quickly noticed something that I had missed. Click the photo to enlarge, and check the outer portion of the right wing. Mites! Two of them!

Here's a tight crop on that part of the wing, and I've enhanced the mites' color a bit to make them more visible. Well, that was the…

Eastern Hercules Beetle!

A while back, John Howard emailed me with the news that he had discovered an excellent specimen of our largest beetle, and would I like to photograph it? Of course I would, and John was kind enough to keep the animal in captivity until I could make my way to Adams County a week or so later. When I finally arrived, the beetle was none the worse for the wear, and we set out to liberate it and make some photos in the process. An Eastern Hercules Beetle, Dynastes tityus, a true Coleopteran titan. These insects probably aren't very rare, at least in southern Ohio, but they're hard to find and even people who are in the field a lot don't encounter many of them. I've never lucked into one in the wild, so I was excited to have the chance to make images of this specimen.

A dime inserted into the photo offers scale to the big bug. Those rhino-like horns are the most conspicuous feature of a Hercules Beetle, other than its extreme size. The males use them to joust with one anoth…

Charismatic Katydids

I've been smitten with the Orthoptera for the better part of a decade. I liked these insects - crickets, katydids, coneheads and their kin - even before that, but didn't make a real effort to learn about them. Then, one day about eight or nine years ago, a woman asked me what was making a metallic clicking sound in a shade tree outside her house. From her description, I recognized the sound as I had heard it too, but I was embarrassed to say that I did not know the causer of the clicks.
It didn't take much research to learn that the mystery clicker was a Greater Anglewing, which is a jumbo katydid and a consummate leaf mimic. I was hooked! From that point, I wanted to know the names of all of the six-legged singers that compose our late summer and autumn symphonies. If you are into birds, as I am, learning the insect songs is great practice for tuning the ear for bird song.
Now, I find myself giving lectures on Orthopteran insects, and taking people afield to learn more a…

Some gorgeous little bugs

Lots of bugs this weekend. Saturday night, I gave a program about "singing insects" - the Orthoptera - at Dawes Arboretum. We limited it to 25 people, and had a full house. After the presentation, we headed out into the dark and I've never had such luck finding cool bugs. Right off the bat, we tracked down and captured a Slightly Musical Conehead, the first of many. A Greater Anglewing was singing from the roof of the building that I gave the talk in. Restless Bush Crickets put in multiple appearances. And on it went - the best nocturnal singing insect foray that I've yet done. Today, Jess Henning and I made a whirlwind trip into the backwoods of Athens County to check out a few spots, and encountered lots of noteworthy plants, and insects. I of course had the camera in tow, and managed some decent images. Following are a few of those... A Snowberry Clearwing, Hemaris diffinis, works the flowers of a Rough Blazing-star, Liatris aspera. The dry meadow where this moth…

An encounter with the Erect Dayflower, finally!

Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Area near Medaryville, Indiana, a place famous for the thousands of Sandhill Cranes that congregate here in late fall and early winter. But J-P's 8,000+ acres also conserves an outstanding sand prairie and associated wetlands. On my recent foray here, I was especially keen to see and photograph some of the flora, including plants that are either very rare in Ohio, or don't quite make it this far east.

A gridwork of gravelly lanes bisect the wildlife area, and their verges are covered with interesting prairie plants. Exploring Jasper-Pulaski in August will produce a bounty of flora; this is peak time to be in the prairies.

Lush stands of one of the great prairie grasses, Big Bluestem, Andropogon gerardii, tower well above head height.

The nearly naked stems of Western Sunflower, Helianthus occidentalis, support bright yellow blossoms that create lemony drifts in dry sandy ground. This plant is very rare in Ohio, but is a ubiquitous roadside sight in Jas…

Pale Beauty

Yesterday, while exploring a woods in Miami County, Ohio, I came across an exquisite little moth. It's there, in this photo, but it blends rather well with its surroundings. Click the photo for an enlargement, and you'll see it at rest on the withered remnants of a May-apple leaf.

Like so many moths, this one was well worth stopping to inspect. Confident in its crypsis, or camouflage, this Pale Beauty, Campaea perlata, didn't as much as twitch even when I poked near with my macro lens. Its whitish background color is suffused with a light tint of emerald, and the hindwings are scalloped like a leaf. The overall effect is stunning, although to most the moth would be a tiny fluttering blur in the corner of the eye as it was kicked from cover.

Pale Beauties are not rare, and their caterpillars feed on a wide variety of common woody plants. They are probably in a forest near you.

Indianapolis Museum of Art, and Cicada-killers

The interesting fa├žade of the Indianapolis Museum of Art beckons visitors to enter and explore. This institution is jam-packed with thousands of pieces of art of all kinds, and is a state treasure for the Hoosiers, and a national treasure for the rest of us.

I was invited here to give a talk on the subject of Nature as Art, and did that last Saturday. I greatly appreciate the invite from Chad Franer, who manages the museum's 152 acres of grounds, and the support of Tariq Robinson, who manages public programming for the museum. It was a great chance to dust off images of everything from Tufted Puffins to Fringed Gentians to American Lady butterflies to Wheelbugs, and offer up a pictorial traipse through the beauty of the natural world of the Americas. We had a good crowd, and they seemed to enjoy it.

We had set this gig up so that a walk on the grounds would follow, and I didn't know what to expect regarding the landscape. I was utterly blown away. The museum also functions as…

Gorgeous goldfinches gluttons for grain

Male American goldfinches in breeding plumage The Columbus Dispatch August 18, 2013 NATURE Jim McCormac Vegetarianism isn’t popular among songbirds. Few caterpillars or other insects are safe when warblers, wrens or chickadees are about. Even birds that are primarily seed-eaters, such as sparrows, shift to a diet high in animal matter when chicks are in the nest. The rapidly growing youngsters need protein to prosper.

Enter the American goldfinch. The gorgeous little “wild canaries” go against the grain by eating almost nothing but grains and other vegetable matter. Goldfinches commonly visit backyard feeders and especially covet thistle seed. In wilder places, they also seek sunflower seeds, grasses and myriad other types of plant fruits. Although goldfinches occasionally wolf down an aphid or two, for the most part they shun the bugs.

When goldfinches descend on a ripe patch of sunflowers or well-stocked feeders, it’s as if a pack of debonair feathered piglets has landed. Many a collec…

Frog, on lilypad

A raft of Fragrant Water-lilies, Nymphaea odorata, blanket a quiet pond on the Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Area in Indiana. Not only is this aquatic plant quite showy, it supports a lot of animal life.

A Green Frog, Lithobates clamitans, regards your blogger with an inscrutable expression. Seconds before I made this photo, it snapped a bee from the air with its long rubberband of a tongue. By wading in, I was able to make a close approach, shoot some images, and leave without even making the amphibian leave his lilypad perch.

Small bugs, beautiful and otherwise

On last Saturday's epic field 20-hour field trip to southern Ohio, I turned my lens to little things, a lot. Macro photography is not easy, and I have been on a more or less constant quest to better photo-document small life forms ever since I got my first DSLR camera. Part of the trick, for me, is getting the right gear to allow handheld shots. Insects, especially, often do not lend themselves to tripod work. Tripods are too cumbersome and time-consuming to arrange, and often the quarry will vanish before one is prepared to shoot it. If you are willing or able to catch the bug and work with it in a controlled environment, tripods can be great. For the most part, I prefer to shoot the animals on their own terms, and that's how all of the following images were made. A Dogbane Beetle, Chrysochus auratus, one of our handsomest insects. Their iridescent colors are dazzling, and change depending upon the light. Investigate dogbane plants (genus Apocynum) and it won't be long u…