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Archive for the ‘Insects’ Category

Although the temperatures were cool on Tuesday afternoon, this little bee was busy in the garden of my neighbor and friend Cindy Dyer. The plant on which the bee was feeding technically bight be considered to be a weed, and not a flower, but the bee surely did not mind.

Most of the pollen that I am used to seeing is bright yellow, but in this case it appeared to red in color. As you can see in the second photo, the bee was using a headfirst approach—for extended periods of time it would bury its head among the small petals of this plant.

I went searching around on internet trying to identify the plant and I think it might be Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule). I would welcome a confirmation or correction of this identification by someone more familiar with flowers than I am.

bee

bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Nature photographers need to know their punctuation marks well. Last week I spotted an Eastern Comma butterfly (Polygonia comma) and this week on Monday I spotted its “cousin,” a Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I have always wondered what was going through the mind of the person that chose the official name of a given species. What caused them to focus on a particular characteristic in choosing the name? Was the person who named these butterflies a grammarian?

In the case of the Question Mark butterfly, the best identifying mark is visible only when the wings are closed. The Question Mark has white markings which more or less resemble a question mark (?) on the underside of its hindwings. (Check out the natureblog.org posting “A Question Mark, a Comma, and a Question of Origin,” to see examples of these markings.)

The good news is that there is also a way to identify a Question Mark when its wings are open—the Question Mark has four black spots in a line on each of its upper wings with the outermost spot somewhat elongated, as you can see in the first photo below.

For the sake of comparison, I am reprising a photo from last week of an Eastern Comma butterfly. I flipped it 180 degrees so it is easier to spot the differences. If you look at the butterfly in the second photo, you can see that there are only three spots on each of the upper wings, which makes it a Comma, rather than a Question Mark. (One sharp viewer last week suggested that they should have more appropriately named the butterfly with the three spots the “Ellipsis Butterfly” rather than the Eastern Comma Butterfly.) In case you are curious about the reasons for the “comma,” the butterfly has markings that look sort of like a comma (,) on the underside of its hindwings that are visible when the wings are closed.

 

Question Mark butterfly

Question Mark butterfly

 

Eastern Comma butterflyy

Eastern Comma butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Today I was thrilled to spot another species of butterfly, the aptly named Spring Azure butterfly (Celastrina ladon), while exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This tiny butterfly is only about an inch (25 mm) in size and I was therefore a little surprised to be able to capture some of its details with my 150-600mm lens cranked all the way out to 600mm.

It shouldn’t be long before I see my first damselfly or dragonfly, given the spring-like weather and temperatures today forecast to reach over 70 degrees (21 degrees C).


Spring Azure butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday was a beautiful spring-like day and I went on a long hike at Prince William Forest Park, the largest protected natural area in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region at over 16,000 acres. It felt like the perfect weather for finding dragonflies, but it is still a bit too early for them.

I was, however, quite excited to get my first shots this year of a butterfly, an Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma). I saw my first butterfly, which was probably of the same species, a couple of weeks ago, but was unable to react quickly enough to take its photo, so it did not “count.” During yesterday’s hike, I spotted six or seven of these little butterflies, but only the first one was cooperative enough to stay still for a portrait.

Eastern Comma butterflies are members a small group of butterflies in our area that emerge in the autumn and overwinter as adults. Other species in that group including the similar-looking Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) and the Mourning Cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa). When its wings are open, like the one in the photo, it is easy to tell that a butterfly is an Eastern Comma if it has three dark spots in a row on each of its front wings, rather than the four spots found on a Question Mark. (For more information about the two similar species, I recommend a wonderful article at trekohio.com entitled “Butterflies That Punctuate: The Eastern Comma and the Question Mark.”)

Eastern Comma

Eastern Comma

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was exploring Occoquan Regional Park last week with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford, he pointed out a foamy-looking mass attached to the branches of a bush and asked me if I knew what it was. My first thought was that it was some sort of cocoon, but I had never seen one that looked like this. Walter informed me that it was an ootheca and when I continued to look at him with a blank stare, he explained that an ootheca is an egg case for a praying mantis, in this case most likely a Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis sinensis).

I did a little research on-line and learned more about oothecae in an article on the Thoughtco.com website.

“Soon after mating, a female praying mantis deposits a mass of eggs on a twig or other suitable structure. She may lay just a few dozen eggs or as many as 400 at one time. Using special accessory glands on her abdomen, the mother mantis then covers her eggs with a frothy substance, which hardens quickly to a consistency similar to polystyrene. This egg case is called an ootheca.”

Several articles warned readers against collecting one of these egg masses. Apparently indoor heat may cause the tiny mantises inside to think it is spring and you may suddenly find yourself with 400 new additions to your household.

ootheca

ootheca

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is not yet dragonfly season, so I have no new photos of these amazing aerial acrobats. However, when I was searching for some other photos yesterday, I came across these images that I had worked up last May and had never posted. I sometimes get so focused on getting new photos that I forget about the older ones, which is why I usually try to do postings as soon as I can after a sighting.

Arrowhead Spiketails (Cordulegaster obliqua) are pretty uncommon in my area, but I was familiar with their appearance because I had seen one only a few days earlier when exploring a different location with fellow blogger and dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford (for more information on the earlier sighting, see my May 27, 2019 posting Female Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly)

I spotted this dragonfly in the air as I was walking along a trail at Occoquan Regional Park and watched it land on some nearby vegetation. As I approached, it was easy for me to see the distinctive arrowhead pattern of the abdomen for which this species is named. Like other spiketails, Arrowhead Spiketails perch by hanging vertically or at an angle. This particular dragonfly, which happens to be a male, was quite cooperative and let me get close enough to get the portrait-style shot that you see as the second image below.

It will be at least two months before some of the early dragonfly species start to appear in our area. Unlike many summer species that are habitat generalists and are numerous for months on end, spring dragonfly species tend to be found in small numbers in very specific habitats for a limited period of time. Hopefully this posting—a flashback to last May—is a preview of coming attractions.

Arrowhead Spiketail

Arrowhead Spiketail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A week ago I did a retrospective posting on some of my favorite photos from the first half of 2019 and alerted readers that a second posting would appear “in the next few days.” Here at last is part two—click here if you missed the first installment. As was the case in the initial posting, I went through my postings month by month and selected two photos for each month. I have provided a link to the individual postings in the captions of the photos to make it easier for interested readers to see the images in the context of the original postings, which often include additional photos and explanatory information.

If you look carefully at the dates, you may notice that I did not include any photos from November in this posting. As many of you may recall, I was in Paris for three weeks in November. After my first posting, one reader suggested that I do a separate posting for Paris, rather than be forced to select two photos from the many that I posted of my adventures in Paris. I decided to follow that recommendation, so hopefully there will be  a third and final posting of my look back at 2019 sometime “soon.”

 

Sable Clubtail

Sable Clubtail dragonfly, July 6, 2019 Sable Clubtail

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant dragonfly July 31, 2019 Perching Halloween Pennant

Osprey

Osprey, August 3, 2019, No sushi for me

Eastern Ringtail

Eastern Ringtail dragonfly, August 5, 2019 Getting down with an Eastern Ringtail

 

crab spider

Crab spider, September 7, 2019, White-banded Crab Spider

Handsome Meadow Katydid

Handsome Meadow Katydid September 10, 2019 My favorite insect?

 

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly, October 2, 2019 Blue-faced Meadowhawk in October

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle October 16, 2019 Bald Eagle Takeoff

Hooded Merganser duck December 7, 2019 Hoodie Season

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe December 24, 2019 Portrait of a Pied-billed Grebe

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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