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Posts Tagged ‘Spring Beauty’

It is nearly impossible to miss the ostentatious displays of brilliant color as a succession of flowers and trees burst onto the springtime scene. Sometimes, though, they overwhelm my senses and I find myself more drawn to the delicate beauty of the tiny wildflowers that pop up in fields and forests.

Yesterday I was happy to photograph a skittish Eastern Tailed-Blue butterfly (Cupido comyntas) as it moved about in a small patch of Spring Beauty wildflowers (Claytonia virginica) in a forested area of Prince William County. With my macro lens, I was able to capture the distinctive “tail” and orange chevrons that help in identifying this tiny butterfly that has a wingspan of only ¾ – 1¾ inches (22 – 29 mm). I also managed to capture the beautiful pink markings of the spring beauties, including the anthers at the tips of the stamens.

It is easy to lose myself in this magical tiny world or perhaps it might be more correct to say that I find myself there.

Eastern-tailed Blue

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Is it a bee? Is it a fly? It is a Greater Bee Fly (Bombylius major), a parasitic bee mimic that is one of the earliest spring pollinators of wildflowers. I photographed this bee fly as it was feeding on the nectar of a Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) on Monday at Prince William Forest Park.

I was quite happy to be able to capture so many of the details of this curious creature, including its long proboscis, spindly legs, patterned wings, and fuzzy body. In case you are curious, the body of one of these bee flies is about six-tenths of an inch (15mm) in length and its wing span is about one inch (25mm). I recommend that you double-click on the image to get a better looks at the little details of this bee fly.

If you would like to learn more about these fascinating little bee flies, including their parasitic behavior, check out the article on the US Forest Service website by Beatriz Moisset entitled “A Pollinator with a Bad Reputation.”

Greater Bee Fly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of the signs of spring where I live is the emergence of small wildflowers in the wooded areas, including Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica), like this one that I photographed yesterday at Prince William Forest Park in nearby Triangle, Virginia. According to the description of the Spring Beauty in Wikipedia, “the individual flowers bloom for three days, although the five stamens on each flower are only active for a single day.”

I do not know if this was “the day” for the stamens of this particular flower, but a large hairy fly was definitely attracted to its nectar. I cannot identify the species of the fly, but think that it is a kind of Tachinid fly. The large family of Tachinid flies differ in color, size, and shape but many somewhat resemble house flies and tend to feed on liquids such as nectar.

When I showed this image to fellow blogger and dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford, he noted the low angle at which I had taken this shot and characterized it as a “belly flopper photo.” Walter has seen me in action multiple times and knows that I will often try to get as low as I can to get a shot, which was pretty low in this case, given the fact that Spring Beauties are often only a few inches tall.

How low do I go? Check out a posting that Walter did in 2016 called Opposing viewpoints to see a shot of me sprawled on the ground trying to get at eye level with a snake and my posting that same day called Close to a garter snake to see the kind of images that you get when shooting at such close range.

spring beauty

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This insect is fuzzy like a bee and acts as a pollinator as it sips nectar, but it is not a bee, it is a fly, a Greater Bee Fly (Bombylius major). Are you confused yet? Unlike bees, bee flies have only two wings instead of four, large eyes, skinny long legs and very short antennae. Bee flies also seem hyperactive, hovering in midair rather than landing as they suck up the nectar with a really long proboscis and thereby avoiding potential predators like crab spiders.

When I did a little research, though, I learned that bee flies have a dark side. According to an article entitled “A Pollinator With a Bad Reputation” by Beatriz Moisset, “The reason why it diligently hovers over bare ground early in the spring is that it is looking for bee nests, probably the same ones with which they compete for nectar. The bees dig tunnels and lay their eggs at their bottoms after collecting enough pollen to feed the larvae. This requires numerous trips, thus the bee fly takes advantage of the mother’s absence and lays its eggs in such nests. Making use of its flying prowess, it does not even need to land but it flicks its abdomen while hovering over the open burrow, letting one egg fall in or near it. The fly larva finds its way to the chamber where the mother bee has laid the provisions and the egg and proceeds to feed on the stored pollen. Afterwards it devours the bee larvae; when it is fully grown, it pupates and stays inside the nest until next spring.”

I was inspired to post this image by a recent posting by Pete Hillman entitled “Dark-edged Bee Fly” that featured a similar bee fly. In my zeal to post photos of all of the ephemeral wildflowers I had seen this spring, like the Virginia Spring Beauties in this photo, I had forgotten about this bee fly.

You may notice that the bee fly’s wings are blurred in this— image and assume that I was shooting with a slow shutter speed. I checked the EXIF data for the shot and found that the shutter speed was 1/2500 second—I think that it had consumed as much coffee as I had that late March morning. I recommend that you click on this image to see all of the amazing details of this fascinating insect, the Greater Bee Fly.


Greater Bee Fly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I saw this insect sipping nectar from a Spring Beauty wildflower on Tuesday, I was sure that it was some kind of wasp or hornet. Bees, I thought, do not have such narrow waists. I was wrong. Some of the experts at bugguide.net identified my insect as a male Nomad Bee (genus Nomada).

Nomad Bees are the largest genus of kleptoparasitic “cuckoo bees,” according to Wikipedia. “Kleptoparasitic bees are so named because they enter the nests of a host and lay eggs there, stealing resources that the host has already collected.” Nomad bees do sip nectar like other bees, as you can see in my photos, but do not collect pollen to feed their offspring.

I remember being shocked the first time that I read about cuckoos and cowbirds deliberating laying their eggs in the nests of other birds to avoid having to build their own nests and raise their own babies. I guess I can add nomad bees to the list of deliberately delinquent parents.

 

nomad bee

nomad bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I featured some tiny white forest wildflowers in a recent posting. Here now as a companion to that posting are a few images of colorful forest wildflowers that I have seen when exploring recently in Prince William County.

The first shot is a small wildflower known simply as a Bluet (Houstonia caerulea). The flower in the second image is the appropriately named Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica), known also as the Eastern Spring Beauty, because there is also a similar Western Spring Beauty (Claytonia lanceolata). I do not know for sure the name of third flower, but I believe that it is some kind of wild violet.

As always, I welcome assistance in identifying my subjects, particularly if I have misidentified one. Thanks.

bluet

spring beauty

wild violet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Tiny pink and white wildflowers carpeting the forest floor at this time of the year—how appropriate it is that they are actually called Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica).

Spring Beauty

Spring Beauty

Spring Beauty

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.


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The forest floor is carpeted with tiny wildflowers at this time of the year and even this large black snake seemed to be taking time to appreciate their beauty.

The little flowers are Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica) and I think the snake may be a Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor), though I must confess that I grow a bit confused when reading the descriptions about how to distinguish Black Racers from Eastern Ratsnakes.

Unlike an earlier shot this spring of another black snake, which I photographed with my telephoto zoom lens, I took this shot with my 180mm macro lens, getting as low as I could and as close as I dared.

Northern Black Racer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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