Sunday, October 30, 2011


This is a funnel-web-weaving spider in the family Agelenopsis. 

The Agelenopsis spiders do not weave orb-shaped webs of the sort Charlotte lived in. Nor do they weave cobwebs of the kind that drape Halloween houses.

This spider's web is made from sheets of non-sticky silk that are invisibly fine; a spider moving about in the web appears to be walking in the air. The web in the photo is made temporarily visible by drops of morning dew and fallen bits of plant debris. Click the photo for a closer look.

The web narrows at one end into a funnel-shaped hole. The spider typically sits in the funnel and waits for prey. When something walks across the wide end of the funnel, the spider feels the vibrations and rushes out.

This is one fast-moving spider! I touched the web and the spider left so quickly that it seemed to disappear. But if I had been a small insect, I would have been just as quickly bitten and taken down into the funnel for a feast.

Very spooky!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Blue-faced Meadowhawk Dragonfly

The blue-faced meadowhawk dragonfly, Sympetrum ambiguum. 
I was walking in a field at Higbee Beach near Cape May New Jersey one day last week. The place was hopping with little red dragonflies like the one in the photo; it's only about an inch and a half long. There were so many that it seemed like it would be easy to sneak up on one and snap a close-up, but, no matter how stealthy I was, every one of them flew away when I came within three feet.

Click on the photo to take a closer look at the blue-faced meadowhawk. It has a blue-green face, tan and gray thorax, and tan legs. Females and younger males have brown abdomens. Mature males, like the individual pictured,  have flashy black-banded red abdomens.

I felt distinctly earthbound and drab as I watched him in the bright October sun where, as Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote of another dragonfly almost 200 years ago, "Thro' crofts and pastures wet with dew, A living flash of light he flew."

Sunday, October 16, 2011


I am on vacation and, remarkably, away from an easy internet connection. Just enough time to upload a photo of handsome turtles from the last wifi cafe -- and then on into the wilderness.
Red-eared sliders, Trachemys scripta, in the Central Park Pond. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

As summer barbecues come to an end...

Corn earworm moths, Heliothus zea
Ever pull the husk off an ear of corn and find a caterpillar in there eating the kernels? They're called corn earworms. If you have ever wondered what they look like when they grow up, see above -- the corn earworm moth. Click on the photo for a closer look at those big green eyes!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Milkweed World

Stop and look at a milkweed plant this week and you may see a lot of interesting and colorful insects.

The monarch butterfly caterpillar, Danaus plexippus, is a milkweed specialist that eats nothing else.  

Monarch caterpillars come in five sizes. Each size is a different stage called an instar. Successive instars shed their skins and grow larger in abrupt steps. 
Check the area around milkweed plants carefully and you may find a monarch butterfly chrysalis like this. I saw a caterpillar curling up into a J shape in this spot under a fence rail yesterday. When I returned today it looked like this. A beautiful orange adult will emerge from the pearly green structure in about two weeks. 

Milkweed bugs, Oncopeltus fasciatus, suck milkweed sap; they have piercing, sucking mouthparts that are like sharp straws. These three milkweed bugs are warming up on a metal railing in a milkweed patch. The little guy is an immature stage called a nymph.
This milkweed tussock caterpillar, Euchaetes egle, will grow up to become a relatively unremarkable small brown moth. 
This is a yellow milkweed aphid, also called the oleander aphid. Aphids suck plant juices for nourishment. This adult is about a tenth of an inch long; you would have to line up a few dozen of them to make a line as long as their scientific name -- Aphis nerii boyer de Fonscoblombe.

Aphid populations grow quickly and can completely cover the stems and leaves of a plant. Tiny wasps help keep them in check. Wasps attack aphids by piercing and laying eggs inside them! The two brown aphids on the pod on the right of this photo are victims of wasp attacks; they are called mummies. Wasp larvae dine on the interiors of host aphids and eventually emerge as adults. 

Adult ladybugs like to eat aphids. (Look out little yellow guys!)
This is the ferocious larval stage of a ladybug sitting on a milkweed leaf. It eats aphids too. It came to the right place!