urbpan: (dandelion)
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Every growth, marking, bump, or blemish on a plant was made by something, and surprisingly often the cause can be closely traced to a particular animal. I could see from a distance that these hickory leaves had orangish spots on their underside.

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On close examination the spots were furry balls! These little growths are galls that have grown around insect eggs, in a weird bit of mostly harmless and stunningly common parasitization.

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These orange tribbles hide and protect the larvae of the hickory gall midge (Caryomyia sp.). The creature inside is a helpless pinpoint of a maggot that will grow into a fly so small that it would otherwise go completely unnoticed by humans.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Looking like a wasp is an adaptation assumed by many different species of flies. Looking like a really huge wasp is more rare, but this Mydas fly Mydas clavatus has it down. It has a wasplike flight and measures a full inch in length, making it one of the largest true flies around. Its larvae feed on beetle grubs in the soil, and adults visit flowers for nectar. It may look scary but its one of the most beneficial insects in the yard.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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When I saw this animal I wasn't sure if I was seeing a wasp or a fly or some other kind of insect. The illusion is intentional--well, maybe not--the illusion has resulted from evolution. This fly resembles a wasp because it helps it survive. The illusion extends to the fly's front legs, which are marked with white segments, and moved in a way to suggest that they are the wasp's antennae. This is the entirely harmless stilt-legged fly Rainieria antennaepes.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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A calliphorid fly (bottle fly) warms up on a leaf.

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The reproductive parts of a daylily beckon luridly.

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Japanese honeysuckle ready for a chance encounter with a hummingbird.

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A tiny grasshopper nymph (subadult that hasn't molted into a winged adult) just hours or days old, ready to eat soft tender vegetation.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Ever since I got a digital pentax slr I've had my eye on a particular macro lens. It's not even made by pentax, but it is prohibitively expensive: in the four to five hundred dollar range on Amazon, whenever I check. I checked eBay randomly a week ago, and found it for $275. I thought about what I really like to take pictures of--bugs and mushrroms--and how I've spent a lot of time and money trying to find a reasonably priced way to do it. I bought the lens. Here is the first photo I took with it, a strawberry in our garden.

Read more... )
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Weird growths on plants have always been fascinating to me. I was so happy when I learned that most of them are caused by animals! In this case, a very small fly--a midge called Polystepha pilulae*--laid her eggs in the flesh of this oak leaf. The tiny maggots hatched and began feeding, and the flesh of the leaf hardened around them, protecting them as they ate. Unless they were parasitized by a wasp, they will pupate in their galls and emerge as more tiny long-legged midges.


*Many crowned ball-maker
urbpan: (dandelion)
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These black midge-like flies were hovering all around the wet woods we were walking in northern Vermont. I swatted one out of the air with my hat--my favorite flying insect catch method, as it usually stuns but does not injure the insect. Getting a better look at the fly showed me that it wasn't a midge, but looked more like a March fly. But it was October.

March flies get that name because they suddenly appear in great numbers in early spring. The males hover in swarms over the places where the females emerge in anticipation of mating. A few species of "March flies" instead emerge in autumn, including the male fly pictured here Bibio slossonae.*

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*Bibio is a Latin word that suggests an insect that is generated by wine--perhaps more fitting for Drosophila. The species name is in honor of entomologist Annie Trumbull Slosson.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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The St Louis Zoo's insectarium was very impressive. Check out this climbing structure for the leafcutter ants!

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Plants were provided for the ants to cut up and bring to their fungus farm.

for the unsqueamish )
urbpan: (dandelion)
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The flesh flies (family Sarcophagidae*) are a fairly distinctive group of true flies associated with dead animals. Many, but not all, place their young on carcasses to eat the decaying flesh--flies in this group are useful for forensics. Other Sarcophagid maggots are parasitic on other invertebrates, and at least one specializes on the nests of turtles. All are placed directly at their food source by a female who has carried her eggs inside her until they hatch. Adults might snack on the juices of the dead, but also like sweet treats like flower nectar and aphid honeydew.
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*Flesh eating family
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Another day another huge scary and of course harmless insect. The patterned wings and large size of the tiger bee fly Xenox tigrinus* suggest perhaps a horse fly. This one has been displaying some aggressive behavior as well--it's lucky it chose the porch of two bug-lovers to defend. Despite everything, these are beneficial insects that lay their eggs in the nests of carpenter bees, which provides their maggots with bee grubs to eat.

* "Alien tiger"
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Some people will automatically kill any large fly they see. This is a habit I would very much like to change. The female (note the large ovipositor) on the window here, just needs an assist to get back outside to do her good work. This is a robber fly, family Asilidae*, one of a group of flies that catches other insects on the wing. There are large hairy robber flies that feed on bees, robber flies with bladelike mouths for slicing into beetle shells, and spindly sneaky robber flies that snatch spiders up to eat them.

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The dexterity involved that enables one fly to catch a fly is amazing to me.

* From Asilus, "an obscure ancient Latin name for some kind of fly, probably a horsefly."

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