Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wings Spread

When spring took its first few cautious steps in March, I found a neat little green caterpillar in the yard. Not knowing what it was, I of course put it in a terrarium and fed it so I could monitor its growth and figure out what species it was.

The mystery.

I gave it grass, since that's what it was eating when I first found it, and thankfully the caterpillar was satisfied with its simple diet. Soon, it progressed through its instars, darkening from a light green to a yellow-green and brown color.

After a few weeks, the caterpillar pupated and mostly just sat around while its insides were reorganizing and making it more furry. And at last, it eclosed into a moth!

At last, I had enough data for an ID. It was a bittersweet moment: the moth is a non-native introduction from Europe. One thing did make up for it though:

At least it's pretty!

This is the Large Yellow Underwing, which goes by the regal name of Noctua pronuba. The orange hindwings, hidden by the drab brown forewings, lend the species its common name. Underwings are moths that will surprise you, and the bursts of color seen during their flight are reminders that moths still have some tricks up their sleeves.

I must also say that I'm very glad to have authentic insect pins. They make the pinning process so much simpler and are long enough that I can get good use out of my Styrofoam pinning board. For another illustration of my pinning technique, here's another moth I pinned, from this past weekend.

This is the Grapevine Epimenis, Psychomorpha epimenis. I came across this moth while walking with a group along a dirt road on a chilly but sunny Saturday. It landed near us and I snapped it up. Kaufman's Field Guide to Insects of North America helped me quickly narrow down the species by providing a clear picture and noting its tendency to fly on "warm days in early spring." It wasn't super warm, but the sunshine helped! The caterpillars of this species feed on grape leaves, hence the name. It's a small moth, with a wingspan of a little over 1 inch, but its size doesn't take away from its bold patterning and coloration. The more I look at it the more I think I may need to move it to the top of my list of favorite moths.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Spring Wake Up

After a winter of pining for the insects to come back out, I seem to be up to my ears in new photos to process and new insects to pin and add to my collection. I'm working on new blog posts to accommodate them all, but it's no simple task. While I'm kind of complaining about it, it's like complaining that you have too many chocolate Cadbury eggs---it's a good problem to have.

For now, this nice photo of the leaf of a bloodroot plant (Sanguinaria canadensis) will be the placeholder for my coming posts. I had a nice time camping this weekend in eastern Washington County and came upon a lot of great wildflowers that were just marvelous to see: bloodroot being one of them.

Oh, and if you're interested in seeing some photos that might not make it into my blog posts, you can follow me on Twitter here. I sometimes post photos from my nightly collections in my backyard, which are fun. Note that you don't need to have a Twitter account to see my tweets.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

It's a Bee! It's a...Fly? It's both those things!

While flies aren't really my cup of tea, I'm thankful for any insects I find after a long winter like this year's. So while this isn't so satisfying during midsummer...

Epalpus signifer, "a sure sign of Spring," according to a friend.

...when we're on the cusp of Spring, I'll take it. 

Another early season fly I've come across is a species of fly in the family Bombyliidae, better known as the bee flies. It's a fuzzy yellow species that looks like a bee wearing a fur coat at first glance. A glance is all you'll get, because the little bugger is fast.

My best photo from last year. Getting some nectar or pollen from a flower.

Today, however, it wasn't fast enough to escape my net. On the third try, at least. There were many hovering near the ground in a field at the Beiser Field Station, so I snagged one and took it home.

At last--an identifiable picture: the Greater Bee Fly, Bombylius major.

After cooling it down in the fridge, it held still long enough for me to snap some decent photos and I sent it off to BugGuide. I had an identification in less than five minutes, which was super! The Greater Bee Fly is a parasitoid of the larvae of solitary bees and can be seen during early Spring.

The bee flies are an interesting group for sure and are a cool reminder about the diversity of flies. They're more than just fruit flies and house flies! I have one more bee fly I want to find in the coming months, a species that can be found throughout Ohio: the Tiger Bee Fly. It has the coolest scientific name: Xenox tigrinus.