Thursday, 25 June 2015

Some Confusing Diurnal Moths...

Day-flying moths are relatively uncommon—the vast majority of moths are nocturnal—but some diurnal moths may be commonly confused with other similar-appearing day-flyers. For example, this is a white-spotted sable, Anania funebris, not the more famous—and frequently illustrated in field guides—eight-spotted forester, Alypia octomaculata. The differences are subtle: the sable has 2 large and 1 small white spot on each forewing while the forester has only 2 large yellow or cream-coloured spots on each of its forewings, and the forester has bright orange fringes on the fore- and mid-legs that the sable lacks. Photographed near Apple River, NS, on June 20, 2015.

Similarly, this cranberry spanworm, Ematurga amitaria, can be easily confused with the black-banded orange, Epelis truncataria. The differences between these two are even more subtle than between the sable and forester but good field marks include the heaviness of the black bands (thinner and more jagged in the spanworm), the wing fringes (checkered in the spanworm) and the overall amount of white (less white on most black-banded oranges). Photographed near Apple River, NS, on June 20, 2015.

Finally, this is a sharp-lined powder moth, Eufidonia discospilata, not the frequently seen bluish spring moth, Lomographa semiclarata. Both give an overwhelming impression of white-blue that can be easily confused with azure butterflies (Celastrina sp.) but the powder moth is much darker, especially on the upper hindwing, has an easily discernible trio of spots on the upper forewings that are lacking on the spring moth, and the spring moth likes to hold its wings up like flags, rarely flat and parallel to the ground like the powder moth. Also photographed near Apple River, NS, on June 20, 2015. Intriguingly, all three of these confusing diurnal moths were found within about 30 metres (100 feet) of each other.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

A Flurry of Flower Flies...

Flower flies or syrphids (or sometimes hoverflies) from the family Syrphidae have quite a hold on me. There are more than 525 species known from the Maritime provinces so there's a lot there to grab hold of (!) and, since they're largely unknown to me—while I know the relatively few species of butterflies well—there's a certain excitement in finding and identifying them. This one, photographed June 12, 2015, south of Dollar Lake, NS, while nectaring at bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) flowers, is Blera confusa. Presumably the specific epithet is because they're often confused for drone flies, Eristalis arbustorum.

These two female flower flies are Cheilosia bardus (formerly C. albitarsus). I doubt that two males would peacefully coexist on the same flower! They're most commonly found, as photographed here on June 11, 2015 at Roaches Pond in Spryfield, NS, on flowers of buttercups, Ranunculus sp., and the association is so strong that a sister species is actually called C. ranunculi.

I was quite excited to find and photograph this unusual and uncommon wasp-mimic flower fly, Doros aequalis, on June 18, 2015, at Roaches Pond in Spryfield, NS. At first I thought it was the common—although it flies much later in the summer—Spilomyia sayi, but it lacked the patterned eyes of that species and had subtly different body markings.

This flower fly, Meligramma trianguliferum (note the triangular-shaped abdominal markings), is circumpolar so can be found in many places in the Northern hemisphere. Photographed in the Pockwock watershed on June 15, 2015. It's quite a bit smaller than the above three species but not quite as tiny as the next one...

Finally, this is the diminutive female Toxomerus marginatus. Less than 5 mm (about 3/16") long, these tiny flower flies are true hover flies capable of seemingly hovering in place forever. But everything has to rest sometime and this one is taking its ease on a slender blade of grass along the MacIntosh Run in Spryfield, NS, on June 18, 2015.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Meet...The Beetles! 

Well, some of them anyway...the beetles (Coleoptera) are the largest cohesive group of organisms on the planet so I won't be illustrating all of them! The Chrysomelidae, or leaf beetles, are one of the larger groups that, like this willow leaf beetle, Calligrapha suturella, eat plant parts and tissues as larvae and sometimes as reproductive adults. Photographed at Roaches Pond, Spryfield, NS on June 15, 2015.

This is an aquatic leaf beetle, Donacia sp. The aquatic leaf beetles are only aquatic in their immature stages, usually as stem or root borers of underwater vegetation. They are impossible to identify from photographs. Photographed at Roaches Pond, Spryfield, NS on June 11, 2015.

Another leaf beetle, Sumitrosis inaequalis is the reproductive form of a leaf miner. The larvae, like the aquatic leaf beetles, are specific to certain plants and "mine" the leaves, living and feeding entirely within a plant leaf. This one likely feeds on goldenrod or aster leaves. Photographed along the MacIntosh Run, Spryfield, NS on June 15, 2015.

While there are many beetles that feed on plants, there are also many, such as the Coccinelidae or lady beetles, that prey on other insects. This is an eye-spotted lady beetle, Anatis mali. Like most lady beetles, this large native beetle preys on aphids. Photographed at Roaches Pond, Spryfield, NS on June 18, 2015.

The Carabidae, or ground beetles, are well represented by this large predator, Pterostichus adoxus. Finding and photographing (and identifying!) these fast moving ground beeltes is always a challenge but very satisfying. This one was photographed near Apple River, NS on June 20, 2015.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Location, Location, Location!

On June 10, 2015, while walking the brief portion of the trail that joins Roaches Pond park with the paved trail along the McIntosh Run, I happened upon some of my first dragonflies of the season. What was interesting about this encounter was that I found three different species sharing the same dead brush along the sunny east side of the trail. The first, which I think is a teneral belted whiteface, Leucorrhinia proxima, attracted me by being disturbed as I approached the spot along the trail. It's movement, in turn, disturbed a second dragonfly...

...which subsequently landed on a sapling beside the dead brush. This is a "common" baskettail, Epitheca cynosura. A side note: I dislike—intensely—the use of abundance measures such as "common" in the colloquial (there's my dislike of that word "common" again) names of serves no useful purpose as a descriptor. Now that I've got that off my chest, once my eyes were opened to the presence of these two species of dragonflies, I promptly noticed a third species there represented by...

...not one, but two, freshly emerged individuals of the springtime darner, Basiaeschna janata. The most intriguing thing, besides finding these three species together in the same spot at the same time? This spot along the trail is nowhere near water and is about equidistant from both the pond and the run. Still, as we all know, and as these dragonflies had obviously figured out, life is better on the sunny side—it's all about location, location, location!

Thursday, 4 June 2015

An Infrequent Event: Orchid Cactus Flower! 

My orchid cactus, an Epiphyllum sp. hybrid originally acquired as a leaf/stem from a plant in the York University greenhouse in the early 90s, bloomed this year. This is a decidedly uncommon event because twice—first our move to Texas in '97 and then our move to Nova Scotia in '07—it has been reduced to that original leaf/stem! My current cultivation regime is also less than ideal. The plant bloomed frequently when I had it in a greenhouse in Texas but getting one of these epiphytes to bloom on a windowsill is much (much!) harder. The flowers of Epiphyllum are "dinner plate" size and this one didn't disappoint, I measured it at slightly more than 20 cm (8") in diameter.

Six-Spotted Tiger Beetle... 

I always look forward to encountering six-spotted tiger beetles, Cicindela sexguttata, along woodland paths in the early spring. They're tough to get close to but I managed to get this shot on May 25, 2015, near Mt. Uniacke.

A Couple of Uncommon Early Spring Wildflowers...

I've been trying to get good photos of the red (or purple, if you prefer) trilliums, Trillium erectum, here in Nova Scotia, looking to replace my old Ontario slide film photos with digital shots, for a few years now. But I was always too late and the flowers were in pretty bad shape, definitely not what could be called photogenic. But this year I caught them, in Elderkin Ravine in Kentville on May 19, 2015, at the height of bloom in about as perfect condition as possible.

This is another early spring bloomer that I've been trying to catch in flower. I've frequently seen them in fruit but this is the first time, also May 19, 2015 at Elderkin Ravine in Kentville, that I've found the flowers. Most commonly known as February Daphne (although that would be April/May here in Nova Scotia, which might explain why spurge laurel is its colloquial name here), Daphne mezereum, is a non-native shrub that is highly poisonous.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

It's Elfin Season Again...

One of the joys of spring is that Elfins are in season! These little Lycaenid butterflies only have a single generation per year so you gotta get out and see them while you can. Nova Scotia has five (possibly six, see note below) species and I've already seen and photographed three of them, including a "lifer" (a new species that I haven't seen before), so far this year. This one is an Eastern Pine Elfin, Callophrys niphon, photographed at Roaches Pond in Spryfield on May 15, 2015. Note that there is a chance, albeit a small one, that NS may also have a sixth Elfin species, the Western Pine Elfin, Callophrys eryphon, since they are known in New Brunswick...Cumberland & Colchester Co. butterfly watchers should get out and look!

The second species I've encountered this year is the most common (both most numerous and most widespread) species, the Brown Elfin, Callophrys augustinus, photographed near Mt, Uniacke on May 16, 2015. Looking at this photo of a fresh specimen you might wonder why it's not called the "purple" or the "violet" Elfin? Unfortunately those stunning violet scales are soon lost and for most of their flight period they are generally just another LBJ (a little brown job).

Finally, my lifer, a fresh Hoary Elfin, Callophrys polios, photographed near Mt, Uniacke on May 16, 2015. I don't know why it has taken so long for me to finally see and photograph one of these but I'd never seen one before this one. This particular butterfly was what I call "partially cooperative," meaning that it hung around and allowed me to repeatedly get "portrait close" but it kept landing in places where it was shaded or partly obscured by grass or twigs. The consequence of shooting a shaded, dark-coloured butterfly is "blown-out" background highlights! Hopefully I'll find some more soon and get some opportunities for better photos (though maybe I should just consider myself lucky and be thankful?).

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Some Stupendous Spring Spiders...

Spring has finally sprung in Nova Scotia! After a l-o-n-g cold and very (very!) snowy winter, this insect (and other macro nature) photographer was overjoyed to finally get out and get some photos. Some of the first "insects" that I've encountered have been some new, and I don't hesitate to say stupendous, spiders. This little Salticid or jumping spider, Habronattus decorus, barely 5mm or so long (less than 1/4") with its bold blue-white and cinnamon colouration, was particularly common as it hunted around the early blooming mayflowers (Epigaea repens). Photographed at Roaches Pond on May 10, 2015.

As far as I can recall this is the very first "running crab spider" that I've ever encountered. I found a number of these dark Tmarus angulatus spiders sunning themselves on alder and birch saplings near Mt. Uniacke on May 5, 2015. A week later they were nowhere to be found...

Finally, the pièce de résistance of my spring spider surprises is my first Nova Scotia encounter with a lichenmarked orbweaver, Araneus bicentenarius. These spiders grow to monumental proportions in the southern part of their range and it is not uncommon to find specimens that are 5 cm (2") or more from chelicerae to spinnerets, with webs that are 6 metres (20 feet) or more across. This one, photographed May 16, 2015 in the Pockwock watershed near Mt. Uniacke, was about 13mm (1/2") long, a respectable size for an early spring orbweaver. I do have to admit that I never really appreciated the "lichenmarked" colloquial name until I saw this one (as you can no doubt see yourself).