Category Archives: Insects

Insects

Renewing acquaintance with the excellent Five Rivers NYS DEC wildlife preserve

Back in 2012, while living in Albany, I was able to visit the Five Rivers EEC/preserve several times and came to like it greatly, so now that we are back in the Capital District I’ll be renewing my acquaintance with this delightful location.

One of Five Rivers’ greatest advantages is its broad mix of environments – from grasslands and scrub, to pine and deciduous woodlands, the seeps and streams, and – last but by no means least – a variety of ponds.

My first photo, here, is simply a snapshot that I took with my cell phone to use on Twitter, and it’s a view of one of a cluster of the smaller ponds – a great place for Belted Kingfishers and Green Heron.

Pond at Fiver Rivers NYS DEC Preserve - April 2015
Pond at Fiver Rivers NYS DEC Preserve – April 2015

At the above pond, a large Snapping Turtle was basking on the sloping bank until a couple of people nearby spooked it and it launched itself back into the water with a tremendous splash.  Plenty of Eastern Painted Turtles were out basking, as well, but a gaudy interloper in the next photo looks to me like an entirely different species (unless it is just in mating colours).  It’s front legs had yellow stripes on a blackish background. It eventually gave up trying to get onto the ‘sun deck’ and slipped back into the water, so I never got a look at its upper side.  Can anyone help me identify it for certain, please?  My books aren’t helping!

Eastern painted Turtles basking, but what's the one that's pushing in?

Moving on from amphibians to reptiles, the only snake I saw was a tiny, 7-inch-long juvenile Garter Snake, and he was too far under a thorny bush for me to want to go crawling after his portrait!

A dead oak literally hanging on, from last year. Five Rivers - April 2015
A dead oak leaf,  literally hanging on, from last year. Five Rivers – April 2015

For those with botanical interests, all was visibly starting to stir.  There were still a few dead leaves left on some branches but there were also plenty buds in various stages of development and – for me – the first flowers of spring: the delightful Coltsfoot.  (Yes, I know that sadly this is one of many introduced species, here in North America but for giving us the first bright glow of spring, I still can’t resist it.)

So who can resist or ignore the sights and sounds of spring?

Bud Light!
Bud Light!

 

Honey Bee on Coltsfoot at Five Rivers - April 2015
Honey Bee on Coltsfoot at Five Rivers – April 2015

On slower sections of the streams and in among dead cattails on the ponds, Water Striders were busy whizzing around, looking for other insects trapped in the surface layer.  These fascinating creatures of the genus Gerris use their short front legs to grab prey, their middle pair of legs to ‘row’ at great speed, and their back legs to steer.  If you want a lesson in patience and frustration, try getting a sharp, close-up photo of them!

A 'Gerris' species of Water Strider - insects that we Brits refer to as 'Pond Skaters'
A ‘Gerris’ species of Water Strider – insects that we Brits refer to as ‘Pond Skaters’. Five Rivers.

 

 

The last photo I’m posting here is of another creature that often will not stop still long enough to have its photograph taken, but this time it’s the Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) a tiny (4¼-inch) bird which, along with its North American cousin the Golden-crowned Kinglet, is closely related to the very similar Firecrests and Goldcrests in Europe, in the same genus.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Five Rivers - April 2015
Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Five Rivers – April 2015

 

Here the ‘ruby crown’ is deliberately hidden away by drabber feathers on the top of its head, but when it has cause to display, just watch the dramatic change!

As for Five Rivers, I’ll be back… as often as I can!

Eddie Wren

Spring’s Top 10 Wildlife Spectacles in the USA (The Nature Conservancy)

“Looking for an excuse for a road trip, or maybe just an afternoon at a local park? Here are ten top must-see natural spectacles that you can catch each spring….”

Eddie adds:  The good news is that events in at least three of the ten categories (four, if you are a fly fisherman) happen here each year in the North East USA, so check out the suggestions in the above link, from The Nature Conservancy!

The world is losing bees at an alarming rate. What will happen if they go extinct?

Where would we be without bees? As far as important species go, they are top of the list. They are critical pollinators: they pollinate 70 of the around 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world. Honey bees are responsible for $30 billion a year in crops.

That’s only the start. We may lose all the plants that bees pollinate, all of the animals that eat those plants and so on up the food chain. Which means a world without bees could struggle to sustain the global human population of 7 billion. Our supermarkets would have half the amount of fruit and vegetables.

It gets worse. We are losing bees at an alarming rate….

To read the full article and view a video from the BBC, click on this sentence.

Dragonflies — Demonic to their Prey but Delightful to the Eye

Make no mistake, if you were a flying insect dragonflies would represent a brutal threat to your existence, and in earlier stages of life, dragonfly nymphs — in their months or years underwater — make the ‘Aliens’ of movie-fame look like wimps!

Go back in time and they were even more fearsome. Meganeuropsis permiana, which was related to the present-day dragonflies, had an estimated wingspan of almost 28 inches, and this is the length of a big man’s arm, all the way from armpit to outstretched fingertips.  As its species name shows, Meganeuropsis lived in the Permian era, and the fossils showing its size were found at Elmo, Kansas.

The stunning looks of a small African dragonfly (Cameroon).  Photo copyright 1981, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
The stunning looks of a small African dragonfly (Cameroon). Photo copyright 1981, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

Many people may see butterflies as being more attractive than dragonflies — although some of us would disagree with that — but when it comes to evolutionary excellence the dragonfly is surely a candidate to be the king of the insect world.  Their eyesight is astonishing and their flying abilities must surely leave helicopter and fighter pilots envious!

Twelve-spot Skimmer (Western New York State). Photo copyright, 2010, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Twelve-spot Skimmer (Western New York State). Photo copyright, 2010, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

Dragonflies (Anisoptera) and their cousins the damselflies (Zygoptera) together form an order of carnivorous insects called the Odonata (a.k.a. odonates, or simply ‘odes’ in everyday conversation).

Exuvia of a recently-emerged dragonfly. (Capital District, NY State.) Photo copyright 2012, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Exuvia of a recently-emerged dragonfly. (Capital District, NY State.) Photo copyright 2012, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

Philip Corbet & Stephen Brook, in their ‘New Naturalist’ series book, ‘Dragonflies,’ (2008, UK), go one step further in recognising the amazing hunting skills of dragonflies when they suggest that true Anisopterans perhaps should be known as ‘warrior flies’.

Common Green Darners mating (male at top of photo). Photo copyright 2013, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Common Green Darners mating (male at top of photo). Photo copyright 2013, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

To quote the British Dragonfly Society[BDS], “Dragonflies are good indicators of the health of a habitat, so any variation in distribution or population size can indicate changes on a wider environmental scale.”  And in this day and age, that aspect alone is a serious reason for us taking interest.

Here on the west side of the Atalantic, there are a couple of key organizations:

  • The Dragonfly Society of the Americas [DSA] was organized during 1988 by several US Odonatists. Its purposes are to encourage scientific research, habitat preservation and the aesthetic enjoyment of Odonata;
  • The Xerces Society — nothing to do with Persian kings! — exists for the conservation of all invertebrates, odonates included.

In addition, and with strong support from both of the above, there is the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership [MDP], and as soon as time permits, I will be adding another page on this blog about the MDP ‘citizen science’ training day I attended (and greatly enjoyed) in New York State, in April 2014.

Female Calico Pennant (Western NY). Photo copyright 2013, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Female Callico Pennant (Western NY). Photo copyright 2013, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

Last but by no means least, there is Odonata Central, an excellent resource for anyone wishing to identify dragonflies or damselflies that they have encountered.

Eddie Wren

 

Did you know that flies can manoeuvre like fighter jets (in tiny fractions of one second)?

“The flies start turning away from approaching threats in half the time it takes you to start blinking at a camera flash, and finish throttling up their flight motor in one-fiftieth of the time it takes you to complete the blink. It is little wonder we find them hard to swat.”                                        [Professor Graham Taylor, Oxford University]

Another fascinating excerpt — this time from Prof. Michael Dickinson of Washington University, Seattle — is: “…they can fly like an ace at birth. It’s like putting a newborn baby in the cockpit of a fighter aircraft and it knowing what to do.”

Read the full article (with video), from the BBC, at: http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-26943442

Dragonfly Conservation in the USA

If you are interested in conservation and have an interest in insects, in their own right, or odonates in particular (i.e. dragonflies and damselflies), you are likely to find this 1 hour 23 minute YouTube video to be very informative indeed.

The video is of a webinar developed for Natural Resource Conservation Biologists that covers dragonfly life history, ecological roles, conservation status, habitat needs, and their intersection with the NRCS Wetland Reserve Program.

A separate, very useful website for anyone interested in odonates is:  www.odonatacentral.org