Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Monday, June 30, 2008

Circus of the Spineless #34

The Heavily Hexapod Edition

This is my first attempt at hosting a blog carnival, so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. As the month progressed I began getting submissions. At first, they were all about insects. Then there were more insects. At the end of the month- lots of posts about insects. OK, there were a few other arthropods thrown in, but almost nothing else at all. I can only conclude that the malacologists all fell victim to the spineless war waged at this very carnival a couple of months ago. Either that or they're all off diving at exotic locales this month and don't have Internet access.

Haploa reversa sez:
Check out COTS #34

So, without further delay, let's get the ball rolling on this carnival.

Canthon sp.
Illinois Beach State Park - June 28, 3008

Check out the many insect oriented offerings this month:

Dr. Know experiences the joys of breeding Luna Moths. The discussion comparing Georgian and Pennsylvanian Luna Moths kept reminding me of questions about European and African swallows.

Rurality has a gorgeous picture of a cicada in the genus Tibicen. After last year's cicada emergence around these parts, I'm just as glad to be seeing Tibicen rather than Magicicada.

Cedrorum also supplies us with a flashy insect- this time, a Rosy Maple Moth.

Gallicissa is visited in his room- at night- by a strange female. TMI??

Speaking of liaisons, Florida Cracker has a whole series of pictures of robber fly romance.

Fishfly - Chauliodes sp.

Seabrooke gave me a choice of four posts, reminding me of the carnival rule limiting monthly submissions to two. I chose the one about fishflies because UrSpo mentioned an interest in them, and because I can illustrate this entry with a photo my own. She also has a fine piece on the scarab beetle Pelidnota punctata, a perennial favorite. To me, the elytra look as though they are made of burnished wood. Being a stickler for the rules myself, I won't even consider linking to her other two posts about moths and mosquitoes.

Dave Coulter of Osage + Orange takes us from fishflies to fishing flies in his entry about a damselfly in the genus Enallagma.

Troy and Martha from Ramblings Around Texas pause in their Alaska adventures long enough to post a picture of the sulphur-winged grasshopper. Not fair! Arphia sulphurea is much prettier in Texas than it is in Illinois.

From the heart of Sycamore Canyon in southern Arizona, Kathie experiences an insect invasion and fears for her mesquite tree. She manages to get some excellent photos in the process. The identity of the mystery insects is buried in the post's comments. They are spotted blister beetles (Epicauta sp.).

Bev explores thanatosis in the Pale Green Weevil.

While we're on the subject of death, Thingfish23 has a whole series on insects that are associated with carcasses. Many are used in forensics. Lunch, anyone?

If that isn't gross enough for you, check out the aftermath of When Parasitoids Attack at Ugly Overload.

Wanderin Weeta shares a touching coming of age tale- of a spittlebug.

My own insect additions are geographically far-flung this month, ranging from my collecting trip to Colorado earlier in the month to my own back door.

Wrapping up our insect extravaganza, new blogger Celeste gives an accounting of some of the invertebrates encountered this past weekend during the Lake County, Illinois BioBlitz. She poses the taxonomic challenge: can't we all just get along?

Probably not, but in the spirit of ecumenism, I also pass along the following invertebrate postings that do not involve six legs.

Over at Niches, Wayne has some eye-popping photos of a crab spider, and explores spider cladistics. He's also done a bunch of great insect posts, but the Circus really is desperate for non-insect posting this month. So I've linked to his spider stuff.

At A Blog Around the Clock, Bora answers the perennial question, why are there so many earthworms on the sidewalk after it rains?

Christopher Taylor has a great post on the nightmare that is Harvestman taxonomy. I'm in need of the lesson- a few months ago he caught me misidentifying a harvestman as a spider (cringe). Christopher also provided one of only two marine submission of this entire carnival- an exploration of crinoid fossils.

The other marine submission? Julie at Pines Above Snow has penned a lovely review of the book Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs, and the Chesapeake Bay along with a tribute to author William Warner following his recent death.

There may be a third marine submission this month. Jim Lemire at from Archaea to Zeaxanthol has a mystery photo. The subject material is in water. Jim doesn't say whether it's fresh or salt (or in between). So far, nobody has guessed the right answer. As usual, I'm clueless.

Circus of the Spineless #35. Location to be announced.


Friday, June 27, 2008

Off to BioBlitz

I'm off to participate in the Lake County Bioblitz. It'll be a great chance to try out my new black light battery. There will be live blogging from the BioBlitz, but not via Gossamer Tapestry. If you are interested, you can follow the action here. I'll probably be off line for the next couple of days- see you all with updates when I return.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Skywatch Friday - Retreating Storm

Bluff Spring Fen - June 21, 2008

Last Saturday, I feared that the field session of my butterfly ecology course would be ruined by a thunderstorm. Just as the class was scheduled to begin, the sky began to clear, and offered this very dramatic view of the retreating storm.

See more Skywatch goodness at Wiggers World.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Found on my Screen Door this Morning

Lucanus capreolus

Isn't it cute?


Tuesday, June 24, 2008


No, it's not a cheesy radio ad for the local drag racing strip- it's the deadline for submission to Circus of the Spineless. Submissions so far are almost entirely for arthropods, particularly insects. If your favorite critter doesn't have a backbone (or a notochord) make a post about it and contact me (dtaron at gmail dot com) to include it in the carnival. Don't make me turn this blog around and go home!


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Home Alone

Leon is away celebrating a friend's birthday on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. Months before the birthday celebration was arranged, I had agreed to teach a butterfly course for the Morton Arboretum's Naturalist Certificate Program. The first of two field experiences had been scheduled for yesterday. Consequently, Leon is in Washington and I'm here.

I was looking forward to teaching the course until yesterrday morning. The day dawned cloudy. Before I left the house, it began to rain. There are few things that I hate more than trying to give a butterfly walk or workshop when the weather is bad. Of course you don't see any butterflies, and I'm left trying to talk my way though the event. When I got to the Fen, most of the class was there. We discussed the possibility of setting a rain date. I suggested that we wait the 20 minutes until the scheduled start of the class to let the stragglers show up, and then we could make the decision. At 10 on the dot, the last students shoed up, and the sky began to clear. This seems to be a theme with me lately.

Eyed Brown Caterpillar

It turned out to be a good day for butterflies. We saw everything that I hoped to, and had a few surprises. We saw a dogface butterfly. These are hard to photograph- even BugGuide does not currently have a picture. A member of the class found a caterpillar on his leg. It turned out to be an eyed brown- one of the nice wetland butterflies that we were also seeing adults of. On one of our kames, the pale purple coneflower was putting on an amazing display.

The Large Kame at Bluff Spring Fen

The floral display on the kame led me to go out to Rockford today to see Rogers Prairie. Rogers was the inspiration for trying to get more species diversity onto our kames. Unfortunately, Rogers Prairie is now closed to the public- though it now is enjoying full protection from damage. I visited nearby, and very similar, Harlem Hills Prairie instead.

Harlem Hills Prairie

The purple coneflower is the really conspicuous plant. There were some great insects on both it and the roses that are also blooming.

Rose Chafer. Yes, I know it's on Purple Coneflower.

Rose Curculio

Unidentified Chrysomelid beetle feeding on sumac leaves

Dinner was a large slab of beef on the grill. Leon doesn't care for that, so I'm pleasing myself tonight.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Media Madness Update

The panel discussion on the emreald ash borer that aired yesterday evening on Chicago Tonight can be here.

Updated update: Apparently the availability of the video feed is time-limited. The link now goes to an unrelated story. I have disabled the link.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Media Madness

The Emerald Ash Borer has recently been trapped within Chicago city limits. The news has hit the press today. I will be appearing on a panel on Chicago Tonight either this evening or tomorrow evening to discuss this development. Chicago area readers can catch the broadcast on Channel 11. I'll try to post a link after it airs.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

One the Use of Patience as a Tool to Recover From Stupidity

Last Tuesday was my last full day in Colorado. John and I were planning to check out some higher elevation terrain northwest of Boulder. About a half hour into the drive, I realized that I had left my camera on John’s dining room table. I muttered bad words under my breath and felt really, really stupid.

It was a good collecting day. I got a nice snowberry sphinx moth as we began getting into the high country. Our initial destination proved to be a bust. The aspen trees were not even beginning to leaf out yet, and there was still snow on the ground. We wandered to lower elevation, and found an interesting looking spot at the St. Vrain Trailhead. It was crowded. There were lots of dogs. The trail wound through several campsites. But the calypso orchids were in bloom- a species I’d never seen before. Unfortunately, we had no camera. We both took some really bad shots with our cell phones. On the way out, we ran into a bunch of green-margined tiger beetles. We each got a nice series. They were even approachable- but as we had no camera, I got no photos.

The next day, John decided to forgo collecting. I was not leaving until 6 in the evening. It occurred to me that I could go back to the St. Vrain Trail and take some of the photos that I had missed due to my stupid move the day before. It was a chillier day, and as I drove up to Boulder, it started getting cloudier. And cloudier. And even cloudier. K-Country 99 was predicting clouds with rain by early afternoon.

By the time I started up into the foothills it was raining lightly and I was cursing myself. I had forgotten my camera on the last good photography day of the trip! Should I try to drive back onto the plains in the hopes for more sun? I decided just let it go and be a bit more patient with myself and the situation. I would continue with my plans in the knowledge that I would at least be able to get photos of the orchids.

Calypso Orchid

The rain had stopped by the time I got out of the car, and the flat light actually made photographing the orchids a bit easier. I decided that I’d just take a nice hike and photograph flowers along the way. As I got further in, I realized that by walking just a bit further up the trail than I had the day before, the campsites stopped and the scenery got much nicer.

Prettier forest- though somewhat somber


The plant life was pretty cool. I saw a whole bunch of a parasitic plant called pine drops. They were just sprouting and made for some interesting photography. I was especially surprised to find a pretty blue clematis in bloom. Despite being unhappy with the fact that I would surely miss out on photographing the new (for me) species of tiger beetle, I was in beautiful surroundings and having a very nice time.

Pine Drops

Blue Clematis

Maybe it was the blue of the clematis that did it, but just about the time that I snapped that photo, a patch of blue sky scudded overhead. I pushed onward, happy that it wasn’t going to rain on me. Then there was another patch of blue, and another. I noticed that there was clear sky approaching from the southwest. Realizing that I might have a shot at insect photography after all, I turned around and headed back towards the trailhead. Twenty minutes after I was the first bit of blue sky, I was standing in the Colorado forest in the middle of a beautiful sunny day. The woods looked even better on my walk out. The rest of the afternoon was beautifully sunny.

Cicindela limbalis habitat. They were crawling on the bare rock.
Note the complete lack of clouds in the sky here.

Patience. It’s the key to photography.

Green-margined Tiger beetle (Cicindela limbalis)

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Skywatch Friday - NCAR

What could be more appropriate for Skywatch than a photo taken from the grounds of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado?

On Monday, John and I took one of my favorite hikes in the foothills of the Front Range. The hike up from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) traverses a range of habitats from dry grassland characteristic of the plains east of the Rockies, up to sub-alpine meadows. The hike does not get up into the tundra regions. That's probably just as well. As it is, this is a long and steep hike.

Wolf Spider. The small round things on her back are babies.

We began very early, and started seeing cool stuff almost immediately. The Calippe fritillaries were camera shy, but a mama wolf spider and her babies posed very nicely for us.

Western Green Hairstreak (Callophrys perplexa apama)

Western Pine Elfin (Callophrys eryphon)

The hike runs up Bear Creek Canyon . As we climbed the canyon, we were treated to a dazzling array of butterflies. Most unexpected of these was the Western Green Hairstreak. It's hard to believe that such a color can exist in the butterfly world. The males are especially brilliant as they sit on damp sand to take moisture and minerals. The Western Pine Elfin was a new species for me.

Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera sp.)

The plants were a mixture of the familiar and unfamiliar. I even saw a patch of rattlesnake plantain orchids. These were just beginning to put up flower spikes. But with rattlesnake plantain, the flowers are inconspicuous- the real show is the beautiful variegated foliage. The variegation on these plants is much more limited to the leaf midribs than what I'm used to. I suspect that this is a different species of Goodyera than the one I grew up with.

Anthaxia sp.- a metallic wood boring beetle (Buprestidae)

Longhorn Beetle. I think it's Stenocors obtusus- I'm trying to confirm this.

We progressed slowly, as we were taking pictures and collecting as we went. It was a good day for beetles. We found (but did not photograph) sumac leaf eating beetles at the extreme western edge of their range. There was one species each of longhorn beetle and metallic wood boring beetle.

Delphiniums near the turnaround point of the hike

We turned around at the trail junction on the ridge line. The trail here is in a meadow filled with beautiful delphinium flowers. We saw, the only two tiger beetles that we would encounter today right where we turned around. One would be the only Cicindela longilabris that I would see during my entire stay in Colorado. We also saw members of two high altitude genera of butterflies- the Arctics and the Alpines. The Uhler's arctic was difficult to photograph, but I did get one shot that, with cropping, gives an idea of the general look of these butterflies.

Uhler's Arctic (Oeneis uhleri)

By the time we arrived back at NCAR it was nearly 6 PM. We had one of those dinners where everyone just wolfs down their food and doesn't say much.

For more Skywatch Friday, go here.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Greetings from Colorado. I've been here since very early Saturday morning on an entomological trip. It's been a successful trip, aided by some truly gorgeous weather. My hosts for most of the trip have been John and Mike in Arvada, a suburb of Denver. John is a very accomplished entomologist, and has taught my over 80% of what I know about beetles. I stand in awe of his capabilities, so it's always a treat to go out in the field with him.

Glenwood Canyon and the Colorado River

We spent the weekend up in the high country. Spring is a bit late in the mountains this year. We were unable to do any collecting in the tundra regions- they're still covered with snow. Saturday we met up with Bill, an aquatic entomologist and went collecting on the west slope. Our most successful spots were in Glenwood Canyon. We found lots of nice chrysomelid (leaf-eating) beetles on the willows. John is a chrysomelid expert, so that family always figures heavily when he's around. Also, I managed to take a very nice series of samples from a population of purplish coppers for DNA analysis. My new intern will not lack for things to keep him busy when he starts next week.

Calligrapha multipunctata
A leaf-eating beetle that feeds on willow.

Saturday night we stayed in Breckenridge. Sunday morning we awoke to this:

Fresh snow- June 8, 2008

I offer this for all my readers in the east who spent Sunday sweltering. Obviously this did not make for good collecting. We crossed back over the Continental Divide at Loveland Pass, and were treated to gorgeous vistas of peaks covered with a fresh skim of snow. Magnificent!

In Loveland Pass

Opting to avoid the interstate, we returned via Clear Creek Canyon. There were numerous opportunities to pull off the road and check out the bugs along the creek. We got into the usual kind of trouble.

The usual kind of trouble
Cicindela lengi- a new species for me

Monday we did a grueling hike up above the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. The collecting and insect photography on that trip were superb. I'll do a post on that later this week.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Skywatch, Faux Tiger Beetles and Travel

City sky- storm clouds approaching

The weather is conspiring against me at the moment. I'm sitting at O'Hare airport waiting to go to Denver. We're currently running a little over 2 hours late. I'm meeting up with my collecting buddy John, and we're heading off for several days of chitinous goodness. We're delayed because the wind has been gusting over 40mph all day long. The weather forecast for Colorado? Iffy. I am NOT bitter. Well, not much.

We did manage to get some interesting bug watching and collecting in on the department field trip earlier in the week. I went to one spot where tiger beetles have been sighted by a department member. Signs were good on the walk in- there was lots of hot bug on bug action involving six-spotted tiger beetles.

Putting the sex in sexguttata

When we reached our goal, things started out slowly, but began looking up when I found my first tiger. It turns out to be a species that I collected last summer in Michigan.

Cicindela hirticollis - The hairy-necked tiger beetle

Later someone found a tiny tiger beetle- or so we thought. It turns out to be another species of Carabid, the marsh ground beetle (Elapherus). I had to post to BugGuide to get an ID. No wonder my tiger beetle key was failing me!

Elapherus- a faux tiger beetle

I'll try to post from Colorado. At the very least, I'll take lots of pictures and post when I get home on Wednesday. Mountains almost always seem photogenic.

Random bug pics from the field trip:

Bluet damselfly (Enallagma)

Crab spider devours a bee

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Circus of the Spineless

Circus of the Spineless #33 is up at Seeds Aside. I apologize- it's been up for a few days and I haven't linked to it yet. Do stop by for links to a whole bunch of interesting blog posts about invertebrates.

Which brings us to Circus of the Spineless #34. It's going to be right here at the Tapestry, and I'm seeking submissions. If you haven't participated in a blogging carnival before (and I'm pretty sure that I have a bunch of readers who fit into this category), this is a great opportunity to get started. It's simple. Do a post about invertebrates. It might be a lament about the Formosan termites that have just invaded your apratment. Or you could have a super photo of a slug that you put up on your blog. Make the post to your blog, then send me the link via email (dtaron at gmail dot com). Submissions are due June 29. Shortly after the deadline, I will write a sparkling and witty post that directs interested readers to the various posts thatI receive- including yours. Watch your blog traffic skyrocket! Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but mine always goes up when I submit something. Besides, it's fun.

Oh, and by the way, you don't have to be a professional scientist type to join the fun. All are welcome.


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

1,001 Amphibian Nights

Gray Treefrog

It's pretty obvious that I'm entering my really busy time of the year. I unexpectedly drop out of sight for a few days, don't post, don't comment and don't reply to comments left here. This time it was my department's annual camping/collecting trip. We head out for a few days, and get a bunch of critters to include in live displays at the Museum. This year, the fishing was particularly good, and we returned home with a nice selection of darters, shiners, and dace to put in one of our aquariums.

Fishing in LaSalle County

My department has been experiencing a growth spurt of late, so this was a larger than normal crew. One of our new members, Tom, is an extremely accomplished herpetologist. He was very eager to see frogs, particularly since we were hearing hundereds or thousands each night.

American Toad

Over the course of the last couple of days, we saw at least a half dozen species of frogs, including cricket and chorus frogs. Sadly, I missed photos of the cricket frogs as I was concentrating on my favorite beetles at that time (more about them later). Still, I was very pleased with the action shots of calling American toads and gray treefrogs that I managed to get.

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