Thursday, September 24, 2015

Mantises and mosquito spray

Found this lovely in the shed and moved her outside. That round belly means she's full of eggs and will lay them soon, to hatch in the spring. Yay! We used to see mantises all the time -- now it's rare. Thanks to urban infill and the dadgum mosquito-sprayers. A guy was spraying my neighbor's bushes for mosquitoes and had this logo on his business van: "GREAT FOR KIDS AND PETS!" I bet. Anyway, mosquitoes breed in water, not bushes - ???

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Squeaky Bessbugs

Bessbug, native to NC. Sally Kneidel

Found this huge Bessbug in the backyard, displaced by our whacked-out climate. Bessbugs are cool - one of the only beetles that live in groups and raise their young communally. And communicate by squeaking! The rotting logs they live in are dried out from the drought, and they're already threatened by habitat loss in general. I love Bessbugs. I wish I could protect them.

More about Bessbugs

Bessbug,Sally Kneidel

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Blue Ridge Red Salamander! Yowza!

So excited to see this amazing Red Salamander (Pseudotriton ruber) last month. About 10 miles from Mount Mitchell in North Carolina, the highest peak east of the Mississippi.  I think it's Pseudotriton ruber nitidus, the Blue Ridge Red Salamander. It lacks the black chin of other Red Salamander subspecies. Red Salamanders are in the family of lungless salamanders (Plethdontidae).  They have neither gills nor lungs, but breathe through their skin! Their skin has to stay moist for them to breathe, which is one reason salamanders are more common at higher elevations with greater rainfall and cooler temps. The lungless salamanders are a huge family of salamanders in N.C.  I haven't seen a Pseudotriton in 20 years!  I'm grateful they're still alive.

They look similar to the much more common Red Eft (Notophthalmus viridescens). But the spots on the eft are little black circles with red dots in the center. Also similar is Gyrinophilus, another NC salamander that's red. But Gyrinophilus has a line of pigmentation between the eye and nostril.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Yay!! Spotted a Giant Stag Beetle!

Giant Stag Beetle, Sally Kneidel
A rare treat -- a fabulous Giant Stag Beetle (Lucanus elaphus). My fingertips for scale. Incredible!!! Saw this one at Little Sugar Creek Greenway last week. The huge jaws are only on males, they fight for females just like male elk, deer, and moose. Check out this video of 2 males fighting (a different but similar species):

Sunday, July 05, 2015

If you don't begin, you can't get there

Saw this lovely little bug plodding patiently along a wall at a city park last week. She inspired me!

She's a wingless nymph (sub-adult) in the family Reduviidae. 

The dissenter

Why does this one beautiful Black-eyed Susan have red on it, while the others are all yellow?

Saw these native flowers yesterday, growing wild at a local greenway.

Friday, July 03, 2015

World's fastest accelerator -- not what you might think!

Eyed Click Beetle, photo Sally Kneidel
Saw this beautiful big click beetle on the deck a few days ago, about an inch long. If clicked away after one picture, disappearing into the brush.

The two black spots are fake eyes that startle birds and other predators and give the beetle a chance to get away. Lots of butterflies and caterpillars have fake eye spots for the same reason.

Click beetles move by suddenly snapping their body at the middle -- they do that by pulling a peg on the thorax out of a tight groove, sort of like pop beads. When they do that, their body flips away, accelerating faster than any other animal on the planet. They don't go very far, especially the little brown click beetles that are so common. But this Eyed Click Beetle moved fast enough to get away from me and my camera. I couldn't find it again.

Thank you little beetle for letting me take the one picture!

Monday, June 01, 2015

Bright and Toxic and Very Busy

Red Milkweed Beetles mating. Photo by Sally Kneidel, 2015

If you're looking for a pretty insect that's easy to photograph, check out Common Milkweed plants in spring and fall for Red Milkweed Beetles . Both times I've seem these red beetles in the last year, they were all busy mating and paid very little attention to me and my camera.  On both occasions I was actually looking for Monarchs and Monarch caterpillars on the milkweed to report to the website Journey North. I spotted a few Monarchs last fall but this spring I have found no Monarchs at all. Sadly.

The red beetles are in the family of longhorn beetles, Cyrambycidae -- notice the long antennae. Not to be confused with the much more common Milkweed Bugs, which are also red and black, but are not even beetles. Milkweed Bugs are in the order of true bugs, Hemiptera.

It's not a coincidence that Red Milkweed Beetles, Milkweed Bugs, and Monarchs all are red or orange, which are "warning" colors to birds and other predators, meaning do-not-eat-me-or-you'll-be-sorry. The Monarchs and Red Milkweed Beetles and Milkweed Bugs are toxic to predators because of toxic chemicals in the milkweed they eat.

I think you can see the spermatophore being transferred from the male to the female in this one, a ltttle brown orb. Sally Kneidel
I'll keep watching the milkweed for Monarchs. These unique butterflies that migrate farther than any other butterfly are declining because milkweed is declining.  The over-spraying of herbicides on genetically modified crops in the Midwest is a major reason for the demise of milkweed.   Check out this excellent article from Slate on that subject.  Monarchs need our help.  Plant milkweed!  The beetles will enjoy it too!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Wishing a safe Mother's Day to all the primates of the world

White-faced Capuchins, mother and child, in Costa Rica.  Photo by Sally Kneidel

Mother orangutan with newborn, refuge in Borneo. Photo by Sally Kneidel
I wish a safe Mother's Day to all the wildlife mothers across the world.  Especially the world's primates, most of which are threatened or endangered.

Primates are special, for me.  Most animal mothers don't provide any maternal care whatsoever.  Instead, they lay eggs and abandon them, never seeing their own babies. That includes most (but not all) fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects, crustaceans, etc. There are lots of exceptions in those groups, but I'm saying the majority do not provide parental care. That's just they way they've evolved.  To compensate for high mortality in their young, they make a lot of eggs.  It's a strategy that works, or else they wouldn't still be around. 

Birds and mammals are different as a group in that they all provide some degree of maternal (or paternal) care for their young. They invest huge amounts of energy into feeding their young, cleaning them, keeping them warm, protecting them from predators, and so on.  Because the young require so much effort, the parents generally have very few offspring. 
Long-tailed Macaque sharing food with baby, Sacred Monkey Forest in Bali

I love seeing primates and their babies. To me, primates share our essence -- they can be tender, loving, playful, and smart.  But unlike humans, they're innocent. They're not destroying the planet!

Today, on Mothers Day, I'm celebrating some of the primate mothers and babies I've photographed around the world. These pics were taken in some of my happiest moments - seeing primates doing their own thing in their natural habitats. I am very grateful for those opportunities.

Help protect the world for animals that can't fight back. Work to stop habitat destruction due to global warming.  One way to do that is to get involved with Greenpeace (  I recommend it.  Greenpeace is a hard-working, dedicated group of people I'm proud to volunteer with.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Monarchs have started their northward migration -- follow their progress!

Monarchs have started their spring migration from Mexico to the United States and Canada.  These gorgeous butterflies migrate farther than any other butterfly, often more than 1000 miles!  They're reported to have left their Mexican wintering area on March 24 and crossed into Texas on April 2.  

Took this pic on milkweed growing next to my house (not this year, they haven't reached my home state yet).
If you grow lots of milkweed in your yard, some may stop there to lay eggs.  

You can follow their progress on the website of Journey North, which posts frequent (weekly?) updates on the monarch's progress northward. 

You can also easily report any monarch sighting of your own, and watch the dots pile up on the map of sightings.  This is Citizen Science at its best.  The Journey North website is a great resource for teachers, students, and anyone who loves butterflies.

Monarchs need help, they're in trouble due to the overuse of pesticides and loss of habitat.  Plant milkweed!  It's easy to order seeds online. Just Google.