Friday, July 19, 2024

A Black Scavenger Fly Blows Bubbles

Jody's bubbling masked bee photo

I re-downloaded iMovie to my iPad the other day for nature videos. I had purchased it years ago but never used it. I had found a black scavenger fly. They are very, very small. They have heads like ants but eyes like flies. They also seem to dance on leaves because they continuously open and close their wings. When I got my shots into the iPad (which I now do with my new, streamlined Lightroom-free workflow), I found the fly had been blowing bubbles. Why?

Jody had found a solitary masked bee blowing bubbles that week, also. We learned that solitary bees, being more primitive than social bees, cannot digest pollen as the social bees do. So they make the pollen more digestible with bubbling. But not flies.

Nobody agrees why flies blow bubbles. It isn't just scavenger flies that do it: just about all species of flies bubble. At least that is what I gather from my reading.

There are three explanations for fly bubbles:
  • to disperse pheromones
  • to dehydrate dilute food
  • to cool down

I expect research will settle on one explanation sooner or later.

I decided to make a video of this one individual fly blowing bubbles. And I decided to make a "real" movie with iMovie. It took hours to re-learn the software, pick the appropriate music and make title boards. I was so immersed in the project that I lost sight of the nature of the beast. Literally. This was to be a nature video and I now feel that I made it ridiculously frilly. However, I'm too busy dealing with flash flood issues and my so-called normal activities and I don't feel like re-doing it. So here is my frilly bubbly fly video.  By the way, I never truly finished the video to what I wanted it to be. 😳



July 18 Bugsit Video

I have decided to free myself from restrictions and simply make  videos without rules. Commenters have freed me. I thank you. Today is another iPhone memory video I made of today's finds. 


  • Margined Calligrapher (Toxomerus marginatus): a flower fly
  • Butterfly: Dun Skipper (Euphyes vestris)
  • Yellow fly: Hystricia abrupta, a tachinid (bristle) fly. The larvae of these flies parasitize other insects and arthropods. Many of the adults feed on nectar. I am not a fan.
  • Tiny crab spider (Tribe Misumenini)
  • One of the indistinguishable Looper moths (Genus Caenurgina)
  • Leaf beetle (Genus Plagiodera)
  • One-striped Deer Fly (Chrysops univittatus)
  • Macquart's Deer Fly (Chrysops macquarti)

We are finally having normal, awesome weather today. I have great plans for Sunday with Jody. 

If you like birds, please look at the new addition of bird song on the sidebar. I got the Merlin Bird ID phone app, made by Cornell University. It is free and it changed my life. Now all my family and friends are using it. I just stick my arm out (so that the phone does not hear me breath) and record bird song. 

Have a great weekend! 

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Dogwood Spittlebugs Video

Maybe making slideshow videos of one species at a time is the way for me to go forward. 🤷


Monday, July 15, 2024

After the Flash Flood Day 4

Bug sits are helping me cope with the damage. More on that later, when I am able to deal with it. Please view full screen for the best viewing.


Wednesday, July 10, 2024

July 10 Photos

Dogwood Spittlebug (Clastoptera proteus)

We were expecting the remnant of a hurricane today so Lucy and I needed to get outside for bugs a bit earlier than usual. As it was, it began raining only 30 minutes into our time outside, but we managed to find some nifty bugs. 

Above, is the cutest ever dogwood spittlebug. It's almost invisible. You may see a black or yellow pencil dot moving on a leaf (not necessarily on a dogwood leaf, either). This was only my second sighting of one and it was quite larger than the first. I can't find out whether the broad yellow strokes on it are developing wings or just the way they are decorated. I hope you click on the photo to see it larger. It is worth the time to completely read all sections of  "Spittlebugs and Froghoppers." 

Globetail fly (Genus Sphaerophoria)

Above is a globetail flower fly (also called hoverflies or syrphids) . They are very important for pollination, as are nearly all of the flies. These flies are much bigger (although still very small) than the Toxomerus species of flower flies, one of which is below. 

Margined Calligrapher (Toxomerus marginatus)

This margined calligrapher flower fly was in the rugosa rose bush pollinating away. Hopefully, you are able to discern how small they are. When they fly, they are just wisps in the breeze. There haven't been too many so far this season. Their activity seems to be strongly affected by the time of day and the air temperature. 

A native Goldenrod Crab Spider (Misumena vatia) pursuing an invasive Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) on invasive Common soapwort (Saponaria officinalis

I try to photograph as many Japanese beetles as possible to see if they are carrying a winsome fly egg . . . but viewing the photo in the iPad, I found this small crab spider instead! It was a great find. If the spider caught that beetle, it would be food enough for many days.

It has been a long, long time that I seriously posted. Many things have stood in my way: school work, disabilities, Covid (but it was uneventful for me), the flu, and myself. I get in the way of myself all the time. 

I am in the middle of learning and planning an entire year of science classes (K-12) that meet the NGSS standards. In November of 2023, I was given all the science classes of the school because the science teacher quit. I had two weeks to formulate plans to last us until the end of the year. I did it but was never that happy with the results. I have told the school's director that I will happily continue in science. That means they need a new math teacher, but we have made changes to the math curriculum, legally and beneficially, that takes most of the pressure off of filling that position. It's fun teaching science. Not so much math, though. After 30+ years of teaching math, it is now too rote for me.

There are no math teachers to be found, anyhow. The entire state is looking for them. There seem to be no teachers anymore. I have no idea why. But every Vermont school is short, drastically short of teachers. 

I have changed my workflow for photos. I use my big iPad and the Apple photo app and find that they are as good, and sometimes better, than my big desktop with Adobe Lightroom. I still use my Canon camera but use wifi to transfer photos to the iPad. I can then geo tag and upload the shots to iNaturalist easily. And then I also make a memory video slideshow of the best of the day (that doesn't mean the best photos, just the best shots of the day). And that video I send off to family, who probably roll their eyes at them. I'm having fun seeing what limits I have on creating my own video memory videos on my devices. This is today's: 

July 10, 2024 (00:00:50)

Thank you for reading.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Review: Lilith

Lilith Lilith by Eric Rickstad
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Eric Rickstad missed the boat with this book. Elisabeth Ross, the main character, acts as a man may have acted in this totally illogical plot. Her solution to political inaction on gun control is the solution of a male mindset, not the creation of a new female paradigm that I had desired. I was very disappointed. Rickstad tries hard to think like a woman but doesn't seem to realize that we don't want to act within the same norms that the world has dictated forever. We don't need to be men in order to be respected as equals. We can create new and world-changing standards for tackling problems and for living our lives that are feminine and successful—and success is what we decide to define it. To watch Ross simply act violently without much thought (except justified grievance) was sad to read.

Rickstad has written two of my favorite novels: The Silent Girls and Reap. By far, Reap is the best. Both are set in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, where I live. Reap perfectly captures the isolation and poverty of the area. It is lyrical. These two books are another reason why Lilith is disappointing to me. Rickstad probably cannot forever set his books in the Kingdom and have them relevant to other readers in the country (which may be what a publisher thinks but is not true). However, he has lost his voice in Lilith and I barely recognized his writing.

View all my reviews


Tuesday, September 12, 2023

A Buggy Betrayal

Late season dogwood with rolled leaves.
The leaves look old, worn, and well-used by the wildlife,
but they are not done with it yet.

Peering into a rolled leaf, I found new life.

An unidentified moth caterpillar was inside.

September 2 was the day that Jody and I had a bug hunt here at the house (and found the bear scat). I had found this larva inside a rolled dogwood leaf and thought it was a sawfly. Well, the little buggers confuse me still. It was a moth caterpillar. It could be one of two dogwood moths, both of whose caterpillars look just like this.

When you have identical caterpillars of different species, the only way you can tell which species it is is by isolating it until they pupate into a moth. (Sometimes it is the other way around and identical moths can only be identified, without dissection, by their caterpillars.)

Two days later, Lucy and I went out to sleeve dogwood branches with rolled leaves. The plan is I will regularly check on the creature's growth, hopefully find a newly eclosed moth inside the sleeve, and then be able to identify it.

A sleeved dogwood branch with rolled leaves inside.

I buy the sleeves at scientific supply places online. They can breath, drain water, and do not overheat. They keep predators and parasites out and give the animals inside the sleeve relative freedom and safety to feed. Unless you sleeved a predator in the sleeve with your larvae.

Since I really enjoyed spying the larva inside the leaf, I looked inside another rolled leaf before I sleeved the branch and found this . . . 

I couldn't even understand what I saw.

So I flipped the photo in the computer.

After I turned the photo in the computer, I still did not know what I was looking at. It was sort of like a grasshopper, but those beefy legs hinted at this being a bug that caught and ate other bugs, much like assassin bugs and ambush bugs. Grasshoppers that I know here do not have spotted legs, either. This guy also has a beak, used to pierce the exoskeleton of other insects.

I turned to Jody, who suggested damsel bug (Genus Nabis). I looked it up, and it looks like one to me. No one at iNaturalist has offered any assistance yet, though. It could be winter until I learn what it is. When you have good weather, like we have had, no entomologist, professional or amateur, will be inside the house IDing photos. 

If it is a damsel bug, it preys on small caterpillars. And what better place to find them then in their hiding place—a rolled up leaf?

I was sort of pissed off that somebody was out there eating my little caterpillars. Hopefully no predators were on the branch or inside the rolls of my sleeved branch. I have never successfully sleeved a plant until insect maturation. It involves tricky timing and a perfect, predator-free world. We'll see.


Saturday, September 02, 2023

From Bug Hunt to Restaurant

Jody's mating mosaic darners

Jody decided to close up her law office for a long weekend and spent Friday at Crystal Lake State Park. I picked her up after school and we came back to my house (one mile away) for more bug hunting. She got some magnificent photos on that iPhone of hers. She found these dragonflies hanging together under a branch of a pine tree. They allowed her to carry them down to where I was inspecting a leafroller larva. And as soon as Jody got to me, they flew away still coupled together. It was a memorable sight.

The darners in the tree.

I was not as fortunate yesterday. I found my leafroller larva, some type of moth, and unrolled it. When touched with a piece of grass, it wriggled very violently. I thought I had a video of that action but I didn't press the right button. I have found more of these larvae and will be sleeving the dogwood branch where they are maturing. 

The tiny caterpillar inside the leaf that it had rolled up.

Outside of the leaf.

Other creatures that we found:

Another Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle (Labidomera clivicollis)

Tricolored Bumble Bee (Bombus ternarius)

Everyone's favorite crane fly: Eastern Phantom Crane Fly (Bittacomorpha clavipes)

Banded Garden Spider (Argiope trifasciata)
Its zig-zag web is barely visible at the bottom.

Banded Tussock Moth (Halysidota  tessellaris)

Genus Stictocephala
(A buffalo treehopper)

A robber fly for your nightmares:
A Hanging-Thief (Genus Diogmites)

Everyone's favorite caterpillar:
Brown-hooded Owlet (Cucullia convexipennis)

Revisiting our jagged ambush bugs at the end of the season.

They wear different colors now.
Here, the male has the brown face and the female has a yellow face.

But then . . .


Jody found bear scat full of cherry pits not 20 feet from my back door. Lucy was calm so we knew that the bear was not close by, but our wanderings were now at an end. Bears scarf down so many cherries it is totally ridiculous. And at this time of year, it seems that all my trees are cherries. They are everywhere. In fact, I have read that my Black cherry trees (Prunus serotina) are the most populous tree in New England forests. Cherry picking time is when Jody and I stay out of the woods.

We retired to Orleans to a restaurant for supper and swapped photos and stories of our day. It was a wonderful day.


Monday, August 28, 2023

Dogwood Life

Dogwood Spittlebug (Clastoptera proteus)

I was sitting next to the Jerusalem artichoke a couple of weeks ago when I saw a black speck move on a leaf. Even though I had no idea what it may have been, I shot it. I was thrilled when I found the cutest little bug ever in the computer. Who ever sees a purely black and yellow bug anywhere? It was a hopper and a spittlebug . . . my favorite insect group. What a find!

You have probably seen frothy foam on spots on plants. There are spittlebug larvae living inside that foam. They are called spittlebugs because the foam looks like spit. I have spent hours finding the tiny larvae and photographing them. Of course, I can't find the photos today. Spittlebugs are hoppers like plant and tree hoppers. They can jump like fleas.

Since this dogwood spittlebug's host is dogwood, I wanted to compile the other insects who use dogwood exclusively. I have at least three native species of dogwood on my land and I can never tell them apart. 

Two species of my dogwoods have been confirmed:

Alternate-leaved Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea)

But this one that I think is red osier may be Gray Dogwood:

Perhaps Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa).
Perhaps not.

Dogwood-loving insects, however, don't care which is which. Other insects that rely on dogwood are the dogwood sawfly and the dogwood leaf beetle, a calligrapher beetle, and a species of aphid.
Dogwood Sawfly (Macremphytus testaceus) larva

Adult dogwood sawfly
Robert Webster

Sawflies have bad reputations for being pesky and the dogwood sawfly is no different. But I have no problem with them because my land is so diverse. I love sawflies because of their life cycle. The larvae are not caterpillars even though they look like caterpillars. 

Dogwood Leaf Beetle (Calligrapha philadelphica)

The dogwood calligrapher is related to lady beetles. They are all leaf beetles. This one eats dogwood leaves. There are many calligraphers with different and stunning "etchings" on their abdomen. 

I always find groups of Red-osier dogwood aphids (Aphis neogillettei) and their ants somewhere on a dogwood. The aphid colonies appear and disappear very quickly; seemingly overnight.

Aphis neogillettei tended by ants

All of my dogwood life has moved away now. The dogwood leaves look blighted and worn on my special bush. It's no wonder they are: they have nurtured so many lives this summer.


Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Thursday, August 17, 2023

The Pesky Details

Every photo of mine and Jody's confirmed the misidentification.

Remember these cute August 8 caterpillars when I posted about creatures that camouflage as bird droppings? The first creature I highlighted was the Beautiful Wood-Nymph (Eudryas grata). But it wasn't.

Kathryn got in touch with me last night about a caterpillar she had from her property and could identify to genus but not to species. It was a Eudryas. Without looking closely, I told her it was E. grata, the Beautiful. But she had comparison photos from the Internet and wanted to know how I was sure because she thought it might be a Pearly, E. unio. Now, Kathryn has always had an excellent eye for the small details in insect identification. I remembered how she would keep me honest and see what was in front of us, not what I wanted to see. So I looked up the details.

When I submitted my caterpillar to iNaturalist, the AI said it was E. grata. Jody had named it that, also. And then two other people quickly confirmed it. Without ever looking (but I remember wondering) at the two other Eudryas species caterpillars, I accepted the IDs and moved on. But if Kathryn had doubts, I knew I had to look again.

On Bugguide, there are no photos of the third Eudryas species caterpillar (Eudryas brevipennis), and I could safely ignore that one because it lives west of the Rockies. 

There are only two differences between the Beautiful Wood-Nymph caterpillar and the Pearly Wood-Nymph caterpillar: dots on the prolegs (1 dot on the Beautiful and 2 dots on the Pearly on each proleg) and the color of the pro-thoracic shield (orange on the Beautiful and white(ish) on the Pearly), both of which I marked on the photo above. I had to reacquaint myself of the meaning of pro-thoracic and how the heck you find it on a caterpillar, but I did. 

Kathryn and I agreed that all the caterpillars that she, Jody, and I had were Pearly and not Beautiful. Which meant I had to update the IDs on iNat, tell Jody, and update my post of August 8.

The moth I posted on August 8 was the Beautiful, and did not belong there with that Pearly caterpillar. Below are my Beautiful moth and Joanne Russo's Pearly moth. The inner brown band is smooth on the Beautiful and scalloped on the Pearly. And that's about it for the difference between the two species. It gets a person to wondering why Nature does this. It must be out of perverse pleasure to making humans nuts.

Beautiful Wood-Nymph - Hodges#9301 (Eudryas grata

Pearly Wood-Nymph - Hodges#9299 (Eudryas unio)

AND . . . the biggest news! 
Kathryn says she is doing bug photos again!


Tuesday, August 15, 2023

A Fly for Supper

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Jody found her ambush bug the other day and gave me permission to post her photos. These are special photos that are not simple insect portraits. So I made a slideshow of them. She only uses her iPhone for insect photos and I am always stunned at the quality of her work. Her iPhone videos are also awesome. She also never edits her shots!

Jagged ambush bugs are fairly plentiful this time of year. Every season we have an informal contest to see who can find the first one. They are very small (less than 1/2 inch long) and well camouflaged so it is a competition of our bug eyes. This is the first year that I have won, with my shot of the ambush bug hiding in yarrow that I posted for Wordless Wednesday:

The ambush bugs lie in ambush in flowers. Their huge front legs enable them to snatch an insect out of the air as it flies by, or to grab it as it walks or crawls by. The ambush bug has piercing and sucking mouth parts, so it injects a paralyzing agent through its beak and into the other insect. I can't find information on whether this paralyzing agent also anesthetizes the insect. Because after the prey is paralyzed, the ambush bug uses that beak to slurp up the insides of the insect prey. And that knowledge made it difficult for me to look at Jody's photos the first time. But like we tell each other, everything has to eat.  

Jody identifies as a gardener and she maintains the gardens not only at her home but at church and the library. We are all enriched by her insights with insects. I am especially enriched that her knowledge of botany enhances my knowledge of insect behaviors.

Another JAB I found on August 8

University of Minnesota: Small Wonders: Jagged Ambush Bugs
Missouri Department of Conservation: Ambush Bugs
Video: Bug of the Week: Ambush Bug Catches a Bee