Monday, September 14, 2009

Insects at Willowwood

On Labor Day I was at Willowwood Arboretum early in the morning. Lots of birds were active, especially goldfinches, phoebes, and bluebirds. However, I ended up taking more notice of insects (as has happened often this summer). I have already posted a few photos of moths from that walk. Now here are some from other orders.

Being that it was rather early, the insects took some time to start moving. The bumblebees above were clinging motionlessly to goldenrod stems. I think they must sleep (or fall into torpor) that way over night and wait for the sun to warm them up in the morning. Once the bees warmed up, they started nectaring at many flower species.

Bumblebees were not the only insects interested in goldenrod. Above are two beetles on a goldenrod plant. The orange and black beetle near the top is a Pennsylvania Leatherwing (Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus), a beetle I have written about before. The completely black beetle on the bottom left is a Black Blister Beetle (Epicauta pennsylvanica), also a member of a family I have written about before. Both species are common on goldenrod in the fall.

Locust Borers (Megacyllene robiniae), like the one above, are another common autumn denizen of goldenrod plants. This beetle's striking plumage caught my eye. It reminds me of the Razzle Dazzle camouflage used by many ships during World War I (and to some extent in World War II). The idea of the camouflage pattern was to prevent submarine crews from identifying the outline of a ship accurately and thus evade torpedo attacks. I imagine the pattern on this beetle could serve a similar purpose, but I am not certain about that.

As Seabrooke mentioned a few weeks ago, late summer is grasshopper season. Grasshoppers were very active all around Willowwood's meadows. I found this pair mating, and unlike other grasshoppers, they stayed in place long enough for a photograph. They seem to be Red-legged Grasshoppers (Melanoplus femurrubrum), members of a genus noteworthy for the black chevrons that adorn its thighs.However, several members of the Melanoplus genus look very similar, so it could be something else.

I was surprised to find the remains of a cicada in the middle of a path. Usually I either find the exuviae of cicada nymphs or hear the varied buzzing of cicada songs. This may be a Swamp Cicada (Tibicen chloromera), a common insect in New Jersey, especially around swamps and upland meadows, but it is hard to be certain without the insect's head. Along with the head, most of this cicada's insides have been eaten away. This suggests the work of a Cicada Killer wasp (Sphecius sp.), wasps that suck out the insides of cicadas, or, worse yet, plants their eggs on living but paralyzed cicadas, so that their larvae can eat the cicadas alive.

On a happier note, I finally got a shot of a Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos). I had tried to photograph members of this species on numerous previous occasions, but each time the butterflies were too fast for me. Just as I would get into position to take a good photograph, they would fly away. This individual, though, sat still long enough for me to reel off a dozen or so shots. As you can see, its wings are very worn and have some pieces torn out, probably from narrow escapes. As Birdchick said in a prior post, one has to have a certain respect for butterflies that can survive multiple attacks from birds and other predators.

More insect photos from Willowwood Arboretum are available on my Flickr account.