flower, bee, ants

Here’s another flower I came across when hunting for a rose to post on Friday This bright pink flower is another from my in-laws’ house, this time from out in the yard. More interesting to me than the flower, though, was the activity that was going on inside it: a shiny green bee and a bunch of tiny ants were hanging out, collecting pollen, or nectar, or whatever goodies the flower had to offer. (Maybe it was really free beer and pizza. I’m not a botanist, though, so I can’t be sure.)

Fairy impersonator? (friday foto finder: insect)

When I was a sophomore in high school in California, I had a truly excellent biology teacher. The assignments were creative and varied, and the lessons I learned stuck with me long after the class ended. One of the major units we covered in that class was about the insect world. We learned about all of the orders of insects. A major assignment was to collect, identify and classify insects from as many of the orders as we could. For some orders, it was ridiculously easy to find specimens. Hymenoptera (which includes ants, bees & wasps), diptera (including mosquitos and houseflies), coleoptera (beetles), lepidoptera (moths & butterflies) were a dime a dozen, with multiple species of each of those orders crossing our paths regularly. Others required a bit more persistence, hunting through the grass and under rocks, or stalking the porch light at night.

My best friend and I participated in the project with the same competitive/collaborative spirit that drove our academic success, collecting and comparing our insects with interest and enthusiasm. She, who felt revulsion for earwigs, collected her dermaptera specimen with triumph. I, with my aversion to moths, likewise felt satisfaction in including a feathery-antennaed hymenoptera specimen in my own collection. I don’t remember how many orders we each managed to represent in total, but I want to say that it was somewhere around 17 or 18. (I seem to recall that my friend managed to find one that I hadn’t, a fact which she playfully lorded over me.)

That project forever changed how I look at insects.

Living in the woods in rural Massachusetts, we sometimes get wildlife in our yard and around our house. Sometimes, the wildlife makes its way into the house. Once such bit of wildlife was this character, which turned up in our kitchen one June evening in 2010. It had a long segmented body, perhaps 2 and half inches long, and large lacy wings. I was, naturally, fascinated.


John and I captured it in a plastic tub with the aim of releasing it. I took a few pictures of it, but sadly, they are blurry in the poor lighting conditions. Also contributing to the blur was the fact that the insect was moving constantly, and I found it hard to get my eyes to focus on it, let alone my camera. The long body and the dramatic wings had an ethereal look to them, and I wondered if sighting of such creatures in the wild, fluttering about in people’s peripheral vision, may have contributed to belief in fairies. (Compare this little guy to the mummified fairy remains highlighted on Raincoaster. If you want to study interesting specimens of humanity, some of whom claim belief in fairies, you might have a look at the comments of that post. 2220 comments to date, many of them very entertaining.)

I’m bigger than your little finger.

Having ruled out that we had captured a fairy, I did wonder what exactly we had caught.

I wondered if it might be a large mayfly, (order ephemeroptera, among the more poetically named orders, reflecting the ephemeral nature of their adults’ lives). However, I think it is too large to be one. Additionally, it is missing the long cerci that mayflies have.

Most likely, it is a kind of fishfly, of the order megaloptera. (Apparently the designation of megaloptera as a separate order from neuroptera is relatively recent–I don’t know when this separation happened, though. It may not have been among the orders I learned about in high school.) Megaloptera, as you might guess from the mega prefix, are known to be large. (They are named for their large wings.)

Can I go now, please?

This week’s friday foto finder challenge was to find photos of insect(s). Unlike urban-dwelling az, who resorted to posting other invertebrates, I have quite a few photos of insects in my archives. (Ah, the perks of rural life.) I even have several posts on different insects. I have two ThThTh lists of moth things and butterfly things (order lepidoptera), plus some posts of my own photos of butterflies (again, lepidoptera) and fireflies (order coleoptera). I’m particularly fond of this one, eat or be eaten, which documents the unlucky encounter of a spider (an arachnid, and not an insect) with a damselfly (order odonata).

fff 200x60To see what other specimens have been caught for this week’s assignment, buzz, flit or crawl over to the friday foto finder blog.

3 butterflies

Here are 3 butterflies I’ve encountered in the last 3 years.¹

Butterfly in the butterfly garden at the Boston Museum of Science, Boston, MA. June, 2010.

Butterfly on a window, in The Butterfly Pavilion outside Denver, CO. April, 2011.

In the wild on the grounds of the De Cordova Museum, Lincoln, MA. August, 2012.

¹ I don’t come across butterflies in the wild nearly as often as YTSL of Webs of Significance, whose photos of her hikes around Hong Kong regularly include butterflies (among her other critter sightings).²
² I looked back at my photos from the hike we had together when I visited Hong Kong in August of 2011, but it would seem that I found no butterflies that day!

leaping lepidoptera!

Here we are, moving from Spring towards Summer up here in the Northern Hemisphere. The days are getting longer, the trees are getting leafier, and the bugs are coming out in force. Excitingly for many small people, this includes large numbers of caterpillars. Around here, we get lots of Eastern tent caterpillars, fairly big brown hairy things with patterns of black stripes and blue dots. It is not uncommon to hear a gleeful cry of “I found a cater-pidder!” from Ms. Phoebe.

This army of furry future moths¹ has inspired this week’s moth ThThTh list.²

  1. Arthur: The Tick‘s sidekick. Wears a white moth suit in the comics, cartoon and live action TV show.
  2. Gypsy Moth, a moth character from A Bug’s Life voiced by Madeline Kahn
  3. Luna Moth, a fictional comic book character from The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon. That is to say, the fictional characters in the novel created a comic book character named Luna Moth, a mothy superhero. (I just saw that there is going to be a movie based on the book. It was a really good book by the way. You should read it.)
  4. The giant luna moth from Dr. Dolittle. Carries Dr. Dolittle back to England at the end of the movie. (I’m not sure if the moth is in any of the books.)
  5. Mothra/Mosura: a (fictional) giant moth monster. Fought with Godzilla in a few movies, like Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) and Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992)
  6. Silence of the Lambs (1991). The serial killer in the movie raises imported Death’s-head hawk moths, which are noteworthy for the skull-like pattern that appears on their back. The moths shown in the movie were apparently actually another type of moth, in costume.
  7. silk A fabric. The fibers come from silk worms, which are actually caterpillars of a moth that is now completely domesticated. The cocoons are boiled to unravel the long, continuous strand of silk produced by the catepillar. The boiling must happen before the moth emerges, as the moth would otherwise make a hole, making the fibers too short.
  8. Boiled silkworms are eaten in some places in the world. In Korea, it’s called beondegi
  9. The Moth, an episode of Lost.⁴
  10. The Moth, by Aimee Mann. A song:
  11. Bedtime for Frances, by Russell Hoban and illustrated by Garth Williams. A picturebook about a little badger who has trouble going to sleep, and imagines all sorts of possible dangers and adventures. It ends with her deciding that a moth going “bump and thump” against her bedroom window is not a real threat, so she goes to sleep.

¹ Can I mention that I have a bit of a moth phobia? Maybe I’ll share it later.

² I was going to include butterflies, too, but the list was getting out of hand, and I do need to get some work done tonight. Also sleep. So perhaps butterflies will flutter back this way next week or so.

³ A friend of mine from college was somewhat scarred by having tried them as a child when visiting Korea. There was a certain kind of carob-flavored soymilk I got which she couldn’t stomach, as the flavor reminded her of beondegi.

⁴ I’ve never actually seen Lost…