Sunday, July 28, 2013

Butterfly Bush Update

All the usual suspects have returned to my butterfly bush so I guess it just took them a while to get the word out that it was in bloom.

Nearly every day there are at least 4 or 5 Snowberry Clearwing moths (Hemaris diffinis). As its name implies, part of its wing is clear (not covered with scales) as you can see from this photo.

It is a hawk moth and among the few moths that can hover like a hummingbird which is why it is so hard to actually get a photo of its wings because they are in constant motion.

Their coloring is slightly different from the Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe) which I just discovered also out on my butterfly bush (!!!)...

or the Hummingbird Hawk Moth (Macroglossum stellarum).

Source:  Wikipedia

At least the Snowberry Clearwing has a more unique name once you figure out which species it is. Why snowberry?  Because the larvae of this moth feeds on (among other plants) snowberry.

Source:  Wikipedia
Also have had visits from the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (yes, Lynne, I labelled ALL my photos Western Tiger Swallowtail!!)

This beautiful little dragonfly is also a frequent visitor.  He has a blue tail and green head.  (The dragonflies tend to prefer the dead flowers and not the newly opened ones.  Would love to know why.)

The steel blue cricket hunter wasp is back too.  It flies around the butterfly bush, but actually seems to prefer the hydrangea.  The photo is not totally in focus, but you can see where it gets its name as far as color.  It doesn't stay still very long either.

You can read more about it here.
A new little visitor is this gorgeous little beetle.

I saw a black swallowtail for the first time today, but was unable to get a photo.  So you will be forced to look at more butterfly bush photos at a later date!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Stunning Surprises

And speaking of camouflage (see previous post), here's another master of surprises, the Orange Oaklaf butterfly. Also known as the Deadleaf butterfly, it is found in India, Nepal and southeast Asia. It is an occupant of dense forest and attracted to tree sap and overripe fruit.  Looking like a dried leaf with its wings closed....

open wings reveal a gorgeous beauty.

May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun,
And find your shoulder to light on.
To bring you luck, happiness and riches
Today, tomorrow and beyond.

Friday, July 19, 2013

What's the Mata Mata??

In my post Captivating Camouflage I talk about various critters that mimic other living things.  Another master of camouflage is a freshwater turtle that can be found in Northern South American rivers, lakes and marshes, but especially in the Amazon river system. Its claim to fame is looking like dead leaves, a rock or a log and can be hard to distinguish from its surroundings.

Its ability to blend in to its environment makes it a successful predator, sometimes just waiting for fish to approach unaware that it is even there.  Its unusual head enables it to literally suck in its prey.  Small fish is its main diet, but aquatic worms are also on the menu.

It is also known to 'herd' fish into a confined area where they can't escape and chowing down.   Actually chowing down is a misnomer because due to the shape of its head, it can't chew.  It swallows everything whole.

This turtle's shell can grow up to 18 inches across and it can weigh over 30 pounds.  Not a lot is known about its life expectancy in the wild, but in captivity it has been known to live up to 35 years.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Big and Small of It

Some of the largest creatures in the ocean eat some of the smallest creatures in the ocean and many are filter feeders.  In other words, just open your mouth and 'filter' or strain what's edible out of the water. Many filter feeders eat plankton - small plants or animals that float with the currents. So if you ever see any critters in the ocean swimming around with their mouth open, they are most likely having dinner.  The largest species of manta ray is the Giant Oceanic Manta Ray which can grow to up to 25 feet across and weigh over 5,000 pounds. They are also called Chevron Manta Rays because of the 'chevron' pattern on their shoulders. Because it is a filter feeder, fish know they have nothing to fear from this huge ray and sometimes hitch a ride or stay close for protection from predators.

Baleen whales are also filter feeders, equipped with baleen plates made of keratin (the same substance that fingernails and hair are made of) that do the filtering.

Baleen plates

Humpback whales are filter feeders, along with the largest animal on the planet, the blue whale.

Blue whales can be up almost 100 feet long and weigh up to 180 metric tons.  Hunted almost to extinction by whalers, there still may be only 12,000 left, but they are making a comeback with protection.  And what does this giant eat?  Its diet is almost exclusively krill, a small shrimp-like crustacean not even an inch long.

Which means that a blue whale can eat up to 40 MILLION A DAY.  Obviously there are a heck of a lot more krill in the ocean than blue whales!  An interesting twist is that krill are mainly filter feeders too and eat microscopic phytoplankton which can't be seen individually but if existing in high numbers may show up as pools of green water because of their chlorophyll..

There are three types of sharks that you don't have to worry about doing damage with big sharp teeth. Whale sharks are also filter feeders, as are megamouth sharks and basking sharks.  Basking sharks are the second largest fish on the planet next to whale sharks.

With its enlarged mouth and highly developed gill rakers it gathers zooplankton, small fish and crustaceans. Reaching up to 30 feet long, it is an impressive sight.

As they say, you can't judge a book by its cover!

Monday, July 8, 2013

It's That Time Again

It's that time of year - for butterfly bush photos.  I pruned my butterfly bush late this year and it has just recently come into full bloom.  However, I still haven't seen that many butterflies yet.  Just a few along with a few bees.  Don't know if they just haven't found it yet or whether reports of declining populations of both bees (click here for more info) and butterflies (click here for more info) are also responsible.  There were a few visitors Saturday morning.  This silver-spotted skipper was sitting on a leaf on a rose bush when first saw it. 

After I took its picture it flew up into the air and then landed on the top of my camera.  I needed another camera to take its photo sitting on the top of the first camera!  But I had a very nice up-close and personal visit getting a really good look at it as it was only inches from my face before it took off and landed on the butterfly bush.  This one is actually in focus and in both photos you can definitely see where it got its name.

Also had this visitor I haven't really identified it yet. I didn't ever get a look at its interior wings but it definitely looks like it has some dark markings on its wing tips.

I got this picture on Sunday and I think they are both Cabbage Whites.

And my favorite big bumble.

On Sunday I also got a shot of another skipper type - unidentified.

While looking at butterfly photos, I was admiring pictures of small blue butterflies and what should show up also on Sunday, but this little guy which I think is an Eastern Tailed-Blue - a new species for me!  They are pretty common but I have never seen one before that I know of.  And it choose to sit on a Columbine leaf instead of partaking of the butterfly bush.

I have seen several little dragonflies but they prefer a more global view of things and are nearly always up too high to get a decent photo of them.  Hoping for more pictures of visitors to share in the coming months.  Hopefully you're not sick of seeing butterfly bush photos - I never am!!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Itsy Bitsy Spiders

The itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout.  Down came the rain and washed the spider out.  In this case though, the spider didn't get washed out from all the rain we've been having because instead of going up the water spout, it went into my mailbox.  And the spider wasn't so itsy bitsy.  At least not the original one.  But she built a nest, laid some eggs, and now I have lots of itsy bitsy spiders.