Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bumblebee? Fly? and a Day-Glo Green caterpillar

I saw 2 interesting insects yesterday while I was teaching the homeschool students in my outdoor science outreach program. The first was an excellent example of mimicry. This Bee-like Robber Fly (Laphria spp.) looked so remarkably like a bumblebee I had to examine it very closely to make sure of its identity. The factor that finally clinched my identification were the small yellow halteres, the vestigial wings located behind the wings of all flies. Click on the photo, then note the yellow dot above the middle leg.
The second discovery was made by the students as we were walking down the gravel road. It was a spiky "Day-glo" green caterpillar that was quickly crawling across the road. I immediately recognized it as an Io Moth caterpillar (Automeris io). I told the students not to touch it, because it has venomous spines and it can sting if handled. The bright green color along with the white and red line are warning colors to potential predators.

The Io moth looks nothing like the caterpillar. It is yellow with light brown spots under normal conditions, but if threatened it will suddenly open its bottom wings to reveal the fake "eyespots" to repel predators such as birds.

Io Moth

Sunday, September 14, 2008

"Snooty" planthopper and a warrior ant

I enjoy looking for insects in my garden and I usually don't have to look for long! Yesterday afternoon I spotted two insects that looked like a green thorn. After doing some research I learned that they were Dictyopharid Planthoppers (Rhynchomitra lingula). They had a "snooty" look to them because they looked as though they had their "nose" in the air!

I also got a kick out of watching a Syrphid Fly larva eat an Oleander aphid on my milkweed. There were some large black ants on the leaves too. As I was focusing my lens on the larva, an ant suddenly rushed over and nipped her mandibles on the larva! Ants protect the aphids because they obtain honeydew (a sweet liquid secretion) from them as a food source. I wish the ant had been in focus better, everything happened so fast I hardly had time to even snap the shutter much less focus the lens!