Category Archives: Insects, Spiders and other Invertebrates

Quote of the Week #80

FLYAWAY-2085I haven’t met many people who don’t enjoy butterflies. After all, what’s not to like? They are beautifully colored, fly gracefully, don’t kill things, have amazing life cycles and just generally bring a smile to your soul when you see one.

They start out as a tiny egg, hatch out, then eat, eat, eat, molt several times, make a chrysalis, and then, some days later, transform into a lovely butterfly–a sure symbol of something we all can use–HOPE.

So, this week’s quote:

Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, she became a butterfly.

If you live locally to western North Carolina, please come out and join me THIS TUEDAY (April 18th) night at 7:30 for my first program –about butterflies and moths–with my new Meetup group, called Share Nature More. To learn more, or to sign up, click here.

If you don’t live locally I’m sorry I will miss you! You can click these links to see some amazing butterfly transformations (these will knock your socks off! )-a monarch here or a red-spotted purple here, or the emergence of a variegated fritillary here. Or if you want, check out 10 things you might not know about butterflies.

Quote of the Week #75

puz-7400Remember that beautiful chrysalis I featured as a puzzler recently? And that I said I hoped I would get to see it emerge? Well guess what?

When I woke up on Saturday and looked at this chrysalis, it was notably different, appearing darker with obvious orange wings visible through the thin layer. Having never watched this kind of butterfly emerge before ( I have only seen a monarch and a red-spotted purple emerge as a butterfly) I wasn’t sure what the timing might be so I set up my camera and tripod a foot away and settled in to watch. It was 8:30.

The chrysalis at 8:30am

The chrysalis at 8:30am

All morning I sat close by, watching and photographing the changes–which were so subtle that I would miss them if I didn’t look frequently and carefully. There was a general loosening at the top, more air spaces within the chrysalis and a flattening of the pointy projections on the outside of the chrysalis. I could see the butterfly was slowly moving downward.

The chrysalis at 11:30

The chrysalis at 11:30

There were several false alarms–“I think it’s about to go!” I shouted exuberantly more than once. My husband sat with me in the beginning, enjoying a cup of coffee as we watched. We stared at the tiny chrysalis before us, looking and looking to see if anything was happening. I was hopeful. He was patient.  An hour went by. Then two. After several hours of “I think it’s going!” he eventually moved off to do other things, leaving me to sit alone. (No need for both of us to just sit there and watch it doing nothing!)

At just before noon I saw the bottom “hinge” opening and shouted for him to come join me. Together we watched as the tiny butterfly struggled from its chrysalis. Wow, this is an incredible thing to witness!

You can see it here!

And so, this week’s quote,


What miracles have you witnessed lately?

If you want to watch a Monarch caterpillar making its chrysalis, you can watch that here.

Weekly Puzzler Answer #130

Okay, so yes I am guilty of making that last puzzler WAY TOO HARD. I see that now. It was close to impossible! Sorry!

puz-7400Perhaps you were able to determine it was a CHRYSALIS, but had no idea from what butterfly. I didn’t know either and had to look it up when I found it. The problem is that I have amazing reference books since this is what I do for a living and many of you might lack these books.

Do you know the difference between a chrysalis and a cocoon? Many people use the two terms interchangeably, but this is not correct. The two are very different.

Both butterflies and moths produce silk but they use it differently. One way a butterfly uses its silk is to attach its PUPA to a hard structure. A PUPA is the resting stage of insects, such as butterflies and moths, that undergo complete metamorphosis. (The other kind of metamorphosis is gradual or incomplete. In this kind there are 3 stages rather than 4: egg, nymph/larva,adult.Bugs and beetles are two insects that go through incomplete metamorphosis)

A CHRYSALIS is strictly used for a BUTTERFLY pupa.

A chrysalis is the hard skin of a butterfly’s body beneath its last molting and it can be many different colors, textures,shapes and sizes. If you want, you can watch a chrysalis being made here–this is AMAZING!

A COCOON on the other hand is a silken case that a moth caterpillar (or other insect) spins around it (for protection) before it enters the pupal stage.

So the chrysalis from last week’s puzzler? Well to be honest, I am not 100% certain! At first I was sure it was from a butterfly called a Baltimore Checkerspot but in all my time outside, and especially lately in the same field everyday, I have never seen this butterfly. What I have seen are lots of Variegated Fritillaries, including their

A variegated fritillary caterpillar.

A variegated fritillary caterpillar.

caterpillars–which are just as beautiful as the butterfly and chrysalis. These chrysalises are very similar, both surely at the top of the list of most beautiful chrysalises of all butterflies. So having seen so many Variegated Fritillaries in the field, I am pretty sure that’s what it is.

I brought this metallic chrysalis home and am keeping an eye on it, hoping I will notice some change and then get to witness its emergence. That would be AMAZING!! However, not knowing when it was made puts me at a disadvantage. Most butterflies stay in their chrysalis 10-14 days. So of course this one could be right at the beginning of that, in the middle, or nearing the end. I can only look at it regularly and try to be home often to check on it.

A variegated fritillary

A variegated fritillary

If I witness its emergence, you can be sure I will share my photos with you! Cross your fingers for me! Last year I watched some other butterflies emerging from their chrysalises–You can check them out too– a red-spotted purple butterfly emerging from its chrysalis or a monarch emerging from its lovely green chrysalis. If you’ve never gotten to see this–it’s worth a look, as it’s a real miracle of nature…absolutely amazing!

Did you know that all the pictures featured in my blog posts were taken by ME? I spend a great deal of time out in the field and forest and other wild places photographing all kinds of plants and animals so I can share it with you here on my blog or elsewhere in programs that I teach. ( I am teaching a class about bats in November if you are interested!)

Want to check out the next puzzler? It’s about a red-crested bird. I guarantee it is easier than this last one! Don’t forget to add your guess in the comment box below for your chance to be qualified in the next drawing. It only takes a minute!

Have a great weekend! See you again soon!

Weekly Puzzler Answer #120

What are these small globs?

What are these small globs?

Did you have any idea what these tiny globs were on the damselfly’s body from last week’s puzzler?

When I first started noticing them I thought they were eggs that had somehow gotten stuck on the female’s body rather than left behind in the water. But after a little investigating, I learned that they are actually water mites–a tiny critter that rides around on the larger insect, feeding on the damselfly’s body fluid before falling off and going about its life.

Have I mentioned how many odd and awesome animals there are in the world?

There are 1500 species of Hydrachnida–water mites, in North America and over 5000 in the world. Many of these remain fairly unknown to scientists. Water mites are TINY, most only 2-3mm long! Most go unnoticed.

There are mites that live in the water, soil, in birds’  nests, in animals’ homes, on plants and animals–more than 50,000 different kinds! Many mites are specialists–that is they have one animal they parasitize– be it honey bees, dogs, cats, water boatman, damselflies or dragonflies, etc. There is a mite that lives in the tropics that is among the STRONGEST animal on earth, able to lift 1,182 times its weight! And you’ve probably heard of dust mites? Well these are just another kind of mite–these feed on the dead skin and hair shed by humans… yes, I know–gross!

…So back to the water mites.

They go through 4 stages–egg,larva,nymph and adult. In the immature stages they have only 6 legs but as adults they have 8. (Same is true for ticks, which are related to mites) Most are brightly colored to warn fish and other animals of their terrible taste. Check out the red mites on this dragonfly below.

Here are some water mites on a dragonfly--look closely under the wings.

Here are some water mites on a dragonfly–look closely under the wings.

Do the water mites harm the insect hosts? Usually not though if there are enough of them, they could make it hard for the insect to fly or may get in the way of reproduction. Mostly they just feed on the body fluids, ride around some and then drop off to become adults. Sound like fun? I can’t imagine how they know when to drop off–but if it’s over water, imagine the ride!

Check out the next puzzler.

What do you Know about Spiders? Test Your Spider IQ

spider-9275Are you one of the many people afraid of spiders? Do you cringe when you see one or run the other way? Have nightmares about them?… or, do you LIKE spiders?

In the two weeks that my nieces and nephew were here this summer, we spent a lot of time outside. I learned early on that both girls were afraid of spiders and so I did my best in my short time with them to teach them about spiders, though I have to say that even at their young ages–9 and 13, a lot of “knowledge” has already been accumulated and it was difficult to convince them that I was right and what they knew was wrong.

If their Mom or Dad said so, then surely it HAD to be true. Same of their teachers at school. 

As their Aunt–and one who lives far away– I fall low on the list of people to believe. How could what I say be different from what they have already learned! How could these trusted adults in their lives be wrong!?

People LEARN to be afraid of spiders

People LEARN to be afraid of spiders

People aren’t born afraid of things, they learn to be afraid–from other people, from TV shows, movies, videos etc. I am sure a huge part of fear comes from watching how others react. If your parents are afraid of spiders, snakes, bats and other animals, so too in most cases will be the kids. As a child I too was afraid of these things, mostly from watching how my Mom reacted to them–to say she was terrified of snakes, and likely spiders too, is not an exaggeration.

Luckily I have changed since then and no longer fear these fascinating animals. I am proof people can change! (Read more about overcoming a fear of spiders)

When asked to elaborate on what I do or what my mission is, I often say I am a Nature Photographer, Naturalist, Writer, Teacher, Lover of all things wild, and unofficial Spokeswoman for bats, spiders, snakes, and other creatures Hollywood has convinced us to fear. There are SO MANY myths out there surrounding some of our common animals. And it really is too bad because the results are needless fear and persecution.

sc2-4385And so, in thinking about this, I decided it would be fun to do a short quiz on spiders, just to see if what you know is fact or fiction. Years ago I did a post on this but I realize that many of you are new subscribers and likely did not read that post. So here it is! Click on each one to see the correct answer.

True or False:

  1. All spiders are poisonous.
  2. Spiders are hard to identify and to figure out the species, a microscope is required.
  3. Spiders don’t eat their prey, they “suck” the juices from it.
  4. Spiders are insects.
  5. All spiders make silken webs to catch their prey.
  6. Spider bites are uncommon.
  7. Tarantulas are not the deadly creatures Hollywood makes them out to be.
  8. Black widow females always kill and eat their mates.
  9. Brown recluses are common throughout the United States and are easily identifiable by the violin on their carapace.
  10. Medical professionals can easily identify spider bites by twin punctures and from the symptoms described by their patient.

How did you do?

If you are in a hurry and don’t have time to read all of the answers, but want to know how you did, Click HERE for the quick version with NO explanation of the answers.

Weekly Puzzler Answer #119


A female dobsenfly

Have you seen this insect from last week’s puzzler? Are you a fisherman?

If so, you may be more familiar with the nymphs of these giant insects than the adults. Known as hellgrammites, they, like the adults, can get to be quite big and are pretty intimidating-looking when you find them. As larvae they hide under rocks in unpolluted streams or rivers, searching out soft-bodied invertebrates that they can feed on. They go through 10-12 molts before transforming into winged adults. Depending on the species, they may live in the water for 1-3 years. They are prized bait for many fisherman… though caution is advised since they can deliver a wicked bite with their strong jaws.

Nymphs of dobsenflies are known as hellgrammites

Nymphs of dobsonflies are known as hellgrammites

Hellgrammite adults are called DOBSONFLIES. When it is time to pupate, they leave the water and find a suitable spot under a rock, log or other protective structure. There they spend 1-14 days in the soil before shedding their exoskeleton to become a pupa. They will remain in this stage for 7-14 days. Interestingly the emergence of adult dobsonflies in a given area is synchronous –and often  comes immediately after a thunderstorm. This is sometimes called “hellgrammite crawling” It is thought that the vibrations stimulate the emergence.

A hellgrammite in the stream with two dusky salamanders (these are tiny!)

A hellgrammite in the stream with two dusky salamanders (these are tiny!)

As winged adults, they are often attracted to lights at night. As adults they live only a few days, males shorter than females. Males live only 3 days while females might live as many as 10. In this short time, they do not eat, but simply seek mates. Females lay their eggs on the surfaces over water–such as tree leaves or bridges. When the eggs hatch the nymphs fall to the water and start the first stage of their lives.

Check out the photos below– the male is on the left. Look at those jaws! Yikes! They can inspire fear in even the strongest nature-lover!– but they do not use these to bite people, they use them to hold onto their mates and when jousting with rival males. In fact, you are safe to hold a male dobsonfly as they cannot bite! Females on the other hand can inflict a painful bite if handled incorrectly or if the female feels threatened. Maybe best just to leave them alone if you see them!


Photograph by Lyle J. Buss, University of Florida.

Click HERE to check out the next puzzler!

Weekly Puzzler #120: Damselfly Hitchhikers

One fact that summer means for me is I spend a lot more time outside; I suspect this is true of many people. Woo hoo, isn’t it great! What’s not to love about summer?

A favorite pastime of mine is wandering around a meadow or field, especially beside a pond or stream to see what interesting animals I might encounter. I love the anticipation of this, never knowing what the day might bring, only that if I look closely enough, I will find SOMETHING worth photographing.

Look closely at the abdomen of this damselfly...

Look closely at the abdomen of this damselfly…

A common photographic subject for me is dragonflies and their smaller cousins, damselflies. You may recall I featured them in a puzzler recently and then did a follow-up on 10 Things You May Know Know about Damselflies. Well recently when I was looking a some images at home later on my big screen, I noticed some tiny, round globs on the abdomen, and sometimes the thorax, of several of the damselflies. Were these eggs from the females? Eggs from someone else? Hitchhikers of some kind? What ARE these tiny globs?

What are these small globs?

What are these small globs?

Look closely--see the tiny red globs?

Look closely–see the tiny red globs? Three on the abdomen and at least one on the thorax (where the legs are connected)

It was a fun question to research! And now that I know the answer, I thought it would be fun to feature it as a puzzler. Do YOU know what these tiny “balls” are? If you want to guess, use the comment box below! I hope to hear from you soon. If your guess is correct your name will be entered in the next drawing; Good luck!

Happy weekend!