The other day I went out into my yard to look for any interesting insects I could find so I could practice my macro photography techniques. I was focused primarily on my big elm tree and the lawn beneath it, and was reminded of the time several years ago when I wrote about my experiment with “one-tree birding.” This time I wasn’t birding, but wanted to see how many critters I could find living on or near my elm tree.
It didn’t take long for the fun to begin. First there were a couple of dead leaves with empty insect egg cases on them. I wish I knew which type of insects hatched from these, because there were a lot of them.
Most of the branches of the elm tree are too high for me to inspect, but at one point I saw a ladybug crawling on a leaf several feet above my head. I couldn’t photograph that one, but a few minutes later I found this larval form of a ladybug and decided that he looked like a minuscule black and orange alligator.
I was paying close attention to every little spot on each leaf, hoping that some of them might turn out to be insects — and some of them did. To my naked eye, this one looked like a gray dot no bigger than the fine point on a pencil. But when I enlarged the photo, I could see that it was the larva of some kind of insect. I can see eyes and wings, but not enough to even guess the type of creature it will become. And by the way, how often do you get a view of the cells in a leaf? That illustrates just how much this photo is cropped.
As I was taking pics of that teeny tiny critter, something dropped onto the back of my neck from above. It turned out to be this beautiful harvestman, also known as a daddy longlegs. Many people consider these to be spiders, but they aren’t. They’re arachnids, to be sure, but not spiders.
And I learned something very interesting as I read about this species. Their second pair of legs is extra long, and is specialized for smelling and touching things as they search for food. A daddy longlegs can survive the loss of one (or more) of its regular legs, but if it loses those two specialized legs, it’s doomed because it can’t feed.
All the while I was creeping around in the grass, dozens of these teeny tiny leafhoppers were leaping all around me. They move fast and are about the size of a small splinter you might pull from your finger, so I’m amazed I even got a halfway decent photo of this one.
And…drum roll please…I’ve saved the best discovery for last. Until about a week ago I had never heard of a Handsome Trig, aka Red-headed Bush Cricket (Phyllopalpus pulchellus). When one was pointed out to me on a recent outing at a nature preserve, I was able to get the photo you see below.
But when I got home I regretted that I hadn’t tried to take video of the little female, because she has the most adorable little black “paddles” on the front of her face, which she waves up and down as she walks along in her search for a meal.
Well, much to my surprise, I found another one in my own yard! And I took video this time so I could share the action of the magic dancing paddles with you. I didn’t have time to get my tripod, so it’s a little bit shaky, but I think it’s still worth watching. The first ten seconds are the best part, and then she runs under the leaves and disappears back into her little world. Enjoy!
It’s amazing how much life you can find in a small area when you pay attention, isn’t it? And each new discovery is an opportunity to understand one more piece of the intricate web of life — I just love that!
[…] all enjoy these occasional “micro nature study” posts. The first one I did was “30 Minutes Under an Elm Tree,” and then there was the recent post where I reported on the insect life I observed as I sat […]
[…] on a single plant. I’ve written about this a couple times before — the most recent was Thirty Minutes Under an Elm Tree. Last week was my secret staycation, and I spent it with limited contact with other people, focusing […]
[…] the coming months, if I just pay attention. If nothing else, I should be able to find some spiders (arachnids, remember?) right inside my own house, as long as I get to them before the roving gangs of felines find them. […]
Lots of cool insects right in your yard!
Great bug photos, Kim, especially the red-headed bush cricket.
Thanks, Gail! That cricket is really fun to watch. 🙂
Love the video Kim how wonderful, we don’t have to go very far to be amazed by the gifts nature gives us everyday. Funny in Australia a Daddy Long Legs is a spider and one of my favourite spiders, I have a fear/respect of big hairy spiders but the Daddy Long Legs is sweet and unthreatening.
How interesting, Kath! This illustrates something I’ve only learned recently — about how confusing it can be to refer to animals (and plants) by their common names instead of their Latin names. If only the Latin names were easier to remember, LOL.
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I appreciate the time you take to discover various species and habits. I often see insects and oddities in nature that I just don’t have time to research. Just like with the birds, I have learned a lot from you over the years… helping me with visual’s and a little information. I love learning about this place we share with millions of life forms. Thank you, Kim, for continually teaching and informing all of us! 🙂
Thanks for saying that, Lori! I get such a thrill out of sharing my discoveries with everyone here. 🙂