Happily Eating My Words

Yellow-collared scape moth sharing sneezeweed with a common eastern bumblebee, Kim’s garden, October 10, 2021

During a phone conversation a couple days ago, a friend asked me if I would take him out looking for insects sometime, as he’d noticed that I do that for other people from time to time. I’m always thrilled when someone asks me to do that, and I happily agreed to go bugging with him. But I told him we’re at the end of the insect season and we wouldn’t likely find much still out there this year. I knew I could find some insects, but since most of the flowers are finished blooming, I’ve pretty much called it a year and haven’t been out much in the past week.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

After we were done talking, I decided to go out to one of my favorite nature preserves to see what I could turn up. It was a gorgeous day with temps in the mid 70s and intermittent cloud cover. As soon as I got out of the car and entered the grass path, I was reminded that it was the peak of grasshopper season. My every step caused a half dozen of them to leap away in front of me. It was as if someone had turned on a grasshopper popcorn machine — pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! I confess to not being too enthusiastic about this particular family of insects thus far, but not because they’re not interesting. I love their crazy armored body structure, for one thing, but I haven’t taken the time to study them well enough to be able to identify them with any certainty. And the fact that there were so many of them jumping around had a kind of sense-dulling effect, making me want to tune them out.

This grasshopper landed on my front window, allowing me this unusual perspective

It’s sort of the same way I feel about birding during spring migration, when I’m out looking for warblers and other cool migratory species, but the woods are full of raucous red-winged blackbirds and grackles. It’s not that those birds aren’t interesting, just that their noise is so distracting that it’s hard to focus on finding other smaller and quieter birds. Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel about the grasshoppers, except instead of noise they just distract me by popping up left and right around me as I walk.

Face view of a narrow-headed marsh fly (Helophilus fasciatus) Click to see her bigger!

So I continued on, trying to see what else was there besides the hoppers. One of the most numerous species was the narrow-headed marsh fly (Helophilus fasciatus). These are some of our largest hover flies, and I find them to be plentiful in April and May, then again in September and October. Checking data on iNaturalist, I see that about 15% of the Ohio observations by other people were in the three months of summer, so they’re around in smaller numbers apparently. Most of our other hover flies are miniscule compared to these bee-size flies. As you can see, their colors and patterns make them bee mimics, which is believed to give them some protection from predators who might not want to risk a sting from these secretly-stingless pollinators.

Narrow-headed marsh fly posing for me!

I believe this one to be a female because of the space between the eyes, but I’m not positive. Anyway, she landed on a cottonwood sapling looking up at me (first pic above) and I snapped a couple quick shots, thinking that was all I would get. Then she flew to a bare stem and gave me a clear full-body shot. That almost never happens.

I found a few butterflies too, mostly sulphurs but also a copper and a duskywing. This mating pair of orange sulphurs were minding their own business when a second male crashed their party. His attempts to break them up were unsuccessful, and they flew to another spot to finish what they’d started.

Mating pair of orange sulphurs (Colias eurytheme)
A second male uses physical force to try to get in on their party

By this point I’d decided to get back to the pond to look for late season dragon and damselflies before I got tired. This was my first day out of the house after two days in bed. I’d gotten my Covid booster shot and had extreme fatigue from that, and at the same time I got a sinus migraine from a weather system that was moving through. The double whammy knocked me down good, and I was so happy to be outside, but still sort of tired.

When I got back to the pond, I found that the marshy area around it had enlarged after the recent rain. I normally just walk around the perimeter of this pond, but this time I decided to walk out in the shallow water to see if I could have more luck away from the edges. It felt so nice and cool on my feet through the water sandals! And I did find some interesting odes — a tiny citrine forktail glowing in the sun, some familiar bluets, one of which was caught in a spider web and being eaten by the spider as I took photos.

I was thrilled to find some blue-faced meadowhawks in a mating wheel, and they allowed me to watch long enough to get a few photos of their beautiful faces.

Blue-faced meadowhawks (Sympetrum ambiguum), male on top

If you enlarge this photo you can see the sperm transfer happening where the female’s abdomen connects to the male’s. And take a look at her lovely face and how her legs are grasping his red abdomen for stability. Dragonfly mating is fascinating, and I never tire of watching it.

There were four green darners hunting back and forth across the pond but I didn’t have the patience to try and shoot them on this day. I settled for the easier autumn meadowhawks and spotted spreadwings.

Autumn meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicunum)
Spotted spreadwing (Lestes congener)

After I’d been out there for about 90 minutes, the mosquitoes suddenly discovered me and I hustled back to the car cursing them under my breath. I’d sprayed my legs against ticks, but didn’t expect the mosquitoes to still be biting and hadn’t sprayed my upper body. Big mistake!

Today’s post is a public mea culpa to my friend Barry — I was wrong, the bugs are still there! But whether we go this month or wait until next spring, I look forward to a day in nature sharing the joy of insects with a fellow naturalist. 🙂

Familiar bluet, watching me watching him (Enallagma civile)

12 thoughts on “Happily Eating My Words”

  1. I hope you are feeling better! What awesome photos — WOW! The dragonflies are hanging out here in Illinois later than usual, it seems, and damsels too! 2021 was another strange year for the books. Thanks for always inspiring us, Kim!

    1. Thanks, Cindy! Yes, much better. Today I saw several green darners as well as quite a few butterflies. And got lots more mosquito bites. I guess we’ve got to accept the bad with the good! 🙂

  2. Grasshopper popcorn machine – snort laughing! As always, marvelous photography. All were great, but I liked having the chance to see the blue-faced meadowhawks in their mating wheel.

    1. Oh Ginny, I’m so glad somebody liked that! I was quite pleased when the imagery and words popped into my mind. 😉 Thanks for taking time to comment, my friend.

  3. Kim-

    I’m still running into odes down here and I plan to watch this winter to see if they ever go away- I never realy noticed much since it seems that bugs and plants are constantly in a state of summer and spring here. Thanks for reminding me to keep my eyes open!!

    daryl

    1. Daryl, I’m thrilled that I’ve got you paying attention to them now! I just checked iNaturalist for Broward County odes from November to February, and it shows 36 species. You should definitely see them on your bike rides all winter long. I’ll look forward to your reports. 🙂

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