Monday, August 10, 2009

Unusual Shots - Pretending to be Poisonous

I stepped over (literally, camouflage can be quite effective) this Bull Snake (Pituophis catenifer sayi) a subspecies of the Gopher Snake on a trail at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. In the few minutes I had to observe and photograph this specimen, and not being familiar with venomous species in that area, I made the inference that this was a pit viper. While it may be best practice in exotic terrain to assume that all snakes a venomous until confirmed otherwise, I was abnormally fooled by this individual. I found out only later this snake has the ability to flatten its head giving is the distinct appearance common to all pit vipers. Had I not assumed this reptile was poisonous, I might have tried a little harder to locate it after it slid beneath a shrub.

The effectiveness of this adaptation is quite clear. I'm sure it (the adaptation, not this particular individual) has fooled many a potential predator. If it had not, it would not have evolved through natural selection. For me though, it raises a question. As human to snake interaction increases with loss of habitat and other factors, will this unusual ability begin to be selected against. I was recently and proudly told by a family member, "If it has a neck, I kill it." She was referring, of course, to the head shape typical of pit vipers. It seems in this case that the adaptation in question might become an evolutionary disadvantage when the humans are involved.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Unusual Shots - Ants with Cicada Wing

On a survey visit to Occoneechee State Park in Virginia, I discovered these ants working together to lift this cicada wing up the side of a tree. It is always exciting to capture images that demonstrate a behavior or behaviors unique to a family of organisms. Most of us have heard of the ability of ants to carry an estimated 10 to 50 times their body weight. Additionally, these photographs provide a limited, but still effective example of the social aspect, the tendency to work together, of these fascinating insects.

I took what turned out to be a series of images that illustrate how the ants worked together, often having to turn, flip, or otherwise adjust the wing in order to raise it to their destination. Two or three times, while I watched, one ant would hold the weight of wing on its own while the other let go and found better purchase. I also witnessed other ants, presumably of the social group, that passed the pair going up or down the tree but all left just these two to their task.

From a photographer's point of view, I try to use my longer lens to capture such behaviors. While I would probably have gotten finer images using a lens with a shorter focal length, I do not want influence the action by getting to close. I want to be an observer of, and not a variable in, the behavior.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Unusual Shots - Gulf Fritillary

I apologize for not blogging for a few weeks. I am working to get the images from my latest trip up on the site and make some major changes to EduPic at the same time.

As I've been stuck at home and not in the field, I've decided to post some recent images that for one reason or another I'm calling "Unusual Shots." Like this image of the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) these are not the usual fare. They may not be the most attractive. They may not show the subject in the greatest detail. What they might do, is demonstrate some aspect of behavior, highlight some unique feature of the subject, show the subject from an unfamiliar angle, or demonstrate some informative interaction between the subject and its environment.

In this case, it is the point of view. I have many images of adult butterflies with their wings open from the dorsal view, or of the ventral side with wings folded, but no images of the ventral with wings spread. In fact, I don't recall seeing any images of live specimens in such a "pose." I claim no particular skill in capturing such images, and I don't normally seek out or with forethought compose such a shot. Instead, I attribute my luck to the numerous hours I spend in the field thereby greatly increasing the chances of stumbling upon like displays.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

American Alligator - Brazos Bend State Park

If I were to make a list of my favorite places in the world, those that I have visited, Brazos Bend State Park in Texas would be near the top. With miles of trails that flank acres of lakes, creeks, and river, each teeming with birds and other living things, it is a photographer's amusement park. There are egrets and herons, grebes and moorhens, and ducks and ibises. And, of course, there are the American Alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) that line the banks and have no fear of the occasional human that invades their habitat. These very large reptiles are evident in all sizes from the newly hatched (in August) to the large bulls (prominent and frisky in Spring.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Greater Roadrunner - Big Bend National Park

Beep, beep!
We encounter-ed this beautiful and elusive bird in a most unexpected place—on the trail at about 7000 feet. We were descending from Lost Mine Peak in the Chisos Mountains when this Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) zipped in and out of view on the path in front of us. I was lucky enough to snap a few images before it disappeared again into the bush. Having seen several roadside, cruising by at automobile speeds, these artful dodgers are always long gone before I can ready my camera.

Monday, July 20, 2009

On the Border - Big Bend National Park

Standing on the shore of the Rio Grande it is hard to believe that just feet away is another country. This river, the border between the United States and Mexico has many bends and many faces. In this place it takes on the character of the beautiful Santa Elena Canyon. In the picture, Mexico is the left wall of the canyon. Kim and I spent the morning hiking the canyon in Big Bend National Park. In the July Texas heat, there were moments it would have been nice to be in the shadows of the tall canyon walls on the Mexico side.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Lightning - Guadalupe Mountains National Park

This has truly been a trip of firsts. Last evening, shortly after dinner, our campsite darkened quickly with ominous storm clouds billowing over the mountain. Luckily, before the rain poured and the winds blew fierce, I had a short opportunity to try and capture the beauty of some the nearby lightning strikes with my camera. I had no special equipment. I couldn't even use a tripod with the blustering wind. To put it simply, I got lucky. I managed to catch four or five strikes out of hundreds of shutter releases. Still, I am pleased to be able to add these images to EduPic. Incidentally, it turned out to be quite a long night with our tent constantly buffeted by the wind, shaken by thunder and rain, and flashed by nearby lightning. It was interesting to note on our hike the next morning the numerous lightning charred trees along the trail!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Gulf Fritillary

Yesterday, I stopped from my road trip for a rest and lunch in the Catahoula National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana. The gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) is a species that I've long wanted to photograph and one that doesn't often make it to my area. I was lucky enough to spot two individuals while there. I got so focused on following the one pictured here that I found myself standing in a fire ant mound. Needless to say that it wasn't very long before I discovered my misstep.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

North Twin Arch - Big South Fork NR&R

Wow! I never knew we had sandstone arches to rival, in size and quantity, those found in the West right here in our own backyard. They are all the more awesome in the way they surprise the hiker. You round a bend on the trail in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area and towering above you is North Twin Arch (pictured here.) And even more amazing is that in just another minute on the trail and you're standing beneath the equally impressive South Twin Arch. In fact, this region within the Cumberland Plateau, which includes the recreation area, national and state forests, and state parks, contains hundreds of such arches.

Just a note: In hopes that there are folks out there actually reading this blog, and thank you if you are. I want the reader to know that I'm travelling for the next few weeks and will not be adding posts as regularly as I would like.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Dance of the Palamedes

On a hike in False Cape State Park, I spied this male Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio palamedes) patrolling along the jeep trail in search of a female. Curious, I followed him for a few minutes. He located a female and they began a mating "dance", fluttering and flirting in small loops of flight around each other. The habitat of the palamedes is the forests, savannas, and swamps of the Atlantic and Gulf coastal regions. Sadly, this male was rejected and they both flew off in different directions.

I used some of my photographs to made a short movie of the mating dance that can be found here.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

"Cow Killer" Velvet Ant

In False Cape State Park, Virginia, this female velvet ant (actually a type of flightless wasp) was seen frantically scurrying about the sandy ground in search of bumble bee burrows. This species, Dasymutilla occidentalis, is called the"cow killer" because her sting is very potent and painful. She deposits her eggs in the brood chamber of the bee which when it hatches then feeds on the bee larva.

Friday, July 3, 2009


Today, hiking down an old jeep path in Curritick National Wildlife Refuge, I crossed paths with this cautious cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorous) commonly called a "water moccasin." It clearly showed me how it gets its name by opening wide, exposing the white lining of its mouth, to let me know not to approach to closely. This snake is highly venomous and is the only semi-aquatic pit viper in the world. It showed very little aggression, just due warning, and when I gave it a clear path it bounded, alternately coiling and springing forward, towards and into a nearby drainage canal.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Dragonfly Oviposition

I watched and photographed a pair of dragonflies mating (see inset) at the edge of a lake in Pocahontas State Park in Virginia. What surprised me, was that immediately after mating the female began dipping her abdomen in to the water's surface. This was done with an almost violent motion, each time rippling the water with the force of the small stone tossed by child. At that time, as a witness of this process, I could not imagine that this agitated action was in anyway related to reproduction. It was only through later research that I learned that this dragonfly lays each egg in this manner letting them drop to the lake floor.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Zebra Swallowtails Mating

I discovered these two zebra swallowtails (Eurytides marcellus) mating while exploring at Dutch Gap Conservation Area near my home in Chesterfield County, VA. Most of the time that I was watching they were being harassed by what I'm guessing is another male.

I question, on a site that is used by elementary school children, if it is appropriate to include images of animals mating. I'm thinking that with insects it is probably within bounds. I would be reluctant to do so with vertebrates. Any comments on this topic?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Smith Bridge, Chadds Ford, PA

This weekend, out exploring with my brother and sister, we came across Smith Bridge in southeastern Pennsylvania. It spans Brandywine Creek, the namesake for a less than decisive battle of the Revolutionary War. The bridge was built in 1839 and completely destroyed in a Halloween fire in 1961. It was rebuilt without a cover in 1962. Much effort was made to maintain historical accuracy when the cover was replaced in 2002.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Raccoon Juvenile

While exploring a small creek at Brandywine Creek State Park, DE, I began to hear several calls that were in obvious distress, a sound somewhere between a squeal and a squawk. I investigated and found this little guy (sex undetermined) was the one making all the noise and trying desperately to find a way up the creek back. I had only a few minutes to snap a few pictures before his mother reached in from the brush and rescued the little fellow.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Ridley Creek State Park, PA

State parks are a wonderful thing! I'm lucky enough to live only ten minutes from one of Virginia's largest parks, Pocahontas. I've spent hundreds of hours navigating its trails and service roads and many of my images come from there. Yesterday, while visiting with my brother for the weekend, I had the opportunity to visit Ridley Creek State Park in Media, PA. I hiked 10 miles of its trails, walked along the beautiful creek, which I happen to fall in once, and though I didn't see any wildlife, still had a great day.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hanging Crane Fly

I found this specimen hovering, if you can call it that, at the edge of a lake in Pocahontas State Park. This hanging crane fly (Brachypremna dispellens) was easy to spot due to its flying pattern which is best described as similar to the rubber ball at the end of a paddleball string--a lot of up and down and very little lateral movement. In fact, I was able to use my hand, without actually touching it, to guide it toward a nearby landing spot. When settled, it is obvious where it gets its common name.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Yellowjacket Hover Fly

I came across this individual on my afternoon hike in Pocahontas. I'm guessing its a female as it appeared to be ovipositing (laying eggs) in an old hardwood stump. (It's larvae feed on decaying heartwood.) The species is Milesia virginiensis and the common name is yellowjacket hover fly. It is believed to be a mimic of the southern yellowjacket wasp (Vespula squamosa.) It sure fooled me. I thought it was a wasp until I got close enough the see only one pair of wings and its halteres.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Zebra Swallowtail Caterpillar

After turning over literally thousands of pawpaw leaves (that's the host plant for the species Eurytides marcellus,) I finally found a zebra swallowtail caterpillar. It is one of the earlier instars and fairly small (about 1.5 centimeters.) As it goes with most things, once I find an organism I seem to find it more often so maybe I'll have images of a larger individual soon.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Eastern Cottontail Juvenile

Found this juvenile eastern cottontail on my evening hike in Pocahontas State Park. I know I'm supposed to be all about the science but this tiny (only about 3" long) little guy that I saw yesterday afternoon was just too cute. Still I couldn't bring myself to name the pictures "baby_bunny".