Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Another Good Day for Bugs, Part 1

I started today's nature hike with the intention of paying attention to the milkweeds of which there are five species around Oakland Camp in various stages of life from fairly fresh blooms on Spreading Dogbane and Narrow-leaf Milkweed, to recently wilted blooms on Indian Hemp and Showy Milkweed, to seed pods about to burst open on Purple Milkweed.  While inspecting a herd of aphids on the seed pod of a Purple Milkweed, I felt a hard object hit me in the chest.  I thought I had been struck by an AirSoft pellet, but no one was around.  Then I heard the buzzing of a large flying insect at my feet.  It turns out I was "bombed" by an Eyed Elater, Alaus melanops, the largest Click Beetle in these parts.  Lots of fun to play with, I picked it up to show my hiking companion, and it performed its clicks which felt like tiny jolts of electricity running up my fingers.  I then placed it on its back in my palm to show how the click is used to right itself.  It decided to "play possum" and would not click.  It pulled all its legs up tight and played dead for quite a while.  It was very hot out, so I thought the sun would force it to try to escape by clicking itself upright then flying away.  No dice.  So, I turned it right side up.  After a few minutes, it cautiously extended its legs.  I braced my self for a one-handed photo of its take-off, but I wasn't quick enough.  While I was mesmerized, it spread apart its wing covers and extended its soft, membranous wings and took off.  It was probably ten feet away when I clicked the shutter.  No point in showing the photo of my empty palm!
The focus our hike then switched to bugs.  We saw lots of bug drama over the next hour.  Some children in camp found a large Jerusalem Cricket, Stenopelmatus fuscus, which they called a potato bug.  I gently prodded him out of his hole beneath a rock for some photos, then let him crawl back.  We replaced the rock to protect his home, and I'll bet he'll be there tomorrow.
Along the trail was another eye-catching bug, a bright orange Velvet Ant, Dasymutilla aureola, which despite its soft, fuzzy look actually packs a powerful sting.  You see, it's actually a wingless wasp.
There was lots of other interesting bug activity on today's walk.  More photos and stories in my next post.

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