I’ll have the ‘Cuisses de Grenouille’ please
The family Colubridae is the most diverse family of snakes with almost 2,000 species, though this group is non-monophyletic (that is, in evolutionary terms, the group does not contain all descendants of the most recent common ancestral species). Thus, this family requires a great deal of work by taxonomists to sort out the natural groups and determine relationships among them.
Leptophis is a genus of colubrid snakes, commonly called parrot snakes. Parrot snakes are long, slender, bright green snakes found in the tropical forests of Central and South America.
The parrot snake shown in the first two images below, Leptophis ahaetulla (Colubridae), had just found itself a hearty meal. Despite having obviously lost this battle, the frog did not give up the fight so easily, as it kicked and squirmed until the very end. If you look at the expanded body of the snake you can see just how large this frog was – the snake was more than 4 feet in total length. Notice that the skin stretches as the snake swallows the frog – the blue coloration is the skin beneath the green scales.
(Click the images to see them in full size)
The next three photos are a second species of parrot snake, Leptophis depressirostris, barely distinguishable from the species shown above except for one scale between the eye and the nostril (just learned this interesting fact today from a friend, Ethan).
In the picture below, this parrot snake is demonstrating its incredible and intimidating defensive display.
Below you can see the body of a large tick, full of blood, attached under a scale on the snake’s neck.
Visit to the Capital
I recently visited my sister in Washington, DC. We walked around the city on a nice sunny afternoon and I had to chance to take some photos that captured some incredible architecture of these historical buildings. If you haven’t visited DC I recommend you go! Here’s what we saw:
Elk Knob State Park, NC
We returned to Elk Knob State Park, NC – this time with some decent weather. It was clear enough that we got a nice view from the top of the mountain. Here’s a few random things I saw along the way as well as the view from the top!
Waterfalls of Glen Burney
Last Sunday, despite the gloomy weather forecast of 50% chance of rain all day, we decided to head out and hike the Glen Burney Trail along a small stream near Blowing Rock, NC. Its a great little 3 mile hike that visits several different falls along the way. I decided to get my feet wet, literally, to get some of these shots of the falls from various angles.
I have a new found interest in astrophotography…lately I’ve been reading a lot about it. I really enjoy photographing the night sky, however it is not an easy task! I don’t have any great pictures of the stars just yet, but I’m working on it (when the weather cooperates). So I thought I’d share a photo of the waxing gibbous moon from a few days ago and one of the full moon that was visible two nights ago. I never invested in a telescope…but I’m adding it to the wish list now.
The truth about daddy longlegs
The arachnid order Opiliones has several common names in English including daddy longlegs, grand daddy longlegs and harvestmen. I have many wonderful things to share with you regarding the natural history of Opiliones so I’m going to post it in a series of about five posts. Here is the first fun fact to whet your appetite. Keep an eye out for the others very soon!
Longlegs fact #1: Daddy longlegs are NOT spiders.
They are also not insects. So what are they? Well, I’m glad you asked. Daddy longlegs are arachnids belonging to the order Opiliones. The subclass Arachnida includes spiders, scorpions, mites/ticks, daddy longlegs, and several smaller groups, all of which belong to different orders. So daddy longlegs are distantly related to spiders, but are actually more closely related to scorpions!
These incredible arachnids are easily overlooked, as they are most active at night and many species are very secretive in their behavior. Here’s a few examples of species from Costa Rica:
For more arachnid photos see my Arachnid gallery.
Appalachian Golden Hour
Since I moved about 6 weeks ago, I have been exploring some new great locations to photograph the sunrise and sunset here in the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina. Yesterday, I found a great spot for both the sunrise and sunset and I was lucky enough to have something more than a grey, overcast sky (as lately it seems there is a 50% chance of rain all day, every day). I hope to continue this series of posts as I discover more great places to photograph the landscape here in the High Country of North Carolina.
Above: A view of the sunrise from an overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.
In addition to capturing some nice colors in the sky, I also took a few nice macros of a bumblebee on a thistle with a red sky in the background. With and without flash.
This is one of my personal favorites of all my macro shots. These tiny mushrooms were such a lucky find. When I realized how great the shots turned out I wanted to go back and try out some other camera settings. But by the time I returned the following day all of the mushrooms had been eaten. Location: Las Brisas Nature Reserve, near Turrialba, Costa Rica, July 2011.
I entered this photo in the “Art of Nature” photo contest at PhoozL.
Photo caption: From an insect’s viewpoint these mushrooms tower above creating a mystical landscape.
Red-Eyed Tree Frog
I love photographing herps! Especially the Red-Eyed Tree Frog of Central America. This frog is so photogenic that it is difficult to take a bad picture of these spectacular animals! These frogs are commonly represented as the face of conservation efforts to save the rainforest. Many frogs (and other amphibians) are rapidly becoming endangered because of habitat loss as well as the spread of a deadly chytrid fungus called Bd. See below for links to more information.
I recently submitted this photo to the “Art of Nature” photo contest on PhoozL.com . Click the first image below and it will take you to the PhoozL gallery for the contest. Its free to enter, so submit your own photos!
Here are some of my other favorites. I just never get tired of seeing these amazing frogs!
Here’s some links in case you are interested in learning more!
The next time you are outside in your garden or yard and you see a spectacular orb-web, just stop to think about the incredible spider capable of engineering such an intricate design. Look at it very closely. Perhaps you will see a thickened zig-zag pattern in the middle of the web. Or maybe you will notice one very large spider along with a smaller, but nearly identical, spider – a case of sexual size dimorphism, where the male is usually much smaller than the female. Maybe you will even get to witness the spider in the process of building the web!
The orb-web you see was most likely built by a species of spider belonging to the family Araneidae, typical orb-weaving spiders. With over 3,000 described worldwide, the family Araneidae make up the third largest family of spiders after Salticidae (jumping spiders) and Linyphiidae (the sheet web spiders). Araneid spiders are grouped together with other closely related families of orb-weaving spiders in the superfamily Araneoidea. Examples of other orb-weaving families in this group include the Theridiidae (the cobweb spiders; this family includes the widow spiders), Nephilidae (includes the golden silk orb-weavers) and Linyphiidae (sheet web spiders).
Below: A web built between two trees by an orb-weaving spider in Costa Rica.
Some spiders build webs with a very noticeable thickened pattern (zig-zag, circular, spiral, X-shaped) near the center. This structure in the web is called a stabilimentum (seen in the following few photos) and was originally thought to add structural support (i.e., stabilize) the web, but this idea has received little support. The precise function of the stabilimentum is still up for debate, and there are several very good hypotheses each supported by some degree of empirical evidence. The stabilimentum may: help to make the web more visible to larger animals, such as birds birds and mammals, to prevent them from accidentally destroying the web; provide camouflage for the spider; make the spider appear larger; or attract prey species by reflecting ultraviolet light. There are also other theories as to the function. It is highly likely, however, that more than one theory is correct and that perhaps the stabilimentum has evolved to function in more than one way.
Below: Argiope savignyi building a circular stabilimentum, La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica.
After building the stabilimentum the spider moved to the center of the web and remained still.
It is quite obvious how the stabilimentum in this case makes the spider appear larger as well as camouflages the white body of the spider. If you saw this web from a distance you would also notice how the web is effectively made more visible to our eyes and this might prevent, say, a bird from flying into it.
Below: This stabilimentum is X-shaped and when the spider is at rest its legs also assume this same shape, once again showing that camouflage might be a factor.
Here are some other spiders of the family Araneidae to show the great diversity of this family!
Below: Micrathena sp. from Costa Rica.
These spiders are great to have outside your house and around the garden as they act as a biocontrol, providing a natural way of managing insect populations.
Below: An araneid spider eating an insect, Lafayette, Louisiana, USA.
Below: An araneid spider on a radial line near the edge of the web, Price Lake, North Carolina, USA.
The next time you are outside and see an orb-web take a closer look. And give these fascinating animals some credit!
Astonishing diversity of longhorn beetles
The other evening as I sat in the living room with the porch door open I heard an insect flying around outside the screen door. I knew it had to be quite large just based on the sound. I went outside to investigate and found a monstrous longhorn beetle on the screen. I picked it up and put it in a container to keep it alive until morning when I could examine it more closely and take photographs under better light. Attached are some shots of the beetle from Boone, NC, along with some pictures I had taken over the years of three species from Costa Rica, and some general information on longhorn beetles.
The longhorn beetles are part of the insect order Coleoptera which includes all of the beetles and is the most diverse order representing about 20% of all described species of animals! However, there are still many more species that have yet to be discovered! Within Coleoptera, longhorn beetles belong to the family Cerambycidae. This family has roughly 20,000 species worldwide and about 9,000 in the western hemisphere (see Larry Bezark’s Photographic Catalog of the Cerambycidae of the World). You can see the great diversity of this family for yourself if you look through some of the photos on BugGuide.net. Needless to say, since I am no expert on cerambycids, this makes a positive identification of the species I photographed quite difficult. My best guess is Knulliana cincta (Banded Hickory borer), but several species look very similar and are differentiated based on body size, spines of the antennae and legs, and other minute details. For example, compare it to the species Parelaphidion aspersum. So you can see the difficulty in identifying something to species level for a non-specialist, and sometimes even for expert taxonomists! So I welcome any comments from anyone with insight on the species identifications of any of these cerambycids.
The common name “longhorn beetle” comes from the fact that many species have antennae that are as long as or longer than the body. The species photographed here was more than 2.5 cm in length and the antennae were more than twice the length of the body! However, some species may be quite small (less than 1 cm) and the antennae are not always longer than the body.
Many species are cryptically colored as shown above. Its incredible how well this organism is camouflaged on the trees! Consider that he would be even more well camouflaged if my flash hadn’t cast a shadow! Other species are quite colorful such as this one from Costa Rica (below).
Below are two more relatively large species that were photographed at La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica in 2009 (prior to having a macro lens). This individual here was found inside of a dead palm frond and was photographed on the smooth shiny surface of the bare palm tree for contrast.
The specimen show below was found on a wooden window frame at the research station in Costa Rica.