Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Smallest, the Largest and a few things in between ...

At a mere 20 mm in length, the Elfin Skimmer (Nannothemis bella) holds the record for being North America's smallest dragonfly. The black-and-yellow striped females can easily be mistaken for wasps. Several of these diminutive dragonflies were seen foraging near a marsh along the Potter Settlement Road, about a kilometer east of Actinolite ... to date, this is the only site other than the Stoco Fen that I've encountered this species.

Mature males are covered in a blue-gray coat of pruinosity.

Until recently I only knew of this dragonfly from remnants of individuals that had collided with vehicles. While not uncommon, the Prince Baskettail (Epitheca princeps) cruises non-stop high in the air, so unless it makes one of its infrequent pit stops it's seldom encountered by mere land bound entities. When it does rest it seems to prefer a shady location, making it a difficult subject to photograph. At 60 to 65 mm this dragonfly is the by far the largest of our local baskettail species. This the female ...

... and this is an immature male; except for the claspers it looks much like the female. As it ages its eyes will turn a deep translucent green like those of many other emeralds.

Another Giant Swallowtail sighting around noon on June 8th near the Stoco Lake boat ramp. No picture; it was moving too fast. But it looks like North America's largest butterfly is definitely a breeding resident, even if temporarily, in this area. Indeed, they've been in this neck of the woods long before I noticed them: the following two photos were taken by Ildiko Olive west of Thomasburg in August of 2006. I'm going to keep an eye on the stands of Prickly Ash and see if there are any larvae.

A Common Snapping Turtle on a mission: she's digging a nest along the side of the road. Chelydra serpentina is our largest local turtle and this one looks close to 50 cm long. The length is a guesstimate; I didn't actually take measurements as snappers have somewhat antisocial dispositions that tend to discourage one from getting close up and personal. After "snapping" a couple of pictures I backed off and let her get on with her business. In two or three months, depending on the weather, the hatchlings will emerge from the eggs.

Not the smallest moth but with a wingspan of only 12 mm the Spotted Thyris (Thyris maculata) qualifies as being tiny. These minute moths seemed to have a preference for nectaring at Robin Plantain (Erigeron pulchellus), a type of fleabane.

Grasshopper growth: a nymph shedding its exoskeleton

Two grasshopper nymph instars; the larger one is less than 5 mm long. I'm not sure what species these are.

One of our bantam butterflies, the Silver-bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene) has a wingspan of 45 to 50 mm.