Journal archives for May 2017

May 08, 2017


A spectacular spring day. Continuing my hover fly kick, I decided to try a different habitat, lotic instead of lentic. In the afternoon, I hiked the trails along Spring Creek in the upper Cowling Arboretum. As in the past, the most insect activity was found along the sandy banks around the semi-open plunge pool where the creek enters the arboretum, flowing from a large culvert beneath a city street.

Many damseflies needled their way through the vegetation. A variety of bees worked the Creeping Charlie and Yellow Rocket flowers. I gave the bees and the damselflies the cold shoulder; I wanted to see more hover flies. The same four species observed yesterday around the ponds, I observed today along the creek, with one remarkable addition---the American Heineken Fly (Rhingia nasica). The only species in this genus in North America, this fly is instantly recognizable because of its Pinocchio-like nose. This odd-shaped shnoz houses a long tongue used for reaching nectar in deep flowers. The European species Rhingia campestris was given the common name Heineken Fly after the humorous adds by the beer company of that name, adds that stated 'Heineken refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach,' recognizing that this fly could reach parts of flowers that other hover flies can not.

One of the frustrating hindrances encountered when reading old natural history books and monographs is that many of the scientific names have changed or are no longer recognized as valid due to subsequent changes and revisions. Luckily for fly researchers there is a wonderful online resource---Systema Dipterorum: The Biosystematic Database of World Diptera ( Old scientific names can be searched to find current statuses and current accepted names. For instance, Horace Telford in The Syrphidae of Minnesota (published nearly eighty years ago) described a new species of Microdon. The name he proposed for this species isn't listed at Checking the Diptera database, one finds that Telford's species's name, Microdon robusta. is now considered a junior synonym of Microdon tristis. I wish such a database was available for other orders of insect as well, especially Hymenoptera.

Posted on May 08, 2017 04:13 by scottking scottking | 9 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 27, 2017

River Bend

To River Bend Nature Center with Dan Tallman. Our destination at River Bend is a large, flood plain pond toward the north end of the nature center. This pond, which I've visited other years, supports a source population of Horned Clubtails, one of seven stillwater gomphids of the genus Arigomphus in North America and the only one with a distinctly Northern Great Plains distribution. A. D. Whedon published the first account of this species in Minnesota, describing its emergence at a stagnant pond in 1913 near the Minnesota River in Mankato, approximately fifty miles from the pond at River Bend. Almost always the first clubtail to emerge or be observed in Rice County, I look forward to its arrival each year.

These are large dragonflies and its likely that the nymphs require several years to reach full size, though admittedly very little is known about them. Emergence takes place at the water's edge or on suitable floating platforms near shore; this species seems particularly adept at emerging from the surface of floating algae mats. The adult females sport a tall, bi-lobed, bright-yellow occipital plate that distinguishes it from other clubtails, while the horns for which it is named are much more difficult to observe, especially in the field. The male looks quite different, being more black than yellow and with a thinner abdomen, and is a fleet and furtive creature, very difficult to observe.

One of the great pleasures of being in the field with Dan is his ear for birds; he hears all the instruments in the symphony. On the hike to the pond and back, Dan singles out the song of a Red-eyed Vireo, its tireless call and response, a Redstart, a Yellow Warbler, the trill of a Tree Sparrow, and the defiant tree-top blast of an Great Crested Flycatcher. When I ask what the mnemonic for the rather harsh call of the flycatcher might be, he smiles and answers, "Squawk!"

Approaching the pond we find the year's first Horned Clubtail. I suspected we'd see many more at the pond, but we only saw one more and that one from afar as it emerged on a float of algae some distance from shore. Probably there were others but their presence was simply masked by the mass emergence of Dot-tailed Whitefaces. Every step we took around the entire circumference of the pond flushed into flight dozens of newly emerged dragonflies. Several male Twelve-spotted Skimmers performed their showy (if not pugnacious) flight displays over the water, battling with each passing Common Green Darner. A Belted Kingfisher persisted in doing head-first dives into the shallow water, somehow avoiding serious neck injury or becoming stuck in the bottom. From a distant the pond appeared to be covered by a white haze, but this haze dissipated into thousands of white flowers of the Water Crowfoot.

Posted on May 27, 2017 03:14 by scottking scottking | 13 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 18, 2017

Sleepy Bees

For the second day in a row, my afternoon hike was accompanied by the rumble of encroaching storms. Today there seemed no chance of sunlight, rather a slight brightening of the grey clouds. I packed a plastic bag for my camera as there was a good chance I'd not make it back home before the next round of rain arrived.

Muddy trails, drenched and nodding flowers, dripping leaves. Along the way to the wooded pond, hover flies and a bumble bees perched and nectared amid the blooming Waterleaf.

At the pond, in a stand of grass, I caught sight of a sleeping cuckoo bee. This has been high up on my hope-to-find list for quite some time. Numerous insect photographers have posted photos of these sleepy bees, but until today I hadn't encountered one myself. Other bees and wasps sleep in this fashion, clamped stiffly to leaf or twig. Except for the rigid posture, it's difficult to tell when a bee is asleep; they cannot close their eyes like we do.

Sometimes, while reading, I nod off and wake awhile later to find the book I was holding slipped from my grasp. I wonder if these bees ever relax their grip and fall from their perch while still asleep?

Posted on May 18, 2017 04:02 by scottking scottking | 5 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 19, 2017

House Work

Today's observations were all out the front window of our house. Would have preferred the usual hike, but I got stuck doing house work. Luckily there were plenty of front yard visitors today.

The wren, the rabbit, and the Hermit Thrush all are regulars, live here with us. The Rose-breasted Grosbeak, which my daughter spotted and pointed out to us, hadn't been seen in our yard until today.

Posted on May 19, 2017 03:46 by scottking scottking | 4 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 10, 2017

Interesting Weeds

This spring it seemed every user of iNaturalist, had photos of Henbit Deadnettle except for me. I was beginning to feel a bit left out. That is until today. Walking across the practice field adjacent to the lower Cowling Arboretum I saw patches of what seemed tall, pinkish-looking Creeping Charlie. A closer look showed it to be Henbit Deadnettle. Perhaps the grass seed used on the field contained its seed? This plant is not widespread in Minnesota, with records from the metro counties around Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

Shepherd's Purse is another distinctive plant. And a global success, as it seems to have spread to every part of the earth. It's easily recognized by the cluster of small white flowers, the deeply toothed leaves of the basal rosette, and the purse-shaped seed pods from which the plant gets its common name. A member of the cress family (also known as the cabbage or mustard family), it is eaten in some parts of the world, used as an herbal, and used by science as a model organism.

One of the great things about plants? They stay put. They don't run off or fly away. If it can't be identified, it can be revisited at a later date. If it's a tree, it can be visited many years in a row. Early in April, I photographed an unusual bud on a small tree but couldn't figure out what kind of tree it was, until today. Walking near the tree today, I remembered to have a look the tree once more. The leaf shape and the flower clusters made it possible to identify it this time: Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago), a native shrub.

Posted on May 10, 2017 04:06 by scottking scottking | 10 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 22, 2017

Bombus in the Basement

Last summer several Half-black Bumble Bees found there way into our basement. I'd catch them and release them when this happened. These bees nested in a covered up window well. I observed them throughout the summer, the smallish workers flying in and out of the nest. Even though the nest was just a few feet from where we parked our car and where my daughter and her friend often played volleyball, the bees didn't mind our presence and we didn't mind theirs.

Today, I found a Two-spotted Bumble Bee, dead on the floor of an underground parking garage. Perhaps the bee had found its way in by accident while searching for a nesting site. And then couldn't find its way back out.

Posted on May 22, 2017 03:16 by scottking scottking | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 15, 2017

Syringe and Syphon

A beautiful summer-like day in Rochester, Minnesota. Outside the gymnasium during a break from watching volleyball, I saw this Giant Water Bug on the pavement in the parking lot. Crawling then flapping then crawling again, it struggled to make progress. I picked it up, took it's photo and set it off the pavement. A long time ago, as a graduate student, I kept one of these insects as a pet. Years after that, I commemorated it with a poem.


A stocky student in chest-waders,
he joked about nearly everything, but spoke
seriously about snails, passionately describing
their perfect habitats, their golden spirals.

He collected in shallow bays and bogs
raking a net under lily pads.
At the end of the day, the snails
sloshed in a five gallon bucket.

One day water scorpions and
crayfish, another day a giant water bug
traveling like an origami rowboat
in the bucket with the snails.

We gathered round. He incanted
the Latin name, Lethocerus americanus.
The bug’s mouth both syringe and syphon.
You can feed it goldfish, he said.

So we fed it goldfish in a fish tank
back at our university lab.
Until it escaped and flew like a bat
down clean, well-lighted hallways.

Posted on May 15, 2017 03:01 by scottking scottking | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 04, 2017

McKnight Prairie, Lake Byllesby, and The Anderson Center

Posted on May 04, 2017 04:09 by scottking scottking | 20 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 05, 2017

Big Woods State Park

After locking myself out of my house at noon, I decided to visit Nerstrand Big Woods State Park and have a look at the wildflowers. It was certainly a good day for a visit as pretty much every wildflower was in bloom. Walking the trail down to the waterfall and back, I was able to track down twenty-six species. Some interesting bees and flies were encountered as well, including the specialist pollinator of Spring Beauty,
Andrena erigeniae.

Posted on May 05, 2017 04:06 by scottking scottking | 26 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 17, 2017

Acrobat Ants

In a gap between later afternoon storms, towering walls of dark clouds blocked out sky canyons, and the sunlight raced through them like flash floods for a few minutes.

I went out to the big pond at the St Olaf Natural Lands, thinking I'd find bluet damselflies, but no such luck. I did happen across several Common Whitetail dragonflies, the first encounter with this large, showy species this year. This male will become even showier in a week or two as its abdomen turns bright white.

The sun disappeared behind a blue-black thunderhead. Distant thunder rolled in from the west. Even the flowers dimmed. So I went no further, turned and headed back to the car. On the way, I stopped for a quick inspection of one of the University of Minnesota bee survey blocks. It was immediately obvious that this nest block had been compromised by ants as they swarmed in and out of several of the nest entrances. A mason wasp had been captured. I took a photo of the wasp and the ants. Looking at the photo a little while later, I noticed the ant's peculiar, heart-shaped abdomens and the prong of spines. These are Acrobat Ants, of the genus Crematogaster, which actually hunt wasps. They secure their prey by the legs, pulling the legs out in all directions so that the wasp is incapacitated, stretched spread-eagle by a mob of ants. A neat trick to catch a wasp.

Posted on May 17, 2017 04:36 by scottking scottking | 6 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment