LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY: Blog en-us (C)Linda R. Graetz (LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) Sat, 08 Jan 2022 18:24:00 GMT Sat, 08 Jan 2022 18:24:00 GMT LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY: Blog 96 120 Southeast Asia: Vietnam This past November we escaped the freshly erupted turmoil at home to visit two remarkable countries: Vietnam and Cambodia.  We were eager to experience and learn about how these countries had grown and changed since their darker days of wars and genocide--histories we were familiar with since we were young adults during that time. There was so much to see in both countries; many people to meet, bustling markets to visit, artists and performers to admire, incredibly delicious food to eat, and Buddhist shrines and temples to contemplate.  It was a deeply meaningful and rich experience. 

I didn't have as much time to look for insects as I would have liked--there were only so many hours in a day.  But let me show you some amazing ones I saw in Vietnam where, for me, butterflies were the main attraction.

Leopard Lacewing, female
Cethosia cyane

Above is a photograph of a female species of lacewing butterfly. Lacewings are in the genus Cethosia.  They are large and brightly colored.  Bright coloring often serves as a warning to predators: "Don't eat me -- I may be poisonous."  And indeed lacewing caterpillars feed on the poisonous passion-flowers of passiflora vines.   Below is a photograph of a male lacewing.  His colors are truly brilliant!  I think both sexes are quite beautiful, but I do have a favorite.  I'm not saying which one it is.  Do you have a preference?

Lacewing sp.
Cethosia biblis? - Nymphalidae family

Here's another beauty from Vietnam: a Peacock Pansy, Junonia almanac.  I saw a number of butterflies in the Junonia genus.  All sported eye spots on the top (dorsal) side of their wings and interesting patterns on the ventral or under side.  Junonias are not as big as lacewings, and if this one looks even a little familiar to you, it may be that you've seen one of our own Junonia butterflies here in the U.S., the Common Buckeye. 

Peacock Pansy
Junonia almana

Speaking of size, I saw the biggest butterfly I've EVER seen in my life!  Pictured below is a female Great Mormon, Papilio memnon, with a wing span as wide as the spread of my hand: about 7-8". Large tropical butterflies like these move more slowly than smaller ones. I admired her deep, steady wing beats, and followed her all over the garden as she winged from the underside of one tree canopy to another. As you would expect, dark tropical butterflies avoid the hot sun and prefer the shade. I ended up using a flash to get this picture.

Great Mormon Butterfly, f
Papilio memnon agenor f distantianus

From biggest to smallest. Back out in the sunshine, I chased butterflies in a large, sunny location of grasses and flowers. I was thrilled to spot this tiny Pymgy Grass Blue ovipositing!  Here she is depositing an egg inside the fold of a long, narrow leaf.


It was fascinating watching her work.  A female butterfly's locations for depositing eggs are not chosen at random.  First, she needs to find the specific species of plant her caterpillars will feed on once they hatch.  And, using a variety of sensors, female butterflies can determine not only the best leaf (which mustn't be too old) but also the ideal spot on each leaf for depositing her egg.  Here she is laying a few more eggs:


Many more butterflies were seen in our travels, but I selected these five because they were all visiting the grounds of one place we stayed in Ben Tre Province along the Mekong River. Butterflies were plentiful there, where I must have seen about twenty different species.  There were also interesting wasps, dragonflies and bees.  I'll close with the second biggest insect I saw there (next to the Great Mormon) which was this beautiful female Praying Mantis (Hierodula genus).  Mantids are a lot of fun to photograph--posing with every click of the shutter.  Sweet, isn't she?

(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) Thu, 09 Mar 2017 18:19:41 GMT
Nature Walk: Chicago I was in Chicago earlier this fall and my cousin took me to the West Ridge Nature Preserve in the middle of an urban Chicago neighborhood. The preserve, which opened only a year ago, was shaped out of 20 acres of land and a 4-acre pond. This small parcel, virtually untouched for about 100 years, was bought by the city in 2011 and, instead of developers, a nature preserve moved in.  What a fortunate move for the people of Chicago, and especially for those in the surrounding neighborhood.  In our 90 minute walk, we discovered an exciting diversity of insect species.  The excitement continues for me as I take this opportunity to share with you "inner city insects" of Chicago!

Within a few feet of entering the preserve, we scanned the golden rod blooming along the path and discovered dozens of insects busily working over the stalks laden with bright yellow flowers. Golden rod is an important source of food for many insects--especially those that thrive on nectar and pollen like the ones pictured here.

Yellow-collared Scape Moth, maleYellow-collared Scape Moth, maleWest Ridge Nature Preserve Chicago, IL

We saw many Yellow-collared Scape Moths. This handsome male looks like royalty with his velvet black wings, soft orange collar, and his majestic crown of long feathered antennae. 

Paper WaspPaper WaspWest Ridge Nature Preserve Chicago       

I couldn't count the number of species of bees and wasps we saw. But paper wasps, yellow-jackets, bumblebees were everywhere. Pictured above is, to my eye, a gorgeous insect, the male Northern Paper Wasp.

Golden rod wasn't the only food source blooming in the preserve. Black-eyed Susans were plentiful and this one caught my eye as I instantly recognized a drama about to unfold.

Fiery Skipper and assassin bug
West Ridge Nature Preserve Chicago
     Assassin Bug, adultAssassin Bug, adultAssasin bug
West Ridge Nature Preserve Chicago

Look closely at the first photograph and you will see two insects. The one on top is a tiny Fiery Skipper and its extended proboscis appears to be very close to another insect -- an appropriately named assassin bug.  I don't know if it was my approach, or the skipper's own detection of this predator, but it did fly off abandoning the assassin bug (photo on right) to lie in wait for another victim. 

Just a few plants down I relocated the tiny skipper resting on a leaf.  Fiery Skipper just has to be one of the cutest butterflies in North America!

Fiery Skipper     Fiery? SkipperFiery? SkipperWest Ridge Nature Preserve, Chicago, IL

As we moved closer to the pond, we found autumn asters blooming by the shore.  I noticed a lightning-fast moth darting in and out of the beautiful violet-colored flowers. Wings constantly in motion, it was a blur and slowed down only slightly when sipping nectar.  A wonderful looking insect, this Celery Looper moth:

Celery Looper MothCelery Looper MothAnagrapha falcifera
West Ridge Nature Preserve - Chicago, IL

On our way out of the preserve, insects remained plentiful. It was hard to stop taking pictures of bees, shield bugs, flies, and grasshoppers.  Among the loveliest we saw were these two creatures, a Virginian Tiger Moth caterpillar: 


and a female, Differential Grasshopper:

Differential Grasshopper, female  Chicago, ILDifferential Grasshopper, female Chicago, IL

I often compare a grasshopper's exo-skeleton to armor, and maybe this photograph illustrates why. To extend the metaphor, isn't she beautifully 'plated'? Each body part looks as if it could have been fashioned from metal--even down to the tiny joints of her feet. All insects are supported by an exoskeleton. But the grasshopper's exterior seems to be among the most fortified. Why, I'm not sure. Perhaps this adaptation has something to do with the arid, often harsh, habitat grasshoppers live in. The tough exterior body protects the soft interior organs and muscles from the effects of wind, sun, and rain. And when you think about the fact that grasshoppers can jump twenty times their body length (if you could do that you could just about jump half a football field!) they need powerful back legs and a strong body to withstand the force of the jump as well as the impact of the landing. 

This urban nature walk in Chicago was such a surprise to me.  I had no idea we would see so many insects!  I don't know where you go for your nature walks, but whether you live in the middle of a city or in the suburbs, it's a mistake to think you have to stray too far from home to find some beautiful and amazing wildlife!











(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) butterflies hymenoptera insects lepidoptera moths Sat, 22 Oct 2016 16:40:42 GMT
Oh, Oregon! This past July we spent three weeks in the beautiful state of Oregon.  Oh, Oregon!  A state that possesses vast spaces of natural beauty, great habitat diversity, and some very spectacular scenery. 

We spent a week in the city of Portland and used that location to explore the Pacific coast, Mt. Hood, and the Columbia River Gorge.  Most exciting was the day I spent climbing over rocks at low tide exploring tide pools at Ecola State Park. There I fell in love with anemones. Sensual and mesmerizing creatures, I was completely captivated by their movement, color, and mystery.

Pictured above are aggregating anemones (Anthopleura elegantissima), the ones with the white and pink-tipped tentacles. Gorgeous aren't they?  These anemones reproduce by cloning. They simply divide themselves in half, and voila, instead of one you have two.


This photograph shows two giant green anemones, Anthopleura xanthogrammica. They were huge--maybe 7" or 8" across. Unlike aggregate anemones they do not reproduce by cloning. Procreation requires absolutely no body contact. Instead, they release eggs and sperm into the water where the larvae that form eventually find their own place to settle down.

Here's another giant green anemone. I love the subtle color, the beckoning pose. It's wide open, waiting perhaps for a meal to come. In the center lies the mouth. Though anemones fasten themselves to a substrate, they don't need to move about to hunt. They wait for food to come to them, and when it does their tentacles emit a poisonous, paralyzing sting.  Anemone prey includes crabs, fish, and unattached mussels.

After Portland we drove south to Crater Lake National Park where I was expecting to see a big beautiful lake, but the Park is so much more than that. It's an astonishing landscape; one that was sculpted by the explosion of the gigantic Mount Mazama volcano that erupted over 7,000 years ago.  One day we hiked down to the shore of the lake and boarded a boat for Wizard Island. Wizard Island, pictured here, is basically a volcano inside a volcano.

The tree trunks of the tall, straight pine trees that grow on Wizard Island are covered with shaggy, brilliant green Wolf Lichen which some people mistakenly refer to as moss. And, yes, like the pure blue of the water in the picture above, the bright green color of the lichen is exactly what we saw.

From Crater Lake we headed east to the small town of Lostine in Wallowa County which is not far from the Idaho border. Mountains, forests, rivers, lakes, canyons, prairies: all can be found in this sparsely populated section of Oregon. I guess it's no wonder I saw so many insects there. Next to bees, butterflies were the most numerous, and I will close with three of my favorite lepidopteran finds.

"Police Car Moth"
Gnophaela vermiculata
Listine, OR

This may look to some like a butterfly, but it's a moth. I watched it busily feeding among Shasta daisies in our cousins' garden. It's Latin name is Gnophaela vermiculata, but it is commonly referred to as "Police Car Moth".  Named for its bold black and white pattern, and, I assume, the 'headlights' suggested by the two tufts of yellow just behind the head.

This beauty belongs to a group of butterflies called "fritillaries".  I love it when I see one. It may be because I like the sound of the word "fritillary" which comes from the Latin word frittulus meaning "dice box". But it might be because I like the way the dorsal (upper) side of their wings are marked with many black dots--kind of like the way dice are.  It's not always easy to distinguish one species from another because the patterns on their wings can be so similar. This one may be a Zerene Fritillary.


I found this Lorquin's Admiral (Limentis lorquini) pictured above and below, 'puddling' along the sandy shore of the Lostine River. It fed there for the longest time. Butterflies gather essential minerals and amino acids this way, and I read that it's mostly male butterflies that do this. Evidently the intake of sodium aids them in reproductive success: the added nutrient helping to ensure that the eggs he fertilizes will survive. I think this is the most beautiful butterfly I saw in Oregon. I love the colorful wing patterns above and below, and those orange eyes!

Lorquin's AdmiralLorquin's AdmiralLorquin's Admiral



(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) Crater Lake Oregon anemones lepidoptera lichen tidepools Wed, 28 Sep 2016 15:08:26 GMT
Beautiful BELIZE We spent two weeks in Belize this winter -- a  country wildly popular with birders. Which was one of the reasons I was eager to go. Belize is not big. It's about the size of New Jersey, but with a population of only about 360,000.  As a result, the country has large areas of undisturbed habitat rich in biodiversity.  We walked through forests and savannas; we traveled by boat up rivers and around lagoons. My main goal was to see birds so most of the time I had binoculars, not a camera, before my eyes. But I did have time to take a few pictures, and my little point-and-shoot recorded some nice creature sightings. My husband had time to produce some beautiful paintings and drawings.

Our first stop was three nights at Crooked Tree: a wild life sanctuary surrounded by the waters of Crooked Tree lagoon. It was here where we saw over a hundred species of birds, dozens of iguanas, a few Morelet's crocodiles, some howler monkeys, and a good number of amphibians. Prowling around with my flashlight one evening, I photographed a few. Seeing these frogs gave me pause, and I wondered how healthy their populations really were.

Throughout the world amphibians are in serious decline with one-third of all species at risk of extinction.  When you think about it, it’s not all that surprising to hear. Half the world’s wetlands have disappeared since 1900 and wetland destruction continues at an alarming rate: wildlife populations decline when their habitat is destroyed.  Air and water pollution also have a negative impact on amphibians.  They have moist, porous skin that helps them breathe when in water or mud. This sensitive skin makes them vulnerable to the transmission of infectious diseases and chemical pollutants.  And then, of course, there are the effects of climate change. If you want to learn more about the plight of our world’s amphibians here’s one place to start:

A tree frog - unidentified species

Tiny, colorful and translucent, I think this is Stauffer's Tree Frog.

Mexican Tree Frogs showed up one afternoon resting on our patio furniture.

 Dozens of toadlets appeared one night in the grass outside our lodge. This one was about 1/2" long. 










After Crooked Tree we drove south to spend a week at a lodge just outside San Ignacio.  It was a perfect location for watching birds and other wildlife. Numerous day trips took us to lots of birds, but I saw many insects and I managed to photograph a few butterflies.

     White Satyr  Paeruptychia orirrhoe

      Zebra Longwing  Heliconius charithonia

 Erodyle Checkerspot  Chlosyne erodyle    

But Belize was more about the birds, and they were pretty spectacular. If I wasn't amazed by the color of a bird, I was amazed by the shape of its body or beak, the display of its feathers, or the way it flew, fed, or called.  We saw birds from families with familiar names like orioles, tanagers, parrots, owls, falcons, hawks, and herons.  But there were birds with less familiar names like toucan, trogon, curassow, chachalaca, motmot, manakin, guan, and cotinga.  I photographed none of them.

However, I did get a few pictures of an interesting species--very beautiful but most odd in appearance. Walking amidst the Mayan ruins in Tikal, Guatemala, we saw quite a few male Ocellated Turkeys. The feathers on this bird's body are stunning, but the head and neck are quite peculiar: blue in color, devoid of feathers, and instead, decorated with randomly scattered red and orange bumps that one might call "warts". Plus, as you see on the top of this bird's head, is a small blue crown.  It's inflatable.  Note his large eye surrounded by red and directly behind it the ear hole.

I was curious about that prominent ear hole. But when I saw this fully grown adult male (below) whose crown was inflated and whose nodules were most numerous, I think I found the reason why. As he strutted with his beak tilted down, his real eye looked more like decoration and his ear-hole looked more like an eye.  Lots of animals have  "fake eyes" -- it's an adaptation to help ward off predators.  Some creatures have spots on the back of their heads or necks,  some moths and butterflies have large eye patterns on their wings. These "eyes" make a potential predator think they are being watched.

Here's the head of that gorgeous male turkey.  Can you find his real eye?

And here he is in full.  Note his large blue crown and isn't it cool how that ear hole looks like a little eye?  You must go to Tikal someday not just to see the fabulous Mayan buildings, but to walk among the Ocellated Turkeys.


(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) Belize amphibians birds butterflies ocellated turkey Sat, 30 Apr 2016 16:03:21 GMT
Monarch Update: 2016 There was good news last winter when it was reported that the number of Monarchs roosting in Mexico had more than doubled from the year before. And at the end of February they published this report:

Migrating Monarch - September 2015     Lincoln, MA

Everyone was hopeful that, as a result, this year's 2016 wintering population would be even larger.  Then on March 11th a disastrous winter storm hit:   It's estimated that survival was only about 50%.  The surviving monarchs have begun their migration and many are now in Texas where they will lay eggs on milkweed, and the next generation will continue the move northward.

Winter storms kill lots of butterflies.  Illegal logging in their roosting habitat creates even more fatalities.  Loggers go inside the forest (when the Monarchs aren't there) to avoid detection and cut trees from within leaving a gaping hole surrounded by uncut trees where roosting butterflies, once protected by the neighboring trees, will be left exposed to ice and snow that will fall directly into the space where trees once stood.  Continued updates here:

Migrating Monarch - September 2015     Lincoln, MA


(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) butterflies lepidoptera monarchs Thu, 07 Apr 2016 17:55:23 GMT
2015 Highlights It's the end of another year. Thankful I am for all that it brought.  I want to share a few highlights from my wanderings -- mostly near and some not too far.

Bees were a repeating theme this summer.  I photographed a new (to me) species of sweat bee. It was this very tiny one (about 1/4")  nectaring on an Echinacea flower:

Sweat BeeSweat BeeHalictidae family

Two unexpected finds this year were my first Monkey Slug Caterpillar (I bet you didn't know caterpillars could look like this!)

Monkey Slug caterpillarMonkey Slug caterpillarHag Moth
Concord, MA

and about half-a-dozen migrating Monarchs seen in early September.  If you are interested in how the Monarch migration did this year final tallies for the population now over-wintering in Mexico aren't in yet, but check this website for updates:

Monarch - migrating September 2015Monarch - migrating September 2015

Four nights of "mothing" were definitely a huge highlight -- a lot of fun!  Not only moths, but insects from half-a-dozen other insect orders were drawn to the UV light: beetles (Coleoptera), flies (Diptera), mayflies (Ephemeroptera), fish flies (Megaloptera), caddis (Trichoptera), even a wasp and an ant (Hymenoptera).  But moths were the most numerous:

Owlet Moth Species owlet moth sp.owlet moth sp.

Grape Vine Looper

I suppose the most memorable event of the year was our month-long journey through the southwest.  We traveled just about as far south as you can through parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas where we concluded our journey in the Hill Country.  Insects, lizards, plants, the scenery -- all quite spectacular.

Texan Crescent- Tucson, AZ

Collared Lizard, male - Enchanted Rock, TX

        Giant Saguaro Cactus - Saguaro National Park

Chiricahua Mountains - Arizona


Texas Wildflowers

Big Bend National Park

Returning to Big Bend after an absence of almost 10 years, was perhaps a pinnacle of joy for me. My first visit there was in the 1980's when I lived in Texas. I've been there many times since. I generally go in the spring to see the desert in bloom, and this year was one of the most spectacular seasons I've ever seen. 

Why does one place speak to us over another?  I don't know, but Big Bend is my favorite place on earth. It's a powerful landscape, and it humbles me. It envelops me and I become a part of it.  It feels like home.













(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) Big Bend National Park butterflies lizards moths Thu, 24 Dec 2015 15:46:26 GMT
Four amazing beetles It's estimated there are over one million species of insects on the planet and of all the insect orders, the Beetles, (Coleoptera), comprise the largest number: around 350-400,000 species.  The name coleoptera comes from two Greek words: koleon meaning sheath and pteron meaning wing. So named because beetle fore wings, called elytra, are hardened like a sheath.  Elytra aren’t used for flight.  Instead they protect the beetle’s membranous hind wings which do all the flying.  Closely observe a lady beetle. (And if you live some place cold you may have a few overwintering in your home right now--a convenient opportunity for insect study.)  Watch the beetle for awhile, and wait until it takes off.  You might see it lift and open the elytra allowing the flight wings to emerge and the beetle to take off.  

Beetles can be very small or very large; some are rather plain, others quite ornate. Some have long, jointed antennae, others have antennae short and palmate. Beetle snouts? Even more varied and awesome. Menacing, ugly, bizarre, handsome, funny: an endless supply of adjectives could be used to describe beetle species. Granted, descriptors are purely subjective. Depending on your point of view, the Eastern Hercules Beetle (see: ) could be called ugly, beautiful, terrifying, surreal, or perhaps a miracle of nature.  I think they are all miracles so I've created an album just for beetles. Here are some of the more unusual ones I have seen.

Long-nosed WeevilLong-nosed WeevilLove those antennae!
Naples, Maine
Order: Coloeptera

This extraordinary looking creature flew into one of my black-lights this summer. Its very long and slender nose extends so far out from its body that the beetle's bent antennae emerge like branches part way down the snout!  This beetle is a species of long-nosed weevil, a member of the Curcuilo family. The female uses her long snout to bore into acorns or nuts where she deposits her eggs. The larvae that hatch inside will feed on the nut until they are ready to pupate. I attracted a lot of beetles to my black light this summer, and I've since learned that most adult beetles are nocturnal.

scarab beetlescarab beetle

When I first saw this species of scarab beetle (Exomalis orientalis) it was crawling on a green leaf, its antennae appearing smooth and straight to the tip. But suddenly the antennae expanded, and each tip ended in a three-pronged fan. Like fingers opening and closing, I watched the beetle work its antennae. Fan-tippped or lamellate antennae are characteristic of all scarab beetle species. This little beetle's lamellae are very simple compared to more elaborate ones on other beetle species. Insect antennae are complex sensory organs used primarily for smell.

Eastern Ironclad BeetleEastern Ironclad Beetlefound on polypore fungus
Oquossuc, Maine

Last August while on a hike in Maine I bent down to examine a large bracket fungus growing at the base of a tree.  I noticed an irregularity on its surface -- a warty-looking bump.  Peering closely, I was delighted to discover that the abnormality was actually a small beetle very well camouflaged on its fungal habitat.  I first identified it as an Eastern Ironclad Beetle, but have since learned that it is a Forked Fungus Beetle. I think I was overly enthusiastic about adopting the ironclad ID -- it seemed so appropriate for its tough rusty exterior! 

Iridescent Dogbane BeetleIridescent Dogbane Beetle

This Iridescent Dogbane Beetle is one of the prettiest species I saw this year. Like the Calligrapha beetle I saw in 2014,  it belongs to the Chrysomelidae or Leaf and Seed beetle family.  Many species in this family are ‘picky eaters’ consuming only one specific type of plant.  And like so many insect families they represent yin and yang:  one species considered “good” such as Charidotella purpurata  which attacks undesirable bindweed, and another species considered “bad” such as the Colorado potato beetle, because it destroys a desirable food crop.  I'm not here to judge -- I'm only here to wonder.

For more amazing beetles:







(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) beetles coleoptera insects Mon, 30 Nov 2015 22:03:47 GMT
Packing Pollen Bees, wild and domestic, thrive on nectar, but they also can't live without pollen. Bees gather pollen to feed their growing young, and if you stand before a garden of flowers, especially in mid-summer, you just might see a honey or bumble bee "packing pollen".  The bee uses its front legs to comb pollen off the hairs of its body. It then mixes the pollen with a bit of nectar, making it nice and sticky, and packs it onto a concave, hairy surface, called a corbiculum, located on the tibia of each hind leg.  The packed pollen takes on a ball-like shape: people call this a "pollen basket".  Not all bee species have pollen baskets. Sweat bees pack pollen up and down their hind legs; other bees simply carry pollen on the hairs that cover their bodies.  It astonishes how much pollen you can see on a bee.

I saw these sweat bees last July feeding on Echinacea flowers -- their legs bulging with pollen. I was thrilled to see them as they are beautiful bees with emerald green thorax and head. Buzzing jewels encrusted with gold, they made me smile.

sweat bee
Halibut Point State Park
   sweat bee
Halibut Point State Park

Even though it's October, on a warm sunny day you can find lots of bees gathering pollen. Last week these honey bees were working on asters in our yard.  Note the round balls of pollen on their legs.


Compare the size of the honey bee pollen baskets to the much larger one on the bumble bee below:

Bumble BeeBumble Beewith pale yellow pollen The color of the pollen is determined by the flower that produces it

Most bumble bees are bigger, stockier than honey bees so they are able to carry more packed pollen.  I read that bumble bees can carry half their weight in pollen -- that's more than honey bees can.

One afternoon in August I stood by a Rose of Sharon tree filled with flowers; bumble bees were flying furiously about.  The Rose of Sharon flower has a long style (the form that emerges from the center of the flower) that is lined with stamens, their anthers thick with pollen.  In the photograph below, a bumble bee after feeding on nectar is taking off from inside a flower.  The fine hairs on its body covered with the creamy-white pollen.


Below, another bumble bee embraces pollen-coated anthers.


Interestingly, I didn't see any of the bumble bees packing pollen. I'm not sure why, but from the way they were feeding I think it was nectar they were after. Although bumble bees don't make honey, they, too, bring nectar back to their hives.  And like honey bees, most of them don't gather pollen and nectar at the same time. That would make for a very heavy load to carry back home.  Bees collecting pollen feed on nectar, but that nectar fuels their flight.  As for the nectar-gathering bees here, I imagine once they returned to the hive to deliver the nectar, the pollen on their bodies would have been removed and stored.

My favorite pollen basket photo for the season is this bumble bee on a large aster flower--its basket of pollen a nugget of gold.

Bumble Bee with pollenBumble Bee with pollen

Did you know, there are about 4,000 species of bees native to North America?  And that honey bees are not among them?  Apis mellifera, the domesticated honey bee, was brought to this continent by the Europeans nearly 400 years ago. Honey bees are now essential to our food supply.  But there are thousands of species of flowers honey bees do not and can not pollinate. Blueberries, cranberries, tomatoes, and cherries are among them. They all depend on native or wild bees for successful pollination. 






(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) bees insect behavior insects pollen pollinators Tue, 13 Oct 2015 19:04:07 GMT
Night Life Ever since the Moth Festival at Taconic State Park last year (see July 22, 2014, I've wanted to do some "mothing" on my own.  I finally got my chance last week.  A colleague friend and I got together from 8:00 -10:30 PM to set-up a light "trap" for moths.  I bought a 13 watt blacklight and a clamp lamp and brought those over to an outdoor site near a pond where we pinned up one of my Mother's old white linen tablecloths. We clamped the lamp onto a folding chair, focused the light onto the cloth, turned it on, and waited. (Cool how the UV light revealed so many old stains on the tablecloth!)  In no time insects were landing on the vertical white surface.  We were hoping for lots of moth species, and while we did get some lovely moths, more abundant were the beetles.  Most dramatic was the large fish fly.  Here are some of the stars of the show that night:

Painted Lichen MothPainted Lichen MothLincoln, MA

Painted Lichen Moth
Pero sp. possibly Honest PeroPero sp. possibly Honest PeroGeometrid family
Lincoln, MA

Pero moth species - Geomitrid Family

Underwing moth, Catocalas sp.Underwing moth, Catocalas sp.            Catacola micronympha? sp.
a yellow underwing Owlet/Noctuid

                An underwing moth, Catocalas species

This genus of moths gets its name from the brightly colored hind wings that usually lie hidden when the moth is at rest but are revealed when the more monotone-patterned fore wings part.

ground beetleground beetleHarpalus sp.

Ground beetle, Family Carabidae

I thought this was the most beautiful of all the beetles we lured in that night.  Small, delicate, charmingly simple.

Fish FlyFish FlyThis is not a fly. It is very big and is in the order Megaloptera

Fishfly - Chauliodes species

This very large insect is not a fly. With wings several inches long, it belongs to the aptly named order:  Megaloptera  (mega = huge  ptera = wing). 

We endured lots of pesky mosquitoes that night, but in spite of that we will be back for more!




(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) beetles insects moths nocturnal insects Thu, 30 Jul 2015 18:13:27 GMT
NewBees Last week I was fortunate to be able to tag along with the new beekeeper who has placed more than 6 hives around the farm and sanctuary property.  The Warré style hives that he uses are different from the ones we had before (see June 2013: ).  They are designed to let the bees create the entire hive 'from scratch' (so to speak) as they would in the wild. A neat feature is that each box has a little covered window built into the side.  You can unlatch the cover and take a look.  Here's a close up of a hive taken through the window:

Learning Garden hive The Warré hives do not have hanging frames, instead the bees construct the comb starting at the top of the first box, working their way down, building a naturally vertical hive.

removing the top of the hive - near Beeline trail

A stop at one of the hives reveals early stages of construction (above).  It's cool to see the honey comb arrangement from which the bees will lengthen the hive.  Comb construction detail:


The day I was with him, the new bee keeper added a third tier to a very productive hive.  The bees had already filled two boxes. Here he is putting a third box in place beneath the first two:

A hive like this contains as many as 30,000-40,000 bees - maybe more.  And to think that they all have the same mother!  The Queen in a healthy hive can lay anywhere from 1,500-2,000 eggs a day.  A queen bee can be productive for 2 to 3 years which is quite amazing when you think about it--all those babies from just one tiny insect.  More detail photos follow.


Bees tending nectar:

bees depositing nectarbees depositing nectar

Note the capped cells in this section of comb:

  bees at work - note the capped cellsbees at work - note the capped cells

Beautiful bees through the window of yet another hive:

The Warré style hive was developed by Emile Warré (1867-1951) in France.  He called it "The People's Hive".  You can download his book "Bee Keeping for All" at this link -- and it's free to which I say, "Power to the people, and power to the bees!"   




(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) bees hymenoptera insect behavior insects Tue, 28 Jul 2015 20:04:39 GMT
Reproducing Spring Spring has been especially long this year for it began early in March when my husband and I fled canyons of snow for the canyons and deserts of the Southwest.  Our month-long journey began in Tucson where flowers had already begun to bloom.  And although it wasn't officially Spring, the desert was coming alive -- at the feet of giant cactus, flowers carpeted the ground.  It hardly resembled the Sonoran desert I last saw one hot July more than twenty years ago. 

Traveling east through the Southwest from Arizona to the Texas Hill Country, we witnessed the arrival of this most magnificent Spring. We marveled at the beauty, diversity and profusion of wild flowers.  We admired the branches of distant trees some deep-red with buds others electric-green with fresh new leaves.  We were captivated by the intense busyness of an astonishing variety of insects and by brilliantly colored lizards racing about.  All this life right before our eyes took place amidst spectacular scenery.  Depending on where we were, mountains, deserts, cliffs, rocks, rivers, rolling hills, provided a vast colorful setting beneath an ever-present and even grander sky. 

We all know what this Spring emergence is about.  It's about reproduction, survival in its most glorious aspect.  Flora and fauna alike use all kinds of strategies to get themselves reproduced.  They change colors, they change shapes, they emit scents and sounds -- they do whatever they can to attract a mate (or pollinator) so their species will continue to thrive.

On a number of hikes in New Mexico, we came across small swarms of mating bugs.  Frantic mate-grabbing (and dragging!) took place at our feet:

Boxelder Bugs


Bordered Plant Bug

While many of us look and listen for birds as a sure sign of Spring, others keep an eye out for certain species of butterflies.  The Mourning Cloak, which is widespread throughout the United States, overwinters as an adult so it is often the first butterfly you will see in Spring. I saw them in New Mexico, Texas, and again here at home.  Always eager to meet a new species, I was happy to find numerous Spring butterflies in the Southwest.  Here are three of them:

Common Streaky Skipper - Texas

Common or White Checkered Skipper - New Mexico

Zela Metalmark - Arizona

In the Chihuahuan desert of Texas' Big Bend country we saw male Greater Earless Lizards, so seductive in breeding technicolor, each one earnestly running about searching for a mate:

And finally I come to my favorite copulating subject in all the insect world -- that of the mating "odes".  (See Oct 2014  Along the Pedernales River in Texas I saw large numbers of mating damselflies.  Totally nonplussed by my presence, I observed one couple for a very, very long time.  They even allowed me to record.  After I finished filming I quietly walked away and left this pair of Kiowa Dancers peacefully engaged in their active coupling:

Further down the river I saw many pairs of petite and exquisitely beautiful Powdered Dancers:

We arrived back in the northeast in early April. The canyons of snow were gone and early Spring flowers were emerging. Overwhelmed by travel and a busy work schedule once I returned home, I have neglected to post anything since February.  I will have to make-up for my negligence and overwhelm you shortly with more posts about our remarkable Southwest journey.  Flowers, cacti, more insects and maybe even some scenery will follow.

Mourning Cloak, Massachusetts




(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) butterflies damselflies insect behavior insects Wed, 03 Jun 2015 00:08:04 GMT
A Matter of Scale When I post my photos, the image you see is not at all to scale.  The magic of digital macro-photography and the ever-useful cropping tool on my computer, enable me to display very tiny animals up close and in detail.  Yet part of the wonder of these creatures is the fact that they are so very, very small and only upon close examination can one observe how beautiful they are -- how exquisitely constructed. 

In an attempt to convey that sense of scale, here are paired images of a few fine looking insects. Each pair includes one photo shot from a distance, and the other taken close-up and in most cases cropped even closer on the computer.

A very small grasshopper on a blade of grassA very small grasshopper on a blade of grass









On the left, a minute grasshopper resting vertically in a grassy meadow. I was able to get a little closer for another shot (on the right), and I've rotated that image for a horizontal view.



This Green Lacewing, barely one-half inch long, was perched on the very tip of a grass seed-head. Next time you're around grasses about to go to seed, look closer and imagine this little fairy resting on top.


  Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillarMilkweed Tussock Moth caterpillarYou can see the caterpillar's head on the right--a round, shiny black spot in between the bottom black tufts
Lincoln, MA

I was pretty gleeful when I spied these four brushy creatures (Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillars) on a milkweed plant!  My thumb at the tip of the leaf adds to the sense of scale.  The one on the right, however, appears much larger than the approximately one-inch size it actually was.


A friend of mine recently asked how do I find my subjects?  I begin with going to where they live. Exploring their habitat, I walk in woodlands, fields, by ponds and streams.  I look closely at vegetation: flowers, shrubs, branches, twigs, bark, on and under leaves. Walking slowly I look ahead or down and sometimes crouch quietly in the grass. I look for movement and follow whatever it is to see where it lands. I also use binoculars, and in this next example I was slowly scanning the rock-wall edge of a pond when I came upon this pair of mating damselflies.  I quickly took a photo--see if you can find them:


This is a pair of Orange Bluet damselflies in the mating wheel.  Each barely one-and-a-quarter inches long and almost translucent in appearance, they are not easy to see. Below are two more photographs.  The one on the left is a cropped version of the one above. The close-up on the right was taken with a macro setting. It took lots of patience and many, many shots to obtain a decent image.  I was just plain lucky that the pair stayed put for as long as they did.


It's winter now.  At the moment the world I live in is ruled by giants.  I can't wait for summer. I look forward to again venturing down the rabbit hole, so to speak, into the tiny, enormous, and infinite world of insects.

(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) caterpillars damselflies insect photography insects Sun, 01 Mar 2015 01:21:47 GMT
Spiders are extraordinary creatures

I want to write about spiders--to express my admiration for their beauty and extraordinary attributes. Spiders are Arachnids, not Insects. Some notable differences: spiders have eight legs, insects have six; spider bodies have two sections, not three like insects, and spiders do not have antennae. Spiders eat insects and can't exist without them.

Some people are terrified of spiders.  I'm not sure why. Is it the way they look? their many eyes (most spiders have eight) and eight legs? Or is it their stealthy behavior? their lightning-fast movement? the way they sit, wait then pounce, bite, and wrap their totally helpless prey so fast that the victim has zero chance of escape?  Think what you will, but these qualities I call fascinating.

Not all spiders make webs, but all spiders make silk. Spider silk has been called one of nature's miracles, for it possesses immense strength and flexibility. Researchers have long tried but have not yet figured out how to fabricate a material that is equal to it.

Most spider webs are designed to capture prey, some are made to serve only as nurseries. Who hasn't been drawn to the splendor and mystery of a spider web?  Spider webs also catch sunlight and water.

an Orb-Weaver Spider web


a Funnel Spider web

Since spiders are major insect-predators, it's not surprising I frequently encounter them. Here are a few I have seen, and when I came upon each of them I was drawn in to admire, watch, and wonder.

Enoplognatha ovata or Candy-stripe Spider with bee-mimic fly


A few years ago (July 2013) I wrote about this Candy-stripe Spider that had caught a bee-mimic fly.  It's a crab spider belonging to the family Thomisidae. Crab spiders do not build webs and many species, such as this one, hunt for their food while hiding out on flowers.


crab spider
Great Meadow NWLR







This is another crab spider species, lovely in yellow and green, patiently waiting on matching wild flowers.




This beautiful Cross Orb-weaver, Araneus diadematus, occupied our porch for a week.  She created a new web every day.  Wishing not to disturb her, we used a different door from which to go in and out of the house. Her hunting method was interesting. Instead of hiding out on a far edge of her web, she hung upside down (as you see here) right in the middle of it.  With one leg hooked onto the signal line, she waited for a disturbance that would let her know a potential meal had arrived.


I'm saving the most incredible looking spider for last. It's the large Yellow and Black Garden Spider, Argiope aurantia, with an icon on its back that, I imagine, could be the envy of many a graffiti artist. This spider builds a very large web and at the center is its signature zig-zag woven with thick strands of silk. The web is good for capturing large insects. I love dragonflies, so imagine my shock when I saw a very large darner caught in one of these webs. I admit I was horrified. But, like the damselfly I saw seized by the robber fly (August 2013), I was also fascinated at what had happened.

It's unavoidable. In my reverence for nature I find it possible to experience beauty, amazement, horror, and love all in a single moment.

(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) predation predators spiders Mon, 26 Jan 2015 19:41:36 GMT
A Good Year's End A greeting for the holiday season, some updates, and a little house-cleaning as well. 

Last spring (March and June 2014) I wrote about the Monarch migration. You might be encouraged to hear that they believe this year's wintering population in Mexico will be double what it was last year.  Journey North reports:  "If last year's record-low population had encountered poor breeding conditions, we don't know if the population could have recovered. What does the target population size need to be to preserve the migration?  Scientists simply don't know the extinction threshold.

If you read my post "Who's on Top?" (October 2014) please read it again.  I corrected a major error where I referred to a damselfly as a dragonfly, and I did some rewriting to make it clearer that dragonflies and damselflies are two separate groups of odonates.

Do all insects have wings?  Just to clarify this post (April 2014), I was asking about insect species that never, at any stage, fly.  As I reported, many juvenile forms of insects do not have wings, but the adult forms do. Some of you might have been thinking, "Ants don't fly."  And the majority of ants we see do not, however the reproductive males and females of ant species do have wings and will fly at some point in their lifetime.  But here's an insect that has no wings and doesn't fly, ever: it's the flea. Knocking myself on the head when I read this, of course they don't fly, they jump. And amazing jumpers they are. I was reading up on Flea Circuses when the realization hit.  Have you ever seen a flea circus?  I haven't, and I never knew for certain if they were real.  But they are, and it's quite a phenomenon. There are some great little films on You Tube where you can watch fleas perform. Here's a clip from 1956:

I guess that's it for house-cleaning.  I'll end the year with a few more pictures of my favorite finds from 2014.

Ebony Jewelwing, male  

I've tried for several years to photograph one of these beauties.  Not easy as these damselflies fly above, around and very close to water.  They like to perch on rocks in streams.

Damselfly pair in tandem 

The male grasps the female behind the "neck" while making a slit in the reed stalk with her abdomen, she oviposits the eggs he has just fertilized.

Virginia Creeper ClearwingVirginia Creeper ClearwingTaconic State Park, NY

Virginia Creeper Clearwing  

Another beautiful find.  I love this moth's black velvet body, the iridescence, and, oh the wings! velvety above and clear as glass below.

White-marked Tussock Moth caterpillar 

This creature's costume just blew me away!

Happy things happen when you take time to look.  I was photographing this female meadowhawk dragonfly in July when suddenly she decided to perch on my thumb.  She stayed there for a long time -- patiently waiting while I maneuvered my camera so I could steady it with one hand in order to take her picture.  The photo session on my thumb lasted 3 1/2 minutes.

Gosh, it's been a great year! 

Happy Holidays everyone!


(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) butterflies caterpillars damselflies insects moths odonata Sun, 14 Dec 2014 20:09:36 GMT
With gratitude for beauty and mystery It's Thanksgiving week.  What am I grateful for?  For my good health, my family and friends.  I'm grateful for the endless bounty of nature's beauty and mystery.  I am thankful for my good fortune every time I discover and photograph yet another incredible insect.  Some insects stand out as strikingly beautiful; many are fantastic in shape and appearance; still others are as mysterious in gesture and movement as they are in form.  As I look over my pictures from this season, I find it overwhelming to behold so much beauty and wonder all at once.  And being thankful starts all over again.

Leaf beetleLeaf beetleCalligrapha sp.
Order: Coleoptera

Leaf Beetle - Calligrapha species - Great Meadow NWLR, Concord, MA - 9/24/14


Green Lacewing - Chocorua, NH - 8/21/14


Crane Fly sp.Crane Fly sp.Limoniid sp.

Crane Fly - Drumlin Farm, Lincoln, MA - 8/28/14


Green Stink Bug nymph - Great Meadow NWLR Concord, MA - 9/15/14


Pelicinid wasp, female - Chocorua, NH - 8/21/14


Grapeleaf Skeletonizer Moth - Halibut Point SP, Rockport, MA - 7/13/14



(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) beetles flies insects moths stink bug true bugs wasps Tue, 25 Nov 2014 22:05:24 GMT
Who's on Top? Since the previous post several people have asked me to explain the unusual mating position of dragonflies and damselflies.  Look closely at this mating pair of Orange Bluet damselflies.  Can you figure out what is going on?

Orange Bluet pair matingOrange Bluet pair matingThe male is above the female, grasping her behind the neck as her abdomen bends upward to receive his sperm.
Moore State Park, MA

Something of a puzzle isn't it?  These beautiful creatures are in a "copulating wheel" -- supple acrobats performing a most unusual method of sexual reproduction.  Both partners have long thin abdomens which appear firm and straight when we see them in flight or at rest.  But when it comes to sex, flexibility is the key.  Examine the damselfly on the bottom: it seems quite remarkable that what usually appears to be a straight, rigid abdomen is in an extreme bend upward with the tip positioned flat against the first segments of the top damselfly's abdomen. 

What a peculiar mating position.  Most of us assume male and female animals, including insects, have their reproductive organs on the end of their abdomens and that the two ends must join together for sexual reproduction to occur.  Then why this odd anatomical arrangement for damselfly and dragonfly species? 

Here are two dragonflies in the mating wheel.  Who is on top? Is the female on top receiving sperm from the male on the bottom?  Or is it the other way around?

Green-striped Darner, mating pairGreen-striped Darner, mating pair

To know the answer you have to understand the sexual anatomy of male odonates. Picture this: the penis of male dragon and damselflies is not even connected to the part of the body that makes the sperm!  Male odonates have sex organs located in two separate places on the abdomen. In order to mate, the male must physically transfer sperm from his gonopore, (located on his ninth abdominal segment near the end of his abdomen) to his secondary genitalia, a sperm reservoir and penis, located under his second and third abdominal segments (the part of his abdomen closest to the thorax). 

A few years ago on one summer day while walking along the edge of a pond, I found myself very fortunate to witness this exchange.  I watched a male Variable Dancer damselfly, perched on a reed, repeatedly curl his lower abdomen forward to transfer sperm from his gonopore onto his genitalia located further up.  Curling and tapping, curling and tapping -- he went through this motion a number of times.  When he was through, he sat and watched in search of a mate.  Then suddenly he took off.  Here he is with his abdomen in mid-curl:

Variable (Violet) Dancer, maleVariable (Violet) Dancer, maletransferring sperm
Concord, MA

To capture his mate, he would grasp her behind her neck with the pair of cerci located at the tip of his abdomen. The female would hold on curling the end of her body upward touching his penis with the tip of her abdomen to receive his sperm.  Thus their mating wheel would be formed.

Here is one more photograph: it's a pair of mating Meadow Hawk dragonflies.  And with the above information and the description of male odonate anatomy in particular, you now know who is on top!

Meadowhawks, mating pairMeadowhawks, mating pair




(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) damselflies dragonflies insect behavior odonate reproduction Wed, 22 Oct 2014 20:05:43 GMT
A Season for Darners Dragonflies were the first insects to truly capture my attention.  Superior predators, they have a dominating presence.  Strong, fast and agile in flight, they are also beautiful, graceful and, I swear, at times playful.  I thought at first I would devote my picture-taking just to the "Odes" (a term used by dragonfly enthusiasts; a poetic-sounding reference to Odonata, the order to which dragon and damselflies belong.)  I quickly learned that dragonflies are, to say the least, a challenge to photograph.  They are in constant motion and when at rest their bulbous eyes, covered with thousands of tiny lenses, see you coming from any and all directions.  However, I also learned that you can't find one insect without finding another.  Once you open your eyes to insects, a walk in any field or forest is like walking into a candy store.  Soon grasshoppers, wasps, beetles and bees diverted my attention and became favorite subjects. 

At the same time, it didn't take long to get an assortment of skimmers and pennants into my dragonfly portfolio. But the largest of all, the darners, members of the Aeshnidae family, eluded me.  No matter how patient I was, Aeshna  frustrated me in any attempt I made to capture its image.  To me, The Darner became the Holy Grail of Odes.  In 2012 I managed to get photographs of a swarm of darners flying low over a field in Chocorua, NH.  It was a fantastic sight.  Dozens and dozens of Aeshna zooming in all directions over the grass, around my legs -- a frenetic energy filling the air.

The darners are blue blurs in this photograph.  I count eleven or twelve. 

In June of 2013 serendipity happened.  I was walking the right path at the right time and spied a dragonfly on the ground in front of me.  I thought from the pattern that it was one of the darners, but it looked too small.  However, my hunch that it was one of the Aeshnids was confirmed.  It was a Harlequin Darner, one of the smallest members of the family:

Harlequin DarnerHarlequin Darner

I failed to photograph another darner in 2013, but this year my patience has been rewarded.  I honestly can't believe my good fortune, and it pleases me no end to share it!

Green-striped Darner, mating pairGreen-striped Darner, mating pair

On August 14th, while at Great Meadow NWLR in Concord, MA, I photographed this mating pair of Green-striped Darners (above). This was actually my first Aeshnidae photo for 2014.

Green Striped? Darner, femaleGreen Striped? Darner, femaleShe was clinging to the edge of the pond. It looked like she was ovipositing into the soil just above the water.

On August 20th while at Bretzfelder Park in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, I photographed this female Darner (I think Green-striped) ovipositing into vegetation along the bank of the pond.

Green-striped DarnerGreen-striped Darner

On August 23rd, as we were setting off on a hike, my husband spotted this darner dragonfly on the ground.  We saw that he was moving but couldn't fly.  I stopped to take pictures.  No longer able to fly, he would certainly die soon.  Carefully I picked him up and placed him in the grass beside the path.  After the hike, I took him home with me.  A few weeks later he was up close and personal fascinating seven curious children eager to learn about insects.

On September 24th, back at Great Meadow NWLR, I had no idea my luck would last so long!  Dozens of darners and meadowhawks were on the move.  I photographed not one, but two separate individual Lance-Tipped Darners at rest in vegetation right beside me.

Lance-tipped DarnerLance-tipped DarnerLance-tipped Darner Lance-tipped DarnerLance-tipped Darner



(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) aeshna dragonflies odonata Mon, 29 Sep 2014 23:42:02 GMT
EAT, Prey, Love

It surprises and fascinates me when I photograph an insect eating. So I think it is time to present the EAT part of the Eat, Prey, Love theme I introduced last year.

How an insect ingests food depends on the structure of its mouth. For example, beetles (in the order Coleoptera), dragon and damselflies (Odonata) and grasshoppers (Orthoptera) all possess chewing mouth parts.  Butterflies and moths (order Lepidoptera) have sucking or siphoning mouthparts, and flies (order Diptera) and true bugs (order Hemiptera) have piercing and sucking mouthparts.  Now there are exceptions (the insect world is full of exceptions) – for example, some adult moths have no mouth parts at all because they don’t eat, and some flies, such as the common house fly, have only sucking mouth parts (and aren’t we glad they don’t pierce and suck the way their cousins the mosquitos do.)  But so much for explanations, I really just want to show you the pictures.

Shield bug nymph dining on tiny larvae of another insect. The long 'beak', which which it can pierce and suck, is called a rostrum.

dragonfly with leaf hopper meal

dragonfly with leaf hopper meal

skipper sipping nectar

Assassin bug nymph on a leaf dining on very small insects -- note how the markings on the rostrum (between the antennae) beautifully compliment the black and white patterning on its legs and antennae

And the BEST feeding photo of the season is this one of a Monarch Butterfly.  (See my post from March 2014.)  It is one of four Monarchs I saw yesterday. They were actively (and I like to think happily) feeding at this large buddlea plant in Hancock, New Hampshire.


(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) butterflies insect behavior insects true bugs Sun, 31 Aug 2014 21:49:01 GMT
Moth Night at Taconic State Park! An evening of discovering moths at the Moth Festival at Taconic State Park this past weekend, has opened my eyes even wider to the beauty and rich diversity these creatures possess.  So many of us think moths are only tiny gray and brown insects that incessantly fly around our porch lights by night while by day, moth caterpillars wreak havoc on the environment.  We are somewhat mistaken.  Moths (adults and caterpillars) can be stunningly beautiful, and they are essential to the survival of the thousands of animal species who feed on them and to the plants that many of them pollinate.  When it comes to wreaking havoc on the environment, well, we all know where to look.

Top to bottom:  Tiger moths: 1,2,3:  Grammia anna?   Haploa confusa    Painted Lichen Moth    4. Tussock Moth: Gypsy Moth, male   5. Sphinx Moth: Small Eyed Sphinx

Tiger Moth sp.Tiger Moth sp.





Small-eyed SphinxSmall-eyed Sphinx



(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) lepidoptera moths Tue, 22 Jul 2014 15:41:06 GMT
MOTHS! Butterflies and Moths belong to the insect order called Lepidoptera.  The name is derived from two Greek words: "lepis" meaning scale and "ptera" meaning wing, for these insects have scale-covered wings. I have learned that there are far more species of moths in the world than there are butterflies. From a child's point of view it seems to be all about butterflies: they stand out with their incredible beauty and grace. Children are immediately drawn to them -- colorful Pied Pipers with wings. But as far as Lepidopterans go, it's the moths that rule.

How are moths different from butterflies?    Here are a few major features.  Moth antennae are feathery, butterfly antennae are club-like: thin lines with bulbous tips.  Moth bodies tend to be chunkier than butterfly bodies.  And while at rest, moths sit with their wings spread flat or folded over their backs.  Butterflies rest with their wings together raised vertically over their bodies.

The diversity of moths is astounding.  I am only beginning to discover the incredible variety of moth shapes.  That such a wide variety of forms developed among this group of insects is quite amazing.  We know that animal adaptations arise for the benefit of survival, but, for a novice like me, I like to imagine that moths are shape-shifters just for the fun of it.

The smallest moths I have seen look like smudges or droppings of bird scat on a leaf.  Tiny moths like these (about 1/4" or less) are aptly called "Bird Dropping Moths".  I don't know how many species and genera of bird dropping moths there are in the U.S., but here are two of them. I'm not enlarging the images much in order to convey the full "bird dropping" effect. Someone at provided the ID for the white one on the right; it's an Antaeotricha species, possibly Schlaegeri's Fruitworm Moth:

This next tiny moth belongs to the family of Crambid Snout Moths. I chased this one's zig-zaggy flight for the longest time. It finally came to rest and, as if it were having fun with me, I found it "hiding" -- hanging upside down from this wispy stem.  Crambine snout-mothCrambine snout-mothPt. Reyes, California

I first learned about the Geometrid family of moths last summer.  I see them in mixed woods here all the time and they rest with their wings spread open, as if to show off what appears to be their perfect symmetry.  I thought they were called Geometrids because of that -- but it turns out that's not the reason.  The name comes from two Greek words "geo" meaning earth and  "metron" meaning measure.  So Geometrid refers to the larvae or caterpillars of these species which, as they move, appear to "measure the earth" -- we call them "inch worms".  Here are three beautiful Geometrids:

Pale Beauty MothPale Beauty Mothresting on fern leaves
Lincoln, MA

Hemlock LooperHemlock LooperCrawford Notch, NH

Lesser Maple Spanworm mothLesser Maple Spanworm mothGreat Meadow NWLR Concord, MA









And finally here is a moth from the Sphingidae family which contains many species that are quite amazing in appearance.  This one belongs to the Hemaris genus.  They are called Hummingbird Moths because, like hummingbirds, they can hold their place in flight while they feed.  

Hummingbird ClearwingHummingbird ClearwingHemaris thysbe
Great Meadow NWLR Concord, MA

I've broken my photographs of Lepidoptera into two albums: one for butterflies and skippers and one for moths. That's where you'll find more images of hummingbird moths and, of course, their kin. 


(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) lepidoptera moths Thu, 10 Jul 2014 02:06:30 GMT
Monarch Update I've been dragging my feet (and my heart) trying to write an update on the 2014 Monarch Migration--the news is so grim.  You can find all you need to know online.  It is especially important this year that you report any sightings of monarch butterflies (and caterpillars for that matter!). is keeping track, so please use this link to make your report:

I read this remarkable sighting from Montebello, Quebec:  "Three months into the migration, our first Monarch has now reached Quebec, a distance of over 2,500 miles from the overwintering region in Mexico.  I saw a big, beautiful female in the milkweed patch in front of the house. I'd been seeing what I hoped were monarchs over the last couple of days but couldn't get close enough to confirm until just now."  6/10/14 Montebollo, Quebec.

Monarchs on milkweed - New Hampshire - August 2012


From Monarch Watch, posted May 19, Dr. Chip Taylor assessed the chances for this year's [2014] population to rebound:

"The progression of monarchs northward has been slower than normal due to the cold weather. Monarchs need to arrive north of 40°N in good numbers before the end of May for the population to have any chance of rebounding. If the arrivals are few — or mostly delayed — until the first 10 days of June, the chances that the population will increase this year will be greatly diminished. I'll be watching JN  [Journey North] very closely for the next 22 days." May 19, 2014

Here is a link to a recovery plan from Monarch Watch dated May 27, 2014

And here you will read a not very optimistic projection that the Monarch migration well may disappear altogether. Adding to the milkweed problem, more evidence of small-scale logging has been found at the wintering sites:


(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) butterflies caterpillars monarch butterflies Mon, 16 Jun 2014 17:13:29 GMT
Do all insects have wings?

Do all insects have wings? This question came up while I was at the University of Georgia Campus in Costa Rica this past February.  We were enjoying a morning of "Insectorama!" which began, of course, with a discussion of "What is an Insect?".  We started by making a list of basic identifying characteristics.  All insects have an exo-skeleton along with the other creatures, such as arachnids and crustaceans, who also belong to the phylum Arthropoda.  Translated from the Greek, arthropoda means jointed foot or leg.  So add another identifying characteristic: all insects have jointed legs and, identifier number three, all insects have six of them.  All insects have three main body parts: head, thorax and abdomen.  Then we talked about wings: all insects have wings. But wait, no they don’t.  Juvenile insect forms (nymphs and larvae) do not have wings. Then perhaps all adult insects have wings.  But wait, they don’t either.  Almost all do, but there are exceptions and in the short time I’ve been exploring insects, I’ve already come across two.  And believe me they looked very peculiar when I first saw them.  Truthfully, I wasn't sure what was so odd about them, until I stopped to carefully observe and notice that these insects didn't have wings. 

Wingless Grasshopper, femaleWingless Grasshopper, femaleI was drawn to this insect's beautiful subtle colors, and at first mystified by its odd appearance. Booneacris glacialis, is naturally wingless, but the fact that it is missing both back legs is not.

Booneacris glacialis  Pondicherry National Wildlife Refuge, New Hampshire August 2013

When I found this grasshopper, I was taken with it's flightless body. The fully visible, slender, jointed abdomen appeared graceful, beautiful in texture and color. I posted the photograph on and quite reliably received an identification. (The people who oversee this website are terrific—very generous in sharing knowledge.)  This is a female Booneacris glacialis -- a species of wingless grasshopper.  Take another close look and notice she is missing something that she should have: she's missing two back legs. “Likely something like a bird or mouse grabbed the two legs, but only got the legs, while the hopper escaped. Could have happened during the last molt too. Sometimes a leg will get pulled completely off as the insect pulls out of the old skin, basically it gets stuck and won't come out. Could have been a curious young human too - they do that sort of thing sometimes.”  explained the man who provided the insect's identity.


I came upon this flightless insect, also in New Hampshire, in August of 2012. I confess I was drawn in closer because I felt sorry for it: what a sad, heavy body I thought, and it moved so slowly I thought for sure it suffered from a poor self-image.  When I downloaded the photograph I was able to find an identification. This is a species of oil beetle, and it is flightless.  It doesn’t have the characteristic hard shell elytra that, on winged beetles, cover the entire abdomen protecting the flight wings underneath. Instead, it has a pair of shortened elytra – look closely and you can see one of them from the side.  The beetle has no real use for them as there are no flight wings to protect.

I thought I'd close with a few favorite pictures of those flightless juveniles I mentioned at the beginning.
a grasshopper nympha grasshopper nymph

I love this juvenile grasshopper -- a flightless nymph.  I don't know what stage it is in or what species it belongs to.

Black Swallowtail caterpillar on parsley stemBlack Swallowtail caterpillar on parsley stemLincoln, MA Caterpillars, the larvae of butterflies and moths, are probably the most well-known and, for many people, the most favored of all flightless juvenile insects. This is the larva of a black swallowtail caterpillar. I believe it is a 4th instar. One more stage to go before it pupates.

(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) caterpillar grasshopper nymph insects oil beetle wingless insects Fri, 18 Apr 2014 22:18:45 GMT
Not yet gone forever, but Monarchs are missing

Monarch Butterflies are icons of my youth. They were so common in Nebraska where I grew up. Their wintering place, in the Oyamel fir forests of the Mexican Sierra Madre’s, was only discovered in 1975. I remember well the National Geographic issue that announced this amazing discovery.  The photographs were so astonishing--it was the kind of story that everyone talked about and when we did we smiled with excitement in awe of such a wonder.

Monarch populations have been on a steady decline ever since, but most dramatically since the beginning of this young century. And last year was quite a disaster. See this graph from Monarch Watch:    The columns represent the number of hectares the monarchs occupy over the winter.  The butterflies can’t be counted individually, so their population is measured by the amount of canopy covered while they huddle together in the winter for warmth. In 2011-12 they occupied more than 7 acres, in 2012-13 less than 3 acres, and this past winter .67 hectares or just a tiny bit more than 1 1/2 acres.

In March, the monarchs leave Mexico and move north via successive generations. The first stop for most of them is in the vast state of Texas. The monarchs need to find milkweed on which to lay eggs so the next generation will continue the northward flight. Texas has had an especially cold winter this year and some reports say not a lot of milkweed is around yet.  This website tracks the journey of the Monarchs:

The butterflies that hatch in Texas will travel further north--the farm belt country is where they will head in search of milk weed to lay their eggs.  The milkweed story there is the main key to the  disaster.  You can easily find numerous sources that will tell you about it, but here's one statement from Dr.Lincoln Brower, on the Monarch Butterfly Journey North website:  "The evidence we have strongly points to one main cause of this decline: the current soybean and corn crops are genetically engineered to tolerate heavy doses of herbicide that kills all competing plants, including milkweeds. Growing virtually unlimited genetically modified plants doused with poisonous herbicides is starving the rest of nature's food chains, including that of our beloved monarch butterfly as well as pollinating insects in general."

Monarch caterpillarMonarch caterpillar1st instar I believe
caterpillar was only 1/4" long

It takes 3-4 generations to reach their most northern destinations in the US and Canada.  This photograph of a first instar monarch caterpillar (above) is deceiving--as the creature was barely 1/4" long.  Imagine how many of these need to survive in order to produce the next viable adult generation.

Monarch CaterpillarMonarch Caterpillara rarity this summer of 2013
Waltham, MA

This is a 4th instar monarch caterpillar.  The process from egg to butterfly is weather dependent, but on average it takes about a month to go from egg to adult. It can take 5 to 10 days after the egg is laid for the first instar caterpillar to hatch. That caterpillar will reach the fifth instar in about 10-14 days. It’s the fifth instar that creates the chrysalis. Finally, in about 10 to 14 days more, an adult butterfly will emerge from the pupa or chrysalis.

Three Monarchs in a milkweed field - Tamworth, NH

In August of 2012 my husband and I saw dozens of migrating Monarchs flying and feeding in a small milkweed field in Tamworth, New Hampshire.  It was a bright sunny day and we were exhilarated by the sight!  We made friends with the people who own the land.  We received a letter this winter with news that they saw only one Monarch the entire summer.

  The return fall migration is accomplished by just one generation: that means tens of thousands of individual adults fly several thousand miles to their winter roost in Mexico. The journey can take up to two months.

 For an in-depth look at the current state of monarchs, listen to this talk by Dr. Chip Taylor, founder of Monarch Watch:























(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) caterpillars lepidoptera milk weed monarch butterflies Thu, 27 Mar 2014 17:16:33 GMT

We headed south the first part of February, to Texas and then to Costa Rica.  While in Texas we visited two of my favorite places: Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge and Brazos Bend State Park.  If you want to see alligators (and birds) go to Brazos Bend, but if you want to see leaf-cutter ants (and birds) go to Attwater. 

One of nature's marvels (as well as delightful entertainments) is the site of leaf-cutter ants. They are fascinating and totally mesmerizing to watch. When you come upon a leaf-cutter "highway" you are witness to creatures participating in one of the largest and most complex animal societies on earth—second only to humans.  We had good looks at leaf-cutters in Texas:

When we were in San Luis, Costa Rica, staying at the University of Georgia Campus, we saw much larger "highways" and learned a lot about leaf-cutters. I always thought they ate the plants they cut. But that isn't so. The plant parts are too poisonous for them to eat.  Instead, the parts they gather are used to grow a unique species of fungus which is the ants' only source of food. This fungus is essential for their survival; and they are the only ones who know how to grow it.

The tasks in the colony are divided among different specialized groups of ants.  All jobs are essential; and, aside from the queen, no one is more important than the other.  Large, younger ants cut and transport plant fragments to the colony:

Inside, workers chew the plant material which becomes the substrate for the developing fungus. The queen lays her eggs in the fungus and the larvae that hatch feed on it so they may grow into adult ants who will continue to carry on the responsibilities of maintaining their vast and complex society.

Defense of the colony is carried out by large soldier ants. They are bigger than the cutters, and have impressively large mandibles. You can see one here defending the entrance:

Another important task is keeping the inside of the colony clean. This job is fulfilled by smaller and, I have read, older ants.  Here are some workers carrying dirt or detritus away from the colony:

While in Costa Rica we were shown several enormous ant colonies:  one that took up the whole side of a hill and was estimated to be inhabited by 8 million or more ants.  We also saw several tree trunks supporting vertical ant highways. It was very cool to watch, at eye-height, these tiny industrious creatures traveling in straight, disciplined lines up and down the trunk of a tree:


For more in-depth information about leaf-cutter ants try these websites:,_fungi,_and_bacteria#Symbiotic_Processes  and

You might like this short video:  And here’s a link to a live Antcam where you will see ants all over the white fungus as they tend to it. You should also see some ants moving and chomping on pieces of plant material:  



(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) ants hymenoptera insect behavior insects leaf-cutters Fri, 28 Feb 2014 02:41:16 GMT
Greetings! Lady Beetle on Queen Anne's Lace flower. 

This may be my favorite photo of the year. Look closely. Do you see two silhouettes reflected in the beetle's elytra (the hard outer shell that protects the wings underneath)?  A giddy surprise when I first noticed this on my computer screen! I'm in the center holding the camera. My husband, and best companion, is standing next to me. And on the flower to the right is another surprise: a tiny fly with gorgeous blue-violet wings. 

The flower reminds me of a snowflake. And so the photograph seems appropriate to post in December to wish everyone a beautiful holiday season and a rewarding, healthy new year--both outdoors and in. 

(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) beetles insects lady beetles Wed, 18 Dec 2013 00:50:21 GMT
The Amazing Proboscis The colder weather has set in. I’ve been indoors organizing photographs, trying to identify moths I've seen this season, and having fun enlarging insect photos on my computer screen. I love looking at the butterflies close-up. Last year was the first time I clearly saw, with my unaided eye, the proboscis of a butterfly. I was astounded!  I couldn’t quite believe it.  Equally exciting, was to capture it on camera. I now know how easy that is to do in the field, but even so, the sight of a lepidopteran's proboscis is always a happy gift, a reassuring pleasure. 

The proboscis is a complicated structure.  When a butterfly first emerges from its chrysalis, the proboscis is in two parts. Along with drying its wings so it can fly, a butterfly must “zip up” the proboscis, fusing the two parts together to form its straw-like structure so it can drink.  Essential for an animal that lives on liquids. Look closely in the center of this Fiery Skipper's proboscis -- you can see a faint line where the two parts were fused together. 
I've read that when it's not feeding, the butterfly or moth curls the proboscis up into a tight coil and hides it beneath its chin.  I can't figure out how they manage to hide it, though.  Here's a photograph of a monarch's proboscis partially coiled. 

How does the proboscis work?  It's described as being similar to sucking through a straw, but you and I both know that butterflies don't have lungs. What do they use then to put the sucking action into motion?  I haven't found a satisfying answer. This source (interesting but very scientific reading describes the presence of some kind of "muscular sucking pump in the head".  If you read even the first page of this article you'll learn more about what lepidopterans feed on and how much more scientists have yet to discover about their amazing proboscis.

Spangled FritilarySpangled FritilaryThis butterfly was missing a lot of its lower wings, but I'm sure it's the Great Spangled
Waltham, MA

Great Spangled Fritillary

Clouded Sulphur


(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) butterflies lepidoptera proboscis skippers Wed, 27 Nov 2013 17:08:52 GMT
All dressed up to disappear Insect shapes, colors, patterns, and textures are infinitely interesting. And the insect world is rampant with finely-tuned mimicry and astonishing camouflage. Over the past month or so I've seen a few insects that really wowed me with their disguises.  In September, while on a caterpillar walk at Great Meadow in Concord we saw a Camouflaged Looper. (Thanks to our guide, Sam Jaffe, and to Cherrie Corey who organized the walk.)  What is so amazing about this caterpillar of the Wavy-lined Emerald Moth, is that it's not born with the camouflage--it has to create it.  In order to protect itself against predators, it attaches to its body parts of the particular flower or plant upon which it is feeding. The larva pictured here was found on goldenrod. Keep in mind, that the plant or flower parts must be fresh in order to maintain a successful ruse.  Given the color of the petals on this one's back, I think it was in need of some fresh decor.  Even so, it took our leader's expert eyes to find it.  Go here to see a short video and to read a little more about this species:

Wavy-lined EmeraldWavy-lined Emeraldcamouflaged looper caterpillar on goldenrod
Great Meadow NWLR Concord, MA

The second impressive insect I saw recently was this grasshopper my husband spotted while we were on the beach in Pt. Reyes, CA.  Can you find it?

Look closer:

I fell in love with this grasshopper's sandy costume and especially liked the detail around the "collar". I don't have an exact ID for this insect yet. But unlike the Camouflaged Looper, it appears to have been born with the gift of camouflage.  I'll update this post when I find out more about it.

UPDATE:  I have some information about this little grasshopper, Microtes occidentalis.  I sent the photo in to for help.  And received this expert reply: 

"Looks like she is full of eggs, and like her wings are missing the tips off of their originally shortish length. Together, it means she probably would have a hard time flying (at least until her eggs are laid). She looks worn, and this late in the season is probably fairly old. As for the "collar" that is the "pronotum", which is the enlarged upper part of the front segment of the thorax. It forms something of a shield that helps to protect the bases of the wings and important muscles inside. Perhaps it is related to the muscles needed for powerful jumping hind legs too (I'm not sure).  ... "

(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) caterpillars grasshoppers insects lepidoptera orthoptera Fri, 25 Oct 2013 20:45:00 GMT
Leaf Hoppers Last year I discovered leaf-hoppers.  It took this one picture to learn that a beautiful and colorfully patterned group of insects lives right here in Massachusetts and not somewhere in the tropics. You have probably seen them, too, when you kick through the grass and notice little slivers of bugs the size of fingernail clippings hop up from the ground to escape your step. 

Red-banded Leafhopper This summer I have discovered many more "hopper" families that belong to this True Bug (Hemiptera) Order of Insects.  Leaf-hoppers, plant-hoppers, tree-hoppers - all of them miniscule. And they vary in color, pattern and shape.

Leafhoppers are miniscule insects. Many adults are beautifully patterned.


This beautiful green one with yellow eyes (above) belongs to a sub-family of leaf-hoppers that are called "Sharp Shooters".

However, the most unusual members of these families seem to be the young ones, the nymphs.  Their body structures are complicated and, well, sometimes bizarre. Some look like they are part crustacean part transformer toy. You might even think they come from outer space:

leafhopper nymph Two-striped Planthopper nymph

Here's a fascinating article (thanks to my sister) with cool video that explains how leaf hoppers are able to propel themselves forward:




(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) hemiptera insects leaf hoppers Wed, 25 Sep 2013 19:37:45 GMT
"Finding it where you are"

We were in the White Mountains recently to do some hiking.  While there, I came across a poem, “Going to Walden” by Mary Oliver.  In it, she considers the significance of making a visit to Walden Pond. The real trick for her is to go not to Walden, but to "finding it where you are".  We had several great hikes that week, though I was disappointed I was unable to climb a particular summit.  So I spent my last afternoon chasing insects with my camera. This summer I’d been after butterflies in the Hairstreak family. They are challenging because they flutter and feed so fast and land for such brief moments. But I got lucky here and found one that turned out to be cooperative. This small, delicate butterfly landed on a leaf and stayed there for quite some time. I squeezed through foliage to get a clear picture. The butterfly rubbed its wings together then stopped, rubbed wings, then stopped...

Eastern Tailed Blue, femaleEastern Tailed Blue, femaleabout to oviposit
Crawford Notch, NH

 I saw the abdomen go down. My goodness I thought, this might be a female about to oviposit.  The abdomen touched the leaf. I saw nothing until she moved very slightly. And, wow, there it was one very tiny egg.  You can see it in the photo below: the egg is just under the left wing behind the abdomen. Eastern Tailed-Blue, femaleEastern Tailed-Blue, femalelook beneath abdomen and left wing and you will find the egg she just oviposited

I was breathless.  Then she flew off.  I wondered why only one egg?  How many eggs would she have to deposit in order to ensure that even one adult butterfly would result? In the midst of these White Mountains, this beautiful meadow, this huge tangle of plant growth where a small butterfly landed on a leaf, I was exhilarated at what I found right where I was. And I marveled at this confident butterfly and the tiny hopeful egg she left behind. 

The tiny white dot on the leaf is the egg. The butterfly was an Eastern Tailed Blue.

It belongs to the Lycaenidae Family of butterflies to which Hairstreaks also belong.















(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) butterflies hairstreaks Mon, 16 Sep 2013 02:55:31 GMT
Eat, Prey, LOVE After that grim post of August 21st, I must follow-up with a happier one. This is about hover flies or flower flies, members of the Syrphid family. To me, these tiny little bee mimics are beautiful and happy creatures.  Why I anthropomorphize "happy" I don't know.  Maybe it's the way they fly about with great energy and gusto. Maybe it's their ability to move their wings so fast that they hover in one place like a hummingbird or kestrel but on a minute scale.  Whenever I see them I smile.  Here are a few pictures from last summer: Flower Fly/Hover Fly

Flower Fly/Hover Fly

One late afternoon this summer I was in Brookline with my camera.  The sun was low and shining directly on a long patch of weeds and flowers. Hover flies abounded and a number of them were in mating pairs.  Oh Joy!  This pair stayed on this seed-head for the longest time. They didn't seem to mind my presence at all.  Happy little flies, yes?


(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) diptera flies hover flies insect mating behavior Sat, 24 Aug 2013 01:08:03 GMT
Eat, PREY, Love The more time you spend watching wild life, sooner or later you're going to see animals doing things they need to do in order to survive: eat, hunt, and mate.  So eventually you'll witness animals not only in the throes of copulation, but also in the throes of capturing and killing prey.  Usually the latter evokes awe, fascination, even respect especially when it comes to watching a raptor swoop down on its prey with great precision and speed. 

The other day I was in a lovely garden in Concord, MA photographing insects. Suddenly I saw a large robber fly fast approaching a leaf. I saw an abdomen flexing, and watched the robber fly land in the grass where I photographed this: the robber fly killing his prey, a lovely damselfly. 

Actually I wasn't sure what the robber fly had caught until I downloaded the pictures onto my computer.  I could hardly believe my eyes.  I was caught between congratulating myself for getting at least one terrific photograph of the event (below) and the horror of the damselfly's doom :

A sad, brutal ending for the damselfly. I swear I heard it scream.

(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) damselflies diptera flies insect behavior predation robber flies Wed, 21 Aug 2013 18:26:04 GMT
What do you really see? When I first started serious birding, it didn't take long to learn how essential careful and repeated observations are to identifying bird families and species. Learning the ins and outs of bird identification, the challenges that varying light conditions, plumage, individuals, etc. present, you soon realize that unless you're an expert birder, you sometimes won't be able to identify what you are seeing.  Which is fine. Humility comes in handy, especially when you discover that you have to admit your identification was wrong.

Now I am observing insects. It is a far more challenging task to identify insects than it is birds. Distinguishing one Order from another is in itself a challenge.  And when it comes to species, often you can't do it without magnification and/or a knife. A simple example are the Odanates.  The checklist for Dragonflies and Damselflies of New Hampshire includes the following key (you would never find this on a checklist for birds!): 

V = visual identification sufficient   C = capture and in-hand verification required     P = diagnostic photography required    S = specimen required

Observer be warned, if you say you have seen a Northern Spreadwing without collecting it as a specimen, then you can't say you saw one.

All this is to set the stage for a discussion about the following photograph: 

I was with a group of kids in our learning garden this spring.  A little girl looked at a flower and in shock exclaimed, "Oh look a spider is killing a bee!"  I took a picture and so did a few parents and we all remarked how sad it was for the little bee.  Back home, I downloaded the photo and leapt immediately into identifying the spider. What awful kind of spider would kill a bee? I found an ID for the spider, and sent the image to a few colleagues labeled 'Candy-stripe Spider with a bee'.  And then forgot about it. Until a few days ago when I returned to the photograph. I had just been reading more about bee mimic insects. I first learned of their existence last summer when I photographed hover flies (members of the Syrphid family, order Diptera). There must be hundreds of bee mimic species. And not all of them are flies (Diptera) some are beetles (Coleoptera) and I imagine other orders have bee/wasp mimic species as well. The really tricky ones, though, are some of the larger Syrphid flies which at first glance look exactly like bees. You must learn key features in order to more easily tell the flies from the bees. One of these key features are the antennae. Flies have short, stubby antennae. Bees and wasps have longer, elbowed antennae--note the words longer and elbowed.  Now, you look closely at the insect in the photograph above.  Look at the antennae.  Bee or fly?  A fly of course--just look at those stubby things! 

The flower flies I saw last year were much smaller and looked a lot less like bees than the one with the spider. If you want to compare these mimic flies to bees and look closely at bee antennae, you can start with my album of bee photos. And for a fun challenge, search Google images for bees and see if you find any mimics in the midst.  Chances are you will.  Better yet, take a long walk in a sunny garden filled with flowers.

This non-biting horsefly is also a bee-mimic. Photographed this summer in New Hampshire.






(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) bee mimics flies spiders Thu, 25 Jul 2013 21:21:34 GMT
The beehive arrives I was pretty happy about being at work the day the beehive arrived at the farm.  

Opening the hive. I was there when Tom, the keeper of the bees, opened it up.                      

Honey Bees I tried counting the bees on one tray. How many bees are in the picture above?


The queen surrounded by her attendants For the first time in my life I got to see a queen bee up close and personal. You can see her here (the large bee with the orange abdomen) surrounded by female worker bees who take turns caring for her.

Drone Bee Every hive has a few drones (they are the males). They don't have to work, they just "serve" the queen.  You can see a drone in this picture. He's the large dark bee lying in the center being ignored by the female worker bees.

Stored Nectar See the shiny cells? Those cells are full of nectar. There are worker bees in the hive who receive nectar from the foraging bees who gathered the nectar while visiting flowers. The worker bees who receive the nectar take it into their mouths and hold it there for awhile before depositing it into a cell.  When the nectar is deposited it still contains a lot of water. Most of the water will evaporate and soon it will turn into honey. I'm simplifying this process as I write. Life in the beehive is not all that simple. Nor is the transformation of nectar into honey. It's fascinating to learn how intricate this system really is.

Note: The beehive was a little late in arriving.  You've probably read or heard about the beehive colony collapse. It's really true--in case there were any doubters--that honeybees are dying. There are a number of things contributing to this, and if you want to read more you can start with this link to a paper written in 2007. It gives a good overview of multiple factors that are/could be involved:



(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) bee hive bees honey bees Tue, 11 Jun 2013 20:34:30 GMT
MAY is for Mayfly nymph For much of this month I have been fortunate to lead a few school groups in pond exploration. For me, "ponding" (that's what we call it at Drumlin Farm where I teach part-time) is FUN and exciting. The first time I explored pond life, about 4 or 5 years ago when I started this work, I was hooked.  A universe I hadn't known existed appeared before me.  (I compare this to the first bird I saw that opened my eyes to birding. Forty years ago in Port Jefferson Long Island, it was an exquisite Indigo Bunting perched in the sunlight on tall grass.) Do you know you can find not only reptiles (turtles and snakes) and amphibians (frogs and salamanders adult and young alike) in a pond, but also crustaceans (isopods, copepods, fairy shrimp, scud), mollusks (snails), annelids (segmented worms and leeches) and numerous insects in all four developmental stages?  Some of these insects leave the water when they become adults and these are the ones with which we are most familiar. They include black flies, mosquitoes, dragonflies, damselflies, and mayflies.  Mayflies, like dragon and damselflies, undergo a three-part metamorphosis: egg, nymph, and adult.  Here is a picture of a mayfly nymph we found the other day:

Mayfly nymph The damselfly nymph (below) looks very similar to the mayfly nymph (above). Damselfly nymph But the mayfly nymph has noticeable gills along side the abdomen and 3 graceful-looking tails (or cerci).  I think the mayfly nymph is one of the most beautiful creatures you will find in a pond.



(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) insects mayflies Thu, 30 May 2013 02:47:49 GMT
Ants!! April is just about over and this month I have been looking for early spring insects -- trying to get a decent photo but also looking for something new. I found it the other day as I watched an ant.  I've tried to photograph ants before (I don't have a fancy macro) and they are not only tiny but they are very speedy thus difficult for me to capture through the lens.  But this bright sunny day I found a tiny ant carrying something very big.  Turned out to be a piece of a desiccated worm. I suppose the weight of the worm slowed him down a bit (depending on species, an ant can carry 10 to 50 times its weight).

I know next to nothing about ants, and some viewers might think this desiccated worm part is yucky, but to the ant this is good food. Notice how the ant grasps the worm with its mandible. I took a lot of pictures as it worked its way over and under the grass.  He dropped it at one part (my fault I think) and a second ant came to help.

The two of them carried it for awhile, but it appeared that they started to fight over it and soon just one ant was left carrying the worm.  I never did see where the ant took it--I didn't have any more time as I had to get back to work of my own.

Ants belong to the same order as wasps and bees: Hymenoptera.  It is estimated that there are over 20,000 species of ants in the world.


(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) ants hymenoptera insect behavior Tue, 30 Apr 2013 01:22:51 GMT
Signs of Spring Great Meadow National Wildlife Refuge in Concord is one of my favorite places to walk.  It's the only natural area nearby where I can see the sky all around me.  Having grown up in Nebraska, I crave open spaces.  At Great Meadow, the sky, the marsh, the river, the woods all speak the change of seasons.  On one visit a week ago I was listening for Red-wing Blackbirds and looking to see if any insects might be about.  I'm new at the insect thing, so I wasn't at all sure what to look for.  I photographed a mass of red dots at the base of a Silver Maple tree -- the base soaking in water.  I couldn't tell what the red dots were, but thought maybe they were from a plant.  So I was pleasantly surprised when I downloaded my pictures to discover the red spots were actually red and black insects.

Two days later I went back with proper footwear, a tripod and a different camera.  I took lots of pictures. The insects it turns out are 12-spotted Lady Beetles.  Unlike the Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle, these ladies are members of the ladybug family.  But their body shape is not the round dome of the classic ladybug (see 1/25/13 post) and their spots aren't quite round either.  The 12-spotted lady beetles overwinter under leaf litter in large numbers and emerge in early spring.  I'm learning more about this very large family of beetles, the Coccinellidae. (See:  And note: Since lady "bugs" are Beetles (Order: Coleoptera) and are not True Bugs (Order: Hemiptera), some biologists suggest we call them Lady Beetles.















(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) beetles insect behavior insects Tue, 12 Mar 2013 01:48:46 GMT
A winter bug I wanted to post an insect photo for January.  Every winter these tiny red and black beetles come into our home to stay warm.  Only thing is, they eventually die, for lack of food I imagine.  Yesterday, I caught a live one and photographed it.  Here it is:

This beetle belongs to the ladybug or Coccinellidae family (all "ladybugs" are beetles).   The classic ladybug, Coccinella septempunctata, has seven spots. The ladybug in my photo is not a classic.  Compare this to the Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle:  Some people see Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetles (SMLB) and think they are in the ladybug family, too. But they aren't. Compare the spots of the two beetles.  The ladybug has polka dots, but the SMLB does not.  Also compare backs and the pronatum or prothorax, head and mouth parts: totally different.  Cool.

(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) beetles coleoptera insects lady beetles Fri, 25 Jan 2013 19:49:59 GMT
Fungi A New Year. Time for something new.  I've thought of a name or sub-title for this website: "A Natural Point of View" and I've added an album of Fungi pictures.  While I spend considerable time finding IDs for the insects, I don't with the fungi.  They're here because they stop me in my tracks when I'm out taking a walk or hiking in the woods.  I photograph the ones that strike me as quite beautiful or quite peculiar -- or even a little outrageous.  While my appreciation of fungi is mainly aesthetic, I've added IDs where I can.  I appreciate the help I receive from mycologists I meet along the way.

(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) fungi mushrooms Tue, 22 Jan 2013 04:12:43 GMT
On closer inspection... I came upon a curious sight on October 8th while hiking up Pack Monadnock in New Hampshire.  I thought I was just photographing insect eggs at the time, but when I got home and saw the image enlarged on my computer, it looked like an obese moth (dead?) was clinging to something that very much looked like a cocoon, and upon it were the many tiny eggs.  I emailed the photo to Charley Eiseman (co-author of Tracks and Signs of Insects) and asked if he could explain what was in my photo. To my delight, he replied "Your photo is of an adult female rusty tussock moth who has laid eggs on the cocoon from which she has emerged.  I've never actually seen a female, so that's a neat find."

Wow! "Neat find", huh? I felt like I'd struck gold!  I've since learned more: This female moth is flightless. (You can see her vestigial wings.) She emerges from her cocoon only to attract a flying male who comes to her to mate. She then lays her eggs on top of the cocoon from which she emerged.  And I guess that's it.  That's her life.

(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) lepidoptera moths rusty tussock moth Fri, 07 Dec 2012 22:41:23 GMT
Autumn Insects It's November and, at first, you'd think most insects are gone for the season.  Mosquitoes are largely absent.  But we haven't had a hard freeze yet, and I've been seeing lots of insects: house flies, ants, grasshoppers, moths, and dragonflies to name a few.  When I was at Broadmoor Sanctuary on November 4th, I walked into the meadow with a friend and soon we were both sporting dragonfly legs.  Meadowhawks were everywhere and for some reason they were particularly friendly.  They clung to our jeans without any fear.  I even got to look one straight in the eyes.  And my delighted friend sported four, five, six, and sometimes seven resting on her blue-jean legs.  Meadowhawk


(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) dragonflies Thu, 15 Nov 2012 03:00:28 GMT
Not a caterpillar In August, I photographed several of these pretty little 'caterpillars' while walking in a beautiful New Hampshire woods.  Later I tried to identify them, and I combed through my caterpillar guide (Caterpillars of Eastern North America, by David Wagner), various butterfly guides, searched the internet for "hairless, yellow and black speckled caterpillar" and came up with nothing.  But the other day, a colleague emailed me a link to another photographer/insect enthusiast's website photographs by Ned Eisner). I looked at just about all of his insect photos and happened upon a larva that looked a lot like my "caterpillar".  Turns out my guys are not caterpillars, (which is what butterfly and moth larvae are called), but are the larvae of a type of "Pine Sawfly".  (And if you are wondering how to tell the difference between caterpillars and pine sawfly larvae, you will easily find the answer on line.) These little larvae eat pine needles and given enough of them, they can defoliate a pine tree in no time.  Next, I looked for an image of the adult "sawfly" and I learned something else: that they aren't flies at all.  They are related to wasps and bees and belong to the same order, Hymenoptera.  And according to Wikipedia they've been around for millions of years.  All this new information is quite fun and exciting.  Who said ignorance is bliss?  The bliss is in the learning!

(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) hymenoptera sawfly Fri, 05 Oct 2012 02:07:09 GMT
Grasshoppers One of my first insect photographs was this grasshopper on amaranth.  The photo surprised me, for it appeared that the grasshopper was looking straight at me. 

Grasshopper on amaranthGrasshopper on amaranth

Grasshoppers look as if they are fashioned from miniature erector sets. Their beautiful exteriors are so finely crafted as their skeletal form reveals function. This metallic Marsh Meadow Grasshopper looked quite handsome in his gilded "suit of armor". 

Grasshoppers aren't easy to photograph because they are good at jumping without notice and at hiding in the grass.  Another early grasshopper photograph is this one. I call it "Grasshopper trying to scare me!"

Grasshopper trying to scare me.Grasshopper trying to scare me.

March 2016 update: All grasshopper photographs are included in the Orthoptera album.



(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) grasshoppers orthoptera Sat, 08 Sep 2012 01:23:51 GMT
It's mid-August It is impossible to go outside and not see something new! Did you know that there are approximately 1,000,000 classified species of insects in the world?  And the beetles make up 250-350,000 of those species. 

I have placed the dragon/damselflies into one gallery, the butterflies/moths into another and all the rest into a gallery of "more insects".  I think only two beetles represented so far.  I come across many wasps, and I find them fascinating and beautiful.  Wasps, bees, and ants are all related and belong to the same order, Hymenoptera.   

A Great Golden Digger Wasp, female, digs her nest in the crack of a sidewalk.  She will lay her eggs inside the nest and then stock it with paralyzed insects. Paralyzed, not dead, so they will be a fresh source of food for the larvae that will hatch from her eggs during the winter.





(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) golden digger wasp insects wasps Tue, 14 Aug 2012 16:10:59 GMT
It's a start... I've had this website for awhile now.  I started with my Galapagos photos, but with the full intention of adding my photographs of insects, lichen and other natural beauties. It's only in the past few years that I have fallen in love with photographing nature.  As a birder, I was always content to just watch birds with fascination, keep my list and study my field guides.  I had no compulsion to photograph them.  But with the smaller things, I am compelled to capture their images with my camera as well as to observe and study them.  I try to make pictures that are up close, but not too close.  Close enough to see small fauna and flora, but with enough distance to create some space between the viewer and nature's Small Wonders.

(LINDA GRAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY) insects Sun, 29 Jul 2012 21:02:57 GMT