Sunday, June 6, 2010

Catch The Bug!

Saturday saw Tony Leukering, Joe Bens and I wandering the back roads of Belleplain in search of some of Cape May's fabulous dragonflies. We found a good number of species and got some great pictures, but at the end of the day, it wasn't one of these magnificent beasties that made it as Bug of the Day, it was the Water Strider.

There are several species of Water Strider in the genera Gerris and Aquarius and they can be difficult to identify to species, even in the hand. These are familiar creatures which can be found in almost any body of fresh water during the summer and readily catch our eye as they skate across the water by spreading their weight on long legs, such that the tension at the surface of the water supports them. Having three pairs of limbs gives them ample opportunity to use those limbs for more than just walking! The front pair are used for grabbing prey, the middle pair are used like oars to row across the surface of the water and the back pair are used as rudders for steering. We spent some time watching the activities of these little guys and eventually voted them as Bug of the Day thanks to the individual pictured below. Water Striders are true bugs (in the order Hemiptera) and as such, have a needle-like tongue or stylus, which they incert into their victims and suck out the contents - just like a hypodermic! Life is tough out there you know!

For anyone interested in dragonflies and damselflies, we are now entering peak season and any visit to wetlands in the Cape May area will be productive - even dry woodland rides are used by several species so keep an eye out wherever you happen to be. And don't forget to stop by the CMBO store and pick up a copy of the new guide to New Jersey Dragonflies and Damselflies - happy hunting!

Bug of the Day for a very good reason! This Water Strider was voted our Bug of the Day for this one selfless act - it took out a Deer Fly before the fly got to us!! [photo by Mike Crewe]

This Spicebush Swallowtail was collecting mineral salts from damp mud on Pine Swamp Road. [Photo by Mike Crewe].

It's impossible to comprehend what metamorphosis must be like when you don't have to go through it!! Here, a Swamp Darner is caught in the act of emerging from its larval case There's a lot to see here; the empty larval skin (known as an exuvia once vacated) can be seen as a dark brown insect shell clinging to the sand wall while the adult emerges through a split in the back of the skin. The adult's abdomen is yet to emerge, but notice how the legs are all tucked up out of the way and notice the bright yellow wing buds. [Photo by Mike Crewe]

A half hour later and we now have what is clearly a dragonfly. The legs are now being used to hang on to the old exuvia, the abdomen is free and expanded and the wings have been pumped to full size from those withered little beginnings. I have never witnessed the full emergence of an adult dragonfly like this before and was surprised to see the rich green coloration of the wings. However, this color will gradually disappear to leave clear, transparent wing membranes. [Photo by Mike Crewe]

Just a shot of a great dragonfly to round off this post with. The sight of the scintillant wings of a Halloween Pennant, gold against a backdrop of rich summer green, is reason enough in itself to be out in the field - get the bugging bug and enjoy a new insight into the lazy days of summer! [Photo by Mike Crewe]

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