New backyard bug: Asian mango flower beetle

Asian mango flower beetle (Protaetia fusca). Boca Raton, FL, December 17, 2014.

December has been chilly here; the longest stretch of cold nights I can remember, punctuated by lovely cool and ever-so-slightly-warm by the afternoon days. After nearly fifteen years here, I feel like I’m finally getting my money’s worth out of living in the Sunshine State.

The cool weather, though, has slowed the flowering in my yard, and with the smaller nectar and pollen crop that’s available in these shorter days, I’ve seen fewer insects, and with fewer insects, there have been fewer birds around. I still see the wintering palm warblers, and now and then the kestrel shows back up […]

New backyard butterfly: Great Southern White

Great Southern White (Ascia monusta) nectaring on Indian Blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella). Merritt Island, FL, January 12, 2008.

I’ve been noticing some large, white butterflies in the front yard throughout the month of May; they’ve been a bit hard to photograph with the constant wind and their habit of flying off at top speed when I approach with a camera, so I’m digging into my photo files and showing this version from a January, 2008 trip to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Great Southern White (Ascia monusta) nectaring on Indian Blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella). Merritt Island, FL, January 12, 2008.

Now back to Boca: this June, for the first time ever, I noticed some butterfly eggs on my […]

New backyard bird: Downy Woodpecker, or why native plants love birds (and vice versa)

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescent with scale. Boca Raton, FL, May 1, 2014.

From time to time the native plants in my yard, which I do my best to foster, suffer from an overabundance of a certain tiny insect: scale. These insects aren’t scary to most people—they don’t bite, they don’t fly up and startle you, they don’t even move after they hunker down in their chosen spot to feed. But they are rather scary to the plants they parasitize. They latch onto a growing stem, use their piercing sucking mouthparts to penetrate the thin exterior walls, and suck up the vital juices that are supposed to be circulating through the […]

When wasps dance

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Earlier this week I witnessed some insect behavior with which I was previously unfamiliar. (To be fair, I am unfamiliar with, to make a conservative estimate, most insect behavior.) A pair of wasps of the species Polistes major were, to put it simply, crowding each other on our deck box. Sometimes they would face each other, sometimes near, sometimes a bit farther apart. It lasted for hours. I discovered them around 8 a.m. while playing outside with the boys; it was still going on shortly before noon. Right around noon, and I’m not sure exactly when, one of the wasps […]

Cold spells=insect close-ups

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The first few days of fall in Florida often bring cold (well, cool) fronts to the region. This year we’re already on our second or third round of long-sleeve days, so I thought this might be a good time to show off what I’ve been able to capture of the cold-slowed insect fauna.

Here’s a photo from last week; it’s the Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) with the messed-up wing from the front porch. The Blue Dasher is a member of a monotypic group (which just means that, like Tigger, the wonderful thing about the Blue Dasher is it’s the only […]

When dragonflies don’t…

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fly, that is.

This morning when Eric and I went outside to plant some basil (yes, November is the start of herb-growing season here in south Florida), we noticed a dragonfly on the wall of the house that wasn’t moving very much. One of its wings was at an odd angle:

On closer inspection, it looked like this Blue Dasher (known to odonate enthusiasts as Pachydiplax longipennis) had sustained some kind of damage to the thorax; perhaps the little gal flew into a window or something:

Here’s a detail of that same shot:

The […]

New backyard bug: Polistes major

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The first cold front of the year moved in earlier this week, bringing overnight lows into the 50s (brrr). That’s not very cold, of course, but to those who are used to overnight lows in the 70s or higher, it’s still quite a shock. Witness this poor paper wasp, stunned by the cold and hanging out on the pool deck and fence for hours on the first morning, rather than flying away as soon as I approach with a camera:

This is Polistes major, one of the ten species of polistine wasps found in Florida. Very little has […]

A romp in the grass with some fine damsels

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The last few days have seen the finest weather I can recall since moving to Florida. Daytime highs in the low- to mid-70s, overnight lows in the 50s and 60s, a light breeze making sure that even when you’re out in the sun you feel cool and refreshed. This is what living in south Florida is supposed to be like!

When the weather’s this nice, one of my favorite things to do during my lunch break is go out and get dirty. And every now and then, getting dirty involves rolling around in the grass chasing after lovely little damsels. […]

New backyard bug: Ischnura hastata (Say)

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Some insects look so delicate and fragile that it’s hard to remember that they can be among the most ferocious predators, at least for their size, on the planet. Case in point: the tiny little yellow damselfly Ischnura hastata, commonly known as the Citrine Forktail. It’s only about an inch long and its wings look so delicate and flimsy it’s a wonder that it can fly at all:

But the damselfly, like its larger cousin the dragonfly, is a voracious predator both as larva and imago (adult). According to the most recent (and best) field guide published on […]

New backyard bug: Zethus slossonae (Fox)

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Once you start looking for wasps, you see them everywhere. My back yard supports several different species, from several different wasp families, with more appearing almost every day. My latest find is Zethus slossonae, from the Vespidae family, subfamily Eumeninae.

It’s an attractive wasp with head and thorax in black with yellow markings and a rather bulbous abdomen in burgundy:

It was named in 1892 by Fox for the Connecticut author and entomologist Annie Trumbull Slosson.

According to Eric Grissell, this species is endemic to Florida south of Orlando, which means it’s found nowhere else in the world. […]