CRITTERS AT BBSP AND ELSEWHERE  page 6  Insects: non-toxic
This page was born 10/31/2005.  Rickubis designed it.  (such as it is.) Last update: 4/30/2016 
Images and contents on this page copyright 2002-2013 Richard M. Dashnau

Here are my other Brazos Bend and/or critter pages:
 ----------------------------------------------------------------                  OR,  FOR OTHER ANIMALS:
Alligators at Brazos Bend State Park Introduction                 Critters at Brazos Bend State Park Page 1
Snakes-nonvenomous 1-------------------------------------------     Critters at Brazos Bend State Park Page 3
Snakes-nonvenomous 2-------------------------------------------------Insects, non-toxic -Mantids-Ant Lions
Snakes-nonvenomous 3------------------------------------------------Spiders
Snakes-venomous------------------------------------------------------Mammals
Birds-Waders----Birds-Raptors---------------------------------    Lizards!--Turtles!

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Welcome to the Visitor's Center at Brazos Bend State Park. That's me with the giant walking stick (06/20/2004). As I get more material in my domain, I'm able to give a separate page to various animals. This page features non-toxic insects. I feel that toxic insects each should have their own page for easier reference. 

June 29 and July 6, 2014 Robber Flies (especially the large ones) can make an impression just by flying by. Sometimes, they are carrying something they just caught. And sometimes they just fall nearby with something
they've just ambushed in mid-air.  Here are a few images that I took on these two days. Note that I uploaded (published) them in 2016, although I took the pictures below in 2014. First is one that was patrolling from that stalk. 
The next image was at the Nature Center, and I had seen the Robber Fly land on the building.  It has caught a wasp.  The third image shows a fly that fell to the trail in front of me, with a dragonfly it had caught.  The fourth image shows a fly on the rail around the air conditioner at the Nature Center, and it seem to have something, but I can't tell what it is.

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February 01, 2013 Today I visited the wonderful Houston Museum of Natural Science again, something I've been doing a lot more since the new Paleo Hall opened. However, today I visited the Cockrell Butterfly center, and the Brown Hall of Entomology.  I went through the Hall first, thinking that I might need to pick up some information before entering the rainforest of the Butterfly Center. The hall of Entomology also discusses some of the other arthropods besides insects. There was a large spider that must have gotten loose. I looked around, but just couldn't seem to find it.... (see the RICKUBISCAM image below)

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After escaping, I continued through the Hall, where I saw the butterfly "chrysalis corner".  I observed people inside the cages, gathering butterflies. I didn't realize the importance of of this until just a few minutes later.  I finally entered the rainforest, where water fell from the a rock face to a pool about 1 story below. In about a minute, I noticed all the butterflies flying around. And...

...I got to see the release of newly-changed butterflies!  Some were ready to fly--but others hadn't had their wings fully-hardened yet. These were gently placed on trees, to hang there like Christmas ornaments.
    
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                 HANGING LIKE ORNAMENTS                    Rice Paper Butterfly  (Idea leuconoe)

As I looked at the butterflies hanging there, and while I was chatting with one of the entomologists, I suddenly remembered a picture I had seen just a week ago. It was a butterfly that had coloration on its wingtip that resembled the head of a snake. Just then, I was looking at the very same species of butterfly--about 2 feet in front of me!  I could have touched it (but I didn't, because that can damage the wings by rubbing the surface off) but I did take some pictures with my pocket camera.  From what I can see from the identification sheets that the museum loans out, it is a Tawny Owl Butterfly  (Caligo memnon).  Now, I'll admit that when I saw the article and and picture on the internet, I was a bit skeptical. After all, of what good would it be for the edge of the wing of a butterfly to resemble a snake's head? How would that work as camouflage--especially considering that the butterfly also has two LARGE spots and colors on the wings that closely resemble the wide eyes of an owl.

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    Tawny Owl Butterfly  (Caligo memnon)             SNAKE'S FACE!! NO, IT ISN'T         SNAKE WITH HEAD UNDER 1 COIL

I think I may have stumbled onto just the right time and place to show how the snake's head might work. The butterflies wings were still not fully-expanded (but almost).  AND... the butterfly was hanging upside-down.
Seen in this way (and maybe the light was just at the right angle--I don't know),  the *entire* butterfly in profile looks like a coiled snake, with the head underneath the coils. At least it does to me. Since the butterfly can't fly yet, maybe appearing as a coiled snake would scare predators away.  This can only be verified by expermentation with whatever would normally attack this butterfly in it's home ecosystem.

I followed the trail and enjoyed the rainforest for a while longer, and then continued to the Energy and Paleo halls.

4/30/2006--This is the last story from this single day, and last for for April as I continue my update bonanza.
While inspecting the deck near the VC/NC, I found this caterpillar resting along one of the crosspieces. Caterpillars are hard to identify, but a cursory inspection gives me the impression that it resembles the larva of a moth. This moth is called the Gloomy Underwing, or Andromeda Underwing (catocala andromedae). Underwing moths are called so because the pair of rear wings is usually a contrasting color from the pair of front wings. These are held under the front wings (which are usually a color well-suited for camouflage). The moth can suddenly show these highly-contrasted underwings, which causes a startling color effect.
Searching the internet yielded the information that this particular larva seems to have a diet consisting of a number of plants. For one website out of my domain that describes this moth, click here.  For more information on caterpillars in general--also outside my domain--click here.
Why did this catch my attention? Look how BIG this caterpillar is!
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                         AT REST                                          HEAD END CLOSER                                      EVEN CLOSER                      PAIRS OF EYES AND TWO DARK SPOTS     

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                        WITH A QUARTER                                               THE QUARTER, CLOSER

June 20, 2004. Volunteer Chuck Duplant found this GIANT walkingstick on one of our trails. When I walked into the Visitor's Center and saw it, I just couldn't believe what I was seeing! It's kind of surreal to see a live insect as large as this right in front of you. According to some websites, the giant walkingstick (Megaphasma dentricus) is the longest insect in the U.S. The image below (QUARTERSTICK) shows the giant walkingstick with a quarter (and my hand) for scale. WOW! They are relatively harmless, though,  unless you are an oak leaf. That is, they are herbivores, and are not known to use any offensive chemical defences (not like the two-striped walkingstick, Anisomorpha bupestroides) .  Below are a few more pictures of this humongous insect. First (RICK STICKING AROUND) shows me (I'd been working outside) holding the giant walkingstick. The next (RICK'S NEW FRIEND, CLOSER) is a cropped closeup of the same image. The third (LET'S SHAKE HANDS) is a face-on view as it is walking up my arm. The fourth (BIG AS MY HAND) is a frame from a short video clip showing it crawling on my hand.  It *is* as big as it looks, and it's alive!.

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                    A QUARTER STICK                                                     RICK STICKING AROUND                                    RICK'S NEW FRIEND, CLOSER                                  LET'S SHAKE HANDS    

 
  WALKING ON MY HAND!
  WALKING ON MY HAND VIDEO 584KB

August 24, 2003  On a different note, I have to relate an incident that happened at the VC/NC today. We've been gifted with the nocturnal appearance of a type of click beetle that has two spots that glow in the dark like eyes. Evidently, the appearance of this beetle was exciting news for some local entomologists. They (the beetles, not the entomologists) are quite striking, and the glow from the spots is easily visible in a lighted room with just a small amount of shading.  One of the park people had taken a beetle out to show everyone, and we were all being impressed. I turned my back for a second, and when I looked again, everyone was looking up.
"Where'd it go?"
"It went up towards the light!"
"There it is;  it---OOP! Spider got it!"
There were a few moments of silence....
Most beetles can fly. This species of click beetle can fly. It flew from the palm of the hand holding it to land on the upper edge of one of the fluorescent lights---where, we (and the click beetle) discovered, a spider lived. When it landed, a spider immediately ran out, grabbed it, and disappeared back above the light.  End of beetle.  Fortunately, there are many, many more.

August 02, 2003  l admit it. I like some science-fiction. I like some science-fiction movies, I like some movies with monsters, and some movies with alien creatures that will come up upon their unsuspecting prey and rip their head off.
But, you know what's really, really cool?  This kind of thing is happening on Earth, in real life, all around me! And, unless you (my internet guest who's reading this) live somewhere like Antarctica, it's happening all around you, too!  To see it, all you need to do is stop thinking all the time, take a mental rest, and just look around.
The RICKUBISCAM today is a picture of something that caught my attention when it moved just at the edge of my peripheral vision. At first glance, it looks like two dragonflies attempting to make more little dragonflies. Then we can see that they appear to be two different species of dragonlfly.
Then, if we take a closer look (see THIS CAN'T BE GOOD, below), we can see that the brown dragonfly (According to Park Naturalist David Heinicke, the Green Dragonfly is a female Eastern Pondhawk-Erthemis simplicicollis; the deceased one is a female Widow Skimmer - Libellua lucuosa. Thanks, David.) is missing its head and part of its thorax. A little bit closer view (see CONCEALED WEAPON, below) shows the mandibles slipping from their wonderfully complex and mechanical sheath and grinding away at the hapless victim. To see two short clips of the mandibles in action click on the following links clip one (flv video 647kb, or see EATING 1, below); clip two (flv video 658kb, or see EATING 2, below). (Sorry about the movement of the camera. I couldn't set up a tripod.)   Now we can see that this is the outcome of another intricate, high-speed dogfight between two dragonflies. Those bozos! Can't they cut that stuff out and go after deerflies and mosquitos instead? There must be plenty of those to go around! However, when you get to this level of existence, you have prey animals, and then you have animals that you have to compete with for that prey, and you have animals that might think YOU are prey. A dragonfly eating another is not only giving itself more food by eliminating competition; it's getting a meal directly while it's eliminating the competition! Not to mention that it's also eliminating a potential attacker. Wait, I mentioned it.  Oh, well.
 


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               GHASTLY EMBRACE                                   THIS CAN'T BE GOOD                       CONCEALED WEAPON  

              
              DRAGONFLY EATING 1                                         DRAGONFLY EATING2

July 27, 2003  This is how I think it happened: It glided silently through the jungle that was its hunting ground. Among its fellow creatures, it was the apex predator, and it moved its delicate, sleek length through the clearings and passages of its domain.  From time to time, lesser creatures would become visible, and many of them were attacked and killed in seconds, and then chewed to pulp and eaten. Many times, this fearsome predator wouldn't even bother to stop moving as it ate its helpless victims. As a flier, it had no peer, and had evolved a fantastic behavior that would allow it to fly at prey (or challenge others of its kind) by flying in a manner that--although it was moving at a terrific speed--would allow it appear immobile to its intended target.  Since it appeared to be a stationary object, its intended target would ignore it; until it was too late, and then another victim could die. The predator was a Dragonfly--a Green Darner. Its huge compound eyes covered its entire head, and it could see in almost every direction simultaneously.
As it flew through a stand of tall weeds (grass is common for what happens next)--perhaps swooping for prey--there was a sudden movement from above and behind.  The dragonfly may have felt a loud buzz, and suddenly it was hit from above, in the thorax, right between the wings. Immediately after, a sharp spike was thrust into the dragonfly's beautiful hard shell, and it lost control of its wings. It hit the ground, and was already helpless as its bodily fluids began to be pulped and sucked out through a single hole in its exoskeleton. The dragonfly was doomed.
The Dragonfly had been attacked by a Robber Fly. These are large insects that are *also* apex predators. They are also deadly and efficient hunters. However, where the Dragonfly relies on strength and speed, and can fly and attack in the open, the Robber Fly will often perch on a good spot (like a tall blade of grass) and just watch. When something interesting passes, the Robber Fly launches its surprise attack, and hits its prey in flight. Where the Dragonfly chews its prey to pulp with its mandibles, the Robber Fly uses piercing mouthparts to suck out juices.
The image below (IN ITS CLUTCHES, below) shows the outcome of the hunt. I've seen Robber Flies hunting, just as I've described. Often, they just fall to the ground (although it seems they try to brake with their wings) with their prey. I have been trying to get some good close-ups of this for at least a year, but the insects have always flown off.  This morning, however, one of the volunteers (cool, Allen!) just walked into the visitor center with the Dragonfly and its killer.  The Robber Fly was attached, eating, and would NOT move.  I snapped a few pictures.  The pair of insects was then left outside, where I was able to get some better close-ups.  The three pictures below are three views of the same image. The fingers are mine, and you can see the scale. I've cropped in to show the mouthparts where it pierces the thorax.  Later in the day, the Dragonfly was still in the garden and was intact, though reasonably empty. Ants had found the carcass, though (lots of ants...FIRE ants. No more pictures. Sorry.). And the Robber Fly had gone; perhaps to attack another Dragonfly, perhaps to be eaten BY a Dragonfly.
 

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                  IN ITS CLUTCHES                              LLET ME EAT IN PEACE                              KILLER AND VICTIM                                     NEAT EATER

August 4/August 5 2002 This story actually started right after my encounter with the arboreal Dolomedes Albineus. The Live Oak trees near the Visitor's Center have had large mats of silk on the bark for some time. In spots, this silk is quite thick, and many visitors, and some volunteers (including me) also wondered what caused it. See (SILK 1, 2, 3, below)
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                            SILK 1                                                      SILK 2                                                    SILK 3
Close examination didn't show anything obvious (like spiders or caterpillars).  I'd wondered if the silk had anything to do with the Dolomedes, but the link was just circumstantial (both happened to be in the same tree).  Finally David (park naturalist) had an answer (well, I guess no one had asked him before.). The creatures responsible were called "barklice". These are not true lice, but actually insects. Well, of course, I had to find more information. I looked on the internet, and found some information, but not many pictures. So, I decided to go back to the park Monday (August 6. I'm taking time off from work anyway. HAHAHA!) and try to see some of these insects. I was successful! Some of these images show a closeups of one on a page from a small notepad. One (UNDER THE SILK, below) shows them on the tree, after I've pulled some of the silk away. These insects are extremely small, and difficult for me to photograph. I'll return and see if I can get some better pictures. in the meantime, these will have to do.

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                    UNDER THE SILK                                      AT KNIFEPOINT                                    THE KNIFE POINT                           ON THE KNIFE BLADE
Ok. So, these are barklice. But what are they? What do they do? Well,  they are insects, in the order Psocoptera. They are very small.  They live in large groups.  They eat molds, fungi, pollen, dead insects, aphids, and other similar material. In short, they "clean the tree's bark".  The barklice build the silk mat to work under (click on these links to see video clips of barklice part 1 (flv video 1,214kb),  or,  part 2 (flv video 618 kb)). After they're done (probably after they've exhausted a particular area of all small foodstuffs), they leave. According to some accounts I've read, they remove the webs. After finally seeing how small these insects are, I'm amazed at the amount of silk that they can produce. This has to cost the insect some survival resources. If they produce this webbing by processing what they eat, then how much debris must they consume just to produce a single silken strand? How much to cover the large areas with those mats of silk? These are not to be confused with the various caterpillars that may build tents in the leaves of trees. Barklice seem  beneficial for the tree, and seeing these webs (which are close to the bark, and not in a "tent" or "globe" configuration) should probably be a good omen for the tree.   I, for one, am happy that this "mystery" is finally solved.

If you'd like to know more about the park follow these links:

Brazos Bend State Park   The main page.

Brazos Bend State Park Volunteer's Page  The volunteer's main page.
 

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