Photo of the Week – March 4, 2016

Last summer in Minnesota, I saw my all-time favorite insect for only the third time ever.  The camouflaged looper is a tiny inchworm that disguises itself with bits of the flower it is feeding on.  It is a fairly widespread species, and probably pretty common, but it’s rarely seen because it’s so well camouflaged.  I’ve written in more detail about this species in a previous post if you’re interested.

While I was excited to see the inchworm, I have to admit I was also a little disappointed.  In the inchworm.  I mean, really.  This species is usually so well camouflaged that it blends almost perfectly with the flower it is feeding on.  This one stood out like a sore thumb.

The camourfl

A camouflaged looper on a purple coneflower at The Nature Conservancy’s Bluestem Prairie in western Minnesota.  The head is at the top left…  You can see bits of (I think) two different flowers stuck to its back in this picture.

I’m going to give my favorite insect the benefit of the doubt and assume it was in the middle of a costume change when I saw it.  It looked like it had just started to pick up pieces of the purple coneflower it was feeding on, and still had some pieces of some other flower stuck to its back.  I’m sure it was in the process of shedding those other flower pieces and replacing them with coneflower parts.  But still – it was pretty glaringly obvious as a light-colored critter sitting on top of a dark-colored flower head.  It was awfully lucky I was just a nerdy photographer and not a hungry bird

Photo of the Week – December 4, 2015

We had a winter storm pass through our area at the tail end of the Thanksgiving weekend.  After a light coating of ice, we got a couple inches of fluffy snow.  Monday was a gloomy overcast day – too dark to inspire me to venture out with my camera.  However, Tuesday morning began with a beautiful sunrise and calm winds.  A fantastic opportunity for winter prairie photography.   Unfortunately, I had to enjoy the light from the interstate as I drove to a meeting.  Wednesday was another great sunrise and morning of light, but I was on the road again – heading to a different meeting.  Yesterday, most of the snow melted and, just like that, the first snow of the year was gone.  Not a single photograph taken…

So, instead of posting a beautiful photo of fluffy snow on the prairie today, I’m reaching back to a photo from August.

Stiff sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus) Lincoln Creek Prairie, Aurora, Nebraska.

Stiff sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus) Lincoln Creek Prairie, Aurora, Nebraska.  Click on the image to see a larger version – and maybe the hidden visitor on it.

I like this photo of a stiff sunflower for several reasons, including the interesting shapes of the ray flowers (“petals”) that are not yet fully extended.  However, I also like the photo because there is a hidden visitor on the flower that I didn’t see until well after I took the photo.  Can you see it?

Here is a cropped version of the image to give you a better look.

Stiff sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus) Lincoln Creek Prairie, Aurora, Nebraska.

Can you see the tiny larva feeding on pollen?

I don’t know what this little larva will grow into, but it appears to be feeding on pollen and stringing lines of silk between anthers as it moves.  I featured a similar larva in an earlier post that showed a sunflower which had been “sewed shut” by silk – probably as a protective measure to allow the larva to feed on the flower under cover.  I wonder if this larva will follow the same procedure as it gets bigger and can’t hide as easily out in the open.

Interestingly, the photos from that earlier post featuring the “seamstress larva” were taken on the same day as the photo in this post.  In fact, I took the photo of the tiny larva just a few minutes after photographing the sewed-up flower.  You’d think I’d have been on the lookout for larvae on sunflowers, but I still missed it, even through my macro lens.  Then, I missed it again as I worked up the photo later, even as I was looking closely at it on the computer to adjust sharpness, etc.  I guess that’s a testament to the effectiveness of the hiding strategy of this little larva!

I hope its camouflage allowed the little larva to grow up, pupate, and have lots of offspring to carry on its strategy.  I bet it did.