We’re not taking it anymore

Before we received a double-whammy of snow last week with two significant storms, it appeared on March 1 that spring had not only gotten its foot in the door, but that it had shoved its way into the room and intended to kick winter out with much fervor.

In response to the warmth, White Rock Lake brought to light its magnificent insect collection.  They came out in force, as though the whole of the population unanimously declared “We’re not taking it anymore!” in response to winter’s attempts to stick around.

Bear in mind a large number of wasps occupied the area.  Ants and wasps concern me more than bees, for the latter are generally docile unless protecting a hive with honey and/or young, or when directly provoked.  On the other hand, the former two bring with them an air of unpredictability and dour temperament that lead me to exercise respectful caution while in their midst.

I point that out because, given the acute nature of my allergy to their stings (ants and wasps especially), I was forced to keep my distance when photographing many of these insects.  It’s not that I’m unwilling to let them near me; it’s just that I have no interest in pushing my luck when it seems entirely unnecessary.  Hospitalization is something I try to avoid…

I strolled along the floodplain adjacent to Dixon Branch.  The large swathe of land had miraculously given birth—almost overnight—to a field of wildflowers.  Some I recognized and some I didn’t, but even from a distance I could see the area was abuzz with insects of all shapes, sizes, and colors.

A spotted cucumber beetles (Diabrotica undecimpunctata) on top of a common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) (20080301_02410)

Nearly every common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) I saw had one of these little green beetles on or near it.  Ubiquitous fails to describe their collective presence.  Any flower devoid of their telltale spots soon trumpeted the arrival of a visitor either flitting in from another flower or crawling out from under the petals.

Only later did I identify them as spotted cucumber beetles (Diabrotica undecimpunctata).  The specific subspecies still eludes me, though, yet I continue my efforts to learn that information.

A western honey bee (a.k.a. European honey bee; Apis mellifera) hunting for pollen on a common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) (20080301_02412)

Almost as numerous as the beetles, western honey bees (a.k.a. European honey bees; Apis mellifera) filled the air with buzzing, a fog of busy wings collecting pollen and scurrying about the order of the day: prepare the hive for this season’s brood.

Again, I have not identified the exact subspecies of the bees.  It’s quite possible I photographed more than one; it’s equally plausible that they are all the same.  More work is needed to pin down an exact identification.

A western honey bee (a.k.a. European honey bee; Apis mellifera) and a spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata) sharing a single common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) (20080301_02420)

On a day when so much activity takes place, traffic jams are abundant.  More than once I witnessed a bee or wasp landing on an already occupied flower.  In this case, the honey bee barged in on the cucumber beetle’s territory.

Neither seemed to mind the other too much.  Well, except when the beetle found itself trampled underfoot by the bee.  Only then did it hurry out of the way of the much larger insect.  Aside from those fender benders (which bothered the beetles more than they did the bees), these insects went about their business without too much involvement with each other, and at no time did a scuffle break out after a collision.

An unidentified crane fly perched on a leaf behind a dandelion bloom (20080301_02424)

This photo surprised me because I never saw the fly behind the dandelion until I processed the images later.  Perfectly camouflaged amongst the brown winter grass, it remained perfectly still as I invaded its personal space.  My intent?  To photograph another insect on the flower.  The result?  The camera actually focused beyond the petals and found what I did not see.

While I can’t be sure of the species at this time, I believe this is a crane fly of some sort.  I need to look more closely at the picture (the only one I have of this critter) to see if I can come up with a final determination as to its classification.  (See update at the end of this post.)

A close-up of a spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata) on top of a common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) (20080301_02428)

Most of the cucumber beetles fled the moment I encroached upon their territory (meaning whatever flower upon which they had staked a claim).  Sometimes they skirted the open petals and hid beneath the bloom; sometimes they hurried off the pollen machine and disappeared into the grass; and sometimes they took flight and vanished amidst a writhing sea of insects flying throughout the area.

This one did none of those things.  Despite my proximity to it, not once did it flinch, even when I accidentally bumped the flower with the camera lens.  It treated me with disinterest at best.  I appreciated that as it gave me a chance to get some better photos.

A close-up of a seven-spotted ladybird beetle (Coccinella septempunctata) as it climbs up a blade of grass (20080301_02444)

While I knelt in the grass peering at that bug, I realized the ground beneath me teemed with life I had yet to notice.  A variety of lady beetles (a.k.a. ladybugs or ladybird beetles) carried on with their spring affairs in a jungle no higher than my ankles.  A whole other world existed down there, one hidden from those who failed to stop and look.

That seven-spotted ladybird beetle (Coccinella septempunctata) gave me quite a bit of exercise as I chased it about trying to get at least one presentable image.  But these insects were busy and had no time for my shenanigans.  They appeared and disappeared in a flurry of comings and goings, and taking photographs of them proved difficult as they never sat still.  At all.


A mating pair of convergent ladybird beetles (Hippodamia convergens) perched on a blade of St. Augustine grass (a.k.a. carpetgrass; Stenotaphrum secundatum) (20080301_02446)

Did I mention they were busy?  Yes, busy looking for mates and doing what comes next.  While I do apologize to the younger members of our audience for the unexpected insect porn, seeing this mating pair of convergent ladybird beetles (Hippodamia convergens) demonstrates why they had no time to stop and pose for my camera.  If indeed spring had sprung, their focus seemed clear: procreate at all costs.

Oh, they never stopped moving even when caught in such compromising positions.  The larger female dragged the pair up and down, over and under, and every which way she could, so even the business of being busy didn’t stop them from playing hard to get—photographically speaking.

Another interesting thing about that image—other than the insects being out of focus—is the scale made evident by the dandelion seed at which the camera actually took aim.  It dangled from a small blade of grass above and behind the beetles.  Despite that, it appears gigantic compared to them.  Compared to both of them combined even.

And finally, note that both are being held up by a single blade of St. Augustine grass (a.k.a. carpetgrass; Stenotaphrum secundatum).  You really must appreciate how small these insects are despite their enormous usefulness in controlling other pests.

[Update] The insect in the fourth photo is actually a stilt bug from the family Berytidae.  The precise species escapes me for now.

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