Southern similarities

The ongoing drought has significantly curtailed wildlife activity—well, curtailed wildlife numbers in point of fact.  It’s been rather sad, what with an obvious dearth of critters being so obvious no matter what you’re looking for.  Yet despite what I’d call a cataclysmic fall-off of insect numbers, there have been some around, and I don’t just mean the usual suspects (heck, even the usual suspects have been difficult to find, if not impossible).

Take this female ichneumon wasp (Compsocryptus sp.) for example:

A female ichneumon wasp (Compsocryptus sp.) perched on a leaf (2009_07_26_028013)

I know.  I know.  You can scarcely take your eyes off her stinger.  “It’s so long!” you scream as you run away.  “It’s huge!” you shout as you flee in the other direction.  “Eek!  Don’t let it touch me!” you holler from somewhere beyond the next hill, where in fact you’re still running.

But don’t be silly.  She’s harmless.  Her ovipositor is large, yes, but she’s really harmless.

Well, OK, keep running and screaming if you want, don’t bother me none.

At first I felt certain I’d seen this species before.  In fact, I was convinced I’d even posted photos of it before.  But I couldn’t find anything.

When I finally identified it, a species from the genus Compsocryptus, the name was so unfamiliar that I suddenly felt I probably hadn’t seen this southern species before, though ichneumon wasps (family Ichneumonidae) are so numerous that they arguably constitute the largest animal family with somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000 species worldwide, and at least 8,000 species of them in North America, so it’s easy to have seen one species and to mistake it for 10 other species when you see them, not to mention mistaking them for other types of wasps they sometimes mimic.  Still, this one seems new to me, so we’ll say it is (although I don’t know the exact species, a common problem with ichneumon wasps since so many species are undescribed).

One thing I found interesting about her before she flew away (something she did right after I snapped the first photo, but oh well…) is the color pattern on her wings.  It seemed terribly familiar to me, which perhaps caused my initial confusion about whether I’d seen this species before or not.

Then it hit me: Of course she looked familiar!  Her colors and pattern are strikingly similar to another southern species, the scorpionfly (Panorpa nuptialis):

A male scorpionfly (Panorpa nuptialis) standing on gravel (2009_10_18_032492_comp)

Sure, there are obvious differences, but a quick glance would easily let someone assume either species was in fact the other.  And I’m quite familiar with the scorpionfly (see this post for more on that species).  I think my first thought, that I should know what the wasp species is, actually came from having the scorpionfly floating in the back of my head and aligning the physical similarities without knowing it.

So despite the ongoing drought, a killer drought that really put the brakes on wildlife activity, and despite the historic heat this summer that pretty much put the brakes on everything, I’m happy knowing at least a few new critters have wandered across my path.