Mayslake Bugs

by Carl Strang

The warming weather has produced the first wave of insects at Mayslake Forest Preserve. These early-season adults overwintered in that form or in the stage just prior, or in some cases, migrated from the South.

The Carolina saddlebags is one such likely migrant.

The Carolina saddlebags is one such likely migrant.

This individual gave me a rare opportunity to photograph it in such a way as to show off its diagnostic purple forehead. The slender legs have the strength to hold the dragonfly to its perch.

Though I think of the eastern tailed-blue as a late-summer butterfly, that is the second generation of the year. Here is one of the early-season firsters.

Though I think of the eastern tailed-blue as a late-summer butterfly, that is the second generation of the year. Here is one of the early-season firsters.

Wild indigo dusky wings frequently may be encountered at Mayslake early in the season.

Wild indigo dusky wings frequently may be encountered at Mayslake early in the season.

The preserve harbors two host plants for the caterpillars: white wild indigo, a desired native prairie species, and the unwanted crown vetch, an introduced invasive.

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Odonata Update

by Carl Strang

This has been a remarkable spring for damselflies and dragonflies at Mayslake Forest Preserve. Carolina saddlebags have been present in unusual numbers for weeks, outnumbering black saddlebags by a wide margin.

This one posed on June 3, and they keep on coming.

This one posed on June 3, and they keep on coming.

Spring is also the time when the lakes host two baskettail species.

Common baskettails won’t be around for long. Good luck finding one perched.

Common baskettails won’t be around for long. Good luck finding one perched.

This is one of the few times I have seen a prince baskettail perched. I wonder if it needed a break in the midday sun. It seems to be semi-obelisking here.

This is one of the few times I have seen a prince baskettail perched. I wonder if it needed a break in the midday sun. It seems to be semi-obelisking here.

Friday was a remarkable damselfly day. First came the following two individuals, striking with a metallic sheen on their abdomens. I don’t think they were teneral spreadwings, however.

This one best matches the female orange bluet.

This one best matches the female orange bluet.

Nearby was this one, which I believe was an immature male orange bluet.

Nearby was this one, which I believe was an immature male orange bluet.

The best was yet to come, however. Up in the meadow surrounding the temporary off-leash dog area at the former friary site, two bluets appeared that I don’t believe I have ever seen before. The first was a blue-type bluet that was just too small to be a familiar bluet.

Ta-da! A double-striped bluet!

Ta-da! A double-striped bluet!

In a more shaded area were two foraging damselflies which proved to be male and female of another species new to my experience.

Check out the enormous eyespots and the large blue area at the tip of the abdomen. This is a male azure bluet.

Check out the enormous eyespots and the large blue area at the tip of the abdomen. This is a male azure bluet.

A female azure bluet was nearby.

A female azure bluet was nearby.

The female was using an interesting foraging technique, reminiscent of a hover-gleaning bird, slowly flying up and down and briefly hovering to scan each leaf of an erect goldenrod plant, visually hunting for resting prey. As the photo shows, she was successful.

Mayslake Insects Update

by Carl Strang

We’re at the edge of summer, and bees and butterflies and Odonata are center stage. Skippers have been appearing at flowers.

Earlier in the season there were wild indigo dusky wings. This is one of the skippers that typically rest with wings open.

Earlier in the season there were wild indigo dusky wings. This is one of the skippers that typically rest with wings open.

This week a new skipper appeared in Mayslake’s main prairie. This is one that closes the wings at least part way, and had practically no detail beneath.

This week a new skipper appeared in Mayslake’s main prairie. This is one that closes the wings at least part way, and had practically no detail beneath.

With the wings partly open there clearly is some color on the leading edge of the forewing, and small groups of dots. It appears to be a tawny-edged skipper.

With the wings partly open there clearly is some color on the leading edge of the forewing, and small groups of dots. It appears to be a tawny-edged skipper.

Carolina saddlebags have been one of our more consistent early season dragonflies.

The violet forehead is just visible in this back-lit individual.

The violet forehead is just visible in this back-lit individual.

So far the only spreadwing damselflies I have seen have been slender spreadwings.

Slender spreadwings continue to be common this week.

Slender spreadwings continue to be common this week.

In the past few days a number of dragonflies have made their first appearances of the season.

One of the recent species is the eastern amberwing. I like the way the light projects a distorted image of this male’s wings onto the rock.

One of the recent species is the eastern amberwing. I like the way the light projects a distorted image of this male’s wings onto the rock.

Early bumblebee colonies have begun sending out workers.

This bee was diving into the foxglove beard tongue flowers so quickly upon landing that flight photos were needed to show sufficient detail for identification. The black basal abdominal segment followed by two yellow ones is one clue. The trace of yellow on the back half of the dorsal thorax is another.

This bee was diving into the foxglove beard tongue flowers so quickly upon landing that flight photos were needed to show sufficient detail for identification. The black basal abdominal segment followed by two yellow ones is one clue. The trace of yellow on the back half of the dorsal thorax is another.

The other details are consistent with an identification of Bombus auricomus.

The other details are consistent with an identification of Bombus auricomus.

New insects will be emerging frequently for the next couple of months.

Mayslake Miscellany

by Carl Strang

A highlight at Mayslake Forest Preserve this year was a successful red-tailed hawk nest. The single fledgling stuck around the mansion grounds and prairie area for several weeks, frequently making its presence known with high-pitched calls (“feed me!”) or perch choice on favored high points.

The bird has been absent from that area in recent days. We wish it well.

One day in mid-August there was much activity by black-capped chickadees and blue-gray gnatcatchers among the goldenrods and Queen Anne’s lace.

Their small size and acrobatic ability allows them to exploit a temporary abundance of insects in such places. I suspect the gnatcatchers were migrants. Already the season is turning.

The red-colored saddlebags dragonflies have vanished, after being a daily presence for the early part of the season.

Like this male, I suspect that all or most were Carolina saddlebags. I wasn’t the only observer in northeast Illinois seeing more of these than usual. That’s the way it is with insects. A species has an outbreak year, for reasons we often don’t understand, then usually drops back to its typical low level the following year.

Saddlebags

by Carl Strang

I have been seeing unusual numbers of red-bodied saddlebags dragonflies this season. They aren’t exactly swarming, but it seems that every time I go around Mayslake Forest Preserve I see at least one. Saddlebags are a group of relatively large dragonflies in the skimmer family that have patches of color on the bases of their hindwings. Our common one in northeast Illinois is the black saddlebags.

Our least common species, which is a rare wanderer from the Gulf Coast, is the striped saddlebags.

It has a red abdomen, but note the characteristic white stripes on the thorax. I photographed this one in 2004 close to the Des Plaines River. It must have followed the Mississippi River from Texas, then the Illinois River to the Des Plaines to reach northeastern Illinois.

There are two other red-bodied saddlebags we are more likely to see. Not long ago I shared a photo of one at Mayslake, repeated here.

I am not familiar enough with the two species to identify them in flight. This may be a Carolina saddlebags or a red saddlebags. Last week, however, I got a rare opportunity to examine one close up.

This insect was fluttering in the Willowbrook Wildlife Center parking lot, apparently having been caught on the front of a car. At first I was going to call it a red saddlebags, because of the dull red color and the small black spots on the tip of the abdomen. However, the ovipositor on the underside of that tip reveals that this individual is a female. Females can be dull colored relative to males. According to my references the colored area of the wing is much larger in the Carolina saddlebags, matching the extent on this individual. The deciding factor, however, is the forehead.

The forehead is the triangular area between the large squarish tan face and the eyes. There is a dark purple line across the lower half of the forehead on this dragonfly, which in the female marks it as a Carolina saddlebags.

Early Odonata

by Carl Strang

We’re barely into June, and already there has been some remarkable dragonfly and damselfly action at Mayslake Forest Preserve. In a previous post I showed early reproductive activity by common spreadwings. Two more spreadwing species appeared before the end of May: slender spreadwing, which I had found on the preserve before, and a new one, the swamp spreadwing.

Many individuals of all three species have emerged from the stream corridor marsh.

Back on May 4 I saw this four-spotted skimmer.

I’m pretty sure I have never seen one so early in the season. I’ll finish with a UFO shot (unidentified flying Odonata). On May 26 I saw two tandem pairs and a single, all saddlebags of one of the red-bodied species, over the stream corridor marsh. One of the pairs I saw laying eggs. They were staying too far out for me to see clearly, so I resorted to the UFO technique.

I am leaning toward Carolina saddlebags rather than red saddlebags. The insects’ bodies were bright red rather than dull red, it still is fairly early in the season when Carolinas are more common, and there appears to be a lot of black on the abdomen tip in the photo. There was no chance of seeing the definitive forehead color, however, so I’m not willing to call the identification certain.

Late Season Insects at Mayslake

by Carl Strang

A couple days ago I put a finish on the floral season at Mayslake Forest Preserve. Today I’ll shake a few late insect photos out of the camera. We’ll start with some Odonata.

Green darner b

At Mayslake as elsewhere, hundreds of common green darners paused in their migration to hunt above the prairies and meadows. Migrating south is thought to be worthwhile for them and other large, strong dragonflies as they can extend their breeding season and spread their genes over a larger area. The various saddlebags species also migrate. Here is a UFO shot of a Carolina saddlebags that graced the mansion lawn area one day.

Carolina saddlebags 2b

A darner that shows up in a lot of places late in the summer is the shadow darner.

Shadow darner 3b

That vertical perching posture is typical. Common milkweeds have been hosting a late-season caterpillar, the milkweed tussock caterpillar.

Milkweed tussock moth caterpillar b

They are larvae of a tiger moth. I’ll close with a predator. This Chinese mantis assumed a cheerleading pose.

Chinese mantis 1b

Then, it began to groom its hunting apparatus.

Chinese mantis 2b

Earlier I showed an egg mass, which is how the species overwinters. Soon all the insects will be going into their various dormant forms to survive the long, cold, dry months of winter.

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