Aug 312014
 

With an hour to spare before leaving for an afternoon workshop in Atlanta on Radical Mycology, I decided to set out for a late-morning stroll down Piney Woods Church Road.  I had not ventured far when I came upon the web of the most immense spider I have yet encountered on my walks:  a female Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia), easily two inches in length.  She is one of the most lovely of spiders, and I gratefully took a number of photographs of her.  Then I noticed a new wildflower blooming from an adjacent vine, and I bent down to take several shots of the small, purplish-white blooms.  It was then that I noticed my hands.

Both of them were covered, from fingertip to wrist, with tiny moving specks.  They weren’t biting — yet.  And they were so small that I could barely feel them on my skin.  I was seized with terror:  could these be chiggers?  There are few things I am terrified of in the Georgia forest — there is lightning, certainly, but otherwise, chiggers top my list.  I frantically rubbed my hands together , trying to free them from me before they could clamber higher up my arms.  Even now, as I type this, having sprayed my hands with bleach and rinsed them with soapy water, I still noticed a couple of the tiny specks on the move.

What is strange is that I am not clear how so many got onto my hands so quickly.  I did not place my hands in anything — so they must have fallen from the trees above or jumped collectively from a particular spot. Were they chiggers?  I suspect that I will learn that soon enough.

The spider is beautiful, and quite harmless, unless you are an insect that happens into her web.

 

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Aug 292014
 

I glimpsed three diners enjoying supper along and near Piney Woods Church Road today. In the top photograph, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) feeds on nectar from a Lantana, growing in the front garden of a neighbor’s house just off the road.  In the middle image, a cow in a Piney Woods Church Road pasture stares at me as I approach the fence, so rudely interrupting her grazing.  In the last photograph, a Robber Fly (possibly Diogmites sp.) rests on a grass stalk and feeds on a wasp it had recently captured.

 

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Aug 292014
 

A White Micrathena spider (Micrathena mitrata) rests at the center of her web like a grand architect of the Cosmos, amidst the endless play of matter and light.  For but a moment, the backdrop of Piney Woods Church Road slips away to reveal the vast universe just beyond my doorstep.

 

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Aug 282014
 

It was a hot and dusty afternoon; holding the camera in the late-day sunlight, I dripped with perspiration, the droplets falling onto the parched roadway.  At last, I decided it was time to photograph the web of a Bowl-and-Doily Spider (Frontinella pyramitela) that I had been noticing every day for months now, about halfway down Piney Woods Church Road. In the waning sunlight, I also caught the spider’s silhouette close-up.  This tiny spider, about a centimeter across, waits patiently at the base of the web’s “bowl” for gnats and other small insects to happen by.  Judging by the various wrapped packages suspended in her bowl, this spider has been fairly successful.

 

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Aug 272014
 

I set out on my Piney Woods Church Road walk at nearly midday, and the heat of the day was starting to build.  Most photographers shun the hours around noontime, particularly due to the harsh direct sunlight that is less than ideal for landscapes and macrophotography alike.  It is, though, a great time for pollinators, still hard at work on the lingering Hoary Mountainmint blossoms.  Today I was delighted to note the return of an immense (well, bigger than any insects I have photographed lately) wasp, over an inch in length, with orange-red legs and long, curling antennae.  I had noticed one on the same flowers the previous day, but it darted away before I could even focus the lens.  This time, though it skirted quickly from flower to flower, I was able to take several successful images, my favorite three of which are below.  It turns out that the wasp is a Katydid Wasp, Sphex nudus, which, as the name suggests, preys on katydids.  In the lowermost image, it is joined on the same flowerhead by a Double-Banded Scoliid Wasp, Scolia bicincta.

 

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Aug 262014
 

I don’t know what these little bug nymphs were that I saw roaming on a few leaves of Hoary Wintermint earlier today, but they certainly were comical.  They were less than a quarter-inch in size — so small that I could only appreciate them by photographing them first and then zooming in.  How delightful!

 

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Aug 262014
 

Today’s photograph features a Coppery Leafhopper (Coelidia olitoria) being pursued by an overly-enthusiastic (possibly slightly desperate) photographer, on a shrub along Piney Woods Church Road.  A few seconds after this photo, the leafhopper did, in fact, jump.  Another effort to photograph him (her?) ensued, culminating in a second jump — onto the photographer’s lens!  After that, it’s all a blur….

 

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Aug 252014
 

I do not usually like flies, and I have largely avoided photographing them along Piney Woods Church Road. For one who espouses an appreciation for the commonplace, though, flies seem about as everyday as one might imagine.  Still, there are so many unpleasant flies out there:  deer flies, black flies, house flies, to name a few.  For some reason, though, I was able to put aside my distaste long enough to take this close-up of a fly on Hoary Mountainmint today.  Its visit offers a first lesson in fly appreciation.  It turns out that this fly is among the “good guys” of family Tachinidae, also known as Tachinid Flies.  They are predators, feeding on myriad garden pests, including caterpillars, beetles, sawflies, and borers.  Their larval stage is a bit grisly, though.  Host insects consume Tachinid Fly eggs laid on plants, and then the eggs hatch inside the insects and slowly feed on them.  Still, I will try to remember these flies with gratitude the next time I enjoy something fresh from the garden.

 

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