Category Archives: photography|insects

Tiger Swallowtail on Snow Plant

A western tiger swallowtail butterfly feeding on the nectar of the flowers of snow plant.

Even though snow plant (Sarcodes sanguinea) is an unusual plant that does not contain chlorophyll and depends on a tree and a fungus for its nourishment, it still has flowers, and the flowers still have nectar.

This was the first time I’d seen any kind of insect feeding on its flowers.

From Sunday’s out & back run from Islip Saddle to Mt. Baden-Powell.

Some related posts: Snow Plant, Western Tiger Swallowtail

Great Leaping Wolf Spiders!

Wolf spider (probably Schizocosa mccooki)

I’d just run up the long hill we call “The Beast,” and was running east on a relatively level stretch of gravelly dirt road on Lasky Mesa, when it’s movement caught my eye.

My first thought was “Tarantula!” but this spider was slightly smaller than a tarantula, and running. Tarantulas walk, they (usually) don’t run. This spider ran with a smooth, agile, articulated gait that must be the envy of the Arachnid world. I had never seen a spider like this, and started moving in its direction.

Lurking in the back of my mind was an experience I’d had with a tarantula, also on Lasky Mesa. In an attempt to redirect the tarantula from the margin of a dirt road, I’d blocked its intended path with my foot. This had worked a couple of times before, but this time the big spider briefly paused and  then continued to walk toward my running shoe. My shoe was on top of some dried oak leaves, in the grass on the side of the road. I thought maybe if I rustled the leaves… with lightning speed the tarantula charged my foot, and I jumped the proverbial mile.

Today I was going to have to react quickly if I was going to get a photograph. As I started moving toward this unusual spider, it saw me, and increased its speed. I continued to move in its direction, and it suddenly began a series of bizarre, defensive leaps. In a couple of seconds, the spider did three exaggerated “accordion” leaps, extending vertically to the full length of its impossibly long legs. The motion was somehow reminiscent of the propulsive action of a jellyfish. It was unexpected, and very effective!

After that the spider hunkered down, but seeing how quickly it had moved, I only took photos from a “respectable” distance. I wasn’t real excited about putting my hand a couple of inches from its big fangs.

Saturday, I was running at Ahmanson with Brett, on Lasky Mesa, and shortly after telling him this story, he spotted the wolf spider (probably Schizocosa mccooki) pictured above!

Related post: Tarantula Time

Beautiful and Bizarre – Checkerspot Along the Garapito Trail

Variable checkerspot (Euphydryas chalcedona) on golden yarrow.
Variable checkerspot on golden yarrow.

I found this and several other variable checkerspots (Euphydryas chalcedona) flittering about and feeding on golden yarrow along the Garapito Trail, on a recent run in the Santa Monica Mountains.

A closer look revealed an outlandish creature with black-spotted orange ladybug eyes, a bright orange spiked hairstyle, and a substantial spiraled trunk.

Variable checkerspots (Euphydryas chalcedona)
The “hair spikes” are part of the butterfly’s sophisticated scent sensing system. They are probably used in combination with the antennae to provide a three dimensional olfactory picture of the butterfly’s surroundings. This would help guide the butterfly to food or potential mates.

Butterflies are masters of low speed flight, and exploit several unusual mechanisms to generate aerodynamic lift. They are also opportunistic, and will take advantage of thermals and variations in the windfield to move from one place to another.

Several times when I’ve encountered a butterfly on a run, it has flown along with me for a surprising distance. I know that butterflies can be attracted by color, that’s happened in my bright yellow kayak. But in this case I don’t think it’s color or coincidence. It seems to me the butterfly is surfing the wave of air pushed around me as I run, similar to the way a porpoise surfs the bow wave of boat.

Related posts: Sylvan Hairstreak, Western Tiger Swallowtail

Tarantula Time

Tarantula (Aphonopelma spp.) near upper Las Virgenes Creek

September and October are the months I’m most likely to encounter tarantulas in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (formerly Ahmanson Ranch). Autumn is when maturing male tarantulas emerge from their burrows and wander in search of a mate.

This tarantula (Aphonopelma spp.)  was found near upper Las Virgenes Creek on today’s wonderfully cool 8 mile “FiveFingers” run.