It’s the Small Things

Nothing is more humbling than to look with a strong magnifying glass at an insect so tiny that the naked eye sees only the barest speck and to discover that nevertheless it is sculpted and articulated and striped with the same care and imagination.

~Rudolf Arnheim

A view of the the native plant jungle that is our yard…there really is a walkway to the door, I promise (click photos to enlarge)

I’m blaming it on our month-long trip out West back in May. At least that’s what I will tell anyone that wonders why our yard is so, well, jungle-like. Over the years, I’ve kind of let plants do what they wanted to do, in violation of most standard gardening practices. There are tall Joe-Pye-Weeds in front of shorter plants, a couple of species of ferns have run amok and taken over large portions of beds, and the tree canopy has grown so much that most wildflowers are abnormally tall and leggy and therefore often fall over without adding plant supports. But, it helps keep the invasives, especially Microstegium, at bay (a little). And then there are the rabbits that like to munch on the species I truly prize (like Cardinal Flower and Rosinweed), so the garden definitely has a mind of its own in terms of species make-up and arrangement. But, it provides food and shelter for a pretty amazing array of creatures, big and small, that keep me company when I wander with my camera. The past few days, I have not had much energy for yard chores due to the heat (another reason it looks this way) but I have managed to stroll through the jungle, looking for some of our tiniest of neighbors.

On of the reasons we have so many insect and spider neighbors is the abundance of native plants like this Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), a favorite of both day and night-time pollinators.

Below are some of the small things we see on our meanders through the greenery…

One of the most abundant group of insects right now are the planthoppers. I believe this is a nymph of a Northern Flatid Planthopper, Flatormenis proxima. The waxy filaments may serve a protective function.
An adult Northern Flatid Planthopper. Most planthoppers (and other members of the Hemipiteran suborder Auchenorrhyncha) have piercing-sucking mouthparts for feeding on plant sap. They also have powerful legs for jumping, making some rather difficult to photograph.
Another common planthopper species in our yard, the Citrus Flatid Planthopper (the adult in lower right of image). The nymph above it may be a Two-striped Planthopper.
The SEEK app identifies this as a Two-striped Planthopper nymph, Acanalonia bivittata. It looks to me like some sort of armored creature from a Star Wars movie.
A very tiny insect that SEEK identifies as a Coppery Leafhopper, Jikradia olitoria. I tried to confirm these ID’s using online resources like Bug Guide and the Hoppers of North Carolina, but if anyone knows what they are for sure, please let me know.
A very persistent mating pair of Versute Sharpshooters, Graphocephala versuta.
A beautiful Broad-headed Sharpshooter, Oncometopia orbona. Sharpshooters filter huge amounts of liquid from plants through their digestive system in order to obtain nutrients. They frequently must forcibly eject the excess water in a fine stream, hence their unusual common name.
One of my favorite insects to photograph, a wandering Red-headed Bush Cricket (aka Handsome Trig) nymph, Phyllopalpus pulchellus.
A tiny nymph of one of the Lesser Meadow Katydids (Conocephalus sp) sprouts an impressive pair of antenna.
One of the bigger challenges for a macro photograph, a species of quick-on-its-feet-and-wings Long-legged Fly. These come in a variety of metallic colors and often jump out of the frame when the flash goes off and then return to the leaf. I discovered this when I kept getting blank photos but they were still on the leaf when I looked after taking the picture.
A common small moth that I frequently scare up when walking through the yard, a Double-banded Grass Veneer, Crambus agitatellus.
These little dots of debris are very common right now. They slowly waddle along the vegetation, and cause you to do a double-take when you see that lichen or that tuft of fuzz move..
Beneath all that debris is a voracious predator of small insects, especially aphids and planthoppers, a larval form of one of the species of Green Lacewing. They have spines on their back that they attach material like lichens or the waxy remains of their victims (like planthopper nymphs) to as camouflage. Check out those mandibles on this one!
A tiny Crab Spider (perhaps a White-banded Crab Spider) awaits its next meal on the head of a Purple Coneflower
Another tiny predator is fairly abundant this week, a Spined Assassin Bug, Sinea sp. This aptly named little terror is covered with stout spines and has huge raptorial front legs it uses to grasp prey.
Once it catches an insect (in this case a hapless ant), it pierces it with its needle-like proboscis, injects a toxin and a digestive enzyme, and then sucks out the nutrients. This one also had a Freeloader Fly (tiny winged insect on the ant’s head) along to lap up any spilled juices.

Small Wonders

Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.

~Henry David Thoreau

The heat this past week has been pretty oppressive. So, I needed to remind myself that, even though there are not groups of Black Bears feeding in my woods like I saw last weekend down east, there are still reasons to brave the temperatures and get outside. Each day, I try to spend at least a little time wandering the yard, looking for the beauties that exist all around us. It never fails that I find something new and then spend time online or in the stacks of field guides that line the shelves, trying to learn more about the world around me. Small wonders and strange worlds exist just outside your door. Take a walk, have a look…

Bush Katydid nymph

Bush Katydid nymph (Scudderia sp.) (click photos to enlarge)

Graphocephala versuta leafhopper

Leafhopper, Graphocephala versuta

American Crow feather

American Crow feather

land snail

Land snail

Flatid Planthopper nymph in circle of waxy filaments

Flatid Planthopper nymph in circle of waxy filaments

Ailanthus Webworm Moth, Atteva aurea 1

Ailanthus Webworm Moth, Atteva aurea

planthopper nymphs

Planthopper nymphs

rain drop on iris leaf

Raindrop on iris leaf

Horace's Duskywing?

Horace’s Duskywing, a common butterfly at my wildflowers right now

Red-spotted Purple larva

Early instar of a Red-spotted Purple Butterfly caterpillar. They drape over the edge of a twig when disturbed, possibly to mimic a bird dropping.

River Oats seed after rain

River Oats seed head after a rain

Syrphid Fly

Syrphid Fly, a wasp mimic

Acanalonia conica planthopper

Planthopper, Acanalonia conica

Southern Shield Fern tip

Unfurling tip of the frond of a Southern Shield Fern

Tobacco Hornworm - Carolina Sphinx Moth larva

Tobacco Hornworm close up. These are the common caterpillars found on your tomato plants. They are the larvae of the Carolina Sphinx Moth. The circles are spiracles, the openings to their respiratory system.

Tylozygus geometricus leafhopper

Leafhopper, Tylozygus geometricus.

Virginia (or Yellowjacket) Hoverfly, Milesia virginiensis

Yellowjacket Hoverfly, Milesia virginiensis, a wasp mimic

Camera note – photos were taken with a Canon 7D Mark II camera using a Canon 100mm macro lens. Some of the images were taken with one or two extension tubes on the macro lens. Lighting provided by a Canon Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX with diffusers.