Thursday, August 1, 2013

Creatures of the Night

The other night around 10 PM, I headed out to a big security light in my backyard (located in Pickaway County). Insects were flying everywhere, all drawn to the light. Predators, such as spiders, prowled the area looking for an easy meal. Here are a few of the creatures I came across...

This awesome moth was the highlight of the night. This is a Virginia Creeper Sphinx, Darapsa myron. It's also known as the Hog Sphinx. Sphinxes are a type of moth that are very easily identifiable. Most sphinxes have the general body shape as the one above. The Virginia Creeper Sphinx is widespread across the Eastern portion of the US and is quite common.

Here's another beauty of a moth. Many times moths are overlooked; many people go after the more "flashy" butterflies. However, many moths are also flashy. Many have subtle beauties as well if you take the time to actually look at them. This one is a Delicate Cycnia, Cycnia tenera, also known as the Dogbane Tiger Moth. Interestingly, these moths will emit a high pitched clicking sound when bats are nearby. While the exact function is still uncertain, studies have found that bats many times choose to forgo these moths when clicking, so it is thought that the Delicate Cycnia's clicking might actually be disrupting the bat's echolocation, rendering it confused and not wanting to attack.

This is a conehead, as you can see from its cone-shaped head. Species wise, I'm pretty sure it is a Robust Conehead, Neoconocephalus robustus. I'll get into why later. First, this insect was massive; she was nearly the size of 3/4 of my hand or so. You might have heard one during the summer. They have an incredibly loud, constant buzz. Head over to this video to hear a recording of one. I believe this is a Robust Conehead because of its large size, the immaculate tip of its head, and the size of its ovipositor (egg-laying organ that looks like a giant stinger-type thing) which is 1.0-1.2 times the length of its hind femur. Coneheads are part of the katydid family, as you might be able to tell. The camouflage of this girl (which you can tell is a girl due to the presence of the ovipositor) is amazing; if you were by a silent one on a leaf, you would probably never notice it!

My backyard was surprisingly filled with a variety of life; I went out looking for moths and found treefrogs as well! This guy is a treefrog, but the exact species is uncertain. It's either a Gray Treefrog or a Cope's Gray Treefrog. Both species look exactly the same and can only be told apart by song or DNA. This one was silent, so I just have to leave it at some sort of gray treefrog.

Here's a shot of another treefrog that landed by me. Yes, landed. He fell from the sky and landed beside me. I think he was on the top of a shed I was by when he decided he didn't want to be there anymore... Don't worry though, he was fine. Really fascinating creatures up close though. This was actually my first time ever seeing a treefrog, so I was quite happy. Our yard also has a lot of American Toads hopping around, so it's quite the amphibian-hang-out.

There were about ten more species of moths, a few spiders, and other odds and ends that I came across over the night. After I identify some of the other moths, I'll have a post about some of them, so stay tuned you insect-lovers!

This also shows the incredibly variety of nature you probably have in your backyard. If you ever get bored, go outside at night with a flashlight and look for the whole other world that comes alive when the sun goes down!

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