Monday, January 30, 2012

Cluster Fig and Parasitic Wasps

Parasitic Wasp, Ceratosolen fusciceps
Not to be one to leave a cliff hanger, this is the parasitic wasp, Ceratosolen fusciceps, commonly found within the fruits of the Cluster Fig, Ficus racemosa, which grows naturally all around Australasia up through parts of India. The female wasp enters into the fruit through the ostiole, a natural opening, to lay her eggs, often loosing her wings upon entry. In exchange for the shelter of the fruit, the female will die within depositing pollen from other fig trees. Upon hatching, the wasps spend the majority of their life cycle within the fig until reaching a state of maturity. The males of this species are wingless, and serve only two purposes: to mate and to excavate a way out of the fruit for the winged females.

This photograph was also taken in Townsville, Australia.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Green Tree Ant

Green Tree Ant, Oecophylla smaragdina
The Green Tree Ant is a very interesting, yet well-known species in Australia. They are found in forested areas of the continent from Queensland to the Northern Territory, to even parts of Western Australia. This species is a type of weaver ant, using excretions from larvae to weave leaves together for nesting and colonies. It is the only known species of weaver ant in Australia, with more found in parts of southern Asia and Africa. What makes this particular ant even more interesting is the role these ants play in bush tucker. The abdomen is known for a pleasant, lime taste and the larvae are often squished and mixed with water to form a drink similar to a limeade. On the other hand, these aggressive ants are known for their nasty bite as that citric acid is incorporated into their attack.

This particular photograph was taken in Townsville, Australia on a Cluster Fig, Ficus racemosa. Without going into too much detail on this post, the Cluster Fig has an interesting mutualistic relationship with a local parasitic wasp, Ceratosolen fusciceps, which can be a food source for the Green Tree Ant. A single wasp can be seen in the bottom right corner of this image.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mangroves of Cananéia

Mangroves of the Atlantic Rainforest near Cananéia, Brasil.
The mangroves of the Atlantic Rainforest are full of mud, sulfur, and biting black flies, yet it is an extremely important ecological habitats. The flora and fauna found in these areas must adapt to brackish water, oxygen fluctuations, and nutrient limitations. These constant fluctuations also contribute to reproduction challenges as water levels vary throughout the day and the nutrients needed to grow are in small amounts. Viviparity is quite common in flora of the mangroves as is bouyancy of seeds so as to stay above the water level for required oxygen intake.

This photograph is part of Parque Estadual da Ilha do Cardoso near the town of Cananéia, Brasil and is thankfully protected. As unpleasant sounding as mangroves are, they one of the most interesting and fun places for a guided exploration.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing, Bombycilla cedrorum
Cedar Waxwings are yet another common winter resident to Texas, found in large flocks near any plant with fruit present. The term waxwing comes from a red, wax-like marking found on the wing tip of some of these birds. The marking purpose is not currently known, but it is hypothesized to be important to mate choice. Unlike many birds, their diet during this time of year often consists solely of fruit and plenty of it. Often times they will eat one berry too many that are actually overripe and starting to ferment, leading to intoxication. The intoxication is often fatal either by overdose, or by window collision. If you wish to attracted with beautiful birds to your yard, it is always recommended to plant what is native to your area or unintentional harm may be done.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Mantis, Mantodea
The Mantis, or sometimes called Praying (or Preying) Mantis, is a well-known and incredibly fascinating insect. A carnivorous insect, the mantis will sit still for extended periods of time with forearms held close and ready to grasp any unsuspecting prey. Not only does this stance allow for capturing of prey, but it also helps to camouflage the mantis from other predators; however, the main predator a male mantis needs to beware of is the female mantis. Early in the mating process, the larger female will bite or cut off the head of the male mantis, finish copulation, and then consume what is left of the male mantis. The reasoning behind sexual cannibalism has not been determined, but there are a number of hypotheses. Although no longer considered current, this article gives a good overview of the phenomenon.

This mantis was photographed in Townsville, Australia. The identification of insects is not as easy to do with a simple description. Some of the information I gathered is that there are apparently three families of mantis in Australia, with the spines on the forearms as a way to differentiate. I admit to being hesitant to relying on information that is not peer reviewed - understandably I hope.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis
The Dark-eyed Junco is a winter resident here in Texas often found hanging out with the House Sparrows, foraging for seeds on the ground. Their range includes a great portion of both the United States and Canada, where they spend their summer (in some colder areas of the United States they can be found year round); however, the reason for this particular photograph is this male was a victim of window collision, a leading cause of death among birds. Lucky for him, he only experience some minor shock, and was ready to fly again within the hour. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has some great tips to help prevent window collisions, and actions to take when a bird does collide. The main thing I can stress is that if the bird is injured, get it to a certified rehabilitator as soon as possible and do not attempt to help the bird yourself as you could easily cause more harm than good!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Common Brushtail Possum

Common Brushtail Possum, Trichosurus vulpecula
The Australian Common Brushtail Possum is similar in many ways to the North American Virginia Opossum. They are both marsupials, are nocturnal, have a prehensile tail either lacking some or all fur, are similar in size, occupy urban areas, and have similar care for their young which ride on the back after suckling; however, these two species are not as closely related as the name might imply. The Virginia Opossum, of Didelphidae, is a primitive marsupial, unchanged in over 50 millions years, while the Common Brushtail Possum, of Phalangeridae, is much more recent in the evolutionary tree. The lifespan of both differ dramatically, with a wild opossum lucky to live three years while a wild possum can live up to thirteen years. The Virginia Opossum, found mostly along the central and eastern United States, was successful and intentionally introduce to the northwest coast. The introduction was as an alternative food source and so far has not seen major repercussions. The Common Brushtail Possum was introduced purposefully to the islands of New Zealand for the fur trade. There the possum has become a pest, threatening the native wildlife including the already endangered kiwi.

This mother and baby, found uncharacteristically in broad daylight, were photographed in Townsville, Australia near a residential area. A fascinating look at the evolutionary tree of marsupials can be found in Molecular Evolution and Adaptive Radiation.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Vale da Lua

Vale da Lua, The Valley of the Moon
One of the more unusual rock formations found within Chapada dos Veadeiros of Brazil, the river responsible for this lunar-like surface is San Miguel. This part of the park is relatively small, with deep gorges such as the one pictured and many craters with sharp edges. The water is fast with many rapids and funnels, but with intermittent calm sections suitable for swimming. There are many hidden crevices that house various types of frogs and insects.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Barred Owl

Barred Owl, Strix varia
The Barred Owl can be found throughout half the country, from the Central Plains to the East Coast, and up through parts of Canada. Their call, "who-cooks-for-you", is quite unique to this species and offers the best aid in identification as like most owls, they are more often heard than seen. If lucky enough to spot this owl, one can note the lack of ear tufts and the dark eyes. In the region of North Texas, the Barred Owl and the Screech Owl are more likely to hunt in the dark of the new moon instead of the bright full moon in order to avoid predation by the Great-horned Owl. This most likely applies to any region where the Barred Owl and Great-horned Owl inhabit the same area.

This beauty was photographed at the Dallas World Aquarium.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Pied Butcherbird

Pied Butcherbird, Cracticus nigrogularis
Considered to be the most melodious song bird in Australia, the Pied Butcherbird can be found throughout almost all of the country. These birds are in some ways similar to the American Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos, in that they have adapted well to the urban setting, are aggressive defenders of territory during breeding season, and are therefore often found to swoop and attack passing humans. Also similar to the Northern Mockingbird, these birds can, and often do, mimic the sounds of their environment. They have an amazingly large collection of syllables of which they already use to compose their songs to which to add that mimicry. In identification, this species can often be confused with the black-and-white Australia Magpie, Gymnorhina tibicen, and the Magpie-Lark (or Pee Wee), Grallina cyanoleuca. The Pied Butcherbird has much larger beak than that found on the Pee Wee, and has a white-chest instead of the black-chest of the Australia Magpie.

These two birds were photographed in Townsville, Australia during the breeding season. To find out more information on the song of the Pied Butcherbird, please refer to this research. To hear the beauty of this bird call, check out this particular video.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer, Libellula luctuosa (Adult Male)
The Widow Skimmer is a common sight along bodies of water during the hot summer season, in all parts of the United States with the exception of higher elevations. The adult male can be identified by the steel blue body coloration, while the juveniles and females are a drab brown color. The easiest way to identify this particular species is by the wing pattern - black, white, then clear. The nymph of the dragonfly can be found among the mud of calm streams, ponds, and the like. They live in this stage of their life cycle for a few years before metamorphosis into an adult, with only a couple of months left of life. The legs of the adult are used to form a basket-like arrangement to catch their prey.

This particular guy was photographed at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.

Monday, January 2, 2012

First Steps

Nature photography has always been a passion of mine, but one that I hadn't indulged until the past few years. I've since been able to develop that passion into a hobby, and with the grace of some great opportunities, travel to some amazing locations of beauty and knowledge. I believe that a great piece of art is based on the story it tells, and more importantly, on what it can teach. A stunning photo is pleasing to the eye, but sometimes superficial.

My goal is to not only show, but teach. I can't say everything I post will be of great quality, but at the least, I hope some nugget of knowledge is added.

These are my first steps into sharing my photography, my knowledge, and my passion of both.

(I will be updating this every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with a new photograph and tidbit of information on that particular subject matter starting this Wednesday, January 4th . Also please bear with me as I'm not a blogger and I'm still working on a design).