Spider wasp (Family Pompilidae)

Bug hunting at Chatfield State Park

Spider wasp (Family Pompilidae)
A wasp (Order Hymenoptera) at the Audubon Nature Center at Chatfield, Littleton, Colorado. June 30, 2012.

This morning I went on an entomology walk through the Audubon Society of Greater Denver, led by time-traveling Victorian naturalist Professor J. Phineas Michealson (Michael Weissman, a local entomologist). I go on these sorts of trips to learn more about animals and see some interesting things, not for serious photography, which is basically impossible in a large group unless the whole group is serious macro photographers. And, well, I’m not.

But I saw some awesome animals and took some photos I’m fairly happy with (not always at the same time).

Before the walk even started, I found a very small praying mantis nymph, probably a European Mantis (Mantis religiosa), although I didn’t get a look at its armpits. I’ve never actually seen a native mantis in Colorado, though, and all the other mantises we saw today were European. European Mantises come in different color morphs, but this one is so pale I suspect it was freshly molted.

European Mantis (Mantis religiosa)

In the parking lot I found a Brown Scarab Beetle (Phyllophaga lanceolata), which was not very cooperative. It would not stop moving, so I wasn’t able to get a very good photo:

Brown Scarab Beetle (Phyllophaga lanceolata)

We started out in the non-native garden, where the most common insect was the non-native European Honeybee (Apis mellifera). There were a few small native bees, including some gorgeous sweatbees that I couldn’t get any pictures of, and some native bumblebees, but by far the highlight for me here (and for the entire morning), was a little metallic green animal I at first thought was a beetle. I was thinking primarily about focusing (unsuccessfully, alas), so I didn’t noticed until I examined my photos at home that it was actually a jumping spider, Tutelina elegans Sassacus papenhoei! This is probably the most beautiful spider I’ve ever seen–I can’t believe it lives in dry, utterly non-tropical Colorado.

Jumping spider (Sassacus papenhoei), female

There were also some very colorful, very tiny, very hard to photograph leafhoppers (Family Cicadellidae). I find it amazing how beautiful and colorful these tiny, often-overlooked insects are.

Leafhopper (Family Cicadellidae)

We then headed out on the trails, where we quickly came across a fuzzy tiger moth caterpillar (Family Arctiinae). Caterpillars in this family are often called “woolly bears.” Anyone have any idea what species this might be? It looks to me like it might be a Virginia Tiger Moth (Spilosoma virginica), but fuzzy caterpillars often look the same to me.

Tiger moth caterpillar (Family Arctiinae)

There were a few more European Mantis nymphs here, as well as an old already-hatched ootheca (egg case). It’s a little unusual to see one laid on a rock rather than a plant.

European Mantis (Mantis religiosa)

Mantis egg case (ootheca)

Our guide Professor Phineas was a bit aghast at speaking so much of insect reproduction in the company of the fairer sex, but as a good naturalist, felt compelled to answer our many questions about the workings of the insect world.

Victorian naturalist Professor J. Phineas Michealson

Another beautiful, annoyingly out of focus sharpshooter (Cuerna sp.):

Sharpshooter (Cuerna sp.)

Down at the wetlands–the wetlands at Chatfield, like most wetlands in the Colorado Front Range, are artificial–we found quite a different assortment of animals. This invasive American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) may not be welcome, but it is rather handsome.

American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus)

To my great joy, I spotted a species of dragonfly I haven’t seen before, the beautiful (and surprisingly cooperative) Eight-spotted Skimmer (Libellula forensis).

Eight-spotted Skimmer (Libellula forensis), male

Eight-spotted Skimmers and Twelve-Spotted Skimmers (Libellula pulchella) were by far the most common species I spotted, which surprised me a little. There were also some Blue-eyed Darners, one Common Green Darner (Anax junius), Widow Skimmers, assorted damselflies, and possibly a Black Saddlebags (Tramea lanceata, although I wasn’t entirely sure about that one).

Twelve-spotted Skimmers are probably my second-favorite dragonfly, and not very cooperative photography subjects. Today I was able to get a few decent photos of them, but I may have to go back with less of a crowd to try to get good photos. Until then, these will have to suffice.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella)

Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella)

We did a little dip-netting in hopes of finding dragonfly larvae, but only came up with a very very tiny crawdad.

Baby crawdad (Superfamily Astacoidea)

And here is another adorable tiger moth, I think perhaps a different species (although caterpillars can look quite different at different instars–life stages–so it’s hard to say):

Tiger moth caterpillar (Family Arctiinae)

Quite a lot of animals to see in only about two hours. It’s interesting to contemplate how unnatural this created habitat is–highly biodiverse in some respects, but unnatural. A number of the species we saw today were non-native, including the European Mantises, Cabbage Whites (Pieris rapae), and the American Bullfrog. While these artificial wetlands provide excellent habitat for birds (some of whom were not found in Colorado historically), dragonflies, and other water-loving animals, they are certainly not good habitat for the prairie species which lived here historically.

As our guide mentioned several times, Chatfield is a wonderful place for teaching about nature, but it’s not natural.

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