Blue and violet wildflowers in-bloom in the first week of June

(from top-to-bottom, left-to-right: Penstemon sp., Mertensia longiflora,Delphinium bicolor, Lupinus sericeus, Viola adunca, Linum lewisii, Mertensia paniculata)

Lolo National Forest, MT
June 2014, 2015, 2016
Robert Niese

I finally have an instagram with loads of not-so-sciencey nature and personal content! Feel free to drop by and peak into the life of a nerdy natural historian!

Calliope Hummingbird (Selasphorus calliope) Trochilidae, male

Blue Mountain National Recreation Area, MT
May 16, 2016
Robert Niese

Calliope hummers are the smallest breeding bird in North America north of Mexico. Males perform an extravagant display to females that involves a steep dive, a barrel-roll, and a high-pitched sound produced by their tail feathers. Watch the whole courtship display and learn more about how it’s done here!


Sympetrum corruptum “Variegated Meadowhawk” Libellulidae

Blue Mountain National Recreation Area, MT
May 13, 2016
Robert Niese

As its name might suggest, these dragonflies are quite variable. So much so, that I’m questioning this ID (corrections would be very much appreciated). For more info on how to identify PNW odonates, check out this field key from the Slater Museum of Natural HistoryS. corruptum is a relatively common dragon found throughout much of northern North America near boggy meadows, swamps or ponds. During migration, however, it can be found wandering through just about any habitat from Honduras to Mongolia. Dragonflies are impressive migrators and some species can regularly travel 100 miles in a single day.


Sphecodes (arvensiformis) “Cuckoo Sweat Bee” Halictidae
on Euphorbia esula “Leafy Spurge” Euphorbiaceae

Blue Mountain National Recreation Area, MT
May 16, 2016
Robert Niese

Sphecodes bees are cleptoparasitic, cuckoo-like bees that lay their eggs in the nests of other sweat bees. Despite their outward appearance, these insects are not wasps, but they have converged on a very cuckoo-wasp-like life-history strategy. A female enters the nests of another Halictid, consumes a developing egg and replaces it with her own. Unfortunately, these bees, like the vast majority of Halictids, are very poorly studied and there are few entomologists capable of accurately identifying them beyond the genus level. Oh, and by the way, Leafy Spurge, while it is one of Missoula’s most widespread invasives, is also one of my favorite spring plants. They’re just such odd organisms! More photos and natural history info to come, I’m sure.

Looking back at my other photos of these bees from years ago makes me realize how far my skills as a photographer and natural historian have progressed.


Hygrophorus speciosus “Brilliant Wax-cap” Basidiomycota

Blue Mountain National Recreation Area, MT
May 16, 2016
Robert Niese

The wax-caps were once considered to all be members of the genus Hygrophorus, but have recently been divided into several new genera, all of which are still taxonomically debated. This particular species remains in the genus Hygrophorus due to its ectomicorrhizal growth habit. You can find it in drier, east-side forests where larch is abundant.


Taraxacum officinale “Common Dandelion” Asteraceae (Compositae)

Missoula, MT
May 2, 2016
Robert Niese

Generic, but beautiful nonetheless. Each of those tiny wind dancers is actually a fruit called an achene. Each achene arose from an individual flower of which there are hundreds in a single dandelion head (actually there are only 50-200 flowers per head, but “hundreds” sounds better) . This is where the family got its old name, “Compositae.” Each of their composite “flowers” are made up of loads of tiny individual flowers. So next time your lover asks for flowers, pick them a couple dandelions and astound them with an offering of many hundreds of flowers instead of a measly dozen roses.


Lasioglossum (Hemihalictus) sp. “Weak-veined Sweat Bee” Halictidae
on Solidago missouriensis. “Prairie Goldenrod” Asteraceae

Apgar Lookout Trail, Glacier National Park, MT
October 9, 2015
Robert Niese

Lasioglossum is the world’s largest genus of bees and contains more than 1700 species worldwide. Like many other speciose invertebrate genera, we know relatively little about these organisms and only a handful of entomologists worldwide are capable of identifying them to species. In the last five years, researchers throughout North America have revised the taxonomy of this group using phylogenetic data, new morphological characters, and over 10,000 museum specimens. According to their keys, this particular individual is possibly a male L. (Hemihalictus) inconditum.


Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) Icteridae

April 2, 2016
Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge
Robert Niese

I could photograph and listen to these birds singing all day! Unfortunately, not everyone in the car felt the same way and I only had a single joyous hour with this little guy. Learn more about the “neglected” Western Meadowlark here. Listen to its lovely song here.


Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) Ardeidae

May 6, 2012
Tacoma, WA
Robert Niese

GBHs are master predators. I’ve watched these creatures consume everything from fish and insects to frogs, snakes, and rodents the size of small dogs! They also have a terrifying, rattling, squawk that never fails to make me jump out of my skin whenever I stumble upon an unsuspecting individual while I’m creeping around docks at night (looking for cool nighttime marine invertebrates, of course!). They truly are dinosaurs.


Umbilicaria americana “American Rock Tripe”

March 26, 2016
Blodgett Canyon, Lolo National Forest, MT
Robert Niese

This species of rock tripe is likely our most abundant umbilicate foliose, rock-like lichen in the PNW. Look for their single umbilicus which attaches them to their substrate (which is where they get their genus name!). This species rarely has apothecia but is instead identified by its abundant, sooty, black rhizines, or rootlets, which help it gather water from its normally dry habitat. Members of Umbilicaria are considered edible, though North American foragers generally only resort to them as famine food. Their name, “rock tripe,” comes from an uncanny resemblance to tripe (stomach lining) upon being boiled, as is common in many Asian cuisines.