Pissodes sp. “Conifer Bark Weevil” Curculionidae

Lake Inez, MT
May 27, 2017
Robert Niese

Conifer bark beetles in the genus Pissodes are relatively common, harmless parasites of many tree species. In the east, however, they are a major threat to Eastern White Pine where they drastically reduce growth and recruitment of young trees.

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Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) Trochilidae, male

Missoula, MT
May 31, 2017
Robert Niese

I spent a whole weekend trying to photograph Calliopes visiting this feeder, but they refused to participate. The RUHUs on the other hand, tolerated my presence much more and were happy to pose for me. This male was so aggressive he nearly chased me away from his feeder! How does such a tiny animal possess so much spunk?!

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Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus) Bombycillidae

Missoula, MT
April 18, 2017
Robert Niese

In early April, waxwings were migrating through town in the thousands. They paused in freshly blooming trees to gorge on buds and, in this case, last year’s fruits before continuing their trek northward. The noise and mess they created was astounding! I loved waking up to the roar of their high pitched calls. This flock consisted of around 600 Bohemian Waxwings and a few dozen Cedar Waxwings. The easiest way to tell them apart (for me, at least) is by their vent and under-tail colors. Bohemians have a rufous under-tail and a gray vent while Cedars have a gray-white under-tail and a pale yellow vent.

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Siphlonurus phyllis, Siphlonuridae, male

Missoula, MT
May 9, 2017
Robert Niese

I know relatively little about aquatic macro-invertebrates, but they are a very well-studied group of organisms due to their importance in understanding stream ecology and health. Fly fishermen are also avid naturalists of these bugs. I’ve met anglers who follow the hatch dates and times of aquatic insects more closely than manic listing birders! Apparently, this genus of mayfly is one of only a few that swarms by the thousands here in the west.

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Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) Trochilidae, male

Missoula, MT
June 12, 2016
Robert Niese

Just as the sun is setting, this hummingbird feeder becomes a hub of activity. We can have as many as 12 individuals feeding all at once! I love it! In addition to RUHUs, we also see many Calliopes and some Black-chinned hummers here.

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Calligrapha verrucosa “Warty Willow Leaf Beetle” Chrysomelidae

Missoula, MT
May 26, 2016
Robert Niese

I couldn’t decide which photo i liked best, so I had to post another portrait shot of this lovely beetle. The genus name “Calligrapha” is a reference to the beautiful calligraphic script on the backs of many species. This species’s coloration is not quite as script-like, but it definitely still appears painted. These beetles are most common in the Northern Rockies of Montana, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, but, according to some older sources, their range is far broader, stretching from Nebraska to California to Alaska. If you have photographs of these beetles please contact me to supplement our scientific understanding of their distribution

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Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) Trochilidae, male

Missoula, MT
June 12, 2016
Robert Niese

Male RUHUs are probably the first hummingbirds to arrive here in Montana in the spring. They are our most aggressive hummingbirds and will chase anything that gets too close to their territories. Look for them in moist or riparian woods throughout the Pacific Northwest from April to September. In Western Washington, males will arrive with the first blooms of Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) and Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) in late February and March.

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Calligrapha verrucosa “Warty Willow Leaf Beetle” Chrysomelidae

Missoula, MT
May 26, 2016
Robert Niese

The genus name “Calligrapha” is a reference to the beautiful calligraphic script on the backs of many species. This species’s coloration is not quite as script-like, but it definitely still appears painted. These beetles are most common in the Northern Rockies of Montana, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, but, according to some older sources, their range is far broader, stretching from Nebraska to California to Alaska. If you have photographs of these beetles please contact me to supplement our scientific understanding of their distribution!

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Ranatra fusca “Brown Waterscorpion” Nepidae

Lake Inez, Lolo National Forest, MT
May 23, 2017
Robert Niese

There’s something genuinely unnerving about insects viciously preying upon vertebrates, and waterscorpions are superbly specialized for this terrifying task. They sit near the surface of the water, head down, with their elongated, raptorial front limbs outstretched, waiting. Their long paired “tails” remain in contact with the water’s surface like a snorkel, allowing them to breathe while fully submerged. When some unlucky fish or tadpole swims too close, they snap them up like a mantis and immediately stab them with their sucking mouthparts. Their saliva both subdues and begins to digest their prey, allowing them to suck out the animal’s insides. On a completely unrelated note, this individual looks worse for wear, which led me to discover that adults actually overwinter in lakes and ponds here in Montana – not an easy task considering that most bodies of water freeze-over completely at some point. So apparently they’re indestructible AND hyper-specialized predators. Thank goodness they’re only five inches long.

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Philodromus histrio “Theatrical Running Crab Spider” Philodromidae

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

I have no idea why this species of running crab spider has been given the species epithet “histrio.” In Latin, histrio means “actor” or “player.” Perhaps the arachnid’s propensity for waving its arms about whenever a predator (or camera) approaches earned it this descriptor. Or perhaps some early entomologist first encountered it engaged in an impressive act of twig-impersonation. In fact, when I first stumbled upon this individual, its legs were perfectly aligned in the shape of an X and pressed flat against the underside of this Artemisia stem, perhaps hoping to be mistaken for plant matter. Regardless, these Philodromids are widespread, common, and relatively recognizable. Look for them in northern latitudes and in the Rockies anywhere you might find weedy Asteraceous plants like Artemisia, Tanacetum, Centaurea, or Senicio (yes, I know, that encompasses just about every habitat).