Sympetrum illotum “Cardinal Meadowhawk” Libellulidae

Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle, WA
May 9, 2016
Robert Niese

There are quite a few species of red dragons in the PNW and they can be pretty tricky to ID. The redder individuals tend to be males, and, as they mature they often lose all other markings that might facilitate identification. This species is most easily distinguished by the two white dots present on the lower sides of its abdomen (barely visible here). Even in very red, healthy, mature adults, the lower margins of these white dots are usually still visible. Generally, Cardinal Meadowhawks can also be distinguished from other red meadowhawks by their reddish legs, diffuse yellow-bronze wings, and black markings at the base of the wings.


Trimerotropis verruculata suffusa “Crackling Forest Grasshopper” Acrididae

Mt. Sentinel, Lolo National Forest, MT
September 12, 2015
Robert Niese

BugGuide has become an indispensable resource for all my insect identification needs, but rarely do I come across pages so eloquently and comprehensively written as those by David Ferguson. His passion for band-winged grasshoppers makes these entries a joy to read:

“T. verruculata suffusa is one of the most common and conspicuous Band-wing Grasshoppers in open pine forests of the Rockies and Sierras, where it can be seen (and heard) on most any warm summer or autumn day. The “crepitation” produced in flight is a relatively loud crackling sound, and sometimes males will hover and crackle for several seconds at a time. Never is it so loud and conspicuous as Circotettix species (to which it is related and similar), but nearly so.”


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.


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.


Thanatophilus lapponicus “Northern Carrion Beetle” Silphidae

April 2, 2016
National Bison Range, MT
Robert Niese

Photographed my first Silphid last week and, I must say, it was a horrendously smelly experience. These carrion beetles appear to prefer long-dead organisms, particularly reptiles and amphibians, and this little guy had apparently been hanging out in an extremely ripe carcass. I had to hold my breath every time I went in for a close-up! These beetles often overwinter in these carcasses, consuming the rotting flesh and maggots living there, until emerging at the first signs of spring. I might venture to guess that this is exactly what this individual did all winter, which might have contributed to its particular odor.


Pandemis pyrusana “Pandemis Leafroller Moth” Tortricidae

Clinton, MT
July 25, 2015
Robert Niese

Pandemis leafrollers are common in the west and are considered a pest on commercial apple, cherry, plum, and pear trees. As larvae, they roll up the sides of leaves into a tube along the mid-vein creating a shelter from predators. Larvae born early in the summer will pupate inside these shelters, but late summer larvae overwinter under bark before emerging to feed on fresh buds in the early spring. In addition to feeding on commercial fruit trees, this species is also known to chow down on alder (Alnus), willow (Salix), birch (Betula), dogwood (Cornus), aspen (Populus tremuloides), currants (Ribes), roses (Rosa), and honeysuckle (Lonicera), all of which are very common here in western Montana.

Thallophaga hyperborea Geometridae

Point Defiance Park, Tacoma, WA
July 22, 2013
Robert Niese

This one was a really tough ID. We found this moth during our Slater Museum moth-lighting trip in Point Defiance for National Moth Week. We gave up attempting to identify it pretty early and had to call-in help from the experts at BugGuide. But even over at BugGuide, it was tentatively placed in three different genera before we settled on Thallophaga. Western Washington University is currently attempting to create a visual key to the Geometrids of the Pacific Northwest. As soon as it gets published, I’ll let you all know!

Solaster stimpsoni “Stimpson’s Sun Star” Asteroidea, with
Ulva lactuca “Sea Lettuce” Chlorophyta

Point Robinson, Vashon Island, WA
July 4, 2012
Robert Niese

Solaster sea stars tend to be a more subtidal echinoderm, so we only really get to enjoy them as beachgoers at especially low summer tides. This species is a voracious hunter of sea cucumbers which are common in rocky inter- and subtidal ecosystems. However, this individual was hunting in open sand before it was stranded by the tide, which suggests it might have been feeding on the plentiful sea pens which occur in these areas instead. This species of sea star is the host of a commensal scale worm which can be found hiding in the groove between the paired tube feet on the underside of each arm.

Xysticus sp. “Ground Crab Spider” Thomisidae

National Bison Range, MT
June 8, 2014
Robert Niese

This large, highly variable genus of crab spiders can be found across the US and Canada. Although they are classified as ground spiders (as opposed to the flower crab spiders), they are often found in and around flowers where they wait to ambush arthropod prey.