Adventures in Identification

As you may have guessed by now, I’m endlessly fascinated by insect and arachnid life. As a kid, I would often roam in the forest near my house and catch arthropods in jars to add to my collection. Unfortunately I was a child and had no understanding of how to care for these little creatures, and in the majority of instances they ended up dying from starvation or eating one another. One particularly feisty praying mantis even managed to grab my finger and simply… wouldn’t… let go. It was awkward and slightly terrifying.

Since that time, I’ve mended my ways. Now I only admire and take pictures of the insects and arachnids with whom I come into contact. Occasionally they’ll come close to me or will even land on my finger, but I don’t force contact. It strikes me as bad manners and is also unethical. With all that said, here are my latest and most interesting adventures in identification.

This moth was actually in my house when I found him. He was hanging around the kitchen–where most of the moths that come into my house tend to congregate–and climbed onto my finger after I gently nudged him. He was completely calm, and I managed to take several shots of him, of which this was my favorite. It took me a doozy of a time to identify him, but I’m fairly certain he’s a ruddy Metarranthis moth (Metarranthis duaria), which has to be one of the worst names I’ve ever heard. Nevertheless he was a beauty, and I took him outside after our photoshoot, where he has presumably lived out his mothy days.

This cicada turned up in my front yard, dead when I found her. There was a very odd white coloration on her underside, which indicates a fungal infection and which is unfortunately an increasingly widespread cause of death for many cicadas. I was sad to see that she had died in such an unpleasant way, but I couldn’t help admiring her incredible coloration. If you look at the region covering her head and thorax, you can see a mixture of green, black and brown in overlapping irregular patterns. I was later able to identify her as a scissor-grinder cicada (Neotibicen pruinosus), but to me she’ll always be the original camouflage.

I have to admit, I nearly crushed this little guy when I found him at Eno River State Park in August. I had noticed a beautiful sycamore, which I promptly inspected for photographic potential. I didn’t find any particularly good angles; but as I was inspecting the tree, I placed my hand against the trunk and felt a weird, cool, slightly slippery sensation. I immediately retracted my hand and found this beauty. Later I was able to identify him as an iron worm (Narceus americana)–which is by far the most amazing name I’ve come across in a while–though the more common name is the North American millipede. They’re harmless to humans, but they can release an unsavory substance that discolors the skin. Fortunately that didn’t happen in my case, and we parted on amicable terms.

This last arthropod was one I found at a local carwash of all places. She had built her web at the base of the teller machine, and it was impossible not to see her as I inserted dollar bills. After I’d gotten my quarters for the carwash, I promptly swooped down to her level and took several photos, of which this was the best. She was by far the easiest identification of the four arthropods in this post, since I had only recently read an article about the yellow garden spider (Agriope aurantia) and immediately recognized the brilliant black, yellow and white markings and the characteristic zig-zag formation in the center of her web, which is called a stabilimentum. Its purpose is unclear to scientists, but it provides her with another of her common names, the writing spider. For obvious reasons, she may be my new spirit animal.

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16 thoughts on “Adventures in Identification

  1. Astha Singh September 24, 2016 / 8:30 am

    Great work. I was never interested in entomology but this made me look into it and it’s great to learn and know about the creatures around us. 👍👌

    • Mark Miles September 26, 2016 / 4:00 am

      Thank you so much. I’m glad you found something in this that resonated. 👋

  2. rivertoprambles September 24, 2016 / 11:25 am

    A nice job of identifiction! The insect world can be endlessly fascinating, and I’m glad you’ve found its doorways open. It can be an anchor to a lot of possibilities. I even wrote a book called Beautiful Like a Mayfly. Thanks for sharing!

    • Mark Miles September 26, 2016 / 4:02 am

      Thank you! It’s good to know there are still people out there who appreciate the many-legged little ones in this world. 👍

  3. Mina Marial Nicoli September 25, 2016 / 5:38 am

    Very cool. Can you come and capture and remove all of the spiders from my basement for me? Ha ha, just kidding, but still, while I have no issue with spiders outdoors, I’ve got a hike invasion going on and I don’t like it..

    • Mark Miles September 26, 2016 / 4:08 am

      Sorry to hear that. I have spiders around the place where I live, and I mostly leave them to themselves. They generally don’t bother humans as long as they’re not threatened. Hope you can find some mutual understanding. 👍

  4. katharineotto September 25, 2016 / 2:30 pm

    Good blog and photos. I’m fascinated by the beauty of the tiny critters, too, but don’t go to the trouble of identifying each one. Will be following.

    • Mark Miles September 26, 2016 / 4:16 am

      Thank you very much. Really appreciate your kind words.

  5. Haley September 28, 2016 / 12:23 am

    These are wonderful photos and descriptions.

  6. Miriam September 29, 2016 / 6:11 am

    Great photos Mark

  7. Nita October 9, 2016 / 1:59 am

    My youngest cousin (he’s 4) loves all kinds of bugs. I’m sharing your post with his mom so he can see your pictures. I wonder if he’ll grow up to be an entomologist?

    • Mark Miles October 11, 2016 / 2:01 am

      Thank you! I’m glad you’ve taken the time to help cultivate your cousin’s interest. Insects are certainly deserving of observation and study.

  8. rcollab November 30, 2016 / 11:36 pm

    The pictures are beautiful. Keep doing you!

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