Getting into focus

Last year’s big Christmas present was a new macro lens, which I didn’t get around to using until spring, because frankly it was too cold to try macrophotography outdoors last winter.  Apparently, I didn’t use it very much even then, because it was much easier to select the top ten “small things” photos than it was for the birds. But here they are — the top 10 macro shots of 2014, chosen for their color, variety, and potential biological interest.


An Orange Bluet male on a smooth, contrasting background of green.  I never saw one like this again, after I took this photo.


The contrast of black in the Black Swallowtail on the white of the Dutchman’s Breeches was the basis for this choice.  Finding nectar in early spring can be a challenge for early emerging butterflies.

In contrast to the shot above, the Tiger Swallowtail in a sea of summer wildflowers is quite colorful.

In contrast to the shot above, the Tiger Swallowtail in a sea of summer wildflowers had numerous choices from a variety in the wildflower garden.

squash borer moth

It’s difficult to choose such a noxious pest insect like the Squash Borer Moth for this collection, but it is a colorful insect caught in mid-flight (in focus!)

Clearwing hummingbird moth

Another moth, rarely seen at rest — the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe).

band-winged meadowhawk

One of several species of meadowhawks difficult to tell apart in their juvenile stages. They were very abundant in the wildflower garden this summer, hopefully gobbling up the many mosquitoes there.

sweat bee on spiderwort

I never realized what a popular flower Spiderwort is to insects. The Green Sweatbees, hoverflies, and bumblebees stocked up on its pollen in early spring.

leadplant flower moth, Schinia lucens (1)

Another rare visitor to the back yard (well, really a neighbor’s front yard) was this Leadplant Flower Moth, a specialist on said plant.  Read more about it here.

female black horse fly mouth parts

If you have ever been bitten by a 2-inch horsefly, here’s why it hurt. Those are a couple of shearing scissors up front in its mouthparts.

milkweed leaf beetles (Labidomera sp.) mating

And lastly, the colorful Milkweed leaf beetles attempting to mate on a milkweed leaf. It’s more of a humorous shot really, since this male tried every which way to get into position.

A rare beauty

It’s rare that I would see something rare, but that must be the case with this rare beauty I found on my neighbor’s Shasta Daisy plant the other day, because I spent two hours looking at various moth and butterfly websites to get an ID for it.  Nothing even faintly resembled the color pattern of this particular moth, and you know when that happens that it hasn’t been seen or photographed very much.

leadplant flower moth, Schinia lucens, nectaring on a Shasta Daisy

A fuzzy purple and white striped moth — in the daytime, in the hot sun, nectaring on a Shasta Daisy.  Aren’t moths nocturnal creatures, especially the hairy ones?

This is a very hairy moth, with its head mostly tucked under its thorax.  It seemed quite intent on sucking up every drop of nectar it could find in the daisy.

This is a very hairy moth, with its head and greenish eyes mostly down and tucked under its thorax. It seemed quite intent on sucking up every drop of nectar it could find in the daisy.

Patience rewarded finally, I found a similar-looking moth on a website about moths of the UK, so at least I knew to start looking at Noctuid moths on BugGuide, and there it was — the Leadplant flower moth (Schinia lucens).

leadplant flower moth, Schinia lucens, on Leadplant

This is the typical host plant for Leadplant flower moth — the Leadplant.  You can see they blend into their environment much better on this prairie plant than they do on the starkly white background of the daisy. (Photo by Armund Bartz, Wisconsin DNR)

The distribution of the Leadplant flower moth in the U.S. naturally follows the distribution of Leadplant in the dry prairies of the central and western part of the country. It is rare where Leadplant is rare, but widespread wherever the plant occurs, because the moth larvae are solely dependent on the maturing seeds of leadplant for their development.

leadplant among prairie plants

Leadplant (Amorpha canescrens), in the foreground with long flower spikes, is a member of the pea family found in dry prairies.  The name probably comes from the grayish tinge of the vegetation, not from its ability to extract lead from the soil, as some have claimed.  The flowers are unusual for pea flowers, having just one large petal, hence the genus name Amorpha.

leadplant flower moth, Schinia lucens, on Leadplant

Photo by Kyle Johnson from a presentation by Armund Bartz, Wisconsin DNR

Depending on the abundance of just one host plant for successful reproduction is a risky strategy.  Herbivore species may disappear when the habitat or environmental conditions eliminate their sole host plant.  This can result in local extinctions, and if those environmental conditions become pervasive, then global extinctions may occur.  Leadplant is a common plant on dry prairies, but only where grazing pressure is light.  It is highly palatable to cattle and disappears with high intensity grazing, and so of course, would the rare beauty of the Leadplant flower moth.