Evolutionary Biologist and Nature Photographer

Author Archive

I’ll have the ‘Cuisses de Grenouille’ please

The family Colubridae is the most diverse family of snakes with almost 2,000 species, though this group is non-monophyletic (that is, in evolutionary terms, the group does not contain all descendants of the most recent common ancestral species).  Thus, this family requires a great deal of work by taxonomists to sort out the natural groups and determine relationships among them.

Leptophis is a genus of colubrid snakes, commonly called parrot snakes.  Parrot snakes are long, slender, bright green snakes found in the tropical forests of Central and South America.

The parrot snake shown in the first two images below, Leptophis ahaetulla (Colubridae), had just found itself a hearty meal. Despite having obviously lost this battle, the frog did not give up the fight so easily, as it kicked and squirmed until the very end. If you look at the expanded body of the snake you can see just how large this frog was – the snake was more than 4 feet in total length.  Notice that the skin stretches as the snake swallows the frog – the blue coloration is the skin beneath the green scales.

(Click the images to see them in full size)

Parrot snake (Leptophis ahaetulla)

Parrot snake (Leptophis ahaetulla) eating a frog, La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica

Parrot snake (Leptophis ahaetulla)

Parrot snake (Leptophis ahaetulla) eating a frog, La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica

The next three photos are a second species of parrot snake, Leptophis depressirostris, barely distinguishable from the species shown above except for one scale between the eye and the nostril (just learned this interesting fact today from a friend, Ethan).

In the picture below, this parrot snake is demonstrating its incredible and intimidating defensive display.

Satiny Parrot Snake

Satiny Parrot Snake – Leptophis depressirostris (Colubridae), La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica

Below you can see the body of a large tick, full of blood, attached under a scale on the snake’s neck.

Satiny Parrot Snake

Satiny Parrot Snake – Leptophis depressirostris (Colubridae), La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica

Satiny Parrot Snake - Leptophis depressirostris (Colubridae)

Satiny Parrot Snake – Leptophis depressirostris (Colubridae), La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica

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The green harvestman!

This species appears to be well camouflaged in its natural habitat – high elevation tropical wet forest with an abundance of mosses and ferns at Las Brisas Nature Reserve, Límon province, Costa Rica.  Luckily I snapped some photos of this species before preserving a few individuals in ethanol to examine later in the lab because, unfortunately, the gorgeous color faded quickly!  Upon closer inspection our research team discovered that the harvestman does not produce the green pigment, but rather, the pigment is produced by epizoic cyanobacteria that lives on the dorsal scute of the harvestman.  This is an extraordinary example of the evolution of symbiosis.  Although it is unclear whether this relationship is mutualistic (one would have to determine whether the cyanobacteria is actually benefiting), the green coloration does appear to provide camouflage for this harvestman within the very lush, green habitat in which it was observed.

Prionostemma sp. "verde" - The green harvestman

Prionostemma sp. “verde” – The green harvestman


Great Spangled Fritillary

Great Spangled Fritillary by Dan Proud
Great Spangled Fritillary, a photo by Dan Proud on Flickr.

A favorite from Toft Point, WI in July 2012. I was lucky to capture this Great Spangled Fritillary as it paused for a moment on this thistle.

I’m going to try to get back into the habit of posting more regularly! Also testing out the share features from Flickr. Enjoy!


Caterpillar of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

I’ve been so busy writing other stuff (proposals and manuscripts) that I haven’t had time to post many pictures lately. That also means I haven’t been out much to take new pictures.  So here are some photos from a couple weeks ago – a caterpillar that belongs to one of the species of swallowtail butterfly – probably the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (I also posted a photo of the adult for this species below).

The “eyes” that you see are not actually eyes at all.  Instead this is a  type of cryptic coloration (specifically mimicry) that has evolved to look like eyes as a defense mechanism.

Eastern Swallowtail Caterpillar

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar found along a trail in western North Carolina

Eastern Swallowtail Caterpillar 2

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar

Eastern Swallowtail Caterpillar 3

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar. The eye spots seen above are a type of defense mechanism using cryptic coloration. The real eyes are two bluish-grey objects below.

Eastern Swallowtail Butterfly

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

 


Visit to the Capital

I recently visited my sister in Washington, DC.  We walked around the city on a nice sunny afternoon and I had to chance to take some photos that captured some incredible architecture of these historical buildings.  If you haven’t visited DC I recommend you go!  Here’s what we saw:


Elk Knob State Park, NC

We returned to Elk Knob State Park, NC – this time with some decent weather.  It was clear enough that we got a nice view from the top of the mountain.  Here’s a few random things I saw along the way as well as the view from the top!

Scorpion fly feeding on caterpillar

Scorpion fly feeding on a dead caterpillar on the leaf of a fern, Elk Knob State Park, NC

Agelenopsis sp. female in funnel web

Agelenopsis sp. female in funnel web at Elk Knob State Park, NC

Elk Knob Bumblebee

A bumblebee on a flower at the top of Elk Knob State Park, NC

Elk Knob State Park NC - south view panorama

(Click photo to enlarge) The southern view from the top of Elk Knob State Park, NC – panorama consists of seven photos stitched together


Peek-a-boo

I was out hiking the other day looking for harvestmen and spiders, but almost every large rock I turned yielded a salamander!  Here’s one of the little guys hiding in some leaves.

North Carolina Salamander

A salamander from western North Carolina

The above image is actually a stack of two photos to get the depth of field I wanted on the face of this salamander.