Digging Tiger

Blow-out tiger beetle (Cicindela lengi versuta) digging a burrow. That is all.

29 September, On the banks of the Milk River, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta.

Posted in Alberta, Autumn, Behaviour, Canada, Cicindelidae, Coleoptera, Insect, macro, photography, Season, Video Tagged , |

Writing-on-Stone Polistes

Continuing on the southern Alberta tour for 2014…

After Waterton Lakes National Park, I moved on to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. No problem with campsites here, there is only one and weekdays–out of season–there is always a lot of choices. I found a sheltered site, and after setting camp I went for a walk along the sandy shore of the Milk River with camera to see what I could find.. The first noticeable critters were the paper wasps feeding on the yellow flowers that were still blooming.

Polistes aurifer de Saussure, 1853

Male Paper wasp, Polistes aurifer de Saussure 1853

I don’t see these wasps further north in central Alberta, so it’s a treat to see them when I go down south. They are related to the yellow-jacket wasps we see frequently in Edmonton. I made the mistake of trying to see the family tree to pin down the relationship, and in so doing I opened up a real wasp-nest….

Click to enlarge

As usual, I got a bit carried away…

I was hoping to find a complete tree to see the relationships, but Tree of Life shows one clade per page, so I zipped them together to form the chart above. If anyone sees any mistakes in the general information I give above, please let me know.

In searching for information on the tree, I referred to the following sites most often:

– BugGuide: Family Vespidae – Yellowjackets and Hornets, Paper Wasps; Potter, Mason and Pollen Wasps
– C
anadian Journal of Arthropod Identification: Identification Atlas of the Vespidae (Hymenoptera, Aculeata) of the northeastern Nearctic region 2008
Journal of Hymenoptera Research: The Vespinae of North America (Vespidae,  Hymenoptera) 2012
– Royal Alberta Museum: Invertebrate Zoology: Research & Projects
- Tree of Life: Endopterygota (to Polistini/Vespinae)
– Wikipedia (general reference)

Thanks to Matthias Buck for the Polistes ID. More images of  Polistes aurifer de Saussure 1853, visit the gallery.

More on the Writing-on-Stone trip later!


(To facilitate the creation of the chart, I copied from the Tree of Life pages, converted the png’s to jpegs in Irfanview, assembled them as a collage in Picasa, back to Irfanview to extend the canvas, and then added labeling, tree branches and final clean-up in PhotoShelter. These are all free programs)

Posted in Alberta, Amateur Entomologist, Autumn, Bugs, Canada, Hymenoptera, Insect, macro, Prairie, Provincial Park, Royal Alberta Museum, Season, Vespidae Tagged , , , , , |

Monochamus scutellatus (Say, 1824)

Monochamus scutellatus (Say, 1824) – White-spotted Sawyer or Spruce Sawyer

This is the other character that landed on my backpack while on the mountain slopes in Waterton. The white-spotted sawyer or spruce sawyer is a common beetle but remains impressive when you come across one, especially the males which can have antennae more than twice as long as the body length, which can be up to 25mm long. Body colour can vary from all black through to a deep bronze, with white spots, but a main identifying feature is a the small v-shaped spot between the forepart of the wing covers, which is white or near white. (The Northeastern Sawyer, Monochamus notatus, is similar but larger and mottled grey…up to 35mm long) This and more M. scutellatus photos from Waterton can be found in the gallery.

Just a hypothesis…there was a small burnt patch not far from my backpack, which may explain why I was visited by the beetle in the first place. Spruce Sawyer’s are attracted to burnt-out forested areas near live stands of trees, and my black camera bag near the burn spot may have been similar enough to a blackened tree stump to bring in the beetle for a closer look. These beetles feed on spruce, pine and fir, and lay their eggs in recently damaged trees–where the larva feed can feed for a year–pupating before winter to emerge the following spring.


The EH Strickland Entomological Museum

Saskatchewan Ministry of the Environment, Forest Pest Fact Sheet






Posted in Alberta, arthropods, Autumn, Behaviour, Canada, Cerambycidae, Coleoptera, Habitat, Insect, macro, National Park, photography, Season, Waterton Tagged , , |

One big sawfly

Urocerus flavicornis (Fabricius)  with a body length of about 5cm, excluding the ovipositor.

Urocerus flavicornis (Fabricius) with a body length of about 5cm, excluding the ovipositor.



Wood wasps, also known as horntails, are large sawflies (suborder Symphyta) in the family Siricidae. They are in the same order (Hymenoptera) as wasps and bees, yet they are harmless to us, as the females only uses the large ovipositor for laying eggs into wood. Because horntail larva do not secrete the enzymes to digest wood, the female also carries fungus in specialized abdominal glands called mycangia that are positioned at the base of the ovipositor. This fungus (most likely stored as hyphal fragments or spores) has the enzyme to decay wood, and some of it is exuded with the egg in the hole that is bored by the horntail. The fungus develops and begins the process of digestion so that the newly hatched grub can feed on the wood. The grub may take 1 to 3 years to develop before emerging as an adult. It is immediately after emergence that the female first collects fungus for the mycangia. This species is known for ‘hilltopping‘, where males congregate in high locations and await females, which may explain the mountainside location where this female found me. After mating, the female will live for a few weeks, seeking out coniferous trees and depositing as much as 350 eggs, laying one egg only in each tunnel she bores.

See more views of Urocerus flavicornis (Fabricius) in the gallery. Thanks to Ken Wolgemuth at BugGuide for the ID

(25 September, 2014. Waterton Lakes National ParkCanon 5D Mk IICanon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens on a Kenko Teleplus PRO 300 DGX 1.4x AF Teleconverter. Lighting with a single diffused Canon Speedlite 270EX II.  ISO320, 1/200 sec. @ f16. Image processed in Lightroom 5)


Goulet, Henri. The genera and subgenera of the sawflies of Canada and Alaska: Hymenoptera: Symphyta. Research Branch, Agriculture Canada, 1992.

Schiff, Nathan et al. Guide to the siricid woodwasps of North America.Morgantown, W.V. : USDA Forest Service, Forest Health Technology Enterprise Team, 2006.

Schiff, Nathan et al. Siricidae (Hymenoptera: Symphyta: Siricoidea) of the Western Hemisphere. Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identifıcation,  2012

Map of Life – “Agriculture in wood wasps” November 23, 2014

Posted in Alberta, Autumn, Behaviour, Bugs, Canada, Entomology, Habitat, Hymenoptera, Insect, macro, photography, Season, Siricidae Tagged , , , |

Off to Waterton

(The little grey cells have been otherwise occupied, so blogging has been neglected, but here is a post I should have been placed two months ago…)

My usual early September tour of southern Alberta was delayed due to the Intro. to Close-up and Macro Photography class I was leading at MacEwan, so I only managed to get out of town on the 23 …

6:15 AM. Out of Edmonton, down the Queen E. to Olds to give some one-on-one training. After a satisfying indoor session (it’s a rainy day…), two hours later, off to Carstairs and west to Cremona, then south down the Cowboy Trail to Cochrane. Refuel, then on to Black Diamond, missing the turn-off for the trail and ending up at the giant Okotoks erratic. Turn around and back to Black Diamond then down the Cowboy Trail again. Not long after, I turn at 532 west into the foothills for an overnight rest at Indian Graveyard. Walk, eat, and then un-haunted sleep.


Wind farm near Pincher Creek

Early next morning: back to the trail and south, then west up the Crowsnest Pass, visiting Frank Slide and Turtle Mountain, then on to make a U-turn  at Sparwood, British Columbia. Back down the Crowsnest Pass,  south on Highway 6, edging Kananaskis country through Pincher Creek to Waterton Lakes National Park.


Mountains in Waterton? What Mountains? A rolling prairie dawn in Waterton Lakes National Park

At Waterton, my first dose of frustration. They have closed all the good campgrounds, leaving only the Waterton town parking-lot campground open. Dismal. Leaving the park, I find a private campground right beside Nature Conservancy land just north of the national park boundary. I find a good site amoung trees and shrubs, and set-up the tent.

The slope  where I de-bagged

Home-base on the slope above Coppermine Creek

The next morning, up before dawn. It had been a windy, gusty night and sleep was intermittent, so I was not feeling chipper. I begin with landscapes in the early morning light, then breakfast, followed by a slow drive up to Red Rock Canyon and a short hike along the river. Then back down the road again to park at Coppermine Creek. Just one week before my arrival this area had been covered with 16″ of snow. I wasn’t sure what to expect for bugs at this time of year, only I knew I had to be prepared for bears, who would be roaming the slopes browsing for kinnikinnick berries. I slipped the pepper-spray on to my belt, hoisted the camera bag onto my back, and started up the trail

No bears today, however grasshoppers were obvious, hopping out of the way or flashing-off in flight as I walked up the slope. After finding a likely spot to set up a home base, I spent some time trying to photograph these uncooperative insects.

 M. sanguinipes, was common on the slopes, this one posed momentarily on the lichen covered rocks.

M. sanguinipes was common on the slopes, this one posed momentarily on the lichen covered rocks. (ID by Dan Johnson)

The highlight of the afternoon was finding a longhorn beetle on my backpack, and while trying to photograph that, having a horntail wasp land on my shirt! I wasn’t tempted to pop one in my mouth while I photographed the other (I had a few pill containers with me, unlike poor Darwin…) Photographing these two, with the longhorn hoofing-it and the horntail struggling to take wing, were both quite a challenge, despite their larger size. More on these two–and the rest of the trip–later…

Posted in A Day in the LIfe, Acrididae, Alberta, Autumn, Bugs, Canada, Insect, Landscape, Lichen, macro, Orthoptera, photography, Season Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Meloe niger. Kirby, 1837

Adrian Thysse Photography: Meloe &emdash;

Continuing with gallery updates, this time the popular oil (or  ‘blister’) beetle, Meloe niger, which I have written about before at The Black Oil Beetle. The strange appearance and  life cycle of this insect makes it a popular hit on this blog. A feed is from Piotr Naskrecki’s blog post, Life-saving Beetles, also directs some overflow this way.

Posted in Alberta, Bugs, Canada, Coleoptera, Galleries, Insect, macro, Meloidae, photography, White Studio Tagged , , , , |