A Fly Named Anthrax pluto

by Eric Neubauer

When I review my photos and decide what to upload to iNaturalist, the first thing I do is separate them into broad categories such as flies aka Diptera, and today was the day to work on that group. One was this shaggy, spotted fly found in a wooded area near Alligator Creek.

Sue Ann now declares this her SECOND favorite fly.

I don’t know my flies very well, and trying to identify one I’ve never seen before is like going down Alice’s rabbit hole.

There are so many different kinds of flies. A fair number don’t even have a single observation at iNaturalist, but I thought this one was distinctive enough and I might get lucky. Way down in the low double digit observation totals of Texas flies, I finally found one with similar spots. It was in the Anthrax genus which I’ve never encountered before.

The word “similar” is a dangerous one and it has burned me before, so the next logical step was to search the genus Anthrax in Texas. And what do you know, there was another nearly identical species down in the single digits! Now, how am I going to tell them apart?

The only consistent difference I could see was that the leading edge of the wing of one was solid black and alternated between black and clear on the other. Mine was the one with 7 observations, now increased to 8. The only other observations for this species in North America are four in eastern Canada, oddly enough.

Making the Best Out of the Materials You Have Available

… the essence of engineering

by Eric Neubauer

I was hardly a fan of spiders, but circumstances have determined otherwise. The pandemic has kept me almost exclusively at home, and the Texas Blacklands appear to be excellent habitat for wolf spiders (Lycosidae).

In the past, getting identifications down to the species level almost always ended up in frustration, except for Rabidosa rabida. I have identified at least three other genera on my property, and there are likely to be more.

Rabid Wolf Spider Rabidosa rabida. Photo by the author.

This year, I decided to make observations of them as they grew up. My goal was to upload at least a hundred observations to iNaturalist before trying to identify them down to species level. I passed my goal by getting 23 in 43 minutes a few days ago.

This Thin-legged Wolf Spider (Genus Pardosa) is a young one. Photo by the author.

Lycosidae are generally considered nocturnal, but this isn’t entirely true. Daytime hunting is hit or miss, but a combination of high humidity after a rain, temperatures in the high 70s, and cloudy skies apparently combined to bring them out in the middle of the day.

This one is not identified yet. Photo by the author.

There is also a matter of technique. I’ve found that closely cut grass next to high grass is the best place to look and photograph them. You can just walk around slowly and watch for movement, but many will escape into the high grass. If you lead with one foot along the edge of the high grass, this flushes more of them into the low grass where they can be photographed.

There is one particular species that is so well camouflaged it’s impossible to see unless it moves. Right now, they are mostly a half to an inch long including the legs, and they are old enough to identify the genus.

Brush-legged Split Wolf Spider Schizocosa ocreata. Photo by the author.

You may also see holes of various sizes in the ground. At present, many are probably Lycosidae burrows. They can be enticed out with a blade of grass, but I’ve found they disappear back down their burrows too quickly to photograph, making it a two person job whenever that becomes an option again.

My habitat is returning prairie on blackland with paths mown through the high grass. Confirmed genera: Hogna, Pardosa, Rabidosa, and Schizocosa. Other non-Lycosidae genera including Dolomedes are encountered.

Identification Question

by Eric Neubauer

On March 16 and 17, I walked my property and nearby roads taking photos for iNaturalist observations. My neighborhood is former blackland prairie turned into grazing land and farm fields, and it includes gravel roads, wooded patches, tree lines, and a creek. Despite years of heavy cultivation, native prairie grasses and wildflowers still pop up on their own. These managed to survive in the road margins and tree lines.

Spring is definitely here, and a lot more is going on than earlier in the year. In all, I took almost 400 photos including multiple shots which allow me to choose the best focus or angle. Over the next three days I selected photos and identified them as well as I could before uploading them to iNaturalist under the user name eaneubauer.

Gorgeous image of a gray hairstreak from Eric’s iNaturalist observations.

I often use  iNaturalist for identification. I’m not very familiar with plant species, but a search of particular plant groups in Milam County made it easy to identify most of the plants I found. The previous efforts of several ECR chapter members were largely responsible.

I never know what I will encounter. I’ve found surprises like young fishing spiders thousands of feet from any permanent surface water. For identification of animals, I usually have to include nearby counties or even the entire state because of limited Milam County animal observations. I also find other observers very helpful with identifications, especially if I can narrow my observations down to the family or genus level and the photos are good.

Silvery checkerspot observed on March 24.

Most observers have a specific interest. Butterflies have a large following. Even groups like jumping spiders have their fans. Some groups can be difficult to identify from photos. Grasshoppers come to mind. Flies are a real challenge because of their great diversity. If you see a lot of flies in one area, don’t assume they are all the same. I’ve learned that lesson, and found some oddities as a result. Right now I have a “dark frog-headed fly” which I can’t seem to find among the 802 species observed in Texas. Here is a link.

The mystery fly

Maybe someone who knows will comment on it.