Texas Terrors

by Eric Neubauer

The owlfly (Ululodes macleayanus) isn’t really that scary to humans. It’s just an insect whose lineage goes way back to when dragonflies ruled the skies. It hunts at night and is closely related to antlions. Antlion larva dig pits in sand and hide at the bottom waiting from prey to slide down the sloping sides. I knew about antlions and encountered pits dug by larva, but never heard anything about owlflies.

This becomes the first iNaturalist observation of the Ululodes for Milam County (there are 800 in Texas, so they’re pretty obscure. I only got a single photo and was lucky to get that since it was perched on a grass stalk in the wind. It was taken with the macro lens I just bought.

You may recall the Anthrax pluto fly specimen I observed a while back. It turns out that the next week, Sue Ann Kendall saw another one, Anthrax larrea. I saw the same kind the next day! Between the two of us, we had most of the verified iNat observations in the whole United States.

I went through the Anthrax observations for Texas and found four as yet to be identified ones. So now there are seven. That the neat thing about this kind of research. Eventually there can be a lot of positive fallout.

It does appear to be one of the rarer species though since that’s only 7 out of 121 Anthrax observations in Texas.

Anthrax larrea

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.

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.