laphriini blog

taxonomy and ethology
of robber flies
as an avocation

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About Laphriini Blog

This blog is intended as an adjunct to my Laphriini Pages, a website devoted to a tribe of robber flies (Diptera: Asilidae), known as the Laphriini. The tribe includes two described genera in North America--Laphria Meigen and Lampria Macquart. Many years ago for my Ph.D. I divided Laphria into four groups of generic rank, of which I revised two for my dissertation, and partially revised one of the remaining two. I never published the revisions for the two groups I revised, and over the years have sporadically worked toward completing the revision for the group I almost finished (I know this doesn't sound like I've done much work post-PhD. but I've probably put in about a year full-time since I graduated on everything together, including two three-month stretches I spent working around-the-clock between jobs trying to finish; I think that's a lot, everything considered). The purpose of my Laphriini Pages is to make this material available to the general public, as the covered species include many large showy flies which should interest collectors and other amateur Dipterists. Also included is a review of the fourth group, which I did not touch for my PhD., and initiated after graduating. This incomplete review is the only material currently posted. The purpose of the blog is to keep the Dipterological community informed of the progress of my on-going revision and review, comment on the process, and generally interact with the taxonomic and ethological communities at large.

April 20, 2022 -- Alive and Well

It is hard to believe that it has been seven years since I posted anything here. That seven years has been a roller-coaster if anything ever was. At my job, I got promoted; and at home, a varity of changes--including some health issues--made it very difficult to complete any work. However, I did manage to accomplish something--namely, I was able to purchase and set up everything I will ever possibly need to continue working on robber flies. Someone once said that when you are old you have plenty of money and no time; whereas, when you are young, the opposite is true. I can vouch for that. During that seven years I bought everything I thought I might ever possibly want, from a phase-contrast microscope to several microphotography setups, as a conscious preparation for when I will have more time to work on asilids when I retire, and, of course, will also have a lot less less discresionary income than at present. My purpose in this short post is to let everyone know that I have resumed working both on this blog and the associated papers, in other words, what I am supposed to be using all that equipment for, and am alive and fairly well. I am 70 years old now. Hopefully I will manage to complete my papers relatively quickly and then work on asilids as a hobby for another ten years. I plant to retire from work in two years, when I am 72.

I should be attending the North American Dipterists Society (NADS) field meeting in New Jersey June 13-17.

On a technical note, I switched the website server from a local, private company to Amazon Web Services. For me, this was extremely cheap--AWS hosting is only about one dollar a month. For you as my audience, it means that you can now bookmark individual pages within the domain, with the bookmark working later to direct you to that exact page, instead of to the index page for the whole site . . . (read more)

July 25, 2015 -- New Laphriini References

I added three refernces (Reichardt (1929), Hardy and Preece (1927), and Linsley (1961)) to the Annotated Bibliography today. All three are quite old; but two were new to me. Reichardt (1929) was something I had, and while working on my PhD. had read and found indispensible, but for some reason had forgotten to add both to the Literature Cited in my dissertation, and to the Annotated Bibliography here when I began this site. The other two citations are apparently new to the asilid literature indices; they are not mentioned in Hull (1962) or in any of Lavigne's three literature updates (Lavigne (1999), Lavigne, Dennis, and Gowen (1978), and Ghahari, Lavigne, and Geller-Grimm (2007)). The full citations for the three papers are:

Reichardt, H. 1929. Untersuchungen über den Genitalapparat der Asiliden. Zeitschr. wiss. Zool. 135:257-301 (In German; with detailed description of . . . (read more)

August 10, 2014 -- Miscellaneous Updates and Some New Photos

Since January I've made a lot of small changes in the setup of the Laphriini Pages that I've been meaning to document. Most are ongoing parts of more extensive changes that haven't yet been fully implemented. For example, I plan to fix any reference in the bibliography that has an on-line PDF or HTML version, to show a link to that version. With this, my bibliography will become a "one-stop-shop" for North American Laphriini literature. You will be able to look at the title, look at the annotation if there is one, or look at the original article or book, if it is on-line. I've added links for 59 of the 211 references. Many of the links are to page readers for large depositories like Biodiversity Heritage Library and HathiTrust. Others are to on-line PDFs. When I've added a link, I've also made it a point to annotate the reference, if it wasn't annotated already.

The references that now have links to a PDF or HTML version of the original article are:

Adisoemarto (1967)
Alexander (1940)
Andrews (1918)
Back (1904)
Baker and Fischer (1975)
Banks (1911)
Banks (1913)
Banks (1917)
Barnes, Lavers, and Raney (2007)
Bell (1921)
Beutenmüller (1904)
Brimley (1922)
Brimley (1938)
Britton (1920)
Bromley (1914)
Bromley (1924)
Bromley (1931a)
Bromley (1934a)
Bromley (1936)
Bromley (1942)
Bromley (1947)
Bromley (1950a)
Bromley (1950b)
Bromley (1950c)
Bromley (1951)
Brown (1929)
Canden, Suludere, Hasbenli, Cagiran, Lavigne, and Scarbrough (2004)
Cannings (2010)
Cannings (2012)
Cockerell (1927)
Cole and Lovett (1921)
Davis (1910)
Dennis and Lavigne (1976)
Evans (1970)
Greene (1918)
Greene (1910)
Greene (1911)
Harrington (1900)
Hine (1904)
Johnson (1895)
Johnson (1902)
Johnson (1910)
Johnson (1913)
Johnson (1925b)
Johnson (1927)
Knutson (1976)
Lavigne, Barr, and Stephens (2001)
Leonard (1928)
McAtee (1918)
McAtee and Banks (1920)
Nagatomi and Nagatomi (1989)
Quentin (1948)
Rohwer (1912)
Shelly (1979)
Snodgrass (1902)
Thompson (1891)
Walton (1910)
Woodruff (1960)
Young (1910)

As another example, I plan to fix most of the photographs so that you can click on them to get the original, usually much larger version. This linked photo will . . . (read more)

January 15, 2014 -- Another Annotation

I annotated one reference in the Bibliography that was already there, namely Brimley (1938). This is one I've been meaning to get to for a long time. The complete annotated citation is:

Brimley, C. S. 1938. The Insects of North Carolina, being a list of the insects of North Carolina and their close relatives. N. C. Dep. Agric., Div. Entomol., 560 pp. (p. 338, B.[ombomima] affinis Mcq., B. champlainii Walton, B. cinerea Back, B. divisor Bks., B. flavicollis Say, B. grossa Fab., B. posticata Say, B. sacrator Wlk., B. thoracica Fab., B. virginica Bks.; L.[ampria] bicolor Wied., L. rubriventris Mcq., L. sp. (near rubriventris but abdomen black); L.[aphria] aktis McAtee, L. saffrana Fab., L. scorpio McAtee, L. sericea Say, L. sicula McAtee).

As with most of the faunal lists in the Bibliography this one lists localities and a date range for each species. At some point I am . . . (read more)

January 5, 2014 -- A Lone Reference to Herald in the New Year

I added one annotated reference to the bibliography, namely Snyder (1957). The complete citation is:

Snyder, K. D. 1957. Check list of insects of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Privately printed. Montreat College, Montreat, NC, 78 pp. (p. 38, Bombomina (Dasyllis) champlainii Walton, B. divisor Bks., B. flavicollis Say, B. grossa Fab., B. sacrator Wlk., Laphria canis Will, L. sericea Say).

I've also uncovered a few other references but haven't . . . (read more)

December 7, 2013 -- More References

I added seven annotated references to the bibliography, namely Felt (1910), Greene (1910), Nicolay (1919), Wandoleck (1905), Washburn (1905), Weiss (1915), and Young (1910). The complete references are:

Felt, E. P. 1910. Insect types in New York State Museum, pp. 119-122 IN 25th Report of the State Entomologist 1909. Education Dept. Bull. 475 (New York State Mus. Bull. 141), pp. 5-178 (p. 120, Dasyllis cinerea Back (cotype)).

Greene, G. M. 1910. Feldman collecting social. Entomol. News 21:430-431 (p. 430, Dasyllus [sic] champlaini Walton).

Nicolay, A. S. 1919. Additions to Insects of New Jersey No. 7. Entomol. News 30:276-279 (p. 278, Dasyllis cinerea Back).

Wandolleck, C. 1905. Diptera für 1904. Archiv für Naturgeschichte. 1905(2):787-823 (p. 813, Dasyllis cinerea n. sp., D. fernaldi n. sp. ... Back; this is a catalog of all the new Diptera described in 1904).

Washburn, F. L. 1905. Diptera of Minnesota. Two-winged flies affecting the farm, garden, stock and household. Minn. Agr. Expt. Sta. Ann. Rpt. (1904-1905) 13:19-168, Figs. 4-163, 2 pls. (p. 87, Dasyllis thoracica, Fab. [also Fig. 79], Laphria sericea, Say [also Plate II, Fig. 21], and Dasyllis sacrator, Walk. [also Plate II, Fig. 10]).

Weiss, H. B. 1915. Additions to Insects of New Jersey. Entomol. News 26:101-107 (p. 106, Dasyllis champlaini Walton).

Young, D. B. 1910. Additional list of Adirondack insects, pp. 123-125 IN 25th Report of the State Entomologist 1909. Education Dept. Bull. 475 (New York State Mus. Bull. 141), pp. 5-178 (p. 124, Dasyllis sacrator Walk., Laphria sericea Say).

I also annotated two additional citations . . . (read more)

November 23, 2013 -- Two More References

I added two annotated references to the bibliography, namely Beutenmueller (1904) and Johnson (1913). The complete references are:

Beutenmüller, W. 1904. The types of Diptera in the collection of the American Museum of Natural History. Bull. Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist. 20:87-89 (p. 88, Laphria astur O. S.).

Johnson, C.W. 1913. Insects of Florida. I. Diptera. Bull. Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist. 32(3): 37-90 (p. 61, Dasyllis grossa Fabr. (D. tergissa Say), Dasyllis lata, Dasyllis posticata Say, Laphria saffrana Fabr.).

I also annotated two additional citations that were already present, namely . . . (read more)

October 26, 2013 -- Miscellaneous Updates

It's been a while since I last posted. During the interim I've made a number of small changes and additions. I had intended to list them all in one go, here, once they reached a "critical mass." Problem is, I didn't write them down, thinking that each was too insignificant to warrant picking up a pencil. Now when I want to list them I can only remember a few.

First, I replaced a number of habitus photographs with hopefully better versions. I replaced the original blurry analog photo of the female of Laphria flavicollis with a stacked digital version. I also replaced the stacked photos I had for both male and female of Laphria sacrator with new stacked photos having better, more diffuse lighting.

Second, I added several annotated references to the bibliography, namely Dennis and Barnes (2013) and Cannings (2010). The complete references are:

Dennis, D. S., and J. K. Barnes. 2013. Pupal cases of four Nearctic species of Laphria (Diptera: Asilidae). Zootaxa 3681(4):478-492. (L. canis, L. ferox, L. macquarti, and L. posticata; key provided to pupal cases of 11 species (including listed four) of Laphria s. lat. Generic key also provided to distinguish pupal caes of Laphria s. lat. from those of Andrenosoma and Lampria [note: Lampria is in the Laphriini, Andrenosoma. . . . (read more)

June 2, 2013 -- Flies Around the House

I ran a Malaise trap at my log house continuously from this last Friday, May 31, through today, Sunday, June 2. This was the second time I had run it this Spring--the weekend two weeks ago being the first. Compared to last year I got started later this one--this has been a much colder and more delayed Spring than normal.

The reason I am posting is that I caught a male of Laphria sacrator. I've never taken this species here before, although I knew it was present in western Pennsylvania. I also caught a female Laphria flavicollis and a male Laphria aktis. This brings to eight the species of Laphriini I have nabbed just out back of my house over the 14 years I have lived there. They are:

Laphria aktis
Laphria sericea
Laphria index
Laphria scorpio
Laphria winnemana
Laphria sicula
Laphria flavicollis
Laphria sacrator

These eight species were all taken within an area encomapssing a circle about 50 feet in diamter, in either a Malaise trap, or individually on a pile of firewood. This firewood was originally stacked in a row alongside and somewhat removed from my house. Over the years I've let it rot to attract insects rather than use it in my fireplace.

Six of these eight species will also eventually be placed in other genera; however, . . . (read more)

May 13, 2013 -- More Literature

I added nine literature citations to the Bibliography. This nine is a miscellany; only two--Franklin (1912) and Free and Butler (1959)--directly mention North American Laphriini in North America, and the latter is a citation and not an original observation. The full citations for these two references are:

Franklin, H. J. 1912. The Bombidae of the New World. Trans. Amer. Entomol. Soc. 39:177-486 (pp. 238, Dasyllis thoracica Fabricius, D. affinis Macquart, D. tergissa (var.), and D. flavicollis Say all resemble Bombus impatiens and Psithyrus laboriosus, and all are found within the ranges of these two bee species; Dasyllis sacrator Walker resembles Bombus vagans and B. perplexus and is found within the ranges of these two bee species in the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada; Dasyllis astur O. S. resembles Bombus californiens and B. vosnesenskii and it ranges with those species in the Pacific Coast States; last, Dasyllis posticata Say resembles Bombus fervidus females and both are distributed widely; pp. 237-239; discusses Batesian and aggressive mimicry of bumble bees by robber flies and syrphids.).

Free, J. B. and G. C. Butler. 1959. Bumble Bees. Collins, St. James Place, London. (The New Naturalist series; pp. 81-82, Dasyllis grossa).

Three--Wichmann (1956), Perris (1871), and Quentin (1948) --mention the Holarctic species Choerades gilvus in . . . (read more )

May 4, 2013 -- Yet Another Literature Citation

I added another literature citation, namely Gabritschevsky (1926). This reference isn't really new to me; it's something I've had a copy of for a long time. I just hadn't read it until this week. Yet as far as I can tell it is one that has never been mentioned in any of the various asilid bibliographies. It was published in the Biological Bulletin; I seem to remember that that journal may consist of translations of papers that were first published in Russian. The paper itself is notable for species-name misspellings as well as for one species for which the name is completely wrong (Dasyllis dithoracica). The main emphasis is on color convergence between bumblebees and flies in the syrphid genus Volucella. The way in which the thoracic and abdominal patterns are diagrammed for both flies and bees is instructive and possibly eventually can serve as a model for an updated analysis of color patterns within Laphria s. str. The full reference is:

Gabritschevsky, E. 1926. Convergence of coloration between American pilose flies and bumblebees (Bombus). Biol. Bull.. 51(4):269-886.(Divides American Laphria [Dasyllis at the time] and Bombus into three pattern groups, the first consisting of species in the eastern United States, the second also of eastern species, and the third of species in the Rockies (referred to as the Colorado area); p. 273, the first group, consisting of . . . (read more )

March 19, 2013 -- Another Literature Citation

It's a truism that the more that is happening, the less that is recorded. It's been that way with me at least for the last several months. In that time, I've figured out how to make distribution maps with a free package, Quantum GIS, that look as nice as the maps I've made at work with ArcGIS (I've been wanting an affordable package for mapping at home for years). And I got myself setup with Corel Draw, Corel Painter, and AutoDesk SketchBookPro to make line drawings and paintings directly using a computer, second monitor, and 12x12 Wacom drawing tablet. And last, I finally settled on an easy-to-use-and-modify database for documenting and annotating my asilid collection, called Small Museum Organizer Pro. I'll post something about each of these later. For now, though, I'm just going to mention a new literature citation for Laphria sacrator in Michican, namely Hancock (1911). The full reference is:

Hancock, J. L. 1911. Nature Sketches in Temperate America. xviii + 451 pp., Chapter IV. Mimicry, with Examples (frontispiece of entire book; also p. 127-129, 131 [in subchapter titled The Bumblebee's Mimic], Dasyllis sacrata [sic]. The model is stated to be Bombus consimilis, and the observations were made at Lakeside, Berrien County, Michigan. Several types of prey are also listed.).

Throughout the book . . . (read more )

November 18, 2012 -- Removing an Unwanted Photo Background

You may have wondered how I've managed to clean up the backgrounds so completely in some of my habitus photos, such as the three for Laphria grossa, here. The following is the method I use. Now before anyone says anything I need to acknowledge five things 1) There may be better ways to do this in Adobe Photoshop; I have an older version, 5.5.; but since I can get the latest of GIMP free hardy use it any more, 2) Many of my older photos are extremely crappy -- it obviously does not apply to them, 3) Many of my newer photos, for which I have used this technique, are also extremly crappy, 4) So far at least I haven't used the technique everywhere I could or probably should have, and last, 5) I obviously still have a lot to learn about photo processing.

The GIMP is free software; the acronym stands for "GNU Image Manipulation Program". It is an open-source replacement for Adobe Photoshop. I've been using Ver. 2.8.2; some earlier versions apparently do not have all the resquisite functions implemented. You can, however, do this with a much earlier version, say for example if . . . (read more)

November 17, 2012 -- Glossary

Today I added a Glossary of terms one is likely to find when perusing the asilid literature. It is specifically oriented towards the older descriptive literature. Most of the terms are morphological. The glossary itself is an amalgam of several public-domain works, edited, modified, and tweaked for Laphriini. The tweaking will eventually be extensive. The glossary now, however, includes much that it shouldn't, or is of limited relevance. Further, it lacks many things that should probably be present. These include many that I know about, and many more that I don't. Although the glossary is manifestly incomplete and inadequate, I will be improving it as can.

This site much needs a glossary. For someone with a general background neither the original descriptions nor my redescriptions are self explanatory. You have to start somewhere. Things have a habit of never getting done unless you put them out for public consumption. But once started they more-or-less write themselves, bit-by-bit. This is my philosophy for the entire website. With this glossary, eventually my mixing, tweaking, and editing of the original works will be so extensive that neither the overall result or the individual entries will bear any resemblence to to their one-time templates and props.

Further, many of the entries will rely heavily on my personal experience; dry-as-dust . . . (read more)

November 14, 2012 -- Mistake Corrected

Today I removed two references from the Bibliography that I had added recently. The first was Aldrich's update to his 1905 Diptera Catalog. It mentioned a Dasyllis ablicollis Bigot 1878 from Mexico. I had not seen this species, and given the date, thought it might be a Laphria s. str. I was wrong. It is a true Dasyllis, or at least it is treated as one in the 1953 key to that genus by Carrera. I removed the citation for this paper as well. I had yet to see it when I posted, and thought it likely that it would comment on the confusion between Laphria s. str. and Dasyllis at the turn of the twentieth century. I have since looked at a translation (obtained from Geller-Grimm's website). It does no such thing. So neither paper belongs. The references for the two papers I removed are listed . . . (read more)

October 24, 2012 -- More Laphriini Literature

Thanks to Bob Lavigne I added 23 new references to North American Laphriini today. Bob sent them to me yesterday. I had known about some of these--more on that shortly--but some were in places I would have never looked, and had it not been for Bob would have been missed for a long while if not forever.

As I said in my last post the current bibliography was derived directly from the one in my dissertation. That covered the two genera I plan to describe as new, as well as the North American Choerades. In other words it covered the flies that were once considered as Laphria, before Bombomima was synonymized, as well as any general papers on Laphria s. lat., anything of historical significance, and anything necessary to place a particular species within one of the four genera. This sounds like a lot. And in fact it is. But it is important to note it is NOT everything, if one wishes exhaustively to cover the entire tribe for North America north of Mexico. Namely, it omits references to collection and prey records for particular species of Laphria s. str., if these were segregated from larger works.

Now I once had all that material and still do. But it is not in a form I can easily access. Back in what seems like dim prehistory when I started my revision, I indexed all the literature available at the time for everything, including those disconnected references to particular species of Laphria s. str. This was long before the advent of personal computers. So my index was in paper form. It consisted of sheets of 8 1/2 by 11 inch paper, on which I manually typed the citation at the top, and then either typed (or more usually pasted photocopies) the pertinent lines on the page below. I then arranged the sheets in chronological order. Had they been amalgamated as typed into a binder it would have been about 10 inches thick. The stack was then placed in a small, portable plastic file cabinet.

As an aside, I did not originate this method myself. It was a direct copy of . . . (read more)

October 20, 2012 -- Laphriini Bibliography Update

I updated the Laphriini Bibliography with 13 papers. To start with, I realized that the bibliography did not include two essential general asilid papers. First was the literature update by Lavigne (1999). Second was the follow-up update by Ghahari, Lavigne, and Geller-Grimm (2007).

Next, I added a newer paper I also knew about but had likewise overlooked, namely Bedell's (2010) list of Virginia asilids.

Last, I regularly check the web for new papers. In doing so I stumbled across ten much older publications. Eight mention . . . (read more)

June 14, 2012 -- Early Season Flies

I got out in the woods around my log house on June 9 and took some photos of live robber flies. I got shots of two species. The top one pictured I'm assuming to be a male of Laphria flavicollis Say. There were a number of these about, mostly still hunting in deep forest understory from the upper surface of fallen timber. They also occasionally landed on dead leaves on the forest floor or on live fern fronds. The one thing in common among all three types perches was that they were all in bright dappled light, within a foot or two of the ground. BTW, the "woods" I'm referring to are old growth oak-maple forest, with many trees having boles several feet in diameter.

The next three photos of course aren't laphriines, or even a robber flies. They're syrphids. I've included them here because these syrphids were fairly common around the logs frequented by our L. flavicollis, with the males in fact apparently patrolling a short beat--in other words, the two types of fly must regularly come into contact with each other, certainly as adults and even, now that I know the larvae live in wood, perhaps as immatures. From looking at Skevington, Thompson, and Marshalls's Field Guide to Syrphidae of the Northeastern North America, I place them as a species of Temnostoma. I saw a L. flavicollis attack one of these patrolling Temnostoma in mid-air. I believe it got it, but it flew off before I could confirm. These particular Temnostoma wave their front legs up-and-down when at rest. This foreleg movement reminds me of the constant waving by an Ichneumon of it's antennae, but of course otherwise the gestalt of the two insects differs completely. Supposedly Temnostoma mimic potter wasps, Eumenidae. The first two shots were taken several weeks prior, on May 19 (as sort of a displacement activity, when no robber flies were about), and illustrate well the two most characteristic poses of the fly. I took the third shot, of another specimen, a few minutes after the described asilid attack. It has more of the specific characters visible, and should be useful if . . . (read more)

May 14, 2012 -- Malaise Trapping, Miscellaneous Opinions

This is a laptop with a second screen, set up as it should be to view the types of plates I will be displaying here. The plate in the photo is one of part of the male terminalia of Dasylechia atrox, an oddball Laphriine fly. The second monitor is flipped sideways. A setup like this allows you to take in the entire plate at one glance. The original lettering on this plate as well as on most I've done was inked 25-30 years ago with a LeRoy letting set. Boy, have things changed. When I made this particular plate computers cost around ten thousand dollars each and came with all of 64 kilobytes of RAM. I remember making this plate well; I did it on Strathsmore board at my home at the time -- an 8x40 trailer in Laramie, Wyoming, on the edge of town, after work, with a dissecting scope and grid, light board, and rapidograph set, all of which I provided myself (and still have). At the time I worked full-time as a clerk in a junk store even further away from town but in another direction, and squeezed in classes and study for my PhD. as I could. In other words, I got these plates and many others completed under circumstances I'd never want to repeat. As for the trailer, I could look out the back window, away from town, and see nothing but prairie for miles and miles. I could see so far that approaching thunderstorms were discrete entities that could be tracked long before they hit. In short, you could see those babies coming.

I sometimes think that graduate students pay too high a price for their Union Card; considering that once they've gotten a professional job many of them never do much else again, other than posture and perhaps raise money. Raising money, of course is a job too; it takes lots of time and effort, and so I'd guess the explanation lies there. But it seems a waste to spend years training people for some extremely specialized activity like insect taxonomy, for which presumably they have some natural bent, and then, when they've been hired professionally, to immediately require as the sine qua non of remaining employed, that they spend the majority of their time writing grant proposals, instead of actually exercising and developing their acquired skill, when they could do the latter almost out of pocket money. The result is a tiered system of indentured servants in which nobody wins, lest of all society at large. I suppose it's a necessary evil. At least with funding the average doctoral candidate gets through in a reasonable period of time, even if he's not doing what he wants. And the average professor gets a pay check and security he'd otherwise be hard put to come by in the rough-and-tumble world of real business. In fact, generally I'd say grad students are so sick of the whole research gig by the time they've finished they're glad to be rid of it, like a pennant exorcising himself of a devil. I didn't go this route. But the road I did take certainly wasn't paved; it had its own ruts and washouts which may in the end have been far worse. It's a miracle in a way I'm still working on flies, even as an avocation. Or I should say, especially as an avocation.

A week ago I ran a malaise trap in a woodlot I own, next to my log house. A photo is in the blog header. It's still very early Spring here (in west central Pennsylvania), the trees are not far removed from budding, and the ferns are only a few inches high. I hadn't run the trap this early before, so I thought I'd see what I got. The main catch seemed to be . . . (read more)

April 22, 2012 -- Cookie Jar Photography

I didn't have time this last three weekends to take or process more photographs of flies. I did take a couple of shots today of my photography setup, though.

The shot just to the right shows the camera mounted on the copy stand from the side. I took the lights off the copy stand. They weren't necessary, and got in the way when I needed to move it. The camera is a Nikon D90, the lens is a Sigma 180 mm macro with a 2x adapter, and the flash is a Sigma ring unit (EM-140DG). Everything is mounted on a stacking rail. I've taken all the recent habitus shots using this setup, with the camera in manual mode, at ASA-200, F-32, and 1/50th second. I don't think the timing is critical; without the flash it's dark in the cookie jar; so the shutter just has to be open for longer than the flash. I set it to 1/30th second for the head profile shots. One thing that is very noticeable from this view, is that the camera and lens are not exactly vertical: they're tilted slightly backwards. To compensate for this I pin the fly at a slight angle as well.

The next photo shows the same rig from an angle, and is slightly enlarged compared to the first. You'll note that I'm not using a remote flash; I just set the timer and then press the button. My log house is extremely sturdy, but even so I need to be careful not to move, as with photo stacking any vibration will result in more work for the software. BTW, it's the stacking rail that you adjust incrementally between shots, not the lens focus. Otherwise, the position of the specimen would shift in the field of view.

In the third photo, I've shown the pinning tray in the cookie jar. The cookie jar does exactly what I need, that is, it diffuses the flash. But the pinning tray might be improved on. Other people seem to be pinning the insects they are photographing on the outside of an inverted Styrofoam cup, and shooting them from the side, rather than from the top. Apparently the curved sides of the cup result in less shadow. This in turn should result in less work with the GIMP. I'm considering either using the bottom of the cookie jar itself as a backdrop or maybe a section of . . . (read more)

April 7, 2012 -- Musings

"Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne, He travels fastest who travels alone."  Rudyard Kipling

First off, this isn't a post about Laphriini. If I had to give it a title, I would call it "The Importance of Picking the Right Group to Work On." Or, more specifically, the right-sized group. Or something like that, for as you will see I will wander more than a bit, and would like to keep a tad in reserve as a surprise. In short, it's an essay, and if you want to know what I have to say, you'll need to follow the path where it leads.

I just turned 60 a few months ago--which is that age where you think a lot about what you've done and still hope to do. And in thinking I've realized that there wouldn't be enough time in five lifetimes to do what I'd originally thought possible with asilids in just this one, at least without essentially becoming a machine and boring myself to death. The Asilidae is a huge group. There are many North American genera I've never even seen specimens of in a museum, much less in the field. Even for the Laphriini, it would have taken me a lifetime to collect every species I've covered. And that's just collecting them as adult flies with a net. If I'd wanted to collect larvae and rear them through that alone would take several lifetimes more.

I've always had a secret envy of people who in their spare time worked on small, well-defined groups, with limited distributions. For example, in the middle of the last century Mont Cazier worked on apiocerids--a small strange group of flower-feeding flies that superficially look a little like asilids. In his entire life he only published three papers on them--but two were of book length. The catch of course is that you have to live where your critters occur; Cazier spent his summers in Arizona, and apiocerids are distributed throughout the southwestern deserts. It's of little use to anybody and especially to yourself to work on a group that's found so far away you'll be lucky to ever see a member alive. You might be able to do this if you work in a museum, but even so it's a fool's game. Nothing is really complete or satisfying unless you can easily relate structure to behavior, behavior to habitat, habitat to distribution, and all of the previous to some sort of story of . . . (read more)