Shamrock and I are staying at some friends’ house in Orlando and this evening I saw Shamrock swatting at a long-winged insect fluttering outside the glass door. It erratically drifted up and down the glass attempting the reach the light inside and Shamrock tracked every move. Every now and then Shamrock shot a paw or two onto the glass and then gave the confused look of “I’m sure I would have caught it this time”. Well, now I was intrigued, so I stepped outside and gently scooped it up. I wasn’t sure what it was at first but I was confident it emerged from the nearby lake. It had the look of those aquatic insects that evolved early on, long before most of the common groups of insects that we see today. They have simple economical designs and no frilly colors. They live out of sight underwater most their lives, then for a brief period of the year they emerge for some sexy business. And we see them, big insects fluttering around, reminders of life that is always near but also almost always out of sight. I’m glad I took a closer because it can be difficult to appreciate any aspect of nature until you have a personal experience, until you see it up close.
With a few minutes of browsing on BugGuide I figured out this must be a dobsonfly or a fishfly, and based on the antennae I found out it’s spring fishfly (Chauliodes rastricornis), and specifically a male. The males have pectinate antennae (i.e. fingery) and females have serrate antennae (i.e. toothy).
As larvae they are omnivorous, probably feeding on whatever they can find and trying to avoid hungry fish. In the spring they shed their skin one last time to reveal a fresh set wings, and off into the skies to find a mate. But now they have new threats, birds, lizards, speeding cars, and yup, cats. After I was done photographing this one I took it back outside and tossed it off the porch, and as it started to fly a bat swooped down and snagged it right out of the air! One more threat I forgot about, it’s rough out there.
Nature does have a tendency to hide from us either because animals are trying to keep out of sight, away from predators, or because they live in places we’d rather not go. But even when nature emerges from the tangle and directly into our lives, we still have to stop to take a close look. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes, be it a friend who’s a natural history nerd or a frisky feline, can help you direct your attention toward nature you might otherwise overlook.
Shamrock now has her eyes locked on a gecko that is running across the ceiling…