Big Centipede

Last August my son’s school started the year with a school-wide focus on insects. When we’d drop him off or pick him up we would see experiments laid out to determine various properties of ant behavior. We collected arthropods to bring in too, butterflies, bees, spiders, whatever we could find.

One evening my wife was sitting on the couch, and I was wandering about the kitchen. We were talking. She noticed something crawling across the floor.


This centipede is about 11 cm long, or about 4.5 inches. This is not that big in an absolute sense. You aren’t going to be carried off. But as crawly critters go, this is really, really big. I think this is desert tiger centipede, but I really don’t have a key or guide that I trust.

The centipede is really a neat animal. Primitive, segmented all over, even the antennae. Alien, though, is the word I think when I see it. Their eyesight isn’t good, their shell isn’t robust and they’ll dry out if left in the sun. I suppose this is why we haven’t seen any of these again.


We brought it in to share with the class. I think it was unwelcome since ti came home the same day.

Birds of My Yard

Most of these pictures were taken through a window, with insufficient telephoto and probably insufficient tripod use.  Nevertheless, you can tell what kind of bird they are, and for me that is interesting.

With luck, I’ll update these with better pictures over the summer, especially the hummingbird.

The broad-tailed hummingbird is my best guess at the identification of this bird.  The throat is reddish-purple, but for New Mexico Peterson’s would suggest that only the broad-tailed hummingbird is likely.

Broad Tailed Hummingbird

The spotted towhee was an exceptionally fun bird to see.  My son thought it might be an oriole—we’ve been laboring to attract those too.  He knew it was not a robin, describing it as having a “black head” and “orange breast”.  Pretty good for a four-year-old.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a towhee before.

Spotted Towhee

The white-winged dove is the most prevalent bird in our yard.  They typically outnumber house sparrows and house finches.

White Winged Dove

The roadrunner photo credit goes to my wife—what a shot!  A mating pair appear to be nesting in the hedge in our front yard.  They are a shy bird, but their size and displays make for great entertaining.  Like a dog’s ears their topknot rises and flattens to indicate something of their state of mind.  Greater Roadrunner

Giant Juniper Berry

My wife took the baby for a walk yesterday, when the weather was nice.  She grabbed a juniper berry while she was out, because its size was astonishing.   It is pictured below, sitting a US quarter dollar coin.20100206_GiantJuniperBerry


This morning, in the back yard, the ants swarmed. The first picture shows the main cluster of the swarm, the posts in the background are railroad ties, which are about nine inches wide. The swarm footprint is a semicircle cut from a circle about 18 inches in diameter. There was no obvious reason why the ants were swarming. My son asked repeatedly why, and the best guess I could imagine is that two colonies were embattled.

None of the ants had wings, and there was no broad spreading of the swarm. Within two hours all that remained were a scattering of ant carcasses, the bulk of the swarm moved somewhere. This afternoon I will introduce them to boric acid. If you listened carefully you could hear the noise of all these ants moving, which was really surreal.

I do not know the species of ant nor their principal food. They were unaggressive and live in an area of the yard with abundant dirt and plants, it could be they are vegetarians. They do not seem to be damaging my plants, so it could be they are aphid ranchers or perhaps they just eat other invertebrates.

I Googled for “ant swarm” and other related terms; unfortunately, the bio-inspired “swarm” or “ant” algorithms for global optimization of undulating multivariate function spaces have poisoned Google for entomology. I had nearly the same experience with the Big Bee. If you have any thoughts or links, please post them as I am still quite curious. I would like to know why they might have been swarming, and anything interesting about the kind of ants.

Update late the same day

The ants came back in the evening. I noticed them around eight PM. They formed a larger and deeper mound than I saw this morning. Is this diurnal behavior? I have interfered in the research possibility by dusting them liberally with boric acid. I am unlikely to see them swarm again.

Focus Stacking and a Moth

We found this really neat moth on our porch several days ago. It had already departed. It was in immaculate condition, and seemed the perfect opportunity for some focus stacking effort. As usual I used CombineZM for the processing, and my Nikon D40 with el cheapo Phoenix 100mm f/3.4 macro lens. Combination of about 20 photos, if I remember accurately. Anyway, for those of you who use CombineZM, the produced the following was the weighted average method.

I will award 5 points to anyone who can identify the stacking artifacts in this picture.

Really Big Bee

This morning I had the door open to enjoy some late spring fresh air. We had a visitor enter the house. She is perished, alas, but she is also the largest bee I have ever seen. Tip-to-tip, unfolded, she is just over an inch long without including her stinger. She sounded like a humming bird.

She spent the day at the clerestory windows, except for one short descent down the wall. At sunset she alighted on my infant daughter’s monkey toy which is weirdly orange. Perhaps she was desperate for nectar. I noticed that she was no longer at the clerestory window from the staircase, but it took my dog sniffing wildly in her vicinity for me to notice where she’d gone. The next picture has a millimeter scale. It is hard to appreciate her size since she is curled inward.

Look again at her stinger and the drip of juice on it. I understand bumble bee stingers are not barbed which means that they can sting multiple times and that they do not die after stinging. On the other hand, they are not particularly aggressive.

I have tried to identify her species, but do not have a good key available. I got some help from Fortune Favors the Bold, where the closest match is Bombus fraternus. Please post an identification or a link to a good key if you know of one.