Giant Robber Fly of the Great Plains – Microstylum morosum

Early in July, while walking the Oak Motte and Deer Mouse Trails at the Ft. Worth Nature Center & Refuge, I was surprised by the largest Robber Fly that I have ever seen. I estimated at the time that it must be about 4.5 cm. I thought surely that this must be some prehistoric relic recently thawed from a glacier by the 100 degree heat…. (no, wait)….. there are no currently active glaciers near Ft. Worth, so that theory is out. This must be a living breathing extant species. The glowing emerald green eyes were mesmerizing. Luckily, I had my Canon G10 in my hand and I grabbed this one photo. I tried to move around and get a shot of the face, but he flew away, …… far far away….. <sigh of exasperation>.

I could not wait to get home and identify this beauty. First, I check my copies of Kaufman & Eaton, no luck. Then I looked in Peterson, then Lutz, and etc., etc. Then finally, before going to BugGuide on the Internet, I “Googled” up <giant robber fly, emerald eyes>, and to my surprise, I found a blog post by Ted C. MacRae at “Beetles in the Bush“. BTW, this is one of my favorite Insect and Nature Blogs. The article can be found here:  North America’s largest robber fly. Click on the link and read Ted’s excellent “adventure” article. There are not many naturalists that can make a nature walk seem like an expedition to deepest, darkest Africa. Well done, Ted. Interesting as usual.

I could not find a photo, or even a description or notation in the many insect field guides or nature references in our library. No wonder that I was not aware of this insect, and was surprised by its appearance. After discovering its species name at Ted’s site, I found it on (another favorite site). At one time, this species was thought to be endemic to Texas, but in recent years has been found in many other states.

Don’t forget to click on the photos for better looks.

Microstylum morosum – Giant Robber Fly of the Great Plains

© 2010 Troy and Martha Mullens

Robber flies belong to the Family Asilidae and vary greatly in size (from 3 – 50 mm in the US), some being long and slender, and some being very robust such as Laphria and Mallophora (Bumblebee mimics). Others are slender and just look like they are built for speed. They tend to be more diverse in the central and western US. For those who are Birders, many/most robber flies act like flycatchers, perching and dashing out, to attack their prey. There are close to 1000 species in North America.

Leave a comment if you like the photo, or if you have had firsthand experience with this giant beauty of a robber fly.

For comparison, here are a few other favorite Robber Fly photos taken by Martha or me.

A Bumblebee mimic. In addition to being a reasonably good nature photo, this could be considered a good piece of art (In my humble opinion). Notice the really great bearded look. Most robber flies are bearded and have hairy “faces”.

Mallophora sp.

© 2010 Troy and Martha Mullens

Another similar looking species is the Laphria. Very cool bug. Did I mention I like robber flies. Falcons of the air.

Laphria sp.

© 2010 Troy and Martha Mullens

A more commonly seen robber fly. Probably Promachus? Any definitive ID’s would be appreciated. Leave a comment or contact me.

Update: Thanks to Bob Parks, the robber fly has been ID’d.

Trioria interrupta

© 2010 Troy and Martha Mullens

One of my favorites. A Diogmites sp. This is also known as “the hanging thief”. Many times they are seen hanging by one foot or sometimes two feet while devouring their prey.

Diogmites sp.

© 2010 Troy and Martha Mullens

A portrait photo of Diogmites, courtesy of my brother, Jimmy S. Mullens. This one has really sparse, scruffy facial hair.

Diogmites sp. up close and personal

© 2010 Jimmy S. Mullens

The next 2 photos are of Efferia sp. E. mortensoni or Pogonioefferia pogonias., a male and female respectively. Notice the bright silver band on the male, and the sharp ovipositor (for laying eggs in dry flower heads and various crevices) on the female.These were photographed early in the day on a cold October morning. It was overcast and the Sun had not warmed them for flight. These were all caught in the sleeping position. Almost all that I saw were head down. Many (most) of this Genera tend to be grayish or gray/brown. All of the male species seen in the field that day were black or very dark to the eye. The females were grayish/brown. There is no color enhancement in the photos.

Efferia sp. , Male

© 2010 Troy and Martha Mullens

Efferia sp. , Female

© 2010 Troy and Martha Mullens

Hope you enjoyed this little ‘Robber Fly Refresher’. Leave a comment if you liked it. What was your favorite?

Troy and Martha Mullens

Posted in Diptera, Ft. Worth, Ft. Worth Nature Center, insects, Naturalists, Prairie, Robber fly | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dwarf Fireweed – Chamerion latifolium

The November calendar from our travels. click on the photo for a closer look at this gorgeous flower with its outstanding green foliage with slight blue tint. Also, it does not have a describable color, just a description: Magnificent.

Dwarf Fireweed
Chamerion latifolium

Photographed along a windswept ridge in a beautiful high alpine meadow. Not only was the view breathtaking, but the washed-out 4-wheel drive road added a sense of adventure. Words fail me in describing the surroundings.

Common names usually applied:
dwarf fireweed, alpine fireweed, arctic willowherb, red willow-herb

Notes from 7 different Ethnobotany books:
Leaves, rich in vitamin A and C, eaten for healthy, beautiful skin.
Flowers eaten raw as a salad.
Leaves cooked and eaten.
Flowers and leaves eaten raw with seal blubber.
Young shoots used for food.
Leaves preserved in seal oil and eaten within 48 hours with walrus blubber.
Young, tender greens, properly prepared, used as a good source of vitamin C and pro-vitamin A.

We saw several of the Dwarf Fireweed in Alaska and the Northern Yukon Territory. In previous years, we have seen it in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, and the Sierras in California. The above Fireweed photo was taken near Keno, Yukon Terr., Canada, about 185 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Here’s a photo taken near here. We talked to several of the locals and told them we were looking for wildflowers and photographic opportunities. They all saw our 4-wheel drive vehicle and told us about this 10 mile gravel and dirt mining road up above the valley. They all said “be careful”. We assured them that we were experienced off-roaders. Here’s the result.

Above Keno

U.S. and Canada Distribution Map

Lots more information on Fireweed is available in the October calendar post on Fireweed.
Click here for more information and a comparison of the two fireweeds.

Leave a comment. It doesn’t take too long, and I will know who has visited. Thanks.

Note: If you would like a digital copy suitable for printing, send me an e-mail and I will forward a high-quality .jpeg file to print. Looks best on glossy paper. Let me know your connection speed and I will compress the photo accordingly.


Troy and Martha

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Halloween Pennant

It’s Halloween Night
For your viewing pleasure
the Halloween Pennant Dragonfly

Celithemis eponina

Halloween PennantClick on the photo for a better look

Photographed at Cement Creek Pond, Meacham Airport, Ft. Worth, Texas, USA

Leave a comment if you have seen this dragonfly or if you like the photo.



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Thread-waisted Wasp – Ammophila procera

Ammophila procera
Sleeping position
LBJ National Grasslands, NorthCentral Texas, 33° 18.468′ N, 97° 36.580′ W

It was photographed early in the morning on a cold day. Most of the insects had not started moving yet. I have photographed Solitary Bees early in the morning on flowers, in the sleeping position, usually head down, with their mandibles locked on a stem.

The ID is based on the silver thorax markings and the rust abdomen bands.
The speciman photo was compared to the specimens at “Insects of Cedar Creek”,, and “Sphecid Wasps of Michigan”.

Click on the photo and then scroll up and down to see all of this handsome creature.

Ammophila procera

This wasp provisions its nest (Usually vertical or oblique burrows in sandy patches interspersed with shrubs) with sawfly or lepidopteran (notodontid) caterpillars. The adults of this family usually spend much of their time on flowers or in trees hunting caterpillars.

Leave a comment, even if you don’t admire the beauty and construction of insects.
They are fascinating creatures.

INSECTS: Peterson Field Guides, Borror, Donald J., Richard E. White
Kaufman: Field Guide to Insects of North America, Eaton, Eric R., Kenn Kaufman

Internet References:
Insects of Cedar Creek
Sphecid Wasps of Michigan


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Allograpta obliqua – Hover Fly

The Common Oblique Syrphid

Success at last! I have been trying for years to photograph one of these “hover flies” on a flower or “sitting still”.

Click on the photo for a better look at this beauty.

Allograpta obliqua
Allograpta obliqua - Common Oblique SyrphidUpdate: the flower is Verbesina encelioides.


(Hover Flies or Flower Flies)
The flower Flies very closely resemble wasps and bees. In Europe they are more commonly called Hover Flies because of this ability to hover. Despite their appearance, they are harmless (unless you are an aphid). They are also very valuable pollinators of flowers.

The larvae of this Subfamily are primarily aphid predators.  Adults have bare humeri (postpronotal lobes), though these are often hidden by the concave posterior of their close fitting heads.

Explanation of Name:
Allograpta obliqua
allo is Greek for other, another, different
grapt is Greek for inscribed, painted, marked with letters, written
obliqu is Latin for oblique,


The male obliqua has pale crescent-shaped bands on third abdominal tergite. (This one is a male). 2 other male characteristics are: eyes together and a broader abdomen (Not tapering). It has transverse yellow bands on the abdomen, and two oblique yellow marks near the tip. The larvae are smooth and green, with a broad white median strip. The breathing tubes are prominent.

6-7 mm (A. obliqua)

Some patterns of the Allograpta Genus

Leave a comment if (1) you have seen a hover fly, (2) you like insects, or (3) you just like the photo.


Borror, Donald J. , Richard E. White, INSECTS: Peterson Field Guides
Eaton, Eric R., Kenn Kaufman, Kaufman Field Guide to the Insects


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Fireweed – Chamerion angustifolium

Chamerion angustifolium (L.) Holub ssp. angustifolium

One of the really beautiful sights that we saw while driving from Fairbanks to Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean was Fireweed. One of the reasons that they are ‘first colonizers’ is due to fact that they have really deep roots that are not hurt by fires, and they are able to revegitate quickly. I was talking to a Ranger at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and he said that any parcel of land there had a high probability of being burned at least once every 300 years due to lightning strikes. The slow regrowth of trees and shrubby vegetation gives plenty of time for the Fireweed to make thick stands producing beautiful, colorful vistas.

Our October Calendar
(Click on the Calendar for a better look at the Fireweed)

Fireweed Description:
This herb is often abundant in wet calcareous to slightly acidic soils in open fields, pastures, and particularly burned-over lands; the name Fireweed derives from the species’ abundance as a colonizer on burnt sites after forest fires. Its tendency to quickly colonize open areas with little competition, such as sites of forest fires and forest clearings, makes it a clear example of a pioneer species. Plants grow and flower as long as there is open space and plenty of light, as trees and brush grow larger the plants die out, but the seeds remain viable in the soil seed bank for many years, when a new fire or other disturbance occurs that opens up the ground to light again the seeds germinate. Some areas with heavy seed counts in the soil, after burning, can be covered with pure dense stands of this species and when in flower the landscape is turned into fields of color.

The reddish stems of this herbaceous perennial are usually simple, erect, smooth, 0.5-2.5 m (1½-8 feet) high with scattered alternate leaves. The leaves are entire, lanceolate, and pinnately veined. A relative species, Dwarf Fireweed (Epilobium latifolium), grows to 0.3-0.6 m tall.

The radially symmetrical flowers have four magenta to pink petals, 2 to 3 cm in diameter. The styles have four stigmas, which occur in symmetrical terminal racemes.

The reddish-brown linear seed capsule splits from the apex. It bears many minute brown seeds, about 300 to 400 per capsule and 80,000 per plant. The seeds have silky hairs to aid wind dispersal and are very easily spread by the wind, often becoming a weed and a dominant species on disturbed ground. Once established, the plants also spread extensively by underground roots, an individual plant eventually forming a large patch.

The leaves of Fireweed are unique in that the leaf veins are circular and do not terminate on the edges of the leaf, but form circular loops and join together inside the outer leaf margins. This feature makes the plants very easy to identify in all stages of growth. When Fireweed first emerges in early spring, it can closely resemble several highly toxic members of the lily family, however, it is easily identified by its unique leaf vein structure.

The young shoots were often collected in the spring by Native American people and mixed with other greens. They are best when young and tender; as the plant matures the leaves become tough and somewhat bitter. The southeast Native Americans use the stems in the stage. They are peeled and eaten raw. When properly prepared soon after picking they are a good source of vitamin C and pro-vitamin A. The Dena’ina add Fireweed to their dogs’ food. Fireweed is also a medicine of the Upper Inlet Dena’ina, who treat pus-filled boils or cuts by placing a piece of the raw stem on the afflicted area. This is said to draw the pus out of the cut or boil and prevents a cut with pus in it from healing over too quickly.

The root can be roasted after scraping off the outside, but often tastes bitter. To mitigate this, the root is collected before the plant flowers and the brown thread in the middle removed.

In Alaska, candies, syrups, jellies, and even ice cream are made from Fireweed. Monofloral honey made primarily from fireweed nectar has a distinctive, spiced flavor.

In Russia, its leaves were often used as tea substitute and were even exported, known in Western Europe as Kapor tea. Fireweed leaves can undergo fermentation, much like real tea. Nowadays Fireweed tea is also occasionally consumed.

Notes from Foraging in the Pacific Northwest:
* shoots are edible raw.
* young leaves are edible raw.
* flowers are edible raw.
* flower bud clusters can be cooked as vegetable.
* stem pith can be added to soups as thickener.
* grows in open, disturbed areas in foothill, montane, alpine and subalpine regions.
* warning: may act as a laxative if eaten in quantity.

Because Fireweed can colonize disturbed sites, even following an old oil spill, it is often used to reestablish vegetation. It grows in (and is native to) a variety of temperate to arctic ecosystems. Although it is also grown as an ornamental plant, some may find it too aggressive in that context.

Fireweed is the floral emblem of Yukon.

Fireweed Distribution:
fireweed-distributionUnited States and Canada

Line Drawing

Fieldguide to Alaskan Wildflowers, A roadside Guide: Verna E Pratt
Wikipedia (verified)
Internet, ‘Foraging in the Pacific Northwest’.

We will try to get the November calendar published earlier next month.
It features the extraordinarily beautiful Dwarf Fireweed,
photographed high in the breathtaking alpine regions of Alaska’s mountains.

Please leave a comment.

Troy and Martha


Posted in Alaska, Naturalists, USDA Plant Database, Wildflowers | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Ft. Worth Prairie, Part_2

There has been and probably always will be confusion over the names of ‘Snow on the Mountain’ vs. ‘Snow on the Prairie’. I hope this will help clear up some of the confusion about what plants were seen on the Prairie Field trip to Bear Creek.

Consider the following quotes, information, and photos from the LBJ Wildflower Center, the USDA Database, the BRIT Book on the Wildflowers of North Central Texas, pp. 606-608, and the “Wildflowers of the Texas Hill County” by Marshall Enquist.

Euphorbia marginata Pursh
Snow on the mountain, Snow-on-the-Mountain
Euphorbiaceae (Spurge Family)
USDA Symbol: EUMA8
USDA Native Status: Native to U.S.

Grown as much for its foliage as for its flowers, snow-on-the-mountain’s small but showy leaves may be light green, variegated or entirely white. They clasp erect, many-branched stems which grow 1-3 ft. tall. Tiny flowers, each with whitish, petal-like bracts, are borne in clusters atop the stems. Calcareous uplands to stream bottoms. A native of West Texas east to a line from Bell to Cooke counties (this would bisect Tarrant county, per Troy).

Note the short, wide upper leaves on the Snow-on-the-mountain plants.

Be sure to click on the photos for enlarged views.

Photo 1 from our Prairie Trip
1 snow-on_the mountain

Photo 2 from our Prairie Trip
2 snow mountain-2See page 90 of the Hill Country Wildflower Book
for an almost identical photo.

Photo from the LBJ Wildflower Center
3 snow mountain-LBJ

Photo from the USDA Plant Database
4 snow mountain USDA

Distribution in Texas for
5 snow-mountain USDA-dist-in texas

Note that Snow-on-the-Mountain is basically a West Texas Plant.

Again, quotes from the LBJ Wildflower Center and BRIT North Central Texas Book

Euphorbia bicolor Engelm. & Gray
Snow on the prairie, Snow-on-the-prairie
Euphorbiaceae (Spurge Family)
USDA Symbol: EUBI2
USDA Native Status: Native to U.S.

This plant grows 1–4 feet tall. Its slender upper leaves, 2–4 inches long, are green, edged with a narrow band of white. The lower leaves are alternate, grow close to the stem, and lack the white edging. They are 1–1 1/4 inches long. The numerous, inconspicuous flowers grow in terminal clusters. They are white, have no petals, and are either staminate (1 stamen) or pistillate (1 pistil). Clusters group together to form larger clusters surrounded by numerous leaflike bracts which are conspicuously white-margined, 1 1/8–2 1/8 inches long and about 1/4 inch wide. When the stem is broken it exudes a white, milky sap that is irritating to the skin of some persons.

E. bicolor (Snow on the Prairie) is often confused with a similar species, E. marginata (Snow on the Mountain) which has shorter, wider bracts.

Mainly in East Texas west to the Blackland Prairie and Grand Prairie, also in Montague Co. sw to Johnson Co., where the ranges overlap and to complicate matters, intermediates may be found.

Notice the much longer, narrow upper leaves on Snow-on-the-Prairie.

Photo from the LBJ Wildflower Center
6 snow-prairie-LBJ

Photo from the USDA Plant Database
7 snow-prairie-USDA

Photographed in NE Tarrant County
by Martha Mullens ©2009
8 Snow-Prairie Martha

Distribution in Texas for
9 snow-prairie USDA_dist-in texas

Note that Snow-on-the-Prairie is basically an East Texas Plant.

I hope this helps.

Leave a comment, Please.

Troy and Martha

Posted in Ft. Worth Prairie, Grand Prairie, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Naturalists, Prairie, USDA Plant Database, Wildflowers | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment