HumBug: Giants

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Giant Stonefly on side or public restroom at rest stop. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Giant Stonefly on side or public restroom at rest stop.

On a recent trip up to central Oregon, at a rest area along the Rogue River there were several giant California stoneflies (Pteronarcys californica). This is the largest species of stonefly in the world. Common along my stretch of the Van Duzen River, I recognized them immediately. They are totally harmless and their presence indicates good water quality. Knowing they're out and about indicates there may be good fishing in an area.

A helpful hint: Snapping photos of things others either can't see or don't notice around public restrooms can get you some strange looks.
A robber fly in all its ugly glory. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A robber fly in all its ugly glory.

The big robber flies that abound up there — easily an inch and a half long — are the local aerial insect predator. While flying, their wings made a loud, deep buzz. I suspect the presence of a farm with large animals, dung and the creatures attracted to it, drew these ugly hunters.
Robber Flies mating. I guess there's someone for everyone. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Robber Flies mating. I guess there's someone for everyone.

True flies (member of order diptera, family asilidae), these guys can, if mishandled, deliver a painful bite, injecting a cocktail of neurotoxins and digestive enzymes designed to paralyze then liquify their prey's innards to be sipped out through specially evolved mouthparts.
Nope, that isn't a romantic embrace. The one on top is draining the life out of the other one. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Nope, that isn't a romantic embrace. The one on top is draining the life out of the other one.

I watched as one struggled to fly with prey as large as itself, finally settling among the weeds. At first I thought it might have a cicada, but soon realized it was dining on one of its own. Yes, aside from being hideous, they're cannibals too.
Pandora moth caterpillar on my hand. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Pandora moth caterpillar on my hand.
At another rest area in Central Oregon I spotted some gray and black caterpillars as large as my index finger crawling down the trunks of several pine trees. It turns out they are the larvae of the Pandora moth. During heavy infestations, they can denude entire trees or even swaths of trees and have been cited in many references as a Native American foodstuff of note.
Pandora moth caterpillar on pine tree. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Pandora moth caterpillar on pine tree.

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