Urban Species Profile:: Hover Flies

One of my favorite insects to find in the city, and they’re incredibly easy to see if you know what to look for, are the hover flies. The family Syrphidae contains about 6,000 species (890 in North America). They’re known as Syrphid flies but more commonly they’re called hover flies or flower flies, and can be found around the world in a variety of habitats. You’ve possibly seen them but mistaken them for a bee, as many of them resemble them so convincingly, their images are often wrongly used on articles about bees. Look a little closer and you’ll see these are not bees; they have two wings like all in the Diptera (fly) family, while bees and wasps have four wings. They are identifiable from other flies because they have a ‘false vein’, or a vein between the third and fourth longitudinal veins that ends without attaching to other veins. It’s this false vein,…

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Urban Species Profile:: River Otter

While many species may come to mind with the term ‘urban wildlife’, otters are not likely among the first to come to mind. Despite this, they can be seen in urban areas. In fact in three of the last cities I’ve called home, I’ve seen River Otters in two of them.

River Otters can be found throughout most of North America in fresh and even salt water. While River Otters may be common throughout the region, they are less common in urban areas. When I saw a River Otter in Eugene, Oregon along the Millrace which runs through town, nobody believed me until I shared the photos to prove it wasn’t one of the abundant nutria. It wasn’t the last time I saw that otter during the three years we lived there either. However, they are most common in waterways and watersheds which contain clean water with healthy fish populations. You can…

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Urban Species Profile:: American Wigeon

Common Name: American Wigeon
Scientific Name: Anas americana
Family: Anatidae

The American Wigeon is a dabbling duck, which are ducks that tip their front ends into the water to forage while their back ends stick up in the air. They maintain a large geographic range, breeding as far north as the Bering Sea and wintering from Canada through Central America. They can be found in a wide range east to west as well and cover most of North and Central America at some point during the year. Their preferred breeding habitat are grasslands where they nest in proximity to water with cover in the form of grasses and other vegetation. During migration and winter, they frequent a wide variety of slow-moving water bodies including flooded agriculture fields, ponds and lakes. This attraction to small bodies of water often bring them into the urban environment where they can be found in park ponds, reservoirs and other small…

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Urban Species Profile:: Eight-spotted Skimmer

Common Name: Eight-spotted Skimmer
Scientific Name: Libellula forensis
Family: Libellulidae

The Eight-spotted Skimmer is a common urban dragonfly that can be found in many parks, wetlands and other landscapes with water. Their range includes the Pacific Northwest, northern California and east to the Rockies. The Skimmer family is the largest odonate family and also among the dragonflies most likely to be seen. They are further categorized among the Skimmer family as King Skimmers, a group which includes some of the most familiar species due to their large size and often conspicuous wing markings. They are considered perchers instead of fliers because they hawk prey much in the way flycatchers do as opposed to swallows. Members of this branch of Skimmers are interesting because unlike many other species of dragonflies, the King Skimmers point their abdomen down in the hot sun instead of pointing it upwards towards the sun, a practice called obelisking.

The Eight-spotted Skimmer is so…

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Urban Species Profile:: Mylitta Crescent

Common Name: Mylitta Crescent
Scientific Name: Phyciodes mylitta
Family: Nymphalidae

The Mylitta Crescent butterfly (Phyciodes mylitta) is a common sight to the west coast of North America. Mylitta was an ancient Babylonian goddess of fertility, their name for Aphrodite and perhaps the butterfly is appropriately named because they often produce multiple broods each year.

Another urban species, like the Woodland Skipper, these butterflies are frequently found in disturbed sites such as vacant lots, roadsides and fencerows. They also can be found in fields, wet meadows, water edges, woodland openings, canyons and weedy areas. The Mylitta Crescent is a bit of a bully and will chase other butterflies away from their territory where they will stay feeding for several days. The males will patrol their choice habitat around nectar plants, often the bottom of canyons, streams or trails looking for females. They fly for a long period during the year, from spring…

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Urban Species Profile:: Bumble Bees


In the Pacific Northwest there are over a dozen different species of bumble bees and close to 50 in North America. There are over 250 species world-wide but the majority of them live in the more temperate climates of the northern hemisphere. Bumble bees are members of the Apidae family which also includes honey bees and carpenter bees. In the Pacific Northwest they vary in color, some with red, white, pale yellow,and orange, but the most familiar are black and yellow.

The various species are gentle and unlikely to sting unless their nests are disturbed, in which case they can defend their nests aggressively. Like the honey bee, they are social insects and make nests containing many individuals. Unlike the honey bee, bumble bees nests are annual, meaning the nest dies off each year. They are large and very hairy and the females carry pollen moistened by nectar in their…

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