Friday, August 31, 2012

Long-tailed Skipper alert!

A long-tailed skipper, Urbanus proteus, rests in a garden in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. I took this photo on November 8, 2006, and there were plenty of the iridescent-backed tail streamers. One expects to see this tropical butterfly in South Texas and Florida - the northernmost limits of its massive range, which extends south to Argentina.

 Photo: Pat Deering

One does not expect to stumble into long-tailed skippers in Ohio, but it happens occasionally. These butterflies are powerful flyers, and like some southern birds they'll stage periodic northward movements far beyond their normal haunts. Pat Deering was inspecting the field behind her Licking County, Ohio house last Sunday, August 26, when she was floored by the presence of a long-tailed skipper nectaring on tall ironweed.

Photo: Pat Deering

Fortunately Pat had her camera handy and was able to make these excellent images, thus documenting another record of this southern immigrant. We don't see many records of long-tailed skipper in Ohio, and they may not even turn up annually. I did write about another record back in 2008, HERE. Even back then, I was beating the drum about Lepidoptera (butterflies and skippers) and Odonata (dragonflies) as hyper-responders to subtle increases in temperatures. I think we'll continue to see an increase in records of powerfully flying southern insects such as these skippers, and others.

Photo: John Pogacnik

Pat wasn't the only one to have a long-tailed skipper this year - John Pogacnik found the one above in his Lake County yard on August 23, and remarkably, another before that, on August 11. I have heard of at least two other long-tailed skippers this year, which I imagine is the largest influx ever reported in a season in Ohio.

I'm sure there are other long-tailed skippers out there. They're likely to turn up on ornamental flowering plants in gardens, so keep a close watch on the butterflies in your yard. If you find a long-tailed skipper, please let me know.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Brown Pelican update

Digiscoped photo: Bruce Glick

The Brown Pelican reported here yesterday at Atwood Lake continued through today, and numerous observers made the trip and successfully located the bird. Bruce Glick kindly sent along the above image of the little fellow stretching his wings.

I appreciate John Hoopingarner of the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District for bringing this bird to light, and providing additional details. It turns out that the first sighting of the pelican was around 3:00 pm on Friday, August 24th. It probably was not present much before this, as several of the early observers spend lots of time on or around the lake, and probably would have noticed this eight pound behemoth with a 6 1/2 foot wingspan.

With luck, the pelican will stay for a while. For regular bulletins on sightings, and where on Lake Atwood it is being seen, follow the Ohio Birds Listserv. This is a major Ohio rarity; the sixth record, I believe. The first was not until 1990, and the occurrence and increase of vagrant Brown Pelicans in the Midwest correlates with the resurgence of their population following decimation by chemical pollutants such as DDT. It may be that Hurricane Isaac played a role in shooing this young pelican north - hurricanes along the Gulf often result in coastal vagrants appearing far inland. Another Brown Pelican has been seen in recent days along the north shore of Lake Erie, in Canadian waters.

Keep your eyes peeled if you're near large water bodies. Chances are there are more pelicans out there somewhere, and who knows, maybe you'll find a Magnificent Frigatebird!

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Brown Pelican on Atwood Lake!

Photo: Amy Marie Wahl

I received a report today of a Brown Pelican on Atwood Lake, which is a large reservoir in northeastern Ohio that straddles Carroll and Tuscarawas counties. The one photo that I've seen was taken from some distance, but shows the bird to be a juvenile. I later received the following note from one of the observers:

"The pelican was first spotted on Friday afternoon, August 24. It was seen on Saturday and Sunday also. The photo was taken on Saturday afternoon near the midpoint of the lake, near the island. It was observed on Saturday morning early "fishing" by making repeated dives. These observations were made by numerous persons over the weekend."

I believe the "island" referenced in the note above is the peninsula that juts from the southern shore of the lake at its mid-point. The area outlined in red is the general vicinity of where the sightings have occurred. Good luck if you go for it.

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Chinese Mantis, on catnip

A chinese mantis, Tenodera aridifolia sinensis, commands a lofty lookout atop a spikelet of catnip, Nepeta cataria. Neither plant nor beast is native here, but both have their uses. These mantids can attain an almost frightening size, and the field that I found myself in last night was full of them.

I'm not a huge fan of nonnative mantids, which probably haven't helped our native insect fauna. Some people think that they've detrimentally impacted populations of native mantids, such as the beautiful Carolina mantis, Stagmomantis carolina (CLICK HERE). On the upside, chinese mantids can serve as a spark to trigger interest in insects, as people are naturally fascinated by the huge alien-looking bruisers.

Catnip, of course, has plenty of fans too. Most of them tend to have four legs and meow. This intoxicating mint is a fairly common weed, although more along the lines of an occasionally encountered curiosity rather than a full-blown invasive, at least in these parts. If you've got felines, grab a few stems of wild-growing catnip if you find some. Your cats will go whack over the stuff.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Chameleon-frog

We ran across this gray treefrog, Hyla versicolor, on a recent outing. It sits, green and gargoylelike, on a leaf. While the animal matches its background fairly well, it seems to have been misnamed - it's hardly gray!

However, when the frog clambers up the bark of a tree, it slowly shifts its coloration to match the woody substrate. Very effective camouflage, I'd say.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dainty Sulphurs continue

Back on July 12, I wrote HERE about an unprecedented invasion of dainty sulphurs, Nathalis iole, into Ohio. In most years, just a smattering of reports - if that - are made of this southern species; this year, scads of the little flutterers have been reported from all over the state. If you look at the range map from the post cited above, it's apparent that many a new dot will have to be added to the state map. Numerous county records have been made this summer.

I'm keenly interested in the invasions of southern immigrant butterflies such as the dainty sulphur, and dragonflies, too. Such insects, with their well-developed powers of flight, may well prove to be hyper-responders to global warming. It'll be interesting to see if the 2012 irruption of dainty sulphurs was just a fluke, or if such invasions of southern insects becomes an increasingly regular occurrence. I'll bet we see more of this sort of thing.

Our crew of last Saturday ran into several dainty sulphurs along the banks of the Ohio River, in Scioto County. The little fellow above was quite cooperative, and allowed me a very close approach. Dainty sulphurs are tiny, not a lot larger than your thumbnail, and typically fly low to the earth and perch on the ground or atop short plants.

To photograph such a creature well, one must be willing to go prostrate. I crept fairly close to the butterfly, then slowly moved into a position flat on my belly. This put me within a few feet of the sulphur, and permitted a perfectly side-on view, which depicts this species well. The photo above is ever so slightly cropped, and that's it - no other post-processing tweaks. I shot it with my Canon Rebel T3i with 100 mm macro lens, using faint fill flash from a Canon EX 430 II Speedlite. ISO was set at 200, aperture was f14, and shutter speed was a somewhat sluggish 1/60. By laying flat, it's easy to use your forearms as a tripod, and thus hold the camera still enough to compensate for slower shutter speeds.

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Cardinal-flower

Perhaps the most striking shade of red in nature; the blossoms of cardinal-flower, Lobelia cardinalis. It is also a favorite nectar source of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. This specimen was photographed along a small stream in Scioto County, Ohio last Saturday.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Parasitoids: Disneyesque, they're not

While exploring a streamside woods in Scioto County last Saturday, our crew happened along this stunningly marked little beetle. Needless to say, we were all quite interested in the animal, and many photos were made. None of us recalled seeing one before - and how could one forget such a stunner! - but we suspected it to be in the genus Calligrapha, so named for the calligraphic-like markings on the carapace.

Sure enough, we had pegged the genus and from there it wasn't hard to determine its identity as the ninebark beetle, Calligrapha spiraea. Going by the scientific epithet, it would seem that the creature was misnamed - its host is the shrub ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius, which was growing in profusion where we found the beetle. But there is a rational explanation for the apparent misnomer - back when the beetle was originally described and named, ninebark was placed in the genus Spiraea, which is another group of shrubby rose family members.

The beetles lay their eggs on the underside of leaves of its ninebark host plant, and when the larvae hatches, they (anthropomorphically speaking) happily chew leaf tissue. All would seem well. The larva is essentially living on an inexhaustible supply of food, and their tiny size may make them less of a target to the legions of bad guys lurking about.

But beetle larvae eventually morph into beetles, and when they do they become all the more conspicuous. And that's where the trouble lies, once you get on the radar screen of the bad guys. Of course, this beetle is probably fortunate to have made it to this stage - there are enemies that could have picked it off at every point from egg to any of its four instars. All is not Disney's "The Lion King" out here; a lesson this gorgeous little jewel of a beetle is going to learn, hard.

As we moved ever closer to our subject, we saw that it had picked up a most unwelcome guest. A tiny parasitoid wasp has lit on the beetle's shell, and is in the act of depositing an egg. Parasites are generally annoyances, like mites or ticks; parasitoids generally kill their victims, often in gruesome fashion. I don't know the wasp species, or even the family, although I wonder if it may be a chalcid. Considering that the beetle is only about 7 mm in length, the wasp is incredibly small, and photographing it taxed the limits of my 100 mm macro lens. The wasp egg will eventually spawn a tiny grub, which will work its way into the beetle's soft inner tissues, and feed upon its host. Presumably, it - and maybe other wasp grubs also within - will eat their host alive.

Well, that story thoroughly vanquished any happy Lion King views of nature that we may have harbored, so we stumbled over to some nearby lianas of the riverbank grape, Vitis riparia, a plant that often produces interesting caterpillars. We were pleased, and the horrors of the previous tale were driven from our minds, when we found this stunning colony of grapeleaf skeletonizer moth caterpillars, Harrisina americana. The early instars of this beautiful caterpillar are quite gregarious; at least 34 animals can be seen on this leaf. Before we disrupted them, the assemblage looked even cooler, as the cats were lined up side by side, rimming the edge of the grapeleaf.

All seems well, and we were pleased to move in and make interesting photos sans the ghoulish disruptions of parasitoid wasps.

Alas, it was not to be. It didn't take long at all, and we noticed these two tiny parasitoid wasps - presumably braconid wasps? - plying their trade. This elfins are every bit as small as the wasp on the beetle, and would be completely overlooked at a casual glance. Predators such as these, tachinid flies, birds, and numerous other predators are why many moths, beetles, and other insects essentially use a carpet-bombing strategy of egg laying. They try and cast out so many eggs that at least one or a few will make it all the way to the adult reproductive stage. Most don't.

If this wasp were on your fingernail, right now, it would like look a tiny black gnat - scarcely noticeable. Small as it may be, it is more than capable of doing in this much larger caterpillar. Note all of the tiny white oval-shaped eggs that she's already deposited, all within the stiff bristles growing from the black spots. The wasp may be choosing to lay within these clumps of setae as the hairs may afford some measure of protection against other predators that would either lay eggs within the eggs, or eat them.

Same old story here. Those eggs will hatch grubs that'll bore within the caterpillar and eat it alive.
  
If any of those grapeleaf skeletonizer caterpillars successfully runs the predator gauntlet and makes it to adulthood, it'll look like this. A beautiful moth, which ironically enough, is a wasp mimic.

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Timber Rattlesnake, Crotalus horridus

Yesterday was the annual "Great Amorpha Borer Expedition". This has become an annual quest to find what is inarguably the world's most handsome beetle, and a beetle that seems to be quite rare in these parts. And it proved to be rare indeed yesterday - we, for the first time in the history of these expeditions, could not find any of the animals. But our failure may have been operator error - based on the condition of the beetles' favorite nectar plants, we may have been about a week too early.

But as I tell all GABE participants, they'll not despair if we choke on the beetle. These expeditions turn into natural history free-for-alls on a Grand Scale, and yesterday was no exception. There were scads of interesting finds, and I made 1,736 images during my 19-hour day. Of course, I only ended up keeping about 1/20th of that number but some of the keepers are doozies and of things one doesn't often get to see. I'll be tossing some of that stuff out here over the coming week, but thought I'd start with the King of Doozies.

We had quite a crew yesterday. In addition to your narrator, there was John Howard and his brother Vince, Tricia West and her cousin Jamie, Derek Hennen, Rachel Shoop, Mary Ann Barnett, Cheryl Harner, and Dave and Laura Hughes. And of course and oh yes - the inimitable Jenny Richards.

Jenny is the park naturalist for Shawnee State Park, and we began our beetle search on park property. Jenny is interested in protecting the rare Amorpha beetle, and joined us for the search. We were excited to learn that she had just captured an animal far larger than our quest beetle, and she offered to show it to us. So, after the morning's festivities had concluded, we headed off to Jenny's quarters at the state park.

That's Jenny, above, with the object of our attentions. WARNING: if you are one of those weird ophidiophobes - snake-haters - it's best you turn back now.

Not everyone has such a sign on their office door, but you might consider it - rattlesnake warning signs are effective at keeping away unwanted visitors. I don't believe Jenny is in the habit of keeping snakes in her office, but this was an emergency circumstance. Shawnee State Park and the surrounding forest still harbor a decent number of timber rattlesnakes; about the only place in Ohio that still does. Every now and again, a potential human-snake conflict can arise, and the snake featured in this post was one of those situations. It turned up in a high people-use area, and had to be relocated. Hence the temporary storage. The snake will be released soon into a much more favorable place.

What a beauty! This timber rattlesnake is a whopper, measuring nearly four feet in length and weighing just over three-and-half pounds. It is also of the "yellow" form, which is an especially showy color variety. I think these lighter-colored animals are more striking (bad pun) than the darker phase.

It's hard to get a thorough appreciation of the charisma of one of these beasts without seeing it up close and personal. And the big rattlesnakes, such as this one, are impressive by any standard. This animal rivaled the largest one that I've ever seen, which was nearly identical in proportions. We found that one several years ago out in the forest, crossing a road. It was probably one of 12-15 timber rattlesnakes that I've had the pleasure of seeing in the wild, and like the others, it was thoroughly docile and didn't even rattle its tail. That's not to say that one should take liberties with these snakes - a fool could quickly find himself bitten.

Timber rattlesnakes are generally non-aggessive, and hard to find. The average person will never run across one, and I'm sure that's just fine to the average person. Even if you did, chances are the snake would either freeze or just slip away - they don't want to waste perfectly good venom on a nonfood item such as a person.


Your narrator provides a size scale to the timber rattlesnake as he VERY CAREFULLY ( and gently, I might add) works the animal back into its holding cage with a snake stick.

This is a face that only a herpetologist could love; indeed, the scientific epithet horridus suggests what the namer of the animal thought of it. Scaly and inscrutable, the snake uses its tongue to test the airs around it. In this tight shot, we can see the heat sensitive pit in front of the eye. Via that organ, the snake can detect very minor temperature changes; handy when gauging the distance to your warm furry mammalian prey. In pit vipers such as this rattlesnake, the "pits" connect to a membrane filled with highly sensitive receptors that allow the snake to sense the location of animals to a fine degree and launch unerring strikes if need be.

The typical hunting modus operandi of a timber rattlesnake is to lie quietly in wait, curled in the camouflaging leaf litter of the forest floor. When a chipmunk (major prey item), squirrel, or possibly a bird or other reptile wanders into range, the snake explodes with an astonishingly rapid and accurate strike.

When bothered, a rattlesnake will let you know by rapidly vibrating its rattler. It'll offer plenty of warning, and the loud rattle of an annoyed snake, coupled with its mild manner, are in part why there are so few bites of people. Contrary to some claims, the number of rattles on a timber rattlesnake's rattler does not accurately indicate the snake's age. In general, the snakes shed their skin eight times or so in their first four years of life, gaining a rattle segment with each shed. After that, it'll shed annually. But rattles often break off, further compounding the difficulty of aging snakes by the rattles.

video

Our snake was a bit peeved by the attention, and let us know by rattling its tail, as seen in this video. However, true to general form, it never once struck. Of course, no one got anywhere near striking distance.

It's probably easy to dislike a reptile such as a timber rattlesnake. They aren't particularly pretty, at least in most people's estimation, and they're poisonous. There's no denying that a mishandled timber rattlesnake could put a serious hurt on a person. But lots of things, both floral and faunal, are poisonous and many creatures aren't going to win any beauty pageants. Such factors shouldn't have any bearing on whether we decide to let them live. Timber rattlesnakes are an especially dramatic example of Ohio's wilderness heritage, and each and every remaining animal should be protected. The snake, like so many other of Ohio's mega-fauna, has declined TREMENDOUSLY from pre-settlement days. I for one am glad to know that we've managed to protect some wild areas large enough in scale to still support populations of big forest animals like this timber rattlesnake.



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Friday, August 17, 2012

Water-lilies

Claude Monet liked water-lilies, and painted them with a fierce passion. It isn't hard to understand why the French impressionist artist became smitten with these plants. Water-lilies embody many of the best traits of nature: the calming influence of quiet waters, large showy blossoms, often colorful, and big leaves of interesting architecture.

I've been looking at water-lilies a lot this summer, having spent much time wading about in wetlands where they grow. There are four and a half native species in Ohio, and the one above is by far the rarest. It is the state-endangered bullhead-lily, Nuphar lutea ssp. variegata. Bullhead-lily is a northerner, barely reaching as far south as Ohio. Small populations occur in the western Lake Erie marshes, including the fabled Magee Marsh. I made this image in northern Michigan, where it is the dominant water-lily.

This is our smallest water-lily, the water-shield, Brasenia schreberi. Its little oval leaves tend to form dense carpets in quiet ponds and lakes. The tiny maroon flowers are held several inches above the water, and are easily overlooked. I've seen the blossoms a number of times, but have never photographed them. Of all the plant specimens that I've made - probably 9,000 or so - water-shield was the hardest species to make a good specimen of. Its leaves are coated with a gelatinous slime on the undersides, and when pressed and dried it fuses with whatever substrate you are pressing the plant against.

This is perhaps our most common water-lily, spatterdock, Nuphar lutea ssp. advena. It and the endangered bullhead-lily were once considered separate species - perhaps they still should be - so I am giving them status as one and a half species. I apologize for the rather poor photo; this is one of those common things that I've apparently never gotten around to doing justice to with the camera.

I once saw a Purple Gallinule working its way through a bed of spatterdock, going from flower to flower and shredding each one as it sought pollinating insects. There is also a beautiful mosaic darner dragonfly, the spatterdock darner, Rhionaeschna mutata, that frequents spatterdock stands.

Arguably the most beautiful of these plants is the fragrant water-lily, Nymphaea odorata. It is conspicuous and easily recognized by the large white floating blossoms, and circular floating leaves that appear to have a pie-shaped chunk cut from them. This species can form large floating stands, and is very important in the aquatic ecology of the lakes and wetlands where it grows. The large leaves shade and cool the water, and provide shelter for fish and other aquatic organisms. Many insects visit the flowers for nectar, which in turn attracts predators higher on the food chain. The leaves are the classic "lilypads" and provide resting spots and hunting perches for amphibians and insects. In fact, one of our rarest damselflies, the lilypad forktail, Ischnura kellicotti, is tightly tied to beds of fragrant water-lily.

A gorgeous flower indeed, but it's certainly no lily! Dicotyledonous "water-lilies" are not even closely related to true lilies, which are monocots. Hence the hyphen, which denotes that "lily" is but a modifier and the plants are not lilies at all. Water-lilies are closely related to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), as can be seen by the numerous petals and stamens.

This is easily our most robust water-lily, the American lotus, Nelumbo lutea. Visitors to Lake Erie are sure to notice this plant, as it often forms massive colonies in the backwaters. The huge umbrellalike leaves are held aloft on sturdy pedicels which attach to the leaf in the center. Such a leaf-petiole arrangement is termed peltate. Excepting perhaps two species of our magnolias, lotus flowers are probably the largest wildflower in the state.

The fruiting heads are indeed curious in appearance, and resemble showerheads. The hefty seeds resemble acorns and each is nestled in its own chamber. These seeds are extreme seedbankers, and can probably lie dormant but viable in the mire for decades, perhaps centuries. Viable seeds of a closely related species, the sacred lotus, Nelumbo nucifera, have been dug from the muck of wetlands and carbon-dated at over 1,000 years old.

American lotus populations have exploded in size along Lake Erie over the past 15-20 years. It may be that long dormant seeds were triggered to germinate by increasingly favorable water levels or other environmental factors. The lotus plants that we see growing in luxuriance today may be the spawn of seeds that were shed before you were born.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Dragonfly Symposium - September 15!

A stunning female Autumn Meadowhawk, Sympetrum vicinum, regards your blogger with her inscrutable, beautiful bicolored eyes.

Dragonflies and damselflies - the Order Odonata - are among the world's most successful insects. They're on every continent but Antarctica, and have outlasted the dinosaurs. "Odes" are also aesthetically stunning, masters of flight, and rabid predatory carnivores. What's not to like?

On Saturday, September 15, the Midwest Native Plant Society and Grange Insurance Audubon Center (GIAC) will be hosting a workshop entitled: "Dragonflies and Damselflies: the fascinating world of Odonata". It'll take place at the gorgeous new GIAC, from 9 am until 3 pm. The cost is only 30 smackers, and that includes lunch. To register, just pop off an email to GIAC's own Ann Balogh at abalogh@audubon.org or ring her up at 614-545-5481.

We'll learn lots about these interesting six-legged beasts, because two experts will be in the house and delivering their characteristically interesting and informative PowerPoints. There'll also be a third speaker - me - and I'll do my best to offer up a potpourri of informative dragon info. There's some nice wetlands and a huge river right outside the center's doors, and we'll hit those habitats to find some of these critters in the flesh.

That's a male eastern pondhawk, Erythemis simplicicollis, above. Don't EVER come back as a bug and get yourself in the crosshairs of one of these. It'll snap you up and eat you. Pondhawks, gram for gram, are among the most brutish predators on earth.

This animal, which at least in the coloration department looks nothing like the other pondhawk, is indeed a pondhawk of the same species. Many species of dragonflies are dimorphic - the males and females look quite different, just as with some birds. Fortunately a true Odonata Master, Bob Glotzhober of the Ohio Historical Society, will be at the workshop. Bob's got a great talk on the basics of dragonfly identification, which also covers lots of other basics about damsels and dragons. Bob literally wrote THE BOOK.

This plant, and others of its ilk, are VERY important for dragonfly reproduction. I'm going to talk mostly about finding dragonflies and the various habitats that various species frequent, and touch on the ecological roles that they play, including plants that are ode-friendly. I'll also throw in tips about how to photograph these often flighty insects once you've got them in your sights. Getting up close and personal with an insect that can see in nearly every direction simultaneously, and far better than you do, can be a challenge.

This calico pennant, Celithemis elisa, is a true showstopper and epitomizes the artistic beauty of these animals. Small wonder the Odonata have inspired many an artist. Janet Creamer of the Indianapolis Parks and Recreation Department, is also on the slate and I know that the beauty of these insects has inspired her to delve into the mysteries of the Odonata. Janet is a naturalist's naturalist, and a wonderful presenter. She knows tons about the subject at hand and will deliver a fun fact-filled presentation about the intriguing and lesser known aspects of dragonflies.

My, what eyes you have! If you come, I will guarantee that you'll see many an image like this. Between the three of us who will be taking the lectern, we've got scads of cool shots. We'll romp through about all of the common damselfly and dragonfly species that occur in Ohio, and hopefully offer up a good overview. This show is geared towards beginning and intermediate enthusiasts, and none of us will get overly technical.

Photography has hugely enhanced my appreciation of the Odonata, and pursuing these bugs with a lens has helped me to learn far more about their habits and habitats. I'm not suggesting that you wade in to the wetlands shoulder deep - I'll do it for you, and share the results!

If you have an interest in dragonflies, I think you'll enjoy this workshop, and I hope that you can make it. Again, to register just email or call Ann Balogh at abalogh@audubon.org or 614-545-5481.

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Bugs with bayonets

The Orthopterans are in fine fettle right now. That big "O" word refers to our "singing" insects; the chitinous six-legged sound machines that create the beautiful nighttime melodies that reach a crescendo on late summer evenings. Crickets, katydids, coneheads, trigs, anglewings - these bugs create wonderful songs by rapidly rubbing their hardened file-scrapers together.

At least the males do - the females don't sing. They've got more important tasks. The beautiful little cricket above is a handsome trig, Phyllopalpus pulchellus, and it's total insect art. Burnt red and deep ebony, it looks as if the cricket was waxed and then shellacked. They're common, too, singing right now in a bush near you. But note the posterior end of this particular animal. It looks like someone mounted a sword to it.

Whoa! Here we've got a sword and a half; a true bayonet! It looks like this round-tipped conehead, Neoconocephalus retusus, could run a man through. Fearsome appendage to be sure, but the conehead and the aforementioned handsome trig are females, and the spikelike accoutrements are ovipositors. They use them to inject eggs deep into protective plant tissue. Many a person has stumbled into a female katydid or cricket, and been awed and a bit frightened by the size of its "stinger".

This is a common true katydid, Pterophylla camellifolia, and it is about as whimsical and Dr.Suessish as an insect can get. These large leaf mimics are probably the most conspicuous nighttime insect singers out there, the males creating a loud raspy KAY-TEE! KAY-TEE-DID! The animal above was adding to the nocturnal symphony, as it is a male - note the roughened brownish area on the forewings. That region is its stridulatory area and the point where the katydid's wings rub together to create its distinctive sound.

Photo: John Pogacnik

This is an amazing photo, and the sole reason I slapped this post together. John Pogacnik sent this image along today, of a female common true katydid that he caught in the act of ovipositing. John and his son were strolling around his Lake County yard, seeking creatures of the night, when they noticed the katydid high up on a tree trunk.

Common true katydids are also armed with large bayonetlike ovipositors, like the other Orthopterans in this post. Thanks to John's photo, we can see why these unnaturally large structures come in handy. The katydid is working her ovipositor deep into the bark of this tree, and once she has drilled to an adequate depth, she'll inject her eggs. Sort of like insect fracking, but the results are good.

Ensconced deep within the plant tissue, the katydid eggs will be insulated from the ravages of winter. Come spring and warmer weather, they'll hatch and young katydid nymphs will make their way into the world and commence growing, molting, and growing ever larger. By this time next year, the fruits of this hardworking female katydid's labors will have come to fruition, and her offspring will contribute their tones to the great singing insect wall of sound.

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Rare plant found at Meadowbrook Marsh

A relatively "new" place that is getting much attention these days is Meadowbrook Marsh, on the Marblehead Peninsula in Ottawa County. It's not new, of course - I remember stopping regularly to scope out its wetlands many years ago, when driving along the south side of the massive limestone archipelago. But what IS new is that the forward thinking Danbury Township trustees have secured much of the land that comprises the Meadowbrook wetlands, and made it accessible to people in a way that it never was before.

Meadowbrook Marsh really got on the birding community's radar screen during last year's Midwest Birding Symposium at nearby Lakeside. Thanks in large measure to the efforts of Cheryl Harner, MBS raised funds for Meadowbrook and the site was one of our primary MBS birding sites. Meadowbrook is now much better known among the binocular-toting set than it was pre-September 2011. Through a creative carbon offset program sponsored by the Ohio Ornithological Society at MBS, and bolstered by an OOS match, over $7,000.00 was raised to purchase more Meadowbrook property.

The approximate boundaries of Meadowbrook Marsh, outlined in red. Not all of the circled area is yet protected, but the Black Swamp Conservancy is working on an additional purchase, which will be helped by the aforementioned OOS funds. Support your local land trusts, and ornithological societies!

So, the other day found me leisurely tooling eastward along East Bayshore Road, which heads right by Meadowbrook Marsh. I was on my to the Kelleys Island Ferry and eventually that massive island out in Lake Erie, but I slowed my pace as I passed the marsh. As usual, a bunch of herons were standing around amongst the American lotus, and I thought that I'd better make a quick stop and scope them out. Lots of Little Blue Herons around of late, you know.

Anyway, I'm standing under the shade of the remnants of a tattered ash borer chewed green ash tree, scanning the scene above. First focusing on distant objects - the herons - I finally glanced down, and whoa! I noticed that lush bed of greenery in the lower right corner of the photo.

A luxuriant patch of deer's-tongue arrowhead, Sagittaria rigida! This beautiful little wetland plant is a bonafide rarity these days, and colonies are few and far between in the Lake Erie marshes. It was added to Ohio's rare plant list about 20 years ago, and is currently listed as potentially threatened, which is a watch-list category.

In pre-colonial days, prior to the massive manmade changes to Lake Erie's shoreline and the attendant destruction of many of the buffering wetlands, deer's-tongue arrowhead was far more common. Enter the more recent problems wrought by invasive plants such as common reed, Phragmites australis, purple loosestrife, Lythrum salicara, and flowering-rush, Butomus umbellatus, and native marsh plants such as this have suffered even more. This arrowhead is rather finicky; it likes to occupy autumnally exposed mudflats - a habitat that is subject to being quickly overrun by botanical nasties such as the flowering-rush.

If you've spent much time slogging in or around wetlands, you've probably seen arrowheads. The most common is the rather robust common arrowhead, Sagittaria latifolia. It has big broad leaves with arrow-shaped lobes at the base, and like the other arrowheads, bright white three-petaled flowers. Probably 99% of the arrowheads one encounters around here will be that species.

But there are seven other Sagittaria species known from Ohio, and in addition to the deer's-tongue arrowhead, a couple of great rarities occur around Lake Erie. Only three of them have the unlobed leaves of deer's-tongue, and close inspection is always warranted to ensure which species one has found. The weird leaves of deer's-tongue arrowhead are little more than flattened and widened upper portions of the leaf's petiole. One must take care when judging an arrowhead by its leaves, however. They can be quite variable, depending upon the environmental factors that the plant is exposed to.

The other portion of the plant in the upper part of this photo is the scape, or flowering stem. Its characters are consistent and more important than leaves are for identification. The little balls are the fruit heads, and note how the scape bends sharply at the lowest (largest) fruiting head. That's a good identification character; probably diagnostic for Sagittaria rigida.

If one dissects a mature fruiting head, this is the result - lots of little seeds, or more technically achenes. The shape of each species of arrowhead's achenes is unique. The actual seed is surrounded by a thin papery waferlike structure - ideal for floating the seed to new locales. The seed within is capable of longterm "seedbanking"; surviving extended periods buried in mud. Seedbanking is a common survival strategy for plants that live in ephemeral habitats, such as deer's-tongue arrowhead. Years may pass before its favored mudflats reappear, but when they do the plants will magically reappear, even if they've not been seen for decades.

We can never protect too many wetlands, especially in the biologically rich hotspot region of the western Lake Erie shoreline and adjacent Sandusky Bay. Kudos to Danbury Township for working hard to conserve Meadowbrook Marsh, and to the Black Swamp Conservancy and the Ohio Ornithological Society for their important roles in protecting this state treasure.

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