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Showing posts from September, 2013

Potentially good news for the Red Knot

Photo: Hans Hillewaert/Wiki Commons
Meagan Racey, 413-253-8558,
Wendy Walsh, 609-646-9310,

Service Proposes to List Red Knot as a Threatened Species Under the Endangered Species ActDeclining food supply and habitat are seen as threats for a remarkableshorebird that migrates thousands of miles each year The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released a proposal to list the rufa red knot (Calidris canutus rufa), a robin-sized shorebird that annually migrates from the Canadian Arctic to southern Argentina, as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The proposed rule will be available for 60 days of public comment.

“The rufa red knot is an extraordinary bird that each year migrates thousands of miles from the Arctic to the tip of South America and back, but – like many shorebirds – it is vulnerable to climate and other environmental changes,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “In some areas,…

Mantidfly: They don't make 'em much more bizarre than this!

One can only imagine the fits of rapturous ecstasy that washed over me when I saw this thing flutter by on a recent trip to Adams County, Ohio. Well, that may be overstating the case a bit, but I truly was pleased to see this mantidfly, and all the more happy in that it cooperated for photos. I have only seen a handful of these six-legged oddities in my years afield, and this time I was armed with an excellent macro rig.

Mantidflies look like the result of a mad scientist's experiment gone awry. It's as if Igor were sent to the spare parts bins, drunk, and returned with the wings of a dragonfly, the body of a paper wasp, the head of a damselfly, and the raptorial forelegs of a praying mantis. Then, the evil doctor welded them all together, and Voila! This is what we've got.

These insects have a lifecycle as bizarre as their appearance, and the hoops that they've got to jump through to make it to the adult stage may account for their seeming scarcity. I don't know …

Beautiful slugs!

Someone's finger points out a tiny slug moth caterpillar. It appears to glow, and it does. A tactic for upping the odds of finding caterpillars, especially little ones, is to use a blacklight flashlight. Many species glow quite brightly when so lit, and the searcher can spot them from afar.

From this photo, the uninitiated could be forgiven for thinking that slug caterpillars are nothing. Inconsequential little specks hardly worthy of notice. Nothing could be further from the truth, as we shall see. Most of these photos were taken either this fall, or the last. All of these species are at least fairly common in parts of Ohio and occur throughout much of the Midwest.

To learn more about the fascinating world of slug moths, get your hands on a copy of The Slug Caterpillar Moths (Lepidoptera: Limacodidae), and Other Zygaenoidea of Ohio. You can get one RIGHT HERE. Sounds a bit heavy, I know, but it's easily understood and includes a wealth of info about the interesting world tha…

Copperhead, on a dark Kentucky backroad

A full moon brightens the inky darkness of a backwoods Kentucky night. I spent a few days over the weekend past exploring the Red River Gorge area, and did a lot of nocturnal exploring. The Harvest Moon sure seemed to bring the critters out; the nighttime woods were crawling - literally - with animals.

My primary quarry was caterpillars, and they did not disappoint. This is a Waved Sphinx caterpillar, Ceratomia undulosa. It, and one of its brethren, were feeding on a white ash. To seriously seek caterpillars requires going out after dark. Most cats secrete themselves quite well during the day, waiting until the cover of darkness to emerge and feed. Many of their predators - wasps, tachinid flies, birds - pack it in after dusk, allowing caterpillars a greater likelihood of remaining uneaten or unparasitized as they slowly eat through the foliage.

The ash that produced the Waved Sphinx was a "super tree", and also harbored this gorgeous Fawn Sphinx, Sphinx kalmiae. Caterpilla…

Purple False Foxglove

The short-grass prairies of Erie Sand Barrens State Nature Preserve, awash in golden and purple. The yellow flowers are those of Gray Goldenrod, Solidago nemoralis; the purple belong to Purple False Foxglove, Agalinis purpurea.

I found myself at this obscure but stunning preserve in northern Ohio recently, and was pleased to see the place looking in fine shape. It had been twelve years, probably, since I had set foot here. A botanical highlight was the expansive drifts of the foxglove, and I was struck with the urge to bring some of the plants back, in pixelated form. Some of those efforts follow.

A luxuriant foxglove provides an elegant counterpoint to the pinnate leaves of Partridge-pea, Chamaecrista fasciculata. The Purple False Foxglove is not a weedy thing, tending to occur in higher quality meadows uninfested with nonnative fare and often surrounded by other interesting native flora.

Point blank down the gullet of a foxglove flower. Note how the inner corolla is striped, and st…

Pretty but deadly: Flowers of doom

With A Flower I hide myself within my flower, That wearing on your breast, You, unsuspecting, wear me too – And angels know the rest. I hide myself within my flower, That, fading from your vase, You, unsuspecting, feel for me Almost a loneliness. - Emily Dickinson Tis the season of the mighty Asteraceae Family: asters, bonesets, goldenrods, sunflowers, etc. These harbingers of winter brighten the autumn meadows, and many a person remarks on fields painted bright with botanical gold, purple, and cream.

There is a deadly irony in the beauty of these wildflowers, however. Flowers are magnets for insect pollinators, and their presence is part of the charm of flower-watching. But for these nectar-seekers, the danger quotient ratchets up immensely when they alight on flowers. Predators are well aware that sooner or later potential victims will come to visit the flower patch, and they lay patiently in wait.

The robust creamy-white inflorescence of Tall Boneset, Eupatorium altissimum, is qu…

An interesting little wasp

Last Saturday, I found myself strolling down the long linear Milford Center Prairie corridor - an abandoned railroad right-of-way - when an eagle-eyed member of my party spotted this gorgeous little case, hanging from a pendant thread. It resembled an Easter egg painted in black and white, albeit on a tiny scale. The case was only a few millimeters in length, and dangled from the branch of a Sandbar Willow, Salix interior.

I really had no idea what made it, but thought it might be a wasp, as some of them make similar cocoons. But my efforts to come up with an identification bore no fruit, so I turned to the amazing BugGuide megasite. Within minutes of posting this photo, I had my answer. Someone quickly identified the family of wasps, and from there it was easy to come to a specific ID: Charops annulipes (no common name).

The object in the photo is indeed this wasp's cocoon, and it hangs it from a thread for a reason, as we shall see.

Researching this issue reminded me of a photo…

Giant Swallowtail: An ugly duckling tale

One of the world's most popular fairy tales is The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen. That tale involved a homely bird chick that grew up to be a beautiful swan. The animal highlighted in this post is the lepidopteran counterpart to Andersen's swan.

A spindly little Wafer-ash, Ptelea trifoliata, springs from the ground, its interesting leaves marred by an unsightly bird dropping. But wait! We better look again...

That's no bird dropping - it's a caterpillar! We're meeting one of our strangest butterfly larvae, that of the Giant Swallowtail, Papilio cresphontes. Scores of insects - and some spiders - mimic the appearance of fresh bird poop. Looking like scat can be a good thing, because few predators like to eat bird droppings. So laying on top of a leaf, looking like the fresh aftermath of a Blue Jay's meal, can help an organism to hide in plain sight. Bird dropping-stained leaves are everywhere, and mirroring the look of fecally tarnished foliage is a …

Dragonfly swarm locales

I received a fair number of reports of dragonfly swarms, based on the last blog post, and other stuff that I've written about this phenomenon. The map above shows locations of the last few days' reports, and nearly all observers indicated swarms of "dozens", but more often "hundreds" or "thousands". From the evidence at hand, the vast majority of dragonflies involved were Common Green Darners, Anax junius. Most reports were made in the waning hours of the day - often near twilight. These mapped locales represent but a fraction of the reports that were made. I saw numerous mentions of dragonfly swarms on Facebook and elsewhere. And two respondents to me live in Illinois, and saw massive swarms there. One can only imagine the untold millions of these big dragonflies that moved through the Midwest in advance of the current cold front. It would be fascinating to know with certainty where these animals are headed. Possibly the Rio Grande Valley of sou…

Dragonfly swarms!

An interesting shot of a male Green Darner, Anax junius, in flight, courtesy of Dave Lewis. Props to Dave; freezing one of these fast-moving insects with the camera is not easy.

Ohio, and surrounding states I'm sure, have experienced a blitzkrieg of migrant dragonflies in the past few days. I've received about a dozen reports at work, a few more here at home, and have seen reports of dragonfly swarms on Facebook and other places. The vast majority of these dragonflies are the highly migratory Green Darner, as shown in Dave's shot above. These dragonflies are headed to points south, and pushing through in vast inestimable waves in front of the coming cold front.

I penned an article about this time of year in 2011, for my employer the Ohio Division of Wildlife. That column made its way to a number of newspapers, and is still findable on the net, apparently - it was the catalyst for a number of the reports that I received. Following is that piece, which goes into more detail…