Thursday, October 31, 2013
The gorgeous purple-flowered plant is Shale-barren Aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, a native that has made its way into the nursery trade. It truly is a fantastic plant, and a total bug magnet. Shale-barren Aster, in this ornamental form, becomes a small bush bedecked with hundreds of blooms, and it flowers nearly to winter. Mrs. Mantis knows well the allure of these flowers for all manner of pollinating insects; that's why she lives nearly her entire adult life hiding amongst its flowers.
As you've probably deciphered from the name, Chinese Mantids are not indigenous to the Americas; they are another in a long list of Asian imports. This species was intentionally brought to North America in the mid-1890's, ostensibly as a control for "pest" insects. In my view, the mantis itself has become the pest, and any benefits from them are far outweighed by the damage they do.
The primary issue with Chinese Mantids is that they are indiscriminate in their choice of victims. About anything that can be seized and overpowered is fair game. This includes butterflies, all manner of invaluable pollinating flies, bees, and wasps, and even prey up to the size of tree frogs and hummingbirds. I and others suspect the reason we no longer see the smaller native Carolina Mantis in many areas is due to competition with this Asian introduction.
While making my photos, this hapless Cabbage White butterfly, Pieris rapae, dropped in and I knew it was toast. Camera at the ready, I managed some photos of the kill. Death by mantis is not a particularly pleasant way to go. First, you're crushed in a viselike grip by spined legs, then the mantis begins methodically consuming your body, usually starting with the head. Insofar as I know, no sedating neurotoxins or anything else that can take the edge off this experience are injected - this is pure unadultered raw carnivory.
If only the Chinese Mantids would stick to other nonnative creatures such as this butterfly, most people would probably not have many problems with them. In fact, we'd probably applaud them and hail the release of mantids as a good thing - an all too rare case of an intentional "biological control" introduction that worked. But they don't, and as a consequence mantis predation is just one more threat that many of our declining species of pollinating animals face.
Monday, October 28, 2013
OK, time for Monday night at the movies! Here are two more short flicks, courtesy of wildlife cinematographers Laura and David Hughes. That's right - those Hughes! You've seen their work here before, at least if you follow this site with some regularity.
For these films, which star a beautiful Bobcat, Felis rufus, they've returned to one of their magical game trails in Monroe County, Ohio. As you may recall, this is the county where they managed to capture a Bigfoot on a trail cam, last April 1st. You can see that film RIGHT HERE.
This little Bobcat is as real as it gets, and the feline hunter puts on quite a show. Enjoy!
In this brief snippet, the inquisitive cat comes right up to mug for the camera. You won't often see a Bobcat that close, because it just isn't possible to get any closer.
This film is beyond cool. The Bobcat detects prey lurking in the dense thicket in the backdrop, and stealthily paces to and fro, triangulating on the victim - probably some small rodent. When the cat finally locks in, it rears up, then lunges as if it had been shot out of a cannon! The prey item probably never knew what hit it.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
I've featured the videography of Laura and Dave Hughes here many times, and their work with trail cams is incredible. They've been busy, and once again have displayed an unerring knack for proper cam placement. Getting great videos of hard to see animals is more skill than it is luck. You have to be able to read the signs of game trails and other habitats, and pick out the sites that animals seem to be fixated on.
Dave and Laura certainly did that successfully in the following clip, shot recently in Monroe County, Ohio. It features a River Otter, Lontra canadensis, snacking on a large fish. A Great Blue Heron wings by, and we can see its reflection in the water. The otter certainly doesn't miss the bird, and stops eating long enough to watch the bird go by. Then, the otter's mate swims ashore and joins its partner at the dinner table.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
See that little bump of a lichen, dead center in the photo? It's a walking lichen. For real.
On a recent trip to southern Ohio, I was keeping a sharp eye out for these curious bits of mobile lichen clumps, which is pretty much what one must do to spot them. It wasn't too long before a piece of lichen detached itself from the lichenberg that it was attached to, and began to scuttle off. I gave chase, and was able to make some images of this most curious of beasts.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
When at rest, the hummingbird often perched in shrubs alongside the garden and kept watch over her domain. The Big Question, of course, is what species is this? All or nearly all white birds can be very tough to identify, especially when they normally wouldn't be white. This animal is leucistic, a genetic anomaly caused by a recessive allele that washes out or minimizes the dark melanin pigments. Thus, the coloration that gives us field marks that we would ordinarily use to help identify the bird are greatly reduced or absent.
So, as reflected in the previous posts, none of us were absolutely sure what species this was, with many, including your narrator, leaning towards a Rufous Hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus. By this time of year, Rufous Hummingbird is about as likely as anything. Nearly all Ruby-throated Hummingbird - our common and only breeding species - have long fled for the tropics by now, and the hardy western Rufous Hummingbird tends to appear at the tail end of fall or early winter.
After Bernie and Dane obtained their amazing images, it was as if the bird was in hand, or under a microscope. A lot of the SMALL details that are very helpful in making a positive identification and which are quite difficult to see on a moving bird become crystal clear in these photos.
Fortunately, just to the north in the great state of Michigan, resides Allen Chartier. Allen is one of the few licensed hummingbird banders in these parts, and has handled scores of the animals, including rarities (in the East) such as Rufous Hummingbird. It was Allen who confirmed our first state Allen's Hummingbird (ironically).
So, I was able to send off plenty of detailed images to Allen for his opinion, and the prognosis is that this is a hatch-year female Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Following, in Allen's words, is a concise explanation why this bird is a Ruby-throat.
(From Allen Chartier): "Thanks! These really solidify my view that this is a Ruby-throat. The shape of the tail is right for RTHU and wrong for Rufous. In most of the previous photos, the central rects (r1) are shorter than the next ones out (r2). In these photos, r1 looks very similar in length to r2. In Rufous, r1 should be longest. Rufous rectrices are also more pointed than in RTHU, and these photos show some very rounded, not pointed rects. I see no diagnostic shape for Rufous on r2 in the photos."
NOTE: "r" or "rects" refer to retrices, which are the tail feathers. The innermost feathers are numbered 1, with 5 being the outermost.
(More from Allen on tails): "And finally, take a look at the two tail photos I've attached and look at the distribution of white on the tips of the rects, especially r3. In Rufous the white goes mostly straight across, while in RTHU it is mostly on just the outer vane. The albino clearly matches the pattern for Ruby-throat. I have seen a good number of strong structural characters that support the leucistic bird as a Ruby-throat, while there are only a couple of subtle and subjective characters, none structural, that may suggest Selasphorus."
Finally, now that the identification mystery seems to be cleared up, enjoy some stunning images of this amazing snowy-white hummingbird.
The long-term prospects for this little gem are, unfortunately, not great. Allen tells me there are no confirmed records of a highly leucistic hummingbird beyond hatch-year. Being leucistic may look cool to us, but it is detrimental to long-term survival. Melanin pigments provide structural integrity to feathers, thus when they are absent, feather wear more quickly and are more fragile. Also, a bright white animal stands out and this probably ups the odds that some predator will snare it.
Whatever this hummingbird's fate, it sure has thrilled the numerous people who have been flocking to Inniswood to admire it.
Thanks to Bernie and Dane for sharing their photos, and to Allen for his hummingbird identification expertise. And kudos to the staff of Inniswood for graciously accommodating the snowy hummer and all of its admirers.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Monday, October 21, 2013
Obviously a white hummingbird is going to attract undue attention no matter what time of year it appears. But ANY hummingbird found around here after mid-October should be closely scrutinized as there's a good chance it'll be a Rufous Hummingbird or some of other western species. We're up to five species in Ohio now, and excepting an August record of Green Violet-ear, all of them (including most of our dozens of records of Rufous Hummingbird) have come from October/November.
I'm going to run over to Inniswood tomorrow and try and get some images, and hopefully other people will do the same. It'll be interesting to see if we can figure out the identity of this animal, should it linger.
HERE is a link to the Inniswood Metro Garden website, which includes directions. This site also includes a map of the park and the locations of the various gardens. The hummingbird was frequenting the Herb Garden.
Thanks to Mary Lou Sima for bringing this unusual bird to light, and for sharing her photos.
Saturday, October 19, 2013
The increasingly cool evenings are putting the kibosh on the fantastic fall symphony of singing insects, and I always find it a bit depressing when these charismatic fiddlers begin to wane. We're soon to enter winter's dormancy, when the singing insects - and nearly all other bugs - disappear. They're there, often in egg form, but out of sight and out of mind.
I managed to find and photograph quite a few Orthopterans ("singing insects") this summer and fall, and following are a few pictorial highlights.
This is a female meadow katydid (unknown species) snacking on the grains of grease grass. Orthopterans, at least most of them, eat plants and often common readily available fare, hence their abundance.
CLICK HERE to hear one.
CLICK HERE to hear its loud trill, which sounds like a shorted out electrical line. It may ring a bell.
CLICK HERE to listen to one. These sound files come from The Songs of Insects, an epic book and website by Wil Hershberger and Lang Elliott. Here's what they have to say about the Robust Conehead: "Can be heard more than a thousand feet away! At close range, it becomes painful to listen to. One would think that the insect would burst into flames from the friction produced from creating such an intense song".
Just a handful of tough singers are hanging on, and even they will soon be gone. I still hear the jerky sputterings of Carolina Ground Crickets, wheezy chirps of Striped Ground Crickets, and the slightly more melodic trills of Allard's Ground Crickets. An occasional grating crackling of a Round-tipped Conehead still issues from the grasses, and the ubiquitous Jumping Bush Crickets give occasional chirps. By and large, the symphony is in intermission until next summer, though.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
This is an amazing trail cam video, courtesy of Laura and Dave Hughes, whose work I've featured many times. They've been busy camming at their Monroe County, Ohio sweetspots, and just shared a bunch of really cool videos with me.
In this scene, a River Otter, Lontra canadensis, is snacking away on a fish when a giant Great Blue Heron wings by. The heron's reflection can be seen on the water. The otter watches with (apparent) rapt fascination, turning its head to track the bird. Soon after, the otter's mate comes ashore and joins in the fishy meal. Cute otter hijinks ensue.
I'll probably share some other fabulous Hughes cinematic endeavors before long...
Monday, October 14, 2013
Ill-fated numerous introductions by people and organizations keen on aphid and other "pest" control brought this thing to us. Now, MALB's are ubiquitous and overly abundant. This is the lady beetle that swarms houses in late fall and piles into attics, crevices and other protected niches, much to the consternation of the homeowner.
I was in Adams County yesterday, and made the four mile round trip to the iconic Buzzard's Roost Rock, which is in the heart of the Edge of Appalachia Preserve. Even though this is, by Ohio standards, a largely wild and invasive-free landscape, it was shocking how many of these lady beetle larvae were there. A scan of small trees and shrubs would often yield a dozen or more lady beetle larvae.
One would hope that humans would learn the folly of introducing nonnative animals, but I have no great hopes that we will ever learn our lesson and quit tampering with "biological control".