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Showing posts from August, 2014

Red-footed Cannibal Fly!

The Slender Ladies'-tresses, Spiranthes lacera, is one of our smallest orchid species, but always a star. Yesterday, I led a group on a trip to explore some interesting natural areas in southeastern Ohio. One of our stops was a very interesting oak barrens that is regularly subjected to controlled burns. Plant life in this locale is spectacular, and includes one of the rarest plants in Ohio. I hope to write more about that species soon. On the hike back to see the rarity, we stopped to admire this diminutive ladies'-tress, which was a "life" plant for most of the group.

But a fly, of all things, ended up stealing the show. Lisa Brohl spotted a large, strange-looking insect and drew my attention to it. Yes! Even from afar, it was instantly identifiable as the gargantuan, death-dealing Red-footed Cannibal Fly, Promachus hinei. Those of us who were bringing up the rear of the group (I'm always last!) were treated to the spectacle of one of our most ferocious insect…

Sedge Wrens at historic Huffman Prairie

This innocuous looking field is the most famous place in aviation history. It was here that two famous brothers from Dayton, Orville and Wilbur Wright, learned to fly. Sure, their first powered flights took place at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903, but the following year the brothers returned to Dayton, Ohio, and fine-tuned their flying machines on this very field.

Adjacent to the flying field is famous Huffman Prairie, and it, like the Wright Brothers' airfield, is part of the massive Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The base houses some of the most sophisticated aircraft in the world. Incredible how far aviation has come in just over a century.

But I was not here to study the history of aircraft. I had not been to the 100-acre Huffman Prairie in a long time, and had been hearing all about how great it looked this year. So, a few Sundays back I headed to Dayton and met up with Grace Cochran of Five Rivers MetroParks, which serves the Dayton area. She was willing to give me a …

Rough Boneset, new to Ohio

A group of botanists explores a very special wet meadow in Athens County yesterday. I met up with Brian Riley, Dan Boone, Dave Minney, Andrew Gibson, Rick Gardner, and Susan Nash for a day of botanizing in southeast Ohio. We had a few targets in mind, and the Numero Uno plant was the white specks in the meadow shown above.

As an aside, this was a sensational field trip for me. I seldom get out on dedicated botanical missions anymore, and only rarely with botanists the caliber of this bunch. I'm always looking at plants everywhere I go, of course, but it is entirely special to be afield with people who know EVERYTHING botanical. Our inner geeks can come out, seldom are common names mentioned, no one looks at you oddly for rattling off scientific names, and I don't think one could find a vascular plant that someone in the group would not know. It was fun engaging in friendly debates over the latest in botanical taxonomy, and catching up in the current state of affairs in the pl…

A tiny damsel, larger than life

I took a brief stroll around the work campus this afternoon, between showers. As is almost always the case, I had my camera in tow. The lenses vary, but this time the mega-macro Canon MP-E 65 lens was bolted to the Canon 5D Mark III. I wrote in some detail about this awesome niche lens HERE. The MP-E is not normally my default lens for traipsing about, as it does limit one's options. I like to have it in the pack and close at hand, but have some other more versatile lens attached to the camera.

However, time was tight, and I had decided to just seek macro material on this brief foray. I struck Odonate gold when I spotted a tiny Fragile Forktail, Ischnura posita, resting on a leaf just off the path. This damselfly is truly Lilliputian; perhaps only the Eastern Red Damselfly, Amphiagrion saucium, can lay claim to such minuteness among our damsel fauna. One might pass off a Fragile Forktail as a strange small fly or some other inconsequential bug without a good look.

The forktail ga…

Some more (extremely cool) wasps

I'm on a bit of a wasp jag, but so be it. Wasps are awesome. Yesterday, while taking a quick stroll around the planted prairie at work (described RIGHT HERE), I stumbled into two interesting species. The good ole Canon came through in decent form, and I managed a few images.

There is a smattering of Queen Ann's Lace, Daucus carota, persisting in the prairie. I don't totally begrudge this Eurasian weed its space, as it is a good insect magnet. Not as good as some of the native parsleys, but not bad. Anyway, I was pleased to spot this smallish Hymenopteran busily scarfing up nectar. After a bit of a chase, I pinned down a few passable images.

It is a Potter Wasp, Eumenes fraternus, and when not visiting flowers for nectar or pollen, these wasps engage in far more grisly behavior.

A few weeks ago, I found these little adobe jugs stuck to the underside of an American Elm leaf just a stone's throw from the prairie. They are the handiwork of the aforementioned Potter Wasp, a…

Lytopylus wasp

Photo: Laura Hughes
The more that I study Nature, the more that I am convinced that one must really look hard at the LITTLE things. At least if one wishes to really develop a deep understanding of ecology, and how organisms are linked together. I am fortunate indeed that I have many friends who feel the same, and will give a caterpillar about the same attention that they would a goshawk.

In this photo, taken on a recent foray, David Hughes (front), John Howard (middle), and your narrator spend some time on the ground - not a rare occurrence for any of us. We were watching the bed of Partridge-pea, Chamaecrista fasciculata, plants that cover the bank in front of us. Numerous ants were visiting the extrafloral nectaries on the plants' leaf petioles, and we were watching them and attempting to obtain images. I wrote about ants and nectaries HERE, should you be interested.

Well, this animal is also attracted to plants, and it is really tiny. It is a member of the Braconid wasp family,…

Sycamore Tussock Moth caterpillars

A stately Sycamore, Platanus occidentalis, rises from rich alluvial soils along a stream. White and brown barked Sycamore trees are easily recognized, and are the most conspicuous tree that defines the channels of creeks and rivers. They also play host to a variety of wildlife, some of which are Sycamore specialists, such as the beautiful Yellow-throated Warbler (at least in this part of the world).

While far less obvious than the aforementioned warbler and much better at hiding, this furry caterpillar is even more of a Sycamore associate than the warbler. It is a Sycamore Tussock Moth caterpillar, Halysidota harrisii. Insofar as I know, Sycamore is its only host plant.

I got an email a week or so back from a work colleague, Katie Thierolf, letting me know that she had seen numerous of these caterpillars at the state fairgrounds. Being unable to make a trip down there, I implored her to wrangle some of the cats into a jar, and bring the captured livestock back to the office so I coul…

Piping Plover braves Conneaut!

A typical scene at the "sand spit" at Conneaut Harbor, Ohio. Conneaut is wedged into the extreme northeastern corner of Ohio, on the shore of Lake Erie. It is a legendary birding locale, and in this photo birders mingle with legions of typically much more intrusive users of the harbor. John Pogacnik and I had led this trip to Conneaut last fall, and we saw lots of interesting birds. But both birds and birders must dodge numerous cars and other vehicles on the sands, wind-surfers soaring over the waters, bird-chasing dogs roaring about, and a host of other people-related disturbances.

In spite of its activity, the sheltered sandy flats in the Conneaut Harbor manage to serve as refugia for migrant shorebirds. Many of these sandpipers and plovers are making long-distance hauls from the highest regions of the Arctic tundra, where they breed, to places as distant as South America. Small birds that engage in annual journeys that span great distances need places to stop, rest, and…

Carolina Wolf Spider rediscovered!

Your narrator wrestles with two savages that collectively outweigh him, and that's saying something! This pair of St. Bernards are named Chloe and Lula, and they're a barrel of laughs. Nothing like a 130 lb. dog that thinks she's a puppy and deserves to jump in your lap. And two of them means double the fun!

The dogs belong to John Howard, a familiar name to regular readers of this blog and students of the natural sciences statewide and beyond. John lives in Adams County, smack in the middle of some of the richest biodiversity east of the Mississippi River. There is nowhere in this great state that I'd rather go, partly because the prospects of incredible new finds, whether they be plant or animal, always loom large. And on this trip, we scored big.

I'm bookended by two of the best, most well-rounded naturalists that I know, David and Laura Hughes. The three of us joined with John last Saturday to investigate some interesting Adams County habitats. First, we had t…