Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Mostly small things, in limited areas

bi·o·di·ver·si·ty: the variety of life in the world or in a particular habitat or ecosystem

I spent much of last weekend with friends and fellow explorers of the natural world John Howard, and Laura and Dave Hughes. Elisabeth and Nate Rothschild were able to join us for a while on Saturday.

We visited only a handful of sites in Adams County, Ohio, and within each of those sites we probably never traveled more than a hundred yards or so. It's not that we couldn't have covered much more ground - all of us easily could. The biodiversity kept stopping us in our tracks.

A primary reason why I spend so much time in this region is because of the amazing diversity of flora and fauna. Homo sapiens has managed to eliminate or greatly reduce animal and plant diversity in most parts of Ohio, and now I suspect the overwhelming majority of people have no idea what they/we are missing. Shades of Louv's NATURE DEFICIT DISORDER coupled with E.O. Wilson's warnings of a vanishing planet coming to fruition.

But there are places where the original inhabitants still thrive, even in Ohio, and Adams County is one of those places. Those of us that believe that big chunks of the natural world should be saved for us, now, and future generations can thank The Nature Conservancy and the Cincinnati Museum Center for contributing greatly to that cause. Their magnificent 18,000-acre Edge of Appalachia Preserve contains an enormous chunk of Midwestern biodiversity.

The following is a word-sparse slideshow of a little piece of what we saw last Saturday, and Sunday morning. There was far more than this. I was in macro-mode most of the time, and focused mostly on small things.

An Eastern Hercules Beetle, Dynastes tityus. Large specimens can reach nearly three inches in length, and males, like the one shown, use their spectacular "antlers" to joust with one another during mating season.

Up close and personal with a female Dobsonfly, Corydalus cornutus. They resemble something out of a Japanese sci-fi movie. The winged adults are short-lived, but the strictly aquatic larvae last for much longer and are well known to many fishermen as hellgrammites.

Whimsical and alien, as if it jumped from the pages of a Dr. Seuss book, is this nymph planthopper in the genus Acanalonia. As it matures and molts into an adult, it will lose that fungus-like appendage.

Katydids are masters of camouflage, and this nymph Greater Anglewing, Microcentrum rhombifolium, is no exception. It's a male, and following one more molt it'll be completely grown and able to "sing". By rubbing its wings together, it produces a loud metallic tapping. This is a very common song of late summer and fall.

A White-dotted Prominent moth, Nadata gibbosa. It is one of well over 1,000 species of moths in this region. White-dotted Prominent caterpillars eat oak. When threatened, they curl into a coil, bare their yellow mandibles, and look quite snakelike. Small songbirds are presumably intimidated.

One of our craziest and most interesting spiders is the Trashline Orbweaver, Cyclosa turbinata.  They build perfectly symmetrical intricately woven webs, then create a line of trash - composed of indigestible parts of victims - through the center of the web. The spider hides within the trash, blending to perfection. It's there, in the exact center bulls-eye of the web, facing head down.

A Red Paper Wasp, Polistes annularis, guards its nest. Freshly laid eggs can be seen within some of the chambers. She also secretes a chemical around the base of the pedicel that attaches the nest which repels ants. While seemingly a formidable defender, these wasps are rather passive and will go through a series of threat displays before attempting to sting. Heed their warnings, as the sting hurts.

The Wheelbug, Arilus cristatus, is a ferocious hemipteran predator. They stalk insect prey, and when the time is right the beast lunges forward and seizes its victim while simultaneously stabbing it with that syringelike proboscis fronting its face. Chemicals are injected which quickly immobilize the prey and liquefy its innards. When all is suitably mushy, the Wheelbug sucks out the contents.

A smaller cousin of the Wheelbug is the Spined Soldier Bug, Podisus maculiventris.  This one has just speared a caterpillar of the Silvery Checkerspot butterfly. For details about what will ensue, read the Wheelbug description above. Much of Nature is not very Disneyesque.

A stunning purple spike of Tall Larkspur, Delphinium exaltatum, flowers brightens the gloom of a shady woodland verge. These big buttercup family members are amongst the showiest of the midsummer wildflowers, but are rare in Ohio. Not at this spot, though - dozens grew here. A Ruby-throated Hummingbird was busily plumbing nectar from the colony's flowers.

Juniper Hairstreaks, Callophrys gryneus, always cause excitement out of all proportion to their thumbnail-sized dimensions. This one was smitten with the nectar of Purple Coneflower. Some years these tiny butterflies are scarce, but this year seems to be a boom year for them.

The Carolina Wolf Spider, Hogna carolinensis, is probably an arachnophobe's worst nightmare, but we were pleased as punch to come across this female. She is a protective parent, and carries her egg sac attached to her spinnerets. Given that the animal would pretty much fill your palm if you had the nerve to hold her, probably not much is going to mess with this eight-legged momma. This is the species that hadn't been seen for 50 years in Ohio, until 2014 when John, Dave, Laura and I rediscovered it in Adams County.

Life beetle! Ever since I learned of the existence of the Delta Flower Scarab, Trigonopeltastes delta, I've wanted to see one. We found at least two, both of whom were smitten with the flowers of Rattlesnake-master. Note the pattern formed by the elytra (brown wings) and the rear of the abdomen. It looks like a big scary wasp face - each brown wing is an eye, and the white tip are the mandibles. Weirdly similar to the mug of a hornet.

A suave Gray Hairstreak, Strymon melinus, was another visitor to the Rattlesnake-master flowers. If you want to see and/or photograph lots of cool insects, stake out a patch of this plant. You'll see a constant parade of six-legged characters.

Dangling acrobatically from a branch is this Cope's Gray Treefrog, Hyla chrysoscelis. Visually it is indistinguishable from the look-alike Gray Treefrog, Hyla versicolor, but their songs give them away. The Cope's blasts out a much harsher raspier trill - especially apparent when one is singing a foot or two from your head, as this guy did.

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1 comment:

Sue said...

Lots more to add to my bank of knowledge!

I find it scary how little time most folks spend in the outdoors. When neighbors comment about how much time we spend in our gardens and yard, they act almost "shocked" when I say how great it is to just be outside. Like that's a bad thing???