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Showing posts from August, 2016

Jagged Ambush Bugs: Homicidal Killers in the Flowers

Tis the season for meadows full of beautiful native wildflowers, such as this tall ironweed, Vernonia gigantea. Various goldenrods, asters, and other flowers of fall are starting to come on strong, too.

While a flower-filled field may look peaceful, in reality scores of wee killers lurk among the blooms. A flower can be a very dangerous place for a nectar-seeking pollinating insect. I did a pretty intensive field trip through several southeastern Ohio counties last weekend, and managed to find a number of specimens of one of my favorite killers in the flowers, the Jagged Ambush Bugs in the genus Phymata.

An ambush bug sits, rather uncharacteristically conspicuously, on the magenta flowers of ironweed. It is like a little gargoyle. Note the powerful raptorial forelegs. If a small bee, wasp, fly, or anything that can be overpowered lands here, it is likely doomed. With a quick lunge, the ambush bug will seize the victim, and then punch it with a syringe-like proboscis. Toxins in its sa…

A brief ramble around Stratford Ecological Center

The entrance to the main building at Stratford Ecological Center in Delaware County, Ohio (iPhone photo). I had the pleasure of visiting last Thursday afternoon, and speaking to the corps of volunteers that make this place tick. Or at least some of them - the volunteer ranks number about 180 people!

It was a great time, and I got to see and spend time with some wonderful people that I don't see nearly enough of. After my talk concluded, a bunch of us went outside for a stroll around the property to see what we could see. We didn't make it far. Basically, a nearly two hour loop that started at the sign in the photo, and ended there. We only made a big circle around the building, despite starting with more grandiose intentions!

But the walk's shortness was dictated by all the critters we saw in just that brief distance. I'll share some of them below.

First, a note about Stratford. The property encompasses about 236 acres, which includes meadows, woodlands, and wetlands.…

Mimicry: Things are not always as they seem

I recently posted the photo above, along with the message below, to Facebook:

A friendly public service announcement on behalf of America's flower flies (family Syrphidae). Those little bee-like insects (such as in the photo) that sometimes land on you are not bees. They are valuable, pollinating flies that do a good job of mimicking bees. While they do have a tendency to land on people's skin - seeking minerals in your sweat - they cannot sting, bite or otherwise hurt you. Pancaking them, or dousing one's self with insect repellent is not necessary. I only say this because I've seen about six people in the last week overreacting to the "aggressive bees".

Apparently it was of help to the flies, as the message got a lot of attention. This experience got me to thinking about the broader picture of mimicry, one of my favorite subjects in all of natural history. The flower fly (or hover fly) does a darn good job at looking like something that might sting, thus th…

Creatures of the night delight avid fans

Female Luna moth
Columbus Dispatch August 21, 2016
Jim McCormac

NOTE: Sometimes people ask me why I pick certain headlines for my columns. The answer: I don't. Editors craft newspaper headlines, not the reporters and writers.

One of Ohio’s stranger natural-history events had its origins in a ditch in Adams County. In July 2012, John Howard, Dave Wagner and I were in said ditch, marveling at some extraordinary moth. (I’ve forgotten the species.)

Howard is a technician for General Electric and naturalist extraordinaire. Wagner is a professor at the University of Connecticut and author of the "Caterpillars of Eastern North America" (Princeton, $29.95). We had been conducting field work in this Ohio River county.

When we found the moth, it triggered a discussion about the fabulous diversity of these winged creatures. If we could expose more people to the wonders of moths, we reasoned, more people would become enamored with natural history.

Mothapalooza was born.

A call to…

Photography Workshop, Lakeside, Ohio: September 20-22

It'll be fun, and full of a wide array of interesting subjects. All levels welcome! Learning to get that camera off auto mode will do wonders for your photography, whether you use a point & shoot or an advanced SLR. CLICK HERE for workshop details and registration information. Feel free to email me - jimmccormac35 AT with any questions.

A brutal fate (or why you shouldn't come back as a caterpillar)

Last Saturday, August 13, the Midwest Native Plant Society sponsored a one-day workshop on pollinators. It was well attended, with over 140 participants. The speakers were great, fun was had, and there were field trips following the indoor sessions.

The venue was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' fabulous visitor center at Caesar Creek Lake in Warren County. We really like holding events at this place, as the conference room is perfect for groups of up to 175 or so people, AND one only need step outside the doors to get into interesting habitat. As proof, one of our field trip leaders, John Howard (striped shirt, back to camera) shows a group a huge female Dobsonfly on the wall by the doors. There was also a stunning Cloudless Sulphur butterfly in the raised flower bed, near that rock.

At the end of the day, a couple of us were poking around the woodland edge near the visitors center when I spotted a Redbud, Cercis canadensis. As this tree is often productive for finding various …

Ohio Sustainable Landscapes Symposium: August 27

Mark your calendars for Saturday, August 27. That's the date of the 5th annual Ohio Sustainable Landscapes Symposium, hosted by Dawes Arboretum. The sprawling arboretum, located near Newark in Licking County, is a beautiful place to visit at any season and is the venue for the symposium.

Keynote speaker is John Watts, resource manager for Franklin County Metro Parks. John has been a driving force behind much of the park district's large-scale wetland and prairie restoration. Following the speakers, field trips will visit various habitats within the arboretum. It's sure to be an interesting and educational event.

For complete details and registration information, GO HERE.

Mothapalooza 2016 a big success!

Last weekend saw the 4th annual iteration of Mothapalooza, an event that has developed a strong following amongst natural history enthusiasts in its few years of existence. Over 160 attendees were present, and we filled the entire Shawnee State Park lodge - all 50 rooms and 25 cabins for the entire weekend. Mothing ecotourism, imagine that.

This year we had people from eleven states, and Canada. The attendees who came the furthest hailed from Mission, Texas - over 1,200 miles as the moth flies (and not many can fly that far). A star-studded cast of luminaries of the entomological world were with us, including Doug Tallamy and some of his students. Seabrooke Leckie, coauthor of the 2012 Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America was in the house, and new for this year was the inimitable Sam Jaffe, founder of the Caterpillar Lab in Keene, New Hampshire. Steve Gettle, one of North America's leading natural history photographers, was also there. Entomologists of top c…