Sunday, June 15, 2014

Bugs in the Bog

Yesterday dawned clear and crisp; a picture-perfect early summer day. A good day indeed to head to one of my favorite natural areas, the legendary Cedar Bog near Urbana, Ohio. I was there to give a lecture on entomology, specifically about the "bugs" of Cedar Bog. The best part of the day was the special off-the-boardwalk field trips before and after the talk.

Venturing off the mile-long boardwalk that bisects Cedar Bog's fen meadows and various other habitats is strictly taboo. Only permitted researchers or others affiliated with the bog may do so, and even then off boardwalk travels are rare. Our groups consisted of noteworthy supporters of the bog, and we wanted to thank them for their contributions with a special trip.

One of our groups deep within the bog (which of course is really a fen), in a very special meadow. I should say that, even though venturing far off the boardwalk was a treat for these folks, most people probably wouldn't want to do this. The ground is spongy, and a misstep can land one in boot-sucking quagmires. There is a lot of dense brush to push through, the humidity is intense, and ticks, mosquitoes  and other pests can abound.

But by braving all of that, we got to see a lot of interesting flora and fauna. This particular meadow is distinguished by the presence of one of Ohio's rarest plants, the prairie valerian, Valeriana ciliata. I wrote a bit more about this plant RIGHT HERE.

Try as we might, we could not completely ignore the non six-legged crowd. This is an adult five-lined skink, Eumeces fasciatus, and many people first learn that lizards do indeed occur in Ohio by spotting one of these along Cedar Bog's boardwalk.

If you are smaller than the owner of this eye, you would not want to get caught in its harsh unblinking gaze.

The previous multi-faceted eye doesn't miss a trick, and it belongs to this utterly ferocious beast. This is a large robberfly, Laphria thoracica, that is an excellent bumblebee mimic.They sit atop leaves, and wait for potential victims to fly by. The fly then scrambles out, and envelops the lesser insect with its legs, then stabs it with a proboscis that resembles a hypodermic needle. Chemicals are injected that liquefy the victim's innards, which the robberfly then sucks out via its proboscis.

Almost as if on cue, this enormous gray petaltail, Tachopteryx thoreyi, appeared in one of the meadows. Petaltails are our most primitive dragonfly, and are brutish animals. They'll capture and eat dragonflies up to their own size, including other petaltails. They seem especially fond of bagging swallowtail butterflies. Shortly after I made this photo, the petaltail shot over and landed on my arm, giving the group a great look. You can find a more detailed post about these fascinating dragonflies RIGHT HERE.

Every meadow had its complement of painted skimmers, Libellula semifasciata. It must be a good year for these stunning dragonflies. I've never seen so many in a single year, and have seen many other reports of them from around the state.

We were quite excited to find a brown spiketail, Cordulegaster bilineata, and the animal had the good manners to pose obligingly. At one point, it slowly hovered and flew right among the group, offering stunning looks. All too often with big dragonflies, one is left with far less than satisfactory looks and no photo opportunities. We saw at least a half-dozen massive swamp darners - proportionately probably our largest dragonflies - but none of them cooperated for photos or close looks.

This female violet dancer, Argia fumipennis, is making mincemeat of a victim. You can see the shiny wing of its prey, which might be some type of winged ant.

The meadows were awash with this interesting moth, the Le Conte's haploa, Haploa leconteii.They look rather butterflylike when in flight, and make no great effort to hide themselves when they alight.

We encountered a sapling that was covered with these interesting insects. They are treehoppers, in the nymph stage. A greenish-white freshly molted nymph is in the center of the photo. I found these treehoppers to be quite showy with their chestnut eyes, stegosaurus spines along the back, and odd little hornlike helmets. I don't know the species, but many treehoppers take on the appearance of thorns or other plant parts, which helps them blend in when at rest. They tap sap from their host plants, and treehopper colonies are often attended by ants, which feed on the honeydew secreted by the treehoppers.

As the sun faded to the west towards the day's end, it cast perfect light to reflect the shadows of water striders in Cedar Run. The crystal clear water of the small creek allows the shadow of the strider to be seen on the stream bottom. Water striders (this one is probably in the genus Gerris) do not break the water's surface, but their feet create hydrological "divots" on the water's surface. It's these divots that we're seeing reflected by the shadows, with the insect's slender ellipsoid body in the center.

All in all, an excellent day at Cedar Bog, filled with interesting finds. If you haven't visited Cedar Bog, please do. CLICK HERE for details.

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