Flora and fauna of the Athens County area, and occasionally habitats outside Ohio. Subject matter will consist of both interpretive material and taxonomic issues in plant and animal identification.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Springtime, I can DIG it.

It's that time of year when I take my Forest Entomology students out to dig through leaf litter, tree bark, and old fallen logs. I have posted on forest insect pests in the past, but today it's more about interesting critters we found that are not necessarily pests. Logs like this give obvious clues there has been a lot of activity here.
False Mealworm Beetle, Alobates pennsylvanica. These are members of the Tenebrionidae family, known as Darkling Beetles. Mealworms, commonly sold in pet stores as herp food belong to this family. The beetles are all black. The purple iridescence is simply reflected light. These beetles are found under bark where they search for other insects to feed on.

At first glance this looks like nothing more than one of those common Scarab beetles we lump into calling May Beetles. You know, the ones that crash into your screen door on warm summer nights. But you have to look closer. Why is this beetle scavenging under the bark of pine trees? Turns out it's the Pine Darkling Beetle, Uloma punctulata. The elytra have many "punctured" marks on the back.

Like the previous beetle, it too is a Tenebrionidae. This family is what I call the "dumping grounds" for beetles that don't seem to fit into any of the larger, more familiar groups. One clue for this beetle family is the 11 segmented antennae.

Crawling among some nearby Daffodils were these black and red beetles. These are Red-necked False Blister Beetles, Asclera ruficollis. They are pollen feeders.

They are small elongate beetles with rather soft elytra. This species is recognized by the bumps on the red pronotum or thorax. Though not true Blister Beetles, they do emit a noxious fluid that can burn if you have an open cut.

Now there's a strange looking critter. Three pairs of legs tells us it's an insect for sure. I've heard these described as looking like an Armadillo. This is a Firefly larvae. Yes, a Lightning-bug.

Stretched out you can see the black and white antennae, head, and thoracic region. This Firefly belongs to the genus Pyractomena. Some larvae of certain species can produce the yellow glow we are all familiar with in the adults. These and Net-winged Beetle larvae (Lycidae) look nearly identical. I don't work with larvae, so I'll try to explain the difference the best I can.

You have to look underneath. To my understanding, if this was a Net-winged Beetle, those dark marks on both the middle and sides of the abdomen should go all the way down on all body segments. On this larva, the last abdominal segments are white. This is where the light producing organs are located. If there is a better way to separate them, I'm all ears.

This Trilobite looking insect is another Lightning-bug larva of the genus Photuris.

Nothing funnier than watching people pull over a piece of bark, then jump three feet! Common under tree bark is the Fishing Spider or Nursery-web Spider, Dolomedes tenebrosus.

From the menacing to the almost microscopic. This eight-legged creature is an Arachnid. Pseudoscorpions are minute predators that search through wood and soil for Springtails and other small insects to eat. Based on the body shape, the length of the pincers, and the bulging Popeye-arms behind them, this is probably a Wyochernes pseudoscorpion in the family Chernetidae. To go any further on identification, you have to examine them under a scope.

Here's one backing up into a defensive posture. That's a Dandelion leaf for a size perspective. Those bulges behind the claws do contain a venom, but they are harmless to us. The claws are technically referred to as pedipalps, simply modified mouthparts.

Garden Centipede, Lithobius forficatus. Centipedes are predators in the class Chilopoda.

Skinnier ones like this are known as Soil Centipedes. They are common under leaves and logs. They belong to a group known as Geophilus.

Millipedes are in the class Diplopoda. They have two pairs of legs per body segment. They are scavengers. This gray/black millipede has a pointy tooth at the end of the body. You can't see it in this picture, but that makes this an introduced European species known as Ophyiulus pilosus. Thanks Derek. I hope to spend some time this summer with Derek Hennen from the Normal Biology blog who works with both these classes. Hopefully I'll be able to put up a more detailed post on millipedes and centipedes one day.

While I was shooting plants this weekend, I also went digging under rocks and leaves for aquatic life. I didn't have to try hard to find this mated pair of Water Striders, Aquarius remigis, darting across the water surface.

Sitting under water is what looks like a meaningless bunch of sticks. This is actually a Caddisfly home, sewn together with silk. Sticks are commonly used in the family Limnephilidae, genus Pycnopsyche. I found several other families of these, and soon as I get a few more of them, I'll do a post on Trichoptera cases.

Lifting up rocks can produce a few surprises, that is if things don't jump off and swim away. This is an Ephemeroptera nymph, better known as a Mayfly. Look for the three tails, or caudal cerci. These Heptageniids are known as Flat-headed Mayflies.

Plecoptera insects are known as Stoneflies. They have three shields or plates on their back, and only two tails. (One was missing on this specimen). Most prefer fast moving, clean water streams with high dissolved oxygen content. Many are used in aquatic ecology as water quality indicators.

The mottled back of this critter sure helps him blend in. Only the yellow tail caught my eye. Of course if it's swimming, it's easy to spot.

Two-lined Salamander, Eurycea bislineata. So named for the two dark stripes along the side. The amount of yellow on the belly and back will vary. Next to the Red-backed, this is the most common species at this site.

Don't confuse these with snail eggs, many of which are white, but laid in rounded clusters. This flattened look is a batch of Two-lined Salamander eggs. When exploring streams, always remember to turn logs and rocks back to the position you found them.

By far the best part of the day was when this critter swam out from under a rock. Too large for a Dusky, this broad tailed species was noticeably pink at both ends. It has to be a Spring Salamander, Gyrinophilus porphyriticus. It has been a decade since I taught the class where we cover these, so it's been that long since I've seen one.

Larval forms lack the red color of adults, but the bright pink gills are a clue. I never collect these, even for class, they are too uncommon.

On adults, there is a yellow line from the nostril to the eye. This is absent in the immatures. There has always been a recorded population of them here, so it's good to see they are still around.

Monday, April 14, 2014

SPRING! It's about bloomin' time

Two sure signs spring has arrived. The Forsythia bushes are blooming, and the Eastern Tent Caterpillars are starting their webs.

77 degrees and sunny. There's something I haven't said in a long time. Just 10 minutes from the house is my favorite spot for a jaunt. A place we locally call Log Cabin Hollow. These flowers are known as Bloodroot. During the past week I found lots of other things besides plants for a rather extensive upcoming post. So this is just a short tease.


Purple Cress

Fruit stalk of the Putty-root Orchid. You can see the leaf in the background. I did not know this species occurred here.

Yellow Buckeye leaves.

These little lemon drops belong to the Spicebush. The round BB buds, so prevalent during the winter, have burst into full bloom.

Newly emerged fruit of the American Elm. The fruit of Ulmus americana are narrow, and end in pincer like jaws. Ulmus rubra, the Red Elm, has broad round fruit that looks like a flying saucer.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Skipper Butterflies

Whenever I do a large post on a particular group of plants or animals, I always seem to start with a disclaimer. Not all of the skippers are illustrated here. I simply haven't seen all the species in Ohio. But in the interest of keeping my posts going, here are a few.

Lepidoptera are the Butterflies & Moths. There are those who like to add AND the Skippers. Like Hymenoptera, the bees, wasps, ants, and Sawflies. Sawflies are a type of wasp, but with fat bodies. Same goes for the Skippers. They are a "type" of butterfly, but have fatter bodies. They are extremely fast fliers, which means they have strong wing muscles. As any collector can tell you, pinning and spreading their wings is quite a challenge. Another difference is many species sit with their upper wings folded, and the hindwings open.

Also look at their antennae. Most don't end in a club. They are swollen, but then form a fine tip. These tips are often curved on many species. There are about 50 different Skippers in Ohio. Over 40 of them are known to breed here. The others are strays, having been recorded only once or twice in the state.

I have collected over 30 of them found in Ohio. My goal now is to photograph them. I could expand this post and illustrate mounted specimens, but as I have been fond of saying, a post that size could go on forever. This is the most difficult family of Butterflies to identify by photos, many of them you need to have 'in hand' to examine fine details. For now I will stick to live shots, but hope to add more on the subject at a later date.

One of our largest and most common species is the Silver-spotted Skipper, Epargyreus clarus. If all you see is the inside of the wings, it could be mistaken for the slightly smaller Golden-banded Skipper.

A quick look at the backside, and the silvery-white patch in the middle of the wing is unmistakable. This species is found statewide.

At the other end of the size spectrum is our smallest species, the Least Skipper, Ancyloxypha numitor. It has a longer body than other skippers. The wings are all orange on the outside, and darker orange inside. These are weak fliers when compared to other members of the family, so look for them in low vegetation near the ground.

The Least Skipper ranges all the way down to Florida, where this shot was taken. It's nectaring on Lippia flowers. In Florida there is a similar looking species called the Skipperling. That species has a broad white band across the back of the hindwing.

Some of the earliest skippers to come out in the spring are the Dusky Wings. These are medium sized skippers that are brown with mottled hindwings. That pretty much describes all of them, as they look quite alike.

One of the things I use to narrow down the species is the gray line bordered by black dots. That makes this either the Dreamy Dusky Wing, Erynnis icelus, or the Sleepy Dusky Wing, Erynnis brizo. Sleepy tends to be found more in dry oak woods, while Dreamy prefers Willows and Poplars and a wetter area. Dreamy usually has much larger gray patches on the forewings than you see here. To me this looks more like a Sleepy, but I have been told this photo is a Dreamy, so I defer to the experts.

Another group of similar looking species include Juvenal's, Horace's, and Mottled Dusky Wings. These  can be recognized by the silvery white spots in the upper wings. The Mottled Dusky Wing, mostly found in southern Ohio, has large black 'mottling' on the hindwings.

These are photos of Juvenal's Dusky Wing, Erynnis juvenalis. Notice the two light spots on the hindwing. If these are present on the back of the wing, it's Juvenal's, if absent, it's Horace's Dusky Wing. Also, Juvenal's flies only in the spring months. Horace's can be found all summer. Another thing this group of skippers have in common, the margin of the wing appears indented along the top. Dusky Wings commonly bask on the ground in open sunlight.

Wild Indigo Dusky Wing, Erynnis baptisiae. I found this species flying among the Blue and White False Indigos (Baptisia) on our prairie. I recognize this species by looking for the several large silvery white cells in the upper part of the forewing, followed by a couple tannish-brown rectangle cells below.

Historically, this species was restricted to fields and open prairies. The flower Crown Vetch, Coronilla varia, has been planted throughout the state, and has broadened the range of this butterfly. Crown Vetch is now the primary host for the caterpillars.

This is the Northern Cloudy Wing, Thorybes pylades. Sometimes mistaken for a Dusky Wing, they lack the mottling of that group. Essentially the wings are a chocolate brown. Look for two rows of 3-4 small white dots coming down from the wing margin. The center of the wing will contain one or two other silvery white spots. The markings are the same on the back. In the similar Southern Cloudy Wing, those little spots are large broad rectangles. Look for this flying along forest edges.

The Little Glassy Wing, Pompeius verna, is one of the smaller, rapid flying skippers. Dark like the Cloudy Wing, it has only one row of small spots coming down from the wing margin. The center spots of the Cloudy Wing are highly separated, in the Glassy Wing they are crowded together. The spots are somewhat translucent.

The backside shows the same spot arrangement, but the hindwing often hides them. The hindwing may or may not show faint spots. Look for the white spot behind the swollen portion of the antennae.

Common Sooty Wing, Pholisora catullus. This butterfly is all black. Look for the S shaped row of white spots. A few pin hole sized spots may also be present. On females, the spots are more obvious. The speckled white head may also aid in identification. These are found state wide in open fields.

Broken-dash Skippers. The top one is the Northern Broken-dash, Wallengrenia egeremet. South of Ohio is the Southern Broken-dash, W. otho. These are orangish-red butterflies when looking from behind. The hindwings have a semi-circular pattern of yellow spots. The forewings are edged in gray.

The inside usually has at least one large light colored rectangular spot. The arrow indicates where the common name comes from. There is a black line near the base of the hindwing. It appears busted in half, like a broken bat. Click on the photo for a closer look. This is a summer species found statewide.

The Sachem Skipper, Atalopedes campestris. Look for white squares randomly placed on the backside. The largest one, out near the edge of the forewing, is transparent. This is especially noticeable on these females. She also has a transparent spot on the inside, right behind a black dash. Both sexes have a black mark inside, but it is not broken like the previous species. In males, the black mark (or stigma) may be square, and half black, half gray. Look for these in open fields, as the  caterpillars are grass feeders.

Here is another species I find difficult to identify when looking at the inside of the wings. It's the Peck's Skipper, Polites peckius. They too have a black dash inside the forewings. It is shaped like a skinny S, but not visible when they hold their wings like this.

I posted several of these because the underside is so distinct. Two semi-circular rows of yellow spots. The inside one narrow, the outside patch broad. It's one of the most common of our small skippers, having been found in every county.

Zabulon Skipper, Poanes zabulon. A very sexually dimorphic species. Male above, female below. The rusty colored female is recognized by the thin white streak at the top of the hindwing.

The male has one big round yellow patch interspersed with dark spots. This yellow patch fills up most of the hindwing.

Here is Sachem, Peck's, and Zabulon side by side. If you are specifically in the field to identify skippers, and it takes too long to sort through pages in a book, simply create your own field guide. Make plates of species you have identified and print them out. It can serve as a quick reference guide.

There is one skipper called the Whirlabout. That's what all of these do. When disturbed they whirl in a very erratic pattern. First they are flying in front of you, and suddenly they disappear.  Don't worry, just turn around, they probably landed six feet behind you.