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.
Thursday, June 30, 2011
Out Hunting Tigers
What, you were expecting something else? I'm talking Tiger Beetles.
Tiger Beetles are in the family Cicindelidae, or often just lumped in with the Ground Beetle family Carabidae. Tiger Beetles are recognized by their long legs, and they appear to stand high, like on stilts. These are the guys who fly right in front of you, landing 6 feet away, then flying another 6 feet as soon as you approach them. You can see in the picture they prefer open ground. Paths, dirt or mud flats, and sandy open areas.
Big bulging eyes is another character to look for. Many species are iridescent green.
Tiger Beetles are predators, and are equipped with large curved mandibles for hunting.
The best way to identify tigers is by the arrangement of the white spots on the wings, and they can vary within a species. This one is Cicindela rufiventris, which essentially translates to Red-bellied Tiger Beetle. Though not visible here, a red abdomen can be seen when they take flight.
Here was the trophy I went hunting for. This is Cicindela splendida, the Splendid Tiger Beetle. These are rare beetles. Known from only 5 counties in West Virginia, and only 3 counties in Ohio. A couple years ago Alex Webb found a large population of them on our land lab, making Athens County the fourth known location.
This is a brilliant looking beetle whose head and thorax are bright blue and green. The elytra are a deep red color. No other eastern tiger has this color combination.
You can see the elytra is damaged on this specimen, most likely because it's an old carryover from the spring population. They will raise another brood that appears again in late summer-fall.
I had hoped for more than two tigers, but there were plenty of other things to see. This is the caterpillar of a silk moth known as Hemileuca maia, the Buck Moth. It's a day flying moth that comes out in October. Below it is not another larva, but the hollow shed skin of the caterpillar above. Be careful handling these guys. The spines inject a poison, and the pain is intense.
One would think hunting in open fields, I would have bagged lots of phuail, quesant, and wabbits, but I wasn't doing that type of hunting. Like tiger beetles, flushing out grasshoppers is a common thing. What's noticeable on this one is the markings and noise they make in flight. This is Arphia sulphurea, the Yellow-banded Grasshopper.
Even after stunning him with a net, it was not very cooperative when I tried to open the wing. Anyway, you can see where the name comes from.
The previous grasshopper belongs to a family known as Short-horned Grasshoppers. This relative is a Tetrigidae, Tetrix arenosa, the Obscure Pygmy Grasshopper. If you look at the back of the head where the thorax begins, you will see the 'collar' continues all the way down the back, unbroken. If you look at the last species you will see the thorax has a break line where the wings start to grow. This is how you separate the families, and not presume these little guys are just baby grasshoppers.
In my wetland wildflower post, I illustrated the Fringed Loosestrife. Sometimes the petals end in a single pointed tip, others like this will have the entire petal margin with a fringe.
While looking at the Loosestrife, I noticed right below me a small Paper Wasp nest. Wasps hunt for meat not nectar, which is why they don't overwinter in their nest or hives. In Paper Wasps, only mated queens will overwinter. She alone builds the nest, and after the first generation hatches, she will no longer do any of the nest work.
Many wasps cover their eggs to protect them and control the temperatures. Paper Wasps leave their combs open, you can see an egg sticking out of a cell. This wasp continued to buzz its wings from time to time as a method of cooling the nest.
If the paper wasps aren't bad enough, the flowers, in this case, mountain mint, are full of Mason Wasps like Monobia quadridens.
Another species of day-flying Lightning-bug, Lucidata atra.
It's not unusual to see damselflies in open dry fields apparently no where near a water source. This is the Azure Bluet, Enallagma aspersum. All the blue damsels can be difficult to identify. Every abdominal segment, as well as the thorax and head markings must be examined.
Often confused with the Forage Looper, this is a Clover Looper. They are very common moths of open fields.
The dull brown and black markings take on a different appearance in full sunlight, making identification even trickier.
Very abundant during the summer in fields is Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, a member of the aster/daisy family. The plant contains chemicals very similar to that of aspirin.
There are many white flowers in open fields, but the very fine fern-like leaves are distinct on Yarrow.
Crawling around the ground looking for a meal was this Bee Assassin Bug, Apiomerus crassipes. The abdomen is flanged in this group, and sticks out beyond the wings. The black and red pattern denotes the species. This species is covered in stiff hairs, and it often results in having dirt and dust stick to the body. Other than body shape, looking at wing veins can separate many of the True Bug families.
Assassin Bugs have very long thick beaks ideal for penetrating the bodies of other insects. As the name implies, the Bee Assassin does seek out bees to pierce and suck the body fluids.
On a less gruesome note, with summer comes the ripening of Dewberries. A Dewberry is essentially a three leaved Blackberry that grows along the ground rather than upright. The fruit is less sweet than Blackberry, yet still quite edible.
If that isn't good enough, the Raspberries are also ripe. Raspberries differ from Black and Dews by having white under the leaves, and the fruit is hollow when picked. Time to gather both of these fruits and head home.