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.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Moth Night at Wahkeena Nature Preserve

Hello, and welcome to Wahkeena. I was just wondering if empty jet black eyes staring back at you makes you nervous? We have a moth gathering at Wahkeena at the very least once a year. As always, Tom and Robyn were our hosts. Alex Webb and I were looking to collect, though I spent more time capturing with the camera than the jar. Jim McCormac, Roger Grossenbacher, and Steve & Lisa Sells all brought their cameras. It was a spectacular night. Look for Jim and Lisa to be posting results at their respective blogs.

Before we get into the moths, for those who haven't been there, let me introduce you to Wahkeena. It's a nature preserve that for years was managed by the Ohio Historical Society, but is now part of the Fairfield County Historical Parks. Staffing, programs, and workshops will stay the same, there is just no fee to walk the grounds now. Upon entering the area, you are greeted by a nice wetland that currently is full of Water Lilies and Swamp Rose Mallows.

Another plant along the wetland edge is Lizard's Tail, Saururus cernuus. Its raceme of white flowers curl downward at the ends. It's found throughout Ohio. I often tend to pass it up since I used to see it on a daily basis for years in Florida.

Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum pedatum. This is one of over 30 species of ferns found at Wahkeena. If you're a fern lover, this is one place you have to visit.

Orchids also abound at Wahkeena. Maybe not as showy as the Purple Fringeless, but when it comes to Orchids, "it's all good!" This is the Green Wood Orchid, Platanthera clavellata. A small green and white species, these plants were only 8-10 inches tall. Notice the white spur tends to be kept tucked under the flower stalk. Like Lizard Tail, this is a plant I last saw many years ago in Florida.

I arrived before dark in hopes of seeing other things. The Butterfly Milkweed Asclepias tuberosa is coming into peak bloom, and were covered with shiny green Halictid Bees.

Arrowwood, Viburnum dentatum is in full fruit, and common throughout the wetland boardwalk.

Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea, serves as host to many butterflies, especially Skippers.

This is the Zabulon Skipper, Poanes zabulon. This is a male. Like many of the small look alike skippers, it flies rapidly from one flower to the next. You can identify this one by the large yellow patch on the back of the hindwing. The base and edge of the wing have rich brown patches, and the yellow area will be dotted with small brown spots.

A nice closeup of the tongue probing for nectar.

Robyn likes rearing moth caterpillars found on the area. They make for great interpretive programs with kids. The yellow and black stripes on the side, and blue-black horn tells us this is the Laurel Sphinx, Sphinx kalmiae. It's sometimes listed as the Fawn Sphinx, but I stick to the old name because it reflects the latin.

Here is the Cecropia Moth larva. Hyalophora cecropia is one of the largest moths in Ohio. The caterpillars will approach 5-6 inches in length. These guys were smaller, but about to molt into their last instar. The combination of red, yellow, blue, and green is hard to beat.

Up close you can see the tubercles that end in sharp spines for protection. The light blue ovals are the breathing spiracles.

Photography in the dark can be a challenge. We planned the moth gathering a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately, that was the night of the big storm. Power went out everywhere, including Wahkeena, so we sat around in the dark and told stories all night. At least Robyn had this nice caterpillar to shoot.

This is Acronicta funeralis, the Paddled Dagger Moth. I have collected the adult before, but had never seen the caterpillar. It feeds on a wide variety of plants, including this Blueberry/Huckleberry. Young larvae look like bird droppings. These mature caterpillars will swing those paddles around when disturbed. Studies have yet to be done on this species, but usually black and yellow markings like this advertise warning colorations to predators.

Since I'm mentioning Robyn, I thought I'd throw this in just for fun. On our Purple Fringeless Orchid excursion I posted recently, she came across this. I was down in a wetland shooting sedges, when she unmistakably yelled at the top of her lungs that I better hurry up and come see what she found. Based on the sharp edged thorax, I believe this is a female Prionus laticolis, a Broad-necked Root Borer. In biomass terms, it is one of the largest beetles in Ohio. Cool!

People often ask me how I set up for a night of moths. Everybody is different, but I use a 200 watt mercury vapor light. It emits a fair amount of UV rays. I put a sheet on the ground, and hang up another. Now one simply waits for UFO's of the insect kind.

Speaking of huge insects, we were lucky enough to have the Big Poplar Sphinx, Pachsphinx occidentalis (modesta) show up at the sheet. It's a common Aspen feeder, and as for the Sphinx or Hawkmoths in Ohio, it's one of the largest in the state.

One of the bigger families of moths are the Geometridae. Many can be recognized by the skinny bodies in comparison to the oversized broad wings. The margins of their wings are often uneven, pointed, or scalloped. This one is probably the Yellow Slant-line, Tetracis crocallata. The orange line is usually more pronounced, but I don't know of anything else it could be. Geometrid larvae are known as Inchworms.

Often mistaken for a Geometridae is the Arched Hooktip Moth, Drepana arcuata. Their wingtips are not only pointed, but curve around like a fish hook.

No night of mothing would be complete without having some of my Slug Moths show up. This is Lithacodes fasciola, recognized by the white lightning bolt in the wings.

Roger brought some of his bait for brushing on trees. Bait can consist of stale beer, rotten fruit, sugar/molasses, or a combination of all three. Noctuid moths will slurp up the stuff, and not even be bothered by your presence. Such was the case with this Horrid Zale, Zale horrida.

Hiding on tree trunks during the day are the well camouflaged Catocala or Underwing Moths. They too like sucking on rotten fruit bait. You need both the front and hindwings when determining which species you have. They are not easy to identify. This is the Oldwife Underwing, Catocala palaeogama. I'll stick to that name until an expert says otherwise.  Hope you enjoyed this trip down nocturnal lane. Everybody's cameras were busy clicking that night.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Orchid Hunting

I tend to be somewhat anal retentive. I like to plan and schedule things ahead of time. But like the commercial says, "sometimes you just gotta break the rules". Judging by the beauty of this plant, I think you can see why a 'spur' of the moment trip was called for. Acting on a tip from some hard core Orchid hunters, Robyn from Wahkeena called me about these. I ran into Mike and Marshall, a couple of students of mine who were instantly excited to go along. So the four of us headed to Vinton County.

We found the Purple Fringeless Orchid, Platanthera peramoena, exactly where the directions led us. This Orchid prefers wet bottomland soils in marshy situations. We found nearly a dozen of them. The lips or petal edges are slightly serrated, but if you have ever seen the Purple Fringed Orchid, you'd understand why this is called fringeless. The upper lip looks like a sad turtle face with purple antennae. Just use your imagination, and don't ask me what I've been smokin'.

If the front of the flower isn't amazing enough, check out those long deep red nectar spurs. Recently Andrew Gibson told me that someone had dug up the Yellow Lady's Slipper Orchids found not too far from here, so I don't wish to disclose the location of these.

I had first run into this species years ago in the Jackson County area. All the plants were 12-18 inches tall, and with only a few flowers. I didn't realize how tall and full this plant could get.

While it's hard to judge perspective here, some of the plants were over three foot tall. Robyn has a picture with her next to one, and I may add that later. Anyhow, I don't usually post on a single species, but orchids are well worth it!

Canada Thistle and Insects

Pseudodynerus quadrisectus, or in simpler terms, a Mason wasp. Most Mason Wasps have iridescent blue-black wings, and a black and white body. I recognize this one by looking at the yellow-white patch on the abdomen. Inside it has the picture of a Batman cape.

 I hate to admit it, but the invasive Canada Thistle is a huge nectar source. I didn't mention in my previous wetland post that before I started hiking, I spent 45 minutes in a six foot patch of this just admiring the diversity of insects it attracted. Here's a few more highlights.

Peek-a-boo, I see you. What look like holes in the wing are actually white and yellow patches of colored scales. This is the 8-spotted Forester Moth, Alypia octomaculata.

Here's a look from behind. 4 yellow and 4 white spots on the wings make up both the latin and common name. Forester Moths fly during the day. Those color markings are typical of moths that advertise a warning to predators. Tiger Moths commonly show this, but Foresters are members of the Noctuidae family.

We're in the middle of a heatwave, no need to be wearing those orange arm muffs in this weather! Combinations of orange & black, red & black, or yellow & black only add to defense warnings in insects.

I'm busy looking around, and this nosy neighbor pops his head in. This is the Ermine Moth, Atteva aurea. Originally restricted to the extreme southern, sub-tropical portions of the country, it has spread everywhere because of the abundance of the introduced Tree-of-Heaven, from which the caterpillars now feed. This has resulted in another common name, the Ailanthus Webworm.

Once again it's no surprise this brightly colored moth is found during the day. You can see the tongue or proboscis busy searching for sweet nectar.

The Summer Azure Celastrina neglecta, is one of the two more common Blues seen in Ohio. Once considered the same species as the Spring Azure C. ladon, they are now accepted as different. Spring Azures start flying at the beginning of April, and will pretty much have disappeared by mid May. The sudden rise in sightings after that is this guy, the Summer Azure. It has two broods during the summer, so it will be seen throughout the season.

"Sit on it Potsie". Ooh, this would not make a nice whoopee cushion. Porcupine butt here is the typical appearance of the more common members of the Tachinidae family of flies. There is always variation, but generally these flies have a rounded shape or are robust in appearance. Stiff bristly hairs protrude from the abdomen like a pin cushion. They also have very large calypters, or flaps that cover the halters behind the wings.

Since there is no good comprehensive field guide to spiders, I continue to collect photos and search Bugguide and other sites for names. Though I am an insect collector, I have avoided collecting spiders. Most species will shrivel up on pins because they are soft bodied arthropods. You have to put them in alcohol vials, not exactly ideal for making displays.

This is the Western Lynx Spider, Oxyopes scalaris. The other Lynx Spider in Ohio is green. Lynx Spiders can be recognized by the thorn like bristles that cover the legs. He may be comfortably situated under those leaf spines, but it's not necessary considering he has so many of his own. I mentioned in my post on roadside plants that Canada Thistle leaves are covered with spines. Be very careful when grabbing these plants, especially today, it's Friday the 13th.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Another Wetland Walk

Mill Creek Metroparks outside Youngstown are restoring an old fish hatchery into a wetland wildlife preserve. While parts still contain a lot of exotic invasives, there were quite a lot of nice insects and plants to observe. This is the same place I found the Bald Eagles nesting last spring.

In any marshy wet area, you are bound to find a lot of Dragonflies and Damselflies. The Common Whitetail Libellula lydia, an abundant species, were literally on every rock surrounding the parking area.

Another common species is the Eastern Pondhawk, Erythemis simplicicollis. I see it everywhere, but that rich green color is irresistible. I shoot it whenever I find it. This is a female, the male is a more drab blue in color.

Another bright green species is the Eastern Forktail, Ischnura verticalis. This is a Damselfly of course, not a Dragonfly. This time we are looking at a male.

Here is an Eastern Forktail female. The sky blue color and two-toned eyes are what to look for. As I've mentioned before, when working with damsels and dragons, males and females will appear SO different as to think you have two different species.

I came across this for the first time last summer. Here it is again. The close up shots are to show the identification. This is the Double-striped Bluet, Enallagma basidens. I remember the name by looking at the thorax. The black stripes are split by a thin blue line, both on top and on the side.

You could look at the abdomen for a clue. Each segment is both black and blue, with the 7th segment behind the wings almost all black on top. Segment 8 & 9 are all blue. Each abdominal segment has black that looks like it is 'dripping' down the side. Immediately behind that is a small black ring. This is also how some people remember the name Double-striped.

Near the edge of the ponds were these floating plants known as Bladderworts. I once found five different species at one location. Some float, others are submerged. Some have no leaves, others have single, double, or triple branched leaves under the water. They all contain bladders, or little balloons that inflate when their triggers are touched. They suck in small invertebrates from which they gain additional nutrients. In other words, they are carnivorous plants. I believe this one is the Common or Greater Bladderwort, Utricularia vulgaris.

The three branched mass of leaves look like mossy goo when pulled from the water. Clicking on the photo will show lots of oval shaped holes among the leaves. This is where the bladders are located.

Every good wetland will have Carex Sedges in them. I continue to collect and photograph these in hopes of one day working on them again. 20 years ago I learned dozens of them in a couple weeks time. But you know what they say, "use it or lose it." I haven't worked with them in so long I'll have to start from scratch and relearn them all.

Disturbed sites are a good place for Black Locust trees to get a foothold. If you ever notice the ends of the twigs swollen like this, it's from a Tortricid moth known as Ecdytolopha insiticiana, the Locust Twig Borer.

Wild Carrot Daucus carota, or Queen Anne's Lace is another exotic found in open areas. The roots are quite edible. The flowers do provide a nectar source for many small insects.

One of those is the Cuckoo Wasp. This may be Holopyga ventralis, but honestly, all the Cuckoo wasps look similar. With a face full of pollen like that, I was just waiting for it to sneeze. Cuckoo wasps are parasitic on other insects and not known to sting people. I have seen their stingers, so I'm not interested in testing myself to find out for sure. Many roll into a ball for defense.

Spotted St. John'swort Hypericum maculatum, is one of the more common species of St. John'swort. Sometimes the edges of the flower petals are dotted, but you can be sure by looking under the leaves for black spots which gives it the name.

Down in the mudflats was this delicate looking species. This is the Dwarf St. John'swort, Hypericum mutilum. This is one of the smaller species, growing about a foot high. Look for it in marshes and swamps. The flowers are so small that the green sepals are as long as the petals. Other tiny St. John'swort species have very narrow leaves, not broad like these.

Mimulus ringens, the Square-stemmed Monkey-flower is a member of the Scrophulariaceae. Just because it has a square stem doesn't automatically mean it's a Mint. Some say the flower looks like a monkey face. Maybe a Baboon with it's mouth open? I don't see it, so much for common names. This is another common species of wet sites.

Not nearly as showy as its relatives the Arrowheads, the Water Plantain is still an important wetland plant that waterfowl feed on. The three white petals are extremely small on this species. They barely stick out past the sepals. That would make this Alisma subcordatum. A similar species, A. triviale has flowers about twice as long as the sepals.

Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis, is a woody shrub of wetlands now coming into peak bloom. The most abundant insects on these flower heads will be Bumblebees.