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.

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Rotting Tree Attracts Insects

During my recent hike at Conkle's Hollow, I noticed a couple of Scarlet Oak trees had broken and fallen around the trail. The trunks were cracked and oozing sap. The pungent odor of rotting wood was very noticeable. If it wasn't for the fact I was trying to cover a lot of ground, I could have stayed in one spot and watched the large variety on insects come in to feed. There were a lot of Red Admiral butterflies coming in to these trees. Click on the picture and try to find them all. I'll let you know how many are visible in a minute.

Populations in the insect world fluctuate readily each year. During the past two seasons, the Buckeye butterfly was found in higher numbers than usual. Usually at this time one sees lots of Mourning Cloaks, Tiger Swallowtails, and Zebra Swallowtails. To me their numbers are down. Not so with this years Red Admirals, Vanessa atalanta. There have been population explosions throughout the midwest. Once again, if you click on the picture, you can see the proboscis or tongue probing the tree wound.

Out of all the Brush-footed Butterflies (Nymphalidae), some say the Painted Ladies have the most beautiful looking patterns on the back of the wings. To me the Red Admiral is every bit as intricately marked.

Backside not withstanding, the Red Admiral is one of our showier butterflies. When such an easy meal of sugary sap is in such abundance, many of these insects were easy to approach. The first picture contains 10 of them, 8 left 2 right, although I counted at least 20 feeding there at one time.

Another Nymphalid butterfly on the scene was this Question Mark, Polygonia interrogationis. This group of butterflies are often referred to as Anglewings. Two common species occur in our area, the Comma and Question Mark. The names come from the silvery marks found on the back of the hindwing.

I have respect for Bees and Wasps, so this Paper Wasp didn't like it one bit that I was getting so close, and he made sure I knew it. Result, blurred and grainy photo! I used to catch moths in a bait trap using fermented beer and rotting fruit. Nothing I hate worse than seeing your trap full of Paper Wasps and Yellow Jackets instead of moths!

A lot of the participants weren't as colorful as butterflies, but it's still amazing to see the variety in every crevice. Here a bottle fly and black ant were literally pushing each other away from the sap outcrop.

If there's the smell of something rotten in the air, you can bet flies of all types will be around. Related to House Flies, this is a member of the Anthomyiidae family. Often called Root-maggot Flies, some adults like this are saprophytic.

These two were doing a dance for each other. The heavily mottled wings and gray speckled body led me to Pseudotephritis vau, a Picture-winged Fly. According to the wing venation, these 'should' be True Fruit Flies from the family Tephritidae. So why was I fooled? Look at the genus name. Pseudotephritis translates to "false fruit fly".

All I see is a blur. Well, um, ya. Let me explain. A Satyr butterfly came in. It flew like the common Little Wood Satyr, but I noticed something different. Anxious to get a pic, I had one shot, and he flew. Should have been more patient. It's not a Little Wood, but the Gemmed Satyr, Cyllopsis gemma. In Ohio they are found only in the S.E. part of the state. Gemmed Satyrs have a small gray patch under the hindwing lined in a small row of black dots. Had this been new to the area, there is enough photographic proof to count this as a record. Sometimes lousy photos still may contain important information.

Right after I missed the Satyr, this Hawkmoth flew in, hovering just long enough to test the saps flavor. Once again, I only had time for one click. Yippie, I got him! This is the Nessus Sphinx, Amphion floridensis. The chocolate forewings and orange hindwings are cool enough, but the neat part is the double yellow striped abdomen, and the tail-like hair projections on the end of the abdomen. The Nessus is a day flyer and often can be seen nectaring on flowers.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hiking Hocking Hills, Old Mans Cave

There are those who say if you like hiking Conkle's Hollow, you'll LOVE hiking Old Man's Cave. What's not to like. This glacial remanent forest is more typical of what you would expect to see in Canada. A lot of disjunct or out of place species can be found here.

One of those species is the Yellow Birch, Betula alleghaniensis. These are an indicator species of the Northern Hardwood Forest, or those forests bordering the upper Great Lakes and the New England states. I know of a few other locations it's found down here, but Hocking Hills has the largest populations. Another northern species found here is Black Birch, Betula lenta. Also known as Sweet or Cherry Birch, Black has dark bark that doesn't peel. This Yellow Birch can be recognized by the duck tail curls or wood shavings look to the trunk.

Often mistaken for baby Hemlock trees, this is Canada Yew, Taxus canadensis. This is a common understory plant with leaves similar to Eastern Hemlock. In fact another common name is Ground-hemlock. Yew leaves are green on both sides, where Hemlock has white stripes underneath. The leaves have a dark green look when growing side by side with Hemlock.

Taxus is not in the Pine family because the fruit is an aril, not a cone. Red and hollow, and with a poisonous green seed in the middle. Many have seen the ornamental species planted in yards, but Canada Yew is a native species.

Some of the wildflowers encountered on this hike include White Baneberry, Actaea pachypoda. The white flowers are in peak bloom right now, but it's a plant often overlooked.

It's hard to miss once it goes to seed. The white berries and red stems of the "dolls eyes" are poisonous.

There are two varieties of this Buttercup, Ranunculus hispidus. In drier sights it's referred to as Hispid Buttercup, and in wetter areas, the Swamp Buttercup. In the moister areas, look for the whitish stems with outward protruding hairs.

It's not in bloom yet, but even then the flowers are small and not showy. It's Sullivant's Alumroot, Sullivantia sullivantii. Hmm, you think maybe it's named after someone called Sullivan? It's not a common plant. Look for round leaves highly serrated, and growing on wet rock outcrops.

This is not blooming yet either, but you'd be surprised how many people don't recognize the springtime maroon look of Poison Ivy, Toxicodendron radicans.

I'm a bit early on this one too. The small white flowers may not look spectacular, but it's much showier in full bloom. It's Canada Mayflower, Maianthemum canadense.

I posted this last year, but I can't visit the Hocking Hills without my favorite of the phloxes, Creeping Phlox, Phlox stolonifera. The un-notched pink petals make it stand out from the other phlox species. In Ohio, it is restricted to just the counties surrounding the Hocking Hills.

While this and European Columbine are common in flower gardens, nothing beats seeing this native in the wild. Wild Columbine is peaking right now. Aquilegia canadensis is common in sandy soils throughout the Hocking Hills. Red-orange petals and sepals combine to form what looks like the top of a kings crown. Yellow reproductive parts protrude from the bottom. Only the divided leaves look anything like its relatives, the Buttercups.

One of the most common species of ragwort in our area is the Golden Ragwort, Senecio aurea, now in the genus Packera. It's found in many habitat types.

The upper leaves are narrow and finely divided. The lower leaves are very broad and round. Both sets of leaves need to be examined to separate it from other ragwort species.

One of the main purposes of my hike this day was to locate any new violets. I found nearly 10 species, most of which I posted in March 2011.  I just want to show some similar species and their differences. This is the Common Blue Violet, Viola sororia. It is so common everywhere people often just ignore it. But there are so many similar species you have to be careful.

Like this one for example. This is Marsh Blue Violet, Viola cucullata. The petals are often lighter than Blue Violet, with the petal bases being darker. A click on the photo will show the clubbed ends to the beard inside, another hint it's Marsh Blue.

Another clue to look for, the flowers are on stalks growing well above the leaves.

When I saw this one, I knew I had something different. This is the Southern Wood Violet, Viola hirsutula. I had never photographed it before, and too bad my depth of field was terribly off that day. The key features are in the leaves. They are rounder than most violets, and the leaves lay flat against the ground. The overall color includes a pale gray sheen to the surface. The undersides, (which I forgot to shoot) have purple veins throughout the leaf.

Just when you think you have your violets down, along comes something like this. I've seen these a lot, and always thought it was a Common Blue Violet hybrid. Well I was close, it is a hybrid. This is Viola rostrata X striata, which means it's a cross between Long-spurred and Pale Cream Violet. It's nice having Dr. Harvey Ballard, a violet expert, so nearby to verify such sightings.

Now here is another one that had me stumped. I figured it was one of the million varieties of Blue Violet. Turns out it is Common Blue Violet. Not one of the millions, just one of the "thousands" of forms in this species. Thank you Harvey for not allowing me to exaggerate.

Hiking Hocking Hills, Conkle's Hollow

Hard to beat the hills of S.E. Ohio. Conkle's Hollow is part of the Hocking Hills region that's made up of many parks and nature preserves. The stream side bottomland forests are rich in diversity, but I wanted to concentrate on the upper portions.

The hillsides and ridgetops are dominated by Hemlock, Pine, and Oak. The soils are coarse, sandy, dry, and acidic. One need not be an expert to recognize soil types. Just look at the plants, they serve as site indicators. That's pretty much what this post is about.

This classic view still makes me weak kneed. Not because the valley is so spectacular, but because I have to stand 12 inches from the cliff to take this shot!

The ground, especially on the rock faces, is dominated by lichens. Early explorers and authors mentioned it reminded them of a tundra like appearance.

Heading up the path is an orchid indicator, the Downy Rattlesnake Plantain, Goodyera pubescens. Many people recognize the white patterned leaves, but you'll have to wait till summer to see the bloom.

Further up is yet another plant typical of these sites. Whenever I see whorled leaves like this, I know it's either Whorled Pogonia or Indian Cucumber Root.

In this case it's the latter. Indian Cucumber Root, Medeola virginica, is a type of Lily, not Orchid. The yellowish green flowers are 6 parted, and usually droop beneath the upper whorl of 3 leaves. Three maroon stigmas are also evident. This plant does well in shaded understories.

Up on the ridge, lots of new growth was noticeable on the woody ground plants. So what are these red leaved and hairy leaves?

The hairy plants are new leaves of the Trailing Arbutus, Epigaea repens, seen on the left. The red leaves belong to the plant on the right, Wintergreen or Teaberry, Gaultheria procumbens. Both are evergreen members of the Blueberry family.

Sticking with the Blueberry family (Ericaceae), This is Black Huckleberry, Gaylussacia baccata. They have urn shaped flowers like many family members, but this species has red rather than white flowers. Huckleberry looks nearly identical to our local Blueberries, but Huckleberry has golden resin dots on the plant. When not in bloom, look on the back of the leaves with a hand lens. As for now, all you need do is click on the picture for a better look.

We have two blueberry species in our immediate area, both have white flowers. On this species the flower petals spread out openly, and are not urn shaped. This is Vaccinium stamineum, known as Deerberry. When not in bloom, look for white undersides on the leaves.

While I've been discussing acid and ridgetop indicator species, this guy can be found just about anywhere. Sitting quietly along the cliff face, this Black Rat Snake seemed oblivious to the hoards of hikers. Black rat snakes are not solid black like Racers, but retain some faint white patterns like they had when younger.

Here's a better look at the white lined scales.

As I headed back down the path I came across this. Someone had picked it and left it in the walkway to be trampled on. I did my best to prop it up against a log for a shot. This is Pink Moccasin Flower, or Pink Lady's-slipper Orchid, Cypripedium acaule. This is also typical of Pine-Oak habitats in the Hocking Hills.

As I was about to leave, I noticed a couple plants I missed on the way up. Down in the wet bottomland the Showy Orchis, Galearis spectabilis was in full bloom. I know lots of people have been posting on this of late, but there was no way I could leave out such a nice species. It's an orchid of course, but the common name is spelled with an s instead of a d.

Right at the entrance to the preserve was another of my favorites, and yes I have lots of favorites :)
These stalked purple balls is what most look like right now. It's still a bit early for this species.

I did manage to find a few starting to bloom. The long trumpet shaped flowers and opposite divided leaves near the top are clues. This is Large-flowered Valerian, Valeriana pauciflora. Beginning field biology students are always asking me what this is because it's not in Newcomb. When I was a young student, I had to refer to Britton & Brown to find it. It's also not in the Peterson guide. Why many of the field guides chose to leave it out I can't answer. It's found from Illinois to Pennsylvania and south to Tennessee. In Ohio, it is concentrated in the southern half of the state.