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.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Autumn: Cool Temperatures and Color Changes

Last Friday and Saturday brought some ugly rain. Sunday was nice but a little chilly. I went for a hike, and for the first time all season, there were no caterpillars to be found. I hate to hear people keep saying "I'm sorry, but summer is over". Fall does bring it's own unique features though.

There were caterpillars still out a couple weeks ago. As I stepped out of my office to look for a few, a student stopped me and asked if this was a lizard. He had never seen one in Ohio. Sure enough, it was a young fence lizard or Fence Swift. Temperatures had already begun to drop, so this guy spent all his time sunning openly on the heated rocks.

One of the caterpillars I found was Spilosoma virginica. This species is rusty orange colored, often with interspersed black hairs. It is better known as the Virginia Tiger Moth. The adult is one of the several "all white" tiger moths.

Later that night, my Entomology class was excited about setting up a light and sheet to attract insects. Well it figures, the night was cold, and very few insects came in. Sitting on an oak nearby was this sphinx moth larva. It is one of the 'eyed' sphingids. Their caterpillars all look similar. This one is the Blind-eyed Sphinx, Paonias excaecata.

Cream colored stripes reach down to the spiracles, with the last stripe at the horn being most predominant. The red spots near the prolegs vary in size and intensity. The head contains a green and white stripe, while the body is covered in white granules.

Fall brings a profusion of fruit, some of which is edible. One of my favorites is Blackhaw Viburnum, Viburnum prunifolium. It's not sweet and juicy, but more subtle. It has a thicker, mushier texture like that of raisins or prunes. Suck on the black ones, and spit out the seed. I think they are delicious.

When you hear people say "plant native", this is a good choice. Viburnums have showy flowers, and the fruits persist, making them a good winter bird food.

S.E. Ohio is known for its fall colors. Our Beech-Maple forests are currently turning, but our Oak woods are still green. Look on the forest edges for the best color right now, especially on the smaller species.

One of those is the Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida. Those red football fruits are not edible for us, but wildlife will grab them up.

American Hazelnut, Corylus americana, is turning orange-scarlet right now. Though a small shrub, they do add to the color variety.

Hazelnut is most easily identified by the caterpillar-like catkins hanging down.

Because the fruit grow in large heavy clusters, they usually have fallen to the ground by now. If you are lucky enough to still find them, they are edible. Hazel is used a lot to flavor coffee. It's the European Hazelnut, or what is known as a Filberts Nut that is sold in stores. Our native species will work just the same. Mammals are big consumers of these.

American Bittersweet, Celastrus scandens. While very showy, this one is poisonous to humans. Wildlife will seek it out. Bittersweet is not only a climbing vine, but a choker. It will kill young trees it grows on. Older trees with thicker bark are not as susceptible. The plant produces orange pumpkin like capsules that split open to reveal a bright red seed.

Another plant that has turned all red is the Winged Sumac, Rhus copallina. There are wing like growths between the leaflets, making this easy to identify. The second photo shows how glossy looking the leaves can get, leading to another common name, the Shining Sumac.

Perhaps the most brilliant looking plant right now is the Smooth Sumac, Rhus glabra. The rachis between the leaflets are smooth, containing no wings.

There are four red fruiting sumacs in Ohio, but Smooth Sumac is probably the best for making drinks. Collect the fruit heads and put them in a cheese cloth. Soak them in water, and you can make a pink lemonade.

A favorite among many is this peach-apricot flavored fruit known as Persimmon, Diospyros virginiana. Look in old fields for this species.

If you wish to indulge in eating these, make sure they are ripe!! If you see a wrinkled surface like this, and they are squeezable soft to the touch, they are ready. Hard unripe Persimmons will leave the most awful, dry, cotton mouth result on your tongue, and you'll wish you hadn't tried them!

Here's what happens after biting an unripe Persimmon!

Four legged animals love Persimmon, and it's an important quick energy source. This is fresh deer scat found under the trees. Technically it's known as Doodie!

Do you love that hickory smoked flavor? Well you get that from burning the wood, but the fruit is quite edible. If you like Walnuts, you'll probably like Hickory nuts. The thick husked fruits above can be found under Shagbark, Mockernut, and Kingnut. The thin husked fruits below are what's found on Pignut and Bitternut, Carya spp. People generally find the thick shelled species more desirable. Right now the squirrels are busy eating and hoarding them.

Another species in full fruit now is the Spicebush, Lindera benzoin. While I wouldn't eat the fruit right off the shrub, pioneers would dry the skins, chop it up like you would parsley, and use it as a spice substitute in the skillet.

When the leaves and fruit drop, Spicebush can be recognized by the BB or ball bearing buds. These buds, like the twigs, retain their aromatic oils year round. Crush them up and take a sniff. It may remind you a bit of Sassafras. They are in the same family, which also includes Camphor and Cinnamon.

Someone mention Sassafras? Sassafras my a**  It's Halloween time, and that's a ghost if I ever saw one!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Plant Galls part 2

Back in September 2010, I posted a feature on plant galls here. I have come across a lot of others since then, and decided it's time for part 2. Some of these I pulled from other misc. posts, but the majority are new. I'm no authority on galls, and references are not easy to come by. I always welcome an expert to correct anything I post, but there aren't a lot of people who work on them.

These spotted little cherries look like the Banded Bullet Gall, created by Dryocosmus imbricariae, a tiny wasp. This was found on Black Oak, but they attack other species, especially Shingle Oak. Some of the common names in this post I simply made up because they often don't have one.

Here is another Bullet Gall on Bur Oak. A Disholcaspis wasp, probably quercusmamma.

Also found on Oak, I call this the Brain Gall. That sounds a little better than calling it the 'intestinal gut' gall. Again, created by a wasp, possibly the species Amphibolips coelebs.

These fuzzy clusters look like Flake Galls, created by a Cynipd Wasp from the genus Neuroterus.

This is one of a number of species I refer to as Spiny Hedgehog Galls. The yellow gum drop covered in red hairs makes this wasp Acraspis erinacei. Pictured are both new and old galls.

Similar to the green Oak Apple Gall, I call this the Spotted Apple Gall. It too is created by a parasitic wasp known as Loxaulus maculipennis.

Here's a gall that grows on the leaf stem of oak trees. Because they turn hard and brown like so many other galls, this one was a bit difficult. To me it looks like the Oak Petiole Gall, Andricus quercuspetiolicola, a parasitic wasp.

It's not everyday I come across a gall on Hickory that looks like a Woolybear caterpillar. Another species that was hard to narrow down. I could only find one source for an answer. I believe these are created by a Fly called the Hickory Midge Gall, Caryomyia purpurea.

I pictured these in the original gall post with spring time shots. Early in the season they are green and yellow. By late summer they have turned brown and rigid. These are from Aphid relatives known as Adelgids. They infest the rachis of Hickories.

These "hairy warts" were also pictured in the other post, but with only a few examples on the leaf. I wanted to show just how plentiful they can be on a single leaf. These are from Hackberry Psyllids, also relatives of Aphids and Adelgids. The species is Pachypsylla celtidismamma.

Hamamelistes spinosus, an appropriate latin named for the Spiny Witch-hazel Gall. These are created by Aphid colonies. If you don't look closely at them, you may mistake them for Witch-hazel fruit. Also don't be surprised if you see Ants walking all over them. They are looking to feed on any honeydew that may seep out from the aphids inside. I also discussed these in the original post, but pictured very old galls. These light colored ones are new.

This week I had students open one up. They found Ants on the inside feeding off the Aphids.

This is Green-headed Coneflower, Rudbeckia laciniata. It's a common species of moist woods edges.

What grabbed my attention about the flowers were the bulges at the top of several plants. These are insect galls created by a Midge Fly with a tongue twister of a latin name, Asphondylia rudbeckiaeconspicua.

Growing along riparian zones throughout the late summer is a wildflower known as Wingstem. Herbaceous plants are just as susceptible to galls as woody plants are. These are created by Gall Midge Flies from the genus Neolasioptera. N. verbesinae forms bulges on the main stem, while N. incisa forms galls on the side branchlets. John Plakidas provided the information on this group at Bugguide.

Still trying to figure this one out. These swellings on a Eupatorium, look similar to the ones on Ash leaves in the spring. Those are from a Midge Fly, and I suspect these are also. Those squiggly lines on the leaf surface are formed by leaf miner moths and flies, these being most likely a species of fly.

This looks like a cluster of Caesar stuffed eggs. Ya, well that's my imagination running wild again. It's another oak gall from Dryocosmus deciduus, a Gall Wasp.

These colorful little guys fit into one of two types. They look a bit like Pumpkin Galls. But because of the two toned color and the raised tops, I think they are Kernel Flower Galls produced by another wasp Callirhytis serricornis. Depending on your perspective, galls can look cute or just plain weird.

Cottonwood Petiole Gall. These are created by Aphids in the genus Pemphigus. Perhaps a more appropriate name would be the Poplar petiole gall, as they also occur on Aspen and other Poplar trees. This one is most likely P. populitransversus. If this gall had lines on it, it would be from a moth. If the gall was further up on the leaf, that would be another species of Aphid.

I will probably add more galls to this post as I find them. As a sidelight, this intrigued me. It is not a gall or a rust to my knowledge. I'm waiting on confirmation of this, but I wonder if it's not what is known as Powdery Mildew, a fungus. Thanks to Joe Boggs of OSU Extension for verifying this is indeed powdery mildew on oak.

A student sent me this photo of Cedar-apple Rust, Gymnosporangium junipervirginianae. These are often mistaken for galls, but are actually fungi. Rusts live their life out on two separate hosts. These orange octopus tentacles are the sexual stage that release the spores.

I knew the other stage was spent on members of the Rosaceae, and thought this might be it. Turns out this is Hawthorn Spot, Gymnosporangium globosum, a closely related species.

The Hawthorn spot, or Hawthorn Rust, can best be described as looking like the Cedar-apple Rust that has melted. Thanks again to Joe Boggs for sending this photo and explaining the difference between the two cedar/juniper rusts.