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, August 14, 2014

A Wahkeena Insect Walk


Yes, I spend a lot of time at Wahkeena Nature Preserve in Fairfield County. It's not a far drive, it's in the Hocking Hills region, so the diversity is wonderful, and there is always someone there to tell me what orchids are in bloom.

Club-spur Orchid, Platanthera clavellata, is a small green and white species. It has long spurs extending behind the flower heads. Stem leaves are few and minute, with the exception of one larger leaf near the bottom. Look for this near woodland seeps in late July.

This tall spike belongs to an early August bloomer, the Crane-fly Orchid, Tipularia discolor. This plant will have NO leaves while flowering.


The flowers and stem are yellow to reddish-brown or maroon. After the flowers disappear, a broad leaf will protrude from the ground, similar to those of Puttyroot. Turn over the leaf and it will be purple. This is a moist soil species of woodlands that only grows if certain fungi occur in the area. Orchids with long spurs like this are pollinated by moths.

Speaking of "Crane Flies", I found this critter checking out a seep right next to the orchid. I can not find anything in the Tipulidae family to match it. Based on the wings, body, and how it holds its legs, maybe it is a type of Winter Crane Fly or a Phantom Crane. The again, let's look in one of the more obscure families like Limoniids. I have been unsuccessful in searching all these families. I shouldn't be surprised. How often do you come across an insect wearing Hanes tighty-whitey sweat socks.

Bingo! Just got a name for this fella. It is a Limoniid, Hexatoma brevioricornis.

While searching for the orchid, I came across this rather bare and insignificant plant. Most of the flowers have already gone to seed. It's a Desmodium.

It's called Naked-flowered Tick-trefoil, Desmodium nudiflorum.

I usually don't mess with Tick-trefoils, but this species is different, and a new one for me. The flowering stalk is separate from the leaves. This rosette of tri-foliate leaves are restricted to the base, growing on a different stem.

While taking pictures, I'd notice the flower would suddenly move back and forth for no apparent reason. I wasn't touching any part of the plant, and there was no wind, but every few seconds BOING, it would jump. Turns out there was a spider off to the side flicking this silken thread attached to the back of the petals. Apparently it does this to draw attention to the flower, and lure in insects, ingenious!

Judging by the chewed edges of these leaves, some insect has been busy. But what caterpillar has the time to set up a pup tent and go camping?

The Silver-spotted Skipper, Epargyreus clarus, that's who. The plant is Hog-peanut, Amphicarpaea bracteata, one of its known food plants. Even at this small size you can recognize it. How many caterpillars have a boxing glove for a head!

Tiger Bee Fly, Xenox tigrinus. This is one of the larger members of the family. Along with the size, those mottled wings are often confused with some of the Deer Flies. Don't worry, this one won't bite. They are good guys, and parasitize Carpenter Bees. The black body is spotted with white. The sunlight here makes the wings look white spotted as well, but they are actually transparent. A better name would have been Leopard bee fly.

Publilia concava. I posted this treehopper picture not too long ago. I just want to use it to compare with the next species.

Another Treehopper being attended by ants. This looks like Publilia reticulata. It's smaller than the previous species, and lacks the white stripe. reticulata refers to the fish net or chain like appearance of the wing veins. In concava, they are all horizontal and parallel. Click on the photos for that detail. I believe these are the only two Publilia that occur in Ohio. This is its food plant, Ironweed (Veronia). I have mentioned many times how ants tend these for their sugar water. Below the vein, an ant rides piggy back on an immature hopper.

Catalpa Sphinx, Ceratomia catalpae. Like the treehoppers above, I recently posted a picture of the adult. While perhaps the dullest of all the Sphinx Moth adults, the caterpillars are spectacular. Black backed with yellow sides, and the traditional horn near the rear. Fishermen swear by Catalpa Worms as an excellent bait. In the final instar, these caterpillars are skinny along their first half, and nearly twice as fat in the back half.


The Catalpa Sphinx is considered native to Ohio, and I'm sure in historical times, they wandered into the state frequently from Indiana and Kentucky. But both the Southern and Northern Catalpa trees are non-native. Their range is just south and west of us. Catalpa, like Osage Orange Maclura pomifera, has been widely planted since settlement times for use as a natural hedgerow and for fence posts. For those who plant Catalpa for ornamental purposes, these caterpillars can defoliate an entire tree.


The last instar of the Imperial Silk Moth, Eacles imperialis. To say it AGAIN, I showed the adult moth last month. So why don't I wait till I have both larvae and adult before posting? You know the answer to that. It's pure chance that I come across these things when I do. Robyn at Wahkeena is currently raising these on Pine. So sit back and enjoy all the color forms of the earlier instars.





1 comment:

  1. Greetings--fantastic photos. I love your shot of the crane-fly orchid, and want to ask you about the possibility of using the image. Thank you. telliman@newenglandwild.org

    ReplyDelete