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, September 1, 2014

Exploring Mill Creek and French Creek

With school coming back in session, I wanted to hike a couple places before time ran out. Mill Creek Park in Youngstown always has things to find. I start with this photo of a very small Noctuid moth. I had never seen this one before, and the closest thing I could find was a species of Tripudia, even though this group is not known from Ohio. Thanks to Jim Vargo for verifying it is indeed Tripudia flavofasciata. There is no common name. I know our Ohio Lepidopterists database is way behind, but as of right now, this may be a state record. Of course it was collected, just in case.

I spent most of the time walking the edge of Lake Glacier. One of the abundant wetland plants included  Water Willow, Justicia americana. The unusual looking flower is part of the Acanthaceae, a mostly tropical family.

The Great Blue Lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica, is one of those plants you just have to photograph every time, no matter how common it is.

A Silver-spotted Skipper, Epargyreus clarus, alights on a Heal-all plant.

Wild Mint, Mentha arvensis. Size and color of the flowers, along with the leaf shape, help separate this from the similar looking Horehounds and Bugleweeds.

Blue-fronted Dancer, Argia apicalis. Like the Skipper and Lobelia, I guess I have my favorites I like to photograph every time I run across them.

I usually tend to blame my photography techniques for the lack of brilliant colors. Well this time it's not me, these really are this dull colored. Another new species for me, the Dusky Dancer, Argia translata. In the upper photo, the female has two tan stripes on the side of the thorax. The male is pretty much all black, with thin blue rings on each abdominal segment. He also sports violet-blue eyes. In Dragonflies and Damselflies, once the male has clasped the female, he won't let go till she has laid eggs. Here the male stays frozen, suspended in mid air, while the female rests.

I also spent some time along the trails of French Creek, part of the Lorain County Metro Parks. This is my old stomping ground when I was a kid. The first thing I went after was another species of Agrimony. This species has larger fruit than others, and they contain many hooked bristles. I believe this is Tall Hairy Agrimony, Agrimonia gryposepala.

In my recent post on Prairies, I illustrated the upper plant, Agrimonia parviflora. That species has many leaflets along the stems. Tall Hairy Agrimony has only 5-7 leaflets, and the hairs on the stem are not gland tipped.

Growing right next to the Agrimony was this Common St. John's-wort, Hypericum perforatum. Look for the black dots along the edge of the petals. If you find a St. John's-wort with black dots along the leaf margin, that's Hypericum maculatum.

Tarnished Plant Bug, Lygus lineolaris. This native bug is widespread throughout the country, and in some circles is considered a major pest. That's because it will feed on several hundred different plants. Look for the V or Y shaped mark up on the scutellum. Plant Bugs belong to the family Miridae. The key character to recognize this family are two cells near the back of the wings. They look like mini wings in the picture. I refer to the dark cells sitting in-between the white spots. This part of the wing points downward, and looks bent or broken in profile.

A Leafhopper, Flatomenis promima, hides under a group of feeding aphids. Whenever you approach these with a camera, they immediately hop to the other side of the stem. If you go to that side, they once again reverse their position, and if you try again... well you get the idea.

A Long-legged Fly of the genus Condylostylus. They don't hide along a stem. When you photograph them, they jump to a different spot on the leaf, especially during pre-flash. Whether it's the light or noise of the camera, they can be a pain to get in focus. If you shoot enough pictures in a row, they look like they're dancing a jig. They are usually more green than orange, but the flash really brought out the orange this time.

A Lauxanid Fly, Homoneura conjuncta, probes what I believe is a bird dropping. Either that or it's a parasitized cocoon of some sort. It wasn't soft and runny, but solid, and attached to the leaf. This fly can be recognized by the spotted wings and red orange eyes and body. They look like an oversized Drosophila Fruit Fly, but the hairs between the eyes are arranged differently.

I'm still trying to learn all of these to the species level. I purposely try to focus in on the back, as those markings can be helpful in identification. I believe this is the Clicker Katydid, Amblycorypha alexanderi. This species prefers to stay in woods rather than open fields.

In a recent post I put up a Crane Fly with white feet. I just now got a name on it. Then I see another with the same body shape and similar size. This shiny, all black species, is a Limoniid Crane Fly, Gnophomyia tristissima.

The purple-blue fruit of the Silky Dogwood, Cornus amomum, begins to mature in late summer and into September. Look for it in wet soils.

Solomon's Seal, Polygonatum biflorum. Like the flowers, the fruit dangle down, but are hidden beneath the leaves. You often have to fold them over to get a nice picture.

Always on the lookout for new galls, these red tubes or trumpets belong to the Dogwood Gall Midge, Craneiobia tuba, a type of Cecidomyiidae. One species in this family of Flies causes Dogwood twigs to swell at their tips, while others create galls on Willow twigs and Goldenrod stems.

Has anybody noticed large sacks growing on sumacs?  In this case it's Staghorn Sumac, Rhus typhina, but they will also be found on Smooth Sumac, R. glabra.

They start out white, turn to pink, and eventually this bright red. They are Aphid Colonies of the species Melaphis rhois.

The adults lay eggs on the leaf underside. This results in an irritation, and the plant tissue swells around the eggs. Upon hatching, the young aphids suck the plant juice created by the gall. Common names include Pouch gall, Balloon gall, Potato, Apple, and Tomato gall. Some wilting of the leaves will occur, and they may be unsightly, but they don't cause any real health issues for the plant.

Break open a gall, and you can see the large number of Aphids inside. Besides the plant-insect association, there is a population of bacteria that live with the Aphids. These bacteria produce a toxin that can inhibit the success of parasitic wasps. Fossilized sumacs contained these Aphid galls, and they go back nearly 50 million years. It's the oldest known symbiotic relationship in nature.


  1. Fascinating post! Do you have a favorite reference/book or two which you find particularly helpful describing gall forms and their causes (e.g. critter, fungus, damage, whatever?) for the east/central U.S. region? Thanks!

  2. Ron, Plant Galls of California by Russo gives you a good idea of what causes them, though the western species are different. Insects that Feed on Tress & Shrubs by Johnson has many excellent shots of local species. (A large book that costs a bit more.) I also use various USDA and Canadian Forestry books, but all those are long out of print.

  3. Thanks for the info - I ordered up a used later edition Johnson book to check it out...