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.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bee Swarm

While visiting an old friend in Aurora this summer, our discussion turned to insects. She was kind enough to share these photos with me on a honeybee incident that happened in her yard.

A bee keeper had to be called when a large swarm of Honey bees took roost on a tree.

Honey bees swarm when the hive has gotten too big to house them all. Either the old queen, or a virgin queen, will take 50-60% of the workers and look for a new location. They are vulnerable at this time, so all the workers concentrate on surrounding the queen to protect her.

While the swarm waits, scout bees are sent out to locate suitable habitat.

Before leaving the hive, the bees gorge on food, as this must sustain them until a new location is found. The picture appears as if the bees have surrounded the tree trunk, but there is no branch there, that is solid bees.

I found it amazing to see just how stretched out the colony had become. While there are native bees that pollinate plants, our mass production of fruits and vegetables today make the European Honeybee a vital pollinator.

The bee keepers put an empty box on the ground and would begin to shake the tree. The mass of bees would fall to the ground in large clumps. If these were Africanized honey bees, there might be a little more swarming on the bee keeper. But since the primary purpose of the workers at this point is to protect the queen, they remain calm and oblivious to the disturbance.

Being subject to predators on the ground, especially ants, bees immediately seek out the nearest protection they can find.

The first bees check out this new darkened area, after inspection they return, do a little dance, and notify the rest it is safe to enter. The missing scout bees can relocate the group using scent. All colonies have their own distinct smell.

The entire swarm will lead the queen into the box for the night. With the phenomenon known as Colony Collapse, it is better to relocate a hive rather than kill it. Colony Collapse is where bees suddenly abandon their hive for no apparent reason and disappear. A lot of causes have been put forth, none of which has shown any concrete evidence. It is probably a combination of many possibilities.

The bees will not move at night. The box is then sealed up and moved to a location away from people. These boxes are constructed to be "ready made" hives, and the bees usually take to them.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Lorain County, and another new exotic species.

It's nice every now and then to return to the stomping grounds you explored as a kid. Looking for critters in Mill Hollow and French Creek played a big part in my becoming interested in this field. This time I visited Black River Reservation between Elyria and Sheffield Lake.

I'll start with the exotic species I mentioned. This is Sitochroa palealis, a Crambidae Pyralid moth.
Two years ago a paper was published on this species. Probably introduced to the Great Lakes states through shipping ports, it was known from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin.  I am told it is now widespread in Ohio as well. It feeds on Queen Anne's Lace, or Wild Carrot, another exotic. Should it remain there, it will probably be paid no mind, but if it ends up in agricultural crops, be sure, you'll hear about it again.

Green pretzel sticks. Actually they're called catkins. This is one of the things common in the Birch family. These are from Smooth Alder, Alnus serrulata. Musclewood, Hop-hornbeam, and Hazelnut are also in the birch family. These greenies will turn purple come winter.

What's different about the birch family members is the seed casing they produce. In alders they look like little pine cones.

A group of plants often overlooked are the Bedstraws. Their small white flowers, some think all look alike, are separated by the leaves and stem. This is Shining Bedstraw, Galium concinnum. The stems are weak, so they tend to hang against other plants. The stems are smooth, and the leaves are in whorls of 4-6, usually 6. It's found in almost every county of Ohio.

Bedstraws really aren't that difficult to figure out, but this group is something else. I never shy away from a taxonomic challenge, but the Knapweeds present a problem. There may be 8-10 species in Ohio, ALL of them introduced exotics.
Knapweeds all have similar looking flowers, and many with similar leaves. Like some of the thistles, you have to look at the phyllaries on the flower head.
This one looks like it has little brown 'ticks' sitting at the end of the upper filaments, and unhusked 'corn on the cob' on the lower portions.  From this I believe it is Short-fringed Knapweed, Centaurea nigrescens (dubia).  A similar species, Spotted Knapweed C. biebersteinii (maculosa), has highly divided leaves, and this plant didn't. All the knapweeds are widely distributed around the state in open fields.

This is Wild Mint, Mentha arvensis. Mints have square stems and very aromatic leaves. Like most plants, many of the mints have flowers at the top of the plant, but Wild Mint, Water Horehounds, Bugleweeds, etc., have clusters of flowers growing in the axils throughout the stem.
Leaves of three, leave it... wait a minute. These leaves are rounder and have a fine row of serrations on the margin. Not Poison Ivy but Bladdernut, Staphylea trifolia. This is a native shrub.

Besides the three leaves, the speckled twigs aid in identification.

The fruit of Bladdernut is a 3-sided bladder-like pod. It's hollow, green at first, turning brown in fall and winter. The seeds break loose, and when you shake the pods they sound like a rattlesnake. Eventually the pod breaks down and the seeds drop through holes in the bottom.

The flowers of Bladdernut look like clusters of little bells. Look for them in the spring.

Common in bottomlands of northern Ohio is the Bur Oak, Quercus macrocarpa. The scales on the cap are long and pointed, giving it the other common name, Mossy-cup Oak.

While I've posted Clematis fruit before, I wanted to put this one up to show why it's sometimes called Old Mans Beard.

Walking along the river is a good place to find Dolomedes spiders. Called Nursery Web Spiders or Fishing Spiders, they usually are found under bark, on logs, or anyplace near water. This one was not as big nor as dark as some I've seen. I'm still learning my spiders, but this looks like Dolomedes tenebrosus. Many people mistakenly call these wolf spiders.

On the plant next door was this daddy-longlegs. I'm thinking this is Leiobunum vittatum, the Striped Harvestman. They are much lighter early in the summer, turning this dark color come fall.

This side view allows one to see that like insects, all legs are attached to the upper body region, never the abdomen. In Arachnids and Crustaceans, the head and thorax are fused into a Cephalothorax.

At first I thought it was pretty neat to walk right up to this deer, but then I remembered I'm in a park, they're used to people.  Folks in the know from Cleveland to Cincinnati are aware that deer + metro park = royal pain. Dear me

Friday, September 17, 2010

Thistles do not tickle

While the bloom itself is inviting, the flower head, stem, and leaves can be quite irritating. Here is my key to separating some of the common thistles in Ohio.

1a) Main stem covered with prickly spines, either growing directly out of the stem, or on leaf-like wings. (All spiny species are non-native)...2
1b) Main stem, for the most part, without prickly spines...3

2a) Flower head large, several inches in diameter. Phyllaries (bracts) broadly shaped and sharp. Flower usually bent or nodding...Nodding Thistle, Carduus nutans
2b) Flower head smaller than above, bloom growing erect, bracts thin, sharp but needle-like...Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare

Nodding Thistle, surrounded by a multiple crown of thorns. Not true thorns of course, but still sharp. Recognized by the way the flower leans to the side instead of growing upward. It has a very large head, and when driving by they look like purple sunflowers. This has become highly invasive in northern Ohio.

The needle shaped spines are quite obvious on Bull Thistle
Here is an example of the spiny stems the exotic species have. All business and no bull from Bull Thistle.

3a) Most leaves moderately lobed or completely unlobed...4
3b) Most leaves deeply lobed, dissected, or divided...5

4a) Plant 2-3 foot tall, flower heads numerous but small, one inch or less across...Canada Thistle, Cirsium arvense
4b) Plant 3-10 feet tall, flowers over one inch, leaves pale beneath...Tall Thistle, Cirsium altissimum

Small flowered but plentiful. Canada Thistle can dominate an open field in a short time. This is the one exotic species that has a smooth stem.

Tall Thistle is easy to recognize by the usually unlobed leaves.
Tall Thistle? Here's a ten footer.

5a) Plant 2-3 ft. tall, flower heads 1" or less, plant often in clumps...Canada Thistle. (pictured above) So why did I put it in the key again? Because often portions of the plant have divided leaves.
5b) Plants 3-8 feet tall, flowers over one inch, leaves white wooly beneath...6

6a) Upper leaves surround flower head, protruding spines obvious on flower head, common in disturbed sites... Field Thistle, Cirsium discolor
6b) Few to no leaves around flower head, protruding spines absent, flower head covered in spider web like fuzz, stems hollow, common in wetlands...Swamp Thistle, Cirsium muticum

Spines on Field Thistle are distinct
Notice how the last group of leaves surrounds the flower head
Both Field and the next species have this white fuzzy underside.
Flowers of Field Thistle can be pink or light purple. Another common name is Pasture Thistle.

Notice the lack of leaves under the flower head, and that the spines are appressed up against the flower head and do not protrude outward. This is Swamp Thistle.

This one stumped me. I originally thought swamp thistle, but the flower bloom is kind of strange. The stem seems to indicate an exotic species. The spines were extremely numerous. I am wondering if this might not be the Spiny Plumeless Thistle, Carduus acanthoides, or a hybrid mix.  While shot in Michigan, this species is known from several counties in Ohio.  I often post unknowns in hopes I'll get a response at some point.  Update:  I want to thank Scott Namestnik from 'Get Your Botany On' for viewing this and informing me this is most likely European Marsh Thistle, Cirsium palustre, an invasive known to occur in upper Michigan.

Friday, September 10, 2010

It's night in Hocking County

Alex, a student of mine, invited me up for an evening of sheet & light insect collecting. Turns out it was a bit chilly for much to show up. We did walk the property, and it gave me a chance for my first attempt at night photography. It's a bit of a challenge since you can't tell what will be in focus. It was hit and miss.

With the pond as a backdrop, this made for a nice photo. As soon as I gather enough species, I'll do a whole post on Goldenrods.

Clusters of red footballs tells me it's Cleveland Browns season. Oh ya, and that Flowering Dogwood is ripening.

Black golf balls sitting on a red tee. Must be Sassafras. These are some of my favorite looking fruit. You don't always see them because Sassafras has separate male and female trees, plus they don't produce them every year. Check them out while you can.

Settled in for the night, and not interested in flying in the cold, was this Thread-waisted wasp. Can't be sure of the species, but it looks like Isodontia mexicana.

Dancing in the moonlight. Well I wasn't really, but as fall sets in Virginia Creeper begins to turn a brilliant scarlet red.

Like peas and carrots again. Wild Senna is often planted in prairie gardens. The large clusters of yellow flowers are utilized by butterflies, and when the pea pods turn brown, birds will feed on them come winter.

Meanwhile, back at the sheet. This guy was begging to be photographed, and with such a neat spotted pattern, I couldn't resist. This is The Beggar, Eubaphe mendica, an inchworm moth.

I wonder how many people reared back in their seat when this popped up. Don't worry, it's harmless. Harvestmen can not, and will not bite humans. I always thought they were venomous to their prey, turns out they have no venom glands what so ever.

Harvestmen are different from spiders in having their body regions fused. The black dot on its head contains two eyes, spiders have many more eyes.

Their vison is poor, and they use those very long second pair of legs as antennae. I believe this species is Hadrobunus maculosus. Many species are carnivores, but as a group they are omnivorous. Some eating plants, fungi, or scavenging on decomposing matter. Harvestmen can detach their legs when attacked. The twitching continues in a leg, distracting the predator as it escapes. I'm still trying to find out if they re-grow their legs upon molting.

Photographing this 1/4 inch guy was not easy. This is a Caenidae Mayfly, better know as Square-gilled Mayflies. Mayflies have large front wings and very small back wings. Because the abdomen and thorax are different colors, this is a male.

Permission to land please. Looking like the outline of a jet plane, mayfly nymphs have 3 tails or caudal cerci. Upon hatching many mayflies only have two tails. This family retains all three as adults. Because the tails are so long, this also indicates a male.

Reach out and touch somebodies hand. The male front legs are designed to do just that, grab a female. If you look closely, you'll see what appear to be two eyes side by side. The males eyes are split in half, the smaller portion stalked, and for what else, finding a female amongst a swarm. These guys only have 24 hours to mate, so any advantage they can muster the better.