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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mosquito Creek

Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area, located in Trumbull County, is primarily a waterfowl management area, but also has Woodcock, Pheasant and Grouse. We couldn't get any closer to these Turkey without scaring them into the woods. Ah, to have a telephoto again. It was nice running into current and former students working here and at Grand River.

The purpose of the trip was moth collecting. In July I posted various pics of moths, one of which was the Beautiful Wood Nymph. I mentioned the wing had a smooth green line, and the other had a wavy line. This is the other, the Pearly Wood Nymph, Eudryas unio.
Here is a closeup of the wing on the Beautiful Wood Nymph, compare the green line of the two.

A very common moth that most people don't recognize is this Tiger Moth known as the Isabella Moth. More popular is the larvae, known as the common Woolybear.

Wait, that's it?? Where are all the moths? I'm asking myself the same question. Alex is always talking me into something, and since I was in the area, I thought why not. Well it was a full moon, not a cloud in the sky, and by 11:00 we could see our breath it was so cold! Mind you, this was August 10th. Needless to say I had to find something else to do. We used a flashlight to locate flowers in the woods. This is the Heart-leaved Aster, Eurybia divaricatus. It's a small aster of woodlands.

Since night time insects were a bust, I'm glad I explored the area during the day. Here's another white aster known as Flat-topped Aster, Doellingeria umbellata. This was much taller than the previous, and found out in open areas. The asters are another tough group, but I find the white ones slightly easier than the lavender species to I.D.

Also in the Aster family is the Tall Ironweed, Vernonia gigantea. There are a couple of other rarer Ironweeds in Ohio, but this is the only common species, and is found throughout the state. This is one plant that cattle will not graze on in a pasture. It tastes bitter, and the plant fibers are just too tough to waste their time on.

Ironweed pollen is white. Gee I wonder what gave it away. Look at those overflowing pollen sacs. Bees will feed this to their larvae. This bee is covered all over with pollen grains. This is how pollination will occur between plants.

Looking nothing like the previous two species, Common Burdock, Arctium minus is also a member of the Asteraceae. The white and purple reproductive parts protrude upward, and there are no rays or petals on this flower. The green head will turn brown in the fall. It consists of slightly bent hooks that all too commonly end up stuck to your clothes.

Garden Phlox, common in open areas, differs from other phlox by concentrating its flowers in an almost flat topped bunch at the top of the plant. Other phloxes that look like this, such as Wild Sweet William, have a longer more narrow inflorescence.

Before you read on, can you guess what this is? If you said a Dogwood, that is correct. In the past I have posted on the common Flowering Dogwood, and the blue fruited swamp species, Silky Dogwwod. The Alternate-leaf Dogwood is the only species not opposite, so that's easy to recognize. In western Ohio there is a coarse, sandpapery species called Rough-leaf Dogwood. That leaves two more with white fruit, Red-osier and Gray. Red-oiser Dogwood is common in northern Ohio, especially along the Lake Erie marshes. Its branches and fruiting stalks are a bright blood red, especially noticeable in winter.

That leaves this one, the Gray Dogwood, Cornus racemosa. Its fruiting branchlets are also red, but the older branches turn a gray-brown. You can see a bent twig to the left of the fruit clusters.  Gray Dogwood forms large thickets and is common in disturbed sites.

What looks like a giant hawkweed, or an oversized dandelion? Sow-thistles. This is the Common Sow-thistle, Sonchus oleraceus. They are common in open sites and waste places. Many people consider them simply a roadside weed. Common Sow-thistle has divided leaves much like that of dandelion, and they also contain white milky sap.

If you look down the stem and see very prickly leaves, they belong to another species called Spiny-leaved Sow-thistle, Sonchus asper.

Looking at the leaves from the side, not only does S. asper have clasping leaves around the stem, but the leaf in general is curved in this semi-circular form.

There are a lot of wetlands on the area, and abundant in many of those spots is Meadowsweet, Spirea alba. Its pink flowered relative that I've posted on before, the Steeplebush, S. tomentosa, was growing right alongside of it. Meadowsweet is a white flowering species with 5 petals. It's a member of the Rose family. It prefers open bottomland areas with wet to moist soils. Spirea, especially the introduced species, are common in landscaping.

Another plant that prefers moist soils is the Green-headed Coneflower, Rudbeckia laciniata. This is a typical looking composite with its circular rays located below the flower head. Nothing unusual about that, but look at the batch I found isolated from the others.

These look more like Mums. They are the same species, the leaves and everything still matched. In fact there were a few in the batch that were "normal". They were located on a hummock out in a field. I wonder what's in that soil.

I know in woody plants an abnormal growth called witches-broom can cause many extra twigs to grow in a large bunch. Not being a plant pathologist, I have no idea what would cause this deformity. Feel free to chime in on this one folks. Maybe Eriophyid Mites?

Couldn't pass up the chance to get a pair of Monarchs mating. The one with the wings open is the male. Males can be determined by looking for that black spot on the hind wing. That is a scent gland containing sex pheromones. It would seem late for Monarch mating, but the caterpillar will still have plenty of time to grow and hatch before migrating south.

Is there room inside for both of us?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mill Creek Farm

Mill Creek Farm is part of the metro park system, and is located outside the town of Canfield Ohio. A working farm, it doesn't have a lot of woods, and is primarily used for its bike paths. No matter how empty a place seems to be, there is always something to photograph. I just thought the Nightshade fruit made an interesting picture.

Being a farm, it's no surprise to see these two plants. If you walk past them too fast, you may mistake them for the same thing. The upper is Cow Vetch, Vicia cracca, and the lower is Alfalfa, Medicago sativa. The vetch has long tubular flowers on a raceme, and the leaves are highly divided, with the stem ending in a tendril. Alfalfa flowers are clustered in a more rounded bunch. The flowers are shorter, broader, and have a larger lip. Both are excellent nitrogen fixers and are highly valued as a hay crop.

Though not nearly as numerous as the eruption of 2010, there were still a fair number of Buckeye butterflies to be seen this year.

Nectaring on Goldenrod was this Feather-legged Fly, Trichopoda pennipes. Although they look and act much like Syrphid Flies, they are actually members of the Tachinid Fly family. The sexes are told apart by the amount of black on the wings and abdomen tip.

They are called Feather-legged Flies because of the row of comb-like hairs found on the back legs.

All flies have but two wings. The back pair is replaced by a set of club-like halters. These are visible in most flies, but seem to be missing here. The brown structures you see are called calypters. They act as a shield, and cover the halters. They lift up during flight so the halters can function in balancing the fly.

If you've been out in open fields right now, you can't miss the most abundant insect there is on Goldenrod. Soldier Beetles, in this case Chauliognathus pensylvanicus. Soldier beetles as a family are elongate and have soft wings. Like Blister Beetles, their bodies contain Cantharidin, an irritating chemical used for defense.

I must have liked shiny objects as a baby. The iridescent green is what I noticed first as this Ground Beetle, Calleida punctata was walking further down on the goldenrod. Those jaws make ground beetles formidable predators, especially on caterpillars.

Growing along the bike path were several varieties of Hawthorn or Haw. This is an early successional plant commonly found in amongst Sumac, Crabapple, and Persimmon, all of which are highly desired by wildlife. You can eat the fruit, and the taste ranges from bland to very sour. The juices have been used to flavor drinks. Because it is edible, historical folklore is rich with stories of its many medicinal properties.

In her book, the Woody Plants of Ohio, E. Lucy Braun once took the time to figure there were 66 species of Hawthorns in Ohio. She was never the same after that. Hawthorn is genetically unstable, and can produce many varieties, forms, and hybrids. Often when you use a hawthorn key, you can key one species to a name, key another plant 6 feet away to something else, and dig up the roots to find they are the same plant. The genus is Crataegus, and leave it at that. Trying to figure out all the hawthorns can lead you to drooling in a rubber room with a straight jacket!

Oh no, not again. Yep, Purple Loosestrife is everywhere. Exotic invasives in metro parks is common. I don't think I've ever been in a metro park system where they weren't a problem. Most of these parks were purchased as abandoned lands and very few were kept in a natural state. Returning them to natives is an ongoing resource management plan for such areas.

Who hasn't experienced the exotic Japanese Beetle as well. Home owners can purchase traps for these beetles, but in the wild it's just not practical. You can see the damage they inflict on leaves.

And this is what your plant looks like when they are done.                                                            

Black Fork Bottoms

Just returned from a unique area outside Ashland Ohio. Black Fork Bottoms is both a natural area and a public hunting area. It is being managed by the Ashland Park System and Pheasants Forever. The area is rich in diverse habitats, so let's take a tour.

The center of the property is surrounded by both upland and bottomland hardwood forest. Growing along the edges is the common Wild Cucumber, Echinocystis lobata. This is a spreading herbaceous vine whose white flowers have 6 petals.

Wild Cucumber is a member of the Gourd family. It's the star-shaped leaves that grabbed my attention. There is another  close relative whose leaves look nearly identical.

Here is the relative I mentioned. This is Bur Cucumber, Sicyos angulatus. It's fruit is in a star shaped cluster and contains many bristly spines. The fruit of Wild Cucumber is single and looks like a mini cucumber or watermelon, and also has spines. The flower of Bur Cucumber has only 5 petals.

As we head out of the woods towards the marsh, we come across a small stream. Bordering its edges are lots of Sandbar Willows, Salix exigua (interior). Sandbar Willow is often overlooked or simply mistaken for Black Willow, S. nigra. Black Willow attains a large tree size, where Sandbar Willow is more of a large shrub. It forms dense thickets, and has two-thirds less teeth on the leaf margin. From a distance notice the bluish-white color.

Growing under the willows is the Asiatic Dayflower, Commelina communis. It may be exotic, but the true blue color is definitely eye catching. It is commonly cultivated in gardens, but can become hard to control once it escapes. The flower has two blue upper petals and a reduced white petal below. Our native Dayflowers have three blue petals.

As we leave the stream area, we make our way over to the swamp and marsh site. I can only imagine the variety of aquatic plants blooming here earlier in the season. Being late August, there wasn't much in flower except this Swamp Smartweed, Polygonum amphibium. Sometimes called Water Knotweed, this Smartweed has two forms, one with the leaves growing erect in the air, and another that floats on the water surface.

Swamp Smartweed is one of the most robust and showy of the Polygonum species. There are other pink smartweeds in Ohio, but their flowers are smaller in size. These are important foods for waterfowl, and Black Fork Bottoms has recorded many duck species during migration.

As you leave the marsh and continue upward, the area becomes a large grassland. It was formerly an agricultural field, and is now being established as a prairie. Canada Wild Rye, Elymus canadensis, is considered an early successional species, which is why we found it more often on the edges of the site rather than in the middle. It makes a good cover plant, and can be used as part of a hay mixture. In prairies it's ideal to plant both warm and cool season grasses. Wild Rye is a cool season grass.

Nitrogen fixing legumes such as this Alsike Clover are also nice to have in an open field.

Walking along the edge of a prairie, Queen Anne's Lace will still be abundant. In a couple years of management though, this species will disappear. Of course what caught my eye was this Praying mantis sitting on top. This is not the Chinese Mantid we are all familiar with, but a much smaller species known as the European Mantis, Mantis religiosa. Notice how the wings extend all the way to the end of the abdomen. In the similar sized Carolina Mantis, the wings, (especially in females) only cover half the body. Also different, but not seen in this picture, are the two black spots, looking like eyes, at the base of the raptorial front legs.

Even though this is a non-native species, I hear that some states like Connecticut, recognize it as an important species and protect it. I find that bizarre.

Bustling among the ground plants is the common Eastern Tailed Blue. Although it is abundant just about everywhere, I couldn't resist the opportunity to take another shot of it.

Standing among the Big Blue Stem was a large composite common on prairies known as Prairie Dock, Silphium terebinthinaceum. This species can take several years growing its roots before blooming, but once established adds to any prairie. I've seen this plant get 10 foot tall. There were many other prairie species growing here, but I will post them in a two part prairie blog in the future. I understand Guy Denny is the person who worked on this site, and I wish to verify some of the plant I.D. with him first.

As we made our way back to the starting point, this beautiful darner dragonfly appeared. Neither Alex or I recognized it, and turns out it was new for both of us. This is the Lance-tipped Darner, Aeshna constricta. When identifying darners, you need to look for several things. The arrangement of body spots is often more important than the color. The wings were a smoky or dusky color, not perfectly clear.

Then you have to look at the stripes on the side of the thorax. Notice how the first green stripe seems to be "squeezed" in the middle so it doesn't appear straight. Hence the name, constricta.

Unlike pond dragonflies which continue to patrol their territories back and forth, forest dragonflies are more weary. Try not to miss your chance. If you scare them too much while photographing them, or when trying to capture them, they will fly to the tree tops and just sit there till you leave. Luckily there were several of them, affording us multiple opportunities.

I should mention that this is a female. You can barely see the black sword shaped ovipositor under the end of the abdomen. Instead of yellow-green, the males of the species are blue.

Speaking of new species, this Damselfly is another I didn't recognize. Unlike dragons, damselflies are small and fly slow. You can't usually spot them walking along a trail. You have to STOP moving, then look around. But like dragonflies, the identification is in the details. This critter has small yellow rings around each abdominal segment, a white tip at the end, and most importantly, the green stripe on the back of the thorax is broken by a black spot. The only thing I know that has that is the Fragile Forktail, Ischnura posita. I did not collect it, so I can't verify it. Any corrections are welcome.

In the same group as the above, a very common species is the Eastern Forktail, Ischnura verticalis. Every abdominal segment is marked with iridescent green-black. This should help in separating it from other orange damsels.

I had a lot of fun shooting the wide array of Orthoptera around the area. This stocky one I'm not sure about. Looks like Melanoplus differentialis, the Differential Grasshopper. If so, it's a major pest of many agriculture crops, and considering where we were, it would be no surprise.

I see Snowy Tree Crickets all the time, but I haven't come across this in awhile. It's the Black-horned Tree Cricket, Oecanthus nigricornis. The ghostly white eyes against the black thorax, legs, and antennae separate it from the other species of tree crickets. It's a grass feeder, and was just resting on the milkweed. This is a male. Males have much broader, rounded wings, where females are long and skinny.

Everyone is familiar with the common black Field Crickets, but here is another relative, the Red-headed Bush Cricket, Phyllopalpus pulchellus. To tear apart the name, both the head and thorax are red. Though called Bush Cricket, I almost always find these guys crawling on the ground. The antennae are long and white. Those black structures coming off the head are mouth palps. The palps somewhat resemble mandibles, and it has been discussed that these may be mimics of Ground Beetles. Another common name is the Handsome Trig.

Continuing with the Orthops, in a previous post I illustrated a gray version of the Carolina Grasshopper. I just wanted to show another color variety.

The most colorful creature of the day was this young grasshopper nymph, probably a Melanoplus species. You would think with these bright colors, finding a species name would be easy. On the contrary. After looking at hundreds of plates, I gave up. Because so many grasshoppers change color as they grow, I'll quote a more respected entomologist than myself. "Trying to identify grasshopper nymphs like this is impossible, it can't be done". That means I'm done with it. This time I will simply appreciate it for its striking color pattern.

Since we are covering some of the Orthoptera, I thought I'd show you the boss of all Grasshoppers. The common name is "Hopper", and the latin name is Kevinis spaceyii. Ahhhh, the world is a bugs life.