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 23, 2012

Wetlands In August

I had a chance to visit a couple wetlands last week, but only for a short time. So I'll just put up a few pics for now. Here are a couple of moist to wet soil plants. Blue Lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica, and Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis.

I made it to a wetland in northern Ohio known as Old Woman Creek. OWC is a freshwater estuary. That means that plant and animal life is affected by lake levels, sand barriers at the entrance, wind and storms, and activities similar to tidal changes we'd expect to see along ocean coasts. I used to tromp this area with my YCC crews back in the day.

My main reason for stopping this day was to see how bad Phragmites had invaded the area, and to photograph this particular plant. These huge two foot leaves belong to the American Lotus, Nelumbo lutea. Similar to water lilies, it's in a separate family. Water Lily leaves have a cut in them, Lotus leaves are perfectly round.

Lotus has large yellowish-white flowers. The stalk will emerge up to two feet above the water before blooming. Solid stands are formed by spreading rhizomes. Though showy, and native, it can be an unwanted invasive in many areas..

After a couple days, the petals and sepals will fall, exposing this shower head seed case.

The seed head will continue to grow and eventually lean to the side. This is so the mature fruit can fall into the water. The seeds will turn brown and resemble acorns. Jim McCormac at Ohio Birds and Biodiversity just posted a nice picture of matured seeds. I remember a speaker talking about her research on this area. She said some of these seeds sit in the water for 100 years, and are still viable. It is said some Lotus species around the world will still grow from 1,000 year old seeds!

Regardless, I still say this thing looks like one of the creatures from Monsters Inc.

While walking around I noticed this little guy called the White-striped Black, Trichodezia albovittata. It's a day flying Inchworm Moth. I mentioned Jim earlier, and this moth is on his hit list to photograph. I was hoping for much better shots, but no matter what plant it landed on, it immediately took wing after one second. There he his, shoot, gone. It landed, shoot, blur. Over and over again.

I guess because I was hot and sweaty, I provided the best place to search out a wet salty meal. Photographing my jeans wasn't my choice, but beggars can't be choosers.

Judging by the topography, you can tell we're not in Huron anymore. This is a local spot. The Ora Anderson wetland is part of the Wayne National Forest.

At the entrance are some nice large clumps of American Bittersweet, Celastrus scandens. I need to come back when they turn bright orange and red. They are quite appealing, and great for making wreaths. When asked what bittersweet tastes like I say, eh, bitter, sweet. Just kidding, don't eat it, it's poisonous.

Speaking of poisonous, Pokeberry, Phytolacca americana, advertises its warning. When Pokeberry or Pokeweed starts growing it is green. You can boil the leaves to make a mushy salad. Once the stalk turns red, it can be deadly. The fruit is also supposed to contain the same toxins, but old time stories talk about their use in pies. I will stay away from that, I'm no 'poke salad Annie'.

They may not be showy, but they make up a portion of the wetland vegetation. This is Green Bulrush, Scirpus atrovirens. You can recognize this plant by thinking of how fireworks go off. Some have an explosion, then another burst further up. That's what Green Bulrush shows in the fruiting body. Not only is it around ponds and marshes, but it's quite common on wet prairie sites.

Always a nice find is the Swamp Rose Mallow, Hibiscus moscheutos. All the leaves on this plant are unlobed. If you find a Swamp Mallow with three lobed leaves, that is Halbred-leaved Mallow. Generally speaking, it is more common in the western half of the state, while Swamp Rose Mallow is found most often in the eastern half of Ohio.

Flowers can range from red-pink, pink, or white. Color variations are just that, and not different species.

On a side note, folks are probably noticing a lot of these lately. This is the Fall Webworm, Hyphantria cunea, one of the Tiger Moths. These are not tentworms, those come out in spring on Cherry trees. These are not Bagworms. Bagworms are solitary caterpillars that sew a bag around themselves. Fall Webworms spin a silken area around the ends of branches. They look more like spider webs.

Here is a nice closeup of the larvae busy feeding inside the web. They may be unsightly when it comes to landscape plants, but because most populations occur later in the summer when the years tree growth has already reached its maximum, the actual damage to forests is slight to non existent.

Monday, August 20, 2012

French Creek Arthropods

French Creek is part of the Lorain County Metro Parks located in the village of Sheffield. I grew up here, and always find time to explore the area whenever I'm in northern Ohio. This was a quick visit to locate some spiders and insects, like this little moth called the 3-spotted Fillip, Heterophleps triguttaria.

This highly patterned moth is a member of the Tortricidae. The entire family is small, but this guy barely reaches a quarter inch in size. The name is 10 times longer than the moth. I call it the Leopard Leafroller, Dichrorampha leopardana.

This iridescent critter is a Long-legged Fly from the genus Condylostylus. Many members of this family have this metallic look. Their antennae are long when compared to other flies. They sit high up off the ground on their long legs. These are beneficial insects, feeding on midges, mosquitos, and agricultural pests.

There are a number of Green Stink Bug species. This one is bordered by a yellow line, and has banded antennae. Chinavia hilaris is its name. While there are some predacious stink bugs, usually brown, these green ones feed entirely on plant juices.

There were a lot of these green legged, black striped spiders around the woods. This small species is known as the Orchard Spider, Leucauge venusta. The abdomen is very shiny in the light, and often contains a bright orange spot as well. Orchard Spiders tend to build their webs horizontally rather than vertical.

Many of the Orb Weaver spiders have enlarged abdomens. One group has smooth, round, marble shaped bodies. Many others have unorthodox shaped abdomens that end in sharp points. This white bodied one is the Spiny Orb Weaver, Micrathena gracillis.

Spiny Orb Weavers spend much of their time upside down. In this view you can notice the striped body. This species is very abundant right now in just about any woods. Chances are you will run into the large webs well before you even see the spider.

Here is another specimen with a lot more black on it. Spiny Orb Weavers have 10 spines on the abdomen. These large bodied ones are females. They build the webs. Males are smaller and don't show nearly as much of an inflated abdomen as the females.

Here is one of the most common of the Slug Moths, The Saddleback, Acharia stimulea. It's that time of the year to start looking for the Slug caterpillars. Remember, handle these gently or they will sting.

Walking Stick? Preying Mantis? Stilt Bug, Water Measurer, Water Scorpion??? It's actually Emesaya brevipennis. I know, exactly what you were thinking right? In English, it's an Assassin Bug, and specifically a Thread-legged Bug. Their wings are reduced in size, but they can still fly.

The skinny antennae protrude upward from just beyond the eye. Thread-legged Bugs hold their front pair of legs straight out in front of them. These legs are raptorial in design, and have spines like that of Mantids. They are predacious, feeding on smaller insects.

These pictures were taken in a bottomland hardwood forest. Having just learned a new grass here in S.E. Ohio, the Riparian Rye, I thought I'd take a picture of it further north. It turns out I'm told, that this is a common hybrid between Canadian Wild Rye and Riparian Rye. Maybe this is why I don't do grasses.  It's been two years since I did a post on grasses, but stay tuned next month for (hopefully) another batch of new species.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Hunting Mohican

Park ranger and fellow insect collector Alex Webb talked me into a night in the Mohican Forest area. Alex patrols several of the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy parks, including Pleasant Hill Lake. It's situated between Mohican State Park and Malabar Farm. I hadn't spent time in this region since the 1970's. This also gave me another chance at some night photography. There were a lot of critters out that night including this Spotted Grass Moth, Rivula propinqualis.

It's always a good idea to check out the vegetation in the area to see what forest type you have. Besides the fact I just like botanizing, plant communities can give you an idea of what insects may be found there. While it was mostly oak, there were some nice Blackgums around. Nyssa sylvatica produces blue fruit. They usually grow in pairs, and on long stalks. They can be made into jelly or jam. It's also called Sourgum because some people do not like the taste.

Blackgum leaves are mostly entire and have a glossy sheen. The buds are striped, and may appear green, orange, and purple. I teach people to look for the tri-colored bud. Blackgum species are called Tupelo in the south.

The Chickweed Moth, Haematopis grataria, is a common inchworm moth found wherever grasses are present. It may not be as brilliant as the Rosy Maple Moth, but pink and yellow mixes are still striking.

Even though we were concentrating on looking for adults, there was an abundance of caterpillars out that night. This is one of the Datana moths, probably Datana angusii. The adults all tend to look the same, but the caterpillars will have different colored stripes. This larva has raised its body in the front and back as a warning posture. It will then regurgitate plant juices as part of a defense mechanism.

In the same family as above, this oddly shaped larva with the red horn is called the Unicorn Caterpillar, Schizura unicornis. The bulging green thorax section is the key feature to look for.

This is one of the Hornworm caterpillars commonly known as Hawkmoths or Sphinx Moths. The light blue marks containing orange spiracles tells us this is the Hog Sphinx, Darapsa myron. It feeds on Virginia Creeper and Wild Grape.

Here is an adult Hawkmoth known as the Carolina Sphinx, Manduca sexta. The larvae are called Tobacco Hornworms. Don't be fooled, it also feeds on your tomato plants.

Here is another we almost stepped on. It's easy to miss when it blends in with this conglomerate rock. Notice the two black spots above the yellow ones. There is a similar species called the Tomato Hornworm, M. quinquemaculata. On that species the black spots will be followed by two white spots before the yellow starts. The hindwings are also slightly different.

This was a particular treat for me. That means I had never seen it before. It's called the Sycamore Tiger Moth, Halysidota harrisii. The orange hair tufts in front confirm it. You can compare this to all the others by going here. The adult looks identical to the Pale or Banded Tiger Moth, H. tessellaris. I know of no way to separate the two as moths, but the caterpillars are distinct.

Another species that has an identical match is the Grape Leaf-folder, Desmia funeralis. Obviously a feeder on grape, the adult has white spots on both the wings and body. It is said that D. maculata, the look alike, is different because it has a white dot on the head. I can tell you that is a completely useless character, as they both will show it.

Camptonotus carolinensis, the Carolina Leaf-roller, is the only member of the Raspy Cricket family in the U.S. They feed on aphids at night, and stay hidden in leaves during the day. The ovipositor is evident on this female. Those long antennae make them look similar to Cave and Camel Crickets, but they lack the humped thorax.

I continue to shoot spiders in hopes of finding names for them. I think this is the Furrow Orb Weaver, Larinioides cornutus. They are also nocturnal, and common around buildings.

Earwigs are in the order Dermaptera. Like the previous few creatures, they are most active at night. Those pincher like caudal cerci are used for protection. Some species may capture prey with them, but most are simple scavengers. They do not crawl into peoples ears and eat their brain. Old wives tales are amazing. Like Roaches, it's the non native species that tend to seek shelter in homes.

Anytime I mention Ear-Wig, I'm referring to insects, not this.


Fleabanes are part of the Asteraceae family. Their rays are very narrow compared to such relatives as Ox-eye Daisy, Coneflowers, or Sunflowers. Many consider them weedy. There are four common species in our area. This one above is Robin's Plantain, Erigeron pulchellus. The flower heads are larger than our other fleabanes, often over an inch wide. Many guides will say you can tell them all apart by measuring the length of the rays compared to the flower center. You could also count the rays. Well I don't want to spend time seeing if they have 100 rays or less. Separate the fleabanes by looking at the leaves.
Robin's Plantain has a set of very broad basal leaves. They will persist even when the flowers disappear. All parts of the plant tend to be hairier than the other fleabanes. It's usually found in richer soils in less disturbed habitats. It blooms spring to early summer. The other species can be found throughout the summer.

Fleabanes most often bloom white, but there may be a ting of pink in the flowers as well. This one is Common Fleabane, Erigeron philadelphicus. The flower heads are smaller than Robin's Plantain.

Common Fleabane is found on woods edges and especially in disturbed open areas. Look to the leaves. They attach by clasping around the stem.

Another frequent species of open fields is the Daisy Fleabane, Erigeron annuus.  Their flower heads are similar in size to Common Fleabane.

The lower leaves are broader, becoming more narrow as you go up the plant. The lower stems have white hairs that protrude outward. The petioles are somewhat winged. Regardless where you look on the plant, the leaves do not clasp the stem.

The species with the smallest flowers is Lesser Daisy Fleabane, Erigeron strigosus. It's often called Narrow-leaved Fleabane. I find this in dry open sites or prairie edges.

Looking like an anorexic Daisy Fleabane, the leaves are very narrow or skinny throughout the plant. The leaf margins are rarely toothed, and the stem hairs do not stick out.  Just the common name "Daisy Fleabane" is often used for this and the previous species.