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, November 19, 2014

A Few More Ohio Spiders

It's that time of year again where my posts become few and far between. Recent cold blasts have made it even more undesirable to be outside unless one has to. To keep the blog going, I was able to gather about 10 more spider species from the past season. None of these photos are great, but a post is a post.

This is Pelegrina proterva, or what I call the White-lined Jumping Spider. Most spiders don't have common names, so I just make one up. Notice the U shaped white band around the abdomen. It breaks up into smaller spots near the rear. Other jumpers may have a similar pattern, so what do I use to separate it? There is a solid white band on the front of the head.

After looking at the abdomen on this spider, my first thought was a type of Orb Weaver. Wrong, I should have paid more attention to those front legs, and how they are curved. This is a Crab Spider, possibly in the genus Bassaniana, but more likely a type of Xysticus. There are 14 of them that all look alike in photographs, and need to be under a scope to determine species.

Not much of a photo, but enough to identify it. It helps when there is someone along to hold a flashlight, but this was a solo effort. I took a whole series of these, and this is the only one to come out. That's because these were shot in pitch black darkness. It's called the Cave Spider, Meta ovalis, an orb weaver that lives in caves and overhangs of large boulders.

A Tetragnatha species, probably straminea. The family is named for this genus, and is most often referred to as Long-jawed Spiders. In the upper photo, I focused in on the back of the abdomen. The silvery color is broken up by a darker mottled middle band. In the band are six small 'daggers', all pointing to a larger black 'sword' at the front of the abdomen. On the underside, the dark abdomen is lined with two yellow stripes. I have a lot to learn about Arachnids. I need to remember to start taking pictures of the face. The arrangement of the eyes helps put spiders into their appropriate group or family.

Pityohphantes costatus, a Hammock Spider or Sheetweb Spider. They are named for the shapes of their webs. The abdomen top and sides are dark, with light yellow in the middle. The cephalothorax has a black drill or 'jack-hammer' shape on it. These spiders are more commonly brown. I tried to subdue the colors a bit, but this guy was very abnormally orange.

This one is a male. Look in front of the face. You can tell by the enlarged circular pads at the end of their pedipalps. Many spiders use these pads to transfer sperm sacs to the female.

This is another Jumping Spider in the genus Thiodina. Two species look alike, puerpera and sylvana, with sylvana being the more common. Observing the genitalia under a scope is needed to be sure. To get to this group, look for the striped abdomen, a dark orange head and cephalothorax, and a single light spot in the middle of it. I've seen these called the White-spot Jumper.

Here is a frontal shot. Jumping Spiders have their eyes arranged both on the front of the head as well as the top. This allows them to see in multiple directions at the same time.

Doesn't appear to be much to see here. That web looks old, used, and torn, as if it had been 'hacked' to pieces. This is the way this web is supposed to look. It belongs to the Hackled Mesh Weavers. They will commonly build their webs on old logs or rock surfaces. We were using that stick at the bottom to tickle the web in hopes the spider would pop out from its funnel web hidden under the moss.

Sure enough, it rapidly ran out to check the disturbance. This species is Callobius bennetti. The abdomen is dark, with a light brown dorsal patch. The legs are rufus, and the cephalothorax is glossy or shiny. The chelicerae, or mouthparts, are very large on this species.

The nice thing about workshops, is that sometimes the specimens are brought front and center in a container. This makes picture taking a little easier. For me cool pics are secondary to identification photos. This is a female Hogna helluo, otherwise known as the Field Wolf Spider. She has a dark patch on the front of the abdomen that otherwise blends into an all brown body. There is a thin tan line on the cephalothorax extending down between the eyes. One other character of note, the legs are uniform brown, unlike the banded legs of most other wolf spiders.

So what is this smaller, skinnier one? It's the male Field Wolf Spider. The tan thin line is much more obvious on him. Notice the cephalothorax is also rimmed in tan. This species is common in many moist habitats.

Also captured in a container is our third Jumping Spider of this post. This tiny guy is Marpissa formosa. It has no common name. Hmm, what should we call it. How about the Seven-spotted Jumper? There are three white spots up by the eyes, and four more on the back of the Cephalothorax. The abdomen is rimmed in white, and the center has two broken white stripes. Also notice the front pair of legs are darker and thicker than the others.

This is a male. The female has two brown stripes on the abdomen, and lacks any white spotting. While us men tend to sport a mustache from time to time, it's the female here who has a white mustache on her face.

Eeewww! What the heck is this supposed to be? I put this on here to make a point. Even crumpled up spiders kept in an alcohol vial for years can still be identified by an expert. Turns out this is a Trap Door Spider, Ummidia audouini. The U shaped hump on the cephalothorax is key to this group.

These spiders make a tunnel underground, and hide the top with a manhole cover. They peek out and pounce on any prey walking by, then pull it down, and fold the door closed. If you ever get a chance to see them do this live, or watch a film, they are neatest things.

I'd like once again to thank the Ohio Spiderman, Richard Bradley for his help in verifying and/or correcting my identifications. Dr. Bradley doesn't just tell me what they are, but fills me with loads of information. I appreciate his going above and beyond in helping us amateurs.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Sure Signs of the Fall Season

Summers gone, it's getting dark earlier, time to set the clocks back, there is frost on the ground, and it is Buck Moth season. The progression of leaves and fruit changing color is the best part of fall. Winter is only six weeks away, yuck.

The barrel shaped fruit of the SpicebushLindera benzoin, mature into their bright red color mid to late September. Just one of the many signs that autumn has arrived.

The yellow spider like petals of Witch-hazel, Hamamelis viriginiana, bloom in October. While all other plants are going dormant for the winter, Witch-hazel is flowering all by its lonesome. That's because it has a spell on it. A witch cursed it you see. Of course if you sit under a Witch-hazel, you will be safe from witches. If you break off a Y shaped branch, it will chase evil witches away. That same Y shaped branch will not only locate water for you, but gold, silver, and every other precious metal. Yes, and I'm really Brad Pitt. Don't you just love folklore.

Coralberry, Symphoricarpos orbiculatus. A native shrub with bright magenta fruit. Where you find one, you may find others. They form thickets by sending up root sprouts. Coralberry is often used in landscaping.

Speaking of landscaping, I often advocate "plant native species". Viburnums are an excellent choice. Not only do many of them have showy flowers, great for attracting butterflies, but the fruit provides an important food source for winter birds. This one is Maple-leaf Viburnum, Viburnum acerifolium. The leaves turn a brilliant pink in October.

What about more caterpillars? I'm afraid they are finding cover on the ground for the winter. Others have pupated or spun silken cocoons like this Tulip-tree Silk Moth, Callosamia angulifera.

What about wildflowers? There may be a few more still in open fields, but in the forest they are few and far between. Barely hanging on in mid October was this Blue-stemmed Goldenrod, Solidago caesia.

If you find anything this late, it is probably the asters. I posted on a bunch of them a couple years ago, right here, but I like to keep in practice. I'm still hoping an expert will go over my collection of species. This medium sized flower belongs to the Crooked-stem Aster, Symphyotrichum prenanthoides.

It can be identified by the long clasping leaves. Wherever the leaves clasp, the stem grows crooked. It's one of our most common species in moist woodlands.

Panicled Aster, Symphyotrichum lanceolatum, is a white flowering species that can be showy when first blooming. Flowers are few and scattered late in October. Panicled Aster can be recognized by the long willow like leaves interspersed among bunches of shorter leafy shoots.

One that remains tough for me to figure out for sure is the White Wood Aster, Eurybia divaricata. The flowers are smaller than the previous two, and with a slight lavender tinge. Except for the few most upper leaves, which are winged, the majority of the leaves are long stalked. The teeth are large but remain close to the leaf margin. If this is all you examine, it does look a bit like Heart-leaved Aster.

Take a closer look at the lower leaves. Here the teeth appear sharper and spread outward. In profile, it almost has the look of certain grape leaves.

This light blue species is rather attractive, and the flower clusters are more elongated than flat topped. Don't forget to check the leaves for identification.

The upper leaves are knife shaped, and clasp the stem.

Further down, the leaves start to narrow out and form a winged petiole.

Near the bottom, the leaves may be larger, but still show a narrow petiole, then widening into a wing at the stem. The variability of these leaves make identification tougher, not easier in my opinion. This is Wavy-leaved Aster, Symphyotrichum undulatum. A species of dry upland woods that still blooms into late October.

On a side note, I went out with the forest soils class back in September. Jerry and Dave from OSU Extension joined us to examine bottomland forests. I have spent many years in Zaleski, including right around the corner from here. Who would have thought, just a stones throw away was this woods full of monsters. Many large Swamp White Oaks Quercus bicolor, and Pin Oaks, Quercus palustris dotted the area. No big deal in northern Ohio, but down here it's exceptional. We cored and measured some. This Pin Oak is over 100 years old, has a 45 inch DBH, and is 120 feet tall. I can't wait to explore this area for potential vernal pools come spring.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Fall Insect Walk (and more caterpillars!)

"Is this guy going to drive me buggy with another insect talk"? Yeeesssss!

"What's with all this in-your-face stuff"? This is one of our native brown stinks known as the Rough Stink Bug, Brochymena or Parabrochymena arborea.

Unlike the smooth Green Stink Bugs, the body of this one is bumpy. The ends of the wings have bleeding black veins. Check out the armor on the thorax and head region. While some Stink Bugs stick to feeding on plant juices, this one is a predator, seeking out other tasty insects. It's most commonly found camouflaged on trees with brownish bark and twigs.

Sticking with 'the bugs', I usually don't mess with immatures. They are often tough to figure out, and completely change as adults. This one can be identified by the black and red pattern of the abdomen, along with the yellow spots on the head and thorax. It is known as Podisus maculiventris.

A mature female of the Northern Walking Stick, Diapheromera femorata. They can be dark brown, tan, green, or a mixture of colors.

The smaller and skinnier male waiting on a female.

Somebody got lucky. There is more than Red Maple in the picture. Look for a mated pair.

A female Scorpionfly basks in the sun. These woodland insects are still flying in September and October. I once thought about taking all the Scorpionflies to species, until I read the keys. It is mostly based on genitalia dissection. People have tried to use the wing patterns for determination as well. The latest I read on this, the whole group needs revision, including using the mottled wings. So much for that task.

The appearance of comb like teeth on the front of the mouth are just the arrangement of the palps.

This pale looking Orthoptera is one of the Tree Crickets. I have been trying to gather a list of how many are in Ohio. I'm up to a dozen, but I don't have much in the way of references to go by. There are people in Ohio who study the sounds of this group, and I probably need to get with them. Like Field Crickets and Katydids, they are best identified by their calls.

There are some morphological characters you can look for. This is the Narrow-winged Tree Cricket, Oecanthus niveus. In this species there is an orange mark on the top of the head. It sometimes may bleed into the thorax. MOST importantly when figuring these to the species level, you have to see the black marks on the base of the antennae.

I really had to crop this picture in order to see that feature. On the first antennal segment, the mark is J shaped. I examined the specimen under a scope to be sure. This species is common state wide. Many Tree Crickets have very fast songs, some are long trills, and quite different than our more familiar black cricket calls.

Phosphila turbulenta. Turn that around and you have the common name, the Turbulent Phosphila. These caterpillars appear to have two heads. The rear end is black and white spotted. The actual head end has a Batman silhouette on the thorax. These striped caterpillars usually feed in groups, skeletonizing and defoliating types of Greenbriers (Smilax). The adult moth is rather dull in comparison.

Crowned Slug, Isa textula. This cat is usually much more green and red. I had never seen one so pale. The dark patches make it appear to be decomposing. Sure enough, upon probing it, it was dead. It's sitting on one of its major food plants, oak, so maybe it was parasitized.

A FAT caterpillar. So fat in fact, the legs and prolegs remain hidden far underneath. The red stripe on the back is sometimes only pale yellow. At first sight it appeared to have a single tail or horn, and with those yellow streaks on the side, I thought, maybe a Sphinx Moth. It happens to be the Mottled Prominent, Macrurocampa marthesia, a Notodontidae.

First, look at the head. A yellow-red knob is evident above a mottled pink face.

As it began moving around, I could see it didn't have a low riding horn, but two separate long tails instead.

A small unknown caterpillar is busy spinning silk between two sides of a leaf. As the silk tightens, the leaf will fold over, close, and form a little tunnel for the larva.

Here is one in hand. An orange head and collar, pin prick spots down the back, and small hairs out the side. Are they both the same species? It would appear so, but you have to rear them out to be sure. One was on Elderberry (Sambucus), the other on Raspberry (Rubus). These are Leaf-roller Moths in the family Tortricidae.

There are a lot of interesting things in the field of natural history. Some are down right amazing or awesome, and I don't use those words very often. Certain things catch my eye more than others, this is one of them. It's an egg cluster from one of the Green Lacewings (Neuroptera). The individual eggs are white, and suspended on long silken threads to keep them away from predators.

Lacewing eggs are usually laid in close proximity to Aphid populations, their favorite food. Many larvae will take pieces of lichen and moss and attach them to the hairs of the body, thus remaining hidden. For some excellent closeups of these critters, check out the recent post by Jim McCormac right here.

Diane Brooks and I came across this insect while at a workshop in September. It's not a good photo, but I stuck it in so you could see the outline. When Richard Bradley is pointing out spiders on a walk, you don't want to miss anything, so I was in a hurry. It looks a bit like a Rove Beetle, Stonefly, or even an oversized Thrips. This is another immature Lacewing, one which hunts openly, without any camouflage. It may be a Hemerobid family member, the Brown Lacewings. When practicing Integrated Pest Management, Lacewings are an excellent natural or Biological Control for gardeners and nursery growers.