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 14, 2014

A Wahkeena Insect Walk

Yes, I spend a lot of time at Wahkeena Nature Preserve in Fairfield County. It's not a far drive, it's in the Hocking Hills region, so the diversity is wonderful, and there is always someone there to tell me what orchids are in bloom.

Club-spur Orchid, Platanthera clavellata, is a small green and white species. It has long spurs extending behind the flower heads. Stem leaves are few and minute, with the exception of one larger leaf near the bottom. Look for this near woodland seeps in late July.

This tall spike belongs to an early August bloomer, the Crane-fly Orchid, Tipularia discolor. This plant will have NO leaves while flowering.

The flowers and stem are yellow to reddish-brown or maroon. After the flowers disappear, a broad leaf will protrude from the ground, similar to those of Puttyroot. Turn over the leaf and it will be purple. This is a moist soil species of woodlands that only grows if certain fungi occur in the area. Orchids with long spurs like this are pollinated by moths.

Speaking of "Crane Flies", I found this critter checking out a seep right next to the orchid. I can not find anything in the Tipulidae family to match it. Based on the wings, body, and how it holds its legs, maybe it is a type of Winter Crane Fly or a Phantom Crane. The again, let's look in one of the more obscure families like Limoniids. I have been unsuccessful in searching all these families. I shouldn't be surprised. How often do you come across an insect wearing Hanes tighty-whitey sweat socks.

Bingo! Just got a name for this fella. It is a Limoniid, Hexatoma brevioricornis.

While searching for the orchid, I came across this rather bare and insignificant plant. Most of the flowers have already gone to seed. It's a Desmodium.

It's called Naked-flowered Tick-trefoil, Desmodium nudiflorum.

I usually don't mess with Tick-trefoils, but this species is different, and a new one for me. The flowering stalk is separate from the leaves. This rosette of tri-foliate leaves are restricted to the base, growing on a different stem.

While taking pictures, I'd notice the flower would suddenly move back and forth for no apparent reason. I wasn't touching any part of the plant, and there was no wind, but every few seconds BOING, it would jump. Turns out there was a spider off to the side flicking this silken thread attached to the back of the petals. Apparently it does this to draw attention to the flower, and lure in insects, ingenious!

Judging by the chewed edges of these leaves, some insect has been busy. But what caterpillar has the time to set up a pup tent and go camping?

The Silver-spotted Skipper, Epargyreus clarus, that's who. The plant is Hog-peanut, Amphicarpaea bracteata, one of its known food plants. Even at this small size you can recognize it. How many caterpillars have a boxing glove for a head!

Tiger Bee Fly, Xenox tigrinus. This is one of the larger members of the family. Along with the size, those mottled wings are often confused with some of the Deer Flies. Don't worry, this one won't bite. They are good guys, and parasitize Carpenter Bees. The black body is spotted with white. The sunlight here makes the wings look white spotted as well, but they are actually transparent. A better name would have been Leopard bee fly.

Publilia concava. I posted this treehopper picture not too long ago. I just want to use it to compare with the next species.

Another Treehopper being attended by ants. This looks like Publilia reticulata. It's smaller than the previous species, and lacks the white stripe. reticulata refers to the fish net or chain like appearance of the wing veins. In concava, they are all horizontal and parallel. Click on the photos for that detail. I believe these are the only two Publilia that occur in Ohio. This is its food plant, Ironweed (Veronia). I have mentioned many times how ants tend these for their sugar water. Below the vein, an ant rides piggy back on an immature hopper.

Catalpa Sphinx, Ceratomia catalpae. Like the treehoppers above, I recently posted a picture of the adult. While perhaps the dullest of all the Sphinx Moth adults, the caterpillars are spectacular. Black backed with yellow sides, and the traditional horn near the rear. Fishermen swear by Catalpa Worms as an excellent bait. In the final instar, these caterpillars are skinny along their first half, and nearly twice as fat in the back half.

The Catalpa Sphinx is considered native to Ohio, and I'm sure in historical times, they wandered into the state frequently from Indiana and Kentucky. But both the Southern and Northern Catalpa trees are non-native. Their range is just south and west of us. Catalpa, like Osage Orange Maclura pomifera, has been widely planted since settlement times for use as a natural hedgerow and for fence posts. For those who plant Catalpa for ornamental purposes, these caterpillars can defoliate an entire tree.

The last instar of the Imperial Silk Moth, Eacles imperialis. To say it AGAIN, I showed the adult moth last month. So why don't I wait till I have both larvae and adult before posting? You know the answer to that. It's pure chance that I come across these things when I do. Robyn at Wahkeena is currently raising these on Pine. So sit back and enjoy all the color forms of the earlier instars.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Prairie Insect Walk

My plans to head for the western Ohio prairies isn't going to happen this year. So when all else fails, visit the prairie we manage ourselves. This is peak blooming time for prairies, and I'm always interested in seeing if anything new has appeared. This also means there will be plenty of insects to find. Rudbeckia hirta, triloba, fulgida, and Ratibida pinnata are all common at this site.

Every year when I inspect the grounds there is always something new in bloom. This year it is Steeplebush, Spirea tomentosa, a native member of the Rose family.

The Two-spotted Bumble Bee, Bombus bimaculatus, busily probes a Spiked Blazing-star, Liatris spicata.

The Eastern Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa virginica on the other hand seemed to prefer feeding on the Nodding Wild Onion, Alium cernuum. Both these bees have dark spots on their thorax. Carpenter Bees have smooth shiny abdomens, while Bumble Bee abdomens are fuzzy.

Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum tenuifolium, is another common plant that grabbed the attention of a Leaf-cutter Bee, (Megachilidae). Leaf-cutters can be recognized by the silky hairs on the bottom of their abdomen.

Butterflies and bees weren't the only things nectaring on the Blazing-stars. This is the Bumble-bee Sphinx, Hemaris diffinis. Of our two Clearwing Moths, this is the smaller, and with more black and yellow, versus the green and red of the Hummingbird Sphinx.

Bush Kaydid, Scudderia curvicauda? Katydids are not uncommon in prairies and open fields, though they prefer to frequent the Sumacs and other shrubby plants over the wildflowers. One of these days I need to learn how to recognize them all by sound.

Where there are Bees, there will be Robber Flies. Hunting them in the field is the Red-footed Robber, Promachus rufipes. A closely related species is P. hinei. They look the same, with one major difference. rufipies has a black femur and red tibia. In henei, both leg parts are red.

Small-flowered Agrimony, Agrimonia parviflora.

Slender Yellow Flax, Linum virginanum.

Water Horehound, Lycopus americanus. All three of these plants have tiny flowers, which means you have to get up close, which means I get a chance to spot very tiny insects.

A Yellow-striped Stink Bug, Mormidea lugens.

Diamonback Spittle-bug, Lepyronia quadrangularis. With the ability to hop and fly away, the adults no longer need the protection of a bubbly froth. This species looks somewhat like a little Spring Peeper.

Striped Anacampsis, Anacampsis agrimoniella. This little micro was wandering near the ground. I must admit, this is a very worn specimen, with many of the scales missing. It's usually a bit more colorful. To find a member of the Gelechiidae family that's easy to identify is the exception, not the rule. Most importantly, I finally found a new species for my list.

More Moths

Last month I posted on photographing night time moths. Here are a few more. This is the Tulip-tree Silk Moth, Callosamia angulifera. I always jump to conclusions when I see one and yell out Promethia! I keep forgetting Promethia males have solid brown wings, and lack the white hammer shape. My bad.

Arched Hook-tip, Drepana arcuata. Similar to Inchworm moths, those fish hooks at the end of the wings put them into a separate family.

Looking very similar to the Hebrew Moth, Polygrammate hebraeicum,  this Noctuid is the Black Zigzag, Panthea acronyctoides. It is larger than the Hebrew, and the thick black streaks in the middle and outer edge also serve to separate it. Black and white patterns always stand out on a sheet. I see this moth every year, and in our area they are always white. The moth is usually very black and gray elsewhere.

Of particular interest to me was this slug moth (of course). I had a discussion about this moth with David and Laura Hughes. In the dark of night, it looks like the Purple Crested Slug A. spinuloides. Thank goodness for camera flash. Turns out it is Adoneta bicaudata, the other Crested Slug. So if you two are reading this post, this IS the rare one. The orange and yellow color is the key. Originally found in only three S.E. Ohio counties, we can now add Fairfield and Perry to the list. Still, it seems limited to our unglaciated corner of the state.

This freshly hatched specimen and its color pattern had me confounded. Nothing matches exactly, but I believe it is Zanclognatha laevigata. I've posted on these before, and I always refer to them as the Dog-face Owlets. A more recent name is the Variable Fan-foot.

Another one that has me wondering. I'm actually too close for a good identification. I believe it is Lochmaeus manteo, the Variable Oakleaf Prominent. Variable is right, as I never seem to find two that are exactly the same. Note the bushy hairs on the face, wings, and legs.

Nemoria bistriaria, Red-fringed Emerald. There are a lot of species of green emerald inchworms, and most are not pictured in field guides. Many are more southern in range. There is a MONA fascicle (Moths of North America) that illustrates these. While expensive, it is comprehensive, and has detailed descriptions on how to separate them all. The pink face is not unique to one species.

In the recent Peterson guide, N. rubrifrontaria looks similar, but the records are rather scattered for the midwest, and it has not been officially recorded in Ohio. To keep them all apart, look for three things. 1) Is the wing edge fringed in red or just white. 2) Is the body spotted, striped or plain green. 3) Is the large white line in the wings straight (like this one) or zig-zag and wavy.

Unadorned Carpet, Hydrelia inornata. One of the very small Inchworms.

I think I know why I left these photos for later. Many are difficult and confusing. This is yet another Inchworm from the genus Pero. This group of moths have the habit of folding the outer portion of their wing. There are three widely occurring species in Ohio. P. ancetaria usually has whitish outer wing margins, not burnt tan like these. In P. morrisonaria, the center of the wing and wing bases are mottled in orange, not solid chocolate brown like this. That leaves the Honest Pero, Pero honestaria.

Azalea Sphinx, Darapsa choerilus. Because of the similar hind wings, it is sometimes confused with the Hog or Virginia Creeper Sphinx, D. myron. That moth has primarily green patches in the wings. Azalea Sphinx is an orange colored species dusted with pink-purple.

In my previous moth post I pictured the Small-eyed Sphinx. The eye spot in that species is surrounded by mostly a large yellow patch. This is the Blinded or Blind-eyed Sphinx, Paonias excaecata. The eye spot on this species is encased with a lot of thick black mascara, and the eye lid liner is bright pink.

Clemens' Bark Moth, Xylesthia pruniramiella. This micro moth, barely a quarter inch in length, is part of the Tineidae or Clothes Moth family. Look for the white cap of hair, the scale bumps down the back, and the upwardly curved back of the wings.

A Tortricid Leaf Roller moth. That's about as far as I can take it. This is an example of having to see the wings spread to identify the striped pattern at the wing tips not visible here. I never come across species where the two white patches actually touch each other. Epiblema dorsisuffusana is close. When you post a species you are not sure of, use the phrase "close to or near".

Acronicta americana, American Dagger Moth. Though it seemed smaller than normal, there are not many Dagger moths of this size, especially ones with such dark hind wings.

A Lightning-bug or Firefly of the genus Photuris. This group of Fireflies are larger than most. The multiple yellow stripes help narrow it to a genus. This is the group whose females mimic the flashes of other species. She lures in males who think they will be mating with their own females, only to become a meal. Like a Mantis or Black Widow, consuming the male does enrich her, but there is another more important reason. Other species contain defensive chemicals that Photuris does not possess. After eating other species, she retains the defense, and those chemicals are also used to coat and protect her eggs.