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.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Autumn, Caterpillar Time

Fall is the time when many caterpillars are maturing. I did a post on moth caterpillars at this same time last year. You can see those right here. Some are repeats, but most are new. This is Acronicta americana, the American Dagger Moth. It looks somewhat like a Tiger or Tussock moth, but the paired black hairs serve to separate it.

Fall Webworm, Hyphantria cunea. The two rows of black spots, and widely spreading hairs help to identify it. Once they reach their last instar, they tend to wander away from their web.

Most people have probably noticed them when they surround an entire branch with their large webs. Be aware, Fall webworms can be found throughout the summer, not just now. They stick to the end branches, so no real serious damage occurs to the trees they feed on.

A bright orange head with yellow and black blotches. These tiny early instars did not look familiar to me. It is always best to look for more, hopefully older ones, to figure out what it is.

Sure enough, I found some bigger ones. A brilliantly colored mature form with rows of orange spots on back, and a row of white on the side. This is the Gold Moth, Basilodes pepita, an Owlet Moth. Its food plant is Wingstem, Verbesina alternifolia.

A tiny Inchworm hangs by a silken thread while grasping another plant. Even though I have several caterpillar guides, including one just on Inchworms, these never seem to match up to a sure thing. That green line down the back, yellow lines on either side, and those fake eyes lead me to a Macaria species of some sort. Who knows for sure. I just don't want to bother Dave Wagner every time I take a photo of one.

Inchworms are different than other caterpillars because they lack prolegs in the middle of the abdomen. There are usually two at the rear.

Here is the same caterpillar up front. That crest on the head, followed by two raised bumps, means this could be in the genus Biston or maybe Hethemia.

I also came across a few Hornworms. This is the Hog Sphinx, Darapsa myron. Its lime green color is flanked by a row of white fish head shapes. In the last instar, it is not unusual to see the first couple abdominal segments swollen like this. Its food plant gives rise to a second common name, the Virginia Creeper Sphinx.

There are many hornworms that sport light colored lines on each abdominal segment. The wide pale stripe on the face, and the pink horn, lead us to the Waved Sphinx, Ceratomia undulosa. This caterpillar is done feeding. When mature, many species turn from green to orange or brown before pupating.

Many small white beads circle the body of this caterpillar. The pink spots interspersed on the back make it quite striking. It's the Walnut Sphinx, Amorpha juglandis, found feeding on both Walnut and Hickory.

The pink-red spots are variable on the back, so take a closer look at the front end. It has a pointy cone head or bishops cap.

At the other end, the horn appears to be bleeding onto the body. It is just a color pattern, although this caterpillars horn is actually broken off.

A quick shot of a Luna Moth larvae, Actias luna. When disturbed, many caterpillars stop feeding and rear back their heads like this.

One of the ways I find so many caterpillars is to see beyond the obvious. What most people might pass off as just part of the changing leaf tip, I look closer. Sometimes, for whatever reason, things don't seem quite right.

By simply turning the leaf over, I could see it was one of my slugs. This is Parasa chloris, the Smaller Green Parasa. The green is in reference to the color on the moth. This caterpillar always looks to me like it's somewhat deflated or blob like. It rides flat and low from head to tail. Due to the shape of the upper portions, it's often nicknamed a 'junk', after a Chinese fishing boat.

Another favorite slug of mine. Oh, who am I kidding, in this family, they're all favorites. The Skiff Moth, Prolimacodes badia. The amount of brown and white patching will vary, and is said to mimic decaying portions of a leaf.

On the other side there are two white spots. The one in the middle is actually the egg of a wasp, as this caterpillar has been parasitized.

Falling from trees, in huge numbers right now, are the tiger moths. This one was also crawling around on Wingstem. It's Spilosoma virginica, The Virginia Tiger or Yellow Woolybear.

Long black antennae and bright orange eyes. Well actually, they are neither, but possibly intimidating to a potential predator. This is the Pale or Banded Tiger Moth, Halysidota tessellaris.

My imagination sometimes goes off the deep end. I think this looks like a Sheep Dog laying down with its legs out.

If we are doing Tiger Moths, we have to include the classic Common Woolybear, Pyrrharctia isabella. These, like many Tiger Moths, will overwinter as a caterpillar, and hatch out next year. The adult is a rather drab mixture of yellow and orange, and is known as the Isabella Moth.

The large round leaves of the Redbud, Cercis canadensis, are very common along the edges of most woodlands.

When I see a Redbud leaf folded in half, it grabs my attention, especially one that appears white. Obviously there is some activity going on here. Perhaps a leaf miner or skeletonizer.

Upon opening it, you can see the silken strands that were holding the leaf together. A small black and white caterpillar has been feeding on just the soft tissue. This is the Redbud Leaf-folder, Fascista cercerisella, a member of the micro moth family Gelechiidae.

Caterpillars are easy to find. With a few exceptions, most of these were taken in a 100 yard path along the edge of a woods. A day after posting this I found another. If I get a few more species, I'll add them to the bottom of this post in October. On second thought, look for more in my Fall Insect Walk post coming soon.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Moth Hunting with Lisa

Back in July, Lisa Sells and I went out looking for moths. We decided to try again in late August. Last time I spent most of it with the camera, this time I had my jars. I didn't pay much attention to this Banded Tiger Moth at first, as there are many that look like this. Upon closer examination, I think this is Apantesis carlotta. This is a recently described species that used to be lumped in with the rest. What's different is the basal edge of the wing is lined in black, not white. What I meant by "the rest", is the Tiger Moth complex of vittata/nais/phalerata, which are almost impossible to tell apart visually.

Papaipema circumlucens, Hop Stalk Borer, I think. Lisa and I having been going back and forth on figuring this one out. These are stem boring moths. Caterpillars in this genus eat out the center stem on a variety of herbaceous plants. This one feeds on Hops and Dogbane. The overall color pattern, and the two small white dots near the wing base leads me to this species. Papaipema moths are very similar in looks. This is one I had never collected before, and there are not a lot of photographs out there. The jury is still out, and I will have an expert verify the ID at a later date.

Ethmia zelleriella, Zeller's Ethmia. Last year down at Shawnee I picked up two species of Ethmia. trifurcella, with its charcoal black wings, and longimaculella, with its polka-dotted and streaked wings. Zeller's Ethmia differs from those by having a yellow body and yellow legs. This was another first for me.

Wavy-lined Emerald, Synchlora areata. This is one of the smallest of the Green Emeralds. In my last post on moths, I mentioned to always look for three things to distinguish between species. In areata, look for a white body stripe, wavy lines in the wings, and no red border on the wing edges.

This Inchworm has two sets of rusty colored patches near the wing base, a dark brown patch in the center of the wing, with two lobes reaching towards the white area, and two brown spots near the outer edge of the wing. With everything in twos, we should call this the Red Twin-spot, Xanthorhoe ferrugata.

Lascoria ambigualis. Sometimes called the Ambiguous Moth, that name seems so ambiguous, if you know what I mean. I put this in the Deltoid Noctuids because of the triangle shape. It doesn't matter if it truly is a deltoid Owlet or not. It works for me, and helps narrow it down so I can go right to the references for an exact name. While you shouldn't ignore established common names, there is nothing wrong with coming up with something original to aid in recognition. I like to call it the 3-spotted Lascoria, due to the black marks. Look at the third spot away from the wing margin. There is an indentation in the wing, like a bite was taken out. This helps in ID.

Most of my beginning dendrology students have never had an identification class before. Like the book 'Don't Be Such A Scientist', I tell them to make up their own method of learning. You don't have to follow technical jargon, use your own vocabulary. Develop a system. Everything in biology works on a system. Don't try to memorize, you'll never retain it.

Pandemis lamprosana.

Choristoneura obsoletana or zapulata. I'm also not afraid to put things out there that may be debated by those with more knowledge. Trouble is, most micro moth experts aren't cruising blogs. They are busy dissecting these to be sure. These are Leafroller Moths. The family is split into two groups. In these, the skinny bodies are covered by extra wide wings that remind me of Batman or Superman capes.

Besides moths, a few other notable critters came in. Banasa dimidiata, is a predominately yellow and brown Stinkbug.

Alder Spittlebug, Clastotera obtusa. Sorry, my lens just couldn't get any closer to this tiny guy. This group of spittlebugs exhibit what is known as 'head-tail reversal'. There are two black spots at the back end that look like eyes. Some of these guys leave their rear legs extended out the back end to look like antennae. Predators tend to attack the head region, giving these bugs a chance to escape forward. The stripes resemble an abdomen, but that is actually the head. Blow up the picture, and you can see two wire like antennae sticking out the top.

Behind the sheet we found a spider web with nothing in it. With a little looking, there it was, folded up under a twig.

After a while, it came out to the middle to sit. At first I thought maybe the Barnyard Orb Weaver, Araneus cavaticus. but I'm having second thoughts. Good thing, regardless of the abdomen color, the pale stripe and stitch marks make this the SAME species as below. Thanks again to Dr. Bradley.

Here is a different one I shot during the day. Those black stitch marks, and pale abdomen stripe match up better to the Arabesque Orb Weaver, Neoscona arabesca. Orb Weavers are so variable, I'm often guessing. I have a workshop with Richard Bradley soon, so I'll get the names straight with him, and make any needed changes. (update: changes made).

The night before I was with Lisa, I was scheduled to do a mothing program at Old Man's Cave. I got within one mile of the park, the clouds opened up, and pour it did. So much for moths. I tried to get a few pictures before dark, but couldn't get enough for a separate post, so I'm just filling up space. A Honeybee clings desperately to a Common Sneezeweed Helenium autumnale, in hopes the rain has passed.

Black Chokeberry. Sometimes put in the genus Pyrus or Photinia, I know it as Aronia melanocarpa. The fruit is edible, though sour to some palates. It's used for jelly, jam, pies, and drinks.

Chokeberry differs from other members of the family by the center of the leaf. Identification is based on the black specs located along the white vein.

Even when dark, the bright red fruit of Partridgeberry, Mitchella repens, is quite visible. Some of the most interesting plants can be found along the edge of the upper falls. That area is now closed off, and you are subjected to walking a path full of "landscape plants". What a pitiful sight for such a wonderful park. I understand it is due to fatalities, and it's a safety concern, but planted patches of vegetation? It looks so contrived.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Exploring Mill Creek and French Creek

With school coming back in session, I wanted to hike a couple places before time ran out. Mill Creek Park in Youngstown always has things to find. I start with this photo of a very small Noctuid moth. I had never seen this one before, and the closest thing I could find was a species of Tripudia, even though this group is not known from Ohio. Thanks to Jim Vargo for verifying it is indeed Tripudia flavofasciata. There is no common name. I know our Ohio Lepidopterists database is way behind, but as of right now, this may be a state record. Of course it was collected, just in case.

I spent most of the time walking the edge of Lake Glacier. One of the abundant wetland plants included  Water Willow, Justicia americana. The unusual looking flower is part of the Acanthaceae, a mostly tropical family.

The Great Blue Lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica, is one of those plants you just have to photograph every time, no matter how common it is.

A Silver-spotted Skipper, Epargyreus clarus, alights on a Heal-all plant.

Wild Mint, Mentha arvensis. Size and color of the flowers, along with the leaf shape, help separate this from the similar looking Horehounds and Bugleweeds.

Blue-fronted Dancer, Argia apicalis. Like the Skipper and Lobelia, I guess I have my favorites I like to photograph every time I run across them.

I usually tend to blame my photography techniques for the lack of brilliant colors. Well this time it's not me, these really are this dull colored. Another new species for me, the Dusky Dancer, Argia translata. In the upper photo, the female has two tan stripes on the side of the thorax. The male is pretty much all black, with thin blue rings on each abdominal segment. He also sports violet-blue eyes. In Dragonflies and Damselflies, once the male has clasped the female, he won't let go till she has laid eggs. Here the male stays frozen, suspended in mid air, while the female rests.

I also spent some time along the trails of French Creek, part of the Lorain County Metro Parks. This is my old stomping ground when I was a kid. The first thing I went after was another species of Agrimony. This species has larger fruit than others, and they contain many hooked bristles. I believe this is Tall Hairy Agrimony, Agrimonia gryposepala.

In my recent post on Prairies, I illustrated the upper plant, Agrimonia parviflora. That species has many leaflets along the stems. Tall Hairy Agrimony has only 5-7 leaflets, and the hairs on the stem are not gland tipped.

Growing right next to the Agrimony was this Common St. John's-wort, Hypericum perforatum. Look for the black dots along the edge of the petals. If you find a St. John's-wort with black dots along the leaf margin, that's Hypericum maculatum.

Tarnished Plant Bug, Lygus lineolaris. This native bug is widespread throughout the country, and in some circles is considered a major pest. That's because it will feed on several hundred different plants. Look for the V or Y shaped mark up on the scutellum. Plant Bugs belong to the family Miridae. The key character to recognize this family are two cells near the back of the wings. They look like mini wings in the picture. I refer to the dark cells sitting in-between the white spots. This part of the wing points downward, and looks bent or broken in profile.

A Leafhopper, Flatomenis promima, hides under a group of feeding aphids. Whenever you approach these with a camera, they immediately hop to the other side of the stem. If you go to that side, they once again reverse their position, and if you try again... well you get the idea.

A Long-legged Fly of the genus Condylostylus. They don't hide along a stem. When you photograph them, they jump to a different spot on the leaf, especially during pre-flash. Whether it's the light or noise of the camera, they can be a pain to get in focus. If you shoot enough pictures in a row, they look like they're dancing a jig. They are usually more green than orange, but the flash really brought out the orange this time.

A Lauxanid Fly, Homoneura conjuncta, probes what I believe is a bird dropping. Either that or it's a parasitized cocoon of some sort. It wasn't soft and runny, but solid, and attached to the leaf. This fly can be recognized by the spotted wings and red orange eyes and body. They look like an oversized Drosophila Fruit Fly, but the hairs between the eyes are arranged differently.

I'm still trying to learn all of these to the species level. I purposely try to focus in on the back, as those markings can be helpful in identification. I believe this is the Clicker Katydid, Amblycorypha alexanderi. This species prefers to stay in woods rather than open fields.

In a recent post I put up a Crane Fly with white feet. I just now got a name on it. Then I see another with the same body shape and similar size. This shiny, all black species, is a Limoniid Crane Fly, Gnophomyia tristissima.

The purple-blue fruit of the Silky Dogwood, Cornus amomum, begins to mature in late summer and into September. Look for it in wet soils.

Solomon's Seal, Polygonatum biflorum. Like the flowers, the fruit dangle down, but are hidden beneath the leaves. You often have to fold them over to get a nice picture.

Always on the lookout for new galls, these red tubes or trumpets belong to the Dogwood Gall Midge, Craneiobia tuba, a type of Cecidomyiidae. One species in this family of Flies causes Dogwood twigs to swell at their tips, while others create galls on Willow twigs and Goldenrod stems.

Has anybody noticed large sacks growing on sumacs?  In this case it's Staghorn Sumac, Rhus typhina, but they will also be found on Smooth Sumac, R. glabra.

They start out white, turn to pink, and eventually this bright red. They are Aphid Colonies of the species Melaphis rhois.

The adults lay eggs on the leaf underside. This results in an irritation, and the plant tissue swells around the eggs. Upon hatching, the young aphids suck the plant juice created by the gall. Common names include Pouch gall, Balloon gall, Potato, Apple, and Tomato gall. Some wilting of the leaves will occur, and they may be unsightly, but they don't cause any real health issues for the plant.

Break open a gall, and you can see the large number of Aphids inside. Besides the plant-insect association, there is a population of bacteria that live with the Aphids. These bacteria produce a toxin that can inhibit the success of parasitic wasps. Fossilized sumacs contained these Aphid galls, and they go back nearly 50 million years. It's the oldest known symbiotic relationship in nature.