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.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Pines of Ohio

Being Ohio is in the Eastern Deciduous Forest, we don't have large amounts of natural pine stands like you see west, south, and north of us. Members of the pine family are Conifers or cone producers. Just because it has a cone doesn't make it a pine, as we'll see in a minute. Let's take a quick look at some of the other non-pines found in the Pinaceae family.

Eastern, Western, and Carolina Hemlock (Tsuga) have short flat needles that tend to grow on one side or the other of the twig. The leaves or needles are green on top and white striped below. The cones are small, no more than an inch.

Larch or Tamarack (Larix). In Ohio there is a native species, as well as planted European and Japanese types. This is one of the few conifers that is NOT evergreen. The flat leaves grow out in pinwheel circles or whorls. They turn orange in the fall, drop to the ground, and leave the tree looking bare. Native Larch can be found growing in bogs.

Douglas-Fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii. This is a western U.S. species. Like the previous two, they also have flat needles, but grow spirally around the entire twig. The best way to identify it is by the three-pronged bracts that stick out between the cone scales. They resemble a mouse running back into his hole. Doug-Fir is hyphenated because the cone looks a bit like some of the true firs.

White and Blue Spruce, (Picea). Black and Red Spruce also occur in Eastern North America, but none of these species are native in Ohio. Norway Spruce is the most commonly planted. Spruce cones are more elongated and sausage like. Their needles also spiral around the twig, but upon feeling them they are sharply angled or square.

The True Firs, (Abies). There may be a few remnant populations of Balsam Fir in N.E. Ohio, but it is primarily a species found just north of us. The pictures are of White Fir, common in the Rockies. Fir trees have long flat needles. What makes them unique are the sucker discs at the bottom of each needle. Those circular pads even leave marks behind on bare twigs. The other thing that differentiates a fir tree is that instead of their cones hanging down, they grow UPRIGHT on top of the branches. Besides the two mentioned, there are at least another half dozen species along the Pacific coast.

Red Cedar, Juniper, White Cedar/Arbor Vitae, Cypress, Yew, Redwood, Sequoia, and Ginkgo are all related Gymnosperms, but belong to different families.

On to the pines. As you have just seen, a pine is not a pine just because it produces a cone. A pine tree (Pinus), is such because the needles are held together in bundles, clusters, or fascicles. Soft pines have needles in fives, the hard pines are in clusters of two or three.

White Pine, Pinus strobus. Perhaps the most commonly planted species in the state, or at least the most familiar. White Pine is native, especially in northern Ohio. It is our only five needled species found in the state. The needles are medium in length, and are soft to the touch. All of our other pines are rigid or stiff feeling.

The bark on young White Pine is smooth and solid black, something you won't see on any of our other pines.

As White Pine gets old, the bark will crack and form narrow fissures. This is still unique, as all the other pines will have a squarish or platy look. It can be brownish like this, or retain its blackish color.

White Pine, like other soft pines, have elongated cones rather than the short fatter cones one is used to seeing. There is often white pitch on the cone scales.

All pines tend to send their new growth branches out at the same spot. White Pine, more than other species, tend to have almost perfect whorls, and yes you can age the tree by counting the whorls.

White Pine is often planted as a good natural wind break. In Michigan there are a few virgin stands still left whose trees have a 6-7 foot diameter. Some pines are important timber species and are often raised in solid stands. Some are good for lumber, and they grow very fast. The vast majority have very porous wood, making them best used as pulpwood, otherwise known as paper making. The pitch or sap is used in tar and turpentine. Ever notice when you burn pine it pops a lot? Those compounds are used to make gunpowder. Most telephone poles are a type of pine.

Another native species is Virginia Pine, Pinus virginiana. Compared to White Pine, Virginia has short needles held together in fascicles of two. Also notice the needles are twisted, not around each other, each individual needle twists. They are often a paler green than other species.

All pine cones have bumps on each scale. With Virginia, they are heavily armed, having very sharp pointed tips, more so than other species. Virginia cones tend to stay on the trees for long periods of time, so the tree may be often packed with them.

The bark is platy like other hard pines, but the more you look at it, the more it seems sickly. The brownish-orange plates are smaller than other species, and it often looks like they start to peel or shag away from the trunk. Further up the tree, they actually do flake off, even on the live branches.

Another common characteristic is that this tree has a problem with self pruning. It frequently retains its dead branches, which adds a lot of knots to the wood. Because of this, I often call it the "Scarlet Oak" of pines. With its short, often pale needles, combined with the peeling bark and the retention of dead branches, it has the appearance of looking unhealthy. An old name for it was Scrub Pine.

A third native species is Pitch Pine, Pinus rigida. This is a three needled pine whose needles are twisted and of medium length, 3-5 inches. Considering the ground was completely covered in Lycopodium, it's no wonder I couldn't find any green needles.

Pitch Pine is a dark barked tree. The plates almost have a Wild Cherry look to them. The bark on very large and old specimens can turn orange. Pitch is a fire adapted species that may show new needles sprouting around the base after a burn. Pitch, along with Virginia, are common on dry ridge tops, and can form solid stands in such environments.

Scotch Pine, Pinus sylvestris. There are a number of non-native species planted around the state. Scotch is one of the most popular. It's hard to believe this drab looking tree is the most common pine used as a Christmas tree, but this is what you see for sale around the holidays. They look quite nice when small, but their appearance changes with age. The bark has a typical brown plated look in the lower part, but notice how it changes as you go up.

The upper half of the trunk begins to peel and show an inner bright orange bark. You can see this from a long distance away.
The needles on Scotch are short and in twos. They are usually straight, but some varieties may show a slight twisting. At first, that description matches Virginia, but the bark is different.
The cones are small, also similar to Virginia, but lack the sharp scale tips of that species. The scales are raised into a point, but with blunt tips.

Red Pine, Pinus resinosa. This species is native to the Northern Hardwoods Forest. That includes the Great Lakes region and the New England states, but not Ohio. The easiest way to recognize this species is the bark. Look for a red-orange color from top to bottom.

Some people are red-green color blind, and can not see that feature of the trunk. Try feeling for the texture. Rub the bark, and it falls off in very thin plates, like layered paper or pieces of the mineral Mica.

Red Pine has needles in twos. They are straight and considered long, 5-6 inches.

The needles are fragile, and when bent, easily snap in half like raw spaghetti.

I usually don't use buds to identify pines, mostly because they look alike, or you simply don't need them. Red Pine is different in having a single large, reddish orange bud, that the needles tend to whorl around.

Because the needles tend to bundle around that large terminal bud, I can look up and see what appear to be a bunch of baby porcupines or Koosh Balls at the end of the branches. I think I'm the only one that ever uses that character, but when Red is planted with other species, the needle length, and that "clustered at the end of the branches" appearance helps.

Another frequently planted species from Europe is Austrian Pine, sometimes called Black Pine, Pinus nigra. Like Red Pine, it also has long straight needles in bundles of two. The needle tips are much sharper than other pines.

Unlike Red, when you try to break the needles, they simply bend, or even spring back into place. They have much stronger tissues than Red.

Also like Red, there is a large single terminal bud. The orangish scales on this species are covered with a white or silver look.

If you think the buds and needles look too similar between Austrian and Red, just check out the bark. It has gray colored plates.

Shortleaf Pine, Pinus echinata. This is a species from the southern states, though there are a few locations in southern Ohio where it is considered native. Shortleaf is one I find difficult to identify. The needles are in BOTH twos and threes, therefor I need to look at other characters. The needles are medium in length. It's called Shortleaf because in the south most other species have much longer needles.

The bark of Shortleaf is brown, and on some trees the plates often appear to be arranged in rows. I personally like to describe it as alligator bark. Shortleaf is one of several species referred to as southern yellow pine. You can find a number of introduced species on our state forests. Sometimes there will be Jack Pines from Michigan P. banksiana, or Loblolly Pine from the south, P. taeda. I am only illustrating those which I've seen to be more common.

A closeup look at the bark shows an important character, various round circles known as resin dots on the outside of the tree. You can see where the pitch has leaked out on some of them. All pines have resin canals inside. When beetles and other insects chew through the bark, the sap is exuded as a defense mechanism.

Shortleaf cones are egg shaped, and have large round plates. When young they are covered in sharp prickles, but I tend to see those disappear with age.

It is said that unlike the older branches, the new growth twigs are covered in a white or glaucous coating. This is true, but it's not unique to just this species. When identifying Shortleaf, or any other pine, it's a good idea to use a combination of characters.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Prominent Moths of Ohio

Prominent Moths belong to the family Notodontidae. They look very much like, and are distantly related to the Owlet Moths (Noctuidae). The difference between the families has to do with how the wing veins branch off, something you can't see in the field anyway. I have posted on several families before, but these are all drab and dull colored, so commenting on how to tell them apart is going to be difficult. Many have tufts of hair on their legs and along the wing margins. They tend to hold their wings roof like or tent shaped over their bodies, raised higher than most Noctuids.

Many species actually fold their wings around the body and look like dead leaves or twigs. Here is an example of a Datana moth, which appears to have its head missing. All of our species are nocturnal, and the vast majority do not feed as adults. Their bodies are stout, and fatter than most Noctuids. Many have wings that are longer and skinnier than our Owlet moths.

The array of shapes and colors in the larvae is varied in this family, but I chose one to represent a number of the species. Many of the caterpillars have irregular shaped bodies, and mixed color patterns that contribute to their camouflage. I present the 53 species known from Ohio in two separate posts.

Pink Prominent, Hyparpax aurora. Since almost everything in this family is a mixture of dull green, gray, or brown, I thought I would start with one of the showy species. It is lined in pink, with yellow in the center of the wing. The only possible species one could confuse this with is the Rosy Maple Moth. In that species the pink and yellow pattern is more solid. Rosy Maple lacks that thin pink line in the forewing, and also does not have a pink tipped abdomen or thorax.

I want to thank Bob Patterson from the MPG site for creating a special link that allows me to use his maps. In the past I have made my own the old school way, pressing stick-on dots to a piece of paper. Time to join the 21st century.  # 8022. The maps follow the species discussed just above. As in previous posts, these numbers are from the Hodges checklist of North American Lepidoptera. I may also have mentioned in the past that I am in no way competing with the Moth Photographers Group. They show species continent wide. I simply narrow my posts to just those in Ohio.

Double-toothed Prominent, Nerice bidentata. Upper half of the forewing brown and bordered by a black line. A number of black teeth bleed into the gray portion of the wing. As in the past, all pinned photos courtesy of Jim Vargo, and used by permission.

Pinned specimens are important to entomologists and for scientific purposes. Non-collectors are active in moth photography, and these are the views they use for identification. Many are easily recognized in the field, others are not. To make this post appealing to everyone, I have turned to one of my neighbors for assistance. Some of you will remember Diane Brooks for hosting a wonderful evening at her house during the Bur Oak Mothapalooza. The uncredited live shots are mine, but since I have so few, I am happy to share many of her photos with you. Most are new Perry County records not yet depicted on the range maps.


Sigmoid Prominent, Clostera albosigma. Forewing light colored with a series of faded white lines. The key character is the orange and brown spots at the top of the wing, bordered by a white S. The caterpillars are sometimes known as the White-marked Tentmaker.

Diane Brooks photo.


Angle-lined Prominent, Clostera inclusa. Similar to the above species, but the orange spot is thinner and a bit more faded. Look for the two white lines forming a V shape.

The larva is known as the Poplar Tentmaker. They will spin silk around several leaves of Willow, Aspen, or Poplars. D. Brooks photos


Striped Chocolate-tip, Clostera strigosa. The forewing is more blotched than the previous two. The white lines are more wavy than straight. The orange patch in the wing corner is more yellow in this species. This is a species of the northern U.S. and Canada. Look for it in the upper portions of Ohio. This species is much smaller than other members of the genus.


Apical Prominent, Clostera apicalis. This species is in my area, and I've yet to come across it. That's probably because apicalis has combined characters of the above species, and I have mistaken it for one of them. It has the V shape of inclusa, and the dark orange spot of albosigma. Instead of a white S, look for a white tornado mark on the wing edge. The row of black spots outside the V is more distinct in this species.


White-dotted Prominent, Nadata gibbosa. This is a very common and widely distributed species. The two dark lines border two white dots in the wing. The wing margins are wavy. When at rest, there is a large tuft of pointy hairs behind the head.
Diane Brooks


Georgia Prominent, Hyperaeschra georgica. The dull gray wings contain a number of horizontal black dashes. There is a small yellow oval patch at the base of the wing. This and the following species of Peridea all show a black circular patch of scales that protrude into the hind wing when pinned.


Oval-based Prominent, Peridea basitriens. The common name is in reference to the round brown patch at the bottom of the front wing. Look for gray shading above that. All our species of Peridea show either yellow abdomens, or yellow at the base of the hindwing.
Diane Brooks


Angulose Prominent, Peridea angulosa. Rather than a round patch, the base of the forewing has a dark patch extending from top to bottom. It is bordered by a zig-zag or Z shaped line. The grayish white shading forms a vertical streak alongside the zig-zag. Small bits of orange are scattered around the inner half of the wing.
Diane Brooks


Chocolate Prominent, Peridea ferruginea. Female above, male below. While there is a circular dark patch in the wing like basitriens, and a white streak like angulosa, all one really has to look for is the rufus or reddish-brown tint of both sexes. Probably more widespread in Ohio than records indicate.


Elegant Prominent, Odontosia elegans. A species with solid grayish-brown wings highlighted by an orange-brown patch at the base of the forewings. The tuft of scales that stick out of the front wings are sharper or more tooth like rather than round.


Black-rimmed Prominent, Pheosia rimosa. A large white streak bordered by black and brown extends throughout the wing, making identification of this species easy. It is common and widespread around the state. Diane Brooks photo.


Finned-willow Prominent, Notodonta scitipennis. The tip of the wings show two black streaks followed by a rusty brown line going down the outer portion of the wing. The light color is a purplish-gray mix. The base of the wing has a distinct yellow patch. This is apparently not a common species.


Northern Finned Prominent, Notodonta torva (simplaria). A species of the upper Great Lakes and Canada, just extending down into northern Ohio. The dull color pattern is typical of so many in this family. The center of the wing is darker gray, and bordered by zig-zag lines. Within that darker area is a gray eye spot or reniform spot, surrounded by white.


Basswood or Linden Prominent, Illida caniplaga. A light gray species with usually a double black line coming down from the wing margin. To make sure of the identification, I use the comma or crescent moon shape located behind those black lines.
D. Brooks


Common Gluphisia, Gluphisia septentrionis. A highly variable species, but I see it most often in this all gray form just above the text. There may be a small yellow patch extending outward from the thorax near the base of the wings. Two faded black lines come down the wing that appear wavy or zig-zag. Between those two lines may be a small slightly orange-yellow patch. Those areas may be solid black or filled with orange on other color forms of this species.
D. Brooks


Four-spotted Gluphisia, Gluphisia avimacula. Look for the four small yellow spots in the wings, otherwise it is similar to the previous species. The Gluphisia moths are mottled gray, with two wavy lines in the forewings (known as AM & PM lines). In this species, the AM or inner most line is more prominent. This second form shows the small dots occurring as larger yellow patches. Rarely you may find a solid black and gray form as well.

This species is more common northward. Our Ohio records are some of the most southern for this species in the east and midwest. #7933

Lintner's Gluphisia, Gluphisia lintneri. This is another northern species barely reaching down into Ohio. Look in the space between the AM & PM lines, it should be filled with yellow-orange.


Black-Etched Prominent, Cerura scitiscripta. This species has white forewings. A series of black lines run down the wing. On the darker forms, look for the horizontal veins to also be streaked in black. On the inner portion of the wing, there is a row of gray-green circles. Lighter forms with the white hind wings tend to be more southern in range.

A photo from Diane showing a female with eggs.

The purple-green caterpillar is striking. It will wave those two long tails in the air as part of its defense mechanism. Look for it on Aspen, Cottonwood, and Willow.


White Furcula, Furcula borealis. There are four species of Furcula moths in Ohio. They are all black, white, and gray. Each has a row of black dots along the outer edge of both the front and hind wings. The amount of black varies between species. When fresh, many of the species will also show orange dots bordering the black. On borealis, pay attention to the two very white patches in the forewing. They have many pepper marks scattered within. This species feeds on Cherry, but most others will be found on Willow, Aspen, and other Poplars.
D. Brooks


Modest Furcula, Furcula modesta. Not as brilliant as borealis. The white is duller and paler. The large black streak in the wing is constricted in the middle, making it more hourglass in shape. In some specimens the hourglass may be split into two separate patches. The outer black mark does not come down the wing, but is more blunt, and ends abruptly. There is only a 'modest' amount of black peppering throughout.


Western Furcula, Furcula occidentalis. On this species the dark black bands are somewhat reduced to mottled gray patches. The amount of yellow or orange spotting will vary. The PM line, or outer zig-zag line shows two sets of black teeth protruding out into the wing.


Gray Furcula, Furcula cinerea. An appropriate common name for the one species that shows little to no black patches. If markings are present, they are usually dark gray. Because the species is primarily all gray, the yellow or orange dots are often easier to spot on this species. This is fairly common in Ohio.


Symmerista moths. There are three species in Ohio. As you'll see with the following pictures, the adults all look alike. D. Brooks photo

White-marked or White-headed Prominent, Symmerista albifrons. This and the following two species are virtually IDENTICAL, at least when observed in the field. Records for these three are probably mixed together. See my comments at the end.


Red-humped Oakworm, Symmerista canicosta.


Orange-humped Oakworm, Symmerista leucitys.
D. Brooks photo


As I stated, these three can not be reliably separated in the field. You have to look at the genitalia. Dissection is not necessary, but you have to have the specimen in hand. If you brush the scales off the abdomen, you can tell which species it is. No one is going to do that if you are just taking pictures, but in words I often hate using myself, I'm "just sayin'". This is how you do it.

Click on the photo for the details. This is albifrons. Notice the dark outline is U shaped on this species. On canicosta, the U shape is much wider, like a deep dug out canal or hole. On leucitys, it is skinny or constricted inward, like part of an hourglass, (right at the tip of the arrow).

Part 2 here