Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Pewee Circus

When the weather is nice, Chris, Miranda and I like to to eat our lunch at one of the picnic tables located outside our Activity Center. For about a month, a few Eastern Wood Pewees have been entertaining us at lunch, flitting about and catching bugs in mid-air. I love hearing their "Pee-ah-wee" calls.

Here is a shot of one of our pewees. He is a little camera shy and doesn't care for the paparazzi. Here is a better shot of the Eastern Wood Pewee from Cornell Lab of Ornithology's site. They are fascinating to watch, dipping low to scoop up a bug, then flipping around to land on a nearby branch. On one occasion, I was walking across the lawn and apparently had kicked up some bugs. The three were swirling around me picking the bugs up left and right. It was so much fun to watch them!
Like an acrobat on the trapeze, this pewee is diving down to snatch a tasty morsel. It was so quick, I only got a blurry shot off.
Why are they hanging around in this area near the building? Eastern Wood Pewees are in the flycatcher family, Tyrannidae, and their diet consists of flying insects. My thoughts are they are here because we have planted a few butterfly beds with native wildflowers. The flowers attract all kinds of insects and the birds are after the bugs. Build it and they will come.
Another theory: Chris likes to kick off his shoes at lunch. Maybe that is why there are so many bugs! :)
And for the finale today one showed Chris its utmost appreciation. It sat above us on a branch, teed up just right, and let one fly. The poo almost hit me and landed right on Chris's arm and folder. Oops!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Bug Fest !

Sunday, August 24th was Southeastway Park's 16th Annual Bug Fest. What a day! Hundreds of folks came by the carloads to partake in this FREE family event. We had around 1400 visitors spending the day outside and learning about bugs. I want to thank all our volunteers and station leaders. We couldn't have done it without your help!

There were quite a few lines to see some of our great station leaders and their displays.
And here are some of the highlights:

Dawn VanDeman from Eagle Creek Park had a fascinating station about monarch tagging. She had some monarch caterpillar friends for all to marvel at, too.

Speaking of caterpillars, one of our summer campers who has eagle eyes, Braden Fielding, spotted this critter crawling on a tree. This is an Io moth caterpillar and will turn into an awesome moth with eyespots. It apparently had heard about Bug Fest and wanted to check it out!
Barbara Reger, a.k.a. The Tarantula Teacher, a noted author and expert on tarantulas, brought some of her collection. Here a brave young participant is seeing firsthand just what a big, hairy tarantula feels like on ones skin.
This is a Goliath Bird Eating Tarantula, Theraphosa blondi, from South America and it is only half grown! Yep, gonna get a LOT bigger. They usually reach about a foot in size. Note Barbara's arm in the picture for reference. I love spiders, and usually don't mind when I find one on me when I am out in the field. But, I think if I suddenly discovered this bad boy crawling on me, I would probably flip out! The name comes from explorers who witnessed one such spider eating a hummingbird. Their usual prey are crickets and other invertebrates.

This is one of our day campers, Hope Long, and she is eating a chocolate covered bug. Actually, they are quite good and taste a lot like Kit-Kat bars. Mmmmmmmm!!! I guess about anything will taste good covered in chocolate!
My personal thoughts on the cheddar-cheese crickets and Mexican spice larvets is I could go a loooonnnggg time without eating them and not miss them one bit :) Not a fav, I will have to say. Michele is a great salesperson, getting squeamish people fired up to sample the Bug Cafe' fare.

The Indianapolis Flycasters tied fishing flies for our guests. Boy are they talented and quick!

Here is John Moore with his collection of scorpions. Under a UV light, this scorpion glows a brilliant blue. Wow! How cool is that!

The lovely Rachel Quigley(in tan) from Holliday Park is assisting with the Cricket Spitting, one of our most popular stations. Place a cricket in your mouth, take a deep breath, and let that critter fly! Make sure you floss your teeth well after this event! The World Record for Cricket Spitting is 32 and a half feet. We had one participant, Andy S., who reached 28 feet, 5 inches. Wow!

Here are the top five results:

Adult Division
1. Andy S.-28 ft., 5 in.
2. Eric M. -26 ft., 7 in.
2. Mikel J. -26 ft., 7 in.
3. Michael B. -24 ft., 6 in.
4. Ken H. -23 ft., 11 in.

Youth Division
1. Levi C. 25 ft.
2. Travis N. -18 ft., 2 in.
3. Jacob M. -17 ft., 5 in.
4. Dustin - 17 ft.
5. Matthew Nichols -16 ft., 7 in.

We had a few wonderful Girl Scout Troops assisting with the crafts. We really appreciate them helping out with this very, very busy station! Here they are making buggy bookmarks from pom-poms and craft sticks.

A good day had by all. If you didn't make it this year, come next year. Bring the whole fam. Mark your calendar-Bug Fest will be Sunday August 30th, 2009.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Cuckoo Wasp

We had a visitor today in our office. It was very cooperative so I decided to take a few pics. This is a Cuckoo Wasp. I love its beautiful iridescent color. Depending on the light, it can glisten green, deep blue, and sometimes even purple.
Even though it is in the wasp family, I have never had a problem handling these guys. Of course, I make sure I don't pinch any body parts and always move slow and use a gentle touch. If bothered, they will curl up into a protective ball.

Cuckoo wasps are really hard to key out to species, so I will not even try. Best guess is that this one is in the Chrysis genus. Some species in the Chrysis genus can parasitize mud-daubers! "Chryso" in Greek means gold and refers to the metallic sheen of these gorgeous little wasps.
The name Cuckoo wasp comes from the female's habit of laying eggs in other wasps nests, just like some species of Cuckoo birds lay eggs in other birds nests, from time to time. Some species of these wasps are kleptoparasitic. This means they will "steal" the food of other wasps and bees that they consider their host species. After hatching, the cuckoo wasp larva kill the host larva and eats the caterpillars or other prey that have been captured by the host for food.
Such a beautiful organism with interesting habits. I am glad it stopped by for a visit.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Caterpillar Herding

Only three more days until Bug Fest(Sunday August 24th, 1-5 pm) and we are busily getting last minute things ready. I didn't count on caterpillar herding as one of my tasks!

My co-worker, Miranda, has been collecting caterpillars for the big event. She has an eagle eye and can spot them quite easily. She finds ones so tiny I would discount as just a mark on a leaf.

She has quite a collection going. We have a bunch of Monarch butterfly Caterpillars and then there are these cute little rascals called Milkweed Tussock Moths. These are the problem children. They can escape from their tank! And, today I have been having fun discovering all the places they are hiding. Its like a elaborate game of Where's Waldo? Luckily, these guys aren't too camouflaged. They eat milkweed and it makes them taste bad, so they advertise it with the orange and black markings.

This is the top of their cage, there is about 25 of them in this picture. And, boy are they voracious eaters.

This used to be a Common Milkweed plant. Notice the leaves are missing? They did this in one day!

Anyway, here are a few of the places I have found these guys today. I am so glad I am not a milkweed plant and that I am not one of their favorite foods!

One wanted to place a phone call. "Hello, 911, we are almost out of milkweed!"

One wanted to check my trash can to see if I threw away any important documents. Or milkweed.

One wanted to type a message. "M-o-r-e-M-i-l-k-w-e-e-d" it typed.

One wanted to see what I had for a snack. Yogurt, not milkweed, if you must know, you nosy thing!
One was on the staircase, "Any milkweed down there?"

And one was under my desk, trying to sever the power cord. I wouldn't have believed it, if I hadn't caught it in the act. Never turn your back on them!


Friday, August 15, 2008

Cute as a Bug

My friend Linsi sent this picture from summer camp and I couldn't resist posting it. One of her favorite bugs is the Red Milkweed Beetle. And, as you can see in this picture, it is a real cutie!
It looks almost like it is smiling. This beetle helped me entertain a very homesick child one day. The daycamper was distraught, wanting her mother and by using this beetle and showing her that it talks (it makes a cute squeeky noise if you hold it along its thorax), she soon forgot about Mommy. Whew!!! Thanks Mr. Beetle!
Look at this face! Even a die-hard bugaphobe couldn't squash this little cutie! If you want to learn more about the interesting habits of the Red Milkweed Beetle, see my previous post on things that are red.StumbleUpon

More Summer Blossoms

Summer brings some of the most showy flowers. One of my favorite that is blooming at the pond right now is Marsh Hibiscus, Hibiscus palustris. It is also known by the common name Swamp Rose Mallow. Many of the blossoms are white with a dark pink interior, but some, like the one above, have a vivid, striking pink color. The plant prefers wet soil and it grows naturally down along the White River. It will also do well in moist garden soil, as I planted one at my parents' home and my sister currently has one in her backyard. It starts out as a single gangly plant its first year, then as years go by and the root structure spreads, it becomes almost shrub-like covered with many blossoms. Mom was at first reluctant to have me plant it, since it was a wild flower, but soon it become one of her favorite plants and she would bring the neighbors over to admire the giant blooms.

Another beauty is one many gardeners have embraced and placed in their flower beds. Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, is a great nectar flower for butterflies and it produces seeds that many of the birds, especially American Goldfinches, enjoy. The pinkish-purple blooms last for a long time and are great for cut flowers if you want to bring some indoors. I had some on my desk for almost three weeks. We have some at Southeastway in the prairie and some near the building.

Another favorite of mine are members of the Liatris genus. These plants are butterfly magnets and this one is Liatris scariosa, Savanna Blazing Star. Look at all the skipper butterflies on this plant. There are Zabulon and Peck's Skippers, the little orange guys and one Silver-spotted Skipper, the much bigger brown butterfly. Such a great plant, which also produces lots of good seeds for birds in the fall.

I encourage you to look for native plants to plant in your garden. Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society has a sale each May and some local places also sell native plants. They are great food sources for the local wildlife and are eye-catching, as well.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Summer Orchids

While at the Appalachian Butterfly Conference, I was able to see some gorgeous summer orchids. These orchids are also found in Indiana. One of my favorites, and a real crowd pleaser, is the Yellow Fringed-Orchid, Platanthera ciliaris. Another common name for it is Orange Fringed-Orchid, which I think better describes the color. I viewed no less than a hundred of these this weekend. I have always wanted to see one, as I have wistfully looked through my Orchids of Indiana book by Michael Homoya. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would see so many. Shawnee State Forest had quite a few areas where this beauty could be viewed. This species can be found in Northern Indiana and in Southern Indiana on the Knobstone area just west of New Albany.

Here is a close-up of the flowers. You might note that the fringe on the lip of the orchid looks just like eyelashes. The second part of the scientific name, ciliaris, means eyelash.

Another cool orchid is the Cranefly Orchid, Tipularia discolor. Craneflies are insects that look a lot like mosquitoes and many people call them that. They actually feed mostly on nectar and some do not feed at all during their short life. Most live only a few days. They mate, then die soon afterwards. This orchid looks similar to a swarm of craneflies, hence the name. Tipulidae is the scientific family name for craneflies. Below is a pic I took. These are found in Southern Indiana, with the closest ones to Indy being in Owen and Monroe counties.

My friend John Howard has a much better camera and can get some of those hard shots mine just won't do. Here is a shot below to show the structure of the blossoms.

Below is Crested Coral-root, Hexalectris spicata, an orchid we were all excited to see. Absolutely gorgeous! Jim McCormac spotted this one. This orchid is saprophytic getting its nutrients from dead and decaying matter. Since it does not need to produce its own food, it does not have leaves or chlorophyll like other plants. It has a strange life cycle where the flowering stalk emerges every few years. According to Michael Homoya, because of this trait "many people, botanists included, have not seen this orchid." I feel very lucky. (The green leaves in the picture are from Virginia Creeper, a common vine.) Crested Coral-root is found in southern Indiana in Harrison, Floyd, Clark and Washington counties.

Tomorrow we will cover some more beautiful summer flowers!


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Spined Soldier Beetle vs. Caterpillar

This past weekend I was out in the field with some amazing naturalists, helping lead field trips for the Appalachian Butterfly Conference in Shawnee State Forest. (Jim McCormac's blog covers this event nicely, and, if you didn't join us this time, maybe you can next time. Don't believe his false accusations of butterfly bait snarfing; they are simply not true :) Cheryl Harner is a much more likely candidate for that. ;) )

I encountered some amazing sites at ABC, so I will cover some of those in the next week. Many of these things are found in Indianapolis and Indiana, as well. Today I wanted to share with you a super cool bug, the Spined Soldier Bug. It gets its name from the spines sticking out on either side of its thorax. This thing can tackle insects many times its size.

At Sandy Springs I discovered a bunch of caterpillars clustered at the end of a small Sumac tree. They were munching away and we were all admiring their beautiful red and yellow color. These are Sumac Caterpillars, otherwise known as Spotted Datanas, Datana perspicua.

One of the participants in our hike noticed a caterpillar that just didn't look so good. That is when we discovered this guy, the Spined Soldier Bug, Podisus...

Below is a closeup of the killer. This particular bug is a young one otherwise known as a nymph. Nymphs of bugs will look similar to the adult, but will usually have some size and color differences. The Spined Soldier Bug is grouped in with stink bugs and can also prey on monarch caterpillars. Most stink bugs feed strictly on plants. Spined Soldier Bugs are distant relatives to the Wheel Bug, both belonging to the Sub-order Hemiptera. (This link is for all the super-geeks like myself who love to know what qualifies an insect to be a "true bug". Fascinating to me, probably boring to most of you fine folks. :) Anyway, on with the gruesome details....

It always amazes me how these predacious bugs operate. They will sneak up on some slow moving soft-bodied insect, like a caterpillar. They will then jab their proboscis, the mouthpart, also called a stylet, into the prey. Whammo! The prey is soon paralyzed and sits there helplessly as its insides are turned into a giant bug milkshake by the enzymes the Spined Soldier Bug has pumped into it. The stylet is divided, so one side delivers enzymes, the other is used like a straw. The SSB will then slurp up its treat and leave behind the caterpillar's outer skin.

Bugguide has such great photos and here you can see a better view of the stylet.

My friend, John Howard, took a great picture of the carnage. I cropped it so you could have a closer view.

The caterpillars turn, at least the ones that make it, into this fascinating moth called a Datana. There are many species of Datana that look similar. All look somewhat like a crushed cigarette butt, so that is our nickname for them-Cigarette Butt Moths. Look at the picture below and judge for yourself. They would be camouflaged quite nicely at any outdoor smoking area.

Tomorrow I promise some eye candy, some beautiful orchids!StumbleUpon

Monday, August 4, 2008

Simply Red

I have noticed a lot of things out and about this time of year is red in color, so I thought that would make for a nice post.

One of my favorites is Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis. Such a gorgeous shade of red, with large spikes of blossoms. This plant is a virtual hummingbird magnet. Hummingbirds are equipped with a long tongue that allows them to reach the nectar at the end of the corolla or tube. We have quite a few plants in our wildlife viewing area at the park and hummingbirds visiting them everyday.

A very interested insect, the Milkweed Beetle, is also red. It uses this red coloration to warn predators of its bad taste. The Milkweed Beetle, Tetraopes tetrophthalmus, feeds on leaves of milkweed. Normally milkweed exudes a milky, sticky sap when the plant is broken or, in this case, chomped. But the Milkweed Beetle will make two small incisions in the mid-vein toward the end of the plant that will cause the sap to stop flowing. Then it can dine on the area above the cuts without the mess of the sticky sap. You can tell a milkweed beetle has been to dinner if you see the characteristic notch out of the top of the leaf. They "talk" by making squeeky noises that are audible if you hold them up to your ear. An interesting fact is they have four eyes, two above the antennae and two below. The scientific name tetrophthalmus means "four eyes". I wondered if they are teased by the other insects :)

Notch in the leaf indicating the Milkweed Beetle has been here.

The characteristic chomp marks on the back of the leaf to stop the sap flow.

Below is another interesting insect, the Milkweed Bug, Lygaeus kalmii. This photo has a pair mating. The look like the Pushmi-Pullyu from Dr. Doolittle. This true bug feeds on nectar of flowers and the seed pods of milkweed. Here is a better photo of the mini-beast from Bugguide.

And, here another gorgeous flower that is blooming right now, Royal Catchfly, Silene regia. It is a relative of Firepinks, a beautiful spring flower. It has a deep calyx tube with lots of nectar that hummingbirds also enjoy.

I hope you get out and enjoy some of these beautiful red colors in nature!