Tuesday, June 29, 2010

An Unexpected Endangered Moth

While helping with the butterfly count in Adams County, Ohio, we found a medium-sized moth. My friend, John Howard, immediately knew it was the state endangered moth, Cycnia inopinatus . The common name I found quite humorous. It is called an "Unexpected Tiger Moth or Unexpected Cycnia". The name sounds like an unwelcome guest. Uh, oh, Unexpected Mother-in-law just dropped by for a visit or Unexpected Cow in the field over there, which reminded me of the joke "Interrupting Cow" MOOOOO! So, I was walking around giggling every time John mentioned its name.

Here is one of John's pic of the pretty little moth. It is hard to tell, but the head and edges of the wings near the head are lined in orange. You can see that in this picture from BugGuide.

The orange trim on the moth comes from the caterpillar, which is bright orange. Now, you are probably thinking, "Well, I know why it is endangered... anything could spot a bright orange caterpillar!"

I can never resist taking pictures of Butterflyweed...

Actually, the orange hue is great camouflage. The caterpillar loves Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa. The flowers on this plant, as you can see, is a brilliant orange. The caterpillar can wrap around the flowers and be completely concealed. Butterflyweed is in the milkweed family, so the orange color that the caterpillar wears so boldly is also warning colors. Butterflyweed, and other milkweeds, contain cardiac glycosides. These chemicals cause the caterpillar to be very distasteful to any bird or other animal that decides it might like to snack on it. If enough of the chemical is ingested, it can cause vomiting and other assorted problems.

Unexpected Tiger Moth is found in Indiana in Hoosier National Forest. This Conservation Assessment contains more information about the life cycle of this moth and where it is located in the Ohio Valley area, including Indiana.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Another Cool Bug

Sunday morning I was helping with a breeding bird survey at Eagle Creek Park. We had a few points to cover, out near the reservoir. I was listening to birds, when an insect caught my eye. It was very colorful, and was hopping from leaf to leaf. It had antennae that were constantly in motion and the tips of the antennae were light in color. I was temporarily fixated on this creature, watching it as it bounced around at my feet. I didn't have my camera, so I studied all of its parts closely so I could remember it later.

I checked on BugGuide, going to the Hymenoptera section (Wasps, Bees and Ants). I was pretty sure it was a sawfly, but it was more colorful than other ones I had encountered.

Macrophya varia, Copyright 2010 by Tom Murray

Sure enough, there it was. I found this beautiful image by Tom Murray. I asked permission to use it and he gladly obliged.

Such fascinating creatures, sawflies. They start out as a larvae that look very much like caterpillars. They have six or more pairs of prolegs, the fleshy appendages on the back of the caterpillar. Most caterpillars have five pair. Here is an image I took a few years back. This is a different species, from the genus Nematus called Willow Sawflies, but one can see how much they look like caterpillars.

Most sawfly larvae feed on leaves of trees and shrubs and many can be considered pests. Some of the adults feed on nectar or pollen, but many do not feed. (Do not feed! What is wrong with these things! ) The adults get their name from the sawlike ovipositor (looks like a stinger) that can cut into plants to deposit the eggs. Despite the ominous sounding name, they do not sting.

Another interesting creature, right here in Indy! You never know what you might find while exploring outside.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A New Bug (for me)

Last week, during Bug Day at Trail Stompers camp, we had a good ol' time flipping rocks, using sweep nets, and rolling over logs. We had lots of good finds. And of course, I didn't have my camera. Doh!

Liz Habley and I had 13 of the campers out on a hike in the woods (we had split into two groups) to flip logs over, looking for centipedes, millipedes and roly pollies. We were almost finished with our hike, when Liz found a really cool bug. I had no idea what it was. Normally, I can file it into a family of some sort, but this one, I did not know what it was. I was perplexed. It looked like an earwig with wings.

Photo from BugGuide contributed by MJ Hatfield

If I have a bug I cannot identify, I usually go to BugGuide and look throught their photos. I knew it looked a little like an earwig. I searched through a few families and almost gave up. Then finally I decided to type in earwig with wings and up popped a pic that looked like my critter. A Forcepfly! I looked through a few of the Forcepfly pics and decided this was it. There is a good pic of its underside, that shows the "forceps" here. Thank you, BugGuide!

Forcepflies, Merope tuber, are strange creatures. Not very much is known about their habits. BugGuide lists it as "uncommon to rare in collections and seldom encountered." Wow! We had a really rare bug, and here in Indy of all places! There are only two species of forcepfly in the entire world-one lives here in the United States, the other in... Australia!

Just goes to show, you never know what you can encounter when you go outside and explore! For more info on Forcepflies, check out this article.StumbleUpon

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Baby Tree Swallows

Checking the bluebird boxes found this nice surprise. Inside were three?, maybe four, newly hatched baby Tree Swallows, Tachycineta bicolor.

Photo by Wikipedia

The little ones will grow up to be one of the prettiest iridescent birds alive. I absolutely love the brilliant color that shimmers in the sun! They are so entertaining, swooping and diving after the flying insects near their nest box. I will truly enjoy watching these nestlings this summer.StumbleUpon

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Baby Red-Shouldered Hawks

At Eagle Creek Park, near the Ornithology Center and right above the road is a large nest. And, if you stand back you can see the inhabitants. Two fuzzy young Red-shouldered Hawks are peering back at me, wondering "What are you looking at?"

Here is a little closer look. They are soooo cute! And, they will become such a beautiful raptor. Thanks, Kevin, for sharing these with me!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Wafer Ash

When visiting the Fall Creek Loop trail this past weekend, I found a Wafer Ash, Ptelea trifoliata, in bloom. I had never seen one in bloom before, so I was quite pleased. It was fragrant, with a sweet, yet pungent, smell.
Here is a closeup of the flower clusters. The clusters are rounded, and the branches were just covered with them. Such a lovely sight!

It is called hop tree or wafer ash for the winged seeds. The hard brown seeds are encased in a papery disk that looks like a thin wafer. This design helps disperse the seeds by wind.

Photo from Wikipedia

One of the main reasons I was excited about the discovery of the wafer ash was the possibility of this caterpillar. This is an orange dog, the caterpillar for the Giant Swallowtail butterfly, Papilio cresphontes. It feeds primarily on plants in the citrus family of which Wafer Ash is a host plant here in Indiana. The caterpillar is a bird dropping mimic. Smart camouflage! Not many animals will eat their own poo. It also has a backup plan for defense. If harrassed too much, it will rear up and extend its osmeterium, the fleshy reddish projections on its head. These horns are accompanied with a foul smell. The effective combo of scary horns and stench probably deters most animals looking for lunch.

Photo from Wikipedia

And, finally, the beautiful butterfly this ugly duckling becomes. The Giant Swallowtail is a large butterfly that will stop most people in their tracks as it flits about. The black and yellow combo with the striking lined pattern is just breathtaking. One of my favorite butterflies, I hope the hoptree attracts some of these fascinating creatures so I can watch them transform this summer!

Photo from Wikipedia