Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hearts a Bursting with Love

This time a year, when the landscape is dominated with shades of brown, my eye is drawn to anything with a bit of color.

The Eastern Wahoo, Euonymus atropurpureus, can be found in woods with moist soils. Another name for it is Hearts a Bursting with Love. The pink seed capsule bursts open in the fall to reveal a seed enclosed in a orange fleshy covering called an aril. I think it kinda looks like a cinnamon redhot.

The seed capsules curl back forming a heart-like shape with the aril looking like a drop of blood. Such a cool sight to discover, to stumble upon a shrub completely covered with all these miniature hearts.StumbleUpon

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sparrows and Buckeyes

It was an absolutely gorgeous day today. I could not believe we had a high in the seventies! And, even though there have been some cold days lately with lows in the twenties, some butterflies still lingered as if it were a nice summer day. This Buckeye, Junonia coenia, was a welcome surprise. I was amazed at how fresh it looked. We also saw a few Sleepy Oranges, Eurema nicippe. Not very common anyway and then finding them in November?

We came across a small flock of sparrows. We had multiple Fox Sparrows, always a crowd pleaser, with their rich reddish-brown plumage and butterball shaped bodies. One was such a brute, I had at first mistaken it for a Hermit Thrush when it was flitting around in the brush.

We also saw and heard many White-throated Sparrows. Some of them were juveniles who were still struggling with learning the song. White-throated Sparrows have to learn their song by listening to the adults around them. Males that are the best crooners attract the ladies. So keep practicing, boys! "Oh Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada!"

Hope you got outside today, too, and enjoyed the wonderful weather!

All photos by John Howard.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


In the summer and fall, one can encounter coneheads in and around fields here in Indianapolis. Or they might even visit your porch in the evening, if you have a light on.

No, not that kind of conehead! No need to fear an alien invasion of any sorts.

This is the kind of conehead I am talking about, a type of katydid. They are related to grasshopers and crickets. They are insects, not aliens, but they do have some bizarre alien-like body parts. I encountered this particular conehead on a hike a few weeks ago.

First of all, the forehead of a conehead is pretty distinct. It is, well for lack of a better description, ummm, cone-shaped. Compared to another katydid below, an Angle-wing Katydid , one can easily see the difference. They have a "conical fastigium" if you want to get technical or impress your friends. Or, you can just say they have a "pointy head".

Angle-wing Katydid, photo by John Howard

Coneheads have super long antennae that are chock-full of special sensors. There are chemoreceptors that detect pheromones and other scents and tactile receptors or "feelers"to interpret the physical environment. There is also the Johnston's organ located on the base of the antennae that is important in flight for sensing gravity, air speed and even the specific wing beats of a potential mate.

The female above, a Round-tipped Conehead, Neoconocephalus retusus, sports a long sword-like appendage called an ovipositor. Conehead females use the ovipositor to deposit eggs into the crowns of grass clumps. These eggs will overwinter and hatch out the following spring.

One of the weirdest cosmic adaptations of katydids (and crickets) are their "ears". They are not located on their head like ours, but on their front legs. They are called tympana. If you look on my photo above, the tympanum is the pale yellow patch located right below the leg joint or what would be our elbow.

You can see it a bit better in Wil Hershberger's beautiful photo of a Robust Conehead, above. The tympana are used to hear potential mates and other neighboring conehead's calls. The tympana can also detect vibrations in the vegetation, letting the conehead know there may be a predator nearby. The tympana can pick up ultrasonic vibrations like those produced by a hungry bat. In response to ultrasonic vibrations, coneheads will immediately stop singing. If they are in flight, they will quickly tuck in their wings and dive to the ground.
Coneheads produce sounds by a process called stridulation. On the bottom of one wing is a toothed structure called a file and on the top of the opposite wing is a raised structure called a scraper. When the conehead rubs its wings together, the file is drawn across the scraper causing the wings to vibrate producing sound. Each species of conehead produce a distinct song. To see a great photo of the file and scraper of a katydid, check out the photo here at Wil's site. It is halfway down the page. To hear a Round-tipped Conehead's call go HERE. To hear the call of the Robust Conehead, Neoconocephalus robustus, go HERE.

Coneheads are such fascinating creatures with interesting body parts. Hopefully, you will be fortunate enough to encounter one.
Thanks to Wil Hershberger for the use of his photo of the Robust Conehead and John Howard for the use of his angle-wing photo. Thanks a bunch, Wil and John!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ants vs. Gecko

I couldn't stop watching this video because I found it utterly fascinating. This is a time-lapse video of a dead gecko which was found by ants and completely stripped clean and disassembled in a little more than 24 hours! This really shows how efficient nature can be.