Friday, July 23, 2010

Not Your Same Old Song and Dance

I was checking out Alex Wild's Myrmecos blog. If you like insects and spiders like I do, you will thoroughly enjoy it. So do check it out.

Anyway, Alex had this video posted about jumping spiders and their mating habits. Absolutely fascinating!!! The male will dance and "sing" for the females by vibrating his legs and abdomen in a fast-paced syncopated dance not unlike a Flamenco dancer. I have already watched it four times because I think it is sooo cool!


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Summer Flowers and the Midwest Native Plant Conference

Summer brings some real stunners in the native plant department. Here are a few that are blooming, now.

Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa, is such an eye-popping brilliant orange. It is in the milkweed family and a real friend to Monarch butterfly caterpillars that rely on milkweeds for food. Monarchs are on the decline, so planting this showy native in your yard might benefit them.

Purple Coneflower, Echinacea pupurea, is a crowd pleaser all the way around. Not only does it have lovely blossoms, Purple Coneflowers tolerate cuttings. A bouquet of Echinacea could be a lovely addition to one's desk or diningroom table. It also draws the attention of many colorful winged visitors. Butterflies frequently visit the large pink flowers. After the flowerheads have wilted, more visitors will come. American Goldfinches loooove Purple Coneflower seeds. They become so engrossed plucking the seeds from the heads, one can quietly sneak up to them to get a better view. I was within three feet of one normally wary bird.

Rose Pink Gentian, Sabatia angularis, bespeckled the roadside along Highway 32 in southern Ohio this past weekend. I was tempted to stop each time I saw a large patch of it. So beautiful!

Purple Fringeless Orchid, Platanthera peramoena. A first for me. We came across a wet meadow adorned with these lavender lovelies . I was practically speechless.

This Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis, is just starting to bloom. I took this a few years ago in our bird feeding area next to our building at Southeastway Park. Hummingbirds love this plant. We would frequently have a few feisty hummers duking it out over who possessed the blossoms.

If you would like to learn more about the native plants that grow here in Indiana, Ohio and the surrounding area, I invite you to attend the Midwest Native Plant Conference in Dayton, Ohio. It takes place August 6th-8th with lots of interesting speakers, field trips guided by expert naturalists and botanists, and many vendors selling native plants. I will be there helping with field trips and speaking on native plants and their fascinating survival mechanisms. Hope to see you there!


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Clean Up Crew

There are some times when I like exploring by myself. Mainly, because I will stop and look at things that might bore or gross out most people. Saturday, after the butterfly count, I decided to venture out after a Climbing Fern, Lygodium palmatum . I did not find the plant, but I did get some other, what I thought were, pretty cool beetles and a Canada Lily as a consolation prize.

The Canada Lily, Lilium canadense, blossom dangles from its stem.

A tilt of the blossom reveals the truly gorgeous pattern hidden below.

At another stop, I had hopped out of the car because I saw a group of butterflies puddling. Butterflies, many times, will gather on mud, feces or carcasses to extract salts and minerals. I walked over to the puddle party and got a whiff of something pretty rank. I noticed a gathering of butterflies in the ditch. Then I saw the dead rotting fish...

An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly enjoying a fish dinner.

By now, most of my friends would have probably been back in the car, grossed out by the whole encounter. I, on the other hand, was curious, so I got a stick. A stick can be a very useful tool for an inquisitive naturalist. I poked the carcass and out tumbled some pretty cool beetles! I love beetles. I have loved them since I was a small child. I would flip over rocks, wherever I ventured, in order to find them.

Below, we have American Carrion Beetles, Silpha americana. These a large black beetles with a yellow thorax. Kind of pretty, actually. (Yes, I know they are on a dead fish...) Many people fail to see the beauty in things because they are so fixated on the "ugly". I try to go the opposite way and focus on the good. Usually I can find the beauty in almost all things.

These Sexton Beetles, Nicrophorus sp. caught my eye as they scurried away under the nearby leaf litter. I took my handy stick and pushed the debris away. There were two red and black gems trying to desperately disappear into the mud. Sexton Beetles will work diligently to completely bury a small carcass. The common name comes from a sexton, who was a church employee that took care of the church property. One of the many tasks included digging graves.

Then I spotted this guy. What the heck?!?! I couldn't even get a picture of it, it scurried so quickly. I was, again, glad I was alone because I looked like a crazy lunatic chasing this bug around. I was pretty sure it was a beetle, but it acted weird, curling its abdomen up in the air. The underside was yellow, like a firefly. And then it scrunched up its stubby wings. I was wanting to pick it up, but honestly, I was a little apprehensive. I wasn't entirely sure what it was.

Golden Rover photo from BugGuide by Susan Ellis

I returned home and searched on BugGuide and, after a good while, I finally found the critter. A Golden Rover, Platydracus maculosus, a type of Rove Beetle. And, its food choice was carrion. Bingo! Rove Beetles have shortened elytra, that give them a strange appearance. They are usually predatory or eat carrion. There are always fascinating things to find when you poke around a bit. Just remember your stick! :)


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Edward's Hairstreak

Last Saturday, June 26th, I was helping with the Adams County, Ohio butterfly count. On the count, we encountered a beautiful little butterfly called Edward's Hairstreak, Satyrium edwardsii.

The butterfly has an interesting life cycle. In the summer, the butterflies lay their eggs in the cracks and crevices of the bark on young oak trees. The following spring, the eggs hatch and the larvae feed on the tender new oak leaves. Here comes the interesting part. They are also tended by ants. These ants, Allegheny Mound Builder Ants, Formica exsectoides, construct huge mounds near the oak trees. They nurture the Edward's Hairstreak larvae, following them up and down the tree, keeping them safe from predatory wasps and other beasties. The ants also construct shelters called byres at the base of the oak tree. They can be 4 to 10 inches in diameter and 2 to 8 inches tall. The larvae feed at night and retreat into the byre at first light. In return, the ants are given a reward of tasty honeydew, a sweet substance the larvae secretes.

Here is a picture of one of the mounds I took at Adams Lake in 2008. The mounds are large, about 2 to three feet in height. I also discovered if you get too close to the mound, the ants will let you know by giving you a sharp nip. Ouch! I had sandels on, at the time, and did a little dancing to get them off my feet. :)

Above is a great pic by John Howard of the ants tending to the larvae. Gentle stroking with their antennae will produce the honeydew they so crave.

The larvae will also pupate inside the byres. You can view pics of the pupa and other great pics of Edward's Hairstreaks at Steve Willson's blog, Blue Jay Barrens.