Archive for the ‘Insects’ Category

Rosy maple moths are cute with their blonde hair and candy striped wings. They appear at about this time each year and are easy to identify because there apparently aren’t too many others that look like them. They have a wooly yellow body and pink and creamy wing stripes. These moths lay their tiny eggs on the undersides of maple leaves and that’s how they come by their common name. Adult moths do not eat but the caterpillars are able to eat a few leaves each. They are called green striped maple worms. We have lights on at night where I work and in the morning sometimes you might see twenty or more of these little creatures on the side of the building. They don’t seem to mind people at all but at a certain time of day they all disappear.

Fish are jumping right out of the water and this is why; the Mayflies are hatching. These aquatic insects have a very short lifespan. The males die after mating and females die after laying their eggs, but it all happens quickly; a male might live two days and a female a matter of minutes. The females lay their eggs in clean, fresh pond or lake water and when the eggs hatch into nymphs fish are there to eat them on the lake bottom. The nymphs that survive become more Mayflies and the fish jump to eat them, so it seems kind of a miracle that we ever see a Mayfly. It’s really all about numbers; a hatching can contain huge numbers of flies. They are also attracted to light and like the rosy maple moths, cling to lighted buildings at night. There are over 3,000 species of Mayfly so they can be tricky to identify, but they all have abdomens with 10 segments. Their presence in a body of water indicates that it is clean and unpolluted.

One of the strangest creatures I’ve seen on the shop building at work is this toothpick grasshopper. I knew it was a toothpick grasshopper because coincidentally I had just read about one on Mike Powell’s blog. I’m not sure what species it is; it could be a cattail toothpick grasshopper (Leptysma marginicollis) because of the brown stripe from behind the eye to the front legs or it could be another species. At this point the only thing I’m sure of is that it a toothpick grasshopper, which I’ve never seen.

Note: A helpful reader has written in to say that this insect is actually a caddisfly, order Trichoptera. I’ve never heard of either insect but hopefully I’ll recognize them next time!

Here’s a real close look at a toothpick grasshopper. I was surprised that it stayed still and let me get so close. By the way, if you aren’t reading Mike Powell’s blog and you’re a nature lover, you’re doing yourself a disservice. You can find Mike’s blog over in the ‘Favorite Links’ section. There is something new and interesting to see there each day.

I was going to get a photo of a box shrub flower to show you but then a bee came along and was willing to pose, so I forgot about the flower and tried to see what the bee was all about. As near as I can tell it’s a leafcutter bee, which uses leaves to cover its nest hole.

Leaf cutter bees are black with white hairs covering the thorax and the bottom of the abdomen and some species have large, powerful jaws that make the work of leaf cutting easier. They are said to fly very fast so I was lucky that this one was in the mood for a portrait sitting. From what I’ve read they  carry pollen on their abdomens, so they’re pollinators.

As I said in last Saturday’s post about climbing Pitcher Mountain, I was lucky enough to meet Samuel Jaffe, director of the Caterpillar Lab in Marlborough New Hampshire, in the woods one day. On that day he pointed out this caterpillar that looked like a bird dropping and explained that it was an Eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar. It was feeding on poplar leaves. I should mention again that the Caterpillar Lab is a unique and fascinating place, and you can visit it online here: https://www.thecaterpillarlab.org/ They have a caterpillar of the day and lots of other interesting things there which I think would be especially appealing to schoolchildren.

Here is the Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly that the caterpillar will turn into. I saw it before I saw the caterpillar so their different stages of life must be staggered a bit among the entire family. I’m seeing a lot of them this year.

As I seem to do every spring I came very close to stepping on this foot and a half long garter snake because I didn’t see it until the last moment. But it didn’t move; in fact it let me take a few photos and walk away, which these snakes often do. They seem to think if they don’t move you can’t see them, and they freeze. It’s a good thing my grandmother wasn’t with me because she would have been up the nearest tree, so great was her fear of snakes. She knew garter snakes weren’t poisonous, but she was still afraid of them.

Here’s a closer look at the garter snake. It saw my every move. It also looked like it might have had a bulge in its stomach, which would mean it had eaten recently.

I’ve been wanting a photo of a chipmunk with its cheeks full and this one sat on a tree and posed, so I got my wish. What might look like a big arm muscle just under its eye is actually a cheek full of seeds. These little rodents, bigger than a mouse but smaller than a squirrel, also eat nuts, fruit, fungi, grains and even bird eggs. They eat just about anything really, and nest in burrows in the ground. They store food for winter in underground chambers and stay underground until spring. In spring they’re usually very hungry, hence the fat cheeks. A face on shot would have showed them better but you can’t have everything.

It’s turtle time here in this part of New Hampshire and the big snapping turtles are on the move, looking for soft sand to dig their nests in. This one found a spot right on the edge of a road and that explains why they sometimes get hit by cars. Average adult snapping turtles can be over two feet long and weigh as much as 50 pounds and they can be very aggressive on land, so it’s best to stay away from them. They don’t have teeth but they have strong jaws and beaks that can easily break fingers. I took this photo of a large female laying her eggs just the other day. Snapping turtles dig rather shallow holes with their hind legs and lay anywhere from 25-80 eggs each year. Incubation time is 9-18 weeks but many eggs don’t make it anywhere near that long. Foxes, minks, skunks, crows and raccoons dig them up and eat them and destroyed nests are a common sight along sandy roadsides. These big turtles eat plants, fish, frogs, snakes, ducklings, and just about anything else they can catch. Oddly, when in the water they are rather placid and don’t bother humans.

I’ve had a few fungal encounters lately and one of the most interesting is the false morel mushroom.  I think it is called a brain fungus (Gyromitra esculenta,) which is a false morel that often grows very near true morels. This is a problem because false morels can be toxic and true morels are not, so if you are a mushroom forager you’ll want to know each one well. An easy way to tell them apart is by the way the cap attaches to the stem. The brain fungus cap attaches only at the top of the stem, and a morel’s cap attaches to the stem over its full length. Cutting one in half lengthwise will tell the story.

The brain fungus gets its common name from its reddish brown cap that resembles a brain. In my experience it really doesn’t resemble a true morel, either in color or shape, but I certainly haven’t met many morels.

I saw some striking turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor.) They aren’t usually this dark. I love how there always seems to be a surprise waiting with turkey tails. I’ve never seen them marked quite like this.

I’ve finally solved a mystery that has plagued me for years, and that was which maple seeds were from a silver maple and which were from a red maple. Of course there are no leaves in spring when the seeds are produced, so I had to remember to go back when the leaves came out. This year I finally remembered to go back and see the leaves. The leaves above are silver maple leaves. They have sharp points and are deeply lobed.

Now I can say with certainty that these pretty little maple seeds are produced by a silver maple. They quickly lose that white fur. To get a photo of them like this one you may have to visit them every day for a week.

This is a red maple leaf. The lobes aren’t as deep and the leaf looks completely different than a silver maple leaf.

And these are red maple seeds (samaras) just after they have formed. Pretty yes, but not as pretty as the silver maple examples, in my opinion. Now, next spring I’ll be able to tell you for sure which seeds are which.

The interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana) gets its common name from the way its green infertile leaflets are “interrupted” about half way up the stem by the darker colored fertile leaflets. The fertile leaflets are much smaller and their color makes them stand out even at a distance. This fern doesn’t seem to mind dry, sunny spots because that’s usually where I find them.

The leaflets on the interrupted fern’s fertile fronds are covered with tiny, round spore producing sporangia. They will release their spores by opening much like a clamshell, as this photo shows. Once the spores have been released the sporangia fall off, leaving a piece of naked (interrupted) stem between the upper and lower infertile leaflets. This is the first shot I’ve ever gotten of the open spore cases.

Grasses are starting to flower and I do hope you’ll have the time to look at a few, because they can be beautiful.

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) leaves usually appear red in spring but I couldn’t seem to catch any red ones this year. Red leaves mean plants are in no hurry to begin photosynthesizing but some years they seem to want to start immediately. This is one of those years apparently, and it makes me wonder what they know that we don’t. Notice how the new spring leaves shine.

And then notice how they no longer shine as they age. Poison ivy plants can appear very different at different times and in different situations. This poison ivy was wearing its vine disguise, climbing a tree by using aerial roots which grow directly out of the wood of its stem when it needs them. Poison ivy can appear as a plant, a shrub, or a vine and if you’re going to spend much time in the woods it’s a good idea to know it well. This one still had last year’s white berries on it, just about in the center  of the photo. Birds usually snap them up quickly, so I’m not sure why they left them.

If you happened upon a shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) tree just after bud break you might see what look like large pinkish orange flowers on the trees and think gosh, what beautiful things. If you get closer you will see that the colors are on the insides of the bud scales of the shagbark hickory tree, and aren’t flowers at all. And then you might wonder why such beautiful colors would be on the inside of a bud where nobody could ever see them, and as you walk on you might find yourself lost in gratitude, so very thankful that you were able to see such a thing.

Live this life in wonder, in wonder of the beauty, the magic, the true magnificence that surrounds you. It is all so beautiful, so wonderful. Let yourself wonder. ~Avina Celeste

Thanks for stopping in. I’m sorry this post is so long but every time I turn around there is another interesting and beautiful thing there waiting to be seen, and I can’t stop clicking that shutter button.

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1. Chalk Fronted Corporal Dragonfly

I don’t know much about dragonflies but I think this one might be a male chalk-fronted corporal (Ladona julia) dragonfly. From what I’ve read he is a skimmer and gets his name from the two chalky “Corporal’s bars” behind his head, which actually are a Captain’s insignia, not a Corporals. Anyhow, he was sunning himself on a dead cattail leaf near a pond when I met him. I noticed that he had a very hairy back, which I’ve never seen on a dragonfly before. He wouldn’t let me get very close so I had to use the bigger Canon SX-40 with its zoom lens.

2. Pale Beauty Moth aka Campaea perlata

I was looking for cones on a northern white cedar one evening and found this beautiful white moth on one of the branches. It was getting late and the light was poor but I was able to get enough detail to make an identification. I’m fairly certain that it’s a pale beauty moth (campaea perlata) but if I’m wrong I hope someone will let me know.  Whatever its name it was a beautiful thing.

3. Northern White Cedar

I remembered that I wasn’t checking the white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) for moths; I came for the cones, each of which has dark, indigo blue tips when they’re young.

4. Northern White Cedar Cones

Here is a closer look at the pencil eraser size cedar cones with their blue tips. Whenever I see something like this I’m always curious why the plant would expend so much extra energy turning part of itself blue. Doing so must benefit the tree in some way. Or maybe it doesn’t take a lot of extra energy.

This tree has an interesting history; Native Americans showed 16th century French explorer Jacques Cartier how to cure scurvy with the leaves of it and he was so impressed that he named it Arborvitae, which is Latin for Tree of Life. He also had trees with him when he returned to Europe, so Thuja occidentalis became the first North American tree to be introduced there.

5. English Plantain

English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) is blooming. The shape of the flower head is called ovoid. Each tiny (4mm) flower has a yellowish, pointed bract that is a little hard to see and will produce 2 seeds if pollinated. It is also called ribwort and narrow leaf plantain because of its basal growth of narrow, ribbed leaves. It is found in England and Europe and was brought over by early settlers because of its many medicinal uses.  Native Americans called it “White man’s foot” because it grew along foot paths used by the settlers. It is considered an invasive weed these days but I like its unusual flower heads so I don’t mind seeing it blooming in my lawn. This one had a little blue on it, which I’ve never seen before.

6. Flowering Grass

Grasses are flowering too, and it’s a splendid show that many people miss. I think this one is orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata,) which is a cool season, high quality pasture grass with good drought tolerance. It comes from western and central Europe and has been grown in the US for over 200 years.

7. Flowering Grass Closeup

Orchard grass seed heads are composed of spikelets that bear two to eight flowers which dangle from thin filaments (pedicels) and shimmer in the breeze. According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, George Washington loved orchard grass so much so that he wrote “Orchard grass of all others is in my opinion the best mixture with clover; it blooms precisely at the same time, rises quick again after cutting, stands thick, yields well, and both cattle and horses are fond of it green or in hay.”

8. Porcupine Sedge

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) is also flowering. The tiny wispy white bits at the ends of the pointy “prickles” are its flowers. It’s easy to see how this sedge got its common name. Another is bottlebrush sedge, which also fits. This plant loves to grow near water and that’s where I always find it. Waterfowl, game birds and songbirds feed on sedge seeds and the sedge wren builds its nest and hunts for insects in wetlands that are dominated by sedges.

9. Turtle Laying

I was kneeling to take a photo of a toadflax blossom and looked over my shoulder to see this turtle laying eggs in a mown grassy area. I’m not great with reptile identification but I think she’s an eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta.) She was quite far from water and it didn’t seem to me like she had made a very good choice in nest sites what with lawn mowers running over it weekly, but the soil was sandy and easy to dig in and I’m sure she knows more about egg placement than I do.

10. Turtle

She didn’t care for posing and was tucked up into her shell as far as it would allow, so I took a couple of quick shots and let her be. Nest preparation can be exhausting work for a turtle.

11. Turtle Shell Growth

She had a strange wart like growth on the rear of her shell. Many of the turtles I see seem to have something wrong with their shells.

12. Unknown Insect

What the good folks at bug guide.net think might be a Muscoidea fly in the genus Anthomyia stopped in to see what I was doing one day. He was very hairy and I told him so. I don’t think he cared much for my opinion though, because he flew away. These flies can cause significant damage to crops because of the way their larva invade the stems and roots of some plants like onions. They are not at all garden friendly.

13. Unknown Insect 2

The folks at Bug guide.net tell me that this is a soldier beetle called Rhaxonycha Carolina or Atalantycha neglecta. They can’t tell which because of the poor quality of the photo, I presume. Both beetles have what looks like a fur collar. He was on my windshield and the “sun” he is crawling toward is the reflection of the camera’s flash. Soldier beetle larvae feed on the eggs and larvae of beetles, grasshoppers, moths and other insects, and adult soldier beetles feed on aphids and other soft-bodied insects, so they’re a good insect to have in the garden. They are attracted to plants like marigold and goldenrod.

14. Spittlebug Foam

Seeing this foamy “snake spit” on plants immediately takes me back to my childhood, because that’s what we called it when I was a boy. Of course it’s really the protective foam used by spittle bug nymphs and has nothing to do with snakes. The nymphs use it to make themselves invisible to predators and to keep themselves from drying out. They make the foamy mass by dining on plant sap and secreting a watery liquid which they whip up with air to create the froth. This example was on a yarrow stem.

15. Unknown Blue Damselfly

Since I started with a dragonfly I’ll end with what I thought was a common blue damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) until I found out that they live in Europe. Now I’m not sure what it is, other than a blue damselfly. I wish the background was less busy so you could see its wings better, but beggars can’t be choosers and I was lucky to have it pose at all. If you know its name I’d love to hear from you.

One should pay attention to even the smallest crawling creature for these too may have a valuable lesson to teach us.  Black Elk

Thanks for coming by

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