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Posts Tagged ‘Milkweed Aphids’

Each fall as the silky dogwood berries ripen the cedar waxwings return to this spot on the Ashuelot River. They supplement their berry diet with insects and perch on logs and boulders, waiting. When an insect is seen they fly out and grab it in mid-air often returning to the same perch, much as a dragonfly would. They are sleek, beautiful birds that are very fast, and I love watching them.

Silky dogwood berries go from green to white and then from white to blue, but for a short time they are blue and white like Chinese porcelain. In fact every time I see them I wonder if the original idea for blue designs on white porcelain didn’t come from berries just like these. Once they are blue and fully ripe the cedar waxwings eat them up quickly.

Though this might look like the same bird that is in the first photo that bird’s bill is hooked and this one’s bill is not. I chose this shot because I thought it gave a better look at the beautiful bird’s black bandit mask and crest. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology the name waxwing comes from the brilliant red wax drops you can see on its wing feathers. Cornell also says because they eat so much fruit, cedar waxwings occasionally become intoxicated or can even die when they run across overripe berries that have started to ferment and produce alcohol. I met a drunken cedar waxwing once so I know that the story is true. I got between a bird and its fermented dogwood berries one day and it flew directly at my face at high speed, only pulling up at the last second. It did this several times until I moved away from its berries. Only then did it leave me alone. There’s little that’s more jarring than having a bird fly like a miniature jet plane right at your face.

I saw some goldfinches picking the petals off a zinnia and I wondered what they were up to. I thought when the gardener returned and saw all the zinnias were bald they wouldn’t be very happy. I don’t know who that gardener is but if you’re reading this, here’s your culprit.

Once they spit the petal out they still had something to chew on but I wasn’t sure what it was. I’m going to have to look into how zinnia seeds form because goldfinches are great seed eaters. I’ve seen them eating bull thistle seeds almost everywhere I go this year. Imagine being light enough to sit on a flower.

These birds were only picking the petals off the white zinnias and didn’t touch other colors. This one sat and waited its turn for a peck at a white flower while sitting on a purple one and I wondered why it looked a little shabbier than the others. Was it molting? A juvenile? A less colorful female? As of right now I can’t answer any of these questions. Maybe it was just the quality of the light.

I’m not sure what is going on but I seem to be a dragonfly magnet this year. This one came and sat on a branch close enough to whisper in my ear. I don’t know its name but it’s a cute little thing.

Unfortunately other insects like deerflies seem to find me likeable as well. I thought this insect was a deerfly at first but though the wing markings are similar, now I’m not so sure. It was on a building at work early one morning. In any event for those who don’t know what a deerfly is, they have a very painful bite. Even more painful than horseflies.

I recently found this milkweed plant covered with aphids.  Not surprisingly, they are called milkweed aphids (Aphis nerii) and are tiny, bright yellow/orange insects with black legs that pierce plant tissue and suck the juices out of plants. An aphid colony can produce large amounts of honeydew which attracts sooty mold and is a black color.

Aphids stunt plant growth and if not controlled will eventually kill the plant. These aphids are also called oleander aphids and in places like Florida can often be found on that shrub. When conditions get crowded and there are too many milkweed aphids females will grow wings and fly off to find another plant.

The corn never grew in the fields due to the drought, which has now reached moderate or severe proportions in different parts of the state, so all of the volunteer plants in the cornfields are being raked under in a cloud of dust. According to those in the know this has been the 4th hottest summer on record in our area.

Even though it has been as dry as I can remember I have seen a few mushrooms. Dyer’s Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) is also called the velvet topped fungus because of its hairy appearance. These fungi are parasitic on the roots and heartwood of living white pines in the eastern U.S. and cause root rot. They also change color as they age. If found when young as this one was it can be used to dye wool a soft yellow or orange and older examples will dye wool brown. As it ages this fungus turns a dark red / maroon.

Crown coral fungi come in many colors but I usually find the tan / white varieties. The way to tell if you have a crown coral fungus is by the tips of the branches, which in crown coral look like tiny crowns rather than blunt or rounded. They grow on dead wood but if that wood is buried they can appear to be growing in soil. The example in this photo was about as big in diameter as a hen’s egg.

Eyelash fungi (Scutellinia scutellata) are considered cup fungi and they get their name from the hairs around the perimeter. The hairs can move and sometimes curl in towards the center of the disc shaped body. I just read the other day that some believe that the hairs might collect moisture, similar to the way spines on cacti work.

This shot shows how the eyelash fungus can curl its “lashes” inward. They’re fascinating things that there seems to be very little information about. These examples grew on a damp, leaking tree wound and the largest of them was smaller than a pea.

Black jelly drop fungi (Bulgaria inquinans) grew on an oak log. They are also called poor man’s licorice but they aren’t edible. They look and feel like black gumdrops, and for some unknown reason are almost always found on oak trees that have been felled and cut up. The tree that these examples were on however, fell naturally.

Though they look like jelly fungi black jelly drops are sac fungi. Their fertile, spore bearing surface is shiny and the outside of the mature cups look like brown velvet. They are sometimes used for dying fabric in blacks, browns, purples and grays.

Can this be your everything for a moment; all that there is? It was mine for a time, kneeling there in the forest.

Young fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) mushrooms found here often have a metallic yellow color when they just come up. They’re common where pine trees grow and this one was under a pine. The name fly agaric comes from the practice of putting pieces of the mushroom in a dish of milk. The story says that when flies drank the milk they died, but it’s something I’ve never tried. Fly agaric is said to have the ability to “turn off” fear in humans and is considered toxic, but I think that would be the red variety with white spots (Amanita muscaria) that is commonly found in Europe. Vikings are said to have used it for that very reason and those who used it were called “berserkers.” By all accounts I’ve read berserkers were very frightening people.

At this time of year small black witch hats can be seen on some witch hazel leaves, but what looks like a witch hat is actually a gall which the plant created in response to the witch hazel gall aphid (Hormaphis hamamelidis.) It’s also called nipple gall and cone head gall. I’ve seen lots of these but I’ve never seen one with hair. It’s nice to occasionally be completely surprised by reality. It takes us down a peg or two and prevents us from believing that we know it all.

In 2015 someone from the Smithsonian Institution read a post where I spoke about sumac pouch gall and contacted me to ask if I could tell them where they grew in this region. They are researching the co-evolution of rhus gall aphids and its host plants the sumacs. A female aphid lays eggs on the underside of a leaf and plant tissue swells around them to form a gall like those seen here. The eggs overwinter and mature inside the hollow gall until spring, when the aphids leave the gall and begin feeding on the plant. Scientists have paleobotanical evidence that this aphid has had a relationship with its sumac hosts for at least 48 million years. They are studying this relationship at the Smithsonian and they collected galls from here and also collected them from Georgia, Arkansas, Michigan and Ohio.

When mature the galls become tomato red. It’s hard to comprehend being able to see the very same living thing now that could have been seen 48 million years ago.

The berries of the white baneberry plant (Actaea pachypoda) are called doll’s eyes, for obvious reasons. The remains of the flower’s black stigma against the porcelain white fruit is striking, and I can’t think of another plant with fruit quite like these except maybe when red baneberry (Actaea rubra) decides to have white fruit instead of red. It doesn’t matter though, because both plants are extremely toxic and no part of them should ever be eaten. Finding baneberry in the woods tells the story of rich, well drained loamy soil and a reliable source of moisture, because those are the things that it needs to grow. I often find it at or near the base of embankments that see a lot of runoff. Actually white baneberry berries remind me of Kermit the frog’s eyes.

Each berry of a Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) starts out green and contains 3-5 seeds. Soon they’ll turn a beautiful bright, shiny red.  This is a native plant in the arum family similar to the Lords and Ladies plant found in the U.K. Deer often come by and chomp off the berries of the plant so I was happy to find these.

Chokecherries (Prunus virginianadangle beautifully red and ripe from the trees. The Native American Ojibwe tribe called them Asasaweminagaawanzh. They crushed them with stones and then heated them in a pan with lard and sugar. The berries were used in pemmican, in cakes, or cooked in stews after they had been crushed and dried. Pemmican was a meat, lard and fruit mixture which was stored as a high energy emergency winter food that kept people from starving if food became scarce. It saved the life of many a European as well. The Ojibwe still make and sell chokecherry syrup and chokecherry jelly. They say that they are one of the “sweetest tastes of white earth.”

I learned the secret of photographing purple grasses from purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis.) This beautiful little shin-high grass grows on sandy roadsides and flowers in late summer and early fall. Its purple flower heads will eventually turn a tannish color and break off. They are often seen rolling and floating along the roadsides like tumbleweeds in the fall. It reminds me each year how fall, like spring, actually starts on the forest floor.

Once fall begins there’s no stopping it and before long it moves from the forest floor to the understory, as these hobblebush leaves (Viburnum lantanoides) show so well.

And of course fall moves from the understory into the trees above, and you can just see that happening in the yellow tree in the center of this hill on the other side of Half Moon Pond, just a short distance down from the top. It’s an ash tree I believe, which is one of the first trees to turn in the fall. By the way, the name “ash” can be traced back to old English where it meant “spear,” because ash wood was the first choice for the shaft of such a weapon.

You can experience the beauty of nature only when you sit with it, observe it, breathe it and talk to it.
~Sanchita Pandey

I hope all of you are experiencing the beauty of nature, wherever you may live.

Thanks for stopping in.

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1. Foggy Morning

I have a new job and the road that leads to it is lined with things that I’ve never seen before. Half-moon pond is one of them and this is what it looked like early one recent foggy morning. I don’t know the name of the hill but I’d like to climb it to see what the pond looks like from up there. It’s supposed to be shaped like a half circle.

2. Sun Through the Trees

I had to drive through this on the same morning that the first photo of the pond was taken. Maybe this is a special place; I’ve seen this happen several times now but only right here at this spot and nowhere else.

3. Riverbank Grape

River grapes (Vitis riparia) have that name because they like to grow on riverbanks. They are also called frost grapes and have been known to survive temperatures as low as -70°F. Because of their extreme hardiness they are used as rootstock for several less hardy commercial varieties. The grapes are small but birds and animals love them. I like them because of the way they make the woods smell like grape jelly on warm fall days. There is a good crop this year, so I should get my fill of that.

4. Autumn Olive Fruit

Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) was imported for cultivation from Japan in 1830 and is one of the most invasive shrubs we have. It’s a plant that’s hard to hate though, because its berries are delicious and their content of lycopene is 7 to 17 times higher than tomatoes. Also, the pale yellow flowers are very fragrant just when lilacs finish blooming. It is a very vigorous shrub that is hard to kill but birds love its berries and spread it far and wide. Cutting it only makes it come back twice as bushy so digging it out is the way to go. The sale of this plant is prohibited in New Hampshire but that will do little good now that it grows along forest edges almost everywhere you look.

5. Black Raspberry

Many plants like the first year black raspberry cane (Rubus occidentalis) pictured here use the same powdery, waxy white bloom as a form of protection against moisture loss and sunburn. On plants like black raspberries, blue stemmed goldenrod, smoky eye boulder lichens, and the river grapes seen previously, the bloom can appear to be very blue in the right kind of light. Finding such a beautiful color in nature is always an unexpected pleasure.

6. Flying Machine

I heard a loud droning buzz when I was exploring the edges of a swamp recently and before long this –whatever it is- came into view. What is it, a flying machine or maybe an ultralight? I’m not sure what I should call it but there were two people in it and now I know how the people who watched Wilbur and Orville Wright fly that first plane felt: flabbergasted.

7. Jack in the Pulpit Berries

Jack in the pulpit berries (Arisaema triphyllum) are turning from dark green to bright red, and when they’re all nice and ripe a deer will most likely come along and eat the whole bunch of them, frustrating nature photographers far and wide.

All parts of this plant contain calcium oxalate crystals that cause painful irritation of the mouth and throat if eaten, but Native Americans knew how to cook the fleshy roots to remove any danger. They used them as a vegetable.

8. Pokeweed Berry

I love seeing the little purple “flowers” on the back of pokeweed berries (Phytolacca americana.) They are actually what’s left of the flowers’ five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. People do eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses.

9. Milkweed Aphids

I went to visit my favorite swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) recently and found it covered in bright orange milkweed aphids (Aphis nerii). Since I didn’t have a hose to wash them off with I had to let nature run its course.

10. Milkweed Aphids

Milkweed aphids (Aphis nerii) or any other aphid will literally suck the life out of a plant if they appear in sufficient numbers. When conditions get crowded and there are too many milkweed aphids females will grow wings and fly off to find another plant, which is what I think might have been happening here. Swamp milkweed is one of my favorite flowers and I really look forward to seeing them each summer, so I hope the aphids won’t weaken this plant too drastically.

11. Winged Sumac Aphids

While we’re on the subject of aphids, by an unfortunate coincidence the Smithsonian Institution people who wanted to collect sumac pouch galls sent me an email to tell me they were coming just as I changed my service provider. They were here and I didn’t know it but they found the galls they wanted and all is well. For those who haven’t heard, the Smithsonian is studying how staghorn sumacs and sumac gall aphids (Melaphis rhois) have co-evolved, and they have been collecting sample pouch galls from several states around the country. Science has shown that the sumacs and aphids have had an ongoing relationship for at least 48 million years. This photo shows the winged adult aphids that have emerged from the pouch gall, which is the thing that looks a bit like a potato. It’s hard to comprehend being able to see the very same thing now that could have been seen 48 million years ago.

12. Orange Xeromphalina kauffmanii Mushrooms

It’s amazing what you can see on an old rotten tree stump. The small orange mushrooms covering this one were enough to get me to stop. And then I started to look a little closer…

13. Slug

and saw that slugs were feeding on the mushrooms…

14. American Toad

and then I saw that American toads were there too, hoping to eat the slugs. Can you see the scary face on its back?

15. Orange Mushroom Gills

The mushrooms that caught my eye in the first place were cross-veined troop mushrooms (Xeromphalina kauffmanii,) which grow in large groups on hardwood logs and stumps. At least I think that is what they were. There is another nearly identical mushroom called Xeromphalina campanella which grows only on conifer logs and stumps. Whatever their name they are pretty little things, even when upside down. The largest was hardly the size of a penny.

16. Frog

The wood frog (Rana sylvatica) is vernal pool-dependent here in New Hampshire but its numbers are said to be in decline due to habitat loss. As dry as it has been here for the last couple of months it’s just not a good time to be a little wood frog. I hope this one found a pond.

17. White Pine Bark

Something (or someone) peeled some of the outer bark from an old white pine tree (Pinus strobus) and exposed its beautiful inner bark. I stood and admired its beauty, running my hand over it and thinking that it looked just like stained glass, and how fitting it was to find it here, in this outdoor cathedral.

It was in the forest that I found “the peace that passeth all understanding.”  ~Jane Goodall

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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1. Milkweed Tussock  Moth Caterpillar

This milkweed tussock moth caterpillar (Euchaetes egle) and several of his friends were busy eating a milkweed plant one day on the river bank. They, like the more familiar monarch butterfly caterpillars, advertise the toxicity they get from the milkweeds with black, white and yellow colors and birds leave them alone. They were feeding on top of the leaves, right out in the open.

 2. Grass with Purple Seed Head

One day I saw this grass growing by a pond. I’ve never seen another grass with a dark purple seed head like this and I haven’t been able to identify it.

3. Lady Bug

I wonder if the aphid just above the head of this ladybug knew that he was on the menu.

4. Milkweed Aphids

I was wishing the ladybug was in my pocket when I saw all of these aphids on a swamp milkweed pod. I’m hoping I can collect some seeds from them this year but that won’t happen if aphids suck all the life out of the plants.

 5. Eastern Tailed Blue Butterfly aka Cupido comyntas

This little butterfly led me down an interesting path recently. I saw a flash of blue wings and followed it around until it let me take some photos. Then when it came time to identify it I convinced myself that it was a Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis,) which is endangered and protected under federal law, and which you can go to jail for chasing.  After I caught my breath I took a closer look and noticed the little “tails” coming from the hind wings. They are one of the things that separate the Eastern tailed blue butterfly (Cupido comyntas) from the Karner blue so I was safe, but that was close!

6. Eastern Tailed Blue Butterfly aka Cupido comyntas By D. Gordon E. Robertson

I couldn’t get a shot of the eastern tailed blue butterfly with its wings open but I did find this excellent photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson on Wikipedia so you could see the same beautiful wing color that I saw. Just in case anyone reading this might be wondering, I’ve sworn off chasing blue butterflies.

7. Possible Common Wood Nymph aka Cercyonis pegala

I didn’t have to chase this brown butterfly. It just sat there and let me take as many photos as I wanted when its wings were closed, but every time I tried to get a shot with the wings open it closed them. I still wonder if it was reading my mind. At first I thought it was a common wood nymph (Cercyonis pegala) but now I’m not so sure. It had large spots on its upper wings.

8. Possible Small Heath Butterfly aka Coenonympha pamphilus

At one point I thought this was a meadow brown butterfly (Maniola jurtina), but then I decided it was a small heath butterfly (Coenonympha pamphilu.) Now I’m not sure if it’s either one, and you’re finding out why I do plants and not butterflies.

NOTE: Josh Fecteau from the Josh’s Jounal blog has identified this one as a Common Ringlet (Coenonympha tullia). Thanks Josh!

 9. Virgin's Bower Seed Heads

Virgin’s bower vines (Clematis virginiana) are slowly going to seed.

10. Rose Hips

The hips of the Alberta wild rose (Rosa acicularis) are the only ones I know that have prickles. I’ve never seen them on rugosa rose hips. I’m not sure what the white liquid that looks like latex could be.

11. Cauliflower Mushroom

This is the only cauliflower mushroom (Sparassis spathulata) that I’ve seen but I don’t know how I’ve missed them all of these years, because they’re big. This one was the size of a soccer ball. It has a strange growth habit that looks to me like a big ball of cooked egg noodles and in fact, people who eat them use them in place of egg noodles in dishes like beef stroganoff. They are said to grow on the roots of hardwoods but this one was under an eastern hemlock.

12. Tiny Yellow Mushrooms

These butter wax cap (Hygrocybe ceracea) mushrooms growing on a twig were very small and I wasn’t sure if I could even get a photo of them.  The biggest might have been a little over a quarter inch tall with a cap half the diameter of a pea. The smaller ones looked like yellow dots.

 13. Mystery Fungus

Here’s one for all of you mystery lovers out there. These string-like fungi (?) were on the vertical face of a rotting log but they didn’t look like they were growing out of it. They looked more like they had been placed there. It was hard to tell how long they were but it must have been at least 3-4 inches and their diameter was just about the same as a piece of cooked spaghetti. I’ve never seen anything like them.

 14. Mystery Fungus Closeup

Here’s a closer look at the mystery whatever they are. They appeared to be very fragile because two or three of them were broken into pieces. Were they even alive? I’ve looked through all of my mushroom books and spent considerable time on line trying to identify them but haven’t had any luck. If you know what they are or if you’ve ever seen anything like them I’d like to hear from you.

15. Chicken of the Woods aka Laetiporus sulphureus

This one was not a mystery. I’ve seen chicken of the woods before (Laetiporus sulphureus,) but never one as colorful as these. All of those I’ve seen in the past were plain sulfur yellow without the orange, and that’s why another common name for them is sulfur shelf. I’ve read that as they age they lose the orange color, so these examples must have been very young. The name chicken of the woods comes from the way they taste like chicken when cooked. Finding bright colors in the woods at any time of year is always a surprise and I always feel grateful that I was able to see them. I sat on the log beside these mushrooms for a while, admiring them. They were beautiful things, bigger than my hand.

Nature, even in the act of satisfying anticipation, often provides a surprise. ~Alfred North Whitehead

Thanks for coming by.

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