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Posts Tagged ‘Milkweed Beetle’

 

I think since March we’ve had one completely dry week and that was last week. Other than that we’ve had at least one rainy day every week, and sometimes as much as 4 inches of rain has fallen in that one day. Parts of the state have seen flooding and roads have been washed away, but so far in this part of the state we seem to be weathering the storms quite well. All that water means waves in the Ashuelot River though, so I was able to practice my wave photography skills. I try to catch them just as they curl, as this one was.

Deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) blossomed along the Ashuelot. I don’t suppose many people have seen a deer’s tongue but I have and the leaves of this grass really do look like one, so it’s a perfect name for the plant. This is a very course, tough grass that is common in waste areas, roadsides and forest edges. It can be very beautiful when its leaves change in the fall; sometimes maroon, deep purple or yellow, and sometimes multiple colors on one leaf.

All the rain means a great mushroom season is upon us. The American Caesar mushroom (Amanita jacksonii) starts out bright orangey red and then turns to orange or yellow. Its flesh is white and its gills are bright yellow. It is said to be the American version of the European Caesar mushroom (Amanita caesarea,) which got its common name by being a favorite food of early Roman rulers. This mushroom is closely related to the toxic fly agaric and the deadly death cap and destroying angel mushrooms, so great care should be taken with identification before it is eaten.

Violet toothed polypore (Trichaptum biformis) looks a little like the turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor,) and I’m fairly certain that I have misidentified it as such here on this blog. Once you get to know the two though, it’s obvious that the purple edges on these are not found on turkey tails. I wish I had taken a photo of the undersides of these as well because it is supposed to be a beautiful lilac purple color and that’s something I’ve never noticed before. I see this pretty fungus rarely enough to always forget to peek underneath.

Elderberry flowers have been successfully pollinated and are slowly becoming berries, but at this stage the big flower heads look like star charts.

All the rain, heat and humidity we’ve had means perfect conditions for slime molds. I found this example searching for food on a fallen branch. Through a process called cytoplasmic streaming slime molds can reach speeds of up to 1.35 mm per second, which is the fastest rate recorded for any micro-organism. Scarcity of food is what drives them on, always searching for bacteria and yeasts to feed on. As this photo shows, slime mold plasmodium can be a mass of glistening vein-like material (actually a single-celled amoeba) that creeps across dead leaves, wood, or soil. I think this example might be the many headed slime (Physarum polycephalum.)

Here is another form that shape shifting slime molds can take. I believe this is the plasmodium stage of egg shell slime mold (Leocarpus fragilis.) In one stage of their life cycle these slime molds have a brittle outer shell that cracks and fractures like an eggshell. They will mature and become dry and turn first brown, and then gray. Blackish spores will be produced. Eggshell slime molds like to hang out on pine needles logs, stumps, and sometimes will even appear on living plants.

Spotting slime molds from a distance isn’t that hard if you know what to look for and where to look. It’s important to remember that hot sunlight dries them out, so they’ll be on the shaded sides and undersides of logs, on stumps, mossy rocks, and in the leaves on the forest floor in the darkest part of the forest where the soil stays moist. I look for what look to me like white or colored smudges. The closer you get to the smudge the easier it is to see detail, as this photo from about 3 feet away shows.

Here’s a closer look at the slime mold in the previous photo. I think it might be coral or white fingered slime mold (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa.) Most good mushroom books will include a section on slime molds that can help identify some of the most common ones, but uncommon slime molds can be very hard to identify.

A juvenile male widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) landed on a grass seed head for a few seconds. I think it’s a juvenile male because the females don’t have white wing markings and adult males have a whitish blue body.  The luctuosa part of the scientific name means sorrowful or mournful and it is thought that it might be because the darker wing markings make them look like they are draped in mourning crepe.

I haven’t seen a single monarch butterfly yet this year but I’ve seen a few of the other large butterflies, like this eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus).  Butterflies can absorb minerals and salts from the soil and I think that’s what this one was doing. It’s called puddling.

This eastern tiger swallowtail found a tasty heal all plant (Prunella vulgaris) to snack on.

I thought that this stunning creature was a butterfly when I first saw it on the grass in a lawn but after some research I found that it was a virgin tiger moth (Grammia virgo.) It is a large, butterfly sized moth and I’ve read that its hindwing color can vary from yellow to scarlet. Unfortunately they can’t be seen in this photo. The larvae feed on various low growing plants, which is apparently why I found it in a lawn. Though there are countless photos of this moth online there is very little information on it. It is certainly one of the prettiest moths I’ve seen.

I’ve been checking milkweed plants for signs of monarch butterflies but so far all I’ve seen are red milkweed beetles (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus.) These beetles eat milkweed plants and absorb its toxins much like monarch butterflies do and this and their red color keeps predators away. I’ve read that milkweed beetles squeak when they’re feeding on milkweed, but I saw hundreds and didn’t hear a single peep out of any of them. The ancient Greeks called this insect four eyes because of the way their antennae bisect and seem to grow out of their eyes.

Timothy grass was unintentionally brought to North America by early settlers and was first found in New Hampshire in 1711 by John Hurd. A farmer named Timothy Hanson began to promote cultivation of it as a hay crop about 1720, and the grass has been called Timothy ever since. Timothy-grass (Phleum pratense) flowers from June until September and is noted for its resistance to cold and drought.

Timothy grass is an excellent hay crop for horses but what I like most about it is its flowers. Each flower head is filled with tiny florets, each with three purple stamens and 2 wispy white stigmas. This one wasn’t showing the purple stamens so I might have been too early. Quite often the heads look completely purple when they bloom. The example shown does show the tiny, feather like female stigmas. Flowering grasses can be very beautiful and I hope more people will stop and take a look at them.

If you want purple in your grass it’s hard to beat purple top grass (Tridens flavus cupreus.) This is a perennial grass that can get 3-5 feet tall. It likes to grow in disturbed soil and I see it along field and forest edges. I’ve tried for several years to get the camera to see what I see when I look at purple grasses but the photos were never accurate until I discovered the secret just recently, and that is taking the photo just after sunset when the light is still bright but there is no direct sunlight on the grass heads. There is also less wind to blow them around at that time of day as well.

I actually learned the secret of purple grasses last year when I was taking photos of purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis,) but it didn’t click in my mind until this year. As a nature photographer you never stop learning, and nature itself is often the best teacher. You try and try and then try again, and eventually you hit on the right light, or the right background, or the right perspective and then finally you have it, and then you can show the plant or any other bit of nature at its best. In my line of thought, this is how you get people interested enough to want to get out there and see nature for themselves; by showing it at its most beautiful. 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.

When the tiny green flowers of staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) have been pollinated they become fuzzy red berries, but before that they go through a fuzzy purple stage, as can be seen in the above photo. I’ve never seen this before this year, probably because I wasn’t paying attention. Native Americans made a kind of lemonade from these berries and they can also be dried and ground to be used as a lemony flavored spice.

The black willows (Salix nigra) along the Ashuelot River have gone to seed. Willows have been used medicinally for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks made willow bark tea to ease the pain of stiff joints and headaches and to reduce fevers, and Native Americans used the plant in the same way. Willows are so useful for pain relief because they contain a compound called salicylic acid. The acetylsalicylic acid found in aspirin is a synthetic version of it. Willows like wet feet and usually grow on the banks of ponds and rivers.

The blue of blue bead lily berries (Clintonia borealis) is quite different from the blue of blueberries; what I call electric blue. The seeds in these berries can take two years to germinate and adult plants can take twelve years to finally show their yellow, lily like blossoms. This plant is also called “cow tongue” because of the shape of its leaves. Deer, chipmunks and many other animals and birds love the berries and I often have trouble finding them because they get eaten so fast. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat burns and infections, and bears are said to be attracted to its root.

What I believe is a male slaty skimmer (Libellula incesta) is easily one of the most beautiful dragonflies I’ve seen. Its deep indigo blue color isn’t seen often in nature, but the blue bead lily berries do come close. I actually thought this dragonfly was black when I was taking its photo from several feet away and didn’t realize it had such a beautiful color until I saw the photo.  Nature is full of surprises, and that’s one reason I’m outside as often as possible. I just love seeing things like this that I’ve never seen.

Nearness to nature keeps the spirit sensitive to impressions not commonly felt and in touch with the unseen powers. ~Charles Eastman

Thanks for stopping in.

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