Posts Tagged ‘Monarch Caterpillar’

This post is a kind of hodge podge of things I saw last summer when I was taking a break from blogging and things I’ve seen recently. If there is any continuity at all, any thread that runs through it, it is I hope how the beauty of this world can be found everywhere you look. The photo you see above happened just last week as I was going into a store to do some grocery shopping. I wasn’t surprised to see many people just walking right by without seeing it. We live in a paradise that is absolutely filled with beauty all the time, night and day, and we should give ourselves time to at least notice it. How long does it take to appreciate the beauty of the frost crystals on your car windows before starting the car in the morning, or to simply look up at the sky now and then?

This shadow of a staghorn sumac reminded me of the palm trees I saw when I lived in Florida. The first time I crossed over from Georgia into Jacksonville, Florida it was about two in the morning, and the palm trees that lined the center of the divided road, lit up as they were by streetlights, seemed like the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I felt as if I were driving into a postcard. I felt electric, and more alive than I had ever been.

Here is another kind of shadow. The town put in a new sidewalk last summer and last fall of course the falling leaves landed on it. This leaf, from a maple, leached out its tannins and left its silhouette on the newly poured concrete. Maple leaves are one of the species used for botanical or “eco-printing,” which is where leaf and bark shapes and colors are transferred or bled onto fabric or paper.

When the town put in the new sidewalk they tore up lawns all up and down the street, so to finish the job they brought soil in from somewhere, and what you see above is what sprouted from that soil on the corner of the street; a forest of what are commonly known as weeds, like lamb’s quarters.

One of the plants that sprouted from the soil that was brought in was jimson weed. When I first saw it its big, beautiful white and purple flowers were just about to open. Jimson weed is considered poisonous to both humans and livestock so I was surprised to see it growing here, on the lawn of a children’s daycare center. This hallucinogenic plant in the nightshade family is also called loco weed and was used by Native Americans on spiritual quests. The original common name was “Jamestown weed” which was given to it after English soldiers in the Jamestown colony began to behave oddly after eating leaves of the plant. It is said that they “behaved like animals for several days.” This plant is considered exceedingly dangerous due to poisonings and deaths by people trying to get high. I was going to say something about it but the daycare wasn’t due to open until school started, so there was nobody to say anything to.

Another plant that grew from the foreign soil was wild mustard, which I never used to see much but now see fairly regularly. Because of the plants that grew from it I have a feeling that this soil must have come from old pasture land. There is old pasture south of here and I’ve seen these same plants growing there. In any event, I went back a few days later to see the beautiful Datura flowers and everything had been mowed down to something resembling lawn. I was a bit disappointed because Datura blossoms are very beautiful.

I went to a pond that I had been to a hundred times last summer and found this small, foot tall fern that I had never seen growing in the water right at the shoreline. The rounded over edges of the sub-leaflets didn’t look familiar but they, along with the way the leaflets twisted along the stem helped identify it.

I turned one of the fronds over and saw something I had never seen. The curled over edges of the sub-leaflets formed cups filled with what looked like blackberry jelly, but of course these were the fern’s spore cases (sori) and there must have been many hundreds of them. With all the hints it gave me it was easy to identify it as the marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris pubescens.) It has fertile and sterile leaves but the fertile ones tend to be smaller, according to what I’ve read. It likes wet feet and full sun. This isn’t a very good shot of the spore cases so I hope to return this coming summer and try again.

According to the book Identifying Ferns the Easy Way, A Pocket Guide to Common Ferns of the Northeast, by Lynn Levine, the caterpillars of the marsh fern moth feed on the leaves of this fern and it is the only known host plant of what is an uncommon moth.

And speaking of uncommon moths, here is a large maple spanworm moth (Prochoerodes linolea.) I found it relaxing on the siding of the local post office and was amazed by its resemblance to tree bark. I’d guess that I’ve probably walked right by them thousands of times in the woods but here on this bright white wall it was easy to see. Life is such a beautiful and amazing thing. Emily Dickinson said it best: To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.  

I’ve known tansy for a very long time but for years if I wanted to see it, I had to visit a garden. Only over the last few years have I found it in the wild, so as an invasive plant it has failed miserably in this area, even though it has excelled elsewhere. In colonial times tansy was used as both a flavoring in tea, cakes and puddings and an insect repellant, used especially for bedbugs. It was also used to make green dyes and was thought valuable enough to be brought over on a three-month voyage. It is also toxic, so though I don’t have a problem with using it to repel insects I doubt I’ll ever flavor anything with it.

I didn’t see large numbers of monarch butterflies this year but I saw a few, and I found a patch of Joe Pye weed that they and spangled fritillary butterflies seem to prefer over all the other flowers in the area. I would revisit this spot every few days and each time these flowers had several butterflies and bumblebees visiting.  You have to look closely to see them but there are many bumblebees in this shot.

What was it, I’ve wondered, about these particular plants that made them so attractive to so many insects?

I also saw a monarch butterfly caterpillar on a milkweed plant last summer. I don’t see very many of them so it was a surprise.

The unusual berries of the white baneberry plant (Actaea pachypoda) called doll’s eyes, have over the past two or three years turned black and shriveled up for reasons I can’t fathom, but last summer they were nearly pristine when I found them. 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. The hot pink pedicels are pretty as well. These plants are toxic but luckily the berries are so bitter one bite would be enough to make anyone spit them out. 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 almost always find them at the base of hillsides.

I saw very few mushrooms last summer because it was so dry, but I did see a few Indian pipes, which is odd since they’re parasitic on certain fungi.

Here is a rarely seen (by many) look into the inside of an Indian pipe flower. At the tips of the 10 stamens surrounding the center stigma are the anthers, colored yellow, which contain pollen. The anthers are open and shedding pollen at this stage. In the center of the flower is the pollen-collecting stigma, which looks like a funnel between the yellowish stamens. Each flower will stand straight up when it is ready to be pollinated, and once pollinated will eventually become a hard brown seed capsule. You can find them sticking up out of the snow, usually in groups, at this time of year and they are always fun to look at.

If you walk in certain places at certain times, you might see things that you will only see once in a great while, if at all. People often ask me how I do this; how I see what I see. The answer is to simply be there. I spend as much free time outdoors as possible. I also walk very slowly and pay close attention. Many times, I just stumble onto the greater part of what you see here on this blog. If I had been just a few minutes earlier or later I might have missed the sunlight highlighting the hairs on this staghorn sumac. That would have been too bad because it shows how the plant got its name, with its velvety softness just like that of a deer’s antler.

With other things found in nature, you can often do some planning ahead. For instance, if you know that the “bloom” on black raspberry canes is made of a kind of natural wax, and if you know that it “melts away” in warm summer weather, you know that your best chance of seeing it is in the cooler months. You will also find this same beautiful blue, which is a result of the way sunlight is reflected by the wax crystals, on blueberries, plums, lichens, and many other things.

This photo of American hazelnut catkins might not seem like much but it is special to me because it was taken with a cell phone. Since I’ve struggled with getting a shot of these little things even with a macro camera in the past, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the phone camera got it. The depth of field could have been better but all in all I was happy with it. You can see how the triangular bud scales spiral up the catkin. When the catkin swells and the bud scales begin to open in spring the tiny, beautiful golden flowers will do the same. They are among the earliest spring flowers and I look forward to seeing them each year. It won’t be long now.

Many will most likely think big deal, it’s just an old leaf, but if you had lived through 60+ New Hampshire winters like I have you would know that any splotch of color is beautiful in the often stark black and white world of January. Any color anywhere will stop you in your tracks and you’ll be thankful that it was there for you to find.

How does a child see the world? What is childlike wonder? Everything a young child sees is fresh and new; they’ve never seen it before so they have no history; no file cabinet full of memories to search through and compare what they see now to what they saw then. A child sees a branch or a rock and becomes enraptured by it because it is fresh and new. They see what is right now, as it is. We adults on the other hand, compare what we see to what we’ve seen before and instantly decide that it’s better or worse than the one we saw previously. Once we do that all the freshness, the newness, and the wonder is gone, and what we see becomes old. Children see as much with their hearts as with their eyes and if you follow their lead great beauty will appear, seemingly out of nowhere. The more beauty you see the more you will see, and before long you will have to say, as I did, “My gosh, everything is so very beautiful. Just look at it!”

If we have relegated vision solely to a function of the eyes, we are blind indeed.
~Craig D. Lounsbrough

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I’m happy to say that I’ve seen more monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) this year than I have in the last few years combined. In fact one day there must have been a dozen on and around a patch of milkweed I saw recently. I hope this means that they’re making a comeback.

I should say for the newcomers to this blog; these “things I’ve seen posts” contain photos of things I’ve seen which, for one reason or another, didn’t fit into other posts. They are usually recent photos but sometimes they might have been taken a few weeks ago, like the butterflies in this post. In any event they, like any other post seen here, are simply a record of what nature has been up to in this part of the world. I often do a post like this one when I can’t go on a hike or climb due to rain or in this case, heat and humidity.

This isn’t a very good photo but it does show that this butterfly is indeed a monarch and not a viceroy. Viceroys have a black line drawn across their hind wings and they aren’t seen here.

This is the first photo of a monarch butterfly caterpillar to ever appear on this blog and that’s because I never see them, but on this day I saw two of them on some badly chewed milkweed plants. Monarch females usually lay a single egg on a milkweed plant, often on the bottom of a leaf near the top of the plant. Eggs are only about the size of a pinhead or pencil tip and are off-white or yellow, characterized by longitudinal ridges that run from the tip to the base. The eggs hatch about four days after they are laid and the caterpillars appear. It takes monarchs about a month to go through the stages from egg to adult.

I haven’t seen many pearl crescent butterflies (Phyciodes tharos) this year but this one landed on a nearby coreopsis blossom and let me get quite close. I’ve read that males have black antenna knobs, so I’m guessing that this is a male.

This white admiral butterfly (Limenitis arthemis) landed on a dry gravel road in the very hot sun. It seemed like odd behavior for a butterfly but you could fit what I know about them in a thimble and have room to spare.

Where I work there is a large roof overhang and an outdoor light that attracts many different moth species. The roof overhang protects them from rain and probably bats too, and they are often there on the wall when I get to work in the morning, like this false crocus geometer moth (Xanthotype urticaria) was. The true crocus geometer moth (Xanthotype sospeta) is larger, pale yellow, and has few or no brown spots. Because of its striking markings this moth was relatively easy to identify.

I saw a bumblebee on a thistle blossom and in fact I’m seeing many bumblebees this year, sometimes 2 or 3 on a single blossom.

I saw a wasp like creature on a goldenrod but I haven’t been able to identify it.

I went into bear country in Nelson to see if I could find a club spur orchid that I found there last year. I didn’t find the orchid but I did find bear hair on one of their favorite phone poles. I was very happy that I got out of there without meeting up with the donor because these hairs were quite high up on the pole and that means a tall bear.

There were also fresh bite / claw marks on the pole. I wonder what the bear thought when it came back to its favorite scratching pole and found my scent on it.

A garter snake stuck its tongue out at me.

And another one, hiding under a kayak, smiled at me. These two snakes were young and small and probably couldn’t have eaten anything bigger than a cricket.

I’ve seen egg sacs of spiders before but they’ve always been white, until now. I read on Bugguide.net that pirate spider egg sacs (Mimetus) are roughly spherical with an irregular covering of loose, brownish or orange silk, and hang by an inch-long thread, so I’m guessing this is a pirate spider’s egg sac. I’ve also read that pirate spiders get their name from the way they hunt by picking at the strands of another spider’s web to simulate the movements of either a trapped insect or a potential mate. When the other spider comes to investigate, they are captured and eaten. 

One of the most toxic plants known is the castor bean, so I was a little surprised when I found this one growing in a local garden. I think it is Ricinus communis “red giant”, which has red leaves and bright red, bur like seed heads. Though the seed pods have a beautiful color, according to Colorado State University “several toxic compounds are found in the leaves and seeds. Ricinoleic acid is the primary component of castor oil and ricin (glycoprotein) is found in highest concentration in the seeds. Toxic effects appear within a few hours and are generally fatal.”  They also said that castor bean plants (Ricinus communis) have become a weed in most southern U.S. states, which I didn’t know. Beautiful but deadly.

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.

Long time readers of this blog probably know that I’m colorblind and that red is one of the hardest colors to see for me. That being said I can’t explain why the bright red seedpods of some St. John’s wort plants (Hypericum) are so easy for me to see. I saw this plant growing in the wet mud at a pond edge. St John’s wort berries may ripen to green, white, yellow, peach, orange, scarlet or purplish colors, with some finally becoming almost black at maturity. The fruits and seeds of all hypericum-family plants are considered toxic and will cause digestive upset if eaten.

By far the biggest mushroom that I’ve ever seen is Berkeley’s polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi.) These monsters often measure feet across and this one must have been 2 feet across at its widest point. This mushroom grows at the base of hardwoods in the east and in the west a similar example, Bondarzewia montana, grows at the base of conifers.

A couple of years ago I found this odd, sprawling little plant that I had never seen before. I showed it on a blog post and helpful readers told me it was a spike moss, which I hadn’t heard of. I went back to see it this year and it really hadn’t changed much but I tried to look it over a little more carefully and I did some reading about it. I believe this example is meadow spike moss (Selaginella apoda.)

Spike mosses are considered “primitive” seedless (spore bearing) vascular plants and therefore aren’t mosses at all. This pretty little plant is more closely related to the clubmosses, which are also spore bearing vascular plants known as lycopods. It doesn’t appear to be evergreen like the clubmosses however. It’s a pretty little thing.

In 2015 someone from the Smithsonian Institution read another post where I spoke about sumac pouch gall and contacted me to ask if I knew where they grew. They are researching the coevolution 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. When mature they will be tomato red. 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 I told them that I could show them or tell them where many of these galls grew. They collected galls from here and also collected them from Georgia, Arkansas, Michigan and Ohio.

One of my favorite things to see is this river of reindeer lichen, like snow in summer. Since there are no reindeer or other animals to eat the lichens they thrive here. But they are fragile and should never be walked on.  Reindeer lichen is very slow growing at about an eighth to three eighths of an inch per year and if overgrazed or dug up, it can take decades for drifts like the one pictured to reappear.

This reindeer lichen was very dry and crisp like a potato chip due to lack of rain. Once it rains it will become soft and pliable, much like your ear lobe. The Native American Ojibwa tribe was known to bathe newborns in water in which reindeer lichens had been boiled.

I hope everyone has the time to just go outside and soak in those parts of nature, however great or small,  that are available to you. Though I’ve shown two or three photos of pickerel weed already I can’t resist showing another. I just stand and gaze at scenes like this and I hope you have places of your own where you can do the same. You’ll know you’ve found such a place when you find a smile on your face you didn’t know was there.

It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree—not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself—and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fishermen’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed. ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

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