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Posts Tagged ‘Tent Caterpillar’

For six weeks now we’ve had at least one rainy day per week and often two or three. This has amounted to a drought busting 2-3 inches of rain each week and the water table is again where it should be, if not a little high. Unfortunately along with the rain we’ve had cold and until this past week it seemed that it would never warm up, but warm up it has and temps in the 90s are expected for part of next week. Beaver brook seems happier when it’s full. It cheering chuckles and giggles can be heard throughout the forest and it is a welcome companion when I walk along its shores.

The orangey red fertile fronds of cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) have appeared. They once reminded someone of sticks of cinnamon, and that’s how this fern comes by its common name.

A closer look shows that this isn’t cinnamon. The fertile fronds are covered with its sporangia, which is where its spores are produced. Each one is hardly bigger than a pin head. Native Americans used this fern medicinally, both externally and internally for joint pain. Many ferns were also woven into mats.

Even the seeds (samaras) of red maple (Acer rubrum) are red, and a beautiful red at that. Squirrels love red maple seeds and that’s probably a good thing because our trees produce many millions of them. A single tree about a foot in diameter was shown to produce nearly a million seeds, and red maple is the most abundant native tree in eastern North America. Native Americans used red maple bark to wash inflamed eyes and as a remedy for hives and muscle aches. The tree’s wood was used for tools and its sap boiled into maple sugar, much like the sap of the sugar maple.

One of the things that determines how many acorns an oak will produce is the weather. Since the male flowers release pollen to the wind in the hopes that it will reach the female flowers, rain can have a big impact because it can wash the pollen out of the air. Since we’ve had a lot of rain this spring it will be interesting to see how many acorns we have this fall. The flowers shown are the male catkins of a red oak (Quercus rubra.)

These are the male pollen bearing cones of the mugo pine (Pinus mugo.) Mugo pine is a native of southwestern and Central Europe which is used as a landscape specimen. Its pollen cones closely resemble those of our eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) When the female flowers are fertilized by this pollen they produce the seed bearing pine cones that we are all familiar with. Here in New Hampshire pine pollen is responsible for turning any horizontal surface, including ponds and vehicles, a dusty green color each spring. It also makes some of us have sneezing fits.

I heard that the new spring fiddleheads of the royal fern (Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis) were purple and, since I’ve never paid attention to them I decided to go and see some. Sure enough they were deep purple. I shouldn’t have been surprised because another name for this fern is flowering fern, because its fertile fronds are purple.

Royal fern is the only fern that grows on every temperate continent except Australia, which makes it one of the most widespread of all living species. They are also thought to be one of the oldest living things, with fossil records of the Osmundaceae family dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are thought to be able to live 100 years or more. They like wet feet and grow along stream and river banks in low, damp areas.

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) starts out life in spring with its leaves colored red or bronze and people are often fooled by it at this stage. It is a plant that anyone who spends time in the woods should get to know well, but even then you can still occasionally be caught by it. It doesn’t need to have leaves on it to produce a reaction; I usually end up with a rash on my legs each spring from kneeling on the leafless vines to take photos of spring beauties. Luckily it doesn’t bother me too much but I’ve known people who had to be hospitalized because of it.

This Northern water snake was basking in the sun, which they often do. I’ve seen them about 3 feet long but they can reach about 4 1/2 feet in length. According to Wikipedia they can be brown, gray, reddish, or brownish-black, but the ones I’ve seen have looked black. That could be because they were wet but they also darken with age and become almost black. They aren’t venomous but I’ve heard that they will bite and that their bite can sometimes lead to an infection if it isn’t taken care of. They eat small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, and even small birds and mammals, like chipmunks. They’re also very fast and hard to get a good photo of.

Early one morning I saw a dragonfly on a building. I knew it was alive because it was moving one of its legs slowly back and forth. It let me get the camera very close and didn’t flinch even when I turned on the camera’s LED light. I haven’t been able to confidently identify it but I thought it might be a Lancet club tail. I hope someone will let me know if I’m wrong.

I’ve never gotten so close to a dragonfly. Odd that it didn’t fly away.

Tent caterpillars appear in early spring as buds begin to open. They prefer fruit trees but can also be found on maples, hawthorn and others. Their nests are smaller and more compact than fall webworms and are found in the crotch of branches rather than at the ends. Often the caterpillars can be seen crawling over the outside surface of the nest as these were. They feed in morning and early evening, and on warm nights. They do a lot of damage and can defoliate a tree in no time at all. Though the tree will usually grow new leaves it will have been severely weakened and may not bear fruit. As the larvae feed they will make the silky nest larger to enclose more foliage.

A close up look at the tent caterpillars. They can be seen crawling everywhere at this time of year. Tent caterpillars are an important food source for insects, animals and birds. One bear was found to have eaten about 25,000 of them and more than 60 species of birds will eat them. Frogs, mice, skunks, bats, reptiles and 28 different insects help control the population but nothing can stop them. Scientists have found that a severe outbreak can defoliate tens of thousands of acres of forest.

This robin had a beak full of caterpillars but they weren’t tent caterpillars. He didn’t seem real happy to see me.

Some think that without ants their peony blossoms wouldn’t open, but that’s really just an old wive’s tale. Peony buds have very small glands called extrafloral nectaries along the outside edges of their bud scales. These glands produce a mixture of sugar, water and amino acids, and this is what attracts the ants. To repay the peony for its gift of nectar the ants drive off pests that might harm the buds.

Native Americans held turkeys in such high regard they buried the birds when they died, but the turkey’s value was in its feathers, not its meat. The feathers were used to decorate their ceremonial clothing and as arrow fletching to stabilize arrows.  They were also used for winter cloaks because they were lightweight and very warm. A feather from a turkey was powerful medicine thought to symbolize abundance, pride, fertility and wisdom, but the meat was considered starvation food. Early colonials mentioned the small flocks of young turkeys seen near Native villages and how the Natives refused to kill them for food, which they couldn’t understand. Of course Europeans saw little to no value in the feathers.

Why some plants have red or purple leaves in spring isn’t fully understood, but it’s thought that the color helps protect their new, fragile leaves from damaging ultraviolet rays and cold temperatures. It isn’t just trees that use this strategy; many shrubs and plants also have new leaves tinged with red or purple. The rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum) in the above photo shows just how purple some new spring leaves can be. Eventually all its leaves will be green but the color won’t disappear entirely; a deep maroon color will be left on their veins, making this a very beautiful plant at any time of year.

The heartwood of oaks and some other tree species have a high tannin content and when iron or steel come into contact with the tannins a chemical reaction takes place. This almost always results in a discoloration of the wood. It is caused by nails, barbed wire, chains, or any one of a hundred other iron or steel objects that can be found in trees. There is even a photo online of a bicycle grown into a tree. This is trouble for loggers, because if the sawmill sees stains like those on the red oak log pictured above they’ll reject the log. Their saw blades are expensive and running them through steel just doesn’t work.

If you happened upon a shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) tree just after bud break it would be easy to believe that you were seeing a tree full of beautiful flowers, but what you saw would be the colorful insides of the newly opened bud scales. What you saw would also be one of the most beautiful things you could find in a New England forest in spring.

The woods were ringed with a color so soft, so subtle that it could scarcely be said to be a color at all. It was more the idea of a color – as if the trees were dreaming green dreams or thinking green thoughts.  ~Susanna Clarke

Thanks for Stopping in.

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1. Christmas Fern Fiddlehead

Evergreen Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) have just come up and this is one of the spring fiddleheads that I must have never paid attention to, because I was surprised to see it covered with silver hairs. I think its spiral shape is beautiful but it’s also common; spirals are used over and over in nature. Prehistoric people carved spirals into the walls of their caves and we have tiny spirals in our ears. Snail shells grow in spirals, millipedes curl into spirals, sunflower florets, grape tendrils and even entire galaxies are spirals. And no one knows why.

2. Spotted Salamander

Spotted salamanders are burrowing creatures that spend much of their lives in burrows or under leaf litter, coming out only to eat and mate. I happened to be doing some digging at work and uncovered the salamander in the above photo. They like rainy weather in the spring, so they must be very pleased with this month so far. I left this one alone and it burrowed right back into the soil after a few moments.

3. Chipmunk

It’s nice to see the chipmunks again. They’re very curious little creatures and will often follow along as you walk wooded trails. They live in stone walls when they can and when they hear you they’ll often come out of their burrows to see what you’re doing. That’s just what this one was doing when I took his photo. He sat there until I started walking and then hopped from rock to rock following me.

4. False Morel

Fungi have started to make an appearance and the first I’ve seen is this 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.

5. White Pine

White pines (Pinus strobus) seem to be doing well this year, showing plenty of new growth. The buds seen in this photo are called candles and will grow on to become new branches and needles. White pines are very common native trees here in New Hampshire. There are records of early colonial settlements being entirely wiped out by scurvy before Native Americans showed the settlers how to make tea from white pine needles. They are one of the richest sources of vitamin C found in nature. Native Americans used all parts of the tree and were said to value pines above any other plant.

6. Ash Flowers

Flowers usually appear just as leaf buds break but before the leaves fully develop on green ash trees (Fraxinus pennsylvanica.)  I think the ones shown here are male, because they are typically shorter and less showy than the female flowers. They have a tubular calyx and 2 stamens and are often purple tipped as those in the photo. Ash trees are sensitive to pollution, so seeing them is a good sign of clean air.

7. Female Box Elder Flowers-2

I’ve already shown photos of female box elder (Acer negundo) flowers recently but I turned a corner and there they were, hanging at eye level. I didn’t mind because I think the sticky lime green pistils are beautiful. One of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen was a box elder growing on the banks of the Connecticut River and that was odd because they’re considered a relatively short lived tree.

8. Unknown Sedge Flowers

As I become more familiar with sedges I’m seeing more and more of them. I found the one in the above photo near a local pond. The male flowers are the creamy yellow parts at the top and the female flowers are the wispy white filaments along the bottom. The female flowers bloom first to catch pollen from other plants and then a few days later the male flowers start to shed pollen so the wind can take it to another plant. This ensures cross pollination and guards against self-fertilization. Sedges look like course tufts of grass but the flower stalks are triangular instead of round, and this leads to the old saying “sedges have edges.” They are gaining popularity as garden plants and some even use them in place of a lawn. I haven’t been able to identify this one yet.

9. Tent Caterpillars

Tent caterpillars were just leaving their nest when I happened along. The moth that laid the eggs on this tree was a species of moth in the family Lasiocampidae, which lays its eggs almost always on plants in the rose family, like cherry and apple trees. The eggs hatch just as the new buds appear on the tree and the caterpillars feed three times each day, just before dawn, at midafternoon, and in the evening after sunset. Cherry leaves contain toxic compounds that the caterpillars absorb so most birds won’t touch them, and that’s the reason for their great success. They can defoliate a tree and this will weaken it, because without leaves it can’t make the food it needs. Most trees will recover, but they won’t look too good while they do.  People often confuse tent caterpillars with fall webworms, but fall webworms don’t cause any real damage because the trees they appear on have usually stopped photosynthesizing and no longer needs the leaves that the caterpillars eat.

10. Ladybug

I noticed that this ladybug on a beech bud had a large black spot on the rear of its shell that looked like damage. I tried to find information on ladybug diseases but didn’t have much luck.

11. Ladybug

Here’s another look at the damaged ladybug. Not only did its shell have a black spot, it looked like it had been dented as well. Ladybugs eat many insects that can damage plants so I hope there aren’t any diseases spreading among them. Maybe a bird caused the damage. Whatever it was didn’t seem to hinder its movement; it crawled along the beech bud as if the wind were at its back. When it reached the very tip it turned and went back just as quickly, and I wondered if what was damaged was its sense of direction.

12. New Beech Leaves

The reason I found the ladybug was because I was in the woods looking for one of the most beautiful signs of spring. Angel wings are what newly unfurled beech leaves (Fagus grandifolia) remind me of, with their fringe of soft silvery, downy hairs. Each spring I check the buds once or twice a week to see if the typically arrow straight buds are curling, because that’s the sign that they’ll open before long.  After they’ve started to curl they’ll also start to swell up, and that’s when I start checking them every other day. This beauty happens quickly and is easily missed.

13. New Beech Leaves

Beech (and other tree) bud curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the leaves can emerge. At the bud’s location on the tree branch an entire year’s new leaves and stems will often grow from a single bud, as can be seen in the above photo. It’s incredible to think that all of that growth came from a single bud in just a matter of days.

14. New Oak Leaves

Oak leaves are usually one of the last to appear, so I was surprised to see these new leaves. The weather is fooling us all I think, but it’s a great opportunity to see what in nature is triggered by warmth and what is triggered by day length.

15. Maple Leaf

The woods are full of beautiful things that you’ve never seen and won’t ever imagine and I hope you’ll have a chance to go and see them for yourself.  As I’ve said here before; I can’t tell you what you’ll see but I can guarantee that you’ll never regret seeing it.

Some of the best advice you will ever hear will come from the forest. ~Dacha Avelin

Thanks for coming by.

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