Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Wooly Alder Aphid’

We’ve had some rough weather since I last did one of these “things I’ve seen” posts; large amounts of rain, record high temperatures and strong winds. Clouds like these have been commonly seen in the afternoon, just before a downpour.

One storm had strong straight line winds of 60+ mph and blew down many trees. These examples were sheared off rather than blown down but the trees were still done for no matter how it happened.

The wind blew bird’s nests right out of the trees.

The rain filled the rivers and gave me a chance to practice my wave shots at the Ashuelot River in Swanzey.  I like to see if I can tune myself into the rhythm of the river so I can tell ahead of time when a wave will form. Once you have tuned into its rhythm you can get photos of cresting waves again and again, with little effort.  As Joseph Campbell once said; The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.

Bailey Brook Falls up in Nelson, which is north of Keene, had plenty of water tumbling over the rocks. Last time I was there it was barely a trickle.

Since I was at Baily Brook Falls anyway I decided to walk the old dirt road and look for signs of bear. They were easy to find; marking this utility pole seems to be a favorite pastime of theirs. All the light colored tooth and claw marks seen here were all made by bears.

They also use the pole as a scratching post and rub up themselves against it. They often leave hairs behind when they do, and these were just slightly above eye level. I was glad I didn’t meet up with the donor. I wouldn’t have wanted him to think I was marking his territory.

I’ve seen a few great blue herons this summer but Lo and behold, this one was moving instead of pretending to be a statue. It was moving because moments before I had stepped around some brush and came almost nose to beak with it. We were both startled (in fact I might have said aa!) but the heron calmly walked away while I stood fumbling with my camera. This is the second time this has happened in as many years and I’m convinced that great blue herons don’t have very good hearing. I wish they’d find a way to let me know they were on the other side of the bush.

This heron was also moving but it was notable because it was moving through a field, and that’s something I’ve read about but have never seen. But since I took this photo I saw another one doing the same thing so it must be fairly common behavior. I’d say from the bulge in this one’s throat that it’s also a successful strategy. You don’t realize just how tall a great blue heron is until you see them with their neck fully outstretched. I wasn’t close enough to be able to tell for sure but it looked like this one could have pecked the top of my head.

I saw a beetle with a strange insignia on a shield like appendage and I immediately thought that it would be a nightmare to identify, but it was actually very easy.

It was the American carrion beetle (Necrophila americana) which is something I’ve never seen before. Not surprisingly, this beetle eats decaying flesh in both its adult and larval stages. Since there was no decaying flesh anywhere near where it was I thought it was odd that it was there but they do eat insect larvae as well so maybe that’s what it was hunting. I’ve read that adults prefer moist habitats and are active all summer. One generation is born each year.

There’s nothing odd about a bumblebee on a flower until I tell you that this bee was huge; at least as big as half my thumb. It also looked very different than the bumblebees that I’m used to.

That’s because it isn’t a bumblebee at all. It’s an eastern or Virginia carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica) and that marking just between its eyes makes it very easy to identify. These bees nest in wood and eat pollen and nectar. They don’t eat wood but they will excavate tunnels through rotten wood. The adults nest through winter and emerge in spring. Though it is said to be common in the eastern part of the country I can’t remember ever seeing one. I’ve read that they can be up to an inch long and this one was all of that. Females can sting but they do so only when bothered. Males don’t have a stinger, thankfully.

Here was something strange that I can’t begin to explain. That butterfly flat on the ground was dead and the two standing butterflies were watching over it as if guarding it. As I got closer to take photos they would fly around me and then land near their dead compadre again, time after time. I think the standing ones were clouded yellow butterflies (Colias croceus.)

This is the dead butterfly that the mourners were tending to. I thought it would be easy to identify but it hasn’t been and I’ve run out of time. If you happen to know I’d love for you to tell me and I’d also love to know what this behavior is all about. I’ve never seen anything like it.

I saw another strange insect that I haven’t been able to identify on a milkweed plant. A “wheel bug” is the closest I could come, but that isn’t it.

I wondered if the strange insect did this to the milkweed seed pod. I’ve never seen one grow in a spiral.

Wooly alder aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellatus) grow a white, filamentous waxy covering that looks like it’s made up of tiny white ribbons. When grouped together in a colony the insects look like white fuzz on the alder’s branches and this white fuzz helps protect them from the eyes of predators. You can see aphids without their covering at about twelve and nine o’clock in this photo. They have a kind of checkerboard pattern on their backs. They are sap sucking insects which secrete a sweet honeydew on the leaves and branches of plants. This honeydew attracts a fungus called black sooty mold, but since the mold grows only on the honeydew and not the plant, it doesn’t harm plants. The aphids themselves will do far more harm because they can literally suck the life out of a plant.

Wooly alder aphids are quite small; smaller than a pencil eraser and can be hard to see, even with the white waxy covering. I look on the undersides of alder branches at about this time of year. Something I’ve never seen before are the reddish blobs that appear in this photo. I’m not sure but it looks as if some of the aphids on this branch were crushed somehow and I think that is their “blood.” If you are lucky enough to catch these insects in flight, they look like tiny white fairies. In fact another name for them is “fairy flies.”

I was driving slowly, looking for fall color, down an old road one recent evening and saw a young cottontail ahead. I stopped and turned my camera on. It was cloudy and already nearly dark at 6:00 pm but I thought I’d at least try. But the camera wouldn’t have it; I was too far away. So, instead of getting out of the car and scaring the rabbit away I simply took my foot off the brake and let the car creep toward the bunny. It couldn’t have cared less and kept munching grasses while the car crept ahead. This poor photo was taken from about 10 feet away through the windshield. The rabbit never moved until another car came along from the opposite direction.

I haven’t seen the beautiful autumn scarlet leaves of Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) yet but the berries are ripe. The blue berries on their pink stems (pedicels) is a sight that goes far back into my memory because my mother loved Virginia creeper and grew it on wire on the side of our house. Many birds (35 species) love these berries, including thrushes, woodpeckers, warblers, vireos, mockingbirds, chickadees, and turkeys. So do mice, red fox, skunks, chipmunks, squirrels, and deer. I’ve read that birds are attracted more to red fruits than the blue-black ones found on Virginia creeper, so the vine compensates by having flaming red leaves in the fall. When birds land amidst all the attractive shades of red they find and eat the berries.

The berries of silky dogwood are ripe now but when I took this photo they were in their turning from green to white to blue phase. In the middle of that turning some of the berries are white and blue at the same time and I’ve always wondered if that’s where the ancient Chinese got the idea for their beautiful blue and white porcelain. That’s a question that will most likely never be answered but I’d say that it is a fair bet that most if not all ancient innovations came from studying nature. One need only to look at the spiral as an example; it is found in everything from the center of a sunflower to a hurricane to the Archimedes screw; they have fascinated mathematicians, scientists, and artists for thousands of years.

Fall starts tonight at about 10:00 pm so I thought I’d show the only good display of fall colors that I’ve seen so far. There should be plenty more coming but for now this view of Half Moon Pond in Hancock is a good preview. For some reason the trees around this pond change before most of the others I see.

I’d like to end this post with a thank you to all the readers who wrote in to say that what I thought was pollution on the banks of the Ashuelot River in my post of last Saturday might easily have come from natural sources. Iron rich ferrous hydroxide that occurs naturally in soil can cause the oil like sheen on water, as can bacteria generated hydrocarbons in oxygen depleted soil. The example shown here was found on the very wet soil of a seep. It did my heart good to think that the Ashuelot River might really be completely clean once again, so thanks again for the enlightening information.

Since we cannot know all there is to be known about anything, we ought to know a little about everything. ~Blaise Pascal

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

1. Pine Bark Beetle Damage

Pine bark beetles (Ips pini) made an intricate design on a white pine (Pinus strobus) limb. These beetles are small and range in size from about 1/10 to 1/4 of an inch in length, but they can do a lot of damage when enough of them are in a forest. They feed on the phloem tissue just beneath the bark and if they girdle the branch it will die. Dead branches mean no photosynthesizing and eventually the tree will die. For those who have never head the term; girdling of a branch or tree happens when the phloem and bark has been cut around its diameter in a complete circle. Native Americans and then early settlers used girdling to remove trees from fields and pastures and it is still used by some today.

2. Reindeer Lichens

I saw a beautiful drift of gray and green reindeer lichens recently. This shrubby lichen gets its common name from the way reindeer and caribou paw through the snow to find and eat it. Reindeer lichen reproduces vegetatively by small growths called soredia that break off and grow new lichens under the right conditions. The soredia are carried by wind, water or animals. Reindeer lichens grow about .31 inches (8 mm) per year so it’s clear that this drift has been here for a very long time. They can live for a century or more and studies have shown that only boiling and radiation caused severe damage to them. There are many who believe that lichens are virtually indestructible and are therefore immortal.

3. Reindeer Lichen

Reindeer lichens remind me of corals that you would see under the sea. The grayish white color and the way that the branch tips all point in one direction tell me that this one is gray reindeer lichen (Cladina rangiferina.) I find the biggest colonies of this lichen along the edge of a pine forest, growing in a very thin quarter to half inch of dry sandy soil over granite bedrock. At times they get so dry that if you walk on them it sounds much like it would if you walked on potato chips. I’ve read that reindeer lichens produce a single new branch each year and that their age can be determined by counting the branches. The plants pictured must have been very old indeed. I’m glad that I didn’t have to count their branches.

4. Bittersweet in Tree

Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) grew into the top of a tree and then found that it had nowhere else to climb so it massed in the tree top, and its bright red berries show that. Bittersweet is very persistent and will simply grow or hang back down until it reaches the ground and then creep until it finds something else standing vertical. As it grows the vine winds tightly around the tree trunk and doesn’t expand when the tree does, so its wire like strength will eventually strangle the tree. This is why its sale and cultivation are banned in New Hampshire.

5. Blueberry Stem Gall

Blueberry stem gall always reminds me of a kidney bean. This gall forms when a shiny black wasp called Hemadas nubilipennis damages a bud while laying her eggs on a tender shoot. The plant responds to the damage by growing a kidney shaped gall around the eggs, and this is where the larvae will overwinter before emerging as adults in the spring. This example was a highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) but this wasp isn’t choosy and will also use lowbush plants (Vaccinium angustifolium.) The galls do no real harm to the plants.

6. Witches Broom on Blueberry

This witch’s broom on a highbush blueberry looked very red. It’s interesting that the highbush blueberry’s leaves turn a beautiful red in the fall and the stem galls and witch’s broom are also red. Why so much red present, I wonder. Witch’s broom is a deformity that causes a dense mass of shoots to grow from a single point. It’s not caused by an insect but by a fungus called Pucciniastrum goeppertianum. This fungus spends part of its life cycle on the needles of balsam fir (Abies balsamea) so bushes should never be planted near fir trees. When the fungus releases its spores and they land on the stems and leaves of the blueberry, the bush becomes infected. The fungus overwinters on the bush and in the spring again releases spores which will infect even more balsam fir trees, and the cycle begins again. The disease infects the entire plant so pruning off the witch’s broom won’t help. I’ve worked on blueberry bushes that have borne large amounts of fruit even though they had witch’s broom, so I’m not sure how much the deformity harms the plant. I think it’s more offensive to the eye than anything.

7. Waterlily Leaf in Ice

A water lily leaf was trapped in the ice just off shore in a small pond. It tugged at me and I thought it might make a fine picture, but it looked much better in person than it does here.

8. Hornet Nest

Do hornets care that what they build is so beautiful, I wonder?

9. Burl

There was a time that I thought I had some artistic ability and I’d sit for hours drawing and painting. One of the things I loved especially was pen and ink drawing, and that’s what this burl I found on an old tree stump reminded me of. It looked like a Da Vinci sketch in pen and ink with a colored wash over all to add some depth and character, and how beautiful it was. I think the old master himself would have been pleased to see it.

For those not familiar with burl; it’s an abnormal growth that grows faster than the surrounding tissue. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage.  Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and /or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. Woodworkers make some very beautiful things from burl and prize burls highly. Bowls and other objects made from it can sometimes sell for thousands of dollars.

10. Wooly Aphids

I found this colony of wooly alder aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellatus) on an alder limb. These insects can be winged or unwinged and need both silver maples and alders to complete their life cycle. Eggs overwinter in crevices in the bark of silver maple trees. In spring, nymphs hatch and begin feeding on the underside of new leaves. In late May through July, they develop wings and fly to alder trees where they feed on twigs and begin reproducing. Soon the colony is composed of aphids in all stages of development and becomes enveloped in white, fluffy wax as seen in the photo. Some aphids mature, return to silver maple trees and mate. Each mated female lays only one egg, which once again starts the overwintering stage.

11. Wooly Aphids

Wooly aphids are sap sucking insects that secrete sweet honeydew on branches and leaves of plants. The honeydew attracts a fungus called black sooty mold. Since the mold only grows on the aphid honeydew and not the plant, it doesn’t harm plants. In fact the aphids will do far more harm. I’m not sure if the aphids with dots in this photo always look that way, if they haven’t grown the white waxy covering yet, or if they’ve lost the covering for some reason. They were very small; not even pencil eraser size.

12. juniper Berries

I love seeing juniper berries at this time of year. A waxy coating called bloom makes them a bright and beautiful blue. I always wonder how many gin drinkers know that the unique flavor in their drink comes from this plant’s fruits. Though they’re called berries, botanically speaking juniper fruits are actually fleshy seed cones. Unripe green berries are used to flavor gin and the ripe, deep purple-black berries are the only part of a conifer known to be used as a spice, often used on game like venison, moose and bear meat.

13. Unknown Fungi

Part of what I try to do on this blog is show the amazing and beautiful things that are tucked into virtually every nook and cranny of nature and, with nothing but a slower gait and a watchful eye, how easy they are to see. Walking along at a toddler’s pace and looking at logs is just how I found the unknown fungi in the above photo. I knelt to give them a closer look and saw that they were like nothing I’d seen. Finding unexpected beauty like this can take us to that higher place where time seems to stop for a while. Sometimes it’s hard to know how long you’ve been there but that’s okay; as Mehmet Murat ildan said: “If you are lost inside the beauties of nature, do not try to be found.”

14. Mushroom Mycelium

Mushroom mycelium grew on the bottom of a log where it made contact with the soil. It wept golden nectar and its many intricacies reminded me of distant cosmic nebulae where stars and planets are born.

He who does not expect the unexpected will not find it, since it is trackless and unexplored. Heraclitus of Ephesus

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Here are a few more of those out of the ordinary things that I stumble across in my travels.

 1. Beard Lichen

Like the bones of a prehistoric reptile or the ruins of an ancient castle, beard lichens (Usnea) always remind me of the great age and great mysteries of this earth. This one has become an old friend and I visit it often. Most lichens refuse to grow where there is air pollution, so seeing them is always a good sign.

2. Bubbkegum Lichen

Ground dwelling lichens like this bubblegum lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum) will become covered with leaves and harder to see before too long.  This lichen gets its common name from the bubble gum pink fruiting bodies.

3. Scattered Rock Posy Lichen

Scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) grows on stones in full sun, so it will be visible all winter long. This is one of my favorite lichens and one of the most beautiful, in my opinion.

4. Beechnuts

Beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) are dropping their ripe nuts now and I saw a few places last week where the forest floor was littered with them.  The chipmunks and squirrels have been busy though, so you find more empty husks than anything else.

5. Beechnut  Opened

If you harvest beechnuts and then leave them alone for a day or two they will open like the one in the photo, and out will drop two kernels. Like many trees and other plants, beech trees will have a year of heavy production, known as a mast year, and then produce very few nuts for a few years afterwards. Since most of the kernels I opened were empty I have to assume that this isn’t a mast year.

6. Wild Sarsaparilla Fruit

The black, shiny wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) berries are ripening. This year has been amazing as far as the bounty of nuts, fruits, and berries I’ve seen. I think the birds and animals will have a good winter with plenty to eat.

7. Polypody Fern Sori

Now is the time to turn over the leaves of the common polypody fern (Polypodium virginanum ) to see the naked spore capsules, which are called sori.  Most ferns have a flap like structure called an indusium that protects their spores, so being able to see them exposed like this is unusual. They always remind me of tiny round baskets full of flowers. The Druids though this fern had special powers because of its habit of growing near oak trees. Its roots and leaves have been used medicinally for many centuries and its name appears in some of the earliest herbal and botanical texts.

8. Cockleburrs

Common cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) grows in every state except Alaska and throughout most of Canada. The spiny parts of the plant in the photo hide its tiny female flowers parts. Male flowers can be seen in the upper part of the photo, just to the right of center. I find cocklebur growing on riverbanks but it can also grow in agricultural areas. Since it can be toxic to livestock it isn’t a favorite of farmers and ranchers. Historically it has been used medicinally by Native Americans and was once used to make yellow dye.

9. Wild Cucumber Fruit

Young boys just need something to throw at each other (and rarely at young girls if they’re trying to get their attention) and it’s as if wild cucumber seed pods (Echinocystis lobata) were specifically designed for that purpose. The spines are scary looking but in reality are soft and aren’t really prickly until they are dried. This one reminded me of a small spiny watermelon.

10. Foxtail Grass

It’s not hard to see where green foxtail grass (Setaria viridis) gets its common name. This grass is a native annual that grows in clumps. Each bristle, called an awn, comes from a single grass flower and through natural rain and frost action burrows into the ground with the seed once it falls from the seed head. These plants are very dangerous to dogs and other animals because the awns, driven by the animal’s normal muscle movements, can burrow into their skin and cause infection and even death if not treated. Dog owners would be wise to rid their yards of any kind of foxtail grass.

11. Wooly Alder Aphid aka Paraprociphilus tessellatus

This colony of wooly alder aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellatus) on an alder limb was quite large. These insects can be winged or unwinged and need both silver maples and alders to complete their life cycle. Eggs overwinter in crevices in the bark of silver maple trees. In spring, nymphs hatch and begin feeding on the underside of new leaves. In late May through July, they develop wings and fly to alder trees where they feed on twigs and begin reproducing. Soon the colony is composed of aphids in all stages of development and becomes enveloped in white, fluffy wax as seen in the photo. Some aphids mature, return to silver maple trees and mate. Each mated female lays only one egg, which once again starts the overwintering stage.

12. Water Lily Stems

I watched the sun come up over a local pond recently and it was at the perfect angle for lighting up water lily stems. Since this isn’t something I often see I thought I’d show them here. These leaf stalks are flexible and coil somewhat to allow for fluctuations in water depth.

13. River Rocks

I visited a different section of the Ashuelot River one day and found that someone had been stacking rocks. Some Native American tribes believed that stacked rocks were a spiritual method of protecting sacred spaces. They were often built near powerful energy sources like springs or places with high numbers of lightning strikes. Piles and stacks had many different shapes and sizes and each meant something different.

14. Old Red Oak Tree

This large red oak stood next to a trail I was following one day. It isn’t the biggest I’ve seen but it was big. I leaned my monopod against it to give an idea of its size. A small sign nearby said that its age is estimated to be 300 years, and that it probably was never cut because it grew on a stone wall. Stone walls are boundary markers here in New Hampshire and it is illegal to remove stones from them or alter them in any way unless they are on your land. I can picture the farmers on either side of the wall not cutting the tree because their neighbor might have claimed ownership. That’s the way we do things here-not wanting to bother our neighbor, instead of asking we wait and see, sometimes for 300 years.

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. ~Carl Sagan

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »