A Brief and Welcome Respite

Remember last week when I wrote about how hot it’s been and how that had me resigned to mostly indoor activities? Well, lo and behold, we’re having an amazingly beautiful and comfortable few days here in northwest Ohio, almost as if better weather was summoned by my complaints! (I had no idea I had this power…hmm.) With temperatures barely topping 80F and cool winds from the ENE, I’ve been able to spend time doing what I love again — wandering around in nature taking photos of interesting critters.

The other day I took a book and lawn chair to one of our more secluded Metroparks, intending to enjoy a few hours of reading in the shade. But once I got there I decided to walk around the lake with my camera instead. It was pure heaven for my overwhelmed nervous system: no agenda, no goals, just observing, breathing, enjoying.

As always, I had some interesting encounters of the insect variety, despite rather cloudy skies. There were few dragonflies to be found, but other insects were active down in the vegetation, so I turned my focus toward them. I saw a few of these really interesting milkweed longhorn beetles in the genus Tetraopes, which means “four eyes.” Take a close look at this photo:

Milkweed longhorn beetle on common milkweed

See how the antennae bisect each compound eye into two distinct sections? And here’s a full-body pose from another individual that was farther away from me but very obliging as a photo subject.

Red milkweed beetle (Tetraopes tetropthalmus)

And before we leave the subject of milkweed-dependent species, I saw my first monarch butterfly in my yard this year, and she spent time feeding on butterfly milkweed before fluttering around in my large patch of Sullivant’s milkweed, hopefully choosing it as a spot to lay her eggs. She didn’t lay any eggs today, but I’ll be watching for her to come back.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) on Sullivant’s milkweed in my garden

Back to my exploration of the park though. I learned something about another beetle that I thought I knew pretty well. This one peeking at me from the petals of a black-eyed susan is a margined leatherwing beetle (Chauliognathus marginatus). I almost got this one wrong because I relied solely on the wing markings, which look more like those of the goldenrod soldier beetle (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus). As I consulted my beetle reference book (Beetles of Eastern North America, by Arthur Evans), I learned to look at the black V-shaped mark on the head, as well as the proportions of the pronotum (the rectangular portion behind the head). The wing markings can be highly variable, so that alone can’t be used to distinguish the two species. And the two species occur in different times of the summer, with this one in late spring/early summer and the goldenrod soldier beetle occuring later in the summer when its favored food plant (goldenrod) is blooming.

Margined leatherwing beetle (Chauliognathus marginatus) on black-eyed susan

Compare the wing markings on this other individual from the same location and you’ll see how easy it is to get confused. And notice the beauty of the little clover flowers too; I never cease to be amazed at how much more interesting tiny things are when you look at them up close.

Margined leatherwing beetle (Chauliognathus marginatus) on clover

And if you’ve made it through the insect photos, now you get to see some critters of the more cuddly types. See, if you let me tell you about bugs, I reward you with bunnies.

Eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus)

You can’t tell from this photo, but this was a very small rabbit; it was sitting right in front of me on the road, only moving when I inched my car closer to it. I was relieved to see it hop into the shelter of the roadside vegetation. The rabbit family that lives in my yard has already produced at least two litters, and each evening I see a tiny baby rabbit hopping down my front sidewalk. I hold my breath hoping it doesn’t stay out in the open too long, because the other day I saw a cat drag a baby bunny up over my 6-foot privacy fence. (If I can ever find out who owns this free-roaming cat, I’ll give them a piece of my mind.)

American red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)

I was treated to a few moments with another mammal, this cute red squirrel. Most of the squirrels in my yard are the larger fox squirrels, so I always enjoy seeing these smaller ones. I snapped a photo and walked on, and just a few seconds later I heard a commotion in a nearby tree. I watched as a cedar waxwing was dive-bombing the squirrel around and around the trunk as it apparently was trying to raid the bird’s nest. The waxwing spent a good 45 seconds telling the squirrel in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t welcome, and then the dutiful parent posed for me as it waited to make sure the squirrel wasn’t coming back for another attempt.

Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)

I spent the next day at home, enjoying my yard and taking advantage of the cool breeze to do some garden chores I’d been putting off for too long. I took a lot of photos because there’s been a sudden explosion of insects that arrived as my native garden burst into bloom over the past few days. I sat on my swing with my feet cooling in my new rubber duckie pool (pic in my previous post), reading a good book, and getting up occasionally to walk around the garden with my camera. I’ll show you some of those pics in another post, but I did want to share one more insect photo.

As I sat on the swing, I saw an enormous cicada killer wasp patrolling the lawn just a few inches above the ground. I realized that I’d just heard cicadas singing for the first time the previous night, so it made perfect sense that this predator would show up as soon as its prey had emerged from the ground. I wasn’t fast enough to get a picture of the one in my yard, but my friend Mark got a beautiful shot of one in his yard on the same day, and has graciously allowed me to share it with you here. (Thanks Mark!) If you’ve never seen a cicada killer before, you might not realize how large it is — they’re about 2 inches long! But as intimidating as they are, they’re generally harmless to people; they inject venom into cicadas to paralyze them and then drag them into their underground burrows to become food for their baby wasps. I hope to witness that drama play out one day soon. But until then, I’m taking it easy — resting, reading, writing, and getting healthy again.

Thanks for hanging out with me.

15 comments

    • Thanks, Ron. This is the third year for my sullivant’s milkweed, and the first time it has bloomed. That seems to be the pattern with most of my native plants. The first couple of years they don’t bloom because they’re growing those really long root systems, and then in the third year they grow twice as big and put on a great show!

  1. Glad for your respite with the weather. Such interesting insects too. That’s too bad about the local cat being allowed to run loose too. Happens around our place as well. Stay cool and don’t let those nasty deer flies get you!

    • Yeah, the outdoor cat issue is so frustrating. Maybe I should just be glad I don’t live someplace like Panama where cats and dogs roam freely in the streets with no collars, many of them starving. That would make me insane if I had to see that every day.

  2. Your photos are gorgeous, Kim, as always. I appreciate learning about insects from your posts. I’d love to take more time to look at the insects on local wildflowers, but… deer flies! They’re awful this year and I don’t dare stop for more than a second!

    • I hope not too, Neil! Maybe you just need to spend some time quietly observing…sometimes I think nobody’s around until I sit down and just wait for them to show themselves. Thanks for taking the time to comment. 🙂

  3. I’m particularly fond of Cedar Waxwings and your pic is a stunning. Made me smile so big – but not as big as my smile at the thought of you with your feet hanging out in your rubber ducky “pool”. Keep adventuring, Kim. You inspire me.

  4. You were right! I saw the obelisk pose everywhere I looked while at the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. I never knew!
    Loved the ducky foot cooler ! The current weather is a blessing to be able to learn more in nature. Much needed therapy.

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