Holy Lupines, Batman! (aka Blue Week)

Today marks the end of the annual celebration known as Blue Week here in the Oak Openings region of northwest Ohio.  Blue Week is an event of the Green Ribbon Initiative, a consortium of local organizations working to protect the biological diversity of our area.  I serve on the boards of two nonprofits who are members of the Green Ribbon Initiative (Toledo Naturalists’ Association and Wild Ones Oak Openings Chapter). I wrote more about Blue Week two years ago in this post, if you’d like to read about the significance of the Oak Openings ecosystem.

When I started my native garden project, I was eager to have wild lupines growing in my yard. These native flowers (Lupinus perennis) are the iconic symbols of Blue Week, and the reason for the timing of the celebration each year. I was given six tiny lupine plants in the fall of 2017 after I’d volunteered at our Metroparks Toledo native seed nursery. I planted them in the sandy soil of my garden and watched all but one of them die over the first year. The surviving plant didn’t bloom last year, but just look at what it’s doing now!

Lupine blooming in my yard - blog (2)

I’m overjoyed to see this plant thriving in my yard, and am encouraged to try to add more of them. Luckily for me, a local nursery is selling them now, and I was able to get a few more. I put them in the ground several days ago, right beside the existing lupine. Unfortunately, a small rabbit has made a home in my garden and he ate all four of the new lupines a couple days ago. But there are still a few tiny leaves on those new plants, so I’ve fenced them off and will see if they can make it.

That naughty bunny also found my sky blue aster to be tasty, chewing several inches off the top of the young shoots about a week ago. I think the aster will be okay too, but that bunny is lucky he’s cute enough to make me tolerate his ravaging of my plants.

This afternoon I spent some time in my backyard trying to photograph this interesting plant to help you see how beautiful it is. So I’m going to stop with the writing and just show you the pictures. Enjoy!

Wild lupine in my yard on 5-19-19

Wild lupine in my yard
Note my 2nd year native garden along the fence in the back of this photo — looking great!
Lupine blooming in my yard - blog (1)
I find both the flowers and the foliage beautiful on this plant
Lupine blooming in my yard - blog (4)
The flower stalks bloom from the bottom to the top
Lupine blooming in my yard - blog (3)
Looking down from above one of the flower spikes — isn’t that gorgeous?!
Lupine with rain droplets w sig
The leaves are magical after a rain!

And finally, this is what it looks like when you find a larger number of lupines together. This was taken at one of our local metroparks.

Blue lupines (2) (1280x853)

Dandelion Delight

Yes, you read that right — I said, “Dandelion Delight,” alright. Many people despise these little yellow flowers that pop up in lawns in early spring, and do everything they can to eradicate them.  In fact, there may be no more-hated flower than the hapless dandelion.

Dandelions and violets at Salamander Flats w sig

You may be thinking, “Hey, aren’t you all about native plants now? What gives?”  It’s true, the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) isn’t native to North America, and I sure wouldn’t advise you to plant it on purpose. But it’s here and it’s widespread, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. But there’s a silver lining to this dilemma, and it’s the fact that dandelions are sometimes useful to early spring pollinators.

Black-shouldered drone fly on dandelion - blog w sig
Black-shouldered drone fly (Eristalis dimidiata)

For example, right now there are very few native flowers blooming in my part of Ohio. And yet some of the pollinators have already emerged or migrated back. Luckily for these early bird insects, dandelions are a plentiful food source to get them through until more of our native flowers are blooming. The other day I went to a local nature preserve that has a thriving population of dandelions, because I wanted to show you some of the pollinators that were feeding on them.

First was the black-shouldered drone fly shown above. Then I found one of my favorites, a hoverfly. I believe this may be the American hoverfly (and I hope to confirm that when my new field guide arrives very soon!).

American Hoverfly maybe (Eupeodes americanus) on dandelion w sig
Possibly an American hoverfly (Eupeodes americanus)

Butterflies may not be as efficient at pollinating as bees and flies, but they still make a valuable contribution to this essential step in botanical reproduction. Small amounts of pollen can attach to their wings or other body parts as they feed on nectar, thus allowing them to inadvertently carry that pollen to other flowers. On this day I saw many red admirals and American ladies feeding on the pretty yellow dandelion blooms.

Red Admiral butterfly on dandelion cropped w sig
Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

And check out this greater bee fly with his long rigid proboscis. Unlike a butterfly, this fly can’t retract his “tongue.” That seems like it would be cumbersome, but he apparently makes it work.

Greater bee fly on dandelion with long proboscis w sig
Greater bee fly (Bombylius major)

His lovely wing pattern at first tricked me into thinking he was a tiger bee fly (which I wrote about last summer), but I quickly realized he was different. In fact, I had only seen my first of this species a couple days before, when I visited Goll Woods to photograph wildflowers.

Greater bee fly on dandelion w sig
Greater bee fly (Bombylius major)

I found a nice article about greater bee flies by Eric Eaton, so if you’d like to read more about them, I suggest you go to Eric’s blog, here.

So I hope this will give you pause the next time you’re considering yanking dandelions from your lawn, or even worse, pouring toxic chemicals on them. If we can learn to see them as beneficial to the ecosystem, and even — gasp! — enjoy their beauty, perhaps we can eventually learn to live in harmony with the rest of the life on this amazing planet.

White-crowned Sparrows amongst the dandelions - blog
White-crowned sparrows amongst the dandelions

Going Native in Toledo — Series Intro

Backyard preview through redbud blooms - blog teaser
Peeking into the backyard through the redbud blooms

In the spring of 2017 I moved to Toledo, Ohio. I bought a house with a lovely yard where I would finally be able to experiment with native plant gardening. I’m beginning a series of posts to document what I’m doing — the plans, the failures, the successes — and to provide information about why native plants are important. This is a learn-as-I-go project, so it might be messy (and maybe even embarrassing) but I figure that will still be entertaining for you. 🙂

This series will be intermingled with my usual posts about dragonflies and birds, but you can always find the posts in this series by choosing “Native Plants” from the Category drop-down on the right side of the blog.

Here are a few earlier posts that serve as background to the upcoming series:

Ohio Has the Blues – May 22, 2017 – in which I tell you a bit about the Oak Openings region of Ohio and the rare plants and animals found here.

Going Native in Toledo – September 6, 2017 — in which I define “native plants” and dream about my garden plans.

City Girl Goes Wild – December 12, 2017 — in which I join Wild Ones, an organization devoted to preserving biodiversity with native plants. And I actually begin collecting the first plants for my garden project!

I’ll need to do a couple more posts to catch you up on what I’ve done so far this summer, and then I hope to keep up in real time.  I hope you’ll want to read the series — to commiserate with me about my mistakes and celebrate the successes. In the meantime, here’s a little teaser pic for now.

Garden teaser for blog July 2018

Please Stop Killing Snakes!

Sigh. I was in the process of writing a very pleasant post about some lovely dragonflies, but something more important has come up, prompting this brief subject detour.

Three times recently I’ve seen posts by friends on Facebook proudly proclaiming “victory” because they’d killed a snake in or near their home. The posts look something like this: “Me 1: Snake 0,” as if it’s some sort of competition…or even a war. They usually go on to describe the weapon they used to murder the poor animal, and then lament the mess of blood they have to clean up afterward. And these posts are usually responded to with cheers from their friends congratulating them for their bravery. Never once does anyone ask if it was a venomous snake or was threatening them in any way. That doesn’t seem to matter. All that matters is “off with its head!”

Hog-nosed Snake - head crop
Young  Eastern hog-nosed snake, about 8 inches long. He eats toads, not people. (Toledo, Ohio)

I get that lots of people are afraid of snakes, I really do. I’ve been startled by them many times on my walks, as they suddenly slide across a path and slither into a meadow. I don’t like that feeling of being startled. But this attitude of killing every snake just because, well, it’s a snake…well, that bothers me deeply. I think if people took the time to learn more about snakes they wouldn’t be so quick to act with aggression. So that’s why I’m writing this today, to urge everyone to just slow down and think about these fascinating animals.

I know many people will have stopped reading this already because they feel a sermon coming on. And I guess there’s nothing I can do to reach those people who aren’t willing to reconsider their views. But for those who are open-minded enough, I decided to write a little bit in support of snakes, and to suggest ways to overcome that all-too-human instinct to decapitate them and then want a medal for it.

Garter snake head closeup (800x662)
Eastern Gartersnake, very common and completely harmless (Toledo, Ohio)

And by the way, I’m not trying to say that you should welcome snakes into your home, not at all. They need to be removed to the outdoors, gently and safely, by someone who knows how to do that. This is about the indiscriminate killing of snakes outside, in yards and gardens.

Okay, let’s do this. First of all, I find the best way to overcome any fear is to educate myself about whatever it is I’m afraid of.  The Ohio Division of Wildlife has a fantastic series of guides to help us learn about the various types of animals in our state. Your state may have something similar. A quick perusal of the snake section in their Reptiles of Ohio Field Guide tells me that there are 28 species of snakes in Ohio and only three of them are venomous. Here’s their page on the Eastern Massasauga, for example:

Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake Ohio

They also give you tips for determining if a snake is venomous or not:

Venomous vs non-venomous snakes Ohio DNR

This little booklet has helped transform my fear into curiosity and wonder at these beautiful creatures. And even if I’m still “afraid” of venomous snakes, I know that they prefer to get away from me and will usually only strike if provoked. I guess I’m more respectful than afraid, really.

So, now we’re armed with knowledge about which snakes are venomous, and therefore we know that none of the others should be feared. At all.

But there’s more…not only are they not to be feared, they are desirable animals. One of my friends who killed a snake recently has also been concerned with rodents in her garden. The irony of this was not lost on me because I know that a snake will take care of that rodent problem for you, lickety-split. (Now there’s a phrase from the early 19th century for your enjoyment.)

Not only do snakes control rodents around homes, but they do it for free! And they don’t destroy the garden by digging holes either (although they do use holes dug by other animals). They don’t spread diseases. They don’t harm your plants. And they don’t want to see you any more than you want to see them. They just want to be left alone to live their quiet, unobtrusive lives.

Garter snake sketch (1) (800x600)
Gartersnake sketched from my photo.

A few years ago I tried to sketch a garter snake I saw on the beach in Michigan. I’m not much of an artist, clearly. But the process of trying to draw this one forced me to look at it much more closely than I’d ever done before. And when you look closely at them, they’re incredibly beautiful. Worthy of admiration rather than scorn, in my humble opinion. Could you catch a mouse or frog if you had no arms or legs? Didn’t think so.

I just wish we could all be more appreciative and accepting of wildlife instead of killing every insect or reptile that dares to come near us. Anyway, that’s all I have to say about that.

Thanks for reading. Back to dragonflies soon. 🙂

I Went to Hell and Back for This — Twice

You see what you expect to see

This is a story about expectations. In the beginning of the story you may think I’m quite thick-headed. But I think I redeemed myself in the end, so I’m willing to suffer some embarrassment in the interest of making a point.

In one of my odonata groups about a week ago, someone shared a photo of a dragonfly that was so stunning that I instantly wanted to see it for myself. Luckily for me, the location was in northeast Ohio, only a couple hours away from me. And I’d been wanting to see some species that aren’t found here in the northwest corner of the state, so I decided to make a quick two-day road trip.

Riffle Snaketail - LIFER head crop w sigMy target was the Riffle Snaketail, an ode with brilliant emerald eyes and thoracic markings, as you see here. I thought it would be unmistakeable if I found it.  And with the added knowledge of a very specific likely location, I was sure I could find one.

This dragon had been seen at Hell Hollow, one of the Lake County metroparks that includes a 100-foot deep ravine with a creek at the bottom of a 262-step staircase. It got that name because you may feel like you’re in Hell when you climb those stairs.

Here’s what it looks like when you step off the stairs at the bottom of the ravine.

Hell hollow creek view

The way you find a snaketail is to examine the surface of every rock in the water or on the edge of the water. Sometimes you can see them when they fly, but often they’ll sit motionless for a while, making it harder to see them. So I began slowly walking along the creek edge, expecting it to be a long search. But I instantly saw a dragonfly with huge green eyes, and my camera swung into action, taking a hundred shots as I saw not one but three individuals of my target species! A person couldn’t get much luckier than that.

Or so I thought.

After spending a couple hours down there looking around and taking photos, I texted two of my friends to tell them of my amazing success at finding the Riffle Snaketails. Except that when I uploaded the photos that night in my hotel room, I instantly saw that I’d made an embarrassing mistake. These weren’t Riffle Snaketails at all!! Sure, they had those huge green eyes, but that’s practically the only thing they have in common, as you can see in the photo below. I realized I’d taken a hundred photos of some Eastern Least Clubtails, one of the most common dragonflies in this area.

Eastern Least Clubtail - Hell Hollow w sig
Eastern Least Clubtail (Stylogomphus albistylus)

Ugh, I wanted to crawl under a rock as I admitted my rookie error to my two friends. Rick is an expert at finding and identifying dragonflies, and he kindly told me, “That’s an easy mistake to make.” I appreciated the generosity of his comment, but I didn’t agree. I realized that I’d been SO convinced that I would find the snaketail here that as soon as I saw the big green eyes my brain said, “Ah, there’s a snaketail! Don’t think, just take pictures!” So that’s what I did. I didn’t see anything other than the eyes. There’s science behind this idea that if we have strong expectations or preconceptions about something or someone, our brains will trick us into seeing or believing exactly what we expect to see or believe. (Check out a link at the end of this article for more info on that.)

Eastern Least Clubtail - Hell Hollow w sig (2)
Eastern Least Clubtail, fooling me with those eyes!!

Unlike with birds, the citizen-science projects for dragon- and damselflies require a photo of the subject in order to include it in the records. That’s why I was so concerned with getting good photos.

I’d only seen one of the Eastern Least Clubtails last year (in Maine), so I’m glad I had the opportunity to see so many of them. But as pretty as they were, I still wanted (needed) to see the Riffle Snaketail. There were other places I wanted to go on this trip, and other species I wanted to find, but I could not go home without trying to find this bug again. My self-respect was at stake here.

Stairs into Hell HollowSo the next morning, despite aching leg muscles and a poor night’s sleep, I went back to Hell Hollow. As I walked the wooded trail at the top of the ravine, I saw two Dark-eyed Juncos, a bird species that we only have in winter where I live. I thought they all went north to breed, so it was strange to find that they’re breeding in another part of Ohio. That little discovery helped lift my spirits as I prepared to descend into the ravine for a possibly very disappointing morning.

Of course the first dragons I found were the clubtails again. But this time I explored farther than the short shoreline area I’d searched the day before. I waded in the creek to get around fallen trees and other obstacles, and after about 90 minutes I stopped in my tracks, holding my breath. Is that….could it be….? Yes! A REAL Riffle Snaketail sitting on a rock about 15 feet ahead of me.

Riffle Snaketail - LIFER reduced w sig
Yes, this is the REAL Riffle Snaketail (Ophiogomphus carolus)

You can be sure I studied every detail of the bug this time, and once I was sure I had the right one, I stood alone in that creek with a mile-wide smile on my face. I took a little video of the water gurgling around my legs, narrating the story for myself as a memory of how I felt right then. I could have easily skipped the second trip down into that gorge, but then I would have come home feeling humiliated and dejected. But instead I did what I had to do to make my best effort to find — and properly identify — this beautiful insect. Such a personal victory!

Riffle snaketail and Eastern Least Clubtail for size comparison
Riffle Snaketail behind the smaller Eastern Least Clubtail – the differences are so obvious when you see them together like this!

As I stood in the water with my face upturned to the sun, drinking in the feeling of success, I began to think about the climb back up those stairs. I wasn’t dreading it nearly as much as I thought I would, probably because I was high on endorphins. So I started to wade slowly toward the shore, savoring the last few moments in this lovely place. And suddenly…boom! The snaketail landed three feet in front of me, giving me an opportunity to take photos from almost directly above him. Oh man, I was giddy with glee now!

Louisiana Waterthrush at Hell Hollow for blogAnd then, again, I started to turn toward the stairs when some movement caught my eye on the far shore. A bird. I lifted my binoculars but already knew what it was just by the way it was walking…a Louisiana Waterthrush! I’d only had a couple brief views of this bird at home, and this time I got to watch it for about five minutes, right out in the open. The Louisiana Waterthrush is a warbler that bobs the back half of its body up and down as it walks, which is cute enough by itself. But this one was hopping from rock to rock in the creek…hopping and bobbing along. What a rare treat for me, and I felt it was a nice bonus for my willingness to go to hell and back…twice.

Louisiana Waterthrush at Hell Hollow for blog v3
Louisiana Waterthrush hopping and bopping along

As I write this I’m at home with calves that are so sore I can barely walk. In case you missed it, that was 1048 grueling stairs in and out of Hell Hollow. But I’d do it again in a heartbeat to recapture the feelings I had in that valley.

I’m remembering what I wrote a couple years ago about a similar feeling I had while watching Brown Creepers — that one was called “Lunatic in the Woods” because of me standing alone with a giant smile on my face.  It’s times like these when I feel the most connected to the earth and most appreciative of the amazing gifts of this planet.

There are so few places in the world these days where a person can be alone to enjoy a natural setting without the noise of other people, so whenever I find one of those places I make sure to absorb every moment so I can relive it whenever I want. And I never forget that some of my best memories are of special encounters with animals and unspoiled places in nature. I can’t help repeating this because of how important it is: Nature has such healing and restorative powers. #GetOutside

Resource note: If you’re interested in this idea of seeing what we expect to see, check out this article, particularly the last two paragraphs:  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/kidding-ourselves/201404/we-see-what-we-want-see

Fun with Fungi (and mosses and lichens)

Turkey tail fungus reduced w sig

After bemoaning the end of insect season in a recent post, I decided to stop whining and  get out there to find something to photograph in the woods. And I’m happy to say that I was amply rewarded for my determination.

I love trees for many reasons. In warmer months I take photos of their blossoms and fruits as well as the birds and insects who feed and breed in them. Then in the fall, of course, I take photos of their resplendent foliage. But there’s one thing I haven’t paid much attention to, and that’s the other organisms that grow on the trees. So that’s what I did on a recent walk in the woods at a favorite metropark in Toledo.

Yes, this is all about fungi and mosses and lichens–oh my! (Ever since I compared sandhill cranes to flying monkeys, I seem to have Wizard of Oz on the brain.)

Let’s start with the fungi, because they’re fun.

Turkey tail fungus is very common; in fact it might be the most common fungus on this continent.  Its scientific name is Trametes versicolor, a reference to the many colors it exhibits. It usually appears in a variety of greens, browns, and whites.  On this day I found one of the prettiest examples of this species that I’ve seen.  As you can see above, this one had a lovely combination of lighter colors and patterns.

It seems I most often find the semi-circular types of these attached to the tree like little shelves, but this decaying tree had some completely circular ones (shown above), as well as a few funnel-shaped specimens that I’d never noticed before.

Turkey tail in cone shape w sig

Another thing I’d never noticed before is that the concentric circles of color also vary in texture. I think you can see it in this close crop. It looks like the brown rings are smoothest, while the greens are rather fuzzy or rough.

Turkey tail fungus - close crop for texture

I should mention the possibility that this is actually false turkey tail, or Stereum ostrea. The key to distinguishing the two species are the presence or absence of pores on the underside. I confess that even with a magnifying glass I couldn’t see pores on the underside of this one, but I’m not sure if I just need higher magnification.  And to be honest, I don’t have to be sure of its name in order to admire its beauty, so I’m not too concerned with a positive identification. (I’ve put a couple references at the end of this post for those of you who want to read more.)

I also found these little mushrooms and spent some time crawling all around them to get the  most pleasing photographic angle. I haven’t even attempted to identify these but I really like this photo.

Little mushrooms on a log reduced w sig

Here’s a shot of my camera setup in the woods. I spent about 90 minutes in this area and only saw about 15 people on the nearby trail.

My camera on tripod pointing down at lichens and fungi on dead tree (2)

And although I was only about 15 yards off-trail, most of those people seemed to not even notice me. Although some other creatures were very aware of my presence. This was one of three deer who stood and stamped their feet when they saw me in their intended path.

Deer watching me take fungi photos
Lichens are fascinating organisms, and I can only write a little bit about them here. (And as always, remember that I’m not a scientist but am trying my best to give accurate information.) But basically, they’re combinations of fungi and algae (or cyanobacteria). When I learned that, I wondered how they were classified. It seems that after much debate, lichens have been placed in the same taxonomic kingdom as fungi.

Lichen showing fruiting bodies (2)

What I discovered as I looked closely at the lichens was those little cup-shaped discs scattered over the surface. Those are the fruiting bodies called apothecia, through which the fungal component of the lichen reproduces itself.  I think they’re really cool. Oh, and because I have to mention insects again, apparently only a few insects can feed on lichens because of their complex chemistry. Here’s a closer crop of this lichen:

Lichen showing fruiting bodies - closer crop

I really like this lichen because it looks like lettuce leaves around the edges.

Lichen with pretty leafy ruffly texture w sig

Red velvet mite and moss on tree barkOh, speaking of almost-insects, look who I found trying to hide among the moss on a tree. This is a red velvet mite, an arachnid. He really stood out in the brown-grayness of the fall woodlands. I highly recommend that you jump over to this page at The Oatmeal to see a very funny comic about the sex life of the red velvet mite. I laughed out loud.
And now to finish up, let’s admire some pretty moss.

Moss on a log w sig

Oooh. Aaahhh. Pretty, right? Notice the structures resembling hairs that protrude above this moss; those are the setae. On top of each seta is a capsule in which the spores develop.

Moss with setae highlighted w sig

If you’re like me, you won’t be able to resist running your hand over those soft “hairs” a few times. They tickle.

I took this photo when I found moss, lichen, and fungus growing alongside each other on the same rotting tree. If I’d had more time I probably could have had fun crawling around that single decaying tree for a couple more hours. So much to see in every crevice!

Lichen moss and fungus together w sig

Little mushroom with tiny spider on edge w sigOh, and when I was reviewing my photos at home after this excursion, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I’d captured a teeny tiny spider on the edge of a small mushroom. He must have been playing peek-a-boo with me, because he only appears in one of the three shots I took of this particular fungal life form.  I see you, little guy!

As promised, here are a few resources for further reading about some of today’s topics:

Turkey tail identification key: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/trametes_versicolor.html
https://baynature.org/2013/11/28/can-tell-true-turkey-tail-imposter/

Lichen reproduction: http://www.lichens.lastdragon.org/faq/lichensexualfruitingbodies.html

and http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/fungi/lichens/lichenlh.html

Butterflies of the Night

Large Maple Spanworm moth
Large Maple Spanworm Moth (Prochoerodes lineola), from my yard

This summer I started paying much closer attention to moths than ever before. Most of us don’t think about these critters unless we’re swatting them away from the porch light so they don’t get into our houses. We rarely stop to look at them, much less to think about their role in the ecosystem. But they’re often just as pretty as their daytime counterparts, the butterflies, and just as important.

Along with being a popular food for birds, moths serve the same purpose as butterflies and many other insects: to pollinate plants. But most of them do this important work under cover of darkness, while we’re snug in our beds.  One easy way to enter the world of night-flying moths is to leave your porch lights on and study the insects that come to rest on the walls or windows. It’s also popular these days to shine a black light on a  white sheet, or even put out moth bait, to attract a wider variety of species.

Bronzy Macrochilo moth - I think (5)
This tiny guy might be a Bronzy Macrochilo (Macrochilo orciferalis)

I’ve put out my black light a few times this year (without too much success), but have also found lots of different moths just by walking around in my yard and seeing what flies out of the vegetation around me.  For example, I found this plume moth while mowing the yard just a week ago:

Plume moth - my yard w sig

These little “fighter jets” with their rolled-up wings are fairly common in my yard, and I can never resist trying for a better photo of them. There are almost 150 species of plume moths in North America, and I can’t identify this one.

Single-dotted Wave moth
I think this is a Single-dotted Wave Moth (Idaea dimidiata)

Moth identification involves a steep learning curve, even when you’re equipped with good resources, as I think I am. My primary print source is the Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America, by David Beadle & Seabrooke Leckie. Online I use the North American Moth Photographers’ Group at Mississippi State University. I also belong to a Facebook group called “Mothing Ohio,” where I can ask for help when needed.

Imagine finding something like this and having to flip through photos of thousands of similar brown moths:

Large Yellow Underwing moth - on my front door (Noctua pronuba)
Large Yellow Underwing (Noctua pronuba), on my front porch

It’s one thing if the moth is relatively “fresh” and unworn, so the markings are still clear. It gets much more difficult when they’re faded and tattered.

Some moths are diurnal, or daytime feeders. And so far, it seems that the diurnal moths are generally easier to identify. For instance, here’s one I found feeding on mums in my yard in late October:

Corn Earworm Moth - Helicoverpa zea w sig

This is a Corn Earworm Moth (Helicoverpa zea), clearly in a very worn and faded state near the end of its life. You can still see faint markings on the tattered wings, vague remnants of its earlier beauty.

Another daytime-feeder I really like is the Yellow-collared Scape Moth shown here:

Yellow-collared Scape moth on asters w sig
Yellow-collared Scape Moth (Cisseps fulvicollis)

And here’s the similar-looking Virginia Ctenucha moth:

Another daytime-feeding moth
Virginia Ctenucha (Ctenucha virginica)

This Ailanthus Webworm moth is diurnal too, and not native to this part of the country but now fairly common here.

Ailanthus webworm moth (6)
Ailanthus Webworm Moth (Atteva aurea)

I’ll save some of my other moths for another time, but I just have to share these photos of a spectacular moth I just photographed for the first time yesterday. This is the Buck Moth, a daytime flyer with bold markings of black, white, and orange.  On my first outing to see this species a few days earlier, I’d seen dozens of them flying erratically around a meadow, sometimes bumping clumsily into branches and tall grasses. But we couldn’t find any resting ones to take photos of on that day.

Buck moth dorsal view of spread wings with antennae

But this time we got there early enough that some of them weren’t  yet flying, and we found this one still roosting on a small sapling where it was easy to photograph from inches away. We spent a good five minutes taking shots of this gorgeous male before he finally woke up and flew off to join the other males in search of females.  The adult moths don’t have functional mouth parts and cannot feed. Their only task is to reproduce and then die, leaving their eggs to overwinter so the caterpillars can emerge the following spring.

Buck moth on branch - side view

Buck moth with arrow to tiny feet

After this one flew off, we were able to net a couple other individuals. I was captivated as I got to hold one in my hand and feel his furry little body as he gently walked up my arm. He almost made it up to my shoulder before suddenly taking flight and zigzagging back out on his mating mission.

All of the moths in these photos were found in Lucas County in northwestern Ohio, either in my yard or in the various metroparks and nature preserves.  There’s such diversity represented here already, and I know there are a gazillion more species out there just waiting for me to find them and show them to you!

 

 

 

 

 

30 Minutes Under an Elm Tree

The other day I went out into my yard to look for any interesting insects I could find so I could practice my macro photography techniques. I was focused primarily on my big elm tree and the lawn beneath it, and was reminded of the time several years ago when I wrote about my experiment with “one-tree birding.” This time I wasn’t birding, but wanted to see how many critters I could find living on or near my elm tree.

It didn’t take long for the fun to begin. First there were a couple of dead leaves with empty insect egg cases on them. I wish I knew which type of insects hatched from these, because there were a lot of them.

Insect egg cases on dead elm leaf
This cluster of empty egg casings was only an inch across

Most of the branches of the elm tree are too high for me to inspect, but at one point I saw a ladybug crawling on a leaf several feet above my head. I couldn’t photograph that one, but a few minutes later I found this larval form of a ladybug and decided that he looked like a minuscule black and orange alligator.

Lady beetle larva - my yard (4)

I was paying close attention to every little spot on each leaf,  hoping that some of them might turn out to be insects — and some of them did. To my naked eye, this one looked like a gray dot no bigger than the fine point on a pencil. But when I enlarged the photo, I could see that it was the larva of some kind of insect. I can see eyes and wings, but not enough to even guess the type of creature it will become.  And by the way, how often do you get a view of the cells in a leaf? That illustrates just how much this photo is cropped.

Tiny tiny insect larva to ID - on elm leaf

Eastern Harvestman aka Daddy Longlegs - not a spider (2)
Harvestman, aka daddy longlegs (#NotASpider)

As I was taking pics of that teeny tiny critter, something dropped onto the back of my neck from above. It turned out to be this beautiful harvestman, also known as a daddy longlegs. Many people consider these to be spiders, but they aren’t. They’re arachnids, to be sure, but not spiders.

And I learned something very interesting as I read about this species. Their second pair of legs is extra long, and is specialized for smelling and touching things as they search for food. A daddy longlegs can survive the loss of one (or more) of its regular legs, but if it loses those two specialized legs, it’s doomed because it can’t feed.

All the while I was creeping around in the grass, dozens of these teeny tiny leafhoppers were leaping all around me. They move fast and are about the size of a small splinter you might pull from your finger, so I’m amazed I even got a halfway decent photo of this one.

Teeny tiny leafhopper (3)
The tiniest little leafhopper — see how huge the blades of grass are in comparison?

And…drum roll please…I’ve saved the best discovery for last. Until about a week ago I had never heard of a Handsome Trig, aka Red-headed Bush Cricket (Phyllopalpus pulchellus). When one was pointed out to me on a recent outing at a nature preserve, I was able to get the photo you see below.

Red-headed Bush Cricket aka Handsome Trig - female

But when I got home I regretted that I hadn’t tried to take video of the little female, because she has the most adorable little black “paddles” on the front of her face, which she waves up and down as she walks along in her search for a meal.

Well, much to my surprise, I found another one in my own yard! And I took video this time so I could share the action of the magic dancing paddles with you. I didn’t have time to get my tripod, so it’s a little bit shaky, but I think it’s still worth watching. The first ten seconds are the best part, and then she runs under the leaves and disappears back into her little world.  Enjoy!

It’s amazing how much life you can find in a small area when you pay attention, isn’t it? And each new discovery is an opportunity to understand one more piece of the intricate web of life — I just love that!

A Butterfly Kind of Day

Monarch on swamp milkweed w sig
Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

There’s a nature preserve a few miles from my house that has quickly become one of my favorite places to explore. It’s called Irwin Prairie State Nature Preserve. It’s a couple hundred acres of wet prairie, sedge meadow, shrub swamp, grass meadow, and swamp forest.  Now I don’t pretend to understand the botanical nuances of each of those habitats, but I get the general idea. The life forms that live in each part of the preserve depend on the soil and water conditions.

Even though I visit Irwin Prairie often, each time I find new and interesting things to learn about. My computer has a folder with hundreds of photos from this amazing place — wildflowers, birds, dragon- and damselflies, beetles, snakes, frogs, turtles, and much more. I’m planning to share many of those soon, but today I just want to do a quick post about the butterflies I saw there this afternoon.

Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly w sig
Spicebush Swallowtail ( Papilio troilus)

I’d actually gone over there hoping to find some more dragonflies, but the odonata were scarce on this beautiful but windy day.  The butterflies, on the other hand, were plentiful and cooperative. I saw at least a half dozen Monarchs, always a welcome sight considering the declining numbers of this important species in recent years.

This little guy was a new species for me — a Bronze Copper. I first thought he was one of the Blues, since I’d recently seen my first Tailed Blue and this one had very similar patterns on the underwing. But when I saw the other side of the wings, I knew it had to be something else.

Bronze Copper - Lycaena hyllus w sig
Bronze Copper (Lycaena hyllus)

This next species kept landing on the boardwalk in front of me, seemingly asking to have his portrait made. So I obliged. This is a Common Buckeye. I love the “eyes” on his wings, and the pretty combination of brown and orange.

Common Buckeye butterfly w sig
Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

And last but not least were several beautiful and elegant Eastern Tiger Swallowtails. And for once, they gave me some great photo opportunities as well!

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on swamp milkweed w sig
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

Did you notice that several of these butterflies are feeding on the same plant? Yep, that’s Swamp Milkweed, which serves as a host plant and/or nectar source for so many species of butterflies. I’ve got to get some of that for my new garden!

I’m heading off to Maine this week for a long-awaited visit to Acadia National Park. I’m going to search for dragonflies and birds that we don’t have here in Ohio, so I hope to have some good photos to share with you when I get back home in a couple weeks.

Before I go, here’s a short video of the grasses blowing in the wind at Irwin Prairie today. I think it looks like ocean waves. What a beautiful day this was!

Amateur Backyard Entomology

Crane Fly stuck in spider web on screen - my yard
Stuck to a spider web….temporarily

If you ever find yourself bored at home, I have a suggestion: Go into your yard or garden with a magnifying glass and/or a macro lens on your camera. Get down on the ground and spend some time investigating who’s crawling around among the blades of grass or under the bark of the tree. I guarantee you won’t be bored for long.

A few weeks ago, for example, I noticed this insect stuck in a spider web on the outside of my kitchen window.

I gently freed him, and he immediately spread his wings and gave me this great photo opportunity. This is a type of crane fly, of which there are many hundreds of species in North America alone. My amateur entomologist status doesn’t even begin to qualify me to attempt a more specific identification of this guy…or gal.

Crane Fly on my window - after I released him from spider web resized w sig

Adult crane flies only live a few days, just long enough to pass along their genes to the next generation. They’re completely harmless to humans — they can’t bite and they don’t even eat anything, despite their colloquial nickname of “mosquito eaters.” (Their larvae, on the other hand, can do some damage to your lawn–if you care about such things.)

I was in the yard the other day playing with my macro lens, and I found this common house fly. I watched him for a couple minutes while he fed on something too tiny for me to identify. I took some video, but of course as soon as I turned on the video, he stopped moving. So I got video of a completely motionless fly–aka, a photograph. The joke was on me that time, I guess.

House Fly in my garden v2 w sig

Isn’t it fascinating to see the minute parts of an insect like this? I didn’t even use a tripod for this shot, but you can still see the hairs, the antennae, and the veins in the fly’s wings. By the way, if you really want to have your mind blown by macro photos of insects, I suggest you check out Mark Berkery’s blog.

Box Elder Bug nymph (Boisea trivittata) w sig

After the fly flew (haha), I noticed quite a few of these little Boxelder Bug nymphs crawling around on the dying yucca plants. (I’m killing the yuccas on purpose because, well, they’re hideous.) These bugs don’t cause any damage that I’m aware of, and they’re pretty, so they can stay. I really don’t like to kill any insects unless they’re doing major damage that’s going to cost me a significant sum of money.  I do make an exception for mosquitoes though. I feel absolutely no remorse after slapping a mosquito on my arm. They. Must. Die.

Meal moth - in my house - uh oh - w sig

That being said, I just discovered somebody unwelcome inside my house. Yep, this is a Meal Moth, on my living room wall. Before I figured out what species he was, I was excited because he’s so pretty. But now I have to worry that my pantry might have more of them. I think I need to do some reading about them before I decide if I have a problem or not. But isn’t he pretty? He’s only about 3/4 of an inch across. I’m not sure why, but it seems weird to see him facing downward instead of upward. I don’t suppose it makes that much difference to him whether he’s facing the floor or ceiling, but it feels wrong to me. In fact, I almost rotated this picture before posting it, just so I wouldn’t be bugged by it. But then I realized that sometimes you just have to step away and let nature do what nature wants to do, so I left him upside down. 🙂

Ladybug pupa - not larva
Lady beetle pupa — it will grow up to eat many aphids in my garden. 🙂