Thursday, July 28, 2011

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar

We enjoy watching for monarch butterfly caterpillars in the milkweed patch. 

Monarch caterpillars do some amazing things.  The monarch caterpillar pictured below may be spectacular-looking, but I think what it is doing is just as spectacular.
Caterpillar Of The Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus
 Do you know what this caterpillar is doing?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ladybird Beetle Larvae

The bizarre insects that invaded the aphid farm in my backyard are the larvae of ladybird beetles.
 Ladybird beetle (Coccinellid) larvae feeding on aphids

   These larvae are from the same family (Coccinellidae) as the familiar Ladybug.  What makes these larvae so bizarre looking compared to the Ladybug's larvae, are the long shaggy white tufts of wax they secrete to cover themselves.  This wax may afford the larvae some protection from ants that are "farming" the aphids...see the paper, "Wax Structures of Scymnus Louisianae Attenuate Aggression From Aphid-Tending Ants".
Lady Beetle Larva Among the Aphids
   Those white waxy tufts may attenuate ant aggression, and maybe they also lessen the aphid's alarm response.  Just look at those aphids busily sucking on the Black Locust stem with that hairy-looking predaceous monster walking and feeding with impunity among them.  Looks like a wolf in the sheep fold.
In the photo below the ladybird beetle larva is hoisting a couple of aphids onto its back. 
 I can only guess that the larva is going to truck them off to a more remote leaf to feast.

Here is a picture of a ladybird beetle larva feeding on an aphid.
   The lady beetle larvae feeding among the aphids must elicit some alarm responses from the aphids.  Notice in the photo below the two aphids to the left of the larva.  One is on the leaf opposite the larva and one is on the main stem.  Both of these aphids each have a droplet of wax on the tip of a peg (cornicle) projecting from their back. This cornicle wax is discharged when the aphids are alarmed and solidify on contact with other objects.  These wax droplets help protect the aphid from predators and parasitoids.  The ladybird beetle larvae must have a way of dealing with the waxy defenses of the aphids.
   Yes, well, those wild-looking wax-wigged critters went away after a few days.  I expect they raided the aphid farm to their hearts content and then went nearby to pupate.  Perhaps the adult lady beetles will soon show up and that should prove interesting, although not as bizarre as the larval stage.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bizarre Insect

These bizarre insects have invaded the farm.  Well, the aphid farm, that is in my backyard.
Aliens among the aphids.

Regular readers, you know the "drill"....such a fantastic-looking creature deserves a couple of posts.
Here is a link to my follow up post on this bizarre insect.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Slime Mold Sporangia

At first glance this might look like a yummy dessert, but the longer you look the creepier it looks.
Slime Mold Sporangia, Stemonitis sp.
   This is a clump of sporangia (spore-bearing structures) from the slime mold, Stemonitis.  These strawberry dessert-looking slime mold sporangia showed up on a pine stump in our back yard.  I remember seeing the slime mold's plasmodium (mass of protoplasm) stage on the stump earlier but I didn't pay much attention to it or photograph it. 
   Yesterday I posted this photo with the question, "what is this?".  I also gave the clue that this thing is "creepy", and it would make a good dessert for a slug.

   I say "creepy" because slime mold's plasmodium does creep around in an amoeba-like manner on the surface of decaying wood like this pine stump. The plasmodium engulfs bacteria and other food particles as it creeps around.  The slime molds don't form hyphae like fungi do.
   I said it would make a good dessert for a slug because apparently slugs like to eat slime molds.  Here is a link to a paper on the Feeding activities of slugs on Myxomycetes and macrofungi.  Slime mold is another way of saying myxomycetes.
   Anyway, we had a very wet spring and the slime molds were busy running around on the stumps and even the picnic table in our back yard.  Now that summer is in full swing, it has been very dry.  Because the slime molds like moist environments they must have decided to form spores and get "outa' here".  Here is a picture of a young clump of Stemonitis sporangia.

   I'm guessing this clump began to form only a day or so ago, and the strawberry dessert-looking sporangia in the first picture is just a little more developed. 
The next day both clumps looked like this.

Later, the sporangia looked like this.
 Mature Stemonitis Sporangia
 Pictured below are three clusters of Stemonitis sporangia at slightly different stages of development.
Yep, myxomycetes on the picnic table might look tasty, though only for a little while, but
if you mix...oh, my seats with plenty of rain, at least the slugs will feast.

Friday, July 22, 2011

What Is This?

What (in my backyard) is this? 
At first glance it looks a bit like a yummy dessert, but then again, perhaps it looks a bit like a creepy space alien.

Here is a clue... this thing is "creepy", and it would make a good dessert for a slug.

I'll post the answer tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Black Cherry Extrafloral Nectaries

We have a black cherry (Prunus serotina) growing wild in the fencerow.  One noteworthy feature of the black cherry is its extrafloral nectaries.
Ant visiting black cherry extrafloral nectaries
 Black cherry has nectar producing glands on the leaf stems.    
 These "sweet-treat spots" attract ants.  The ants patrol the leaves protecting their food source by acting aggressively toward caterpillars or insects they encounter.  The extrafloral nectaries are one of the ways the tree gets extra protection from herbivores.
Goodies for the guardians.
Payday for the patrol.
Nuggets for the naturalist.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Broad-Leaved Helleborine

There are some weeds growing in the dark woods along the trails and wood-roads.
I'm glad I decided to examine these weeds more closely because they turned out to be broad-leaved helleborine which are orchids and very interesting ones at that.
Broad-leaved Helleborine, Epipactis helleborine
The first thing I do when I see an orchid is figure out its pollination mechanism.
The broad-leaved helleborine's pollinia are designed to adhere to the head of the wasp when the wasp touches the column in the process of getting nectar from the small flower.
Pictured below is a pollinium that stuck to my finger nail as I tried to mimic a wasp visiting the orchid.
Ever see any yellowjackets wearing funny yellow hats?

Well, sticking a pollinium to a wasp's head isn't all that novel is it?   How do you keep it there until the wasp gets to the next flower?   Wouldn't the wasp just clean it off?
   Maybe that is why the broad-leaved helleborine's nectar contains alcohol and narcotics, like morphine.  A "wasted" wasp might be less likely to clean up.  If you think that it is nasty of the orchid to spike its nectar, just wait till you hear how the orchid gets the wasps to come to the flower in the first place.
   The broad-leaved helleborine uses green-leaf volatiles to attract prey-hunting wasps, like yellowjackets.  Green-leaf volatiles (GLVs) are chemical signals given off by leaves when they are under attack by herbivores. Predatory and parasitic insects use these signals to home in on their leaf-munching prey. The broad-leaved helleborine deceitfully uses those green-leaf volatiles to recruit yellowjackets to do its pollination by wearing pollinia "hats".

So, this orchid cries "wolf". 
   The broad-leaved helleborine yells, "Help! The critters are eating me".  Then the predators swoop in for the expected kill only to find spiked nectar. 
   I have this picture in my mind of a disoriented and sluggish yellowjacket wearing a funny yellow hat and buzzing (in a slurred sort of way) "all my rowdy friends are comin' over tonight"....

Watching for weeds is worthwhile.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Weed Along The Trail

There are some weeds growing in the dark woods along the trail and wood-roads.
I wonder... would it be worthwhile to more closely examine these weeds?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sticky Situation

We were picking berries today.
The berry picking was a very sticky situation.
Can you guess what kind of berries we were picking?

The answer is posted on my other blog, Today's Nature Picture.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Leaf Shelter

I've mentioned before that lots of interesting things happen in my backyard. 
Today I noticed a leaf shelter constructed from two black locust leaflets.
Two-Leaf Shelter On Black Locust
 The two leaflets are tied together with silk and the shelter's occupant has been munching "windows" in the leaflets.
 Here is a photo that shows the silk holding the two black locust leaves together.

 I pulled the shelter apart to reveal its occupant.

 Here is another photo of a caterpillar that constructed a black locust leaf-shelter and has been busy skeletonizing the leaves.
The caterpillar quickly left the cratered excavation scene... it is hiding off the edge of the leaf on the left.

Anyway, see what I mean?  Craters are being dug under a leaf right in my back yard

Monday, July 11, 2011

Firefly Signals, II

I'm still having fun trying to capture firefly signals with my camera.
Firefly Signals
   In the photo above there are at least two different kinds (flash patterns) of firefly signals.  One species of firefly is signaling by the bushes with blinking lights, almost like Christmas tree lights.  In the foreground of the picture, the other species of firefly made three linear signals while it flew along.
   Here above a cornfield a different species of firefly is signaling "J" shaped signals.

Photinus pyralis over a cornfield
   This species of firefly, Photinus pyralis, makes those "J" signals by swooping down a bit, then flying straight up while signaling. 
"J" shaped firefly signal
  The male Photinus pyralis make those "J" signals while flying about, and the females wait in the vegetation like the one pictured below.
Female Photinus pyralis waiting on goldenrod
   When a male Photinus pyralis signals, the female waits about two seconds and then flashes her own signal, a stationary short flash.
 The fireflies continue their light show courtship as the male approaches. In this photo
 you can see the female waiting on the goldenrod (upper left) while the male signals in the lower right of the picture.  I missed capturing the "swooping down" or "hook" part of his signal...maybe that will happen another night when there are less mosquitoes bothering me.
   This lightning bug light show is very effective at getting the lightning bugs together because, I must confess,  I chased away about a dozen males when they got too close to the female.  I wanted the light show to continue so I could photograph the event.  She had more patience than I did, because I left her there on the goldenrod and fled the mosquito horde.
  Capturing such a fascinating phenomenon as a bioluminescent lightning bug light show with my camera is as fun as it used to be for me to capture the lightning bugs in a jar.
  Fireflies forever!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Giant Silkworm Moth

This giant silkworm moth was at the pavilion for breakfast the other day.  These giant moths can cause quite a stir when they show up at night lights.
Giant Silk Moth, Callosamia sp.
I guess this is a Tulip Tree Silkmoth (Callosamia angulifera), but it could be a Promethea moth (Callosamia promethea).  Compare the two species here.

Check out those feathery antennae.  These moths have no hearing organs.  Perhaps their "high tech" antennae make up for what they lack.
 Also, these moths don't have usable mouth parts.  In the photo above notice that there is no curled up proboscis like feeding moths.
These moths don't eat. Their chubby caterpillars do that.
Giant silkmoths spend their short lives looking for mates and ensuring there are eggs to start a new generation.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Net-Winged Beetle Drinking Nectar

I saw many net-winged beetles (Calopteron spp.) in a milkweed patch the other day.
Net-Winged Beetle, Calopteron sp.
I was enjoying the fragrance of the milkweed's flowers and watching the many, many insects feasting on the milkweed's nectar.
 I noticed several individual net-winged beetles spending a great deal of time in this position (pictured above) as they visited milkweed flowers.  I assumed they were imbibing milkweed nectar, since many other insects were doing the same thing.  For example, the ant pictured below.
   One interesting characteristic of the net-winged beetles is that they are chemically protected.  The Calopteron have a noxious substance throughout their bodies which causes most predators to reject them.  When the beetles are attacked, or in this case poked, they easily bleed... see the white droplets on the beetle's wing covers in the photo below.  This exposes the predator to the beetle's odorous and distasteful substances.

 Read more about the net-winged beetle's defensive chemistry here.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Green-striped Mapleworm

I found some green-striped mapleworm (Dryocampa rubicunda) caterpillars on a young maple tree.
 The caterpillars were making quick work of the maple's leaves. 
The green-striped mapleworm caterpillars are not very cute, with their black "horns" and rows of studs, but the adult is a very attractive moth.
Rosy Maple Moth, Dryocampa rubicunda
The green-striped mapleworms turn into the rosy maple moths.
 This caterpillar has just shed its skin.

The photo above shows some of the "studs".
   The green-striped mapleworms start out in a group, or gregariously.  Later they migrate to other leaves and form less of a group.  That means there were quite a number of these caterpillars in the vicinity.  I noticed several interesting activities among that group.
   First, I saw several leaves with stains like the ones in the photo below.
   That looks like the caterpillar recently encountered some kind of enemy and was deploying some of its defensive responses.  Maybe a parasitic wasp (I saw a few flying around them) or a predatory beetle was there just before I was.  Anyway, the marks on the leaf make me think the caterpillar was defensively thrashing around and regurgitating at the same time.
   I recreated the scene in the photo below.
   When I "pinched" the caterpillar it swung its head to the side and regurgitated that black "tobacco juice".  Then it swung its head back the other way still spitting.  Those are some of the caterpillar's defensive maneuvers.
   Another interesting action I saw among the caterpillars was what I think was some kind of defensive signaling.  When I disturbed a caterpillar (like bump the leaf), it would rear up like this one pictured below.
Then the caterpillar would rhythmically jerk its head slightly from side to side which would shake the leaf it was on.  Soon other nearby caterpillares were doing the same thing.  Thus I assumed this was a defensive response and the caterpillars were communicating danger either through the vibrations or some other means.
   I'd rather see those sherbert-colored rosy maple moths than those tobacco spitting, stud covered, horned, creepy crawlies.