Thursday, September 29, 2011

Elk In The Pennsylvania Wilds

Here in the Pa Wilds...

the elk are bugling!
Pennsylvania elk bugling
   About twenty years ago I remember Paul Harvey saying, "There's music in them thar hills...the elk are bugling." So I decided to head over to to Elk County, Pa to see and hear Pennsylvania's wild elk. 
Paul Harvey was right, the elk's bugling is "music" rolling off the hills.
Bull elk bugling while standing in the Sinnemahoning
Ever since then, our family has been going back every year and taking along friends that haven't experienced
the thrill of seeing the elk roaming the Pa Wilds.
Some folks call it "elk viewing".

Well, there is a lot of drama to see while "viewing" the elk herds.
Those of you familiar with elk know what's happening in the photo below... paralleling.
These bull elk aren't buddies. They are mortal enemies challenging each other to fight for dominence and for the harem of cows (25 or so of them off to the right of the picture).
   The bull on the right is protecting his herd.  The bull on the left came from a distant hill to challenge the other one, but soon "backed down" and turned to leave.  In the photo below you can see that the dominant bull gave him a surprise charge.
If he doesn't meet the charge head-on he'll be wounded or killed.

Bull elk fighting on Winslow Hill, Benezette, Pa.
The elk on the left met the charge with a resounding clash of antlers, but was soundly defeated.
The defeated elk went off alone
to mope in the grass and rest up.  Maybe he'll try again later.
Must be tough knowing the other bull is king of the mountain.
Not all of the activity is dramatic clashes or echoing bugles.
Some of it is more serene, like this bull elk walking among the goldenrod...

or this cow and calf on a gravel bar along the Sinnemahoning.

 Elk in Pennsylvania's mountains.
Ah yes, and there's music in them thar hills!

 Good day!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cicada Parasite Beetle

    My daughter said "that is a cool-looking bug!" when she glanced at the photo below.  This odd-looking beetle with its fan-shaped antennae is called a Cicada Parasite Beetle - Sandalus niger.  Another name for the beetle is the Cedar Beetle.
Cicada Parasite Beetle - Sandalus niger
   When I posted the "mystery photo" of this Cicada Parasite Beetle in my last post, I called it a "Moose Beetle" because it I thought resembles a moose.  For comparison, here is a photo of a moose I snapped in  Algonquin Provincial Park.             
               A reader commented on my last post that the beetle looks like something "alien".    Here is a shot of a very angry looking "alien".

Whatever the beetle resembles, its fantastic antennae function as the male beetle's female Sandalus niger seeking device. 

Just think how amazing it is that the males can fan out their majestic antennae array and follow chemical signals to the waiting females.

   The females wait on tree trunks for the males to find them. The adult beetles are out and about in September and October.  A female will lay thousands of eggs in crevices of tree bark.  When the eggs hatch in the spring, some of the larvae manage to parasitize cicada nymphs.
Its a rather pretty beetle ... if you don't think about where it came from.
Here is a link to a line drawing of a larva which is part of a paper on the Sandalus niger.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Miniature Moose Beetle

Isn't this a rather odd beetle with its fantastic antennae?  They remind me of Moose antlers.
I specifically took the photo at this angle to show off the beetle's Moose-like resemblance.
   Now, "Moose Beetle" is just a name I "cooked up".  The real beetle's name is forthcoming in my next my regular readers know, I occasionally post mystery photos of natural oddities for the fun of it.
   Thankfully, some children alerted me to the presence of this beetle on the side of an old school house.  They came running and said, "Hey Dana, you should come see this weird bug".  I guess I must have a reputation for liking strange critters.
Here is a link to the follow-up post on the Moose Beetle.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Silver-spotted Skipper

In my last post I asked if you can guess the identity of this forlorn looking creature.
Caterpillar of the Silver-spotted Skipper - Epargyreus clarus
 Of course it would help to see the whole critter.  This lime-green caterpillar with its big head, yellow eyes (fake ones), and little red neck...
 is the larva of the Silver-spotted Skipper.
 I found the caterpillar in this leaf shelter.  
 The shelter was made from a single jewelweed leaf that was tied with silk.  I don't know if the caterpillar was feeding on the jewelweed or just camping there for the night.  There were some Black Locust trees close by. 
Soon after I found the leaf shelter I pulled it part way open to reveal the caterpillar.
Silver-spotted Skipper caterpillar - Epargyreus clarus
That wilted leaf shelter (jewelweed loses its turgor rather quickly)  looks like a mummy sleeping bag.
Here is a photo of a Silver-spotted Skipper.
   The males have an interesting habit of perching in a prominent spot or
on tall vegetation, and chasing "almost anything that flies by".
 The skipper in the picture above was holding sway over the milkweed patch.

Silver-spotted Skipper - Epargyreus clarus
  So, my forlorn-looking, big-headed, redneck turns into the milkweed patch bully.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Poor Little Fella From A Leaf Shelter

  "Excuse me, could someone please get me out of here?"
I found leaf shelter made of a single Jewelweed leaf.  I plucked the leaf and dropped it into a Styrofoam cup for examining later. Soon afterwards, I noticed this creature looking forlornly over the cup's rim.

Can you guess what it is?
Oh yes, it has/is a redneck.
Here is the answer.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Freshwater Mussel Underwater Photos

Our rivers and streams are still warm enough for swimming.  Of course, for our family that involves snorkeling and observing the aquatic life otherwise hidden by the glare of the river's surface.
Snorkeling is a great way to visit the underwater world.
    An interesting inhabitant of our rivers is the freshwater mussel. These filter-feeders are found partially buried on the bottom, anchored to the substrate with their muscular foot. 
   In the photo below, we are looking at the business end of a live mussel as it feeds on fine particulate organic matter (FPOM) it filters from the constant water supply the river brings past.
A freshwater mussel busy filter feeding
   I took this picture looking directly into a mussel's inhalent siphon.  The opening farther up is the exhalent siphon.  A mussel pumps water through its body by cilia created currents.  The current passes through the gills which act as a sieve.  On the gills, zooplankton, phytoplankton, algae, and other nourishing organic particles (detritus) are filtered from the water.  Strands of mucus also help capture and transport the filtered particles. The particles are then conveyed by cilia action to the mouth and stomach.  Along the way on this cilia conveyor belt some sorting goes on and the larger particles, like sand, are "ditched".
Here is a snorkeler's view of a mussel in its natural position. 
Incidentally, I had to be careful to not cast a shadow over the mussel.  A sudden shadow or other disturbance would cause it to close up its shell.
In this photo, notice the detritus entrained in the inhalent and exhalent currents…
giving an indication of their direction.  ”In” is from the right...”Out” is to the top left.
   I'm impressed with the mussel.  I’m impressed with its current pumping system and its cilia powered, mucus facilitated, detritus sorting and conveyance system.  There is a lot more going on in the river though.  For instance, covering the mussel's shell is a microscopic world of periphyton that is no less amazing than the mussel itself.
    The underwater world is worth seeing for yourself, but hurry! The water will soon be too cold to comfortably lay there between the two worlds observing aquatic life, while the minnows tickle your toes.  Be sure and take an underwater digital camera along.  My "take everywhere (even underwater) just-in-case camera" is a Pentax Optio WG-1.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Jewelweed Gall Midge

If you have been out popping plump jewelweed seedpods like I have been, you may have noticed a few unusual-looking growths hanging in place of some jewelweed flowers. These growths look almost like a minute cabbage or brussel sprout.
These are galls caused by the jewelweed gall midge - Schizomyia impatientis.
Gall of the Jewelweed Gall Midge - Schizomyia impatientis

The midge larvae gall the flower buds of jewelweed. 
The photo didn't reproduce the orange color of the midge larva.

Rather a snug place to be... much safer than hanging around on the jewelweed's seedpod launch pads, eh?