Monday, April 30, 2012

Fringed Polygala

We were out in the mountains driving along a dirt road when I saw a shaft of sunlight illuminating these Fringed Polygalas.
  It was fortunate that I stopped to take some pictures, because one of the Fringed Polygala had two flowers which nicely illustrated their pollinator-punching action.  The flower on the left is all set and ready to plunk some pollen on the belly of a bee when it lands on the inviting landing pad.  The flower on the right has already bopped a bee, as evidenced by the lowered landing pad (the purple fringes) and the exposed pollen applicator.
 I posted a series about these amazing flowers last spring.
Gaywings, Part I    an introduction to the Fringed Polygala, or Gaywings, as many people call them.
Gaywings, Part II   about Fringed Polygala's ingenious pollination system.
Gaywings, Part III  about Fringed Polygala's underground flowers.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Ambush Bug Eggs

My son noticed some tiny Ambush Bugs... freshly hatched from their unusual-looking egg mass.  This interesting event was transpiring on a Sassafras sapling out on the mountain where we were looking for Native Azaleas (the lavender blurs in the background of the picture below).
I did manage to snap a photo of some of the Ambush bug nymphs shortly after they hatched, but before they went off to explore the big, wide world.
The nymphs congregated on the young leaves at the branch tips.  Soon the Sassafras will put out some flowers, where I suspect, the Ambush Bugs will hide in ambush for some insects visiting the flowers.
 The nymphs were so small they were taxing my camera lens' ability to take nice photos.  Even so, the nymph's nasty-looking armor is visible.  Notice the extra stout foreleg typical of the ambush bugs.
 We were fascinated with the ambush bug's eggs... they look like miniature pint milk jugs covered in foam. 
As I was writing this post, my son looked over my shoulder and noticed the whitish pupal skins (shed when the nymphs hatched) remaining in the open hatches.  He said, "Neeeat, you should pull one out with a tweezers and get a picture of it!"
Slight problem... the tweezers would probably cover most of the view (it's a view through a hand lens)... so it's best to leave the cast-off skins the way they are... they are so symbolic of the drama happening in hidden world around us.
I guess there is a little extra "Joy in the Journey" with a hand lens in your pocket.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Blooming Redbuds Beat The Snow

Blooming Redbuds decorate our hills and mountains with a lovely lavender this time of year. 
 I took these pictures about two weeks ago.
The Redbuds look especially good alongside the graceful, white Dogwoods.
Redbuds and Dogwoods
 On close inspection these blooming trees are a-buzz with bees and butterflies.  When I snapped this photo below, I caught a metallic green bee just as it left a Redbud blossom.
Redbuds love growing on limestone ground. That's one reason why we see many Redbud-covered hills while driving along in the ridge-and-valley section of Pa.
 Lavender-tinged hills are truly a beautiful sight.
I just had to post about the Redbuds today, since it snowed much of the day.  The mountain tops were white but the valleys were still a spring light-green color.  I kept thinking about what Redbuds would look like against a snowy background... but I stayed in the valley... lavender with green is nice.

Friday, April 20, 2012

An American Lady Butterfly In A Clearing

Today I stopped along the road to check out a clearing in the woods.
There I happened to see this pretty American Lady Butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis)...
...flitting around the yard visiting the Dandelions...
American Lady Butterfly
 ... and resting in the warm sun.
Sunning American Lady Butterfly
   Interestingly, in another part of the clearing, I watched a different American Lady ovipositing on Pussytoes (or some other member of the Asteraceae). She knew exactly what she was looking for as she flew around the yard and zeroed in on these tiny, fuzzy, light-green plants (see her laying eggs in the picture below).  She would alight on the selected plant and lay an egg or two, then move along.  I looked for some of her eggs, but I wasn't successful at finding any.  However, another time I watched a similar event and found some freshly laid butterfly eggs... I went into much more detail about that event when I posted about a Variegated Fritillary laying eggs on violets.
American Lady Butterfly laying eggs
   I sure enjoyed watching this American Lady locate the plants she wanted ...there I was on my knees... in the grass in a sunny clearing... surrounded by tall pines with the noise of traffic off in the background... watching this host plant locating/egg laying drama unfold....and I even had my camera.  What fun!
  Oh yeah, I noticed the other American Lady Butterfly was nectaring on Dandelions.
 Now, more often than not, I see Dandelion flowers and not much visiting them.  But not today... would you look at that!
American Lady Butterfly

Just sharing some "Joy in the Journey" from an almost forgotten little spot along the side of the road in the mountains of Pennsylvania..

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Nupital Gift Fit For A Dance Fly

I wasn't out looking for mating Dance Flies, but I kept seeing small, dark, balls... flying slowly through the woods in this cut on an old iron ore trail.  What an interesting place!  It's a wonder I even noticed the tiny UFOs.

 Eventually, I followed one of those unusual flying objects until it landed. The slow-flying object turned out to be a pair of mating Dance Flies carrying a nupital gift.
 I managed to snap a few pictures of the Dance Flies.  This first photo is the most discrete one.
Dance Flies
   Dance Flies are predators of other insects.  The male Dance Fly (Empididae) hunts for a suitable gift and offers it to a female in a dancing swarm. Apparently the gift "tames" the aggressive behavior of the female and also occupies her during mating.

mating dance flies
   The male is hanging on to the twig with a leg or two... so casual like.
 He is also hanging onto his female... and he still has a hold on his gift. 
Check out his leg on the back of her head...
...seems to be a very controlling stance.  He is taking no chances.
   Soooo anyway, about the time I snapped these photos, a Cuckoo Bee came patrolling past... and I was off to see what it was doing.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Miner Bees, Part Two

Miner bees are an entertaining lot...

... at least I think so.   For instance, I thoroughly enjoyed watching this miner bee...
Miner Bee
... waving its forelegs in a director-like manner as if it was orchestrating the arrival of spring from its inconspicuous burrow.  I posted a bit more about this "Conductor" in part one of this mini series on Miner Bees.
Mining bee
 This spring I found quite an aggregation of these bee mines on a roadside embankment.  Some of the mines were actively attended by the honey-bee sized hairy bees.
Hairy bee
I've seen these springtime bees visiting some of the earliest spring flowers in our yard. 
Mining bees (Andrena spp) and Cellophane Bees (Colletes) have lots of hair and smokey wings...
 ... and they like to dig holes, or burrows, in loose soil that has little vegetation.
Mining bee nest
 On this particular roadside, the underlying soil is much lighter colored than the surface and so it's easy to see the dirt piles the bees excavated.
Mining bee burrows
 In fact the light-colored, excavated sand shows up well enough that, from a distance, I easily noticed the large number of the mines on this embankment.
Roadside bee nests
Here is another photo of the roadside with the colony of  bee nests.
Maybe "cluster" or "aggregation" is a better word than "colony" because they are solitary bees but they don't mind living in close proximity to each other.Many bee nests

These bee nests remind me of the mine dumps from old mines like this one pictured below(right). This is the headframe of the Yankee Girl Mine near Red Mountain Pass along the Million Dollar Highway north of Silverton, Colorado.
Miner bee burrow
Yankee Girl Mine

   These bees like to dig holes in the ground... so do some of my homeschooled children. I'll think I'll give the kids a science project of carefully profiling one of the burrows.  I think they'll like to see for themselves what's down in one of those mines.  They will also enjoy seeing the form of the bee's underground tunnels and learning what bee's larvae eat. 
   While I was observing the bees' nests there were some small, reddish bees patrolling around in the vicinity. When I take the kids to explore the "mines", I hope they notice these other bees and wonder, "What's up with that?"

Miner Bees mini series, part one.
Miner Bees mini series, part three.
  P.S. Please note that when we dug open one of these nests we discovered that the bees were not miner bees, but Cellophane Bees.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Conductor

I found the Conductor!
The Conductor was busy directing of the Symphony of Spring...
Miner Bee
Well, at least that's what crossed my mind when I saw this miner bee...
... in its burrow at the edge of the forest, waving its front legs in the air as if it was leading spring's progression.
   I've been having fun kneeling on a road embankment observing and taking photos of these amazing mining bees.  I'll post more about this colony of ground-nesting bees soon!