Friday, June 29, 2012

Poison Ivy Leafminer

   The other day I was pulling out some poison ivy vines that had gotten a foot-hold under the Lilac bush. On a few of the poison ivy's leaves I found some leaf mines.
I could see the small larvae of the Poison Ivy Leafminer, (Cameraria guttifinitella), working away...  making these blotch mines.  It looks like they eat the palisade (upper) layer of the leaf.
In these photos the micromoth larva is visible inside its leaf mine.
 I removed the larva from inside the leaf in order to take a better picture (below).
  The boys were incredulous when they saw the critters. One of them asked, "A poison ivy leafminer?".  I believe they were thinking it would be an unenviable and itchy situation to be one of those leaf miners.  I'm wondering... does the larva somehow manage to avoid ingesting the poison ivy's chemical defenses, or is it immune to the irritants?
  Actually, I can see there are numerous insects utilizing the poison ivy.
I guess poison ivy is good for something.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Fuzzy White Flying Bugs

   I don't believe in fairies, even though I took a picture the other day that sure looks like it has one down in the corner. I snapped the picture when I was chasing a small white fuzzy bug flying through the edge of the woods.
   My regular readers know I do stuff like chase tiny flying white bugs just to see if I can get a good picture.  It's kind of fun to see a little fuzzy bug go drifting past...  run for my Nikon, set everything to manual, find the bug again, and start snapping pictures.
   Now, if you've come to this page wondering what these tiny white bugs are called... the ones that look like drifting lint, floating pieces of fluff, or tiny fairies... they are woolly aphids.  The Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America says, "Woolly aphids owe their appearance to filaments of wax secreted from their bodies.  The coating keeps them from drying out and repels some predators that would rather not get a mouthful of wax."
   These aphids feed on plant juices. Wooly aphids are from the family Eriosomatidae.  The book, An Introduction To The Study Of Insects, says, "Nearly all members of this family alternate between host plants, with the primary host (on which the overwintering eggs are laid) usually a tree or shrub, and the secondary host a herbaceous plant.  These aphids may feed either on the roots of the host plant or on the part of the plant above the ground."
   There are various species of woolly aphids.  The ones I have pictures of were probably moving from one host plant to another. Here's one I saw last fall.
   The picture above was taken with a Pentax Optio .  The rest of the pictures on this page were taken with a Nikon D3100 and a zoom lens, a Nikon 55-300mm.
  I'm glad these woolly aphids fly slowly... they just drift along like lint or fluff floating on the breeze which makes it easier to chase them and take pictures of them on the wing.
 Farewell fairy-fly.
( I mean farewell in the sense of good-bye, not a wish to fare well... woolly aphids are pests that can damage plants and trees.)

Here is a post on another amazing fuzzy white bug.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Catching Firefly Signals

   I enjoy catching fireflies and their signals with my camera.
Last evening, as I came up from the river, I noticed a firefly hanging in the ornamental grass.
I made the assumption that this was a female firefly waiting for dusk to come, and with it, the signaling male fireflies.
   I set up my camera and waited for the firefly light show to begin.  Sure enough, with the setting in of evening, the female stayed put and began signaling.  Her's were short flashes in response to the male's j-shaped signals.  I used an 8 to 10 second exposure to catch a series of signals as the male zeroed in on the female.  In the photo below, the female firefly's flash occurred in between the two j-shaped flashes of the male as he approached.  The white arrow points to the signaling female firefly.
   Here is another photo of the lightning bug signals.  This photo (again) shows the male's signal, followed by a two-second pause for the female's flash, and then another signal from the male as he closes in on her.  These signals are the style made by the firefly species Photinus pyralis.
    I had to chase away many male fireflies in order to have the opportunity to continue snapping photos.  Seems to me the firefly light signals are an effective way of getting together.

   Here is a link to other pictures and information on firefly signals... and here is my first attempt's photos of firefly signals.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Puddling Swallowtail Butterflies

   The other day, while I was driving down the road, a brilliant cluster of puddling butterflies caught my attention.  There must have been a dozen Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies crowded around in a fluttering group in the middle of a roadside turn-out.  By the time I stopped and walked back to the area where the butterflies were congregated, only two remained on the ground... the rest were flitting around.

   Puddling behavior of butterflies is fascinating to watch.  The butterflies gather around mud-puddles or moist ground and extend their proboscises... probing the wet ground in order to take up nutrients.  In the case of Tiger Swallowtails, sodium is the nutrient they are seeking.  See this article about puddling butterflies.
   I suspect this roadside-rest is a good place for the butterflies' salt uptake... the area is mostly forested mountains with a road in the midst... a road that gets salted during snow removal.
 Next time I pass the spot, I'll watch for another swarm of butterflies.
I've seen salt-licks for deer, feeders for wild turkeys, baths for birds...
 I like the idea of making some puddles for butterflies... I wouldn't mind an aggregation of Tiger Swallowtails, or other butterflies,  puddling en masse in the back yard... a Papilo puddle-party.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Our 2012 Venus Transit Pictures

We enjoyed watching the 2012 Venus transit.  There was something about seeing a planet silhouetted against the sun, which gave a sense of scale to our solar system.
We've been looking forward to the Venus transit, and were very grateful when we found a patch of clear skies over the time of the transit.
We set up my Meade ETX125 Telescope (with a Mylar filter over the front) and watched the Venus transit from first contact until sunset.
  Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of the transit until Venus was well into the sun's disc.
Normally, sunspots seem really dark on the face of the sun, but not compared with the silhouette of Venus.
 As the sun set, there were some wispy clouds on the horizon...  which are evident in the photo below.
   Another Venus transit won't happen for a long time, and the boys thought it was "really cool" that we got to observe this rare event.  For me, what was "really cool", was visualizing, or perhaps experiencing in a new way, the 3-dimensional nature of our solar neighborhood.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Slug Slime Glue

Last night must have been slug's night out. 
 I've never seen so many slugs in one location, so, either this little landscape feature is "slug city", or the rainy weather brought every last one of them out of hiding.
 Slugs were all over the stone wall...
 ... and all over the landscaping.
 With so many slugs feeding on the vegetation, it's a wonder there are any flowers left blooming there on the turn.
   Now whenever we encounter slugs, the boys like to experiment with slug slime glue. Previously, I've posted a demonstration of how slug slime glue works using a tooth pick.  This time, the boys were gluing rocks to a stone wall with the slug glue. What the boys did was rub a small rock along the back of a slug to activate its defensive mechanism... an instant coagulation of the slug's slime into a sticky orange-ish blob on the rock.
 Then they stuck the rock against one of the protruding stones of the rock wall and left it hang there.

The boys were amazed that the slug slime glue held fast!
 If it holds a rock, imagine how the slug slime glue would hold the jaws of an attacking insect.
We stopped back to check on the hanging rocks after an hour and a thunderstorm... and, yes, the slug slime glue actually held fast!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Inside A Cecropia Moth Cocoon

A Cecropia Moth's cocoon is rather drab and uninteresting.
It's what's inside that counts... and makes the cocoon more than just a large blob hanging on a branch.
 I've been seeing giant silkmoths fluttering around the last few weeks, and they reminded me of many years ago when I found a pair of Cecropia Moths.  The pair were on the ground. Specifically, they were on the driveway of the campground where we were staying.  My kids were totally impressed with those giant silkmoths.
We placed them in a tree.. it would be a shame for something to drive over such beautiful moths.
Cecropia Moths are as huge as they are magnificent!

Earlier this spring, I brought a Cecropia cocoon into the house to see if a moth would eventually emerge.
   Recently,  I had taken the cocoon out of its jar in order to show it to some friends... telling them that soon a beautiful Cecropia Moth will emerge... when my son noticed something peering out of a small hole in the side of the cocoon. We could see something was trying to get out.
The next day, instead of a beautiful giant silkmoth... out came a bunch of ichneuminoid wasps
These wasp's larvae (Gambrus sp.) had devoured (parasitized) the Cecropia.
   A few days after the wasps emerged, I wanted to see what was going on inside the cocoon, so I cut along one edge of the outer layer of the cocoon and rolled it back.  Inside that outer "shell" was another layer of the cocoon.
 Notice the exit hole in the inner part of the cocoon.
 Inside the inner cocoon were about twenty-five tightly-packed, smaller cocoons of the parasitic wasps, along with remnants of the Cecropia Moth.
   After about a dozen of the wasps had emerged from the Cecropia cocoon and nothing more happened, I decided to open up the cocoon.  Many of the remaining parasitic wasps had fully developed but died inside the moth's cocoon or even inside their own cocoons. I suppose the conditions in the jar or house were not conducive to their emergence.

Anyway...
"hatching" parasitic wasps in place of a Cecropia was somewhat disappointing...
... and a bit creepy...
Nevertheless, the wasps were colorful and intriguing...
... just not as magnificent as a Cecropia Moth.