Monday, October 28, 2013

More Deer Sign In The Pokeberry Patch

Have you ever seen deer antlers stained pokeberry purple?
   When we saw plentiful deer sign in a pokeberry patch recently, we were a bit surprised to find that deer seem very fond of using purple pokeweed stems for buck-rubs.  Besides seeing evidence of deer browsing on the poisonous plant, we noticed numerous buck-rubs on the purple stalks.
   We would have liked to see a buck running around with purple-stained antlers. 
   The pokeweed stalks are about the same size as the saplings that bucks normally use for "buck-rubs", however, the stalks are much 'fleshier' and not near as sturdy.  We have tried to think of any other explanation for the 'buck-rubs' but haven't been successful.
The photo below shows a closer view of a pokeweed stalk showing evidence of the antler bashing the stalk received.
Buck-rub seems to be a good explanation, eh?
   Thinking along those lines, I tried to simulate a pokeberry purple-stained antler by rubbing a stick on a pokeweed stalk... see this stick in the photo below.
Maybe pokeweed stalks give the deer a gentler rub....
Maybe, just maybe, the deer use the stalks to apply war paint...

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Pokeweed Deer Browse

   We are sitting in a patch of Pokeweed watching for wildlife.  We saw plenty of deer sign here among the pokeweeds and realized that deer had been browsing extensively on the Pokeweed.
Pokeweed or Poke Berry
    Now, Pokeweed, or Poke Berry is a poisonous plant.  We were somewhat surprised to see the evidence of this unusual food choice.  We reckoned that the deer add them into their diet just to spice up their life because the patch of pokeweed is in the middle of a field with plenty of grass to feed on.  Not only that, but the field is surrounded by an oak forest with acorns galore along with every other kind of deer browse.
   Here is a photo of pokeweed with sign of deer browsing in the upper right of the photo.
Sign of deer browsing on pokeweed

Here are two more photos of the poke berry stems showing signs of deer browsing.
deer browse on pokeweed

Deer browse on poke berry
  Perhaps if we wait long enough, we'll see some deer feeding on the pokeweed and I'll be able to snap a picture of the deer adding a bit of 'zing' to their diet.
  See evidence that deer used the pokeweed stalks for buck-rubs.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Surrounded by Maggots

   My boys and I were hiking along a woods-road the other day.  When we sat down for a rest, one of the boys pointed out a "weird caterpillar".  I pointed out that there were more around us.... we were surrounded by 'maggots'.  Really, it wasn't that bad, because the larvae we saw looked more like odd-looking caterpillars rather than maggots.  What we saw were flower fly larvae (Syrphid sp.) which are also known as hover flies. 
   Here is a photo of one of the many flower fly larvae we saw on the forest floor.
Flower fly larva - syrphid sp.
I suspect these flower fly larvae may have made their way to the ground in preparation of pupating.  The flower fly larvae were 'crawling' on fallen twigs and leaves in their unique way.  Also, they have this habit of swinging their front half around like an elephant's trunk.
flower fly or hover fly larva
Here is a video of a flower fly larva as it 'crawls' along. 

Some flower fly larvae are know as 'aphid killers'.  
flower fly larva feeding on aphid
The ones we encountered there in the woods were obviously predatory larvae, since I noticed that some of them were preying on Giant Aphids.

Flower fly larva - syrphid fly larva
About the larvae, one boy said,  "They are not exactly maggo-nificent", but since it seems we are surrounded by maggots, we might as well take note of some of them...
I think I'd rather be surrounded by hover flies.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Squirrel Eating Leaves. Seriously

Who has been stripping the leaves from our Daisies?
You probably won't believe it, soooooo, here's a photo showing the leaf thief.... and, yes, this is a photo of a squirrel eating a leaf.
The squirrel pulls off a leaf and eats it stem first.  Nibble, nibble, nibble... in goes the leaf, stem-end first... nibble, nibble, nibble right down to the leaf tip.
Seriously, that squirrel is nuts about Daisy leaves.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Ole Bumpy-wings... A Meadow Katydid

   On a recent Sunday stroll in western Pennsylvania, we heard the 'tic-tic-tic-buzzzzzzzzz' of some meadow katydids calling in broad daylight from the tall grasses along the edge of a wetland area.  Their calling-song caught our attention since we don't seem to have this particular meadow katydid in our home area.  We searched awhile to locate these singing katydids.  When we did, we found this green, grasshopper-like insect with bumpy wings and a peach-colored head - the Black-legged Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum nigripes).
Black-legged Meadow Katydid - Orchelimum nigripes
    We soon discovered the reason these katydids were hard to find... they managed to hide by deftly spinning around to the backside of their perches as we approached.  My sharp-eyed son eventually spotted one in a bush.... and by fooling the katydid into thinking another intruder was approaching from a different direction, it rotated around into position for me to take photos.  I even took a video of this intriguing insect.
   Here is a video of a Black-legged Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum nigripes) as it sings from a bush near the margins of a wetland.  This is the calling-song I described as 'tic-tic-tic-buzzzzzzzzz'.
   Notice how the left tegmen (fore-wing) overlaps the right one in front of those unusual peaks in the middle of the fore-wings.  The calling-song is produced from vibrations of the fore-wings when the row of teeth on the one tegmen is swept across a 'scraper' on the other tegmen.
   You all know I think there's more to enjoying nature than simply identifying a newly encountered something. Therefore, when I encountered the Black-legged Meadow Katydid, my mind began to whirl... for I saw the unusual-looking peaked wing-covers (tegmina) of the meadow katydid males....
Black-legged Meadow Katydid - Orchelimum nigripes
 ... Why are they designed with that unusual shape?   Are those 'peaks' specialized structures that are part of the katydid's sound-producing mechanism?  Do those 'humps' function as part of a resonance chamber?   Etc.
Black-legged Meadow Katydid - Orchelimum nigripes
    Those are curious-looking wings, eh?  At least they sure have made me curious.  I reckon I will go searching for other members of the the meadow katydids (Orchelimum) which might be singing near the 'swamp' just up the road from home.  I wouldn't mind taking a closer look at those fore-wings.

   All that, and more... from hearing a  'tic-tic-tic-buzzzzzzzz' emanating from the tall grass beside a swamp.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Little Scientific Discovery

Could something new to science be found in your backyard... or mine?
Perhaps I may have made such a discovery - a very small one - as I drove along a woods road not far from home.
coltsfoot patch along the road
As I drove along (looking for a property corner pin), I spotted some leaf mines on Coltsfoot leaves.  I stopped to take a look and thought to myself, "Those larvae make such long, torturous leaf mines... I wonder what mines those leaves?"
roadside coltsfoot patch
  "Wouldn't it be fun to see what makes those twisting tunnels on the coltsfoot leaves?"
leaf mines of Phyllocnistis insignis on coltsfoot leaf
Well, in hopes of rearing an adult from the leaf mines, I picked a couple leaves and put each leaf in its own container.  A few days later I noticed there were several tiny, shiny micromoths zipping around in their rearing containers.  These moths were a shiny metallic color that, in the right light, are a subtle blue-grey.  The moths have orange racing-stripes decorating their wings as you can see in the photo below.  Here is a photo of the flashy little moth,  Phyllocnistis insignis.
Phyllocnistis insignis - reared from coltsfoot leaf mineAgain, these are very small moths.  P. insignis would be dwarfed by a grain of rice.

 I puzzled over these coltsfoot dwellers for awhile and couldn't find answers, so emailed an expert and here is a portion of his reply. 
"... There is, however, no published record of this moth mining in coltsfoot, and you may well be the first person to have reared it from this plant.  I have been seeing these mines for some time, and had assumed they must be P. insignis, but it's great to have this confirmation."
   Ahhh, so my coltsfoot dwellers are well known, just not documented in association with the plant from which I reared them.  Therefore, I'll publish this little discovery here in hopes that it counts as a 'published record' and adds a tiny bit of info to the body of scientific knowledge.
   First, here is a photo of a leafmine typical of the many I have found on coltsfoot leaves (Tussilago farfara).  The twisting tunnel of the P. insignis larva is on the upper surface of the leaf.
long, twisting leaf mine of Phyllocnistis insignis on coltsfoot leaf

   Here is a photo of a leaf miner larva, P. insignis, as it feeds on a coltsfoot leaf.   The mines are exceptionally long because these particular leaf miners feed solely on sap from the damaged leaf tissue.
larva of Phyllocnistis insignis mining coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)

   When the leaf mining larvae are finished feeding and are ready to pupate, they make a kind of three-sided chamber right there on the leaf surface at the end of their feeding tunnels.
pupal chamber of Phyllocnistis insignis on coltsfoot leaf

  The pupal chamber on the coltsfoot leaf pictured below, is very near where the leaf miner started mining the leaf.  See the thin trace of the early mine on the lower left of the pupating leaf miner?
leaf mine and pupal chamber of Phyllocnistis insignis on coltsfoot leaf
Here is a close-up photo of a silken pupal chamber.
pupal chamber of Phyllocnistis insignis on coltsfoot leaf
The photo below shows a pupal chamber with a spent pupal case protruding out the end.
spent pupal case of Phyllocnistis insignis on coltsfoot
The photo below shows the freshly emerged moth.
Phyllocnistis insignis reared from leaf mine on coltfoot
Most of the life story of this flashy little moth is shown in the photo below.
long, twisting leaf mine on coltsfoot leaf
A story that starts out as a thin squiggly line and ends in a pupal chamber after traveling over various parts of a leafy world.
Here is another 'volume' written by P. insignis.
squiggly tunnels on coltsfoot leaf
Amazing isn't it?  A resume... a life story... written on a leaf.  A leaf story, which in my 'backyard', was written a on coltsfoot leaf... and may have gone undocumented until now.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Discovery In A Coltsfoot Patch

Could a patch of coltsfoot along a woods-road be a good spot for a new discovery ?
Coltsfoot along a woods-road
Yes, even though coltsfoot patches are quite common (at least around here), it seems I may have documented something 'new'.  Now, it's nothing big like a new species... but click here to see what I found in the coltsfoot patch  (next post).