Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Fungi Fotos

Split Gill (Schizophyllum commune)
The North American Mycological Association (NAMA) annually conducts a photography contest with entries from all over the world.  Here in Springfield we are familiar with Mark Bower's beautiful fungi photographs from his books and the exhibits that have toured the MDC Nature Centers.  He recently received three awards from the NAMA 2016 contest.

Red Raspberry Slime Mold (Tubifera ferruginosa)
The Split Gill (Schizophyllum commune) on the top of the page and the Red Raspberry Slime Mold (Tubifera ferruginosa) immediately above each got honorable mention in the pictorial category.

Aminita the snowman
My personal favorite was the Aminita snowman and the judges must have agreed as they gave him first place in the judge's option category.  It combines technique, art and whimsy.

There were "close to 1000" entries and only 24 awards given so he took home more than his share.  You can see the first through third place winners at this link.

The photographs that he submitted to the contest are all in this Flickr album including another favorite, "Dead Man's Toes."

"Dead Man's Toes" - click to enlarge
Mark's other albums are here on Flickr.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Monarch Followup

We recently posted Monarch Watch-out describing the Monarch adventures of Holly Welch and her sons, Ethan 11 and Caleb 13.

I asked for a followup on the family and they put together this show which ends with a video of the premier flight of one of their brood.  This is a great example of citizen science and I suspect will stick with the boys throughout their life.  You can see this very personal journey of two Monarchs and two boys at this link.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Long-jawed Orbweaver


Long jaws below - Linda Bower
Linda Bower sent me her latest video showing a Long-jawed Orbweaver cutting prey remains out of a web and other behaviors.  The first thing you will notice is that the spider is hanging upside down and moving across a horizontal web. It is taking up and presumably digesting the web material, the ultimate in recycling when she makes her next web.

"My, what big palps you have!"  REK
Long-jawed Orbweavers (LJO), aka Stretch Spiders are members of the Tetragnathidae family.  Their webs are parallel to the water's surface, built on grasses, reeds and other structures.  The design is perfect for capturing their main prey, insects such as mayflies, gnats and midges rising off the surface of the water. 

We previously wrote more details on the LJO including their habit of  "lip-locked" mating in this 2014 blog.

You can see all of Linda Bower's nature video's at this Youtube link.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Poison Ivy Sawfly


Mary Bennett (MN) sent me this image with psychedelic color right out of the '60s.  After a few frustrating minutes I sent it on to Kevin Firth who identified it as the larva of the Poison Ivy Sawfly, Arge humeralis.  As you probably already guessed, the larva feeds on poison ivy, Toxicodendron (Rhus).  It is not alone, there are over 100 insect species in the US that have been collected and reared on poison ivy!

When is a fly not a fly?  One rule of thumb is when its name is combined in one word as in "sawfly."  True flies of the family Diptera have their common name separated as in "House Fly."  A. humeralis is actually a sting-less wasp!
   Tom Klein CC
 Color variation - Tom Murray CC

This little purple cat will become an adult with a lot of unwasp-like characteristics.  For instance it lacks the typical wasp waist that is fashionable in most of the others creatures in the order  Hymenoptera.  Another is the resemblance of the larva to the caterpillars of Lepidoptera.

It is actually the differences in the larvae that will help me next time, if I can remember them that long.  Sawfly larvae have six or more pairs of prolegs, the leg like structures on the abdomen, while Lepidoptera cats have five and none on the first two abdominal segments.  Many of the sawfly larvae are able to squirt a noxious smelling substance from their last segment when they are harassed.
Seven pair of prolegs and counting, starting at the first abdominal segment.
The "saw" refers to their saw-like ovipositor that they use to cut into plants to lay their eggs.  This of course does no good for the plant and some species cause serious damage to cultivated plants.  On the other hand, A. humeralis has been considered as a possible biological control for poison ivy, a plant that 70% of the population is sensitive to.  Few of us would mourn its passing but that is an unlikely extinction.

Details on the Poison Ivy Sawfly are at this link.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Monarch Watch-out

Monarch caterpillars - Ethan Welch
Holly Welch and her son have been photographing their Monarch caterpillars as they headed to pupation and a not-so-funny thing happened on their way to that form.


Orange wing showing - Becky Arnoldy
First the good news.  She went out on Labor Day and found one of the cats that had wandered off to pupate on the house siding.  A few hours later it had transformed to the jeweled pendant of a chrysalis.  When you see one wander away from feeding, watch carefully and you may be able to see the marvelous transformation.  Keep watching and you may be able to catch the final act of the chrysalis before the grand opening.  It changes color and shows the wings as a coming attraction.

Anchor Stink Bugs dining on Monarch cat - Holly Welch
  Mike Quinn CC
Now the bad news.  Holly went out Sunday and while taking the chrysalis pictures captured this image above.  She identified it as Anchor Stink Bugs (ASB), Stiretrus anchorago, attacking their beloved cats.  You can see that it is shriveling up as the bugs' proboscis are sucking out its juices. 
 
These stink bugs ought to be called chameleon bugs as their colors and patterns are so varied as to be unrecognizable.  This Bugguide page shows what a wide range of colors and patterns they present.

  James Shelton CC
"Both markings and color are highly variable, but generally includes a variably-shaped dark central band running from the head toward the rear of the insect. The pale area on the right and left sides of the pronotum contain one to three dark spots (usually two). The dark color is dark blue to black. The light color may be white, pink, yellow, orange, or red."

In addition to the wide variety of  colors and patterns, they look different in shape as they pass through their 5 instars (molts) before achieving winged adulthood.  I think that Holly's specimen is one of the late instars.

ASB on Monarch cat - Ken Christison
Lots of the ASB pictures in Bugguide and other links show them snacking on Monarch caterpillars and even Milkweed Tussock Moth larvae.  This may be a biological predilection or just that photographers like Holly like to take pictures of Monarchs and catch the incidental ASB along the way.  I suspect that they are tolerant of the milkweed toxins found in Monarch cats although I can find no studies about this.

Thanks to Master Naturalists Holly Welch and Becky Arnoldy for their photographs.
More details on the Anchor Stink Bug is at this University of Florida site.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Bagged Worms

WOLF student's bagworm - REK

Head out of the bag - REK from WOLF
A WOLF School student brought me this bagworm to study.  As a child I got a penny for each bagworm I found on our neighbor's cedars, then used them for bluegill bait, a sweet deal while it lasted.  We find them on our red cedars which technically aren't cedars but junipers, Juniperus virginiana. It turns out these bagworms don't care as they can live on over 50 different tree and shrub species.  The females will spend their life in their bag with only their head and upper thorax ever exposed to daylight.  Talk about a tan line!

This is the common Evergreen Bagworm - Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis.  Most of us know them only by their shelters.  Back then I would cut them open to extract the "worm," never appreciating that it might actually be a gravid mother full of eggs!  Legless and grub shaped it wasn't impressive at all.

OSU.edu
Life cycle begins as a wingless, legless and blind adult female emerges from her pupal case.  She will never leave the bag in which spends the rest of her entire life.  She will "call" with her pheromones and the male will seek her out in her bag.  He inserts his abdomen deep into the sac, fertilizing her without ever seeing his mate!  She immediately starts producing eggs that remain in her pupal sac (cocoon), sight unseen, where they remain over the winter.

Adult male - Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren
In the spring, newborn larvae 2mm long emerge.  Initially they may feed on their egg cases and other siblings eggs, as well as the remains of the now dead mother.  After 5 days the larvae leave the case by lowering a strand of silk and "ballooning" in the wind like baby spiders.  They then start feeding on the plants at their destination, immediately constructing their own bags of silk. 

Only the head and thorax come out of the bag as they move along feeding and dragging their bags with them while going through 7 molts in around 4 months.  They will continually enlarge their bags using silk and what ever vegetation they are on, ranging from cedar to sycamores.  Finally they attach the bags to a branch and pupate in it. 

  Ted C. McRae
When the female emerges from her cocoon, she releases her "perfume," pheromones specifically tuned to the male's frequency.  The winged male emerges and follows the pheromone scent with his big feathery antennae ("the better to find you with my dear").  Once he locates the scent he has to reach inside the bag to fertilize the female.  He lives only a couple of days so time is of the essence.  His abdomen is extendible like a telescope and prehensile, twisting around to enter inside the bag even though he is facing the other direction.  It moves around quite a bit and tends to extend upward when he is resting.  The abdomen must have some incredible sensors, feeling around in the dark bag for the female.  I am always amazed that this little moth can find a female hiding in a bag during his brief lifespan.  They must have a good nose (antennae) for it as their numbers attest to their success.

Pictures of the various instars.
More information is at Beetlesinthebush
and detailed information is in this Smithsonian Institute paper.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Black Witch

Witch on the porch  - Chris Barnhart

  - Jill Hayes
Chris Barnhart found this welcome visitor on his front door.  This is the Black Witch moth, Ascalapha odorata, a tropical species found in Florida and Texas year round.  In the late summer months it migrates north as far as Canada.  It has been reported in Newfoundland, and Juneau, Alaska.



First, the fun part.  The folklore for this species is rich throughout the tropics, a confusing mix of death threats and good fortune.  In Paraguay the belief is if they touch your eyes you will go blind.  Texasento.net reports some of these other examples.
In Hawaii, Black Witch mythology, though associated with death, has a happier note in that if a loved one has just died, the moth is an embodiment of the person's soul returning to say goodbye.
On Cat Island, Bahamas, they are locally known as Money Moths or Moneybats, and the legend is that if they land on you, you will come into money.
Similarly in South Texas if a Black Witch lands above your door and stays there for a while you would win the lottery!
In Mexico, people joke that if one flies over someone's head, the person will lose his hair.  (I have never seen a Black Witch but this may explain my scalp.)  Still another myth: seeing one means that someone has put a curse on you!
How these stories developed across the Western Hemisphere with just this species no one knows.  It even reached the movies in "Silence of the Lambs where serial killer Hannibal Lechter inserted cocoons of Black Witch Moths into the mouths of his victims as a weird gesture of transformation.  The moth on the movie poster is a Death’s Head Hawk Moth, but the actual cocoon was that of a Black Witch."

The Black Witch moth is a nocturnal species that migrates at night.  It feeds on rotting fruit and may have been drawn to the Barnhart's overripe pawpaws.  For some unexplained reason they are frequently found on porches, carports and even on cars, although this may just be where these big moths are spotted by people not used to noticing the average moth.  With a seven inch wing span they are the largest moth in the US.

Black Witch caterpillar  - Jan Dauphin
  - Jill Hayes
Their large black stripped caterpillars feed at night and hide under the bark during the day.  Their host plants are a wide variety of woody legumes found in the south.  In our temperate area they feed on Honey Locust and Kentucky Coffee Tree.


Black Witch Migration 2012 - texasento.net
The Black Witch migrates up from Mexico and south Texas in June, much later that the Monarchs.  This is probably because they migrate at night in higher altitudes where the air is cooler.  In 2003 a massive migration arrived with a hurricane Claudette.  Twelve other Owlet moths are migratory, some of them serious agricultural pests such as army worms and several other cutworms.

Insect migration is a large topic with various definitions that depend on scale and frequency of observation.  This link lists some of the known species.

Read more at Desertusa.com.