Thursday, June 13, 2019

Porchlight Moths

Giant Leopard Moth
Tuesday night it was humid and warm after an afternoon rain, the perfect conditions to start the 2019 Porchlight Moths project.  I left the light on against the gray painted concrete wall on the deck above Bull Creek and when I got up the next morning I was rewarded with 45 moths with 19 different species.  The most spectacular were the four Giant Leopard Moth (GLM), Hypercompe scribonia, above that we described in this 2018 blog.

Rather than edit them for beauty, I put these photographs together just as I shot them on the wall for identification.  Some of them I already recognized, but I ran all of them through just to demonstrate how you could identify your own.  I was able to quickly identify 12 of the 19 species by INaturalist alone.

Hypsoropha hormos
The Rosy Maple Moth, Dryocampa-rubicunda, is a frequent visitor to our deck from April through September.  It is just under 1.5 inches long with its wings folded at night.  That is larger than the Small Necklace Moth, Hypsoropha hormosthat showed up with its distinctive white dots along its back.  Its caterpillars feed on sassafras and persimmon leaves growing in the forest under story.  Like many small moths, their features and in some cases beauty, shows up best close up.

One of my favorites that morning was the Eastern Tent Caterpillar Moth, Malacosoma americanumThis cutie is the first adult moth of the species that I have ever found.  We will be writing on this species soon as they will soon be depositing their eggs on our plum trees.  Unlike the Fall Web Worms, these are well behaved and scattered on only a few trees although they could be a major pest in a fruit orchard.

Even a drab gray moth  becomes distinctive when photographed close up.  This is a Porcelain Gray, Protoboarmia porcelaria.  Their caterpillars eat a variety of pines and junipers including our ubiquitous Eastern Red Cedars.

Sodium lamp and a sheet attracts moths, and moth-ers

Soon we will be holding more formal "mothings" before the official National Moth Week.  We will use special lamps and black light on white sheets that put out light in color spectrums that can be irresistible to moths. Special fermented baits are also used to draw moths, usually a mixture of beer or apple cider with over-ripe bananas painted on tree trunks.  Other insects and of course ants will show up so pick your tree carefully.

One final caveat, when moths land with their wings spread, they may look much different than when they are hanging out all night in a different pose.  See below for different views of the Glorious Habrosyne Moth, Habrosyne gloriosa.
Glorious Habrosyne Moth

Meanwhile, back at the porch light,  I have all compiled all 19 pictures into this Flickr album.  Try you own Porchlight Moths tonight. 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Cordyceps Again

"There is no accounting for a person's taste," said the woman as she kissed her cow. - Elma Kipfer, circa 1950.
Tasmania- click to enlarge
Mark Bower just returned from 23 days in Tasmania where he hiked daily looking for and photographing fungi.  He found more than 150 species that were new to him.  Yes, that was his vacation!  His picture above from the Tarkine rainforest is the starfish stinkhorn, Aseroe rubra, meant to catch your attention so you will continue reading about the unrelated gruesome fungus find below.

Mark Bower's story:
Club-shaped fungus - MB
"I had been looking for fungi in the Tarkine rainforest for 2 weeks and decided to search a different habitat. I chose a path very near a beach on the northern coast of Tasmania. Right on the trail was this club-shaped structure which I didn’t recognize.  On close inspection, there were obvious black “pimples” on the surface which I knew were ostioles, the openings through which spores are forcibly ejected.

Cordyceps fungus growing out of a parasitized caterpillar - MB
Legs of the parasitized caterpillar- MB
The presence of ostioles indicated that this was an ascomycete, which led me to believe this was very likely a cordyceps fungus. Knowing that, I carefully removed the loose sandy soil until I found the host, which turned out to be a  caterpillar.  This is Cordyceps gunnii fruiting from the head of a moth caterpillar. The caterpillar was about 5 inches long and you can see the outline of legs. "

An entertaining way to understand their life cycle is in this script of a three act play describing its attack on a caterpillar.   

C. gunnii like other Cordyceps sp. has a history of use as a traditional herbal medicine.  Ophiocordyceps sinensis is the best known example which is used through out SE Asia.  Recent studies of polysaccharides from the C. gunnii suggest that they could enhance nonspecific immunological function, humoral immunity, cellular immunity in mice, and inhibit tumor growth.

Chris and Deb Barnhart have traveled a lot in Asia studying mussels (see the "no accounting for a person's taste" above) and they shared these photographs of O. sinensis, aka "vegetable worms," where they saw trays sorted for sale in the market in Dalien, Tibet. For more on our Missouri Cordyceps, see this past blog.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Spotted Salamander Special

Spotted Salamander - 14 days after hatching - Linda Bower
Linda Bower from our Master Naturalist Chapter has just completed her Magnum Opus, the video of spotted salamanders' trip from eggs to land over 2 months.  This is two months worth of video edited down to 7 minutes.  It covers the development from two weeks before hatching through 7 weeks after hatching, all in this 7 minute Youtube video.

They begin life in a cluster of eggs with their siblings.  The mass feels like a handful of tough jello which protects the eggs from dehydration as their ephemeral pond dries out.  Water is held inside but oxygen can't get in either.

Green eggs, hold the ham - REK
Then a strange thing happens, the cluster turns green!  Spotted salamanders have an interesting and unique symbiotic relationship with a single celled green alga, Oophila amblystomatis.  The algae takes up carbon dioxide and nitrogen waste products from the eggs and photosynthesizes oxygen.  The eggs acquire the needed oxygen, continuing to develop into larvae while producing more carbon dioxide and the cycle continues.

A New Scientist article calls this The First Solar-powered Vertebrate.  The relationship has been known before but now there is proof that the algal cells exist inside the cells of the salamanders themselves.  The algae is thought to be contained in the salamander germ cells and thus transmitted to each new generation.

Torn Tail trying to figure out what to do with the tadpole now - LB
Green Gill with a mouthful of tadpole

Then for a fun feature watch her video of a Food Fight over a Dead Tadpole.  The 75 minute competition is edited down to three minutes with a lively sound track.  Each salamander has a distinctive feature so you will meet Green Gill, Torn Tail, Notch Back and Round Butt with a guest appearance of a predaceous diving beetle with an attitude.  National Geographic, eat your heart out!

When you have some time, check out Linda's Nature in Motion channel.  You will need a lot of time as her Life Around the Pond play list alone has 129 videos!

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Fetid Mushroom!

Mark Bower dropped by at Bull Mills to visit and spotted these little mushrooms on a dead hollow log by the front door.  We had an unexpected shower earlier that caught me outside and unprepared and the mushrooms hadn't been there when checked the rain gauge by the log 2 hours earlier.  How did they shoot up that fast?  Read on.

Mark identified them as the fetid parachute, Gymnopus foetidus. Now I am not a mycologist but even I know that calling something fetid is not a good start for a relationship.  They fit the description with caps that were 1-2 cm wide, reddish-brown in color with a sunken navel-like center and reddish-brown striations extending to the pleated margin.

Mark insisted that I sniff one up close.  I recalled a hike in the past when he wanted me to try tasting a mushroom that was "very bitter." After I declined repeatedly, he tasted it and spend the next few minutes spitting, wiping his tongue and saying "That was awful!"  This time I did give it a little sniff and fetid pretty well sums it up.

To me the amazing story was how fast they had appeared!  He had told me about the overnight appearance of morels that most of us have experienced.  I asked him to write out the explanation below.  This is a bit of fascinating science so stick with us for a few minutes.

Phallus impudicus - Mark Bower
(Mark Bower)
Many mushrooms do pop up in less than 24 hours. I think the fastest are the stinkhorns. Phallus impudicus, (the star of my stinkhorn movie) only took about 3 hours to grow to about 13 cm. The inky caps are also very fast growers (shaggy mane, hare’s foot inky cap, alcohol inky, etc.) which will arise overnight.

Mushrooming up over night? If the body is spread out and microscopic, how do mushrooms grow so quickly? There are two basic reasons: 1) Since they store up compounds between fruiting and most fruit once a year, they have a lot of reserve available to support the mushroom. 2) Mushrooms develop differently than plants or animals do. Plants and animals grow through cell division - to get bigger they have to produce more cells. Cell division is relatively slow and requires a lot of energy. The mushroom body also grows by cell division. However, the mushroom fruit does not grow by cell division. Just about as soon as it starts to develop, a mushroom has almost the same number of cells that the mature mushroom will have. The mushroom increases in size through cell ENLARGEMENT! This means that the cells can balloon up very rapidly. Very little energy is required, basically the cells just enlarge with water. So a mushroom can increase in size as fast as water can be pumped into its cells. Almost overnight a mushroom can go from a pin head to a large mushroom.,

The Fruiting Bodies
Some mycorrhizal fungi types (specifically, ectomycorrhizal fungi) form mushrooms, the specialized fruiting bodies that play a role similar to that of flowers in plants. Mushrooms can grow below the soil, as do truffles, or above, as do morels. Their caps can be gilled or nongilled. Some have economic and gastronomic value, such as porcinis and chanterelles. Not all mycorrhizal fungi produce mushrooms, although all mushrooms are fungi.

Mushrooms are typically the part of the fungus that carries and disperses fungal spores, usually through sporangia (sporangium, singular), the enclosures in which the spores are formed. Each tiny spore released from a sporangium gives rise to a hypha, which branches and grows into hyphae, which then continue to grow and interweave to form a mycelial web.

Sometimes the hyphae form rhizomorphs, structures that transport water and nutrients throughout the network. This occurs when parallel hyphae merge. The inner hyphae lose their nuclei and cytoplasm, becoming hollow.

Merging hyphae also form fruiting bodies as a result of hyphae growing together. Specifically, two homokaryotic fungal hyphae (each with genetically identical nuclei) merge cytoplasm, but keep their nuclei separate, to form a dikaryotic hypha. Every time the cell divides, the new cells keep the two sets of haploid nuclei separate.

At the appropriate time, given some cue from nature, some environmental condition stimulates the fungus, and signals are created in the circulating cytoplasm, which cause the hyphae to merge and form a primordium, a tiny knot in the mycelia. This primordium includes all the cells the mushroom will ever have. It enlarges into a tiny budlike structure, or button, which will grow into a full-size mushroom.

All a mushroom requires is water to fill the cells. The mushroom can rapidly pull in water from its mycelium and expand the primordium. It can take less than 24 hours for a primordium to fill and grow; this is why mushrooms can pop up so quickly. Mushrooms have outer membranes, or veils, that dehydrate rapidly, so they usually appear only when temperature and moisture conditions are right. Those hydrophobins are working full time.

Now that science lesson didn't hurt, did  it?  Well maybe just a little, but  congratulations, you made it!  There will not be a quiz.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Picture-winged Fly

Delphinia picta loves Toyota trucks - REK
I have been seeing these small flies sitting on my pickup truck in the late evening.  I can't figure out why they are drawn to this surface although my wife suggests that they are attracted to dirt and grunge.  Ignoring her smarmy remark, I identified them as the common picture-winged fly, Delphinia pictaThe MDC Field Guide describes its head as having "...a remarkably large snout that makes the face look like an old-style gas mask."

  Reiner Jakubowski - CC
Love that petiole - John Lampkin
D. pictus is the lone member of the Delphinia genus.  It is found on rotting fruit and decaying vegetable matter, strengthening my wife's theory.  It is frequently confused with fruit flies but is not known to feed on any intact healthy fruit. 

The adults live up to 40 days.  They mate on the second day after emerging from the pupa, and presumably spend the following weeks in fond remembrance of their mating ritual as described in Wikipedia.  In the words of John Lampkin's photograph, "These flies suggest that it's worth a shot to try mating upside down wearing gas masks."
"The female will wave her wings gently and a male will respond by flicking his wings before copulation.  Courtship may also include one or more of the partners blowing a bubble from their mouth."
D. pictus - Lloyd Davidson CC
After that, life gets pretty mundane for D. pictus.  The female lays up to 500 eggs on decaying plant matter.  The larvae that hatch will go through 3 instars over 21 days before pupating.  I looked for a larval picture in the web in vain but in the search stumbled on a beautiful choreographed D. pictus dance routine on a beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, filmed by our own Master Naturalist videographer Linda Bower!  This Youtube video is a must see.
John Lampkin has Missouri roots, now a practicing "citizen naturalist" in Florida.
Linda Bower's fantastic videos are at Nature in Motion.

Editor's note:  Rewatch Linda's video and admire the beautyberry too. It's one of my favorite native shrubs.  You may yearn for one or more for your yard.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Caterpillar Care

Great Spangled Fritillary - MDC Discover Nature
There is a lot of work that goes into the Bill Roston Butterfly House even before the season opens.  Chris and Deb Barnhart are busy raising native butterflies from the eggs on.  They have approximately 1,000 including Great Spangled Fritillaries and four swallowtail species.  I asked them to describe the process for us.

Chris and Deb:
Do you remember the I Love Lucy episode where she is working at a conveyor with chocolates?  Well, raising 500 + Great Spangled Fritillary (GSF) butterfly caterpillars is a lot like that episode.

We set up new boxes with violets and transfer the caterpillars from the soiled box. We repeat this about 59 times a day. Interspersed with washing boxes and lids-drying them. Taking leaf scraps, frass and used tissues and coffee filters to the trash. A trash bag is walked to the garbage bin a few times each day. All of this is interspersed with trips into the woods for more violets! Be sure to see this 20 second video clip that says it all.

Meanwhile, Charley Burwick shared this picture below of his biggest GSF from a recent birding trip.  He insists he didn't Photoshop it.  I can't argue with a Conservationist of the Year.

The Bill Roston Butterfly House at the Springfield Botanical Gardens opens for the year on Saturday, May 18th at 9AM.  In addition you can visit the Native Plant Market which includes education booths and programs.  For details, click here.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Out of the Eggs

In the last blog, Difficult Delivery, we saw a wind battered pipevine swallowtail struggle to put all her eggs clustered together on one leaf petiole.  I decided to follow their course through larva-hood, a dangerous time.

Egg clusters only on this petiole
On the pipevine plant sprawling on the fence, there were now 4 leaves with 10-12 eggs each, all on the very bottom strand of leaves as seen above.  This isolated location exposed to potential predators puzzled me until I read that they lay their eggs in clusters on leaves exposed to sunlight.  With our nighttime temperature dropping into the 40s, the need for a sun warmed leaf makes more sense.

 One of the original clusters had already hatched and there was no remaining evidence of the eggs.  The first instar caterpillars are initially gregarious for reasons that only they know.  The caterpillars were bunched together on a nearby leaf, apparently full from their enriched egg shell meal and not yet ready to chow down on a leaf.

On a nearby leaf petiole, a group of first instars which had eaten their way out of the eggs watched as the last hatchling was still chewing on an egg shell.  As mentioned in the last blog, the females add nutritious knobs on the outside of the eggs, giving the young cats a head start before they become vegetarians.  You can see some of the action in this video.

I returned to an egg cluster an hour later to try and get better photographs and found a new visitor.  This is a green lacewing larva, Chrysopa oculata, which is chowing down on the egg cluster.  It was sucking out the juices so there wasn't anything to video unless it was making a faint slurping sound like working on the last of a milk shake.  You can see a little dark drop that doesn't bid well for the egg.

  "My, what big jaws you have." - Harvey Schmidt

The larvae are called “aphid lions” as they can consume over 200 aphids per week.  They are predators of a wide variety of soft-bodied insects and mites, including insect eggs and small caterpillars.  They have oversized sickle-shaped jaws that  can inject prey with a paralyzing venom and then suck out the body fluids. 

Green lacewing species - Jon Rapp
Lacewing Eggs - John Meyer
In this previous blog we discussed green lacewings and their eggs which dangle on fine strings.  It included graphic scenes of violence against aphids and I know what would be in store for these swallowtail eggs.  Most of these eggs will become victims of the food web with an occasional one surviving to mate and reproduce.

Now I am invested in these eggs and I feel a parental obligation for their safety, the result of my excessive levels anthropomorphism.  I used a blade of grass to push the lacewing larva off onto the ground. It may make its way back up the stem but at least I gave it a fighting chance.
Harvey Schmidt has a great set of Lacewing photographs here