Sunday, July 31, 2011

Friendly Butterflies

Beauty with a Crescent beauty
What can bring more joy to a child than a butterfly willing to rest on her finger?  We had a lot of Silvery Crescents on the rocky bank of Bull Creek last weekend and they were patient enough to climb on your finger if you held it down to them.

Most butterflies spend some time on moist soil, gravel and even dung, a behavior called puddling.  They are collecting minerals they fail to get with the pure carbohydrate in nectar.  This behavior can lead to large collections of different species, all gathering on a small area like college kids at a bar.

Great Spangled Fritillary  "Scalping"
Human sweat also provides these salts.  Some butterflies seem more likely to land on us, whether by their perception of odor or colors.  My odor on a hot steamy day would not ordinarily be an attractant, but then as I mentioned, they also will land on dung.  Wood Nymphs, Painted and American Ladies and American Snouts seem to be the most often attracted to me.

American Snout
The American SnoutLibytheana carinentais one of the most interesting butterflies to see up close.  Their mouth parts (labial palps) are greatly elongated, creating their long snout that could remind you of  Cyrano de Bergerac  or Jimmie Durante, depending on your age.  Long pointed protruberances on either end of an insect causes people to fear a bite or sting, but this butterfly is simply looking for salt and other nutrients.

The snout gives them additional camouflage with their leaf-like wings appearing to be attached to a stem, their snout.  They frequently add to the deception by hanging upside down from a stem.

The larval host plants for Snouts are Hackberry species- Celtis spp.  In the South, they occasionally have population explosions, followed by mass migrations which have been known to darken the sky.  These occur when a specific Hackberry leafs out following late summer rains in Texas.  In 1921 a migration lasting 18 days was estimated to include more than 6 billion butterflies.  (How do you count that many butterflies?  Easy- you count their wings and divide by two.)

If you haven't had your snout full yet, there are great pictures at

p.s. Did you know there is a snout moth?  Neither did I.  See Mobugs

Friday, July 29, 2011

Japanese Beetles

Beetles take in a little grape
Japanese Beetles have a sweet tooth, or at least a sweet mandible.  While they seemingly can eat anything (400 species and counting), on Bull Creek they are often found most predictably on wild grape.  Unlike Dracula, they avoid the leaf veins, leaving a clean reticulated pattern like they were carefully dissecting the circulatory system.

They are thought to have arrived in the US in 1916.  They have become an urban and garden problem in recent years, matching the observation that most invasive species take around a hundred years to spread and become a major problem.

Now they are facing the government.  It turns out that they, like a turn of the century Ozarker, have developed a taste for corn.  If they were eating just the leaves, it might not be as big a problem.  It turns out that they specialize in nibbling the corn silk, the plant's source of pollination.  This in turn prevents the development of the kernel our society has become so dependent on for food, sweetening and now fuel.

Researchers suspect that it will be 5 to 7 years of progressive problems before nature begins to reach an equilibrium.  There are many factors that can begin to control a new invasive species.  If new predators which are uncommon now develop a taste for them, the predators success can lead to proliferation of their numbers.  Diseases that are selective for them could also reduce their numbers.

Nature always finds a way to restore the balance.  Unfortunately the process is slow in human terms so don't expect them to fade away any time soon.

More information is available in this News-Leader article

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Weaver Ants

Weaver ant gluing leaves
The May issue of National Geographic had a fascinating article on weaver ants.  Mark Moffett captures incredible images of their teamwork in weaving their colonial homes.  These denizens of Southeast Asia and Australia have one of the most complex societies known.

Among their many skills they can:
  • Create nests the size of soccer balls by stitching together leaves.
  • Create a city of these nests, up to 100 which are linked socially by their own brand of communication.
  • Hold and squeeze larva like a tube of glue to bind leaves together.
  • Stretch over a third of an inch to pull leaves together before weaving them into a home.
  • Attack intruders, including photographers by biting with a toxic substance and spraying formic acid to burn the nostrils.
The article describes the beginning of a construction project this way.
Pulling leaves together
"A single worker stands on a leaf and reaches to grasp the edge of another leaf nearby. If the span is too great, a second worker climbs over the first, and the bottom ant grasps the newcomer by its wire-thin waist and holds it out closer to the goal. Still not enough? A third ant clambers over the first two and is lifted out farther yet. Ant by ant, a living chain grows into thin air like the arm of a construction crane. Once the distant leaf is grabbed, the squad pulls in unison, often with nest mates that have formed parallel chains and reinforcing cross-links, to draw the leaves' edges together. Workers begin to array themselves like live staples along the seam between the leaves, legs holding on to one edge, jaws gripping the other."
Read this National website article for all the details.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Deer Exclosure

Jeff's Nature Home Page
Linda Chorice of the Springfield Conservation Nature Center pointed me to a story on a deer exclosure on NPR.  Exclosure refers to the eight foot high fencing used keep deer out of an area.  Although this could be used to protect plants or gardens, this particular exclosure was created to study the habitat changes brought on by a heavy population of deer.

Whitetail deer were a daily sight when Henry Rowe Schoolcraft traversed southern Missouri in 1818.  There were also numerous wolves, bear and even panther which served as predators to keep the deer population in balance, and a whole country for them to roam and browse.  In current times their primary predators (hunters and vehicles) haven't kept them in check.

The deer habitat has changed with agriculture and hay fields taking over past forests and savannas.  Browsing opportunities have been somewhat limited so they nibble a higher percent of new young trees in the islands of woodlands surrounded by fields.  Meanwhile they have adapted quite well to the more urban life where they are relatively free from hunting pressure.  They have developed a more sophisticated taste in dining including table decorations and salads, i.e. flowers and vegetable gardens.

Urban Deer-
The NPR story highlights the habitat changes seen by excluding deer from 10 acres. There was considerably more diversity in the protected area with a wider variety of forbs and shrubs as well as young trees.  This provided for more favorable habitat for mice and chipmunks which are a natural part of the food chain for snakes, foxes, etc.

There are two small exclosures along the trails at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center.  Next time you pass by, stop and check out any differences between the plants inside and outside the fence. You may notice a relative absence of new growth trees and shrubs outside as deer browse tender young shoots.  Without a chance to develop young trees, we end up with open woods lacking the habitat needed by many small mammals.   As the trees age and die, there are no young and teenage trees to take their place.  Deer also browse the shrubs which produce berries that feed birds and too many for this urban island of nature eliminates this food source for birds.

The effects of too many deer living on this protected urban island doesn't threaten the survival of birds and our forests.  It simply highlights the more widespread effects as habitat is consumed by human activities and deer numbers increase in the absence of natural predators.  Hunting controls the population in the wild.  In our expanding urban areas...not so much.

MSU conducts studies of the flora in and outside of the exclosure at the Nature Center. Take time to compare this with the surrounding woods at the Nature Center the next time you walk the trails.

* Checkout Jeff's Nature Home Page to view some of his incredible nature photography.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Green June Beetle-NOT!

Our beetle- Click pictures to enlarge
Thanks to an alert Shelly Cox* from MDC we have a new ID below.  I posted a Green June Beetle story this morning which was all correct except it wasn't the right beetle!  Within a few hours of the posting, Shelly read it and identified the beetle as a Fiery Searcher, a.k.a.  Caterpillar Hunter.  First the differences.
  • Note that my beetle pictures, like the Fiery Searcher, show long thin antennae and legs that are smooth.  The wing covers are streaked with long furrows and scattered tiny pits.
  • The Green June Beetle picture shows short broad antennae, clubbed at the end, and legs with curved spines on the tibia.  Its wing covers are perfectly smooth.
Fiery Searcher- Calosoma scrutator
Green June Beetle - Continis nitida
Note smooth legs,long antennae
Note wing cover grooves and pits

The beetles of the Calosoma genus are large beetles which hunt caterpillars, both good and bad from our myopic human perspective.  Most of the 167 known species are black but Calosoma scrutator is a colorful exception.  It gets respect from its mandibles which nip prey, predators and unwary bipeds which pick them up.  They also can produce a foul smelling spray from glands at the tip of their abdomen.

Both the beetles and their larvae climb trees in search of caterpillars.  They are active from May, when the trees leaf out, through the fall.  They winter as adults and can live up to three years.

An animal's role in nature is all in the eye of the beholder.  The Fiery Searcher is generally considered a beneficial insect, eliminating destructive caterpillars although some lepidopterists and caterpillars may disagree.

Click to enlarge
The lesson here is to observe small details carefully.  Had I taken the time to draw my beetle, the details would have jumped out at me.  Notice the fiery rim around the dorsal thorax in the picture below taken by Jon Rapp of Columbia, MO.

**Shelly Cox writes my new favorite blog,  She started out as a Missouri Department of Conservation volunteer in 2003 and lost her "amateur status" when she was hired by MDC as a Naturalist in January of this year. She posts to her blog with regularity and she has the advantage over me of knowing what she writes about (although this weakness will not stop me from writing).

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Terrible Hairy Fly

Hairy Fly- AFP- BBC
You want rare?  How about the wingless Terrible Hairy Fly, Mormotomyia hirsutaThis wasn't written by our Buck Keagy but it could have been.  It had been found only twice,  in 1933 and in 1948.  It is found only on a single 20 meter high rock in Kenya, in a cleft with a bat roost.  In the words of Dave Barry, "...and I am not making this up."  It is a story worthy of Buck Keagy.

It has small non-functional wings and tiny eyes.  Its long hairy legs give it the appearance of a spider.  It breeds in bat guano which is also where the larva have been collected.   Scientists believe the adults live on bat secretions.

A BBC report on a 2010 expedition that found the fly again and collected it for study.  They hope that DNA studies will tell more about its evolutionary history.

Unable to fly, its only means of dispersal would be to cling to a bat that moved to another location.  They feel that this rock may house the only specimens.  It is the only member of its new family and is probably the only fly species which is limited to Africa.
Editor's note:
If you have never read any of Buck Keagy's Sigh-n-tific discovery stories, now would be a good time to ..... watch the Weather Channel for a few hours or listen to some talk radio.  If however you insist, you can check out the April 1, 2011 and April 1, 2010 stories. 
Remember- I warned you!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Rattlesnake Master

Click to enlarge
It is always exciting to find a new species on Bull Creek.  We just found the first Rattlesnake Master on our place.  You have to love a name like that.

The ball at the top of the stalk is made up of lots of tiny white flowers surrounded by sharp bracts (specialized leaves below the flower heads).  The leaves are very distinctive with long parallel veins and long thin teeth which are curved like a rattlesnakes fangs.

Leaves with long hair-like teeth
Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium) almost resembles a yucca but it is actually a member of the carrot family.  It is normally a tallgrass prairie species, although ours was in the  woods along a north facing trail.  This location may be related to the fact that most of the hills like ours were "barrens" several hundred years ago.  Schoolcraft traveling through in 1818 consistently described the hills as open grasslands with only a few scattered trees.

According to Illinoiswildflowers, Native Americans used the dried seedheads as rattles.  It received its name from the pioneers who claimed the roots were an effective snakebite antidote.  In addition to a garden plant, it is promoted for sale in websites like
"Wear RATTLESNAKE MASTER, Red Pepper, and Salt in your Shoes, and you can walk with impunity where people have laid down crossing powders and where poisonous Snakes dwell. A living RATTLESNAKE MASTER plant near your front door -- especially the strong-smelling Eryngium foetidum -- is said to keep snakes away."
"We make no representations for RATTLESNAKE MASTER, and sell as a Curio only."
Timber Rattlesnake- Click to Enlarge
Try telling that to this guy we found by our garage door last week!  See him laughing?  Me neither.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Flowerpot Fungus

Returning from the MOMS* Foray at Ha Ha Tonka, Barb went down stairs to the game room aka. plant green/brown house to water her kids.  She returned triumphantly with a mushroom volunteer.  At first glance, based on color and ignorance I guessed it was a chanterelle.  Unfortunately I sent this out with that comment- Boy was I wrong!

Within minutes I received emails pointing out my error.  The first guesses based on the picture alone was a Hohenbuehila species.  A flurry of emails from Ken Olson and Jay Justice from MOMS eventually settled on its being in the Hohenbuehila petaloides group.  Ken pointed out that "It is commonly found in the soil of potted plants where rotting wood mulch was used."

Tom Volk's Fungus of the Month is full of information as always. 
Like many fungi, this one lives on decayed wood.  However, it is also carnivorous- think Audrey in the Little Shop of Horrors.  In his own word
"What about the wood decay I alluded to earlier? And what about the nematodes? Well as you might know, wood is a good source of carbon but a terrible source of nitrogen, which fungi need to make proteins. Both Hohenbuehelia and Pleurotus can supplement their protein needs by trapping nematodes, which are small flat worms that are very abundant in wood and soil. The fungi have "sticky knobs" on the hyphae that grow through the wood. These sticky knobs attach to curious nematodes as the nematodes attempt to eat the mycelium. The nematode thrashes around and additional parts of its body become stuck. The hyphae then grow into the body of the nematode and digest it, providing the fungus with the nitrogen it needs. That makes these fungi carnivorous"
If we could grow enough of these, we could save money of glue traps.  I wonder if it could eat a mouse.

* MOMS is the Missouri Mycological Society.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Blob on a Dock

This weeks Ozark Water Watch is too good to simply pirate ideas from so I am blatantly stealing it.  Hopefully, Editor David Casaletto will forgive me.  You can sign up to follow his stories at

Blob growing on dock flotation
What in the world is growing on my dock?

The water quality office phone rang last week and Gopala Borchelt, Executive Director of Table Rock Lake Water Quality answered. A local lake resident wanted to know what in the world was growing on their dock and could it be the result of some lake contamination or sewer overflow. Maybe a space alien! Since the dock was nearby, Gopala jumped in the car with camera in hand to see what was up. It turns out the strange blob is not the result of any pollution or invasion but a strange creature that is actually working to help us keep the lake clean.

The blob is a bryozoan colony. Pectinatella magnifica is a member of the animal phylum Ectoprocta (common names: bryozoans, moss animals), a group with a fossil record extending back to the upper Cambrian (500,000,000 years ago!). The majority of bryozoans are marine (several thousand species), but one class, the Phylactolaemata, is found exclusively in fresh water. The species of this class is what is found in our area lakes. The basic ground plan of a bryozoan superficially appears to have more in common with a coral; they are, in fact, ecological analogs. Bryozoans and corals are in different phyla and are unrelated. What seems to be an individual is actually a colony of zooids (not polyps as in corals). Each zooid has whorls of delicate feeding tentacles swaying slowly in the water catching food.

Bryozoan scraped off into a dip net

Though they are not closely related to corals, bryozoans are superficially similar in that they are tiny colonial aquatic creatures that effectively filter particles from the water. The large gelatinous species is native to North America and often grows on docks and other submerged wood. During the summer it releases small larvae that swim away and establish new colonies nearby. In the fall each colony produces thousands of tiny, seed-like disks that remain dormant over winter and germinate the following spring. Most other freshwater bryozoan species form branching tubules that resemble brown moss in the water (Bryozoa = "moss animal"). While freshwater bryozoans improve water quality, some species become a serious nuisance when they clog intake and irrigation pipes. I, for one, am glad for the help the bryozoans are providing in keeping the lakes clean!
Holding a bryozoan (gloves help - it is slimy!)

Quote of the Week

Ocean: A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man - who has no gills. -Ambrose Bierce

Friday, July 8, 2011

Longhorn Beetles

Longhorn Beetle- Marvin Smith
I have been seeing lots of these Longhorn Beetles on the Queen Anne's Lace lately.  The distinguishing feature is the antennae which are as long or longer than their body.   Once that connection was made, it wasn't hard to narrow it down to a Banded Longhorn Flower Beetle (Typocerus velutinus) in

The first hit when searching the scientific name brought up a very interesting blog, Nature in the Ozarks.  It is written in Arkansas by Marvin Smith.  He blogs about his nature findings and gardening when he isn't carving up trees to make wooden spoons.  I asked to use his picture as my specimen had passed on to the great weed patch in the sky.

Adult Longhorn Beetles (Family Cerambycidae) larvae bore into wood, some species actually killing live trees.  The adults emerge from these tunnels to mate and leave eggs on the next available trees.

Cottonwood Borer-
When I was a kid (don't ask when), Cottonwood Borers, Plectrodera scalator, were killing our row of Lombardy Poplars and my father paid me a penny for each beetle I killed.  My first proceeds were spent on a ten cent package of pins which I used to pin them onto the tree and watch them struggle.  This was less messy than cutting their heads off and just as satisfying.  I never progressed to torturing other insects (OK, maybe an occasional lady finger fire cracker in an ant hill) but have to admit I enjoyed this introduction to nature and hunting.

Typocerus velutinus is one of the Flower Longhorn Beetles, insects that feed on pollen and nectar without disturbing the flowers.  They seem especially fond of Queen Anne's Lace, a plant that was introduced to the US from Europe in what seemed like a good idea at the time.  This is probably the beetle's equivalent of pizza and pasta. 

Queen Anne's Lace- Wikimedia
Queen Anne's Lace, Daucus carota, is also called wild carrot.  Our common domestic carrot is actually a cultivar of this species.  The USDA has listed it as a noxious weed  and it can be a serious pest in pastures.  We notice that Soldier Beetles and Lightning Bugs are occasionally on it.

The good news about the Longhorn Beetles is that they are harmless pollinators and contribute in their own way to the variety of colors in your garden.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Ha Ha Tonka Foray

Dennis Snapping a Russula- Jon Rapp
This last Saturday, like any other individuals of sound mind, we elected to "Foray" with the Missouri Mycological Society (MOMS for short) at Ha Ha Tonka.  A hundred degree heat index won't stop this intrepid bunch, especially as mushrooms tend to grow best in the shade.

So what is a foray?  The Free says:
1. A sudden raid or military advance.
2. A venture or an initial attempt, especially outside one's usual area
3. Archaic  To pillage in search of spoils.
These definitions are right on as (a) Barb and I were definitely outside of our usual area, and (b) mushrooms frequently grow on the spoils of nature, i.e. decaying wood.

The MOMS members were a good-natured bunch, friendly, generous to a fault, full of information and suffering fools gladly (that would be us).  Our mentors, Jay Justice and Chris Crabtree shared their knowledge without flaunting it and all the members guided us gently through the mysteries of mushroom I.D.
A few of the pearls of wisdom:
Bunch of Basket Cases
  • Russela mushroom stalks snap like chalk with a sound to match.
  • Sniff every mushroom-  don't taste.
  • Walk through the woods like a beagle, eyes to the ground.  They found four times as many as I did.
  • Carry a basket to carefully store your collection.  Yeah, it feels funny at first, but it works.
After 3 hours of scouring the woods, we met back in camp to spread out our treasures.  Next came the identification process, a restrained, intellectual, academic discussion of the fine points to pinpoint the exact species (i.e. friendly arguing).  Actually, while this was going on, most of us were sitting in a nearby stream cooling off.

Camping Stan, the man with the fan
We missed much of the camaraderie and food as we wimped out in a motel rather than roughing it.  Roughing it may be a little strong, as Stan had a tent larger than our Comfort Inn room.  Staying in a motel and eating pizza was our loss as MOMS come to eat with great dishes to share brought from home.  This may be the real reason for the foray. 

There is a lot to learn to even catch up with the newest members, but they never gave up on us.  I doubt that I will ever become expert at identifying and naming most of the mushrooms- I struggle with remembering Barb's name some days-  ("Just call me Sweety").   But if you enjoy a walk in the woods with like souls, MOMS may be for you.

Check out the MOMS designated photographer, Jon Rapp's, pictures at and find more information on MOMS at 

A Springfield chapter has been formed.  Read about it at  There may be fungi in your future with fun guys and gals.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Long Live..the Salamander?

Olm - Yann Voituron
A story on highlights a small cave salamander named olm or Proteus, aka "the Human Fish" as its skin tone resembles ours.  Zookeepers have long noted its longevity, frequently 70 years or more.  It has been known to reach 100 years, all without the use of hormones and antibiotics!

Longevity is usually associated with large size and low-stress, stable environments without predators.  The olm reaches only 16", far smaller than many other salamanders.  Life in a cave certainly is less stressful than the outside world and there aren't a lot of creatures bigger than an olm down there.
Ocean Quahog- Hans Hillewaert

So what else is out there to top this record?  Another article from provides a top ten list that hasn't made Dave Letterman's show.  It includes the Warty Oreo (140 years) which looks nothing like the cookie of the same name, the Red Sea Urchin (200 years) and (I am not making this up) the Ocean Quahog at 400 years.

I would suggest you memorize this list to use the next time the conversation slows around dinner.   You are sure to be a big hit.

Special thanks to Charley Burwick for the tip.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Leaf-footed bug

Click to enlarge
Any bug Barb finds in the garden is guilty until proven innocent.  The prehistoric creature in the picture is easily identified as a Leaf-footed bug by its broad, leaf-shaped tibia.  Many of these species have a variation of yellow orange on their antennae.

Next stop was where a search brought up Leaf-footed bugs (Coreidae).  From there on it is a process of elimination until I came across Leaf-footed bug - Leptoglossus oppositus with its distinctive three spots on its back and unusually thin femurs.

One nice thing about the internet, you name a critter and there is probably a Fan Page for it.  For Leaf-footed bugs, it is at and it is loaded with information on the family. 

The Common Leaf-footed bug is in a group commonly called squash bugs because some of them damage squash and other crop plants.  They also are called squash bugs because that is their fate if Barb finds them in the garden.  Many of the species are not garden pests but they all look enough alike that I took two hours to identify a different species. 

Undoubtedly some closely related species will die in the garden because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I don't intend to look each one up before Barb passes sentence.

2014 Addendum
Chris Barnhart sent me this picture of leaf-footed bug eggs that is just to cool to ignore.  They bear a resemblance to little Tootsie-rolls and are probably more nutritious.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Butterfly Hunting

Taylor- Butterfly Hunter- 6 y.o.
This time of year is busy for Master Naturalists who are involved in the Bill Roston Butterfly House.  Following the covering of the house and installation of the interior and plants by Bob Childress and his crew, it is time to hunt native butterflies to repopulate the house.  Buck, Charley and I are out with other volunteers such as Roy and Kathleen, scouring the woods and fields for a variety of species.  My niece Taylor caught 30 by herself over the weekend of her visit.

We keep the butterflies cool to avoid dehydration and deliver them to the house where they find host and nectar plants and protection from predators such as birds and wasps.  They also find members of the opposite sex.

Our goal is to bring the life cycle of butterflies and moths to the public with a special emphasis on teaching kids about nature.  The house is staffed with volunteer docents to help visitors find eggs, larvae, pupae and identify butterflies as well as educate them on the importance of conservation.  Admission is free during regular hours*, and off hours guided tours are available through the Botanical Center.

Many Master Naturalists serve as docents and volunteers.  Rose Atchley has rebuilt her green house to raise host plants for the caterpillars.  Buck has built nets and the beautiful floral sign in front of the house.  We are all indebted to Scott Cunningham of FOG for coordinating activities in the house.

The Butterfly Festival is July 16th and 17th.  As these pictures from the 2010 Festival show, there is fun for all.  There are generally moths emerging from their cocoons all weekend.  This year there will be live music, free tram rides from the parking lots, expanded activities and lots of educational programs in the Botanical Center- and blessed air conditioning!

* The Butterfly House is open Saturdays and Sundays 10 am to 6 pm and Tuesdays and Wednesdays 5 pm to dusk through mid-September.

For a quick cram course on butterflies, go to