Thursday, April 27, 2017

March Flies

Laurie's "Love Bug" in a bug box
At the Watershed Festival at Valley Watermill Park, Laurie Duncan introduced me to this beauty that accompanied her back from the Stream Side Station.  It patiently crawled around on her water bottle while I found a bug box,* a puzzling behavior for a bug with wings.  Measuring around 9mm, I was only able to photograph it after cooling it off in the refrigerator.  (No "bug" was injured in preparing this study.)

Stuck in Springfield with no field guides, I sent the photo to Dr. David Bowles from MSU and he quickly answered my call for help.  "Its a March fly (family Bibionidae, probably Bibio)."

A few days later at the creek Barb mentioned tiny flying insects in swarms getting in her eyes as she chased the dastardly invasive garlic mustard.  A quick ATV trip across the field with a butterfly net held in front of my face and I had a dozen of the pests in the bottom of the net.  I tied it off and stuck the netting in the freezer door for five minutes.  Barb is a real angel.  When removed, one was sufficiently stunned for a full facial portrait.  (Some "bugs" were injured in preparing this study.)

Male March fly - Note the horizontally divided compound eye
Again these were March includes the following description:
  •  Body usually black covered with long hair
  • Antennae short, placed low on face
  • Ocelli (simple eyes) present
  • Males with large compound eyes, divided into upper and lower sections
  • Wings clear or dark, some species have a dark spot on the anterior margin
    Bull Creek March Fly, Biblio male - note dark spot on anterior wing - REK
Bibionidae larvae are herbivores and scavengers while the adults can be important pollinators.  Some of the Bibio sp. that ours may be don't eat as adults, flying 3-7 days to mate.  They fly slowly, frequently drifting downward as they search for mates.  They can swarm in enormous numbers as they look for them.  Copulating pairs attach at the rear of the abdomen and remain like that as they fly, giving them a common name of double-headed fly.  The Plecia sp. have even earned the name Love Bug because of their dedication to copulation.

* My favorite "bug boxes" for collecting insects and butterflies are plastic baby food containers and small sauce containers from Indian and Chinese take-out restaurants.

The Bug Lady from the Wisconsin Field Station has this entertaining blog with more details.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Caddisfly Larvae

A field of 12 caddisfly cases.
Our stream team last week found lots of caddisfly larvae cases including 26 on one rock alone.   These cases are made of tiny pieces of gravel, twigs and sand which the larvae start to glue together with silk shortly after birth.  Cases I had previously found were tubular but these were round, giving them the name snail case building caddisflies.  Dr. David Bowles of MSU identified them for me as Helicopsyche borealis, which trout fishermen call a Speckled Peter.

David also explained the grouping behavior:
"The clumping you see in that photo, is a pupal aggregation behavior. They do that, apparently, so that when they emerge, the adults will be in closer proximity to one another. They secrete pheromones for attraction, so closeness is probably pretty important."
 H. borealis - University of Alberta
These little rock cases are made with silk excreted from their mouths.  As they grow, the larvae continue adding more rocks to the case which is open on both ends.  They draw water in through the posterior hole, across their gills and push it out the larger anterior opening.  They have a soft body but a harder sclerotized head which builds the case around the anterior end.  Their heads extend out to hold on to rocks not unlike a bagworm does on branches.
I was curious to see what these little guys/gals looked like but didn't want to break open a case which would harm them.  I took some of the 6 mm cases off the rock and carried them home in water.  Under the microscope the cases just sat there for several minutes and until I pushed them closer together.  Then the action started.

The larva on the right started reaching out until one leg touched the other case and it pulled it up tight.  The grip was strong as it must be to hold the case onto a rock in a current.  Each time I separated them, it would wait until I pushed them within 2-3 mm and then it would come out as seen in this video.  The other larva in the case on the left was facing upward and would occasionally move around the opening but couldn't apparently sense its neighbor.

The larvae feed primarily on diatoms, algae and detritus which they scrape off the rock surface.  They will continue to grow and build their cases until maturity.  The adults emerge, breed immediately, and fly low over or in the water to the delight of trout fishermen.

Helicopsyche borealis -

"Adult emergence throughout the season with a 5 to 6 month egg diapause. Both emergence and egg laying occur in the evening, the females will flop aimlessly on or near the water edge while extruding a mass of eggs (hangs off the tip of the abdomen), then later attaches the mass to a solid object.
H. borealis adults look different in flight from other Caddisflies. They fly with both wings in unison because the hindwing is attcahed to the forewing with a row of tiny hooks; normal Caddisflies beat their wings as two spread-out sets (LaFontaine, 1981)."   University of Alberta
Cheumatopsyche sp. out of its net - REK
We also found some caddisfly larvae without a case.  Free-living species don't build cases until they are ready to pupate.  Our specimens however were Cheumatopsyche sp. of the Hydropsychidae family.  These are net-spinning caddisflies, generally living in shelters they spin with silk that serve to sieve detritus and small invertebrates in the fast moving sections of a stream such as the riffle we were working.
Net-spinning Cheumatopsyche sp. - REK
Remains of the net - REK
Our specimen was likely crawling away after being displaced from its net on the right.  The net is still holding on to several pieces of gravel.  Displacement is a fact of life for the net spinners, forcing them to find another place in a riffle to set up housekeeping.  If the area is occupied, they can communicate their displeasure to the migrants by defensive stridulation.  To make this sound they run their femurs across ridges on the undersides of their heads.  Since they do this under water, I had a mental image of the entomologist in the stream with an ear on the rock.  They actually observe them while making audio-frequency recordings.
Thanks as always to Dr. David Bowles of Missouri State University for his patient guidance. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Spare that Violet

Pity the poor violet.  Hidden among the more showy flowers, it is a native that frequently get the same respect from a gardener that dandelions get on a golf course.  Close up they have their own beauty but there is a lot more to love about them.  They raise Great Spangled Fritillaries in the early spring.  Master Naturalist and videographer Linda Bower explains below, then watch her fantastic video of the caterpillar in action.

Linda Bower
 The Great Spangled Fritillary requires violets and leaf litter to survive. This is a very shy caterpillar, unlike any I've filmed before. It curls up into a "C" shape or drops off a leaf when it feels threatened. It prefers to stay low in masses of violets and is often found hiding under leaves. This butterfly has an unusual life cycle. It lays eggs in the fall and overwinters as a tiny caterpillar. It awakens when violets begin to leaf out (its only host plant). It forms its chrysalis in leaf litter. The adults fly and mate all summer.

This year's caterpillar season is almost over. Please check your violets if you decide to remove them from your garden beds. Place the caterpillars in an area of violets that you won't step on and do not rake! (To find them - look for chewed leaves and then carefully search the immediate area, including underneath leaves. The caterpillar's spines won't hurt you.) You will be richly rewarded for your efforts. The first clip of eating is in real time, the second is at 50% speed.

Now watch her video here.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Flocks of Phlox

Ozark Downy Phlox - Phlox pilosa
Linda Ellis MN came to the Wildflower Walk on April 1st with an additional mission.  She was serving as our visiting botanist but also was looking for a particular wildflower.  I will let her explain.

"A friend in the native plant nursery trade recently asked me to look for plants of Ozark downy phlox (Phlox pilosa var. ozarkana) so seed could be collected. I had really never studied the different expressions of phlox species before. That led to some research and some intense field study and photography of the phlox plants at Bull Creek on our Master Naturalist Wildflower Walk last weekend."

Pubescence- Click to enlarge
Phlox species can be either annual or perennial and come in a variety of colors including rose, red-purple, lavender, all white or white with a purple center. In our search of the ozarkana variety, we were looking for plants with wide, paired leaves with a somewhat heart-shaped base.  Most importantly, the leaves, stems and calyxes needed to be covered with glandular hairs as opposed to plain hairs. We found plants with glandular hairs and wide leaves in the valley and collected some for magnification.

Microscopic examination clearly showed the glandular pubescence we were looking for.

Linda's explanation peaked my curiosity.  "Pubescence" is defined as "soft down or fine short hairs on the leaves and stems of plants or on various parts of animals, especially insects."  It required a hand lens to identify it, unlike the other definition, "the time when puberty begins," which was a little more obvious.  Since our children are around 50 we don't need to think about that any longer.  Clicking on the photograph on the right will give you the chance to enlarge it as Barb was doing above.

Glandular hairs - REK
Trichome is a term that covers all these hairs, whether on plants, algae, or lichens.  They can serve many functions such as discouraging small herbivores, providing a barrier to frost formation, reflecting sunlight and deflecting wind to reduce moisture loss through transpiration.

Glandular trichomes produce some kind of secretion such as essential oils such as those in mint plants.  In some species such as carnivorous plants, they produce glue like substances to capture insects.

They can also capture the interest of an easily distractable naturalist.  I spent more time that I would like to admit photographing these beauties under the microscope.

Some other finds from the April 1st Wildflower Walk are in this album.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Monarch Eggs

From Shae Johnson:

Sunday, April 10, 2017, North of Ozark
I spotted my first Monarch while I was mowing grass. Ran in house to get my camera. I kept seeing the Monarch, but it flits from here to there so quickly, cannot get its picture yet. I kept trying, but never got its picture. When it first appeared, it zeroed in on my emerging common milkweed right away!!

I am sure I heard it say, "Hey, didn't I see you in Mexico in February?" recalling my visit to Sierra Chincua, a Monarch sanctuary in the state of Michoacan, Mexico.  Whether she came from Mexico or had been born from one of my friends from the trip, I could tell she was old and tired by her wings which had lost some of her color from the loss of scales.

Monarch egg 4-12-17 - REK
I also now know it was a female, "Senora Monarch."  As I was hoeing this area after getting the grass mowed, I looked down, and look what I found on this 2 inches tall milkweed.  She had been laying eggs!

I hope the milkweed grows fast in the next two weeks, or the caterpillars won't have enough to eat!!  I have more common milkweed in another garden. Checked there, and there are more eggs on those two plants, though not as many as on those young, emerging common milkweed.  - Shae Johnson
Monarch laying an egg - REK
Thanks, Shae.
So how does a Monarch find a milkweed?  The best information I could find is that they use a combination of visual and chemical clues. Their antennae have chemoreceptors that could pick up airborne clues.  Like many butterfly species, they have chemoreceptors on the legs.  Watch a butterfly on a plant and you may see it probing around with its legs.  The Monarch even has even has spines on its legs to pierce the plant for sampling.

Their compound eyes don't work like ours and pick up a different spectrum of light.  They see thousands of small individual images.  What ever they see, they are able to pick out a milkweed faster than I can.  Not so with Barb who knows her milkweed and showed me eggs on her milkweed in the backyard.

Egg on swamp milkweed 4 -12 -17 - REK
Egg on common milkweed 4-12 -17 - REK

Update April 14, 2017
We have been getting excited reports of Monarch butterflies arriving last Sunday from lots of friends and neighbors.  A question at the WOLF School resulted in a show of hands of over 30 students who had seen them at the first of the week.

Barb had a chance encounter at the school with Jason Jenkins, director for Missourians for Monarchs.  He explained that their sudden dramatic arrival was due to the the strong winds coming up from Oklahoma, carrying the new butterflies rapidly to their next stop on their Journey North

** Further update
Sudden early migration north may be bad for monarchs when milkweed is too small and cold weather can still occur - some arrived in Lincoln, Nebraska by April 9!  Read this for details.

*** More update
1st instar - note dinner hole near fingertip
April 20 - Barb called me out to check the first hatch.  At first I only found the little 2nd instar caterpillars until I got her and my reading glasses and found the little first instars.  In the short time they had been out of the eggs they had already eaten heartily and it showed. 

Second instar leaving huge divots in the leaf
The second instars were easier to find but still required getting on my hands and knees.  The missing chunks of leaves were impressive when compared to the size of the "hungry little caterpillar."

An interesting race is on between the cats and the milkweed.  In a normal competition, one contestant wins.  In this case however, if the milkweed's growth can't keep up with the cat's appetite they will both lose.

Stay tuned for the final race results.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Hattie's Witch's Butter

On the April 1st wildflower walk, we had a guest mycologist named Hattie.  She is an expert on finding things on the forest floor as she is built lower to the ground. While we were engrossed in all the early spring blossoms and emerging leaves, she discovered this fungus.  Soon she was demonstrating it to all of the assembled botanists. 

Crust fungus (Peniophora sp.fruiting body parasitized by Witch's Butter - Mark Bower
The orange fungus is Witch's Butter.  Hattie could pronounce that (sorta) but didn't know the scientific name so we had to rely on Mark Bower to identify it as Tremella mesenterica. 
 This is a jelly fungus that is a common find on dead wood.  I had assumed that it is a saprophyte but it actually is a parasite.  As Mark explained, the mycelium of T. mesenterica parasitizes the mycelium of crust fungi of the Peniophora genus, a saprophytic species found mostly on oaks.

Witch's Butter - Mark Bower
The British also call this the Yellow Brain Fungus.  The fruiting body of the fungus (a mushroom to most of us) comes out bright yellow and gelatinous after a rain, then shrivels up some and turns orange as it dries up.  I prefer the name Witch's Butter because of the explanation from Tom Volk’s Fungi:
"Why the curious name for such an innocuous-looking fungus? Well according to some eastern European legends, this fungus appears on your gate or on the entrance to your house when you have been put under a spell by a witch! The only way to get rid of the hex is to prick the witch's butter with straight pins, which makes the inner juices of the fruiting body leak out, killing the fungus, thus allowing you to live your life witch-free once again. I'm guessing the witch's butter hex is probably not a true story, but I'm not taking any chances…"
I tried to explain some of this to Hattie but she just gave me the stare that said, "Really?"  You can see Hattie and her new buddy Drew in action in this video by Linda Bower, and you have one more chance to join in this Saturday.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Bumps on a Log

As I was out looking at a small pond for Spotted Salamander eggs, I noticed a water soaked log floating in the shallow water.  In pushing it away I could see several tiny red spots on the bark.  After dragging it back to shore I harvested several pieces of bark for the photographs below.

Mark Bower identified it for me as Eyelash Cups fungus or “Molly Eye Winkers” (Scutellinia scutellata).  Eyelash cup is the perfect definition for this fungus, especially a side view under magnification.  They vary in size from minute to 1.5 cm and mine measured 3mm.  These saprophytic fungi can grow on the ground or on wood.

The "Winkers" are found on every continent as well as the Solomon Islands and Iceland!  Recalling that Iceland is a volcanic island, an infant in geological terms, that arose out of the sea "just" 24 million years ago.  Winkers probably arrived by air-blown spores.

Although their orange color comes from carotenoids that are found naturally in plants such as carrots, they are listed as "inedible."  This is based on size alone although they are described as "lacking taste or smell," confirming my suspicion that among obsessive mycologists, no fungus goes untasted.  Mushrooms are generally described as delicious, edible, non-edible, "make you sick" and deadly, generally preceded by some words like "Hey guys look, aren't these edible?" 

That got me to looking at other logs more closely.  Rolling a log over looking for salamanders, rotting bark fell away exposing these tiny 2 mm yellow spots.  They looked like tiny eggs but on 12x magnification, the bumps had their own bumps.  Again, this required input from Mark.

"The yellowish spherical things are definitely a Slime Mold from last fall. Most of the sporangia didn’t open before something happened (cold weather, dry conditions or other.) However, you can see some of the capillitium (which is that hairy glob) that was released from the sporangium that did open. As far as the species, it looks like some of them have individual stalks, which would suggest that this is one of the Hemitrichia species, possibly H. clavata. The white knobs appear to be an unknown white fungus that is decomposing the slime mold."
"Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,: And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.  Jonathan Swift

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Eat and be Eaten

Central newt with zits - parasitized by a trematode, Clinostomum
Linda Bower recently has been filming central newts in her incredible pond.  This particular newt had a bad case of zits, but these aren't like our teenage year's variety.  In this case, living creatures will crawl out..... remember "Alien?"

The central newt belongs to the amphibian family Salamandridae, a group of salamanders commonly referred to as newts. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, it is the only species of newt found in Missouri. They are seldom numerous in ponds that harbor fish or that lack aquatic plants. Adult newts eat small aquatic invertebrates such as worms, small mollusks, insects, crayfish, salamander larvae, and small tadpoles.
Central newt larvae - Wikipedia

Red eft phase - Wikimedia
Breeding occurs in late March through early May. Females lay 200–375 eggs singly on aquatic plants in May and June. The eggs hatch after 3–5 weeks. The larvae live in water until late July or early August, lose their gills, and transform into land-dwelling red efts. After living 2–3 years on land, they return to a pond or swamp, change into adults, and spend the rest of their lives mostly in water.

I will leave the rest up to Linda below.

Eyeing an innocent pond snail - Linda Bower
The newt above is featured in this video.  It is infested with metacercariae of the trematode Clinostomum (a fluke commonly known as a “yellow grub"). The disease produces grossly visible yellowish lumps under the skin, and an experienced parasitologist makes a diagnosis by removing the encysted parasite. Dr. Thomas Raffel of Oakland University had posted a photograph showing similar lumps. He confirmed that a Clinostomum sp. is the likely cause, given the presence of Planorbella sp.  snails in the pond, of which the ramshorn snail is one that I have documented.

Yellow grubs - Clinostomum metacercariae - S.
But, it’s not that simple. This parasite has two intermediate hosts (snails and amphibians/fish) and one definitive host (wading birds). The parasite’s eggs hatch in the water and the miracidium (ciliated larval stage) invades the foot of the snails. The larva leaves the snail and encysts in the newt.

"This science gives me a headache"
According to Dr. Raffel, the newt needs to be eaten by a wading bird for the parasite to complete its life cycle. He states,
“At that point, the parasite can detect its host being eaten and it immediately excysts (emerges) through the newt's skin. It needs to do this quickly because this particular parasite prefers to live in the bird's gular pouch, so it doesn't want to go through the gut. This is one of the few trematodes I know of whose metacercariae grow within the amphibian host, presumably so they are mature enough to immediately infect the bird once eaten.”   
The birds must urinate or defecate in the water to pass the parasite’s eggs while the adult parasites remain in the gular (throat) pouch.
OK, Linda, enough is enough.....even for a retired gastroenterologist.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Thong Trees

Seeing a tree like the one above always brings a comment "Oh, that was made by Indians to point to something."  Recently David Casaletto wrote a story in Ozark Water Watch about thong trees that piqued my curiosity.  Are they all created by Native Americans to point the way to water,  hunting grounds, camp sites, hideouts or even buried treasure?  Really?  "Follow this to find my buried treasure?"

Google "thong trees" and most links seem to be from the Ozarks.  Other names are popular elsewhere including Indian marker trees, trail trees, prayer trees etc.  The "thong" refers to the theory that saplings were bent over at 90 degrees, tethered to the ground stake with a thong.

Finding a thong tree is always exciting and there may be a few of them that were surviving examples of Native American markers.  They certainly have a wide network of passionate support for that theory.  However, there are many who would point out that Indians had an incredible knowledge of the land and water sources and extensive trails (such as the one we turned into I-44) and would have little need for establishing a marker to last for many decades.

All of the trees that I have seen here personally are less than 200 years old.  The Osage treaty of 1818 ceded their Missouri land and they moved to Kansas by the 1820s. The Delaware had been "given" their land for a short time but even Delaware Town and Swan Trading Post were deserted by 1831.  If the one above was created by the last man leaving the territory 180 years ago, it should have been pointing west where all the tribe was headed.

Young trees are frequently bent over by falling trees which subsequently rot and disappear into the soil.  Above is a young thong tree example and in spite of its youth, there is no evidence of what distorted it.  The tree on the right is much older, either a creation of an unknown event of nature years ago or  possibly a thong tree pointing to the North Star.

What happened here? - Mort Shurtz
It is easier to understand how nature may have created a thong tree compared to many other  dendrological oddities.  Consider Mort's photograph above.  I can't begin to explain the possibilities creating a double trunk like this.  A bent trunk will usually grow upward, phototropism's resistance to the pull of gravity.  Twisting trunks are harder to explain.  The thong tree below not only has the right angle but also has a 180 degree turn.  Perhaps is was to confuse anyone looking for the treasure.  Who knows?