Wednesday, August 30, 2017

News Bee

Yellowjacket hover fly, Milesia virginiensis - REK
There are a lot of yellow flies on the flowers now.  These are Syrphidea family members, aka. hover fly, flower fly, or syrphid fly.  At first glance they are confused with yellowjacket wasps but there are significant differences in shape, size and flight pattern. 

Syrphid flies hover around flowers before landing to feed on nectar and pollen.  They look dangerous but they have no bite or sting and are entirely harmless.  Not so with their larvae which are predators on garden pests like aphids, scale insects and thrips.  They can destroy hundreds of aphids overnight, and when lady beetle populations are low they become the dominate predator.

My favorite is the yellowjacket hover fly, Milesia virginiensis, seen above. It is a noisy creature and its sound and pattern is distinctive enough that I don't usually even look to identify it. At first glance its hornet body shape and loud buzzing are threatening, a great example of Batesian mimicry to avoid predators, but watch it closely and it just wants to be friends.  It is a very friendly and curious insect that seems to enjoy human companionship.  It's known as the "news bee" for its habit of hovering relatively close to your face as though it was delivering the latest gossip.  No other insect does this and its behavior is as distinctive as its markings.  It is said that it's good luck if one can get the insect to perch on a finger.*  Given their sound and appearance, it is more a mark of bravery.

M. vrginiensis has a stalking behavior in mating.  The male hangs around flowers in the morning looking for females, then moves to areas where the females lay their eggs later in the day.  For those wanting to take a stab at insect identification, has this description that you can compare with the pictures.
"Traits of the adult to watch for include: a completely yellow face; yellow to light brown antennae; yellow femora and tibiae, with the tarsi somewhat darker. Wings cloudy but unpatterned, typically darker at the apical end."
Sphecomyia vittata female - REK
Many other flower flies mimic yellowjackets, possibly because of their aggressive traits and unpredictable gang warfare.  This one wasn't hovering as usual and when I compared the markings it was a close mimic of M. virginiensis.  It fits many of the features described above but the thorax and abdominal markings are far different.  This is why amateur entomology is fun!

Toxomerus marginatus male - ID by James Trager
This specimen was obviously quite different.  I was lazy that day and sent it off to Bi-State Bugs where James Trager IDd it as a male Toxomerus marginatus.  It took me a while to discover how he could identify it as a male.  It turns out that the eyes have it.  The males have bigger eyes - they have to find the females who are hanging out in a flower bar, just waiting to be picked up.  The guys have to be able to tell the difference in sexes to avoid wasted time and embarrassing encounters.
"Like all other flies the males have bigger eyes which come closer together at the top of the head. Females have much smaller eyes, placed farther apart. Tiny eyes or ocelli are composed of single cells and are found at the top of the head in a triangle between the large compound eyes."

They lay their eggs on rotting logs where their larva feed.**  Now with your new-found knowledge about sexing (not sexting) a hover fly, you can see that this specimen I photographed was a female.  You are now off on your way to being an entomologist!  Just a few more years to go, but a warning.....It can be addictive.
* Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America

** Bug Eric

Monday, August 28, 2017

Midwest Brown Snake

While standing around waiting where I park my truck, I randomly picked up a small slab of bark and found this snake.  My first guess was an eastern garter snake, Thamnophis sirttails sirtalis, but Brian Edmond corrected me.  This is a midland brown snake (MBS), Storeria dekayi.

The MBS is described as shy and secretive, living a quiet life in moist leaf litter, feeding on slugs, snails, and earthworms.  Its blunt head and backward pointing teeth are thought to be an advantage in eating snails.  They can hang onto the snail's head for a long period of time until it is fatigued and can be pulled out of its shell.

MBS has tan and brown skin with subtle spots that is perfect camouflage for its habitat. It has a slightly rough feel due to keeled scales along the back, longitudinal ridges like the keel on a canoe.  Unlike the garter snake which tries to act tough with false strikes and trying to bite, this docile snake just wanted to get away.

As I held it for pictures it would flicker its tongue.  I realized I could get its tongue out by holding my finger in front of it.  This video shows our snake's tongue in slow motion.  A snake's tongue can detect nonvolatile chemicals that its nose can't smell.  It is a way to identify prey as well as identify others of its species and chose a mate.*  It may also be involved it following the trail of prey although this is still being debated.

Brown snake smells with forked tongue - REK
Like other snakes, our friend has a forked tongue and I started wondering why that adaptation that is common to reptiles, most snakes, and a few lizards.  It turns out that it increases the surface area of the tongue to pick up smaller amounts of chemicals.  Also this gives the animal a sense of left-right direction from odors, similar to how ears on both sides of the head help us locate sound.

Our MBS was only twelve inches long and is unlikely to be mistaken for any venomous snake except a young pygmy rattlesnake.  Hopefully it will live a long and snail-full life, if it doesn't get under my truck.
* Of_tongues_and_noses
Thanks to Linda Bower for editing the video.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Horse Fly

We wrote about the bolete mushrooms on the glade in the last blog..  The day suddenly turned ugly as I was writing on the mushroom.  I heard a menacing buzz and felt a sharp pain on my back.    From then on for the next 20 minutes I had a dark Horse Fly  circling me and landing between my shoulder blades every minute biting me through my tee-shirt.  Swatting at it with my slouch hat had no effect as it followed me for a hundred yards.

Usually in encounter them on the creek and getting about 20 feet from their territory gets them off my case.  Not so this time as it followed me for several hundred yards through the woods, constantly buzzing and when silent it had landed and was biting through my sweat soaked tee-shirt.

Horse Fly - REK
I generally love nature in all forms.  We watch timber rattlesnakes by the garden and nudge them on their way.  We transfer spiders out of the sinks and haul rat snakes out of our attic at intervals.  When possible I capture insects, cool them in the refrigerator (thank you Barb for your tolerance) and photograph them alive before releasing them back to nature.  However I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed putting a pin through this bugger.

In the last blog I said we were "Blood Brothers" but not exactly, more like blood siblings.  Only the female bites, acquiring blood as a high-protein food needed for egg production.  I would happily take out a hard boiled egg or even a piece of last nights beef dinner for her but she is very specialized and wants only mammal blood.  Horse, deer or me, it makes little difference to her.

"The better to bite you with, my dear!" - REK
Adults wide ranging as this one was 150 feet above the creek bed.  The larvae live mostly in wet soil along the margins of streams and ponds.  While adult females feed on vertebrate blood, usually of warm-blooded animals, males and a few female species visit flowers.  Their larva are mainly carnivorous.  The female is well equipped to draw blood from the thick hide of a horse or the thinner skin of the primitive bipeds that came across the land bridge 13,000 years ago to provide an alternative blood source.
Wikipedia with annotations
"The bite is effected by stabbing with the mouth parts and slicing the skin with scissor-like movements of the finely serrate, knife-like mandibles and smaller maxillae. After capillaries are ruptured, anti-coagulant saliva is pumped out through the hypopharynx, and the blood is lapped up using the labella." from Bugguide
I have to admit that after my experience on the trail it gave me great pleasure to pin this Horse Fly for the upcoming Master Naturalist training where we will be using it for insect taxonomy.  It is not about revenge.....OK, maybe a little.
Horse Fly in Wikipedia
More on the Tabanidae Family,  commonly known as horse flies, and deer flies

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Lurid Fungus

Hiking a trail above our glade I encountered these bolete mushrooms, tan to orange on top and slightly velvety on top.  When I bent it some, the stalk showed some blue-green streaking suggesting that it would show bruising.  With a small twig I wrote on the surface and sent it to Mark Bower.
"Your bolete is the “Lurid Bolete”, Boletus luridus. The tipoff is the orangish pore surface, the blue staining, the reddish reticulation on the stem, the reddish base of the stem, and the “root” at the stem base. Note that “lurid” doesn’t always have a naughty connotation!"
This is a common fungus which is found on both continents ranging across Europe and into China.  It is mycorrhizal, meaning that it grows on tree roots in a symbiotic relationship.  The fungus' mycelium extend far beyond the plant's roots to collect minerals in trade for nutrition from the tree.  This is far more common than we appreciate and is a field of intense research.

Click to enlarge - if you dare!

Lots of other common fungi like our beloved morels are mycorrhizal but some others are less glamorous.  Mark recently sent me the picture above of his latest find, Pisolithus tinctorius, aka. the Horse Dung Fungus.  If you think this is bad, you ought to see other versions at right as Mark photographed it.  This is not his usual artistic work.

An article in Scientific American had a lot of positive things to say about this fungus.  It has been found to partner with over 50 tree species.  Research on some mycorrhizal fungi has shown that the fungus can even exchange resources between trees of different species.  Michael Kuo in explains it this way:
"Pisolithus tinctorius is a mycorrhizal fungus that is not at all picky about its plant and tree partnerships. For this reason it is frequently used by foresters and gardeners to assist plant or tree growth (for impressive photos of plants and trees grown with and without the mycorrhizal support of fungi, see Mycelium Running, by Paul Stamets [2005]). It also grows well in poor soil, sandy areas, and so on, making it an even more valuable fungus for plant life."
Cut Surface - Mark Bower
In spite of the Horse Dung Fungus name, the cut surface of the fungus is actually quite beautiful, that is before it gradually transforms to what you saw above.  The cut surface shows pea-sized spore packets in gelatinous structure that will break down to brown dusty spores for wind dispersal.  The odor goes from fragrant to foul in maturity.  (Hey, what did you expect from a fungus named "dung"?)

My lurid fungus, Boletus luridus has now been renamed Suillellus luridus, just to make researching it more interesting.  There is much more than either of us wants to know about this mushroom at this Wikipedia link.

So what does this fly have in common with the story?  It is a horse fly (not to be confused with the horse dung) and we became blood "brothers" during the hike above as described in another blog.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Raising Imperial Moths

We have had a number of Imperial Moths come to our deck light the last few weeks.  As usual, most of these are males with their big feathery antennae sniffing for wafting female pheromones.  We did manage to find 3 females and as expected, they immediately started laying eggs in the paper bags that became their new homes.  Mary Bennett also found some eggs and all told we are raising over 240 eggs.

Imperial eggs with ballpoint pen - REK
The Imperial Moth, Eacles imperialis is one of our beautiful giant silk moths.  The thought of putting a newly fertile female in a paper bag for a few days may sound cruel, but since her role is to reproduce, I think we are doing her a favor.  In nature, her larvae must emerge and take their chances with predators that are looking for them and a variety of parasitoids can lay their eggs on the caterpillars.  We are protecting her brood and feeding them.

Imperial eggs day 15 - REK
Adult silk moths lack a digestive tract and don't eat.  Having mated, the female searches out a spot to lay eggs where the larvae will be able to find food.  She lives only long enough to meet her biological imperative.  The eggs are glued to a leaf  where they develop over two weeks.  Then they turn from clear to yellow, beginning to show the caterpillar curled up inside.*  They start to chew the inside of the eggs slowly, obtaining nutrition and eventually their freedom.  The first instar will soon emerge and start to wander around, frequently with the empty egg chorion shell still attached.

Riding a petiole - REK

The caterpillars feed on a variety of conifer and deciduous trees.  Our caterpillars have been munching leaves of maple, sassafras and sweet gum.  We are raising them in plastic containers with tissue or coffee filters on the bottom for convenient emptying of their frass.  They are not naturally gregarious but don't seem to mind the company.  That is a good thing as with 180 eggs to go, we can't provide individual boxes.

Imperial moths are univoltine, meaning they have just one brood a year.  The final instars will be provided soil and leaf litter to crawl into where they will form their cocoons.  They will spend the winter in the garage and come out to the Butterfly House in time to emerge for the Butterfly Festival.  Then I suspect there will be a several wild and crazy nights in the trees at the Springfield Botanical Gardens.

9-14-2017 Note
Its just frass.
As a reformed gastroenterologist, I couldn't help but notice that as they are in the 3rd instar, all their frass (poop to my younger readers) has a distinctive shape, looking like short corn cobs that were over cooked.  OK, waaay to much information but I just had to share it.

*You can see the action in the eggs, the caterpillar chew its way out and eat its shell in this Youtube video.
More at

Friday, August 18, 2017

Rove Beetles

Rove beetle, 12 mm Philonthus caeruleipennis - REK
I recently encountered two different species of rove beetles, members of the Staphylinidae family.  This is the largest beetle family with over 63,000 species worldwide, an ancient lineage that has been around since the Triassic 200,000,000 years ago.  Question, where do you find someone to count 63,000 species?  I suspect it is graduate students.

Earwig, note pointed cerci - Wikipedia
Rove beetles most obvious characteristic is their short wing covers (elytra) that don't reach the lower half of the abdomen like other beetles.  They resemble earwigs until you notice they lack the pointed cerci pincers at the end of the abdomen.
Ventral view of Philonthus caeruleipennis - REK
They can range up to 1.4" but most are less than 0.4".  Both of my species measured 0.5" (12mm).*  Most of the common species live in decaying plant and leaf litter, under stones and bark or around the margins of streams and bodies of water.  The Philonthus caeruleipennis pictured above was found in a decaying Oyster Mushroom, a common association for the species according to Eric Eaton.  It is commonly found in forest, marsh and prairie litter (often riparian), and sometimes under the bark of logs.

Typically rove beetles have short elytra covering small wings that are seldom used.  Many have evolved to be flexible, able to used their narrow bodies to crawl into narrow places or to shorten their bodies to reduce their surface area to avoid dehydration.  The increased exposed surfaces and junctures in their body means they lose moisture more rapidly.  They overcome this by staying under humid detritus, leaves, and bark.  

Gold-and-brown Rove Beetle (Ontholestes cingulatus) - L Bower 
The advantage of hanging around for millions of years is the time to evolve to live in a wide variety of niches.  There are a wide variety of shapes and colors as demonstrated by Linda Bower's find to the right. 

Specialized lifestyles means that they can lose some now redundant body parts and save the energy needed to grow and use them.  Some species that live in soil and caves have lost their eyes.  Others no longer need long distance transportation to maintain their species and no longer have wings.  

As you might expect with such a large number of families, there is a wide variety of foods that various species specialize in.  While many are saprophytic including fungi feeders, others are predatory (fly larvae and even mosquitoes) and a few eat only plants.  To get even, the Laboulbeniales order of fungi are obligate ectoparasites, living on rove beetles, mites and millipedes.  They get their nutrition from the animal while not usually causing significant harm to the host.

Rove Beetle - Homaeotarsus sp.
My other rove beetle can only be identified down to the Homaeotarsus genus and even to that level I can't find any more details about its lifestyle.  With 63,000 species in the rove beetle family I suspect it will be some time before all of them get fully studied, more work for future graduate students.

Movie monster or rove beetle? - REK
* I hope that the metric conversions don't bother you.  Most scientific articles use metrics so if we are going to continue to read about nature, we need to get used to it.

The University of Florida has a good in depth discussion on rove beetles in this PDF.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Walnut Caterpillars

Walnut Caterpillar, Datana integerrima  - Mort Shurtz

D. Integerrima in mass - Missouri University Extension
A while ago Mort Shurtz sent me this picture of a Walnut Caterpillar, Datana integerrima, that he found in his back yard.  When a moth species' common name is for the caterpillar, it means either that the cat is beautiful or obnoxious.  D. integerrima falls into the obnoxious category.  In their big years they tend to cover the trunks in large numbers, defoliate the trees and generously spread their frass around. 

Walnut Caterpillar Moth, Datana integerrima - Bob Moul
Although we have planted over 500 walnut trees in our riparian area within sight of our house, I have yet see Walnut Caterpillars on our trees or to photograph a Datana integerrima along Bull Creek.  At first glance it would be hard to guess that it was a moth or even would be capable of flight.  Its color is more handsome rather than pretty, more like a fine piece of wood furniture.  It has an orange fuzzy head and a black spot on its thorax.

Spotted Datana Moth - Datana perspicua
We commonly see its cousin coming to our deck light overlooking Bull Creek.  The Spotted Datana, Datana perspicua, has a similar color and shape but logically enough has a dark spot on it dorsal wing as well as sharper lines on its wings.  It feeds on sumac that is plentiful in the valley.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo - Joe Motto
Texas A&M cites some species of  wasps and flies that consume egg masses and larvae of Walnut Caterpillars, and many other insects and spiders prey upon larvae.  When disturbed, the caterpillars drop to the ground on a silk thread.  Birds don't make most of the lists of known predators and I suspect the fuzzy hairs of the Walnut Caterpillar serve as a deterrent.  I doubt that their large family gatherings would be possible if they were tasty and convenient for birds to eat.  Our Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanus, is the only bird listed as eating them, first reported in 1922.

Eastern Tent Caterpillar
Fall Webworm

Fall Webworms and Eastern Tent Caterpillars are other moth species that form large communal nests early in life that would seem to offer a feast for birds.  They appear to be protected by their web, until we tear it up exposing the individual caterpillars.  The masses of caterpillars that "flock" together can serve as a defense only if a bird eating one will decide that they aren't tasty, either because of chemicals or the nasty effects of the hairs.  But where potential food congregates there is usually some predator that will develop a strategy for getting it.

Lisa Berger sent me some information about one predator, the Black-billed Cuckoo, Coccyzus erythropthalmus that specializes in these species.  The Birds of North America information on the cuckoo's digestion of caterpillars is well worth a read.
"The Black-billed Cuckoo is a notorious consumer of caterpillars, with a demonstrated preference for noxious species, including the eastern tent caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum), fall webworm (Hyphantria cunea), and larvae of the gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar). Observations of cuckoos consuming 10–15 caterpillars per minute are testimony to the great service this species provides in forests, farms, and orchards. Stomach contents of individual cuckoos may contain more than 100 large caterpillars or several hundred of the smaller species. The bristly spines of hairy caterpillars pierce the cuckoo's stomach lining giving it a furry coating. When the mass obstructs digestion, the entire stomach lining is sloughed off and is regurgitated as a pellet." Excerpted from The Birds of North America Online.
This cuckoo species is rare in the Ozarks and therefore not an answer to our outbreaks.  Birds of North America's map shows that we are just barely in the southern edge of its breeding territory.  That still leaves our Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  According to Allaboutbirds, "Yellow-billed Cuckoos forage slowly and methodically in treetops for large, hairy caterpillars.  (They) are among the few bird species able to eat hairy caterpillars. In the East they eat large numbers of tent caterpillars—as many as 100 in one sitting."

Yellow-billed Cuckoo in the treetop - Clark Creighton
When disturbed by a potential predator D. integerrima drops rapidly to the ground.  Since the cuckoo tends to forage higher up, the caterpillar can start the long slow climb back up the tree while the bird has had its fill of its siblings and leaves, ensuring the survival of the species.  But how does the cuckoo handle the hairs?
"Cuckoos and hoopoes (Upupidae) are also able to clean larvae from their setae by rubbing them on the ground (Payne, 1997;Kristin, 2001), but the best adaptation to feed on hairy caterpillars is found on several cuckoo species. In these species, the gizzard inner layer has evolved towards a soft, thick and non-keratinoid structure that allows the larvae setae to be kept inserted in the gizzard wall and to be regurgitated as mixed pellets of mucous membrane and setae (Gill, 1980)"  Birds as predators of the pine processionary moth.
If that doesn't sound very appealing to you, watch an Asian cuckoo in action in this video.  It rubs the caterpillar along the branch to wipe off most of the hairs as well as drain the intestinal contents before eating it.  No wonder we call them cuckoos!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Copperhead Bite

Copperhead after a swim
Copperheads are the most common source of venomous snake bites in the United States.  This is due to their numbers from successful breeding and their choice of habitat.  Like their cousin, the water moccasin (both are in the Agkistrodon genus) they generally prefer moist environments along water ways.  They also tend to be closer to human habitation, setting up home under sheds and woodpiles.  It is not often that you can see a video like we have below of someone being bitten.

As a rule, venomous snakes are not out looking to bite humans.  We are too big for them to waste their precious venom on but we do have a tendency to get in their territory frequently.  Copperheads respond to threats by freezing in place.  They consider being stepped on or picked up a hostile act and will respond appropriately.  Herein lies the tale.

Three friends were fishing and swimming in Bull Creek this June.  They watched a midland water snake cruising their fishing hole daily.  The last day of their visit a snake came swimming across the hole and one of them decided to catch it.  Lesson one: Most snakes can swim.

The midland water snake has dark bands around its body.  It tends to swim with just its head above water and frequently disappears under water in search of aquatic prey.  They are tan with brown even bands.  This one had bands that spread out down its sides- Hershey Kisses of a copperheadLesson Two:  Identify snakes carefully.

Our friend picked up the snake carefully by the tail.  He held it for a full minute, the snake  crawling near his bare ankles without biting.  When he tried to grab it behind its head he was bitten.   Lesson Three:  Copperheads aren't anxious to bite 190 pound bipeds unless threatened.

One to two hundred copperhead bites are reported every year in Missouri although there has never been a fatality.  I suspect there is under reporting as virtually every group I speak with knows at least one person who has been bitten in the past.  The weekend our friend was bitten two other copperhead bite patients were admitted to Cox Medical Center.  He is now back to normal after a day in the ICU with severe pain and swelling, 10 days off work, and $25,000 of antivenon.

Snakes are a part of our natural environment.  Copperheads pay their dues by eating rats and other vermin.  When they are around our houses, pets and children they are a safety hazard.  On the other hand, when they are out in the wild, respect their territory and leave them alone.

Incidentally, a copperhead bite led to the invention of the Weed Eater.*  In our case, the only good news was that his friends made a video of the event which serves as a cautionary tail- don't grab a copperhead by it unless you want to get bit.  Now if you are ready to see the video, go to this site.

 * George Ballas created the weed eater with a popcorn can and some wires attached to a lawn edger.  He was inspired by a gardener who was bitten by a copperhead while hand trimming around a garden.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Cute Jumping Spider

"They went that-away"  -  REK
Walking the gravel bar looking for fossils I saw something tiny jump among the rocks.  It was this bold little jumping spider searching for food.  Each jump is quick and it always landed on top of a small rock, a good perch to look around from.  After I took a number of photographs I got down to ground level to get a face picture and it tried to distract me by pointing in another direction - very clever spider!

Wolf Spiders (1) and Jumping Spiders (2)
It is important to get a full frontal face shot when possible to see the eye pattern.  The number of eyes and their arrangement can be compared with commonly available eye diagrams.  Unlike most other spider families, the Salticidae have flat faces with large eyes pointing straight ahead.  Large eyes can be an adaptation to gather light for night vision, but in this case they specialized for prey identification and measuring the range to land directly on their prey.  This explains its landing on top of a rock every time!

Like most spider families they actually have four pairs of eyes but the other two sets are on top of the head.  They provide lateral vision looking for movement rather than focusing on the object.  I tested this by moving my hand to its side.  Sometimes this made it jump but with a slight movement it would make a tiny hop, turning 90 degrees to face me.

Identifying spiders to species is challenging but this is the rare exception.  Even in the deep shade its metallic green color was impressive.  This is a male Emerald Jumping Spider, Paraphidippus aurantius, as confirmed on Bugguide.

"Look deep into my eyes, you slow human." - REK
Jumping spiders, Salticidae, are the largest family of spiders with more than 500 genera alone.  They are the rock stars of the arachnid world with lots of Youtube videos titles adding "cute."  So far none have created a music video but they just might crowd out the cat video craze with time. from Australia describes "The courtship of some genera including Maratus the Peacock Spiders feature a complicated ritual of leg waving, toe-tapping, abdomen twerking, and wing flapping."

Part of their cuteness comes from the way they look up and watch you, especially those that people keep as pets.  Yes arachnophobes, some people actually keep them. 

 Tree of Life provides further details:
"Jumping spiders are charming spiders that look up and watch you. Their excellent vision allows them to hunt much as do cats, spotting prey from long distances, creeping up then pouncing using their jumping ability. Although a jumping spider can jump more than thirty times its body length, none of its legs has enlarged muscles. The power for jumping probably comes from a quick contraction of muscles in the front part of the body increasing the blood pressure, which causes the legs to extend rapidly much as in the toy frogs that hop when you squeeze a bulb."
Thus far I have not considered testing the strength of our marriage vows by bringing a "cute" jumping spider home.  More on that in a later blog?

Tick Trefoil

Desmodium flower 1/4"
Mark Bower sent us this picture of a tiny flower from the forest floor.  Barb thought it was a Desmodium and Mark got the same opinion from the Missouri Native Plant Society Facebook page but we sent it on to Linda Ellis.  She confirmed this but didn't have enough to try to identify it as to which of the many species it is.  They are pretty and dainty with a 1/4" flower now but just wait a month.
September is the time that they start to spread the seeds.  I know that all plants have their place, I just wish that my pant leg wasn't one of them.  Desmodium is also called tick trefoil, beggar's lice, stick tights, hitch hikers, and occasionally"@*%^$#".  There are 19 species in Missouri which can only be identified by getting close enough for their seeds to grab your clothes.  

 Seed pods - Missouri Extension
Their seedpods grow in strings that break off individually to increase the challenge of picking them off.  They act as triangular magnets attracted to cloth and hair, grabbing on with their tiny dense hairs.  They look and feel smooth except under magnification or my wife's watchful gaze when I return home.  Some can be scraped off with the back of a knife, others require individual picking.  They even sealed Smokey's eyes shut after a walk.

Desmodium 9, Smokey 0 - REK

When I scrape a cluster of seed off my legs, I try to tell myself that they are a great native plant.  They serve as a food source for deer and birds  Lots of insects such as weevils, beetles, leaf eating larvae and aphids eat them, many of which are then eaten by quail.  Best yet, they are the host plant for caterpillars of the Eastern Tailed Blue, Everes comyntas, and the Gray Hairstreak, Strymon melinus.  OK, I guess the trade off for a picture like Jon Rapp's below is worth a little scraping of my pant legs.

Eastern Tailed Blues - Jon Rapp
Our favorite plant resources:
MONPS - Missouri Native Plant Society Facebook page can frequently identify a species. lets you search by color and leaf arrangement.  has encyclopedic information on our native species.  The quickest way is to Google Illinois Wildflowers and the species name.