Saturday, January 30, 2021

January Hairstreak

On January 23rd I was warming up by a roaring fire in the living room after working outside in the 30 degree weather.  A gray hairstreak butterfly landed on my MacBook Pro computer right beside the logo.  It took a minute to get my camera out of my pocket and it flew off just as I was focused on it.  To my greater surprise it returned a minute later landing on the chair arm right by my hand and waited patiently for the camera.

They spend winter as a pupa and I suspect it was in the house with the many treasures we drag in for the 5th grade WOLF Classes to examine.  An example of one of these has been lichen covering branches like this which would easily hide a small pupa.  It  must have been in the house somewhere and responded to the warmth with confusion.  

The gray hairstreak (Strymon melinus) is less than 1/3rd the size of a monarch butterfly.  It is found through all of the continental US and laps over the Canadian and Mexican borders into Central and South America.  It lives in a broad range of habitats from mountainous terrain, woodlands and meadows to tropical forests.

As you might expect from its wide range, BAMONA describes a broad range of nectar sources for the adult and an equally broad variety of caterpillar host plants.  Eggs are laid singly on flowers of the host plant. Young caterpillars feed on flowers and fruits; older ones may eat leaves. According to Wikipedia:

"The gray hairstreak also has the signature set of "tails" on their hind-wings that they may wriggle around to imitate their antennae and their head when a predator is present so that if the predator would strike at them, they would strike at their hind-wings rather than their head and they would be able to make an escape."

Hairy Cat - Bob Barber -CC
With ant - Michael H. Schmidt

The caterpillars are cute little hairy critters.  According to Bugguide they are sometimes found with ants which collect a a sugary solution from the caterpillar's dorsal nectary organ, similar to aphids.

That is a lot on a little January butterfly but since it won't survive the winter and have a chance to breed, I thought it was the least I could do in its memory.  

(Note to self:  Must get out more, too much news and COVID reports)

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Compassion for "Rats with Wings"

Today's guest blogger is Tonya Smith
Click to enlarge

The Roaring River fish hatchery reopened in December 2020 after being closed for renovations over a two year period. This meant the public once again could view the Roaring River Spring. At the time of my visit to the Spring in January I heard more than just water running down the rock face into the strikingly beautiful blue pool of water at the mouth of the cave. Listen for yourself (insert video) and observe. Do you hear the “cooing”? Did you see the pigeon? I was initially charmed by the combination of these two sounds. 


I observed a handful of pigeons on the rock face above the Spring. Then my thoughts started turning ugly. I don’t recall seeing pigeons in the wild on hiking trails in Missouri. Have the pigeons always been here or are they a recent new resident? How will it affect the Spring and the trout if the population of pigeons starts exploding with the many rock ledges available at the park? We know about the challenges urban cities have with pigeons.  The relationship with pigeons depends on who you talk to.

In an Audubon article, The Origins of Our Misguided Hatred for Pigeons, Matt Soniak addresses the pesty pigeon mentality which is thought provoking. 

“The pigeon-as-pest, sociologist Colin Jerolmack thinks, is a symptom of people’s idea that the environments we build are separate from natural ones. In what sociologists call our “imaginative geography” of cities, there’s a border that separates clean, orderly civilization and wild, uncontrolled nature. “That doesn’t mean there’s no nature, but ideally, the city is the place where we invite nature in in ways that we control,” Jerolmack says.  "“We cut out little squares in the concrete, and that’s where the trees belong. We don’t like it when grass and weeds begin to grow through cracks in the sidewalks, because that’s nature breaking out of those boundaries that we want to keep it in.”  

Pigeons invaded and polluted human space and became an epidemiological threat despite actually being poor vectors of disease. Pigeons became a health menace in people’s mind which was exacerbated when the New York City parks commissioner labelled them as “rats with wings”. “With that, Jerolmack says, pigeons were explicitly linked to disorder and disease, and our perceptions of them as nuisances, “dirty” animals, and health threats were all emphasized and threaded together in a neat little package.” 

The pigeons I encountered at the Roaring River Spring were in a naturalized habitat and their population will surely remain in check with the predators that also make Roaring River their home and hunting ground. I extend my apologies to the resident pigeons who have found their home at Roaring River State Park.


Pigeons have a very interesting history. There is not enough space in a blog to cover all this. I was fully aware of the value in homing pigeons and their importance in WWI and WWII as carrier pigeons. But I was surprised to learn that pigeon racing is a sport/hobby. The American Racing Pigeon Union, Inc on their website asks, “Do you fit the profile?” Then it proceeds with, “We find that this hobby has a great appeal to those who enjoy working with animals, to those who appreciate athleticism, to those who like friendly, wholesome competition. If you find yourself in one or more of these careful, you may discover that the allure of these amazingly athletic birds is overpowering.”

The mention of pigeon racing brings to mind the ethics of this sport. PETA answered this question for me. 

“In April 2012, PETA released a 15-month undercover investigation—spanning five states—into some of the largest pigeon-racing operations in the U.S. PETA documented massive casualties of birds during races and training, discovered rampant killing of unwanted birds and abusive training and racing methods and exposed a multimillion-dollar illegal gambling industry.” The investigation resulted in three race organizers, including the executive director of the American Racing Pigeon Union, being charged with violations of Oklahoma’s felony gambling laws. Fortunately, the pigeons at RR are enjoying their freedom on their own time schedule.
Pigeons currently aren't a pest where I observed them at Roaring River, but our very own Missouri Extension identifies pigeons as the most serious bird pest associated with human habitations. It offers an extensive list of damage prevention and control methods. 
“The common pigeon (Columba livia) that thrives throughout Missouri and most other states was developed from the European rock dove and introduced into this country as a domesticated bird. When these birds escaped captivity, they formed feral populations. Today, the pigeon is probably the most serious bird pest associated with human habitations.” 

Pigeons are a problem in the urban areas, but for me to assume that problem could apply to Roaring River was an uneducated thought process.

Hang in there, she has a couple more stories!

Compassionate citizens have come together for the urban pigeons. Chava Sonnier, a certified nurse in the Chicago area, spent 2 years as a volunteer for the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, an organization of over 200 volunteers working to protect, rescue and rehabilitate injured city birds. Her story is about saving a disabled pigeon (named Jonah after his rescue) living on the streets. He was rescued by a police officer and she nursed back to health. But since Jonah’s condition was not improved enough for return to city life, she adopted him as a pet pigeon. 

Feral pigeons born in the wild have the instincts needed to feed and protect themselves from predators, but pigeons raised domestically (often wearing an ankle band) don’t stand a chance if they find themselves dumped or lost in the city. As a result of the repeated dumping of domestic pigeons in the city, the sub-organization, The Chicago Pigeon Pets Rescue, was established on Sept. 6, 2018 to combat this problem. 

“Still a fledgling organization, the members share responsibilities, which include responding to calls involving pigeons made into the 24/7 monitor hotline, retrieving and transporting pigeons, fundraising to pay for pigeon’s vet visits, fostering the pigeons in Chicago suburbs (a livestock ordinance prevents Chicago residents from owning pigeons within city limits), and adopting out rescued domesticated and non-releasable feral pigeons. Once fostered to full health the birds become available for adoption. That process includes an application and a $40 adoption fee.”
Lastly, we owe thanks to the urban pigeon as it appears they were instrumental in the successful nesting of 14 peregrine breeding pairs in Missouri’s two major cities. According to an MDC article, “All of our 14 peregrine breeding pairs in Missouri use artificial nest boxes in our urban areas around Kansas City or St. Louis,” explained MDC State Ornithologist Sarah Kendrick. “They seem to prefer the nest boxes over natural nesting sites in the state on rocky cliffs and bluffs on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. This may be due to an abundance of food in the form of urban pigeons.”

And to think this blog all started with the captivating sounds at the Roaring River Spring.  Kelly Koch, the Interpretive Resource Specialist, deserves recognition for her leading me to the online article, "The Origins of Our Misguided Hatred for Pigeons." She reminded me that trout are not native and that conversation led us down another rabbit hole … uh oh.

Thanks for hanging in there! Below are several more links if you are interested in learning more about pigeons. It truly was a fascinating study for me. 


Editor's note-  This from a reader:

"My daughter Susan had a baby pigeon that husband Duanne brought home to live with them. This bird immediately became integrated into the family and whenever Duanne raised his voice in irritation, the pigeon would fly over and land on his shoulder and flap his wing against Duanne's mouth. He became so involved in what was going on in the family that Susan was very worried about him when they opened an outdoor large cage with a variety of birds. But the pigeon quickly adapted and assumed a similar role in his new environment. "

How did the pigeon get to New York City

MDC - Rock Dove  

Cunning Neanderthals hunted and ate wild pigeons  

Pigeon Control Resource Center  

Feral pigeon in Wikipedia  
Rock Dove in Wikipedia.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Missouri Bald Eagles

Bald Eagle at Lake Springfield - Charles Burwick

Bald Eagles of Missouri - by Charles Burwick

“See any eagles?” This is a common remark from a person standing nearby while I am scoping Lake Springfield, or any large body of water in Missouri. I am reminded, every time I hear that refrain, of a lady asking me if the eagles being viewed during an Eagle Days Event at Lake Springfield were, in fact, wild eagles.

We all are aware of the period of time when Bald Eagles, and other raptors were in precipitously decline. There was deep concern that Bald Eagles and many other raptors were going to becoming extinct as a result of DDT. Actually, early on, we didn’t even know why their populations were declining. As a youth there was not even talk of any chance we would ever or expect to see a Bald Eagle in Missouri.

Fortunately the publication of the book “Silent Spring” authored by Rachel Carson, brought awareness of the cause of declining bird populations and saved the day for many birds including raptors and our National Emblem, the Bald Eagle. However, that still left us a long way from seeing a Bald Eagle, much less nesting Bald Eagles in Missouri,

In the 1990s Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) initiated a program to re initiate Bald Eagle populations into Missouri. The program was an outstanding success. Today there are more than 750 nesting Bald Eagles in Missouri. Interestingly, the Bald Eagles that are hatched and fledged in Missouri do not migrate from Missouri. They are year-round residents.

The population of Bald Eagles that migrate into Missouri from other States provide opportunities to see large numbers of Bald Eagles during the winter. The eagles are drawn to Missouri in the winter because of the many large lakes in our State, and of course the two major rivers, the Mississippi and Missouri. 

Eagles at Stella, Missouri, 2010   -   Jeff Cantrell

Large numbers of Bald Eagles congregate in the early part of the winter in and around Stella, Mo. This happens as a result of the many chicken farms around the area.  In the past, dead chickens were thrown out on the open ground, which is now illegal, imprinting the eagles on that location for winter food.

MDC puts on several Eagle Day events across the State, as well as other towns, or organizations along the major rivers, and lakes. It is easy to Google for Bald Eagle event locations across the State.  Here just take a drive to Lake Springfield, cross over south of the lake bridge, and turn right into the parking lot. View west towards a distant tree line, and you can view an active Bald Eagle nest.

Nesting eagle east of Springfield near the James River  -  C. Burwick

To me the real excitement of Bald Eagles sightings is because you may spot an eagle any day of the year. While birding around Greene and surrounding counties, I frequently spot, and take pictures of Bald Eagles during every month of the year. In our part of Missouri, as a Bald Eagle flies, they are really never far from rivers and/or lakes of every size. 

Prince William Sound, Alaska - Mark Bower

While the eagle’s diet is prominently fish, they are quite opportunistic feeders, and are frequently spotted eating road kill, and other carrion. So, when you are driving around just enjoying the Missouri landscape be aware that the large bird sitting in the field, on the road, or in a tree may well be a Bald Eagle. Also, remember that it takes 3-5 years for a Bald Eagle to molt to adult plumage with the white head, and tail, so don’t mistake an immature eagle for a hawk.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Carnivorous Fungi!


Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) - Worm killer!

The oyster mushroom above is one of our favorite edibles once you get past the fact that it eats worms.  Mark Bower explains this below.


Fungi can play various ecological roles in a wide variety of ecosystems. They decompose dead organic material, they have extensive mycorrhizal relationships with plants, and they can be parasitic on plants, animals and even each other. However, there is another role that is less well known, and somewhat surprising. Over 700 species of fungi have evolved the ability to capture, kill and digest nematodes, utilizing them as a supplemental nitrogen source. They have chosen their prey wisely, since nematodes are the most abundant animals on earth, accounting for 80% of all animal individuals.

They have devised various ways to kill their prey. Some species have sticky hyphae which adhere to the worm. The fungus then secretes chemicals to paralyze and kill the nematode. It then sends other hyphae into the nematode’s mouth and anus to digest it. Other fungi are more sophisticated. Some secrete chemicals which attract the nematodes, luring them to their deaths. Others have specialized structures on their hyphae, such as adhesive knobs, spiny balls and even little loops which lasso the poor critters.

Orbilia sp.
Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus)

It can get even more complicated! Nematodes are great consumers of bacteria. When attacked, some bacterial colonies secrete urea, which can trigger a fungus to activate its nematode-killing mechanisms, thus protecting the bacteria from predation.

Here are a couple of examples of nematophagous fungi in this area. Tiny 1-2 mm Orbilia species above are the most ubiquitous worm killers on the planet. They really don’t look that vicious!  

At the other end of the lineup of suspects, the Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus), looks the part of an evil worm killer.

As a side note, nematodes do have their supporters. Here is Barbara Kipfer (Homo sapiens) capturing and killing oyster mushrooms in order to protect the local nematode population. 

To watch fungi attacking nematodes with different strategies, watch this video.

The first 3 minutes shows the capture mechanisms.

There is more information on carnivorous fungi at this link.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Twig Mystery

My friend Bryan sent this photograph of a branch on a baby crabapple, thinking it might be a scale insect as INaturalist proposed but an alternate possibility was insect eggs.  I suggested he peel one off to test its consistency and attachment, then cut it open carefully with a razor blade to see what is inside. Here is what he found:

"They are layered up like 7mm scales, with the bottom of the teardrop attached and the top of the teardrop overlapping the scale above. Using a razor blade, the answer is --- A bunch of yellow, very runny goo. Unfortunately there is no discernible morphology inside the egg. I wonder if they need more time to mature."

Closeup- Click to enlarge

Meanwhile I sent the picture on to Chris Barnhart who identified them as eggs of a katydid, "probably in the genus Microcentrum." While I can't identify these further without raising them, it lead me down a Covid-induced deep rabbit hole. After looking a a number of katydid egg photographs,  I settled on the greater angle-wing katydid (GWA) as the best example to study. This is Microcentrum rhombifolium described here in Bugguide.  An example of GWA eggs is below and you can see others here

Broadwinged katydid - Whitney Cranshaw, CC

Sticking with GWA as a tentative ID I made a much deeper Googling dive and came up with this information from Illinois.

"The lifespan of a katydid is about a year. Females usually lay their eggs at the end of summer. Most katydids overwinter in the egg form. The males have sound-producing organs on their front wings. They use this sound for courtship. During courtship there often is antennal contact between male and female. 
Katydids are eaten by birds and mammals and may be the target of insect predators and parasites including horsehair worms, wasps and flies. This species is common in trees. It can be found in forests, urban areas and edge habitats. The eggs are glued in double rows on the sides of twigs roughened by biting."

Their "song" is produced by stridulation when a scraper is dragged across a set of ridges, much like dragging a phonograph needle across a record.  (For those of a younger generation, substitute dragging a fingernail across a comb).  Songs of insects has a good description of the GWA and a recording of the high pitched song, so listen carefully.

So what is the risk of waiting to see what emerges?  "Although rare, leaf damage, particularly to young trees, can be extremely severe. " Texasinto  They can be a significant problem in citrus groves.  I suggested to Bryan that he cut and bag the stem and see what emerges.  Meanwhile you can see the whole lifecycle in these photographs on Bugguide. 

Covid reminder to self:  Avoid the news, put down computer and go for a long walk.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Ants Under Bark

L. americanus closeup- REK

A while back I was moving a downed tree when the bark fell off and I was confronted with a frantic mass of ants.  They were desperately trying to drag their young to safety as you can see in this Youtube video.  After photographing them I covered up the crime scene with rotting bark.  I sent a photograph to James Trager who identified them as Lasius americanus.   According to James they are a woodland ant species that often lives in rotting wood, but also in sedge hummocks in fens, or simply in moist soil.

"It's a bit of a mystery what they eat, though honeydew from root-feeding aphids and related insects is known to be an important part of the diet. By the way, that brood you see is in fact larvae rather than pupae. Ant pupae look like tightly folded adult ants, or in the case of this species are in a cocoon, which shows no discernible head or other segments. The larva early in the video does appear to be a prepupa though, because it is all white, having eliminated the dark meconium, or larval gut contents."

Ant, aphid and honey dew dripping- James Trager

He attached the picture above of another species in the genus, L. aphidicola with aphids on a tree root. Note the droplets of honeydew exuded by the aphids nearest the ant.  Many ant species actually farm ants like dairy cows, protecting them from predators and lapping up the honeydew waste product, the ultimate in recycling.  

According to Antwiki:

"This omnivorous species collects elaiosomes from seeds, live insects and carcasses of dead ones, and tends a wide variety of aphids, scales, and treehoppers, and coccids that feed on plant roots."

When exploring rotting logs, it pays to put them back as close to their original condition as possible.  They will appreciate it, even it they don't wave goodbye Or you can show your love by raising them, available online!