Saturday, October 30, 2021

Imperial Moth

We did some baby sitting with a teen aged Imperial Moth caterpillar this fall, feeding it sweetgum leaves daily until it pupated.  I had intended to get some pictures of the pupation but like a sneaky teenager, it changed overnight.  Ours looked like this one above from UFL Entomology.

They start out life as incredibly cute little "cats" with stripes and a few tufts of non-stinging hairs.  Like many lepidoptera, they may snack on their egg case before finding leaves of oaks, maples, sassafras, or sweetgum.  Later instars, like below, develop a spiky look of the punk generation of teens.

The final instar crawls into the soil and leaf litter to pupate and spend the winter.  It comes equipped with a couple of pointed tail pipes that are said to help it dig its way out in the spring before emerging as the full grow silk moth.  If you have trouble visualizing it wiggling to the surface, just watch this video of a pupa in action.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Rare Mushroom


Underside- Mark Bower

Mark Bower found this rare mushroom on the trail behind our cabin, reported to have been only seen by 10% of mycologists. He said this about it:

"It is Hohenbuehelia mastrucata, the wooly oyster, probably my favorite mushroom. The genus was named after the Austrian mycologist and poet Baron Ludwig Samuel Joseph David Alexander Freiherr von HohenbĂĽhel Heufler zu Rasen und Perdonegg (1817-1885). Thankfully only a part of his name was used. The specific epithet means “wearing sheepskin” and refers to the “wooly” appearance of the cap surface."

It is found during summer and fall, decomposing well-rotted hardwood logs, and has a particular affinity for maples. The cap is gray, with brownish areas, and is adorned with gelatinous spines. Now here is where it gets really interesting.

This genus is nematophagous (nematode/worm-eating). While dead wood is a good source of carbon, it doesn't have enough nitrogen which the fungi need to make proteins. Mark describes it thus:

"It is one of the many carnivorous fungi. It is capable of killing and digesting nematodes, which provide a great nitrogen supplement. Its normal substrate, rotting hardwood, has a very low nitrogen content.

This species has hour glass-shaped “adhesive knobs” on its hyphae. When a nematode comes into contact with a knob, it sticks to it. The fungus then directs other hyphae to enter the nematode’s mouth and anus. It then exudes enzymes which kill and digest the poor worm from within." goes on to say:  "Like several other species in the Pleurotaceae, the woolly oyster is nematophagous. Unsuspecting nematodes squirming around in dead broadleaf trees come in contact with sticky traps made out of fungal conidia. There’s a diverse array of fungal structures that evolved to trap nematodes, including hyphal nets, constricting lassos, and the sticky knobs H. mastrucata creates. Once the nematode is stuck in place, mycelial strands penetrate the organism, and exude enzymes that break down nematode tissue from the inside-out. The nitrogen rich slurry then becomes absorbed by the fungus." 

More details about Hohenbuehelia mastrucata are at this link.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Wavy Mucksucker

I got this beautiful photograph in an email from Ben Caruthers titled "Have you ever seen a Wavy Mucksucker?" As this is a family blog, I won't give you all of the many responses that went through my mind. It turns out that this is a Wavy Mucksucker, Orthonerva nitida. (nitida= "shining")

The "wavy" comes from the lines on their eyes which reminds observers of hieroglyphics or primitive drawings. This pattern is a unique identifying feature. The tiny fly tops out at 1/4" (6 mm).

This is a syrphid or hoverfly, commonly referred to as flower flies. They are all member of the insect family Syrphidae. As you might have guessed, they are often seen hovering or nectaring at flowers; the adults of many species feed mainly on nectar and pollen.  Their larvae eat a wide range of foods, depending on the species.  Some eat aphids, thrips and other plant-sucking insects, helping to defend our gardens.


According to American Insects "This fly with the odd eyes ranges from Ontario and Maine south to Texas and Georgia. It is also found in California and Washington. In the more central part of its range it is most commonly seen May to October."

Hoverflies are considered the second most important pollinators, just behind bees.  My personal favorite it the Yellowjacket Hover Fly, aka. "news bee".  We see them both in town and in the country fields, giving us the news with urgent buzzing while hovering sometime inches in front of our faces.  Once you get to know them you too will welcome their visit. 

For us casual observers it is all in the unique eyes but Ben's photographs above give us a good chance to see the details as described in FFnaturesearch.

"A tiny Syrphid fly is about 1/4 inch (6 mm) in length. The eyes are large and tan with a dark dash line and many squiggly brown lines. The face has scales and is metallic looking. The antennae are black. The thorax is brown with dark brown stripes. The abdomen is brown with metallic overtones. The wings are clear with dark veining. The femurs and tibiae are black and the tarsi are orange with black tips." 

  Oops, a family blog!    Pamela Fisher CC

Monday, October 11, 2021

Fungi Feast


Mark Bower sent this photograph of a caterpillar eating a fungus.  It turns out that this is a moth larva that eats not only its veggies but also some mushrooms on the side!  Zooming in close, it is quite distinctive and INaturalist easily identified as an Agreeable Tiger Moth,  Spilosoma congruaMark said:

"These are my only pictures so far. The first one is how I found them before I disturbed them. The mushrooms are Lycoperdon pyriforme, the Stump Puffball. I have them in a container on the kitchen counter and as the mushrooms decompose they are creating an unpleasant odor. Not sure I want to keep them."

Even my ever-patient editor Barb would draw the line at their kitchen counter resident.

Dustin Welch CC

Common sources say the larvae are general feeders on a variety of herbaceous plants, including dandelion (Taraxacum spp.), plantain (Plantago spp.), and pigweed (Amaranthus spp.)  It took a much deeper dive to come up with this resource which documented the fungivorous habit of this species.  

Unlike a fungivore like myself, they prefer theirs raw.  If the photos that Mark sent tend to turn you off, I would suggest you stick to the picture of the moth.....and avoid his kitchen cabinet.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Batty about Spicebush

Find the bat!

Other side of a "leaf"- Click to enlarge
Mark Bower was picking spicebush berries for a natural spice when he came across a very unusual brown dead leaf, thicker than the others. Thinking it might be a gall or a moth pupa, he touched it and felt fur as it wiggled in his hand. As a highly trained naturalist he immediately concluded it wasn't just a leaf.

Moving to the other side he could see it was a bat. After photographing it he identified it as an eastern red bat (Lasiurus borealis), as later confirmed by Melvin Johnson. According to Wikipedia, "they spend most of their time year-round on tree leaves or in tree leaves on the ground. They tend to generally be loners as well, and tolerate cold temperatures and snow."

Mark checked it the next day and it was still clinging to the same leaf. When he touched it lightly, it spread its wings....still alive! The question that he now faced was is this a healthy bat? The following day it was gone, suggesting that it had just been sleeping in.

We asked Melvin Johnson again. "It looked fat. Likely wasn't all that hungry the other night. They don't always feed every night. It may be back if it really likes that area and/or location. They can also travel large distances."

Side view, upside down. Note the cute ear.

They spend most of their time year-round on tree leaves or in tree leaf litter on the ground. In the Midwest some may migrate south while others will spend the winter here, nestled up in hollow trees and leaf piles. They are not usually cave dwellers.

So why was Mark picking spicebush berries? To make cookies! Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is a common understory shrub in the Ozarks. Barb calls it the scratch and sniff plant. All parts of spicebush are very aromatic. In early spring it has small yellow flowers. The female plants produce bright red berries in fall. These berries can be used as a substitute for allspice. They are also eaten by many species of birds. When the leaves are crushed they can be used for making tea.

Spicebush swallowtail - Featured creatures CC

Spicebush is the host plant for both the spicebush swallowtail (SST, aka Papilio troilus) and the eastern tiger swallowtail ((Papilio glaucus). Other species such as the Promethea silkmoth
(Callosamia promethea) feed on the leaves as do deer and other mammals. Our SST is not only a beautiful butterfly but it has one of the cutest caterpillars ever!