Saturday, March 19, 2022

Spring Zebras

Zebra ST depositing egg on a pawpaw.

Thursday Barb saw a zebra swallowtail butterfly fluttering by, ignoring the fact that spring doesn't start until tomorrow. That got us wondering how much chance it would have to fulfill its adult mission in life, to reproduce.  With no leaves in sight on the pawpaws (their only host plant) early flight seems futile. So we went to look at the pawpaw trees nearby.


The twigs on our pawpaws (Asamina triloba) are showing little brown furry flower buds swelling but no sign of the leaf buds opening.  These will soon open up as little brown flowers that are stinky.  This attracts flies and beetles which assume they are something dead but carry the pollen away.

This is were the flower gets interesting.  Most plants are either monoecious (male and female flowers on the same plant) or dioecious (each plant has only male or female flowers).  A few like the pawpaw are hermaphroditic.  I will let Gardeningknowhow explain.

"The male parts of a flower are known as the stamens and anthers. The anthers contain the flower’s pollen. The female organs of a flower are known as the pistil. This pistil has three parts – the stigma, style, and ovary. Pollinators carry pollen from the male anthers to the pistil, where it then fertilizes and grows into seeds.  Hermaphroditic plants have male and female reproductive organs within the same flower.  They are sometimes referred to as bisexual or perfect flowers."

Now the pawpaw becomes even more interesting.  The leaves and fruit contain acetogenins, including the neurotoxin annonacin which protect the plant from indiscriminate munchers but accumulate in the zebra swallowtail caterpillars and adults.  These smells dissuade most predators, similar to the milkweed and Monarch association.

Zebra swallowtail caterpillars

I suspect that Barb's zebra won't be successful, proving that the early butterfly doesn't always get the leaf.  However there are a lot more that will be airborne in the next few weeks.  You can see all the details of  zebra swallowtail reproduction in this 2020 blog.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Finding Signs of Spring

Harbinger of Spring

Harbinger of Spring

Spring is springing in the Ozarks.  We saw our first burst of early spring ephemerals this weekend.  As usual, first and most common are the well named Harbinger of Spring (Erigenia bulbosa).  These tiny blossoms are easy to miss among all the leaf litter on the forest floor.  The bulb is said to be edible both cooked and raw and the Cherokee were known to chew them as medicine for toothaches.  

Early pollinator

Harbingers live on the floors of   hillsides and valley edges and prefer high quality deciduous woodlands.  I would think that this is a hard time of year to start a family when there aren't a lot of pollinators flying but just as I said that, here came a little fly looking for a touch of nectar.

We found a few Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica) on the hillside.  Once again the corms of Spring Beauty can be eaten by humans although their small size makes this impractical.  I suspect they would be a great food source for dieting, as much more energy would be expended in the harvest than you would get in the meal.


False Rue Anemone

A surprise was a few False Rue Anemone (Enemion biternatum) scattered along the drive.  I think of these coming out a few weeks later.  Question - there are two species called Rue Anemone, true or false?  The answer....true as explained here.  The five petals on each flower is a give away.

Dead Nettle

We found many of this winter annual, Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum).  It is an immigrant from Eurasia and considered a weed, so they are often not allowed in Springfield yards. We've learned that they are an early source of nectar for native bees and other insects so we've had a change of attitude about them. We can also be nourished by them.  We had dead nettle in our salad tonight.  It was tasty and added color.  


Finally we found a lonesome early Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata).  The name came from the tooth-like shape of the tubers.  They were used for toothaches. (What wasn't... there must have been a lot of toothaches before dentistry arrived in Missouri.)  The Doctrine of Signatures dating back to the early physician Galen around 150 AD states that herbs resembling various parts of the body can be used by herbalists to treat ailments of those body parts.  This idea developed spontaneously in many different cultures and is the basis of the Native American belief in using Rattlesnake Master for treating snake bites.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Attack of the Wild Turkeys!

Headline:  A feud between mail carriers and wild turkeys comes to a deadly climax in Sacramento!

This is an interesting story about aggressive turkeys that are attacking mail carriers and USP trucks in California.  People in the neighborhood were feeding them, creating stuffed turkeys without any dressing, and it is not even Thanksgiving!  These are described as huge birds; think bears with feathers.

We see occasional turkeys like this one wandering in our neighborhood, one mile from the Springfield Nature Center.  Recently our neighbors had to call the MDC wildlife damage control biologist to remove an aggressive visitor.  This is the downside of loving "nature" too much by feeding wild animals.  

Like grey squirrels and the Canada geese, which have become US citizens wintering by our ponds, as we spread out into nature some of it adapts to join us.  Most of these are due to feeding animals one way or another.  Bears and raccoons feed in our garbage and bird feeders.  Our friendly neighborhood Cooper's hawk swings by occasionally to see what morsel is rummaging in the loose seed under the mesh basket of sunflower seeds intended for the birds.

We also "feed" and house lots of critters and insects in our homes.  Ants and meal worms sneak into our kitchens for snacks and housing.  Spiders make a living in basements and closets, finding enough to eat while helping with the housekeeping.  

Rat snake supper - Nels Holmberg

We accidentally"feed" black rat snakes by hanging birdhouses which hold bite sized eggs and nestlings for their dinner. Black rat snakes often live in the crawl space under the eaves of our creek house, crawling up the concrete walls to enter a tiny crack.  They reciprocate by swallowing the pack rats and mice which are uninvited boarders. 

We consider this a fair trade although we have to peal one off of a glue trap from time to time.  A helpful hint I learned after an ungrateful BRS bit my hand and drew blood while I was saving it.....vegetable oil dissolves the glue!

Coyotes are now commonly reported in big cities where they feed mostly on rodents drawn to our garbage and only rarely on our pets. Bears in some cities like Seattle have led to creating the Urban Carnivore Project to track their wildlife. 

Here is a site with "the best turkey attack videos."  And here is what to do if you are "attacked."


On a more personal note, I was attacked by a turkey in Turkey!  We were getting lunch at a restaurant out in the country.  Returning from a distant outhouse I saw a North American turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) standing behind the restaurant!  I approached within 5 feet and it flew up in my face and chased me as I ran away.  My wife, always concerned about my health....laughed hysterically!

I never found how it got there due to language barriers, mine, not the turkey's, but here is how it got named "turkey."

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Winter Tick

Tic on a tweezers tip

"In the spring, a young tick's fancy, turns to thoughts of blood." - with apologies to Tennyson

A 70 degree day on March 3rd prompted me to lay down and stare up into the barren winter trees in our upland forest. It was 16 days until Spring officially starts and the only signs were a slight plumping up of buckeye buds and an occasional small swarm of midges.

A small itching bump on my hip the next day introduced me to the first tick of 2022.  It took a magnifier to convince us there was even something there.  We previously reported a Christmas tick on December 26th, 2020.

Lone Star ticks - Entomology- University of Florida

1.3 mm larva
Ticks' life stages are egg, larva, nymph and adult.  Ticks are arachnids, like the spider family, and have 8 legs.  The larval stage  shown above in the two top specimens above has only 6 legs.  They typically are less than 1.5mm and mine was 1.3 mm.

6 legs = larva

It is commonly thought that ticks die off in the winter after the first hard frost.  Unfortunately, they do not.  The tick lifecycle on average is about two years.  This means that ticks in cold winter climates have to survive spells of below-zero temperatures.  They spend the winter in a low energy state but can revive on warm days and wake up mighty thirsty.  

Ticks' winter survival is complex.  Some can survive up to -7 degrees.  One key depends on their micro-climate.  Dry arid landscapes put them at greater risk while moist and humid soil with leaf litter provides a degree of insulation.  Prolonged cold spells increase mortality while mild temperatures and global warming increase their survival.

Frontal view-Click to enlarge

While blood-fed ticks can emerge and quest for food and mating, unfed larva need warmer temperatures to emerge and feed to enter the next life stage.  Two days of 70 degrees with 30 degree nights was all this little sucker needed to quest.  Add a warm body on the ground and the larva's survival is ensured.....unless a pair of tweezers attack!

University of Florida entomology site is my go-to resource for a wide variety of insects. The Tick Research Lab of Pennsylvania has more studies on tick survival in winter.


Addendum March 9, 2022

Male Lone Star Tick
We walked up and down our gravel drive yesterday, never sitting or even going into the grass.  Because of the 40 degree day with wind we didn't go anywhere else.  This morning I had a new tick burrowed into my armpit.  It is a male Lone Star (only the females have the spot on the back).  It is quite healthy, currently running laps in my bug box.

I now face a moral dilemma.  As an ethical ecologist, am I obliged to release it along the road where it found me or can I drop it off in the National Forest?