Archive for September, 2012

Prehistorics

Everybody that knows me knows I like rocks. I have a fairly extensive fossil collection, have sandstone rocks for garden edging, for paths and cairns. Then there’s the sandstone I like with the iron bands and ochre patterns. Don’t want to forget my heart rocks and stone people (did blogs on both). My oldest son was in the army for 10 years, and he’s given me rocks from Germany, Kansas, Indiana and Kentucky. Petrified wood is a big favorite of mine. Then there’s the fluorite, calcite and other crystals.

I also have a collection of 50 or so of what I call “prehistorics.” They each resemble the head of what looks like a prehistoric creature.

  They just seem to find me somehow.

Dainty Sulphur

Dainty sulphur butterflies have alluded my picture-taking attempts until this morning.

The small butterfly makes its way north through the growing season. I saw my first one in southern Illinois 2 weeks ago. They are NOT a cooperative subject. This one flitted from here to there, from one small yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta) to another.  By the time I would get close enough, it was off again.

It also stopped on a bare patch of dirt and turned sideways to the sun. It then leaned its body to maximize amount of sunlight it received. This is called lateral basking.

Dainty sulphurs (Nathalis iole) have a wingspan of 3/4 to 1 1/4 inch. They’re a southern species that makes their way north through the summer. Their numbers can vary greatly from year to year.

A VERY Interesting Caterpillar

I’ve looked occasionally throughout most of the summer for the caterpillars of the red spotted purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis). One problem was only seeing 4 or 5 of the butterflies.  Then, today’s September 9th search turned up one of the tiny caterpillars!

Like I said, it’s tiny. They have one of the most amazing life history of any butterfly (in my opinion). They use so many defense methods throughout their development.

First the female butterfly lays a tiny white egg at the very tip of the leaf, in this case, a wild cherry tree. (They also use willow and apple.) The teeny caterpillar hatches and eats its egg shell.

Then the caterpillar eats the leaf on both sides of the central vein. The vein gradually curves as it dries. The caterpillar also cuts off leaf pieces and attaches them so they dangle in a ball-like shape. Any movement of the leaf causes the ball to swing, and  attracts the attention of a predator away from the caterpillar. It spends most of its time at the end of the vein and tends to be active later in the day.

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The above happened day before yesterday. Tonight, I found another caterpillar in the same tree and the same age as the first!

Notice in the pictures how the caterpillars eat the leaf toward the vein so it leaves a piece of the leaf. These 2 caterpillars are 4-5mm long, and their color’s similar to the central vein.

Many years ago wild cherry trees practically lined the side of the road along my rural property. I spent so much time observing, drawing and journaling the experiences. I learned how the female butterfly knew if she was on the right plant — she tapped the leaves with her 2 front feet. That’s how they smell.

Predation is high among caterpillars. I do so hope these 2 escape detection, and you can experience their development through my blog. My fingers are crossed.

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I just checked (September 16) and the second caterpillar I found was gone. The first one had molted and its appearance changed slightly.

With it this late in the summer, I think the caterpillar will overwinter as a caterpillar.

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September 18. I just had a scare. I checked to see if the caterpillar survived our strong winds today. No caterpillar. I walked away, sad, and walked back for some reason. There was the little caterpillar moving along the midvein toward the end of the leaf. By the time I got back with the camera, this was my best shot. It was windy and 5 minutes from sunset.

Compare the shape of the leaf in this picture with the picture above.

My fingers are still crossed for its survival!

This Is a First

These pits may not be overly showy or impressive for a photograph. They are interesting, though, in what the nymphs do.

Antlion pits aren’t a first for me; they’re a first for my yard. This shows how dry our summer’s been, when I find them in our front yard under the arborvitae tree. This isn’t their normal habitat.

Antlions are usually found in dry, fine-grained soil that’s protected from rain. This could be places like under rock overhangs and eaves of a house.

I photographed these on a hike. There usually aren’t this many in one place, and this picture doesn’t even show all of them.

 Antlions over winter in larval stage. Then in the spring each creates a pit in sand or loose dirt, some up to an inch in diameter. The nymph remains under the bottom of the pit. Any insect, like these small black ants, fall/slide into the pit. The loose dirt prevents the them from climbing out. The nymph grabs its prey from below.

There was a teeny caterpillarin this pit. I orginally found 11 pits under the arborvitae. A storm reduced the number to 5.

I usually don’t disturb anything holding my interest. I did use a spoon, though, and scooped out what I thought would be deep enough. I didn’t find anything and then felt guilty. Pictures show the nymph with 6 short legs, a segmented body and pinchers on its head. The adult resembles a damselfly. Damselflies hold their wings closed over their back, and antlions hold theirs outward. Antlions also have 1/4-inch antennae, which damselflies lack.

Earth’s Shadow

When my best friend, Therese, emphatically said, “I didn’t know that!” I knew there was a blog.

Before the sun clears the horizon in the morning, it casts a shadow of the earth in the atmosphere in the west. I hurried out at 6:30 this morning to capture the blue of the shadow. The shadow tapered downward to the north and south. It didn’t last long. Obviously it’s the earth rotating, not the sun rising.

This happens in the reverse in the evening. After the sun sinks below the horizon, the earth’s shadow rises in the east.

“Pause, and Look Up”

Walking along a rocky dry creekbed  this morning, meant watching where I walked.

Then I had a thought, “Pause, and look up.”

From then on I paused often to enjoy the overhead view.

A tufted titmouse, Carolina wren, blue jay, white-breasted nuthatch, downy woodpecker, Carolina chickadee, common flicker, red bellied woodpecker and yellow-throated vireo all added their calls to the morning.

I couldn’t believe this small Christmas fern survived last winter, growing in a small depression of this large rock in the creek. Then today, I couldn’t believe it survived the severe drought this summer. It must have some secret I don’t know about.

Jewelweed

Buffy and I took some time to visit Glen O. Jones Lake for an easy hike. It was sunny, windy with a comfortable temperature. The water level was still low from our drought, and the bare sides of the lake had grown up with thick vegetation.

Jewelweed ( Impatiens capensis) grew in a large sprawling clump near the water’s edge. It’s an annual and is also called touch-me-not, because of the ways seeds scatter when a seed capsule is touched.

Up to 3 flowers bloom on drooping pedicels on the upper part of the plant. The flower are 1 inch long.

Insects would have to go into the flower to find the nectar. This way they pass a cluster of stamens underneath the ovary at the mouth of the flower.

Only the head and thorax of this bumblebee fit inside the flower. With stopping at several flowers, it would pick up and deposit pollen with each one it visited. Butterflies and hummingbirds also visit jewelweed.

Jewelweed grows in moist shady areas. There’s a less common yellow one that I’ve seen growing in swamps. The plants have a weak succulent stem that breaks easily. The juice from the stem helps to relieve itching from poison ivy.

The Accused and the Culprit

Hayfever season affects so many people. The sneezing, watery eyes begin, and all the sufferers see is the profilic bloomer goldenrod. It gets accused for all their suffering. They never notice the actual culprit, the ragweed (Ambrosia sp).

Do you see the ragweed in this picture taken in my backyard?

I rest my case.

Average height of most ragweeds is 6 feet or so. Giant ragweed can reach 17 feet tall! Peterson’s Field Guide to Wildflower shows 31 species. Illinois has 5 species.

Goldenrods (Solidago sp.) grow to 5 feet tall, with Illinois having 25 species.

This picture shows the male ragweed flowers beginning to bloom,

and this one shows them from the underneath side. Ragweed is pollinated by the wind. Insects pollinate the goldenrods.  (The flowers in this picture haven’t started blooming like in the picture above.)

Female flowers are practically hidden in the leaf axils. If you look closely, you can see yellow stamens.

These flowers were pollinated, and the seeds are developing.

Wonder if this holds one or more seeds?

Obviously, goldenrod is attractive to insects and not the cause of hayfever.

Assassin Bug

This assassin bug’s dark color made it easy to spot among the goldenrod flowers.

  I took picture after picture because of the low evening light and a breeze. The assassin bug didn’t much like that and kept moving around. Then I noticed it was feeding on prey. Assassin bugs wait patiently and ambush their prey. Its long beak then injects the victim with a lethal toxin that dissolves its insides. The assassin bug then sucks out the “juices.”

The assassin bug was feeding on a moth caterpillar, called a camouflaged looper (Snychlora aerata). These caterpillars attach small plant pieces to their body, so they blend in with their surroundings.

Since I wasn’t able to get a good picture of the caterpillar, I’m including one taken during a previous summer.

Isn’t it impressive … and convincing in its floral attire?  The caterpillars like open habitats and mostly composite flowers. Black-eyed susans and salvias are a favorite of theirs in my gardens.

Thistles … Have Visitors?

What was this crab spider thinking? How did it even get on the tip of this thistle bud?

How can prey get to it?

Thistles have bloomed for a while out in the middle of my weed patch because there’s more sun light there. I’ve been watching the shorter ones growing on the south side of the weed patch. They are getting more sunlight now that the sun’s moving farther south.

The pattern on the buds looks like it’s been stitched, and I’ve photographed it often.

Only tiny insects could crawl around on these plants.

The words hostile environment come to mind.

I checked the spider in the evening, and it was gone. I assumed it lowered itself on a strand of silk … wonder if it lowered itself onto the bud in the first place?

These pictures are from the next evening.

This one was on a different bud. It didn’t like the attention, and

it did a quick side-step, angling downward. It also angled its body outward.  I assumed this posture was meant to threaten me by making itself look bigger.

Then it resumed its patient-waiting position.

I didn’t see the tiny jumping spider at the base of this bud until I saw the picture on the computer. Obviously, thistles have more activity around buds than I expected, and will have even more when they bloom.

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Then I found more interesting things around the thistles this evening. (the next night).

This spider’s pale coloring and faint markings makes me think it recently molted.

Three of the thistles changed dramatically in the last 24 hours. If you look close, about a third of the way up, you’ll see a tiny darkish winged insect.

The prey here looked like maybe a beetle. It was a 16th of an inch at the very most.