Archive for October, 2012

Spined Soldier Bug

An upside down moth’s a clue of a predator. (They weren’t in this position when I started snapping pictures.)

It turned out to be a spined soldier bug finishing its meal. They are a common predatory stink bug (Podisus maculiventris) found through out the U.S.

They commonly feed on larvae of beetles and moths. The one above has a monarch caterpillar. (Picture from a previous year.) How could it even hold the weight of that caterpillar!

The spined soldier bug’s about 1/2 inch long and has a prominent spine on each shoulder. Their color varies from yellowish to pale browns.

My Rock

One of my two writing mentors, way back when, was intrigued that I had a rock. He was referring to a rock seat on my rural property. Harlan had never known anyone who’d had such a thing. I own 33 acres down in the hills, 7 miles south of our house. Shawnee National Forest land borders it on the south.

My rock is at the top of a 20-25 foot bluff. My seat is on the edge toward the camera. Part of it is covered with dried leaves. The height of the rock and a flat slight depression creates a perfect seat. The vantage point offers a broad view of the ravine and the wet-weather creek running through it.

The angle of the 9:30 sun this morning created a patchwork of fall colors.

This shows the view to the south. There’s a short overhang on the right that doesn’t show in this picture. I’ve sat under it to get out of the rain. I’ve  sat under it and watched snow falling, listening to a creek that hadn’t frozen yet.

  An unobstructed view of the ravine and creek will open up after the leaves fall. This is the view to the north and east.

Buffy enjoyed the view too.

We walked on down the hill so I could take a picture of the bluff.

Almost every hike includes a sit on my rock.  It’s been a place of comfort, a place to sit and enjoy the views differing throughout the year.

… one of the best was at night, with no leaves on the trees, a full moon rising and silhoueting the trees, water running in the creek, and geese honking as they flew over.

Carolina Locust

Finally! I watched these “grasshoppers” all summer. They’d fly, looking like butterflies, with their black wings with pale yellow border.

Then they’d land way off yonder and disappear into their surroundings. I usually notice grasshoppers, but know the names of only a few. Turned out this was a Carolina locust. They’re  1 3/8 to 2 inches long and are found throughout the U.S.

 I was out one afternoon recently and one of the cats was trying to catch them. One would take off flying (quite rapidly I might add), and the cat jumped upward too. It didn’t work. It was a funny sight to watch.


Later I found this grasshopper.

I wasn’t able to identify it, but that didn’t affect my enjoying the encounter.

Woolly Oak Leaf Galls

Strong winds have blown for days. They’ve blown fuzzy “balls” in our driveway from the huge oak across the highway.

These are actually woolly oak leaf galls that are formed by gall wasps. They originally formed in a tight mass of 4-6 galls on the underside of the midvein of the leaf. There’s a hard structure in the middle of each that feels like a seed.

Somehow the wool was worn off part of this gall.

I found this when I removed the wool. It measured 1/4 inch wide at the bottom and 3/16’s tall.

I took this picture through my stereo microscope. Obviously, the grub wasn’t big enough to see yet. All wasp galls typically have an outer wall, a spongy fiber layer and a hard seed-like structure where the grub develops.

My artistic mind had problems understanding technical information about things like how the galls form. Gall wasps emerge during the winter and lay eggs in the spring. This species lays on the underside of the midvein or sometimes the lateral ones. After they hatch, the grubs salvia secretions act as a plant growth regulator and force the leaf to form the gall.

I just don’t see how the grub’s salvia could cause this. How does the wool form outside the gall? What is its purpose?  It’s just so amazing and definitely something to wonder about.


I finished a little bit of work in the garden and decided to take a few pictures before going in. The clump of 3 butterfly bushes in the moon garden attracted the most visitors now (which wasn’t many).

“Bright orange” flew in, around the butterfly bushes and landed.

A gulf fritillary!!!!! A rare stray from the south was here in my garden, posing for pictures.

Naturally, a strong wind blew. The butterfly didn’t stay long at any flower cluster. This was only the second one I’ve seen in the yard for many years.

The gulf fritillary’s wingspan measures 2 1/2 to 2 7/8 wide. The light spots underneath on the hindwings were actually silver. They looked like shiny mirrors in certain angles.

Gulf fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae) lay their eggs on passion flowers. Their range covers the southern U.S. and they emigrate northward during the summer. The ones that make it up to southern Illinois don’t survive the winter. The passion flowers don’t either.

The encounter ended as quickly as it started. Now I can breathe.

Summer Farewell

A friend of mine gave me these asters she called summer farewell.

They’ve been well-behaved over the 15 years or so they’ve grown in my butterfly garden. They’ve bloomed with gusto every fall and stayed “contained” in their original place. The base of the clump measures roughly 4×5 feet.

Butterflies, bees and other insects can’t resist the meal they have to offer. Painted ladies (like the one above) are the most common butterfly now in my yard.

The cabbage white didn’t stay long at any one flower.

Common buckeyes bask often and are a more patient feeder.

Several species of fold-winged skippers visit the summer farewell too. This is male sachem.

Recent nights with temperatures in mid 30’s greatly reduced the insect/butterfly numbers. One summer, a great butterfly year, monarchs had started their migration south. Summer farewell was in full bloom, standing 5-6 feet tall.

Fifty to 75 monarchs nectared at the asters at the same time. It was so dramatic and kept me occupied for the couple of days they were here. This didn’t include all the other butterfly species visiting the asters too.

Such an accurance always takes presidence over domestic duties where I’m concerned.


Please excuse the quality of the last picture.

I saw very few monarchs in my yard this summer, and none were a male. The way to tell a male from a female monarch is by the black spot on the vein of a male’s hindwing.

A Wind Indicator

A strong wind blew all day yesterday. Strong storms with winds up to 50 mph or so went through last night, and the wind still blew all day today.

Buffy and I headed for Stone Face for a short walk. The rain wasn’t enough to put a healthy flow in the small creek.

Reflections on a pool were indicators of the wind’s strength.

Oodles and Oodles of Caterpillars

“I was walking in my garden late one morning, when my eyes beheld an eerie sight (to tune song Monster Mash). Caterpillars … oodles of caterpillars moving south from the edge of my moon garden.

They were everywhere. There were sizes from 1/2 to 1 1/4 inches long.

Then while photographing along the south side of the weed patch, there were more and more caterpillars! These were heading south too. Some were eating.

This picture shows more details of a larger caterpillar. I stepped off the side of the weed patch — 21 yards of caterpillars. The moon garden had 5 yards of caterpillars. They weren’t moving out of anything else in the yard.

Over the next several days, I found them everywhere. A lot that went into the water garden didn’t survive. I let nature take its course. This picture shows size differences, and none of these were the size of the largest ones around.

You can tell by the droppings that caterpillars had been in here.

I started wondering what the throngs were eating and finally figured it out.

Patches looking like this got me to looking closer. I don’t know that kind this is. My mother calls it “barnyard grass.” All I know, it’s difficult to weed out of the gardens. All the patches of it in the yard looked like this.

The caterpillars’ appearance changed at they grew. I was outside one evening with my caterpillar book — Caterpillars of Eastern North America. It has roughly 400 pages of caterpillar pictures! I went through it 2 times, and none of the pictures looked like these. My husband came walking up toward the house from his archery target. I showed him the eaten grass and one of the caterpillars. He immediately said, “They’re armyworms.”

Well, apparently, armyworms can be a severe pest, especially on farm crops. The larvae grow to 4cm.

None are in my yard. They’ve pupated underground. Since we’re not in their year-round range here in southern Illinois, these won’t survive the winter. Southern populations might immigrate, and may or may not make it this far north next spring.

Caterpillar Mystery

I started a major rock project next to my water garden. While scattering the rocks from the LONG pile of them, I found this caterpillar on the underside of one.

Several rocks later, I discovered this caterpillar on the underside of a rock too. Obviously, it’s the same species as the one above. I can’t explain the circle-like shapes around it. It looks like it molted in the center area. What would the larger ones have been used for? They wouldn’t use them to shrink. The top caterpillar was about 5/8 inch long, and the other was under a half inch.

After going through 400 pages, page by page, in my Caterpillars of Eastern North America, I didn’t find a caterpillar that resembled these. So, maybe the caterpillars will change considerably as they mature, or maybe I wasn’t looking quite the right way at the details.

If anyone knows their identity, please let me know.

Fluff Fallout

The appearance of the thistles have changed considerably since earlier in the season.

They went from an insect/spider magnet to

fluffy “balls.”

Notice the yellow seed in the middle. and how many seeds have already dropped from their means of transportation.

Fluff (down) has been dropping for quite a while now. It piles. It rains and it gets matted down somewhat. Then more continues to fall.

The wind kept these moving while I took pictures. Obviously, the downy structure creates a tangle, and most of the seeds have already dropped.

  American goldfinches don’t begin nesting until summer when the earlier thistles are past bloom. They line their nests with the thistle’s down.