Friday, September 12, 2014

Creepy Crawly!

Don't be alarmed, but the following post is all about spiders! Our much anticipated spider workshop with Dr. Richard Bradley is coming up and I though we'd get a head start on things. (The workshop is full-up by the way.) I don't know a lot about spiders, but I had some interesting photos lurking around the computer files and thought we could take a look at them. Here we go!

We'll start with a nice big one! This is a Six-spotted Fishing Spider. We often catch these during the pond study with our school groups. Most of the time, the ones we catch are quite small. But, as you can see, they are quite know...for a spider.  :)

I'm not sure what the name of this spider is, but it is frequently seen in the spring. It's quite small, but has a brightly colored abdomen. 

Here is a medium sized spider with prey much bigger than he/she is! This unfortunate Promethea moth is having a bad day. However, the spider is having a great day! What a meal!

Again, an unknown spider for me. I took this picture because of how translucent the legs looked against the leaf. This is some nice camouflage if I ever saw it!

Many folks know this large spider, the Garden Spider. The familiar black and yellow markings along with the white zigzag pattern down the center of the web, make for a striking combination. 

 Here is the same kind of spider busily wrapping up her prey in silk. She'll then take it back up to the center of the web and suck out the liquefied insides of her meal. Mmmm! Yummy!

Okay so as far as spiders go, I'm not a huge fan. They are cool and I value what they do in the ecosystem. But I have to say Crab Spiders have my vote. Named for their long front legs that they hold out just like a crab, these guys are pretty neat. Above is a nice sized yellow one sitting on some Goldenrod. With that kind of camouflage, the food will just come to you! It's just like having a pizza delivered, except we don't eat the delivery person!

In this picture is another yellow crab spider. This one is smaller and with the photo taken from farther away, the ability to blend in is much more noticeable. Click on the photo to make it bigger for a closer look.

They are all around us and even in our homes, but remember, spiders are eating other insects and things that we don't want around anyway. So go spiders go!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Two Cool Bugs

Here are two cool bugs for your enjoyment! The first is a very captivating fellow. A small, stocky caterpillar that belongs in a group call slug moth caterpillars. The name of this group comes from the fact that they do not have any prolegs to move about with. When the travel, the really look like they are just gliding or sliding along the leaf. 

The other cool thing about this group of caterpillars is that they all possess stinging hairs. Don't Touch! The sting from these guys can be unpleasant. The picture below shows off those stinging hairs pretty well. 

So this guy is the Saddleback caterpillar. His brown saddle is well placed in the center of his back, surrounded by a smooth blanket of lime green. A handsome devil! Saddlebacks are generalists, meaning that they can and do ear a wide variety of plants. I found this guy on a spicebush but commonly see them on redbud. I have even found them on the corn leaves in my veggie garden.

Another cool bug is one we are all familiar with. The Praying Mantis. There are many different species of mantids and can be found all over the world. The one were are most likely to see around here is this one, an Asian species. 

These large insects are often used in garden settings to help control pests. However, these big mantids will eat anything they can catch. They don't care if it is a "good" bug or a "bad" bug. I can't say I've ever seen one at night. This guy (or girl) was hanging out near my front porch light. No doubt waiting for some moth or other unsuspecting morsel to come within its reach. The thing that really caught my attention was its eyes! Of course in the daytime those large eyes are the same green as the body to help camouflage the insect. But with the light from the porch shining on it, the eyes were a really cool black!

 And probably my favorite thing about mantids is all the 'tude they can give you!  :)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Late August Wildflowers

We are definitely over do for a new in bloom list, so today's post is going to focus on those fabulous wildflowers that are showing off their colors. There is a lot to look at right now, and even more to come. Despite the heat, this is a fantastic time of year. Our main areas of summer wildflowers are at the beginning of the boardwalk, the front yard, and conveniently, down the driveway! So as usual, let's highlight a few of the bloomers and then I'll have the complete list posted at the bottom. Here we go!

 Blue Mist Flower


 Great Blue Lobelia


 Prairie Dock

A close-up look at Prairie Dock

(There may be a few repeats from the last posted list.)

White Snakeroot
Blue Mist Flower
Great Blue Lobelia
Flat-topped Aster
Cardinal Flower
Prairie Dock
Orange Coneflower
Indian Tobacco

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Invasion of the Tree Octopus! 

Hey everyone! This is Nora, the intern here at Wahkeena. Robyn will be out of town for the next couple of weeks so I will be the one discussing a new species to the preserve! 

We found a Tree Octopus this spring here at Wahkeena, and later identified it to be Polypoda arborialis. Which is an eastern species of Tree Octopus that is closely related to the Pacific Tree Octopus. Since the first was found, several others have been recorded throughout the Preserve.

Tree Octopi are 'amphibious,' meaning that they only spend the early part of their lives, and the mating season in the water, which is similar to several species of salamanders. These solitary cephalopods prefer humid, dense woodlands that remain moist, so as to not dry out. If their skin does begin to dry, the octopus will search out streams, ponds, other small bodies of water, or they may bury themselves in moist soil. 

In springtime, the Tree Octopus will return to the body of water in which it matured. There, they congregate and find a mate. After a brief courtship display, the male deposits a sperm packet into the female using a specialized arm used only for mating. After fertilization, the female will attach the eggs to herself and defend them for 17-21 days until just before the eggs hatch. She releases the eggs one by one, and they float away in the water. Scientists believe that separation of the eggs results in less competition for the baby octopi and a higher success rate for the species. Even so, the mortality rate is very high. Females lay between 1,000 and 2,500 eggs. Out of that number, only about 2% of those Octopi live to reach adulthood. Tree Octopi are endangered due to water pollution, inbreeding, and over harvesting for sale in markets overseas. 

You should stop out to Wahkeena soon, so you can catch a glimpse of these mysterious creatures before they head to hollow trees in the fall to wait out chilly weather. 

Remember! Tree Octopi are not pets! If kept in dry environments, they will  deteriorate and quickly die. They will not hurt you if handled, but be sure to return them to the proper habitat! 

Friday, August 8, 2014

New Orchid! Yea!


Thanks to our hawk-eyed intern, Nora, we now have a new species of orchid to add to Wahkeena's list! Whorled Pogonia, Isotria verticillata is a native orchid that, when not in bloom looks a whole lot like Indian Cucumber Root. We've known that we should have this species here, but just hadn't seen it before now. The population we found is off-trail, up on the ridge. Ironically, it is in an area that for an off-trail spot, we are in on a fairly regular basis. Admittedly, it is mostly in the fall and winter that we are there. Anyway, here a few pictures of what they look like right now. We will be keeping a close eye on them next spring, and hopefully we'll have some pictures of the flowers to show you! In the meantime if you would like to see what they look like in bloom, check out the images at

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Orchid #7 and The Unexpected

Cranefly orchid is now in bloom. This delicate looking flower is hard to spot and hard to photograph. I was unable to get a nice shot of just one of the flowers, but I was able to get this picture...

I think it shows really well how in the shade of the forest, these slender stalks are hard to see. This cluster of three is off trail, but we do have a very nice single stalk flagged for you on the Casa Burro trail. Ask a naturalist for the location.

The Unexpected is the theme for the rest of the blog post, but it started with the cranefly orchid. While trying to get nice pictures of it, I noticed something was happening.

A closer look showed me a very small spider feasting on a very small insect. It looks to me like some kind of fly. Wouldn't it be neat if it was in fact, a Crane Fly?

A closer look at the plant revealed another interesting creature.

The elongated snout and elbowed antennae make this a weevil! I have no idea what kind, but it sure is neat. I had to use the flash to obtain these photos, but it happened to reveal some striking colors on this insect. Thanks to the ability to crop photos this weevil looks big in the picture, but in reality, he is only a few millimeters.

I really wanted to do a butterfly post, but instead of butterflies, I found The Unexpected.

A deer sporting her rusty-colored summer coat hanging out on the boardwalk!

 A small, green Bull Frog sitting pretty on a big lily pad. She was ready for her close-up!

A beaver tail print in the mud. I found this on the dam the beavers maintain around the spillway.

Finally, a very large colony of bryozoans over by the spillway in the big pond. Bryozoans are also known as moss animals. They are colonial creatures (like corals) and can be found in still areas of clean fresh water. Most species however live in marine environments.

Meanwhile, summer is plugging away here at Wahkeena and of course the dragonflies are still quite abundant. In addition to this amberwing, we should start to see the meadowhawks soon.


There are also a few more summer wildflowers in bloom, including this beautiful red Swamp Rose Mallow. Here are some others:

Monkey Flower
Cup Plant
Royal Catchfly
Indian Tobacco
Mad Dog Skullcap
Thin-leaved Coneflower
Sweet Black-eyed Susan

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Orchid #6

Our sixth orchid to bloom (actually 7th, but I didn't find the Ragged Fringed until too late, plus they were off-trail) is Club-spur Orchid, Platanthera clavellata! This small greenish woodland orchid is so hard to find until it blooms. Well, even then it is a bit of a challenge! This is another of what I call the "stick-your-face-in-them" orchids. It's really a very attractive flower with a slight twist to it, but you really need to look closely at it. 

This year, there are several stalks right next to the trail and they have only just started to bloom. Actually, as of this writing there is only one blooming, but we will be flagging the others as they begin to bloom as well. 

As usual, just ask one of us naturalists to point you in the right direction if you would like to take a look at this neat plant.