Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Day in the Life...Part 40

When I walked out the door this morning, I was greeted by the fella below.

I say fella because this is a male Walkingstick. You can determine the sex by the narrow body and the claspers at the end of the abdomen, which are used to hold the female during mating. Females would have an enlarged abdomen at this time of year and no claspers. This species is likely Diapheromera femorata , the most common species of walkingstick in eastern North American. Walkingsticks feed on leaves and autumn is a good time to see them as it is also the heart of their mating season.


Out in front of the nature center the leaves of the Catalpa tree are being ravaged by a different plant eating insect. As you can see in the picture above, the leaves has been chewed down to their veins.
The culprit... the Catalpa Sphinx moth caterpillar, Ceratomia catalpae.

The Catalpa Sphinx is one of the Hornworm caterpillars. When young these caterpillars are gregarious (living together) and can appear in explosive numbers. A large number of caterpillars are capable of defoliating a small tree like the one they are feeding on now. 

The cooling weather has triggered another animal in action.

The beavers have begun plastering the outside of their lodge with fresh mud to seal out the cold night air. You can see a "slide" in the center of the lodge.

With the recent rains dam building activity has resumed as well. Contrary to myth, beavers do not carrying mud on their tails. They carry and pack the mud in place with their front paws...just like you would!

The rain and wind have brought down many small branches that are cover with lichens.

Above is Powdered Ruffle lichen (Parmotrema hypotropum). This is a very common lichen that grows on many species of trees and especially on the upper branches.  For those interested in lichens, the Ohio Division of Wildlife has a new publication that came out earlier this year entitled - Common Lichens of Ohio. Copies are available from the Division or by stopping by Wahkeena.

Autumn is also the time for nuts (insert your own joke).

Above are Hazel nuts that grow on the American Hazel (Corylus americana). (Back in Part 13 is a picture of the flower that produced this seed.) Hazel nuts are also known as filberts. Many may remember a time when folks would put out a bowl of nuts at Thanksgiving and/or Christmas time. As the nuts were still in the shell, a nutcracker was also nearby. Today most kids would only know a nutcracker as a wooden toy soldier. 

Posted by TS

Saturday, September 26, 2015

A Day in the Life...Part 39

A walk through the woods at this time of years reveals dappled sunlight and splashes of crimson red.
The bright red berries are those of Spicebush (Lindera benzoin). Spicebush is a common native understory shrub and this was a very good year for blossoms in the spring and the abundant crop of seeds that have now turned from green to red. The berries are a valuable wildlife food.

It is also the season for other things......WASPS!

At first glance, the picture  above  might appear to be just a hole in the ground. But on closer examination it is evident that some thing (an animal) has excavated the dirt in a rapid manner. A short distance from the hole is another clue seen below.

Chunks of paper comb are scattered around the hole. These are the remnants of a Yellow Jacket nest. With the extremely dry weather at the preserve this year, many Yellow Jacket nests have been found in the ground. (In wetter conditions, they will build above ground.) One of the best predator of these wasps is the Stripped Skunk. The scientific name of the skunk , Mephitis mephitis means "bad odor" "bad odor". Once considered a member of the Weasel Family, genetic studies have shown that skunks  are not related to weasels but in a separate family all there own - Mephitidae. Skunks are well equipped to prey on the Yellow Jackets. They have dense fur for protection and long sharp claws for rapidly digging and tearing the paper comb from the nest. This happens in the cool of the night when the insects are less active and caught off guard. The skunk feast on the high protein larva in the comb.

Another type of wasp also reaching its peak numbers at this time of year is the Paper Wasp. Like it's cousin the Yellow Jacket,  Paper Wasps built a paper comb. The paper is manufactured by the wasp chewing weathered wood and mixing it with saliva.

Paper Wasps are well known to many people as they built their small nests in more conspicuous places - like the corners of door and windows or under eaves as in the photo above. Paper Wasps and Yellow Jackets are both in the Family - Vespidae and are considered "social insects"that live in "large" colonies.

Below is a picture of a Mud Dauber Wasp colonies. Mud Dauber are in the Family - Sphecidae, also known as hunting wasps.  The Mud Dauber female constructs a mud chamber in which to lay an egg. She then stocks the cell with paralyzed spiders - food for the new developing larva.

Like the Paper Wasps, Mud Daubers build their nests is somewhat exposed areas like under eaves, as in the above photo, or on vertical surfaces that have some measures of overhead shelter from the elements.

 Another stinging creature of a different kind is the Saddle Back caterpillar (a moth) seen below. 

The Saddle Back (Acharia stimulea) has structures called scoli (a club-like shape) covered with spines. These spines can inflict pain that is similar in feel to that delivered by a bee or wasp. This insect is an excellent example of aposematic marking and coloration. Animals marked in such a way are sending a warning to potential predator to back off or else somewhat bad will happen!

And now for sometimes completely different. September is usually a good time to see a variety of fungi (mushrooms). However, once again it has been so dry that this year the "crop" is not so good. I did spot this small cluster of Puffballs along the trail.

I believe these are Gem-studded Puffballs  (Lycoperdon perlatum) that grow on decomposing organic material on the ground. They are considered edible as long as they are still firm and white in the center. As the puffball matures the center becomes a bag of powdery, brownish spores. A pore or hole develops on the top and when disturbed a cloud of spores can be seen "puffing" out into the air. 

Posted by TS

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Day in the Life...Part 38

This week we began having school groups again, so most of our time was spend in preparation for providing those educational programs. We have schools scheduling through October 28, so needless to say that will consume much of our time and energy! The kids so far have been great and excited about learning about the natural world and what Wahkeena has to offer.

We also just completed the first stage of bank repairs that were necessitated by the largest North American rodent- Mr. Beaver. After truck lots of fill dirt and rip rap ( large rocks), the damaged bank area has now been restored. Futures plans include armoring other bank areas including the entire length of the dam to discourage future intrusions by the beavers.

Poison Ivy has joined the Virginia Creeper as a colorful vine on many of the trees.

Poison Ivy can be seen in a variety of colors - red, orange, yellow, and purplish hues.

The Poison Ivy vines are loaded with berries this time of year. Sixty one different species of song birds are known to feed on the berries, an important energy source during the winter months.

The Monarch butterflies that Nora the Explora has been raising are now rapidly emerging from their chrysalises. The butterflies are being quickly released on flowers near the nature center. A video has been posted on the Wahkeena Facebook page.

The sunny areas now abound with a variety of goldenrods. Contrary to popular believe goldenrod is not the main reason for people's allergies. Goldenrods are insect pollinated plants that have sticky pollen to aid in the transfer of pollen from plant to insect. Ragweeds, which are wind pollinated plants, have non-sticky pollen that is easily transported on the wind and therefore to not have showy flowers.(You do not have to be pretty is attract the wind!) But when people look around to see what might be causing their allergies all they may see is all of the goldenrod.

Goldenrods are an important late season source of energy for an amazing variety of bees, wasps, beetles and other insects.


Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Day in the Life...Part 37

It's the end of the second week in September and the fall colors are showing themselves.  Above Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is one of the very first plants to change color each year. This five-leaved climbing vine is easily seen on the trunks of many trees.

Also making an early appearance is the last fern to emerge, Cut-leafed Grape Fern (Botrychium dissectum). The fertile frond (leaf)  extends up from the center of the triangular leaves and resembles a bunch of grapes. The leaves will turn a bronze color when frost bitten.

The "asters" are blooming and are an attractive food source for many insect like the Cucumber Beetle above.

Calico Aster (Symphyotrichum lateriforum) got its name because the abundant tiny flowers resemble calico print fabric.

One of the most dominant flowers in bloom is White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima). The plant was responsible for a disease called the Milk Sickness. When cows grazed on large qualities of the plant, it would make the cow sick and poison their milk. (Don't worry today's milk supply is safe.)

This flower is nothing to sneeze's Sneezeweed! (Helenium autumnale). This plant is also aptly known as Swamp Sunflower and grow in the wet meadow area here at Wahkeena.

Late summer and autumn are good times to see a wide variety of caterpillars. The poor tussock moth caterpillar above is still alive but has been parasitized  by a Broconid wasp. When the wasp larva hatches it will feed on the host caterpillar. The original movable feast!

Posted by Tom


Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Day in the life... Part 36

Here's to another caterpillar filled week! Earlier this week Kathryn and I hiked up to the meadow on another part of the preserve and collected Monarch Caterpillars to raise. 25ish caterpillars later, I again have my hands full with plenty of munching mouths to feed!

Monarch Caterpillars
We have monarchs at all different stages of development, egg, larva, pupa and butterfly. After hatching from an egg the monarch caterpillar will eat almost nonstop for about 15 days, eventually weighing more than 2700 times its original weight! For reference, if a human baby were to grow at the same rate as a monarch caterpillar it would weigh about 200,000 lbs by the time it is 15 days old.

Upon its final molt, the caterpillar enters into the pupa stage. and now hangs in a jade colored chrysalis. See below for a video of a monarch caterpillar molting its skin and exposing the chrysalis underneath. The whole process takes just a matter of minutes.



The monarch will then develop inside the chrysalis for about 2 weeks, between 9-15 days. Near the end of the pupal stage the chrysalis will begin to darken and become transparent  enough that you can make out the orange and black wings of the butterfly inside. 

Can you see the wing? 
Below is one of the adult Monarch Butterflies that emerged from a chrysalis earlier this week. 

Thanks to Butterfly wrangler Tom, this monarch was safely transferred from chrysalis to Ironweed

In other news, fall is finally on its way! I found the first of the Buckeye nuts this week, and also I spotted a first year beaver hurriedly getting ready for winter! 

Yellow Buckeyes
Autumn Coralroot (Corallorhiza odonrorhiza) is still going strong, stop out soon if you would like to see it in good blooming condition!
Autumn Coralroot, Photo credit to Rich Pendlebury

Posted by Nora

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Day in the Life...Part 35

This last week of August has been quite nice, with cool temperatures and low humidity it has felt more like October. But all of the wildflowers in bloom are typical of last summer- like the Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) seen below. The tall purple plant has an extremely strong stem which may have contributed to its common name.

Joining Ironweed is  the white Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum). The species name "perfoliatum" refer to the fact that the stem pierces or perforates the leaves. The common name is reference to the past medicinal use of this plant to treat Breaks Bone Fever.

 The Jewelweeds or Touch- me-nots are also well into blooming stage. Below is Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) with bright orange-red flowers. Notice how the dew beads up on the leaves like little "jewels".

A larger relative, the Pale Jewelweed ( Impatiens pallida) with larger yellow flowers is seen below.

When the seeds of both plants mature, they explode at the slightest touch expelling the seeds- thus the name Touch-me not.

Joining its cousins Cardinal Flower and Indian Tobacco is our third Lobelia- Great Blue Lobelia    (Lobelia syphilitica). The species name of this plant is reference to its use to treat venereal diseases!

In stark contrast to the showy flowers above  is the Autumn Coral-root (Corallorhiza odontorhiza) seen below.

This is our last native orchid to bloom and it can take a keen eye to spot it in the woodlands. This year we have a large patch, with several dozen plants, right next to one of our main hiking trails. The coral-roots are saprophytic plants that get their energy from decomposing organic matter in the soil-thus they have no leaves. 

And finally, it's Tussock Moth caterpillar time. These hairy caterpillars will be quite numerous over the next couple of months and can be seen crawling on the ground, on plants and dangling from silk threads. 

Posted by Tom

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Day in the Life...Part 34

The insect theme continues this week at Wahkeena. While walking the Shelter Trail I noticed a tell-tale sign on the forest floor. The grayish stain was an indication of activity in the tree above.

The stain is the droppings from an active colony of Woolly Aphids who are busily sucking the sap from the branches of an American Beech tree.

Even at this young stage the aphids are completely covering  many of the lower branches of the tree creating a white mass.

On closer inspection one can see the individual aphids huddled close together in the photo above.  

Below, gently disturbing the mass of insects sets them all a quivering, fluffing up their cottony covered abdomens as the entire mass moves in unison. This may serve as a distraction to would be predators.

Not much is blooming in the woods at this time of year, but I did come across Hog Peanut (Amphicarpa bracteata). This member of the Pea Family climbs over other plants to get its share of sunlight energy.

And jumping back to insects... the ones below like to hang out at the old stone  barbecue. These are Camel Crickets.  Also referred to as long-horned crickets because of their long antennae. They prefer dark secluded places. Their large hind legs give them powerful jumping ability and along with their color contribute to the camel name (as in two humps).

Posted by Tom