Archive for the 'Insects, Fish, Frogs' Category

Oct 12 2014

Not A Rose

Goldenrod gall (photo by Kate St. John)

Though shaped like a green rose this knob is not a flower. It’s a goldenrod bunch gall.

A search at BugGuide.net(*) indicates:

The gall was made by a midge, Rhopalomyia solidaginis, that lays its egg at the tip of the goldenrod stem.  “Its larva secretes a chemical that prevents the goldenrod stem from growing although it continues to produce leaves, thus a shortened bunch of leaves is formed.”(*)

The resulting rosette provides shelter for many insects as well as the midge.

This fall I’ve seen many bunch galls in goldenrod fields.  This one was at Wingfield Pines in southern Allegheny County.

Click here to read more about the midge at BugGuide.net.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

 

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Oct 04 2014

On Milkweed

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Milkweed bug and grasshopper on milkweed pod (photo by Kate St. John)

Thursday evening at Fern Hollow Nature Center I found two insects perched on a milkweed pod.

The grasshopper is doing his best to blend in.

The milkweed bug doesn’t need to.  He eats milkweed so he’s poisonous.

He wears ‘danger colors’ like the monarch butterfly:  black and orange.

Milkweed bug (photo by Kate St. John)

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Sep 20 2014

Who’s On First?

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Question mark butterfly, fall form (photo by Kate St. John)

I am so new to butterfly identification that most of them prompt a question.  I photographed this one near the Kiski River in Armstrong County last Sunday.  What’s the name of this butterfly?

“It’s a question mark.”

No, really, I want to know.  Here’s the ventral side.  What’s the name of this butterfly?

Underside of question mark butterfly, fall form ... but cannot see the mark (photo by Kate St. John)

“It’s a question mark.”

Honestly, I’m not kidding.  What’s the name of this butterfly?

“It’s a question mark because it has a small white question mark on the underside of its hind wing.”

Well, this one doesn’t.  At least not that I can see.  Please tell me, What’s the name of this butterfly?

It’s a question mark, Polygonia interrogationis.

I give up.  Who’s on First?

(Watch Abbott and Costello drive each other nuts in this video of their Who’s on First? skit.)

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

2 responses so far

Sep 13 2014

Isabella Scoffs At Winter

Isabella tiger moth caterpillar (photo by Kate St. John)

Yesterday I found this Isabella Tiger moth caterpillar in Schenley Park.  Does she have a prediction for the coming winter?

Legend has it that wide brown stripes on woolly bear caterpillars predict a mild winter; narrow brown stripes mean a harsh one.

In the 1950′s the former curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History surveyed a very small sample of woolly bears and found that the caterpillars had an 80% accuracy rate.  However, no one’s been able to replicate Dr. C. H. Curran’s findings.  Instead a whole host of factors influence the stripes including species, diet and age.  Especially age.  The older instars are browner.

And frankly, this caterpillar doesn’t care how harsh the winter.  It can survive to -90 degrees F, hibernating as a caterpillar (not in a cocoon!) curled up in a ball under a rock or bark.  It freezes completely except for the innermost portions of its cells which are protected by naturally produced glycerol.  In the spring the caterpillar thaws and resumes eating before making a cocoon and becoming a moth.

Theoretically this particular caterpillar is saying “mild winter” but we know it ain’t so.

Isabella scoffs at winter.

Read more here about the woolly bear legend and amazing winter feats.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Aug 21 2014

TBT: Laying Eggs

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Cicada on a tree branch (photo by JohnTsui via Wikimedia Commons)

Throw Back Thursday (TBT):

August is a busy time for cicadas.  Though there aren’t a lot of them this year, those that are here are busy mating and laying eggs for the next generation.

Did you know that cicadas lay their eggs under the bark of tree twigs?  Eventually you can tell where they’ve done it because the leaves turn brown on the branch tips.

Brown tips on tree branches because of cicada egg-laying (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Back in 2008 I caught one in the act.  Click here to read about cicadas laying eggs.

 

(photo of cicada on tree branch by John Tsui via Wikimedia Commons.  photo of brown tree tips from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on each image to see its original)

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Aug 16 2014

Love This Blue

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Red spotted purple butterfly (photo by Kate St. John)

The color of indigo buntings and mountain bluebirds, this butterfly is pretending to be something else.

Its name is “Red Spotted Purple” (Limenitis arthemis) — no mention of blue! — and its color mimics the poisonous Pipevine Swallowtail.   I suppose the orangish red spots on its underside gave it its name.

This one was mud-puddling with other butterflies at Jennings Prairie last weekend, but I ignored them because they weren’t this color.

I have never seen the deep blue Pipevine Swallowtail.

Love this color.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Aug 10 2014

Not a Hummingbird

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Hummingbird moth at wild bergamot (photo by Steve Gosser)

Here’s a moth that’s the same size and color as a hummingbird and it uses the same hovering technique.

The hummingbird clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe) even migrates — another bird-like trait.

Steve Gosser captured this moth sipping wild bergamot.

When you glance at your garden look carefully.  That hummingbird might be a moth.

 

(photo by Steve Gosser)

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Aug 09 2014

August Nectar

Honeybee at blue vervain, August 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

August flowers have broken the nectar dearth.

This honeybee is feeding at blue vervain (Verbena hastata) in Schenley Park.

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Aug 07 2014

Fog Webs

Spider silk revealed by fog (photo by Kate St. John)

Monday morning’s thick fog held some surprises:  Pitt’s 40-story Cathedral of Learning “disappeared” yet all the spider webs stood out.

In Schenley Park diaphanous silk connected the flowers.  Where is the spider who made this?  Will he find the aphids sheltering under the flower head?

On the ground I found many small white “area rugs” like this one.

Funnel spider web (photo by Kate St. John)

These are funnel spider webs.  Mostly flat, they slope inward to a single hole.

Here’s a closeup of the hole beneath that horizontal blade of grass.

Funnel hole of the funnel spider web (photo by Kate St. John)

An even closer look reveals the funnel spider lurking inside.  The slightest movement on his “carpet” brings him out in a flash to capture his prey.

Funnel spider in his web (photo by Kate St. John)

I tried to make him emerge by touching the web but he knows the difference between a human touch and the struggling movements of prey.  He won’t come out for me.

And yes, it’s Throw Back Thursday.  Here’s a 2008 article with a lot more information on funnel spiders.  Read What’s This Cloud on the Ground?

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Aug 03 2014

With A Little Help From My Friends

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Butterfly on butterfly weed (photo by Kate St. John)

Last July I took this photo of a butterfly at the Montour Trail near Pittsburgh but even after searching BugGuide.net I could not identify it.

I got close.  I guessed it was a crescent, maybe a northern crescent, but forgot to look up the species’ range.  Uh oh!  Range is important when identifying birds and even more important with butterflies.  Northern crescents are unlikely in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Field marks are important, too, but I didn’t have all of them.  My photo shows the upper side but the underside of a butterfly often holds the deciding field mark.

Puzzled, I emailed my butterfly friends Chuck Tague and Monica Miller.

Chuck told me that pearl and northern crescents look a lot alike but the location indicates this is a pearl crescent (Phyciodes tharos), not a northern.  Monica added that “My understanding is you really can only reliably tell them apart upon dissection and the northerns would only be found in places north of us like Buzzard Swamp.”

Wow.  These butterflies are as hard to suss apart as chickadees!  I’m glad I didn’t find this one in their overlapping range.

I’ve got quite a lot to learn about butterflies.  In the meantime I’m getting by with a little help from my friends.

Thank you, Chuck & Monica!

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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