Archive for the 'Insects, Fish, Frogs' Category

Jul 25 2014

Not Just A Pine Cone

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Eastern fence lizard on a pine cone, 6 Jul 2014, VA Beach (photo by Kate St.John)

On Fourth of July weekend I was hiking at First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach when I noticed an odd-looking pine cone in the dappled shade next to the trail.  I paused to look more closely.

It’s not just a pine cone!

Here’s a better look.

Eastern fence lizard on a pine cone, 6 Jul 2014, VA Beach (photo by Kate St.John)

… and this view from a different angle.

Eastern fence lizard on a pine cone, 6 Jul 2014, VA Beach (photo by Kate St.John)

After two minutes of my ever-closer approach this lizard had had enough and ran away.

I know nothing about lizards so I googled images for a “brown lizard sandy shore Virginia” and found a photo whose description said “Matches the pine cone.”  How cool is that!  Someone else had photographed an eastern fence lizard on a pine cone.

I also found out that …

  • The eastern fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus) is native to the eastern U.S. and southern Pennsylvania.  Theoretically I should have seen one in all my years of hiking near Pittsburgh but this is a first for me.  (I’ll admit I haven’t been looking very hard.)
  • Their scales are keeled, a feature you can see in the photos.
  • Eastern fence lizards are sexually dimorphic.  This one is female because her throat and flanks are whitish where adult males are shiny blue.  During the mating season males flash their blue bellies to attract the ladies and tell other guys, “This is my territory.” Click here to see the male’s amazing underside.
  • That flashy blue behavior is risky.  Flashy males are more likely to be eaten by birds.
  • In 2009 Penn State biologist Tracy Langkilde reported that eastern fence lizards who live where there are fire ants have longer legs than their predecessors 70 years ago — an example of evolution in action. They’ve also learned to twitch instead of freeze when they encounter the voracious ants that can kill them in less than a minute.

I’m glad I stopped to examine that pine cone.  I usually say, “Keep looking up” but it pays to look down sometimes, too.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

3 responses so far

Jul 13 2014

Hover Flies Up Close

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Hover flies mating, Custards Marsh (photo by Shawn Collins)

Here’s a beautiful close-up of two hover flies mating on a chicory flower, taken by Shawn Collins with his macro lens.

Who knew that the female is larger than the male? That their eyes are different colors? That they have knobs on their heads … Are those antennae?

Awesome photo!

 

Click here to browse Shawn’s photostream on Flickr.

p.s. Oh no!  Yesterday Shawn’s Canon T3i died on an Err 30 while shooting marbled godwits and willets at Conneaut Harbor, Ohio.  Bad break!  He’ll be camera-less until next Saturday.  :(

(photo by Shawn Collins)

2 responses so far

Jul 11 2014

Slow Down And Watch

Here’s a beautiful wildlife video of beetles and birds in slow motion.

Slow down and watch.

Happy Friday!

 

(video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology via YouTube)

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Jul 07 2014

Invasion of the Billbugs

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Billbug on a window (photo by Kate St. John)

A week ago these bugs were everywhere, so many that they made the news.

I noticed them on June 30 when I saw more than twenty tiny dark bugs perched on the outside of my office window.  What bugs were these, why were there so many of them, and why were they on the window?

Other people encountered the bugs too — at poolsides, on car roofs, in backyards — and they were scared because the bugs looked like engorged ticks.

Though close in size to ticks, I could tell these were not because:

  • Ticks are Arachnids, related to spiders. They have 8 legs. These bugs have 6.
  • Ticks don’t have wings.  These bugs have wings under their elytra (wing covers) and though they weren’t flying very much I saw a few of them raise their wing covers and suddenly fly away.
  • Ticks do not have snouts.  These bugs have snouts(!) like inflexible elephants’ trunks.
  • Ticks never swarm .. and that’s what these bugs were doing.

Using Google and BugGuide.net I narrowed their identity to some sort of snout and bark weevil.  But which one?  And why were there so many of them?

Meanwhile public fear and misunderstanding prompted KDKA to call the Allegheny County Health Department’s Entymologist, Bill Todaro for information.  He knew what they were right away: Nut and Acorn Weevils. Also called billbugs, they eat only plants, never bite people, and swarm in late June because they’re looking for a member of the opposite sex to mate with.

Here’s an annotated closeup of one of the Nut and Acorn Weevils on my office window.  This is a view of his underside because he was outside on the glass.

Nut and Acorn Weevil on the window, 1 July 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

So, they were really nothing to worry about.  They were courting.  We just never noticed them before.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Jul 05 2014

What The Bee Sees

Pale touch-me-not (photo by Kate St. John)

Blooming now in southwestern Pennsylvania, Pale Touch-me-not (Impatiens pallida) beacons to bees with its yellow landing pad.

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Jun 29 2014

Color On The Wing

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Calico pennant (photo by Charlie Hickey)

If you’re like me, you’re in the midst of a low spot in the birding year.  There are lots of birds in Pennsylvania right now but they’re secretive because they’re nesting, and they’re going to stop singing in July.  Sigh.  (Check out this graph of the birders’ emotional year to see what I mean.)

However, it’s Bug Season!  Beautiful bugs are here to fill our need for color on the wing.

In June Charlie Hickey and his wife watch for the dragonflies to emerge from the lake at their backyard in Berks County.  Charlie posted this Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa) on his Flickr page on June 5, the day they first appeared.

Dragonflies come in so many colors: blue and green Eastern Pondhawks, golden Eastern Amberwings, black and white Widow Skimmers.  My very favorite is the black and iridescent blue Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly.

Click here to see Charlie’s Odonata (dragonfly) album.  So many colors on the wing!

 

(photo by Charlie Hickey)

One response so far

Apr 09 2014

Jeepers Creepers

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Because I live in the city, I have to leave home to hear frogs calling.  Though there are streams and a wetland in Schenley Park, the wetland is too recently restored and probably too isolated to have spring peepers.  The park is surrounded by dense city neighborhoods and all of its water flows into a mile-long culvert that takes it to the Monongahela River. Where would frogs and fish come from?  Not from downstream.

So I was delighted to hear spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) by the Sunken Garden Trail at Moraine State Park last Sunday.  I made a point of sitting near the wetland, surrounded by their sound.  Hundreds of them called in front of me but I couldn’t see even one because they’re so small and good at hiding.  The video above (from Wisconsin) shows how tiny they are.

As a group the peepers were almost deafening but I heard two wood frogs and a single creaking sound among them.  It sounded like a western chorus frog but it was probably an angry spring peeper.  Wikipedia says, “As in other frogs, an aggressive call is made [by spring peepers] when densities are high. This call is a rising trill closely resembling the breeding call of the southern chorus frog.”

The video below gives you an idea of what I heard.  Listen for the quacking of wood frogs at the beginning.

Jeepers creepers, do you hear the peepers?

Update: Check the comments for places where readers have heard peepers in the City!

(videos from YouTube)

7 responses so far

Mar 27 2014

Any Wood Frogs Yet?

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

This month I wrote about ducks that sound like frogs.  Here are some frogs that sound like ducks.

Wood frogs are often the first frogs to appear in the spring in eastern North America, quickly followed by spring peepers.  As the video indicates temperatures have to be in the 40s for the wood frogs to “wake up,” but western Pennsylvania hasn’t had a lot of warm weather yet.

The cold winter has made a difference.  Two years ago we had an exceptionally warm spring and the frogs came out in early March.  This year we’ve had a few blips of warm weather surrounded by temperatures in the teens, a discouraging combination for cold-blooded frogs.

Today we’re headed for a spate for warm weather that may signal the end of winter’s grip.  We’ll know it’s really spring when we hear frogs calling.

Have you heard any wood frogs yet?

 

(video from Great Smoky Mountains Association)

4 responses so far

Mar 17 2014

No Snakes Day

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Grass snake (photo from Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons license)

If you are afraid of snakes, you’ll be happy to know that this day celebrates someone who banished them from an island.

Legend has it that St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, chased all the snakes into the sea after they attacked him during a 40-day fast.

In fact, there were never any snakes in Ireland since the last glacial maximum.  St. Patrick’s legend may actually refer to the rise of Christianity and the end of Druid snake symbols.

In recent years biologists in Guam are trying to accomplish St. Patrick’s legendary feat.  Invasive brown tree snakes are devastating the island’s native birds.  The snakes must go.   So far the most ingenious plan has been to air drop 2,000 mice wearing tiny parachutes.  The mice were dead bait laced with a very small dose of acetaminophen that kills the brown tree snake but nothing else.

There was no need for Tylenol to eradicate this grass snake from Ireland.  Photographed in Europe, it cannot cross the sea.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons license. Click on the image to see the original)

2 responses so far

Nov 10 2013

Face In A Gall

Oak apple gall that looks like a face (photo by Kate St. John)

Before the oaks leafed out last spring I found this oak apple gall on a seedling at Cedar Creek Park.

When I bent down to look closely I saw the face.

Now that the leaves have fallen, look for fun features like this on the bare trees.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

One response so far

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