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.”
July is the time when bees have wars. I knew nothing about this until Facebook-friend Chad Steele described a war at his hive on July 21.
Chad wrote, “During a walk yesterday there was a huge cloud of bees all around and over the hive. At first I thought they were swarming. But looking closer, it appeared that there was another swarm trying to get into the hive, especially where I just put on the new boxes.I got even closer and saw bees fighting each other to the death.”
I asked my bee-keeping friend, Joan Guerin, to tell me more. She explained that in July there’s a dearth of nectar because spring flowers have finished and late summer flowers have not ramped up. Hungry bees go scouting for nectar and when they find a colony with weak defenses they try to get in. Successful scouts go back home and recruit more invaders. The war is on!
Chad found this out first-hand. Wearing his bee-keeping gear, “I got into the fray again, inside the older boxes, and pulled out a frame to get some idea what was occurring… And I was surprised to see hundreds of bees uncapping the honey cells, and drinking it!! Occasionally there was one being attacked by another bee… The cloud of bees was huge and after putting the frame back I concluded that this was a takeover.”
The drama began silently a few months before. Chad figured out that the queen had died in late May or June and no queen succeeded her. With no new eggs and bees being born in the colony the worker population dwindled. By July Chad’s hive was a much smaller group, unable to defend their colony.
Ultimately, the invaders stole the honey and the old hives’ workers completely died out. Chad has left two boxes in place in hopes that a honeybee swarm, looking for a new home, will come in and start a new colony. “That is how we got this one, so it could happen again. Especially since there is obviously a strong hive somewhere nearby …Time will tell.”
Watch the video above to see bees attack a few invaders at a hive in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Who knew that honeybees fight to the death in hand-to-hand combat? I learn something new every day.
If you’re afraid of snakes, please pretend this is a big “S” or close your eyes while you read.
I’m inspired to write about eastern hognose snakes today because summer is prime time for reptiles in Pennsylvania and a remark made in the PA-Herps Facebook group has stuck with me since last winter: “The only way to get bitten by a hognose snake is to smell like its prey.”
The eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos) is native from Minnesota to southern New Hampshire, from Florida to eastern Texas. It is more than two feet long and comes in so many colors and patterns that it defies an easy description.
I imagine that during summer’s heat I might see a hognose snake but the chance is slim. I don’t look for snakes because I can’t identify most of them and some are poisonous. My caution prevents discovery.
When threatened, the neck is flattened and the head is raised off the ground, not unlike a cobra. [Cobra!!] They also hiss and will strike, but they do not attempt to bite. The result can be likened to a high speed head-butt. If this threat display does not work to deter a would-be predator, a hognose snake will often roll onto its back and play dead, going so far as to emit a foul musk from its cloaca and let its tongue hang out of its mouth.
If I managed to get close to a calm hognose I’d see why he has this name — an upturned nose like a hog.
But I’m not eager to get so close. If I scared him, the “cobra act” would frighten me. The “high speed head-butt” would give me a heart attack. Both the snake and I would be lolling on the ground with our tongues hanging out.
S is for Sometimes Scary.
(photo of an eastern hognose snake from Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons license. I have vertically flipped the original image to make an S. Click on the image to see the original at Wikimedia)
p.s. Despite the tone of this article, I am not afraid of snakes.
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.
… and this view from a different angle.
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.
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.
Here’s an annotated closeup of one of the billbugs on my office window. This is a view of his underside because he was outside on the glass.
Billbug as seen through a window (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)
UPDATE 18 June 2015: Ben Coulter and Monica Miller have identified this weevil as Odontopus calceatus, a.k.a. Yellow Poplar Weevil, not Curculio as I read in the paper last year(*). Don’t believe everything you read in the paper!