Nature Oddities


 

bloodroot

Native bloodroot started to bloom March 26 2020

 

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant.”

– Anne Bradstreet

This year, the winter here in Connecticut was warmer than usual and had little snow, but plenty of rain. Plants like star magnolias, forsythias and hellebore started to bloom early- here on the UConn campus a Hellebore bloomed the first week of March. A small snowstorm on March 23 brought two inches of snow in central Connecticut and was followed by enough rain to melt any snow cover off by the following day. Bloom progress on the star mags and forsythia came to a halt, but it should resume as flower buds were generally not damaged.

march snow 2020

March 23 snowstorm

Resident birds like turkeys are making their presence known as they go about the serious business of attracting mates. Their fanning of tail feathers and stomping around makes them hard to miss. Woodpeckers are also drumming to attract mates, and red-bellied woodpeckers send out their familiar call advertising what they deem the perfect nesting holes for potential females to check out. They often are inside these holes, just poking their heads out to call.

male turkeys fanning

Male turkeys fanning

Wood frogs and spotted salamanders have laid their eggs in vernal pools and they should be hatching any day now. Wood frog eggs tend to float to the water’s surface, while the salamander eggs are stuck on underwater stems. Both the eggs of wood frog and spotted salamander are sometimes invaded by certain symbiotic algae whose cells are transferred to the hatching generation of their amphibian hosts.

wood frog eggs floating on the surface of a vernal pool March 19 2020

Wood frog eggs masses on the surface of a vernal pool in March

An Eastern garter snake was encountered yesterday deep in the woods. This native snake can mate in March- early May and gives birth to live young in late June- August. This snake can tolerate cold weather and is commonly seen where there is an abundance of most vegetation where it will feed on toads, frogs, worms and other creatures.

garter snake in deep woods near a strem MArch 26 2020

Eastern garter snake in the woods

Lichens are an example of a symbiotic partnership between a fungus and an algae or a cyanobacterium. The fungal part depends upon the other component to survive. The rock tripe is a lichen that resembles dead leaves and is found living on rocks. Umbilicaria mammulata is the most common rock tripe. Soft and pliable like leather in moist weather, when conditions are dry these leaf-like lichens will shrivel and become quite brittle.

rock tripe lichen Umbilicaria

Rock tripe lichens on a boulder in the woods

Bracket fungi, or shelf, fungi comprise numerous species of the Polypore Family in the class basidiomycete. These fungi obtain energy through the decomposition of dead and dying plant matter. The visible fruiting body can be long- lived and hard like wood adding a new layer of living fungal matter at the base of the structure every year. Fungal threads are within the dead or dying woody host where they obtain nutrients.

Phellinus robiniae shelf fungi on decaying tree trunk

Phellinus robiniae shelf fungus are hard like wood

Wooly bear caterpillars, Colletes ground nesting bees and mourning cloak butterflies are a few insects that are active in March. Often seen crawling across lawns in late March, wooly bears are looking to pupate soon, while the Colletes are looking for pollens and nectar sources to provide food for their young, which hatch singly in nesting chambers that resemble ant hills. From the ground level.

Early flowering plants are a good source of pollen and nectar for bees. These include the Japanese andromeda, native bloodroot, spring flowering witch hazel native spicebush, willows, daffodils, crocus and dandelions.

spring witchhazel flowers

Spring flowering witch hazel

As you hike about, check out stalks of plants and small branches of shrubs for mantid eggs cases. These eggs masses resemble tan styrofoam and Mantids should hatch by mid-May, depending upon weather.

mantid egg case keeney st pl March 22 2020

Egg case of a praying mantis

Native sweet ferns, Comptonia peregrina, are blooming and leafing out. These aromatic small shrubs are members of the bayberry family and can be found in dry open woods where there are sandy, acid soils. They are a good spreading plant for difficult dry soils and slopes, and they are one of the host plants for the gray hairstreak butterfly.

sweet fern flowering and leafing out March 22 2020

Sweet fern catkins and new leaves

 

The days are warming up and soon the landscapes will be full of color. But even when it is not so bright and cheery outside, as Charles Dickens wrote ‘ Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own”

 

Pamm Cooper

 

blue skies and sunshine walk

This past weekend was a gift of blue skies and sunshine too good to return or ignore. I took a walk to reacquaint myself with the land outside of home and office walls. Too often winter restricts outdoor activity for those afraid of ice, mud and other slippery surfaces. Plus I hate chapped lips and cold fingers. The past few days hinted spring is making her travel plans to include the Northeast as a destination. Photos snapped  below are reminders of the walk showing new life and signs from the previous season.

mullien basal leaves feb2020

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

Mullien, (Verbascum thapsus), is sporting new growth leaves from last year’s basal rosette of leaves. The plant is a biennial weed, common along roadsides and trail edges. Records show it was introduced in the 1700’s with settlers, probably brought as seed for use as a medicinal herb. In summer it will send up a tall spike of five-petaled, yellow flowers. The leaves are covered in soft hairs giving the grey-green coloring.

Magnolia × soulangeana bud in Feb 2020

Saucer magnolia, (Magnolia x soulangeana), was spotted in a local yard with its buds swelling, another sure sign spring is on its way. The terminal bud contains the blossom. The smaller lateral buds are holding the leaves.  This photo clearly shows the bud scar where a leaf was attached to the branch last year. The raised bumps within the leaf scar are where the xylem and phloem connected to the leaf. Water and food is transported through the xylem phloem.

Stewartia buds feb 2020

Japanese Stewartia, (Stewartiapseudocamellia) buds are also swelling and elongating. This non-native specimen tree was planted locally also. When old enough it will produce white camillia-like flowers in summer.

stream and sun reflection

The bright sun reflected off the water of a small stream at the beginning of the trail. Green water plants were being tugged with the water’s flow.

sedge on waters edge feb 2020

Sedge was perking up, coming out of its dormancy. Sedges are identifiable by their sunken midrib sharp edges. Most of last year’s leaves will die back and rot away, providing nutrient release for this year’s foliage.

moss green

Patches of soft moss are coloring up a vibrant green throughout the forest, especially where the sun hit. Later in the season, after the tree leaf canopy blocks most light from them, the moss will slow down it growth. If a drought occurs, it will go dormant waiting out the time until it rains.

moss on roof feb2020

Here some moss grows on the roof protecting signage, which was mostly in the shade.

princess pine, club moss feb 2020

The patch of club moss is known as princess pine. It is neither a moss nor a pine. It is a plant in the group known as lycopodiums, is an ancient plant, dating from the Paleozoic era about 340 million years ago. It is very slow growing via a main runner which forks in two sending out more runners. Picking the shoots off runners very often decades of growth. It is not illegal to pick, as often thought, but it is highly discouraged by plant folks trying to maintain its presence in the ecosystem. They reproduce like ferns sending up candle-like projections as its fruiting structure containing the primitive plant’s spores.

lichen feb2020

Lichen was ever-present through the forest, indicating good air quality. Lichen will not grow in places with air pollution. Lichen is not harming any trees. It is not parasitic, only using the tree for structure. If you look around you will see it on fence posts and rocks proving it does not need a living plant to survive. Lichen is a combination of an algae and a fungus or or cyanobacteria living symbiotically, taking what it needs from each other and the air.

poison ivy vine feb2020

The aerial roots of this poison ivy vine are taking on a red color signifying its awakening. All parts of the poison ivy plant contain the oil urushiol which causes the allergic rash.

preying mantid egg mass feb2020

One leafless, many branched shrub was a favorite of praying mantids as I found two egg masses (ootheca) on its twigs. Each ootheca can contain several hundred eggs which will hatch in the late spring or summer, just in time to feast on other insect feeding on the shrub.

Gall on Oak

Another find on an oak twig is the spent gall. Oaks are host to many gall making insects A gall is a malformation of tissue caused by an insect injecting a chemical to make the oak tissue into a home and food for her young. Mostly galls are just cosmetic, not causing much harm. Some galls will kill twigs.

oak juvenile holding leaves feb2020

Here a young oak hangs on to its spent leaves produced last year. The leaves have died but do not fall and remain on the tree. The term for this retention of dead plant matter is marcescence. Is is most common on juvenile oak and beech trees.

beech in winter

Above is a young beech with bleached out leaves. It will drop these of last year once new green leaves begin to emerge.

mountain laurel feb2020

The native mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), provides a rich green to the understory and trail edges. Late May will bring its flowers, especially in sunny spots.

mountain laurel leaf spot feb2020

Mountain laurel is commonly attacked by a several leaf spot diseases, especially in dense areas where there is little airflow. These diseases are usually not deadly, just unsightly. Most highly infected leaves will drop and new, clean leafs will be produced.

blue trail mark closer

Trees marked with blue paint are part of the CT Forest and Park Association’s Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail System. They have 825 miles of maintained trails all across Connecticut and charted in the CT Walk Book and through a free interactive map APP for your phone. https://www.ctwoodlands.org/blue-blazed-hiking-trails

Happy hiking and walking in the woods.

Walk in woods

by Carol Quish, all photos by CQuish, UConn

 

P1000305II

The fabulous Luna moth

Thus hath the candle singed the moth.

-William Shakespeare

Anyone who has lived in New England and been around outdoor lights in May or June may have encountered some of our giant silkworm moths which  .are members of the Saturniidae moths. The diminutive slug moths, Limacodiae, are perhaps not as well known, but they are commonly attracted to lights as well. Both are natives here in Connecticut and are spectacular in their own way.

luna moth puparium

Luna moth puparium inside the leaf shelter made by the caterpillar

The Cecropia moth and its caterpillar are likely the champs, the Goliaths of their peers. The  moth may be as large as a man’s hand, and the caterpillar comes close to the same size, at least in length. Late instar caterpillars can be heavy enough to cause small branches to droop. Caterpillars feed on locally preferred plants, especially cherry, ash and apple, but also other woody plants. Cocoons are made of leaves tied tightly together lengthwise along twigs or small branches, where they may remain all winter. Pupation takes place inside this structure.

cecropia on elderberry 7-11-16

Cecropia caterpillar is over three inches long in the final instar

cecropia female 9p.m. same day as emrged from cocoon 5-31-13 - Copy

Female Cecropia moth

 

Luna moths are probably the most recognized giant silkworm moth with their light green color and a pair of long tails streaming from the hind wings. Polyphemus are another species that have beautiful blue and yellow eye spots on the hind wings. Late instar Polyphemus caterpillars have striking white dots along their body that shimmer with silver at certain angles in bright sunlight.

 

polyphemus just out

Polyphemus moth just after emerging from its cocoon

Promethea moths have a strong preference for spicebush, sassafras and cherry for caterpillar host plants. Along with Io moths, their caterpillars follow each other in the very early instars, forming a train-like procession as they travel over a leaf. Both species also feed together for much of their life as a caterpillar.

promethea cats

Promethea caterpillars still hanging out together

Promethea moth female 2010 raised from egg found on sassafrass Belding

promethea moth cocoon

Cocoon of the Promethea moth is inside this leaf tied to the host plant

All silkworm moths lack fully developed mouths and cannot feed. They mate soon after emerging from their cocoons, as their life span as a moth is short. All overwinter as pupa and most emerge mid- May and onward the following year. Eggs are large and smooth. Somewhat flattened, and may be laid singly or in small to large rafts, depending upon species.

On the opposite side of the spectrum as far as size goes are the slug moths and their caterpillars which may be only one centimeter in size. Often found in late summer or early fall, the caterpillars often resemble galls or something else of uncaterpillar-like. They have medial suckers instead of legs and they glide along like slugs.

Red-eyed Button slug september 13, 2009 on small black cherry 12 tee GHills

Red-eyed button slug caterpillar

Always be careful not to touch caterpillars of the slug moth as many have spines that can inflict a painful sting that feels like being stabbed with dozens of hot hypodermic needles. One of the worst stings is from the aptly named saddleback, which has both its rear and tail ends covered with stinging spines. This year, green briar was a preferred host in the north central part of Connecticut, but they can be found on a variety of other plants including oaks, cherry, blueberry and sometimes herbaceous perennials.

saddleback on green briar a favorite host plant in 2019

Saddleback is aptly named

Slug moths are attracted to lights, and if identified, a search of larval host plants nearby may yield some caterpillars. Feeding takes place along leaf edges, and sometimes a shiny trail is left where they have glided along the leaf. Adult sightings peak in midsummer, with caterpillars found from June- October. Like the giant silkworms, adult slug moths do not eat.

smaller parasa caterpillar

Smaller Parasa slug moth caterpillar

 

The smaller parasa reminds me of a Shar-Pei. They have retractable spines, but they are mostly hidden inside warts along the back. When threatened, spines protrude in small clusters from the warts. I have found these most often on oaks, but they will feed on other woody plants also.

Smaller Parasa attracted to light

Smaller parasa moth

 

Skiff moth caterpillars have steep sides and have a short, sharp tail on the rear. Various brown markings help them blend in with dead plant tissue, so they may be hard to find. This slug cat is often found on the upper sides on leaves, though, rather than the undersides where other slug caterpillars are found. Moths can be found early in the night around outdoor lights near woods.

skiff moth back deck July 25, 2009

Skiff moth

skiffy
Skiff moth caterpillar

spiny oak slug caterpillar

Spiny oak slug caterpillar

crown slug on oak ruby fenton 10-2-11

crown slug

Next year, be on the alert for our native slug moths and giant silkworm moths. Check around outdoor lights in May- June for the moths, and look on specific host plants for  the different species of these interesting caterpillars. The excitement never ends…

 

Pamm Cooper

mouse in seed pail

Mouse feasting in bucket of stored grass seed. P.Cooper photo.

Mice are seeking places to spend the winter and actively moving from outdoors to just about any protected area, including our homes, garages, shed and cars. They need shelter from the wet and cold weather like us and prefer to take advantage of areas humans have already created. Any dry and relative warm spot with access to food or an area to store scavenged food will do nicely. Car engines are another favorite nesting spot as they are sometimes warm and provide great protections from predators and weather. Mice will chew on wiring and filters under the hood causing considerable damage and cost for repairs.

House mice can live outdoors in good weather, but some will live in houses year round. They can have 8 litters of young per year with 5 to 6 babies each time. That is a lot of mice! Nests are usually made with 3o feet of a food source to keep the mother in close range with her young. Most often mice are active during the night.

mice in bird house must be evicted when old enough

Mouse family nesting in a birdhouse.

First line of defense to keep mice out of houses is to be preventive by sealing up or blocking points of entry. Seal cracks and crevices with spray foam around foundation where the sill plate attaches the frame of the home. Make sure doors and windows fit properly and use weather stripping. Mice can flatten their skeleton and cartilage to fit through a ¼ inch gap. They commonly squeeze through small gaps around wires and pipes entering the home. Mice are great climbers of trees and sides of buildings to gain access to attics and wall spaces. Trim overhanging tree branches, and prune back foundation planting from touching the house. Keep grass, brush and vegetation away from foundation. Inside the home, eliminate clutter which serves as hiding spots and nesting material. Attic and dryer vents can be covered with hardware cloth and caulk the edges.

Eliminate food sources for mice. If you are feeding the birds, you are also feeding the mice. Spilled seed on the ground attracts mice and other animals closer to the house. Cat and dog food left out all day in a dish for on demand feeding for your pet offers mice an anytime buffet, too. Store dry animal food, including dog biscuits in a hard, metal container.  Mice can chew through very hard plastic containers with their gnawing teeth.

Repellents are available which claim to keep mice away. One type emits a high-frequency sound humans are not likely to detect but animals do not like. Caution should be used as pets may not like either. Some versions are made for use under car hoods to keep mice out of engines. Scented mouse repellents are available containing various mixtures of peppermint, cloves, hot pepper capsaicin. Planting mint around the foundation is reported to work as a deterrent. Some folks claim mothballs will repel mice, but this is not a legal use of the product, and in practice mice have been known to relocate the stinky orbs out of their area.

Mouse control will be needed if your find activity or signs of mice inside the home. Sometimes you can hear them chewing on the wooden structure making up the house. Finding the tell-tale black droppings which look like a small grain of rice, only black, is means for action in that area.

mouse trap

Mouse trap places with the snap end against wall.

Control options are traps or poisons. Traps should be placed where you find the droppings. Mice prefer to run along the edge of the wall rather than out on the open floor. Place set traps butted up against a wall. Peanut butter is a great bait to use to attract them to the trap. There are many different traps on the market from the old-fashioned wooden base snap traps to battery operated traps with a metal plate which electrocutes the mice. I saw a new one which uses a funnel system and extremely small and strong rubber bands which snaps over their head causing a quick a death. There are also humane live traps where the mouse enters, the door closes behind it, and then you take the trap and mouse outside to release it still alive, just take it far away from your house.

Poisons are rodenticides regulated by the federal government. Always read and follow label directions. Mouse poisons can affect other non-target animals by directly eating the poison, or up the food chain if another animal or bird eats a mouse that ate the poison.  Also mice do not always leave the building after ingesting the poison, sometimes dying in the walls creating an odor as they decompose in an inaccessible site. Insects can find the carcass to assist in the decomposition process which brings another problem of bugs or flies into the home. Once the dead animal is completely decomposed, odor and insects should go away.

-Carol Quish

cobrahead weeder and red gloves

It is harvest time in the vegetable garden, doing end of season gathering of squash this week. The vines of the honeynut butternut and spaghetti squash have all withered and dried signaling the squashes are ready to be picked. Once the color deepens and skins toughen the fruit should be cut from the vines and cleaned up. I wash them in a slight bleach solution to remove any fungi and bacteria that might cause rot once they are placed in storage in my cool hatchway to the basement where they will not freeze. Wrapping each in a sheet of newspaper to keep them from touching is an added measure to help retard decomposition.

Squash harvest 2019

Back in the garden I pulled all of the vines to add to the compost or burn any diseased plant remains. Insect problems from this year might over winter in the plant debris so cleaning up the beds is recommended. While I am there, I scrape the soil with my 20 year old CobraHead hand-weeder, my favorite tool. When held horizontally it only disturbs the top inch or so of soil while I remove any weeds without bringing up many weed seeds from deeper in the soil which might germinate next year. Even though I am only disturbing shallow depths of the ground, some insects come crawling, wiggling and moving out of what they thought was a safe place to spend the winter. It is amazing to sit on my little garden stool and watch the life emerge from what at first glance, appears to be lifeless or dormant.

cobrahead weeder

First to emerge from the soil was a crazy snake worm, (Amynthas agrestis). They are an invasive species from distant lands of Korea and Japan, and do not belong in my New England garden. They move in an ‘S’ pattern and rather quickly, but they are no match for my fast, gloved hand to grab and toss into a repurposed ricotta container rescued from the recycle bin to live another life as a worm container of death. A few more swipes of the CobraHead and several more make an appearance only to be promptly deposited to the dreaded, dry plastic vessel too tall from them to slither out.

snakeworms 2

Normally worms are considered a beneficial being in the soil, but not snake worms. They damage the soil by eating large amounts of organic matter and leaving behind their castings (poop) which resembles Grapenuts cereal, small granules of black matter. Their castings change the micro biome of the soil making plants less likely to survive. There are not legally allowed control measure for obnoxious invaders except for hand removal of them. There is some research work being done at the University of Vermont and more around the Great Lakes as the snake worms are having a very large detrimental effect on the forest floor in those areas. Crazy snake worm adults will die when the ground freezes, but they leave behind their eggs, called cocoons, which will survive the cold to hatch next spring.

The next critter that made an appearance was an earwig. My gardens have always had a lot of these brown decomposers of dead plant material, but occasionally I they will feed on live leaves, flowers and fruit. Normally they do very little harm, despite their fierce looking pinchers on their butt end. They use their forceps for defense and offense, and will pinch skin if you hold one in your hand. Earwigs overwinter in the adult stage, coming out of their dormant period in the spring to ensure their population continues yet another year.earwig 10-19

Grubs are the larval stage of beetles. There are many beetles which inhabit soil and above ground spaces. Most lays eggs in or on the soil, which hatch into grubs that feed on plant roots. Grubs in the lawn can cause significant damage, so do grubs in the vegetable garden when they feed on the roots of my vegetable plants. As a general rule, I squish grubs when I find them in my vegetable beds, even though some adult beetles may be considered beneficial by feeding on other pests. In my garden, the Asiatic garden beetle is the predominate one, causing lots of feeding damage on my leaf crops. They love basil, effectively stripping plants seemingly overnight.

The vibrations of my scraping the soil seemed to bring armies of squash bug nymphs and adults to surface where I was working and to adjacent areas yet to be disturbed. This was the squash bed and I expected the squash pests to be where the cucurbit crop was grown, but I didn’t anticipate the crowd that came to see why I was unearthing their winter abode. Only the adult stage is listed as overwintering, but I found many nymphs not yet developed to their mature adult stage. I hope the cold will kill them so I don’t have to squish many more.

squash bug adult 10-19

Adult Squash Bug

 

The final insect I found while digging wasn’t crawling or moving. It was the resting stage of a moth, which species, I do not know. It was the pupa without many identifying features. I have yet to find a book just on moth pupae, but I am still looking. Once I found the pupa of a tomato hornworm, identifying itself by the hookshaped ‘horn’ on the end of the pupal case. I wish I had taken a photo of that one!

pupa, moth 10-19

-Carol Quish

 

zinnias 10-19

 

Sunflower in its glory

“This morning, the sun endures past dawn. I realize that it is August: the summer’s last stand.”
― Sara Baume,

August is a favorite month for me as many things I have been looking forward to in the scene have now arrived. Whether in the garden or in the natural environment, there are plants, birds, insects and other things that seem to be more interesting to encounter later in the summer than earlier.

Late bloomers like Caryopteris (bluebeard), turtle head, goldenrods, boneset and spotted Joe-pye weed add interest to the garden and provide food for bees and butterflies before the cold weather sets in. Closed gentians put in a more subtle appearance hidden under shrubs and small trees along pond, stream and lake edges. As many bees are active right until cold weather sets in, these late bloomers are of special value.

wool carder bee at Hill Stead museum sunken garden 8-20-2019 Pamm Cooper photo

Wool carder bee at Hill Stead Museum sunken garden 8-20-2019

Canna lilies and Caladiums, great annuals for foliage color and texture, should be at their peak foliage development now. While still in bloom, check out hedges and borders of hibiscus, hydrangeas and rose-of-Sharon that can make attractive screens with their colorful flowers in August. The hardy hydrangeas will also continue to delight throughout the next month or so as their flowers change colors as they age.

S

Sun backlighting ‘Calypso’ Canna lily leaves

hibiscus border

hibiscus border

‘Little lambs’ hydrangea

Numerous butterflies are out and about, although this year many species seemed few and far between. Monarchs, though were numerous. One butterfly that was an unexpected surprise-seen just about everywhere, it seems- is the common buckeye. Usually considered vagrants from the south, they were here as early as June and were breeding throughout the summer

 

Spicebush swallowtail on salvia

Two common buckeyes amid wild blue vervain and boneset August 2019

Check out Rudbeckia  flowers for the diminutive camouflage looper caterpillar which cuts flower petals and sticks them on its body to hide from potential predators. There are also many other small loopers that can be found on black-eyed Susan flowers.

Camouflaged looper with flower parts slapped on it to hide from predators

 

Sunflowers are a winsome addition to any garden and are easy to start from seed in June. There are many varieties to choose from, and some are pollen-less for cutting and floral arrangements. ‘Firecatcher’ has flowers that smell like Juicy Fruit™ gum.

Sunflowers can be started from seed and should be in full bloom by the end of August

Yellow sunflower

Orchards are having a terrific harvest this year. Rains were not as abundant as last year, but the sun was, so fruits like peaches and nectarines are especially sweet this August. Native trees and shrubs that ripen their fruit early include the sassafras and some viburnums, and birds will usually eat the fruits before they drop off to the ground.

sassafras fruit

Sassafras fruit

Along hiking trails, in open fields and in the woods, the caterpillars that are found from August until fall are usually more robust, colorful and generally larger than their spring and early summer counterparts. Sphinx, giant silkworm, dagger, tiger and prominent moth caterpillars are some of the more interesting ones. Generally not pests, several can occur in large enough numbers in the garden landscape to cause alarm, such as the Datanas, but in the wild, they are not a major concern. Slug caterpillars are small but many can inflict a painful sting if the urticating spines are touched. One of the more notorious is the spiffy looking saddleback caterpillar.

 

Early instar saddleback caterpillar August 2019

Northern pine sphinx

 

At any time of year check out the skies for colorful sunsets, sunriss and cloud formations. Indicative of weather to come, clouds and sky colors are good to learn about. A sweet little book on clouds and other phenomena of the skies is “The Cloud Collector’s Handbook” by Gavin Pretor-Pinney.  Like anything else, it takes practice and careful study to correctly identify anything, clouds being no exception.

August dawn with a crescent moon

August 28 2019 dawn with a crescent moon

I will be enjoying the rest of August and the upcoming September, which I hope will be warm. Keep your eyes open for migrating night hawks and tree swallows. which are starting their southern journey now. Large flocks of tree swallows were seen this last week of August week at Hammonasset Beach State Park.

tree swallows Hammonasset August 28 2019

tree swallows Hammonasset State Park August 28 2019

 

One last note- if you are hiking along a woodland trail and come across a single strand of spider silk running between two trees, follow it to the main web. It is likely a spiny orb weaver, Micrathena gracilis , which eats her web every day and builds a new one in an hour the next day.

Micrathena gracilis spider

 

Pamm Cooper

 

 

The gorgeous flowers of the  horse chestnut are blooming this week. Aesculus hippocastanum is commonly called European Horsechestnut or Common Horsechestnut. The massive trees are fast growers and need plenty of room to spread out and reach high. Never plant one near or under power lines. The panicle flowers are normally white with parts of pink and yellow. There is another variety with pink flowers as shown below. Horsechestnut fruit is not edible for humans and are called conkers. The shiny nuts look nice displayed in a dish for nature lovers, just don’t try to crack and eat them!
red horse chestnut.jpg

Red Horsechestnut Flower

Luna moth sighting have been reported around the state this week. They are a strikingly large and beautiful, with only a brief seven days of life in its adult stage. They are nocturnal spending the night seeking a mate with females laying eggs for next year’s generation. Occasionally they will fly towards a light even landing on a screen door with lights on inside. Host trees providing leaves for caterpillars to eat are walnut, hickory, sweet gum, and paper birch.

Luna moth A.Saalfrankphoto 6-4-2017 - Copy

Luna Moth

In the vegetable garden asparagus beetles are very active, feeding, mating and laying eggs. As can be seen in the lower photo, eggs are laid on on point sticking horizontally at a 90 degree angle to the stem and off of the flower bud stem. Crush all eggs by running you hand up and down each stalk. Catch adults beetles and crush or drop into a container of soapy water to rid them from the asparagus patch.

asparagus beetle May 19 2019 Pamm

Asparagus Beetle

asparagus beetle eggs May 20 2019

Asparagus Beetle Eggs

Another oddity was sent to my office this week. This is an Apple Oak Gall produce by a developing tiny, cynipid wasp. The adult female wasp injects the egg and a chemical into leaf tissue, causing the leaf to distort and makes a home and food for the newly hatched larva. Once the larva is big enough, it pupates inside the gall, only coming out once the gall is empty and dry. There are not enough wasp and galls to cause harm to the tree, so they are only considered cosmetic not a pest.

apple oak gall 2, RZilinski photo

Apple Oak Gall

Another gall I found this week was the Wool Sower Gall on a white oak tree.  The gall is caused by secretions from the developing wasp larva, secretions of , (Callirhytis seminator). These galls and wasp damage are also not harmful to the tree. The wasps are not dangerous to humans as they do not sting.

wool sower gall 2 - Copy

Wool Sower Gall on white oak.

Other galls we have seen in past made by insects are the grape tube gallmaker galls on grape leaves, (Schizomyia viticola). Grape tube gallmaker is a species of mite that forms a gall on New World grape leaves. Larvae feed inside the tubes and are free from predators as they feed on the deformed plant tissue. Again only cosmetic to the plant.

grape tubemaker gall

Grape Tube Galls on grape leaf.

Finger galls form on a cherry leaf below. Eriophyid mites are the gall makers here. They are microscopic mites developing inside the raised, malformed tissue. Mites can be identified by the structures they create on their host plant.

finger galls on small cherry

Finger Galls on a cherry leaf.

Velvetleaf galls on sweet birch develop from the feeding of the  velvet eriophyid gall mite.  Reddish-patches are called an erinea, can also occur on silver maple. (JLaughman photo).

velvet gall on birch,Jean Laughman photo, 6-8-18

The soil bacterium, Agrobacterium tumefaciens, can cause galls, tumors in this case, on the crown, roots and sometimes branches of susceptible host plants. Euonymus is commonly infected. The bacterium can enter a plant via any tissue damage that normally happens during pruning or transplanting. Agrobacterium tumefaciens is also used as a tool in the laboratory in genetic engineering to introduce genes into plants in a natural way.

crown gall - Copy

Crown Gall, Agrobacterium tumefaciens.

-Carol Quish

tulip tree bloom

Tulip tree in flower

 

“ The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.”

  • Henry Van Dyke, Fisherman’s Luck

 

The first day of spring was in March and I feel like we have been gypped so far in 2019. The expected arrival of warm weather, or just sunny days for that matter, has not come upon us yet. The almost daily rains of April and May so make Seattle look dry by comparison. But enough griping about the weather. May is here and with it come the birds, flowers and butterflies that winter had kept at bay.

red bud flowers May 6 2019

Eastern redbud trees flower in early May

Pinxter Azalea, Rhododendron periclymenoides, is a native rhododendron that has tubular pink and white fragrant flowers that appear just before the leaves expand. It is found in moist soils along stream or pond banks. Pinxters sometimes have a juicy, sweet “apple” gall formed by the fungus  Exobasidium vaccinaii.

pinxter flower native 5-22-15 Ruby Fenton - Copy

Pinxter azalea flowers

pinxter apple (2)

Pinxter apple is really a gall

Native tulip trees, Liriodendron tulipifera,  bloom in May, and when they do, it is apparent how they received their common name. Yellow and orange flowers resemble tulips, standing upright among the flat-tipped leaves. This tree is sometimes called yellow poplar and is one of the largest trees in North America, sometimes reaching a height of over ninety feet.

Some native wildflowers are putting in their appearance now. One of my favorites is the diminutive gaywings or fringed polygala-Polygala paucifolia. Usually no taller than 6 inches, these plants may go unnoticed along woodland edges or peeking up out of needles lying under white pines in open woods. The magenta flowers have three petals, one of which is keeled and ends in a pink fringe.

fringed polygala May 13, 2015 Pamm Cooper photo

Fringed polygala

Solomons’s seal is a native wildflower that is a good choice for use in woodland gardens. Its dangling white flowers along graceful, arching stems produce blue- black berries later in the fall. Hummingbirds will visit the fragrant, sweet smelling flowers. Geranium maculatum is another native wildflower that can be used in shade gardens.

variegated Solomon's seal

Variegated Solomon’s seal

Swallowtail and other butterflies are seen regularly now that temperatures (rising at a glacial pace!) have warmed up and plants have leafed out. Painted ladies and red admirals have arrived from their southern wintering areas, and other butterflies should eclose from their chrysalises as the weather warms up. The gray hairstreak, one of the first hairstreaks besides the spring azure to make its appearance in May, should be out in warmer areas of Connecticut.

first gray hairstreak seen 2018 may

Gray hairstreak butterfly in May

Migrating birds have been a little slow to return, but thrushes, Orioles, tanagers and veerys arrived at their usual time when oaks are in flower. Warblers are pushing through on their way to their northern breeding grounds. Magnolia warblers arrive as crabapples are blooming and may linger around until it warms up. Listen for bird songs of warblers on Cornell’s allaboutbirds.org website, and then see if you can spot them with a pair of trusty binoculars.

Wilsons 5-12-14

Wilson’s warbler passing through on its journey north

Green tree frogs have been trilling during the day and turtles may be seen as they begin to look for mates and afterward for suitable nesting sites. Efts and salamanders may be seen on rainy days, or on sunny days following rains, and box turtles often are seen as they cross roads during or after rainy days. Things always perk up a little for me I see my first eft of the red-spotted newt out and about, usually in mid-May.

eft form of red- spotted newt 2017

Eft form of the red-spotted newt

 

Of course, spring is not always a jolly time for gardeners. Lily leaf beetles, rose slug sawflies, asparagus beetles and gypsy moth caterpillars are here and carrying on with their plant damaging specialties. Check plants regularly to stop some of these pests in their tracks.

lily leaf beetle GHills mid- MAy 2018

The harbinger of doom for true lilies and fritillarias- the lily leaf beetle

T

 

But it is May. And May is not, by nature, a limpid herald of doom, but rather a forerunner of the warm, sunny days to come. Cheer up, little buttercup! The best is yet to come.

Pamm Cooper

 

wild columbine and geranium maculatum by a roadside

wild columbine and wild geraniums by a country roadside

Io female 9-20-15 II

Female Io moth has prominent eyespots to scare birds and other predators

Many insects never make it to adulthood to complete their life cycles because in the grand scheme of things, they are low on the food chain. There are no lack of creatures that rely upon insects for food, both for themselves, and perhaps their young as well.

rose hooktip moth cryptic

Rose hook tip moth is hard to see resting on leaf in the woods

But insects are not necessarily limpid little defenseless victims of a more sophisticated life form. They have strategies to overcome the odds of becoming dinner for something else. Some use camouflage, others are cryptic in manner and color while some have mastered the technique of veiling themselves with material. Others simply hang out  in plain sight, protected by urticating spines or irritating hairs.

tortoise larva II

Clavate tortoise beetle larva carries excrement and debris over its back by means of a forked appendage on the rear of its abdomen

The wavy- lined heterocampa feeds and rests along leaf edges and manages to blend in to avoid many predators. Other caterpillars are armed with urticating spines or irritating hairs that release toxins when touched. Lesson learned after contact with these guys.

wavy- lined heteocampa 2 on leaf edge

a wavy- lined heterocampa caterpillar is feeding along the lower right of the leaf edge

Camouflage loopers are small caterpillars that are found on composites. They take petals from the plant’s flowers and “glue“ them on their body. They blend in so well that the only evidence of their presence will be that the flowers seems to be deformed. Other loopers are twig mimics and hide in plain sight.

camo looper

A camouflage looper (center, top) is aptly named, attaching pieces of flower petals to its body to hide on goldenrod flowers

Io caterpillars- two instars Photo Pamm Cooper

Io moth caterpillars are covered with spines that give a painful sting when touched

Some insects form leaf shelters which they hide inside to avoid discovery. Stink bugs often use abandoned shelters of other insects, while the spicebush swallowtail caterpillar makes its own by folding a leaf lengthwise.

spicebush final instar photo copyright Pamm Cooper

The caterpillar of the spicebush swallowtail not only has huge eye spots, but it hides inside a folded leaf on its host plant

 

There are insects that have eye spots that may help scare off predators like birds and small animals. The eyed click beetle, female Io moth and the spicebush swallowtail caterpillar are a few examples of insects that use eyespots as a threat defense. Some prominent caterpillars, like the white furcula and the black-etched prominent have modified anal prolegs that are more like tails. When disturbed, they flail these around and may scare off parasitic insects and other threats. The small filament bearer looper has a pair of pale-tipped tentacles on its dorsum it can flail about when alarmed.

black etched

Black- etched prominent caterpillar flailing modified anal prolegs

eyed click beetle Ruby Fenton picnic table 6-15-14

Eyed click beetle

Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis bagworms spin a silk bag to which they attach host plant leaf material-whether pieces of leaves or needles. They remain safely inside until night comes, which is when they feed. Hard to detect when host plant material is fresh, during the winter look for the dangling brown bags. Remove as you see fit.

bagworm case on small oak sapling mt rd power line january 2019 Pamm Cooper photo II

Pieces of oak leaves were stuck on the silken bag of the Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis eastern bagworm.

Walking sticks are very cryptic in coloring, often blending in with leaf veins of host plants. Unless they move, they are very difficult to discover. Some loopers have coloring and markings that are very similar to their host plants, one being the oak besma caterpillar.

walking stick blending in on filbert July 1, 2014

Walking stick blends in with the leaf veins of native filbert

Viceroy and red- spotted purple butterfly early instar caterpillars eat leaf tips first and then rest on the exposed midrib where they are hard to see. Later instars hide in plain sight on upper sides of leaves, avoiding detection by resembling bird droppings and remaining stationary by day.

VICEROY CATERPILLAR resting along midrib of eaten leaf

Viceroy caterpillar on mid rib of eaten leaf tip

 

Some insect larvae feed within plants where they escape predation. Gall- forming insects, leaf miners, and borers are some examples of internal feeders. The female leaf rolling (or thief) weevil chews along oak leaves and rolls the flap tightly. It remains attached to the leaf, so the piece stays alive as the weevil larva feeds safely from inside this structure called a nidus.

Grape Tube Gallmaker galls on a wild grape leaf

Grape tube maker galls on wild grape

 

There are many other ways that insects can survive predation including cryptic coloring, hiding in leaf litter, and simply dropping from plants when alarmed. They may be small, but they are well equipped for their struggle to survive on planet earth.

oak besma twig mimic

Oak besma looper on right, oak twig of host plant on left

 

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

With the encroaching winter storm and dropping temperatures, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about a very interesting and unique soil order, the Gelisol. Soils are dynamic systems that are essential to life as we know it, and are nonrenewable resource that vary in physical and chemical composition throughout the world. Parent material (underlying bedrock, glacial deposits, wind-blown sediment, etc…), climate, topography, biological activity/factors, and time are the 5 soil forming factors. Different places on the planet will produce a wide variety of variations of these 5 factors. To help understand and classify soils, 12 different orders were formed. The 12 different Soil Taxonomy Orders are: Alfisols, Andisols, Aridisols, Entisols, Gelisols, Histosols, Inceptisols, Mollisols, Oxisols, Spodosols, Ultisols, and Vertisols. Each order has unique properties that are a result of 5 soil-forming factors.

gelisols global map

Figure 1: Global Distribution of Gelisols (NRCS https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/soils/survey/class/maps/?cid=stelprdb1237761)

Gelisols are, in my opinion, the most interesting and important soil orders. The Soil Science Society of American defines Gelisols as soils that are “permanently” frozen containing permafrost within 100 centimeters of the soil surface, and/or gelic materials within 100 centimeters and permafrost within 200 centimeters of the soil surface. Permafrost is soil and rock that remains below 0 degrees Celsius for a minimum of 2 years; and “gelic materials” are soil components that show evidence of cryoturbation, or frost churning, a mechanism unique to gelisols. Cryoturbation is the irregular breaking and mixing of soil horizons (think different segmented layers of soil) via the movement of water caused by seasonal melts and thaws. To clarify, just because your front yard is frozen for a few months in the winter is not enough to classify the soil within as a gelisol.

gelisols soil stelprdb1237732

Figure 2: A Gelisol (SSSA https://www.soils.org/discover-soils/soil-basics/soil-types/gelisols)

According to the United States Geological Survey, around 9% of global ice-free land area contain gelisols. They are found in tundra and cold-weather environments, which has made them a hot topic of conversation as the effects of climate change are becoming more obvious. Trapped within the permafrost, contained within gelisols are large amounts of preserved carbon. Over thousands of years, during the last ice age, carbon was deposited in permafrost as ice sheets advanced and retreated. Bedrock was ground into fine silts and dust via glacial movement. This glacial flour was blown across the world and deposited, covering everything in sight, including plants and animals. Quick burial in cold environments doesn’t allow for decomposition of organic material. So as a result, modern day gelisols are a giant carbon reservoir. As climate change continues, the environments containing gelisols are more at risk of melting. Melting gelisols means that the organic material within them are now subject to rapid degradation. The decomposition of organic matter releases carbon in various forms, the most dangerous being methane. Methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas that acts to trap light in heat within our atmosphere. Hopefully you can see the problem: increasing climate change has the potential to thaw gelisols, releasing large reservoirs of methane into the atmosphere, effectively increasing the rate of climate change exponentially. Quite literally adding fuel to the fire.

baby the bison

Figure 3: Babe, the bison was found in thawing permafrost is estimated to be around 36,000 years old. (Photo by: Bill Schmoker (PolarTREC 2010), Courtesy of ARCUS)

-Joe Croze, UConn Soil Lab

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