catalpa flowers 6-25-18 Pamm Cooper photo

Flowers of the Catalpa tree

 “ Nature gives to every  time and season some beauties of its own

– Charles Dickens

After a cool, wet spring and a similar June, July came in like a jalapeno pepper and is staying that way for a while, at least. It is a good thing that our native plants are adaptable to the swings in both temperature and water availability fluctuations. I am also a native New England carbon-based anatomical wonder, but I have a more difficult time with excessive heat coupled with high humidity. The one good thing about this time of year, though, is the wealth of interesting flora and fauna that provide a little excitement, if that is what you need, as you venture outside.

Bittersweet and an old truck

Bittersweet growing through the cab of an abandoned truck

Some of the most spectacular caterpillars are works of progress at this time, and also in late summer and early fall. Daggers, sphinx and prominent caterpillars are always interesting finds for me. They get larger than spring-feeding caterpillars, and often have warts, knobs, hairs and colors that make them stand out. Furculas, for instance, are prominents that have anal prolegs that act more like tails. When disturbed, they flail them about and that action may drive predators away. Sphinx caterpillars usually have horns on the rear end and may get quite large before they pupate. Most are not pests, but beware of the tobacco hornworm if you grow tomatoes.

wavy lined heterocampa lookimg toward the sky Pamm Cooper copyrighted

A wavy-lined heteocampa, a prominent moth caterpillar, looking toward the sky

early instar blinded sphinx July 4 2018 Pamm Cooper photo

Very small blinded sphinx caterpillar

Most milkweeds bloom Between June and late July. This year common milkweed is almost done none in many areas. Soon the swamp milkweeds will bloom, though. Milkweeds are important sources of nectar and pollen for many bees, moths and butterflies, and many other insects feed on the foliage and flowers. Check any of the milkweeds, including native and non-native butterfly weed, for the monarch butterfly caterpillars.

fritillary and skippers 7-11-14 on swamp milkweed

Fritillary and skipper butterflies on swamp milkweed in July

Most birds have raised their first broods, and many are started a second one. pIleated woodpeckers may be seen directing their young to food sources. These include trees and logs in which carpenter ants are actively feeding. Although  pileateds are very large, if not for their raucous calls and loud drumming that give them away, they can be elusive to find unless you know where they live.

Pileated Case Mountain Pamm Cooper photo

Pileated woodpecker

Butterflies have not been as abundant as last year, especially the red admirals and painted ladies. Since these are migratory, one wonders if they were held up in the southern areas and now the second generation be arrive later on.  Hairstreaks and skippers also were few and far between, but now the summer ones are starting to put in an appearance. I was delighted and surprised to have a white admiral butterfly visit the flowers in my backyard gardens this week. In all the time I have spent in the outdoors, I have only ever seen three of these, and this one was a hybrid, likely a result of a red-spotted purple/white admiral matchup.

white admiral cross backyard bush honeysuckle 6-30-2018 IIPamm Cooper

White admiral hybrid

Some summer flowering trees like the exotic mimosa, or hardy silk tree, should bloom in July. We are glad to have one of these on the UConn Campus, just outside of the Wilbur Cross building. Its flowers are pink, fragrant and showy, and to my mind look like fluffs of cotton candy. Catalpa trees finish blooming in early July, dropping their white flowers to the ground like a summer snow.

hardy silk tree UConn Wilbur

Hardy silk tree, or Mimosa

Wildflowers that begin bloom in July include the Canada lily, Lilium canadense, and the wood lily. Both attract butterflies and are a striking hint of color among ferns and herbaceous plants in sunny areas. In the woods, look for Indian pipe, a surprising member of the blueberry family which has no chlorophyll. White in color, you can see how it got its nickname- the ghost plant.

indian pipe

Indian pipe

Canada Lily Lilium canadense 7-14-13

Canada lily Lilium canadense

Fawns are here, being carefully trained by their mothers to be sure to sample hostas, yews, phlox and other tasty garden plants. Knowing this behavior inspired me to put plants that the deer are known not to like, at least for this moment in time, on the edges of my garden beds. I tuck the plants they seem to like to nibble on far enough behind the plants they will not eat, that so far- three years now- they leave stuff alone.

When we get afternoon or early evening thunderstorms, remember to look for rainbows once the sun starts to shine again. If there is going to be a rainbow, it will appear where the storm is still passing through, but the sun has to be behind you.  We can get some great clouds any time of year, so don’t forget to look up now and then, especially in the early morning and late evening around sunset.

rainbow with faint double above

Rainbow over Bolton, Ct. July 3, 2018

Enjoy your time outdoors, even if it is time spent in your own backyard. You can see good and interesting things on nature shows and the weather channels, but it is far better to see it for yourself. The excitement never ends…

Pamm Cooper

feed me Pamm Coope rphoto

Don’t forget to stay cool!

 

 I love insects. They are amazing.”  Andrea Arnold  

The UConn Bug Week programs were held over the last week of July this year and for our particular Bug Week event on July 30, we started early on in the season acquainting ourselves with the world of insects and searching high and low for specimens we could find and then bring home with us to raise. While rearing insects, you learn a lot about what they do, what they eat, how they behave and what their life cycles are.

Some of the fabulous volunteers -Bug Week 2016 Amy Estabrook photo

Some of our Master Gardener Volunteers- Amy Estabrook photo

We had several bug hunts from early June on and went to specific areas searching for specific insects and any surprises that might turn up. Volunteers from the Master Gardener program spent two months looking for and raising insects in the hope that they would be available as live specimens for our event on July 30. Of course, many pupated and that was that. But we still had a lot of wonderful specimens to show all the people that attended our program. We had display boards that our volunteers made for their particular insects, and with the live specimens, people got to see insects up close and personal.

Bug Week 2016 Suzi Zitser photo of Debbi Wright's display board

Debbi Wright’s fabulous display for the Virginia Creeper sphinx moth- Suzi Zitser photo

Our event was held at the Tolland County Agricultural Center, home to the Tolland County UConn Extension Office. There are over 35 acres of woodland, wetland and open environments, plus pollinator and butterfly- friendly plantings all over the property, so we were able to go outdoors and take advantage of all the gardens and wood lines to search for insects.

bugweek 2016 earl parent photo

Volunteers show visitors our insects. Photo by Earl Parent

Among the insects we had for specimens and displays caterpillars of the clear dagger moth, mottled prominent, Virginia creeper sphinx, milkweed tussock moth, Monarch butterfly, stink bugs of all kinds, Imperial moth caterpillars (just hatching that day), tobacco hornworms on their favorite tomato host, beetles, John Suhr’s moth and butterfly collection plus the UConn Natural History Museum brought some specimens from their fabulous collection. Other specimens included red-lined panapoda caterpillars and orange-striped oak worm caterpillars. We also had two walking sticks which were found in early June when they were the size of a thumbnail.

walking stick and friend bug week 2016 Earl Parent photo

One of our walking sticks out for a walk- Earl Parent photo

AMy Estabrook photo of Leslie and friends and a walking stick Amy Estabrook photo

Amy Estabrook took this photo of Leslie showing our walking stick to two small guests

We had three bug walks as well, and found interesting insects of all kinds- a Buffalo treehopper, leaf-footed bug nymph, silver-spotted skipper caterpillar, an apple maggot fly, a salt marsh tiger moth and a chickweed geometer moth just to name just a few. Many butterflies were also floating by  as we did our walks and we ended up seeing them again  when we got to the butterfly garden.

Bug Hunt with Jean Laughman

Jean Laughman finds some good insects on her beating sheet

 

The TAC Center has one of the best butterfly gardens going, and has been well maintained by Tina Forsberg and Jean Laughman. It has a spicebush in the center of one side and on it we found 6 spicebush swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, one of which was only a couple of days old. Hummingbird moths, swallowtail, crescent, skipper and, brush foot butterflies were there, and we even found a tiger swallowtail egg on a small black cherry.

chickweed geometer moth Bug Week insect hunt Pamm Cooper photo

Chickweed geometer moth Pamm Cooper photo

Butterfly garden walk with Tina Forsberg

looking for bugs in the butterfly garden

saltmarsh tiger moth Estigmene acrea found resting in the butterfly garden

Salt Marsh Tiger moth found in the butterfly garden- Pamm Cooper photo

Thanks are in order for all our Master Gardeners and Master Gardener interns for a job well done. Without your efforts, this would not have been a success, nor as interesting an event as it was. Also, thank you Joan Allen, for your talk on vegetable insect pests, and Dave Colbert for bringing terrific specimens from the UConn Museum of Natural History.

Euthochtha galeator leaf footed bug nymph 7-30-16 Bug Week hunt Pamm Cooper photo

Leaf- footed bug nymph found on a bug walk- Pamm Cooper photo

 

After all our hard work raising insects and running around finding host plant material to feed them, and after many long insect hunts in 90 degree weather, I guess we were all happy, in a way, to see Bug Week draw to a close. My dining room table is no longer a laboratory and that is how it should be. And yet, I do miss the pitter-patter of tiny little feet…

 

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

 

furcula- gray or hourglass Mt Rd power lines on aspenAugust 9, 2014 II

Furcula with modified anal prolegs used to wave away potential 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. Between birds and amphibians, mammals and other insects, there is no lack of creatures that rely upon insects to muscle up themselves or to ensure their young survive long enough to obtain food for themselves.

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, some have mastered the technique of veiling themselves with material and others simply hide. When you become familiar with specific species and their means of surviving, then it becomes easier to find them or to at least recognize them when you see them.

One of the ways insects can hide in plain sight is by coloration and feeding techniques. Spring caterpillars that feed on new leaves are often green in color. Late season caterpillars are differently colored and often have colorations or body forms that imitate the dead leaf spots and edges that occur at that time of year. Some feed along leaf edges and appear to be part of the leaf itself. Careful scrutiny will reveal the ruse. Two of the prominent caterpillars, the Wavy- lined Heterocampa and the Lace-capped caterpillar are just two examples of this behavior.

??????????

Wavy- lined Heterocampa feeding cryptically along the lower edge of a sweet birch leaf

Many assassin bugs that rely upon other insects as their food source will often lie in wait in places other insects are sure to visit. This includes flowers. Ambush bugs perch on flower heads, especially yellow and white composites, and wait for pollinators or nectar collecting insects to come to them. Ambush bugs are hard to spot on these flowers as they are the same color as the petals. They are motionless and are hard for even people to spot unless you look carefully for them. Often you will see butterflies that hang limply from flower heads. A close examination will reveal an ambush bug ( or a crab spider ! ) clasping the body and feeding off the insect’s fluids. Also, assassin bugs and predatory stink bugs often hide inside the folded seed heads of Queen Anne’s Lace and wait for other insects that use the structure as a hiding place to come inside. Opportunity may knock, but being in the right place at the right time is a better means of assuring survival.

Walking sticks are a good example of cryptic coloration and mimicry. Early nymphs are found on viburnum and filbert in New England. On these plants, both the insect’s shape and color allow it to blend so completely with that of the plant foliage that unless they move or cast a shadow, they are very hard to find. Later in the season, the older nymphs and adults change their food plants to oaks and cherries where they are able to blend in as their color changes to match the foliage of these trees. 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.

walking stick blending in on filbert July 1, 2014

Early nymph of a walking stick on native filbert. Note how legs blend in with the leaf veins.

Caterpillars, especially the slug moth caterpillars, can have defense mechanisms that utilize urticating hairs or venomous barbs to ward off potential predators. Handling some tussock moth caterpillars. the familiar woolly bears, Io moth cats and others may prove a painful experience for some people. One especially to be avoided is the saddleback caterpillar- small,l but able to inflict severe pain or burning sensation that lasts for several hours or even a few days. The body is covered with hollow spines that release an irritant when brushed or touched. Handled gently, many of these caterpillars will not harm the handler, but use caution around any caterpillar having barbs, hairs or spines. While many caterpillars that have spines and hairs have no toxins, unless you know for certain they are harmless, avoid contact with the skin to be safe.

 

Another means by which insects can protect themselves is by mimicry. Many flies have coloration and markings that are very similar to wasps and bees. These flies can also feed on the pollen of many of the plants that bees and wasps also visit. Birds will tend to avoid any insect that may have  the potential to sting, so these bee mimics need not worry as they go about their everyday work acquiring pollen. The Virginia Flowerfly is one pollen- gathering bee mimic that is very common in Connecticut.

stink bugs hiding jpg

Stink bug nymphs hiding in grape leaf shelter

 

Many types of insects use leaf shelters as a means of hiding from predators by day. Besides caterpillars such as the Spicebush Swallowtail, stink bugs routinely use abandoned leaf shelters for themselves. I have especially found them by day huddling in small groups in leaf shelters on grape, which, along with raspberry, is one of the most common plants they feed on in the wild. Some spiders will use the same type of shelters, so be prepared for that surprise when you open any likely hiding places. Queen Anne’s lace is an especially good place to look for caterpillars, insects, assassin or other predatory bugs and spiders late in the year. Or look on goldenrod flowers, both for predators and caterpillars that feed on the flowers.

 

Slapping old molted skins on or using their own frass piled on their body is another way an insect either protect itself or camouflage itself to get clser to potential victims. Tortoise beetle larva use both methods to keep their presence unknown . All that can be seen is a small blob that looks like debris or frass. If disturbed, they may tip the mess up in the air over the body, somewhat like opening the trunk of a car. Then it is lowered again to conceal the soft body once again. Lacewing larva use their molted skins and other detritus to cover their body in a similar way. They can be found especially on white oak leaves this year. Look for a small, light tan, fuzzy pile moving across a leaf. This is probably a lacewing larva.

lacewing larva with molted skins covering it Pamm Cooper photo

lacewing larva with molted skins covering it

camoulflaged looper plus tiny looper Belding

Camouflage looper on daisy

 

Well, that is a brief look at some ways insects survive or attempt to survive in the world. There are many other ways and means insects employ subterfuge and the rest that could probably fill a book, but this is simply a leaf through…

 

Pamm Cooper

The sphinx, or hawk, moths are relatively heavy- bodied and are strong fliers. Some are important pollinators of trees and shrubs, especially those having white or light- colored flowers. Most sphinx moths fly at night, so we may not see them except as they are attracting to lights outside the home. The clearwing moths, such as the snowberry and hummingbird, do fly during the day and are common visitors to home gardens.

Below left: Virginia Creeper Sphinx Moth  Below Right  Hog Sphinx ( Virginia Creeper ) Caterpillar
Hog sphinx moth and shadow on birdhouse??????????

Just as the adults are large- bodied and heavy set, the sphinx caterpillars can also become quite the behemoths when compared to other caterpillars common to New England. They usually have a conspicuous horn on the hind end, but some species start off with a horn and end up with a “ button “ ornament instead. Most of these caterpillars feed on trees and shrubs, but some, such as the tobacco and tomato hornworms and the hermit sphinx feed on nightshades or basil respectively. Because of their size, damage to host plants can be substantial as they approach the final instars.

snowberry clearwing late instar. 2011 jpg

Snowberry Clearwing Caterpillar is found on honeysuckle

If you want to find hornworms, knowing the host plants is the first step. Many species can be found on grape and Virginia creeper. These include the hog ( or Virginia Creeper Sphinx ), the Pandorus sphinx, Abbot’ sphinx and the Achemon sphinx. Look underneath leaves where feeding is evident, then look for leaf stems left behind as caterpillars get larger and move toward inward leaves. If tomato leaves are disappearing, the Tobacco hornworm may be lurking nearby. Although this caterpillar gets huge, it can be surprisingly difficult to see as its color blends in with tomato foliage and stems. The final instar can eat you out of house and home in no time. I once raised one from an egg found on nightshade and it grew to the size of an Oscar Mayer hot dog. Fecal pellets are another indicator of caterpillar feeding, and the sphinx variety are elongate and have six deep grooves and may be quite large as caterpillars approach the penultimate and final instars. Eggs are usually laid on the undersides of leaves and are large and spherical. A large, green spherical egg found on a tomato leaf is most likely that of the tobacco hornworm. If you are not interested in raising this caterpillar, crush the egg and future feeding damage can be avoided.

Blueberry or huckleberry are the host plants of the fabulous Huckleberry Sphinx. When small, its horn is striped with lemon yellow and raspberry red ( one color short of Trix™ ). Its body is granulose, looking like it has been sprinkled with large crystals of sugar. As it matures, raspberry markings develop on its sides and back. Last year I found several of these on both host plants and at various locations. Each year is different, though, and abundance or apparent scarcity of species fluctuates accordingly.

Huck Sphinx

Huckleberry Sphinx Caterpillar on blueberry

When at rest or when disturbed, sphinx caterpillars position themselves in a posture that reminds me of a seahorse. Some thrash from side to side and some may regurgitate a green fluid as well. Some actually will nip, and Abbot’s sphinx and Walnut sphinx caterpillars make sounds when threatened. All these means are probably very effective at dissuading birds, but predatory wasps seem to be able to get past all that behavior. When you find a caterpillar with cocoons all over it, the internal feeding of cotesia or braconid wasps has been completed and the caterpillar is doomed to die a slow death. It is unfortunate that many introduced parasites that were meant to control pest caterpillars are now decimating benign native species, but that is just a sad story of good intensions backfiring.

Pandorus cat small size on Va. creeper Finley St

Pandorus Sphinx Caterpillar

sphinx paw paw or whatever

Paw Paw Sphinx found on winterberry

If you raise sphinx caterpillars, make sure that final instars have a suitable pupating medium, such as abundant mulch, plant litter or soil. Or simply release onto a host plant and let nature take its course. Caterpillars tend to be sedentary more than mobile and they have a good gripping ability which makes them easy to transfer to fresh food material. Keep pupa moist over winter and provide air to containers to keep from developing mold. Be vigilant and release as they eclose. Moths emerging in small containers may not be able to expand wings fully, and will be doomed as wings will harden deformed.

4-horned sphinx on elm 9-9-13

4- Horned or Elm Sphinx

Sphinx caterpillars are very commonly seen in the fall as they travel over lawns, driveways and paths on their way to pupate. If you see them, just remove them to a safer spot and they will find their way to a good spot to pupate for the winter.

Pamm Cooper All Photos© 2014 Pamm Cooper

Do you ever think about all the life going on around you- on plants, in the water and soil or whatever? Sometimes we just need to take a little time to stop and smell the roses ( I used to smell them as I ran by ) or spend some time looking a little closer at the world around us. It can certainly be eye- opening.

One of my favorite things to do is to take a lightweight three- legged folding stool out on hikes and sit down for a while in areas that show a promise of something good to come if I can simply wait a bit. It is always a surprise to discover all the activity going on that I would have missed because of a failure to employ the railroad method of outdoor walking: ‘ stop, look and listen “..  So over the years I have learned to heed the words of Paul Simon- “ slow down, you move too fast… “

Today my co-worker and I stopped to admire an oak and it became apparent that there was a lot of activity on its lower branches. Holes from feeding insects, leaf shelters and galls were just a few things we noticed. But a closer look proved that we had just seen the tip of the iceberg. Tiny creatures were crawling along twigs and leaf undersides that turned out to be yellow nymphs of some sort of tree hopper insect. And dangling down from the tree on silken threads were several tiny instars of Ashen Pinion caterpillars and some other, as yet unidentified, caterpillars. There were also two tiny gypsy moth caterpillars just beginning to show the definitive dots that run along their back.

Image

Early in the spring when oaks are just beginning to break bud, catbirds normally are back. And as leaves begin to unfurl, look and listen for Scarlet Tanagers and Baltimore Orioles in the top of the canopy of mature oaks. There must be caterpillars there because you will see them poking around and under the newly opened leaves. This year there were an abundant amount of  male Red- bellied Woodpeckers advertising the fact that they thought they had constructed a fine nesting cavity suitable for any females  in the area. The males can be hard to spot because they sit inside their hole and poke only their head out and sing sporadically all day. Because of past storms, many oaks have dead vertical limbs that are just what red- bellies like for drumming and excavating.

Oaks have the distinction of being the host for many gall insects. While most are not a threat to the health of the tree, they can occur in large numbers on certain trees in  some years. One of the most common galls familiar to many people are those formed by the oak apple gall wasp. These are large and are a smooth with a  limey green color. Neatly tucked inside is the larva of the wasp, safe and sound from predators and with a good supply of food supplied by the oak’s abnormal growth caused by the trees response to chemicals the female wasp injected with her egg. There are other galls also, including “ potato “ and “ bullet “galls on twigs stems and rosette galls on leaves.

gall on oak (2)

 

Oaks are also the host plant for over 500 species of caterpillars, which makes them the champ when it comes to supplying bird food in Connecticut. Right now you may see Ashen Pinions ballooning down on silken threads. Or flip leaves and look for tiny Gypsy Moth Caterpillars- only about an inch long right now. Many caterpillars form leaf shelters, or tents, where they hide during the day. Go out at night with a flashlight and look for these guys. Right now there are many sallows and pinions, but later in the summer the daggers and prominents abound, and I find these caterpillars a more exciting find. They are bigger and more interesting in shape and color, as well as sometimes having warty protuberances sporting long hairs. Most of these can be found either along leaf edges of on leaf undersides. Look for feeding damage and check out nearby leaves.

Mottled Prominent with shortened anal prolegs 8-26-10 II??????????

A little insect that may be overlooked is the acorn weevil. This  insect lays its eggs inside acorns by chewing out a hole with its mouth and inserting one egg inside the developing fruit. Look for acorns in the fall that have a small round hole. This is evidence that the larva that was feeding inside has pupated and exited as an adult by chewing its way out. Sometimes squirrels can be seen turning acorns around in their paws as they look for these holes, or feel the weight of the acorn. They will not waste valuable time opening an acorn that will not supply a sufficient supply of food.

acorn weevil 2009

 

A few years ago, there were lacewing eggs everywhere on the undersides of all kinds of oaks. The next year- hardly any on oak, but there were a lot on cherries. Several years ago there was a hard frost when oaks were flowering and that fall there were few, if any, acorns. Squirrel and chipmunk population were noticeably down the next year, perhaps because of a lack of food for the winter. Deer and turkeys also rely on acorns for food during the fall and winter. Sometimes you can see the places under oaks where deer have pawed aside the snow looking for any acorns that may be left.

assassin nymph and lacewing eggs II

So next time you see an oak, imagine all that is going on in, around and on that tree. And maybe look a little closer to discover a little of what that tree has going on. And enjoy its shade!

Pamm Cooper