black etched prominent Cerura scitiscripta

Caterpillar of the black-etched prominent has highly modified anal prolegs that it can flail to defend itself against predators

 

I love insects. They are amazing.

-Andrea Arnold

 

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 fellow insects, there is no lack of creatures that rely upon insects as a food source. Insects are not necessarily limpid little defenseless victims of a more sophisticated life form, though. They have strategies for survival. Some use camouflage,  are cryptic in form and color, veil themselves with material, have weapons they use when threatened or they may simply hide. 

rose-hooktip-moth Oreta rosea-cryptic

Rose hooktip moth hidden by day by blending in on a leaf

P1270059

Pine sphinx caterpillars blend in with the green and white striped needles of white pine

One of the ways insects can hide in plain sight is by coloration, body form and feeding techniques. Spring caterpillars are often light green and feed on new leaves of similar color. Caterpillars that feed on mature foliage often have colorations or body forms that imitate the dead leaf spots and edges that occur later in the year.

cocoon structure of caddisfly- possibly Climacia areolaris

Spongillafly pupates inside this structure it made

Warning coloration protects many insects from being eaten, especially bright reds and oranges. Also, insects may have warts that sport hairs that repel some birds and other predators. One such insect having both is the red-humped caterpillar.

red hump caterpillar Pamm Cooper photo

Red- humped caterpillars Schizura concinna have warning colors and warts with hairs that detect air movement

Some caterpillars 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-heteocampa-2-on-leaf-edge

Wavy-lined Heterocampa caterpillar hides in plain site feeding along the edge of a sweet birch leaf. It blends in also with cryptic coloration.

Walking sticks are a good example of cryptic coloration and mimicry. Both the insect’s shape and color allow it to blend in with leaf veins and twigs  so that unless they move or cast a shadow, they are very difficult to see.

walking stick 6-29-14

Early instar walking stick blends in with leaf vein color

Camouflage loopers are small caterpillars that are found on the flowers of 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.

camouflaged looper plus tiny looper Belding

Camouflage looper sitting atop a flower head from which it has cut and pasted the flower petals upon its body

Caterpillars like woolly bears, Ios, slug moths and some tussocks have defense mechanisms that utilize urticating hairs or venomous barbs to ward off potential predators. Handling these caterpillars may prove a painful experience for some people. Especially to be avoided are the saddleback slug moth and the spiny oak slug caterpillars, which are very small but able to inflict severe pain or a burning sensation that may  last for several hours or even a few days. Use caution around any caterpillar having barbs, hairs or spines.

small saddleback

Tiny saddleback caterpillar has both urticating spines and coloration similar to the host plant leaf for defense

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, especially syrphid flies. 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.

syrphid fly

This syrphid fly resembles a wasp and birds will leave it alone

Many insects use leaf shelters as a means of hiding from predators by day and then feed at night. They may tie leaves together with silk or fold a leaf. The caterpillar of the  spicebush swallowtail and the poplar tent caterpillars do this. Stink bugs routinely use leaf shelters abandoned by other insects.

spicebush ready to eat

Spicebush swallowtail caterpillars hide by day in a leaf folded lengthwise

red admiral

Chrysalis of the red admiral butterfly is made inside a leaf shelter where it was protected as a caterpillar

Some insects feed as immatures inside plants such as gall makers, borers, leafminers and others. Safely inside plant tissue, success rates of surviving to a mature adult are very high.

Pine Cone Willow Gall, caused by a gall midge, Rhobdophaga strobiloides. 9-16-19

Pine cone willow gall houses a midge larva, Rhobdophaga strobiloides

thief weevil

Thief weevil female laid an egg inside two a tightly rolled structures they made by cutting the leaf edge lengthwise while still remaining attached to the pedicel. Larva will feed safely inside on the leaf tissue.

potter wasp pot

A potter female wasp made this small clay pot and inserted food and its egg inside. Larva will be safe inside.

The larvae of tortoise beetles, 3-lined potato beetles and the infamous lily leaf beetle pile their frass on their bodies to escape predators.  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 in late summer appearing like a small, light tan, fuzzy pile moving across a leaf.

tortoise beetle larva waving frass hood

Tortoise beetle larva raises a “hood” made of frass when disturbed

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

 

Pamm Cooper

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

 

 

apples 2015 Lapsley's Orchard

By all these lovely tokens September days are here, with summer’s best of weather and autumn’s  best of cheer”

Helen Hunt Jackson

September is here with its splashes of goldenrods, Joe-pye and other late summer flower. Butterflies that migrate are having their last hurrah and late season caterpillars are ready to pupate. Fruit trees are loaded down with apples, and the air in the early morning may be scented by ripe wild grapes. This is a great time of year, still green, but showing signs of the autumn that will soon arrive.  Getting outside now has its own sets of rewards.

spider web on a foggy September morning 2017 Pamm Cooper photo II

Spider web on a foggy September morning

 

While moving rocks in a landscape, one had a small mud like structure stuck to the underside. This was the work of the female Eumenes fraternus potter wasps construct mud brood  that look like miniature jugs. After an egg is laid inside with a good supply of caterpillars or beetle larvae to feed the larva when it hatches, the female seals the hole. Since the female potter wasps do not defend their nest, you can check inside to see the food stores/larva or pupa.

potter wasp structure under rock

Potter wasp nest cell attached to a rock

Wildflowers in bloom now include cardinal flower, turtlehead and closed gentians, all of which can be found in damp soils, especially along banks of ponds and streams. They can be found under shrubs or among other plants growing in wet areas. Cardinal flowers are a good plant to stake out for the hummingbirds that love their nectar. Bumblebees can be seen squeezing their way into to the gentian and turtlehead flowers that most other bees do not have the muscle to get inside.

turtlehead

turtlehead along a pond bank

There are spectacular late season caterpillars, like sphinx and tussocks. Also the aptly named asteroid, which feeds on both aster and goldenrod flowers and flower buds.

Lapara bombycoides northern pine sphinx

Northern pine sphinx caterpillar

asteroid

The asteroid

I had to rescue an eft of the red spotted newt the other day. They sometimes come out of the woods after rainy days in warm weather, and this little fellow had come a few hundred yards away from the nearest wood line and was in the middle of a fairway being mowed. Disaster was averted, and the eft was brought to a wooded area near a vernal pool.

red-spotted newt eft going up

eft of the red- spotted newt

I returned to an area of woods off a hiking trail that has a number of nodding trillium, Trillium cernuum.  They now have the brilliant red berry that contains seeds, but you have to lift up the large leaves in order to them. This is one of my favorite trilliums, mostly because it is hard to find, and then the flowers are a reward for those who peek under the leaves to find them.

nodding trillium

nodding trillium berry

 

This summer has been warm and droughty after a fairly wet May and June, and even part of July. There has been flooding after the numerous rains where soils are heavy and do not drain well. Then days in the 90’s coupled with poor surface drainage caused turf grasses to die. Even grasses in a light soil may have had shallow roots going into the hot, dry spell, and some of that turf may have bought the farm as well. Yesterday we had only an inch and a half of rain, and yet flooding still occurred where soils were hard from drought conditions. Like Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say- “It‘s always something!”.

flooding

flooding after a rain

I will not especially miss this summer, with its extended heat and awful humidity. I intend to enjoy the cooler weather and especially the cooler nights. And may I never complain about the winter again. Like that will actually happen…

 

Pamm Cooper

tree frog on turtlehead flower

you never know what you may find…