Tiny spring azure butterfly on a bluet flower

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.”

― William Shakespeare

April is the time of Hyacinth, tulips, apple and cherry blossoms, and, usually, April showers. Although we caught up from the drought of last year, this spring has been dry and we clearly need rain. Waking up on April 16, it was really no surprise to find it snowing as weather guessers reported it would get cold enough to turn last night’s rain to snow by this morning (but not in our area- ha!). In recent years there seem to be late snow events that have coincided with various trees and shrubs bloom time. Hopefully, this snow will not damage their flowers and buds.

Hyacinth under the snow

Bloodroot flowers have mostly come and gone and bluets have just started blooming heralding the expected return of some of our thrushes, such as the veery. Tiger swallowtail butterflies often visit bluet flowers, as do many native bee species.

Returning veery among some bluets

The six-spotted tiger beetles are out running along woodland trails. This small, predatory beetle is a brilliant metallic green, so it is hard to miss against a brown background of a woodland trail.

Six-spotted tiger beetle

The other day while walking up a woodland hill trying to find a barred owl family, I came upon a really nice surprise. Just poking above the leaf litter were these tiny purple-blue flowers that were new to me. The plants each had unusual leaves with three rounded lobes. Flower and leaf stems were hairy, and this small area was the only place they could be found. They are Hepatica americana, round-lobed Hepatica. A native buttercup family member, they can bloom March-May and are found on leafy woodland slopes with higher calcium content than most of our Connecticut woodlands

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Round-lobed Hepatica flower and leaf

Walking along the banks of a woodland double pond, there was evidence of recent beaver activity. A nice dam was getting some restructuring by the beaver, plus there were tree felling operations along the edges of the pond. Some nice moss was at the base of some  trees that so far are not in this beaver’s line of fire.

Moss under trees in a woodland pond
Beaver toothmarks and gnawed bark

I found what I thought were clam shells along this woodland pond’s banks, but found out they are really the shells of freshwater mussels that were eaten by a river otter, muskrat or some other animal and left behind for people like me to find. Freshwater mussels spend the first part of their life as a tiny glochidium on a host fish. Afterward, they fall off and drop to the bottom of the lake, pond, stream or river bed where they remain partially buried. They help keep water clean by filtering it as they eat algae and other small water organisms.

Freshwater mussel shell

Bee activity has been somewhat slow this spring, but recently a small Andrena nasonii ground-nesting bee was just emerging from under a landscape shrub where it had overwintered underground. This species often emerges when snow is melting and sometimes days before their foraging plants have flowered.. Most of our solitary native bee species are not aggressive, and this female rested on my finger for a while.

Native Andrena bee

Native eastern red cedar Juniperus virginiana is in flower along the shoreline in Connecticut. Male and female flowers are cone like structures called strobili, borne on separate trees. Male cones are oval to egg shaped, with yellowish brown scales that hold the pollen, and they are located at the tips of 2nd year branches.

Male flowers of eastern red cedar

Turkeys are still stomping, hissing and fanning their tails, mourning doves have just fledged their first brood, kit foxes are playing around their dens and spring azure, mourning cloak and comma butterflies are flying around, so April has succeeded in its modest enterprise of pushing new life out of its winter slumber.

Kit fox near its den

I agree with the sentiment of Hans Christian Andersen- “Just living is not enough… one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower. “

Pamm Cooper

Round- lobed Hepatica flower

Tiger beetles are among the many beetles I like to watch and I look forward to seeing them every year. They are easy to find once you know their habitats and the time of year they are out and about. These predatory beetles are fast on their feet and are also among the quickest of the beetles to take flight. Walking along open trails, you may see something fly off just ahead of where you were going and land not too far away. If you don’t get a good look at it, you may mistake it for a fly because both insects are quick to take off in  flight and because they are often found in the same habitat.

As of 1996, there were fourteen species of tiger beetles in Connecticut, seven of which are on the state’s protected list. They are members of the Carabidae family, which are the ground beetles. Like most ground beetles, the larval stage is spent in the ground and some tiger beetles take two years to complete their life cycle. Most tiger beetles are found in habitats featuring low or sparse vegetation and sandy soils. If you want to see adults in action, look for them on sunny days as most become inactive if clouds block the sun for any length of time.

To identify a beetle as a tiger beetle look for three things- bulging eyes, long legs and crisscrossed mandibles that are formidable in appearance. When standing still, they have a distinctive posture where the head is up, the rear is down, and the body is held high off the ground on stilt- like hairy legs. These insects are built for speed both on the ground and in the air.

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Typical tiger beetle posture

A tiger beetle is predatory in both the adult and larval stage. The larva is an ambush predator, similar to the ant lion, which lies in wait beneath the ground. It lives in a vertical tube in the soil and you may see its head just inside the tube as it waits for prey to amble on by. When that happens, the larva pops out and grabs its victim with its powerful jaws and then pulls it into the burrow. Larvae can survive for weeks without food and are also able to survive temporary flooding.

Adults have powerful sickle- shaped overlapping jaws which they use for capturing prey such as ants, spiders and other arthropods. They can catch prey both on the ground and in the air. They are so fast when pursuing oblivious ants that I have sometimes seen them overrun them and have to do an about- face. Their vision appears acute, and while they perch, they will suddenly turn in the direction of any movement. This can make it very difficult to approach them if you are trying get a closer look. A tip is to crouch down, with the sun ahead of you so as not to cast a shadow that will trigger flight. Then move slowly toward the beetle. Tiger beetles are also preyed upon by dragonflies, robber flies, birds, and small vertebrates, so they are approachable to some extent.

Look for tiger beetles in open sunny areas that have low or sparse vegetation with scattered rocks and sandy soils. Some are found along woodland trails and forest edges. Once you have found a tiger beetle, you will probably be able to find it the next year. Note the time of year and the exact area you saw it. They are reliably found, if not in almost exactly the same spot, then within ten to twenty yards of it.  If disturbed, most tiger beetles will fly only a short distance away and may be found by simply walking ahead in the direction you saw it fly. The adult may sit and wait for some small insect to scurry by and then use its speed to run it down. Or it may run forward and stop repeatedly as it checks out any promising activity.

There are several species in Connecticut that are of special concern. One is the federally threatened and state endangered species Cicendela puritan, the Puritan tiger beetle. This beetle is found in two small areas in the country-  periodically flooded sandy beach habitats along the Connecticut River and similar areas along the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. The small area in Connecticut where this was found is now protected from human access both from the water and from land.

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Tiger beetle Cicindela repanda on my thumb.

Cicindela rufiventris  is a species commonly found in dry upland rocky and eroded areas but can also be found in areas of sparse vegetation such a trails , power lines or forest clearings. I have found populations in several areas where stones have been brought in by the local governments or power companies to help stop erosion caused by both maintenance vehicles accessing the land and all-terrain vehicle activity that can cause greater damage of a more permanent nature. Whether the stones helped keep the ground from being destroyed or just allowed a better habitat for both larvae and adults to survive, rufiventris appear to be doing well in these areas. Look for adults in July and August.

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possibly a C. rufiventris as the abdomen just showing below elytra is orange- red.

There is a small spit of tidal flooded land along the Connecticut River where the ferry comes in on the Glastonbury side where there is a large colony of Cicindela repanda can be found. These common beetles are very similar in appearance to the endangered Puritan tiger beetles. In August there are hundreds of them running along the water edges and among the rocks of this spit- the ground seems to come alive with their activity. When the tide is in, the area shrinks in size, and if you sit down on the sand, you will be surrounded by beetles rushing around. They even venture into shallow water to catch the flies that are abundant there. Take care not to step on any of these industrious, beautifully patterned creatures.

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 Cicindela repanda August 2012 Glastonbury in sand at the ferry landing.

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Ct. River ferry landing area in Glastonbury showing tiger beetle C. repanda habitat. Picture taken at low tide.

I have found the six- spotted tiger beetle, Cicindela sexguttata, year after year on the same power lines, along the same gravel roads and in the same areas  bordering woodland edges. I look for them in mid to late April during warm springs, but normal activity begins in early may. Adults are readily seen through July and sometimes into August. These beetles are bright metallic green and have three white spots on each elytra. They can be found perched on logs and rocks or bare soil either in the sun or shade. Their bright color will make them easy to spot if they have landed in any open area. A slow approach is in order if you want to get close enough to take a picture or just watch them for a while. If you lost sight of it, just walk on for a while, and if nothing appears, turn around and head back to where you first saw it. Often it will have circled around gone back near where it was before.

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Six- spotted tiger beetle- Cicindela sexgutatta– found on a restaurant window in Cold Spring, New York June 28, 2011. The restaurant was surrounded by rocky cliffs and a large disturbed area bordering woods.

So next spring and summer if you are out and about hiking along nature trails, power lines or dirt roads, be alert to the possibility of tiger beetles being on the hunt nearby. And don’t forget to bring your camera! I would not have had the opportunity to take any of the pictures you see here if my camera had been left at home ( or in the car! ).

Pamm Cooper                                                      All Photos Copyright 2013 Pamm Cooper