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

 

 

 

 

Viceroy butterfly on 'Miss Molly' butterfly bush September 2017

Viceroy butterfly on ‘Miss Molly’ butterfly bush

“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, 1830-1885

September brings a wealth of inspiration to the senses. Leaves of Virginia creeper are red already, there is the intoxicating scent of wild grapes in the pre-dawn foggy mornings, asters and goldenrods bring colorful splashes to the landscape and sunsets may fill the cooling sky with brilliant deep reds and oranges. Tree Hydrangeas, Hydrangea paniculata, had a great year, and many still have panicles of colorful flower heads. While many plants and insects are winding down to an early retirement, there is still a lot going on in the great outdoors.

Hydrangea paniculata dwarfing a visitor to Wickham Park, Manchester Pamm Cooper photo 2017

Hydrangea paniculata dwarfing a visitor to Wickham Park

It may be the time of year for oddities, now and then. For instance, there is a horse chestnut outside our office on the Storrs campus that has several flowers in full bloom this week. While many shrubs and fruit trees, like cherries and azaleas, may have a secondary bloom in the fall after rains, cool weather with a late autumn warm spell following, a chestnut blooming at this time of year is a more remarkable event. A bumblebee spent time visiting the flowers, so a second round of pollen and nectar is a bonus in that quarter.

bumblebee on horse chestnut flower 9-28-2017

Horse chestnut with visiting bumblebee – an unusual bloom for September

Red-headed crickets are a first for my gardens this September. These small crickets have a distinctive red head and thorax, iridescent black wings, and yellow legs.  At first glance, they really do not appear to be crickets because of how they move around vegetation. They also have large palps with a paddle-like end that they wave around almost constantly, giving the appearance of mini George Foremans sparring in the air before a fight. Found mostly only three feet above the ground, they have a loud trill and are usually more common south and west of Connecticut.

red headed bush cricket backyard garden 2017

Red-headed bush cricket

While visiting Kent Falls recently, I came upon a few small clumps of American spikenard. Aralia racemose, loaded with berries. Highly medicinal, this native plant is found in moist woodland areas such as along the waterfall trail at Kent Falls. Roots are sometimes used as a substitute for sarsaparilla, another Connecticut wildflower.

spikenard Kent Falls 9-11-17

American spikenard berries ripen in September

Many migrating butterflies like monarchs and American Ladies are on the move now and may be found on late season flowers like butterfly bush, zinnias, Tithonia, Lantana, cohosh, goldenrod, asters and many other flowers. In annual plantings where I work, honey bees are especially abundant on Salvia guaranitica  ‘ Black and Blue ’  right now.  And while many butterflies and bees can be found on various butterfly bush cultivars, the hands on favorite seems to be the cultivar ” Miss Molly” which has deep red/pink, richly scented flowers that attract hummingbirds, flower beetles, fly pollinators, people and bees galore. This is a great addition to a pollinator or butterfly garden. Other late season bloomers for our native insects and butterflies are black cohosh and Eupatorium  rugosum, (chocolate Joe-Pye weed), as well as asters and goldenrods.

American lady on Tithonia sunflower

American Lady on Tithonia sunflower

Black and blue salvia

‘Black and Blue’ salvia is great for attracting hummingbirds and honey bees

Snapping turtles are hatching now.  The other day while mowing fairways, I spotted long dew tracks and there at the end were two little snapper hatchlings. Very soft upon hatching, they are often heron chow, and these little turtles will travel long distances to find a good habitat.

newly hatched snapping turtle 9-25-2017 Pamm Cooper photo

Newly hatched snapping turtle

Every day at my house, we engage in a “Where is Waldo?” type hunt in the backyard gardens. What we are looking for are the tiny gray tree frogs that are hanging out on certain plants during the day. Snapping up any insects that get too close, these guys are a lot of fun to watch and look for. Most of ones we are finding are green, and are slightly larger than a thumbnail right now.  It gives us all some free entertainment before the leaves fall and we move on to- raking leaves…

two thumbnail size gray tree frogs Pamm Cooper photo

Two tiny gray tree frogs in my garden

Katydids, crickets and sometimes tree frogs are making a racket at night. Although really not unpleasant, to me, they are loud. But more enjoyable to listen to than the neighbor’s barking dog…I found a katydid eating a hyssop flower recently, but who cares about that this late in the year?

katydid eating hyssop flowers in September

katydid eating hyssop flwer

Bees are having their last hurrah now as the blooming season winds down. While native goldenrods and asters are important food sources of food for late season bees and wasps, there are many garden plants that are important nectar and pollen sources as well. In my own garden, I have two hyssops- anise and blue giant hyssop. There were bumblebees and honeybees that went on both, but there were small bees that preferred only the anise hyssop. These bees were very noisy, and hovered near flowers before landing, behaving like hover flies. Most likely these bees were in the Megachilid genera- the leaf-cutting bees. Abdominal hairs collect the pollen in these species and may take on the brilliant colors of pollen from the flowers they visit.

Megachilid leaf cutting bee on aster Belding September 2017

Megachile family leaf-cutting bee on aster

As the season winds down, there are still some caterpillars to be found, like the beloved wooly bears and other tiger moth cats like the yellow bear. A spotted Apotelodes was a good find. A robust, densely hairy caterpillar, this large fellow is notable for three sets of long hairs called “pencils” along the dorsum, and for its equally conspicuous red feet, making it look like it is wearing five pairs of little red shoes.

spotted apatelodes on honeysuckle Cohen Woodland field 9-12-2017 Pamm Cooper photo

Spotted Apatelodes caterpillar showing its little red feet

And just for fun, next year consider planting a candy corn vine, Manettia inflate, on a small trellis.  An annual vine, flowers last well into the fall before the first killing frost. This South American native has tubular flowers that resemble candy corn, and they are a favorite of the hummingbirds (and myself!) in my backyard.

candy corn vine an annual fun plant Pamm Cooper photo

Candy corn vine

 

Pamm Cooper