Saturday, March 18, 2017

Fireflies: The flash season approaches

I have always found it a little embarrassing that, as a naturalist, I never knew the differences between the fireflies in Ohio.  After all, fireflies are one of the first animals people chase as children.  If you grew up in the Eastern United States, you certainly enjoyed fireflies.  But so few people could tell you much about these glowing critters and how to identify them.  They were simply these magical beetles flittering about on summer nights, and for most of us, that's all we needed to know.  Enjoying the spectacle is something everyone can appreciate.  BUT, if you ever wanted to know more, now you can.

Yellow-bellied Fireflies, Photinus scintillans, showing the typical firefly shape and color.  many look alike, but their flash gives clue to the species identification.
I have been waiting for years for a publication to come out describing the species and life histories of these incredibly interesting creatures.  And finally, the book has arrived.  A fascinating author and friend of the preserve, Lynn Faust, has put her years of firefly knowledge together in a long-awaited field guide.  Now the rest of us can figure out who is flashing in our own backyards and when and where are the best times to search.  The book is called "Firelies, Glow-worms, and Lightning Bugs". 

Great new firefly book available now.  See link below to purchase.
You might be surprised to find out that there is more than one species of firefly.  In fact, I learned many interesting things while spending a few days firefly chasing with Lynn, and reading her book.

Did you know??
1. Not all fireflies produce light as adults, but they can as larva.
2. Firefly flash rates, intensity and color differ between the species.
3. Firefly species are seasonal and some even flash only specific times of the night.
4. Some fireflies are cannibalistic and mimic the flash of other species to lure them in, and then eat them.
5. Many fireflies are light sensitive and city lights mimicking dawn and dusk have changed the distribution of species ranges.
6. Male fireflies flash to attract females, and sometimes they flash synchronously because they are all trying to be the first noticed.

Fireflies that flash have abdominal segments that act as "lanterns" to show light created by bioluminescence. 
Pictured is the Yellow-Bellied Firefly, Photinus scintillans.

It is extremely difficult to photograph the remarkable display of light.  This photo by John Howard captures 2 flash patterns.
There is so much to learn, and Lynn has packaged all this information into one easy to read book.  I can now pick a species in the book, read about its flash pattern, what time of night it flashes, what time of year, what habitat to look in and actually find that species in the field.  It really works!

There are some fireflies that you might find in Southern Ohio this winter and spring, even though it is not quite yet the flash season.  One species you can find from late fall through the winter is the Winter Firefly, Ellychnia corrusca.  It overwinters as an adult.  This species does not flash, but from info in Lynn's book, I learned to find them on the south side of large tree trunks on sunny winter days.   

Ellychnia corrusca, the winter firefly.
One of the first flashing fireflies in the spring should start communicating through glowing abdomens in mid April.  It is the Treetop Flasher, Pyractomena borealis.  This early season beetle flashes once every four seconds in the tops of trees before the leaves grow.  It's larva can be found pupating on large tree trunks in late winter. In late summer and fall, the larva is found on the forest floor eating snails.  Pictured below is one of these larva, whose head telescopes out to reach snails inside their shell.

Spring treetop flasher larva feeding on a Northern three-tooth snail (Triodopsis tridentata). Photo by Chris Bedel.
Once May comes, the flash season begins.  Besides the Spring treetop flashers, another firefly, this one from the cannibal genus called Photuris, begins to flash.  Fields around the preserve start to fill up with the quick flashes of the Spring 4-Flashers,  Photuris versicolor var. quadrifulgens.  These beetles appear to stutter as they flash 4 times.  By the first weeks of June, this species will disappear before other species begin flashing.

Fireflies in the genus Photuris (like these P. quadrifulgens) have long legs and large pronotums, usually with a black "anchor" mark.
By June, many more species begin to flash, some right before dark like the Little Grays,  Photinus marginellus, and some right at dark like the very common Big Dippers, Photinus pyralis.  This, in Southern Ohio, is the real flash season.  The majority of firefly species will be out in June and July.  By then, we should all be skilled at counting flashes, observing flash patterns and be expert firefly hunters thanks to Lynn's field guide.
Other species found on the preserve with the help of Lynn Faust are:

The lanternless species
Sneaky Elf, Pyropyga decipiens
Woodland Lucy, Lucidota atra

The lanterned flashing species
Synchronous Firefly, Photinus carolinus
Mr. Mac, Photinus macdermotti
Creekside Tree Blinkers, Photinus sabulosus

The carnivorous species
Slow Blues, Photuris caerulucens
Chinese Lanterns and the Flashbulbs, Photuris sp.
Heebie-Jeebies, Photuris hebes
July Comets, Photuris lucicrescens
Dot-Dash, Photuris pennsylvanica
Variable Triple Flash, Photuris versicolor

This will be the year to find more new and unusual firefly species on the preserve.  Watch for blog posts this summer about new species and some of the interesting species mentioned in the above list. 

I cannot think of another long-awaited book that all naturalists need in their libraries. To purchase this great new book on fireflies, search the title on or click on link below.

Posted by: Mark Zloba

Friday, January 27, 2017

Photo Friday: Nature's Artistry

Thanks to Steve Cox, one of our very valuable seasonal employees, for letting us use this beautiful picture he took. One of the fun things about fungus is that it exhibits just as many colors as wildflowers can. I believe that this particular fungus is False Turkey Tail, Stereum ostrea.

Posted by: Robyn Wright-Strauss

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Dr. Seuss-ish world of Cladonias

Cladonia pyxidata complex, photo by Robyn Wright-Strauss
This month I'd like to share some photos of the Cladonia lichens.  There are many species in this group, but many look distinct enough to identify the species.  These odd shaped lichens are unique and interesting.  Since they look like Dr. Seuss images, you might as well read about them in Dr. Seuss form!
Cladonia lichens generally grow with squamules below, and sometimes form stalks (podetia) that stick up into odd shapes.

A peculiar lichen with the genus Cladonia
I'm sure you've seen 'em, if I knew you, I'da shown ya!
Some statuesque, with stalks slender and tall,
British soldiers, Cladonia cristatella

Some come short, with no stalks at all.
Yellow-tongued cladonia, Cladonia robinsii
They sometimes look like tiny cities under seas...
Some old logs are covered with Cladonias of many species. Photo by Robyn Wright-Strauss
And sometimes look like an army of fuzzy golf tees.
Pixie cups, Cladonia pyxidata

One looks like a trumpet, inside a trumpet, inside a trumpet...
Ladder lichen, Cladonia cervicornis 

Ladder lichen, Cladonia cervicornis

Another like a floor covered in toast, cracker, or crumpet! (Lame line, I know, but I just couldn't dump it.)
Stalkless cladonia, Cladonia apodocarpa
One is so tangled a beetle couldn't get through...
Dixie reindeer lichen, Cladonia subtenuis
Another so open it couldn't block the wind if it blew.
Common powderhorn, Cladonia coniocraea

Most grow in the woods and very few are urban...
Even though some are fashionable with berets or a turban.
Southern soldiers, Cladonia didyma
Turban lichen, Cladonia peziziformis Photo by Robyn Wright-Strauss

Search the ground next time you're in a forest full of trees,
you should find Cladonias if you get down on your hands and knees.
Fence-rail cladonia,  Cladonia parasitica.  Some lichens need chemical tests to determine i.d.
 Photo by Robyn Wright-Strauss.

These small fungus are harmless, they won't bite, sting or poke us,
By the way, thanks to Robyn for some pics I couldn't get in focus!

Posted by: Mark Zloba

Friday, January 20, 2017

Photo Friday: Landscapes of the Edge

A view from a ridge in the southern portion of the preserve. The farthest hill in the picture is across the Ohio River in Kentucky.

Friday, January 13, 2017

warm winter days

The calendar reads January 12 but you wouldn't know it was a day in January by the temperature outside.  The outside air temperature is 65°F and it continues to rain.  Weather conditions like these during the winter months are likely to cause some of our herp species (reptiles and amphibians) to feel the urge to get things going.  The Jefferson salamander, Ambystoma jeffersonianum  and the spotted salamander, Ambystoma maculatum, members of the mole salamander family (Ambystomatidae) will respond to these warm winter days by migrating to vernal pools in which they will breed and lay their eggs.  These salamanders will visit the pools, even if the pools are frozen over, for courting and laying eggs.  The Ambystomids spend most of their lives underground and can sometimes by discovered under rocks or other debris with some searching. 
This spotted salamander was discovered by lifting a piece of tin adjacent to an old barn located in an open field. 

The best time to encounter mole salamanders, above ground, is during the winter migration.  Edge staff have witnessed this migration occurrence as early as mid December and the activity is usually over by late February.  Locating a vernal pool during a warm and rainy day in late December or early January, will provide the best opportunity for seeing some of these reclusive salamanders.  The salamanders are usually very active within the pool and can be viewed swimming in the usually shallow waters of the pool.  Rarely are mole salamanders visible walking above the leaf litter during the daylight hours but may be visible walking above ground during a dark and rainy night. 
Mole salamanders are not usually visible above ground during daylight hours.  The spotted salamander pictured here was removed from a trap where he paused for a photo before returning to the water. 
Now is the time to get out and locate a vernal pool (especially if you are a mole salamander) and pay attention on those warm and rainy nights.  The Jefferson and Spotted salamanders are the two species that you might expect to discover here in southern Ohio.  An unexpected salamander for the Edge, and one that you should hope to see somewhere in Ohio, would be the Eastern tiger salamander, Ambystoma tigrinum.  The tiger salamander may appear similar to the spotted salamander but should be noticeably larger and have a more irregular pattern with its spots. 

Posted by: Rich McCarty

Photo Friday: An Early Spring Sentinel

A white Trout Lily, Erythronium albidum, stands ready for early spring pollinators.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Photo Friday: Cross-eyed Katydid

A male Agile Katydid, Orchelimim agile, looks back at the photographer. It makes one wonder what exactly he was seeing?