Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Rattlesnake Master or Hairstreak Master??

If there is one species of butterfly that gets the lepidotera-philes scales to stand up on end, it’s the juniper hairstreak, Callophrys g. gryneus.  When I run into folks on the Edge that are seeking out butterfly species, the juniper hairstreak is always on the top of the list.  And usually, it is a butterfly that is seen uncommonly.  In fact, I usually see this small butterfly only a handful of times each year.  But the last 2 years, I have been observing a plant called rattlesnake master, Eryngium yuccifolium, growing along the sidewalk to the Eulett Center, and have been amazed at the species diversity that feeds/visits this plant, one of which is the juniper hairstreak.  I would say this plant is mis-named as I have never seen a rattlesnake around the plant, but it sure attracts hairstreaks.  Now granted, the Eulett Center is surrounded by numerous Eastern red cedar trees, Juniperus virginiana, the host plant of the juniper hairstreak’s caterpillar, but the numbers of juniper hairstreak's this year has been phenomenal.
Juniper hairstreak on rattlesnake master, avoiding the white-banded crab spider, Misumenoides formosipes on the left.
Throughout July, every time I walk the 100 foot long sidewalk of the Eulett Center, I'd check out the 100 or so individual rattlesnake master plant heads.  And this mid-July, it was not hard to find dozens of juniper hairstreaks feeding.  On July 20, 2016 I counted 55 juniper hairstreaks while walking up the path.  10 of them were in one clump of flower heads. 

Numerous juniper hairstreaks on rattlesnake master

Notice the green scales on the wings of our only "green" butterfly.
Rattlesnake master is a prairie plant native to this part of Ohio, and grows commonly in the preserve's prairies.  But this is not a common plant outside of prairie openings in Ohio.  If you want to attract juniper hairstreaks, and you have Eastern red cedars near-by, try planting rattlesnake master on your property.  If there are any juniper hairstreaks around, they will find it.

This plant is incredibly fun to watch blooming in July to see how many flies, wasps, beetles, spiders, moths, bees etc. land on its many flowers.  Below are some interesting species seen visiting rattlesnake master.  
A feather-legged fly, Trichopoda sp.

Great black wasp, Sphex pennsylvanicus
Black and yellow lichen moth, Lycomorpha pholus
Juniper hairstreak near striped lynx spider, Oxyopes salticus
Spotted thyris moth, Thyris maculata
Myzinum wasp, Myzinum sp.
A potter wasp, Monobia quadridens
A paper wasp, Polistes exclamans

Posted by: Mark Zloba

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Two Rare Plants

Hexalectris spicata Crested coral-root
Crested coral-root (Hexalectris spicata) is an orchid species listed as potentially threatened in Ohio according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources rare plants of Ohio list.  You can find the list here  While it is rare for Ohio, and generally uncommon within the preserve, it can often be found along the trails in the Lynx prairie system.  Within the Edge preserve, the species is generally found in dry woods and wooded edges adjacent to prairie openings.  It is often found scattered as a few flowering stems but has been recorded in clumps of 50 or more flowering stems.   Hexalectris spicata is a somewhat fleshy, perennial herb that, except for the flowering stem, is subterranean (it lives entirely underground).  The flowering stem is glabrous, has no leaves, no chlorophyll, and the plant has no roots.  Crested coral-root is a fully myco-heterotrophic plant, a life long epiparasite, that obtains resources through a mycorrhizal relationship with a fungus.  

A close up view of a flower showing the purple crests on the lower lip of the flower. 
The common name "Crested coral-root" refers to the 5 - 7, usually purple, crests found on the floral lip.  The brightly colored flowers would suggest that this plant is looking to attract a pollinator but little to nothing is known about what species might be visiting the flowers.

Crested coral root occurs in many of the areas that the Edge of Appalachia preserve manages with the use of prescribed fire.  We have observed that the plant often responds with numerous flowering stems after the application of prescribed fire.  Crested coral-root typically flowers in mid July through August.

Tall larkspur Delphinium exhaltatum
Tall Larkspur Delphinium exhaltatum is another plant listed as potentially threatened in Ohio.  Tall larkspur is another uncommon species within the Edge but can be locally common where it occurs.  It is found along wooded edges, in old field and prairie openings and occasionally roadside in southern portions of the preserve. 

Typical Tall larkspur flowers.
As the name of the plant suggests, Tall larkspur can reach heights of 6 feet tall when flowering and has a long raceme of up to 30 blue to purple flowers.  Like most other Delphinium species, every part of the plant is poisonous especially the seeds.  Tall larkspur typically flowers beginning in late June into late August / early September and are pollinated predominantly by hummingbirds, butterflies, and other insects.  Tall larkspur is another species of native plant that benefits from the application of prescribed fire.

As with many other wildflowers, white forms can occur. These two plants were found growing side by side near a field of the dark purple ones.
The Edge of Appalachia Preserve has in excess of 85 plant species that are considered rare, which is one of the largest concentrations of rare species in the state.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Chuck Island, The Northern Range of Chuck-Will's-Widows

It's almost Memorial Day, which reminds me that chuck-will's-widows, Caprimulgus carolinensis, are sitting on eggs or have possibly already left their "nest" with fuzzy chuck chicks.  Its really not much of a nest since they simply lay their eggs on the leaf littered ground.  Soon after hatching, the chicks are on the move.  This leaves very little time to observe these large nightjars, kin to whip-poor-wills, while sitting on eggs. 

Chuck-will's-widow on eggs.
Chuck-will's-widows are a rare breeding bird in Ohio. The only place it annually breeds in Ohio is in or near the Ohio Brush Creek valley of Adams and possibly Highland County.  Occasionally, these birds show up elsewhere in the state, but for some reason, this valley bordering the preserve, supports a large population which is the only reliable place in Ohio to hear, or if you're lucky, see a chuck.

Amazing camouflage of a Chuck-will's-widow on the ground.
 Even though they are large birds (up to a foot long), they are incredibly difficult to see while on the ground.  So difficult, that the few times I've stumbled upon one on eggs, I almost stepped on the bird before he/she flushed.  I say he/she because a few years back, a student named Ryan O'Conner was researching chucks on the preserve and captured this video of a male flying in and swapping duties with a female already sitting with chicks.  Until then, it was unknown that males played this role.  The video below shows the male flying in and the chicks moving underneath the male.


Typical "nest" and 2 eggs of chuck-will's-widows.  (Photo by Rich McCarty)
Chuck-will's-widows feed on moths at night.  Its mouth is very large and the beak is rimmed with bristles that act as a basket to help catch moths as they intercept them in mid air.  There are even reports of chuck's being able to catch and eat small birds with this large mouth.  The video below, also captured by Ryan O'Conner, shows the size of the birds open mouth.  If you've never heard the song of the chuck's, I added the song to this video of a bird I recorded this 4th week of May in the Ohio Brush Creek Valley.

Never wanting to disturb the chuck on its eggs, photos can be taken through a scope from a safe distance.
Roosting near the barrens during the day, if you're lucky, you might find one sitting on a tree. Can you see the bird in the middle of the picture? (Photo by Rich McCarty)
It is somewhat of a mystery as to why chucks choose this valley over the rest of southern Ohio.  Why haven't they been breeding in the hills surrounding Scioto Brush Creek of Scioto County for example?  I have one theory and it has to do with their nesting preferences. These birds almost always seem to nest around the same kind of habitat.  This habitat is about the same elevation due to the geology of the area.  It seems they are always near a post oak (Quercus stellata) or blackjack oak (Quercus marilandica) barren, and they lay eggs somewhere near the edge of these barrens.  There are a lot of these barrens around the Ohio Brush Creek valley, but not around valleys in the surrounding counties.  In fact, if you go across the river, south into Kentucky, you would have to travel at least 100 miles before you get into chuck-will's-widow breeding territory.  So we really do have a small island of chuck-will's-widow's breeding in southern Ohio. 

Posted by: Mark Zloba

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Few Reptiles From The Edge

I took the opportunity to visit a tract that we recently acquired, as a part of the EOA Preserve, in an attempt to locate some of the seldom seen reptiles of the Edge.  The weather has been cool and damp so I expected that these guys might be holed up under some cover, waiting for some sunshine and warm temperatures to get their systems going.  While the day was overcast with sometimes steady rain and temperatures in the 50's, I discovered several species content to provide a photo opportunity. 

Ring-necked snake, Diadophis punctatus
A small snake, easily identified by the yellow or sometimes orange band that encircles the neck, this ring-necked snake was the first that I discovered.  While fairly common within the southern half of Ohio, I rarely see ring-necked snakes unless I am specifically looking for them under boards or tins.

Red-bellied snake, Storeria occipitomaculata
Soon thereafter, I located this Red-bellied snake. This woodland resident is fairly common within the Edge Preserve and is readily identified by its reddish - orange belly. 

Eastern Wormsnake, Carphophis amoenus
Searching through leaves led to the discovery of this small fellow, the Eastern Wormsnake.  Usually grey to reddish brown in color with a pinkish belly, the wormsnake fits its name very well.  The wormsnake looks very similar to the Smooth Earth snake, with the earth snake typically having some black specks along the sides of the body where the Easterm Wormsnake does not.  Both of these snakes are restricted to only a few counties in southern Ohio and are challenging to find.

Eastern Milksnake, Lampropeltis triangulum
Finally, I found a snake of some appreciable size!  If you look at the first three pictures and compare the snake to the surrounding leaves in the picture, you can see that those are some small snakes.  The Eastern Milksnake is a medium sized snake, maybe reaching two feet in length, and fairly common in Ohio.  The milksnake is often mis-identified as a Northern Copperhead by the casual viewer though its pattern differs from that of the copperhead and it lacks the vertical pupils of a venomous snake.

North American or Black Racer, Coluber constrictor
Now we are getting somewhere in this effort...this guy is a racer and as the name suggests, these snakes can move quickly.  Black racers can reach lengths of 5 - 6 feet and can be aggressive if threatened or startled.  Yep, they can be intimidating!  I know from personal experience that they will strike repeatedly when captured.  The species is most active during the day during hot weather, at time when they are capable of moving very quickly.  Fortunately the cooler temperatures have this snake content to stay put and simply "scent" what level of a threat I may be.  We often hear folks refer to our racers in southern Ohio as Black Racers or Blue Racers, dependent mostly on the predominant coloration of the snake.  We recognize this snake as a racer, and regardless of his predominant color, he is likely to be quick and have a mean disposition!

Northern Copperhead, Agkistrodon contortrix

A fitting end to a long day of searching, I found a Northern Copperhead.  The copperhead is not very excitable, often laying still to the point that it is stepped on by passers by.  While common in southern Ohio and within the Edge preserve, this snake can be hard to find.  This guy has the trade mark copper colored head and if you can see the eye, you will see a vertical pupil that removes all doubt that this snake is venomous. 
Searching for reptiles can be challenging, even in "good" weather,  finding this many species in these cool conditions was pretty satisfying.  We are still searching for a Timber Rattlesnake within the bounds of the Edge preserve.   We will keep searching for and discovering what we have protected within the Edge of Appalachia Preserve.

Posted by: Rich McCarty

Friday, April 15, 2016

Oligolectic bees

The Edge staff, along with eager students were lucky enough to spend a week with bee expert, Mike Arduser and his wife Jane.  Mike was here to teach a class on bee identification.  What an incredible and patient teacher Mike proved to be as bee's are not an easy subject to identify.  Now that he is gone, we are finding that more than his friendliness will be missed.  We are also missing his knowledge of bees, bee anatomy and the plants they feed upon.

Bombus sp. on Virginia bluebells, Mertensia virginiana  (not an oligolectic species)

Our brains were filled and tested during the week, but one thing I will always remember and share
with you is that some bees are oligolectic.  I know it's a bit of a glossa twister (bees tongues are called glossa), but oligolectic bees are pollinator specialists on specific plants.  Many bees will pollinate a large host of plants, but some only visit one specific plant, and you need to find that plant if you want to find that bee.  In fact, during the class, Mike collected one of the oligolectic bees for us.  White trout lilys, Erythronium albidum, were blooming during the class and it turns out there is a bee called Andrena erythronii that specializes on this plant.

Erythronium albidum, white trout lily
Andrena erythronii, the trout lily andrena
Mike gave us a list of oligolectic bees and the plants they pollinate.  This week we have been going out and watching some of these plants as they slowly start to bloom and await the bees.  Chris Bedel, Preserve Director,  picked up this bee shown below from a spring beauty, Claytonia virginica.  Using the dichotomous keys Mike provided us, I believe it is the spring beauty bee called Andrena erigeniae

Spring beauty, Claytonia virginica (photo by Robyn Wright-Strauss) 

Andrena erigeniae, the spring beauty andrena

Our quest will continue to find bees off plants that we know are oligolectic bee hosts.    One thing to remember is that a bee that is not oligolectic may also visit some of these plants.  But an oligolectic bee will only visit it's host plant.   For example, other bee species might visit a spring beauty, but the spring beauty andrena bee will only visit spring beauties.  So you still may need to research the bee and make sure it looks like the one you are looking for. 

Here are a four common spring flowers to watch for that have oligolectic bee associations:

On Packera sp. (formerly Scenicio) (golden ragworts) watch for Andrena gardineri.
On Cornus sp., dogwoods, look for Andrena fragilis. (photo by Robyn Wright-Strauss)
On Viola sp., violets, watch for Andrena violae.
On Geranium maculatum, wild geranium, watch for Andrena distans.
Most exciting so far was learning there is an oligolectic bee on one of the preserve's rare state listed plants.  Nothoscordum bivalve, false garlic or crow-poison, is threatened in Ohio and only found in small patches in 2, maybe 3 Ohio counties.  Waiting for the flowers to open this week, myself and Robyn Wright-Strauss searched a roadside of false garlic for pollinating bees.  Within minutes of searching,  we caught a couple of these small Andrena bees.  Most certainly the first found and caught in Ohio, these were the oligolectic bees called Andrena nothoscordi.  This find is a range extension northward for this species.  All these years this rare plant has been growing roadside in the southern parts of the preserve, but who knew there was a bee associated with it, which is equally as rare.

On false garlic, Nothoscordum bivalve, watch for Andrena nothoscori
Andrena nothoscordi feeding on Nothoscordum bivalve, false garlic

Close up of Andrena nothoscordi (photo by Robyn Wright-Strauss)
Bees can be challenging to identify, but if you know the plant it is feeding on, it can make the task a little bit easier.  This seems to be another good reason to promote the diversity of native plants in your area.   There just might be a native bee relying on them for survival.

To see a list of more oligolectic bees and their host plants, use this link:

Posted by:  Mark Zloba

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Spring's Shining Star

One of the things we most anticipate here at the Edge each spring is the emergence of early wildflowers. Who can blame us? After months of grays, browns, maybe some white if it snows, a body needs to see the delicate colors of spring ephemerals. Standard favorites of course include things like hepatica, spring beauty, and the diminutive harbinger-of-spring. 

Hepatica, Hepatica  nobilis

Spring beauty, Claytonia virginica

Harbinger-of-spring, Erigenia bulbosa

However, there is a special wildflower that one could argue is the "star" of early spring. Goldenstar lily, Erythronium rostratum, is an endangered species here in Ohio. Blooming at about the same time as the more familiar white trout lily, this golden beauty is only found in two counties, Adams and Scioto.

Goldenstar lily, Erythronium rostratum

Goldenstar lily just beginning to open up.

These pictures are from here in Adams county from a remote spot on the preserve. This population was found by the Edge's own Rich McCarty a few years ago. For that exciting story, click here. This link will take you to Andy Gibson's excellent blog, The Buckeye Botanist.

Posted by: Robyn Wright-Strauss

Friday, March 18, 2016

An unusual spider (part 2)

An update to the last post.  This week Rich Bradley made it down to try and video the spider, if she was in the tunnel.  We tried to coax the spider out of the hole and crossed our fingers for a pounce on the beetle we were offering.  Nothing happened as a beetle walked around the rim of the trap-door.  After realizing the spider, if present, wasn't going to attack, Rich opened the lid to see inside.  With a flashlight, he did see a spider in the tunnel, so he teased it out of the hole to see the occupant.  
Dr. Rich Bradley photographing the trap-door
Out came a female Ummidia trap-door spider.  The first female I have seen.  We photographed her from all angles and Rich put her back in the tunnel.  Maybe another day I can witness her using the trap-door as camouflage to catch prey.
Since the last post, I learned from others the occurrence of Ummidia spiders elsewhere in unglaciated Ohio.  Four other counties have records in the past few years including Ross, Perry, Vinton and Hamilton.

Female Ummidia trap door-spider
Photos of the ventral surface of the spider needed to age the spider.
Female Ummidia trap-door spider
Posted by: Mark Zloba