Friday, November 18, 2016

Photo Friday - Autumn's Last Stand


Set against a brilliant clear blue sky, two tall maple trees show off their fall finery.  

Thursday, September 29, 2016

One Bug's Trash is Another Bug's Treasure

If you have ever heard of a green lacewing of the Chrysopidae family, you might know that its larva interestingly camouflages itself with lichen.  Every green lacewing larva I have seen has a dust lichen called Lepraria finkii adhered to its back.  It sticks the lichen to hair-like setae on its body so it can hide under a blanket of lichen. Perhaps to hide from prey that it can grab with its large mandibles.  This fall, try searching trees for these critters by walking up to the trunks and watching for little moving lichen balls.  If you touch the lichen ball, they will walk away from you.

This camouflaged lacewing larva shows mandibles sticking out on the left, legs out the bottom.  Lepraria finkii covering its back.
I have heard about a green lacewing larva that will pick up other kinds of debris and stick it to its back.  But I have never seen it before.  I've seen pictures of a lacewing larva carrying numerous land snail shells and insect body parts on its back.  It looked like a top-heavy garbage truck sneaking across the ground.

This fall, during one of our local school field classes, some 4th grade students and their teacher from West Union Elementary hit the jackpot.  The students were instructed to explore food chains within a leaf litter sample.  Each group sorted through the animals found in their leaf piles.  From this search, a little mysterious critter was found that appeared to be a moving heap of debris.  The teacher brought it to Robyn Wright-Strauss who was leading the class to identify the curious animal.  Robyn brought it back to the lab knowing this was a very unique find.  It was the debris carrying lacewing larva.

Lacewing larva carrying snail shells, insect parts and spider parts on it back.
This animal had collected pieces of other animals and stuck them to its back. I would assume the debris on the lacewing's back was found on the ground and not leftover pieces of its own prey.  Some of the exoskeleton pieces seems to be from an ants, possibly beetles, and there is a dorsal side of a cephalothorax from a spider attached as well.  Two Striatura snail shells are attached on top.  Since lacewing larva specialize in more soft bodied foods, I would think ants and spiders are not their first choices.  So it probably picks up any debris that's available, attaches it, and then blends in with whatever it has found for a disguise.    

The larger snail shell on its back is 2.5 mm and was very difficult to pull off.  Its adhesion is quite impressive.

A pile of debris makes a great place to hide.
What a nice find from our local schools.  Enjoy this short video of the lacewing larva. Now that you've seen it and know what to look for, maybe you will find one too.

video
 
Posted by: Mark Zloba

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Have you Heard this Katydid?


You may have noticed that this is the noisiest time of year in the great outdoors.  During the day, cicadas, crickets and meadow katydid's dominate your ears while you stand outside, and during the night, other katydids and crickets take over.  I think it is fun to try to identify as many of these singing insects by their song since most songs are unique to the individual "singing".  The singing is really a stridulation, or rubbing of one body part against another to create the sound.  Depending on the size and shape of the scrapers rubbing together, and the speed of which they are rubbed, a different sound is produced.  Here's an example of one common sound produced by the Common Meadow Katydid, Orchelimum vulgare.  If you click this video below, you should hear a shuffling and ticking sound that sounds like a yard sprinkler.  This is the meadow katydid song. 



  video


A few years back, we were lucky enough to have Wil Hershberger visit the preserve and teach us how to recognize the subtle and sometimes not so subtle differences in insect song.  Wil is the co-author of The Songs of Insects, a great book, now a website, that introduces people to and informs us about these common sounds we all hear, but few of us recognize.  This post is not so much about all the different songs some of these insects make ( to see and hear that, you might as well visit his website http://songsofinsects.com/ for his wonderful recordings and pictures) but rather a fun discovery made while Wil was teaching a class for us. 

During the class, some great photographer's and friend's of the preserve, David and Laura Hughes, and Jim McCormac took picture's of a katydid.  They showed the picture to Wil, and explained the song.  Wil knew that the katydid in the pictures did not match the song they were hearing.  Therefore, did not recognize the katydid in their pictures.  This was odd because Wil had traveled all over the U.S. photographing and recording singing insects and knew what should be singing in southern Ohio.  The song sounded of the common virtuoso katydid, Amblycorypha longinicta.  But the katydid in the photographs did not look like a common virtuoso katydid because it lacked brown hind tibias.  This unknown katydid in the picture had hind leg tibia's which were green.  Below is a picture of the Common virtuoso, and this unknown virtuoso with differing leg color.

Common virtuoso katydid, notice the brown hind tibia or last segment of the hind leg.
Unknown virtuoso katydid, notice the green hind tibia's.

Turns out, this katydid Jim and David had taken a pictures of sings a lot like the common virtuoso katydid, but not quite exact, and looks a lot like the common virtuoso katydid, but not quite exact.  Apparently, it is something new.  We had been hearing this song for years on parts of the preserve, and assumed it was the common virtuoso, but since we never saw the insect, we didn't know it didn't look like a common virtuoso.  You never know what will be found when you get a bunch of naturalist's together and throw in an expert to help answer questions.  Apparently, this time it is possibly a new species.  The closest identification we could find that looks and sounds like this critter is a Cajun virtuoso katydid found in the Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi area, 500 miles from here.  We don't believe that this unknown virtuoso found in southern Ohio is the Cajun virtuoso.

So what is it?  Last summer, Wil and I spent a week driving around at night searching and listening for this new katydid song to see how many of these unknown species there were, and where else do they live.  We found many locations of this new katydid, and made a map of it's range, which was very small, only finding them in the southern Ohio Brush Creek valley (see below).  We even went across the Ohio river into Kentucky, where as a katydid flies, wouldn't have been too far away from the original location of discovery.  We didn't hear any of them.  Specimens were collected, sent off for DNA and some kept for recording and measuring.  It may take some time to figure out what they are.
GREEN=YES unknown virtuosos/RED=NO unknown virtuosos/ORANGE=only common virtuosos
So my question's are, to anyone that can hear over 13 kHz (these things sing incredibly high pitched and a lot of people can not hear them), has anyone else ever heard these katydids?  Where else do they live?  Could they be common and just over looked?

Listen to the video below and first, see if you can hear the song when the video displays "SINGING NOW".   If you don't hear it.....Sorry to say you may have lost that high pitch sound in your ears.  I purposefully made a recording of these unknown katydid's singing in the wild with other night sounds around, because that is what you might hear if you go out and listen.  The katydid in questions song sounds like a high pitched shuffle followed by a "pen spring" purr.  If I had to spell it out, it would be "chickachickachickachickachicka  purrrrr", then a few seconds break in between.  Click below.

  
video

Now the Common virtuoso katydid, which is found throughout Ohio, but can be very local, is not as common as the name implies.  But its song is very similar.  The difference being, it does the shuffle, or chickachicka once, then follows with many purr's or pen spring flicks.  Listen to the video below to hear the difference. 

video


If any of these songs are hard to hear, you can hear much clearer and louder versions, including many other species on Wil's website listed above.  And to read more about the discovery of this new katydid species, check out Wil's page http://songsofinsects.com/katydids/unknown-amblycorypha, for much more details.

The goal here is to find more of these unknown katydids near Adams County, Ohio, or anywhere.  So if you think you have a virtuoso katydid that shuffles every time before it purr's, try to get a recording (cell phone recording's might work if you are close to it), or try to get your eyes on the critter and see if it's hind legs are entirely green.  If so, contact me at mzloba@cincymuseum.org.  Through DNA, we hope to soon know what this species is and if it is new to science.  So keep your ears open at night and listen for virtuoso katydids and you can help us solve this katydid mystery.


Posted by: Mark Zloba

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 http://naturepreserves.ohiodnr.gov/rareplants  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.

video



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.
video


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