Saturday, June 17, 2017

Ramble Report June 15 2017



Today's Ramble was led by Dale Hoyt.
The photos in this post, except where noted, came from Don's Facebook album (here's the link).
Today's post was written by Dale Hoyt.
Twenty six Ramblers met today.
Announcements:
Friday, June 23, 6:30 to 7:30 PM. Local Poets Bob Ambrose, Jr. and Eugene Bianchi at Avid Bookstore, 493 Prince Avenue. Click here for more information.

Today's reading: The entry for June Fourteenth from Donald Culross Peattie's An Almanac for Modernsm 1980 edition
(originally published 1935):

There is no breeze today except the wind of rumor that perpetually blows through the cottonwoods, and it would be a mystery where they find it in this heavy atmosphere unless one examined their leaf stalks with an attentive eye. For these are flattened and where the heart-shaped blade joins to the petiole it is as free, almost, to swing as if suspended on a pivot. The merest whisper of a breeze suffices to set the leaves twirling, to rustling and talking.
The wise of the earth assure us that all poplars, like the willows, are trivial trees, short of life, weak of stem, prey to more ills than mortal man. These things are so, and we are bidden only to admire the oak and pine, that outlive the centuries, that grow in surety and have the sterner virtues. But is there no room in the forest for the poplar, with its restless, talkative foliage? The strong and silent folk of earth – I would rather praise them than live with them. I have never grumbled at a chatterbox, providing that her tongue was kind.

Today's route: Through the Shade Garden to the access road; left on the road to the power line right of way (RoW), then left on the RoW to the river.

Hentz's orbweaver
Spider web. Walking down the sidewalk in the Shade Garden we almost bumped into the web of an orb weaving spider, possibly Hentz's Orbweaver. The web spread across the entire width of the sidewalk and some Ramblers wondered how the spider could manage to get the silk across a space of about 6 to 10 feet between the shrubs it was attached to. To do so the spider first sits at the end of a branch and secretes a strand of silk from its spinnerets at the end of its abdomen. This fine silk is carried by air currents and its free end ultimately sticks to an object. The spider attaches the end of her silk to the object on which she is sitting. Then she walks across the bridge she has just established, reinforcing it with more silk. She will then walk to the middle of the bridge, attach a silk line there and lower herself to the ground, extending the silk line as she drops. She uses this new line to pull the center of the bridge downward. Where the bridge and the newline meet will be the center of her orb web. She may spin more anchoring lines, but eventually she returns to the center and begins to lay a silk line in an ever increasing spiral around the center point of the web.

Passion vine with unopened flower buds.
Passion vine is climbing up the deer fencing at the edge of the road toward the bottom of the Dunson Garden. Last year we found dozens of Gulf Fritillary butterfly caterpillars devouring the foliage of this plant, as well as several chrysalids (the pupal stage of the butterfly) hanging from the fence itself.
Passion vine flower opening
Today a few of the flowers were starting to open, or were they yesterday's flowers beginning to wilt? The flowers of passion vine last only a single day and have one of the most complex structure of any of our flowering plants. Being a vine it has to find some way of climbing its support and passion vine uses tendrils.
Passion vine tendril attached to fence and coiling to pull the vine closer.
Each node has a single tendril growing out, seeking the touch of a support. When it contacts something it begins to coil, wrapping itself about its new found support. The coiling extends down to the base of the tendril, drawing the vine closer to the supporting structure. The tendril is, of course, blind; it curls about anything stationary, even including another branch of the same plant.
Passion vine flea beetle
Other insects have a specific relationship with passion vines. There is a flea beetle that feeds on the vine in both the adult and larval stages. Signs of its presence are holes made in the leaves of the plant. Caterpillar damage is evident from removal of leaf tissue from the edge.
Passion vines are easy to transplant. Simply take a cutting, place it in water for week or more, until a root begins to emerge. Then simply plant it in the place you'd like to have it. In our area it is perennial and will die back over winter. It spreads by a rhizome, so you will have to keep it in place by mowing. It does well in poor soil and needs only a sunny place to in order to flower. It is the host plant of two butterflies: Gulf Fritillary and Variegated Fritillary. The first will only lay eggs on passion vine and caterpillars of the latter prefer passion vine but also can develop on violets.

Newly metamorphosed Eastern Spadefoot 
Eastern Spadefoots, which are only distantly related to toads, are seldom seen or heard, but we've been finding newly metamorphosed individuals for a couple of weeks now. Such small toads are a little hard to identify. One of the features that is diagnostic of the spadefoot is the pupil shape. It's like a cat's eye – vertically elliptical. Ordinary toads have a horizontally elliptical pupil. But there is a catch. The shape of an animal's pupil depends on the amount of light entering the eye. If you have a cat you may have noticed that at night or in a dimly lit room its pupil is nearly circular, opening wider to admit more light. Under brighter conditions the pupil becomes more slit-like. If you look at Don's photo you'll see that the pupil is nearly circular, but appears to be horizontally elliptical. This is because of the coloration of the iris. The Eastern Spadefoot iris has four patches of black pigment arranged around the edge of the iris: top, bottom, forward and rearward. When the pupil is dilated (circular) it contacts the forward and rearward patches, causing the pupil to look wider than it actually is. If you're not convinced I encourage you to visit this website and look at all the photos of Eastern Spadefoots. There are some with circular pupils and some with elliptical pupils. Counting from the top of page, photos no. 12 and 13 show recently metamorphosed individuals and their pupils do appear to be horizontally elliptical. But look closer and you'll see that the pupil is actually round and touches the dark pigment at the edge of the iris, causing it to appear elliptical horizontally.

Wingstems. Wingstems are abundant in lower part of the power line. There are three species in this area and, when they are flowering, they are easily identified. But without the flowers we can confidently identify only one, Yellow crownbeard. It has opposite leaves and the leaves are shaped like the spade on the Ace of Spades. The other two species have alternate leaves and we haven't been able, in the absence of flowers, to convince ourselves that we can separate them on the size or shape of the leaves. Perhaps it's best to wait until they flower and then compare the leaves.

Just So stories were written by Rudyard Kipling as entertainment for his daughter. Each told a fanciful story about how an animal got its special characteristic; e.g., how the elephant got its trunk, how the leopard got its spots, how the camel got its hump, etc. When people first discover the many features that plants and animals exhibit it's natural to wonder about their functions. Why, for example, do wingstems have those ridges of plant tissue running up their stems? Implicit in the question is the idea that those "wings" must have a function. Biologists and natural historians often come up with ideas about such things but if these ideas can't be tested, then they don't deserve to be called "hypotheses." If they're not hypotheses then they are best regarded as "just so stories."

Bunch gall on Goldenrod
A Goldenrod Bunch Gall (Apical Gall, Rosette Gall) is formed when small fly lays an egg in the growing tip of goldenrod plant. The presence of the egg and, later, the larva of the fly somehow blocks the elongation of the stem, but the stem continues to produce leaves. Because the stem is no longer elongating the leaves bunch up at the tip of the goldenrod, forming the gall. Inside the gall the larva of the fly feeds on the plant tissue. The presence of the gall has the same effect as cutting the growing tip. It releases buds lower on the stem from what is called "apical dominance" in plants. These buds are now free to grow and the secondary sprouts that form will produce flowers later in the season.


Insects

Carolina grasshopper. See last week's post for pictures of the colorful hind wings of this otherwise cryptically colored grasshopper.

Japanese beetle, if abundant, can be real pests. A large group of adult beetles can defoliate many plants in short order. Additionally, the larvae are grubs that live in the soil and can cause damage to lawns. It's a shame that the adults are so beautifully colored.

Silvery checkerspot caterpillar
A Silvery checkerspot caterpillar was spotted feeding on a wingstem leaf. Some people don't like wingstems because they are "aggressive." But without them we wouldn't have the beautiful Silvery checkerspot butterflies.

Tree cricket nymph (?)
Nathan caught an immature nymph of what I'm guessing is a Tree Cricket (Oecanthus sp.). Immature stages of Orthopterans (grasshoppers, katydids, crickets and relatives) are difficult to identify. Most insect guides only illustrate and describe the adult and the nymphs can sometimes look very different. My guess is based on the first two segments of the antennae: they are both enlarged, which is typical of tree crickets. Incidentally, the call of a tree cricket is very melodious, not at all like the chirp-chirp of the ordinary cricket. In spite of the common name tree crickets can also be found on shrubs and other low growing vegetation.

Two lined spittlebug

Lady bug larva
Nathan also caught a two-lined spittlebug and a Lady beetle larva. The spittlebug is the adult stage of the immature spittlebug, the insect that makes the globs of spittle you sometimes see on the stems of various plants.
The lady beetle (or lady bug, if you insist) doesn't look anything like the adult beetle. It reminds me of a tiny alligator, decorated in orange and black. Both the adult lady bug and its larva are voracious eaters of aphids.

Grasshopper nymph; the wing bud is visible just behind the first thorax segment, just below my fingenail.
Someone got a small, green grasshopper nymph, which gives me an excuse to tell you about the difference between nymphs and larvae. Insects can be divided into two major groups: those that develop gradually and those the undergo metamorphosis. The gradual developers hatch from the egg looking like tiny adults. As they grow they shed their "skin," really their exoskeleton, several times, each time growing a bit larger. During these early stages the wings are not obvious – they're just small pads located behind the first thoracic segment. With each molt they get a little bigger, until the final shed when they reach adult size and can function as wings. Examples of insects with gradual development (also called incomplete metamorphosis) are: grasshoppers, katydids, crickets, praying mantis, walking sticks, true bugs and aphids. The immature stages of these insects are called nymphs.
The immature stages of insects with complete metamorphosis are called larvae and look nothing like the adults. They also have a developmental stage between the larva and the adult, called the pupa. It is in the pupal stage of development that the larval tissues are destroyed and consumed to make the adult form. Examples of common insects with complete metamorphosis are: butterflies, moths, ants, bees, wasps, flies, and beetles.

Triangulate orbweaver
Another spider seen today was a very tiny Triangulate orbweaver, identifiable only because it has a light colored, triangular mark on its abodmen.

Angeli netted a Silver spotted skipper, a common species whose larvae feed on False Indigo and other legumes. Skippers differ from butterflies in having very stout bodies and antennae with a hook on the end. (Butterflies have antennae the end with a swelling, but no hook.)

Bee fly, proboscis sticking out to the left
One of the most unusual insects seen today was a Bee fly, a true fly, meaning that it has only a single pair of wings. Bee flies are very fuzzy, which makes them resemble bees, but they are much more adept fliers that bees. They can hover and fly forward and back, just like hummingbirds. Projecting forward from the head is a long proboscis which they insert into to get nectar, again like hummingbirds. They are also important pollinators, transferring pollen from flower to flower that they pick up while sipping nectar.

Brown marmorated stink bug
Other insects encountered: Brown marmorated stink bug, a brown moth and, possibly, a Tortoise beetle. The stink bug is a non-native pest of agricultural crops. The tortoise beetle is so named because it is shaped somewhat like a turtle and is able to squat down with its legs withdrawn under its wing cover edges, adding to the similarity with a turtle.

Birds

Mississippi kite
A Mississippi kite was spotted on a dead tree on the west edge of the power line RoW. Kites feed on airborn insects and have also been known to take birds while in the air.

Red shouldered hawk
Our old, familiar Red shouldered hawk also made an appearance today.

Plants

Daisy fleabane


Daisy fleabane leaves
Rough daisy fleabane

Rough daisy fleabane leaves
Daisy fleabane has begun to bloom. There are several different fleabanes and they are difficult to identify. Don took some photos of the leaves, as well as the flowers, of the daisy fleabane and the rough daisy fleabane that was blooming earlier. The rough DF has narrower leaves with smooth margins, whereas the DF has broader, toothed leaves.

A non-native, but not invasive plant, Brazilian verbain poked its tiny purple flowers above the other plants in the power line RoW.

Wild onion
Wild onions were seen, with its purple heads and flowers

The Garden and the local Audubon Society have sponsored an effort to reestablish our native River cane, a plant that once covered the river bottoms of many southern rivers and streams. Many of the plantings made earlier this year have been successful and some are towering over our heads.

Green ash with abundant fruits
A Green ash on the west side of the RoW is loaded with fruit, as is one near the river.

Bottlebrush buckeye; each inflorescence contains hundreds of flowers
Bottle brush buckeyes are blooming all over the Garden. Three can be seen in the rain garden to your right as you come in the entrance road, past the speed bump. One is flowering in the Shade Garden next to the sidewalk near the White Trail entrance and one more in the formal garden just after crossing the flower bridge.

SUMMARY OF OBSERVED SPECIES:

Hentz's orbweaver
Neoscona crucifera
Passionflower
Passiflora incarnata
Passionflower flea beetle
Disonycha sp.
Yellow crownbeard
Verbesina occidentalis
Wingstem
Verbesina alternifolia
White crownbeard/Frostweed
Verbesina virginica
Grasshopper
Orthoptera: Acrididae
Japanese beetle
Popillia japonica
Silvery checkerspot (caterpillar)
Chlosyne nycteis
Tree cricket
Oecanthus sp.
Eastern Spadefoot
Scaphiopus holbrookii
Wild petunia
Ruellia caroliniensis
Goldenrod Bunch Gall
Rhopalomyia solidaginis
Meadow katydid
Family Tettigoniidae
Daisy fleabane
Erigeron annuus
Brazilian verbain
Verbena brasiliensis  
Wild onion
Alium sp.
Two-lined spittlebug (adult)
Prosapia bicincta
Lady beetle (larva)
Family Coccinellidae
Triangulate orbweaver
Verrucosa arenata
Silver spotted skipper
Epargyreus clarus
Bee fly
Family Bombyliidae
Brown marmorated stink bug
Halyomorpha halys
Moth
Family Noctuoidea
River cane
Arundinaria gigantea
Bottlebrush buckeye
Aesculus parviflora

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