Thursday, September 30, 2010
Little Yellow nectaring on Stiff Aster.
Yellow and purple are commonly used colors in nature, one finds various yellow butterflies along most country roads. And purple asters are certainly not unusual... yet both these southern species are highly sought-after in Ohio, and worth a second look.
Note the short "stiff" leaves on this aster, known from the roadsides of Shawnee forest, they make the Stiff Aster, Ionactis linariifolius a stand-out among the endless ranks of asters. At least 33 species of Asters are known in Ohio, but this rarity is strictly a southern specialist.
OH, the vagaries of names. Generally butterfly common names are standards one can rely upon, and Latin is the gold standard for plants as common names are frequently confusing. These lovely rarities seem to be bent on breaking all the rules.
Several common names are listed for this plant: Flax-leaf Aster, Flaxleaf Whitetop Aster, and in Ohio we prefer- Stiff Aster. Unfortunately the Latin name is nearly as confusing as the common name. Asters are no longer called "asters" in the botanical world, most have been regrouped to Symphyotrichums, but this little beauty is Ionactis.
And in a rare case of confusion in the butterfly world, there are two commonly used names for the Eurema lisa : Little Yellow or Little Sulphur butterfly. Since Eurema is the "Yellow" genus, many prefer "Little Yellow".
As Shakespeare noted: a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. And so, enjoy nature and realize the names may help us categorize the plants and butterflies, but do not impact upon their beauty.
Monday, September 27, 2010
Fly Away Home
your house is on fire and your children alone.
It is a strange little nursery rhyme, remembered from my youth. It didn't made a lot of sense to me then, and it certainly doesn't ring any truer now. First of all, they are not bugs but rather beetles. Generally classified as "Lady Bird Beetles," the Coccinellidea, they are not in danger of loosing their families to fire. However, our native Lady Bird Beetles are in grave danger of being out-competed by invasive Asian members of their own family.
Thirteen Spotted-Lady Bird Beetle photo by Dale Zutavern
As native Lady Beetles become more difficult to find, this interesting photo documents a rare local species. Studies by the good folks at Cornell University and O.S.U. are trying to assess which native Lady Bird Beetles are present and just how they are being impacted by the non-native species.
Most species of Lady Bird Beetles aggressively feed on aphids and mealy-bugs and are welcomed by gardeners and farmers alike as "beneficial insects." And if a few are good, more must be better, right? So, some Asian imports were originally welcomed to our country.
"Come on in, eat up, ladies and gents."
Until, too late we realized... our native beetles (the ones that don't try to hibernate in your home during the winter) were being impacted by the intense competition for food.
Even in their larva form (often called an "Alligator") they are major consumers of insect pests. Unfortunately most gardeners don't recognize this "pre-beetle." Instead these colorful red-and-black foragers are blasted with chemical powders or sprays, before they are able to feed on the garden pests they so ably consume.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
please meet Dr. Charlie Staines and John Howard.
Charlie is afiliated with the Smithsonian, specializing Coleoptera, or Beetles. While on a collecting trip in southern Ohio, he generously allowed John Howard and me to tag along and literally beat a few bushes in a quest for Adams County's micro-fauna.
Now before you decide beetles are not your bag, I might remind you that one in every four species on this earth- IS A BEETLE! They comprise a tremendous part of the food chain, and with out them, I suspect life on earth would certainly not exist as we know it.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
This Soapwort Gentian is a major find. Listed as Probably Extirpated in Michigan and Endangered in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, it was well worth the trip to the Oak Openings.
Springville Marsh, just outside of Carey Ohio, boasts a readily accessible population of this wet-footed species. Take your tripod and camera along and you should be able to score excellent photos from the boardwalk.
Sorting gentians may take more than I bargained for. It seems the Fringed Gentians, Lesser and Greater, are tough to sort out. And while the lower photo has obviously less "fringe," it is still the same species (G. procera) as the Springville Marsh gentian.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Border Patrol for Silver-bordered Frits
...................................... Click on photo to enlarge
The Silver-bordered Fritillary is the smallest of the fritillaries with silver spots on the underwings. They are members of the brush-foot family of butterflies, which means they have shortened front legs like a preying mantis, or T-Rex, if you will. But fritillaries restrict their diet to nectar as adults and strictly violets as caterpillars.
In fact, it is the rarity of the host plant that accounts for the rarity of this species. You see, Silver-border Frits only like Northern Bog Violets, Viola nephrophylla, which in turn only like wet places. And since we have been terribly fond of draining our wet places, we have a real shortage of bog violets - and Silver-bordered butterflies.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Butterflying with Bob
Robert Michael Pyle, watched butterflies before we even had a term for it- Butterflying.
And for the past 40 odd years he has been helping others learn and enjoy these fascinating creatures. His greatest gift might well be his ability to connect with people. From the smallest child to the veteran "skipper and moth" groupies - Bob relates. We thought he would make a great politician, but he is just too dog-gone sincere.
It was a little cool and cloudy for our field trip, but once we found a Great Spangled Fritillary, Bob put it through the paces... and education and delight meld into one.
Bob talked skippers and conservation with Jan, one of the Kitty Todd Karner Blue monitors. Note he is using a Kaufman guide in this photo, although he wrote the first butterfly guide for Audubon! Each guide has it own merits- and I use both. Kaufman's side-by-side photos rock, while Pyle's has informative narrative on host plants!
Oh egg-heads gather round. Here are the serious B-fliers lapping up knowledge at a Bob Pyle puddle-party.
Bianca Davis, Greg Miller, Linda Romaine, and Darrick, soaking up some plant and butterfly facts from Ohio's own Jim Davidson.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
This Eastern Comma butterfly already has "Autumn" written all over it.
Late season or "winter form" Commas will spend the Ohio winter in hibernation and will be one of the earliest butterflies seen in 2011. The fall brood of Commas are lighter in coloration on the hind wing, and the spots look nearly golden. Edges often appear to be trimmed in lavender on the fall form. Size is a good key to this species. Remember, Commas are smaller than the similar Question Marks, if the diagnostic comma shaped mark on the under wing cannot be seen.
A ditch full of Meadow Fritillaries hides an impostor amongst them. The Meadow Frits are evenly golden around the edges, while the Pearl Crescent (centered top of the photo) is slightly smaller and edged in black. Pearl Crescents are one of Ohio's most common butterfly- essentially the gold standard- or "Killdeer" of shorebirds. Get this species down and it is useful for comparing size and color with several other similar species.
New England Aster, one of the showiest of our fall blooming asters.
Fall is also a time for asters, the host plant for the Pearl Crescent. Woodlands and fields are starting boast of the many species of Asters: white, lavender, blues and the stunning purple flowers of the New England Aster, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae. Look closely at its leaves which wrap around, or clasp the stem of this wetland loving plant.
These beautiful fall days won't last for long, so breath deeply the cool night air and savor every color nature has to offer. It can't get much better than this.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
A roadside seep offered a generous display of Closed Bottle Gentians, Gentiana andrewsii. This is not a flower you'll see with 40 MPH botanizing- unlike the splashy Great Blue Lobelia. For this subdued little number, you'll have to get out of the car!
Closed Bottle Gentian is a wetland obligate; it is most often found by walking along a ditch, or small seep. Usually it well concealed by other foliage, but this unpretentious plant is worth a second look.
Monday, September 13, 2010
In the Wetland Garden-
Today I reaped the rewards.
A Giant Swallowtail, Ohio's biggest and brightest butterfly stopped by to nectar on my favorite plant- Great Blue Lobelia, Lobelia syphilitica. The Giants are regulars at our property, but I have never seen a butterfly nectar on Great Blue Lobelia before. What a wonderful discovery, and reward for the time and labor it took to dig out this sunken garden.
Great Blue Lobelia requires a good deal of moisture; it can occasionally be found growing in roadside ditches. Once thought to be a cure for syphilis, (good luck on that!) I suggest it is better put to use as butterfly bait.
What a wonderful day!
................. ....Whee! ............. (click on photo to enlarge)
Saturday, September 11, 2010
The Common Buckeye is a southern butterfly that migrates north in favorable years. If their team's scouts arrive early enough in the summer, they will lay eggs and their offspring will infiltrate new territories, until fall's chill. This is strictly a warm weather warrior.
Behold the Buckeye: fearless insect fit for battle... until the weather turns cold.
Friday, September 10, 2010
Miracle of the Flightless Butterfly
This mid-sized Frit is an unusual find in mid-Ohio, not rare- but definitely considered icing-on-the-cake. Like all fritillary species, their primary host plant is probably violets but their "cats" also feed on Mayapples (Podophyllum peltata) and Moonseed (Menispernum sp.) Variegated Frits have an unusual squared-off appearance to their wings and more color contrast than their smaller cousins the Meadow Fritillaries or the bigger Great Spangled Fritillaries.
Ground zero for "Operation Variegated " is the Horsemen's Picnic area. Malabar has several areas where grass mowing is reduced in order to promote Wildlife Diversity, and the flourish of Variegated Frits found here (five in all) shows that reduced mowing works! This attractive shin-deep lawn of grasses and flowering forbs was alive with butterflies. And many of them appeared to be very freshly emerged!
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
And after repeating this three times the answer becomes-
"Orange you glad I didn't say apple?"
The Weedpicker took a well deserved break from the caterpillar farm today and struck out to Lorain with some "birdy" friends in search for a rare "orange" bird, the Cinnamon Teal.
Here we are, 15 or so avid birders looking for a Cinnamon Teal- without a trace of "cinnamon" on it. We found the little traveller, an Ohio rarity, but it was too far out for my camera's focus. And frankly, it pretty well blended in with the other brown and tan birds in fall-plumage. It was certainly not the showiest bird I have "chased" but it was a great deal of fun to find, none-the-less.
Can you find the Monarchs?
Sunday, September 5, 2010
Life and Death in Macro
where even the smallest of the caterpillars, rarely noted with the naked eye, are larger than life.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Caterpillars: Up Close
Caterpillars: up close and personal!
The smallest of caterpillars are often quite different from the final instars. This petite .5 inch cat has raise bumps and much lighter coloring than his older sibling who is approaching 2 inchs long. While most butterfly larva are host plant specific, Eastern Black Swallowtail cats are unusual in their ability to use multiple host plants. Most of the plants associated with this species are not even native plants.
Parsley, Dill, Fennel and Queen-Ann's Lace are all non-native plants frequently used as hosts by this species. It has always boggled my mind. What did these butterflies feed upon before European settlers brought these plants to the new world? One guess is Golden Alexanders, Zizia aurea, and since it is readily available in my yard, it is one of the test components of the "Butterfly Bouquet".