Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Under the Boardwalk ...

Hastings County is fortunate to have a number of conservation areas. Among these is the H.R. Frink Outdoor Education Centre which has a boardwalk across a large expanse of wetland, allowing visitors to view areas of the marsh that would normally be inaccessible without a canoe.

These three Blanding's Turtles (Emydoidea blandingii) were basking on a floating log just a few feet from the boardwalk (they're visible to the right of the boardwalk in the photo above).

Unlike the Painted Turtles which took no chances and dived at the slightest provocation, these guys watched us with a haughty and imperious demeanor, acting as if they owned the marsh. Which, in a sense, they do: at close to twenty centimeters in length they are too large to be bothered by most predators. Considered a threatened species, two man-made dangers the turtles in this locale are immune to are destruction of their habitat and road mortality, and they might well live to a ripe old age of eighty-plus years.

Three of the following aquatic plants are new to me, having been overlooked because they live in areas of a marsh that are beyond the reach of my camera. A first sight I thought these little white flowers belonged to a species of Arrowhead. In fact, they are Common Frogbit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae).

With little yellow flowers that resemble snapdragons, the Common Bladderwort (Utricularia vulgaris) is another of the carnivores of the plant kingdom. The plant's leaves and stem are submerged, and spaced along the stem are little bladders with hairs. Should a small organism contact these hairs they trigger the bladder to open, drawing in whatever is nearby.

Another "new" (to me) species – the Water Shield (Brasenia schreberi). The submerged stem and underside of the leaf is coated with a slimy jelly.

A familiar sight at many local marshes but until now out of the range of my camera (a Canon PowerShot A530): the Yellow Water Lily (Nuphar lutea).

The Frink Center has several other trails meandering through woods and meadows as well as wetlands. One could spend a lifetime here and still only scratch the surface of all there is to see and learn.

Whites and yellows are hard to photograph even with optimal lighting, and photography in shaded areas can be particularly challenging, as flashbulbs can distort colors and produce reflections from glossy surfaces. This was the best I could do with this Waxflower Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica).

I think this fungus is an Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus).

An Amanita, not sure what species.

Look twice at a "worm" if you turn over an old log on the damp woodland floor, it might be a Northern Redback Salamander (Plethodon cinereus).

The odonate species at the Frink Center are the same as at other local marshes. But we can't leave without mentioning them at least in passing ...

The sky was overcast and this mating pair of Rainbow Bluets ( Enallagma antennatum) decided to perch in the shrubbery, so this photo can't really do these gaudy little damselflies justice.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mantidfly, Antlion, Fishfly, Lacewing and Dobsonfly ... Nerve-winged Insects

An uncommon insect that looks like a weird hybrid between a preying mantis and a wasp, and probably often overlooked because of its resemblance to the latter. This mantidfly is about 30 mm long; it looks like Climaciella brunnea, and as it's appearance suggests, the adult is predacious. The larvae are parasites of spiders. Mantidflies belong to the order Neuroptera (meaning
"net wings" or "nerve wings"), which also includes lacewings, ant lions, fishflies and dobsonflies.

Antlion larvae are known for their sand traps. This adult Brachynemurus abdominalis is getting ready to take flight, when at rest the wings are normally folded over the back in the manner of a moth or caddisfly. Antlion adults can be mistaken for a damselfly ...

... but a damselfly doesn't have long antennae like this.

Although much smaller the Lacewing bears a resemlance to its larger relatives, the Fishfly and the Dobsonfly. Lacewings are sometimes called stinkflies for the unpleasant smell they release in self-defense if they feel threatened. Adults feed on pollen and nectar, the larvae eat aphids.

Images of a couple of fishflies. When I took these photos I was uncertain if the antennae were different because these are a male and female of the same species, or two different kinds of fishfly. According to BugGuide.Net these are female and male Spring Fishflies (Chauliodes rastricornis); the head and pronotum have dark markings on a light background. Only the male of this species has the comb-like or pectinate antennae. The Summer Fishfly (Chauliodes pectinicornis) has pale markings on a darker background and both sexes possess the pectinate antennae.

Similar in appearance to the Fishfly but much larger is the Eastern Dobsonfly (Corydalus cornutus). The aquatic larvae, sometimes call hellgrammites, are the top insect predator in their little corner of the world; this one was a good 90 mm long.

The adult females retain the larval jaws and while they can give a really good bite if mishandled they are not venomous. As is often the case, they don't eat at all, the adult form living only long enough to reproduce. Males have long pincer-like mandibles: while giving them a fierce aspect the jaws are too long to exert any force and are harmless.

Here's a link to some images of a male Dobsonfly ... the insect that started this blog.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Swift River Cruiser (Macromia illinoiensis)

Another find at the creek near the Alexander Street and Eastern Ontario Trail intersection ... a beautiful male Swift River Cruiser (Macromia illinoiensis). Until now I've only known this species from remnants after they've collided with a vehicle.

At about 70 mm in length, this dragonfly is larger than its cousin the Stream Cruiser, and it also has a somewhat darker aspect. The large dorsal spot on S7 is diagnostic; it almost seems to glow from a distance.

A couple of closeup shots, showing the single lateral thoracic stripe and facial stripe characteristic of both of our local cruiser species. Although cruisers seldom seem to stop and rest, when they do so they are remarkably placid and tame. I could have easily reached out and plucked this one from the stick it was perching on.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Arrowhead Spiketail (Cordulegaster obliqua)

The sand-and-stone bottomed creek near the intersection of Alexander Street and the Eastern Ontario Trail seems to be prime odonate real estate. Today this was the site of my first encounter with an Arrowhead Spiketail (Cordulegaster obliqua).

This is a female, and the large ovipositor that's the hallmark of the family Cordulegasterdae can easily be seen despite the poor quality of the image. A striking insect, but despite its bold colors and size (roughly 80 mm, maybe a bit more) it is elusive and seldom seen. She wouldn't let me come any closer and this is the only picture I was able to take ... maybe next time ...

Off-Color Odonates

This female Libellula quadrimaculata (a.k.a. Four-spotted Skimmer) was encountered near the intersection of Alexander Street and the Eastern Ontario Trail. The dragonfly was foraging in a field of tall grasses, weeds and wildflowers. A small sand-and-rock bottomed creek and the Moira River are nearby. At first I mistook it for a Painted Skimmer as it flew by, but Libellula semifasciata would be a vagrant in this area.

The black patterning at the end of the abdomen and basal patches on the hindwings are correct for a Four-spotted Skimmer. However, not only are the spots at the nodes are larger and darker than the norm, but the wings are barred near their tips. I don't know what to make of this: is it a normal variation? A sport? Are hybrids between L. quarimaculata and L. semifasciata possible? At any rate, it's certainly different ...

The following day I saw another Four-spotted Skimmer with a dark wash near the nodes and wingtips at the same location, and also emailed a copy of the Four-spotted Skimmer photo to David Bree, who kindly responded: "... it is a dead ringer for a 4-spot. The amount of black at the tip of the abdomen is like a 4-spot and not a Painted as well. I don't think the node spots are bigger than normal. All these markers are much more distinct on young four-spots, they do fade with age ... Some pictures I've seen in field guides actually show this species with that same dusky wash though not quite as distinct as yours."

Another anomalous odonate: a female Dot-tailed Whiteface with a generous amount of amber at its bases of its wings. Now and again I've encountered Leucorrhinia intacta with a bit of color but this really caught my eye as the dragonfly hovered above the grass.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Smallest, the Largest and a few things in between ...

At a mere 20 mm in length, the Elfin Skimmer (Nannothemis bella) holds the record for being North America's smallest dragonfly. The black-and-yellow striped females can easily be mistaken for wasps. Several of these diminutive dragonflies were seen foraging near a marsh along the Potter Settlement Road, about a kilometer east of Actinolite ... to date, this is the only site other than the Stoco Fen that I've encountered this species.

Mature males are covered in a blue-gray coat of pruinosity.

Until recently I only knew of this dragonfly from remnants of individuals that had collided with vehicles. While not uncommon, the Prince Baskettail (Epitheca princeps) cruises non-stop high in the air, so unless it makes one of its infrequent pit stops it's seldom encountered by mere land bound entities. When it does rest it seems to prefer a shady location, making it a difficult subject to photograph. At 60 to 65 mm this dragonfly is the by far the largest of our local baskettail species. This the female ...

... and this is an immature male; except for the claspers it looks much like the female. As it ages its eyes will turn a deep translucent green like those of many other emeralds.

Another Giant Swallowtail sighting around noon on June 8th near the Stoco Lake boat ramp. No picture; it was moving too fast. But it looks like North America's largest butterfly is definitely a breeding resident, even if temporarily, in this area. Indeed, they've been in this neck of the woods long before I noticed them: the following two photos were taken by Ildiko Olive west of Thomasburg in August of 2006. I'm going to keep an eye on the stands of Prickly Ash and see if there are any larvae.

A Common Snapping Turtle on a mission: she's digging a nest along the side of the road. Chelydra serpentina is our largest local turtle and this one looks close to 50 cm long. The length is a guesstimate; I didn't actually take measurements as snappers have somewhat antisocial dispositions that tend to discourage one from getting close up and personal. After "snapping" a couple of pictures I backed off and let her get on with her business. In two or three months, depending on the weather, the hatchlings will emerge from the eggs.

Not the smallest moth but with a wingspan of only 12 mm the Spotted Thyris (Thyris maculata) qualifies as being tiny. These minute moths seemed to have a preference for nectaring at Robin Plantain (Erigeron pulchellus), a type of fleabane.

Grasshopper growth: a nymph shedding its exoskeleton

Two grasshopper nymph instars; the larger one is less than 5 mm long. I'm not sure what species these are.

One of our bantam butterflies, the Silver-bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene) has a wingspan of 45 to 50 mm.