Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"No Name" Nature

This large caterpillar was found crawling in the vegetation near the forest floor. Given its size, about the length and width of my pinky finger, and knowing that Luna Moths pupate in the forest litter, often incorporating dead leaves in their cocoons, it seemed reasonable to conclude this was the larval stage of Actias luna.

My first attempts at check my supposition drew a blank – there was nothing in either my field guides or the Internet that resembled this caterpillar. It took a bit more digging to find out that my first surmise was correct after all. This is a Luna Moth caterpillar, but larvae that will overwinter often take on an amber coloration.

It's interesting to note that when danger is imminent this caterpillar instinctively hides its head in the same manner as the Promethea Moth larva. Meanwhile the large terminal pair of pseudopods are raised in the air, their colors also strongly hinting that the tail end is the insect's the head.

A bit of thought, research and luck solved the caterpillar conundrum, but sometimes there just isn't enough information in a photograph to even hazard a guess. By far the largest number of files on my hard drive named unidentified are images of fungi. The mushrooms in the next two photos are ubiquitous at this time of year, and many have even left ochre spore prints. But I still haven't figured out what they are.

Gymnopilus sapineus or Gymnopilus penetrans are likely possibilities, although the species accounts are confusing. Could these mushrooms be Cortinarius? There are hundreds of species, difficult even for experts to sort out.

Amanita bisporigera, or Amanita virosa? The difference between the two species is in their spores, something we can't tell from a photo.

Is this a Mink Frog (Rana septentrionalis), or a Green Frog (Rana clamitans)? The two species are easily confused with one another, and there isn't enough evidence in these two views to be a hundred percent sure either way. A photo doesn't tell the whole story, in hindsight it seems that the best move would have been to capture the frog and give it a sniff. Mink Frogs are so called for a reason – they smell like rotting onions.

And assuming this is a Mink Frog it seems that the name Rana septentrionalis isn't correct in any event. Phylogenetic relationships can change in the light of new studies; the Mink Frog and its close relatives are now members of the subgenus Lithobates.

Another dark salamander with blue spots was encountered about one kilometer southeast of Actinolite on a trail managed by Quinte Conservation. This specimen has a darker aspect than the two seen at the Frink Center, and the blue spots are confined mostly to its sides. Could this be a Jefferson Salamander? Or a polyploid hybrid? I think this is probably a Blue-spotted Salamander, but without looking at a sample of its chromosomes under a microscope I'll never really know for certain ...

The pattern of a spider's eyes determines its family relationship, and a photo of this spider's face would go a long way toward making a positive I.D. But as often happens in the world of nature photography the subject didn't want to co-operate. Based on general appearance and color the closest match I can find on the Internet is Pisaurina brevipes. But the pattern isn't quite right and I'm not even sure this a Nursery Web Spider ... maybe it's a Fishing Spider, genus Dolomedes.

Immature jumping spiders can look very different from adults, and even the adults can vary considerably in color and pattern. The jumping spider in the next photo was a hefty specimen, a good 15 mm long, and it's safe to say it's an adult female. My best guess is Phidippus clarus.