Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Sticky Situation

Have you ever wondered how a Monarch Butterfly pupa clings to a leaf or other object while making the transition to an adult?  The gyrations of the pupa during the transition not only fails to dislodge the pupa but is actually necessary to insure a solid attachment that will anchor the  chrysalis through the next 14 days.

Super Glue? Elmers? Epoxy? Gorilla Glue?
No, but before there was Velcro there was nature!


The cremaster is the small black post that extends from the upper end of the chrysalis and the tip of this post is a round sphere covered with small barbs.  As the outer skin of the monarch caterpillar is forced to the upper end of the pupa the cremaster comes from under that skin and attaches to the web button that the caterpillar placed as a hanging location for its "J" position.  During this process the pupa seems to hang in mid-air,
 for seconds, during attachment of the cremaster. The aim of the pupa is perfect as the button is only slightly larger than the cremaster

The twisting and swinging of the pupa lodges the  hooks of the cremaster solidly in the fibers of the web as the skin drops free and the pupa's movement slows and gives it a much needed rest.
Photos by J. Ormiston 9/2/2015

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Hell's Hollow Pennsylvania

On July 4th brother Tim and I had the pleasure of hiking Hell's Hollow Trail located in McConnell's Mill SP in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania.  The trail, while not long or difficult, was well worth the trip to this portion of the 2,546 acre State Park. The trail head can be reached from the parking lot on Shaffer Road with the trail ending at Hell's Hollow Falls .4 mile from the parking lot.

Hell Run Creek gurgles next to the trail keeping the hikers company on their walk to the falls.
Wildflowers add to the scenery and damselflies and butterflies wing their way through vegetation on the shaded forest floor. Mosquitoes were elsewhere the day we hiked.

Hell's Hollow Falls is a great place to sit and enjoy the day or splash, with your family, in the clear water at the base of the falls.

Another attraction at McConnell's Mill SP is the opportunity to hike a portion of the North Country National Scenic Trail as part of the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail along Hell Run and Slippery Rock Creeks. The NCNST joins the H. Hollow Trail a short distance from the Hell's Hollow Trail Head parking lot.

Hikers follow Hell Run on the opposite side of the creek from the Hell's Hollow Trail.
More Information can be viewed through this link:

Monday, June 22, 2015


Milkweed plants are an essential part of the life cycle of the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus plexipuss).  Many other insects and hummingbirds find the plentiful nectar of the blossoms irresistible and thus aid in the cross pollination of milkweed benefitting the monarch greatly. Honey bees and bumble bees are principle pollinators of milkweed.  The pollination process is unique in that the pollen is contained in two tiny waxy sacks connected by a filament called a pollinium. There are five of these pollinia in each individual milkweed flower and are part of the flower head called an umbel. In order for cross pollination to occur an insect must step into the flower so the pollinium can attach itself to the leg of the insect.  The pollinium is then deposited by the insect in another flower by reversing the process.  Unfortunately small to medium insects can become trapped by the pollinia because they are not strong enough to pull it from the flower.

This bee has become trapped when its leg is caught in the pollinia and cannot pull itself free.  The good news is that after several minutes of twisting and squirming the bee was able to extract its leg and fly off.

Fox Island Co. Park butterfly garden, 6-22-2015 photo J. Ormiston 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus varius) are a handsome woodpecker migrating, right now, through the forest at Fox Island County Park.  Sapsuckers typically peck small holes in  a line around the tree trunk.  The woodpecker then feeds on the tree sap as well as the insects attracted to the dripping sap.
Has this male Sapsucker visited this same tree during a previous migration?
These sap dripping holes also attract Mourning Cloak and Comma Butterflies that have overwintered in the park as adults. Because nectar bearing flowers are few and far between at this time of the year these early butterflies sip sap for their energy and nutrition needs.  Just before I photographed this Sapsucker a Mourning Cloak flew from the trail just ahead of me.
Photo by J. Ormiston, Fox Island County Park, 04-09-2015

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Pileated Woodpecker

This handsome Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) returned to our backyard feeders this afternoon to enjoy a little suet before going on with his busy schedule. Whether it is PIE-leated or PILL-leated it makes little difference because it is this magnificent bird that draws our attention and not it's name.
The red cheek stripe indicated this is a crow sized, male, Pileated Woodpecker. The word "pileated" means crested.

Early last spring I spent a few minutes under a decaying tree that was being shredded by a pileated woodpecker as it searched for it's favorite food - carpenter ants. I was surprised by the quantity and large size of the wood chunks raining down on my head as I chased the woodpecker around the tree in order to get that perfect photo.  Pileated woodpeckers seem to have a preference for sassafras trees which will often show the rectangular feeding holes of the pileated as apposed to the round nesting holes.  Pileated woodpeckers are North America's largest woodpecker (assuming that the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, Campephilus principilas, is now extinct).

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Todd Nature Reserve, Butler County, PA


On November 25th, brother Tim and I again visited the Todd Nature Reserve at Buffalo Twp., Butler County, Pennsylvania. Five years ago, to the day, we hiked the trails vowing to return someday. The initial 75 acres of land for the reserve was donated by land owner C. W. Clyde Todd in 1942.   Mr. Todd was a noted ornithologist and Curator of Birds at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The reserve is now 334 acres and run by the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania.  The reserve is a wonderful combination of steep ravines, hemlock groves, fast moving streams, deciduous trees and evergreen ferns and mosses.  10,000 year old Native American artifacts have been found on the site that once was the location of an active limestone quarry.
Among the interesting plants is this wintergreen plant with it's pea size fruit.  Also known as" teaberry", the leaves can be steeped in hot water to make a delicious mint flavored tea.  Wrigley Teaberry chewing gum got it's inspiration from this plant. The plant is also an important food source for various furry and feathered residents of the area.

These evergreen polypody ferns are abundant in the reserve and has it's own trail.
Polypody ferns (Polypodium vulgare) are also known as "Rock Cap" ferns because they decorate the tops of the rock outcrops,

Club Moss is another evergreen plant seen throughout the reserve. This Fan Club Moss (Diaphasiastrum digitatum)is an ancient moss that during the Carboniferous Age helped to create the coal fields of Butler County. Also known as "ground cedar"

Another coal builder club moss is this Fir Club Moss (Huperezia selago).

The rocky beds of Walton's and Hesselgesser's Runs, that flow thru the reserve, create a welcome sound that breaks the silence of the shady forest.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

And then there were none..............

On November 4th I released the last of the Gray Tree Frogs that I had raised from tadpoles. By my count it was number 8 from an original school of 10 tadpoles. Since I never found the remains of the other two I can only assume they are now eating insects inside the park's Nature Center.  I'll keep my eyes open for the escapees.
The tadpoles were raised on a pulverized combination of reptile pellets and shrimp flake fish food 50/50. They were kept in a 5 gallon aquarium filled with rain water with duck weed covering about 50% of the surface.  An air pump aerated the water and a aquarium light was used about 10 hours a day. The water was changed weekly to minimize the smell from the shrimp flakes. I added floating wood pieces so the frog-lets could climb out of the water when they became air breathers.
Tadpoles courtesy of Kevin Boner
Photo courtesy of J. Ormiston