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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Gray Tree Frog - "Up, Up and Away!"

This jelly bean size Gray Tree Frog-let contemplates it's next jump while experiencing, for the first time, the rays of the morning sun.  24 hours earlier it had climbed out of the duckweed soup it was living in and became a full fledged lung breathing amphibian.

This is the fifth tree frog I have released and all truly know "what's up and what's down" making the release a true challenge.  Simply tilting the container up as if to pour the little critter onto a suitable leaf does not work. The frog just pivots, turns it's nose toward the sky and walks up the side of the container until it reaches the bottom. Turning the container open-side-up gets the frog to the lip of the container but as soon as I would tilt the container so the frog could step out onto the leaf again it was:
pivot, nose to sky, walk up the side to the bottom of the container.  I'm embarrassed to admit that it took me 5 frogs to figure out that the answer was to push the container, open end up, into the branches of the bush and let the tree frog figure out the rest. This all makes a great deal of sense when you consider that it IS a TREE FROG, spending its life above ground only coming down to earth to breed and lay eggs or overwinter in the leaf litter of the forest floor, then climbing back up into a tree or bush per their genetic programming. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Salamanders and Tree Frogs

The relatively warm temperatures of the past two days have the amphibians of the park on the move.
It has also given me the opportunity to release two Gray Tree Frogs (Hyla versicolor) that were given to me as tadpoles by a naturalist friend.  The tadpoles are now emerging as air breathing true frogs with only residual tails visible.

#2 climbed out of the water onto this piece of branch and spent several hours enjoying a breath of fresh air adorned in a couple pieces of duckweed.
Even at this stage of development it is capable of changing color to blend in with its surroundings. It looks stunning in "Duckweed Green".  Just before release it had climbed the glass sides of the aquarium waiting for me to remove the screen cover. It was having some difficulty getting it's sticky little toe pads from releasing from the glass.

Also enjoying the warm rain but putting itself in great peril was this Blue Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma laterale) found on the concrete floor of the Maintenance Shop.  Blue Spotted Salamanders are members of the "Mole Salamander" group preferring to borrow into the soft rich soil on the forest floor.

This salamander is only about 3 inches long from nose to tail. That is approximately the length of the tail of the park's Tiger Salamander which can be seen daily at the Fox Island Co. Park Nature Center.
Photos by J. Ormiston

Sunday, October 5, 2014


Water quality testing of Cedar Creek, in Allen County, is always an interesting and enjoyable activity. This past Saturday we found an abundant variety of aquatic invertebrates while testing the chemical and biological properties of the creek at Metea County Park. Among the various mayfly, dragonfly, caddisfly, and damselfly nymphs we found several little non-parasitic flat worms known as Planaria (Planaria dorotocephala).  Planaria are solid bodied flat worms that have the unique ability to regenerate a complete worm if cut into smaller pieces.  A planaria that is cut longitudinally down the center line will generate two complete individuals.  When cut transversely each segment will regenerate a new individual. Planaria are very near the bottom of the food chain and feed on very small organisms or dead animal matter.  They move by means of cilia (small hairs) and a slime layer on their bottom surface and are not easy to photograph as they slime across a petri dish.

The eye-spots (ocelli) are light sensing organs which help the planaria to move away from light.
Being somewhat intolerant of pollution planaria are good indicators of water quality and are normally found in oxygenated rapidly moving streams.
Photos by J. Ormiston

Friday, September 26, 2014

Common Buckeye Butterfly

Photo taken at Bowman Lake, Fox Island County Park

The Common Buckeye Butterfly (Junonia coenia coenia) is a colorful butterfly in the "brush-foot" family of butterflies sometimes called 4-footed butterflies. Brush-foot butterflies, including Monarch Butterflies, curl their anterior legs tightly against their bodies so that they are all but invisible. These hairy, folded legs give the butterflies the "brush-foot" name. The "eye spots" on their wings are believed to function as deterrents to birds that may want to make a meal out of the Buckeye.  Buckeye butterflies are warm climate insects who move north from the southern states in the summer but are not considered migratory because they do not return south as winter approaches.
Photos by J. Ormiston

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Indiana Stick-Bug - No Male Today

Masters of camouflage and mimicry is the Indiana Walking Stick insect sometimes called a Stick-Bug. A member of the order Plasmatodea various forms of these insects are found world-wide generally in warmer climates.  Walking sticks live most of their lives high in the leaves of deciduous trees eating leaves coming down to the ground only to lay eggs in the leaf litter on the forest floor. Stick-bugs also are PARTHENOGENETIC. Female parthenogenetic insects have the ability to reproduce without a male being involved in the process.  All offspring generated without a male will be female.

Walking sticks that have not reached the end of their molting phase have the ability to regenerate limbs that have been lost for one reason or another during a molt. Indiana stick-bugs are flightless and will not bite a handler making them desirable as pets.  This Walking Stick was found outside the Fox Island Nature Center crossing a path at mid-day and was a willing subject when placed on the leaf.

Photos by J. Ormiston

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bola Spider and Imperial Moth

It's always a challenge to see all nature has to offer when we're out hiking in the great outdoors but occasionally we run across things that we've never seen before and we are compelled to further research in order to satisfy our curiosity.  Renee Bentz, Allen County Parks employee, was at Metea County Park recently checking milkweed plants for caterpillars when she noticed a bird dropping on the underside of a leaf.  On closer inspection she realized it was actually a spider clinging to the leaf. Renee took a photograph, and headed for her insect and spiders field guide.
 What Renee saw was a Bola Spider (Mastophora bisaccata).  This spider does not spin a web in order to catch it's lunch but instead produces a single high strength thread adorned with sticky beads of scented liquid which attracts its prey.  The spider is capable of producing pheromones which are species specific in order to attract a wide range  of insects. As an insect approaches it the spider spins the thread, like a bola, using it's legs.  When the prey hits the thread it is trapped in the sticky liquid and promptly wrapped in a cocoon to keep it fresh for later consumption.
Photo by Renee Bentz

Another oddity seen recently at Fox Island County Park is this Imperial Moth caterpillar (Eacles imperialis).  This caterpillar was crawling slowly across the mulch when I saw it. This caterpillar's host plants are sassafras, elm, hackberry and several other trees.
The caterpillar will hatch and eat tree leaves until it is ready to pupate then crawl to the ground, find some soft soil, dig itself into the ground and stay there for the winter.  This caterpillar was 3 3/4" long and about the size of my index finger. The white dots along the side of the caterpillar are the spiracles or respiration openings.  The wingspan of an adult Imperial Moth can be nearly 6".  This caterpillar was returned to the ground after the pictures were taken.
Photo by J. Ormiston

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar

This is a great time of of the year to see fuzzy caterpillars scurrying around on a mission that will sustain them through the winter.  The Banded Tussock Moth (Halysidota tessellaris) is a fuzzy caterpillar with "hair pencils" that stick out and is very tempting for young hands to pick up and examine. Unfortunately these caterpillars when handled can produce a skin rash due to alkaloids present on their hairs.  It's always wise to educate young naturalists on precautions to take when handling unfamiliar insects.
Photos by J. Ormiston

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Protozoa and Beyond

Today my brother. Michael, gave me the attachments that will allow me to take microscopic photographs such as this Stentor (protozoa) that I found in the small stream running through the woods bordering our back yard. This stentor has attached itself to a strand of algae and is unusual in that instead of a single nucleus it has a string of nuclei that resemble a string of beads. I'm hopeful that this will open a new oportunity for discovery that we all can share.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Caterpillar Update and More.....

The Monarch Butterfly caterpillar that I have been tracking on this blog since it hatched two weeks ago is doing well and this morning was at the top of it's container in a "pre-J" pose.  I didn't have my camera with me but, trust me, it is right on schedule to make the flight and spend the winter in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico.

Sunday morning as I was making my rounds of the Fox Island milkweed I noticed an unusual number of dragonflies and small butterflies taking advantage of the sporadic sunshine and calm winds.  As I stood and enjoyed the activity I realized that there are many butterflies that I have ignored as I focus on raising Monarchs.
One of the most common butterflies in the state of Indiana is this male Pearl Crescent Butterfly (Phyciodes tharos tharos). This little butterfly has a wing span of about 1 1/4" (30 MM) and gets it's name from the small crescent  pattern on the lower edge of the hind wing.  The host plant of the Pearl Crescent caterpillar is the aster.
The most plentiful blue butterfly in Indiana is the Eastern Tailed-Blue Butterfly (Cupido comyntas comyntas). This male can be distinguished by the orange spot just above the little tail on the hind wing.  This little butterfly is about the size of a twenty-five cent piece.  The host plant of the caterpillar is the tick-trefoil (beggars tick).

For anyone looking for a good field guide on Indiana Butterflies I suggest Butterflies Of Indiana by Jeffrey Beleth and published by Indiana University Press.  It contains many detailed photographs of the butterflies, a section on hoist plants, photography and much more.

Monday, September 1, 2014

In Memory of Martha the Passenger Pigeon

100 years ago today (Sept. 1, 1914) the last Passenger Pigeon on the face of the earth died at the Cincinnati, Ohio Zoo. The pigeon was named Martha after the wife of the first president of the United States, George Washington. In the early 1800's the migrating passenger pigeon flocks were so large they would darken the day time sky for days as they passed overhead.  Passenger pigeons were the most numerous birds in North America and possibly the world in the mid-1800's until loss of habitat and over hunting led to the extinction of the species in 1914. Martha lived all of her 29 years at the Cincinnati Zoo. It's fitting that we should pause and reflect on how humans can negatively impact the natural world in such a permanent way
Martha, the last passenger pigeon.
Please check out the website for more information and a downloadable origami of Martha.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Monarch Caterpillar to Chrysalis 8-29-2014

This event started about 10:00 am when I brought the caterpillar in the "J" stage into the office.
Zero hour, 10:51am

Little change but in the last hour I could see small contractions in the body segments, 5 hr, 22 min

The indication that the change was about to take place is when the tentacles went limp. The head and thorax are much lighter and the segment behind the head is swelling. The body is slowly beginning to straighten.   8hr, 39 min

The body has straightened and swollen moving the position of the forward true legs and the rear pro-legs. The head end is beginning to swell out of proportion to the body.   The outer skin (exoskeleton) begins to be forced upward as the pupa emerges from the split in the skin behind the head.  9 hr, 31 min.

The head end continues to swell and the pupa is moving in ripples forcing the skin upward like a sock pushed down around your ankle.   Things are progressing very rapidly at this point.  The next several shots happen within a few seconds of each other.  9 hr, 31min.

The ripple movements continue, the skin is forced away from the head end taking the old head covering with it.  9 hr, 31 min

The skin including head and legs continues to be forced upward exposing more of what will become the adult head, abdomen and wings.  9 hr, 32 min.

The pupa, nearly free of the skin, begins to move erratically in order to shed the old skin.  9hr, 33 min.

The skin is forced away from the pupa as it continues it's contortions and the pupa begins to shrink in size. The outside of the pupa appears very moist.  9 hr, 33 min.

The skin drops away and the movements begin to slow and the pupa continues to shrink. The tiny dimple between the two black dots near the upper attachment indicates that this adult will be a male Monarch Butterfly.  9 hr, 37 min.

The pupa is at rest after this considerable transformation. The pupa continues to shrink and the tiny gold spots that will adorn the chrysalis begin to appear.  9 hr, 58 min.

The exterior of the chrysalis begins to smooth and harden.  This the the opposite side of the chrysalis showing the Gold Crown of this truly deserving Monarch.  Sleep well my friend, your journey has not ended.  10 hr, 51 min.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Caterpillar Update - Day 9

Our caterpillar buddy is now at approximately 26mm.  It has grown over 1 inch since it hatched 9 days ago.  This week I have released 4 adults (3 F, 1 M) and collected 3 caterpillars.  Today I added another 4 eggs to the nursery.  It looks like the female Monarchs are now selecting the very youngest milkweed leaves on which to lay their eggs and 2 of the eggs I found today were deposited on the top of the leaves. In our same butterfly garden today I saw what appeared to be a Spicebush Swallowtail laying eggs on Sassafrass leaves.  Unfortunately, today I also lost a chrysalis to Tachinid Fly larvae infestation.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Monarch Butterfly Emerging from Chrysalis

This sequence took 13 minutes from beginning to end.  10 minutes later another adult emerged and I got another sequence of photos. Notice the size of the abdomen. It is full of the liquid that is pumped into the wings to expand them and the abdomen is flexed to pump the liquid until the wings are at flight capability. The butterfly will be ready for flight after about 5 hours. The butterfly will flex it's proboscis (tongue) and expel the excess fluid from it's abdomen prior to flight.  This Monarch will be tagged and released Wednesday morning at Fox Island County Park.
Photos: J. Ormiston

Caterpillar Update - Day 7

7 days ago this Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar hatched and began it's journey to adulthood.  The caterpillar is barely 4mm long and all but invisible to the naked eye.
Today the same caterpillar is 14mm and growing. The scale in both pictures is the same. In about 7 more days the caterpillar will be 50mm long and nearing the chrysalis stage. At this stage a caterpillar will eat nearly one entire 3" milkweed leaf in 24 hours.
Photos: J. Ormiston