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.