Monday, March 16, 2020

A Scale of 1-10

 The scales of a Monarch butterfly's wing  play a very important part in the butterfly's ability to carry on the most essential functions of it's existence. They must be aerodynamic, able to shed water and protect the fragile structure of the wing. All while being light enough so as to not hinder the ability of the Monarch to fly thousands of miles in order to overwinter in locations warm enough to ensure their survival.
The scent producing organ on each hind wing of a male Monarch shows as a black spot on a specific vein on these wings and itself is covered by protective scales similar in shape to other dark scales on the Monarch wing.
The pheromone producing scent pouch is a multi colored organ used to attract a female for the purpose of mating.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Munch a Bunch!

When you're a Monarch Butterfly caterpillar you cannot afford to be wasteful.  You have 10 - 14 days to grow from a tiny spec of an egg and become a chrysalis or pupa. Nutrients are a valuable resource not to be wasted and discarded.
The first meal a newly hatched monarch caterpillar eats is it's egg case. The minerals and nutrients in this egg shell is the first step to becoming an healthy larva.
After eating the egg case the 1st instar caterpillar begins to eat the hairs on the milkweed leaf which also held it's egg. After the hairs the caterpillar will start to eat the leaf proper. This young caterpillar is not big enough yet to chew entirely through the leaf but within 24 hours of hatching that will be possible. In the next two weeks the caterpillar will eat the equivalent of 6-8 large  common milkweed leaves.
As the caterpillar grows to become a chrysalis it will need to shed it's skin 4 times as it's body outgrows that skin. This caterpillar has just shed it's skin and will rest for about 90 minutes afterwards. As it rests it's head, feet and pro-legs will get the distinctive black and yellow coloration that is absent immediately following the molt. Notice the anterior tentacles are still folded back against it's body. These will slowly extend forward over the next two hours.
As with the egg case, the caterpillar turns and proceeds to eat it's recently shed skin to retrieve the nutrients in that skin. This will take place after each molt. The only thing not consumed is the molted head cap seen laying behind the caterpillar.
Photos by: Jeff Ormiston

Friday, September 2, 2016

Spicebush Butterflies

While the numbers of Monarch Butterflies seen in Northeast Indiana has been very disappointing this summer of 2016, the numbers of other butterflies have filled the void of the missing Monarchs. Most prominent among these have been the swallowtail butterflies. Giant Swallowtail, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail and Spicebush Swallowtail have been seen in large numbers to the delight of midwestern butterfly afficionados.
Spicebush Swallowtail, Popilio troilus troilus, early instars form a shelter by laying a web mat near the edge of the host leaf. As the web drys it contracts and folds the leaf forming a shelter for the growing caterpillar. The caterpillar hides in the shelter during the day and comes out to feed at night thus avoiding the possibility of being eaten by the common caterpillar predators. Host plants for the Spicebush Butterfly is Spicebush, Sassafras and Tuliptree among others.
As an early instar the main means of protection is looking like a bird dropping.  The brown 3rd instar caterpillar, with the white markings, makes a very convincing specimen. The green 5th instar caterpillar uses its false eye spots and humped body segments to look like a green snake and discourages predators. Notice that the black eye spots are complete with false reflective eye highlights.
The actual head of the caterpillar is usually tucked under the anterior of the body for protection.
To further promote the charade the caterpillar has a forked osmeterium that, when fully extended, resembles the forked tongue of a snake. The osmeterium also is coated with sticky, foul smelling slime that discourages those that would make the caterpillar lunch
 As the caterpillar gets closer to forming a chrysalis it begins to change color to a shade of light yellow. Finally it climbs a convenient stem, attaches a string seat belt and waits for the pupating process to begin
Chrysalises that form during periods of short day light (autumn) will be brown in color to blend better with the browning leaves of fall.  Chrysalises which form during periods of long daylight hours (summer) will be green to blend better with the green leaves of summer and emerge as adults that will lay eggs before cold weather sets in.  Chrysalises that form in late summer and early fall will enter a state of diapause, or suspended development, and emerge as an adult as the warm winds begin the following spring. 
Adult Spicebush Butterfly (male) 
Photography by Jeff Ormiston

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