What’s That Bug?

So, I poked around a while trying to figure out exactly what my winter top-o-the-snow bugs were when I stumbled upon a fabulous website!  It’s called…

I searched around their site for a while hoping someone else had submitted something similar to what I had seen, but I couldn’t find anything… so I decided to use their “submit” feature. A recent post on their site let me know that the authors are busy getting a book ready for publishing, so not to be sad if they didn’t get right back to me… And yet, it took no time at all for Daniel to send me this email:

While the creatures in your photographs are all similar in that they were discovered in the snow, taxonomically (and that is how we try to organize on our website) they are unrelated. We are going to split them up and post them independently of one another. Wingless WaspWe are most curious about the first image, which is obviously a Hymenopteran, but not an ant. We did a web search of “wingless wasp in snow” and were led to a BugGuide page on Gall Wasps. Interestingly, there was an individual found in Massachusetts also walking on the snow in January 2008. It was identified as being in the family Cynipidae, but the species was not identified. Gall Wasps are most difficult to identify to the species level. The posting contained this comment from Richard Vernier: “More accurately a so-called ‘agamous’ female. Just like palaearctic Biorrhiza pallida, this winter generation contains only females, who lay eggs inside winter buds of oak-trees, after having grown-up at the roots of the same host plant.” Encyclopedia.com has a link to a UTube video of a Gall Wasp walking on the snow in Japan. We also recommend the Snow Critters web page.

While I was reading that email, a second email came in:

Your second image is of a Caddisfly, but we don’t want to try to identifyCaddisfly it any further than the order Trichoptera, or possibly the Northern Caddisfly family Limnephilidae. We did find a reference on a fishing website to Winter Caddisflies in the genus Psychoglypha that are called Snow Sedges. Troutnut.com also has this comment posted: “Dr. George Roemhild explained to me how he finds these winter caddisflies in February and March: ‘They crawl up on the snowbanks, but when the sun hits their dark wings they melt down out of sight. That’s how I collect them, by walking along looking for holes in the snow.'” We also found a reference to Snow Sedge on the Flyfishing Entomology website, our new favorite etymology reference page. CutwormYour third image, the caterpillar, is some species of Cutworm.

Many thanks to Daniel Marlos from What’s That Bug? website for taking the time to identify my bugs for me… (You really shouldn’t have enabled my sloth, Daniel… but thanks, anyway!) Click over his way and send him a donation for the fine work he does!

Snow Critters

Snow Critters (5 of 7)Watch where you step!

We often think of winter as being a time when most animals are inactive – hiding it out, waiting for warmer temperatures.

Besides deer and birds, look what else we found during a lunch-time walkabout at Audubon yesterday… And they were all moving… slowly, but moving nonetheless.

{I don’t know the species of any of them [and I’m too busy (lazy?) to look them up], so if you do – please teach us!}

Snow Critters (1 of 6)

Snow Critters (2 of 6)

Snow Critters (3 of 6)

Snow Critters (4 of 6)

Snow Critters (5 of 6)

Snow Critters (6 of 6)

Rest In Peace, Ancient One

We sent Moose gently off to kitty heaven at around noon
on December 19, 2009.

He was already an adult cat when he went to live with Barb’s mom. After Barb’s mom passed, he went to live with Barb. One Thanksgiving when we were taking care of Barb’s cats, we couldn’t stand to see how the others (who had claws) picked on Moose (who had none). So we brought him home…

We can’t even remember when that was exactly… but in the end, we estimate that Moose must have been in his late teens. Despite eating twice a day, he had become a sorry sight of skin and bones… his walk was unsteady… and his muscles would twitch in strange ways when he lay on the floor sleeping in front of the fridge where it was warm.

It was time. Even knowing that, it was hard.

Pitch Pine

Every year I think, “I should do some posts about the conifers. It would be fitting for the season…” And then I get caught up in the chaos of the season and suddenly it’s spring and… well… you can see the dilemma. I can’t promise to write about all 12 species that can be found on the Audubon property this season… but let’s start with one: The Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida).

Pitch Pine

There’s only one on the property that I’m aware of, and that is in the Arboretum – just to the right – inside the main entrance off the parking lot. All the trees in the Aboretum are native to New York or Pennsylvania, though not necessarily to our part of New York… The U.S. Forest Service range map below shows a couple of spots nearby where it might be found growing wild, but most native stands are south or east of us.

Native Range of Pitch Pine

The Peterson Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs describes the Pitch Pine as “usually low, irregular, scraggly.” Needles can be 1.5 – 5 inches long and are arranged in clusters of three. It’s the only pine tree on our property with needles in clusters of three. Cones are 1 – 3 inches long, stout and the scales have sharp thorns.

It is unlikely you would use a Pitch Pine as a Christmas tree. The tree does have its uses, however. According the US Forest Service account, “Pitch Pine was an important tree during the days of wooden ships and iron men. Its coarse-grained wood is only moderately strong but contains a comparatively large amount of resin. Consequently, the wood resists decay, which makes it particularly useful for ship building.” (source)

In surfing the internet for more interesting tidbits, I came across this little anecdote at the Wood Magazine site:

The Pine Barrens did not represent valuable land back then. Just the opposite — the soil was boggy and sandy, as it remains to this day. But the land did support a thick forest of pine trees. And in the damp, soggy ground one could find iron ore.

To early Americans, that combination of pitch pine (Pinus rigida) and iron ore was heaven sent. That’s because iron ore was transformed into iron by melting it to remove impurities, a process called smelting, and the fuel of choice was wood charcoal rather than the mined coal of later times. The resinous pitch pine — its sappy, hard-to-work wood seldom desired — proved perfect as a source of charcoal. (source)

That was so interesting, I wanted to know more, so I began searching for “pitch pine and iron ore”… which led me to a book I never knew about:  The Natural History of North American Trees by Donald Culross Peattie.  I immediately ordered a copy of the 2007 release – an abridged version of the original 2-volume set that came out in the 1950s… which I would also like to find!  Since ordering it, I have found that you can also buy a Western Trees version and a Central and Eastern Trees version…  Can’t wait for my copy to arrive!

It was just supposed to be a simple little post saying that needles are in bundles of three and the cones are stout with sharp thorns…  And look what happened…  Oh the dangers of the internet…

Learn More:

Work work work…

I had to go in to work today…  and such a tough task I had… 

We’ve set as one of our goals for the year to create a portfolio that describes our monthly “Little Explorers” program and provides some preliminary assessment about its effectiveness.  Part of the portfolio is to be photographs of grownups and kids participating in the program together.  I had already taken pictures in September.  We want to have some from every season.  Tough job, but somebody has to do it… 

It was the perfect day for it… one of those crisp, crystal, clear-blue, after-the-storm winter days with just enough snow to make it fun, but not enough to hamper driving.  The topic for the month was “Greens of the Seasons” and the indoor lesson started with an overview of our common evergreens… Pines, spruces, firs, and hemlock. The kids saw and handled samples of boughs and cones.

Little Explorers Miss Sarah

Fir or Spruce? Douglas Fir Cone

Then it was outside to see if we could find them growing on the property (and to play in the snow, of course).

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Better than Ice Cream!

Pitch Pine

Deer Bed under the White Pine

Back inside for snacks…

Juice and Pretzels (Indoor) Picnic Style

Then a craft…

Dad and Daughter Concentration!

Since I took these photos while “on the clock” – does this make me a professional photographer?

Jumping Spiders

Look who I found on my kitchen table.  How cute!

Spider (2 of 2)

Oh my gosh… did I actually just use the word “cute” to describe a spider?  I’ve come a long way from the days when even a picture of a spider in a book made my skin crawl.

At Audubon, we’re preparing a new lesson for 3rd grade called “The Hunters and the Hunted.”  We’ll be including a section on spiders, for they have many ingenious strategies for catching their prey.  I’m sure when I was in third grade I thought that all spiders built webs to catch their food…  Turns out, that is only one of many methods among arachnids!

A jumping spider, for example, can spin silk, but he doesn’t use it to make a web.  He may attach the beginning of a strand to his starting location before jumping.  If it turns out to be a bad jump, he can return to the start by following this drag line.  Or, after catching prey, he might attach a strand of silk to it… just in case he drops it while munching; using the silk, he can reel it back in.  Females build silken shelters for eggs under leaves, then guard them until the babies hatch.

Spider (1 of 2)

Jumping Spiders are in the Family Salticidae which boasts over 4,000 species.  They are reported to jump 10-40 times their body length, and to have the best eyesight of any spider with the ability to see prey up to 8 inches away.  A Jumping Spider may bite you if you corner it or handle it, but unless you are allergic to spider venom, the bite is unlikely to be harmful.

Learn More:

France Brook Road… Again!

Terraced Beaver ColonyThe dog had been hankering for a long romp in the woods. Truth be known, so had I. All things came together making last Sunday the day. One of my hiking buddies wasn’t feeling up to strenuous climbing, so we opted for France Brook Road at Allegany State Park. It’s a great, easy hike on a dirt road that few people drive even in the best of weather, but especially not in winter. The park police drove by us when we were having our coffee break. Other than that, there was no one else around.

In fact, we barely even saw animals… which is odd. A few “tweety birds” high in the branches… and some turkey tracks.

Turkey Tracks in the Snow

At one point, we went down by the creek. Terry tried to record the sound of the creek using his new cell phone, which he hates. I wondered if he could use the creek sound as his ringtone. Mozart rested.

Mozart - with his new reflective collar

I poked around looking for little things, as usual…

Moss on a Tree

… and ice, as usual…

Ice in the Brook

I always wonder about the history of the land. All along France Brook Road are stands of Red and Scotch Pines… which must have been planted… so what was this land before? Probably farm…

Red and Scotch Pines

But what about before that? What trees were here then?