Goldenrod Soldier Beetle

Grades 5-7 Day Camp Surprise-39I took several pictures of this fellow while doing my Day Camp Counselor gig, but had no time during the week to look him up. Today I searched the internet for “goldenrod beetle” in hopes of finding something relevant. Turns out, he’s called Goldenrod Soldier Beetle, also known as the Pennsylvania Leather-wing (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus).

While the larvae are carnivorous, the adults prefer pollen and nectar.  Birds, mice, mantids, assassin bugs and others avoid eating this soldier beetle because of an acidic secretion which issues from pores along its side when it is disturbed.  (Hmm… I’m tempted to disturb one to see that…  but what will happen?)

One of the more fascinating things I ran across was at the (AMAZING) site BugGuide

Goldenrod Soldier Beetle with Fungus

Click to go to the full account on

There is, apparently, a fungus that attaches itself to the exoskeleton of certain insects as they pass by along the forest floor.  After burning a hole through the armor, the fungus proceeds to attack the “non-vital” organs, while injecting antibiotics and other “medicines” to protect the host for a bit longer.  Eventually the fungus makes its way to the brain where it manipulates the behavior of the insect causing it to climb high into the tree-tops.  There, it devours the rest of the brain, after which the insect body explodes releasing the spores of the fungus.

(I SOOO wish I had known about this when the kids were still at camp… They would have loved such a zombie-esque story!)

This is another example of a story that makes me ask, “How do they know that?”  Do you know of a book that explains how we know what we know?  I’d like to read it!  Send me the title and author, please!

Goldenrod Soldier Beetle (a.k.a. Pennsylvania Leather-wing)

Learn More:

Modeling Appropriate Behavior

I’m a day camp counselor this week. I have a small group of 5 children. One of my duties is to “model appropriate behavior.” To that end, I like to gently handle critters we find in the field, and observe them carefully. Sometimes I end up learning things I never knew before!

For example, take this Katydid (a.k.a. Long-horned grasshopper).

Grades 5-7 Day Camp Surprise-45

(I apologize for the quality fo the pictures, but it’s hard to take your time when five kids are all calling, “Jennifer, Look at this!”)

If you look at that photo above, you will see that this katydid did what all grasshoppers are wont to do. As a defense, he has spit “tobacco juice” on my finger. Apparently when they do this inside the mouth of a would-be predator, the taste causes said creature to spit him out again.

I was quite surprised at what happened next:

Grades 5-7 Day Camp Surprise-46

The katydid drank the dark liquid back up again! Perhaps he decided I was not a threat after all and wanted to conserve the dark stuff for a real emergency?

And then, he proceeded to wash up. I wish I had video:

Grades 5-7 Day Camp Surprise-47

My finger was as clean as can be when I eventually released him back to the grasses.

Try it! Catch a grasshopper and hold it gently in your fingers. See if it regurgitates, then reingests the juice… Report back here. I’m curious how common a practice this might be…

After the Rain…

It rained this morning. As the clouds thinned, the light became perfect for photography, so I headed down to Audubon to see if the adorable Yellow Warblers were out by the overlook again (and to practice using my 100-400mm lens). They were… taking inchworm after inchworm to a nest that was hidden from view.

Yellow Warbler

I watched for quite a long time and was also treated to a Swamp Sparrow singing his little heart out.

Swamp Sparrow

The Red-winged Blackbirds who are also nesting in the shrubs would not pose nicely for pictures. Other wildlife along my path did, however…

Twelve-spotted Skimmer
Twelve-spotted Skimmer

Eastern Garter Snake
Eastern Garter Snake in one of the Woodpecker Holes in the Dead Elm Tree

Tadpoles in the pond along the maintenance road

And, back at the building:

Eastern Chipmunk
An adorable Eastern Chipmunk in the Bird Garden


Audubon has an indoor, glass-walled demonstration bee hive.

Demonstration Bee hive.

It’s pretty cool. You can watch the worker bees tending the hive, doing the waggle dance, living their lives. Sometimes you can find the Queen and watch her lay eggs.

Demonstration Bee Hive - closer

You can see the honey stores they build up to help them survive through the winter.

There is a tunnel that goes through the wall to the outside, so the workers can go out to get nectar and pollen.

Tunnel to the Outside
Tunnel to the Outside

Exit Hole on Outside of Building
Exit Hole on Outside of Building

OK, so that’s the background… Here’s the coolest thing ever: Walt Dahlgren, our beekeeper, told us a week or so ago that our hive was getting very large and that he had identified two queens. When this happens, one queen will leave and about half the workers will go with her… Today was the day! At around lunchtime, a mass exodus from the hive occurred. The bees congregated on branches of the locust tree just outside the building.

Bees congregate on branch of Locust Tree

Bees on Branch of Locust Tree

Bees on Branch of Locust Tree

Jeff called Walt right away but he was not able to come until 3 or 3:30. In the time it took him to get to Audubon, the activity of the bees lessened and the ball became more compact.

More Compact

While we watched the bees, we noticed a few dragonflies coming through. We joked that maybe they were there to eat the bees… not believing it could be true. Then one landed on my sleeve with a bee in its mandibles. We watched it chew… I tried to get a shot with my camera… but the lens I had on was not great for this close range! (Hopefully one of Jeff’s pictures came out better.)

Dragonfly chewing on Bee

Jeff's photo of the bee-eater on my Sleeve
Jeff’s photo of the bee-eating dragonfly on my sleeve!

Most fascinating of all was when Walt arrived and set up a shop vac to suck the bees into an empty hive.

Vacuuming the Bees
Vacuuming the Bees

Vaccuming the Bees - Closeup
Vaccuming the Bees – Closeup

For the most part, the bees were quite calm and put up with this process with no agitation. Toward the end, though, one found me and decided I was a threat. I got stung twice on my face, and Jeff got stung once. But it was so fascinating, it was all worth it.

Caterpillars and Flies

No one attending the Allegany Nature Pilgrimage this year could have escaped without noticing hundreds and hundreds of Eastern Tent Caterpillars AND hundreds and hundreds of very large and rather attractive (if annoying) flies called Friendly Flies.

Eastern Tent Caterpillar Fly

A fellow naturalist mentioned that there is a correlation between these two… but didn’t have the exact details, or we got interrupted before he could finish his explanation…  so, I googled it… (Have I mentioned how much I love the internet?)

It turns out that the Friendly Fly lays its eggs on the pupa of the Tent Caterpillar which the fly’s larva will eat.  While you may find Tent Caterpillars in the woods every year, the population gets very high in cycles of about 10 to 15 years.  When their population is high, so is the population of Friendly Flies.

There’s an explanation for everything, I guess!

Read more by clicking –> here.

Still Waiting

It had been so warm for so many days.  Finally, rain.  But when the rain came, the temperatures dropped… into the 40s…  too cold, according to the experts, for the Spotted Salamanders to migrate to the pools.  I knew there was little hope of finding them, but I ventured out anyway with camera, flashlights, cell phone, and the list of people who are as anxious as me to see them.

The sound of the peepers ws deafening as I passed the ponds along the old farm road.

When I got to the pond, I heard plenty of Wood Frogs… but they stopped singing when I shone my flashlight into the water.  I searched and searched for salamanders, but saw nothing.  Just the eggs that the Jefferson’s had left a week or more ago…  and a few Wood Frog eggs.  The frogs stopped singing when I turned on my flashlight.

After searching, I decided to turn off the flashlight and get quiet so the Wood Frogs would sing some more.  I planned to get out my camera and capture their songs, as I had the Spring Peepers.  But they wouldn’t sing.

Then I heard a rustling in the leaves near the path.  I thought there was an animal visitor… perhaps a deer, or a raccoon.  A strange noise came from that direction – like the noise people make when they are “talking to” red squirrels…  I decided to get my cameral out so I could try to capture this strange sound…

Then it turned into giggling and a flashlight went on.  Pat and Denny!  Together we searched the pond and finally saw a few Spotted Salamanders… probably males that made it to the pond a while back…  Denny captured one so I could photograph it.


Not much activity in the pond on this cold night. On the way back, though, we saw plenty of Glowworms:

Hard to believe this critter will turn into a Firefly, isn’t it?

Annual New Year’s Day Tromp

Brrr...I love waking up late on New Year’s Day with thoughts of where I should take the dog for a romp. Usually Emily joins me, but she was off at a friend’s and so I headed out into a snowy, blowing day without her.

I’m not sure she was very happy with me.  Sorry, Em.

As is often the case with a winter walk, the low temperature combined with wind made me feel very cold in the beginning, but as I walked, it didn’t take long for me to warm up.  I headed down into a protected ravine at the bottom of which runs a creek.  There are hemlocks and yellow birch all along the way… beautiful.

Stonefly Nymph (or exuvia?)On the bark of one of the yellow birch trees, I found gypsy moth eggs… and also a gorgeous Stonefly nymph.  I couldn’t really tell if it was a dead nymph, or if the back had cracked open to allow the adult to fly free… Here’s another picture I took a while back of a living stonefly nymph we found in the creek at Allegany State Park:

Stonefly Larva

I played around a bit with slow shutterspeeds to try to capture the essence of the wind. The orange-brown leaves on the Ironwood tree were dancing up a storm…

Ironwood in the Wind

Even though I have billions of pictures of Witch Hazel, I can never resist another.

Witch Hazel

Emily finally arrived home shortly after I did. We may go out later this afternoon or evening and see how our cross country skis are working after a long summer in the garage…

Happy New Year, everyone!

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.” 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. 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)

Cute Little Caterpillar

Spotted Tussock Moth (Lophocampa maculata)

While out walking the trails at Audubon, I found this critter munching away on an Alder.

Cute Little Caterpillar

I wasn’t sure I had the ID right when I looked it up in our Caterpillars of Eastern North America by David L. Wagner (a wonderful guide, by the way). The picture in the book shows front and back with much more black – much like a Wooly Bear.

So I googled up some more images and found some at the Duke University website that look more like mine. (You’ll have to scroll down on their page to find this species. Click –> here.)

According to Wagner, this little critter will overwinter in the pupa stage and eventually turn into a moth.