Wooly Beech Aphid

I learned about Wooly Alder Aphids a long time ago and wrote about them here.  I learned this week that Alder is not the only tree that has its very own aphid.  Beech trees can play host, too, to another species of wooly aphid.

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Like all aphids, this variety has a piercing mouth part which it uses to get beneath the surface of the plant in order to suck juices.

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Like other woolies, this variety carries waxy threads on its body.

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According to one source, it is rare that an infestation is severe enough to do any real damage to the tree. I question that as it concerns our beech, already under attack by Beech Bark Disease (caused by a fungus introduced by a scale insect).

I’ve walked this woods frequently for a lot of years and never noticed this aphid before.  I will be curious to see what happens.

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Can you see me?

Took a little walk-about at Audubon this morning. Look who I found all tucked in a bed of moss:

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Not sure of the species. Isn’t it cute?

UPDATE:  My very knowledgeable friends tell me it’s a striped flea beetle.  Still not sure of species, because apparently there are several varieties of striped flea beetles.

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I took a hike on Saturday along the Chautauqua Rails To Trails – the Nancy B. Diggs Nature Trail section from Hannum Road to Route 430.  It was quite a day for butterflies.  During the drive to the trailhead and all along the trail I saw dozens of migrating Monarchs.

Monarch - Wingspan 3 3/8 - 4 7/8 inches

So large when flying, I have sometimes mistaken them for small birds, Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) are pretty easy to identify.  Most people know about their amazing life cycle, munching on milkweed as caterpillars, creating the most beautiful chrysalises of all the butterflies, then emerging as a large, sturdy adults.  Those born early in the spring may migrate north or stay put.  If the adult emerges late enough in summer, it will attempt a very long migration south to Mexico.  Several generations of Monarchs are produced in a year and somehow that last generation “knows” its way to Mexico.  Blows my mind.

When the trail took me into the woods, another orange and black butterfly caught my eye, not as large as the Monarch, but also a strong flyer.

Eastern Comma - wingspan 1 3/4 - 2 1/2 inches

Eastern Commas (Polygonia comma) produce two generations in a year.  The adults we see at this time of year will hibernate through the winter, then emerge to fly and lay eggs in spring through the end of April.  From these eggs comes the summer generation.  These adults will fly from May through September and will lay eggs that become the winter form.  Caterpillars dine on all members of the elm and nettle families.  Adults eat rotting fruit and tree sap.

I was almost back to my car when I saw the third and smallest black and orange butterfly.

Pearl Crescent - wingspan 1 1/4 - 1 3/4 inches

Pearl Crescents (Phyciodes tharos) produce several generations throughout the summer months.  As winter approaches, third stage caterpillars will enter hibernation.  Adults sip nectar from a wide variety of wildflowers.  Caterpillars munch on asters.

In preparing this post, I found a wonderful website – Butterflies and Moths of North America.  Check out these links:

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 Bugguide.net.

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)

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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).

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(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:

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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:

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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
Tadpoles in the pond along the maintenance road

And, back at the building:

Eastern Chipmunk
An adorable Eastern Chipmunk in the Bird Garden

Bees

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.