Sunday, September 26, 2010

Looking Under Leaves

Looking under leaves can really be rewarding especially this time of year because many insects have laid eggs or are in their final development stage before the winter cold arrives.  Typically I like to walk along a trail that has over hanging tree limbs so I can just look up and see what is going on. The other method is to walk along the edge of a trail looking for signs of activity such as chewed leaf edges, folded leaves, dark spots on leaves, holes and really just about any leaf that looks odd.  The stems also need to be searched as well, you never know what may be hanging on or trying to blend in.  The one thing I need to be careful of is spider webs because when I am intently looking at leaves I tend to see right through the webs and accidentally reach right through them, messing up a good hours work for that spider.

One of my best recent finds were these three potter wasps nests that were on a branch hanging over the center of the trail.  I couldn't believe my luck. 

Potter Wasp of the species Eumenes built these to lay its eggs in the empty cell before providing it with beetle larvae to feed on as is grows. Wikipedia said that it is believed that Native Americans based their pottery designs upon the form of local potter wasp nests.

When I opened up this leaf roll I found this baby Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar (Papilio troilus) still in the bird poop disguise stage. I was actually surprise to see it here since I really though they hung out on branches with the hope that their poop look would keep them safe.  I closed it back and it was none the worse for my quick peek.  You can see the final stage just before it becomes a chrylsis at the end of my previous blog August 31, 2010. Notice the web base that it laid down. When this webbing dries it pulls the sides of leaf together to make the fold. Because silk is strong and very felxiable I am able to slowly open it up without too much damage. When I let it go the leaf closes right back up.

Under this leaf I found a row of eggs that looked similar to to the stink bug eggs I found last week but these were in one row instead of a cluster.  Like those before, they had hatched out already.

I really lucked out when I found this White Furcula caterpillar (Furcula borealis) because it blends in so well. One thing I have discovered is that if you look at enough leaves then anything slightly different will stand out.  Movement helps to find birds but in the insect world you want to also look for something slightly different.  For instance you can see in the photo below that on the left there is a leaf and on the right the caterpillar is hanging. The leaf has edges but the caterpillar is rounded causing it to look slightly different, plus it is also hanging more vertical than the leaves.  These aren't rules but examples of just how a slight difference can be a clue and worth investigating.

The tail on this caterpillar was interesting. It was clearly trying to look like a stem, yet when I approached it with my camera the two parts split apart and began waving to scare me away.  My camera wasn't afraid and I was getting a good show.  Later I read that the hind prolegs are modified into these slinder paired stemapoda which can extrude bright filaments which release a volatile chemical. I think they react to sound and my camera was fairly quiet so I didn't get the full wrath.

July 6th I took a photo of this White Furcula moth at my porch light (see below). The gold specks are caused by reflective color and not mentioned in the guides that I have at home. 

Now look at the two side by side and you can see how the pattern in the caterpillar is the same as in the moth. You need to imagine that the moth is turned upside down and it might be easier to see.  The dark scales on the head, middle and end are in the same pattern as the dark areas on the back of the caterpillar. Pretty interesting.

Now back to other critters on the leaves.

Here is a spider hiding in a silk nest but I am not sure what it is doing.  When I held it up I could see its shadow holding still. You can see that it has at least one opening at the end.

Parancistrocerus bicornis or Eumeninae sp. wasp, I'm not sure which one it is but it was fun to observe it's behavior.  Sometimes insect behavior other than sipping nectar is hard to find, at least it is for me.  When I see them on nature movies they always seem to be cleaning themselves, fighting or laying eggs but I feel it is a really good day if I see any of that.  I tend to snap the photo and move on as if I had a urgent deadline to meet, when in fact I am really here to observe. My tendency to name, take the photo and move on is very strong. After it left, I looked at that spot and didn't see a thing that looked different.  At first I thought it might be laying an egg but that really didn't make sense to me. Then I read that some of them get parasitic worms and they wiggle in the dirt to get the worm out. In truth I have no idea what is going on here but it was wiggling its butt in the dirt for a while.

I found this large Green June Beetle (Cotinis nitida) because I caught it's movement out of the corner of my eye.  It is a member of the family Scarabaeidae and in the subfamily of flower scarabs called Cetoniinae.  When I was a kid my friends and I would tie a thread to the end of one of their legs and hang on as it flew around us.  Of course now I think that is cruel but we were scientist of sorts and were learning and becoming familiar with our environment.   We always let them go or they escaped leaving us with a leg attached to a thread.  Our relationship with insects always places me in a dilema trying to decide just what is the right thing to do.  Kill the pests, collect them for science, experiment with them to learn more or just watch.  Currently I am approaching each one as an individual. For instance I observed this one yet I kill the Marmorated Stink bugs that are invading my house as I write.  I don't like pesticides but I do practice integrated pest management and pick off individual insects that are eating my tomatoes. I also grow parsley and milkweed for butterflies and have collected moths and dragonflies for scientific studies.  I do know one thing thought...the more I learn about a species of insects the more likely I am to observe a behavior and try to protect and appreciate it's life.

This chewed off edge is what caused me to look on this leaf. What I found didn't do the chewing but rather it is hunting insects for its next meal.  It is a red lady beetle (Cycloneda munda) in the genus Cycloneda. They look like they have giant eyes and I suspect that they taste bad like most lady beetles.  I have never eaten one but I have held some in my hands and then tasted them on my fingers afterwards and they are pretty yucky. I should have been warned by the bright color but I am human and like a lot of us I didn't take heed...a bird has more sense.

All of these tiny speckled spots can only mean one thing.  My friend who is an expert in lace bug damage taught me how to recognise this sign. Turning the leaf over I found them.

On the left are the young and on the right is the mother on watch and ready to herd them to safety if threatened.  They are so tiny that this was about as good of a close up I could get. They are Hemiptera in the family Tingidae and there are more than 150 species in North America.  From what Laura told me they are host specific. The tiny dots are fecal matter. If you ever get the chance to see one through a hand lens you will be amazed at their structure.

This Northern Bush Katydid (Scudderia septenrionaalis) stood out because it just wasn't the right shape. The color is right but the shape isn't.  I think that if it had landed in another location it might have blended in better because this wings certainly do have a leaf shape.

This little Gray Hairstreak (Satyrium calanus) was nectering on one of the remaining blooming flowers I saw that day.  I can never resist photographing a butterfly even if I have hundreds already. 

Cardinal Flowr was the other blooming flower that I found down by the swamp area where I turned around to walk back up the hill to my car. I had lots of good photos in my camera and sights to share.



Woodswalker said...

So many amazing things to see if you only look! Thanks for taking us along with you on your insect adventures. You've inspired me to get out there and look for bugs.

squirrel said...

Thanks Woodswalker, I haven't had much time lately but I have taken a few quick peeks at your blog and recommend to everyone.

Rambling Round said...

Wow! Quite a walk through nature! I wonder if potter wasps are the same as dirt daubers that don't sting.

The 3R Ranch

squirrel said...

Rambling Round, I think potter wasps are in the same family. I'm going to do a little more research and write another blog about them. Thanks for the comment

eileeninmd said...

Interesting post, I learned a few new things. Wonderful photos. Thanks for sharing.

Woodswoman Extraordinaire said...

Great post! I especially love that White Furcula. What a cool critter!

Adrienne in Ohio said...

Squirrel, I always enjoy your posts, feeling as though I've been along for the hike. You do such a great job of narrating your adventures. The moth caterpillar shots were my favorite. I had to look really hard at the first one for awhile before I realized that the caterpillar was that yellow leaf-shaped thing. His disguise had me fooled. :)

~Cheryl said...

You are so cool! I don't have the nerve to peek inside most of the places you photograph.

Anonymous said...

Lotsa cool insects - especially that cryptic caterpillar.

I believe that last wildflower is cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) - the time and habitat is also right (fall bloomer in wet areas, while Indian paintbrush is a summer bloomer in dry upland habitats).

Anonymous said...

Great photos and commentary! The White Furcula cat is spectacular. Oddly enough the moth is quite pretty which is often not the case.

Thanks to beetlesinthebush for confirming what I suspected was a Cardinal Flower. Do we even have Indian Paintbrush here? I always thought of that as a western flower.


squirrel said...

Thank you Beetles in the Bush and Bruni for keeping me honest and catching my mistake about the Cardinal Flower. Plants are not my strong point as you can tell.

Cindy said...

Greetings from California! I just found your wonderful blog while trying to identify a caterpillar I found this morning that is new to me. After unsuccessful searches in BugGuide and other insect data bases, I googled "green and brown caterpillar split tail," and it led me here. Your Furcula caterpillar looks very much like mine.

I'll have pictures of it posted up on my blog soon.

And I'll be back to visit more of your blog very soon. Looks like we're kindred spirits here!