Archive for the 'Insects, Fish, Frogs' Category

Oct 13 2015

A Reason For Variegated Leaves

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Evidence of Leaf Miners (photo by Kate St. John)

Evidence of Leaf Miners (photo by Kate St. John)

Have you seen leaves with unusual patterns like these?  Did you know they’re caused by an insect?

Leaf miners are the larvae of moths, sawflies or flies (and a few others) that eat leaf tissue within the leaf.

The process begins when an adult insect lays her eggs on the leaf.  When the larvae hatch they eat a tunnel between the top and bottom surfaces and the leaf turns white where it’s been mined.  The mining squiggles are so unique that entomologists can identify the insect species by the pattern it makes.

In 2009 botanists discovered a healthy plant in the Ecuadoran rain forest whose leaves appeared to have leaf miner damage but did not.  They wondered if the pattern was a signal so they painted similar white trails on green leaves and compared leaf miner damage on three kinds of leaves: green, naturally variegated, and fake-variegated.

The results showed that variegation is a mimicry defense against insect invaders.  When an adult leaf miner sees a leaf that looks eaten, she won’t lay her eggs on it.

So that’s a reason why plants have variegated leaves.  Cool!

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

One response so far

Oct 11 2015

A Hairstreak On The South Side

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

White-M Hairstreak at Berg Street steps, 4 October 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

White-M Hairstreak at Berg Street steps, 4 October 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

A “hairstreak” is not a new fad in South Side hair styles.  It’s a small butterfly.

A week ago I walked the Black Route on South Side’s Pittsburgh Step Trek. It took me two hours to complete 3.29 miles and climb up and down 1,692 steps but I found a reward.

This White-M Hairstreak butterfly (Parrhasius m album) was perched on the railing at the Berg Street steps.

Local butterfly expert, Monica Miller, tells me this one is a good find.  She (who has so much experience!) has seen only three White M Hairstreaks in her life.

I had no idea I could find such good butterflies in the City.  Woo hoo!

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

2 responses so far

Oct 05 2015

Don’t Touch!

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Hickory Tussock Moth (photo by Kate St. John)

Hickory Tussock Moth (photo by Kate St. John)

 

This caterpillar is almost as cute as the Woolly Bear (Isabella tiger moth) with fluffy white fur, a black dash down his back, and a little black face, but…

Hickory Tussock Moth (photo by Kate St. John)

Hickory Tussock Moth (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Don’t touch him!

This is a hickory tussock moth caterpillar and those long white hairs contain allergens that will make you sting and itch as if you’d touched stinging nettle.

The hairs are actually hollow spines, the perfect delivery system for chemicals that prevent him from being eaten.  Even a clueless young animal will only mouth this caterpillar once.  Inquisitive humans who’ve touched him will tell you the spines can stay in your skin and make you miserable for weeks.

And don’t touch his cocoon either.  It’s covered with the same nasty hairs.   Click here to see his cocoon.

Hickory tussock moth caterpillars are easy to find right now because they’re preparing to spin the cocoons where they’ll overwinter.

Here’s another view so you can memorize his appearance.

Hickory Tussock Moth (photo by Kate St. John)

Hickory Tussock Moth (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Follow this simple rule about caterpillars and you can’t go wrong:  Look but don’t touch!

 

(photos by Kate St.John)

p.s. Read more about hickory tussock moths in this entertaining article by the Bug Lady at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

10 responses so far

Oct 03 2015

Correcting My Punctuation

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Question Mark butterfly, topside (photo by Kate St. John)

The butterfly in question, topside (photo by Kate St. John)

Let me begin by saying I am not a butterfly expert.  I can recognize 10 butterflies, yes only 10, and I regularly misname three of those.

On Thursday at Raccoon Creek State Park I saw lots of Comma(*) butterflies so I took some pictures.  Sorting my photos this morning, I looked for this one showing the comma on the underwing.

The Question Mark on the underwing (photo by Kate St. John)

The Question Mark on the underwing (photo by Kate St. John)

Uh oh!  That white mark is not a Comma.  That line has a gap!  This butterfly is a Question Mark and it’s likely the others were, too.

Commas and Question Marks look similar because they’re closely related, but I could have identified them without a photo if I’d learned these field marks:

Comma (Polygonia comma) Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)
Less common Common
Smaller wingspan 1.75″ to 2.5″ Larger wingspan 2.25″ to 3.0″
Forewing Topside: 3 post-median spots Forewing Topside: 4 post-median spots
Hindwing ragged edge Hindwing rather straight edge
Hindwing Underside: Comma is white, large, hooked on one end, continuous, bulging at both ends Hindwing Underside: Question Mark is white, curved, broken in two pieces, one large & one small piece

 

Here’s an illustration of the Question Mark’s 4 post-median spots, circled in blue with a yellow arrow pointing to dash/spot #4.  Click here to see 3 spots on a Comma.

Question Mark butterfly, topside annotated (photo by Kate St. John)

Question Mark butterfly, highlighting 4 post-median spots (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Both butterflies are active this month so I’ll get another chance to try my ID skills before they overwinter.

I hope I’ve finally corrected my punctuation.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

(*) No, not Commas. Question marks.

One response so far

Sep 28 2015

In Case You Missed It: Tick Check!

Lyme Disease incidence in U.S. 2014 (map from CDC.gov)

Lyme Disease incidence in U.S. 2014 (map from CDC.gov)

In case you missed it on the radio …

Oh no!  That dark blue spot on the map is bad news.  Each microscopic dot represents an incident of Lyme disease in 2014.  Look at western Pennsylvania!

This year Lyme disease came closer to home than ever before. Several friends of mine caught it this summer in Allegheny County, in suburban Pittsburgh.

Do these anecdotes represent a real increase in local Lyme disease?  If yes, what is causing it?  And does it have anything to do with our weather or climate change?

I posted my question on the iSeeChange website (here) and The Allegheny Front‘s Kara Holsopple investigated.  She found out that Lyme disease is increasing in western Pennsylvania and there’s more than one reason for it.  Warmer winters (climate change) do play a part.

Read and hear the story here at:  Tick Check: Why Lyme Disease is on the Rise in Pennsylvania.

 

(Lyme disease incidence map from CDC.gov.  Click on the map to see the large PDF version)

4 responses so far

Sep 26 2015

Bronze Copper

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Bronze Copper Butterfly (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Bronze Copper Butterfly (photo by Dianne Machesney)

The season is almost over for butterflies but there are still some great ones out there.

Dianne and Bob Machesney found this Bronze Copper (Lycaena hyllus) a week ago in a damp area of Moraine State Park.  She and Bob usually see American Coppers (Lycaena phlaeas) because those butterflies prefer plants that grow in disturbed soil.  Bronze Coppers prefer plants in bogs, marshes and wet meadows so they’re much harder to find.

I love the yellow tips on its striped antennae.

 

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

No responses yet

Sep 19 2015

Bug Noise Continues

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Common true katydid, Pterophylla camellifolia (photo by Lisa Brown, Creative Commons license via Flickr)

Common true katydid, Pterophylla camellifolia (photo by Lisa Brown, Creative Commons license via Flickr)

During this week’s warm weather the bugs sang all night.

On Thursday evening I heard common true katydids (Pterophylla camellifolia) at the Fern Hollow Nature Center.

“chik-a-Chig, chik-a-Chig, chik-a-Chig.”  Click here to hear them.

Pittsburgh’s katydids are the slow-singing “Northeastern race” at the beginning of the recording.

 

(photo by Lisa Brown, Creative Commons license via Flickr)

One response so far

Sep 07 2015

Lady Beetles, But Not Ladies

Asian lady beetles mating (photo by Kate St. John)

Asian lady beetles mating (photo by Kate St. John)

On my August 23 outing in Schenley Park, we found something near Panther Hollow Lake (pond) that we’d never seen before:  a pair of Asian lady beetles mating.

Asian lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis) are the non-native species released in Pennsylvania years ago to control aphids.  They’re now so successful that they’re annoying, especially when they invade our houses in the fall.

As the pair embraced on a plant stalk, we noticed the male was smaller than the female and that she stood still while he was rocking.  They were mating when we found them and they continued after we walked away.  Who knew that bugs had so much stamina.

Asian lady beetles mating, 23 August 2015, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Asian lady beetles mating, 23 August 2015, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

The female beetle may have laid a lot of eggs afterward but we won’t be overrun by her offspring.  The bugs were on the dirt pile created by Public Works when they fixed the pond overflow last spring.  After a long hiatus the pond project resumed on August 24.  Now the dirt pile and plants are gone.

These two are “lady beetles” but only one of them is a lady.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

p.s. Here we are before we went down to see the lady beetles.

Participants on the Walk in Schenley Park, 23 August 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Participants on the Walk in Schenley Park, 23 August 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

3 responses so far

Sep 03 2015

TBT: Bug Migration

Common Green Darner dragonflies mating (photo by Chuck Tague)

Common Green Darner dragonflies mating (photo by Chuck Tague)

Throw Back Thursday (TBT):

Birds aren’t the only ones migrating right now.

In the early 1990’s scientists discovered that some dragonflies migrate, too.  Here’s the story in a September 2008 blog post:  Bug Migration.

 

(photo by Chuck Tague)

No responses yet

Aug 31 2015

Bees Can’t See Red

Honey bee at camas (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Honey bee at camas flower (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

When I wrote about hummingbirds and orange jewelweed last week, some of you wondered if the birds sipped at pale (yellow) jewelweed, too.  While finding the answer I learned a cool fact:  Bees can’t see red.

Hummingbirds are attracted to shades of red so they see the spots on orange jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) as a delicious target and rely on this plant during fall migration.

Over time the spur on Impatiens capensis has evolved to maximize pollination by hummingbirds with a tight cone-shaped entrance that guides the birds’ bills.

Spotted jewelweed, Impatiens capensis (photo from Flora Pittsburghensis)

Orange jewelweed, Impatiens capensis (photo from Flora Pittsburghensis)

Hummingbirds don’t care about yellow so they don’t choose the other jewelweed — the “pale” one — but bees do.

Bees see yellow, purple, blue, and a color called bee’s purple, a mixture of yellow and ultraviolet which we humans can’t see.  Bees can’t see red so they aren’t much attracted to orange jewelweed.

However, pale jewelweed (Impatiens pallida) is designed for bees.  Not only is it yellow but its expandable entrance accommodates both large and small bees, brushing their bodies as they walk in.

Pale jewelweed, Impatiens pallida (photo from Flora Pittsburghensis)

Pale jewelweed, Impatiens pallida, with a bee inside (photo from Flora Pittsburghensis)

Though the two jewelweeds grow near each other, they send different signals.  Red is for birds.  Yellow is for bees.

 

(Honey bee photo from Wikimedia Commons. Orange and pale jewelweed photos by Flora Pittsburghensis.  Click on the images to see the originals)

p.s. On the subject of bees (in general) here’s a recent article from The Allegheny Front about breeding stronger honey bees:  Building a Better Honeybee

No responses yet

« Prev - Next »