Archive for the 'Insects, Fish, Frogs' Category

Mar 27 2015

Sounds of Spring: Frogs!

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Spring peeper calling in the Ozarks (photo by Justin Meissen via Wikimedia Commons)

Spring peeper calling in the Ozarks (photo by Justin Meissen via Wikimedia Commons)

Have you heard any frogs lately?

In early spring male frogs call from ephemeral pools to attract females to mate with them.  This week in Frick Park I’ve heard spring peepers calling in the wetland next to Nine Mile Run.  The sound is so miraculous in the City(*) that I always stop to absorb it.

Spring peepers are loud but so tiny I couldn’t find them.  Look how small they are compared to someone’s hand!  Needless to say I didn’t see the “singers” in Frick Park.

Spring peeper found at Sault College woodlot, Algoma District, Ontario, Canada (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Spring peeper found at Sault College woodlot, Algoma District, Ontario, Canada (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Peepers aren’t the only ones calling.  Right now you can hear wood frogs and others if you’re in the right habitat.  But which ones?

PA Herps does statewide surveys to confirm the ranges of Pennsylvania’s native frogs (and much more).  Based on the PA Herps Frogs and Toads List I made this table of the frogs and toads that still occur in western Pennsylvania west of the Allegheny Front.  I added my own description of the calls I know.  Click here on the PA Herps website to look up each frog including their photos and range map.

Frog Name Description of Call
Eastern American Toad, Anaxyrus americanus a whirring trill
Fowler’s Toad, Anaxyrus fowleri  *
Cope’s Gray Treefrog, Hyla chrysoscelis  *
Eastern Gray Treefrog, Hyla versicolor  *
Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus a low ‘hrrrrmp’
Green Frog, Lithobates clamitans a tuneless banjo twang
Pickerel Frog, Lithobates palustris  *
Northern Leopard Frog, Lithobates pipiens  *
Wood Frog, Lithobates sylvaticus sounds like ducks quacking
Mountain Chorus Frog, Pseudacris brachyphona  *
Northern Spring Peeper, Pseudacris crucifer LOUD! peeps, jingle bells -or- plinking the teeth of a comb
Western Chorus Frog, Pseudacris triseriata  *
Eastern Spadefoot, Scaphoipus holbrookii  *

* See the comments for frog call descriptions from Sue.


To hear them, look them up here on the USGS Frog Quiz website.   (Your computer must have QuickTime installed.)

If you know a lot of frog calls you can test your skills at the USGS Frog Quiz here.  Don’t feel bad if you don’t recognize the calls. I tried the quiz and flunked immediately.  As you can see by the gaps in my table, I don’t know many frog sounds.  It’s time to get outdoors and remedy that!



Can you add frog call descriptions to my table? Leave a comment with your description.  *Thank you, Sue! See her comments.

* The miracle in Frick Park is a complex of meanders and wetlands completed in 2006 by the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Spring peepers found the wetlands on their own and now loudly pronounce them good for breeding every spring.

(photo of spring peeper calling by Justin Meissen via Wikimedia Commons.  Photo of spring peeper on hand by Fungus Guy via Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the images to see the originals)

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Dec 01 2014


Roseate Tern chasing Common Tern at Petit Manan Island, Maine (photo by USFW via Wikimedia Commons)

On Saturday’s blog, red+white made pink.  Today, pink makes for roseate names.

The roseate tern has been called the most beautiful tern on earth for his pale rose-colored breast and long fluttering tail streamers.  In the photo above, a roseate tern (Sterna dougallii) chases a common tern at Petit Manan Island, Maine. Look closely and you can see the pale pink blush on the tern in the foreground, so pale that the color is not one of its field marks.

The beautiful bird has a good reason for chasing the common one.  Roseate terns are listed as endangered in the Northeast and where both species nest, such as Petit Manan, the common terns push out the roseates.

The roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) is a South American bird whose U.S. population was decimated during the plume-hunting era.  Now that its carmine, orange, and rose-colored plumes are no longer used for hats, it’s made a modest comeback in Florida and the Gulf Coast states. In Chuck Tague’s photo you can’t see the bird’s orange upper tail but you can see why its name is “roseate.”  What a pink bird!

Roseate spoonbill (photo by Chuck Tague)

And finally, even a dragonfly can be rose-colored.  The roseate skimmer (Orthemis ferruginea) ranges from the southern U.S. to Brazil and has been introduced in Hawaii, perhaps because it’s beautiful.  Chuck Tague photographed this one in Florida.

Roseate skimmer (photo by Chuck Tague)

Though their shades of pink are not the same, all three deserve a roseate name.


(Photo of a roseate tern chasing a common tern from US Fish and Wildlife via Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original.  Photos of roseate spoonbill and roseate skimmer by Chuck Tague)

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Nov 19 2014

Start Looking Now

Hemlock woolly adelgid at Jacobsburg (photo by Nicholas A, Tonelli via Wikimedia Commons)

Yesterday I mentioned hemlock woolly adelgid, a really bad invasive insect that’s killing our eastern hemlock forests.  It devastated the southern Appalachians (click here to see, here to read) and has moved north into south, central and eastern Pennsylvania.  Has it conquered the Allegheny High Plateau?  Now’s the best time to find out.

Hemlock woolly adelgids (Adelges tsugae) have no North American predators and a very unusual lifestyle.  Originally from Japan, they kill eastern hemlocks in 4-20 years by locking onto the underside of their branches and sucking the lifeblood out of them.

The adults are female, immobile and practically microscopic.  Twice a year they reproduce asexually, laying up to 300 eggs a year in woolly white egg sacs that protect their young.  The larvae, present in April and July, are the only mobile phase and so tiny that they spread easily on the wind or hitchhike unseen on birds, animals and humans.
Hemlock wooly adelgid adults (photo by Ashley Lamb, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University,

Harsh winters used to protect Pennsylvania’s hemlocks but the climate is warming.  Our worst fears were realized when they were found in Cook Forest in March 2013.  Last winter’s Polar Vortex reduced that infection 90-100% but the bugs are poised to take off again. Unfortunately the only biological control, a tiny beetle, is even less winter-hardy than the pest so the only way to save our hemlocks right now is by treating individual trees with pesticide. (*)

What trees should be treated?  The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service and DCNR have teamed up to survey the area from Cook Forest to New York’s Allegany State Park (click on this map to see a larger version).

Priority hemlock conservation areas on the Allegheny High Plateau (map from The Nature Conservancy and US Forest Service)

It’s a big area and they need your help.  Don’t worry, it’s easy.

In the winter hemlock woolly adelgid egg sacs are large and visible (see top photo).  If you’re in this region — even for a quick hike or birding trip — take a moment to notice the underside of hemlock branches.  Birders, you may accidentally find this while looking at a bird.

Report infections by calling or emailing the location to one of the folks on this list of contacts.  (Contact any of them and they’ll forward the information if necessary).

Do you need more information before you begin?  Contact Sarah Johnson at The Nature Conservancy,, 717-232-6001 Ext 231.

Start looking now.


(photo credits:
top photo, wool sacs: Nicholas Tonelli via Wikimedia Commons
middle photo, adults: Ashley Lamb, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University,
map: courtesy The Nature Conservancy and U.S. Forest Service. Click on the map to see a larger version.


(*) Note: Work is underway to breed winter-hardy biological controls.  It just takes time.

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Nov 02 2014

Spider Whisperer?

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Kate St. John holding a tarantula (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Look at what’s walking on my hand!

On the night before Halloween at Wissahickon Nature Club Sarah Lyle taught us about Pennsylvania spiders and showed us her pet tarantulas.  Three of them were very tiny but two were … huge!

I am not a spider lover but Sarah’s enthusiasm for them is infectious.  When I first saw her tarantulas I thought, “No way will I handle one of those!” but by the end of the evening I did.

Dianne Machesney, who took this photo, called it “the fearless spider whisperer.”


My look of concentration is not spider whispering.  It’s intent focus on one thought:  “Do not do anything to upset this spider!”

Two of the hands in the photo are Sarah’s, gently corralling the tarantula so it doesn’t walk up my arm.



(photo by Dianne Machesney)

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Oct 25 2014

Moth Identity Challenges

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Moth found in Harrison Hills County Park, Allegheny County, 23 Oct 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Yesterday I photographed this half-inch-long moth at Harrison Hills County Park near Natrona Heights.

This morning I tried to identify it at using the online photos.  I was able to narrow my list to 20 possibilities out of more than 3,000 moths but none of them were correct when I compared closely.

Changing tactics I used the regional perspective:  Which of my 20 possibilities were on the Allegheny County moth checklist?  The checklist subtracted 10 and added four.  However, my faith in that checklist was shattered when I discovered it’s missing Malacosoma americanum, the eastern tentworm moth, that Tom Pawlesh photographed in Allegheny County and posted on the website.

Nonetheless the checklist gave me a hint.  Perhaps this is one of the owlet moths, Noctuidae.  It looks a bit like Eupsillia tristigmata.

Searching through Noctuidae at I found one here that looks like mine but no one has identified it.


Perhaps you can tell me what it is.  Please leave a comment with your answer.


(photo by Kate St. John)

p.s. Fascinating news on Monday Oct 27:  Owlet moths pollinate witch-hazel flowers at night!

UPDATE 25 July 2015: This moth may be the Dotted Sallow moth (Anathix ralla)

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Oct 23 2014

TBT: Monster Of The Ohio

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Sam Hall and "Wally" the walleye, Ohio River, Oct 11, 2008

Sam Hall and “Wally” the walleye, Ohio River, Oct 11, 2008

What can you catch in the river in October?  The Monster of the Ohio.

On Throw-Back Thursday (TBT), here’s a fish story from October 2008.


(photo from Sam Hall)

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Oct 12 2014

Not A Rose

Goldenrod gall (photo by Kate St. John)

Though shaped like a green rose this knob is not a flower. It’s a goldenrod bunch gall.

A search at*) indicates:

The gall was made by a midge, Rhopalomyia solidaginis, that lays its egg at the tip of the goldenrod stem.  “Its larva secretes a chemical that prevents the goldenrod stem from growing although it continues to produce leaves, thus a shortened bunch of leaves is formed.”(*)

The resulting rosette provides shelter for many insects as well as the midge.

This fall I’ve seen many bunch galls in goldenrod fields.  This one was at Wingfield Pines in southern Allegheny County.

Click here to read more about the midge at


(photo by Kate St. John)


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Oct 04 2014

On Milkweed

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Milkweed bug and grasshopper on milkweed pod (photo by Kate St. John)

Thursday evening at Fern Hollow Nature Center I found two insects perched on a milkweed pod.

The grasshopper is doing his best to blend in.

The milkweed bug doesn’t need to.  He eats milkweed so he’s poisonous.

He wears ‘danger colors’ like the monarch butterfly:  black and orange.

Milkweed bug (photo by Kate St. John)


(photo by Kate St. John)

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Sep 20 2014

Who’s On First?

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Question mark butterfly, fall form (photo by Kate St. John)

I am so new to butterfly identification that most of them prompt a question.  I photographed this one near the Kiski River in Armstrong County last Sunday.  What’s the name of this butterfly?

“It’s a question mark.”

No, really, I want to know.  Here’s the ventral side.  What’s the name of this butterfly?

Underside of question mark butterfly, fall form ... but cannot see the mark (photo by Kate St. John)

“It’s a question mark.”

Honestly, I’m not kidding.  What’s the name of this butterfly?

“It’s a question mark because it has a small white question mark on the underside of its hind wing.”

Well, this one doesn’t.  At least not that I can see.  Please tell me, What’s the name of this butterfly?

It’s a question mark, Polygonia interrogationis.

I give up.  Who’s on First?

(Watch Abbott and Costello drive each other nuts in this video of their Who’s on First? skit.)


(photos by Kate St. John)

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Sep 13 2014

Isabella Scoffs At Winter

Isabella tiger moth caterpillar (photo by Kate St. John)

Yesterday I found this Isabella Tiger moth caterpillar in Schenley Park.  Does she have a prediction for the coming winter?

Legend has it that wide brown stripes on woolly bear caterpillars predict a mild winter; narrow brown stripes mean a harsh one.

In the 1950’s the former curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History surveyed a very small sample of woolly bears and found that the caterpillars had an 80% accuracy rate.  However, no one’s been able to replicate Dr. C. H. Curran’s findings.  Instead a whole host of factors influence the stripes including species, diet and age.  Especially age.  The older instars are browner.

And frankly, this caterpillar doesn’t care how harsh the winter.  It can survive to -90 degrees F, hibernating as a caterpillar (not in a cocoon!) curled up in a ball under a rock or bark.  It freezes completely except for the innermost portions of its cells which are protected by naturally produced glycerol.  In the spring the caterpillar thaws and resumes eating before making a cocoon and becoming a moth.

Theoretically this particular caterpillar is saying “mild winter” but we know it ain’t so.

Isabella scoffs at winter.

Read more here about the woolly bear legend and amazing winter feats.


(photo by Kate St. John)

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