Have you ever noticed how many birds turn over fallen leaves to find food? Towhees and sparrows, robins and wrens pick through the leaf litter to find overwintering insects. This food bank of edible insects is one reason why not to clear your garden in the fall.
Did you know…? The red-banded hairstreak (Calycopis cecrops) lays its eggs on fallen oak leaves.
Woolly bear caterpillars burrow into leaf cover to survive the winter.
And the moth version of this brown-headed owlet (Cucullia convexipennis) hides in leaf litter during the day to survive November temperatures. Moths in this family, Noctuidae, are the ones who pollinate witch hazel.
So Leave The Leaves alone. Clear them from the storm drains, sidewalk and driveway, but not off your garden!
Last Sunday, October 7, it felt like summer when Steve Tirone and I went looking for Armillaria in Schenley Park. We didn’t find any honey mushrooms but Steve found an amazing insect along the Beacon-Bartlett meadow trail.
This praying mantis (possibly Tenodera sinensis) was not alone. When we paused to take photographs, we saw another mantis perched nearby and a third one flew away from us. Gigantic flying bug!
Fall is mating time for praying mantises. The adults will die but their egg masses will survive the winter. Here’s what the egg sac looks like. Don’t take one home until you’ve read these Praying Mantis Egg Sac instructions. They will hatch in your house!
Last weekend was a busy time for praying mantises, hanging out in Schenley Park.
In case you haven’t noticed, it’s stinkbug time again.
In the fall brown marmorated stinkbugs (Halyomorpha halys) invade our houses, squeezing into every crack. They’re annoying to us but devastating to orchards, farms and gardens where they pierce the fruit and cause necrosis.
These Asian invaders were first seen in the U.S. twenty years ago and caused trouble so quickly that USDA started searching for a biological control agent in the stinkbug’s native range. The most promising predator was the tiny Samurai wasp (Trissolcus japonicus).
Testing began in 2005 but the approval process takes a very long time. Scientists had to identify the right wasp and prove it wouldn’t destroy native species in the U.S. (Cane toads in Australia are a sad example of poor/no testing.) Testing was still underway in 2014 when a field survey found samurai wasps in Maryland.
After several years of low monarch butterfly populations in southwestern Pennsylvania, this year has been spectacular. With the weather still as warm as summer I see monarchs flying south every day — even in October.
The ancestors of this saltwater snail changed oceans twice.
California horn snails (Cerithideopsis californica) are native to the Pacific Ocean from the California coast to Baja California Sur in Mexico, but a DNA study published in 2011 found they contain traces of a closely related Atlantic snail, Cerithideopsis pliculosa, and vice versa. The DNA mixing went like this:
3 million years ago North and South America joined at Panama, blocking sea travel between the two oceans.
750,000 years ago, Pacific Ocean snails somehow traveled east to invade the Atlantic.
72,000 years ago, Atlantic Ocean snails came back to invade the Pacific.
How did the snails cross Central America from one ocean to another? Twice?
On Throw Back Thursday, find out in this vintage article: Flying Snails
If the spider was there, you’d see that it’s only 9-22 mm (.3 to .8 inches) long. Males are the typical spider shape but the females have large, round, marbled abdomens ranging in color from orange to yellow with purple markings and pale spots.
“Marbled orb weaver” describes them perfectly. They’re also called “pumpkin spiders” for obvious reasons.
I’ve rarely seen the marbled female and here’s why: After she spins her web she attaches a signal thread to the center and retreats to a hiding place where she holds the thread while she waits. The signal lets her know when something hits the web and out she comes.
Where does the spider hide? The Capital Naturalist tells us in this video.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals. video by the Capital Naturalist)
My toe isn’t beautiful but the moth is. His name is Pale Beauty (Campaea perlata).
When I tried to take his picture in Schenley Park on August 29, the moth landed on my sandal and touched my toe with his foot. Since butterflies and moths taste with their feet he (or she) must have been tasting my toe. Oh!
Pale beauty moths are generalists whose larvae feed on a wide variety of trees including ash, (black)cherry, maple, beech and oak.
Schenley Park is full of these trees. Pale beauty is right at home.