Parson’s Grove Visit

by Carl Strang

One evening last week I paid a visit to Parson’s Grove at Danada Forest Preserve. I felt that Nebraska coneheads were due to start singing, and Parson’s Grove has the largest population I have encountered in DuPage County, which makes it the northernmost significant population I have found to date in the Chicago region. There seemed to be more individuals singing that night than I remember from previous years. I tracked one down for a photo.

He proved to be a brown one. The conehead katydids all can be green or brown, but this is the first brown one of this species I have seen.

He proved to be a brown one. The conehead katydids all can be green or brown, but this is the first brown one of this species I have seen.

Another goal was to photograph a male rattler round-winged katydid, if any were going there. I have photos of a couple females, but lacked one of a male. I heard three at Parson’s Grove, and caught one in the open on a giant ragweed leaf.

My headlamp didn’t seem to disturb him as he casually groomed his feet.

My headlamp didn’t seem to disturb him as he casually groomed his feet.

The brown area on his back, which is part of the wings’ song-producing apparatus, is one distinguishing feature of males.

Parson’s Grove is a great place to hear a wide variety of nocturnal singing insects. DuPage County’s forest preserves provide a huge advantage to the region’s nature lovers, in that the preserves close an hour after sunset rather than right at sunset as is the case in the less enlightened surrounding counties.

Pocket Prairie

by Carl Strang

This is the time of year when the view out my back window is best.

The diversity of blooming wildflowers hits its peak in late July.

The diversity of blooming wildflowers hits its peak in late July.

My neighborhood for the most part is a wildlife desert. It’s amazing what a little habitat can bring, though. These native prairie flowers attract diverse pollinators, and bumble bees for instance always are present in the daylight hours. The red blooms are royal catchflies, which never fail to bring hummingbird visitors in July and August. Later, goldfinches will be after the seeds in the purple coneflower heads. My original planting plan is history, as most of these plants are seeding into the tiny spaces left between. My main work has shifted from planting to thinning, keeping the better competitors at bay so as to maintain a balance of biodiversity. That makes me a member of this community, too.

The Familiar, the New, and the In-Between

by Carl Strang

As I approach the end of my 7-year stint of monitoring the natural history of Mayslake Forest Preserve, most of what I observe is familiar.

This longhorn beetle, Typocerus velutinus, is an expected visitor to the preserve’s flowers this time of year.

This longhorn beetle, Typocerus velutinus, is an expected visitor to the preserve’s flowers this time of year.

Likewise, this female azure bluet was not the first of her kind I have photographed on the preserve.

Likewise, this female azure bluet was not the first of her kind I have photographed on the preserve.

On the other hand, each week brings at least one new species to add to the preserve’s lists.

This moth is an example. The Vestal appears to be a simply white geometrid at first glance, but a closer look reveals shadings and highlights of yellow and gold.

This moth is an example. The Vestal appears to be a simply white geometrid at first glance, but a closer look reveals shadings and highlights of yellow and gold.

It also helps when someone else joins me on my walks. Nikki Dahlin is a beekeeper, and she is quick to point out the flower visitors.

This bee would not have drawn my eye. It seems unremarkable.

This bee would not have drawn my eye. It seems unremarkable.

Zooming out, however, reveals how tiny it is. There were dozens of these, ignoring the nectar of the wild bergamot flower tubes and focusing on the anthers and their pollen.

Zooming out, however, reveals how tiny it is. There were dozens of these, ignoring the nectar of the wild bergamot flower tubes and focusing on the anthers and their pollen.

I haven’t studied the native bees enough to know where to begin with an identification, which would be needed to access information on other aspects of this bee’s life. Another new insect for the preserve from last week is one I have encountered elsewhere, but wasn’t aware could be at Mayslake.

The rattler round-wing katydid usually stays out of sight during the day, but this female perched on her leaf as though basking in the intermittent sun.

The rattler round-wing katydid usually stays out of sight during the day, but this female perched on her leaf as though basking in the intermittent sun.

Another two weeks will bring my Mayslake chapter to a close, but in the fall a new one will open at St. James Farm.

 

Fresh Mayslake Insects

by Carl Strang

An alertness to the small things, backed by a bit of knowledge, can add interest and beauty to a walk in the wild places.

The forage looper, like so many moths, has a subtle beauty that rewards scrutiny.

The forage looper, like so many moths, has a subtle beauty that rewards scrutiny.

This tiny geometrid is the red twin-spot, and was an addition to the Mayslake Forest Preserve species list when I found it last week.

This tiny geometrid is the red twin-spot, and was an addition to the Mayslake Forest Preserve species list when I found it last week.

Insect behavior also is worthy of study, especially when it is odd.

This guy was acting for all the world like a Laphria bumble bee mimic robber fly. It perched on the tip of a Liatris stalk, frequently turning to scan its surroundings, occasionally moving to another stalk.

This guy was acting for all the world like a Laphria bumble bee mimic robber fly. It perched on the tip of a Liatris stalk, frequently turning to scan its surroundings, occasionally moving to another stalk.

It was not a fly, however. No beak, a fat rather than flattened abdomen, and once it spread its wings and revealed two on each side. This was in fact a bumble bee. Why the odd behavior?

My, what big eyes you have, Grandpa! This is a drone. Of the species known to occur at Mayslake, it seems most likely to be Bombus fervidus, the yellow bumble bee.

My, what big eyes you have, Grandpa! This is a drone. Of the species known to occur at Mayslake, it seems most likely to be Bombus fervidus, the yellow bumble bee.

The odd behavior implies this was a male on the make. His search was not for prey, but for a passing queen of his kind. His is not a highly abundant species at Mayslake, so he may have to wait a while.

Prairie Cicadas Ran Late

by Carl Strang

Prairie cicadas are very locally distributed in northeastern Illinois, and I have not yet found them in Indiana or Wisconsin. Their season is brief and variable, and so I rely on a population near my home, at West Chicago Prairie Forest Preserve, to tell me when they are active each year. This year has been a bust in my search for new populations. The largest number I counted at West Chicago Prairie was only 4, on July 12, and they were difficult to pick out among the many gladiator meadow katydids, whose briefer buzz has a similar sound quality. Usually the cicadas are finished before the gladiators become numerous. There were no cicadas singing in my final check yesterday.

Side view of one of this year’s few singers.

Side view of one of this year’s few singers.

Dorsal view of the same individual. These guys are little, about an inch long.

Dorsal view of the same individual. These guys are little, about an inch long.

At least some cicada species have the ability to postpone emergence by a year. Perhaps the rain or periods of cool weather at the beginning of the usual emergence period persuaded some of these to wait. If so, there may be increased numbers next year, and I will be able to resume my search for undiscovered populations.

Wing Length and Song Quality

by Carl Strang

In a preliminary way I have begun to look at the question of how wing length affects song production in Roesel’s katydids. This seems pretty esoteric at first glance, but it has personal practical application, as I will explain. Roesel’s katydid is a European import which first appeared in the late 1940’s around Montreal, Quebec. They since have spread to the point that they can be found throughout northern Indiana and Illinois, and at least much of Michigan and Wisconsin. They come in a variety of wing lengths:

Short, as in this female in Kendall County, Illinois…

Short, as in this female in Kendall County, Illinois…

Intermediate, as in this male recently photographed at St. James Farm…

Intermediate, as in this male recently photographed at St. James Farm…

And long, as in this male at Blackwell Forest Preserve.

And long, as in this male at Blackwell Forest Preserve.

Researchers have noted that long-established populations in the European homeland are composed almost entirely of shorter winged, therefore flightless, individuals. The frequent observation of long-winged variations here has fostered the speculation that this has to do with dispersal as Roesel’s katydid expands its North American range. That may be true in the long run, but the edge of that range is far from the Kendall and DuPage County locations of the above individuals, and long-winged ones remain common.

Since I began my study of singing insects in 2006, I have been disappointed to find that each year my ability to hear the buzzing song of male Roesel’s diminishes. Furthermore, on hot days I can hear them fine in the cooler morning hours, but at some point I can no longer hear them. The pitch of their song rises with temperature, until it goes above my audible range. The SongFinder pitch lowering device proves they still are singing (incidentally, the buzz is steady when I hear it unaided, but through the SongFinder it has a superimposed vibrato which becomes more rapid with increasing temperature. This doesn’t happen with other singing insects).

Over the winter the question came to me whether the wing length of the males affects their song. Next year, retirement will allow time to pursue this in more detail, but for now I have an afternoon’s observations that seem to support a difference. I was following trails through north Blackwell’s meadows, occasionally listening with the SongFinder. The temperature was mid-70’s F. Many Roesel’s were singing, but I would not have known this without the device. Then I heard one unaided. I sought it out, and it was long winged. The same was true of two other individuals (the third is the one in the above photo).

Next year I want to make recordings of individuals with different wing lengths, and compare the parameters of their songs. Perhaps the analysis also will give some idea why the pitch-altered song has that vibrato. I want to think, too, about the possibility that there is an evolutionary dynamic going on here. If the song is different among males with different wing lengths, does that matter to females? If so, how? For instance, if long-winged females prefer long-winged males, and short-winged females prefer short-winged males, this could retain genes for long wings in the population for a reason other than dispersal advantage.

 

More Mayslake Insects

by Carl Strang

As we progress into the warm season, more and more insects jump, fly or climb into view. Most of the recent photographic subjects at Mayslake Forest Preserve have been moths or butterflies.

Monarch butterflies have received a lot of attention lately. Here a nearly mature caterpillar nibbles at a common milkweed flower.

Monarch butterflies have received a lot of attention lately. Here a nearly mature caterpillar nibbles at a common milkweed flower.

The beauty of moths is more subtle. This one is called the confused eusarca, a member of the inchworm family.

The beauty of moths is more subtle. This one is called the confused eusarca, a member of the inchworm family.

The prairies and meadows have produced dozens of tiger moths in the genus Haploa. These all seem to belong to two species.

I identify this one as a reversed haploa. A dark line extends from the midpoint of the leading edge of the forewing to the back corner of the wing.

I identify this one as a reversed haploa. A dark line extends from the midpoint of the leading edge of the forewing to the back corner of the wing.

This one appears to be a LeConte’s haploa. Here the dominant line goes out from the tip of the wing.

This one appears to be a LeConte’s haploa. Here the dominant line goes out from the tip of the wing.

Each species is represented by an array of confusing variations on these themes.

It hasn’t been just about moths. Here a Batyle suturalis longhorn beetle visits an ox-eye daisy.

It hasn’t been just about moths. Here a Batyle suturalis longhorn beetle visits an ox-eye daisy.

The most dramatic recent insect observation was this Laphria robber fly, with its prey, a honeybee. Laphria are bumblebee mimics.

The most dramatic recent insect observation was this Laphria robber fly, with its prey, a honeybee. Laphria are bumblebee mimics.

June Flowering Phenology

by Carl Strang

First flower dates at Mayslake Forest Preserve in June continued the trend of convergence on earlier years that is typical of the progressing season. The median difference from 2014 for 71 species was only one day earlier, and two days earlier than 2013 for 69 plant species.

Butterfly weed was among the species that first opened flowers in June.

Butterfly weed was among the species that first opened flowers in June.

The biggest difference continues to be with the very early year of 2012, but that is down to a median of 11 days later for 71 species. The difference for the remaining three years is not large: 5 days earlier than 2011 for 61 species, 5 days later than 2010 for 49 species, and 6 days earlier than 2009 for 51 species.

Compass plants began to bloom just before the end of June.

Compass plants began to bloom just before the end of June.

These differences represented reductions of 6 days, 3 days, 7 days, 1 day, and 4 days from May values for the years 2014-2010. The difference for 2009 increased by 3 days.

Nature Fest

by Carl Strang

The Centennial Bioblitz proceeded into much better weather on Saturday. All survey groups went out, many accompanied by embedded photographers, and before too long the data, social media and photo processing team had all they could handle.

The data entry table. Photos were selected for projection on a big screen in the science arena. This and the following photos by Marcy Rogge.

The data entry table. Photos were selected for projection on a big screen in the science arena. This and the following photos by Marcy Rogge.

The public side of the bioblitz, Nature Fest, opened at 11 a.m. The weather, setting and attractions drew nearly 2000 participants.

Most activities and exhibitors were in a long line, and the crowd was big enough to keep them all busy through the day.

Most activities and exhibitors were in a long line, and the crowd was big enough to keep them all busy through the day.

One of the most popular activities was created by Nikki Dahlin, my fellow naturalist at Mayslake, and Leslie Bertram from Fullersburg Woods. It was a walk-through insect key.

Nikki prepares a young entomologist to go out and catch a bug to identify with the key.

Nikki prepares a young entomologist to go out and catch a bug to identify with the key.

Their location beside a prairie plot provided good insect hunting grounds for participants. One of the signs for their key is in the foreground.

Their location beside a prairie plot provided good insect hunting grounds for participants. One of the signs for their key is in the foreground.

At the end of the day, scientists and volunteers were treated to a fine picnic feed. Survey team leaders provided highlight summaries.

The reports were MC’d by Scott Meister, who coordinated the science survey.

The reports were MC’d by Scott Meister, who coordinated the science survey.

As citizen science volunteer coordinator, I filled in for the birds team leader, who couldn’t make the picnic. By that point, after more than 24 hours’ concentrated activity with a sub-4-hour sleep break, I barely had 2 brain cells to rub together.

As citizen science volunteer coordinator, I filled in for the birds team leader, who couldn’t make the picnic. By that point, after more than 24 hours’ concentrated activity with a sub-4-hour sleep break, I barely had 2 brain cells to rub together.

Marcy Rogge, who provided these photos, was the overall event and logistics manager for the Centennial Bioblitz and Nature Fest. This brought her career with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County to a satisfactory conclusion, as she retired a few days later.

 

Centennial Bioblitz

by Carl Strang

The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County’s Centennial Bioblitz started under rain and somewhat cool temperatures last Friday night. We sent off the first plant survey teams and frog monitors, and a small bird team went out, but the rain continued. As the darkness built, it became clear that light stations for insects would get limited results. I gathered the group who had come for one of the public programs, and Purdue University entomologist Jeff Holland explained that the dripping water would explode their hot bulbs. We set up my ultraviolet light, and Jeff led the team into the forest at St. James Farm.

Dr. Holland examines a beetle one of the participants found.

Dr. Holland examines a beetle one of the participants found.

The kids had a great time catching fireflies, and finding insects and other creatures active in the rain.

Classic kid nature fun was had by all.

Classic kid nature fun was had by all.

When we stopped by the light on the way back, we found a few beetles and small moths, but the sheet mainly held a host of mosquitoes.

Amid hundreds of floodwater and other common mosquitoes, there were a few huge ones.

Amid hundreds of floodwater and other common mosquitoes, there were a few huge ones.

Late into the night, and much of the next day, my focus was on support and organizational work, but I did make two brief field excursions and added a few species to the count on the four preserves of the bioblitz survey.

This green darner showed off its bullseye face paint.

This green darner showed off its bullseye face paint.

Halloween pennants have been common around the county in the past week.

Halloween pennants have been common around the county in the past week.

I recognized the chickweed geometer from my preserve monitoring work at Mayslake.

I recognized the chickweed geometer from my preserve monitoring work at Mayslake.

Roesel’s katydids had begun to sing in the previous week. This mature male has short to medium-length wings.

Roesel’s katydids had begun to sing in the previous week. This mature male has short to medium-length wings.

This coneheaded katydid nymph at the edge of the parking lot meadow was large enough, and its cone the proper shape, to be a sword-bearing rather than round-tipped conehead.

This coneheaded katydid nymph at the edge of the parking lot meadow was large enough, and its cone the proper shape, to be a sword-bearing rather than round-tipped conehead.

The botany teams no doubt caught this one, but I couldn’t resist photographing these starry Solomon’s plume fruits at Blackwell.

The botany teams no doubt caught this one, but I couldn’t resist photographing these starry Solomon’s plume fruits at Blackwell.

Our rough estimate at the end of the bioblitz was 900 species documented for the four preserves. I will report more detailed numbers when we have them.

 

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