Some Final Insect Photos

by Carl Strang

The arrival of snow flurries and skim ice on the lakes and marshes means that insects are pretty much done for the year. Today I will share some photos of a couple late season observations. One of these was at Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve.

This is the red flat bark beetle, with the musical scientific name Cucujus clavipes.

This is the red flat bark beetle, with the musical scientific name Cucujus clavipes.

I recognized that little critter thanks to the Observe Your Preserve website, through a contributed photo by Linda Padera.

Some of us in the Education department participated in a morning bioblitz at the Lemont Quarries at the beginning of November. It was a chilly morning, but we found a few insects, including a new species for me, Walsh’s grasshopper.

Not a singing species, this short-winged hopper is in the spur-throated group.

Not a singing species, this short-winged hopper is in the spur-throated group.

The hind tibia are orange or red with yellow bases.

The hind tibia are orange or red with yellow bases.

This grasshopper turned up in its typical habitat, a mix of forbs and brush at the edge of a woodland.

Garlic Mustard Plot Closing

by Carl Strang

As I begin the slide toward my retirement next August, I have begun to tie up some loose ends. One of these was the need to pull markers I had left at all the garlic mustard study plots I had established over the years at Mayslake Forest Preserve. That research was very satisfying, confirming experimentally that stands of garlic mustard can be removed effectively without use of chemicals or tedious hand pulling of individual plants (the results were last summarized here in 2013).

Some of those plots go back 5 years, and I was surprised at how little garlic mustard had returned to them.

Here is one of the plots. Most of the green is from things other than garlic mustard.

Here is one of the plots. Most of the green is from things other than garlic mustard.

A close-up from another plot. Only a few widely scattered first-year garlic mustard plants were present in each plot.

A close-up from another plot. Only a few widely scattered first-year garlic mustard plants were present in each plot.

These plots were shaded, which would inhibit growth, and the limited number of plants suggests that these were new infestations which had not established much of a seed bank.

 

Mink in a Tree

by Carl Strang

I can’t pretend to know much about mink. Typically I’ll get 4-6 brief glimpses of our most common weasel in the course of a year, and I’ve accumulated a total of 6 or 7 hours of “dirt time” (mainly “snow time” in this case) tracking them. With that as background, I can’t truly say how odd this little story from last Friday is. It was a cold, overcast day, and I was returning to Mayslake Hall from a relatively uneventful lunchtime walk. As I approached the little stream that serves as the outlet for Mayslake Forest Preserve’s lakes, I caught the motion of a roughly squirrel-sized mammal. It had climbed onto the base of a severely tilted willow.

The tree in question.

The tree in question.

The animal was very dark.

Definitely not a squirrel.

Definitely not a squirrel.

As it climbed all the way to the topmost branches, 15 or so feet above the ground, I was thinking: could this be a mink? But it’s climbing a tree!

When it stopped and gave me a look, the identification was confirmed: a mink indeed. Here, the tail and hindquarters are visible to the left, the head to the right.

When it stopped and gave me a look, the identification was confirmed: a mink indeed. Here, the tail and hindquarters are visible to the left, the head to the right.

Fortunately for me, the critter held still and let me get enough photos that I ended up with a few that were reasonably in focus.

I had set the camera’s ISO to 2000 on that dull day. Note the white chin.

I had set the camera’s ISO to 2000 on that dull day. Note the white chin.

Eventually the mink climbed back down and sprinted through the woods to the safety of Mays’ Lake. Tree climbing is not typical behavior for this amphibious mammal, I am sure, but I certainly have a broader sense of the little carnivore’s capabilities after this episode.

 

Mayslake November Highlights

by Carl Strang

The first half of November brought reminders that life continues through autumn at Mayslake Forest Preserve. The preserve’s prairies draw flocks of goldfinches.

This messy eater enjoys some stiff goldenrod seeds.

This messy eater enjoys some stiff goldenrod seeds.

Though most plants were shutting down in keeping with the season, there were some anomalous exceptions.

This Amur honeysuckle opened a few flowers on November 4. May and June are the usual blooming months for that species.

This Amur honeysuckle opened a few flowers on November 4. May and June are the usual blooming months for that species.

Late-season insects were holding on.

The autumn meadowhawk is well named, but few are able to remain active into November.

The autumn meadowhawk is well named, but few are able to remain active into November.

At the same time, some species already are preparing for next year.

Mallard courtship is well under way, and tentative pair bonds already have formed.

Mallard courtship is well under way, and tentative pair bonds already have formed.

 

The Cricket Double Wave

by Carl Strang

This is the time of year when the singing insect season is nearly done, with only the last song dates to note for the few rugged species still singing. I have been writing my annual research summary, and one data set recently completed was my Fermilab field cricket count. In the warm months I take bike rides through Fermilab, a U.S. Department of Energy research site, on roughly a weekly basis. I count the number of singing crickets I hear. The resulting graph has a double wave shape.

Counts of singing field crickets heard during bicycle rides following a standard route through Fermilab.

Counts of singing field crickets heard during bicycle rides following a standard route through Fermilab.

Two species are represented here, the spring field cricket and the fall field cricket. Their songs are identical to the ear. The graph shows that spring field cricket counts increased rapidly from the first appearance on May 18 to a peak in mid-June, then rapidly fell. There never was a time when fewer than 50 crickets were counted in July, probably indicating overlap between the two species, with the last spring field crickets continuing into the last half of that month. Fall field cricket numbers built rapidly to a peak in the first half of September, and exceeded the maximum count for spring field crickets in the same area, before dropping rapidly in early October.

 

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