Southern Lessons

by Carl Strang

This year’s chapter in the series of annual bioblitzes organized by the Indiana Academy of Sciences took place at Eagle Creek Park in northern Indianapolis on June 2-3. This is early enough in the season that there were few singing insects for me to find, but I was able to gain valuable experience with two southern species that occur or have occurred in the Chicago region.

The first of these is the spring trig.

Female spring trig at Eagle Creek.

This species of tiny cricket first was described in 2014. That is surprising, given its abundance in southern Indiana and its extensive range beyond the state. It proved to be common in a range of habitats at Eagle Creek Park, from woodland edges to grassy meadows.

Spring trigs appear plain-faced to the eye, but bright light and magnification reveal a pattern of fine dark lines.

I learned more about the spring trig’s habitat, and found that I can hear them easily while driving at speeds of 30mph or less. This allowed me to get clarity on the species in the Chicago region. Driving in the southernmost counties, I found widely scattered small colonies in Fulton and Jasper counties, at road edges where wider bands of herbaceous plants were backed by woodlands. In the future I expect to find them in southern Pulaski and Newton counties, too, but not north of there.

Eagle Creek Park also has a large population of northern wood crickets.

The northern wood cricket is a forest species that is smaller and blacker than the spring field cricket, which could be heard chirping in the park’s meadow areas.

The spring field cricket is a few millimeters longer, typically has bronzy wings, and has a proportionately broader head and thorax.

Recordings I made during the bioblitz, and at home with a captive male, have provided further clarity on northern wood cricket song characteristics. Their chirps may never have 4 pulses (commonly 2 or 3), and almost never rise above 5 kHz in pitch, where spring field crickets often have 4-pulse chirps, and seldom drop below 5 kHz. Habitat also helps separate the two. I dug deeper into the literature, and learned more about historical records of the species in two Chicago region counties. Those observations were made in 1902, and I went to the sites in the weeks after the bioblitz. Northern wood crickets no longer occur there. I believe the records are correct, but that the crickets have gone extinct in those places. Northern wood crickets are reported to be sensitive to forest fragmentation, perhaps especially so in the northern fringe of their range, and such fragmentation clearly took place where they once were found in Lake and Marshall counties. I will continue to check the region’s larger surviving forest blocks, but it seems likely that the species no longer occurs in northern Indiana.

Incidentally, the other expected early-season singing insect, the green-striped grasshopper, lives in Eagle Creek Park’s meadows and prairie areas.

Next year’s bioblitz is expected to take place in one of my counties, and I am looking forward to the experience.

 

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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.

 

Centennial Bioblitz and Nature Fest

by Carl Strang

This coming weekend brings the crowning event of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County’s Centennial Celebration: the Centennial Bioblitz and its public face, the Nature Fest. We have over 100 scientists and citizen scientists coming to count all the species they can find on four adjacent forest preserves: Blackwell, St. James Farm, Herrick Lake and Danada. Survey teams have been organized to focus on birds, vascular plants, nonvascular plants, reptiles and amphibians, mammals, fishes, dragonflies and damselflies, beetles, butterflies, fungi, and others. The survey will begin at 5 p.m. on Friday and continue to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Purdue University’s beetle team and others will be night sampling for insects under lights Friday night. You can check out this action by signing up at 630-942-6200.

Purdue University’s beetle team and others will be night sampling for insects under lights Friday night. You can check out this action by signing up at 630-942-6200.

Nature Fest will run concurrently, beginning at 11 a.m. on Saturday. It will take place at St. James Farm, which also will be the headquarters for the bioblitz. In addition to opportunities to meet the scientists, and see specimens and photos of their findings, festival goers will be able to see presentations (including those on the main stage with live bats and raptorial birds), try out various related hands-on activities and exhibits, and purchase treats from an array of gourmet food trucks.

The entrance to St. James Farm is on the east side of Winfield Road, just north of Butterfield Road in Warrenville. Maybe I’ll see you there!

Resurrecting Moth Memories

by Carl Strang

My evening of moths at the UV light during the Hills of Gold bioblitz brought back memories of similar nights three decades ago, when I was trying to get a handle on forest insect ecology. Those memories were elaborated as I processed the many photos of the moths that came to the sheet. For example, I was reminded how variable the members of a species can be within a single population.

One example was the friendly probole, a moth in the inchworm family. Here is a relatively pale example.

One example was the friendly probole, a moth in the inchworm family. Here is a relatively pale example.

Here is a somewhat darker one. The previously described members of this genus recently all were combined into the same species, so there was no question of similar conspecifics.

Here is a somewhat darker one. The previously described members of this genus recently all were combined into the same species, so there was no question of similar conspecifics.

Notice the doubled dark spots on the hind wings of this third example. These three individuals arrived at different times, and it wasn’t until I studied the photos that I realized that they were related.

Notice the doubled dark spots on the wings of this third example. These three individuals arrived at different times, and it wasn’t until I studied the photos that I realized that they were related.

Even more surprising was the discovery that 7 different moths all should be regarded as the same species, the yellowhorn. In this case it appears to be different degrees of wear rather than different color patterns that prevented me from recognizing their similarities.

Here is a relatively worn individual. Note the bright yellow antennae that provide its English name.

Here is a relatively worn individual. Note the bright yellow antennae that provide its English name.

And here is a fresh one. This one landed on my pants, hence the different fabric color of the background.

And here is a fresh one. This one landed on my pants, hence the different fabric color of the background.

There are many species of moths, and they often have similar shapes and color patterns, so some time is needed to sort them out. The yellowhorns are in family Noctuidae. The next photo is of a moth with similar body form and wing shape, but it is not even in the same moth family.

The common gluphisia is in family Notodontidae. This one even shares the yellowhorn’s humpbacked profile.

The common gluphisia is in family Notodontidae. This one even shares the yellowhorn’s humpbacked profile.

A final example of within-species variation is a moth called the porcelain gray. This was the least worn of four individuals I photographed at the light.

A final example of within-species variation is a moth called the porcelain gray. This was the least worn of four individuals I photographed at the light.

Some study was required before I was ready to acknowledge that this moth belonged to the same species as the one in the previous photo.

Some study was required before I was ready to acknowledge that this moth belonged to the same species as the one in the previous photo.

The three-spotted fillip was the most common moth I observed during the day. A few came to the light as well.

The three-spotted fillip was the most common moth I observed during the day. A few came to the light as well.

It probably is not clear from the photo, but the three-patched bigwing is significantly larger than the three-spotted fillip. Both are in the same genus.

It probably is not clear from the photo, but the three-patched bigwing is significantly larger than the three-spotted fillip. Both are in the same genus.

This large mossy glyph was the only representative of its species at my light. It landed on the sheet early in the session, and stayed there until I closed shop.

This large mossy glyph was the only representative of its species at my light. It landed on the sheet early in the session, and stayed there until I closed shop.

I don’t know if the light drew this common oak moth caterpillar that crawled along the edge of the sheet. Note the odd abdominal false feet, which shrink progressively back to front.

I don’t know if the light drew this common oak moth caterpillar that crawled along the edge of the sheet. Note the odd abdominal false feet, which shrink progressively back to front.

This one probably is a curve-lined looper moth, Lambdina fervidaria, but that species is practically identical to a congener, Lambdina canitiaria, which is so rare that it has not received an English name.

This one probably is a curve-lined looper moth, Lambdina fervidaria, but that species is practically identical to a congener, Lambdina canitiaria, which is so rare that it has not received an English name.

Such uncertainty and ambiguity is another memory from that earlier moth study.

Showy Insects at the Lights

by Carl Strang

The rain stopped for a while on the night of the Hills of Gold bioblitz in Johnson County, Indiana. I set my single ultraviolet light on a hilltop, following a muddy climb up a steep logging trail. My light faced a different downslope than the nearby, more elaborate multi-light array of the Purdue beetle team led by Jeff Holland. My aim was moths, and a satisfying variety came to the sheet lit by my UV tube. Today I will share photos of some of the more spectacular insects we found.

The biggest was this tulip-tree silkmoth which came to one of the Purdue lights.

The biggest was this tulip-tree silkmoth which came to one of the Purdue lights.

Two of these beautiful, strikingly marked green moths came to my station. Their English name is appropriate: green marvel.

Two of these beautiful, strikingly marked green moths came to my station. Their English name is appropriate: green marvel.

Another eye-catcher was this one, curiously named The Hebrew.

Another eye-catcher was this one, curiously named The Hebrew.

The unadorned carpet was one of the moths commonly encountered during the day. One came to the sheet as well.

The unadorned carpet was one of the moths commonly encountered during the day. One came to the sheet as well.

The splendid palpita has attractive patches of pinkish brown on all four wings.

The splendid palpita has attractive patches of pinkish brown on all four wings.

According to its page in the BugGuide website, the brown-spotted zale actually is a species complex containing several species distinguishable only by dissection.

According to its page in the BugGuide website, the brown-spotted zale actually is a species complex containing several species distinguishable only by dissection.

That last point may well be true of many of the moths of the North American forests. This is where I need to compromise my reluctance to collect insects. There are enough instances of sibling species or cryptic species among the moths that voucher specimens are necessary. Given the growth of DNA analysis, two specimens per species per site may be the standard I will need to follow, so that one or part of one could be sacrificed to future chemical analysis. From an ecological as well as an evolutionary standpoint, the existence of these cryptic species is an interesting problem that needs to be sorted out.

Of course, many insects other than moths came to my sheet. This fish fly appears to be Chauliodes pectinicornis.

Of course, many insects other than moths came to my sheet. This fish fly appears to be Chauliodes pectinicornis.

Several fiery searchers prowled my sheet and its vicinity. These large beetles are predators that frequently attack caterpillars.

Several fiery searchers prowled my sheet and its vicinity. These large beetles are predators that frequently attack caterpillars.

Next time I will elaborate on other moths that were drawn to the lights. These illustrate a number of additional points about forest moth populations.

Hills of Gold

by Carl Strang

This year’s chapter in the bioblitz series organized by the Indiana Academy of Science was called Hills of Gold. It was on a beautiful site being assembled by the Central Indiana Land Trust, and when complete will occupy around 2 square miles in Johnson County, south of Indianapolis.

The event took place on an intermittently rainy day, as illustrated by this less than sharp image of a representative bit of forest and one of the old logging trails we used to get around the site.

The event took place on an intermittently rainy day, as illustrated by this less than sharp image of a representative bit of forest and one of the old logging trails we used to get around the site.

Usually my role in these bioblitzes is to survey singing insects, but this was too early in the season for a sufficient number of species to justify my participating. I decided to reconnect with my experience studying forest Lepidoptera ecology in the 1980’s, and took on moths as well. As I walked the forest during the day, I found many beautiful plants and animals outside my target groups that gave joy.

Green dragons always make me smile, and I ran across a magnificent cluster of them along one of the streams.

Green dragons always make me smile, and I ran across a magnificent cluster of them along one of the streams.

And who can say “no” to fire pinks? Hummingbirds sure don’t.

And who can say “no” to fire pinks? Hummingbirds sure don’t.

Violet wood sorrel is a plant I haven’t encountered very often.

Violet wood sorrel is a plant I haven’t encountered very often.

There also were insects to note outside my target groups.

This Bombus impatiens queen still had not found a nest site, and was prospecting the forest floor.

This Bombus impatiens queen still had not found a nest site, and was prospecting the forest floor.

I interrupted this female scorpionfly’s feed on an emptied caterpillar skin.

I interrupted this female scorpionfly’s feed on an emptied caterpillar skin.

Speaking of caterpillars, the first target species I found was this eastern tent caterpillar:

They already had reached the final instar and were starting to pupate.

They already had reached the final instar and were starting to pupate.

I collected only four moth species during the day. All were fairly common.

This was one of them, which I identify as the unadorned carpet, a member of the inchworm family.

This was one of them, which I identify as the unadorned carpet, a member of the inchworm family.

Many more moths came to my ultraviolet light setup that night. Stay tuned for that episode.

For the record, there was one singing insect. This was my first encounter with a wood cricket. I heard them scattered thinly all through the forest, but never succeeded in seeing one. They probably were northern wood crickets (Gryllus vernalis), but might have been southern wood crickets (G. fultoni). I made a couple good sound recordings, which I hope will allow me to make the determination.

One of them was singing from this patch of leaf litter.

One of them was singing from this patch of leaf litter.

More on that later, after I have analyzed the recordings.

Singing Insects on TV

by Carl Strang

Last September, several of the participants in St. Joseph County’s Bendix Woods Bioblitz were interviewed for that park district’s series of nature-related television programs. Evie Kirkwood, a national leader in the heritage interpretation field, was the interviewer. I was one of the interviewees. My segment recently was televised, in a program that included another on pollination, and one featuring the Field Museum’s Jim Louderman, who also will be participating in our Centennial Bioblitz in DuPage County in June. The program can be viewed HERE. The segments can be selected individually.

The first stop of my segment had both fall field crickets and Japanese burrowing crickets singing, but the latter’s song is more prominent in the audio pickup. I did not mention the Japanese burrowing cricket because I did not confirm its identity until the next day.

Japanese burrowing cricket at Bendix Woods

Japanese burrowing cricket at Bendix Woods

Moths, Maybe

by Carl Strang

The Indiana bioblitzes always seem to take place so early in the season that there is little singing insect action for me to document. I always learn something, but I feel that I want to make a larger contribution. I photographed some moths drawn to the Purdue team’s lights at Eagle Marsh, and I was reminded of my 1980’s investigation of forest moths in DuPage County, for instance the component community centering on enchanter’s nightshade. Perhaps I need to expand a bit, and make a more concerted effort with moths at future bioblitzes.

Here is what the woolly bear caterpillar becomes: an Isabella tiger moth. At least two of these were drawn to the lights at Eagle Marsh.

Here is what the woolly bear caterpillar becomes: an Isabella tiger moth. At least two of these were drawn to the lights at Eagle Marsh.

We got a glimpse of a yellow-collared scape moth during the day, and that night one came to us.

We got a glimpse of a yellow-collared scape moth during the day, and that night one came to us.

A third example, a bristly cutworm moth. Check out the beautiful green areas in the wings.

A third example, a bristly cutworm moth. Check out the beautiful green areas in the wings.

There have been butterfly teams, but so far no one has specialized on moths. They are a diverse, beautiful and ecologically significant group, deserving of attention in the bioblitzes. It will mean collecting, but I have done that before.

Eagle Marsh Bioblitz

by Carl Strang

Each year the Indiana Academy of Sciences selects a site within that state for a bioblitz. This past weekend’s was my third, and it always is a great way to kick off the field season. The location this year was Eagle Marsh, on the western fringe of Fort Wayne.

A large open barn in the center of the site made for a good headquarters.

A large open barn in the center of the site made for a good headquarters.

Support for the visiting scientists and other volunteers was excellent. Here, the morning’s adventures are shared over box lunches on Saturday.

Support for the visiting scientists and other volunteers was excellent. Here, the morning’s adventures are shared over box lunches on Saturday.

The objective of a bioblitz is to find as many species of organisms as possible in a brief period, usually 24 hours. Scientists who specialize in different taxa lead teams that explore the site. Eagle Marsh is dominated by wetlands, as the name implies. In fact it sits on the boundary between two watersheds, the Great Lakes to the north, and the Mississippi River drainage to the south.

This fence is intended to block Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes when the rivers flood. It soon will be replaced by a more reliable berm.

This fence is intended to block Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes when the rivers flood. It soon will be replaced by a more reliable berm.

The site largely is a restoration project begun in 2005, though some teams found surprising diversity in parts of the preserve. My singing insects team was limited by the early date. We found a grand total of 3 species.

This Roesel’s katydid nymph was one of a small cluster we found on an elevated bank.

This Roesel’s katydid nymph was one of a small cluster we found on an elevated bank.

This bioblitz invited members of the public to assist those scientists open to such participation. I was delighted to have a team, for a change, and we enjoyed all the organisms we were finding.

Northern leopard frogs were abundant, a sign of how rapidly the wetland is improving in quality.

Northern leopard frogs were abundant, a sign of how rapidly the wetland is improving in quality.

Peck’s skipper was one of a number of butterfly species we observed.

Peck’s skipper was one of a number of butterfly species we observed.

Jeff Holland’s Purdue University entomology team always provides a highlight with their beetle-drawing lights.

1000 watts of power.

1000 watts of power.

Helpers collect some of the insects that fall to the sheets below.

Helpers collect some of the insects that fall to the sheets below.

Here is what they were seeing.

Here is what they were seeing.

Congratulations to Betsy Yankowiak and the Little River Wetlands Project team for a job well done.

Betsy presented an overview of the area’s geology for interested participants.

Betsy presented an overview of the area’s geology for interested participants.

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