2019 Bioblitz

by Carl A. Strang

Each year the Indiana Academy of Science co-hosts a bioblitz somewhere in that state. This year’s site was The Center at Donaldson, which includes a retreat center and Ancilla College, plus surrounding properties. I always take the singing insects in this annual 24-hour count of species, but no one came to cover Lepidoptera or Odonata in 2019, so I appended them to my commitment. That is just as well, because these events are scheduled early enough in the season that few singing insects have reached the adult stage.

Some Roesel’s katydids matured in time for the bioblitz.

Two of the five singing insect species I found were common early species that were nearly finished, two were common mid-season species recently coming into song, and one of them provided an observation of significance. The eastern striped cricket is thinly scattered in northwest Indiana, possibly expanding into that region from the south or west. A single male singing in the evening provided a Marshall County record, a full county’s width farther east than I have observed them before.

I enjoyed re-acquainting myself with the beauty of dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies and moths, and photographed many of them.

The widow skimmer was the most abundant dragonfly.

Most of the eastern or common pondhawks still were green. Males will change to blue over time.

The Halloween pennant pleases the eye.

There weren’t many damselflies. Here, a blue-fronted dancer.

Newly emerged eastern forktail females are orange.

A few monarchs graced the grounds.

There were many great spangled fritillaries, plus this meadow fritillary.

I encountered a few moths during the day, but most came to my ultraviolet light setup in the forest, or the Purdue team’s assorted bright lights in the open. Moths are underappreciated for their beauty, diversity, and ecological significance.

Large lace-border, Scopula limboundata

Reversed haploa, Haploa reversa

Painted lichen moth, Hypoprepia fucosa

Delicate cycnia, Cycnia tenera

Isabella tiger moth, Pyrrharctia Isabella

Imperial moth, Eacles imperialis

Hermit sphinx, Lintneria eremitus

Snowy-shouldered acleris, Acleris nivisellana

Oblique-banded leafroller, Choristoneura rosaceana

Grape leaffolder, Desmia funeralis

Grape plume moth, Geina periscelidactylus

Large maple spanworm, Prochoerodes lineola

Lesser maple spanworm, Macaria pustularia

Small engrailed, Ectropis crepuscularia

Ovate dagger, Acronicta ovata

Pink-barred pseudostrotia, Pseudostrotia carneola

The Hebrew, Polygrammate hebraeicum

The brother, Raphia frater

Along the way I encountered a few other species to add to the species count.

Narrow-winged grasshoppers were common on the bioblitz base camp’s sandy hill.

A Pennsylvania wood cockroach came to the UV light.

The light also drew this striking summer fishfly.

 

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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 Insect Phenology

by Carl Strang

As I described in the previous post, plant phenology this year has been marching along in its usual pattern of between-year convergence of first flower dates. The results for insects in June were less consistent, and therefore more interesting. First appearance dates of 17 insect species in June were a median 11 days later in 2013 than in 2012. This is not surprising, given last year’s early season. There was some convergence, as that difference was 33 days in May.

The first sighting of Bombus auricomus at Mayslake Forest Preserve was on June 14 this year.

The first sighting of Bombus auricomus at Mayslake Forest Preserve was on June 14 this year.

No such convergence appeared in the comparisons of 2013 with 2011 and 2010, where the June median was 11 days later this year than in 2011 (19 species), and 9 days later than in 2010 (19 species). The differences in May were 10 days in each case, so no change. The median showed no difference (0 days) between June first appearances in 2013 and 2009 (19 species); in May that difference was 5 days.

The first monarch butterfly arrived from the South on June 13 (and yes, this is a photo from an earlier year).

The first monarch butterfly arrived from the South on June 13 (and yes, this is a photo from an earlier year).

We had some warm weather, but on the whole this spring was cool and often rainy. I think that weather pattern probably accounts for 2013’s continued lateness through June, and the relative lack of convergence to date.

Literature Review: Milkweed Insects

by Carl Strang

This week’s peek at the scientific literature is a recent study published in the journal Science. My source is an article about that study in the science review site ScienceDaily.

Y. Zhen, M. L. Aardema, E. M. Medina, M. Schumer, P. Andolfatto. Parallel Molecular Evolution in an Herbivore Community. Science, 2012; 337 (6102): 1634 DOI: 10.1126/science.1226630

They examined genes of insects from several orders that feed on milkweed and dogbane plants. Though the insects (butterflies, moths, beetles, true bugs, aphids) are well separated from one another in their taxonomy and evolutionary history, they share the basic genes regulating cellular exchange of sodium and potassium, the proteins for which are affected by the plants’ poisons. A common pattern was gene duplication, with one copy available to mutate into a resistant form that allowed normal exchange of those ions within gut cells. The same gene was involved in all those diverse species, indicating the course of evolution was somewhat predictable.

Here is a gallery of local insects which eat milkweed and dogbane leaves, illustrating the diversity.

Monarch

Large milkweed bug

Red milkweed beetle

Milkweed tussock moth caterpillar

Milkweed leaf beetle

Dogbane beetle

Note how common orange appears among the milkweed insects’ colors. Is there a common genetic factor there as well?

May Insect Phenology

by Carl Strang

As was the case with flowering phenology, insect species that first appeared in May did so earlier than in recent years at Mayslake Forest Preserve. The median difference between this year and last was 14.5 days earlier for 18 species, with a range of 86 days earlier to 5 days later. The median difference between 2012 and 2011 was less, at 8 days earlier for 15 species, ranging 21 days earlier to 46 days later. The difference was larger again with respect to 2009, a median of 16.5 days earlier for 14 species, ranging 95 days earlier to 46 days later.

Many of the early species were dragonflies, possibly finishing their development more quickly as waters warmed early this year. The first blue dasher appeared 9 days earlier than last year, 21 days earlier than in 2010, and 14 days earlier than in 2009.

With soil warming and plants growing so much more quickly, it is no surprise that plant-eating insects also were represented among the early species.

I saw the first least skipper on May 22 this year, June 8 last year, June 10 in 2010 and June 2 in 2009.

A third category was migrants, with the monarch butterfly being the iconic species here.

The first monarch arrived on May 4 this year, May 11 last year, May 19 in 2010 and May 26 in 2009.

Though local conditions would not have brought migrants here sooner, much of the U.S. had an early spring which could translate into quicker development of the offspring of those monarch migrants that overwintered in Mexico.

Literature Review: Monarch Navigation

by Carl Strang

If I had to choose one scientific journal to follow, it would be Science. Not only is this the most prestigious American journal (on par with Europe’s Nature), it is available at many public libraries and all college libraries. In addition to the original scientific papers published in Science, there is excellent reporting on results published elsewhere. Today I want to focus on one of the papers published in Science last year:

Merlin, Christine, Robert J. Gegear, and Steven M. Reppert. 2009. Antennal circadian clocks coordinate sun compass orientation in migratory monarch butterflies. Science 325: 1700-1704.

One of the wonders of nature in North America is the monarch migration. Each autumn, monarch butterflies from across eastern North America fly to a small area in the Mexican mountains and spend the winter there. They are removed by several generations from their ancestors who last made the trip. How do they navigate?

These three researchers looked at an aspect of this question. They knew from earlier studies that monarchs orient toward the sun to move in a southerly direction during their fall migration. Furthermore, the butterflies use a physiological clock (consisting of certain chemical reactions) to tell them where the sun is relative to south. This study found that the clock is located in the antennae rather than in the brain as had been thought. I would have guessed that persistent pheromones were involved somehow in monarch navigation, the butterflies perhaps following gradients of concentration with the aid of sensitive chemoreceptors in the antennae. It seems from this study that the antennae are indeed involved, but in a completely different way.

Mayslake Lepidoptera Update

by Carl Strang

As we move into autumn, the lateness of the season calls for us to enjoy the more ephemeral beauties of nature while we still have them. Monarch butterflies have completed their local mating and egg-laying, and have begun the migration south toward Mexico.

Monarchs mating b

Earlier in the season at Mayslake Forest Preserve I found this larva of the moth Cycnia tenera on its usual food plant, dogbane.

Cycnia tenera b

Tiger swallowtails are one of our more spectacular butterflies.

Tiger swallowtail 1b

They will overwinter in the pupal form. Late season species include the summer azure.

Summer azure b

Larvae of this little butterfly feed on flowers in the composite (sunflower) family; I have seen them laying eggs on wingstem at Fullersburg . Another common late summer species is Peck’s skipper.

Peck's skipper b

There probably will be little more to report on this group at Mayslake until next year.

If you build it…

by Carl Strang

Our yards are habitats for wildlife. We have no choice in that. We can, however, influence what kinds of wildlife will visit us or live with us on the land. This is true even for a tiny yard like mine. Here are some examples from my prairie flowerbeds, which are approaching their peak now.

Prairie garden 26JL09 b

I have planted royal catchflies all out of proportion to their presence in our local prairies.

Royal catchfly b

As a result, I can count on regular visits from ruby-throated hummingbirds in July and August. Here is this year’s happy camper, photographed through the kitchen window.

Yard hummer 1b

I kind of like this impressionistic view of the same bird.

Yard hummer 2b

Red tubular flowers shout “hummingbird” to ecologists, and to the birds themselves. I wonder if royal catchfly flowers also have evolved the means to defeat nectar thieves.

Bombus bimaculatus yard b

This Bombus bimaculatus bumblebee behaved as though it were in one of those sticky-slow-motion nightmares. The hairs on the royal catchfly calyx either were affecting it chemically, or physically had grabbed it. It wasn’t struggling strongly, so I suspect the former. As far as I know, no bumblebee has a tongue long enough to reach the nectaries of this flower from the front. Bumblebees are known to pierce such flowers from the outside, getting nectar but bypassing the anthers, therefore not serving the plant’s need for cross pollination. Such nectar thievery could provide selective pressure favoring any adaptation in the plant that might prevent the would-be perps from being successful.

In any case, I have plenty of bimaculatus visiting my other flowers, and also a few Bombus griseocollis.

Bombus griseocollis yard b

A final species for this time is the monarch.

Monarch larva b

This half-grown caterpillar is doing well on one of my butterfly weed plants.

More Mayslake Lepidoptera (and others)

by Carl Strang

A couple days ago I updated the dragonflies and damselflies I have been finding at Mayslake Forest Preserve in my first year there. Today I’ll continue with newly sighted butterflies and a moth. These include black swallowtails, both female

black swallowtail female b

and male.

Black swallowtail male b

I have not seen larvae, but there are plenty of Queen Anne’s lace and other members of the family Umbelliferae that are potential food plants. When I saw the following hairstreak, I made sure to get photos.

Banded hairstreak b

This proves to be a banded hairstreak. A year ago I was alerted by Forest Preserve District invertebrate biologist Tom Velat to watch for southern or oak hairstreaks. That alert was prompted by the following photo I took of that species at Fullersburg, which I failed to identify correctly.

Southern (oak) hairstreak b

The hairstreaks require a close study of patterns in the lines of dots beneath both wings, and the arrangement of colors in the corner of the hindwing. I have one moth to share this time, the reversed haploa.

Haploa reversa Reversed haploa b

Haploa is a genus of tiger moths. I’ll close with three insects of milkweeds. The first is a familiar butterfly, the monarch, here visiting a purple coneflower in Mayslake’s Historic Garden.

Monarch Echinacea b

Monarch caterpillars feed on the leaves of milkweeds, in the process sequestering defensive poisons which then protect the specialist insect from its own consumers. Other insects have solved the milkweeds’ chemical challenge, and gone on to advertise their own poisonous status with bright colors. Two species in this category which recently have appeared at Mayslake are the red milkweed beetle

Red milkweed beetle b

and the large milkweed bug.

Large milkweed bug b

I’m sure I have barely scratched the surface of Mayslake’s Lepidoptera.

Early Insects

by Carl Strang

Large insects are beginning to appear at Mayslake Forest Preserve. For some weeks I have been seeing mourning cloaks, which overwintered as adults.

Mourning Cloak b

The above photo I took at Fullersburg last year. Another butterfly that overwinters as an adult is the eastern comma. This one at Mayslake apparently had a close call, probably with a bird. Note the missing section from the left hind wing.

Eastern comma b

There have been some orange sulfurs, which overwintered in the pupal stage.

Orange sulfur b

Their close relatives the cabbage whites have been common all over the preserve. Earlier  I celebrated the arrival of the first common green darner dragonflies, migrants from the South. The first locally emerging dragonfly I saw was this male common whitetail at Mayslake last week.

Common whitetail immature male b

He is recognizable to species and gender by his wing pattern, but he has newly emerged and so still has the immature coloration on his abdomen. The first mature Mayslake damselflies were eastern forktails.

Eastern forktail male b

The above photo of a mature male is from a few years ago, I believe at Songbird Slough, but this is our most common and widely distributed damselfly.

I have not had good luck photographing bumblebee queens this spring. Bombus impatiens has been common, and I saw one Bombus fervidus near the friary on May 22, at the same honeysuckle bush that hosted two of these:

Carpenter bee 2b

This is the large carpenter bee Xylocopa virginica.

The first monarch butterfly arrived at Mayslake this week.

Monarch 2009 1b

This individual is too clean to have made the trip all the way to Mexico and back. It is an offspring of those that wintered down there, made part of the journey back north, and laid their eggs on milkweed plants they found in the southwestern U.S. I shake my head in amazement at the instincts that guide these insects, with their pinhead brains, through journeys last made by their great grandparents.

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