Sunday, March 27, 2011

Banded Hickory Borer (Knulliana cincta cincta)

Banded Hickory Borer (Knulliana cincta cincta)

Longhorned Beetle (Cerambycidae)

Range: Eastern North America to western Texas, south to northern Mexico..

Food: Larvae feed on dead and seasoned branches and limbs of hardwood species, including oak and hickory.

Life Cycle: Eggs are laid in crevices in the bark, or directly into the wood. Larvae feed the first season beneath the bark, then head deeper into the wood.

Identification:   Markings may be absent.  Prominent spines on sides of the pronotum and at the elytra apices. The scutellum is considerably longer than broad.  There are no other NE longhorns of similar size and coloration that have strong spines on the femora, pronotum, and elytral apices.

Last week -- prior to our weather's return to winter-like conditions -- these longhorned beetles were numerous under our porch light.

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

My best shot at an ID: Dicentra cucullaria
Plant family: Fumariaceae (Fumitory - Bleeding Heart)
Habitat: Rich moist woods, shaded ledges and banks, especially north slopes. Locally abundant especially the mountains.
Range: North Dakota to Quebec and south as far as northern Georgia. Very scattered locations in the southern part of range. Also found in a few northwestern states.
Plant Type: Native perennial.
Flower description: The flowers are irregular in shape and are up to 1.75cm long (0.7 inches). Flowers actually have 4 petals, the inner ones are very small. The pair of outer petals form a swollen 'V' making the hanging flower look like a pair of breeches hung upside-down.
Lore: Native Americans used Dutchman's Breeches as a love potion and in making love charms.

We are pretty much at the southern limit of this unusual little flower's range. Jo and I have only found it growing in one location in the area we normal frequent. It's abundant exactly where the guide books say it should be: A rich woodland shaded by a ledge on a north slope.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Garden 2011: Planting Spinach

Measure twice; plant once.
On Tuesday, Jo planted seeds of spinach, lettuce, chard and radishes.

All gardening activities must pass rigorous canine inspection. Rusty is handling that duty as Jo prepares to plant spinach seeds.

Opening the seed packet can be the hardest part of planting.

Spinach seeds.

Dropping spinach seeds into the furrow.

Gently raking soil on top of the newly planted seeds while being careful to not step on Bucket.  Following planting, Jo watered a little.  Now it's the seeds' turn to grow.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Wild Plum

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Super Full Moon

Photo by Jo.

Our sky was overcast all day Saturday (3/19/11). Our forecast didn't predict any clearing until sometime on Sunday. Jo and I were resigned to not getting to see the super full moon. However, our sky unexpectedly cleared quickly around eight o'clock and there it was. Beautiful!


Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)

My world is becoming repopulated with butterflies like this Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus). This is the spring form of this butterfly. The summer form is darker. (Photo here.)

Range: Primarily the southeastern United States. More uncommon in the northeast. Occasionally makes it as far north as southern Ontario.

Food: Adults take nectar from flowers and also take fluids from damp ground, as the butterfly in the photo above is doing. The larvae host plant is Pawpaw.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bird's Foot Violet (Viola pedata)

One of the things I like best about Bird's Foot Violet (Viola pedata) is that it grows well in waste places, locations with dry, rocky and not very fertile soil -- like on the embankment along our road out. Oddly enough, the Missouri Botanical Garden site linked above says Viola pedata is "Considered more difficult to grow than most other violets." Around here, they seem to be doing well growing and spreading with no attention from us.

On our Friday walk, we saw one Bird's Foot Violet blooming. Dozens were blooming on Saturday.

The flower's common name is based on its deeply divided leaves which somewhat resemble a bird's foot.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Garden 2011: Planting Potatoes

Jo planted potatoes on St. Patrick's day, our first planting for Garden 2011. We always divide gardening chores equally: Jo plants and I photograph and document her work.

Potatoes like lots of mulch.  Fortunately, this bed had mulch remaining from last fall.  As the potatoes sprout and grow, I'll need to apply more mulch.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Serviceberry (Amelanchier sp)

The serviceberry trees in our woods are starting to bloom. This is probably a Common or Downy Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), but there are several different species of serviceberry and they hybridize easily, so I'm not certain.

General characteristics:  "Downy serviceberry is a deciduous, early-flowering, large shrub or small tree which typically grows 15-25' tall in cultivation but can reach 40' in the wild. A Missouri native plant [and native to most of eastern and central North America (range map)] that occurs most often in open rocky woods, wooded slopes, and bluffs. Features 5-petaled, showy, slightly fragrant, white flowers in drooping clusters which appear before the leaves emerge in early spring. The finely-toothed, obovate leaves exhibit good fall color. Flowers give way to small, round green berries which turn red and finally mature to a dark purplish-black in early summer. Edible berries resemble blueberries in size and color and are often used in jams, jellies and pies.  (Source:  Kemper Center for Home Garden of the Missouri Botanical Garden)

Other common names include:  Shadblow, Juneberry, Shadbush, Sarvis-tree.

The berry of a serviceberry looks much likes a rose hip, which makes sense since it a member of family Rosaceae.  The berry is edible, but there is debate about its quality.  Some sources say it just barely palatable and is best left for the birds.  Other sources claim a serviceberry fruit has a delicious, blueberry-like taste.  I've never sampled one because the birds usually beat me too them, and when they're not covered with beautiful white flowers, the small serviceberry trees are difficult to re-locate in the woods. 

Sources and additional links:
Vanderbilt (photos only)
Trees of Wisconsin
Missouri Plants
Oklahoma Extension Service 
Dave's Garden

To see more nature photos or participate in Nature Notes, please visit Rambling Woods.


SkyWatch Friday: Dogwood Buds

The dogwood (Cornus florida) buds are swelling on the trees in our woods, but it will be a couple of weeks or so before they open. Then, they will look like this:

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Io Moth (Automeris io) Life Cycle

Female Io Moth: Tend to be a reddish brown color. White-filled, black and blue eyespots on hindwing are distinctive for this species.

Male Io Moth: Tend to be a more yellowish brown color. Were his wings open fully, you'd see the male also has the distinctive eyespots on his hindwings.

Io Moth eggs: Normally, the female would lay her eggs on a larval host plant -- and the list of host plants includes over 100 different species, but for some reason these eggs were laid on the framing of our porch.

Io Moth caterpillars emerging from eggs after approximately ten days. Early larvae (caterpillers) are gregarious (i. e. They stay together.). Early instar caterpillars are often seen moving around a host plant in a "train".

Final instar caterpillars vary from green to yellow. These caterpillars will leave the host plant and form a papery cocoon usually in leaf litter. They emerge from the cocoons as adult moths. In the south, up to four generations per year are possible, but only one generation is common in northern latitudes. (The above photo is by Sturgis McKeever via Forestry Images and is used in accordance with Creative Commons copyright protection.)

CAUTION: Io Moth caterpillars should not be handled. They have urticating setae (barbed hairs that break off and inject a poison). The degree of resulting irritation varies depending upon the amount of contact and the sensitivity of the individual. 

(Editors Note:  This post originally published on 11/7/09

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Longhorned Beetle (Stenosphenus notatus)

Longhorned Beetle
(Stenosphenus notatus)

Identification: Combination of red pronotum with black spot and shiny black elytra with white hairs is distinctive.

Range: Eastern North America, west to Rocky Mountains.

Habitat and Food: Larvae feed in dead limbs of various hickories. Found in decidious forest with these host species.

Remarks: Most wood boring beetles overwinter as larvae. When warmer spring weather arrives, they develop into adult beetles and emerge in the late spring or early summer. S. notatus is different. Adult beetles develop in the fall, but overwinter inside the wood, finally emerging in the very early spring. (Source:  Ted MacRae @ Beetles in the Bush)  This particular beetle had actually not yet emerged. I found it inside a piece of hickory I split for firewood.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cutleaf Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)

Cutleaf Toothwort

Other Common Names: Pepper Root
My best guess at an ID: Cardamine concatenata
Plant family: Brassicaceae (Mustard)
Habitat: Woodlands
Range: Throughout eastern and central North America
Plant Type: Native perennial
Lore: The roots (rhizomes) are said to have a peppery taste and can be eaten pickled, fermented (to make them sweet), boiled and eaten raw with salt. I haven't done a taste test.

This plant is the most prolific early-blooming wildflower in our woods. It doesn't have the most showy bloom, but is appreciated for it's abundance when little else is blooming. Cutleaf Toothwort is just starting to bloom in our woods.

Bloodroot will be the next early spring wildflower to bloom in our woods.



Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Yellow Fumewort (Corydalis flavula)

On March first, the blooms on the Yellow Fumewort down in our woods had not yet opened

Yellow Fumewort
(Corydalis flavula)

Other common names: Yellow Corydalis and Yellow Harlequin.

A native herbaceous perennial with a small (.5"/1.3cm or so) bright yellow flower that blooms early and continues blooming for a couple of months. The plant ranges from ground cover height up to around 15"/38cm.

Range and Habitat: Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan in the west to New York in the east, southward to Florida and Louisiana. (USDA Range map) Found in open woods, primarily on rocky or sandy soil.

Herbal Lore: As is typical for a member of the Poppy order, Yellow Fumewort contains alkaloids. Native Americans placed the root on coals and inhaled the smoke to "clear the head". In earlier times, doctors may have used the astringent root to stop bleeding, for irregular menses, pain, diarrhea and dysentery. These past medicinal uses of Corydalis flavula are presented only for their historical value. Even small doses of Corydalis may be toxic. Symptoms include trembling and convulsions.

By March sixth, a few of the blooms were just beginning to open.

Sources and additional information and photos:
Connecticut Botanical Society
Missouri Plants

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterondon platirhinos)

Eastern Hognose Snake trying to escape by heading for the weeds at our road's edge.

"H" is for Hognose

Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterondon platirhinos)

Also sometimes known as: Blowing Adder, Death Adder, False Cobra, Hissing Adder, Opossum Snake, Puff Adder, Sand Viper, Spreadhead and Spreading Adder.

Description: Herps of Arkansas calls the Eastern Hognose "one of the most variably colored and patterned snakes found in Arkansas." This statement probably holds true for most states. It can be black, brown, dark olive, yellow, or red. Some individual are highly pattered while others are solid colored.

Food: All sources agree that a Hognosed Snakes eats toads. The upturned snout which gives Heterondon platirhinos its name is used for digging up buried toads. Likewise, fangs at the rear of its jaw (photo) are used for puncturing ballooned toads so they can be swallowed whole. Some sources say a Hognose has a more varied diet that also includes frogs, salamanders, insects, worms, and newts. Others say it eats toads almost exclusively. Diet may vary depending upon location.

A Hognose is considered non-venomous, although some researchers claim its saliva contains a mild venom that will effect small amphibians. Regardless, a Hognose is harmless to humans, especially since it almost never bites.

With escape prevent, the Hognose flattens its neck and hisses.

Range: The eastern half of the United States from southern Florida north to central New England and west to Texas, the Great Lakes Region, and some regions of southern Canada.

Habitat: Many sources indicate that Hognose Snakes prefer woodlands with sandy soil usually near some type of water source. However, I tend to agree with Herps of Arkansas: "This species can be found in a variety of habitats, especially where there is an abundant population of frogs and toads." Our place is mostly rocky hills and water can be scarce in summer, but Hognose Snakes have no problems living in these conditions.

Note upturned snout that gives the Hognose Snake its common name.

Defense: Like almost all wild critters, a Hognose Snake's first line of defense when confronted by an animal too large to eat is usually escape. The top photo shows this Hognose attempting to crawl off into the weeds when I first found it crawling across our road. However, if it cannot escape, the Hognose has one of the strangest defense strategies I've ever encountered. It will first flatten its neck and hiss loudly. If the source of harassment comes too close, the snake makes striking movements, but these false strikes are usually closed-mouthed and often made away from the harasser.

If this cobra-like display fails to intimidate, a Hognose usually proceeds to part two of it's act which is playing dead. It deflates and writhes about for a few seconds while excreting and covering itself with a foul smelling musk. It then flops onto its back with its mouth gaping open. The Hognose remains completely motionless until the source of harassment is gone. If turned upright, it will immediately flop back onto its back and return to its dead-snake routine.

I've provoked several Hognose Snakes into their dead-snake routine, but this particular snake would not cooperate. After a few minutes I decided it was time for me to stop bothering the snake and let it go on its way. If you want to see a photo of a Hognose playing dead, there is one here.

(Note: I took these photos on November 3, 2010. I've yet to see any snakes this spring. They're mostly still hibernating.)

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Sunday, March 06, 2011

Snail Shell

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Saturday, March 05, 2011

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

"The male Northern Cardinal is perhaps responsible for getting more people to open up a field guide than any other bird. They’re a perfect combination of familiarity, conspicuousness, and style: a shade of red you can’t take your eyes off. Even the brown females sport a sharp crest and warm red accents. Cardinals don’t migrate and they don’t molt into a dull plumage, so they’re still breathtaking in winter’s snowy backyards. In summer, their sweet whistles are one of the first sounds of the morning." (Quote from Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds.)

During winter Cardinals tend to aggregate in loose flocks. Seeing several males sitting together provides a welcome contrast to an otherwise drab winter scene. In late spring and summer, cardinals form pair bonds and a male will vigorously defend his territory against incursion by any other male. It is not unusual to see a male fighting with his own reflection in a car's outside mirrors.

Cardinals seem determined to stretch their day out for as long as possible. The Cornell site notes "... their sweet whistles are one of the first sounds of the morning." During the summer, I often work out in our garden until very late in the afternoon. Many times I'm finishing a project or gathering up my tools as the sun sets. As I wrap up my gardening chores, there's often a male Cardinal perched in a nearby tree singing.

Please see the Cornell Labs site for species details about range, behavior, nesting, etc.

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Friday, March 04, 2011

Daffodil Blooms

The daffodils out in the woods at the edge our yard are finally blooming. The first opened on the last day of February, but gusty wind prevented me from taking photos for a couple of days.


Thursday, March 03, 2011

Skywatch: Fog Moving In

Monday night we experienced thunderstorms and and earthquake. Fortunately, the most severe thunderstorms were to our north and east -- and the quake was minor.  We felt a brief tremor, but that was all.

Tuesday morning dawned partly cloudy. Our sky seemed well on its way to clearing after the passage of a new cold front. Not so. An hour or so after sunrise, fog/clouds quickly covered our ridge. My wife captured this shot while on her morning walk. When she left the house, it was partly cloudy. When she returned, it was so foggy she could barely see our outbuildings. Our sky finally cleared again during the middle of the afternoon.

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Common Blue Violet (Viola papilionacea)

Our homestead award for first wildflower bloom of the spring goes to a Common Blue Violet (Viola papilionacea or Viola sororia), and I am not surprised. I first found this little violet several years ago. It has garnered the first bloom of the spring award every year since. The violet is growing out of a crack in the south-facing side of a large (small house sized) rock. Sun shines on the rock face and the rock retains the sun's warmth creating a microclimate that allows this particular violet to bloom a week or more ahead of its more conventionally located kin.

Viola papilionacea is a native perennial that grows throughout most of eastern and central North America. Both flowers and leaves are highly variable. Flowers can range from white, to blue, to deep purple. They can also be variegated. The taxonomy of the plant is also questionable and some authors place the plant as a variety of V. sororia. V. pranticola is another synonym. Finally, the Common Blue Violet can hybridize with at least four other species of Viola.

Bees and other insects do sometimes visit and pollinate violets, but they have no reliable pollinators. Hence, violets also produce cleistogamous flowers, flowers that never open and are automatically self-pollinating.


Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele)

Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele)

From Butterflies and Moths of North America:

Life history: Males patrol open areas for females. Eggs are laid in late summer on or near host violets. Newly-hatched caterpillars do not feed, but overwinter until spring, when they eat young violet leaves.
Caterpillar hosts: Various violet species (Viola).

Adult food: Nectar from many species of flowers including milkweeds, thistles, ironweed, dogbane, mountain laurel, verbena, vetch, bergamot, red clover, joe-pye weed, and purple coneflower.

Habitat: Open, moist places including fields, valleys, pastures, right-of-ways, meadows, open woodland, prairies.

Range: Throughout most of central and northern North America. (See link above for distribution map.)

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