Surprise gifts from Mother Nature in 2018 – part 2: non-avian wildlife!

Birding is an activity I enjoy, especially since I can usually spot at least one bird during my outdoor excursions. I’d prefer to call myself a “wildlifer” rather than a “birder”, however, since all kinds of other wildlife also fascinate me. Here is a selection of some wildlife surprises and new species I saw last year, including a new plant – the honeyvine milkweed (Cynanchum laeve).

 

This vine is sometimes described simply as a native plant that spreads by seed and long roots; other websites call it a noxious weed. It does perhaps spread quickly but it is also a food source for monarch butterfly caterpillars so it seems like a desirable plant to me.

This mushroom was another one of my favorite vegetation spottings last year – it looks to me as if it is an animal with large ears.

Mammals are favorites of mine but I only see a restricted number regularly – white-tailed deer, Eastern squirrels, raccoons, Eastern chipmunks. When I get to see an opossum (Didelphis virginiana) – like one who visited the yard at night during our early December snowstorm, it was a treat. It seems many people dislike North Carolina’s state marsupial (and the only marsupial in North America) but it is a valuable neighbor since it eats up to 4000 ticks a week. There likely weren’t many ticks around for it to eat but I hope it found something for a meal!

   

This past year was my “year of the beavers” as I had a chance to follow these nature landscape architects in three different places. And as mentioned in a previous blog, I was so thrilled to get a shot of the warning tail-slapping behavior.

  

2018 was a good year for seeing new insects. Some are so tiny that you can’t really see their body patterns without magnification. Here are a few of my “discoveries”. The flies can be very interesting.

Sunflower seed maggot fruit fly (Neotephritis finalis)


Parasitic fly (Archytas)

2018 was a year for learning about reproduction among the bugs; not only did I see caterpillars but also chrysalids and arthropod parents caring for offspring. The green lynx spider (Peucetia viridans) is a very attentive mother; she often hangs her egg sac from a grass stalk and then encircles it with her body to keep predators away.

One green lynx at the NC Botanical Garden placed her egg sac underneath the “lid” of a pitcher plant and then hung out on that and neighboring plants to keep an eye on the sac. I was lucky to see one of the babies after it hatched.

Another spider was not so lucky – it became a meal for one of North Carolina’s endemic “special plants”, the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula).

North Carolina has many species of grasshoppers; I saw several species this past year, including several mating pairs. Here is a young short-horned grasshopper.

It’s always nice to see some pollinators.

 

  

Brown-winged striped sweat bee                        Small carpenter bee                                (Agapostemon splendens)                                   (Ceratina)

 

I got to see the chrysalids of two fritillary butterfly species, the variegated fritillary (Euptoieta Claudia, left) and the gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanilla, below).

Sometimes, I think the moths get a bum rap, being seen as poor cousins to the “beautiful butterflies”. But there are many really beautiful moths, like the lunate zale moth (Zale lunata) and delicate cycnia moth (Cycnia tenera).

  

I got to see several moth caterpillars this year; the experts at BugGuide were very helpful in identifying them for me.

   

Common tan wave moth                           Gold moth caterpillar  (Basilodes pepita)          (Pleuroprucha insulsaria)

 
Turbulent phosphila moth caterpillar (Phosphila turbulenta)

For the first time, I got to see an evergreen bagworm moth (Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis). There were several hanging out in trees next to a rural farm pond – they did not restrict themselves to an evergreen tree but hung themselves from a persimmon, privet and cedar tree. I think the last photo shows the caterpillar as it was completing the “bag” into which it would insert itself.

    

In the summer, I was lucky to see a cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia).

   

In December, I discovered two cecropia chrysalids, as well as the cup-like chrysalis of a polyphemus moth (Antheraea Polyphemus, which was empty).

  

Another discovery was that the larvae of soldier beetles look like some type of caterpillar as well.

There were lots of katydids around, including the slender straight-lanced katydid (Conocephalus strictus) and the stockier Scudderia bush katydid.

 

  

Some new bugs appeared in my yard, including a plant bug with muted colors (not yet identified to species) and some more colorful scentless plant bugs (Niesthrea louisianica) on my Rose of Sharon shrubs.

  

  

A seed bug on a seed pod and a head-on photo of a millipede (Narceus americanus-annularis-complex) were cool sightings, too.

   

2018 was a good year for my observations of reptiles, too. Seeing a Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis) flash its red dewlap (also known as a throat fan) was not a new experience but the fact that it was only a foot away from me doing it was a surprise.

   

 

Seeing one of these anoles jump from one small flower twig to another in order to catch a bee for supper was a surprise – I didn’t know they eat bees. I felt a little sad that we lost a pollinator that way, but the anoles have to eat, too.

 

 

 

One day, when walking at the same wetlands where the anole hung out I came across some beautifully colored turtles. The yellow-bellied slider (Trachemys scripta) had a beautiful pattern on its face.

 

 

 

The painted turtle (Chrysemys picta picta) with its long claws had some beautiful bright red striping. It had gotten a prime sunning spot on a log that another turtle wanted for itself; the first turtle held it off.

 

The second turtle circled around and tried to get on board from the other side but turtle No. 1 kept it at bay.

  

My snake encounters included seeing Northern water snakes and rat snakes. It was a beautiful red-bellied water snake (Nerodia erythrogaster) that caught me by surprise when it suddenly veered off its course toward me. I backed up and the reptile stopped approaching, flicking its tongue out as it explored what was going on.

My final spotting to share with you today is another gorgeous snake – a common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). It had been a long time since I had encountered one and this individual had quite vivid colors.

Next up – some beautiful raptors.

Flying rays of sunshine, spirits on the wing – part 2

Cabbage white butterfly DK7A2287© Maria de Bruyn resWhen a butterfly like the cabbage white (Pieris rapae) alights on a flower or leaf, we sometimes have a little time to see them more clearly and appreciate their beauty; capturing a photo for leisurely viewing gives us the chance to focus on details. And those details are important if we want to determine their correct scientific names since entomologists have differentiated many species and sub-species, sometimes on the basis of factors such as the shape of their spots.

One butterfly pair that can be puzzling are the silvery checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis, top), with a small white center to one of its spots in the lower row, and the pearl crescent (Phyciodes tharos), which was abundant this year.

silvery checkerspot DK7A1405© Maria de Bruyn res

pearl crescent DK7A1469© Maria de Bruyn res pearl crescent DK7A4689© Maria de Bruyn res

The Eastern comma (Polygonia comma) and question mark (Polygonia interrogationis) look really similar, too. Perhaps the difference in their distinguishing underside marking is really apparent to proofreaders.

Eastern comma DK7A5636© Maria de Bruyn resQuestion mark DK7A3181© Maria de Bruyn res

The easiest way to distinguish the endangered monarch (Danaus plexippus) and the viceroy (Limenitis archippus) is that the viceroy has a black stripe running horizontally across its lower wings.

monarch DK7A7941© Maria de Bruyn res

viceroy DK7A5128© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern tiger swallowtail DK7A2096© Maria de Bruyn res

The swallowtails are always a favorite, including the Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) with differently colored males (yellow) and females (yellow and also blue).

 

Eastern tiger swallowtail DK7A7768© Maria de Bruyn res Eastern tiger swallowtail DK7A0256© Maria de Bruyn res

Zebra swallowtail DK7A0046© Maria de Bruyn res

The zebra swallowtail (Protographium marcellus) really catches your eye as it flutters about, while the pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor) is a little more subdued.

 

Pipevine swallowtail DK7A9681© Maria de Bruyn res Pipevine swallowtail DK7A9691© Maria de Bruyn

The red spotted purples (Limenitis arthemis) come in different variations; this one enjoyed the hummingbird nectar this summer.

Red-spotted purple DK7A0518© Maria de Bruyn res Red-spotted purple DK7A0998© Maria de Bruyn res

Another new butterfly for me this year was the great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele), which I enjoyed seeing as they enjoyed common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) at the Horton Grove Nature Reserve.

great spangled fritillary DK7A5377© Maria de Bruyn res Great spangled fritillary DK7A5052© Maria de Bruyn res

Hackberry emperor DK7A6150© Maria de Bruyn resThe hackberry emperor (Asterocampa celtis) turned up at Jordan Lake, while the common buckeye (Junonia coenia) – whose beauty is anything but common! – was in my yard and various nature reserves. I also observed a pair getting ready to propagate the next generation.

 

 

common buckeye DK7A1181© Maria de Bruyn common buckeye DK7A8729© Maria de Bruyn res common buckeye IMG_9470© Maria de Bruyn res common buckeye IMG_9538© Maria de Bruyn res

Some of the tinier butterflies are delicate beauties, like the Summer azure (Celastrina neglecta), the gray hairstreak – which can look brown (Strymon melinus), the Eastern tailed-blue (Cupido comyntas) and the Carolina satyr (Hermeuptychia sosybius).

Summer azure DK7A5424© Maria de BruynGray hairstreak DK7A4495© Maria de Bruyn

Eastern tailed-blue DK7A1141© Maria de Bruyn resCarolina Satyr DK7A5279 © Maria de Bruyn res2

To end, here are two more beauties that I had the privilege to see this year. I hope  seeing these butterflies and those in my previous blog brightened your day, especially if you have been dealing with sorrow as I have while this year approaches its end.

Southern pearly eye DK7A9953© Maria de Bruyn resNorthern pearly-eye DK7A7752©Maria de Bruyn res

Southern pearly eye (Lethe portlandia) and Northern pearly-eye (Enodia anthedon)

 

Flying rays of sunshine, spirits on the wing – part 1

Fiery and dun skippers IMG_7262© Maria de Bruyn resIt is now early December and late autumn in the Northern hemisphere, so why a blog about butterflies? When I was writing this on the last day of November, I had still seen a few of these beauties a couple days previously, and in the Southern hemisphere it is late spring, so it seems fine as a topic for a nature blog. Also, three weeks ago, my mother passed away, while in two weeks the anniversary of my father’s death comes again — I like to think of butterflies as nature’s emissaries for spirits on the wing. They allow me to think of my parents in somewhat lighter terms than the sadness that predominated during their dying processes. Because there are so many butterflies to highlight, this will be a two-part blog.

This past spring, summer and fall gifted me with a large variety of butterflies – a boon compared to last year when there seemed to be a dearth of them. I had some new butterflies to my garden, like the tawny emperor (Asterocampa clyton clyton), which I also saw at the Mason Farm Biological Reserve when one landed on my arm.

Tawny emperor DK7A2536© Maria de Bruyn resTawny emperor IMG_4926© Maria de Bruyn (2)

juniper hairstreak DK7A1677© Maria de BruynThe juniper hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus) was another new visitor that at first made me think it was covered in pollen.

A second-time visitor to my yard was the American snout (Libytheana carinenta), which looks quite distinctive with the long protrusion from its face.

American snout butterfly IMG_0257© Maria de Bruyn res

It was a good year for the little skipper butterflies, of which there are many. Quite a few look similar to one another and pose difficulties in identification; fortunately, BugGuide helps me figure out which ones I have been seeing.

 

Common checkered skipper DK7A8473©Maria de BruynCommon checkered skipper DK7A8483©Maria de Bruyn

Common checkered skipper (Pyrgus communis)

silver-spotted skipper IMG_0885© Maria de Bruyn Fiery skipper DK7A3463© Maria de Bruyn

Silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) & Fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus)

Zabulon skipper female DK7A8091© Maria de Bruyn Zabulon skipper DK7A2945© Maria de Bruyn res

Zabulon skipper (Poanes zabulon), female on the left and male on the right

sachem skipper DK7A6355© Maria de BruynSachem skipper male DK7A7657©Maria de Bruyn res Sachem skipper DK7A1271© Maria de Bruyn bg

The Sachem skipper (Atalopedes campestris) also illustrates how males (top) and females can differ.

A few skippers were new for me this year, like the little glassywing skipper (Pompeius verna) and the somewhat drabber dun skipper (Euphyes vestris) and Ocola skipper (Panoquina ocola).

Little glassywing skipper DK7A2843© Maria de Bruyn  Dun skipper DK7A3364© Maria de BruynOcola skipper IMG_4247©Maria de Bruyn

Even though dark in color, the Horace’s duskywing (Erynnis horatius) and the Juvenal’s duskywing (Erynnis juvenalis) have beautiful dorsal patterns.

Horace's duskywing DK7A3695© Maria de Bruyn

Juvenal's duskywing DK7A9907© Maria de Bruyn res

It’s always fascinating to see how different the butterflies’ color patterns can be on the upper and undersides of their wings, as shown here by the American lady (Vanessa virginiensis).

American Lady DK7A2242© Maria de Bruyn res American Lady DK7A2292© Maria de Bruyn res

The red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) is a gorgeous butterfly; a somewhat tattered individual rode along on me and my camera for a while at Mason Farm.

Red Admiral DK7A6667©Maria de Bruyn (2) res

red admiral IMG_4769© Maria de Bruyn red admiral IMG_4767© Maria de Bruyn res

A group that can sometimes be challenging to identify are the sulphurs. Distinguishing the sleepy orange (Abaeis nicippe, top) and the orange sulphur (Colias eurytheme) is no easy task. Both are quite lovely and a delight in flight when they reveal their brightly colored dorsal pattern.

Sleepy orange DK7A8367© Maria de Bruyn Sleepy orange DK7A8263© Maria de Bruyn

Orange sulphur DK7A0410© Maria de Bruyn resOrange sulphur DK7A0476© Maria de Bruyn res

Cloudless sulphur DK7A2774© Maria de Bruyn res

The larger yellow butterflies like the cloudless sulphur (Phoebis sennae) are great to see, especially when they frequent the brightly colored blooms such as the red cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis).

cloudless sulphur DK7A8466©Maria de Bruyn resCloudless sulphur DK7A0063© Maria de Bruyn res

Clouded sulphur DK7A0269© Maria de Bruyn

The clouded sulphur (Colias philodice) may be a bit harder to see when it feeds on clover in the grass.

Stay tuned for more butterflies to admire in part 2 of this blog!

 

Crabs save human lives!

horseshoe crab IMG_0182_1©Maria de Bruyn resOn a trip to Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina, we took a few walks along the Atlantic shoreline. There I saw the remains of numerous horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) as their empty shells were scattered among sea pork and sea weed on the beach.

Horseshoe crabs, which can become quite large, live in shallow ocean waters on soft sandy or muddy bottoms. They occasionally come on shore to mate. Behind their five sets of legs (the remains of which are seen in the photos below), they have book gills, which exchange respiratory gases. Two gills are seen sticking up in the center of the first photo.

horshoecrab IMG_0115_1©Maria de Bruyn horseshoe crab IMG_0117_1©Maria de Bruyn res

The gills are also occasionally used by the crabs to swim, which they usually do upside down.

horseshoe crab IMG_8506©Maria de Bruyn resWhen I posted photos of my crab shell spottings on Project Noah, a fellow Noah member informed me that the horseshoe crabs are used in medicine. So I decided to read up on them and discovered how they are utilized. These crabs have hemocyanin instead of hemoglobin in their blood to carry oxygen (this colors their blood blue). Their blood also contains amebocytes, which defend these creatures against pathogens. The blood of the horseshoe crabs is harvested to obtain the amebocytes to make a product that used to detect bacterial endotoxins in human medical applications.

The US Food and Drug Administration mandates that any intravenous drugs and forms of medical equipment that come into contact with patients’ bodies must pass through horseshoe crab blood to help rule out contamination with endotoxins. This includes items such as needles, surgical implants and pacemakers.

horseshoe crab IMG_8503©Maria de Bruyn res horseshoe crab IMG_0124_1©Maria de Bruyn res

horseshoe crab IMG_0164_1©Maria de Bruyn resTo obtain the supplies, about 600,000 crabs are caught each year and drained of about 30% of their blood before being returned to the ocean. Some 10-30% of the crabs do not survive the procedure and others are injured, becoming unable to mate and reproduce. As a consequence of the harvests, these magnificent arthropods, whose lineage dates back 450 million years ago, are now becoming threatened and alternative toxin-detection methods are needed. There is a website devoted to these interesting crabs. Walks on the beach can lead to new knowledge as well as enjoyment!

We are NOT spiders!

Harvestman 2 IMG_4346© Maria de BruynWhen I was about 13 years old, my girl scout troop went to a somewhat “primitive” camp for our summer adventure. We slept in tents and had toilet paper, but we had to construct what we would use such as a table, a toilet (a hole in the ground with a seat of branches lashed together), and a shower (with a tarp but held up with branches bound by ropes and a pail with a pull rope). The shower was fine except for one thing – some daddy longlegs decided to take up residence on the tarp and for me – and others – sharing the space with what we thought were long-legged spiders was not really our idea of fun.

It was many decades later that I discovered that daddy longlegs are acHarvestman 2 MdB signedtually called harvestmen (scientific name, Opiliones) and they are actually not spiders at all! In fact, they are interesting insects that do not really look like spiders except for the fact that most species share the trait of having those extremely long legs.

Many Opiliones species can detach a leg, which continues to twitch for some time after leaving the body – this is thought to serve as a distraction that enables the harvestman to escape from a predator.

Harvestman 1 IMG_4324© Maria de BruynSpiders and harvestmen are both arthropods but differ in various ways. Spiders have segmented bodies, while harvestmen have a body of only one segment, with their single pair of eyes sitting atop the oval structure, like the black eyes you can see on the orange harvestman here. Spiders, on the other hand, have 3 or 4 pairs of eyes, as well as silk glands that are lacking in harvestmen.

Harvestmen’s legs protrude from structures that look a little bit like mechanical nuts; they are actually called the coxa and trochanters. These may be the same color as the arachnid’s body or be of a different color.

IMG_3212 ©Maria de Bruyn blogHarvestman IMG_7970©Maria de Bruyn

harvestman IMG_4882©Maria de BruynSimilar to spiders, harvestmen do have a pair of pedipalps – specialized appendages – and these form the arachnids’ feeding apparatus together with the first pair of legs. This feeding organ is called the stomotheca.

The two harvestmen below were seen in early December at Mason Farm Biological Reserve. They were approaching one another, separating and then coming together again. I have no idea what they were up to. Mating came to mind but in winter?

Harvestman 2 IMG_1897© Maria de Bruynharvestman 2 IMG_1967© Maria de BruynMore than 6,400 species of harvestmen have been discovered on all continents except Antarctica, but it is speculated that there may be as many as 10,000 species. I have seen them in varied habitats such as a forest, on beach sand, clinging to plants and wandering about on manmade structures. They vary in color and appearance as seen below. Some are mainly one color, some are two-toned and others have patterns on their bodies.

Harvestman IMG_0072©Maria de Bruyn blogHarvestman IMG_8238© Maria de Bruyn blog

Harvestman IMG_8590©Maria de Bruyn blogHarvestman IMG_9271©Maria de Bruyn blog

Harvestman IMG_9238©Maria de Bruyn blogHarvestman IMG_9238©Maria de Bruyn blog 2

harvestman mites IMG_2021©Maria de Bruyn bg

Some harvestman end up being parasitized by smaller insects such as the red mites seen catching a ride on this individual. If they don’t die, though, they can go on to mate, lay eggs and have offspring.

I used to avoid harvestmen if possible, but now I take an extra look at them hoping to find one with coloring and/or a body pattern that I haven’t seen before. Nature continues to be intriguing!

harvestman IMG_2090© Maria de Bruyn res