A Poke, a Grab, and a Click

Top Photo: pokeweed raceme with flowers and unripe fruit.

Pokeweed is a native, eastern North American plant. It grows in undisturbed areas. Its main stalk, stems and even flower racemes are shades of purple-red, boysenberry to magenta in color. It can grow more than six feet in height. It’s one of my favorite weeds.

The entire plant is listed as toxic. But, I’ve read where the deep purple berries can be made into jam after the seeds are removed. In spring, the young, green shoots that emerge from the ground can be eaten as something called poke sallet, or polk salad, depending on where you’re from. The leaves have to be boiled several times, the old water thrown out, apparently to boil out the toxins. And, there was a song back in 1969 called “Polk Salad Annie,” by Tony Joe White which I was particularly fond of.

Magenta raceme with unripe fruit.

But besides the jam, poke sallet and the song, my favorite thing about pokeweed is that birds love the berries, which turn deep purple when ripe. Gray catbirds, one of my favorite birds, are especially drawn to poke berries.

Gray catbird.

The pokeweed shown here is not yet ripe, the catbirds will have to wait a while longer.

A little further down the path I spied a large black butterfly flying in an odd manner, something was just not right with the way it was pumping its wings. It kept veering to the left. At first, I thought it was a female eastern tiger swallowtail, but when it settled I realized it was instead a spicebush swallowtail. And, I could see the reason for its strange flight. It had damaged wings.

Spicebush swallowtail. Note missing piece of left forewing and deformed left hindwing.

Just after I snapped a few photos of the butterfly, it took off and was immediately attacked by something. I thought, “robber fly.” The butterfly dropped to the ground and was flapping frantically. It tried to fly off several times but was quickly pulled back to the ground. After several seconds of this back and forth struggle I could see the cause of the butterfly’s panic, a dragonfly had seized it.

Wings-a-blur and flapping frantically on the ground.

The wild flapping by the butterfly was finally too much for the dragonfly. Once in the grip of a fierce predator like a dragonfly, escape is usually not an option. But the dragon either let go of its prey or the butterfly tore away, leaving behind more of its wings in the process. It fluttered away, this time even more erratically than before. But it was alive.

Dragonfly with death grip on butterfly.

After looking at the photos, the attacker appears to have been a black-shouldered spinyleg. Spinylegs are clubtails. They have long legs with long spines to help in securing prey. You can just make out its long legs in the photo.

And finally, if you happen to be hiking along and see a large, black beetle with white speckles, longer than it is wide, with two big black eyes, it’s a click beetle. Eyed click beetles, or eyed elaters, can reach about 2” in length. When you turn them on their backs they bend slightly backwards then suddenly straighten, propelling the insect into the air while making a loud clicking noise. It’s very entertaining.

Eyed click beetle.

The beetle can only do this clicking and flipping routine so many times in any one session, so if you find one and want to be entertained for more than a minute or so, the beetle may not abide. It will most likely draw its legs up under its body and play dead.

By the way, the large black eyes are not real eyes. The real eyes are much smaller and forward of the fake ones, on either side of the smallish head.

The real eyes are small and on each side of the beetle’s head.

There’s always something of interest on a walk along a wooded path.

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