Top Photo: Eight-spotted forester and dogbane.
Summer’s here and the time is right for checking out nature. Sure it’s a little hot, but you might just as well accept it and get out there. You’ll be missing a lot of interesting sights if you don’t.
Here’s some photos of some of what you might see.
There’s a patch of dogbane in front of the Butterfly House which attracts numerous flying insects to its tiny flower’s nectar. One such insect is the frenetic eight-spotted forester, a diurnal moth species.
The moth has two white spots on each of its four black wings.
While you can see bullfrogs throughout the year, they’re just now beginning to call out to each other with their loud, bellowing vocals.
Males do all the calling. They, the males, can also be distinguished from the females by the size of their tympanic membranes, that disc-shaped object just behind the frog’s eye. If the tympanic membrane is about the same size as the eye, it’s a female. The male’s tympanum is two times or more larger than the eye.
While down in the wetlands keep an eye out for hatchling turtles. Ranger Tim saved a fresh-from-the-nest common snapping turtle from running the gauntlet of the busy asphalt path by moving the turtle closer to the water’s edge and out of the way of so many human feet.
The turtle was quite muddy and looked as though it had just dug itself out of the nest.
Dogbane is a toxic plant to both humans and other animals, including dogs. Running through the stems, leaves and roots of the plant is a sticky, milky substance which contains cardiac glycosides and other toxic compounds.
Dogbane beetles are intricately tied to their namesake plant. They eat the leaves, mate and lay eggs on the leaves, and when the eggs hatch the larvae drop to the ground, burrow into the soil beneath the plant and eat the roots of the plant. They emerge from the soil the following spring/summer to start all over again.
Great blue skimmers are the largest species of skimmer in the east.
While peeking into a tree frog pipe, you may get yourself a glimpse at a real live tree frog, here, a gray treefrog. There are three pipes located around the outdoor loop, Dinosaur Trail (troodon), Water’s Edge (wetlands) and Earth Moves (below river).
Back to the dogbane – as mentioned, many insects visit the tiny flowers of the plant. Here, a leatherwing, or soldier beetle, makes an appearance.
There are many different species of soldier beetle, several look remarkably alike. They can often be told apart by the season in which the adults are active. One clue as to this beetle’s identity as a margined soldier beetle is its late spring/early summer appearance. Subtle differences in the markings and coloration on its head, pronotum, and wings also help to identify it.
Mulberry trees are plentiful on our 84 acre campus. As you may know, mulberries are deliciously sweet. Birds, foxes, groundhogs, and humans all like to eat mulberries.
The individual mulberries from tree to tree may differ in size, but most average about 1/2” long. One tree I’ve discovered has mulberries measuring nearly 2” in length. That tree’s location is off the main path and is secret.
Woody, or shrubby, St. John’s wort is in bloom on the path leading to Catch the Wind. St. John’s wort has been used as a medicine in the treatment of depression for hundreds of years.
I spotted a variegated fritillary nectaring on heliotrope in the garden in front of the Butterfly House.
And finally, there are several widow skimmers cruising around and perching on the plants in the water garden at the top of the stairs leading to the Butterfly House. The one pictured is a male which has yet to pruinose (the abdomen and part of thorax will eventually turn a frosty blue color, like a blueberry).
So, get out there and have a look around. Never mind the heat. Drink plenty of water and make use of the shade and you’ll be fine.