June Sightings in The Wild

It’s near the end of June. Below (and above) are photos of some of the creatures I’ve seen during the month. They’re arranged in no particular order.

The top photo is of one of the milkweeds, butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). It attracts many insects to it’s flowers, leaves, and seed pods throughout the summer season. Here, you can see new flower buds on the left and older flowers to the right.

Some insects go out of their way to attract attention, being brightly colored as if to say, “I’m toxic, don’t eat me” to predators. Others do their best to stay hidden, like the Brazilian skipper, a southern (all the way to Argentina southern) butterfly caterpillar in the photo below. They fold over the leaves of their host plant (here, Canna) in order to hide themselves from predators while they munch on the leaves.

The silhouette of a Brazilian skipper caterpillar just to left of center.

A European import, the cabbage white is a common species of butterfly throughout most of the United States.

Female cabbage white nectars on butterfly weed.

Sometimes it’s just the parts of animals that tell a story. Below, a red swamp crayfish claw tells the tale of a raccoon capturing and eating the crayfish on the railing of our Explore the Wild boardwalk. All that was left was a claw and part of another leg.

A claw and leg is all that remains of a crayfish.
Red swamp crayfish claw on post of boardwalk.

The dogbane leaf beetle spends its life on or around dogbane. It eats, mates and lays eggs on the leaves. When the eggs hatch the larvae fall to the ground, burrow in and eat the roots of the plant. They then pupate and emerge as adults the following spring/summer.

Dogbane leaf beetle.

Tracks can tell a lot about what’s happening in the wetlands. Below, you can see the tracks of a turtle coming ashore to lay eggs. The tracks are about 4″ wide and were most likely left by a musk turtle.

Turtle tracks coming ashore.
The size of the tracks seem to indicate it was an eastern musk turtle who laid them down.
This nearby turtle nest may have been the work of our turtle.

The turtle who dug the nest never completed it. They always cover the hole when egg laying is done. The turtle may have been disturbed by a predator, a raccoon, and abandoned the dig. Had the nest been completed, eggs laid, covered and subsequently dug up, there would have been egg shells close by.

With the outside air thick, heavy and wet, song may be the furthest thing from your mind. The catbird never misses a beat.

Gray catbird sings.

Honey bees, like many other species of bee, are busy sipping nectar and collecting pollen.

Honey bee on butterfly weed.
Another honey bee sipping and collecting.

Like the crayfish above, sometimes it’s only a few pieces of the puzzle that offer clues to past events. While in the garden at the Butterfly House here at the museum, I noticed  insect legs on a squash plant. I’m not sure which insect was eaten, but it may have been a leaf-footed bug.

Insect parts on a squash leaf.

There are many early instar or nymphs of various insects to be seen at this time of year, katydids are one of them.

An early instar or nymph, katydid, probably a meadow katydid.

While walking along the boardwalk in front of the Black Bear Enclosure I noticed a bee hovering back and forth under one of the boardwalk’s hand rails. It quickly disappeared. There are holes drilled into the underside of each metal railing, apparently to rid them of any moisture that might find it’s way inside the rails.

When the bee reappeared I quickly realized that I had found a leaf cutter bee nest. I waited, reasoning the bee would be back with another piece of leaf. It did, and you can see the resulting photos below.

Bee hovering at end of hand rail on boardwalk.

Leaf cutter bees build multi chambered nests in hollowed out branches, twigs, pieces of lumber, or any other material with a suitable hole or cavity. The chambers are built with leaves or leaf parts and stocked with pollen. They lay one egg in each chamber. The larva that hatches from the egg consumes the pollen, pupates within and emerges as an adult bee.

The way they collect pollen is interesting. If you’ve ever seen bumble bees or honey bees visiting flowers, you may have noticed large clumps of yellow pollen stuck to their legs. Their legs are built with specialized hairs meant for pollen collection.

The leaf cutter bee’s hind legs are straighter and lack the special hairs. They’re meant for carrying leaves. Their pollen collection is done on the underside of their abdomens.

Bee is carrying part of a leaf.
Bee enters hole on railing. Note pollen on underside of bee’s abdomen.
The leaf disappears into the railing.
Out pops bee.

Leaf cutters are rather gentle bees, and although they do posses stingers, unless you handle them roughly, you’re unlikely to be stung.

Back at the vegetable garden above the Butterfly House, leaf-footed bugs had recently hatched and were exploring a pepper plant.

Leaf-footed bug nymphs.

Larvae of green lacewings are sometimes called lichen bugs. They attach lichen and other debris to themselves as camouflage. The insects are predators, eating aphids and other smaller insects.

Arrow points to actual insect. The rest is facade.

Long-jawed spiders are often found near water. They build their web on the horizontal plane, not vertically oriented as in most orb weavers.

Long-jawed spider.
Stretched out on branch.

The bee in the photo below is a leaf-cutter bee which is said to mimic carpenter bees. However, the carpenter bees in our area have yellow hairs on their thorax. This bee is all black.

Another leaf-cutter bee.

Pearl crescents are widespread butterflies and common in our area.

Pearl crescent pair mating. Arrow points to “crescent” which gives the butterfly its name.

Lady beetles, or lady bugs, are well known for eating aphids. The spotted lady beetle is listed as consuming both aphids and pollen.

A spotted lady beetle on squash leaf.

Male slaty skimmers are dark “slaty” blue. Females are brown with yellow markings on their thorax and yellow lateral stripes on the abdomen.

Male slaty skimmer.

I came upon a stag beetle on the path leading to Catch the Wind. It reared up and stood its ground as I photo’d it, turning with me as I circled in an attempt to get the right shot. The beetle was over two inches long.

Male stag beetle.
Beetle followed my moves.
Intimidating but harmless.

The mandibles of the stag beetle are used for pushing, pulling, shoving, and general fighting among the males during courtship.

Tiger bee flies parasitize carpenter bees by laying their eggs within the bee’s nest holes, their larvae eating the carpenter bee larvae.

Tiger bee fly.

Laying eggs in temporary pools of water is a risky business for frogs and toads. There are no predators such as fish in these pools, but they’re at the mercy of the weather. Although most spring breeding amphibs have evolved to mature quickly to take advantage of spring rains and vernal ponds, some simply don’t make it to full maturity before the ponds dry up.

Tadpoles actively swimming in 2″ of water.
After two weeks of little or no rain the swamp is nearly dried, mud is all that’s left.
One week later the mud has dried to hard clay.

You never know what you’ll find out in the wild.

Happy summer campers discover a Virginia creeper sphinx moth caterpillar.

Also called the hog sphinx (Darapsa myron) this hornworm feeds on porcelain-berry, grape, and, of course, Virginia creeper. This one was on grape overhanging the boardwalk in Explore the Wild.

Hog sphinx consuming grape leaves. Note small head.

Most female dragonflies are less colorfully marked than males. Male widow skimmers have white markings just to the outside of the brown markings on the female’s wings (below). Their thorax and abdomen becomes pruinose.

Female widow skimmer.

It may be hot outside, but look at all you may have missed by not getting out there and having a look around.

1 response to June Sightings in The Wild

  1. Jennifer Armstrong says:

    Thanks for the reminder of how rich and beautiful our campus is!

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