Little Bear and Some Late Spring Encounters

Top Photo: Little Bear by the waterfall.

Little Bear’s pelage stands out among our three black bears occupying the Black Bear Enclosure.

Little Bear poses, showing off her current two-toned fur coat.

The following are subjects you might encounter on our Outdoor Loop Trail in late spring to early summer, now.

Two very common and widespread dragonflies, common whitetail and eastern amberwing are sure to be seen on any sunny day.

Male common whitetail.
Male eastern amberwing.

Not as frequently seen but still common are Carolina saddlebags. They spend much of their time on the wing.

Carolina saddlebags in flight.

Galls, like the elm finger galls pictured below are caused by insects, or mites, as in the case below. The mite chewing the leaf stimulates it into over-producing growth hormones resulting in the excrescences seen in the photos. The mites feed and grow inside the expanding galls.

Galls caused by mites on elm leaf.

Galls like the blackberry knot gall (below) are caused by a tiny wasp species. The laying of eggs within the blackberry’s stem stimulates the growth of a typically large multi chambered gall along the plant’s stem.

Blackberry knot gall caused by wasp interaction.

Each rounded segment of the gall contains an egg and subsequently a larva of the wasp. As the wasp grows and pupates within the gall it feeds on the tissue created by the plant’s accelerated growth. Adult wasps will eventually chew their way out of the gall and fly away.

Notice holes drilled by emerging adult wasps.

Glowworms are the larvae and females, of beetles in the family Phengodidae. The adult females retain the characteristic shape and behavior of the larvae (neoteny). The males loosely resemble fireflies (picture not available).

Glowworm crossing path.

The females and larvae glow. The whitish areas glow bioluminescently yellow-green in the dark. They feed on millipedes.

Glow in the dark.

Milkweed is in bloom in front of the Butterfly House.

Milkweed blossom.

Milkweed is immune to many problems that other plants have by virtue of being toxic to ingest. But many insects, most famously the monarch butterfly, have evolved a life-dependent relationship with the latex filled plant.

Monarch butterfly larva.

Oleander aphids are another of those creatures. It’s often difficult to find a milkweed plant that is not infested with these little, yellow insects. Despite the fact that the aphid feeds on toxic milkweed, it has its share of predators including wasps, lady beetles, lacewings and others.

Oleander aphids on milkweed leaf.
Close-up of aphids. Note yellow body and black legs.

Four nestling tree swallows were given their last few in-house meals by their parents before being lured out of their nest box to fend for themselves. It took some coaxing but they eventually left the security of the nest box to take a few laps around the wetlands and get a feel for catching and eating their own insects on the wing.

Even from a distance you can see four nestling tree swallows at entrance to nest box.
Parent brings food to begging nestlings.

A few days later, a northern rough-winged swallow family arrived, the adults giving aerial hunting lessons to the young. These swallows nest off-site but usually bring their young to our wetlands for training.

Five recently fledged northern rough-winged swallows visit wetlands.
One of two adult rough-winged swallows brings food to young-in-training

Queen Anne’s Lace is blooming.

Queen Anne’s Lace blossom. Note dark central flower.

Swamp rose is also blooming in the wetlands. This is a native rose.

Swamp rose.

I came across what looks like a stinkbug in the genus Euschistus among the plants growing on the floating walkway in Explore the Wild.


And finally, you may come across large butterflies flying about the campus. Certainly you will see the large, yellow, eastern tiger swallowtails fluttering about. But, if you happen to spot an equally large butterfly behaving much like the yellow, tiger swallowtails, but is black in color, you may be seeing an eastern tiger swallowtail female. A large percentage of the females in our area are dark.

Dark form of eastern tiger swallowtail.

The females are supposedly mimicking the pipevine swallowtail (also black), they develop with melanin rather than yellow pigment in their scales. The pipevine swallowtail larva feeds on pipevine which in turn makes the butterfly toxic to birds and other predators. As mentioned, adult pipevine swallowtails are mostly black. By virtue of being black and looking much like a pipevine swallowtail, the tiger swallowtail is less likely to be eaten by predators with a memory. If a bird eats a pipeline swallowtail, recoiling with disgust at the taste of the butterfly, it’s less likely to catch and try to eat another. The tiger swallowtail shares the protection of the pipevine through its resemblance to the toxic pipeline butterfly.

As always, you won’t see any of these things if you’re not outside. So, what are you waiting for, get out and have a look around.

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