Mid July Check-in

Top Photo: Eastern rat snake, or black rat snake, smells its way across the path in Explore the Wild.

Black rat snakes are known by many different names, chicken snake, alleghany snake, pilot snake with variations on those names and more. Though it may be confusing to consider the various names of the snake, the only other snake you’d likely mistake it for is the black racer. But, racers have smooth scales, all black undersides (except for the chin and sometimes throat), and a round body in cross section. Rat snakes have keeled scales, white or gray splotched undersides and loaf-of-bread cross section.

Rat snakes, too, have a gentler disposition.

Rat snake slowly makes its way across path.

A yellow twig dogwood grows on the west side of the Butterfly House. Its leaves are currently being consumed by dogwood sawfly larvae. The larvae may look like caterpillars, but they’re not. Caterpillars are larvae of butterflies or moths (Lepidoptera) while sawfly larvae are larvae of sawflies (Hymenoptera), stingless wasps.

The insects go though several stages of larval life, the middle stages have the insects covered with a white, waxy substance, perhaps to make them appear more like bird droppings to predators rather than the edible prey that they are.

Dogwood sawfly larvae.
Note larvae of left with no waxy coating, an earlier instar or larval stage.
Final instar.
Yellow twig dogwood.

While looking over the sawflies and dogwood leaves, I spotted a robber fly waiting in ambush. I don’t know the species but it seems to be in the genus Efferia.

Robber flies are swift and capable predators adept at snatching other less capable flying insects out of the air.

Efferia sp. robber fly.

Eyed click beetles, or eyed elaters, have been in good numbers this season. The larvae of these beetles eat wood-boring beetle larvae, don’t harm them.

Eyed elater or eyed click beetle.

A young museum visitor spotted a pair of beetles marching across the path near Catch the Wind. They were June beetles, and they were mating.

June beetle larvae eat grass roots. The adults eat soft fruit and grains.

Mating June beetles.

Until just a few days ago, the water level in our wetlands was very low. At one point, you could easily see dozens of dreaded red swamp crawfish on the muddy bottom of the several-inch-deep water.

Three of many crawfish (near top right, bottom right, bottom left). Small elongated dark flecks are mosquitofish fry.

Finally, if you happen to be in an area where morning glory grows, check the leaves for small holes. If the holes are there, turn one of the leaves over and you may see a most wondrous sight, a tortoise beetle, with its unique transparent elytra. Look closely.

There are two species of tortoise beetle we regularly see in our area, golden tortoise beetle and mottled tortoise beetle. Here, a pair of mottled tortoise beetles attempt to mate on a morning glory leaf.

Tortoise beetle on morning glory leaf (note holes in leaf).
Mating mottled tortoise beetles.

Stay tuned, there’s more to come.

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