More Fall Sights

Top Photo: Hearts-a-bursting on the Dinosaur Trail.

The second week of fall brought even more new sights than the first. Read on to find out what.

Euonymus may be known to gardeners by various names, burning bush, golden euonymus, winter creeper, and others, all non-native plants in the genus Euonymus. However, hearts-a-busting, or bursting hearts (Euonymus americanus) is a native understory shrub which can be seen at various places along our outdoor trail loop. It’s also know as strawberry bush for the seed pod’s resemblance to strawberries.

The strawberries, or hearts, burst open exposing blood red seeds.

With seasonal changes comes increased activity by various creatures. Copperheads tend to be seen more frequently during fall than summer. The adults are more active due to cooler temperatures. Also, young are born in late summer or early fall.

Copperhead increases distance between the two of us.
Excellent camouflage.

Though summer has died back, dragonflies continue to emerge from their aquatic, pre-adult habitats, though not for too much longer. I spotted two exuviae next to the floating walkway in the wetlands (exuviae are the cast off skins of nymph dragonflies).

Eastern amberwing exuviae on rush stem.
Another amberwing exuviae on rock in wetlands. Note dragonfly (common whitetail) to right of exuvia.
Close up view.
Adult male eastern amberwing.

Galls have been appearing on the bald cypress twigs throughout the summer. There are two types of galls which present themselves on cypress trees (that I’m aware of ), both the results of midges, cypress twig midge galls, and cypress flower midge galls. The latter stimulated by activities of the cypress flower midge (Taxodiomyia cupressi).

Flower midge galls on cypress twig,

The “flowers” are created through the tree’s reaction to a midge laying eggs on its twigs. Inside each “flower” or gall is a tiny maggot, or midge larva, which eats the material inside the gall. When the leaves, or needles, of the cypress fall to the ground in fall the galls fall with them. The midge larvae will winter in the leaf litter at the base of the tree, pupate and emerge as adults the following spring.

Green herons persist in reducing the number of bullfrogs in the wetlands. There were four green herons working the murky waters of our wetlands this week, maybe more. They’ve been catching many young frogs in the shallow water.

Green heron takes another bullfrog.

The monarch caterpillar reported in last week’s post is growing daily. What was once a tiny 1/4” nibbler is now, five short days later, a 2” milkweed munching machine. Shortly, this caterpillar will form a chrysalis. If all goes well, it’ll soon be on its way to Mexico.

A matter of days, perhaps hours, before this monarch larva pupates.

Unlike the monarch which eats almost exclusively milkweeds, another caterpillar recently discovered on sage or salvia in Wander Away, the tobacco budworm (Heliothis virescens), is highly variable in coloration, and in its choice of plants. They can be green, yellow, red, brown and more with shades in between. Their food plants vary from field crops and vegetables to ornamental flowers.

They attack the buds and flowers of the plants but will also eat the leaves if necessary.

Tobacco budworm at work on flower buds.
The “bud” part of its name is an aptly applied to this insect.

Persimmons are ripening on the trees growing in and around the wetlands. The fruit are ultimately sweet, but its best to put off eating them until very, very ripe. Its an astringent and will make your mouth pucker. Eating a persimmon before its time is like eating dry chalk. Worse.

Don’t eat until ripe!

More to follow!

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