More Summer Finds

Even though summer is fading into fall, there’s still plenty of flowers blooming and insects buzzy. In fact, insects are probably more numerous at this time of year than at any other time.

Here’s a sample of what you may see on a leisurely walk through Explore the Wild and Catch the Wind, or any local park, nature preserve, or in your own backyard.

Blue dashers are small dragonflies found at just about any pond, lake, marsh or ditch in the state. They’re everywhere.

Blue dashers, like this male, are a common sight at most local bodies of water.

Bullfrogs are the stereotypical frog. A species of “true” frog (Ranidae), they can be found in or around most wetlands.

Small bullfrog perches atop branch in water. Note dragonfly (eastern amber wing) on branch.

Different butterfly species are attracted to different species of grass, shrub, tree, or herb in which to lay their eggs. Their caterpillars then feed on the plant’s leaves and or flowers. Cloudless sulphurs are butterflies which prefer sennas (here, partridge pea) for their egg laying and caterpillars’ leaf consumption.

Partridge pea in Catch the Wind.
First of the season cloudless sulphur caterpillar on partridge pea.

Some dragonflies get their common names from their behavior, their color, the habitat they’re adapted to, or a unique physical characteristic. The dragonfly at the top of page (banner photo), gets its name from a specific facial feature. It has a large nose-like projection on its face. This nose is actually the forehead or frons of the dragonfly’s face. It’s a Cyrano Darner (Nasiaeschna pentacantha).

Cyrano de Bergerac was a French author or dramatist of the 1600s and, more importantly here, the main character of a play of the period. He had a large nose, which is the cause of much romantic anxiety for the character. The cyrano darner was named for Cyrano de Bergerac.

Cyrano darner. Note light colored projection on “face.”

Dawn redwood is an ancient tree species and was thought extinct until a grove of the trees was found in 1944 in Hubei Province, China. We have several of those trees’ descendants here at the Museum, most notably next to the boardwalk in Explore the Wild.

Dawn redwood’s leaves are deciduous.

Back in late June and early July, I noticed several fall webworm webs around the museum campus. The webs were atypically early infestations. Now is the time when webworms and their webs should be noticeable on trees and shrubs, and they are. They’re difficult to miss.

Fall webworms are taking over.

Common green darners are large dragonflies. They’re familiar to some people as the large green dragonfly with a blue “tail.”  They, like the blue dasher above, can be found at nearly every body of water, as well as in fields, and along roadsides.

Common green darners mate and oviposit (center right) while another male green darner hovers above (top left).

Green herons are in our wetland from April to the end of September.

Green heron contemplates hopping across to next tree branch.

Hackberry trees have very rough, ridged bark.

Hackberry trees, common in our area, have very rough bark.

If you see a medium-sized, brown butterfly sipping nectar from flowers and it holds its wings out to the sides, it’s probably a Horace’s duskywing.

Horace’s duskywing nectars on Joe Pye weed.

If the brown butterfly holds its wings folded over its back and has a large white patch on each hindwing, it’s most likely a silver-spotted skipper.

Silver-spotted skipper on Joe Pye weed.

Bumble bees are busy this time of year collecting pollen and nectar for their, usually, subterranean hives.

Double bumble bees nectaring on Mexican sunflower.

If you get down and give a close look to some of the plants you pass during the day, you may find some interesting creatures. Leaf hoppers come to mind. As the name implies, leaf hoppers can quickly hop away to safety when threatened. But what I like about them is their ability to move sideways around twigs and leaf stems to escape danger, like a naturalist’s poking finger.

Can you see the leaf hopper (just left of center).

Some species require a very close look as they blend in to their surroundings quite well.

This is probably Rhynchomitra microrhina.

Although adult yellowjackets subsist on nectar, back in the hive, they feed meat to their young.

Yellowjackets cut out chunks of meat from a dead tussock moth caterpillar.

And finally, My, how they’ve grown.

Fifteen weeks later, three of the red wolf pups. One has a rat dangling from its lips.

There’s drama round every corner.

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