Sunday, October 19, 2014

Busy Milkweed

There is a lot of activity on milkweed plants this time of year. I wrote a blog about some of the members of the milkweed community in October of 2011. You can see that blog by clicking here. 
Today I saw this late instar monarch caterpillar. Its head is on the right. It was eating voraciously, bulking up for its pupal stage, which will come soon. It will pupate for about two weeks and then emerge as a butterfly to begin its long migration south. Click to enlarge.
The plants were covered with oleander aphids like this one. 
A few of the aphids had wings. There is one in the upper right of this photo; winged individuals can disperse to nearby stems and pods to establish new populations. Click to enlarge the photo and you will see that there is a caterpillar-like organism among the aphids. It is the larva of a syrphid fly; it will  grow up to become a hover fly (also called flower fly). In its larval stage it eats aphids. No shortage of those around here. 

A closer look at the fly larva. It is easy to mistake for a caterpillar, or even a plant part. Stealthy! 
As I was clicking pictures of this cluster of milkweed bug nymphs, I got a surprising message from them -- they knew they were being watched and they did not like it. See the picture below. They all ran around to the other side. 
Stop looking at us! 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Angel Moth Caterpillar

The angel moth caterpillar. Click to enlarge.
I had uncommonly good luck with caterpillars during my recent trip to Kentucky. This is the angel moth caterpillar, Olceclostera angelica, a  member of the Bombycidae family of silkworm moths. Angel moth caterpillars usually feed on lilac or ash. This one was on a wooden fence post, probably after falling from a host plant. I saw it near the historic entrance to Mammoth Cave in Mammoth Cave National Park. It is an uncommon caterpillar, not often seen, and, like the spun glass caterpillar I saw nearby and wrote about recently (click here to see the story) -- I had never seen one before.

The longhaired angel moth caterpillar grows up to be a handsome furry-legged moth with a glittery abdomen and silver-grey scallop-edged wings that made the scientist who named it think of angels. Click here to see a photo of the moth.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

It's Locust Borer Beetle Time!

The locust borer beetle, Megacyllene robiniae. Click to enlarge.
Goldenrod is one of my favorite things about autumn. I can spend hours inspecting the bright yellow flowers, finding and photographing the insects it attracts -- like this locust borer beetle. It is a "long-horned" beetle in the family cerambycidae. Check out its long antennae.

You may be wondering why it is not called the goldenrod beetle...

Although we usually notice them on goldenrod in autumn, they spend most of their life cycle on locust trees. Adults lay eggs on locusts. The eggs hatch into larvae that spend winter under the tree's bark. When the weather warms, the larvae burrow deeper into the tree and pupate there. They emerge as adults in late summer and early autumn. Egg, larva, and pupa live on locusts; adults are found eating goldenrod pollen, but they hang out on locust trees, too, and eventually lay their eggs there. Calling them locusts borers makes sense after all.

There are more pictures in my previous blog about locust borer beetles. Click on this sentence to go there. I get excited about seeing them every year, so the chances are good I will be writing about them next October, too. :-)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Chinese Mantis

The Chinese mantis, Tenedera sinensis. Click to enlarge. 
The Chinese mantis is remarkably easy to overlook for an insect that is five inches long. This one was blending in among leaves and flowers along a fence on Pier 1 in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The mantis is a predator that sits quietly waiting until its (mainly) insect prey is within striking distance; prey can be almost any kind of fly, bee, spider, moth, or similar thing. It quickly grabs the victim with its spiked forelegs, impaling and holding it, and then eats with a mouth that cuts and tears.

The Chinese mantis is native to Asia. It was accidentally introduced to the United States in the late 1800s and spread. Gardeners now deliberately release them for biological control of plant pests and Chinese mantises are kept as pets. They consequently can be found in the wild throughout the the country.

This is one of a few kind of mantises that you might encounter. I wrote previously about a Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) that I also saw in Brooklyn Bridge Park -- in the same spot! You can see that blog and compare the two mantises by clicking on this sentence.

It seems that Brooklyn Bridge Park is a good place to find mantises. I'll bet it is because of the variety of tasty prey that results from the thoughtfully chosen plantings. Look for mantises near blooming flowers by the Pier 1 section of fence that borders the wide gravel road on the eastern side of the park.

The surface of the mantis' wing case looks deceptively like a dry leaf. 
If you don't know it's there it is easy to overlook. 
But when you get up close, you'll find it is watching you. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Last Day of Summer

Summer ends tomorrow, September 22nd, at 10:29 p.m. in New York City. Goodbye butterflies! (And moths.)

Click to enlarge. 
Tis the last rose of summer, 
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone.

- Sir Thomas Moore

The Last Rose of Summer, 1830

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Spun Glass Caterpillar

The spun glass caterpillar, Isochaetes beutenmuelleri. Click to enlarge.
I was in Kentucky last week, relaxing with horses, caves, and bourbon. While walking in the woods at Mammoth Cave National Park, I saw this lovely larva, commonly called the spun glass caterpillar. It is about 3/8 of an inch long and almost as wide, pale green, practically transparent, and covered with spines and hairs. It looks like a miniature Christmas ornament. Its main food is the foliage of the swamp oak tree. Theoretically, they can be found from New York to Florida and west to Texas and Colorado, but they are uncommon and I had never seen one before. It grows up to become a relatively drab moth, which you can see by clicking on this sentence.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Egyptian Geese

The Egyptian goose, Alopochen aegyptiaca. 

Egyptian geese are abundant in Kensington Gardens in London where I took these pictures. The bird's native range is in the Nile Valley in Egypt and throughout subsaharan Africa. Introduced and escaped birds have established feral populations throughout southern Europe. I sometimes see Egyptian geese in urban parks in the northeastern United States. Feral populations of Egyptian geese are proliferating in Texas around Houston where they were  the subject of a recent scientific study; the results indicated that Egyptian geese seem to coexist peacefully with native waterfowl and may even deter colonization by less well-behaved Canada geese.
Egyptian goslings. Click to enlarge.
Egyptian geese are robust long-necked birds, with pink legs and feet, brownish backs, tan bodies, and black tails. They have conspicuous chocolate-brown eye patches and pink bills with a black nail at the tip. A white wing patch is visible in flight. It is hard to catch a photo of it, but each bird has a chocolate-brown patch low on its breast.

The Egyptian goose is the only species in its genus in the family Anatidae, which contains all geese, ducks, and swans. Technically, and despite their English name, Egyptian geese are not geese. Neither are they ducks. They have characteristics of both and their closest relatives are the goose-like Old World shelducks.

Geese are popular subjects for Haiku. Here are a few written in the early 1800s by the master, Issa.

           honking geese--

            I picture skies

            over inns

            geese and ducks

            wipe their feet...

            on the irises

            geese at my gate--

            another seductive rain

            falls today

            making themselves at home

            asleep, awake...

            geese at my gate