Friday, September 18, 2009

Purple and White Elephant Feet and cool critters!

No, I had not been imbibing before going to teach my class today, but I really did see White Elephant Feet (and purple ones too)! :) Elephant Foot is an unusual summer wildflower that normally has pale lavender flowers. As I was surveying the field at Freels Bend, the area where the American Museum of Science and Energy's outdoor classes are taught, I was surprised to see a plant with white flowers. An albino perhaps?! That was a first for me.

I taught a Butterfly class this morning. We actually caught a lot more moths than butterflies, but the kids didn't care! When I went back to my car to get my camera, something fluttered past me and landed on the porch of the cabin. It was a large, dark brown moth. I thought it might be a Black Witch Moth, but tonight I looked it up in my Kaufman's Field Guide to Insects and found out it was a Lunate Zale (pronounced "zah-lay", not like the jewelry store of the same name). Later, I tried to put the moth on a tree so I could get a better photograph, but it had other ideas. It flew off to the ground and onto some dead leaves. It was a good thing that I watched it land, it was so well camouflaged I would have never been able to find it again.
Another insect we saw in the field was the Virginia Ctenucha moth. It had an orange head and an irridescent gunmetal blue abdomen. At first glance, it could be mistaken for a wasp.

An insect that really is a wasp, but is often mistaken for an ant, is the Velvet Ant, a.k.a "Cow Killer". These beautiful red and black insects are actually wingless female wasps. They lay their eggs in bumblebee nests. I presume this one was hunting a nest as she frantically ran around on the grass in the field. The name "Cow Killer" comes from their painful sting.

In my afternoon class I taught about different habitats. One group of kids found a Dagger Moth caterpillar. I got a
photo of the legs taken through the plastic jar. It was fun to watch the way the 4 pairs of prolegs would scrunch together when the caterpillar walked on the jar. I wish I could have taken a video of it.

While we were on our habitat hunt in the field, we found an orb web spider with a white triangle on its abdomen. The intricate pattern is interesting. You know me, I had to get a spider photo in here!

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