Sunday, July 18, 2010

Blood-sucking Conenose, snakes and a hike with the "master of tracking"

One of the interesting things about photographing moths is that I never know what ELSE will arrive at the sheet. Once I turn on the "bug drug" (the black light), many other kinds of critters soon arrive too. On Friday night I was surprised to see this large red and black bug crawling on the sheet. The warning colors (and the fact it is a true bug with a piercing mouth part) made it obvious that I should leave it alone and not touch it. Later, I looked it up in one of my insect field guides and learned it is called an Eastern Blood-sucking Conenose! I also learned it has a painful bite that can cause serious reactions in people and they can carry Chagas disease! Yikes!

On Saturday I went to the American Museum of Science and Energy to hear Noah Charney speak about the book Tracks and Sign of Invertebrates that he co-wrote with Charley Eiseman. These 2 friends took a 40 day, 15,000 mile road trip across the U.S. to photograph all kinds of eggs, cocoons, insect tracks, etc. They used 5 of my photos in the book (which I received as "payment"), so I definitely wanted to go meet him. After his talk, I took him to the UT Arboretum along with two of my friends who are going to help with the Moth-er's Night Out program there in 2 weeks. I figured Noah might enjoy going over there. I think of myself as being fairly observant when it comes to finding insects and other tiny creatures out in the woods, but Noah put me and my friends to shame! He turned over rocks in the stream and showed us micro-caddisfly tubes. An aquatic iris leaf in the pond was covered with tiny, football-shaped dragonfly eggs. I always thought all dragonflies laid their eggs singly as they dip their abdomens in the water, I didn't know some types lay them in gelatinous masses on leaves. We noticed an ornamental dogwood tree that had been nearly defoliated, of course, we had to check it out. We saw lots of funny looking fuzzy white "caterpillars" curled up under many of what leaves were left on the tree. We thought they might have a fungus that had killed them. That is the danger in making assumptions! I later looked them up on the internet and found out they were Dogwood Sawfly larvae, not caterpillars. I should have realized that, they have too many "prolegs." They shed the white fuzzy skin to become yellow and black larvae on their 3rd molt, which explained why we saw so many discarded skins on the tree! We also enjoyed watching a black rat snake hiding in the grass. After spending 3 hours and walking less than 1/2-mile, we said good bye. What an interesting afternoon that had been!

Today (Sunday) Kenny and I went to Spring City to hike on the Piney River trail. I was anxious to try out my new knowledge of invertebrate sign hunting! I found a few spider egg cases, molting spiders, rolled leaves with caterpillars inside, etc. Rhea County is notorious for bad weather, so we knew we were taking a chance to go hiking with a 30% chance of rain in the forecast. Sure enough, when we were about 1/2-way to our destination at the bridge 3 miles in, the wind picked up and we heard rain coming through the trees. Kenny had packed umbrellas because it was too hot and humid to wear our Gore-tex rain gear. Fortunately, we were close to a long, narrow sandstone rockhouse on the trail, so we went back there and had lunch in a dry place. I enjoyed seeing the lampshade spiders, hunting spiders, house spiders and a bristletail under the rocks while we ate and waited for the rain to pass. We seldom see anyone on this trail, so we were surprised when a group of about 2o people who said they had been camping (we didn't see they carrying any gear though!) came walking by. It was a bit unnerving when one guy stopped to talk, he was carrying a rifle and drinking a beer!!! He said the gun was not loaded. Ah, there's nothing like rednecks with guns and alcohol in the woods to add to the excitement of a hike!

We decided to turn around at that point because there was a tricky stream crossing ahead that involved picking our way across algae-covered boulders, it is hard enough when it is dry, we just didn't want to risk it with the rocks being wet. So we headed back, but not before taking a detour down to the river. It was a good decision! We saw a huge Dragonhunter dragonfly cruising the riverbank. I had my macro lens on my camera, so I wasn't able to get a good close-up, it was on a tree branch 15 or so feet away. These dragonflies live up to their name, although they don't actually hunt dragons, I have seen them eat butterflies! The little damselflies were in the "mood for love", many of them were in the "tandem" position where the male grasps the female behind her head after mating to keep other males away. I liked this little guy's pretty blue eyes!

But the greatest excitement of the day was seeing a little Brown-banded water snake hunting in the river. We enjoyed watching it crawl over the rocks, it was a challenge to figure out where it would come out next when it went under them. I shot a few short movie clips of it. The rifle-toting redneck told of killing a copperhead yesterday. I sure hope it wasn't one of these snakes instead, it can be difficult for some people to tell the difference. Especially if they have the attitude that "the only good snake is a dead snake!" That is why I try to educate people that I meet along the trail. :)


Aleta said...

Nice blog! We had the blood-sucking conenose insect on the wall of our home. We live surrounded by heavy woods. We don't like to kill anything so we set him free outside, and hopefully he won't return!

Hanz Fritz Kim Bronola said...

Really helpful for me.Now i know about this bloodsucking conenose insects how dangerous it is. I don't know why they keep coming at my house every night and i felt sorry for those i killed because i just reacted to the pain i felt after they inject needle like anywhere of my body. You will fell itchy and a little bit pain when you try scratch it.