Saturday, August 14, 2010

Cool critters!

Just when I think I've seen every strange thing that Mother Nature has to offer, something else amazing comes along! The other night while I was looking at moths on the sheet on the carport, I spotted a brown lump. When I investigated more closely, I saw that it was some kind of weird beetle with long, hairy horns protruding from its head and a short, sharp horn near its mouth ! I looked it up in one of my insect guide books and found out it is a Forked Fungus Beetle (Bolitotherus cornutus). It is one of those beetles that plays dead if disturbed, when I picked it up to put it in a better position, it pulled its legs in and didn't move for over half an hour! The males have the horns so they can fight each other for the females.

I love having Common Milkweed in my yard, there is always something interesting coming to it or living on it. The main reason I planted it years ago was to attract Monarch butterflies to lay their eggs on it, but many other kinds of insects use it too. I spotted these newly-hatched bug nymphs and their empty eggshells on one of the leaves. I like the way they cluster close together for protection. I also saw 3 syrphid fly larvae (left)crawling around on one of the leaves and munching on yellow aphids. These larvae will turn into Hover Flies after pupating.

I gave a program on pollination today, called "The Birds and Bees of Pollination" at the University of Tennessee Arboretum. After the talk the participants and I went out into the garden to look for pollinators. We didn't see many butterflies or bees, but we did see some interesting caterpillars. One fellow spotted several Snowberry Clearwing caterpillars eating the leaves of Coral Honeysuckle. These green caterpillars have black spiracles (breathing holes) and a black "horn" on the end of their abdomen.

Last night a huge katydid landed on the sheet. Since he was close to the pole where I could prop the camera, I was able to get some good close-up shots. I was happy to get a photo of his "ear", called a tympanum, on his foreleg!

Even though yesterday was Friday the 13th, it was a lucky day for me. I got 3 new moths for my list, I'm now just about 12 shy of 200! Not too bad considering I just started "mothing" at the beginning of June! This large Sphinx Moth was very cooperative for me, I got some great face shots!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Pretty fungi, weird moths

I've fallen behind on my posts again! Between working on an upcoming teacher workshop, ID'ing moths, weekend hikes and regular housework, I haven't had time to post.
A couple of weeks ago Kenny and I went up to the Obed to check out a trail we had not hiked before. We also wanted to try out our new Garmin 60CSx GPS. We hiked on the Cumberland Trail about 2.5 miles out to Alley Ford and down to the river. It was a very hot and humid day, even "wicking" material in our clothes didn't help much! We saw some pretty fungi, one pink and one blue! The pink ones were growing on a decayed tree stump and looked like little pompoms. As you can see, the blue one was growing next to a Lampshade Spider, she had pretty "bedroom walls"! At first I thought it was blue paint, but the trail blazes were a different color and this was under a rock overhang.
I'm up to 180 moths on my list now! Most of those have been seen at the sheet on my carport. They seem to go in spells of good nights and slow nights. I was very excited to see a Wood Nymph Moth, left, (it actually looks a lot like a bird dropping!) one night. It took a while to get it calmed down enough to get some good photos. This moth has the oddest looking front legs! Another night I saw something flying around erratically that looked like a small bat. It was a huge, gray Waved Sphinx Moth that finally decided to perch on the carport support beam. The Small-eyed Sphinx Moth was another interesting visitor, it was a little more cooperative! I was glad it opened its wings to show its "false eyes".

Last Friday I taught a class at Tremont, the field school in the Smokies. After the hike, I walked around the campus to see what was blooming or out hunting. I spotted this wasp crawling on a rolled leaf, she was trying her best to get to the caterpillar that was living inside the tube! I don't think she was successful though!

Last Sunday we went hiking at Piney River State Natural Area in Spring City with our friends, Terri and Rod. It was their first hike there. Despite being another 90+ degree day, we were in the shade most of the day, so it wasn't too bad. Fortunately, it was dry this time, so we didn't have any trouble getting across the boulders at McDonald Branch. When we got to our destination, the 100' bridge, we ate lunch and then cooled our feet in the river. Whoever is in charge of trail maintenance at that area needs to pack in some chainsaws and clear some dead trees. There are several fallen trees across the trail that make the hike a bit more challenging!