Thursday, August 31, 2017

Never look a gift caterpillar in the mouth

A large caterpillar clasp a Virginia Creeper vine with its fleshy prolegs.

Yesterday while traipsing through the swamp at Mission Creek Park, I happened to look down at just the right time.  Right on the ground, I saw this large reddish brown caterpillar clinging to a Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) vine. 

This large caterpillar was about 3 inches long and 3/4 inch across

I immediately recognized it as a sphinx moth caterpillar, did not know which one.  Finding it on a Virginia Creeper helped to identify it;  freshly chewed leaves indicated that Virginia Creeper was probably its host species.  Knowing a host plant made it relatively easy to look up.

Pandorus Sphinx caterpillar - a face only a mother (or insect-lover) could love!

It's a Pandorus Sphinx Moth caterpillar (Eumorpha pandorus).  As a larvae, this species feeds on Virginia Creeper and grapes (Vitis spp.).  This species is found across the eastern half of the United States.  Mid-Michigan is on the northern edge of its range.  It is found as far south as the Gulf Coast and west to a line running from eastern Nebraska to eastern Texas.  It's range roughly coincides with the range of Virginia Creeper.  Pandorus comes from Greek and means "all-giving" or "all-gifted"; the female form of the word is Pandora.  In Greek mythology, Pandora is the first woman.  In the myth, she opens a jar containing all forms of evil releasing them into the world.

Pandorus Sphinx caterpillar (head and thorax to upper left) - note white markings on abdomen

The most distinguishing feature of this caterpillar is the row of white spots on each side of its abdomen.  Five of these oval-shaped spots surround spiracles on the caterpillar's abdomen.  Spiracles are pores or apertures through which an insect breathes.  Insects lack lungs.  Instead, oxygenated air enters the insects bodies through the spiracles and passes through a system of tubes known as trachea before entering directly into the insect's body tissues.  Gases that are produced in the insect's body pass from the body tissues into the trachea and leave the body through the trachea.   Some insects have no control over the flow of gases while others are able to expand and contract abdominal muscles to draw in in or expel air (much like the way we use our lungs).

Monday, August 28, 2017

One Day in the Woods (Trail Camera Pictures - 03 August 2017)

Have you ever wondered what happens in the woods when no one is there to see it?

Trail cameras allow you to find out.  I currently have two trail camera, also called "camera traps", located in one of the local parks.  These camera are triggered by motion.  Any time an animal walks (or flies) within range of the camera's sensor the camera is triggered. 

One of my cameras is a Cloak 8MP IR camera by Wildgame Innovations.  This camera takes individual still photos or (30 second) videos.  I currently have this camera rigged to take photos, but am thinking of changing it to record videos.

My other camera is a Bushnell Trophy Cam - I am not sure which model without looking at it.  This camera can be set up to take videos, individual still photos, or sets of three still photos.  I currently have this camera set up to take photos in sets of three.

The amount of photos that a trail camera captures depends entirely on location.  If the camera is placed along a well-used game trail, they will record lots of activity.  If they are placed in an area that animals rarely pass through, the number of images recorded will small.  Both of my camera are placed along well traveled deer trails.  On most days they will record at least a few animals.  Rarely, a day will pass without the cameras being triggered.  Other days are exceptional for their activity.

Here is one day's activity as recorded by the Bushnell camera.  This camera was triggered sixteen times over the course of the day and recorded forty-eight images.  I have omitted a few photos where the animal that triggered the camera had exited the frame before the second or  third image was recorded.  Each image has a time stamp in the lower right corner so you can follow along with the action.  From here I am just going to let the photos speak for themselves.



Native Pollinator Garden Update - Winn Elementary (25 August 2017)

Winn Elementary Native Pollinator Garden
School starts this week for students at Winn Elementary (and several other local school districts).  With that in mind, I went out to the school last week to do a little bit of maintenance on the garden.  This garden was originally planted in June 2012.  With five full growing seasons behind it, it is really starting to come into its own.  

I don't like to fuss too much in the garden.  Plants will move around in the garden, seeking the best growing conditions.  Surprises will pop up - this garden now has Wild Columbine and two species of Goldenrod that were not planted here.  Most of the maintenance on this garden consists of pulling plants that have grown up in the walkways and preventing invasive species from becoming established.  In addition to a little weeding, I mulched the pathways through the garden just to get it ready for students walking through. 

Here are a few photos.

This garden is a certified butterfly habitat.

Freshly mulched pathways make it easy to walk through the garden.

Grey-headed Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)

Missouri Ironweed (Vernonia missurica)

Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)

Nodding Wild Onion (Allium cernuum)

Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)on Rough Blazing Star (Liatris aspera)

A Leopold bench provides a spot for students to sit and work
Bee nesting tubes are mostly full
In a few weeks, asters and goldenrod will color the garden shades of purple and gold.
This Wednesday (30 August), we will be visiting this garden as part of an education series hosted by the Isabella Conservation District.  Unfortunately, registration for this program is closed, but we  have a class on the identification and control of native species scheduled for 20 September.  When more information on that class becomes available I will publish it here.