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Lightning Bugs or Fireflies ~ Lampyridae Species

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Fireflies produce cold light, meaning there is no heat produced as a by-product. Fireflies generate light by mixing a chemical (luciferin) with an enzyme (luciferase) and oxygen. Fireflies produce their light by controlling the oxygen supply to the light organs that contain the chemical reaction.  Fireflies use their light to attract each other, which is rare, as most insects use scent instead of sight.

As I again, feel like these little cuties are known the world round, I will launch into some fun stuff, like some Japanese folklore as to where they came from:

Once upon a time, a woodman and his wife lived on the edge of a beautiful forest beneath Mount Fujiyama in Japan. They had a cozy, little house and a beautiful garden, however they were not happy, because they wished for a child. One moonlit night, the wife slipped out of the house and laid herself down before the great mountain with its shining snowcap. She begged for Fujiyama to send her and her husband a child.
As she prayed, a tiny light appeared high upon the mountain and began to drift down toward the woman. When the light reached the branches of the bamboo, it stopped. The woman was overjoyed when she found it was a Moonchild, sent by the Lady in the Moon herself. She took the child home and her husband was overjoyed as well.
The Moonchild grew into a beautiful young lady, a Moon Princess, and was beloved by all who saw her. When the Emperor’s son saw her, he asked for her hand in marriage. However, she refused, saying that her mother, the Moon Lady, had bidden her to return home when she reached the age of twenty.
When the night came for her to leave, the woodman, his wife and the Emperor’s son were all there to say goodbye, and they were inconsolable. The Lady in the Moon sent down a silver moonbeam for her daughter, and the Princess floated up upon it. As she floated, the Princess cried silver tears for those she left behind. As they fell, they took wing and flew all over the land.
The Moon Princess’ tears can still be seen on moonlit nights. Some call them fireflies, but those who know the legend know that they are the Princess’ tears, searching for those she loved on Earth and had to leave behind.

This is a great video segment about the Fireflies in Tennessee, they are very unique.

 


© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl

Spittlebug or Froghopper ~ Cercopidae species

Midwesterners may have noticed there has been a rise of folks spitting on plants… Nah, I’m just pulling your leg! Spittlebugs are on the rise this Spring, as I’m seeing them not only in my ornamental garden, but in the forest preserves and right of ways. These little Froghoppers are in the Cercopidae family, which contains 23,000 different family members.

For strawberry farmers (a fav of spittlebugs), the spittlebugs are mildly annoying at one spittle mass per square foot, also called “aesthetic threshold”. At five or more spittle masses per square foot, harvests can become affected. I think we’re there this year.

Spittle is produced by the nymph manipulating its body and using broken-down plant juices to blow the tiny bubbles. After there are enough bubbles to surround their bodies, they use their rear legs to cover themselves. Ironically, it’s not spit that makes the spittle… it comes out of the other end of the nymph (farttle?) 😉 The spittle protects them from predators, temperature changes and helps them from dehydrating.

Adult Froghopper

Although spittlebug nymphs and adults do feed on plant sap, the damage is minimal and populations are generally small and don’t warrant pesticide use. In extreme cases, they can cause stunting and weaken plants or reduce yields. An easy way to rid yourself of them is to dislodge them with a blast from the hose. I have read about predatory wasps of the spittlebug, however not sure if they are here in the Midwest. Should you have a severe infestation, be sure to remove plant debris in Fall and lightly till the soil to reduce the amount of eggs for the next season.

After five instars, spittlebugs become froghopper adults, named as such because of their resemblance to frogs. They now have a hard exoskeleton, which keeps them from drying out and they are able to emerge from the spittle. Adult froghoppers travel by jumping, with some species jumping vertically as high as 28 inches/70 cm! This feat surpasses the ability of fleas!

One last little tid-bit:
There are two other insect families that are not related, however look just like the froghoppers; treehoppers (Membracidae), and leafhoppers (Cicadellidae). One of my favorite sites to research bugs is: BUGGUIDE.NET, Here’s how they tell the difference,
A leafhopper (Family Cicadellidae) has a row of prominent, regular spines on its rear tibiae (the second long leg segment). Spittlebugs/froghopper (Cercopidae) have no such regular spines, (but may have a few irregular ones). Treehoppers (Membracidae), usually have elaborated pronotums.

 

     

On Lychnis chalcedonica ~ Maltese cross  ||  On Weedy Grass

     

On Echinacea    ||    On Chaenomeles speciosa

They’re everywhere!!!!

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

What’s That Bird? 

Knowing that my camerone can’t take a photo at a distance, I’ve learned that shooting a quick video can make-up for the lack of detail. I may even be able to pull a still from the video. Sadly, not in this case.

I am a beginning birder and try to key these little guys out to the best of my knowledge, however it is based on personal perspectives also. Although I think Juncos are black and white birds, many keys have them under brown. I furiously search under black, then white and can’t find them. Now, I’ve also employed other websites like allaboutbirds.org to know even more about the birds I have identified. I’ll admit I don’t feel like I’m any better at ID, but I’ll learn. I’m used to plants that love to be admired and stand still white I look for identifying features, leaf shapes, petal count, undersides… etc. Birds and animals… Not so much.

This little, yellow guy has a black face and is not a American Goldfinch, at least not a common one, I know those. I’ve looked through trushes, flycatchers, finches… exhausting!

I was in Central Illinois during Memorial Day, not sure if migration was still happening or these guys are residents. I was in a prairie/savanna area, not too far from water.

Any guesses??

 

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

White-Crowned Sparrow ~ Zonotrichia leucophrys

This post was a bit lost in my drafts folder… These guys were passing through last month. They, like the Juncos, like to be up North for the summer. And I mean like the Great White North! I’m also too far North to be in their Northern, Southern range. Ah, alas I am in the migration range only.

The male does most of the singing, however the female likes to belt out a few delicate, but more intricate tunes. Males learn their songs not only from their fathers, but from all of the other White-Crowned Sparrows in the neighborhood. If a male grows-up on the edges of two communities, they might sing two different songs, one from each community, you could say bilingual. 

They mainly eat seeds, however will feed insects to their young. These guys were happy to see many protein-packed sunflower seeds and peanuts on the ground, as they need a bunch of energy for their migration. These guys have been known to stay awake for two weeks straight! Not only that, the can fly for a long time without tiring. Scientist have this little guy running tread mills and other endurance tests. They are trying to figure out what keeps the little guy ticking for so long. Clearly, Scientist’s want to learn how to keep us humans working longer than our standard, 40 hours, sigh.

See you next Fall, White-Crowned Sparrow! I wish I could go with you to Mexico for the winter!!

     

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

Mom! Mom! Mom!

It’s BABY BIRD time again! Nothing screams Spring like seeing all the little critters coming out. The first chicks I’ve seen this year are these three Common Starlings. They sure were a squawky bunch of kids. I heard them before I looked out the window to see them.  They are sitting on the yew that is right below the suet cage. These guys weren’t hip to landing on the swinging cage. I can’t imagine they have many hours on their pilots licenses yet, as their landings were a bit rough, especially when the branch bounces as each one lands.

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

Eastern Comma ~ Polygonia comma

Eastern Comma ~ Polygonia comma on Pachysandra terminalis ‘Green Carpet’

Butterflies in the genus Polygonia are collectively referred to as anglewings. The eastern comma (Polygonia comma), is also known as the comma angelwing and the hop merchant.

In earlier years, farmers growing hops are said to have used the brilliant metallic markings on the Eastern Comma‘s chrysalis (which they found in numbers on their crop) to forecast the season‘s prices: if the markings were golden, the Hop prices would be high; if they were silver, the prices would be lower. Hence, the species‘ other common name, hop merchant.

When they aren’t feeding on rotting fruit, tree sap, salts and minerals from puddling and dung, males perch on leaves or tree trunks to watch for females. Females lay eggs in rows on host plants; all members of the elm and nettle families including American elm (Ulmus americana), hops (Humulus), nettle (Urtica), false nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica), and wood nettle (Laportea canadensis). Caterpillars are usually solitary and feed on leaves at night. Older caterpillars make daytime shelters by pulling leaf edges together with silk. Winter-form adults hibernate, some first migrating to the south.

A Papago Butterfly Legend

One day the Creator was resting, sitting, watching some children at play in a village. The children laughed and sang, yet as he watched them, the Creator’s heart was sad. He was thinking: “These children will grow old. Their skin will become wrinkled. Their hair will turn gray. Their teeth will fall out. The young hunter’s arm will fail. These lovely young girls will grow ugly and fat. The playful puppies will become blind, mangy dogs. And those wonderful flowers – yellow and blue, red and purple – will fade. The leaves from the trees will fall and dry up. Already they are turning yellow.” Thus the Creator grew sadder and sadder. It was in the fall, and the thought of the coming winter, with its cold and lack of game and green things, made his heart heavy.

Yet it was still warm, and the sun was shining. The Creator watched the play of sunlight and shadow on the ground, the yellow leaves being carried here and there by the wind. He saw the blueness of the sky, the whiteness of some cornmeal ground by the women. Suddenly he smiled. “All those colors, they ought to be preserved. I’ll make something to gladden my heart, something for these children to look at and enjoy.”

The Creator took out his bag and started gathering things: a spot of sunlight, a handful of blue from the sky, the whiteness of the cornmeal, the shadow of playing children, the blackness of a beautiful girl’s hair, the yellow of the falling leaves, the green of the pine needles, the red, purple, and orange of the flowers around him. All these he put into his bag. As an afterthought, he put the songs of the birds in, too.

Then he walked over to the grassy spot where the children were playing. “Children, little children, this is for you,” and he gave them his bag. “Open it; there’s something nice inside,” he told them. The children opened the bag, and at once hundreds and hundreds of colored butterflies flew out, dancing around the children’s heads, settling on their hair, fluttering up again to sip from this or that flower. And the children, enchanted, said that they had never seen anything so beautiful.

The butterflies began to sing, and the children listened smiling. But then a songbird came flying, settling on the Creator’s shoulder, scolding him, saying: “It’s not right to give our songs to these new, pretty things. You told us when you made us that every bird would have his own song. And now you’ve passed them all around. Isn’t it enough that you gave your new playthings the colors of the rainbow?” “You’re right,” said the Creator. “I made one song for each bird, and I shouldn’t have taken what belongs to you.”

So the Creator took the songs away from the butterflies, and that’s why they are silent. “They’re beautiful even so!” he said.

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

Ruby-throated Hummingbird ~ Archilochus colubris

These were taken last fall, by my hubby. We had just gotten the new easy camera, a Nikon Coolpix, however still needed to figure out how to use it. Lucky for us, the neighboring camp host had a plethora of bird feeders for us to shoot birds at. I love hummers! They are such unique birds. We were very blessed to see one nesting above our camper last summer.

I hope the new feeder I received as a gift brings more of them to my house. Although I’ve never gotten any remotely clear shots of them in my front yard, I do get many of them visiting. I have planted many tubular flowers that are in the red ranges of color, a favorite of theirs.

For now, I know it’s a bit early for these beauties to be up here in Northern Illinois… I’ll just refer to my migration map and be ready for their arrival!!

 

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

Western Painted Turtle – Chrysemys bellii

I’ve written about the Eastern Painted Turtle, however the photo for that post was lacking. And, admittingly, I think it actually was a Western Painted Turtle, as the Eastern are not supposed to be in my area. Although the painted turtle is found in most of the United States and some parts of Canada, there are four different species, and a lot of inter species mingling. As you can see, Illinois has either Western or Midland or a combo of both. Miss-identification can happen sometimes.. I’m a horticulturist, Jim! Not a herpetologist 😉

One of the more interesting things I learned about these turtles is that their sex is decided by what temperature the eggs are exposed to while in the clutch. These temperature-dependent turtles lack sex chromosomes, thus relying on the temperature to decide. Low temperatures during incubation produce males and high temperatures produce females. Think Jurassic Park!!
Since Painted turtles are cold-blooded, they need to bring their temperatures up when they want to be active. Basking in the sun is the best way to achieve this. Turtles of all varieties bask in large groups on logs, fallen trees, and any object that’s just above the water. Sunning also helps rid them of parasitic leeches. Ick.
Painted turtles feed mainly on plants, small fish, crustaceans, aquatic insects, and carrion. Young painted turtles are mainly carnivorous, possibly because they need the extra protein to grow, acquiring a taste for plants later in life. Turtles have no teeth, although they have tough, sharp plates for gripping food. Painted turtles like to eat in the water since their tongue does not move freely.

The painted turtle was designated the official Illinois state reptile in 2005 after winning the vote of the citizens of Illinois in 2004.

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

Mallard Ducks ~ Anas platyrhynchos

When I was a little girl…. That’s how my Grandfather would always start his stories 🙂

When my family visited my Grandparents, we had a general routine for Saturdays. We’d go to lunch at a favorite buffet location where we would stuff bread in my mom’s purse for the ducks we’d feed at the park later!

These guys are the most common and well-known duck in the world. So common, that I think I’ll just go into a story.

The wintry winds had already begun to whistle and the waves to rise when the Drake and his mate gathered their half- grown brood together on the shore of their far northern lake.

“Wife,” said he, “it is now time to take the children southward, to the Warm Countries which they have never yet seen!”

Very early the next morning they set out on their long journey, forming a great “V” against the sky in their flight. The mother led her flock and the father brought up the rear, keeping a sharp lookout for stragglers.

All day they flew high in the keen air, over wide prairies and great forests of northern pine, until toward evening they saw below them a chain of lakes, glittering like a string of dark-blue stones.

Swinging round in a half circle, they dropped lower and lower, ready to alight and rest upon the smooth surface of the nearest lake. Suddenly their leader heard a whizzing sound like that of a bullet as it cuts the air, and she quickly gave the warning: “Honk! honk! Danger, danger!” All descended in dizzy spirals, but as the great Falcon swooped toward them with upraised wing, the ducklings scattered wildly hither and thither. The old Drake came last, and it was he who was struck!

“Honk, honk!” cried all the Ducks in terror, and for a minute the air was full of soft downy feathers like flakes of snow. But the force of the blow was lost upon the well-cushioned body of the Drake, he soon got over his fright and went on his way southward with his family, while the Falcon dropped heavily to the water’s edge with a broken wing.

There he stayed and hunted mice as best he could from day to day, sleeping at night in a hollow log to be out of the way of the Fox and the Weasel. All the wit he had was not too much whereby to keep himself alive through the long, hard winter.

Toward spring, however, the Falcon’s wing had healed and he could fly a little, though feebly. The sun rose higher and higher in the blue
heavens, and the Ducks began to return to their cool northern home. Every day a flock or two flew over the lake; but the Falcon dared not charge upon the flocks, much as he wished to do so. He was weak with hunger, and afraid to trust to the strength of the broken wing.

One fine day a chattering flock of Mallards alighted quite near him, cooling their glossy breasts upon the gently rippling wave. “Here, children,” boasted an old Drake, “is the very spot where your father was charged upon last autumn by a cruel Falcon! I can tell you that it took all my skill and quickness in dodging to save my life. Best of all, our fierce enemy dropped to the ground with a broken wing! Doubtless he is long since dead of starvation, or else a Fox or a Mink has made a meal of the wicked creature!”

By these words the Falcon knew his old enemy, and his courage returned. “Nevertheless, I am still here!” he exclaimed, and darted like a flash upon the unsuspecting old Drake, who was resting and telling of his exploit and narrow escape with the greatest pride and satisfaction. “Honk! honk! ” screamed all the Ducks, and they scattered and whirled upward like the dead leaves in autumn; but the Falcon with sure aim selected the old Drake and gave swift chase. Round and round in dizzy spirals they swung together, till with a quick spurt the Falcon struck the shining, outstretched neck of the other, and snapped it with one powerful blow of his reunited wing.

Do not exult too soon; nor is it wise to tell of your brave deeds within the hearing of your enemy.

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

Baltimore Oriole ~ Icterus galbula

This medium-sized passerine measures 6 ½” to 8 ½” long and 9” to 12 ½ ” across the wings. They have a longish tail, fairly long legs and a thick, pointed bill. Their body weight averages 1.2 oz.

Baltimore Orioles love ripe fruit. Hang cut oranges from trees to entice orioles into your yard. There are special feeders that hold sugar water for them (like a hummingbird feeder). They also love grape jelly, which can be placed in a small bowl and hung from a branch. If you plant dark-colored, bright fruits and nectar-bearing flowers, such as raspberries, crab apples, serviceberry, tupelo, and trumpet vines… They will come! If your feeders are set-up perfectly for them, they will teach their young to come to them.

These photos were taken last fall, while we were camping. These feeders were hanging on the Camp Hosts site, which was right next to ours. He fed them sugar water and grape jelly. They would wait in the trees for him to fill the feeders!

Baltimore Orioles use their slender beaks to feed in an unusual way, called “gaping”. They stab their closed bill into soft fruits, then open their mouths to cut a juicy swath from which they drink with their brushy-tipped tongues.

Female orioles are just a tad lighter than the males, however they do tend to get darker with age, possibly even reaching the brightness of a male.

Baltimore orioles also forage by making short flights to catch insects. One of their favored prey is the tent caterpillar moth, which they typically eat in their larval stage, which can be a nuisance species if not naturally regulated by predation. The larvae caterpillar are beaten against a branch until their protective hairs are skinned off before being eaten. Gotta love these guys!!

The female oriole is the nest builder. She creates a tightly woven pouch consisting of plant or animal materials, and is usually located on the end of a branch. She likes to build in tall trees like elms, cottonwoods, maples or willows are usually selected. The female lays three to seven eggs, with the norm being around four. The eggs are pale gray to bluish white with an incubation period of about 12 to 14 days. Once the nestlings hatch, they are fed by both parents and brooded by the female for two weeks.

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl