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Eastern Amberwing Dragonfly – Perithemis tenera

We were kayaking last August in Wisconsin, when this little gentleman needed a rest and sat on my husband’s finger. The male’s wings are tinted amber with yellow veins and red stigmas (near the tips of wings). The female’s wings are variable with brown spots and red stigmas. Length of their bodies vary from 0.8 to 1.0 inches. The thorax is mostly brown with short, thin dorsal stripes and yellowish side spots. The abdomen is short and stout with variable patterns, either not striped or with narrow brown stripes.

For a dragonfly, Amberwings are reported to have the most intricate courtship dance. After the male selects possible egg-laying sites for a mate, he flies off to find a female and brings her back to his potential nursery. To attract her, he sways back and forth with his abdomen raised. Mating only occurs if the female approves – making this one of the few dragonflies species where the females choose the males.

© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl

 

Dog Tick ~ Dermacentor variabilis

My poor husband was attacked by a dog tick. He wasn’t anywhere that was a tick haven… He was in our yard. We do live near a forest preserve and have our share of wild furries sharing our space. Luckily, it’s not the tick vector for Lyme’s Disease. Granted, there’s other things he might be able to look forward to, like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Bartonella. Yeah!

The best way to prevent a tick borne illness is to avoid tick bites. If you’re going to visit wooded areas or areas with tall grass, follow these precautions to help prevent tick bites and the risk of disease:

  • Wear light-colored, long-sleeved shirts, long trousers, boots or sturdy shoes and a head covering (ticks will jump from trees). Tuck your pants into your socks. For extra protection, tape the area where your pants and socks meet.
  • Apply insect repellent to your clothes containing 10 percent to 30 percent DEET. Use repellents containing permethrin to treat any exposed skin. Be sure to wash treated skin after coming indoors. Always follow label directions; do not misuse or overuse repellents. Always supervise children when using repellents.
  • Try to walk in the center of trails so weeds do not brush against you. If your camping area is full of leaf litter, a favorite place for ticks to hide, be sure to sit on chairs, not on the ground.
  • Check yourself every two to three hours for ticks. Most ticks don’t attach right away and rarely transmit disease until they have been attached four or more hours. Don’t forget about your fur friend! Check them for ticks, also.
  • Remove any tick you find promptly and properly! A tick’s mouth parts are barbed and can remain embedded which could lead to infection at the bite site. Do not try to burn the tick with a match, cover it with petroleum jelly or nail polish. Do not use bare hands to remove the tick because tick secretions may carry disease. The best way to remove a tick is to grasp it firmly with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and gently, but firmly, pull it straight out. Do not twist or jerk the tick. If tweezers are not available, grasp the tick with a piece of tissue or cloth or whatever can be used as a barrier between your fingers and the tick. If you want to have the tick identified, put it in a small vial of alcohol.
  • Wash the bite area thoroughly with soap and water, then apply an antiseptic to the bite site.
  • If you have an unexplained illness with fever, contact your doctor. Be sure to tell the doctor you’ve been bitten by a tick recently.

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

The Big Headed Ground Beetle ~ Scarites subterraneus

I’ve find these gals in my basement occasionally, wondering how she burrowed her way in. Unfortunately or fortunately, she will get returned to the great outdoors to enjoy her life outside of my basement. I placed her on the driveway to get some shots, however she was not feeling the love for the camera and quickly made her way to the nearby mulch.

These are called The Big Headed Ground Beetle, however it’s not really their heads that are large, it just looks that way because of their chests being connected to their heads. Personally, I think they should be called the Sir Mix-A-Lot Beetle… As in, Little in the middle, butt she’s got much back!!!

Adults are about ¾” inch (20 mm) long, shiny black, with antennae slightly paler and very broad, large jaws. They are commonly found in mulch, under stones, around illuminated areas at night, in basements and in damp soil. When discovered, they may play dead, hoping that their thick exoskeleton will protect them. They are easily picked up by their butts, as they can’t turn their menacing mandibles around to bite you. Although these gals are capable of giving a painful bite, the bites rarely break the skin or are medically harmful.

These gals are considered very beneficial, as they eat nuisance insects in the soil as larvae and adults. These girls like the night life and generally only hunt in the evenings.

 

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

That’s Not a Turtle!! Nerodia sipedon

So here I am, minding my own business as I paddle around a lake, when suddenly I see a swimming turtle! A cute, little tur…rrrrt.. Huh, that is a hellava long turtle. No. Effing. Way. It’s a SNAAAKE! 😯 I backed off so we didn’t have a sequel of Snakes on a Plane, with Snakes on a Kayak.

I wasn’t even in the Everglades or south of the equator, I was here in Central Illinois. I had no idea there were water snakes in the Midwest. With that being said, my best guess at his identity is a Nerodia sipedon or a Common Water Snake.

After watching this guy swim across the lake and to the grassy edge, I was mesmerized. How does he swim? He stopped many times, wondering what I was going to do. How did he stay afloat while stopped? I was fascinated. Fascinated enough that I let myself get within about 15 feet of him. I was clearly not thinking. I did not know the identity of this snake until I researched it (from the safety of my living room!) It could have possibly been a poisonous Water Moccasin! However, I only knew of one type of poisonous snake here in Illinois, the Timber Rattlesnake and they are pretty rare, nor are they swimmers.

I made sure not to corner him and figured as long as he had an escape route, he wouldn’t come at me. Glad he agreed with me!

This snake likes to bask in the daylight hours on rocks, vines and trees, where it freaks out passing kayakers… Although this species may occasionally forage during the day, they are usually more active at night. Activity levels of this species relates to the temperature of water and ambient temperature. They mate in spring, then in late summer, Mama Snake gives birth to 20-50 live young in late July or August. Mothers do not care for their young; as soon as they are born, it’s survival of the fittest.

Some quick Water Snake facts:

  • The water snake averages 22 to 36 inches in length.
  • Water snakes have many predators including birds, opossums, foxes, raccoons, turtles, other snakes and people.
  • Although they are solitary, aside from mating season, this snake will hibernate in dens with other snakes.
  • They are not poisonous, however if picked-up, they will bite, poop and to top it all off, shoot a pungent musk at you. Blech! You can be sure I’ll never find this out first hand!

After doing my research, I found many sites that explain the difference between the poisonous snakes from the innocent, Water Snake.

 

 

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

 

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