Monday, September 28, 2009

More Flora and Fauna

The weather has been dull lately - threats of rain have persisted for days, and a cold front passed yesterday with gusts to 40 mph (60kph) today - no chance of new images! So I'm culling out some more from my previous excursions to our local forest preserve.

First up is a critter I've not seen before, even though they are supposed to be common throughout North America - the Red-Banded Leafhopper, Graphocephala coccinea. Probably the reason that you have likely not seen it is that it is small, only about .25" (6mm) long and thus easy to miss. Strolling along the prairie path at Tekakwitha, I somehow managed to spot it on the leaf of a Milkweed (I was looking out for Monarch caterpillars, so was paying close attention to the Milkweeds), and it was quite content to pose proudly while I fiddled to get closer and focused accurately. They feed on plant sap and if threatened, can jump long distances with their hind legs. I only spotted this one example, but got lots of images...

I spotted our friendly black squirrel again - this time he ran up a tree acorn in mouth and was content to feed while safely out of my reach. We had spotted him a few times last year, and even posted him about him then with a picture, again, acorn in mouth. I suspect they are territorial, as I've always spotted him (upwards of a half dozen times now) always within 50 yards or so of the same spot - the SE corner of the Tekakwitha Woods adjoining the parking area. They are a melanistic variety of the eastern grey squirrel, and a black squirrel can be born to grey parents, but the black is certainly striking in it's appearance. It is thought they might have an evolutionary advantage on the northern edge of the grey squirrel range because they have increased cold tolerance (emit less heat than greys), and are harder to spot in denser northern forests.

We are starting to get some nice fall colors, lots of yellows and golds from maples, and reds from the Virginia Creeper vines in the woods. But the most striking reds are right at the trailhead off the parking lot at Tekakwitha of the Staghorn Sumac. My local plant guidebook (Kane County Wild Plants & Natural Areas) says the seeds taste like lemonade if you can get to them before the birds, but I've not been brave enough to eat any... At left is the Sumac, at right a Creeper leaf among the usual yellows of early Fall.

Last up is a family infestation of a single Milkweed plant. I knew it was not a Milkweed Beetle, and when I visited the nature center at Tekakwitha, the woman there IDed my pictures as the Large Milkweed Bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus. Only the adults have wings, the nymphs (immature) bugs show the wing growth at various stages. With the identification, my Internet search indicates there are 5 molts of the nymphs from egg hatching to adulthood, and these images show 3 of the stages, from the barely visible wing stubs of the smallest, to the fully developed adults. Milkweed is their primary food source and they are part of a small group of insects that can tolerate the toxic sap of the Milkweed. They concentrate the toxins in their body, and predators well remember the bad taste that results. Their bright colors then teach the predators to avoid similar colors, saving monarch butterflies from similar fates.

And I almost forgot Bruce, our resident groundhog here at Riverwoods. We've seen him almost daily as he feeds for his Winter hibernation, oftentimes looking like a boulder in the yard as he pauses to watch for danger. Ironically, you can get much closer to him in a car than in person, so this is from a drive-by sequence as he sits near his burrow as I pass. He seems healthy and happy, though we've not seen any buddies or babies around either. At one point he made a run for it under our shed, which is fine by us - I know not everyone here at the camp looks at him kindly, so we'd be glad to host him under our shed if that is what it takes for him to be safe... Its always nice to come home to a friendly, if not shy, face!

1 comment:

David Oesper said...

Dean, these photos and accompanying descriptions are wonderful! You inspire me to regularly take a lot closer look at the natural world under my feet rather than just looking up all the time. Thanks!