Monday, September 19, 2011

Large Maple Spanworm Moth

Large Maple Spanworm Moth - Prochoerodes lineola
I've been photographing moths I find on walls or windows.  I've gotten some strange looks.  I suppose to a passerby, it does look strange, because they probably don't see the moth, and it looks like I'm taking a close up of just a wall or window.  Or maybe they do see the moth and they still think it's strange.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fall Cankerworm Moth

Fall Cankerworm Moth - Alsophila pometaria
A small drab moth.  I didn't think I'd be able to identify it without a lot of work and randomly searching through moth pictures.  But I stumbled upon its photograph in "Moths and Caterpillars of the North Woods" by Jim Sogaard while trying to identify a different moth.  When I saw the picture it made sense.  Cankerworms have been quite common at Westwood Hills Nature Center (where I found this moth and a few others) the past few springs.  Last year there were so many Cankerworm caterpillars that you would hear what sounded like rain falling in certain parts of the woods at Westwood.  The sound was all the frass (caterpillar poop) falling through the leaves.  Some trees appeared to be almost completely defoliated, but none seemed to suffer permanent damage.

The Fall Cankerworm overwinters as an egg, the caterpillar feeds in the spring, pupates, and the adult moth flies and mates in the fall, often in cold weather.  The similar (especially the caterpillar) Spring Cankerworm, Paleacrita vernata, feeds as a caterpillar in the spring, like the Fall Cankerworm, but drops to the ground and burrows, waiting until late winter to pupate.  The adult Spring Cankerworm flies in the early cold spring.  In both cases the females are flightless. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Mushrooms this Week

Jack O'Lanterns, Omphalotus illudens.  It's poisonous, it glows in the dark (under the right conditions it seems), and a potential anti-cancer drug has been developed from it.  It also smells quite good; I'm not sure how to describe it, maybe sweet and almond extract-like.  I carried one back, along with some other mushrooms, in my hat the other day.  My hat smelled like the Jack O'Lantern for much of the day (and made me think of spores germinating in my hair).
A Black-footed Polypore, Polyporus badius.  These mushrooms have been sprouting on the same log every summer at Westwood Hills Natuer Center for at least the last six years (when I first started getting into mushrooms and noticed them)
I think this is the Urban Agaricus, Agaricus bitorquis, which often sprouts in hard-packed soil (this one along a bike path), often basically underground.  Most late summers, I see this mushroom relatively often along boulevards and bike paths, but it seems to be relatively scarce this year, maybe because of the dry August we've had.
 I found a few of these nice looking mushrooms growing in the middle of the somewhat mowed and maintained NPS St Croix Trail (it suffered tornado damage last year.  It had a brittle cap and gills and no latex, so I think it's a species of Russula.  For fun, I'll call it the Goth Russula for its black cap and the thirteen mosquitoes sucking blood from one of my feet when I stopped to photograph it (bad idea to wear sandals and no bug spray in the woods in August in Minnesota).
 Velvet-footed Pax, Paxillus atrotomentosus
 A faded Sulfur Shelf, Laetiporus sulphureus

A stinkhorn, Mutinus sp, growing in our backyard. 
I'm pretty sure these are a species of Armillaria, probably A. mellea, but they seem to have more yellow "accessories" than is mentioned in most descriptions of this species.  In the picture below, notice the yellow fibers on the cap, the yellow-tinged ring, and the yellow fibrils on the stem.  A. mellea is usually described with these features, but usually of a darker color.   

There's another species, A. sinapina that apparently features these same yellow accessories, but only in the Northeast, but not out West where they are colored differently (some shade of brown I assume).  And I'm in the Midwest, so is it yellow or something else?  Either way, I don't think the mushrooms in my photograph are A. sinapina because that species grows singly or in groups of two to three.  These mushrooms were in large clusters of twenty to thirty. 

I spent awhile looking over Tom Volk's Key to North American Armillaria species, amongst other sources while trying to determine what species of Honey Mushroom I had found.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Forsaken Underwing

Forsaken Underwing - Catocala relicta
Also known as the White Underwing, or the Relic Underwing.  The Underwing moths (genus Catocala) are known for their boldly marked underwings.  I couldn't get a photo of this one's underwing, but any time I got to close it would launch itself from its perch and fly quickly, but erratically to a new perch.  I saw it do this three times before it disappeared around the corner of the house, but each time it flew it was obvious that the underwings were marked with distinct black and white bands, which made identification fairly easy since it's the only Underwing Moth to have black and white only under its wings (most also have some shade of pink, orange, or yellow).

This one was perched on the Silver Maple in our front yard.  They prefer to perch on trees with light colored bark, where the coloration of their forewings keeps them camouflaged.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Brown-Hooded Owlet Caterpillar

Brown-Hooded Owlet Caterpillar - Cucullina convexipennis
A very colorful caterpillar.  It feeds on the leaves and flowers of asters and goldenrods (I've only seen it on goldenrods).  It doesn't seem particularly abundant at Westwood Hills Nature Center, where I found this one (and goldenrod is fairly abundant).  It doesn't make any attempt to hid or conceal itself, so I wonder, with its bright coloration, how it avoids predation.  Maybe the bright colors are to advertise its unpalatability to would be predators, or maybe it's faking it, hoping that the bright colors look like some kind of warning (ok, I know, its a caterpillar and it's probably not hoping for anything, just munching leaves and flowers, but maybe that's how it has evolved to avoid predation).  Or maybe it's just that a lot of them get eaten and if it could just get rid of the excessive coloration there would be a lot more Brown-Hooded Owlets around.

Whatever the case may be, it's a stunning caterpillar.  However, the adult moth it turns into after overwintering in the ground as a pupa is decidedly unstunning, and very brown.  If the caterpillar is toxic, or sends a false signal of toxicity, than as an adult it seems to switch strategies and rely on cryptic coloration to avoid being eaten.