Thursday, October 27, 2011

Linden Looper Moth

Linden Looper - Erannis tilliaria
Also known as the Winter Moth.  I've been seeing them here and there since some time in September.  The caterpillars are a type of inchworm (family Geometridae).  The Linden Looper is well adapted to the cold, which hasn't mattered much this fall given the warm weather.

I've found a lot of Linden Looper Mothsthis fall perched on the side of the garage at Westwood Hills Nature Center.  The males are attracted to the lights that stay on all night on the garage.  They don't seem to be doing much; I've found a number of them in the exact same spot for days; I haven't counted how many days in a row, more than three I suppose, usually by that time I can't resist the urge to poke at one to see if it's still alive.  They always are and fly away.  My question from this observation is why don't they move at all, apparently not even at night since they'll stay in the exact same spot (until I get too curious).  If they are in one spot for days, they aren't feeding or mating, the only two things that moths really do (as far as I know).

The female Linden Looper Moths are flightless, which is the case for a number of cold weather Geometrids.  I wonder why this is, and if flightless females are found in other groups of moths in other seasons.  I'm only aware of flightless females in the Geometridae (but I'm by know means a moth expert).  From an evolutionary perspective you would wonder what the advantage of this trait is, and it how might be related to the cold (there are Geometrid moths with flightless females active in the spring and fall).  I found an article that may provide some answers entitled "Evolutionary Adaptation of Contractile Performance in Muscle of Ectothermic Winter-Flying Moths" by James H. Marden in The Journal of Experimental Biology.  I'll let you know what I find out.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

False Turkey Tail

False Turkey Tail - Stereum ostrea
I took a walk at Wolsfeld Woods SNA today, near Long Lake.  I had the place to myself, it being a rather chilly, windy, and rain spattered day.  The woods looked quite bare, but still appealing; the ground was carpeted with various browns from the fallen oak and maple leaves, and since most of the leaves were on the ground I had a clear view of the completely appropriate for October grey sky.  Despite the bareness and openness of the woods, I somehow felt comfortably enclosed and sheltered, with the sky and ground seeming closer together than usual.  I suppose you had to be there.

I found many logs covered with False Turkey Tails, Stereum ostrea, all bleached out in appearance due to the mostly dry weather we've been having I suppose.  I knew it could be a more colorful fungus, so I tried an experiment; I sprayed one with water, taking a picture after each spray.  The change was dramatic . . .
another spray (and waiting for the flash to recharge or whatever it does) . . .
more water . . .
one last spray . . .
It stayed this color for the ten or so more minutes that I hung around (nothing better to do than watch fungus dry).

Monday, October 17, 2011

Saturday, October 8, 2011

White Mushroom on a Cottonwood Log

Destructive Pholiota - Pholiota destruens
The Destructive Pholiota (a pretty dramatic name).  I found this one growing out of a cut Cottonwood log (Populus deltoides).  The cap is covered with cottony scales, soft to the touch. 
 The stalk is also covered with cottony scales, with a vague ring, above which the stalk is smooth.
The cottony scales also overhang the margins of the cap. 

It produces a cinnamon-brown spore print; you can sort of see the brownish stains of the spores on the gills in the above photo.

It's edible, but not one to seek out.  The name, Destructive Pholiota, apparently comes from the fact that it quickly decays the wood it inhabits.  It'll be interesting to watch this log and see if it indeed does seem to decay away more quickly (I'll report back in a few decades).

Smeared Dagger Caterpillar

Smartweed Caterpillar - Acronicta oblinata
Also known as the Smartweed Caterpillar.  The caterpillar is fairly variable in it's coloration, but seems to usually show the yellow blotches along its side and the reddish hairy warts (a little more clear in the second picture).  It's a member of the Noctuidae, the largest moth and butterfly family in the world.

Along with its coloration, its food preferences are also variable.  The name, Smartweed Caterpillar might lead you to think it favors Smartweeds (Polygonum spp), but it eats a wide variety of forbs, shrubs and trees.  This one was munching on Cattails (Typha).  The adult moth is pretty drab, with  variously shaded, nondescript brown markings on a whitish background.  This caterpillar was found at Westwood Hills Nature Center; next time I find a vaguely brownish moth at Westwood, I'll see check first to see if it's a Smeared Dagger.