Thursday, May 31, 2012

Plume Moths

A distinctive family of moths (Pterophoridae) that fold up their wings and hold them perpendicular to their body when at rest.  The wings are actually more elaborate than they appear; the forewings are deeply divided into two lobes, while the hind wings are typically divided into three lobes.

There are about 150 species in North America.  Easy to recognize as a family, but identification to species is very challenging.
In general, information about these moths is lacking.  But this seems to be a good time of year to look for them, all three of these pictures were taken today.  I had my eye out for moth photography opportunities, but I wasn't looking for Plume Moths in particular.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Gray Hairstreak

Gray Hairstreak - Strymon melinus
If you see a small bluish-gray butterfly flying around your yard, there's a good chance it's a Gray Hairstreak (if you're somewhere between southern Canada and northern South America).  The caterpillars feed on a wide variety of flowers and fruits.  This butterfly was getting nectar from a white clover flower.

A friend of mine told me I should include some butterfly pictures because all the moth photos are kind of creepy (it's like you can feel one crawling in your hair as you read those moth posts).  I've found that butterflies are more challenging to photograph than moths, plus there are about 20 times more species of  moth, so there is more variety in subject matter.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Recent Mushrooms - Late May 2012

Wine-cap Stropharia - Stropharia rugoso-annulata

A distinctive mushroom commonly found in wood chips with the following features when fresh: large stature, wine-red cap, thick veil covering the gills.
As it develops, the cap fades to a reddish-tan, the veil forms a thick ring on the stalk, revealing the purplish-grey gills.
These two are past their prime, the caps well faded and expanded.  The Wine-cap Stropharia is a good edible, and pretty easy to identify.  In my opinion, it's best when the cap is still unexpanded, otherwise the texture gets to soggy.
Naomi and I collected about a dozen and carried them back to our car in my hat.  At home i cleaned them up, cut off the stems and marinated them with soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger powder, and pepper.  Later in the day they were grilled by my dad.
They were sampled by about a half dozen people, and the overall verdict was that they were quite tasty.

Mica Cap - Coprinellus micaceus

A pretty common mushroom found throughout the warmer months that grows from decaying wood (the wood is sometimes buried, giving the mushroom a terrestrial appearance).  When it is fresh the cap is covered with shiny flecks, that wear off with age.  It is a coprinoid, or inky cap mushroom, but they don't seem to dissolve into black "ink" as much as some others.

Leathery-veiled Bolete - Paragyrodon sphaerosporus

Featured in a post from last June.

Stropharia sp.

Possibly Stropharia kauffmanii.  Note the scaly cap, growth in wood chips . . .
Fleshy ring on the scaly stalk,  purplish-black gills . . .
and in the above photo you can see the dark purple spores that accumulated on the stalk above the ring.   My mushroom was lighter in color than what was described, but it was also pretty dried up and probably not fresh.

  Unknown mushroom

Maybe a species of Agrocybe.  It had a brown spore print, but I forgot any other relevant details.  I should've taken some notes or more pictures

Friday, May 18, 2012

White-striped Black Moth

White-striped Black Moth - Trichodezia albovittata
Another member of the Geometridae.  It's a day flying moth, this one is nectaring on a raspberry flower.  The caterpillars feed on Jewelweed (Impatians spp).  

Recent Mushrooms - Mid May 2012

Fawn Mushroom - Pluteus cervinus

Wolf's Milk Slime - Lycogala epidendrum

When you poke it, it squirts out a thick, dark pink liquid, as follows:

Spring Agrocybe - Agrocybe praecox species cluster

Mycena sp

Mycenas are some of my favorite mushrooms.  Many of the are very small.  They are one of the inspirations for this blog; slow down and look closer.

Gymnopilus sp

I'm not certain if it's a species of Gymnopilus (and I'm not certain how you are supposed to write the name if you're uncertain not only of the species, but the genus; maybe Gymnopilus cf, or Gymnopilus?).  Reddish-orange cap, yellow gills, ring zone on the stem, growth on wood, and a rusty spore print .

Unknown mushroom

All the mushrooms in this post were found at various locations in Hennepin Co., MN.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Comfrey Smells Like Crackers

Comfrey - Symphytum offinale
Adele, Naomi, and I were walking a few blocks from where we had parked to the Minneapolis Farmer's Market.  We passed a patch of Comfrey growing in the tall grass along the side of an unkempt building.  They both picked some for their Mother's Day boutique (they did "better" later by scavenging fallen blossoms on the ground at the Farmer's Market.  And we did buy actually buy a boutique).  While waiting for a walk sign at a busy intersection, Adele exclaims "This flower smells like crackers!".  I had never smelled Comfrey before; it definitely has a distinct, though not strong odor to it.  And I have to agree with Adele, it sort of does smell like crackers.

Even though it smells like crackers, I wouldn't recommend eating it.  Comfrey contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids which can be toxic in high enough doses.  It has a long history of use as a medicinal plant both externally and internally, but because of its potentially toxic effects, not everyone believes it is safe to use internally.  It is also an excellent plant to add to compost because its long roots can pull up nutrients that are unavailable to many plants.

I find it an attractive flower.  The flower stalks we picked quickly wilted and became unsuitable for a "weedy" boutique.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Many-lined Carpet Moth

Many-lined Carpet Moth - Anticlea multiferata

I love the colors and patterns on this little moth.  It's a member of the Geometridae, or the Loopers, Inchworms, and Spanworms.  The caterpillars feed on willow-herb (Epilobium spp) and Prostrate Knotweed. (Polygonum aviculare).

Rhemaptera undulata is another almost identical species of moth in this area, though less boldly marked  Willows, among a handful of other plants, are a food source for the caterpillars of this moth.  It could be either moth; the only way to know for sure is to look closely at the genitalia.  I guess I'd rather enjoy it as it is; though maybe I'll come across the caterpillars later in the year and know with more certainty.  The caterpillars of R. prunivorta are boldly marked with dark brown, white, and cream colored markings while R. undulata is much blander, light colored inchworm.  The Cherry Scallop Shell caterpillars also feed in big groups, which is unusual for in Geometridae.

Spiny Baskettail Dragonfly

Spiny Baskettail - Tetragoneuria spinigera
These dragonflies emerge en masse every spring at Westwood Hills Nature Center.  Usually their emergence is at the end of May, but this year they were about two weeks early.
There are three species of Baskettail dragonflies found in Minnesota: Spiny, Common, and Beavertail.  They are best identified by looking at the shape and size of the paired appendages (called the cerci) found at the end of the abdomen.  The cerci (along with the epiproct, located below the cerci) is used by male dragonflies to grasp the female during copulation, and helps direct the females genitalia to the males hamulus, or secondary genitalia, where the sperm has been transferred to.  Mating in dragonflies is a pretty complicated affair in dragonflies, and often highly competitive.  For more details, refer to "Dragonflies of the North Woods" by Kurt Mead, which has a short and clear description of the process.  I also highly recommend sitting on a dock and just watching dragonflies for awhile.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Conk Watch 2012 - May

The undersides of the conks are mostly covered with new fungal growth, covering up last year's moldy, fungal growth (if you know what I mean).  I just took the one picture this time, since the overall sizes of the conks haven't really changed, and there are no new ones.

The Basswood tree that these conks grow on is still holding on a bit.  It had about five leaves on two branches.  And it's sending up the sucker (pictured below).  It might be fun to follow the growth and development of this sucker too (Sucker Watch?).

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Fall Cankerworm

Fall Cankerworm, Alsophila pometaria (family Geometridae, the loopers, inchworms, and spanworms).  The name is a bit confusing since this caterpillar is active in the spring.  The "fall" part of the name refers to the time of the year when the adult moth is active.  There is another caterpillar called the Spring Cankerworm, with both the caterpillar and adult moth active in the spring.
The Fall Caterpillar is highly variable in coloration.  One way to tell it's an Fall Cankerworm is to look for the extra half of a proleg (not very visible in my pictures).  Caterpillars in the Geometridae usually only have two prolegs, as opposed to the typical five found in other caterpillars

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Recent Mushrooms - Early May 2012

Morel - Morchella  sp.
Check out this article in the journal Mycologia for the latest in North American morel taxonomy.
Spring Agrocybe - Agrocybe praecox species cluster
Growing in a pile of woody debris and leaves in the corner of a parking lot.  I like this picture because it shows the same mushroom in different stages of growth.  A few days later I found some that had caps 4 inches in diameter, and stalks 8 inches long, about the maximum for this species group.  Read here for more on why the Spring Agrocybe is a species cluster (it's interesting, and makes me think about observation, and howmuch more is going on than we can see).
Inky Caps - Coprinoid mushrooms
 With all of the rain, it seems that Inky Caps are everywhere.
 I've never paid much attention to them before.  I think it's time I start.
Velvet Foot - Flammulina velutipes
Also extremely common, especially on elm stumps it seems (not that I've been looking at elm stumps mind you).
Deadly Galerina - Galerina marginata
Similar to the Velvet Foot, but with a ring zone on the stalk (not always easy to see), and a brown spore print (instead of white).  i've found it on fallen logs, while the Velvet Foot seems to prefer stumps.
Hexagonal-pored Polypore - Favolus alveolaris

Unknown mushrooms

 Both with white spore prints, the first on the ground, the second on a stick.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Woodlouse Hunter Spider

Woodlouse Hunter - Dysdera crocata
We found a few of these spiders while turning over rocks at Boom Island.  They feed exclusively on Woodlice (order Isopoda), which are also know as Potato Bugs, Pill Bugs, Sow Bugs, Roly-polys, and Isopods.  Despite the common names, they are not "bugs" or insect, but land dwelling crustaceans.

The Woodlouse Hunter has an oversized set of chelicerae, or jaws, used for piercing the isopod's hard shell.  They usually live under rocks, and the spider pictured was under a large rock with dozens of isopods.  As we watched the spider, Naomi and Adele cautioned me to be careful because it might bite.  I told them that most spiders don't bite and everything was fine.  It turns out they do bite, but other than causing some irritation, the bite is harmless.

Some of the rocks we turned over we through into the river to make an island, as the kids called it.  We made sure every critter was off the rocks before tossing them into the water.  I'm glad my kids shared my concern for the welfare of all the critters, even the ones that bite.  Ok, I guess if we were really, really concerned, we wouldn't have thrown their home into the water in the first place, but I believe a bit of hands-on fun and exploration goes a long way to creating a long term ethic of caring for the environment, and the sort of "don't touch, it's nature" attitude does not.