Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Painted Turtle with Snapping Turtle

A number of years ago I was witness to an odd animal sight; two small painted turtles, Chrysemys picta basking on a floating snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina.  Nobody really believed me.

But this week I saw a similar sight (and with witnesses).  This time it was one painted turtle with one snapping turtle.  The snapper was mostly submerged with just its snout out of the water.  The painted turtle was floating just  above it.  Occasionally the painted turtle took a good nibble at the snapper.  We all expected retaliation from the snapping turtle, but none came.  The snapper barely registered the bite.

So what was happening?  We entertained a few ideas before coming up with a plausible explanation.  We speculated that the painted turtle was eating leeches off the snapper.  Later I looked for some information on this behavior.  I found a few references to this behavior, including a scholarly article from the journal Canadian Field Naturalist.  I wonder if this is a rare interaction, or maybe only occurs in certain types of water bodies.  Or maybe it's a common, but rarely observed because snapping turtles spend so much of their lives at the bottom of lakes and pond.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Two Late May Moths

Nessus Sphinx Moth - Amphion floridensis
In the Sphinx Moth family, Sphingidae.  It's been in our backyard for a few days; its wings are pretty beat up so its usually in the grass struggling to fly.  We've been putting it on Virginia Waterleaf that grows abundantly in our yard and is in full bloom right now.  But the next time I see it, I'm going to put it on a grapevine, which is what the larva feed on.

Polyphemus Moth - Antheraea polyphemus

Giant Silkworm and Royal Moth family, Saturniidae.  Thank you Debbie for showing me this moth and not thinking it was a big leaf.

Both moths happen to feature a character from Greek mythology in their names.  Nessus was a centaur whose trickery led to the death of Heracles.  Polyphemus was a cyclops from the Odyssey.  There's a tradition of naming moths the larger North American Silkworm moths after figures from Greek mythology.  A few sphinx moths have myth inspired name, but not consistently so.  If anything, many N. American sphinx moths are named after their caterpillar's host plant.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Late May Moth Caterpillars

Fall Cankerworm, Alsophila pometaria hanging underneath a partially eaten basswood leaf.

a. Fall Cankerworm, A. pometaria on a basswood leaf
b. Linden Looper, Erannis tiliaria on an elm leaf
c. Spring Cankerworm, Paleacrita vernata on an elm leaf
d. partially eaten elm leaf
e. Fall Cankerworm under a Brock Magiscope
f. Copper Underwing, Amphipyra pyramidoides on a basswood leaf
g. Fall Cankerworm
h. Linden Looper under a Brock Magiscope
i. Oblique-banded Leafroller Moth, Choristoneura rosaceana on basswood leaf.  I'm less certain about the id of this one.  There are a number of green leafroller moths with black heads.  I arrived at my id by cross checking the food plant database at (a site dedicated to leafroller moths) with the range maps at Moth Photographers group.  This narrowed down the choices to about a dozen moths.  Then I compared photographs of the caterpillars to my photographs.  Even if I'm wrong about the id, it was a fun process!
j. rolled basswood leaf of leafroller moth
k. partially eaten basswood leaf
l. Spring Cankerworm on elm leaf

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Black Morel Art

I did a rough version of this picture a few years ago, but I wanted to redo it and make it available at Red Bubble.

My original intent was to put together all the "Black" Morel species and their habitat preferences that could possibly be found in Minnesota into a kind of graphic id guide.  But it evolved into something much more decorative and stylized.

If you're interested in knowing more about the various species of morels in North America, I highly recommend the Morchella page at Mushroom Expert.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

An Illustrated Life List: American Woodcock

American Woodcocks, Scolopax minor performing their aerial mating display.  They spiral up into the sky then zig-zag back down to ground.  Along the way, stiff feathers on the wings produce a variety of chirps and twitters.  Woodcocks display in the early spring at dusk and dawn. 
This dramatic display is at odds with the woodcock's normally secretive and ground hugging habits.  Everything about Woodcocks except the mating displays is built around a very terrestrial life style.  The brown and grey feathers come together to make patterns that allow them to virtually disappear into their surroundings.  Their beak is very long and skinny (and doesn't really seem to belong on the bird's small head).  It appears to pull the whole bird downward to the ground which, not surprisingly, is where Woodcocks find their food.  They poke the mud and dirt in search of worms.  Their vermicular searches are aided by a beak tip that has a sense of touch and a bit of flexibility.  Though their whole head is oriented in an earthly direction, their gaze is often directed up and outwards by eyes that are situated far back along the sides of the heads, watching for potential predators.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


Procyon is one of the bright stars that makes up the Winter Circle or Winter Hexagon, a group of bright stars and prominent constellations visible throughout the winter in northern latitudes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


Drawing of Canis Major adapted from H.A. Rey's "The Stars" Information from "The Brightest Stars" by Fred Schaaf

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Fuzzy Rainbow Centipede

This stuffed animal has crossed my path twice in recent weeks.  I believe it's supposed to be a caterpillar.  But actually it's a centipede.  A really colorful, fluffy centipede.  Look past the exaggerated cartoon features and it is without a doubt a centipede; a many segmented animal with one pair of legs per segment.  But how many kids want a cuddly centipede?  Probably not many.  I'm pretty sure the intention was to make a caterpillar so why wasn't a bit more attention placed on the arrangement of legs so it looks more like a caterpillar?

I'm fine with animals being depicted unrealistically, abstracted, or with  anthropomorphic features.  But there's a fine line for me between creative license and dumb, uninformed design choices.  Admittedly this line of mine is vague and idiosyncratic, but I think it boils down to to something simple and consistent: do the deviations from reality made in depicting or crafting an animal somehow support or enhance the purpose of that particular depiction.  For example, an animal speaking in a story might advance the plot or make for a more interesting character.

Let's see how this works out practice, using the stuffed animal pictured above as an example.  I'll go through each feature and explain why I'm ok with all the cartoon, anthropomorphic features of this toy, but that the leg arrangement clearly means it's a centipede.

  • The face is smiling.  Neither centipedes nor caterpillars can smile, having no lips, and a more realistic face for either would seriously compromise the cute factor of the stuffed animal.
  • Two simple eyes.  Centipede eyes vary from group to group.  Some have no eyes, others have two or more simple eyes and some like the common house centipede (Scutigera sp.) have compound eyes.  Caterpillars typically have six pairs of simple eyes.  Our stuffed animal has two, apparently simple, eyes.  This detail would indicate centipede, but I'm willing to let it go, because two eyes greatly increases the approachability factor for kids.
  • Two antennae.  Check, appropriate for both groups of animals.
  • Multiple colors.  I'm ok with the color scheme.  Caterpillars and centipedes come in a variety of colors.  The rainbow assortment adds an additional element of imagination and fun.
  • Fluffy.  It's a stuffed animal, it better be fluffy.
So far all these features, though not realistic, are ok with me because they enhance the the appeal of the toy.
  • Number of segments.  There's quite a range for centipedes, from fifteen up to one hundred and seventy-some (sources vary).  They always an odd number of leg pairs, so despite the name centipede meaning "hundred footed" they can never have one hundred feet. Caterpillars generally have fourteen segments: one head, three thoracic, and ten abdominal.  You could also group each type of caterpillar segment together for a total of three segments, as is generally done when describing insects.  This is where I start to question the caterpillar identity of this toy because it has seventeen body segment.
  • Number of legs per segment.  Centipedes have one pair of legs per segment.  Caterpillars have three pairs of legs, one per thoracic segment, and usually five pairs of prolegs, one pair each on abdominal segments three through six and ten.  I'm very willing to allow thoracic legs and prolegs to be made the same way on a toy, but this stuffed animal clearly has one pair of legs per segment, which clearly indicates a centipede.  There's no reason to do this if your intention was to make a caterpillar; it doesn't increase the toy's appeal or make it more fun or cuddly.  It just makes it a centipede.  If they wanted a caterpillar, they should have paid more attention to the number and arrangement of legs.