Friday, October 28, 2011

Red Admiral Butterfly

This beautiful black and red butterfly is a red admiral (Vanessa atalanta), and they are a common sight throughout Missouri as well as their entire range of North America, Asia and Europe. There are two generations per year in the United States, and each generation varies a little. The winter form that appears early in the spring will be smaller and duller in color, whereas the summer form will be much larger and brighter in color. Their wingspan will range in size from 1 3/4 to 3 inches.

Most of North America must be recolonized each spring by southern migrants of this species. They are known to overwinter in Southern Texas, and most likely in other southern regions where the temperatures and food sources will allow. They have a very erratic, rapid flight that can make capturing them or photographing them difficult, but they are one of the most beautiful butterflies to visit any garden.

The adults feed on sap flows, rotting fruit, and bird droppings. They nectar only when those preferred food sources are not available. When found nectaring they seem to prefer common milkweed, red clover, coneflower, aster, and alfalfa, but will also be found on other varieties as well.

Males perch on ridgetops where available to wait for passing females.....if no ridgetops are available they will choose high vantage points that allow them a good view of neary females. After mating, females will lay their eggs singly on the leaves of the host plant. In the case of these butterflies they use nettles, and possibly hops.

Their preferred habitat is moist woods, yards, parks, marshes, seeps, moist fields. During migrations, the Red Admiral is found in almost any habitat from tundra to subtropics.

I find them in my gardens in large numbers each year, both because I have nettles that I allow to grow in small populations to encourage their visit, and because our yard is near a moist woodland. Nettles are not generally the favorite plant of most people, although they are edible if fixed right. If you can manage to tolerate a few stray nettles you are amost guaranteed to attract this species to your yard.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A big Hello and Thank you

I just wanted to write and Thank each one of my followers and visitors for your kind comments and enthusiastic support of MObugs. I appreciate each and every one of you. I may not always leave comments on your blogs, but trust me I am visiting, reading and enjoying your posts very much. I count my blessing each day to have such wonderful "web-friends."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Plains Dog-Day Cicada

This small cicada is the Plains Dog-Day Cicada (Tibicen auriferus). They are found throughout most of the Midwestern states. This is one of eleven species of cicadas that call Missouri home. They measure approximately one inch in length with the wings extending another 1/4 to 1/2 inch past the abdomen.

They are commonly found in grasslands and meadows near forested areas. These were found on a farm my husband family owns in Andrew County. It is predominately tall grass meadows with woodlands...perfect habitat for these cicadas. What is odd though, this is the first time we've ever found them on this farm. They have a very distinct call that sounds like a chainsaw cutting wood. It is very high pitched an whiney.

This species reportedly feeds on vascular plants such as conifers, ferns and horsetails. They are found from July through September which are typically the hottest days of the year. It is the emergence of these cicadas in conjunction with the "dogdays" of summer that has earned them their common name of Dog-day cicadas.

Cicadas are an important part of the food chain and provide nutrition for many animals from mice, squirrels, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and even large spiders.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Admirable Grasshopper


Admirable Grasshoppers (Syrbula admirabilis) are sometimes referred to as handsome grasshoppers and it is easy to see why. This is one of the prettiest species of grasshoppers to call Missouri home. They occur throughout the central and eastern portions of the United States including Arizona. Males and females look different from each other so it is somewhat easy to differentiate them. Males are darker, even blackish in color and are smaller than females. The females is generally green or brown. Males are good fliers, whereas females are poor fliers and typically hop to get away.  They are associated with dry grassy areas, like prairies, meadows and hay fields. 


This grasshopper feeds on a wide variety of plants, but is not known to cause any significant damage to forage or agricultural crops. Their population density tends to fluctuate from year to year. I rarely see more that a few individuals at a time in any given area. This is a late emerging species and the nymphs begin appearing in July. Mating between adults takes place late in the season after an elaborate mating ritual initiated by the male. He will wave his antennae, sing loudly and tipping his femora (thick upper portion of the back legs) towards the female. The males do not force themselves on the female like in many other species. I guess you could say these are the gentlemen of the grasshopper world. Once mated the female will lay egg masses under the ground. These egg masses will overwinter and emerge the following summer.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Diamondback Water Snake

On a recent trip to Squaw Creek NWR Cindy and I drove the 10 mile auto tour and discovered this beautiful snake in the road. Upon first seeing the snake her and I thought it was a northern water snake which are very common around here. I posted these pictures to facebook and soon received a correction from a friend and snake expert named Dan Krull that this snake was instead a Diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer rhombifer). Even better,as I had never seen this species before.

Water snakes are notoriously cranky snakes and often strike without warning. This feisty demeanor has earned them a bad reputation. In addition they are often mistaken for the venomous Cottonmouth and needlessly killed. While it is true they very much resemble the cottonmouth and hang out in the same environments and habitats as the cottonmouth the cottonmouth does not occur this far north in Missouri. The likelihood of actually seeing a cottonmouth in NW Missouri is less than 1%. However with global warming, habitat destruction and human persecution that could change over time and their populations could extend further north. This however would be many decades in the future and certainly not a concern now.

The diamondback water snake occurs in southeastern Missouri and over much of the northern, western and eastern parts of the state. It appears to be absent from the ozarks, as their favored habitat of marshes and wetlands are severely lacking in that region. These are the largest of all the water snake species found in Missouri and are very heavy-bodied. They have numerous diamond-shaped markings along their back which earned them their common name. This species has a high variance in color and may be gray, light brown and even a dull yellow. The belly is bright yellow and there are distinctive black lines running vertically through the mouth. This species may reach lengths up to more than 5 feet, but more commonly are in the 4 foot range.

They are active from late March until October. They can be found basking on logs or over hanging branches near water. During the hottest parts of the year they become nocturnal and will be found warming on roadways at night. These snakes can be highly aggressive and if molested will not hestitate to bite. This particular specimen was extremely tolerant and only struck when I placed my foot near its face. It allowed us to take numerous photos and actually had to be coaxed off the road so it would not be hit by the next car to come along. I am always quick to try and remove a snake from the road, as many drivers are not as tolerant of snakes as I am. Many people feel it is their duty to remove all snakes from their region and go out of their way to do so. Many snakes are cruely and needlessly killed on the roads each year.

Like all water snakes this species feeds on frogs, fish and other aquatic creatures. They are considered a bit of an expert at catching catfish and seem to favor that particular variety of fish over all others. Many would argue that if they are eating fish and frogs what good are they? Well they aid in culling out diseased, weakened or even dead fish from an ecosytem. Frogs can and do become over populated and need to have their numbers regulated, and these snakes do an awesome job of that. Out west where the large bullfrog has become invasive and is waging war against native frogs, these water snakes do their part to reduce the number of bullfrogs in those areas.

Water snakes give birth to live young sometime in late August through October. They may have as many as 62 offspring that will measure a foot or more in length. After the first freeze these snakes will return to their hibernation sites. It is at this time these snakes may be found most anywhere. They travel sometimes up to a mile or more to reach those hibernaculums.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Widefooted Treehopper

This odd looking thorn-like creature is a widefooted leafhopper (Campylenchia latipes). They have mastered the art of camouflage to perfection. When they sit quietly, unmoving, they are easily mistaken for the thorns they mimic. It isn't until they quickly move around the stalk of a plant that the ruse is discovered. According to this is the only treehopper with the forward facing "horn" on its head. They are brown in color with flanged or wide spread leaf-life front legs. They have large eyes for their overall size.

This species is often tended by ants (you can see the nearby ant in the first picture). The relationship to the ants seems necessary for their overall population growth. Individuals that are not tended by ants tend to be susceptible to parasites and fungal infections. The ants consume the "honeydew" that the treehoppers expel from their anus. This is an extremely sweet substance that ants cannot resist. Honeydew that is not eaten by ants can build up and create an environment for fungus. It is this fungus that can kill treehoppers. 
Treehoppers are members of the order hemiptera, in the family Membracidae. They have sucking mouth parts and will feed on the juices of plants. This species tends to favor tickseed and asters.

Females lay their eggs at the base of plants. When the eggs hatch the nymphs feed and molt. With each molt they climb higher on the plant. The adults will be more often seen in the late summer or early fall. There will be several generations per year in NW Missouri. The last generation will most likely overwinter in the egg stage.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fall Webworm

We've all seen these messy looking tent-like webs that often engulf trees in the fall. They are the handiwork of the Fall webworm (Hyphantria cunea).
While these webs are unsightly and certainly not aesthetically pleasing they do not cause any lasting damage to trees. The female moth will lay her eggs in clusters of up to a hundred on the bottom side of leaves. They will be encased in a hair-like substance that protects them until they hatch approximately a week later. The caterpillars begin feeding on the surface of the leaves and as they eat they produce a silky substance that is used to form the webs. As the caterpillars grow so too does the tent. In large colonies the tents may encompass the entire tree. When the caterpillars are in their last stage of growth before forming their cocoon they well begin feeding on the entire leaves of the tree. The reason these caterpillars have very little affect on the overall health of the trees they are feeding on has to do with the time of the year they are found. Trees in the fall are nearing the end of their growing season and preparing to go dormant for the winter. Sap and vital nutrients that the trees depend on in the growing season are now receding back into the heart of the tree. Therefore these caterpillars can munch away and the trees can withstand the feeding frenzy and come back to their former beauty the following spring. The only exception to this may be if you have extremely young trees or ornamental trees. The moths are native to North America and can be found throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. In 1940 these moths were accidentally introduced to Yugoslavia and from there it wasn't long before they spread to other countries. They are now found nearly Worldwide. In North America they are known to feed on approximately 120 tree species. They predominately favor hardwood species like walnut, pecan, hickory, elm, maple and fruit trees. Worldwide there are over 600 species of trees they are known to feed on.

As caterpillars they are highly variable in their appearance and can range in color from pale yellow to dark gray with yellow spots. They will have a combination of long and short bristly hairs, and two pale stripes running the length of their bodies. They will remain caterpillars for 4 to 6 weeks before forming a cocoon and emerging the following spring. In the pupal stage they can be found at the base of trees tucked away under fallen bark and leaves.

As adults they are mostly white in the northern part of their range, whereas in the southern part of their range they may be marked with black or brown spots on the forewings. The front legs have bright yellow or orange patches. They have a wingspan up to 2 inches and their bodies are extremely hairy, which aids in keeping them warm as they fly around at night. These moths readily come to lights at night and will often be seen at porch lights.

This species is often mistaken for tent caterpillars, because of the similar tent-like webbing that each species creates. The tent caterpillar however commonly occurs in the spring and they build a web home in the V's of trees, whereas the fall webworm is found in the fall (like its name suggests) and build their homes at the end of limbs. The fall webworm has a much messier tent than that of the tent caterpillar as well. So while these messy, webby tents are not that attractive to look at, rest assured your tree is safe and will be back next spring. The little caterpillars will most likely find a new tree to build their home in as the cycle starts all over again.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Metallic Ground Beetle

This beautiful metallic ground beetle is Dicaelus purpuratus. They are an extremely fast moving beetle, in fact they are so fast I had a hard time keeping track of this one. Finally, after numerous tries the beetle finally gave up running and settled down for a few photos, before it was off and running again. I could not find much information about them, but presumably they are like most ground beetles and lay their eggs in rotting stumps, where the resulting offspring will feed on insects and insect larvae. Their color is absolutely spectacular.... sheens of purple, blue, and black. They are approximately 20-25 mm (3/4 of an inch) in length.
They are a widespread species found throughout the Eastern United States and parts of Canada. Unlike many ground beetles that feed on insects and insect larvae as adults, this particular species, like many humans eat snails.