The Red-eyed Invasion in KY

They are called periodical cicadas and it’s happening right now in Louisville KY at the home of my daughter. These are the red-eyed cicadas that emerge simultaneously from the ground in 13 or 17 year predictable intervals, according to U. of Kentucky extension entomologist.  Only this is a year it wasn’t supposed to happen. I guess no one told the cicadas.

red-eyed cicadas

 

The nymphs live beneath the soil feeding on roots and emerge when the soil temperature is warm enough in the spring. They have been exiting the ground by the masses on her property and will continue to do so for a couple more weeks.

She first noticed the empty shells all over the ground one morning. Most were empty but some nymphs are unable to extricate as you can see the wing of the partially open shell.

cicada shells in Louisville KY 2017

After leaving the ground at night, they slowly make their way up any vertical surface and molt into adults, a prolonged overnight process. I’ve spent many a night as a child watching the annual cicadas, a different cicada, slowly struggle out of shells, and pump their wings out straight.

This cicada on tree bark is newly emerged and still wet:

Louisville KY 2017

After drying, their body will darken:

Louisville KY 2017

In the morning, shells will be hanging from a multitude of surfaces and lying all over the ground.  Most of the adults will have flown but some may still be there until their wings have fully expanded and dried enough to fly. It’s an amazing process to watch.

Louisville Cicadas 2017

Louisville KY cicadas 2017

Louisville KY 2017

The males are the ones you hear singing to attract the females. The adult cicadas will mate and the female lays eggs in small tree branches. The eggs will mature for weeks, then hatch and fall to the ground, where they burrow and start the cycle over.

Cicadas don’t bite or sting and are fairly benign to adult vegetation and trees….. rarely causing damage, unless you own an orchard or vineyard where they could possibly inflict some monetary damage, states the extension service. Generally, what follows is a smorgasbord of food for insect eating birds and mammals. It’s nature’s way….

Thankfully, this is a daughter who appreciates insects (taught by her mother!). She used the occasion as a teaching tool and took the kids outside to watch the mature nymphs emerge last night. Following is her ‘choppy’ video 😏 of her kids learning about the life cycle of cicadas as they watch the nymphs emerge from the soil and look for vertical surfaces… even my granddaughter’s leg:

My Ten Favorite Photos of 2014

Les over at A Tidewater Gardener annually posts his ten favorite photos from the year and he challenges readers to do the same. Since we have downsized and no longer maintain our acres of gardens, I’m not as serious about garden photography and rarely carry my heavy 35mm camera around my neck. But I do carry the world’s most popular camera in my pocket at all times. My iPhone! Not sure about these being my favorite photos but they jumped out at me while scrolling through hundreds!

Since we spent most of the winter under a blanket of snow, I thought I should add at least one photo of the beauty it can bring. Taken on February 8, prints in the snow show where animals come to the stream banks.

Click on photos to enlarge.

IMG_8150I love photos that tell a story and there’s one here. Peaceful demonstrators in Keene NH braved the elements for several hours for a cause on February 7. I can almost hear them talking amongst themselves…. maybe seeing whose turn it is to get some coffee.. among other more important things.

Make Love, Not War!Keene NH also provided another photo that I like. A rainy, gray day was brightened only by taillights at a stoplight on April 15. With family in Keene, we visit this area on a regular basis.

IMG_9886We ventured out of the Granite State for this photo. Two lovely ladies in straw hats were admiring a seaside garden on the rocky shores of the Atlantic. We toured several Cape Neddick Maine gardens on this day during Garden Conservancy Days, June 22.IMG_1338Anyone who knows me knows I am interested in insects and have hundreds of photos and IDs The plump fellow below, the jumping spider, claimed the watering hose as his own at Rolling Green Nursery this summer. These are brave and scary looking spiders, but, oh so harmless. Whenever I moved in, he moved closer. They stalk prey and can pounce a few inches but I just give them a puff of air and they fall to the ground and scamper away. I really like these spiders because they have personality plus. July 12.

The second photo below was a two-for-one. I was photographing the tachinid fly and didn’t see the second insect until I downloaded the photograph. The tachinid is a nectar eating fly as an adult, but one that lays eggs in insect hosts. This time the lowly hover fly is the victim seen just below her body. I don’t like these flies very much as butterfly caterpillars are often victims. July 16.

IMG_1635 IMG_0712Rain drops on vegetation after an all night soaker is always interesting to me. The new growth on this spirea is an especially nice color. May 19.

rain dropsThe sunflower below was a volunteer from our bird feeder. Several seeds that the birds overlooked germinated but only this one grew tall and straight and eventually fed the chickadees many ripe sunflower seeds. (Staring at the center long enough may hypnotize!)  August 26.

volunteer sunflowerFinally, the highlight of 2014 was a vacation with the youngins to Bethel, Maine. Below are two photos from that hiking, swimming, boating trip in August.

IMG_2741IMG_3346

Garden Drama

Of all places in the garden to attach a chrysalis, one of our black swallowtail caterpillars (Papilio polyxenes asterius) chose the smooth metal drainpipe along the side of the house.  How the caterpillar bridged the collar with an opening to an underground drain, I can’t guess. But here is where I found the emerging butterfly struggling to gain a foothold on the smooth surface… and failing. It was in big trouble and I could tell it had been here too long with wings partly out and beginning to plump.

cocoonI felt a little like a butterfly midwife as I assisted in the birth by offering a twig. It was readily accepted and it climbed aboard. I gently urged the butterfly onto a viburnum shrub and watched as she began to unfurl and pump up those gorgeous wings… that I believe identified her as female.

butterflyIt was exciting to be so close and be able to study the beautiful wings, her huge eyes, and watch her coil and uncoil her proboscis.  Click for closeup.

I left her on a trunk of the viburnum where she continued to dry and pump her wings. An hour later I checked and she had flown…. I hope straight to the summersweet for a nice first meal as a butterfly.

It made me smile to think she got her start in the parsley beds 5 feet away that I planted just for her and her siblings.

Eastern Black Swallowtail

Going Native

The summer of 2013 was a very bad year for the monarch butterfly. All summer long, I thought it was odd that I never saw a monarch. Reasons are not 100% clear but impacts include weather factors, loss of habitat in the US and Mexico, increased traffic on roads, and the extensive use of Roundup on genetically engineered crops. Farmers spray Roundup on these crops, killing all the weeds but not the crop.  The herbicide destroys milkweed upon which the monarch depends as a host plant.

This summer I am doing my part to go a little more native. In addition to nectar flowers, I’ve planted native milkweed. If the monarch finds my plants, I should have a monarch butterfly nursery. The plants will provide sustenance for the larvae.The blooms will provide nectar along with other nectar plants in the garden.

There are different varieties of milkweed but I planted butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) with its bright orange bloom. It should do well in hot, dry, sunny spot in the border. The hint of first blooms are appearing and I am checking my plants daily for signs of eggs.

Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa)What can we all do to help? While we hope for more favorable weather conditions, we can all plant several milkweed plants in our yards along with the nectar plants to sustain both the larvae and the adult monarch.

I’m buggy about bugs

I’ve always been a little nuts about insects. The earliest memories of lying across our front walkway under a hot Virginia sun, sharing my lunch with a multitude of ants that lived between the bricks may have launched the budding citizen scientist in me. Observing ants of all colors, shapes, sizes and behaviors intrigued me and led me to a multitude of other insects.

That inquisitive little girl has aged into an inquisitive old girl who is still intrigued by insects. Here’s an early spring insect resting on my dwarf spiraea japonica. I’ve seen them a few times on cold spring days in New England as they are the first of this family to emerge from hibernation, often in freezing temperatures.

If this fella reminds you of a lightning bug (locals say ‘firefly’), you are right. It’s in the same family, yet it doesn’t look exactly like those we see on summer nights dancing and flickering their lights over lawns and the edges of woods. Although the middle sections are outlined with bright orange bands, the difference is in these wings, which are a dull black.

The Winter Firefly (Ellychnia corrusca) is related to our familiar lightning bugs. It glows as a larva, but lacks the light organs as an adult. And it is active during the daytime instead of night.

Maple syrup producers are familiar with this gentle pest. It dines on the fluid of maples and what better meal than a bucket of sap on the side of a maple tree…. where they often perish in the liquid.

Click HERE to visit a virtual habitat to learn about three groups of flashing lightning bugs in New England.

Assassin Bug

On a recent walk, I stopped to admire the drying blooms of Queen Anne’s Lace. I love the way the blossom heads curl inward into lacy balls. I pulled one closer to take a quick photo when this insect popped from the center of the head. It’s an assassin bug (Pselliopus cinctus), a colorful true bug that dines on other insects.

It looks a bit like he has dressed early for Halloween as I see a mask on its back… the eyes, nose and wide opened mouth. Can you see the face?

It isn’t a fast moving bug but I made sure it didn’t crawl on me. It has a ‘beak,’ a weapon used to paralyze prey with a toxin, then suck the victim dry. That weapon can also pierce the human skin and inject a toxin. I have never been stabbed by an assassin bug but I keep a respectful distance.

It is not a nuisance in the garden and can be handy eliminating some naughty garden insects…. better than insecticides. When I see assassin bug in the garden, I do nothing. We coexist among the blooms.

The face disappears in this view but now you can admire its lovely striped legs and antennae.

IMG_5759Here is a great view from Wikimedia of the wicked ‘beak.’

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pselliopus_cinctus_UGA1366047.jpg

What’s Black & White and Red all over?

It’s a Meadowhawk dragonfly! New Hampshire is full of these handsome critters.

Every morning, coffee and camera in hand, I sit on the deck watching the shadows being slowly chased away by the morning sun. Sharing space with me are my cat reclined at my feet, a multitude of birds at the feeders, hummingbirds and insects scurrying here and there.

My favorite of all the insects right now are the dragonflies. In the dryness of late summer, the yard is alive with iridescent greens, blues, yellow, orange and brown and these wonderful bright red dragonflies that light on any and every sunny horizontal surface. Like tiny helicopters, they hover, they flit here and there, backwards, forwards, up and down… and occasionally land on me. Some dragonflies are skittish but not my bright red Meadowhawk friends. They see my camera and actually seem to pose.

MeadowhawkFrom checking ID’s online, I believe our little dragonflies are Cherry-faced Meadowhawks (Sympetrum internum), one of the skimmers. It’s a confusing business with several look-alikes so I could be quite wrong. The true ID lies in examination of the genitalia. Starting out more brown in color, the male above turned bright red at maturity. The majority of his life has been spent in water as a nymph, but at maturity, his destiny is to eat, mate, eat, mate, and die. What a life.

Abundant species in New Hampshire, but not in the Tidewater area of my home state of Virginia, the Cherry-faced Meadowhawk ranges from Alaska east to the Hudson Bay, from areas of California east to Pennsylvania and Northern Virginia.

With damselflies, dragonflies are members of the insect order Odonata, ‘ondon’ meaning tooth in Greek. Both use their formidable jaws, never to bite us, but, to eat a variety of insects… including ones we don’t want around, like mosquitoes and flies. The easiest way to tell a dragonfly from a damselfly is how their wings rest when perched. Damselflies hold their wings together above their body and the dragonflies, like our meadowhawk below, will spread their wings open when at rest.

Hello handsome. Is he taking a bow?

 

Visitors on a cool morning…

Coffee in hand, I stepped outside today to greet the morning sun with Maggie, our aged cat who has yet to leave the deck in our new place.

MaggieCool temperatures awaited us, real sweater weather! We always check on the birds, chase away the squirrels, check the blooms and blossoms, and see what insects might have visited during the night.

The usual insect suspects were here and there around the deck but a couple of neat ones caught my eye. One tiny guy crawled slowly across the pollen-laden table looking like it had been sprinkled with fairy dust. Click on it for a closer look at the overnight pollen.It is an American Carrion Beetle (Necrophila americana), found east of the Rocky Mountains. Perhaps you have seen this small insect on dead animals. It’s a beneficial beetle that not only eats the flesh of a decaying animal, it eats its main competitors, those icky maggots. They have another clever little trick to help their survival. Tiny mites that also love to dine on the competition hitch a ride on the beetles from carcass to carcass, hop off and pig out on maggots.

The rather odd insect (below) resting on the deck was as big as a dragonfly… nearly 2″ in length. It’s an adult Spring Fishfly (Chauliodes rastricornis), sort of a scary looking bugger. This one is a female. The males have feathery antennae. They are found near water since they lay eggs on the edge on leaves, etc. The larvae live in the water for 2-3 years. Yes, I did see larvae in my Virginia pond eating vegetation and an occasional tadpole. This female is said to not eat but will live and mate and lay eggs and die in a week’s time. This gal was looking a little sluggish….

fishfly

Good Morning Sunshine…

Look who greeted us on our deck this morning!  Who do you think this is?

This lime green visitor is a luna moth (Actias luna), probably one of the most spectacular moths of North America. At almost a 4 1/2″ wing span, it’s hard to miss. We left the deck light on last night and these moths are attracted to light. I consider that light pollution and we won’t do that again.

On the fore wing and hind wings, it has eyspots to fool predators but I find a lot of wings on my walks so not everyone is fooled. The adult moth lives for about a week after emerging from the cocoon when mating and laying of about 200 eggs occurs. The moths have no mouth parts at this stage and eat nothing for this week.

The antennae are clues to the sex of the moth. Our visitor is a female. The male has fuller, feathery antennae to better sense the female pheromones at night.

Sawfly Larvae Invasion

sawflyThese acrobatic insects that are consuming the leaves of my Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick might resemble caterpillars but they are not.  These are sawfly larvae, the larvae of not a fly at all but one of 4,000 varieties of a primitive stingless wasp.  Look closely.  The larvae of moths and butterflies have 1 to 4 sets of abdominal prolegs (false legs), whereas sawfly larvae have 6 sets of prolegs.

Mouthparts are for chewing and in great numbers they can defoliate a tree or shrub or flower. Most of them are somewhat host-specific and feed on foliage of specific trees and flowers.  Some larvae work together on the leaf edges like these, some skeletonize leaves, some eat holes in leaves, some roll leaves, and some varieties create galls.  The most common varieties here feed together and some hold their abdomen in the air like these.  A defensive mechanism in many larvae is a row of glands on the abdomen that can expel an irritating fluid.

The benign winged sawfly adults are small and generally dark in color. They do not have the constricted waist of many stinging wasps and the females have a saw-toothed ovipositor, which is used to ‘saw’ into plant material and deposit eggs.   There is only one generation per year but the larvae can be destructive if they are numerous enough.  Ten years ago we were inundated with the Loblolly Pine Sawfly that destroyed a number of our young trees.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

The Cow Killer, also known as Red Velvet Ant

Cow KillerI’m not walking in the garden without shoes again.  Today I saw a Cow Killer as I weeded in my bare feet.  I called for mister gardener to quickly bring me my camera because the insect moves fast.  Named Red Velvet Ant for the fine layer of hairs on the body, it is also called Cow Killer for the venomous punch it packs when it stings.  Actually, it is not an ant at all but one of the 475 species of Velvet Ant parasitic wasps in North America.  The winged male does not sting but the wingless female, usually nocturnal, wanders the flower garden dining on nectar while searching for the tunnels of ground-nesting wasps, especially the cicada wasp.  The female Velvet Ant will sneak into the tunnel and lay eggs on the host larva which the Velvet Ant young will consume after hatching. She has a nearly indestructible exoskeleton which protects her from the sting of the cicada wasp should they meet in the ground nest.

cow killer

The Cow Killer is a solitary wasp and does not live in a colony or have a nest of her own.  She is not aggressive and will try to escape if disturbed.  Interestingly, she does make a sound.  As a child, I would touch one with a twig just to hear the tiny squeak it made.  These beautiful wasps are not numerous and cause no damage to plants. No chemical control is needed.  Teach others about them, appreciate them, and leave them alone as they have a purpose in keeping the bee and wasp population in check.  My advice: Simply defend yourself against a painful sting and wear shoes in the garden.

Red Velvet Ant

See September 12:  “A Red Velvet Ant Stops in for Lunch”

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester