Sunday, June 26, 2011

Fun Finds at Mud Pond

I wonder if Sue wore that orange tee on purpose, so she would match the gorgeous orange Wood Lilies we hoped we would find today on the sandy path at the top of Mud Pond at Moreau. We guessed we would find a few, since we did last year around this date, but wow! were we surprised by the multitudes! Like bright orange stars in a deep green sky in places.

We walked the entire length of the power line right-of-way and tried to count the numbers. We think we found somewhere around 85, but every time we looked again we found some others hiding. You wouldn't think that flowers as vividly colored as this could hide from view, but they did.

Another flower we found blooming along that sandy path was Clasping Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis), also called Blunt-leaved Milkweed. Sue had discovered it some days ago, and I was eager for her to show it to me, since I'd never seen it before.

With such a vividly colored flower (and as fragrant as it is colorful), how could I have missed finding it all the years I've been hiking around Mud Pond? There were at least a dozen plants along that power line right-of-way. This one was leaning right over the path, so you couldn't possibly miss it.

Here's a closer look at its pretty pink flower cluster. Newcomb's Wildflower Guide describes its color as "greenish-purple," but I'd say that this was a vivid deep rose.

Leaning in close to inhale the flower's sweet clove-like fragrance, I discovered this insect leg dangling from one of the florets. It sometimes happens that pollinators' legs will get trapped in milkweed flowers, entangled in the threads that join the pollen bundles inside, and often the insect will eventually die of starvation since it can't pull its leg free. It appears that the previous owner of this leg escaped by sacrificing the entrapped appendage. Or maybe the rest of the bug was eaten by an insect predator.

Today was a good one for finding all kinds of interesting critters, including these beautifully iridescent Dogbane Beetles, hanging out on (what else?) some Spreading Dogbane.

Can you tell who's who or what's what with this mating pair of dragonflies? The male (on the right) is clasping the back of the female's head with the tip of his abdomen, while the female has bent her abdomen forward so as to join her sex part with his sex part, which is up there under his thorax somewhere. They're both facing the same direction, although it's pretty hard to see her face, stuck under his abdomen as it is. Lucky for her she doesn't have to breathe through a nose. Male dragonflies can be rough at times, sometimes actually ripping off their female partners' heads.

Here's a coppery-colored damselfly that doesn't follow the normal habit of damselflies, which is to close their wings at rest, unlike dragonflies, which rest with wings spread open. This is one of the Spreadwing damselflies that hold their wings partly open when not in flight. And just see what marvelous wings they are -- so iridescent! Be sure to click on this photo to better see those wings. Also note that l-o-o-o-n-g abdomen, easily twice as long as most damselflies'.

I love the rich brown of this moth's wings, with a scalloped pattern that looks like inlaid wood. I love that furry face, as well. Anybody know its name?

Well, here was a puzzle, indeed! Looks like a wasp, with its wasp-narrow waist, and also looks like a mantis, with those huge grabber arms underneath that long skinny neck. came through for me again, almost before I finished submitting my photo: this is a Wasp Mantidfly (Climaciella brunnea), and it's not a wasp nor a mantis nor a fly, but belonging to a family of its own, the Mantispidae, which also includes other predators like Antlions. This one had been enjoying its lunch when we disturbed it, for we could see bits and pieces of some other insect strewn across the leaf. And its jaws were moving. Mean as it looks, though, it couldn't hurt you.

This little guy couldn't hurt you, either. And I didn't want to hurt IT, so I made sure I washed the bug dope off my hands before I picked up this tiny toad, still sporting a little bit of its tadpole tail. There were lots and lots of these wee little creatures testing out their new land legs, hopping around close to the shore of Mud Pond.

On the other hand, this guy COULD hurt you, although it looks innocent enough when it's feeling calm, just moseying along eating its leaves, as any Black-etched Prominent Caterpillar is wont to do. Sue was the one who first saw this creature, which was not easy to do, what with its cryptic coloring and almost undetectable movement. Can you tell which end is which? That's its little black head on the right, munching along the leaf edge, tucked up under its lime-green cowl.

I sure guessed wrong at first, especially when it started waving these anal appendages around like front-end feelers. And then these little red tendrils began to emerge, and what we thought was its rear end began to swell up and turn blue.

Then it started to whip those red tendrils around in a frenzy, at the same time arching its other end up until nearly vertical. It really did look pretty scary. Good thing I didn't touch it, since I later read that when it gets really, really mad, it sprays out acid "from a gland on the venter of the first thoracic segment."

Here's a little sweeter image to close this post. New Jersey Tea, a native shrub that the early colonists did use to make tea, was growing thickly along the road as I made my way home. I love how those little puffs of flowers look like exploding fireworks.

Here's a close-up view of a flower cluster. See how those little flower buds are perfect five-pointed stars? How appropriate then, that these flowers always bloom right around the Fourth of July!


Anonymous said...

Brilliant! The flower photos are wonderful! That caterpillar is definitely scary - sprays acid? Ya can't make this stuff up! ;-)

Louise said...

That's a wild looking caterpillar! I'm glad that you didn't touch it, either. You had a lovely walk, full of interesting plants and critters. What could be better?

June said...

I got stuck at the milkweed, thinking of how sweet the "regular" ones smell!

But how much more you had for me to see!

The little froggy enchants me, and the caterpillar! I never knew they could change color!!!!

Ellen Rathbone said...

Wow - you have just one nifty insect find after another on this post! I loved the mantid wasp fly...and then I saw the next one...and then that funky caterpillar! Good stuff!!!

Wayne said...

Wonderful finds, and wonderful photos of each of them. I think your dragonfly pair may be clubtails, possibly in the Genus Phasmogomphus. They always seem to be flying when I see them. Glad you found them when they were (ahem...) doing something other than hunting. :-)

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks, dear friends, for stopping by to leave your comments. I do love reading them, and I'm sorry it sometimes takes me so long to acknowledge them. My days are so packed with adventures these days, I sometimes forget to look back through the posts to catch up on my correspondence.