Photos of the Week – March 27, 2020

I spent a lovely 45 minutes lying in the mud this week.

Spring hasn’t sprung very dramatically around here, at least in most ways. A few plants are greening up and some migratory birds are moving through, but I haven’t yet seen any spring flowers in the prairies I know best. However, some of the invertebrate world is slowly becoming active – especially in wet areas.

The prairies around here are still mostly brown, but there’s a little bit of green – including this black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) rosette at our family prairie.
This raccoon skull was lying near the edge of the wetland. I’m not sure where the rest of the animal went…

I took a trip to our family prairie on Wednesday this week (by myself) and spent most of my time down by the wetland. There is a kind of drain/slough that carries water from the hills to the south into the wetland/pond. The water level had dropped recently, exposing mud along the edge. At first glance, there wasn’t much activity going on, but once I prostrated myself in the mud, things started to happen.

The drain that brings water from the hills to the south into our wetland.

Of course, one of the things that happened was that water and mud started to seep through my clothes – especially around my knees, elbows and stomach. More interestingly, I started to notice movement of small creatures. The first were little spiders, which I think were juvenile wolf spiders. They were only about 1/2 inch in diameter (including legs) and very speedy, but I managed to get a couple good photos of them. Once I was dialed into the world of small creatures, I saw more and more. Over a 45 minute period, I was able to find and photograph a surprising number of creatures, especially given how barren the landscape around me appeared at first glance.

A juvenile wolf spider (I think?)
I think this is a shore fly (Ephidridae) but would be glad to be corrected.
Dung fly?
This tiny little beetle climbed to the top of this stick and looked like it was going to launch itself into the air but changed its mind and climbed back down again.
An ant found itself marooned on a small mud island, surrounded by water. That made it easier to photograph, but I felt bad about its isolation.
I built a bridge for the ant and let it get back to shore.
My favorite discovery of the day was this marsh ground beetle (Elaphrus sp), which I initially thought was a tiger beetle I didn’t recognize. It was only about 3/8 of an inch long, though, which was pretty small for a tiger beetle.
The sparkly finish on the beetle’s elytra and the indented pattern were mesmerizing. I tried to keep track of it for as long as I could as it meandered in and out of cover along the muddy bank.

Those photos don’t show everything I saw, including millipedes and a bunch of really tiny insects I couldn’t identify, but also killdeer and shovelers (ducks) out on the wetland itself. While spring isn’t making itself obvious yet, at least in terms of spring wildflowers, it was really uplifting to see so much activity, even if seeing it required me to lie down in the mud. I hope you all can find opportunities to safely get out and see what’s going on in small natural areas near you as well.

Be safe, everyone.

Quarantine Quiz #2

Hello again. Last week’s quiz seemed to get good reviews, so I thought I’d try another one. Don’t count on this being a weekly thing – we’ll see how it goes. I did notice that many people remarked that they did very well on the quiz, which tells me it was probably too easy. I’ll make this week’s a little trickier. Good luck! The answers are at the bottom of the page.

1) Which of these creatures is a true bug? (Choose all that apply)

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2) One of the following is the common name of a moth, one is a mushroom, and one is a seashell. Label them correctly.

A. The Green Marvel

B. Cloud Ear

C. False Angel Wing

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3) What happened in this photo?

A. A raccoon was grabbed by a swooping eagle but was heavy enough that the eagle ended up dragging it several times before finally getting into the air.

B. A river otter was sliding across snow-covered ice as it traveled (because otters are too cool to just walk like a normal animal).

C. A beaver was walking across the snow and let its tail drag behind it much of the time.

D. Chris’ kids were screwing around on the ice. No one got hurt.

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4) Three of the following are official common names of moths. Which name did I make up?

A. Rose Hooktip

B. Black-blotched Schizura

C. Shady Dragon

D. The German Cousin

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5) What is this beautiful Black and Yellow Garden Spider doing in this photo?

A. It just caught a beetle, wrapped it up and is preparing to suck the liquefied innards out of it (like any self-respecting spider does).

B. It is preparing a coccoon, in which it will transform into a beautiful moth.

C. It is protecting its eggs, which are encased inside that silken bag.

D. Wait, spiders can turn into moths??

E. This is a quiz. I can’t tell you that. You have to guess.

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6) I made up another moth name. Which of these is not the official common name of a moth species?

A. Intrepid Burglar

B. Scurfy Quaker

C. Exhausted Brocade

D. Confused Woodgrain

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7) Why isn’t this plant green?

A. It’s dead.

B. It turns green during the day when the sun is out but stores its chlorophyll below ground overnight to keep it safe. This is a photo from early morning.

C. It’s a parasitic plant so it doesn’t need chlorophyll.

D. It’s a teenaged plant (in plant years). All the plants around it are green so it decided to be pinkish-brown. It doesn’t need to conform to your societal expectations.

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8) I can’t stop with the moth thing. The names are so incredibly wonderful. Which of these is NOT an official common name of a moth?

A. The Beggar

B. Welsh Wave

C. Snaky Arches

D. Fuzzy Zoeller

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Answers:

  1. The answer is B. A and C are beetles and D is a tick (count the legs!). True bugs are those in the taxonomic order Hemiptera, which includes stinkbugs, cicadas, leafhoppers, and, in this case, boxelder bugs.
  2. In order, they are A. Moth, B. Mushroom, and C. Seashell
  3. This photos shows where an otter slide across the ice – repeatedly – as it traveled down a frozen stream/wetland. I’ve heard they do this as an energy saving trick, but those of us with extensive otter experience know they’re just doing it to show off.
  4. The one I made up is C, but you have to admit, ‘Shady Dragon’ would be a great moth name.
  5. No, spiders can’t transform into moths. Why would they want to? They’re SPIDERS. It’s hard to be cooler than that. The correct answer is C. This female spider was sitting with her egg case just below her spectacular web.
  6. The answer is A. If I ever get to name a moth, I think I’ll name it ‘Intrepid Burglar’.
  7. The answer is C. This is clustered broomrape (Orobanche fasciculata) and it is a parasitic plant, drawing nutrients from its neighbors. Thus, it doesn’t need to produce its own clorophyll.
  8. Fuzzy Zoeller is an American professional golfer, so D is the answer. As far as I know, he is not a moth, but I don’t really watch professional golf