Monday, June 23, 2014

Some Plants from Christmas Rocks SNP

Sunday morning I went to Christmas Rocks State Nature Preserve for the first time. Christmas Rocks SNP is a preserve that recently opened to the public in the last couple of years (it used to be permit-only) that is located in the southern region of Fairfield County. Located near the end moraine that begins the Allegheny Plateau, this park contains 3 miles worth of forested trails.

Christmas Rocks State Nature Preserve
The big feature of Christmas Rocks is a rocky knob known as Jacob's Ladder, and the spectacular view over the Arney Run valley it gives hikers. The photo above shows the view from the overlook. The main trail follows an old gravel road which has two loops coming off of it. We only took the loop that climbs up Jacob's Ladder as we had other parks to hit that day. The trail was quite steep, but luckily it didn't take too long to ascend. Christmas Rocks SNP is an amazing location when it comes to plants. It's one of the few locations where the rare Bradley's Spleenwort, Asplenium bradleyi, can be found in Ohio. There's also the rare Green Adder's Mouth Orchid, Malaxis unifolia, and a mature flowering Chestnut tree in the park, among other species of note. While I couldn't get photos of any of those, I did come across some wildflowers and other plants I thought were interesting, which is what this post is about.

Ohio Spiderwort, Tradescantia ohiensis
First up is Ohio Spiderwort, Tradescantia ohiensis. This is a species I've been wanting to see this year, and I finally got to come across a small group of flowering individuals. Ohio Spiderwort has been recorded in about half of the counties in Ohio, but there's really no pattern to the distribution here. The ones I came across were found in a wet meadow that was part of an electric-line right-of-way, but this species can also be found in certain prairies, thickets, woodland edges, roadsides, and other environments. Like other spiderworts, the flowers of this species open up in the morning and are gone typically by the afternoon.

Poke Milkweed, Asclepias exaltata
Next we have Poke Milkweed, Asclepias exaltata. Preserve Manager Jim Osborn, whom I met along the trail, actually directed me to the Poke Milkweed, which I had initially passed. The photo above doesn't do this tall plant justice. This species can reach heights up to six feet tall!

Poke Milkweed
Here's a closer inspection of the Poke Milkweed's cluster of flowers. This is an uncommon species in Ohio; while it has been recorded in about half of the counties here, it is not a species one comes across often. Poke Milkweed can be found in the shaded understory of forests and woods. When most people think of milkweeds, they probably imagine plants that live in more open, grassland-like areas, so coming across Poke Milkweed in the dense shade of a forest is a little surprising.

Spotted Wintergreen, Chimaphila maculata
Near the top of Jacob's Ladder I came across a small patch of Spotted Wintergreen, Chimaphila maculata. The name "wintergreen" refers to the evergreen leaves, which stand in stark contrast of the subdued browns of a winter woods. The top of Jacob's Ladder, like the tops of many Allegheny knobs and ridges, has dry, thin, and decently acidic soil dominated by oaks. It is in an environment like this that Spotted Wintergreen calls home. This species has been recorded in about half of the counties here. It is present in pretty much all of the eastern Allegheny Plateau counties, and absent in the glaciated farmland of western Ohio.

Indian Pipe
What's this? Rocks? A strange fungus perhaps? Nope. It is actually Indian Pipe, a strange species of wildflower, emerging from the forest floor. What does it look like when it is fully emerged?

Indian Pipe, Monotropa uniflora
Well, it looks like this. Ghostly. Pale. Fungus-like. I've previously covered Indian Pipe, Monotropa uniflora, on my blog, which you can read here. In short, this species is strange. Its white color is due to the absence of chlorophyll, a chemical compound that is necessary to photosynthesis (which is the process by which plants turn sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water into glucose for food and oxygen). So, how does Indian Pipe get nutrients to survive? Well, it becomes a parasite! The Indian Pipe parasatizes certain fungi which are mycorrhizal with trees (that is, the fungi form a mutualistic relationship with the trees). The fungi and the trees share nutrients and energy with each other, but Indian Pipe steals the nutrients and energy the fungi have and also that which the fungi receives from the trees. If you want to see this unique flower, I suggest heading out to either Christmas Rocks SNP or Clear Creek Metro Park (especially the Fern Trail and the upper part of the Hemlock Trail) relatively soon. Both locations have a lot of individuals along the trails.

Lobed Spleenwort, Asplenium pinnatifidum
Moving on from wildflowers, this is Lobed Spleenwort, Asplenium pinnatifidum. One of my friends remarked the name sounds like something out of Harry Potter. Christmas Rocks SNP is known for its population of Bradley's Spleenwort, but the population grows too high to reach and on a dangerous cliff face, so I couldn't see it. Instead, here's the next best thing, a Lobed Spleenwort. While this species is not nearly as rare as the other, it has still only been recorded in 24 of the 88 counties, mostly in the southeastern Allegheny Plateau region. This fern can be found on rocks and sandstone cliffs, as long as the rocks are acidic.

Sensitive Fern, Onoclea sensibilis
Finally, we have another fern. This is the Sensitive Fern, Onoclea sensibilis. Recorded in all but five counties in Ohio, you've probably seen this fern while hiking through a forest. While they still look fern-like, they look quite different than the "traditional fern," which might make them stand out to an observant hiker. The name comes from their sensitivity to frost; early Americans observed this species to wilt at the first touch of frost, so they decided it was more sensitive compared to the other fern species. You can find this species in the shaded understory of forests in moist soil.

Christmas Rocks SNP is truly a hidden gem in Central Ohio. If you're a hiker, botany-lover, or any sort of nature lover, it definitely warrants a visit. The park isn't the easiest to find, so if you want more information about parking and locating the park please visit the lovely Trek Ohio blog's post on Christmas Rocks. The bottom of the post has detailed instructions on where to park and where to walk to locate the trail head, as well as a lot of other helpful information on the trails.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Some Moths, Pt. 2

A few weeks ago I spent a night in Hocking County. Capitalizing on some porch lights available, I gathered photo after photo of the different moth species that showed up. I'm still working on identifying them all, as many species are very similar to others and worn individuals can be very hard to identify. I do have about half of them identified, and I wanted to go over a few of them here.

Anna's Tiger Moth, Grammia anna
First up was the star of the night, a lovely Anna's Tiger Moth, Grammia anna. Tiger moths are a group of beautifully-colored and patterned moths, but most people are more familiar with them in their caterpillar stages. This tribe of moths is known for their "woolly bear" caterpillars, a few of which I've covered here. This species can be found throughout all of Ohio and feeds on low growing plants such as dandelions.

Banded Tussock Moth, Halysidota tessalaris
Next up is a Banded Tussock Moth, Halysidota tessalaris. Notice the contrasting gold and blue on the body, a distinguishing detail. I've previously covered this species while in the larval stage, which you can read about in detail here. As with many species, the scientific name offers details about the look of the species. In this case, tessalaris, from the Latin word "tessella," meaning a small stone square, refers to the checkered mosaic-like pattern on the wings.

Grayish Fan-Foot, Zanclognatha pedipilalis
This small litter moth is a Grayish Fan-Foot, Zanclognatha pedipilalis. Many litter moths (Family Erebidae, subfamily Hermeniinae) are hard to differentiate at first, as identification relies on subtle characteristics. This one actually had me confused; I couldn't decide if it was an Early Fan-Foot or a Grayish. Both have similar markings, but the Early Fan-Foot has a indent in the post-medial bulge, but as you can see in this individual there is no indent, and only a bulge, making it a Grayish Fan-Foot. This particular individual was quite worn as well, making identification even trickier.

Bristly Cutworm, Lacinipolia renigera
Next is another worn individual, a Bristly Cutworm, Lacinipolia renigera. Normally there is white around the middle two green spots (which themselves are barely even visible in this individual), but the white is long gone. I'm assuming the green is meant to mimic moss on bark, or might be used in sexual selection; I'm honestly not sure.

Brown Scoopwing, Calledapteryx dryopterata
This was the first moth of the night, and one of the more interesting ones. Meet the Brown Scoopwing, Calledapteryx dryopterata. The name refers to the curious way this and one other related species folds its hindwings. 

Three-Spotted Fillip Moth, Heterophleps triguttaria
For the penultimate moth, meet the Three-Spotted Fillip Moth, Heterophleps triguttaria. The name, as you could guess, refers to the three dark brown spots on each side of the wings. The caterpillars of this species feed on maple trees, and so you can find the adults in forests that contain maple leaves.

Orange-Patched Smoky Moth, Pyromorpha dimidiata
Last up is a moth that I actually came across in Adams County, not Hocking, but I wanted to add it in here anyway because it's a cool looking moth. This not-so-mothy-looking guy is an Orange-Patched Smoky Moth, Pyromorpha dimidiata. This species is actually a day-flier, unlike most moths which fly at night. Now, there's another very, very similar moth that one could find here, the Black-and-Yellow Lichen Moth. I differentiated these two species based on when I found them. This individual was found in late May. The Orange-Patched Smoky Moth flies in early Summer and the Black-and-Yellow Lichen Moth flies in late Summer and Fall, and since I found this individual in late May it seems that it is the Orange-Patched Smoky Moth. The bright coloration is actually mimicking Lycid beetles, which have a chemical defense. A predator will see this moth, think it is dangerous, and skip it in lieu of a more safe meal. 

That wraps it up for this post. Part 3 will be coming sometime soon, I just have to finish writing it. Another wildflower will be coming too, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Some Insects

Over the past three weeks or so I've been exploring the forests to get an assortment of insects together for a post. I've got a decent amount, so here we are!

 Pale Green Assassin Bug, Zelus luridus
First up we have a Pale Green Assassin Bug, Zelus luridus. This, as the name implies, is a species of assassin bug. This species is actually the most common species in the Zelus genus, which are assassins bugs characterized by their use of a sticky liquid excreted from their legs to trap bugs to eat. Basically, one of these Pale Green Assassin Bugs will smear this sticky liquid all over its legs, and when it lunges at another bug that bug will be stuck to the Pale Green Assassin Bug's legs, which then allows the assassin bug to easily finish off the prey. In Ohio, this is the most common Zelus species.

Eyed Click Beetle, Alaus oculatus
Next up is the Eyed Click Beetle, Alaus oculatus. The two black eyespots with the white borders are the "eyes" the name speaks of. Why the "click" though? Well, they click, as you might guess. When this beetle needs to get away from a predator, it will click a spine into a notch which makes the beetle pop with an audible click into the air. This startling jump will hopefully confuse the predator long enough for the beetle to get away. When I found this guy, I picked him up to move him to a better location for photos and he "clicked" in my hand. I knew these guys did this, but when one actually does it startles you.

Six-Spotted Tiger Beetle, Cicindela sexguttata
Next is my all-time favorite beetle, the Six-Spotted Tiger Beetle, Cicindela sexguttata. If you've ever hiked a forested trail in early Summer, you've probably caught a glimpse of a bright green, and fast, bug either running or flying away from you. That would be a Six-Spotted Tiger Beetle. They are about 1/2 inch long and have six white spots around the abdomen. Good luck getting a close look though; these guys are skittish and you have to either get a relaxed one or carefully sneak up on one. The photo above took me about 3 minutes to get as I slowly crept up behind him with a 200 mm lens. While this species has large mandibles that are used to catch and kill prey, they do not pose any danger to humans unless handled. However, good luck even getting one in hand.

Now we come to a strange insect, the Scorpionfly. I'm not exactly sure which species this individual is, but it belongs to the genus Panorpa. Actually, even entomologists aren't sure which individuals are which species, or which species is which species. This genus, according to a 2012 paper, needs to be completely revised. Genetic work needs to be done to see how many species there actually are, because right now some of the recognized species actually need to be combined. Regardless, Scorpionflies are a strange looking insect. Their name comes from the male's peculiar abdomen which curves up like a scorpion (the one pictured is a female and lacks the curved abdomen). Just to note, they can't actually sting you like a scorpion. You can find these guys in forests during the summer. Look at vegetation close to the ground; many times you will see them sitting on leaves.

 Golden-Backed Snipe Fly, Chrysopilus thoracicus
Next we have a fly that's already been covered on this blog (click here for the post), but I like them so much I can't help but share one again. This is a Golden-Backed Snipe Fly, Chrysopilus thoracicus. This species is a woodland species and can be found flying around deciduous forests typically from May to June. This individual was found at AW Marion State Park in Pickaway County, where many of this species was flying about.

Heliria cristata
This unusual looking insect is Heliria cristata. As far as I know, there is no species-specific common name. H. Cristata is a species of treehopper, also known as thorn bugs. They're related to leafhoppers and cicadas, as you might guess from looking at one. They are characterized by having a large pronotum, which is the upper surface of the first segment of the thorax. This pronotum many times looks similar to a thorn, hence the name thorn bug, and aids in camouflage. As you can see by the picture above, the pronotum does not always look like a thorn and can sometimes just be in a very strange shape. Unlike leafhoppers, which most times are found on leaves and on grass, treehoppers are normally found on the wood of trees where they pierce the tree and drink the sap.

Uhler's Wood Cockroach, Parcoblatta uhleriana
And finally we have Uhler's Wood Cockroach, Parcoblatta uhleriana. There are twelve species of Wood Cockroach in North America, all of which are native. Many times when someone says the name "cockroach," people think about the pests that can take over houses. Wood Cockroaches are very different, however. These species are found in forests throughout the US and rarely enter homes. If one does find its way inside a house, it was by accident and not intent. Once inside the house they will quickly succumb to the dry environment and die as a result. You can find these guys in their natural habitat in moist forests, many times in hollow trees, in wood piles, and under loose bark.

Are you an insect person? Insects are misunderstood and hated creatures here, but there really isn't a reason for them to be. Most are absolutely harmless, many beneficial, and only a few are harmful or detrimental. People are taught at a young age that "bugs" are scary and should be avoided, but with the prevalence of insects in the world that's nearly impossible. People should be educated about insects and I feel like that would result in people being more accepting of them. People fear what they aren't familiar with, and the remedy for this is fear is knowledge. So if you're one of the people that fears "creepy crawlies," try to learn more about them; it might lessen that fear and maybe even spark a new interest.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Common Musk Turtle

A couple weeks ago I went out on an early morning hike at AW Marion State Park in Pickaway County. As I got to the other side of the dam there I noticed an Eastern Milk Snake basking on the trail. Creeping forward, camera ready, I edged closer and closer to the snake. Sadly, it quickly slithered away into the rocks along the dam, leaving a disappointed blogger (although I did have an encounter with another Milk Snake later, which you can read about here.) However, I turned around and walked about fifteen more feet and saw another reptile...

Common Musk Turtle
Meet the Common Musk Turtle, Sternotherus odoratus. Well, at least the carapace of one. As I went up to her to take a picture, she pulled herself up into her shell for protection. I have to admit, while missing the Milk Snake was disappointing, this encounter made up for it. This species is a very aquatic species, essentially only coming to land to lay eggs. This individual was about thirty to forty feet away from lake which leads me to think I caught a female on the way back to the lake after laying her clutch of eggs.

Common Musk Turtle
I picked her up to get some closer photos to help with identifying later on as I am not that well acquainted with turtles yet. She put on her scariest "Don't get near me or I'll bite" face on, but still stayed within the safety of her shell. So why the name "musk turtle?" Well, like many reptiles, this species has the ability to release musk, a bad smelling liquid, in self defense (the musk is phenolalkalinic acid for anyone interested). This habit has also led to the Common Musk Turtle being known as the Stinkpot. What about identifying these guys? Well, Common Musk Turtles are smaller turtles. The photo above gives you some idea with my hand as a reference. They have highly domed shells, compared to the flatter shells many other aquatic species have. Also, look at the yellow stripe going across the face in the photo above; this characteristic is a really good field mark for identification.

Common Musk Turtle Plastron
Another characteristic worth noting is their small plastron, or the bottom part of the shell. In fact, the plastron doesn't do much for protecting the legs and tail, as you can see. Common Musk Turtles, as I mentioned earlier, spend most of their life in the water. In fact, they possess an adaption that allows them to do aquatic respiration. Their tongues are covered in papillae that allow them to take oxygen out of the water, sort of like a fish's gills. This species can be found all throughout Ohio in wetlands and slow moving, vegetated streams.

I am a huge lover of turtles and have been ever since I was little. Having encounters like these are always awesome and very interesting. I'm hoping to also find a Box Turtle this summer, but I haven't been that lucky. Hopefully I'll have more turtle encounters in the next few months.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Late Spring and Early Summer Wildflowers, Pt. I

So I've really been getting into wildflowers recently. I've been taking tons of photos of every single flower I come across and I've bought a guide to help with IDing them all. I have that "problem." I will get interested in another section of nature and suddenly I'm trying to find and ID as many as I can. It started with birds, went to insects in general, then moths, then spiders, salamanders, snakes and turtles, and now wildflowers. So as a result, I have a lot of flowers. I am going to try and cover as many as I can over the next few years.

Guyandotte beauty, Synandra hispidula
First up we have Guyandotte beauty, Synandra hispidula. This species has been recorded in 17 counties here, mostly in the southern half of the state. I found this individual at Shoemaker Nature Preserve in Adams County. It can be found in shaded, moist forests, many times along streams (like this one was). This species is named after the Guyandotte River in West Virginia and is found throughout the East-Central US. This species is very sensitive and fragile to changes in the habitat it grows in, and as a result has declined in many areas throughout its range. It's listed as extirpated in North Carolina, endangered in Illinois, and critically imperiled in Alabama. It is currently not listed as threatened or endangered here, but with the way things look I would expect it to be added at some point in the future. 

Fire Pink, Silene virginica
This is Fire Pink, Silene virginica. This is a relatively common species here in Ohio and has been recorded in all but 20 counties. The petals are really, really red. Let me stress how red they are. Notice the notch at the end of each petal, but also notice the smaller notch halfway down the petal. This species grows in open woods and also the rocky forested slopes that can be found in unglaciated Ohio. This individual was also found at Shoemaker NP in Adams County; it was actually quite numerous there. It blooms April to June, so it's an early spring to early summer flower.

Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja coccinea
Next up is (Scarlet) Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja coccinea. Most of the people around here seem to simply call it Indian Paintbrush though (although that is the general name of about 200 species). This species has been recorded in 22 counties in Ohio. Those counties aren't spread in a pattern and are sort of randomly scattered across the map. This species grows in meadows, prairies, and barrens, so if that county has the appropriate habitat it could show up there. This one was found in Adams County, which has plenty of pocket prairies for it to take root in. This species flowers from May to July.

Lyre-Leaf Sage, Salvia lyrata
This flower is Lyre-Leaf Sage, Salvia lyrata. Ohio is at the northern reach of its range and has been recorded in 15 of the most southern counties extending up to Hocking County, and also randomly in Portage County near Lake Erie for whatever reason. The name comes from the leaves, which are shaped a bit like a lyre. Growing in full sun to partial shade, this species can be found growing along roadsides, in open forests, and in fields. It flowers mainly from April to June.

Large-Flowered Valerian, Valeriana pauciflora
Next we come to the Large-Flowered Valerian, Valeriana pauciflora. This species has been recorded in about half the counties here, mainly in the southern half of the state, but also extending up to Lake Erie from Ottawa to Lorain County. This species can be found in moist floodplain forests along streams, creeks, in gorges, etc. I came across many at Davis Memorial SNP in Adams County along the creek that flows through the park. This species blooms from late Spring to early Summer.

Long-Leaved Bluet, Houstonia longifolia
This is Long-Leaved Bluet, Houstonia longifolia. This species is an eastern US species, and is mainly found in Ohio in the eastern and southern regions. Long-Leaved Bluets can be found blooming from June to August in upland woods and rocky prairies. Notice the hairs along the petals and the thin leaves.

Foxglove Beardtongue, Penstemon digitalis
And last we have Foxglove Beardtongue, Penstemon digitalis. This species is native to the eastern half of North America and can be found in all sections of Ohio except for the northwest corner of the state. This is a taller plant, reaching heights from 1.5 to 3.5 feet or more. Foxglove Beardtongue can be found in open woods and prairies. This one was found in Adams County at Lynx Prairie in one of the rare pocket prairies. This species is an early summer bloomer.

This wraps it up for the first post covering late Spring and early Summer wildflowers. At least one more, maybe two, posts will follow in the next two weeks or so, so keep an eye out! Thanks for reading!

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Milk Snake and a Skink

Last Friday I went on a day trip to Adams County to do some hiking. I saw many interesting things, which I'll go over in some other posts, but this blog post is dedicated to one of the snakes I saw along with a lizard.

Eastern Milk Snake
Meet the Milk Snake, Lampropeltis triangulum. Specifically, this is the Eastern subspecies, L. triangulum triangulum. There are currently 24 recognized subspecies of Milk Snake in the world; however, there are ongoing debates about classification of these subspecies, specifically whether they should be classified as separate species or kept as subspecies. The colors of the Eastern Milk Snake are variable and can be darker than this individual to lighter. They are typically anywhere from 24 to 36 inches in length.

Eastern Milk Snake
The Eastern Milk Snake can be found in meadows, forests, and even occasionally in towns. They are a constrictor, meaning they will wrap around their prey (mostly rodents) and squeeze them hard enough to suffocate them. When handling this nicely sized adult, I could definitely notice the strong muscles it possessed as it wrapped its body around my hand.

Eastern Milk Snake
Every time I went to take a photo of him, he would follow the camera lens.
Eastern Milk Snakes typically hunt at night and hide during the day under logs and rocks. The interesting name "milk snake" comes from the old idea that they use to milk cows at night. Since they hunt mice, they would many times be found by farmers in mice-infested barns. These barns would occasionally be cow barns, so for whatever reason the farmers gave rise to the thought that they would milk their cows at night. This is a ridiculous, and false, thought however.

Snake Bite
I've heard some people say Eastern Milk Snakes are docile snakes. After my encounter with this individual, I would question whether that is true. This guy bit me a total of five times while I was taking pictures of him. However, this nonvenomous species has very small teeth and can barely puncture skin making their bites more funny than painful. (There are only three venomous snakes in Ohio. These are the Copperhead, Timber Rattlesnake, and Eastern Massasauga.) This guy did leave a few marks on my skin, but only drew a little bit of blood on one of the five bites. The bites felt more like a sharp pinch than anything.

Sorry for the really bad quality. I couldn't get any closer to this very skittish skink.
Last up we have a skink, a type of lizard. Specifically what skink species? Well, that's debatable. There are three species of skink in Ohio. At first glance, this skink could be a male Common Five-Lined Skink in breeding colors or a Broad-Headed Skink. Both are found in Adams County, but the Five-Lined is a common skink, while Broad-Headed's are very rare in Ohio. This was a larger skink, so it was either a large Five-Lined or a small Broad-Headed. I consulted the Facebook group Herping Ohio and everyone was torn. Obviously a Broad-Headed Skink would be an absolutely amazing find, but the odds are this is a Five-Lined Skink. The features needed to positively ID this species (scale placement and numbers on the head) are impossible to see on this photo, so there's no way to positively ID this. The general consensus in the end was that this is a male Common Five-Lined Skink in breeding coloration, and not a Broad-Headed Skink. Regardless, it was an awesome find for me and is only the second lizard I've found on my own in Ohio, so I was happy to get it.

Thanks for reading! I've got a lot of other posts I'm currently working on; I went from having no material to write about to having more material than I know what to do with! Keep an eye out for those posts. I'll hopefully finish one every few days!