Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

I recently found a stink bug in my kitchen. It was a Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (Halyomorpha halys). This invasive insect is native to Japan, Korea and China. The first North America record was from Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1998 and it reached Michigan in 2011.

Halyomorpha halys

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

The adults overwinter in houses, barns, garages, and outbuildings. Adults are 12-16mm [1/2-5/8 inch] long and shaped like a shield. Their antennae are dark with light bands. Light spots are also found on the edges of their bodies. This is the only species of stink bug commonly found inside a house during our Michigan winter. It can occur by the hundreds in some homes.

Halyomorpha halys

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs will not bite humans. They can be a major pest on fruit trees and damage the leaves and fruit of apples, pears, peaches, cherries, corn, tomatoes, peppers, soybeans, and others. Luckily they only raise one brood in Michigan.
Copyright 2017 by Donald Drife

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What is Killing the Jack Pine?

Sphaeropsis shoot blight

Sphaeropsis shoot blight

Last Fall, my friend Trapper Dave contacted me and asked what was killing the Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana) in a Kirtland’s Warbler planting near his cabin in Oscoda County. This planting was the subject of an earlier blog post. Needles on branches and entire trees suddenly turned brown. We checked other plantings and found dead trees several other places in Oscoda, Crawford, and Montmorency counties. Several of these stands were two year old Kirtland’s Warbler plantings and we became concerned about the impact this die-off might have on this endangered bird.

Trapper Dave contacted the DNR and a helpful Forest Health Technician replied that, “We have had several reports from roughly a four county area of this type of mortality. The pictures you sent are consistent with other pictures we have received from this area… I’ll be sure to send you a some more information once we are able to make a diagnosis.”

Later we received a report from the Diagnostic Services at Michigan State University. They identified Sphaeropsis canker (Sphaeropsis sp. or spp) as the cause of the die-off. From the limited sample, submitted by the Forest Technician, they could not identify which species it was or even if more than one species is involved. The genus is poorly understood and probably has many undescribed species.

Sphaeropsis shoot blight

Jack Pine needles showing Sphaeropsis shoot blight

I looked up the fungus in Tree Maintenance (6th edition) by Pirone, Hartman, Sall, and Pirone. They list another newer generic name, Diplodia but use Sphaeropsis. They write that the fungus “overwinters in infected needles, twigs, and cones. In spring, the small fruiting bodies release egg-shaped, light brown spores… The fungus grows down through the needles and into the twigs, where it destroys tissues as far back as the first node.” (page 425).

Sphaeropsis shoot blight

Close-up of needle showing Sphaeropsis shoot blight spores

Several sources state that the spores overwinter in the cones but I could not find spores in the half-dozen cones I checked. The fungus kills the branches quickly. Die-off appeared over a two-week period but the trees must have been infected for most of the summer.

A USDA Northeastern Area Fact Sheet states, “Sphaeropsis shoot blight, formerly called Diplodia shoot blight, is worldwide in distribution and can infect many conifer hosts. Although many pine species are reported hosts, this disease causes severe damage only to trees that are predisposed by unfavorable environmental conditions. …Other predisposing environmental factors include poor site, drought, hail or snow damage, compacted soils, excessive shading, insect activity or other mechanical wounding. In the north-central United States, the most common hosts are Austrian, Scotch, mugo, red and jack pines grown in ornamental and windbreak plantings.”

We need to monitor the extent of the shoot blight damage in the Grayling area. It is a native fungus attacking a native tree that should have defense mechanisms. It was a dry year in the Grayling area so this may have made the trees more susceptible to infection. I am concerned that the USDA lists Jack Pine plantings, which of course is what we do for Kirtland’s Warbler, as being more susceptible to the infection. I did not find the fungus in the half dozen naturally occurring Jack Pine stands that I checked. If you find this fungus please report the location in the comments section of this blog post.
Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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Eastern Ironclad Beetle (Phellopsis obcordata)

Phellopsis obcordata

Eastern Ironclad Beetle on shelf fungus

Last August, I found a beetle, resembling a woodchip, sitting on a shelf fungus along the old growth trail in Hartwick Pines State Park. On this field trip I was looking at fungi with a friend or I probably would have overlooked this well camouflaged beetle. It was an Eastern Ironclad Beetle (Phellopsis obcordata). According to bugguide.net they eat “fungi associated with decaying trees in old growth boreal forests.” I love when a beetle reads and follows the rules. The larva burrows inside the fungus eating pathways. The adults feed on the surface of the fungus. I have visited Hartwick Pines several times a year over the last four decades and I still find new things to see. You never know what you are going to find.

Phellopsis obcordata

Eastern Ironclad Beetle

 

Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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Cottonwood Gall Aphids (Pemphigus populitranversus)

Pemphigus popilitranversus


Cottonwood Gall

While I was raking leaves off our small “lawn,” my wife (knowing full well the answer would be yes) asked me if I wanted to see a leaf gall. It was formed on the petiole of an Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides). I checked bugguide.net and identified that a Cottonwood Gall Aphid caused the gall.  Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid is another common name for this species.

Pemphigus popilitranversus

Cottonwood Gall                  Left hand gall showing transverse split

It is a hollow gall, not quite round, with a transverse split. It occurs along the petiole (the stem of a leaf) just below the blade. I cut a few open and found a waxy substance but no insects. They might have exited through the slit. I opened one more and found the adult aphid.

Pemphigus popilitranversus

Interior of Cottonwood Gall    L – shed skin                 R – adult winged aphid

I Googled the scientific name and the phrase “life cycle” and found Roberta Gibson’s informative and fun blog “Growing with Science (The Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid was the “Bug of the Week” in May of 2015.) She explains the aphid’s life cycle. Aphids seldom have straight forward life cycles. They over winter as eggs on Cottonwood twigs. They hatch in the spring and feed on the leaf petioles, causing the plant to produce the gall. Then the insect moves inside. It becomes a winged adult and exits through the slot in the gall’s side. They complete their life cycle on the roots of cabbage, turnips, or another member of the mustard family (Brassicaceae). Another common name is Cabbage Root Aphid. The aphids complete their life cycle by flying back to Cottonwoods and depositing eggs on the twigs or bark.

This is a great time of year to look for galls. Get outside and enjoy Nature. Also, check out Roberta’s blog and website. Even though she is based out of Arizona many things she writes about occur in Michigan.
Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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Don’t Touch That Beetle: Oil Beetle (Meloe sp.)

meloe-sp-oil-beetle-1During a recent work session at the Royal Oak Arboretum one of the Boy Scouts found a large purplish-black beetle. It was part of the Blister Beetle group called an Oil Beetle (Meloe sp.). They exude an yellowish oily substance from the base of their legs that forms blisters if it contacts human skin. They placed the beetle in a large plastic cup and the cup’s bottom was spotted with oily liquid when I first saw it.

This genus consists of six species in the Northeastern United States. I am not sure which species this one is. I am happy to know the genus of an insect.

Meloe sp.

Female Oil Beetle

The females are about twice the size of the males. This female was 40mm [1.5 inches] long and seemed sluggish. They overwinter as eggs and perhaps she had laid her eggs and was reaching the end of her life. This is a flightless, parasitic beetle. The eggs hatch in the late spring and the larva are described as alligator-like. Climbing onto a flower they wait for one of the solitary bees to land and quickly latch on to its back. The Oil Beetle larva rides the bee back to its nest and feeds on the developing bee larva and possibly some of the pollen in the nest. It then pupates and emerges in the fall to mate and lay its eggs.

It is fun to find a new insect in an area that I visit often. You never know what you are going to see when you just get out and look.
Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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A Parasitic Yellow Jacket

yellowjacket-nest

Yellow Jacket nest in old camper shell

Last summer I killed a Yellow Jacket nest that was constructed in an old camper shell at our cabin. Normally I coexist with the wildlife around me but I had a visitor who was allergic to wasp stings.

Dolichovespula arenaria

Aerial Yellow Jacket closeups

The workers were all Aerial Yellow Jackets (Dolichovespula arenaria). This is one of our native species. The yellow banding pattern on the abdomen is distinctive with a black “V” in the middle of the relatively wide yellow band. The face is almost solid yellow. The Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification has a great website for wasp identification.

Dolichovespula arctica

Parasitic Yellow Jacket

I also found Yellow Jackets that were mainly black and white. These were Parasitic Yellow Jackets  (Dolichovespula arctica). This is the only parasitic species in the genus found in eastern North America. It also goes by the name of Dolichovespula adulterina.

Dolichovespula arctica, Dolichovespula arenaria

Parasitic Yellow Jacket – L
Aerial Yellow Jacket – R

D. adulterina is a broader classification and includes D. arctica. Whichever name you use there is still only a single parasitic Yellow Jacket species in Michigan.

Parasitic Yellow Jackets reproduce only in Aerial Yellow Jacket nests. A Parasitic Yellow Jacket queen invades an established Aerial Yellow Jacket nest. It either kills the Aerial Yellow Jacket queen immediately or coexists for a time with her and then kills her. Aerial Yellow Jacket workers raise the parasites’ young.  The parasite produces only males (drones) and queens who eventually take control of the nest. Each queen, once they mate, overwinters outside of the nest and then repeats the same process the following year.

I intend to look at Yellow Jackets more closely and hope to find a parasitized nest for further study.
Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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Review: “Michigan Shrubs & Vines”

The University of Michigan Press recently released Michigan Shrubs & Vines: A Guide to Species of the Great Lakes Region by Burton Barnes, Christopher Dick, and Melanie Gunn. This is a companion volume to Michigan Trees by Burton Barnes and Warren Wagner.

Species accounts are similar to the ones in Michigan Trees. Two pages for each species with a page describing size and form, bark, leaves, stems-twigs, winter buds, flowers, fruit and distribution. The section on site-habitat shows that the authors know these plants in the field. A notes section contains interesting tidbits that might include: growth habits, origin of common and scientific names, world distribution, or uses by Native Americans. A second page shows line drawings of the shrub and its key characters. I applaud the authors decision to use drawings instead of photographs. The selected drawings show the key characters and are excellent. Not every shrub is treated at this level. Some are only mentioned under the heading similar species.

From the species accounts I learned that Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata) occurs in bogs in Japan. That Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) seeds “may remain viable in the soil for decades.” Also, that there are 58,000 Bearberry seeds to the pound. Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) contains “methyl salicylate, closely related to the main ingredient in aspirin.” Leatherwood’s (Dirca palustris) fruit is correctly described as “pale green to yellowish-green when ripe.” Many guidebooks get this wrong stating it is purple or dark red which the fruit becomes if dried or rotting.

Michigan Shrubs and Vines contains a set of workable keys (and a section on how to use them including line drawings of many of the plant parts). The keys stress vegetative characters and allow identification without flowers and most of the time without fruit. I ran a dozen species through the keys and they worked flawlessly.

The final section of the book is headed “Ecology of Shrubs and Vines.” It distills some of Burt Barnes’ insights regarding ecology in a manner that laypersons will understand. This section alone is worth the price of the book. Shrub reproduction strategies, climate change, specific site factors, and Michigan’s four regional landscape ecosystems are among the topics discussed.

This book will allow you to identify Michigan’s shrubs and vines and then place them into the bigger ecological picture. It can be ordered from the University of Michigan Press and should be in the library of every naturalist in Michigan.

 
Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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Broad-leaved Helleborine’s Look-a-likes

Coeloglossum viride

Long-bracted Orchid L & C                                                       Yellow Lady-slipper R (Note hairs)

Many people have posted comments on an earlier blog post about Broad-leaved Helleborine (Epipactis helleborine). There is a lot of confusion regarding the identification of this species. I recently saw a photograph of this orchid identified as Spotted Coral-root  (Corallorhiza maculata). Broad-leaved Helleborine has several color forms and some of the field guides do not account for the variations.

Epipactis helleborine

Close-up of Epipactis flower showing distinctive orchid flower structures

If you have a plant in flower you can recognize it as an orchid because it has three sepals and three petals with one of the petals modified into a lip. The reproductive  organs are fused into a column. The leaves are parallel veined. (Note: Sepals are the outer covering of a flower bud. Petals are inside of the bud.)

Broad-leaved Helleborine’s flowers are about 15mm (5/8 inches) across and the lip is turned in at the tip.

Epipactis helleborine

Smooth leaves and stems of Broad-leaved Helleborine

When not flowering Broad-leaved Helleborine is commonly mistaken for one of the lady-slippers but its leaves and stem are smooth. Lady-slippers (Cypripedium spp.) have hairy leaves and stems. Helleborine normally has more leaves than a lady-slipper.

Long-bracted Orchid (Coeloglossum viride) has smaller flowers with notched lips and is not as coarse a plant as hellebore. It grows in natural areas and I have never seen it invading a garden.

Epipactis helleborine

Root of Broad-leaved Helleborine showing growth bud and side view of flower

While this is not a gardening blog many people ask about controlling this species. The only way I know is to try to dig out the plant. If you leave any of the fleshy root behind it will come back.  Note the growth bud for next year’s plant in the photo. Most orchid species have fleshy roots so please make sure you have the plant correctly identified before you dig. My earlier blog post showed this species growing with domestic Viburnum and, in spite of repeated digging, that colony is still growing. Plants appeared in my wildflower garden, but died out without any interference from me.

Broad-leaved Helleborine is probably growing in every county in the state. Learn the plant when it is flowering so you can identify it later in the year.
Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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I Listen to the Trees

Populus tremuloides

The author and his niece listening to an Aspen

The January-June, 2015 issue of The Michigan Botanist is a tribute to Burt Barnes who died in 2014. Dr. Barnes co-authored Michigan Trees with the late Herb Wagner. This is my go to book for information on Michigan trees. Dr. Barnes was a forest ecologist and an expert on Aspens and Birches. One photograph caught my eye. It shows Dr. Barnes with his ear pressed against a small Aspen. Its caption reads, “Burt Barnes listens for ‘the sound of bells’ along the trunk of a young aspen tree as the wind blows its leaves” (page 77). The article does not state if they heard anything. It even says, “someone had jokingly told him” this. I needed to find out what they heard.

A few days later, my niece and I spent an evening listening to tree trunks. Pressing one ear against a Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) trunk and blocking the other ear so I would not hear the wind through the leaves I listened. Whenever the wind rustled the leaves, the trunk sounded similar to a light gentle rain. We listened to Quaking Aspens of different sizes from 2 inches [5cm] to 18 inches [45cm] hearing the sound from every tree. We heard the same sound from Bigtooth Aspen (Populus grandidentata) and their hybrid (Populus xsmithii).

Populus grandidentataPopulus tremuloides

Bigtooth Aspen leaves (L) and Quaking Aspen leaves (R)

We then wondered what sounds other trees made. We listened to Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Red Oak (Quercus rubra), and Red Maple (Acer rubrum) and heard no sounds. We visited a stand of Balsam Poplar (Populus balsamifera) and heard no sounds from the trunk of this Aspen relative.

Why is the rain sound heard only in Aspens? Does the density and structure of the wood transmit sound better? Do Aspen leaves vibrate at a unique frequency? The sound was produced regardless of the wind speed so perhaps frequency is irrelevant. Or perhaps, as my mentor tells me, this is one of those things we do not understand and we need to embrace the mystery.

Get out and listen to the trees. Enjoy the mystery. And you will probably find something else fascinating in Nature.
Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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National Pollinator Week

Mason Wasp (Symmorphus cristatus) nest

“Buzz Inn” bee hotel mounted in my yard, and some occupied “rooms”

June 20-26, 2016 has been designated National Pollinator Week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior. Our yard is pollinator friendly. We use no insecticides. We provide plants that produce pollen and attract pollinators to our vegetable garden.

This year, we put up a bee hotel now called the “Buzz Inn.”  Our plans came from a helpful guide, Managing Alternative Pollinators: A Handbook for Beekeepers, Growers and Conservationists, SARE Handbook 11, NRAES-186 by Eric Mader, Marla Spivak, and Elaine Evans.

SARE is Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education.

Symmorphus cristatus

Mason Wasp at nest holes

Symmorphus cristatus

Mason Wasp

Eleven cells are currently occupied—meaning capped with mud. Five others have already hatched. A Mason Wasp (Symmorphus cristatus) has moved in. They are in the 3/16 inch [4.8mm] diameter holes. We hope other pollinators will move in and use other sizes. The inn’s largest holes are 3/8 inch [10.0mm] diameter. I installed the inn four weeks ago. We may need to add more rooms.
Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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