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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Robert Gasiorowski: Naturalist

Robert Gasiorowski

Bob Gasiorowski leading Nature Walks 1975

Royal Oak’s nature community lost a good friend last month with the passing of Robert (Bob) Gasiorowski. I met Bob in the summer of 1972 when a notice appeared in the Royal Oak Daily Tribune announcing a series of morning hikes in Quickstad Park. Bob served as the city naturalist and led the hikes. Each session began with a lecture by Bob in his classroom in Kimball High School and then we would head to Quickstad for a nature walk. Topics included: pond life, insects, birds, trees, wildflowers, mammals, and more. Bob shared his infectious passion for all facets of the natural world. The nature program ran for several years, adding summer evening walks and an evening lecture program. I made my first public speaking presentation, with much encouragement and coaching from Bob, to this group.

Tenhave Woods in Quickstad Park still exists because Bob fought for its preservation. The city was under pressure to remove the undergrowth and thin the trees so the park would become “safer”. Bob and John Lindell, the director of Royal Oak Parks and Recreation, protected these marvelous woods from destruction. As a compromise Tenhave Woods was fenced.

Blue-headed Vireo, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Magnolia Warbler

Blue-headed Vireo, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Magnolia Warbler in hand during bird banding work in the 1970s.

Bob’s data from the 1970s provides a baseline for us to measure the health of the woodlot. We have several decades of his bird banding records. These form the base of our bird list. As part of a 1971 NSF Summer Institute for teachers at U of M Dearborn, he identified and measured hundreds of trees in Tenhave Woods. This quantitative analysis allows us to measure the changes in tree species composition. Under Bob’s direction, the first vascular plant list for the park was compiled.

Naturalists of Bob’s caliber are rare.  Most people specialize in one facet of natural history. They study birds, or plants, or insects. Bob studied everything.  I’m lucky to have had many people who instructed me about the natural world. Bob taught me to diligently observe nature. To measure and record the world around me. Get out a stopwatch and time how many calls a minute a Robin makes. Measure the size of that tree or flower. Use a thermometer and discover the difference in temperatures between the sunny and shady sides of a rock. Quantify Nature but never lose the wonder of Nature. Do not overlook the beauty of a spring woods in full bloom or the music of a wren’s song. He taught me to put Nature into the hands of children. Share with them the wonder. Bob was happiest when he was teaching and especially loved to teach young children. He told me, “If a child sees a bird through binoculars then they probably will not look at one through a B-B gun sight.”

Bob Gasiorowski receiving the first “Robert Gasiorowski Lifetime Achievement Award” in 2007, presented by Don Drife and Bob Muller

Bob Gasiorowski receiving the first “Robert Gasiorowski Lifetime Achievement Award” in 2007, presented by Don Drife and Bob Muller, and watching in 2008 as the award is given to another recipient.

The Royal Oak Nature Society would not exist without Bob’s program as an example. It is fitting that their highest honor is named the “Robert Gasiorowski Lifetime Achievement Award” and that he was the first recipient. Bob spent a lifetime learning and then teaching about Nature. I will miss him.

 

Thanks to Robert Muller for providing photos from the 1970s.
Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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That’s not a Duckweed

Ricciocarpos natans

Purple-fringed Riccia

Purple-fringed Riccia (Ricciocarpus natans) is not a flowering plant. It is an aquatic liverwort. It is found worldwide except where there is permanent ice. Floating on a pond it resembles a Duckweed and often grows with them. It differs in its butterfly shape and the fringe of purplish scales on the underside of the plants.

Ricciocarpos natans

Purple-fringed Riccia upper and lower surfaces

Duckweeds are flowering plants, capable of producing seeds. Purple-fringed Riccia reproduces via spores or plant division. Spores are produced inside the thallus. A thallus is a flat plant body not separated into stems and leaves. The plants are buoyant because they have many air chambers. A nice colony is found in Dragonfly Pond, Tenhave Woods, Royal Oak, Michigan. This is an interesting plant which should be sought in ponds throughout Michigan.

Ricciocarpos natans

Purple-fringed Riccia section showing air chambers and developing spores

Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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