Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Eight-Spotted Forester Caterpillar

Eight-spotted forester (larvae), Alypia octomaculata
Eight-spotted foresters belong the family Noctuidae, or owlet moths, which are the largest family in the Lepidoptera order; however, the adults behave more like butterflies. With black wings with white spots and bright orange hair on the legs, eight-spotted foresters are a commonly seen drinking nectar during the day. The larvae stage is less obvious as they feed on the underside of Virginia creeper and grapevine leaves.

Caterpillar attached by silk string to above Virginia creeper.
The caterpillar of the eight-spotted forester is a mixture of white, black, and orange bands although an immature stage is orange with interspersed light gray areas. They are primarily found in the eastern portions of North America with a few sightings out west. Eight-spotted foresters have one generation per year in the north, but can have two in the south. In the winter, the pupa overwinters in the soil or old wood.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Forest Tent Caterpillar

"Clump" of Forest Tent Caterpillars, Malacosoma disstria
Forest tent caterpillars are the most widely distributed native tent caterpillars that live throughout the United States and southern Canada. They can be found wherever hardwoods grow, especially broadleaved trees such as sugar maple, oaks, sweetgum, cottonwood, and aspen. Unlike other Malacosoma species, they do not actually construct tents, but rather silken mats on trunks and large branches. While the timing can vary depending on location, outbreaks are not uncommon. These high population periods of forest tent caterpillars can sometimes lead to mass defoliation and last an average of three years; however, unless the outbreak lasts far longer, few trees die from these outbreaks.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Blackland Prairie

Blooming of prairies typically occur during the end of April.
The Texas Blackland Prairie is a tallgrass prairie, and it is the most critically endangered ecosystem of North America. What has not been converted into cropland or pasture due to its rich soil has been removed for urban development. While approximately 50,501 km² (19,498 mi²) of Texas land is classified as Blackland Prairie, undisturbed prairie accounts for less than 1% of this region, and everyday, that amount decreases.

Prairie winds and threatened bumblebees.
On average, the region classified as Blackland Prairie has rainfall between 750 mm to 1,150 mm (30 in to 45 in). While rainfall is moderate, summer droughts are not uncommon. The topography ranges between rolling hills and level land. There are forested areas, but these are restricted to drainages and waterways.

Non-native species can often create issues in conservation.
The Blackland Prairie is a true prairie grassland community shaped by fires and grazing of bison. While little bluestem is the dominant grass, Indiangrass, big bluestem, switchgrass, and eastern gamagrass are also major species. Where there are rivers, trees such as various oaks, elm, cottonwood, hackberry, and pecan can be found. Of the forbs, tickclover, trailing wildbean, thistle, and gayfeather are common.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pink Chintz Thyme

Pink Chintz Thyme, Thymus serpyllum
Pink Chintz thyme, also known as creeping thyme and mother-of-thyme, is a wild thyme cultivar native to parts of Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa. It is a herbaceous semi-evergreen ground cover that prefers full sun and average, well-drained soils. While it is drought tolerant, too much moisture can cause root rot. Flowers bloom from late Spring to early Autumn, but may bloom earlier in some warmer regions. Although the flowers are small, bees and butterflies are readily attracted to them. The leaves may be used for culinary purposes, but the strength and taste will vary with habitat and season.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Blood Moon

Total lunar eclipse in conjunction with Spica, close to Mars.
When the Earth sits directly between the sun and moon, the shadow of the Earth results in a total lunar eclipse. The coppery red coloration of the moon is not unusual during such an event, but the occurrence of a lunar tetrad, four consecutive total lunar eclipses at six lunar months apart, is a bit more uncommon - depending on the century. While the term blood moon can be applied to all total lunar eclipses, it should be noted that Blood Moon is also the folklore name of the full moon after the Harvest Moon. As autumn full moons rise soon after sunset, the moon often has a red look due to there being more atmosphere earning it its name; however, the second of the lunar tetrad will occur on October 8, the night of the Blood Moon.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dog Vomit Slime Mold

Dog Vomit Slime Mold, Fuligo septica
The slime mold Fuligo septica is commonly known as either Dog vomit slime mold or Scrambled eggs slime mold. Often spotted in humid late spring up through early fall, the plasmodium stage creeps along dead wood and other materials to engulf and consume bacteria, spores of fungi and plants, and protozoa as well as particles of nonliving organic matter. When either the food runs out or conditions become too dry, the slime mold enters the sporangia stage where it becomes dusty and dry allowing the spores to blow away. Of the slime molds, Fuligo septica produces the largest spore-producing structure known. It is also one of the most common and distinctive in appearance. Slime mold is near impossible to remove and is not known to cause illness in humans, but they do play an important role in helping to break down tough, decaying materials and returning those nutrients back into the soil.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Redstem Filaree

Redstem filaree, Erodium cicutarium (leaves hidden)
Also known as pinclover, pingrass, cranesbill, common stork's bill, and cutleaf filaree, redstem filaree is distributed worldwide and can be found throughout most of the North American continent. It is a seasonal forage for desert tortoise, rodents, and deer while the seeds are often consumed by songbirds. Redstem filaree is very adaptable, able to tolerate drought, various soil types, fire, disturbed sites, and grazing; the seeds may survive even harsher conditions. It has been used in folk medicine, and the young leaves and stems are edible, either raw or cooked.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Slime Mold

Slime mold, Identification unknown
Once considered part of the kingdom Fungi, slime molds are now of the kingdom Protoctista. These single-celled organisms are a soil-dwelling amoeba, often with multiple nuclei. In a vegetative state, they form a multinucleate mass of protoplasm called plasmodium. The plasmodium may be anywhere from a few millimeters in diameter to 30 cm (1 ft) across. Within hours, fructification can occur with forms of sporangia (stalked), aethalia (cushioned-shaped structures), or plasmodiocarps (branching). The colors and resemblance range from bioluminescent slim in tropical locations to ones resembling vomit to the creeping yellow Physarum polycephalum often used in botany laboratories. They prefer moist, terrestrial habitats such as decaying wood and fresh dung.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Honey Bee

Honey bee, Apis mellifera on Crowpoison, Nothoscordum bivalve
The honey bee is native to regions of Europe, western Asia, and Africa purposely introduced to other parts of the world starting in the 17th century. There are currently 26 recognized subspecies of Apis mellifera where differences may range from climate tolerance to abdominal banding pattern to agricultural output in particular environments. Honey bees are social where there are three castes: queens, drones, and workers. In addition to production of honey, beeswax, and pollen, honey bees also pollinate most crops; however, honey bee introduction has pushed out native bee species in many areas. This in turn has harmed some native plants that rely on the specialization of native bees for pollination.