Monday, May 21, 2018

Prairie Lady Beetle

Wednesday's WOLF School field trip to the Missouri Prairie Foundation's La Petite Gemme Prairie was a great success.  With Jay Barber (MDC) and Jerod Huebner (MPF) we divided the WOLFs into three teams.  The WOLF students in my exercise counted the different plants by appearance within a hula hoop (14 to a record of 22 species) before the hunt for insects began in earnest.  Nothing can put terror in an insect's heart as the sight of a 5th grader armed with a sweep net.*

Students started finding leaves with small orange and black lumps adhering to them.  These were the pupae of ladybeetles, called ladybugs, but these ladies aren't really bugs but beetles in the order Coleoptera.  They make pupae, similar to the more familiar cocoons of moths and chrysalis of butterflies.

The students found an occasional black larva with yellow-orange stripes and spots.  Now we had the question of which ladybeetle.  Until recently this would have meant a trip to Google and the books but that is changing. has gotten much better with time and submitting the photograph of our larva brought up the top 10 likely species.  A quick comparison with online photographs of the top two picks confirmed the ID of the Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens. entry 
"Clusters of yellow eggs are laid by the adult female beetle in batches of 10-30 eggs on stems or leaves of plants where abundant insect prey is present. Individual eggs are spindle-shaped and 1-1.5 mm (≈1/20th inch) long and laid pointing upwards."  (University of Florida Entomology).  The tiny larva that emerges is born hungry and will feed on aphids or even the eggs of its siblings.  The first instar is predominantly black but each molting the amount of orange color increases.  Ours were the final instar before forming a pupa.
Hippodamia convergens larvae feeding on eggs of the cottonwood leaf beetle - CC
One of the students noticed a pupa that showed some movement.  Just like the Luna Moth pupa that they had seen dancing last fall (see the video) last fall, this one demonstrated its predator evasion moves for the students while we filmed it here.


I brought home a few of the pupae and the very next morning all of them had emerged and were crawling around the insect box.  Unlike the stinking, nipping and obnoxious Asian Ladybeetles that invade our homes, the Convergent Ladybeetle is well mannered and welcome in our gardens.  An adult can consume 30-50 aphids a day as well as other bug eggs and even honeydew, nectar, and pollen when prey is scarce.  They are important natural biological control agents in commercial fields plagued by aphids and other insect pests.  Out on the prairie, they were just doing their own thing as a part of the food web.

* Few insects were harmed aside from net bruises.  Species the students found included:
  • Lacewings
  • Crane flies
  • Grass moths and others
  • Assorted diptera (flies)
  • Spiders - jumping, crab and others
  • Beetles - unidentified
  • Preying Mantis nymphs
  • Looper caterpillars
  • Grasshoppers
  • Katydids
  • Leafhoppers
  • Aphids
  • Wasps (no stings)
  • Solitary bees
  • Stink bugs - plant and predatory
  • Leaf galls harboring insect larvae
  • ...and the "dick, dick, ciss, ciss, ciss" call of the Dicksissel
La Petite Gemme Prairie is indeed a "little gem."  At only 37 acres, it is one of Missouri’s smaller tracts of original, unplowed prairie, yet it is packed with a documented 335 native plant species, and with the greatest diversity of prairie plants on a quarter-meter scale (38 species) found to date in Missouri.
-->  Located 30 minutes north of Springfield, just west of Bolivar, it is our favorite prairie, easily accessible, fertile, and an easy stroll through thick and beautiful plants.  If you have never strolled a prairie and live around Springfield, this is a the one to start on.  It is owned by the Missouri Prairie Foundation and maintained by jointly by the Missouri Department of Conservation and MPF.
You can enjoy a free weekend of prairie learning experiences and even have a Saturday night campout June 2 and 3 at the Missouri Prairie Foundation’s 9th Annual Prairie BioBlitz at its Pleasant Run Creek Prairie.  Learn details at this link.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Stink Bug Eggs

One of our WOLF School students gave me this leaf from the playground.  On the underside there was a tiny tightly packed cluster of eggs.  She recognized that they might be eggs, but of what?  Under magnification, the eggs were a cloudy white with a faint pink line.  The cluster was typical of stink bugs eggs.  I did what any other sophisticated biologist with my training would do.  I put the leaf in a ziplock bag and waited for nature to take its course.

Five days later was the great "coming out."  The tiny 2mm creatures were clustered around the empty egg mass, but by the time I got out my camera they were on the move.  The eggs were still in place but the tops were ajar where the larvae had chewed their way to freedom.  They seemed larger than the egg they had emerged from, a phenomena that any human mother can appreciate.

  David R Lance, USDA
Under better light as seen above, these can be identified as brown marmorated stink bugs (MBSB), Halyomorpha halys.  I bagged the larvae in with assorted fresh leaves from Barb's flower garden (all native species of course) and the next morning they were all tightly clustered on the underside of a squaw weed leaf, Packera obovata.  When disturbed they began to move, as seen in this somewhat shaky videoI challenge you to try making a video of 2mm crawling nymphs after your second cup of coffee.

BMSB is a species accidentally introduced from Asia and first collected in 1998.  It has rapidly moved across the country and is now found in Europe and South America.  It is found in wooded urban areas as well as orchards where it has become a major pest.  Like most other stink bugs it feeds by sticking its proboscis into the plant and injecting juices that digest the plant.  This leaves fruits dimpled with rotting inside, making them unsaleable.  For most of us, it seems likely that we will become more intimately acquainted with BMSB in our personal lives.
"Late in the season, adults will enter homes and other buildings when seeking sheltered sites to overwinter or diapause. During the several weeks of peak flight, many insects can enter homes through any small opening, mostly around windows. In Japan, the BMSB is a well-known nuisance pest for this reason, and the same situation is now common in Allentown, Pennsylvania in late September and early October.  As the insect spreads to new areas, this aggregation behavior will probably again attract attention and ironically assist in monitoring its distribution."
5th instar - Hectonichus CC
Adult BMSB - Alpsdake CC

They progress through 6 instars before reaching adulthood with the brown marmorated color, meaning having a marbled or streaked appearance.  The 5th instar is my personal favorite but sadly they won't be reaching this stage in our house.  (Mama don't allow no stinking invasive species around here.)
The University of Florida Entomology Department has more detailed information.

There are some "good" stinkbugs that are predatory, feasting of insects that you don't want in your garden.  This website has photographs to help you tell the difference between them but the easiest feature is the sharply pointed shoulder spines seen below.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Pileated Woodpecker

Female Pileated Woodpecker waiting for the next shift to arrive
A dead tree along the lane at Bull Creek has been losing large branches and I was tempted to fell it but held off as it was potential bird habitat, never dreaming that we would hit the jackpot.  Last week, Chris Barnhart told me that a Pileated Woodpecker (PW) had flown into a new hole.  A few days later I set up my camera and made seven 28 minute videos, leaving them alone each time to encourage their normal habits. 

Every 10 to 20 minutes one would stick its head out to look around and maybe to hear any calls.  It would look in different directions and sometimes twist its head as though listening intently for its mate.  They appeared to be taking 2 hour shifts, probably trading off incubating their eggs, a chore shared by males.  The bird to the right is a male, identified by a red streak on the cheek behind the bill. 

PWs are uncommonly seen up close.  They are a bird of the forest, preferring dense woods with large trees.  It is distinctly uncommon to be able to observe them at a nest this close up.    We occasionally hear their call across the valley but usually only get a rare glimpse up in the woods.  Cornell's All About Birds recordings refer to their "wuk" call but I think the field guide description as a cuk-cuk-cuk is more descriptive.  With a long series of calls it tends to rise in pitch, then fall at the end.  You can hear one getting its "yucks"at the start of this video that I compiled of the day's highlights.

Male preparing to leave the nest to the female
Highlights of the video on Youtube.
0:00  The male calls and the female sticks out her head to listen.  Female flies out of the nest, then the male arrives10 seconds later.
0:33  Male peering out of the nest.
0:54  Female arrives and they trade places
1:45  Female leaves and male returns

I am intrigued by the way a woodpecker can effortlessly hop up a smooth tree, seeming to have both feet off the trunk at the same time.  Viewing at 1/8th the speed you can barely make out the fact that it holds on with one foot for a split second while moving the other foot.  The tail feathers are strong and somewhat stiff, necessary to prop the bird upright.  Imagine how much pressure is applied on them when the woodpecker is excavating the hole!
  • Of course someone has studied the difference between woodpecker tail and body feathers as seen here
  • The Infinite Spider goes into the anatomic features allowing woodpeckers to hammer at 1000x the force of gravity.
  • has a set of incredible photographs of a pileated woodpecker at work.
"I'll be back in an hour!"

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Owls of Winter

Becky Swearingen had a big owl winter and shared this story with us.

I was walking Pennsylvania Prairie one evening in late winter. It was about an hour before dusk and I was just standing in the middle of the prairie soaking in the peace and quiet when I looked up and saw a Short-Eared Owl making a beeline for my head. Not wanting to spook it I didn’t even get my camera up to take a picture. Instead I froze in spot thinking “Do I duck?” Fortunately about 10 feet in front of me it veered to my right.

I turned and took what I thought was a parting shot, but the owl turned returned to get a better look at me, flying about 10 feet from me.

I had just read that owls that summer in the far north are often not familiar with people and show less fear than birds that breed in more populated areas. This owl seemed curious about what I was more than concerned. It happened in just a matter of moments and then the owl passed me and continued hunting for its dinner. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, though.

This owl is in a fairly open barn in Southwest Missouri. Two of us were given the opportunity to approach the barn. As we approached, it flushed and flew into a decrepit house also on the site. I slowly approached the house and once again the bird flushed, but this time landed on a branch right above me to check me out.

A month or so later I was out with the Greater Ozarks Audubon Society looking for shorebirds. They were aware of a Barn Owl in the area and decided that for a treat they would show us the location. When Barn Owls are found, their location is kept a closely guarded secret. They are easily disturbed in their nesting locations. They are also the victims of predation, particularly from Great Horned Owls. I had known of one other Barn Owl family that over the course of a couple of months was completely decimated. We found the remains of Barn Owls in the area and can only assume they were victims of Great Horned Owl predation.

I shot as many pictures as I could until it flew back to its barn roost. We heard that there was possibly a second Barn Owl close by, so we have hopes of a new family of Barn Owls taking up residence. Barn Owls breed year-round and can have owlets of different ages in their roost at the same time.

This time of year, it also a good idea to look at all the old hawk’s nest around. That is one area that Great Horned Owls will nest in. This nest is from this spring in Dade County.

Great Horned Owl and owlet snuggling together at Lake Springfield
--> Finally, as winter is winding down and spring is making its slow progress, it is time for the owls who winter here, like the Short-Eared Owls, to move back to their breeding grounds. As dusk approaches, though, keep your eyes peeled for those owls. It is a treat when you get a close encounter of the owl kind.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Callery Cedar

"...and a partridge pear in a pear cedar tree"

Barb called me a few weeks ago to tell me that she had found a Callery pear tree (think Bradford) next door that was growing out of the trunk of an eastern red cedar.  I won't go on to say what I thought at the time as she edits this blog.  As I trust her fully I only said, "Oh?"
Pear above junction with the parent cedar.
When I got home I went out to see it for myself.  Indeed, there is a Callery pear tree, Pyrus calleryana, 2.5" in diameter emerging from the cedar's trunk three feet above the ground!  It is healthy and happy, approximately 12' tall and in full bloom.  The cedar appears healthy and is the same height as its mates along the line.

Cedar limb scar with Callery pear exiting above - Click to enlarge
Base of pear- Click to enlarge
Close up you can see that a branch was sawed off years ago.  The Callery emerges from the top edge of the scar, which is 3" in diameter, on a 9" DBH (diameter at breast height) cedar.  There is no visible opening to suggest a cavity where a seed might have fallen in the past. 

The first thought might be that it was grafted.  Bradford pears like all other flowering broad-leaf trees are angiosperms and can't be grafted onto gymnosperms such as junipers and pines.  (Technically, our "eastern red cedars" are not cedars, they are junipers, Juniperus virginica.)

The current consensus** of several forestry people is that some time in the past fifteen or so years a bird passed a seed onto the branch and it landed in a crack in it.  Perhaps the bird's feces provided it a little nutrition and a break in the cedar bark allowed some water to collect.  A big question remains - does its roots extend to the ground or is it getting its nutrition from the cedar itself?  I hope to protect it until someone can study its vascular connection to either the cedar or roots extending into the ground.  Regardless of the details it certainly was a one in a million occurrence.

Callery pear trees were brought to the US in 1916 from China to combat fire blight in the common fruit pear (Pyrus communis).  Once they were found to be relatively resistant, 100 pounds of seeds were imported to develop a resistant genotype.  Over the years more seeds from across China, Japan and Korea were collected and made available to nurseries.

In 1952, the ornamental possibilities of one particular vigorous, thornless tree were recognized, and cuttings of it were grafted onto P. calleryana seedlings.  After 8 years of successful testing in nearby neighborhoods they were named "Bradford."  They are unable to self-pollinate, therefore the trees, by themselves, couldn't set fruit. Their vigor was described by USDA plant explorer Frank Meyer in 1918 who had first collected the seeds.
"Pyrus calleryana is simply a marvel. One finds it growing under all sorts of conditions; one time on dry, sterile mountain slopes; then again with its roots in standing water at the edge of a pond; sometimes in open pine forest, then again among scrub on blue-stone ledges in the burning sun; sometimes in low bamboo-jungle...and then again along the course of a fast flowing mountain stream or on the occasionally burned-over slope of a pebbly hill."
When a species is described as thriving in any condition, tolerating all enemies, and like Superman "able to leap over tall buildings in a single bound" you are describing an invasive species.  Soon there were several cultivars produced across the country and when they were planted together as my dad would have said, "up jumped the devil."

A cultivar with striking leaf color in Oregon became Autumn Blaze. Aristocrat, from seedlings growing at a nursery near Independence, Kentucky, had a strong central leader with horizontal branches and an early pyramidal form, more sturdy that the somewhat fragile Bradford.  Chanticleer, cloned from a street tree in Cleveland, Ohio, was named the 2005 Urban Tree of the Year by the Society of Municipal Arborists.

"Callery in a Cedar Tree"-  Click to enlarge
This was all well and good as they weren't self-pollinating but soon innocent insect species began moving pollen between different cultivars planted a few hundred feet apart. Their offspring began creating their own hybrids that could reproduce.  It was as though the individual varieties that had occurred natively in China had all moved into the same neighborhood and had a giant angiosperm orgy.

Callery pears and their 'Bradford' kin are now spreading wild and are considered possibly the greatest invasive plant species threat in Missouri.  In the words of Nathan Muenks* of MDC:
"It’s difficult to truly determine which invasive species is most impactful, but Callery pear sure ranks up there with bush honeysuckle, sericea lespedeza, spotted knapweed, feral hogs and a few others. The reason being that it I would consider it an “ecosystem changer.” Given its ability to invade many of Missouri’s habitat types (whether open or wooded) and the fact that it forms such dense thickets, it has the ability to drastically out-compete native flora and drive away native fauna by creating unusable space for them. It not only grows dense, it also grows quickly. In addition, it’s a tree, vs. bush honeysuckle and others, so it can tower into the upper mid-story – what hope do our native, slower growing trees have in competing for resources and regenerating our native forests and woodlands?

There is no doubt bush honeysuckle and other invasives are much more widely distributed and affecting more natural communities at this time, but there is a strong fear that Callery pear is on a very similar trajectory. While in St. Louis yesterday, I noticed that bush honeysuckle and Callery pear tended to do just fine growing together, with honeysuckle dominating the low under-story and the Callery pear towering above it – SCARY! Is this the future of Missouri’s landscape? It could very well be if we don’t halt the invasion and join in this fight together!"
I would nominate Callery pears as our most invasive plant species, pending the discovery of garlic mustard growing on the back of a zebra mussel.  I am proposing naming this Callery/cedar tree shown above, Juniperus calleryana var. Barbarae, in honor of the discoverer.

*Nathan Muenks is the Habitat Management Coordinator with the Missouri Department of Conservation.  This includes coordinating the Department’s terrestrial invasive species management efforts.

** If any other readers have a better idea about how the pear grew on the cedar, we would be glad to hear it.
Post-publication Ideas:
James Trager- Need a CT Scan of the tree.  Yes, they have been done, see this Youtube.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Bee Plant Wise

Urban plantings frequently include non-native plants that may not provide nectar for our native species of bees, butterflies and moths.  They usually can't serve as host plants needed for food for native caterpillars.  We encourage homeowners to "Bee Wise and Plant Natives."

Our Master Naturalist chapter is participating in the Native Plant Market at the Springfield Botanical Center on May 5th from 10:0AM to 2PM.  Our focus will be on invasive ornamental plants that are harming Missouri's wild and urban ecosystems and the wisdom of replacing them with our natives. We'll be offering walking tours at 10:30AM and 1PM of the Native Shrub Garden and adjacent efforts to remove the invasive garden escapees that threaten to overwhelm it.

There's a wealth of reliable resources on the internet to help the curious (as well as the obsessed) when it's time to chose ornamental plants for our yards and public spaces.  Perhaps the first question we should ask when making decisions about plants is "Is it a known invasive or known to have invasive tendencies?"

  • The Invasive Plant Atlas of the US has lists of plants that have invaded and degraded natural areas throughout the US. 
  • For information about invasive plants in general, their environmental impacts, and specific plants that are known to be invasive in our area check out Missouri Botanical Garden Invasive Species. 
  • Missouri Botanical Garden has a Native Landscaping Manual in PDF form.  Chapter Four is an excellent guide for gardeners wanting to landscape with native plants.
  • If you want information about control and identification of invasive species link to Chapter Three.
  • Grow Native! is Missouri's best resource for all things relating to native plants, including advice for beginners as well as the experienced, pollinator and wildlife habitat, water protection, and local resources. 
  • To learn more about common invasive ornamental plants, how to identify and control them see this Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) link.
Local sources for native plants and landscaping include:
Also remember Missourians for Monarchs.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Wildflower Walk 2018

Hannah Parker and her new pet - April 14!
The Wildflower Walk II got off to a roaring start 3 hours early with a visit from Greater Ozarks Audubon birders.  As usual they heard lots of species that don't fall in my hearing range, pointed out broadwing hawks circling that I would have thought were red-shouldered and some other cool finds, but the best one didn't have feathers.

Hannah Parker spotted the rather tattered female Monarch butterfly on our Mail Trace Road.  It patiently rode her finger for a while until we transferred it to a container.  It will be living on a potted milkweed in her house.  In spite of its arduous journey, we hope it will lay some eggs.

We reported it to Journey North which tracks the Monarch migration and it was the second one reported this year in Missouri.  The first was reported flying overhead in St. Louis.  You can see the report here.

From there on the day was a continued success.  We saw a lot more finds with the trained eyes of Michelle Bowe and her students (MSU) and Ioana Popescu (Drury). They provided lots of Greek, Latin and botanical pearls while some of us just carried the cameras and listened in awe.

Pussytoes - female
Dainty little pussytoes have just blossomed with their tiny fuzzy heads.  The botanical name Antennaria plantaginifolia is less catchy than its other common names such as plantain-leaved everlasting and ladies' tobacco.  It typically grows in acid soils on prairies, or dry or rocky slopes, and glades which are abundant along Bull Creek.

Male flowers of pussytoes
It propagates vegetatively by runners under the soil (stolons) and can occur in large clusters.  Stolons are stems that run parallel to the ground or just below the ground and form new roots and essentially new plants which are genetically identical.

I had only seen the pure white blossoms but Michelle pointed out to us that they are dioecious, i.e. male or female flowers are on separate plants.  This area had the pure white heads which are the female flowers with an adjacent patch of male flowers that have tiny brown anthers. The seeds produced by the female plants have fluffy tufts on them to aid their dispersal by wind.

For those like myself who have forgotten their flower anatomy many times, here is a refresher.

A list of wildflower species found at Bull Mills with Saturday's finds highlighted is here.