Prairie Flowers are Beginning to Blossom at Riveredge

Within the past week prairie plants have shot up from the soil throughout Riveredge! Many are not yet blooming, but some have begun to display flowers. These pictures were taking in the last few days, and are a few of the plants you can find flowering throughout the prairies.

This weekend Riveredge hosts the Milwaukee Public Museum BioBlitz – a 24-hour celebration and race to find the most species in an area. Join us for free on Saturday, June 15 for the public portion of the BioBlitz from 10:00am – 3:00pm to meet MPM scientists and learn about their research. What’s a BioBlitz? Learn more here.

Daisy Fleabane at Riveredge Nature Center.

Daisy Fleabane Erigeron strigosus is blooming aplenty along the trails. This one is perfect for kids to learn to identify as it’s about perfect eye level for a three-year-old.

Red Clover at Riveredge Nature Center

Red Clover Trifolium pratense is a favorite of Bumblebees and increases soil fertility. Red Clover leaves and flowers are edible and it can even be ground into flour.

Slender Penstemon at Riveredge Nature Center

Slender Penstemon Penstemon gracilis also known as Slender Beardtongue is in the Snapdragon family. These can be seen in our Dry Prairie.

White Wild Indigo at Riveredge Nature Center

White Wild Indigo Baptisia alba is just barely beginning to show flowers. This showy legume grows tall and wide in the prairie, shaped like a bush. Despite how pretty it looks, this plant is toxic for humans and cows to eat.

Spiderwort Tradescantia occidentalis is just beginning to blossom and is immediately recognizable by the bright yellow anther against the purple backdrop. This species is named after John Tradescant the Younger (1608 – 1662), who was the head gardener for King Charles I of England.

Prairie Smoke at Riveredge Nature Center

Prairie Smoke Geum triflorum is beginning to display the reason for its name. The flower opens to display a wispy plume that blows in the the wind like a flowery smoke.

A few Sand Coreopsis Coreopsis lanceolata are just beginning to bloom at our Lorrie Otto Prairie. The interesting thing about Riveredge is that sometimes the same species in different locations will bloom at slightly different times depending on sunlight, soil type, and other factors.

Virginia Waterleaf at Riveredge Nature Center

Virginia Waterleaf Hydrophyllum virginianum looks like a flower that’s straight out of a Dr. Seuss book! These fascinating flowers can be found in shadier spots along the trails.

Blue False Indigo at Riveredge Nature Center

False Blue Indigo Baptisia australis is also known as Wild Blue Indigo and has many other colloquial names. It’s very similar in appearance to White Wild Indigo pictured above, but with deep blue-purple leaves, which seem presently a little farther along in blooming than the white.

Wild Four O’clock Mirabilis nyctaginea can be found beginning to bloom just outside of the backdoor the Riveredge Visitor’s Center. This plant is named for the time of day during which its flowers tend to open. This picture was taken around noon, and one could anticipate a showier flower later in the afternoon.

White Campion at Riveredge Nature Center

White Campion Silene latifolia is another that can be found close to the Visitor’s Center, and was introduced to North America in the early 1800’s. It’s flower petals tend to retract during the day.

Blue Flag Iris Iris versicolor is not a prairie plant, in fact it grows on the edges of ponds or along streams, but it’s blooming right now in its full splendor. Iris comes from the Greek word for rainbow, indicating its variety of colors.

Stop by and see what you discover at Riveredge – make sure to visit for the Milwaukee Public Museum BioBlitz on Saturday, June 15 from 10:00am!

Bug o’the Week – Iris Weevils at Play

Greetings, BugFans,

As long-time BugFans know, the BugLady gets a kick out of weevils.  She found these cute little Iris weevils (Mononychus vulpeculus) recently, scampering around on flowers at the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust’s Cedarburg Environmental Study Area (CESA) site (for directions to and maps of their properties, see https://owlt.org/visit-our-preserves).  Obviously, iris weevils are not exclusive to iris – the BugLady sees them on ox-eye daisy and daisy fleabane (she did find two of them sitting on an iris petal that had tiny holes punched in it, but they were camera shy).  Iris weevils were half of an episode about weevils that was posted four years ago https://uwm.edu/field-station/gardening-with-weevils/

For a story about another CESA adventure, see https://uwm.edu/field-station/the-ants-of-cesa/.

Support your local Land Trust. 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Blooming Spring Flowers at Riveredge

Lesser Yellow Lady's-slipper at Riveredge Nature Center

Spring flowers are flourishing right now at Riveredge! These are known as ephemerals, meaning they won’t last long – so get here to experience these beauties soon!

Great White Trillium Trillium grandiflorum has been blooming for a few weeks along the Milwaukee River trails. “But that flower isn’t white?!” you say? Indeed! As trillium flowers age, they commonly turn pinkish or purple before the petals wilt.

Golden Alexander at Riveredge Nature Center

Golden Alexander Zizia aurea is one of the spring flowers blooming along the trails at Riveredge. It might not be immediately obvious, but this forb is in the carrot family.

Wild Geranium

Wild Geranium Geranium maculatum is blooming throughout forested areas. This herbal plant has been used for pain relief throughout history.

Another example of Wild Geranium, this image better displays the vascular structure of the petals.

Swamp Buttercup Ranunculus septentrionalis can be found throughout our moisture-rich lowlands. It can easily be confused for Marsh Marigold, but its flowers are much more pointed.

Lesser Yellow Lady's-slipper Orchid

Lesser Yellow Lady’s-slipper Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin, or Small Yellow Lady’s-slipper, is one of the more elaborate flowers, so named because of its appearance (the image above may show a better angle of the slipper appearance. Learn about our Native Orchid Restoration Project here.

Small Yellow Lady's-slipper

Sometimes, don’t you just feel like a third slipper?

Prairie Smoke

Blooming Spring Flowers in the Prairie at Riveredge

Wild Columbine

One Wild Columbine Aquilegia canadensis was observed blooming in a shady spot adjacent to the dry prairie at Riveredge.

Prairie Smoke

Prairie Smoke Geum triflorum is springing up from the soil, but hasn’t yet opened to show the wispy tassels for which it is named.

Prairie Shooting Star

Prairie Shooting Star Dodecatheon meadia is just beginning to blossom in a few spots. This flower is easy to distinguish because it looks like it’s pointing to the ground.

Native Orchid Restoration Planting at Riveredge

Riveredge volunteers and staff, along with employees of Stantec, gathered to plant seedlings that will become the basis of our native orchid restoration project. Stantec, Smithsonian – North American Orchid Conservation Center, Sheboygan County, and Wisconsin Coastal Management Program are all partners in this wide-ranging orchid restoration project. Thank you to our friends at Sheboygan County, as well as American Transmission Company, for generously providing materials and labor to build the Orchid Shade House where these plants are being raised!

Melissa Curran of Stantec is the leader of this orchid restoration project throughout the Midwest. She explains to volunteers how to plant orchid seedlings in pots inside the Orchid Shade House at Riveredge.

The Journey of an Orchid Seed

Orchids seeds begin as tiny, difficult to see specks the size of dust, and are dispersed through the wind. Minnesota Landscape Arboretum propagates and provides the seedlings for this project.

Many people may not realize that orchids are native to the Midwest. Orchids throughout this region are terrestrial, meaning that these orchids grow in the soil. Epiphytic orchids, the types that grow with aerial roots, are more commonly known.

Terrestrial orchids have complex fungal relationships, and certain species of orchid seedlings will only grow with the help of certain species of fungus. These species relationships are still a part of the mystery scientists are trying to solve. In the interim, seedlings are raised in a media culture, which provides nutrients and functions as a surrogate fungal connection.

These orchid seedlings grow in clumps and have to be pulled apart delicate care.

A soil combination is mixed, which drains quickly and doesn’t retain more moisture than the plants prefer.

Thank You Orchid Restoration Volunteers!

Thanks to everyone who helped us plant our orchid seedlings! Many hands makes light work – if you’d like to volunteer to help restore orchids throughout the Midwest, learn about volunteering at Riveredge.

One orchid seedling is planted in every pot. These plants will harden off to become acquainted with the natural conditions in the wild inside our Orchid Shade House.

Of course, once the orchids are potted, that ever important ingredient – water! We’re still looking for volunteers to help water these fledgling flowers.

And voila! Two weeks after the initial planting a sea of orchid seedlings sprout their first leaves inside the Orchid Shade House! Some of these flowers will be planted at suitable locations throughout Riveredge. Many of the orchids are destined to be planted throughout the Midwest in habitats where they are likely to flourish, or will bolster or reestablish orchid populations that have existed historically.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel visited to chronicle our orchid planting day, read their story about the project here.

Bug o’the Week – Luna Moth

Greetings, BugFans,

The BugLady’s favorite insect is the Tiger Swallowtail (Mom likes me best), but in the crowded field for second place, the Luna Moth is pretty close to the top.  

Luna moths (Actias luna) are in the Giant Silkworm/Royal Moth family Saturnidae (of previous BOTW fame https://uwm.edu/field-station/giant-silk-moths-family-saturnidae/), whose family members have ringed eyespots reminiscent of Saturn.  The LM’s name came from eyespots that resemble moons (eyespots that make predators ponder whether their target might be different than they originally thought).  Actias is a small genus with about two dozen species worldwide, and the LM is the only American species.  They are found in wooded areas east of the Great (on rare occasions, LMs have made their way to Europe).

And giant they are, with wingspreads that often exceed four inches.  Males and females look pretty much alike; her egg-laden abdomen is larger than his, and his antennae are fancier than hers.  Both have what’s called quadripectinate antennae, which means that they are comb-like, with four “tines” per unit of the antenna https://bugguide.net/node/view/754599/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/293789/bgimage, and the female https://bugguide.net/node/view/426762/bgimage.  Their long, twisted tails are said to interfere with bat radar, and they also present a false target for predators – bats manage to snag some LMs, but many others get away after the bat mistakenly grabs them by those spectacular tails.  

(LMs make photographers sweat (“please don’t let me screw up, please don’t let me screw up….).  Here are some photographers who didn’t screw up https://bugguide.net/node/view/20728/bgimage,https://bugguide.net/node/view/617459/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/655366/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/917529/bgimage, and (possibly posed) https://bugguide.net/node/view/1532344/bgimage).

Warming weather signals them to emerge from their cocoons, which they accomplish with the aid of an enzyme (named cocoonase!!) that they secrete to soften the dried silk and of a hard spur at the base of each front wing, which they use to break through it; here’s a video and of an LM eclosing (emerging) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FECzFIRPeD4, and some still shots https://bugguide.net/node/view/481690/bgimage.  Then they pump up their wings and begin their short lives as adults.  Females emit a pheromone that calls males to her perch.  His feathery antennae allow him to sense a mere handful of scent molecules from two or more miles away and to follow the increasingly concentrated scent trail to her.  Lunas are nocturnal, and most mating occurs after midnight.   

Adults have neither mouth nor gut, and they live only about a week, dying soon after they reproduce.  There is one brood per year here in God’s Country, and two or three in the south. 

Females lay between 200 and 400 eggs, singly and in clumps, on host plants.  LM caterpillars feed on the leaves of birch, hickory, walnut, maple, and sumac, and add sweet gum, pecan, and persimmon in the south (they aren’t considered forest pests).  They show regional favoritism – LMs in our area prefer birch and do badly if moved to a different food plant.  One theory is that LM caterpillars are capable of processing the defense chemicals produced by their host trees, and they may become specialists in detoxifying a particular species.  Young caterpillars https://bugguide.net/node/view/1434316/bgimage are knobbier than older ones https://bugguide.net/node/view/1191475/bgimage.  

Mature caterpillars become dark red before pupating; they drop to the ground and use silk to wrap themselves in a leaf for the winter https://bugguide.net/node/view/1191457/bgimage, camouflaged in the litter of the forest floor.  LM pupae are not passive – if they are disturbed, they will move noisily within their cocoon.  Jim Sogaard, writing in Moths and Caterpillars of the North Woods tells us that “The pupa has a clear ‘window’ through which even dim light can stimulate the brain.  Photoperiod likely contributes to breaking diapause [the suspended animation of winter].  If a cocoon is moved, the pupa within may noisily reorient itself to the light.”  Here’s a nice stage-by-stage series: https://bugguide.net/node/view/945719

A two inch long LM caterpillar looks like a feast for any predator that finds it despite its green camouflage, but the caterpillar has a bag of tricks that includes rearing up on its back legs, warning its would-be attacker by making clicking sounds with its mandibles, and then regurgitating the noxious contents of its intestine. 

LMs are not common, and they are becoming less so.  Their natural predators include bats, owls (one source told of a Screech Owl that fed on males that came to visit a female calling from a branch), spiders, and toads. 

Human activities also impact them: 

  • A tachinid fly imported in 1906 to control gypsy moths now parasitizes the caterpillars of almost 200 species of native butterflies and moths, including the giant silk moths.
  • Habitat loss due to urban street trees being cut and deciduous woods becoming more fragmented.  The caterpillars can’t adapt to non-native tree plantings.
  • Pesticides that affect not only the leaves that the caterpillars eat, but also the immobile pupa, and even the short-lived adults.  
  • Light pollution – LMs are strongly attracted to lights at night, exposing them to predators and, with the clock ticking loudly, distracting them from the task at hand.

Fun Luna Moth Fact – a bunch of butterflies have been featured on US postage stamps, but in 1987, the LM became the only moth (before or since) to be so honored.

Just in case you still haven’t seen enough LM images, https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/viewSpecies.php?species=345

Look for them in the month of June. 

To paraphrase the Bard, “O brave new world, that has such creatures in’t!

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Water Boatmen and Backswimmers Rerun

Salutations, BugFans,

Life is busy, and besides, May is National Wetland Month, so here’s a rerun from ten years ago.  A few new words and pictures. 

Water boatman

The BugLady will visit these guys together because even though they are, in a sense, photo-negatives of each other, they are often mistaken for one another (until you know the secret handshake). The majority of aquatic animals, from orcas to Mergansers to muskies to water boatmen tend to be dorsally dark and ventrally light (have dark backs and light bellies).  This coloring is protective because a predator looking down from above has to distinguish its dark-backed prey from the dark water surface, and a predator looking up from below sees a light belly against a surface that reflects the light of the sky.  The backswimmer, which spends its life rowing around belly-up, flip-flops the usual color scheme and has a dark belly and a light back. 

Backswimmer

These two aquatic, boat-shaped, less-than-a-half-inch-long, “True Bugs” (Order Hemiptera) are not in the same family, and the water boatman also departs from the usual mouthparts and diet of its compatriots, but they have many similarities.  They are found in still waters – preferably with aquatic plants – including ponds, lake edges, sewerage ponds, bird baths, and even swimming pools (lots of websites devoted to getting rid of water boatmen and backswimmers in swimming pools), and they are more active in the dark than in the light.  They locomote via rowing movements of their flattened third pair of legs (backswimmers) or second and third pair of legs (water boatmen) and are often seen swimming or grabbing plant stems in a head-down position. They are strong fliers, although the up-side-down backswimmer must climb out of the water and flip over onto its belly before it can spread its wings and take off.

Both bring a tank of oxygen with them as they swim underwater.  The backswimmer stores air in two hair-covered troughs on the ventral side of its abdomen (it can stay underwater for as long as six hours), and the water boatman wraps a bubble of air under its wings and around its abdomen and also picks up dissolved oxygen from the water (it is so buoyant that it must grab vegetation in order to keep from floating to the surface).  Both overwinter as adults, and some water boatmen may remain active under the ice.  The males of both groups stridulate – rub rough area on their front legs against their head – “chirping” underwater to attract mates. 

Backswimmers (family Notonectidae) are piercer-predators that kill and suck the bodily fluids out of any prey they can subdue – invertebrate and vertebrate alike – including tiny tadpoles and fish fry (but big fish eat backswimmers).  Each set of legs is used for a different function – the front pair for catching their prey, the middle pair for holding the prey tight, and the flattened, hairy third pair acts as oars.

These little “Davids” will sometimes go after Goliath, piercing the leg of a human swimmer or wader, a habit that has earned them the name of “water bee” or “water wasp.”  It is a painful, burning bite that can have lasting effects in those who may be “susceptible to poisons,” according to Anne Haven Morgan in the Field Book of Ponds and Streams.

The often red-eyed Water boatmen (Family Corixidae) are a bit smaller than backswimmers.  Collector-gatherers, they swim along the bottom of the pond, head down, in search of food, and they use their front pair of legs to scoop it up.  Lacking the standard piercing beak issued to other aquatic true bugs, they ingest living material – diatoms, algae, protozoa, nematodes, small insects – that they find when they stir up debris on the bottom of a body of water. Some suck juices from algae. 

The eggs and the adults of water boatmen are eaten by birds and by humans (an Egyptian and a Mexican delicacy, according to some references) and were said to have been introduced to England as a food source.  The Handy Bug Answer Book by Dr. Gilbert Waldbauer recounts how bundles of rushes that are put into ponds in Mexico as a substrate for water boatmen to lay their eggs upon are removed, dried, and beaten to loosen the eggs.  The eggs are then cleaned and ground into flour to make a cake called “hautle.”

Besides their surprising edibility and the fact that they are said to smell like bedbugs, the water boatman’s only other claim to fame is that the males of some species make ultrasonic mating calls with what Monty Python would call their “Naughty-bits.”  Do not try this at home.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Stories, not Atoms

Greetings, BugFans,

The poet Muriel Rukeyser once wrote, “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”  The BugLady sees lots of tableaux unfolding as she ambles across the landscape (most have to do with food or sex).  Because she was taught, at an impressionable age, by a professor who said “Don’t just tell them what it is, tell them ‘what about it,’” she tries to read the stories and understand the “what-about-its”. 

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The SPIDER and the FLY – and the AMBUSH BUG

Heterospecific (belonging to different species) predators mostly don’t share, and both the spider and the ambush bug would consider this fly to be a toothsome morsel.  The BugLady figures that the ambush bug caught it, and the slender crab spider (Tibellus sp) saw the struggle and popped over to investigate, but not to appropriate it.

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BUCKTHORN

Glossy buckthorn is a Eurasian shrub that was brought over in the late 1800’s to be a lawn/hedge shrub, but because it is a “bird poop seed,” it didn’t stay domesticated.  It is a huge problem in wetlands (well, actually, it likes wet, dry, sunny and shady soils) and like other invasive plants, it left its natural grazers behind in the Old Country.  The BugLady found this sawfly larva eating buckthorn leaves (she had previously photographed a lightning beetle apparently feeding on nectar or pollen from a buckthorn flower), thus demonstrating the Reinartz Law of Biomass Availability, aka “If you grow it, they will come.”  More scientifically put, glossy buckthorn (and other invasive plants) represent a huge biomass of potential food, and eventually herbivores will figure out that they’re edible.  Sooner, we hope, rather than later. 

DOR IN OHIO –

Why did the Japanese beetle cross the road?  The story that the BugLady reads here was initiated by the picture’s shiny green centerpiece, a Japanese beetle that did not survive the crossing.  It proved attractive in death to two opportunistic scavengers, a millipede and a daddy long-legs (that better keep their wits about them or they might not get across, either).  The daddy long-legs’ legs are decorated by nymphs of red mites, which go through a tick-like, parasitic phase before they grow up to eat insect eggs and very small invertebrates. 

GYPSY MOTH ON BEECH

This picture shows three out of four life stages occurring within inches of each other.  Gypsy moth larvae get around pretty well – newly-hatched caterpillars use silk to balloon to new locations, and if they and their confreresdefoliate the tree they land on, they’ll take off on foot to find another!  Adult females are a different story.  They emerge from their pupal case flightless, use pheromones to lure flying males to their tree trunk perch, and then create an egg case on the same spot.  Not surprisingly, the BugLady is not a rabid advocate of gypsy-moth-control: https://uwm.edu/field-station/gypsy-moth/.

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EGG-GUARDING SPIDER

The BugLady photographed this female Philodromid (running crab) spider over a period of four days, guarding the eggs that she had placed inside an empty beech nut (did that nut shell land randomly on the leaf and stay there, or could a spider haul it up to the leaf’s surface?).  Egg guarding is common among philodromids, and she hung tough, day after day, as the BugLady and her one-eyed camera loomed above her (the BugLady appreciates cooperative subjects, and she thanks them, but she worries about their survival instincts).  On the fifth day, the spider was gone, and the ending of this story is a mystery. 

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CRAB SPIDER AND RIPIPHORUS

What’s a collection of pictures without a crab spider, in this case a lovely northern crab spider (Mecaphesa asperata), sitting on a Grass of Parnassus flower, preying on a Ripiphorus beetle (and illustrating, once again, that when it comes to camouflage, crab spiders got it right)?  Ripiphorus/ Rhipiphorus beetles (the genus seems to be spelled both ways) are fly mimics, but the BugLady still doesn’t see the advantage of looking like a fly when you could look like a beetle.  For the scoop on Ripiphorus, see https://uwm.edu/field-station/its-a-beetle-really/.    

MULLEIN TABLEUX

Mullein was deliberately introduced to North America in the 1600’s because the newly-arrived settlers loved it and had many uses for it back home (six species in this collection, including, of course, the European Americans themselves, are “non-native”).  Mullein seed weevils were introduced for the purpose of eating mullein seeds, which they do with about 50% efficiency (https://uwm.edu/field-station/mullein-watching/).  The BugLady was thinking, as she photographed the weevils, that (speaking of crab spiders) their trip to the honeymoon suite might not turn out as planned. 

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EXUVIA 

And finally, spring is a time of rebirth, renewal, and resurrection.  What better symbol of that spirit than the empty shell (exuvia) of a baskettail dragonfly naiad that emerged from a winter spent in the watery world below the ice, climbed up (in this case) the stalk of a horsetail/equisetum, broke out of its old skin, and cast its die as a creature of the air? 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

High School Internships

We are no longer accepting applications for Summer 2019.

The Riveredge High School Internship Program offers a chance for upper high school students, who have completed at least their sophomore year in school, the opportunity to work at Riveredge Nature Center while experiencing many elements of a nature-based nonprofit organization.  Interns will become part of our summer staff team while building positive relationships with Riveredge’s year-round staff, volunteers, and families.

The values of the High School Internship Program are:

  • Mentorship: developing impactful relationships with professionals in the conservation field
  • Mastery: learning new skills that support academic and career advancement
  • Generosity: learning the power of volunteerism, philanthropy, and nonprofit work
  • Belonging: serving as part of a high functioning team that is making a difference in the world; understanding the importance of differing skills, traits, talents, and backgrounds

We are hiring two high school students to serve in these 20 hour/week, 9-week internships this summer (2019)! Work times and dates are flexible. The positions will be open until filled.

Please view the complete Riveredge High School Internship position description for more details about this opportunity and directions on how to apply!

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Bug O’the Week – Two-striped Grasshopper

Greetings, BugFans,

The BugLady always enjoys photographing these large, handsome grasshoppers as they ricochet off the prairie plants in late summer.  She has danced around them in several episodes – in a generalized discussion of their genus, Melanoplus https://uwm.edu/field-station/melanoplus-grasshoppers-redux, and as eye-candy in several summer insect picture collections – but they deserve their own biography. 

The Two-striped/Yellow-striped Grasshopper/Locust (Melanoplus bivittatus) is in the short-horned grasshopper family Acrididae.  Besides having a few interchangeable common names, it has gone through about a dozen combinations of five genera and a half-dozen species names in the past two hundred years. 

If you’re in North America, there’s probably a TSG near you (except for Florida, the Gulf and south Atlantic coasts, the arid southwest, and northern Canada/Alaska).  Even with those cut-outs, that’s a lot of territory.  Bugguide.net describes their habitat as, “Varies with region, but usually relatively sunny, moist, lush, weedy or meadowy areas. Meadows, prairies, crop fields, road sides, vacant lots, ditch and stream sides … etc.”  And urban flower and vegetable gardens.  Again – a lot of ground.

Ditto, their menu.  The books label them as “polyphagous” (meaning, they eat many plant species).  They mainly enjoy leaves of herbaceous plants including grasses, but they’ll also tuck into woody plants, flowers and seed pods.  Their diet includes agricultural crops and garden plants, and they are unwelcome on the Great Plains, where their numbers sometimes reach “Biblical” (more about that in a sec).  According to a University of Wyoming publication, “A population of 10 adults per square yard in a corn field will defoliate the crop.”  And, more alarming, “Experiments indicate that in feeding on spring wheat the twostriped grasshopper wastes six times as much foliage as it eats.” 

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Some plants produce chemicals that deter insect foragers, but the TSG is oblivious.  They also scavenge on dead plants and animals that they find on the ground and will resort to cannibalism when food is scarce. 

They do have some dietary requirements – they must ingest linoleic or some other fatty acid in their diet in order to keep their wings rigid.  And although they feed on many plants, there are particular species – certain mustards, broad-leaved plantain, red clover and alfalfa, dandelion, chicory, giant ragweed, and a few more – that allow young grasshoppers to grow faster and heavier. 

And these are big grasshoppers – females measure up to 2 ¼” and males to 1 ¼.”  Adults have a brown to yellowish-green body with a pale stripe on each side that starts at the eye and runs along the top of the body to the wingtips.  They have hearing organs on the abdomen, and although one source says that they buzz by rubbing their hind wings against their forewings, another says that they are believed to be silent, though the males produce vibrations.  Males are better fliers than females. 

A source that the BugLady finds frequently in her research is a blog called “The Backyard Arthropod Project – A Field Guide to the North Side of Old Mill Hill, Atlantic Mine, MI” (http://somethingscrawlinginmyhair.com/).  What’s not to like about a guy who says about his blog that, “As of February 2007, it has … turned into a project to document every arthropod that I can find on our property?”  The BugLady wishes him a wonderful journey. 

He suggests that because of their size and abundance, TSGs might be “one of the kinds that are numerous enough to collect for food. I’ve seen a couple of amusing methods suggested for catching large numbers of grasshoppers like this one. One is for two people to take opposite ends of a big, wooly blanket and run through a field with it, then pick off the hoppers that get caught in the wool. Another is to find a big field, dig a pit about 4 feet deep in it, then have a bunch of people start at the edges of the field and spiral in towards the pit. This drives the hoppers in, until you end up with a pit filled with grasshoppers that you just kind of shovel into bags. Then it’s just a question of pulling off the long hind legs (which can get caught in your throat because of the spines), and preparing using your favorite recipe.”  See https://uwm.edu/field-station/entomophagy/ for a BOTW episode called “Entomophagy 101.” 

TSGs take reproduction pretty seriously.  There’s not much by way of courtship – a male points his antennae toward his intended (preferably a virgin, but he will also pursue a female that has recently oviposited), sneaks up on her from behind, shakes his hind legs in a species-specific way, and takes a“copulatory leap.”  She may be agreeable, or she may depart, kick him, or curl up, but if a bond is established, they typically copulate for eight to ten hours.  A lot goes on during that time. 

Yes, he passes on a series of spermatophores (sperm bundles), thus ensuring the perpetuation of his lineage.  But there are proteins incorporated into his spermatophores – “nuptial gifts” that increase her fitness (she may also break down and absorb some of his sperm, for their nutrient value).  This, of course, is energetically expensive for the male, and he is not profligate.  The long duration of mating also guards her from rival males as she is processing his sperm.  A female can receive enough sperm from one liaison to last her whole life. 

OK – the BugLady is feeling a little like Dr. Ruth, here.

A week or two later, she lays up to 450 eggs in pods in the soil, or in debris on the ground, or in the middle of a hard-packed dirt road, as the female in the picture chose to do, and they overwinter as eggs, hatching in spring when the earth warms.  Eggs laid in mid-summer fare better than those laid later on, because the embryos have gotten further along in their development before cold weather shuts them down.  In agricultural areas, eggs are laid in hedgerows and along roadsides surrounding cultivated fields, and the nymphs move into the fields after hatching.  

nymph

These are not sedentary grasshoppers, and they have boom years in the Great Plains when favorable weather over a few years results in lots of food plants and a gradual population buildup.  TSGs respond to the crowding by producing a generation whose appearance and behavior are changed; migratory TSGs have longer wings and lighter bodies, and are gregarious, rather than loners.  If they feel crowded, even as young nymphs, they will migrate; in the heat of the day, adults fly (far) downwind at altitudes of 600 to 1,400 feet. 

nymph

Oh yes – The Grasshoppers of Nebraska tells us that “Unlike many other grasshopper species, it is quick to bite if handled.

A grasshopper to be reckoned with! 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Sculptors of Leaves

Salutations, BugFans,   

Leaves are coming.   Promise!   And soon after they emerge, we’ll see leaves that are folded, rolled, or otherwise harnessed by a variety of insects, for a variety of reasons.  The architects are mostly Lepidopterans – mostly small moths in the family Tortricidae – but there are also some skipper butterflies, beetles, sawflies, and spiders in the bunch, plus this cute little Carolina leaf roller cricket (https://bugguide.net/node/view/1473670/bgimage,https://bugguide.net/node/view/212744/bgimage), which shelters by day and hunts aphids by night (yes – a surprising number of grasshoppers and crickets eat animal matter). 

Promethea

They’re grouped by “technique” – leaf rollers, leaf folders, and leaf tiers/webbers/“ugly nest makers.”  They use these structures to hide from predators or from the elements, to feed (some stay indoors and eat/skeletonize their “walls,” but others emerge to feed on nearby leaves and buds), to create a particular microclimate, to shelter their eggs (there’s a weevil that packages its egg in a rolled leaf, and the larva feeds within until it pupates), to pupate (after reinforcing the leaf stem with silk, a Promethea caterpillar wraps itself in a leaf and soon looks like dead vegetation hanging from a tree), or for any combination of the above.  Some male Jumping spiders make shelters for their future brides.  Many rollers/folders/tiers make predictably-shaped shelters on predictable hosts, but others are generalists.  

Leaf roller

Leaf rollers take one leaf and form it into a tube or cone.  They may roll it the long way, parallel to the leaf’s midrib, or they may roll it crosswise, which has a higher degree of difficulty because they have to bend the midrib. 

Leaf folder

Leaf folders, a.k.a. leaf sewers, fold rather than twist the leaves.  Most only fold it once, but some make several folds. 

Leaf tier

Leaf tiers typically fasten together multiple leaves and may even enclose flowers or fruits.  They usually do their work at the tips of branches or twigs, making creations that are often labeled “unkempt.”  This category includes “ugly nest” caterpillars that bind a handful of leaves, and webworms, which lay clusters of eggs that hatch into clusters of caterpillars that throw silk around a whole branch and feed communally within, depositing frass and shed skins as they grow.

Webworm
Ugly nest

How do they do it?  In increments, using silk that contracts as it dries.  S. W. Frost, in the wonderful Insect Life and Insect Natural History (1942) (which considers insects by function, not by form) explains: If the roll is to be lengthwise, the strands of silk are spun perpendicular to the midrib of the leaf; if the roll is to be crosswise, the strands of silk are spun parallel to it.  As the strands dry, they shrink and pull the edges of the leaf inward.  New and shorter strands are then spun which in turn shrink and pull the edges of the leaf closer together.  This is continued until the edge of the leaf is drawn completely over and is fastened with other strands of silk…… Leaf folders bend the leaf at the midrib or along one of the principal lateral veins.  The silk is always spun on the upper side of the leaf, and the leaf naturally bends more easily in this direction.”  With persistence, a pretty small caterpillar can mold a pretty large leaf. 

You don’t have to be its architect to live in a shelter.  The adapted leaf persists after its original inhabitant is gone, and there are plenty of insects lined up to move in.  They may not even wait for it to be abandoned before they move in or oviposit into it (these “housemates” are called inquilines).  Says Richard Headstrom, in Adventures with Insects, “An interesting sidelight in connection with the habits of leaf-rolling insects is that when they abandon their shelters, other insects often take occupancy, and certain scavengers, particularly small mites and small beetles, feed upon the fecula [what a classy word!] left by the original makers.” 

In a Brazilian study, rolled leaves on a single plant species attracted five to nine times the number of species (depending on wet or dry season) as flat leaves.  According to researcher Camila Viera, “During the dry season, the rolled leaves on 60 plants in the Brazilian forest played host to more than 3,000 bugs alone, including spiders, beetles, whiteflies, crickets and many, many caterpillars….  The entire arthropod community hosted on Croton floribundus plants are influenced by leaf-rolling caterpillars.”  They are “ecosystem engineers.”

Abandoning a leaf structure is risky business, whether its maker is done with it, or has outgrown it and must make another, or the host plant is overcrowded, or an interloper has preempted a newly-formed shelter, or the nutrients inside the shelter are used up.  Mortality is high for caterpillars that suddenly strike out cross-country. 

One more (very cool) thing.  St. Johns-wort is a popular herbal remedy sold in health food stores as an antidepressant.  One problem with St. Johns-wort is that its leaves contain a chemical that we don’t completely metabolize, and it causes susceptible people to become photosensitive.  Turns out that some caterpillars are also affected when they feed on the leaves in sunlight – the chemical prolongs their larval stage and lowers their survival rate.  The solution?  They tie the leaves together and feed inside, in the shade. 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/