What’s Blooming at Riveredge? An Updated Phenology Report

One of the fantastic Riveredge volunteers, who has been exploring Riveredge trails for years to both take photographs and record observations, is letting us know what she sees blooming at Riveredge. In scientific terms, this is called “Phenology.” What is phenology? It’s very similar to another word, phenomenon. Phenology means what happens, and when, in nature. Some of the most common examples are: when flowers are blooming, when buds are present, when specific migratory bird species return, when birds are nesting.

Chances are, you already notice phenology you just might not call it that. If you notice when your garden is blooming, when the trees are budding, or when butterflies return to the skies – you’re observing phenology! Read below to learn what you can find along the trails when you visit Riveredge Nature Center right now.

In Bloom

Trout Lily

Trout Lily is easily identified by the speckled leaves.

Pasque Flower
Penn Sedge
Spring Beauty
False Rue Anemone
Cut Leaved  Toothwort
Dutchman’s Breeches
Marsh Marigold
White Trout Lily
Blue Violet
Spring Cress
Wild Ginger
Wood Anemone
Prairie Smoke
Swamp Buttercup
Prairie Buttercup
Large Flowered Trillium

In Bud

Prairie Shooting Star

Prairie Shooting Star

Bastard  Toadflax
Blue Cohosh
Wood Betony
Kidney Leaved Buttercup
Wild Blue Phlox
Dwarf Ginseng
Jacob’s Ladder
Heart Leaved  Golden Alexander
Shooting Star

Sprouting/Leaves Present

Early Meadow Rue
False Solomon’s Seal

Bug o’the Week – Midland Clubtail Dragonfly

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady has been checking the Wisconsin Odonata Survey website religiously (http://wiatri.net/inventory/odonata/) to see if the dragonfly season has commenced, and she is pleased to announce that it has!  Keep the site in mind on your spring and summer ramblings and share your sightings.  Observers started reporting Common Green Darners on April 26 (https://uwm.edu/field-station/common-green-darner-rest-story-family-aeshnidae/), and the first Variegated Meadowhawk was logged on April 30 (https://uwm.edu/field-station/variegated-meadowhawk/).  The BugLady is more than ready.

As their name suggests, clubtails (family Gomphidae) have clubbed tails (but sometimes just barely).  The club is formed by three segments at the end of the abdomen that are flared to various degrees – males have larger clubs, club size varies by species, and in some species, clubs are pretty dramatic https://bugguide.net/node/view/184077/bgimage, and https://bugguide.net/node/view/186075/bgimage.

As a group, clubtails are medium-sized (1 ¾” to 2 ½” long) with green, blue or gray eyes that do not touch on the top of the head https://bugguide.net/node/view/403422/bgimage, and with clear, unpatterned wings and a striped body (the Wisconsin Odonata survey tells us that “Clubtail species are very similar to each other in some aspects, careful inspection is needed to identify them.”).  They tend to perch on the ground and on rocks and lily pads.

The BugLady has been kind of easing into the Clubtails, starting with the local, fairly club-less Dusky, Ashy, and Lancet Clubtails and moving on to the Lilypad, Midland, and Arrow Clubtails.  Seeing the more exotic members of the group will require some road trips.

Depending on how the spring progresses, she’ll have to wait about a month to see a Midland Clubtail (Gomphurus fraternus) (formerly in genus Gomphus); she usually stalks them as they bask on trails near the river in early June.  Their range is “V-shaped,” stretching from Maine to Tennessee to Manitoba, centered around the Great Lakes https://explorer.natureserve.org/Taxon/ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.114745/Gomphurus_fraternus.

Midland Clubtails are big, beautiful, sturdy dragonflies. For tips on identification, see: http://www.dragonfliesnva.com/My%20Documents/KevinPDF/pdf/identify/species/MidlandClubtail-FINAL.pdf.

They’re are powerful flyers and avid hunters that can grab other dragonflies out of the air.  In his 1901 report Aquatic Insects in the Adirondacks, J. G. Needham wrote “This vigorous species seems to prefer the larger bodies of water.  The imago [adult] is a very strong flyer.  It skirts the edges of streams with dashing sweeps which seem to proclaim it master of the situation.  I have several times seen it feeding on other dragon flies as large as Mesothemis simplicicollis [now Erythemis simplicicollis, the Eastern Pondhawk].”  There’s a picture in Kurt Mead’s Dragonflies of the North Woods of an immature female Midland Clubtail that nabbed an immature male, and Mead says that they’re agile enough to capture butterflies, too.

For their eggs Midland Clubtails prefer moving water – sunny, well-oxygenated rivers and large streams with some vegetation, a moderate-to-fast current, and a fine sand, mud, or clay bottom, but they’re also found at the edges of large lakes with waves.  The female has no ovipositor and can’t insert her eggs in vegetation, so she uses waves or water currents to wash them from the tip of her abdomen, sometimes partially submerging in order to accomplish this.  Many Gomphids enclose their eggs in a gelatinous wrap that glues them to rocks and logs.

Their chunky naiads https://programs.iowadnr.gov/bionet/Inverts/Taxa/813 are burrowers.  Needham wrote of the genus “The nymphs form the most important part of the bottom fauna in all clear waters.  They are active burrowers, taking their prey either on or beneath the surface of the bottom silt.  They are very rapacious, and will eat almost any living animal small enough to be held by their powerful, grasping labia.  Many species spend two or three years in the aquatic, naiad/nymph stage.

Midland Clubtails are, overall, yellower in the north part of their range, and darker at the southern edge of their range.  In 1958, the species was divided into two subspecies, Gomphurus fraternus fraternus and G. f. manitobanus, separated by differences in size and color and, to some extent, geography.  Overall, G. f. manitobanus is smaller and paler, with more extensive yellow markings http://www.naturenorth.com/dragonfly/list/Gomphus_fraternus.html, and its range has been thought to be limited to north-central Canada.  But, according to Gary Paulson in Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West “Populations on the Red and Assiniboine Rivers in southern Manitoba named as separate subspecies of G. f. manitobanus, smaller and paler than elsewhere, with yellow stripe down tibiae and prominent dorsal yellow spots on S9-10.  These attributes may occur elsewhere on the Great Plains. “

The larger and darker Gomphurus fraternus fraternus has a generally more southern and eastern range.  The two overlap in eastern Manitoba.

The BugLady found an interesting paper that documented a period of oxygen depletion and pollution in Lake Erie during warm weather in the mid-1950’s.  This led to a die-off of burrowing mayflies (whose naiads are also aquatic), and within five years, the once-abundant Midland Clubtails that preyed on them were gone.  John Muir nailed it – “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

Enjoy this spectacular collection of pictures: https://www.naturemanitoba.ca/news-articles/focus-dragonfly.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Nesting Birds Lay New “Riveredge Kids” Across the 379 Acres of Riveredge

Have you noticed the robin nesting on the Riveredge sign (pictured above)?

Mother Nature seems to be blissfully unaware of Covid-19. Robins and Bluebirds have built their nests and laid their eggs right on schedule. Both species are in the thrush family but have different nesting strategies.

Pictures taken of Bluebird eggs inside a Bluebird nest box earlier this week.


Bluebirds are cavity nesters (live in a box or hole in a tree).


Robins tend to tuck nests somewhere underneath cover, such as building eaves or other building structures, or beneath dense tree branch cover.

Robins and bluebirds both lay 4-5 blue eggs and begin incubating them when they have a full clutch. The females will sit on the eggs for roughly 14 days before the young hatch. Once they do, both parents will be very busy feeding the young for about two weeks. By the time the young fledge they will have received 6,000 – 9,000 insects (per clutch). Both species can have 2 – 3 clutches per season. Just think of how many insects they will have consumed by the end of the summer!

We owe them a big THANK YOU for that!

Bug o’the Week – Red-tailed Mining bee

Greetings, BugFans,

The BugLady visited Riveredge Nature Center recently looking for adventure, and she found it even before she hit the trails.  A dozen or so mining bees were flying around over a dirt bank near a bench – they were either nesting there or thinking about it (she came back a week later, and nesting was well-established).  Mining bees are solitary, ground-nesting bees in the family Andrenidae, a large family with about 3,000 species, almost half of which are in the genus Andrena (there are 450 Andrenas in North America).

Most of them are small (a half-inch-ish), fuzzy, black and tan/black bees with a striped abdomen (or not).  There are some gorgeous exceptions like this spectacularly orange Milwaukee mining bee, (Andrena milwaukeensis), a woodland bee that was discovered in 1903 by a Milwaukee entomologist https://bugguide.net/node/view/1690382/bgimage.  Andrena genus members have hair on their faces between the eyes and antennae (like a mini crew-cut), and they have long hairs on the upper sections of their back legs where they stash pollen (pollen-carrying equipment is called scopa/scopae, from the Latin for “broom”).  Pollen also sticks to hairs on the rest of their body.

Mining bees are important native pollinators.  Like bumble bees, they are “buzz pollinators – the vibration caused by their buzzing loosens pollen from a flower, and the difference in electrostatic charges between the bee and the pollen causes the pollen to stick to them.  Many species specialize on particular groups of flowers.  They are present throughout the growing season, but they’re famous for being among the earliest pollinators out of the box (they often emerge before the flowers do and bask on sunny surfaces until they warm up enough to fly).  Azalea, waterleaf, dogwood, violet, hawthorn, spring beauty, cranesbill, trout-lily, cherry, and golden alexanders mining bees kick off the wildflower season; and evening primrose, aster, sunflower, coneflower, and blazing star mining bees finish it off.  There are also vernal pool, miserable, frigid, unpolished, mournful, lonely, neighborly, well-armed, and nude mining bees.

[Nota Bene – BugFan Andrea recently asked the BugLady a question about Cellophane bees, aka Plasterer bees (family Colletidae) https://bugguide.net/node/view/1605422/bgimage, small bees that were not on the BugLady’s radar.  They’ve got an interesting story and she needs to figure out the secret handshake for distinguishing the slightly-smaller mining bees from the almost-honeybee-sized cellophane bees so she can tell it.  Bugguide.net calls them “Virtually indistinguishable from some of the Andrenidae mining bees.”]

Female mining bees excavate tunnels in soil and sand that they waterproof and make into nursery cells, each provisioned with a ball of pollen and nectar for their offspring.  For mining bee basics, see https://uwm.edu/field-station/mining-bee-rerun/.  They’re not social, like honey bees, but they tolerate other bees tunneling nearby.

Turns out that there were more than one species of mining bee at Riveredge that day – a spectacular little bee with a red abdomen, and some generic-looking mining bees to be named later (or maybe never, as bugguide.net says, “Identification to species level usually requires an expert.”).  They didn’t like each other much, and at first the BugLady thought that the red interloper might be a cuckoo/blood bee.

A few years ago, she photographed a small bee with a red abdomen, a sweat bee (family Halictidae) in the genus Sphecodes, the “blood bees” or cuckoo bees (https://uwm.edu/field-station/sphecodes-sweat-bee/).  Blood bees (named for their color) are kleptoparasites that wait until another female sweat bee prepares a chamber for her eggs, and then move in and insert their own egg.  Sometimes there’s a dust-up between the blood bee and the tunnel’s rightful owner.  This recent Riveredge bee looks similar to a Sphecodes bee https://bugguide.net/node/view/973711, but because the blood bee doesn’t collect food for her larvae, she doesn’t have/need scopae.  The Riveredge bee was pretty hairy, stem to stern, and the BugLady thinks it’s a “Red-tailed Andrena” (Andrena erythrogaster).

RTAs are (new vocabulary word) “oligolectic” – they are an oligolege of willows – which means that they specialize in willows, and the pollen balls formed by female RTAs are made of willow pollen.  Makes sense, because willows bloom early and prolifically (see this episode from March of 2012, that freakishly early, warm spring https://uwm.edu/field-station/pussy-willow-pollinators/).  Males RTAs patrol plants, keep an eye on the nesting sites, and mix it up with other bees; they likely encounter females on willows and mate there.  RTAs dig their tunnels in bare-ish sites that have some vegetation/debris on top to hide the nest holes and shelter them from rain, and they can be found in mixed-species groups.

The BugLady, who is accustomed to finding scant information about the insects she researches, was delighted to come across a paper published in the Illinois Natural History Survey Biological Notes in 1988 called “Observations on the Bionomics of the Bee Andrena {TyIandrena) erythrogaster Ashmead (Hymenoptera: Andrenidae)” by Eugene R. Miliczky.  For those of us who don’t exactly hit the ground running in the morning, the BugLady offers Miliczky’s description of emerging RTAs:

“’Prior to leaving on foraging trips, bees spent variable lengths of time sitting in their nest entrances.  Especially long periods were spent there before the first departure of the day and on days with poor weather. Usually a bee sat just below ground level, facing outward with her antennae directed forward at a slight, diverging angle. Over the next several minutes or up to an hour’ or more, the bee gradually emerged from the nest a step or two at a time. Often she moved her head from side to side prior to a short advance. Not infrequently a bee retreated down her burrow for a few seconds to a minute or more.     Very small (2—3 mm) beetles and ants passing the entrance were at times sufficient to induce a hasty retreat. At other times, the bee backed slowly and methodically down the burrow for no apparent reason. Eventually, however, the bee emerged completely.

Sometimes a female returns from her foraging trips with pollen and sometimes with nectar, and she probably provisions only one egg chamber each day.  Eggs hatch in eight to ten days, and when an RTA larva emerges into its sealed chamber atop its bed of pollen, it simply inclines its head downward into the center of the cache and starts to feed.

So in the end, the BugLady found out the part of the “Who?” “What?” and “Why” of her mining bee encounter, but the rest will have to wait for another day.

Here are some pictures of Red-tailed Andrenas and of unidentified mining bees enjoying the earthen bank and the willows and a spring day.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Riveredge No Dogs or Pets Policy Explained

So many new people have been visiting Riveredge Nature Center lately, and that’s wonderful! Unfortunately, we may not have always done the best job of explaining our no dogs or pets policy at Riveredge.

In this video, the Riveredge Research & Conservation Manager explains why Riveredge is such a special habitat for native and migratory wildlife, animals that don’t have another home or backyard to return to, and why we therefore do not allow dogs or other pets on the property, as domesticated animals can be disruptive to these sensitive habitats.

Please join us in embracing Riveredge as a sanctuary for these unique and often uncommon plants and animals, and help us spread the word that Riveredge is a sanctuary for wildlife; not domesticated pets.

If you’d like to explore outdoors with dogs, you’re in luck as dozens of locations exist in the immediate area where one can bring dogs outdoors. Parks in Ozaukee County, Washington County, Wisconsin, and Sheboygan, Wisconsin welcome leashed dogs. Please see this list for locations to bring dogs outdoors:

Ozaukee County

Covered Bridge Park, Ehlers Park, Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve, Hawthorne Hills Park, Mee-Kwon Park, River Oaks Park, Tendick Nature Park, Virmond Park, Waubedonia Park, Ozaukee Interurban Trail.

Washington County

Ackerman’s Grove County Park Family Park, Glacier Hills County Park, Goeden County Park, Heritage Trails County Park, Homestead Hollow County Park (includes off-leash exercise area), Leonard J. Yahr County Park, Lizard Mound County Park, Sandy Knoll County Park.

Sheboygan County

Broughton Sheboygan Marsh Park & Campground, Taylor Park, Esslingen Park, Roy Sebald Sheboygan River Natural Area, Gerber Lake Wildlife Area, Amsterdam Dunes Preservation Area


What’s Blooming at Riveredge? An Updated Phenology Report

One of the fantastic Riveredge volunteers, who has been exploring Riveredge trails for years to both take photographs and record observations, is letting us know what she sees blooming at Riveredge. In scientific terms, this is called “Phenology.” What is phenology? It’s very similar to another word, phenomenon. Phenology means what happens, and when, in nature. Some of the most common examples are: when flowers are blooming, when buds are present, when specific migratory bird species return, when birds are nesting.

Chances are, you already notice phenology you just might not call it that. If you notice when your garden is blooming, when the trees are budding, or when butterflies return to the skies – you’re observing phenology! Read below to learn what you can find along the trails when you visit Riveredge Nature Center right now.

Flowers Blooming

False Rue Anemone

False Rue Anemone is an early spring bloom.

Pasque Flower
Spring Beauty
False Rue Anemone
Cut Leaved Toothwort
Dutchman’s Breeches
Marsh Marigold

Flower Buds Present

Prairie Smoke

White Trout Lilly
Prairie Smoke

Golden Alexander at Riveredge Nature Center

Golden Alexander (not yet this far long).

Sprouting/Leaves Present

Rattlesnake Master
Golden Alexander

Celebrate Earth Week 2020 Every Day with Riveredge!

50 Years of a Wisconsin Legacy

Cassie Bauer

Did you know that Earth Day was established with the help of a Wisconsin State Senator, Gaylord Nelson, back in 1970? Fifty years ago his vision and commitment to conservation in the state set an example for the nation, as he encouraged peers and inspired generations to act on behalf of our planet. He was instrumental in shifting power to the people to organize grassroots efforts across the nation for the betterment of our natural world. I would have loved to meet Nelson in person, and I still glean wisdom from his words, one of his favorite quotes that I strive to live by is below.

“The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.”- Gaylord Nelson

Happy Earth Day. Pay it forward. Commit to Conservation.


Make an Earth Week Pledge to Take Action

Rachel Feerick

Kick off this week with making a pledge of one activity, a few, or one per day in celebration for Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary! These activities can be in your neighborhood or in your home. Share a sidewalk chalk message to inspire others for Earth Day. Check out the ideas we have gathered and shared with you.  Here are a few ideas: Eat more fruits and veggies this week and learn how to compost the scraps. Plant some native seeds or trees. When it comes to cleaning- use washable rags instead of paper towels. Taking shorter showers- try to reduce by 2, 3, or even 5 minutes! Try reading more than streaming or screen time this week.


Make a pledge and plan to take action

Writing down a commitment and making a plan are two actions that increase the likelihood there will be follow through and continued action. You can write it down on on paper, make a pretty sign, and/or post photos of your plan and actions on social media. If you want these Earth Day lessons to stick with any age, try this easy activity, it can incorporate a writing prompt and art project.


Earth Day Bingo

Julie Dickson

Games are a great way to pass the time during quarantine. Continue the fun playing Earth Week BINGO with the whole family! Get to know the outdoor spaces in your neighborhood, up-cycle something from the recycling, and observe nature from your own yard or patio. You could even win a basket of Riveredge goodies! Play Earth Week BINGO with your family. Get 4 in a row or aim to black out the whole card! Get outside, learn something new, use your senses, and have fun! Please remember to practice social distancing and Leave No Trace principles while exploring outside.




Prep Your yard for Wildlife

Mary Holleback

Spring migrants are winging their way back and looking for safe places to live. Earth Day is a great time to prepare your yard for them. This is an activity the entire family can do. If you have already naturalized your yard you’re off to a good start. The native trees and flowers you’ve planted will provide wildlife with plenty of food and cover. The leaves and dead grass in your compost pile will give wildlife a lot of high quality nesting material. If you have feeders this is a good time to rake up the discarded seeds and sanitize the feeder with a diluted bleach solution. Now is also the time to remove the old nesting material from your bird houses and sanitize them as well. Orioles and hummingbirds will be back around May 1st so haul out your nectar and orange/jelly feeders but be sure to clean them thoroughly before hanging them too.

Try making your own bird bath!

Besides food and shelter, another thing that all living things need is water. If you don’t have a bird bath here’s a simple way to make one. All you need is a water-tight flower-pot tray or old flat cake pan that’s about 2 inches deep. Choose a safe place to put the bath where the ground is flat and there are shrubs (shelter) nearby. Fill the tray with water and place a few pebbles or a larger flat stone inside. The rocks will help the birds judge how deep the water is and give them confidence to get in and take a bath. Now find a good spot inside your house to enjoy watching wildlife playing the water in your new bird bath.


Include Older Adults in Your Earth Day Celebrations

Amy LB Dedow

Earth Day is celebrating its 50th year. That means that many older adults can remember when this celebration of environmental stewardship began. What are some ways that we can keep the older adults in our lives connected to stewardship during this time of social distancing? Here is a list of ten ways to connect with older adults for Earth Day.

  1. Drop off a seed starter tray and some seeds for an older neighbor or family member. They are easily available from online sources or your local garden center. Check for curbside pickup options.
  2. Stop by with a potted flower that is pollinator friendly. Leave a Bleeding Heart on the doorstep or a lovely potted Lilac bush for planting.
  3. Video chat with an older adult and take them on a garden tour of your own yard. Ask for their advice about planting and pruning.
  4. Choose a research project together, like creating a shade garden and then meet up virtually to discuss what tip and tricks you find out about.
  5. Volunteer to drop off birdseed or refill the bird feeders outside senior housing so residents can continue to watch the migrating birds.
  6. Create a family contract that states, moving forward, everyone will use reusable gift bags or recycled gift wrap to reduce the use of these unessential paper items. Purchase some gift bags and send them to your favorite older adult.
  7. Have your children make educational videos for their grandparents on subjects like plastic straws, styrofoam, and composting. This is a fabulous way to create intergenerational interactions.
  8. You or your family can create a slideshow of your favorite natural area to share with a skilled nursing facility. Add nature’s soundtrack with bird songs, frogs and other natural sounds like running river water. Check with the facility first to determine the best format to complete your slideshow.
  9. Ask the older adults in your life to write down some advice for planting, pruning and harvesting. This is the perfect time to connect and learn from our elders.
  10. Drop off or send an older adult a pair of binoculars and start a bird log. Together you could meet on the phone once a morning and catalog the birds you are seeing in your own yards. This is a great activity for older grandchildren to share with their grandparents too.


 Invasive Mustard Removal

Matt Smith

Most yards and natural areas in the Midwest now have invasive mustards such as Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis). They are less of a threat and more a symbol of historic disturbance and imbalanced plant communities. To correct this imbalance, we encourage you to seed other species after removal. More native diversity means fewer invasive species and greater wildlife opportunity.

Native Seed Nurseries: Agrecol (http://www.agrecol.com/), Prairie Moon (https://www.prairiemoon.com/), Prairie Nursery (https://www.prairienursery.com/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIsaWD47jr6AIVkv3jBx1zrA2BEAAYASAAEgIKtPD_BwE), Two Ferns (http://www.twofernsmadison.com/)


Support Our Pollinators

Thelma Heidel-Baker

As plants wake up in spring, so too do our pollinators as they emerge and begin the cycle of finding flowers, collecting pollen and nectar, and pollinating plants in the process. Did you know pollinators help pollinate a third of the food we eat, and we have over 300 species of native bees here in Wisconsin alone? To help our important pollinators, they need lots of different kinds of flowers, so what better way to support them by creating habitat and providing lots of blooms by your home. And bonus is, it’s beautiful!

Lots of small steps can be done right now around your home and yard to help support our pollinators. Pick one (or several) of the following actions to help create a pollinator haven in your own backyard:


* Leave the dandelions. We know it’s hard, but welcome the weeds in your yard in early spring, especially dandelions. These early-blooming yellow flowers are some of the first food sources available to native bees.

* Plant some native wildflowers around your home. Not only are they beautiful, but native plants provide the best quality flowers for many of our native pollinators, and there are many to choose from. For a list of some of the best pollinator-friendly plants, check out:

Want a recap? Here are simple steps to help pollinators from the Wisconsin DNR: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/endangeredresources/documents/pollinatorSF.pdf


Neighborhood Trash Clean Up

Patricia Gerber

Spring is officially here and that means our winter litter is too! The litter we are now finding in our streets, yards, parks, and other public places is being washed into our streams and rivers with each spring rain. To help slow the spread of pollution, take some time today to go help clean up your neighborhood and our environment. Not only does cleaning up your neighborhood make it a safer and cleaner place for you and your neighbors, but by each of us working together, it makes a difference for our community as a whole.

Grab a bag or a bucket and some safe gloves to help pick up trash. Please make sure to maintain social distancing around others, wash your hands often, be safe and have fun!

After your neighborhood clean up mission is complete, tally the trash you collect and share a picture of your clean up efforts! Post a picture of your most interesting trash or the biggest piece you found with Riveredge Nature Center on Social Media with the hashtag #SharewithRiveredge.

Trash Tally Sheet (4th grade- Adults)

Trash Scavenger Hunt sheet (younger children)


Seed Starting at Home

Todd Kraemer-Curtiss

As winter is put to rest, plant life is itching to begin! A great way to kick off the growing season is to seed start. Seed starting puts you ahead of the game for when the weather is warm enough for young plant life to flourish. It’s easy, fun, and a wonderful activity to get people excited about food, flowers, and a more beautiful home. Ready to get started? Here’s what you need:

  • You can use a multitude of containers to start seeds. Options include clean plastic containers, cardboard egg cartons, plant pots, and even toilet paper rolls. Be sure that all of your chosen containers have a form of drainage in them. You can alter containers with scissors to make holes and slits to provide an access route for excess water to leak out of.
  • In a separate container, mix your soil with water just enough so that when you squeeze it, no water runs out of your soil, but it is clearly damp. Fill your containers with your mixed soil and pack it down so that the seed will have good contact and a healthy balance of air and water.
  • Proceed to make a divot on your packed down soil to make a resting place for your seed. Depending on when the seed was bought, it is a safe bet to place more than one seed in each resting place so as to insure that at least one will germinate. Cover your seed(s) with soil and pack them down.
  • Water your planted seeds gently so as to not upset the soil resulting in the seeds uncovering.
  • Place in a sunny spot and keep an eye on your plants. Water them every couple days to once a week and watch as they grow bigger!
  • Once they are ready and the weather is warm enough, plant your little sprout friends in your garden space. It is a very fulfilling activity that is perfect for all ages. Enjoy!

Bug o’the Week – Tufted Bird-lime Moth

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady was visited by another moth recently, this time a Tufted Bird-lime/Tufted Bird-dropping Moth/Cherry Agate (Cerma cerintha) that appeared in her bathroom and, later, in her kitchen.  It’s a lovely little moth with a one inch-ish wingspan, in the Owlet moth family Noctuidae.

Noctuids are called Owlet moths because of the way the light reflects off the eyes of the (often drab) adults.  Many of the moths are nectar feeders and are pollinators; many of the caterpillars are omnivores, relishing both foliage and their fellow invertebrates, and sometimes are cannibalistic.  These are the fruit worms, cutworms, and armyworms that feed on the leaves of agricultural crops.  Caterpillars of many Noctuid species have chemical defenses, gleaned from the foods they eat, and others use camouflage, mimicry or spines to protect themselves.  Adults have tympanal organs (“ears”) that allow them to detect bat radar.

Depending on whose field guide you have, TBLMs are in the subfamily Acronictinae, or in the subfamily Eustrotiinae.  About the confusion, Sogaard, in Moths and Caterpillars of the North Woods says “The taxonomy of the superfamily Noctuoidea (which includes…… Noctuidae) is in disarray.  It will likely take a decade or more of work before the smoke clears from a truer, more stable taxonomy.”  About the Eustrotiinae, David Wagner, in Caterpillars of Eastern North America, says “members of this subfamily were formerly classified with the bird-dropping moths (subfamily Acronictinae).  Eustrotiines are a heterogeneous (unnatural) assemblage without any shared diagnostic adult or larval characters.”  You get the picture.  There are three members of the genus Cerma; here’s an even fancier one https://bugguide.net/node/view/926560/bgimage.

TBLMs are found in the US east of the Great Plains and across southern Canada east of Manitoba.  Wagner says that they favor “barrens, fields, sandy openings, and woodland edges.”  They are fairly common, but their lifestyle hasn’t been studied much.

TBLM caterpillars eat the leaves of fruit trees in the rose family, especially cherries and hawthorns. West Virginia blogger/photographer “Squirrel” (squirrelsview.blogspot) observes that the moths are found around fruit trees, and so are fruit-eating birds, so the bird poop strategy is a good one.  Their camouflage is so good that, Sogaard says “I once brought a specimen home from the lighted side of a building only to find myself fooled by a bird dropping!

Young caterpillars start out green (nice series here – https://bugguide.net/node/view/681356/bgimage) and then develop a carmine stripe https://bugguide.net/node/view/825207 that provides effective disruptive coloration https://bugguide.net/node/view/968746/bgimage.  They have a pretty impressive rear set of prolegs (“fake,” hydraulic legs for grasping).

There are two generations of TBLMs in the south, but probably only one here in Wisconsin.  The BugLady couldn’t find much about their reproduction, only that a mature caterpillar creates a pupal chamber by chewing a tunnel into wood, turning around, and sealing the entrance with wood chips and silk, making it, says Wagner, “virtually undetectable.”

Two cool things about Tufted Bird-lime Moths:

First, Wagner, et al tell us in Owlet Caterpillars of Eastern North America, that “upon disturbance, caterpillars of the Cherry Agate…..may shake rapidly from side to side.  Cerma caterpillars will wriggle violently if handled and are quick to hurl themselves from their purchase.”

Second, female Noctuids summon males with chemical scents called pheromones, and males preform courtship “dances.”  Males of many nocturnal species of moth, including the Noctuidae, produce scents that are disseminated by various configurations of “scent brushes” that are associated with eversible glands.  When a female emits pheromones to call to males, the males respond by approaching the female from upwind and sending out their own perfume.  This, in some species at least, prompts the female to stop calling.  His scent may serve to confirm a species match as well as to turn her head.  In the lovely science language of a century-plus ago, “Scent fans are the perquisite of the males of many of the Noctuina whose eyes shine at night like those of the barn owl as they winnow the dewy flowers” (A.H. Swinton, 1908).

And, for the BugFan who has everything, a TBLM mousepad is waiting for you on the internet.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

What’s Blooming at Riveredge? An Updated Phenology Report

One of the fantastic Riveredge volunteers, who has been exploring Riveredge trails for years to both take photographs and record observations, is letting us know what she sees blooming at Riveredge. In scientific terms, this is called “Phenology.” What is phenology? It’s very similar to another word, phenomenon. Phenology means what happens, and when, in nature. Some of the most common examples are: when flowers are blooming, when buds are present, when specific migratory bird species return, when birds are nesting.

Chances are, you already notice phenology you just might not call it that. If you notice when your garden is blooming, when the trees are budding, or when butterflies return to the skies – you’re observing phenology! Read below to learn what you can find along the trails when you visit Riveredge Nature Center right now.

Flowers Blooming


Pasqueflower blooming on the prairie. Interestingly, the plant is named for the Passover, as it generally blooms at about the same time as the celebration.

Skunk Cabbage
Pasque Flower
Penn Sedge
Bloodroot (1 plant)
Hepatica (1 plant – pictured first in this post)

Flower Buds Present

Marsh Marigold when flowering…not quite there yet!

Spring Beauty
False Rue Anemone
Dutchman’s Breeches
Spring Cress
Marsh Marigold

Sprouting/Leaves Present

The Blue Flag Iris aren’t this showy at this point, but keep an eye out for them near water sources.

Wild Geranium
Cut-leaved Toothwort
Stinging Nettle
Shooting Star
Blue Flag Iris

Bug o’the Week – Speed-dating the Spiders – Eastern Long-legged Cobweaver

Greetings, BugFans,

First, a short detour into the world of the non-flowering:

The BugLady’s message to people who are pining for the wildflower season to begin is this: Get thee to a wetland and watch the non-flowering plants.  Mosses, especially, are going crazy these days, their green leaflets (the gametophyte part of the plant) bristling with the stalks of sporophytes, topped by variously-shaped spore capsules.  They’re happier now than when the canopy above leafs out and casts them into shade.  Ground-hugging liverworts are covered by reproductive pits and umbrellas, and any day now, cinnamon ferns will push up through the dead leaves and dried fronds that top the wetland hummocks.  It’s beyond life-affirming.

On a recent wetland walk, the BugLady noticed some moss that was growing on a very rotten stump.  Stiff leaves at the tips of many of the moss plants had formed a cup-shaped rosette.  Turns out that these are called gemmae cups (cups for gemmae), and they’re part of the moss’s reproductive strategy.  According to Dr. Jessica Budke, Herbarium Director at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, “The moss makes little discs of plant tissue inside the cups called gemmae. These gemmae are moved away from the parental plant via a splash-cup dispersal mechanism. It sounds high tech, but really is just using the power of rain. When rain droplets land in the cup the gemmae are dislodged and can be carried in the water as it splatters away from the moss plant. The gemmae may not be dispersed very far, but it is far enough that this structure is advantageous for the plant to have. This is a form of asexual or clonal reproduction. The plant has made a mini copy of itself that can grow into a new moss plant.

So, gemmae, the little “eggs” in the Easter basket, are like tiny buds that are ready to grow if they land on a favorable substrate when they’re washed from the gemmae/splash cup.    Apparently, Four-tooth moss (which this moss probably is) likes to grow in the company of more Four-tooth moss.  One researcher found that sparse populations were more likely to use gemmae, which land and grow close to the parent moss, while dense thickets of the moss are more likely to reproduce via spores, which travel through the air away from the clump.  This may be a strategy to stabilize their punky substrate.  The BugLady also found gemmae cups on some lichens.

Without further ado, the spider.

It is, almost certainly Theridion frondeum, the Eastern long-legged cobweb spider (BugFan Mike’s “best guess” is way better than the BugLady’s).  It’s a small, dainty spider in the Cobweb spider family Theridiidae.  Theridiidae is a large family (maybe 2,500 species globally and 234 in North America) whose numbers include the Common house spider, of former BOTW fame (https://uwm.edu/field-station/common-house-spider/) and the notorious Black widow spider.

The BugLady didn’t find a huge amount of info about this particular species, but there’s lots about the family.

Theridiidae are also called Cobweb spiders (because of their web style), and Tangle web spiders and Comb-footed spiders.  Comb-footed because most species have a bristly comb near the tip of the rear set of legs that is used to draw silk from the spinnerets and, said one source, to roughen the surface of the silk a bit.  Tangle-web because of the creative ways some species deploy sticky silk (remember, not all spider web silk is) (sticky).  They’re found in woods, fields, edges and buildings across North America, more in the eastern half than in the west.

As usual with spiders, there’s some variation in color and pattern, and females are larger than males.  See https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/viewSpecies.php?species=6577.

As usual with spiders, courtship is cautious.  The BugLady found some tantalizing tidbits about male Theridids using nuptial feeding to show females what a great catch they are.  Some family members secrete chemicals from various knobs on their head, and the female imbibes the liquid during courtship (although it’s not actually known what benefit she receives from it).  Others are kleptoparasites – stealing prey from the webs of other spiders and presenting it to their prospective mates.

Females place as many as 250 eggs in egg sacs that they stash in sheltered places, like a folded leaf.  She stays with the egg sac until her young hatch and disperse.  Here are two good picture series: https://bugguide.net/node/view/684363/bgimage and https://bugguide.net/node/view/363186/bgimage.

It’s a big family, and there’s lots of variety in the webs.  These are not the tidy, two-dimensional, spiral webs of the orb weavers – these are (mostly) tangled, messy, “cob-webby,” tent-like structures.  Lines made of sticky “gumfoot silk” may stretch from leaf to leaf or reach all the way from the web to the ground; when tripped by unlucky (pedestrian) prey, the line releases from the ground, hoisting the prey into the air (picture Wile E. Coyote stepping into a rope trap attached to a sapling).  The vibrating line alerts the resident spider that dinner is on the way.

When they catch an invertebrate (and they’re considered good biological controls of agricultural pests), they use the combs on their back legs to pull out a bunch of sticky web to wrap it in; and after their prey is immobilized, they bite and paralyze it (lots of spiders that build trap webs do it the other way around – bite, then wrap).  Most spiders don’t use sticky web for this purpose, but the stickiness allows Theridids to take on prey that’s much bigger than they are.  When they’re not subduing prey, the spiders hang head-down in their webs or rest in a woven hiding place.

Unique things that some Theridids do:

  • In some species, Mom allows her offspring to live in her web briefly, and in some species, she even feeds them predigested food until their first molt, the only spider family that has this level of maternal care.
  • In some species, males stridulate (make sound via friction), rubbing teeth under the front edge of the abdomen against ridges on the rear of the carapace (the top of the cephalothorax).
  • Spiders in some genera, including Theridon, are mildly social and will build communal webs.
  • Some camouflage the webs by sticking bits of plant material to it.

The BugLady saw a long, fresh strand of spider silk, recently, trailing in the air from its attachment on a twig the other day.  Perhaps a newly-hatched spiderling drifted in from parts unknown.

And the road slugs are out and about.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives: