Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Mouse in the Woods -- Eeeek!

Jo and I found this Mickey Mouse birthday balloon while walking in the woods the other day. We find an escaped party balloon in the woods every year or so. This one more recently made landfall and is in better condition than most.

I've often wondered about this lighter than air litter. On the one hand, finding a balloon only once every year or so doesn't exactly make them a major source of litter. They certainly aren't challenging beer cans and soda bottles for that dubious honor. On the other hand, it seems odd that we find any balloons on our little piece of rural landscape. How many escaped balloons fall on and equal-size plot of urban real estate? How many helium-filled balloons are released -- either accidentally or on purpose -- every year? How many are occupying U. S. air space at any given time? How far do they travel?

Then again, it could be that we just happen to have some nearby neighbors who are very much into celebrating with balloons.

(Editors Note: BirdGuides has an excellent article discussing the scope and environmental problems caused by released balloons. Many thanks to Gwendolen for providing this link.)


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Eve Deer

While not reindeer, I did see these two does on Christmas Eve.
(Note: There's enough firewood in that fallen tree behind them to get us through the winter and then some. Too bad I don't have any way to get it out of the woods.)


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My World: Frost Flowers

It's been cold in My World over the past few days.  We've experienced our lowest temperatures thus far this winter.  One of the most beautiful and delicate phenomena resulting from this cold are frost flowers, which are actually neither frost nor flower.

Frost flowers occur when the air temperature is below freezing but the ground remains unfrozen.  Here in the Ozarks, that is a fairly common wintertime event.  Our ground never freezes deeply and usually thaws between cold snaps. A frost flower forms when water inside a plant stem freezes, expands and is extruded through cracks in the stem forming thin ribbons of ice. Air bubbles trapped in the ice make it appear frothy white. The extruded ribbons of ice are often much more petal-like than the ones pictured above.

Not all plants form frost flowers.  Two of the more common ones that do are yellow ironweed (Verbesina alternifolia) and white crownbeard (Verbesina virginica). In fact, white crownbeard also is commonly called frostweed.

Wikipedia:  Frost Flowers
Missouri Conservationist Online

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Today's Flowers: Beach False Foxglove (Agalinis fasciculata)

                                                                                                  9/05/08 (By Jo)
Beach False Foxglove (Agalinis fasciculata)
On this shortest day of the year -- and one of the coldest too,-- I thought it would be warming to flash back to an afternoon in early fall when Jo found, photographed and, later, identified this wildflower growing along our road.  (My only contribution was sneaking over to her side of the computer, borrowing photos, doing a little editing and posting them here.)

►  Status:  An annual herb native to North America.

►  Blooming period:  Mid-summer through mid-fall.

►  Range:  Common in the souther states of the U. S.  Extends up the east coast to Maryland.

►  Habitat:  Prairies, sandy open ground, thickets, woodland edges, fallow fields.

►  Identifying characteristics:  Relatively large flowers -- an inch or so.  Purple spots and pale yellow lines inside the flower tube.

Sources and links:
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Missouri Plants
USDA Plant Profile and Distribution Map

To participate in Today's Flowers please click the logo above.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Echinacea and Ice

                                                                                 Photo by Jo

Everything -- including the purple cone flowers that hadn't been deadheaded -- picked up a thin coating of ice and/or freezing fog over the past couple of days. Most of the wintry mix fell as sleet, so the trees and power lines did not get badly weighted down with ice. We would not have been able to navigate our road out, though.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Fallen Tree

The amazing things isn't that the tree fell. What's amazing is that it was able to stand for as long as it did growing out of about six inches of soil on top of solid rock at the edge of a bluff.



Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Grass Skipper (Hesperiinae)

Grass Skipper (Hesperiinae)

Hesperiinae larvae feed on grasses and sedges.They hold their wings partially open while resting, with the front wings and hind wings held at different angles. They are usually orange, rust, or brown in color.




Monday, December 01, 2008

Buck Deer in the Garden

A group of five buck deer decided to check out our garden area this morning.  (My apologies for shots hurriedly taken through a dirty window.)

The bucks just milled around browsing for a while.  (You can see a little bit of the light dusting of snow we received on Sunday still hanging around in places not yet touched by the sun.)

After a bit, something scared the bucks and they all hightailed it for the woods.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Road Improvements?

We didn’t find a great deal of damage done thus far by our neighbor Jerry Joe and his hired bulldozer. The main project worked on was a little road that leads from our road out to one of Jerry Joe’s pastures. On the one hand, this road was badly washed out and the dozer work did, indeed, make it smoother. On the other hand, this road goes straight down into and straight back up out of a ravine. There’s no way to keep a road that steep and straight from quickly washing out again. Jerry Joe knows that as well as I do. I’m really not sure why he wasted his money.

In the photo, the road down into the ravine goes off to the right. As you can see, the dozer made a fair sized mess making the turn off our road out onto the ravine road. He also made a light pass along our road out all the way from where he was working to the gate. I think this light pass was all about the dozer smoothing its own tracks as it left. Bulldozer track are no fun to drive over, but our road really didn’t need the surface loosened as we head into winter. Notice the exposed red clay? Grumble, grumble, grumble.

Four or five years ago, road improvements conducted by Jerry Joe and the same dozer operator resulted in our not being able to get a vehicle in or out for something like six weeks.  That was a major pain and I'd rather not have a repeat performance.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wednesday Afternoon Walk: Caterpillar

I don't know what kind of construction/destruction my neighbor has in mind. No work has been done yet, but a bulldozer belonging to a local heavy equipment operator was parked alongside the road this afternoon.


Wednesday Afternoon Walk: Deer

Several does were at the edge of the power line easement when we took our afternoon walk. This location is an often used road crossing point for the deer and can be seen from the house. Rusty checks the window several time per day to see if there are any deer for him to bark at.


Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncata)

For many years Jo and I have poked fun at our chronologically challenged Christmas Cactus. It always blooms around Thanksgiving and never near Christmas. We even developed a plausible-sounding (but totally wrong) theory that it's early blooming was trigger by bringing the plant indoors for the winter. Little did we know the plant was sneering back at us in contempt for our ignorance. It is a Schlumbergera truncata (Thanksgiving Cactus) and not a Schlumbergera x buckleyi (Christmas Cactus). It's supposed to bloom around Thanksgiving. Doh!

Many (most?) of the Christmas Cacti sold in North America are actually Thanksgiving Cacti. Growers/marketers shoulder most of the blame for this name confusion. Since the plant does not have spactular foliage, they need for it to be blooming to increase pre-Christmas sales. However, a true Christmas Cactus is unlikely to bloom reliably during the peak of the sales season. So they sell Thanksgiving Cacti, which are blooming, but call them Christmas Cacti. Sometimes both species are lumped together with Easter Cacti (a different genus) and called Holiday Cacti.

The quickest way to tell the difference between the two plants is by looking at the stems. Thanksgiving cacti have tooth-like notches and soft spines along the the edges of their stems. Christmas cacti have rounded notches on the margins.

Dalhousie University (Halifax, Nova Scotia) has drawings showing the differences between the two species, a discussion of the various hybrids and cultivars available and general care instructions. Their site is well worth your time if your interested in these epiphytes.

A general description of genus Schlumbergera from Wikipedia:

Schlumbergera is a genus of 6 known tree-dwelling cacti from Brazil. These are the tropical rainforest epiphytes, growing on tree branches where, despite the high rainfall, water drains off quickly so that "dry" conditions prevail much of the time. They are named after Frédéric Schlumberger, french, who was the owner of a famous plant collection.

This genus contains the popular Schlumbergera truncata, also known as Thanksgiving Cactus, frequently mislabeled Christmas Cactus, which may flower in white, pink, red or purple. The Easter Cactus or Whitsun cactus (Hatiora gaertneri) which produces vivid scarlet flowers belongs to Hatiora genus.

The stems of Schlumbergera resemble leaf like pads joined one to the other and the flowers appear from areoles at the tips. In addition, the plant is diurnal and will close up its flowers at night.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Green Cloverworm Moth (Hypena scabra)

Green Cloverworm Moth (Hypena scabra)

While certainly not the most beautiful moth ever attracted to my porch light, the Green Cloverworm Moth is abundant, especially late in the season. On several warmer evenings in late fall, I saw dozens of these moths and only one or two specimens of other species.

Life Cycle (from Bugwood Wiki): Green cloverworms overwinter either as pupae or adults. Moths become active in the spring and lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves. Eggs hatch in less than a week and larvae may feed for four weeks. Larvae burrow into litter or soil and pupate. Four or more generations occur annually in Georgia (and other southern states).

BugGuide says: Adults fly from March to November, or all year in warmer regions, but are most common in late summer and fall.

Green Cloverworm Moths are found in fields, gardens, wood edges and waste places. Hosts plants include alfalfa, beans, clover, cowpea, soybean, strawberry, vetch, many common weeds, and other legumes. All sources agree that Green Cloverworms seldom occur in large enough numbers to reduce the yield of a crop materially.

While the basic pattern remains the same, the coloration of Green Cloverworm Moths can vary greatly. The Moth Photographers Group has photographs of several different specimens showing this color variation.

(Thanks to John Maxwell on BugGuide for this ID.)


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tachinid Fly (Genus Peleteria)

In general, most tachinid flies are relatively large and bristly.  They often mimic wasp or bees.

Adult tachinids feed on pollen and nectar.  Larvae are parasites, preying on other insects -- often caterpillars.  Most tachinids deposit their eggs directly on the body of their host, and it is not uncommon to see caterpillars with several tachinid eggs on them. Upon hatching the larva usually burrows into its host and feeds internally. When fully developed it leaves the host and pupates nearby.   Larvae of Genus Peleteria prey Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths).

There are 1,345 species in 303 genera of tachinid flies in North America.  They can be found practically anywhere and everywhere. Tachinids are often abundant on sunny hilltops looking for mates.

Information source:  BugGuide


Saturday, November 08, 2008

Late Fall or Early Winter?

It's starting to look a lot like winter around here.


Friday, November 07, 2008

Fall Color Past

A strong and gusty south wind blew all day Wednesday preceding the arrival of a new cold front. The wind stripped away almost all our colorful leaves. Only the oaks managed to hold onto their brown leaves. Oh, well. All things must pass.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Camel Cricket (Family Rhaphidophoridae)

Camel Cricket (Family Rhaphidophoridae)

If you've always want a lucky cricket but were afraid its chirping would keep you awake at night, then the camel criket is your solution.  It has neither wings nor can it chirp.  Jumping is the camel cricket's (aka cave cricket) forte.

The camel crickets are a moderately common group of insects. They are also known as cave crickets, a name descriptive of their natural habitat. Like all crickets, the camel crickets have very large hind legs and long antennae. They are brownish in color and humpbacked in appearance. They are wingless and up to one inch long.

As the name implies, cave crickets are found in caves. However, they live in other cool, damp situations such as in wells, rotten logs, stumps and hollow trees, and under damp leaves, stones, boards and logs.

Camel crickets are of little economic importance except as a nuisance in buildings and homes, especially basements. They are usually "accidental invaders" that wander in by mistake from adjacent areas. They generally do not reproduce indoors, except in situations that provide continuous dark, moist conditions. 

A PDF from Clemson University continues:

They do have chewing mouthparts, like other crickets, and can feed on many different kinds of animal products, plants, fabrics and even other insects. Though they are mostly considered just a nuisance
pest, they can cause some damage, especially if they occur in large numbers. Indoors, they can damage fine fabrics and houseplants. Outdoors, they can damage plants, fabrics on lawn furniture, and have even been reported feeding on clothing on a clothesline.

Camel crickets spend the winter as either immatures or adults. In the spring, females lay eggs in the soil and they hatch in a few weeks. In greenhouses and other warm locations, camel crickets may breed year round. Very little is known about the biology of this group of crickets.

Such is the fate of most insects having little economic importance to humans.

See also:  BugGuide Family Page 


Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sunday Walk

Jo and I (and the dogs) usually take our afternoon walk around four o'clock. With the end of Daylight Savings Time, our Sunday walk was actually taken an hour later than Saturday's. There was a dramatic diffenence in the sun's intensity and the length of shadows. The photo above is our road out -- our driveway -- about three quarters of a mile from the house. It is up near the gate, which is normally open, and is our "turn around" point where we reverse course and head back to the house. This is one of the best sections of our road because it's relatively flat and isn't prone to washing out.

Our driveway is technically a county road. It runs through land owned by our closest neighbor. Most of it is wooded, although he's partially cleared a few sections like this one where his horse, Pretty Boy, is grazing.



Saturday, November 01, 2008

Soldier (Leatherwing) Beetles

Like almost all insects (except flies), beetles have four wings. However, in beetles the forewings are hardened into wing covers (elytra) that meet in a straight line down the back of the abdomen when closed. The elytra on soldier beetles (and their close relatives lightning bugs) are more hardened than other insect wings, but not as hard as those on most other beetles. These insects are often called leatherwings.

There are approximately 16 genera and 455 species of soldier beetles in North America. Most adults eat nectar and pollen, although a few are reported to eat other insects like aphids. Larval soldier beetles are generally carnivorous and feed on small soft-bodied insects.

Two of the more common soldier beetles are:

Margined Leatherwing
(Chauliognathus marginatus)

The identifying characteristic of the Margined Leatherwing Beetle is the wide black line running from front to rear down the middle of its pronotum (the short body segment between head and abdomen. The Margined Leatherwing is also most likely to be seen in the spring and early summer. (Photo from 5/17/06)

Goldenrod Soldier Beetle
(Chauliognathus pensylvanicus)
The Goldenrod Soldier Beetle has an irregularly shaped dot in the middle of its pronotum. The dot does not run all the way to the front or rear. This beetle is also most likely to be seen in the late summer and fall. (Photo from 9/6/08)
(The amount of black on the elytra of both species varies among individuals and is not significant for making an ID.)

Sources and additional information:
BugGuide: Goldenrod Soldier Beetle
BugGuide: Margined Leatherwing Beetle
University of Kentucky: Soldier Beetles
Chicago Wilderness Magazine: Margined Soldier Beetle


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Little Miscellaneous

Dogwood leaves and berries.

Turn out the lights; the garden's over.

Our road out ... up near the gate.

The dill was the only plant in the garden not damaged by our light freeze.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Waiting on the Leaves

There's still not a lot of fall color yet here in the Ozarks.
(But way too many power lines in this photo.)
I'm hoping for at least a little more color
before the wind blows the leaves off the trees.
(Photo taken 10/24/08 along our road out.)



Saturday, October 25, 2008

Spotted Cucumber Beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata)

Spotted Cucumber Beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata)

From a human perspective, this brightly colored, spotted little critter is a PEST.  The larvae (often called a Southern Corn Rootworm) feed on the roots of a large range of plants, including many field crops.  Adults will eat almost anything from cucumbers to roses.  Adults also transmit bacterial wilt and other diseases.

As with many other pest species, our experience with this beetle in our garden is that there is almost always a few around during the growing season, but they've never been a problem.  Their population has always remained at a background level.

This particular cucumber beetle is feasting on a fallen and partially fermented persimmon.  These persimmons are attracting many insects, mostly bees and wasps.  I've read about wild mammals becoming intoxicated after eating large amounts of fermented fruit.  I wonder if the same thing can happen with insects?  One the one hand, the alcohol content of the persimmons is low and the insects eat tiny amounts.  On the other hand, the body weight of  insects is minuscule.  It wouldn't take much alcohol to produce inebriation.  I mean, how can one tell if a beetle or wasp is flying under the influence of alcohol?

Source:  BugGuide

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bird's Foot Violet (Viola pedata)

Bird's Foot Violet (Viola pedata)

Normally a spring-blooming wildflower, a few bird's foot violets along the road out insist upon late summer or early fall blooming too.
Additional Resources:
Discover Life
Missouri Plants
Missouri Botanical Garden

Previous Post: April 9, 2007



Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pathetic Potato Harvest

Background: Due to a variety of circumstances more or less beyond our control, Jo and I didn't even begin preparing the beds and planting our garden until after our last spring art fair which was held on the first weekend in June. Because of our late start, we didn't bother planting some crops -- like corn. We anticipated problems with other crops. We figured the question was: Would the crops produced before succumbing to the prolonged heat and dryness typical of our late summer?

One barely full flat of Yukon Golds is our pathetic potato harvest for 2008. We normally have four or five of those wooden flats heaping full.

That question proved irrelevant. The later part of this summer was much cooler and wetter than most. Had I known this in advance, I would have predicted a bumper crop of veggies. I would have been wrong. Some veggies -- like tomatoes and green beans -- produced well. Others -- like the potatoes we harvested today -- did not do so well. I really do not know why our potatoes produced so poorly. I've heard others also had poor potato yields. Ditto for peppers (bell, jalapeno, etc.) which are usually a "nothing to it" plant to grow.

A half of five gallon bucket of sweet potatoes instead of our normal harvest of 3+ buckets full.

As far as conditions unique to our garden that might have contributed to our dismal potato crop: The Yukon Golds never produced the normal amount of foliage. First they were attacked by a heavy infestation of squash bugs sucking out their juices and then blister beetles ate what little foliage the potatoes had managed to grow. Mid-season squash bugs and late season blister beetles seems especially bad the year. Squash bugs aren't usually a problem on potatoes in our garden.

We actually planted fewer sweet potato slips this year. Jo thought she might be planting the sweet potatoes too close together so they competed with each other for nutrients. She experiment by planting fewer potatoes farther apart, thinking each plant might produce more and/or larger potatoes. That experiment was a resounding failure.

The sweet potato vines were still growing well. The rabbits had even stopped keeping the edges trimmed.
We normally dig sweet potatoes right before the first frost which isn't even in our forecast yet, but we decided to go ahead and harvest them today since the ground is relatively dry and rain is in our forecast. I doubt the potatoes were apt to get any larger or more numerous.

Finally, both potato beds were hard to dig because of the tree roots that had grown into them over the summer. Perhaps those roots had robbed nutrients. (Cutting trash trees that have grown up around the edge of the garden is one of this winter's projects.)

While we dug potatoes, a variety of butterflies were enjoying the garden flowers. The zinnias are getting a bit ragged this late in the season, but they are still growing and attracting butterflies.

(Left to right: Monarch, Cloudless Sulphur and Painted Lady)



Saturday, October 18, 2008

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae)

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae)

For several weeks during the fall Sulphurs are the most common butterflies here in the Ozarks.  Okra's long-tubed blooms are well suited to Sulphurs' feeding habits.  The end results are excellent yellow on yellow photo opportunities.

From Butterflies and Moths of North America and the BugGuide:

Identification: Upper surface of male is lemon yellow with no markings. Female is yellow or white; outer edges of both wings with irregular black borders; upper  forewing with dark spot in cell. Lower surface of hindwing of both sexes with 2 pink-edged silver spots.

Life history: Males patrol with rapid flight, searching for receptive females. Eggs are laid singly on young leaves or flower buds of host plants; caterpillars eat leaves and rest on underside of leaf petioles.

Flight: Many flights year around in the Deep South; may have one flight in late summer in other southern states; immigrants to northern states in August or September usually do not reproduce.

Caterpillar hosts: Cassia species in the pea family (Fabaceae).

Adult food: Nectar from many different flowers with long tubes including cordia, bougainvilla, cardinal flower, hibiscus, lantana, and wild morning glory.

Habitat: Disturbed open areas including parks, yards, gardens, beaches, road edges, abandoned fields, scrub

Range: Permanent resident from Argentina north to southern Texas and the Deep South. Regular visitor and occasional colonist in most of the eastern United States and the Southwest.

Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus)

From the University of Illinois Extension Service:

Okra is a tall-growing, warm-season, annual vegetable from the same family (Mallow) as hollyhock, rose of Sharon and hibiscus. The immature pods are used for soups, canning and stews or as a fried or boiled vegetable. The hibiscus like flowers and upright plant (3 to 6 feet or more in height) have
ornamental value for backyard gardens.

Other okra links:

All About Okra

Texas A and M University

Friday, October 17, 2008

Spider Wasp (Tachypompilus ferrugineus)

The female spider wasp paralyzes her spider prey, then drags it back to her intended nest location.  Typically, nests are constructed in a crevice or at the base of a rock pile, walls, or building.    The female scoops out a shallow depression in the soil, deposits prey and then lays her eggs.  She covers the nest with soil and debris.  This particular wasp had a different idea.  She was doing a fine job of dragging her spider straight up an outside wall of Jo's studio.  I did not see her final destination, but I assume her intended nest was in a crack or crevice up where the wall meets the eaves or, maybe, between the wall and chimney.  


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Spider Web and Seed

Spider webs catch more than bugs.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pitch-eating Weevil (Pachylobius picivorus)

Pitch-eating Weevil (Pachylobius picivorus)

From Bugwood Wiki

The pitch-eating weevil Pachylobius picivorus can be very destructive pests of young pines. All species of pines are considered susceptible to damage, and either insect may be an occasional pest of pines grown as Christmas trees.

The most serious injury occurs to small seedlings or to the branches of larger trees as a result of adult feeding. The weevils feed by chewing small, irregular holes in the bark. When feeding is heavy, the holes run together, effectively girdling small trees or the branches of larger trees. Even if the terminals of larger trees are not girdled, "flagging" or distorted terminals can result, making the tree less marketable. Damage is usually more serious in or near freshly cut timber areas.

... adults may be active year-round, although numbers are normally low in winter. Adult weevils may also pass the winter in the soil or beneath ground litter around a tree. On emerging in the spring, adults feed on the bark of pine seedlings or the terminals and twigs of larger trees. Trees up to 1.5 cm in diameter are sometimes girdled and killed. The weevils usually feed at night and hide in the soil around trees during the day. Adults are attracted to freshly cut stumps or weakened pines. Females lay eggs beneath the bark, in the roots of stumps, dead trees or dying trees. Larvae hatch and feed primarily in the roots for six to eight weeks before pupating. The pupal stage lasts two to four weeks, depending on temperature.



Friday, September 19, 2008

Snapping Turtle

We found this critter about to cross the road up by the gate. The dogs thought they wanted to give the snapping turtle a bad time. Little did they know they would have come out losers.

The van is pretty much loaded and we are ready to head out toward Springfield, IL, Friday morning. Going to do a little trading with the natives.
Edwards Place Fine Arts Fair