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