Readers’ wildlife photos

September 11, 2021 • 8:00 am

When I was a kid in Virginia, I knew where there was a pawpaw tree in the woods, and at the right time of year I’d gather the ripe ones and gorge myself. They are superb: the American equivalent of mangos.  Here’s a post from reader Leo Glenn about the American pawpaw and its fruit.  They’re not much grown commercially, as far as I know, so try to find a wild tree—or plant one yourself, as Leo did.

Leo’s captions are indented and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

In heeding your call for more wildlife photos, I thought I would offer something a little different. The photos themselves are no great shakes, but hopefully the subject matter will be informative and of interest to your readers. After acquiring our house and property in western Pennsylvania 15 years ago, we began to look for interesting and unusual native trees and shrubs to plant, particularly ones which provide food and/or wildlife habitat. I’ve had a keen interest since childhood in edible and medicinal wild plants, so I was very surprised to learn of a native tree that I had not heard of before, apart from a vague memory of a childhood song. The Pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba) is indigenous to the eastern United States and Canada, and its fruit is the largest native tree fruit in North America. It’s also the only species in its family (Annonaceae) that is not tropical. It’s related to the custard apple (Annona reticulata), soursop (A. muricata), and the cherimoya (A. cherimola).

We have been growing pawpaws now for over 12 years, and have around 20 trees, eight of which are bearing fruit. We also discovered a wild patch along a river bank about a half-hour drive from our home.

Here is a map of the pawpaw’s native range, including some of the Native American names for it. Prior to the ice ages, the species was propagated by megafauna, which ate the fruit and distributed the large seeds. After the extinction of the megafauna and the introduction of Homo sapiens, the fruit was widely eaten and propagated by Native Americans. Thomas Jefferson grew them at Monticello, and they were supposedly one of George Washington’s favorite desserts. Lewis and Clark survived on them during part of their travels, and Mark Twain extolled their virtues. At some point, however, they were all but forgotten.

Pawpaws are understory trees that form clonal patches, which may partly explain their scarcity in Pennsylvania, as the majority of woodland was clearcut here by the early 1900s. The only remaining wild patches here tend to be along river banks. They are more common in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and elsewhere in their native range, where they are sometimes called “Prairie Banana.” Here is a pawpaw tree, surrounded by its clonal “children.”

Pawpaw blossoms are perfect, containing both male and female parts, but are protogynous—the stigma matures before the pollen—generally requiring two genetically different trees for pollination (though some self-fertile trees have been found). This is why many clonal patches often produce little or no fruit. The blossoms are pollinated primarily by flies and beetles, have a fleshy color and a slightly fetid odor. Some pawpaw growers hang animal carcasses on the trees to attract pollinators, a practice I have not been tempted to try.

Pawpaws are often compared to bananas, partly because of the flavor and the fact that they are highly perishable, but also because of the manner in which the fruit grows.

Pawpaws growing in a wild patch along the Allegheny River.

Some of our pawpaws:

Pawpaws have few insect pests (the bark and leaves contain annonacin, a natural pesticide), though they are the exclusive larval hosts for the Zebra Swallowtail butterfly (Protographium marcellus). I have yet to find one on any of our trees or at the one wild patch I know of, so sadly I cannot offer a photo. I did notice some signs of caterpillar damage on the leaves, but was unable to discover the culprit, until I ventured out at night with a headlamp and caught this fellow, a Tulip-Tree Beauty caterpillar (Epimecis hortaria), happily munching away.

Pawpaws ripen in late August and September in the warmer parts of their range, but here in northwestern Pennsylvania, we have to wait until early October, and keep our fingers crossed that we don’t get an early hard frost. They can be picked when the surface gives slightly to the touch and they begin to emit a sweet aroma.

The flesh of pawpaw fruit varies in color, from a pale, cream color to bright yellow-orange, and has a rich, custard-like consistency, often described as a vanilla or banana custard, though it can have hints of mango, cantaloupe, and other flavors. Some find it too cloying, but my family and I consider it to be one of the most exquisite fruits we have ever tasted. Unfortunately, it is highly perishable and, like bananas and avocados, can go from under-ripe to perfect to over-ripe in the blink of an eye. This has presented formidable challenges to the efforts of some people to commercialize the fruit. Interest in the fruit has been building, however. You can find them at some farmers markets, and there are small-scale pawpaw growers in parts of the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

For those seeking additional information about this remarkable native species, I recommend looking up R. Neal Peterson (petersonpawpaws.com). As a plant geneticist in the 1970s, he came across some pawpaw trees, tasted one of the fruits, and had an epiphany. He has since devoted his career to studying the species and promoting it as a commercial crop. He is almost single-handedly responsible for the revival of interest in the fruit and has developed a number of exquisite cultivars. I had the great pleasure of meeting him, and he very kindly and patiently endured my many questions. A good book to read is Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit, by Andrew Moore. There are a handful of festivals devoted to the pawpaw, but the first and by far the biggest is the Ohio Pawpaw Festival (ohiopawpawfest.com), in Albany, Ohio, which is happening soon (Sept. 17-19). It’s a wonderful mix of educational presentations, live music, and fantastic food, including pawpaw beer. We first attended in 2008 when, after planting a half dozen young pawpaw trees, it occurred to me that it would be a great disappointment if, after waiting for 7-10 years for our trees to bear fruit, we discovered that we hated pawpaws. So we went to the Ohio Pawpaw Festival to try one, and went back every year after that for the next 10 years.

Readers’ wildlife photos

September 8, 2021 • 8:00 am

I am running very low on photos, with less than a week’s worth left—and some of them singletons.  Please send your good wildlife/street/travel photos, or we’ll have to abandon this feature.

Today’s contribution is from a regular, Mark Sturtevant, whose IDs and descriptions are indented. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Here are more pictures of arthropods from way back in 2019. These were taken at various Michigan parks late in the season. Autumn was rapidly closing in, and this is my final set of pictures for readers from that year.

First up is a six-spotted fishing spider (Dolomedes triton), with barely a one inch leg span, so she is just a youngster. Folks may remember earlier pictures in which I used a much bigger adult spider to show that they are able to catch fish and also dive under water. But here this little one is demonstrating that they are quite skillful at hunting above the water as well.

This very small Muscid fly (species unknown) was so intent on feeding on a drop of berry juice that I could get all fancy at using my highest magnification capabilities. A good macro lens with a Raynox diopter attached can do wonders at boosting magnification. If people don’t have a macro lens, a Raynox diopter is still an easy and inexpensive way to get good close up pictures with the lenses you have now.  Raynox lenses were also helpful at taking the next two pictures.

I can usually find a few of these psychedelic leafhoppers in my yard (Graphocephala coccinea). Most are blue and red, but some are green and red. An accepted common name is ‘candy-striped leafhopper‘:

I saw this marsh fly (Tetanocera sp.) with something odd stuck on it. Marsh flies are fortunately pretty mellow about being photographed. What I saw through the camera viewfinder was a significant surprise, for this one was carrying a bunch of little pseudoscorpions! Pseudoscorpions are small arthropods, related to scorpions, and they are known for hitching a ride on insects as an aid to their dispersal. Now I must look carefully at each marsh fly that I see.

Next up is our largest damselfly, the great spreadwing (Archilestes grandis). The first picture shows a lovely male, and the second is a mated pair in which the male (on the left) is guarding the female while she inserts eggs into a twig above a stream. The hatchlings will have to drop about eight feet to the water below.

Next up is an underwing moth that I found in a park shelter while waiting out a sudden rain shower. The species looks to be Catocala amatrix. “Catocala” is Greek for ‘beautiful below’, which refers to the flashy hind wings that are typical of this large genus of moths. Underwing moths utilize a combination of camouflage and deception to thwart predators. When disturbed, they charge into rapid and evasive flight, flashing their colorful hind wings. They generally land on a tree trunk (sometimes ducking to the back side first), and with folded wings they are well camouflaged. Underwings will often scooch over several inches after landing as well. A predator will be challenged to find the flashy insect that they were following! If I were a bird, I’d just give up.

The next picture is an alien landscape of mosses and I don’t know what else, taken as a focus stacked picture early one morning. This is some of the ground cover in a marvelous place I like to call the Magic Field.

Finally, with autumn and the end of a fabulous season rapidly coming to a close, I found this queen bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculate) who was going into hibernation under a fallen tree log. She was of course carefully returned to her retreat after a few pictures.

Thanks for looking!

Readers’ wildlife photos

September 7, 2021 • 8:00 am

We are at a seriously low level in the photo tanks, so please send me your good wildlife/travel/street photos.  Thanks!

Today’s photos come from John Egloff. His captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Although I’m certainly not a professional photographer, since you always seem to be in need of photos for the “Readers’ wildlife photos” posting on your website, I thought I’d offer up the attached photos I took last month while visiting two different parks.

The first photo is of a Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris) visiting the flowers of a Prairie Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata).  This was taken at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis.  Eagle Creek Park is one of the largest municipal parks in the United States, with 1,400 acres of water and 3,900 acres of forest.

The remaining photos were taken at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois.  As you probably know, the Morton Arboretum is about 30 miles east of downtown Chicago, with 1,700 acres of prairie, woodlands and ponds.  The Arboretum was established in 1922 by Joy Morton, founder of the Morton Salt Company, whose estate formed the core of the Arboretum’s original property.  The first picture is of a Common Eastern Bumble Bee (Bombus impatiens) visiting a White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra).

Here’s a goldenrod soldier beetle (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus) on a Musk Thistle (Carduus nutans).  These soldier beetles seemed to be absolutely everywhere.

The next picture is of a Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus), looking a bit worse for wear while sharing a Musk Thistle (Carduus nutans) with another Goldenrod Soldier Beetle (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus).

Next is a photo of a group of quite striking Purple Asters (Symphyotrichum patens).

Here are two photos of a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), who allowed me to approach it quite closely, although in the second photo it seems to be eyeing me with some suspicion.

Last but not least is photo of a green heron (Butorides virescens), with his beak open and displaying his crest.

Readers’ wildlife photos

September 4, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today we have photos from reader Dave, whose photography website is here. Note that he sells a different print each month. The titles (indented) are his; click on the photos to enlarge them (all photos ©DSF_ All Rights Reserved).

Sunlit Azaleas:

Botanic Spring:

Honeybeeing (Apis mellifera):

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica):

Icelandic Horse (Equus ferus caballus):

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos):

Basking Butterfly:

Floral Hoverfly (Syrphidae):

Autumn Arrival:

Japanese Maple:

Readers’ wildlife photos (and video)

August 28, 2021 • 8:00 am

Keep those photos coming in, people! Thanks.

Today’s photos and a bonus video, come from reader Jim McCormac, whose “massive photo website” is here and whose blog is here. His captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Here’s some stuff from a recent West Virginia trip, most notably perhaps, bumblebees caught in the act of pollinating one of the bottle gentians.

Sunrise at Bear Rocks at Dolly Sods, West Virginia. I was at a conference in the nearby Canaan Valley recently, and tacked on time to visit this amazing mountaintop on August 22.

Although I saw no bears at Bear Rocks, I did see this beautiful American Black Bear (Ursus americanus) in the Canaan Valley. Bears in this region tend to be quite wary, as they are hunted (seasonally), and people train their dogs using bears year-round. I spotted this one a ways off, was able to get in a good position for photos as he approached, but as soon as he made me, he quickly disappeared into the forest.

A tough Red Spruce (Picea rubens) ekes out an existence at Dolly Sods. Strong prevailing winds from the west, often accelerating to gale force, pound the trees relentlessly and those that are prominently exposed exhibit one-sided branching. This is known as the Krummholz Effect (German = “twisted wood”). Branches on the upwind side are stunted by the constant strong winds.

Fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium) still had some flowers, but mostly had passed to the fruiting stage. This elegant member of the Evening-primrose Family (Onagraceae) is one of the most photographed wildflowers of northern and montane habitats, where it can form breathtakingly large colonies.

Long-fruited Sedge (Carex folliculata) with its distinctive elongate fruit (in sedge-speak, the fruit are termed perigynia). In my neck of the woods – flatland Ohio – this species is absent and it was a treat to see it again. Long-fruited Sedge is a northerner, extending southward at higher elevations of the Appalachian Mountains.

Glimmering dewdrops of death adorn the specialized hairs of Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) leaves. I saw many of these plants in a bog at Dolly Sods. The sticky droplets lure small insects, who are stuck fast in the viscid liquid. This triggers a reaction in the leaf, which slowly enfolds the victim. After extracting nutrients from the insect, leaving a desiccated husk, the leaf unfurls and is ready for more action. This carnivory is an adaptation for life in nutrient-deficient bog substrates.

A botanical highlight of Dolly Sods was a colony of Narrow-leaved Gentian (Gentiana linearis). It is another northerner whose range extends southward in the Appalachians at higher elevations. Dolly Sods is near its southern limits. As it was the first time that I had clapped eyes on this species, I was particularly pleased to encounter the beautiful gentian.

It got even better when I saw that numerous bumblebees were seeking nectar at the odd flowers. This group of “bottle” gentians are primarily if not exclusively pollinated by large bumblebees in the genus Bombus (I think the one in the photo is the Common Eastern Bumblebee, B. impatiens). The blue petals are fused together forming a tube, with a small opening at the summit. Colorful stripes acting as nectar guides adorn the interior of the flower, and while we cannot see them, the bees certainly do.

The following video shows bumblebees working a flower cluster. Once a bee spots the internal nectar guides, it works hard to enter the flower. Experienced bees quickly push their way in via the small pore at the flower’s summit, but it takes a powerful insect to open this “door” and gain access. Naive, young bees (presumably) will literally bumble about the flower’s exterior, seemingly baffled as to how to gain entrance. I saw this behavior several times. But once they have figured it out, they too quickly tap the nectar at the flower’s base and in the process provide pollination services.

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 27, 2021 • 8:00 am

Please keep those photos coming in, folkx!

Today we have a melange of travel photos by Joe Routon. Joe’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

First, I’ll post my photos of visitors from Asia who have invaded Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and a few other northeastern states. The nefarious planthopper Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is wreaking havoc with trees. The photo on the left was taken around the middle of July; the one in the middle, photographed with my new iPhone 12 Pro Max, taken a month later, and the one on the right taken yesterday.

This is the Market Hall in Ghent, Belgium. It’s an open area that’s used for events and concerts.

Here’s my slightly Photoshopped photo of Bran Castle, commonly known as Dracula’s Castle, in Transylvania, Romania.

In the spirit of Brussels’ famous statue Manneken Pis (“Little Pissing Man”), Helsinki, Finland, has its own “Bad Bad Boy,” which is about 28 feet tall.

Here’s one of my photos of the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia.

I made this photo of the Andes Mountains on our trip to Peru.

Here’s one of my photos of the magnificent, breathtakingly beautiful Cologne Cathedral in Germany.

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 24, 2021 • 8:00 am

Send in your good wildlife photos, please.

Today’s contributor is regular Mark Sturtevant, whose forte is insect photography. Mark’s notes and IDs are indented (links are also his), and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Here is a set of pictures that concentrate on Orthoptera (grasshoppers and their allies).

First up is a red-legged grasshopper (Melanoplus femurrubrum), heavy with eggs. These are one of our most common ‘hoppers.

Next is a nymph of my favorite species, the fantastically well camouflaged coral-winged grasshopper (Pardalophora apiculata). Nymphs make their appearance in the autumn. They spend the winter as nymphs, and then appear as adults in the spring. Adults have beautiful hind wings, as shown in the link.

A late-season cricket that I find well south of me is the jumping bush cricket, Orocharis saltator.

At the same park are red-headed bush crickets (Phyllopalpus pulchellus). This is a female. I do see males, but they don’t stick around for me. Soon I will make the drive to where they are and try try again for the males.

The next cricket is this melanistic kind of tree cricket (Oecanthus forbesi). I see this species only in undeveloped areas, while an entirely green species seems to do quite well in both fields, forests, and suburbs.

I was overjoyed to find this camel cricket shown in the next picture. This one looks to be in the genus Ceuthophilus. I used to find camel crickets all the time when I was growing up, but here I rarely see them. They are secretive, preferring to live under logs and in other concealed places.

The last major group are the katydids, and I include just two examples here. First is a short-winged meadow katydid (Conocephalis brevipennis). This one is a female. The chittery sounds of the males are a constant feature of late summer fields.

Last up is a large and beautiful oblong-winged katydid (Amblycorypha oblongifolia). They are not at all challenging to photograph. Unlike most Orthopterans, these katydids will always sit calmly while I do my thing.

Thank you for looking!

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 21, 2021 • 8:00 am

PLEASE send in your wildlife photos, as I have only a few days’ worth before I run out. You wouldn’t want that to happen, do you? Please make sure they’re good pics, of the quality that we see on this feature.

Today we have a melange of photos from several readers. Their captions are indented and you can enlarge their photos by clicking on them.

First, a yellow garden spider from Killian Sharp:

Argiope aurantia was just relaxing in its web amongst my friend’s tomato plants in SW Ontario.

From Julia Sculthorpe:

I have been taking pictures of wildlife in the various wildlife refuges in the Denver metro area. These were taken in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.

The dragonfly and toad blend into their surroundings. The toad was very hard to photograph as he jumped at  almost any moment I made.

 

Can you spot the toad and dragonfly (the insect is easier)?

From Laurie Berg:

Immature eagle with former mouse

From Rachel Sperling:

I was saving this photo for when I had more to share, but I saw your request this morning. I’m pretty sure this is a dark fishing spider (Dolomedes tenebrosus). I encountered it on the New York section of the Appalachian Trail earlier this month. In addition to insects (not sure what type of beetle this one has caught) larger ones are able to catch fish. According to Wikipedia, their bodies are covered with hydrophobic hairs that allow them to run on water (suck it, Jesus). When they submerge, the air trapped in these hairs becomes a thin film, allowing them to breathe underwater; the air makes them quite buoyant, so they have to hold onto a twig or a rock in order to stay submerged. I think they’re really cool.

Also sharing a photo I took last night of the ALMOST full strawberry moon. This is from a park in Meriden, Connecticut, which has a lovely ridge that offers views to the east and west. This was taken around 8:30.

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 14, 2021 • 8:00 am

Please send in your photos!

Today’s batch is quite diverse in content, and comes from reader Leo Glenn, whose notes are indented. You can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

I haven’t been able to take many photos lately, and my archive is fairly disorganized, so here is a somewhat random collection of photos. The only thing tying them together, really, is that they were all taken within walking distance of my house in western Pennsylvania. I’ve also included a “macro” photo that you could use as a “What am I?” quiz, if you so desire. The subsequent photo is the reveal.  [JAC: I’ll put it below the fold.]

American giant millipede (Narceus americanus), a relatively common sight on my daily dog walk:

Gray treefrog (Dryophytes versicolor), so named because they can change color from gray to green or brown. Far more often heard than seen, this one was down near the ground and politely lingered long enough for me to take its picture:

Another organism with the species name versicolor, the Turkey Tail mushroom (Trametes versicolor)

Yellow morel (Morchella esculenta), from my secret morel patch:

Crown-tipped coral fungus (Artomyces pyxidatus):

Our mulberry tree had a bumper crop this year, which attracted many bird species, including this Black-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus erythropthalmus), seen here, though, on a neighboring red maple (Acer rubrum).

Red-headed bush cricket, also known as a Handsome trig (Phyllopalpus pulchellus):

Pennsylvania leatherwing, also called a goldenrod soldier beetle (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus):

And a photo from this past winter. Even the Eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) were social distancing:

Finally, here’s the photo for the “What am I?” quiz:

To see the reveal, click “read more”:

Continue reading “Readers’ wildlife photos”

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 11, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today’s lovely photos of big and weird crickets come from Tony Eales in Queensland. He’d sent them to me in January and I lost or deleted them by mistake. Fortunately, he reminded me, and here they are. His notes are indented, and you can click on the photo to enlarge them.

We’ve had a bit of rain and the rainforests are really coming alive. I’ve found some amazing Orthopterans including two that were on my life bucket list.

One of the bucket list ones was this Giant King CricketAnostostoma australasiae, Australia’s answer to the New Zealand wetas. They come out of their burrows only to hunt on wet nights. It happened to be raining when I was there and stumbled across this monster.

From the ovipositor you can tell she’s a female. That giant bulbous head is all muscle for her frightening jaws—jaws that I’m warned can slice through finger flesh like a knife through butter if you are foolish enough to mishandle one. She was a good 70mm long, no need for the macro-lens.

I also came across another large cricket, although nowhere near the bulk of the King Cricket. This was a Raspy Cricket in the family Gryllacrididae. They’re apparently a nightmare to try to identify to species from photos, but I’m always impressed with them when I see one.

At the other end of the size range are Pygmy Grasshoppers in the family Tetrigidae. These were very common on the trunks of trees and at around 10mm were pretty huge for a Tetrigid. This one is Paraselina brunneri.

The other bucket list orthopteran and the one I found most exciting was the Southern Spiny Forest KatydidPhricta aberrans. I have been looking for one of these forever and you can see why they might be easy to miss. As it was, I walked past it and it was my son who spotted it. Sitting on a tree trunk at eye level. What an amazing looking beast!