Sunday, July 29, 2012

Capturing Summer

I can feel and smell summer when I look at this photo. Hope you had a great summer weekend!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Day 3 Moth Week: Harris's Three-spotted Moth

This cool moth was clinging to our stoop door the other night in the rain. It's one of the prettier, more detailed moths that I've seen just "hanging out." And it's amazingly common. But it took National Moth Week to motivate me enough to actually research it.

It also took me nearly an hour of perusing the awesome site to ID it, but the fact that I was even able to ID it is pretty impressive. Must make a note to send a donation to BugGuide; they're fabulous.

Getting back to this intricately patterned moth... from various Googling activities, it seems the Harris's Three-spot  (Harrisimemna trisignata) is a type of Dagger Moth, breeding in hardwood forests. Unfortunately, I didn't find a whole lot of info on this moth, but the reference to its "bird poop-like" larva of course lured me to Google that. Immediately prompting an "eeks!" when I saw it (you've been forewarned). Holy cow. How does that turn into this? Amazing.

I did learn that the bizarre pose of the Harrisimemna trisignata is its typical alarm posture. What critter wouldn't find that threatening and leave it alone? And, if you don't leave it alone? Apparently there is a gland that secretes nasty scents on its lower abdomen (hence the rearing).

Well, now I know more about the larva than the moth. Still, pretty cool to learn new things. Thanks National Moth Week! (follow the fun at #NMW2012 and #NationalMothWeek)

(And many thanks to the Entomological Society of Washington for publishing their proceedings. Much of the info on the larva was gleaned from their papers.)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Day 1 of Moth Week: Snowberry Clearwing

Thought I'd celebrate the start of the first National Moth Week with one of my favorite moths: the Snowberry Clearwing (Hermaris diffinis).

The snowberry is one of three types of hummingbird moths that are commonly found in Minnesota. The others are the Hummingbird Clearwing, Hemaris thysbe, easily distinguished by its much redder color; and the Slender Clearwing, Hemaris gracilis, distinguished from the Hummingbird Clearwing by its reddish brown dorsal stripe. The fourth Hemaris found in the U.S. is found only west of the Rockies and is the Western Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris thetis).

The snowberry found here in Minnesota and elsewhere east of the Continental Divide dines on milkweed, liatris, beebalm, phlox, honeysuckle and verbena. Even though they're called "hummingbird moths" I think the snowberry seems to mimic big fuzzy bumblebees more than hummingbirds.

Here's another Snowberry that kindly held still for photos:

I love their furry coats. Wonder if they're as soft as they look...

Are you participating in National Moth Week? Post a comment with a link to your blog and I'll include it in this week's posts!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Baby Red-bellied Visits

We'd been checking off all the baby woodpeckers for our area (downy, hairy, pileated - note we've never see flicker babies) but no sign of the young red-bellieds until last week. Of interest, we never saw the juveniles accompanied by the parent(s). I don't remember noting this in past years. Maybe we just  missed it this season.

They always look so naked at this point. Funny how simply a tan head can create that image. You can see the red is just starting to come in. Looks like this one is a female:

Friday, July 13, 2012

Obelisking Dragonfly

This not-so-blue Blue Dasher was poised in yoga-like poses for hours last Thursday. I thought maybe it was a mating thing, but turns out dragonflies do this to cool themselves on very hot days (by presenting less body surface to absorb sunlight).

Pretty cool.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Red-shouldered Red-bellied

We call him The Interloper. He arrived in mid-January, when this photo was taken, and has been here ever since. I'm surprised that not only did he show up in new territory during the winter, but that he managed to keep it.

When I first saw The Interloper, I thought the sun was reflecting oddly off his wing feathers. Turns out that it wasn't the sun: his shoulders and wings have red-tinged feathers instead of the traditional black.

So far he's kept his red epaulets, but red-bellieds don't molt until late summer so that's not a surprise. Here he is from a few weeks ago:

Wish he was banded so we could tell if his feathers grow in normally during this season's molt (since if they do he'll just blend in with our other red-bellieds).

I've spoken with a couple ornithologists and biologists, and don't have a definite answer for this coloration, other than some type of genetic mutation. I believe this could be an example of erythrism: when black or brown feathers (or fur, hair) take on a reddish tint. This is different than the more commonly seen red, orange and yellow variations due to the manufacture of carotenoids based on diet.

We'll wait and see what the late summer molt brings!