Interesting Insects, 05-19-20

By 7:30 am I was out the door to go to the American River Bend Park for a walk.  I wanted mostly to check on the Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars: to see how many there were out there and how far along in their processes they are. I was not disappointed.

There were so many caterpillars on the ground that I had to watch just about every step I took.  I haven’t seen this many out there since around 2015.  There were literally hundreds of them. Looking at them, I figured about a third of them were at or near their final instar: long and nicely plump.

Caterpillars of the California Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta

I found a few that had climbed up into the trees as far as they could, anchored their back feet and spun their suspension silk in anticipation of forming their chrysalises. Let see if I can remember were those are next week when I go back to check again.

I also saw several of the butterflies. They get fed better than the ones that emerge earlier in the spring because there are more wildflowers out now for them to feed on.  The Bush Monkeyflowers and Elegant Clarkia were everywhere along the trails, and the Goldwire is blossoming along with the native Deerweed.

Deerweed, Acmispon glaber

I walked down by the bank for a short distance – I don’t do well on the uneven rocky surface so I had to go slow and couldn’t travel very far. There isn’t a lot of stuff blooming down there just yet but the trees are leafing out.  I did find several stands of Moth Mullein, both yellow and white, along there though. The vervain is waking up, and the Water Irises are starting to go to seed.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

The Sweet Fennel isn’t really out as much as it normally is. I only found one plant along the trail (but there may be been more further down.) I checked it for butterfly eggs but didn’t find any.  The Anise Swallowtails like that stuff.

I also looked closely at the Italian Thistle growing all over the place to see if I could spot any Painted Lady caterpillars on them.  The caterpillars spin thin webs around themselves and the leaves and use the thistle’s thorn to protect themselves while they feed and pupate. I only found ONE, but it’s still early in the season for them… and I wasn’t checking for the butterfly’s eggs, so I may have missed a lot. The eggs are pale blue-green and kind of barrel-shaped with little ridges running down their sides.

Caterpillar of the Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui

I checked out the different species of willow along the bank, looking for galls, but didn’t see a whole lot yet. I did see some Willow Bead Gall Mite galls and a nice array of Willow Apple Sawfly galls, though. This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to use my cellphone’s macro lens on them, and I was able to get some interesting photos of their structures.  I didn’t open any of them, though, because there were so few of them.

Gall of the Willow Apple Gall Sawfly, Pontania californica

I was surprised by the lack of damselflies and dragonflies. I thought they should be emerging around now, but I guess it’s been a little chilly for them over the last several days.

I found a pair of beetles that, at first blush, looked identical to me; they both had leathery wing cases, reddish bodies and legs, and dark antennae.  But then I realized that one had a dark head and one had a red head, one had spots along the thorax and the other didn’t, and their feet were different.  Insect identification is sooooo difficult for me in part because some of the differences aren’t evident at a casual glance, and sometimes you have to look at EVERYTHING, including how many segments are in the antennae and what color the thing that attaches the antennae to the head is. Anyway, I eventually figured out that I was seeing Cottonwood Twig Borers and Brown Leather Wing Beetles.  Cool.

I also found a lot of the tiny metallic Saint John’s Wort Beetles on the Goldwire and other plants along the trail. They look kind of like ladybugs in hammered metal armor; shiny metallic gold, blue or coppery red. Close up, they’re really quite beautiful.

Saint John’s Wort Beetle, Chrysolina hypericin

They do this “dead drop” thing, though, when you try to photograph them – tucking their legs up against their bodies and dropping suddenly, straight to the ground – before you can get really close to them.  And a lot more of them “dropped” than I was able to get pictures of, but I did get a few.

Among the other insects, I found a “new to me” weevil called a Nodding Thistle Receptacle Weevil who was living in the young leaves of a Yellow Starthistle plant.  It name was about 10 time bigger than the weevil itself.  And I also found several cocoons of the Oak Ribbed Casemaker moth on the leaves of some of the oak trees.

The recent rains woke up some of the lichen, and I was surprised to find a small stand of Mealy Pixie Cups along the base of a dead stump. That’s the only place I’ve ever found them at the park.

I didn’t see any deer anywhere along my walk, but I did catch glimpses of Black-tailed Jackrabbits here and there.  And I saw and heard quite a few different species in the trees including Bushtits, Lesser Goldfinches, House Wrens, hummingbirds, Tree Swallows, Oak Titmice, Western Bluebirds, and Acorn Woodpeckers among others.

I didn’t see too many birds in the water, though, mostly just the Canada Geese and some Common Mergansers, but at one spot I noticed a Turkey Vulture and a crow on the opposite bank.  The vulture had found a discarded fish carcass and the crow came over to “share”. 

Great Egret, Ardea alba, Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura, and a Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos

As they were eating, a Great Egret also showed up.  The vulture turned its back to the egret and walked off with the fish’s tail, and the crow backed off a bit.  The egret, though, didn’t seem too impressed with the dead-fall and eventually just flew off.  It was cool to see the three species together. I got some photos and video snippets of that interaction.

Somewhere along the trail, I took a tumble.  I was back-stepping off an embankment onto the trail where the trail was at a slight incline, and lost my footing.  D’oh! Fell onto my right side, but I was holding my camera up away from my body as I fell, so it never touched the ground, thank goodness!  [I always worry more about my camera than I do my own body. Hah!]

It took a minute for me to get my legs under me, because of my arthritic knees and psoas muscle issues, but I did manage to get upright again without any help. (Not that there was anyone around to help anyway.)  I could feel the fall in my back, psoas, hip and left calf.  Nothing was broken or seriously strained/ pulled/ damaged, though, so I ventured on. I’ll feel it more tomorrow, though, I’m sure!  I had brought my cane with me but had left it in the car. This is a lesson to me to take it EVERYWHERE, even if I think I know the trails really well.

All in all, I walked for about 3½ hours and then headed back home.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Black Dancer Caddisfly, Mystacides sepulchralis
  3. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  4. Brazilian Vervain, Verbena brasiliensis
  5. Brown Leather Wing Beetle, Pacificanthia consors
  6. Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis
  7. Bush Monkeyflower, Diplacus aurantiacus
  8. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  9. California Buckeye Chestnut Tree, Aesculus californica
  10. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
  11. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  12. California Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
  13. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  14. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  15. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  16. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  17. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  18. Common Hoptree, Ptelea trifoliata
  19. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
  20. Common St. John’s-Wort, Hypericum perforatum
  21. Cottonwood Twig Borer Beetle, Oberea quadricallosa
  22. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  23. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  24. Deerweed, Acmispon glaber
  25. Elegant Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata
  26. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  27. Goldenrod Bunch Gall, Goldenrod Floret Gall Midge, Solidago canadensis
  28. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum
  29. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  30. Hairy Vetch, Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa
  31. Himalayan Blackberry, Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus
  32. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  33. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  34. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  35. Live Oak Gall Wasp, 1st Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis
  36. Long-Jawed Orb Weaver, Tetragnatha sp .
  37. Major Willow Gall Midge, Iteomyia major
  38. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  39. Mealy Pixie Cup, Cladonia chlorophaea
  40. Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria
  41. Nodding Thistle Receptacle Weevil, Rhinocyllus conicus [on thistle]
  42. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  43. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  44. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui
  45. Rattlesnake Grass, Greater Quaking Grass, Briza maxima
  46. Ribbed Cocoon-Maker Moth, Bucculatrix albertiella
  47. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  48. Robust Bracket Fungus, Fomitiporia robusta
  49. Ruptured Twig Gall Wasp, Callirhytis perdens
  50. Saint John’s Wort Beetle, Chrysolina hypericin [metallic gold, blue or copper]
  51. Shortpod Mustard, Hirschfeldia incana
  52. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  53. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  54. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  55. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
  56. Western Sycamore, Platanus racemosa
  57. Western Tussock Moth, Orgyia vetusta
  58. Willow Apple Gall Sawfly, Pontania californica
  59. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis
  60. Yellow Water Iris, Yellow Flag, Iris pseudacorus [invasive]
  61. Yellow-faced Bumblebee, Bombus vosnesenskii
  62. Yerba Santa, California Yerba Santa, Eriodictyon californicum