Tag Archives: larvae

The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, 06-19-19

On this busy Wednesday, I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve (EYNP) around 5:00 pm for their Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (MLMP) training.  When I drove in, I saw one of the big 4-pointer bucks, still in his velvet, sitting in the shade under the trees on the golf course. The wet grass must’ve felt good on his belly. (It was about 93° outside then.)

Along the walkway, the Wavy-Leaf Soap Plants were in bloom, white spidery flowers everywhere.  The plants only bloom in the evening, starting at dusk and continuing through the night. By morning, they’re done. They close up and die off… so getting to see them fully open is a bit of a treat.

The training was led by a volunteer, Krystin Dozier, who’s been helping to monitor the butterflies since she took the naturalist course at Effie Yeaw in 2015.

The monitoring project is a “Citizen Science” effort coordinated through the University of Minnesota in which everyday folks help to monitor milkweed plants in specified areas and keep track of Monarch eggs and caterpillars. About 5 people showed up for the training (all women, no men) and Rachel Cowen the EYNP Volunteer Coordinator was there, too. After a brief presentation, we went outside to look at the Showy Milkweed plants near the nature center and were assigned plots, which we’ll monitor through the month of July (or longer if we want to).

CLICK HERE for a map of the plots.
CLICK HERE for a PDF explaining the project, it forms and guidelines.

While we were looking at the plants I was able to identify some errant insects that were on them for the group (like a Long-jawed Orb Weaver Spider and a katydid nymph), and I offered to be of assistance to the other people in the group if they needed help with ID-ing plants and insects. Rachel told them I was their “local nature geek”. Hah! (Three of the women stopped me after the meeting and asked for my email address so they could contact me if they needed to.)

I asked for Plot 1A in the grounds because it knew it got shade most of the time which I figured would benefit me if I’m monitoring the plants there in the heat of the summer. 

Basically, you count all of the milkweed plants in your plot and then look over every part of each plant looking for butterfly eggs and caterpillars. If you find anything, you note it in your weekly report and tie a yellow ribbon (piece of yarn, pipe cleaner) to the plant to mark it.  Whenever caterpillars in their 4th or 5th instar are found, you let everyone know so the Effie Yeaw staff can collect them and rear them from that stage through the butterfly stage, so they can make sure the butterflies live, and can tag them for migration monitoring.

Eastern Monarch populations seem to be doing fairly well, but the Western Monarchs (those populations west of the Rockies) are in a severe decline; about a 90%+ loss in just one year. At first everyone thought it was due to habitat degradation and a loss of milkweed plants, but the plant populations haven’t declined much, so that had been ruled out as an overriding factor.  Now, the theory is that the Western Monarchs are being affected by a fungal infection (from plants in Mexico), so another aspect of the study is to test the butterflies for that fungus.  We plant monitors won’t be doing that piece, but I think it’s all very fascinating.

I’m slated to work on my plot on Tuesday mornings at 6:00 am starting in July.

Mostly Bugs and Birds, 05-08-19

I got up around 6:00 and headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my weekly volunteer trail-walker thingy.  It was totally overcast and about 53° when I arrived at the preserve, but it was sunny and about 65° when I left. Such a huge change in just a few hours.

I saw a lot of different things on my walk today, but the standouts were the European Starlings and Black Harvester Ants.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

The Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) had a nesting cavity that was perfectly viewable from the trail.  The cranky babies inside (I saw two but there might have been more) were almost fully fledged but still demanding room service from their folks, who diligently brought them beakfuls of insects. At one point, one of the parents apparently got tired of me watching them and taking photos, and it spat the insects onto the ground before glaring at me from the side of the tree. Hah!

And the Black Harvester Ants (Messor pergandei) always fascinate me. They’re always so busy, hard-working and determined. I saw some heaving large seeds around and carrying dead bees and some kind of grubs to their nest. ((The photos and video snippets I got of the ants were taken with my cell phone.))

I walked for about 4 ½ hours. Phew!

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
2. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
3. Asian Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis,
4. Bedstraw, Velcro Grass, Galium aparine,
5. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
7. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
8. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
9. Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus,
10. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
11. California Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar, Battus philenor hirsuta,
12. California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica,
13. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
14. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis,
15. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica,
16. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica,
17. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
18. Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium,
19. Coyote Brush Bud Midge Gall, Rhopalomyia californica,
20. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis,
21. Cranefly, family Tipulidae,
22. Cricket, Arboreal Camel Cricket, Gammarotettix bilabatus,
23. Dogtail Grass, Cynosurus echinatus,
24. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger,
25. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
26. Fruit-tree Leafroller Moth, Archips argyrospila
27. Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus,
28. Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea,
29. Green Leafhopper, Nephotettix virescens,
30. Green Plant Bug, Chinavia hilaris,
31. Harvester Ant (black), Messor pergandei,
32. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus,
33. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
34. Housefly, Musca domestica,
35. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
36. Katydid, Bush Katydid nymph, Scudderia sp.,
37. Leaf Beetle, Chrysolina sp.,
38. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria,
39. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
40. Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor,
41. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
42. Mugwort, California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana,
43. Oak Apple Wasp Gall, Biorhiza pallida,
44. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus,
45. Obliquebanded Leafroller, Blackberry Leafroller caterpillar, Choristoneura rosaceana,
46. Pacific Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum,
47. Painted Lady caterpillars, Vanessa cardui,
48. Pineapple Weed, Matricaria discoidea,
49. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
50. Pyracantha, Pyracantha coccinea,
51. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
52. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
53. Robber Fly, Promachus princeps,
54. Rose Clover, Trifolium hirtum,
55. Rusty Tussock Moth caterpillar, Orgyia antiqua,
56. Seep Monkey Flower, Mimulus guttatus,
57. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciose,
58. Spittle Bug, Meadow Spittlebug, Philaenus spumarius,
59. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
60. Sudden Oak Death pathogen, Phytophthora ramorum,
61. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor,
62. Wavy-Leaf Soap Plant, Soap Root, Chlorogalum pomeridianum,
63. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana,
64. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
65. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare,
66. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,

In the Yard, 05-03-19

Look around your yard and see what you can find: eggs, nymphs, caterpillars, spiders, bees, flies, lady beetles…

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Species List:

1. Asian Lady Beetle, Harlequin Labybug, Harmonia axyridis,
2. Assassin Bug, Zelus renardii,
3. Cheeseweed, Common Mallow, Malva neglecta,
4. Common Lilac, Syringa vulgaris,
5. Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens,
6. European Honeybee, Apis mellifera,
7. Genista Broom Moth caterpillar, Uresiphita reversalis,
8. Grass Spider, Funnel Grass Spider, Agelenopsis spp.,
9. Katydid nymph, Fork-Tailed Bush Katydid, Scudderia furcate,
10. Lavender, Lavandula sp.,
11. Leaf-Curl Fungus, Taphrina deformans,
12. Leaf-Footed Bug eggs, Leptoglossus phyllopus,
13. Looper Moth, Alfalfa Looper, Mint Looper Moth caterpillar, Autographa californica,
14. Mediterranean Broom, Genista linifolia,
15. Mock-Strawberry, Duchesnea indica var. indica,
16. Plum, Prunus sp.,
17. Podocarpus Aphids, Neophyllaphis podocarpi
18. Podocarpus, Buddhist Pine, Maki, Podocarpus macrophyllus var maki,
19. Praying Mantis, California Mantis, Stagmomantis californica,
20. Red Mulberry, Morus rubra,
21. Rust fungus, Hollyhock Rust, Puccinia malvacearum,
22. Scarlet Pimpernel, Lysimachia arvensis,

 

 

My First Trip to the Mather Field Vernal Pools, 03-27-19

Around 8:00 am, my naturalist class graduate Roxanne M. and I went to the vernal pools at the end of Zinfandel Blvd. in Mather Field.  Rain was threatening, and it was about 51° outside, but the rain held off until after we’d left – about 2 hours later.

I’d never been there before, but Roxanne had so she showed me some of the highlights out there – like the white pipes used for hydrology studies, and the somewhat lumpy landscape dotted with “mima mounds” around the pools.

“…One theory on the origin of Mima mounds is that they were created by small burrowing rodents such as pocket gophers (Thomomys talpoides) of the endemic North American family Geomyidae. Researchers in the 1940s found that Mima mounds tend to form in areas with poorly draining soils, so the “Fossorial Rodent Hypothesis” proposed that gophers build mounds as an evolutionary response to low water tables… It could be argued that gophers live in the mounds opportunistically but did not build them.  Consequently, gophers in mima mound fields seem to be aware of randomly distributed topographic highs and orient their burrowing accordingly in early mound creation stages. However, the mounds were already fully formed and the gophers may have just been maintaining them. Nevertheless, the fact that the surface area of a typical Mima mound is similar to the size of an individual gopher’s home range is consistent with the theory they were constructed by the rodents…”

Roxanne and I were hoping the wildflowers would be out, but there were only a few species showing. In another week or so, if we get some sunshine, the place should be covered in flowers.  We could see large swaths of Frying Pan poppies around some of the pools, but they were all closed up because it was overcast outside. Along with the poppies, among the flowers we did see were things like Butter ‘n’ Eggs, Blue Dicks, Showy Fringe Pod, Popcorn Flowers, and Jointed Charlock.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

We also saw some Canada Geese, Western Meadowlarks, and some Western Kingbirds. One of the Kingbirds was eating a large sphinx moth, but it was too far away for me to get a clear photo of it.  Along the road we saw a Mourning Dove, a pair of dark morph Swainson’s Hawks, and some wild turkeys.

Both Roxanne and I had brought little bowls to collect some of the pond water in so we could look for little critters in it.  We lucked out and were able to find a lot of tiny swimmers in the water including the larvae of Predaceous Diving Beetles, called “Water Tigers”, Damselfly larvae, and California Clam Shrimp.  So cool!  I need a portable microscope to take with on trips like this – and I need a book on vernal pool creatures. I don’t know very much about this kind of habitat; it’s all kind of new to me.

We both enjoyed the walk and vowed to go back to the pools in another week or so.

Species List:

1. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum
2. Butter ‘n’ Eggs, Triphysaria eriantha
3. California Clam Shrimp, Cyzicus californicus
4. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
5. Copepods, Copepoda
6. Damselfly Larvae, Class: Odonata, Order: Zygoptera
7. Dock, Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
8. Filaree, Stork’s Bill, Big Heron Bill, Erodium botrys
9. Flatworm, Dugesia gonocephala
10. Frying Pan Poppy, Eschscholzia lobbii
11. Jointed Charlock, Raphanus raphanistrum
12. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
13. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui
14. Popcorn Flower, Slender Popcorn Flower, Plagiobothrys tenellus
15. Predaceous Diving Beetles, Water Tiger, Cybister fimbriolatus
16. Rio Grand Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
17. Showy Fringe Pod, Spokewheel, Thysanocarpus radians
18. Slug, Reticulate Taildropper, Prophysaon andersoni
19. Swainson’s Hawk, Buteo swainsoni
20. Tadpole, Western Tree Frog, Chorus Frog, Polypedates occidentalis
21. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis
22. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
23. White-Lined Sphinx Moth, Hyles lineata

Vacation Day 10: Cosumnes River Preserve

Female Western Pondhawk. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Female Western Pondhawk. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Vacation Day 10.  I got up around 6:30 and headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve for my walk.  Usually, they don’t open their gates until 9:00 am, but they must’ve had a lot of people complaining about that – including me.  In the late spring and summer months, 9:00 am is already “too late” in the day to see anything, and it gets too hot to walk more quickly in the day…  So, now their gates are open a lot earlier.  Even so, there wasn’t a lot to see there.  The wetland areas are drying up, and it’s not quite warm enough for the dragonflies to emerge or for the midges and wasps to start forming their galls on the oak trees (although I did see some of the big “oak apple” galls on a Valley Oak)… But there were TONS of mosquitoes.  I got bitten all over my arms.  Need to remember to buy some bug spray next time I got to the store. Blug!

I was surprised to see American Avocets at the preserve.  I’d never seen them that far “south” in the region before. They use California as their migration corridor — breeding in the north, then traveling south to rest – but it seems like I’ve seen a LOT more of them this year than in previous years.  And they’re all in their breeding plumage… There were also a few Green-Winged Teals and Cinnamon Teals, some Black-Necked Stilts, Northern Shovelers, Dowitchers and tiny Dunlins but they were few and far between.  The largest populations were of Killdeer and Red-Winged Blackbirds – who are nesting now – some Marsh Wrens, and loads of Coots.  I got a glimpse of a Lesser Goldfinch and some Song Sparrows along the boardwalk area. And I saw a gorgeous California Sister butterfly, but I couldn’t get my camera to focus on it before it flew off.  Dang it!

There was wild mustard and charlock (a kind of wild radish) in bloom everywhere, and the dock plants and scrubby willows were leafing out… some of them covered with Ladybeetles and their tiny alligator-looking larvae…  In the native plant garden the purple and red Penstemon were in bloom along with some California Poppies. Very pretty…  In some of the muddy areas, I found the footprints of Raccoons, but didn’t see any of the beasties myself… I saw some Paper Wasp nests alongside an abandoned must nest (made by House Finches, I think) under the awning over a sign… I also found a single bright green dragonfly hiding in the grass: a female Western Pondhawk.  I don’t know how I spotted her; pure luck.

Best photos of the day were of a Song Sparrow and a Mockingbird.

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Vacation Day 4: American River Bend Park

Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Vacation Day Four.  I got up around 6:30 this morning and headed over to the American River Bend Park for a walk..  It was in the 60’s (around 63° by the afternoon) and partly cloudy all day.

I wasn’t looking for anything in particular at the park; just wanted a long nature walk.  But I still ended up taking several hundred photographs.  I found a couple of birds’ nesting cavities including that of a White-Breasted Nuthatch and a House Wren who were both nesting in the same tree, but in different holes in the tree. That was kind of neat.  Along the river I also saw some Common Mergansers, Great Egrets, Canada Geese, Acorn Woodpeckers, and a Great Blue Heron.

I also came across a group of six jackrabbits.  They were cavorting around the picnic tables in the park… so cute.  One of them, though, had a deformity on its cheeks that looked like some big canker busted and then turned all black and leathery.  Eeew.  I did a little research to see if I could find some information about the condition, but I couldn’t find anything… The search will continue.

On the insect front: The Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars are hatching out all over the park, and some of them are fattening up quickly.  I came across one of the caterpillars with something that really surprised me.  I knew that when they’re large enough to pupate, the caterpillars spin a line of silk, attach it to a substrate (like a branch) and wrap it around their shoulders… but this one had spun a mat of silk underneath it. I’d never seen that before, and couldn’t find anything written about it.  It was so odd, I tried getting photos of it, but the caterpillar REALLY didn’t like my putting it on its back to get the photos… At first I thought maybe it was dragging someone else’s silk after it, but when I rolled the caterpillar onto its back, I could see the silk attached to its belly.  The belly area, though, is not where their spinners are so… I’m still very confused about it.  Maybe it blundered onto a super-sticky spider’s web that stuck firmly to it or something.  I don’t know. I’ll have to keep researching.  Speaking of these caterpillars, I found a really neat video of the on YouTube so you can see how they grow and how they spin the silk shoulder-wrap before they form their chrysalis.  I’ve seen them in the torpid state, just after they’ve spun the silk but before the chrysalis is formed.  I would LOVE to watch and film the whole process in the wild sometime.

Anyway, here’s the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2cE86AA1q0.

There were also lots of Ladybug (ladybeetles) and their larvae showing up now, Snakeflies, Crane Flies, all sorts of beetles, and other critters.  I also came across some Scarab-Hunter Wasps.  They’re rather large wasps that are kind of “hairy” all over.  The adults eat pollen and nectar, but they lay their eggs in the beetle larvae and the kids grow up eating the larvae… You find them hovering low over the ground where they “listen” for the sound of the grubs under the surface.  Then they uproot the grubs to lay their eggs in them… So they’re carnivores that grow into vegans as they mature.  Hah! Nature is so weird sometimes. I also found a few spider egg sacs.  I’m not adept enough, though, to tell what species of spider left what sac…

The wildflowers are also blooming along the river, mostly Miniature Lupine, Monkey Flowers, Poppies, Vetch, Pink Grass, and Stork’s Bill.  So, there was something interesting or pretty to see no matter you looked.

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I walked for about 3½ hours and then headed back to the house. I picked up a few groceries at the store on the way, unpacked stuff when I got home, and put in load of laundry before crashing with the dogs.