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Katydids

OrchelimumThe trees are alive with the sound of music. At night. Katydids and crickets stridulating away, rubbing the pegged “file” of one wing against the ridge-like scraper of the other to produce those clicks, tisps, buzzes, etc. Each species has a distinctive sound: it’s the males marking their territory and calling to the females. Bonus fact: The ears of katydids and crickets are usually located on the foreleg tibia.

You know where our ears are. We’ll hear a great chorus of arthropod fiddlers in Prospect Park tonight on our Night Listening Tour. I haven’t run across many katydids in the light of day, but here’s one, two, and three other examples.

The specimen picture above was spotted on a milkweed leaf. I thought at first it was a grasshopper. Grasshoppers, crickets, and katydids are all members of same family, Orthoptera, so there are similarities. What makes this a katydid, however, are the very long antennae and the very long ovipositor (out of focus). I think this one is in the genus Orchelimum, the great meadow katydids, a.k.a. gladiator katydids.

Butterfly Meadow

LorettoThe glorious meadow at Mt. Loretto, a New York State “unique area” at the southern end of Staten Island. (Used to be a lot more like it, of course… SI’s development mirrors the post-war suburban destruction of unique areas.) It was abloom with butterflies recently. Here are a few of the species I saw: Phyciodes tharosPearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos).Cupido comyntasEastern Tailed Blue (Cupido comyntas), in an uncommon open-winged pose.Calycopis cecropsRed-banded Hairstreak (Calycopis cecrops). A species I’ve never seen before. This is the northern edge of its range; it is more common in the deep south. The “hairs” off the tail wagged in the air like antennae, and the spot looks vaguely eye-like. It was hard to tell which end was which, probably the point. Cercyonis pegalaCommon Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis pegala) was another species I’m not familiar with. Cercyonis pegalaA nice surprise.

Other species: Spicebush Swallowtail, Red Admiral, Tiger Swallowtail, Silver-spotted Skipper (the most numerous), Cabbage White, Monarch (2x), one of the Ladies, and these damn confusing skippers:skipperskipper2skipper3skipper4Two different examples of the same species, I think.

I thought I had a pretty good day, even if I later found a list of the butterflies of Staten Island (Richmond Co.) that had 112 species on it. Sometimes you see the snow leopard, sometimes you don’t. One thing I did see when I pulled my eyes from the butterfly-graced, grasshopper-heaving meadow was a huge, dark bird flying so low and slow that I thought it must be a vulture. But it was a mature Bald Eagle, coasting towards Raritan Bay. A pair nest in the area.

Bobolink

Dolichonyx oryzivorusBobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) perching at Marine Park Nature Center. This is the adult, non-breeding plumage. The species migrates to southern South America. Like many grassland species, its numbers are dropping because of habitat loss.

Elegy for Martha

One hundred years ago today, Martha died of old age in Cincinnati. She was 29 years old and had been raised since birth in captivity. She never reproduced.the_passenger_pigeonMartha was the last of her species, the Passenger Pigeons (Ectopistes migratorius). Of course, by the time of her demise, the species was already functionally extinct in the wild. She was the coda, the famous last one perching. From billions to one to none in a century. Just thirty years previously, hunters were killing 50,000 Passenger Pigeons a day at one of the last big breeding sites, in Michigan. And further back, in 1813 Kentucky, J.J. Audubon and company famously saw them darken the sky for three days running. There were more Passenger Pigeons, it has been estimated, then there are now birds of all migratory species in North America. passenger_pigeon_slaughter 1884But isn’t there something wrong with those numbers? They don’t seem right: how could that kind of population be sustained? It probably couldn’t have, and may very well have been a result of the radical transformation of the colonial American landscape in the first place. European settlers quickly reduced the pigeon’s competitors — mice, squirrel, turkey, deer, etc., and of course the local humans — for mast — acorns, beechnuts, chestnuts, walnuts, etc. — setting the stage for an astonishing boom. The inevitable bust, however, was driven to extremity by a combination of forest clearance and unparalleled slaughter. The photo above is from late in the game, the late 1880s, after a slaughter for this cheap source of protein.

So when you remember this lonely caged pigeon today, think of the whole continent, the whole world, behind her. That’s what is gone.

Common Nighthawks

Chordeiles minorIt’s been a difficult week. But one of the highlights was on Thursday, when a friend and I went into Prospect Park in the late afternoon. Just before sunset, we were in the Nethermead. Overhead, the chittering of many Chimney Swifts was heard as the little birds darted all over the sky taking their last meals of the day. And then suddenly, nighthawks! Chordeiles minor are much larger than swifts, with long pointy wings and long tails, making them look somewhat falcon-like. But their fast, loopy, erratic flight is all their own. I counted seven at once, whirling through the air as they gobbled after insects in the aether. Another group of birders counted twice that many over time. These photos are mediocre, but hopefully hint at the setting sun’s under-lighting of the russety undersides of the birds, and their distinctive wing patch-stripes.Chordeiles minorThey are on the move now, to their wintering grounds in South America.

A quintessential summer evening bird, this is a species in decline. It’s one of the species mentioned in this excellent op-ed by the head of the Cornell Lab. A must-read.

Future Odes

Perithemis teneraEastern Amberwings (Perithemis tenera) in the reproductive wheel: the male holds the female by the back of the head; the female curves her abdomen up and forwards his genitalia, located (counterintuitively?) at the base of his abdomen. Pachydiplax longipennisA female Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) dipping her abdomen down to lay fertilized eggs in a bit of water floating on a lily. Enallagma civileIn some species of Odonates, the male will continue to hold the female after mating and through the egg-laying process, precluding another male from mating with her, as with these Familiar Bluets (Enallagma civile). They can fly in tandem like this. Some species’ males will scoop out a previous male’s sperm from the female before adding his own with his specially equipped penis.Pachydiplax longipennisBlue Dasher females don’t seem to need chaperones. And look at all the eggs! Like pieces of short-grain rice, but much smaller. Of course, you know many will not make it to adulthood. These eggs were another post-photo discovery.

Bombus

BombusA bumblebee rumbles into the heart of the flower.

k10219Identifying bumblebees of the genus Bombus is not an easy task. In their new identification guide, Bumble Bees of North America, Williams, Thorp, Richardson, and Colla note that color patterns “can be strikingly variable within species and strongly convergent between.” As an example of the variability within a species: for the Yellow-banded (B. terricola) they show five queen bee patterns, five worker bee patterns, and seven male bee patterns; they also note its similarity to five other species. Oy! From my limited experience, I’d go with the bee systematist they quote: the genus is “morphologically monotonous.”

This guide uses color patterns, but also tongue length and cheek size to break down the forty-six species in North America north of Mexico. (Also used to differentiate these are male genitalia and genetic evidence, things even more remote from field observation.) Measuring a bee’s cheek isn’t something a lot of amateurs are going to do (and never mind the knees!). bombusMany of you are doubtlessly aware of the importance of honeybees as pollinators, and how their numbers have plummeted because of Colony Collapse Disorder. But bumble bees are also used commercially in pollination, especially in greenhouses, where their services are worth $10 billion annually. Unfortunately, the bumble bee pollination industry has spread bee diseases through their practices, introducing hazards to wild populations around the world. World-wide, bumblebee populations are mostly in a bad way, due to habitat loss, insecticides, climate change, pathogen spillover, and the introduction of exotic/invasive species. Systemic insecticides used to treat seeds are particularly insidious, as they remain present throughout the growing plant, including the pollen and nectar gathered as food by bees; if not immediately toxic, these poisons can disrupt foraging and colony development over time.

Since the beginning of this century, one North American species, the Franklin (B. franklini) has had such a rapid decline it is considered close to extinct; another, the Rusty-patched (B. afinis) is the only bee on the federal endangered species list.

bombus2

Among many things gleaned from this volume, I learned that Bombus diversity is greater in habitats with cooler temperatures and montane landscapes, unlike most other bees, who prefer warm dry, Mediterranean style habitat. The Polar B. polaris, for instance, is found across the far northern swath of the continent.

BTW:”Bumblebee” seems more English English; “bumble bee” more American English. bombusPhotos taken around Brooklyn in recent weeks. Join me next Wednesday at Brooklyn Bridge Park where we should see a few late afternoon bumblers. Also, could it possibly be that you aren’t subscribing to these posts yet?


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