Last night as I watched the sun tuck behind the embankment of New Jersey, a fisherman beside me on the end of Pier 5 reeled this fish out of the dark water. He thought it was a Sea Robin, but I didn’t. It wasn’t that weird. Some research reveals it to be an Oyster Toadfish (Opsanus tau), a species with a high tolerance for hanging out in the bottom murk of polluted, junk-filled waters. Also known as oyster-cracker, ugly fish, mother-in-law fish, etc. It doesn’t have scales, but rather a slimy skin, hence the allusion to toads. The strong jaws are good for cracking oysters and other shellfish, but they will eat anything they can get. They are also known as a vocal species: males make “foghorn” like noises to attract females.
The bright yellow is the lure. Having maimed the 8″ long creature for sport, the fisherman extracted the hook and threw it back in.
A male Common Green Darner (Anax junius), one of our largest species of dragonfly. You should really click on the picture for a larger view, since there is some great detail here because this one perched quite a while below eye-level, allowing us all good looks as he rubbed his front legs over his eyes. Note how large those eyes are: dragonflies are like raptors, depending on vision to hunt. A migratory species, this three-inch long darner is usually the first dragonfly seen in the spring and one of the last in the fall (a female is pictured in the link).
Two years ago, I stumbled upon some unfamiliar ladybugs. There were Two-spotted (Adalia bipunctata), which turned out to be rather rare. It was the first Brooklyn report for the species. Last summer, the site was inaccessible to civilians because of construction. This weekend I took a look at the trees, as I usually do. They have been quite active with Multicolored Asian Ladybugs (Harmonia axyridis) for the last couple of weeks. But hello! Something different from the very round, very large (for a ladybug) H. axyridis, a nuisance species, if not worse, spread by gardeners and garden-suppliers. Indeed, many think the spread of these beetles has been the cause, or one of the causes, of the decline of the likes of A. bipunctata and other now rare native species. But the Two-spotted is still in town. While trying to get a live photo, the beetle flew down to my camera lens, so I snapped this pic with my phone.
From the Lost Lady Project, I’ve learned that A. bipunctata has been reported at four New York State sites. Like many native species, it has been declining in numbers for the last twenty years or more. The location here is tiny, just a few trees, and isolated from other bits of green. It shows the importance of having a variety of trees and plants in as many places as possible. But this location is much busier with humans than it used to be…
Only three other places in New York! This isn’t to say there aren’t more places, which haven’t been discovered because there aren’t as many people looking for lady beetles as, say, there are people enabling FIFA’s looting, and/or staring at their toenails, but it does suggest their specialness. Speaking of nails. The Two-spotted comes in a variety of color forms. This one, found at the same time, is particularly striking.
Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) in exuberant fuzziness.
The Catalpa trees — both the Northern Catalpa (C. bignonioides) and the Southern (C. speciosa) are found in the park — are ladybug magnets. The large heart-shaped leaves are often sticky, perhaps from the excretions of aphids, a favorite ladybug food. Right now, the nymph stages of the lady beetles, these small but frightful looking creatures, are out and about. This is one of the Multicolored Asian Ladybeetle (Harmonia axyridis). Here’s a passel of them in their pupal stage, transforming into adults under a Catalpa leaf:Metamorphosis is so wonderfully strange (to this mammal, anyway): the nymphs, which are actually larger than the adult, will completely transform into the more familiar round red (and other colored) beetles, their bodies chemically broken down and reformed while they are inside the pupa.An earlier instar of the all too-common MAL? (This one is on a milkweed.) Ladybug nymphs typically have four instars, or stages, which they molt through as they grow.
Once emerged, the adult beetle will harden, darken, and get spotted. Here’s another adult on a Catalpa leaf so sticky it’s glistening:The pale things are aphids.
Gasping at the surface near the pier, this fish was in trouble. Or so I thought. But it seemed to successfully dive back into the deeps, so it might have been feeding at something I couldn’t see on the surface. About 14″ long: what is it? And here, soon after low tide way up the Gowanus, a school of much smaller killifish, perhaps Mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus).