Battus philenor (Pipevine Swallowtail)

I finally lucked out and found a late instar Battus philenor. This guy was walking along a trail, presumably looking for a good spot to pupate. I persuaded it to walk on a stick for a brief period to pose for a couple of portraits and then left it where I found it.

The orange and black coloration exhibited by Battus philenor are considered aposematic coloration, warning would-be predators of their distasteful nature. This distastefulness is due to the sequestering of aristolochic acids that are found in their host plants of the Aristolochia genus.
A wee bit of gentle prodding coaxed the cat to evert its osmeterium, a defensive organ that is used to dissuade predators and/or parasitoids.

Missouri Orchids – (Platanthera flava var. herbiola) – Tubercled Orchid

Here is my last new orchid for the season. It is also probably the orchid I had to work the hardest to find in this entire project. Platanthera flava var. herbiola is classified as S2 (imperiled) in Missouri due to the very few remaining populations. This is an orchid that likes its feet wet and can be found in a variety of habitats containing moist to wet soils. After trying unsuccessfully in 2020, Pete and I went back to the same location this year – a wet prairie in southern Missouri in early June. This was very tough searching as the high temps, strong sun and saturated air created a potentially dangerous heat index. We tried our best, slowly slogging through the already quite thick prairie. Just when it looked like Pete was wanting to throw in the towel, we came across a patch of less-dense vegetation with water about ankle-high. Here we found young orchids that numbered in the hundreds. Unfortunately, most were on the early side and were not fully flowering but we did find a few that made us happy. We also found that many of the orchids in this group had grazed top leaves – most likely from white-tailed deer that usually find orchids to be very appetizing.

Platanthera flava var. herbiola, the 33rd Missouri orchid species I have been able to see and photograph.

There is another variety of this orchid, P. flava var. flava that is also found in Missouri. Recently Pete and I tried to find this in most of the known locations but came up short. As of now my quest stands at 33 of 36 orchid forms that can be found in the state (36 is my accepted number and others may disagree). In addition to P. flava var. flava, I also need to find Coeloglossum viride (Long-bract Frog Orchid) – this species is known from a single location in the state but apparently does not flower and Epipactis helleborine, the broad-leaved helleborine – the exotic orchid that is becoming naturalized in this state but originates in Asia and Europe. Finding these three remaining orchids should be quite the task and I look forward to attempting these next year.

The longer floral bracts, looser inflorescence and three leaves are among a few of the characteristics that identify this as Platanthera flava var. herbiola and not P. flava var. flava.

I have run into a couple other circumstances in our orchid flora where intermediate forms have caused problems in determining the identity of a plant or population. Where these two varieties overlap, as they seem to do in Missouri, there are intermediate forms between these two varieties as well. I will hope that when I do find a potential flava variety that this will not become a problem.

Platanthera flava var. herbiola is the more southern variety. Here another distinguishing characteristic can be observed – the lip of variety herbiola is longer than it is broad, whereas the lip of variety flava is as broad as it is long, being almost square or circular in appearance.

Eryngium prostratum (creeping eryngo)

Eryngium prostratum is an odd little member of the Apiaceae family that is found in the southeastern most part of Missouri. Along with it’s blue flowering heads, its closet living relative in Missouri is the relatively gigantic E. yuccifolium. These plants were photographed at Charleston Baptist Association Prairie in Scott County, MO on June 27, 2021.

Eryngium prostratum, or creeping eryngo, is a prostrate plant that roots at nodes as it creeps. It stays quite close to the ground and can be difficult to find.
Eryngium prostratum – not your typical carrot!

Synchlora aerata (camouflaged looper)

Back in mid-June I discovered a number of Synchlora aerata (camouflaged looper, wavy-lined emerald moth) that were using our coreopsis as host. Not only are these spectacular adult moths in the family Geometridae, but they are obviously special while in the larval phase as well. These caterpillars are known for attaching bits and pieces of the plant tissues they feed on (often flower petals) to their backs as means of camouflaging against their predators.

The Synchlora aerata, on Coreopsis sp. in a suburban wildflower garden in St. Louis County, MO, USA
I often find these guys with their camouflage dull, dry and not very attractive. You can change this pretty easily by placing them in a container with a fresh native flower of your choice. Hopefully within a day or two the caterpillar will have adorned itself with a fresh and colorful coat!

From the Home Garden – Callirhoe bushii (Bush’s poppy mallow)

Photographed on June 11th of this year. I chose this species of Callirhoe because it is the most likely to stay small and behave in the front yard beds. However, I fear that the primarily clay soils will get the worst of it and it won’t stick around long. Of the three plants, only one made it to flower. These guys are adapted to more xeric and well-draining soils.

Leaf and flower of Callirhoe bushii (Malvaceae)

A Lizard Beetle

The Languria bicolor (Erotylidae) is placed in the tribe Languriini (lizard beetles). Larvae of lizard beetles develop within the stems of plants and adults feed on the tissues and pollen of the same or nearby plants. This individual was found in July 2021 at the Beaumont Scout Reservation, St. Louis County, Missouri.

Awesome Armadillos!

The nine-banded armadillo invasion of Missouri is over. Armadillos have now been found near the Missouri-Iowa border and in the St. Louis metro area they are now almost as common roadkill as are racoons. I find these animals fascinating and Sarah and I once kept one as a pet for a brief time. Casey and I found several armadillos digging up plant bulbs in the fields of Peck Ranch while looking for elk last winter.

One of several nine-banded armadillos we found at Peck Ranch C.A. during mid-December, 2020.

There are all sorts of interesting bits of information that can be shared about these guys. Here are a couple of my favorites. 1) Twenty five years ago you would not find armadillos anywhere in the state. 2) The armadillo is the only other known animal, besides humans, to carry the disease leprosy. These two factoids are related because they likely have the same underlying cause behind them – the lower body temperature of armadillos. Armadillos have a lower working body temperature than most mammals, maintaining it at about 89 °F. The increasingly warmer winters over the past few decades has allowed the armadillo to get through the previously limiting winters, allowing their northward expansion. Their lower body temperature also allows them to be carriers of the bacteria (Mycobacterium leprae) known to cause leprosy. This bacteria thrives in tissues of lower temperatures, such as the tips of our noses and fingers and within the armadillo.

Much like most mammals in our state, the nine-banded armadillo has famously bad eyesight. They rely primarily on their keen noses to sense the world around them.

-OZB