The WGNSS Nature Photography Group met on September 1, 2018 at Don Robinson State Park in Jefferson County, MO, with the goal of finding slug moth caterpillars and whatever other macro subjects of interest we could find. Overall, I think we had good fortune on this hot and muggy, late-summer day, finding quite a few interesting caterpillars. The slug moth caterpillars were a little scarce, but we did find a little something extra special – the pin-striped vermilion slug moth (Monoleuca semifascia) (Hodges # 4691). In four summers of looking for slug cats, this is the first one I have seen. It is a southern species and I assumed it would need to be found in the south-western part of our state where the open barren woodlands and savanna type environments this species prefers are more common.
This is the 14th of 15 species of slug moth caterpillars that are found in Missouri that I have been able to see and photograph. One more to go!
Slug cats can be found on virtually any species of woody plant in the state. Although oaks and hickories seem to be the preferred host plants, this animal was found on an eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis).
I hope these photos make it obvious why hunting these cats can become quite addictive.
“Knowing the place and the hour, you seat yourself under a bush to the east of the dance floor and wait, watching against the sunset for the woodcock’s arrival. He flies in low from some neighboring thicket, alights on the bare moss, and at once begins the overture: a series of queer throaty peents spaced about two seconds apart, and sounding much like the summer call of the Nighthawk.”
-Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac–
Whether for a hunt, photograph or just to watch, knowing an animal’s favored habitat, the likelihood of finding them at a particular time (circadian and calendar), and specific behaviors are crucial for finding a species of focus. The American Woodcock, also known as a Timberdoodle or Bogsucker, arrives early in the spring to its preferred display grounds.
Young forest is required for nesting Woodcock, and to observe their courtship displays one must find their preferred singing grounds. Woodcock prefer young, dense, successional forest that is somewhat on the wet side, with marsh or forest streams nearby. The singing grounds are typically located in an opening with mixed grassland habitat. An optimal location would be a treeless opening large enough for several males to establish their ground and that allows room for flight. Around 10-15 minutes after sunset from late February to late April, the males slowly begin to peent (see video below) usually from a more covered location. As darkness takes over, the males will venture out onto their preferred open grounds to allow the girls the best possible views. A nice spot for this in Missouri is often a mowed path through native grassland habitat.
After a series of peents, the male jumps into a spiraling flight while emitting a twitter due to stiff feathers that he takes advantage of in his performance. Upon reaching 300 feet or so, he heads back to ground, this time in a zig-zag fashion and making a peculiar liquid-like warble, which sounds to me like an alien’s egg-timer counting down to a perfect soft-boil. While on the singing grounds, you may on occasion be “buzzed”; however, there is no need for alarm, as their eyesight at night is supposedly very good. This “sky-dance” as Leopold so perfectly described it, ends approximately 35 minutes or so after sunset. It is possible to hear them vocalizing and dancing throughout the night, but it is nothing compared to the concert that is just on the darker side of crepusculum.
Putting close to 15 miles on the trails this glorious weekend, I was noticing just how delayed spring was this year compared with the past several. Harbinger of Spring is about at its peak at the St. Louis latitude, and Spring Beauty and Cutleaf Toothwort are a few days to a week before their peak will be here. But, it is coming. I saw thousands of these plants pushing there way up through the leaf litter along with Dutchman’s Breeches (very cute little buds, I must say). I finally tried the rhizome of the Toothwort today while on a hike at LaBarque Creek C.A. near Eureka. A member of the mustard family, the Toothwort’s small, fleshy and crisp rhizome has a tooth-like appearance, hence its common name. Another colloquial name associated with this plant is Pepper root, also in description of the rhizome. I found the taste to have hints of horseradish and green onion, with a little peppery heat. The perfect size and flavor makes me think it would be perfect in a variety of dishes, including stir-fry and salads. But since it would require killing a lot of plants, I doubt I will make a habit of it.
As I was coming to the last mile or so of my hike today, I thought I would once again strike out on my first Bloodroot of the season. But, just in time, I saw a single, fully-opened bloom a couple of feet from the creek. This was the only subject I photographed all weekend, but it was still a grand couple days for a walk.
“First Bloodroot of the Year!″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, ISO 200, f/22, 1/15 sec
Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens. ISO 160, f/16, 1/13 sec
I’ve been having a lot of fun with the spring ephemeral wildflowers this year. It is hard to believe the numbers and diversity that are in peak bloom already this year. I can’t imagine what the woods are going to look like by the end of April. You might as well stock up on pyrethrin because by mid-summer the ticks are going to be owning us all.
This image was taken in the Labarque Creek watershed during a early spring hike. Bloodroot are fascinating plants, getting their name from the reddish sap that is especially prominent in their tuber-like rhizome. Several Native American tribes have been known to use this sap as a natural dye for artwork projects.
These plants will spread and grow easily clonally and vast colonies can be found that may have started from a single individual. Another method of reproduction these plants use is myrmecochory, which means that their seeds are dispersed by ants. The ants feed on a fruit-like structure that is attached to the seed. The ants move the seeds to the relative safety of their colony and after the ants feed on the fruit they deposit the seed into their underground middens, or trash heaps. Here the seeds can safely germinate and have access to some useful fertilizer in the process.
Bloodroot sends up a flowering stalk usually before the leaves begin to emerge and blooms usually open before the leaves have fully expanded. The flowers last less than a full day, so it is recommended you get out on the trail before noon if you really want to seem them in their full glory.