Pelecinid Wasp

Pelecinid Wasp – Pelecinidae – Pelecinus polyturator.  Millstream Gardens Conservation Area, Madison County, MO.

Parasitoids of insect larvae, the Pelecinid Wasp female uses her extremely large abdomen to thrust through soil to deposit eggs primarily on scarab beetles.  I assume the family and genus names are derived from the Greek – pelicos, referring to the great size of the wasp.  Females can reach lengths of up to 6 cm.  No need to worry, these guys do not have stingers.


From the Garden – The Planthoppers and Leafhoppers

Two-lined Spittlebug
Two-lined Spittlebug

Planthoppers and Leafhoppers are groups of insects collectively found within the insect Order Hemiptera.  Both groups have piercing and sucking mouth parts and feed primarily on plant saps and tissues.   These groups are highly diverse.  I have been able to capture a few of these fascinating creatures with the camera in the backyard, but these are generally the more common species.  The insect pictured above is known as a Spittlebug – named for the behavior of encasing themselves as nymphs in a spittle-like mucous for protection.

The Stormtrooper
The Stormtrooper

I’ve said before that there is no such thing as an original idea in fantasy or sci fi.  I’ve found that almost every creature or effect you can find to celebrate in these films or books has been taken (consciously or not) from nature, most often from invertebrates or the deep sea.

Planthopper Nymph
Planthopper Nymph

This ultra-tiny guy posted above is a planthopper nymph.  Often members of this group will have long, colorful waxy lengths of fibers extruding from their tail ends that are used for multiple purposes, including predator avoidance.

Candy Stripers
Candy Stripers

Many folks who have spent any time in the backyard have surely seen the Candy-striped Leafhoppers, one of the most abundant species in this group.  Gorgeously colored and quick to disappear, the two pictured above are busy making more.

I look forward to sharing more photos of members of these groups in the near future.


Bugs in the Backyard – Locust Borer

Locust Borer
Locust Borer

This Locust Borer (Family Cerambycidae) was photographed this fall feeding on Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima) that grow in my wildflower patches in our yard.

Locust Borer
Locust Borer

The Locust Borer’s preferred larval host plant, the black locust tree, is now widespread across North America and Europe, but was originally found in the Appalachian and Ozark regions.

Locust Borer
Locust Borer

It is unclear whether the color and pattern of this long-horned beetle serves to mimic the aposematic  coloration of the well-known yellow jacket wasps (Batesian mimicry), or for crypsis – allowing for camouflage in the goldenrod, where they are often found.

Locust Borer
Locust Borer



Busy Bees…

I apologize for the tacky post title.  I just wanted to let everyone know that I am busy at work in preparation for the ninth annual Art at the Shaw Nature Reserve Show and Sale – 2014.  If you are reading this and have the ability to visit, please stop by to see more than 20 talented artists of many different media.  I look forward to meeting and talk with you.  It is a very nice event.

Here is a photo…

Honeybee Harvesting Silphium
Honeybee Harvesting Silphium

First Bloodroot of the Year!

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

The Marvellous Gasteromycetes

No worries.  Although the biology, terminology and classification behind the fungi is a course of study that is as beautiful as any human language, I will not try to fill this post with all that specialized nomenclature, especially since I am a novice at it myself!  This particular group of fungi are polyphyletic (similar or convergent in nature, but no recent common ancestor) and have been grouped together based on their habit of passive spore dispersal.  While most other fungi have mechanisms that forcibly discharge their spores, in this collection of orders the spores are passively dropped and released by rain drops, wind, insects and other animals.  These fungi go by the names of earth stars, puffballs, and earth balls.  The palate-pleasing truffles and the oh-so fascinating bird’s-nest fungi are also included in this grouping.  The phallic (order Phallales) stinkhorns spores are spread by flies and other insects that are attracted to the rotten smells they exude.  The bizarre jelly and “ear” fungi are also placed in this group.  Finally, the economically important rusts (Uredinales) and smuts (Ustilaginales) also fall in this category, often finding conditions in our modern monocultures perfect and in little time can cause severe declines in yields of cereals and legumes.

The photo here shows the “Acorn Puffball” (Disciseda sp.).  In nature, the spores are forced through the ostiole (opening) when struck by rain drops or falling leaves or other matter.  Often they may separate from their base and roll across the landscape ejecting spores as they move along.  In this photo I used a small twig to push on the side of one of the fruiting bodies that discharged the cloud of spores I hope is apparent.  This took some time and patience to get just right.  I did not have any artificial light source, so reflectors and trial and error with exposure settings had to suffice.  These guys are most often found in dry habitats like desserts, dry grasslands, pastures and dry woodlands.


“Acorn Puffball, Autumn 2012″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, ISO 400,  f/13, 1/6 sec

The Prairie Plants

“No living man will see again the long-grass prairie, where a sea of prairie flowers lapped at the stirrups of the pioneer.  We shall do well to find a forty here and there on which the prairie plants can be kept alive as species.  There were a hundred such plants, many of exceptional beauty.  Most of them are quite unknown to those who have inherited their domain.”

-Aldo Leopold-

Please here my plea in considering using plant species that were/are native to your geographic area the next time you consider a landscaping project.  I have gotten a lot of pleasure from the couple of native wildflower patches I put into my yard.  If you are a nature photographer or an appreciator of Nature and all her diversity, this is an excellent way to continue these passions while contributing to the conservation ethic.  You may even suggest this to the companies you work for and organizations in which you are involved.


“Autumn Explosion″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, ISO 160,  f/16, 0.4 sec

The Ozark Tree

While growing up in the inner St. Louis suburbs, I have relatively few memories of nature before entering my twenties.  One memory that particularly stands out is on a trip south seeing an Osage orange fruit for the first time.  Just what the heck was this strange fruit, so reminiscent of the cerebral cortex of the human brain?  Like so many ignorant of nature, I wondered what its purpose was and why it had to be so creepy.

Thirty years later I realized I still did not know much about this tree.  Sarah found this fruit on our trip through the Ozarks and I brought it back to make it the subject of this study.  The common name, “Osage orange” is rather self explanatory.  The name Osage comes from the Osage tribe that was historically found over much of Missouri and the fruit does resemble an orange, so commonly eaten.  I have since learned that the best adaptive story to explain such a large amount of flesh covering the hidden nut is that the primary disperser of these seeds were the Mastadons.  Following the disappearance of these large herbivores, humans became the primary dispersers of this species, planting these trees as windbreaks and fences.  The wood of these trees is some of the heaviest, densest and hardest in the Ozarks.  This fact plus the thorns on young branches made this the perfect species for such purposes.

The nature of this species wood also made them perfect for use in making bows by native Americans.  This fact prompted the French to name them “Bois d’Arc” or bowwood.  This name is the most favored in being responsible for the name “Ozarks” given to the hills and habitats of Missouri, Arkansas and surrounding states.  It is theorized that Bois d’Arc was bastardized to “Bodark”, and later to Ozarks by English settlers.  To my understanding, this cannot be proven, but is the best conjecture given by historians.  That is why I titled this post “The Ozark Tree”.

So, I brought this fruit home and took it out in the backyard and placed it among colorful white-oak leaves, a milkweed pod, Monarda seed heads, and a prairie dock leaf.  It is still siting in my backyard.  I want to see, if left alone to rot over winter, whether or not the seeds will germinate.

“Bois d’Arc″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, ISO 160,  f/14, 1/6 sec

When the Maples Blaze

“I do not see what the Puritans did at this season, when the Maples blaze out in scarlet. They certainly could not have worshiped in groves then. Perhaps that is what they built meeting-houses and fenced them round with horse-sheds for.”

-Henry David Thoreau-

“When the Maples Blaze″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, ISO 160,  f/16, 1.3 sec