Meet the Slugs – The Saddleback

SaddlebackCaterpillar-Limacodidae-Acharia-stimulea-(4700) - Photographed at Millstream Garden Conservation Area
Saddleback Caterpillar (Acharia stimulea) photographed at Millstream Garden Conservation Area in late August, 2016.

We were quite fortunate during our first summer of hunting for “slug” caterpillars – members of the moth family Limacodidae who get their name from their absence of prolegs, which are replaced by a sucker that enables them to move quite similarly to a true slug. We (Sarah, Steve and I) were fortunate because we were able to locate and photograph ten species of slugs.  I had read about these fascinating animals before, but never realized how abundant and diverse they actually were in the Missouri Ozarks.  Yes, a good amount of work and patience is necessary to find them – I don’t want to tally up the hours, but it was time well spent outdoors.

I’ve decided to begin sharing these images with a species that is probably most well known of those who have heard of the slugs – the aptly named saddleback caterpillar.  As can be seen in the image below, the saddleback wears a green saddle, bordered with white.  Also apparent in these images are the urticating (stinging) hairs that are concentrated along fleshy nobs located at both ends of the caterpillar.  These spines are found on a number, but not all of the caterpillars in this family and are capable of delivering a painful sting that is quite similar to that of the stinging nettle plant.

Saddleback Caterpillar (Acharia stimulea) photographed at Cuivre River State Park in mid August, 2016.

The image below shows the ocellus, or eyespots, which are actually on the posterior end of the animal.

Saddleback Caterpillar – Posterior (Acharia stimulea) photographed at Cuivre River State Park in mid August, 2016.

Finally, the anterior end – the animal’s head is nicely hidden under a few fleshy folds that are armed with spiny protuberances.

Saddleback Caterpillar - Posterior (Acharia stimulea) photographed at Cuivre River State Park in mid August, 2016.
Saddleback Caterpillar – Posterior (Acharia stimulea) photographed at Cuivre River State Park in mid August, 2016.

I look forward to sharing more examples of this fascinating group of Missouri slugs in the near future.



Strawberry Bush

Strawberry Bush
Strawberry Bush

The Strawberry Bush is a rather new one for me.  Steve and I found these plants, with freshly opened fruit capsules along the St. Francis River within Millstream Gardens CA this autumn.  Rare due to loss of preferred habitat, this plant prefers moist, sandy soils along stream banks.  Along with the St. Francois Mountain region, this plant also grows in extreme south-eastern Missouri.

Potholes In My Lawn

Specifically referred to as potholes, this feature was found in the long stretch of shut-ins of the St. Francis River between Silvermines Recreation Area and Millstream Gardens.  Steve and I took this, one of our favorite hikes, this autumn, just before peak color came into this section of the Ozarks.  Here is a wonderful description of this feature’s formation from Tom Beveridge’s Geologic Wonders and Curiosities of Missouri:

Potholes are formed at the nearly right-angled intersection of channelways where the direction of flow is abruptly changed.  The abrupt changes in direction of flow and the intersecting channelways create local whirlpools where the swirling waters grind out circular holes using sand and gravel carried in suspension as a natural abrasive.  Man did not invent sandblasting – he only mechanized it!  Deepening of the holes is also expedited by the steep gradient of the stream;  some holes are in part plunge pools formed by the impact of water descending vertically and gouging out the bed at the base of individual waterfalls.”

See my Flickr account for similar images made on this day.


“All Seeing Eye”

An Autumn Hike Along the St. Francis

I started my autumn vacation early on a Saturday morning with a hike along one of the prettiest of Ozark Streams, the St. Francis River.  I was joined by my new friend, Stephen, who knows these waters quite well.  While I had previously visited a couple of the destinations I’ll be describing, I had long wanted to take the hike between two of Missouri’s great shut-ins – Tiemann Shut-Ins and those located downstream a couple miles at Silver Mines Recreation Area.  Stephen and I met at the trail head at the USFS Silver Mines Rec Area, located in Madison County near the towns of Fredericktown and Arcadia.

“Store of Summer Rains″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 58mm, ISO 100,  f/11, 2.5 sec

There is a relatively easy path between these two points, but Stephen and I followed along the river, jumping from boulder to boulder for most of the stretch.  We were pleasantly surprised arriving near dawn to find a nice blanket of fog.  While fog tends to lessen contrast considerably in a photographic frame of mind, the lighting helps those wonderful fall colors pop.  In person, eyes are drawn to a bright warm maple growing between riverside rocks.  Once my camera was out, we were in danger of spending the entire day within the first quarter mile of our hike.  I do appreciate Stephen’s patience as I took the time to set up the tripod and repeatedly dove into my bag to swap lenses.

“Solid Out of Liquid″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 58mm, ISO 100,  f/11, 1/5 sec, Orton processing in PS CS6

The St. Francis is one of the more productive of Missouri’s Ozark streams.  While this means you won’t see the crystal clear waters of the Black, Current, or Eleven Point, the mass of life and biological diversity is more obvious.  Moving along the banks one is forced to path-find between Ozark Witch Hazel and Sandbar Willow.  Organic matter deposited on rocks makes food for algae and makes any wet surface as slippery as ice.  A hike-ending fall was a possibility in the early part of the day.  More than 50 species of fish have been documented in this river and this stretch is home for the St. Francis Crawfish, an endemic species to the St. Francois Mountains and a species of conservation concern.

“Sweet Kisses″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, ISO 400,  f/6.3, 1/25 sec

Although making Stephen a bit apprehensive, I was completely stoked that were able to cross paths with five cottonmouths, including this cute little juvenile.  This one I spotted almost on the trail as he flapped his bright-white mouth at me, mere inches from my boot.  My first thought was of a small moth or butterfly flapping its wings in alternating bright dorsal and dull ventral aspects.  Taking a second, closer glance I was able to pick out this well-camouflaged beauty.  I think Stephen will pay me well to save the story of what happened when we came upon a larger relative of this guy in the crevice of a couple of boulders.  😉

“Einstein Mine Dam On The St. Francis″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 65mm, ISO 100,  f/11, 1/25 sec

Here you have a view of the granite block dam built to supply power to the milling operations of the nearby Einstein Mine.  The mine did not last long and is now a nice home for bats.  Did you know that Missouri has almost continually been first in lead production of the USA for almost two centuries?  Today Missouri produces nearly 90% of the nation’s lead and 75% of its zinc as well as large amounts of iron, silver and copper.  This area is of great interest to geologists.  The rock you see in this post, primarily granites and rhyolites, are among the hardest and oldest exposed rocks on the planet.

“Endless Forms Most Beautiful And Most Wonderful″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 67mm, ISO 100,  f/13, 0.6 sec

Many thanks to Stephen for being a great guide and showing me a lot along this hike.  I definitely would not have been able to find as much on my own.  We passed Mud Creek Shut-ins and eventually found ourselves at Teimann Shut-Ins, described as the largest shut-ins in Missouri.  Located within Millstream Conservation Area, Teimann SI is truly impressive.  This spot has a great deal more potential than Johnson’s SI for photography and is on a much larger scale.  I do not know for certain, but I imagine Stephen is contemplating the diverse biological community and if these “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful” go about their existence without contemplating us.

“Wayward Rivulets In Autumn Flowing″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 40mm, ISO 100,  f/16, 1 sec

It took almost the entire day to meander over the boulders to Millstream Gardens.  It was getting so late that in the end, we took the relatively straight and flat trail back to our cars, arriving just after sunset.  We topped it off with a nice meal in nearby Farmington.  I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start off my autumn break.  This was just the beginning to a fun week across the Missouri Ozarks.  I look forward sharing more real soon.