A tale of two Saturniids

Actias luna (luna moth) caterpillar 

I typically don’t have very much luck finding caterpillars of the giant silk moths from the Saturnidae family. This past season was a little more successful. I found three polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) caterpillars and Sarah found the above luna moth caterpillar during our birthday hunting trip in mid-September. Larvae of these two species look very similar, but there are a few easy characteristics than can be used to distinguish between the two.

Antheraea polyphemus (polyphemus moth) caterpillar

 

Missouri Orchids – Spiranthes ovalis var. erostellata (oval ladies’-tresses)

 

Spiranthes ovalis var. erostellata (oval ladies ‘-tresses)

Spiranthes ovalis var. erostellata can be very difficult to find. Usually growing in groups of ones and twos, it is a small plant that prefers shadier locations that get dappled sunlight. I want to thank John Oliver for all his assistance getting me on this and a number of other Spiranthes species this year.

This species of ladies’-tresses is known for its graceful and diminutive flowers. Casey and I found only a couple of plants, each with flowers rather less developed than hoped for. I’m not sure if we were a day or two early, or if this might be all to expect from this population. We found these plants alongside trails at Babler State Park in mid-September.

Spiranthes ovalis var. erostellata (oval ladies ‘-tresses) The flowering stem can be seen here at the same time as its basal leaf.

-OZB

Missouri Orchids – Corallorhiza odontorhiza (autumn coralroot)

A rare open flower of Corallorhiza odontorhiza (autumn coralroot). Most plants of this species produce cleistogamous flowers that do not open, thus facilitating self-pollination.

Casey and I found three separate populations of Corallorhiza odontorhiza in early to mid September this year, each population consisting of just a few bunches of plants. Most plants of this species found in Missouri are cleistogamous, containing flowers that never open and thus forcing the plant to self-pollinate. This might account for the rather dull colors and patterns on flowers of this species when compared to its vernal-blooming relative, C. wisteriana. Of the three locations, we found only one bunch of plants, located in St. Louis County, that contained open (chasmogamous) flowers and these were slightly more showy than I expected them to be.

Chasmogamous flowers of Corallorhiza odontorhiza with obvious swollen ovaries.

Like C. wisteriana, this species is myco-heterotrophic, parasitizing mycorrhizal fungi to obtain carbon and other necessary nutrients. Consequently, this species never produces leaves. Both Corallorhiza species are found scattered throughout Missouri and can be found in a variety of habitats, but seem to prefer open woodlands on xeric to mesic soils.

Corallorhiza odontorhiza. These are cleistogamous flowering stems that Casey and I monitored from just after emergence. The flowers never opened and ovaries began to swell prior to the flowering stems reaching their full height.

-OZB

 

Missouri Orchids – Tipularia discolor (cranefly orchid)

Tipularia discolor, the cranefly orchid so-called due to the appearance of the flowers to a hovering group of crane flies.

Tipularia discolor, or the ‘cranefly orchid,’  was first collected in Missouri in 1988 and new discoveries across the Midwest in recent decades suggest it is actively expanding its range. Similar to the puttyroot orchid (Aplectrum hyemale), this orchid blooms in the summer without the presence of any leaves. Leaves emerge in autumn and are usually completely withered by May. Both the common and genus names come from the apparent resemblance of the open flowers to that of crane flies in the genus Tipula. Moths in the family Noctuidae are the primary pollinators and use their proboscises to collect nectar from the long nectar spurs of the flowers.

This is the only species in the genus to be found in the Americas. Casey and I found these plants in Stoddard County on August 1st of this year.

Tipularia discolor blooms in tight bud. The nectar spurs are easy to discern at this stage of development.

-OZB

 

 

Missouri Orchids – Platanthera clavellata (club spur orchid)

Platanthera clavellata (club-spur orchid), Stoddard County, MO.

The habitat this featured orchid was found was quite interesting – a wet, fen-like area with many pea-gravel rivulets to walk down. All this was set under a thick overstory that allowed little light on the cloudy day Casey and I visited. Often forced to hunch as we searched for other plants, lighting for photography was challenging, but we got what we came for.

As you can see below, this is a dainty and sweet orchid that has a large primary leaf and a secondary, bract-like leaf.

Platanthera clavellata (club-spur orchid), Stoddard County, MO.

-OZB

Black Trumpets

Craterellus cornucopioides has a number of common names including horn of plenty, black chanterelle (they are in the same family as the well known chanterelles), and trumpet of the dead.

After looking for a few years, I finally found a patch of black trumpets this year in Jefferson County, MO. They are reported to be one of the finest wild mushrooms and I agree – they (I picked and ate the ones pictured here) are definitely in my top three!

I’ll take this “Booby” Prize Anytime!

Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans) found at Sand Pond Conservation Area in Ripley County, MO.

A few weeks ago Ev, Yvonne, Dave and I traveled south to try and find the first state record of the Brown Booby that was on the Current River just outside of Doniphan. Unfortunately, we were a day late and missed the bird. However, through the patient and educated eyes of Yvonne, we found several insects that made the trip worthwhile.

A head-on look at a Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans)

One of these that I was able to get some photos of was this striking great blue skimmer (Libellula vibrans). This is one of the largest of the skimmers and while not necessarily rare, it isn’t one you’ll come across very often in the St. Louis area.

The Gemmed Satyr (Cyllopsis gemma)

We made a stop in Carter County before heading home to look for orchids. The orchids were a no-show, but Yvonne found her target species of the day – this gemmed satyr (Cyllopsis gemma) that we all had nice looks and photo opportunities with.

Although we missed out on our prized Booby, I’d say the Booby Prizes were well worth our time.

-OZB

The Ozark Baltimore Checkerspot???

The Ozark Baltimore Checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton ozarkae)

Early April, 2020, Casey and I head to the southwest corner of the state looking for multiple subjects. Our primary target of this trip was to check for caterpillars of a rare subspecies of the Baltimore Checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton ozarkae). This subspecies occurs primarily in the Arkansas Ozarks, but can be found in extreme southern Missouri.

Does Euphydryas phaeton ozarkea deserve subspecies status?

The main distinction that separates this purported subspecies is habitat and host plant preference. The primary habitat for E. phaeton phaeton is marshy wetlands, while E. phaeton ozarkea prefers oak woodlands. The primary host plant for E. phaeton phaeton are the turtleheads (Chelone sp.) while E. phaeton ozarkea primarily uses false foxglove (Aureolaria grandiflora). These animals will overwinter as caterpillars and then will often find new host plant species the following year – as shown in these photographs, they are using lousewort (Pedicularis canadensis). They will then pupate in May to June of their second year.

The Ozark Baltimore Checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton ozarkae)

Browsing the literature, there seems to be some who question the legitimacy of the subspecific status of of E. phaeton ozarkae. Is this simply a case of an opportunistic generalist finding new ways to make a living in varying habitats, or is there a concrete genetic distinction between these two? From what I’ve been able to tell, there does not seem to be a consensus. If you are aware of any newer literature that might shed light here, please let me know.

-OZB

Spring Flower Wrap-up

A bumblebee (Bombus sp.) barges its way into a Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) flower for a nectar reward. Photographed at Beckemeier Conservation Area.

Just a few that I’ve processed that I wanted to share from this past spring.

A closeup of a fresh Prairie Trillium (Trillium recurvatum recurvatum) flower. Photographed at Beckemeier Conservation Area.

Did you know…? Trilliums are a favored spring food by white-tailed deer. An overabundance of deer, as is found across most of the eastern United States forests, can have detrimental impacts to trillium populations. In some regions these plants and many other plant species are extirpated from certain forests except within deer exclusion fences.

The enchanting Miami Mist (Phacelia purshii). Photographed at Englemann Woods Natural Area.

One of the first wildflowers that really caught my attention. Miami mist can often be found in large colonies. Unless you stop to take a close look, it may not be obvious what you are missing.

You have to be tiny to service the flowers of cutleaf toothwort (Dentaria laciniata), a task for which these diminutive sweat bees (Lasioglossum sp.) are perfect for. Photographed at Beckemeier Conservation Area.
Celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) photographed at Englemann Woods Natural Area.

I thought that celandine poppies were pretty common after visiting the large beds at Shaw Nature Reserve’s wildflower garden. I have now come to understand that they are generally pretty hard to find in Missouri forests. The name celandine comes from the Greek word for ‘swallow’, referring to the plant’s early blooming with the first arrival of the birds in spring.

-OZB