Monday Miscellany

Banded Tussock Moth caterpillar

I have a whole bunch of photos that I want to post for miscellany today, about a dozen of them. However, our internet has been rather flaky since last night. In and out and on and off and I never know if I’m going to have a prolonged stretch of connectivity. It’s also been cutting out nearly every night in the evening, which is particularly annoying since that’s when I typically do my blogging. I decided I’d cut my miscellany post in half, and do half today and half tomorrow, the better to maximize my chances of actually getting this up before the connection drops.

Today’s header photo is of a caterpillar I found hanging out on an oak leaf earlier this week. These sorts of fuzzy caterpillars, with the long tufts sticking out from the head and tail ends, are tussock moth caterpillars. This one is a Banded Tussock Moth. They’re not uncommon, with the adults being fairly regular at lights in the late spring and early summer, and are widespread, found across much of the continent east of the Rockies. Caterpillars are pretty generalistic feeders, with the only major deciduous group I didn’t see in the list being maples.

Cladonia sp., cup lichen

On the 30 acres that’s attached to the house there isn’t a whole lot of woods – most of the woods are on the part of the property two lots down the road. Three-quarters of our immediate land is meadow, however at the very back of the acreage is a small patch of moist woodland, predominantly cedar. A whole different community of plants and animals is found there. For instance, while moss and lichen is fairly uncommon in the meadow areas, there’s lots of it in the damp woods. I found this patch of cup lichen and mosses straddling a downed tree trunk there. The lichens, tall and upright, most likely belong to the genus Cladonia, although the particular species is harder to determine. The Cladonia include reindeer lichen, one of the primary food items of reindeer in the arctic tundra, and British Soldier lichens, which I’d found growing at my parents’ new house last year. I’ve actually noticed a few of them here this summer, too, though just small ones.

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Also in the woods were these plants, whose identity remains a mystery to me. They were, naturally, in the middle of a soggy wet bit and I was in my sneakers, so I couldn’t position myself very well to get a good photo. They reminded me of gentians, and could possibly be Pale Gentians, Gentiana alba. Or, they could possibly not be. Whatever they are, they’re not in either of my wildflower guides. The only gentians I’ve encountered before happened to be Closed Gentians, Gentiana andrewsii, in the moist bits of the forests on my parents’ new property – a similar habitat.

Argiope web

I nearly walked through this web, which was built between a couple of stalks of grass, bisecting the trail I follow. The web belongs to an Argiope spider, most likely Black-and-yellow Argiope, A. aurantia. Argiopes built a zig-zag pattern into the middle of their web. The extra silk is called a stabilimentum, and its purpose is debated – it might be for camouflaging the spider as they sit on the web, maybe it somehow attracts insect prey, possibly it serves a strengthening purpose, or it might even be to make the web more visible to birds, who might otherwise fly through and destroy all the spider’s hard work. These structures are only found on the webs of diurnal spiders. I didn’t spot the owner of this web, which was too bad – they’re very striking spiders, and big, with bodies sometimes as large as your thumbnail.

Northern Walkingstick

Dan found this guy hanging out near our porch light a couple of nights ago. This is the second walkingstick I’ve seen in a year (the other one being this individual at our previous house), which is a lot compared to the none I’d seen in the many years previous. Like last year’s bug, this one is an adult, as told by the brown body and green legs – nymphs are similar in shape, but smaller and all green. The funny thing about this guy is that walkingsticks are traditionally associated with forest habitat, and while there’s forest nearby, and a scattering of trees around it, the house is basically in the middle of a meadow. Considering that these insects are wingless, he had quite a ways to trudge from the forest edge. Check out the link to last year’s stick for more info on the group.

Cumulus congestus cloud

Finally (for today), Dan took this photo of clouds at sunset the other night. We’ve had some nice sunsets here, since the meadow faces northwest and we have a good vista of the sky in that direction. With all the rain we’ve had this summer, there are often clouds in the sky at sunset which illuminate in interesting ways. These tall, fluffy clouds are probably Cumulus congestus clouds, also called towering cumulus clouds. They’re created by unstable patches in the atmosphere, where strong updrafts rapidly drive water vapour vertically into tall columns. With sufficient atmospheric disturbance, these can turn into cumulonimbus storm clouds, but even without getting that far they often produce rain. Fortunately, we experienced none that night – it was a lovely, clear evening.

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11 responses to “Monday Miscellany

  1. Hi Seabrooke,

    The white flower could be a Turtlehead.

  2. Beautiful photos! The lichen image is especially intriguing. It feels otherworldly.

    I thought of the same spider when I looked at the web picture. But then I laughed when I read this: “…with bodies sometimes as large as your thumbnail.” It took me a second to remember how far north of me you are. Down here in Texas, the females can be upwards of 30mm long (excluding legs), and the span of their legs can be more than 120mm. They grow large enough to catch and consume hummingbirds. Keep in mind females can live several years here if the winters don’t get too cold.

    • It’s amazing how much latitude affects size of things. It’s also interesting that insects seem to be bigger in the south, while vertebrates tend to get bigger to the north. I’ve seen photos of spiderwebs with captive hummingbirds, a pretty amazing feat!

  3. What fun to enjoy all the stuff you find! I think your white gentian-like flowers are turtlehead, with the long, pointed terminal leaves chewed off. It likes the same damp habitat as gentians, blooms at the same time and often grows alongside them. The lichens could be Cladonia macilenta — Lipstick Powderhorn. Watch to see if they develop bright red tops, similar to British Soldiers. Do you have the book “Lichens of the North Woods” by Joe Walewski? It’s a good one.

    • Thanks, Jackie – reexamining my guides, I agree it’s probably turtlehead.

      I’ll keep my eyes on the lichens, and see if they do anything. I don’t have that book, but I’ll look into getting a copy. So many books, never enough money!

  4. I second AJ on the plant – looks like a Chelone to me.

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