I have a suspicion that my Monday Miscellanys may be indefinitely bumped to Tuesday for the winter, as Mondays are my tv-watching night, with the season starting yesterday. I don’t watch much tv, following just a couple of shows religiously every week rather than plopping down on the couch in the evening, and Monday happens to be the big tv night. I guess we’ll see.
First up this week, a Small Milkweed Bug (Lygaeus kalmii) on a Milkweed pod. Milkweed bugs are found across much of North America generally in association with milkweed, as the name implies. Though they take nectar from flowers, they’re primarily known for piercing milkweed seeds to “drink” the seed contents. For the same reason that Monarch caterpillars and butterflies are unpalatable to predators, so are Milkweed Bugs. They ingest the chemicals in the milkweed plant and deposit them in their body tissue. The markings on their back, the bright orange-and-black cross pattern, are presumed to be aposematic coloration – warning to predators that the bug tastes bad or is poisonous.
Many organisms employ this sort of coloration, which helps to enforce the idea to predators that anything brightly coloured should be avoided. However, it’s a learned avoidance – they have to taste a few before they’ll get the idea. Back in university, in my insect behaviour class, we did an experiment where we presented live assassin bugs with live milkweed bugs that were reared on milkweed seeds (and therefore tasted bad) or on sunflower seeds (which they also grow successfully on but don’t obtain the distasteful chemicals), and manipulated the coloration of the milkweed bugs using non-toxic marker. It was interesting to see how the assassin bugs learned to avoid the pattern that tasted bad, whether it was the natural pattern or not, and how they would adapt and “re-learn” when the patterns were changed.
I put out my moth lights and trap last night, our first warm night in over a week. There was a great diversity of moths, including a few species I hadn’t seen before (the joys of moving to a new place). There were also these guys, Giant Water Bugs, Lethocerus americanus. They were abundant, with at least half a dozen appearing at my sheet. I was quite surprised to discover them at the light, for two reasons. The first is that prior to this I’d only ever encountered them in the spring (for instance, this individual I got at my parents’ old house, or these ones at the last place). The second is that at both previous locations my sheet had been set up within sight of water. Last night happened to be autumn (just to clarify in case anyone had been asleep the last few months and wasn’t sure), and I’m not aware of a pond anywhere near the house, so I don’t know where they’d be coming from. Now that said, this evening I was hearing some Spring Peepers peeping from the forest not far from the house. The forest is the neighbour’s property, so I’ve never been in there. It’s entirely possible there’s a vernal pool just a short distance in, and without the frogs peeping, or the water bugs showing up at my light, I would never have known.
This unidentified jumping spider had quite a wild ride yesterday. I’m not sure whether it climbed on to my car here at home or at the grocery store, but I only noticed it as I was zipping down the highway from town at 100 km/h (60 mph). The poor spider was clinging desperately to the windshield, flattened and with legs spread. I have no idea what it was gripping, but I guess glass, like many things, is rougher at a microscopic level than it appears to our macro-scale senses. It rode for nearly 10 minutes in 100 km/h winds before I finally reached home. I expected it to lose its grip and go flying off at any point, but it never did. When I got home, it finally let go and started scurrying across the car, perhaps looking for a less exposed place to hide. It hung out on the car long enough for me to get my camera, though.
Last week I mentioned the Black-and-yellow Argiope that I had been seeing a lot of out in the meadows. There seems to have been a quick shift in the Argiope population, because I haven’t seen one of those in a few days. Now all I’m seeing are the above, Banded Argiope, Argiope trifasciata. They have similar web-building habits, though I find them slightly lower in the grass and not as often across trails. They also don’t seem to make the same bold white zig-zag down the middle. The most noticeable difference between the species, though, is that Banded Argiopes are incredibly camera shy. I have been trying for several days to get a good photo of one on a web. Never did. As soon as you approach the web, they let go and drop down into the grass. This is a survival tactic for avoiding being carried off on some large animal that might blunder through the web (or perhaps defensive against being plucked off the web by a bird or something), but it makes it really difficult to get a photo. I finally happened across this very obliging individual just sitting on some vegetation.
Earlier in the week I spotted the first Northern Walkingstick, hanging out in my garden on some Amaranth, and then a few days later, saw another – or the same? – individual on one of the screened windows. With the one that I found at our porch light back in August, I have been surprised at how many I’ve turned up this year, given how many I’d seen in the last few years.
Fall migrants continue to trickle through. One of these mornings I’m going to have to rouse myself just after dawn and put on my rubber boots and rainpants and go back through the dewy meadow to try to catch the birds when they’re active… one of these mornings. I’m usually up just early enough to catch the tail end of it before things go quiet for the day. This bird was one of the tail-enders this morning, a young-of-the-year Blue-headed Vireo that was testing out its pipes for next spring. We’re at the southern-ish edge of their breeding range here in Ontario; the species can be found, patchily, right down to Lakes Erie and Ontario, but the concentrations get very sparse that far south. Their highest densities are further north, in some areas of Algonquin Park and northern Ontario. It’s hard to say if we’d have any Blue-headeds in the large tract of land down the road, but this bird was most likely from much further north, either way. Blue-headed Vireos are one of the minority of species with a large, statistically significant population increase in the province over the last 20 years.
This week’s Peru highlight is my number two most-wanted for the trip. The Andean Cock-of-the-Rock is a cool bird with its bright orange plumage and half-circle forehead crest. I’m not sure if it’s official or not, but it’s often considered the national bird of Peru. The males all congregate together in a “lek” where they compete to gain the attention and affection of females, usually in the morning and evening hours. They’re typically more of a higher-elevation bird, found often along stream valleys in cloud forests. I don’t know if I’ll actually get a chance to see these guys; the first day of the itinerary stops at Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge for lunch, where there’s an active lek not far away, but it may not be ideal circumstances to see the birds, and I don’t know that they’ll be encountered elsewhere on the trip. But I can hope. :)
I’m going to Peru with Kolibri Expeditions as part of their blogger promotional series. Want to come? I’d love to have you along! My departure leaves November 13, 2010 and returns the 21st, well before the US Thanksgiving. You can get more information about the trip, including itinerary and, of course, cost, at this page. Don’t forget that if you’re also a blogger you get $100 off. In addition to having a great time, meeting some great bloggers, and seeing some fabulous birds, you’ll also be supporting the local communities as they work toward developing a sustainable ecotourism industry for their area. It’s a win-win!