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Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Cranefly - Not a Mosquito


We found this crane fly clinging on the screen door.  I was able to get in in a bug box, unfortunately giving it a below the left knee amputation in the process.  After 30 minutes in the refrigerator it was ready to pose for pictures.  The photos below sent to iNaturalist got us to the subgenus Platytipula but no further.  Worldwide there over a thousand species in the fly family Tipulidae so I stopped here.

Crane fly male - one set of wings and 5 1/2 legs

Crane flies and hangingflies are similar at first glance as both have extremely long legs and tend to be found hanging on plants.  They are easily separated as crane flies have only one set of wings like all the other true flies or Diptera.  Hangingflies are in the order of Mecoptera (aka scorpionflies) and have two sets of wings.  Diptera species replace their second set of wings with tiny halteres, the little appendages with knobs at the tip that you see behind the wings.  Wikipedia describes them below:

"Halteres oscillate rapidly along with the wings and operate like vibrating structure gyroscopes:[2] any rotation of the plane of oscillation causes a force on the vibrating halteres by the Coriolis effect. The insect detects this force with sensory organs called Goplus Folding 3 Wheels Golf Push Cart W/Seat Scoreboard Adjusta and chordotonal organs located at the base of the halteres[2] and uses this information to interpret and correct its position in space. Halteres provide rapid feedback to the wing-steering muscles,[3] as well as to the muscles responsible for stabilizing the head.[4]"


Female Tipula have a pointed ovipositor at the end of the abdomen that looks like a stinger.  This is used to push their eggs into the soil.  Males have a blunt swollen end segment like ours here.  Like many other flying insects, they spend most of their life as eggs or larvae, rising into the air for a few days, just long enough to mate and reproduce.

Crane flies are sometimes called mosquito hawks or daddy longlegs.  The internet has lots of links by people confusing them with giant mosquitoes or even suggesting that they eat mosquitoes (they don't).   Adults feed on nectar while their larvae live on decaying wood and vegetation.  This can include the roots of turf grass, leaving some brown patches in an otherwise "perfect lawn."  Pesticide spraying kills a lot of beneficial insects and pollinators so we would suggest just relaxing and enjoying the dainty visitors.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

iNaturalist to the Rescue


Barb found this green lacewing on the window screen and had me photograph it.  I sent it to iNaturalist and came up with the first ranked choice of a red-lipped green lacewing, Chrysoperla, rufilabris.  None of the identifying anatomical features below that they described could be seen on this view.  

"C. rufilabris are distinguished from other members of the genus found in North America by the broadly red genae, pointed apex of the fore wing, black gradate crossveins, and spinellae on the male genitalia."

I put it in a bug box and left it in the refrigerator for several hours, then photographed it close up.  It measured just 9 mm in body length.  A quick Google brush-up on insect anatomy reminded me that the red genae is the "lateral part of the head of an insect or other arthropod below the level of the eyes."  "Red-lipped......Bingo!"

Lacewings are members of the Chrysopidae family.  The larvae eat soft bodied insects and specialize on aphids, earning the nickname "aphid lions."  The adults' diet varies by species, some being predators and others consuming pollen and nectar.  I couldn't find any other details specific to my red-cheeked friend.


On a related subject, the Seek phone app in the iNaturalist family is a great tool.  It doesn't report data unless you are registered with iNaturalist so it is safe for children to use.  I just discovered the scan feature which makes identification possible without even having to take a picture.  It was able to identify 16 of the native species in our yard ranging from columbine to elderberry and prickly pear cactus.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Strange Trees

A friend of ours mentioned a "marker tree" she had seen along Red Bridge Road.  Also called thong or trail trees or trail marker trees, they refer to trees that were culturally modified intentionally by Native Americans.  The common interpretation is that they were to mark or point in a direction of a trail or other finding.  There are some who debate about how often or even if they were created by Native Americans.  On the other hand some sources identify tribes in the east and north that are said to have used trees as markers.

This particular tree measured 16" DBH (diameter at breast height).  Using a growth factor to calculate its estimated age it would be at most 80 years old.  Considering that the Osage tribe was moved out of the Ozarks in the 1830s, it couldn't be a marker tree.  Also they were said to be located in a prominent place to be seen at a distance.  This one is growing on a slope steep enough to challenge a mountain goat where I had a hard time even finding it.

Where ever you stand in the debate over the existence of marker trees, it seems unlikely that they were created in the Ozarks.  Proponents say that they marked prominent trade routes and valuable shared resources in dense forest.  The open grasslands and woods created in the Ozarks by regular burning by the Osage and earlier tribes makes the need seem unlikely.  Also, young trees flexible enough to pull down would have to grow for years to become prominent in the landscape while enduring the repeated burning of the forest floor.

A wind or icing event or a dead tree falling over a young tree can produce a "thong tree" with phototropism prompting the tree to reach skyward to find the sunlight.  In spite of this accident of nature, "Life just wants to be," and the tree struggles on to reach for the sun.  You can see a variety of trees that live on in spite of damages by nature in the album of distorted trees at Bull Mills.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Wildflower Fungi


On this year's Wildflower Walk at Bull Mills we found several interesting mushrooms which were out to celebrate the recent rain and warm spell.  The ones above I misidentified as Jelly Ears, Auricularia angiospermanum, which are an ingredient in sweet and sour soup and we put in scrambled eggs.  Mark Bower* gently corrected me.

A. angiospermanum

"This is actually Exidia crenata, the Amber Jelly Roll, can be found growing on dead hardwood twigs. It can be found year-round, but seems to prefer cool weather. The fruiting bodies are gelatinous, and have concave depressions which are separated by sharp ridges."



For 2007 GMC Sierra 3500 Classic Window Regulator Front Right TY
Jelly ear and friends
Mark says it is commonly confused with our A. angiospermanum Jelly Ear which is larger and lacks ridges on the under-surface, and usually has a “frosty” appearance on its upper surface. It is important to clean your mushrooms carefully as seen in this specimen that made it into breakfast later without the millipedes.

Another cool find was these little brown cups. As is frequently the case in nature, their life story is much more interesting when told by an expert like Mark.

"Urnula craterium, the Devil’s Urn or Black Tulip Fungus, is a homely, goblet-shaped fungus which can be found fruiting from the undersurface of hardwood branches, but only if the branch is in contact with moist soil. It is a decomposer of hardwoods, preferring oak."

Strumella canker- Joseph O'Brein

"It appears in early spring, about the same time as morels. As with many fungi, this species can reproduce asexually and sexually, with dissimilar fruiting bodies. The asexual form (anamorph) causes Strumella Canker on oaks. The sexual form is the Devil’s Urn."

 * Mark has identified 447 species of fungi on our shared land along and above Bull Creek.  He is also an award winning fungi photographer and you can see some of his work at this Flickr link.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Killdeer Week

I saw this pair of killdeer in our hay field.  I couldn't get close to them as they outran me until they eventually took flight.  Then visiting a friend, we spotted a pair of killdeer in the middle of his gravel drive.  When I got closer to film one of them, it stood its ground and warned me to go away.  As I circled the bird, it turned to face me and chew me out.  There were no eggs to be seen and I wonder if it was defending a nest site it had picked out or just plain cantankerous.  You can watch the action in this video.

Killdeer are famous for their broken wing stunt. I remember the first time I saw this dramatic act, flopping around on the road dragging its wing until it was convinced it had fooled me.  Suddenly it flew off and I would swear it had a big grin on its bill.  If you have never seen the act, there are videos on on the web including this Youtube clip.

Nest is a generous term as they leave a cluster eggs on open ground, frequently gravel like this drive, apparently assuming that no self-respecting predator would look there.  As you can imagine, this strategy was much more effective before the invention of cars and driveways.

Killdeer chick - Becky Swearingen

Now go to this blog by Becky Swearingen for another killdeer story and some great photos.  

The Precocious Killdeer has more detailed facts.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Snail Nursery

"Life just wants to be, but it doesn't want to be much."Bill Bryson
Snail nursery - Click to enlarge

Walking along the edge of Bull Creek I discovered a large snail nursery.  It was a 60 foot stretch of gravel 5 feet wide ending at the fast flowing stream.  Tiny newborn snails covered the rocks and I counted 150+ snails in each of two one foot square plots.  Assuming these were average densities, I would estimate there were around 45,000 baby snails.  You can see the bed in this video.

Chris Barnhart and Deb Finn identified these as Elimia potosiensis (EP).  These are widespread in the White River drainage and mostly limited to a four state area below.  They are in the Fast Shipping Heating Mantle 500ML family of small to medium-sized freshwater gilled snails.

Distribution - Wagner Brake ZD1303 Ceramic Disc Brake Pad Set

"According to Dillon (2000), Pleuroceridae feed on detritus or the algae growing on hard surfaces, and many seem to be able to feed on both. The family is characterized by having two sexes, male and female, but with no outward expression of gender. Reproduction is iteroparous, meaning that they may do so several times throughout their multi-year lifespans. Fertilization may occur by males releasing sperm directly into the environment, as mating behaviour has never been observed. Eggs are laid on a hard surface, for example the underside of stones, and develop into tiny snails without a larval stage."  Molluscan shells

Our EP snails were dextral or "right-handed" snails, meaning that when you hold them to look at the opening, the shell spirals off to the right.  Over 90%[1] of gastropod species have shells in which the direction of the coil is dextral (right-handed). These are gilled snails which thrive in our fast moving Ozark streams that have higher dissolved oxygen levels.

Sinistral (left-handed) pulmonate or "lunged" pond snails lack gills and many crawl to the water surface to take in air. They are widespread, abundant, and tolerant of pollution and low levels of dissolved oxygen.  We have never found them on our Bull Creek Stream Team studies but they are the predominate snails found in Wilson's Creek. http://mkohl1.net/Physidae.html

Now here is where it gets interesting.  E. potosiensis were studied in Arkansas and demonstrated phenotypic plasticity in a very short stretch of a stream from a spring.  In case you aren't familiar with that term (I wasn't), in the case of our snails it refers to the finding that shell shape and structure is different in different stream segments.  In this study the snail shells in the shallow gentler headwater reaches were thinner, less inflated and smoother, with smaller openings, possibly reducing the risk of predation.  Downstream where there was heavier flow and more turbulence the shells were more inflated, thicker and more sculpted.  Other studies have suggested these shells are less likely to be dislodged and damaged by tumbling.

Snails are the Rodney Dangerfields of the animal world, in need of a better press agent.  Even sites like Snail World have only a little information.  My favorite poem from childhood some 70+ years ago probably sums up the status of a snail.

""James gave a huffle of a snail in danger and no one heard him at all."   - The Four Friends - A.A Milne

Please read the short  poem The Four Friends.  Snails need your support.

Snails in Wikipedia  

Phenotypic Plasticity in Encyclopedia of Ecology

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Spring Zebras

Zebra ST depositing egg on a pawpaw.

Thursday Barb saw a zebra swallowtail butterfly fluttering by, ignoring the fact that spring doesn't start until tomorrow. That got us wondering how much chance it would have to fulfill its adult mission in life, to reproduce.  With no leaves in sight on the pawpaws (their only host plant) early flight seems futile. So we went to look at the pawpaw trees nearby.


The twigs on our pawpaws (Asamina triloba) are showing little brown furry flower buds swelling but no sign of the leaf buds opening.  These will soon open up as little brown flowers that are stinky.  This attracts flies and beetles which assume they are something dead but carry the pollen away.

This is were the flower gets interesting.  Most plants are either monoecious (male and female flowers on the same plant) or dioecious (each plant has only male or female flowers).  A few like the pawpaw are hermaphroditic.  I will let Gardeningknowhow explain.

"The male parts of a flower are known as the stamens and anthers. The anthers contain the flower’s pollen. The female organs of a flower are known as the pistil. This pistil has three parts – the stigma, style, and ovary. Pollinators carry pollen from the male anthers to the pistil, where it then fertilizes and grows into seeds.  Hermaphroditic plants have male and female reproductive organs within the same flower.  They are sometimes referred to as bisexual or perfect flowers."

Now the pawpaw becomes even more interesting.  The leaves and fruit contain acetogenins, including the neurotoxin annonacin which protect the plant from indiscriminate munchers but accumulate in the zebra swallowtail caterpillars and adults.  These smells dissuade most predators, similar to the milkweed and Monarch association.

Zebra swallowtail caterpillars

I suspect that Barb's zebra won't be successful, proving that the early butterfly doesn't always get the leaf.  However there are a lot more that will be airborne in the next few weeks.  You can see all the details of  zebra swallowtail reproduction in Just Born Keepsake Woven Crib Sheet