Natural events, August 2015

The remarkable thing about August was the pleasant stretch of weather late in the month, with highs not exceeding the low 80s and lows not exceeding the mid 60s. We enjoyed many lovely August dinners on the porch, amazed by the comfortable temperature and low humidity. Typically, Missouri August comes with amazing food and miserable weather, so to enjoy eating August food in pleasant weather outdoors was a delight! Precipitation moderated in August (in comparison to the soggy months preceding it), though the month managed to give us both too little and too much rain. The bulk of the month’s rain came in a 2.89” one-morning dump, with the rest of the month contributing only about three-quarters of an inch, for a grand total of 3.67”. All in all, not a bad month, given what this state is capable of serving up. We haven’t hit 100ºF all summer (and we’re hoping it stays that way).

Which of these things is not like the others? The answer is below the break (along with many more photos).

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Caterpillars vary in size, degree of hairiness, and adeptness at mimicry. But they don’t eat metal hydrants and fall to the ground without moving when prodded. Though both of the lower photos look a bit like bird droppings, the one on the left actually is. The hairs initially fooled me into thinking it was a caterpillar, but perhaps those are fungal in nature? In any case, according to the camera, caterpillars were diverse and abundant this month. Upper left: Unidentified caterpillars on elm. Upper right: Unidentified caterpillar on brambles. Middle left: Caterpillar of the Cecropia Moth, found on a significantly eaten-back blueberry; being one of the neatest-looking caterpillars in existence doesn’t give it a free pass to eat our blueberries, so we brought it into captivity and offered it maple (a suitable food, according to our favorite caterpillar book). Middle right: Caterpillars of the Milkweed Tussock Moth on Common Milkweed. Lower left: Not a caterpillar! Lower right: Caterpillar of the Giant Swallowtail.

Other caterpillar notes for August: We have seen some adult Monarchs and Monarch caterpillars, especially in our main vegetable field on the Common Milkweed, a plant that we have granted an abundance of space this year. However, the Monarch count seems far lower than last year. Black Swallowtail caterpillars have also been unusually sparse this month (& year), with only one sighting, on August 31 (& I think that’s the first for the year, as well).

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Herps of the month. We don’t get to document new reptile species for the farm very often, so we were pretty excited to find this cute & docile Western Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis proximus) climbing among wild grape vines on an unused chain-link panel. We brought it up to the house to confirm ID and take pictures before returning it where we found it. The green Gray Treefrog (Hyla sp.) on the right was hanging out, literally, on our door from kitchen to herb garden.

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And our least-favorite bird of the month, for the offense of eating an excessive quantity of apples & tomatoes, for which it was caught red-handed bellied, is the Red-Bellied Woodpecker. We were stunned by just how much a couple of these birds could eat. After we finally set up electric nets to keep out the coons, we thought we might be in the clear to get some of our apples to full ripeness. Nope, we were wrong. The fact that it scolded us when we tried to chase it away was not endearing. The only redeeming factor is that these birds only went after red fruit. They devoured red tomatoes, but left the yellow, white, and green alone. They decimated the apples, but they haven’t touched the Asian pears (knock on wood…uh, or maybe not, given the circumstances).

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This is the time of year when a walk in the woods inevitably results in a face full of spider web. Upper left: Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) seems to prefer habitat near our house to the deeper woodlands. Upper right: This species, presumably an orb-weaver, is especially common in our woods. Middle row: These crab spiders aren’t to blame for woodland webs, as they hang out on flowers and ambush their prey, instead. The one on the right was on White Snakeroot, a plant that Eric recently blogged about for Mother Earth News. Lower row of photos: A couple of different web structures.

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Leaf-mining insects produce interesting patterns in leaves as a larva works its way through a leaf, feeding along the way. We have not (yet) delved into identification of leaf miners, though we are beginning to develop an interest in them, especially thanks to Charley Eiseman’s BugTracks blog. This leaf miner, in any case, is on Indian Plantain (Arnoglossum sp.).

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Galls have been noticeable this month, especially on oaks. The one on the left had dropped to the streambed, and it felt a bit squishy, almost like a piece of fruit. Cutting it in half revealed a larval insect in the center. It bears at least a superficial resemblance to the Acorn Plum Gall. The photo on the right shows a couple of smaller galls on another oak.

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Three herbaceous vines in the legume family are exhibiting vigorous growth this year. Upper two photos: Hog Peanut (Amphicarpaea bractaeta). Lower left: Wild Bean (Strophostyles sp., probably S. helvola). Lower right: Groundnut (Apios americana). The Hog Peanut, is especially rampant, demonstrating that “Leaves of three, let it be” is not a reliable motto. However, follow that up with “eaten by goats” and it is just about right. In fact, we borrowed some goats in August and set them to work on the Hog Peanut, which they liked, and which seemed to be good for milk yield. Steyermark’s Flora of Missouri (Volume 3) points out that the Hog Peanut superficially resembles Kudzu, but that “its population density usually declines within a few seasons.” Given the stranglehold it is forming on some of our fences, we hope that’s true!

One thought on “Natural events, August 2015

  1. For your red bellies, you might try hanging suet. They and the downies have been going gangbusters on mine all summer. I only hang one suet cake at a time, but they usually demolish it within a few days. Maybe if they were hitting suet they wouldn’t go after your fruit.

    The other really interesting species I’ve seen on my suet are summer tanagers, which all bird books will tell you only eat bees. I guess mine didn’t read the books. They will sit on top of the feeder then drop over the side to awkwardly flutter while they jab at the suet. It doesn’t seem very energy efficient but they have been here daily for weeks so apparently they consider it an investment worth while. I buy a variety of suets, peanut, fruit, etc. Nobody seems to have a preference.