Silvery Checkerspot

The Silvery Checkerspot is a fairly common butterfly at Chert Hollow Farm. This one was visiting the clover in the aisles of a vegetable growing area:bio_silvery_checkerspot

The Butterflies and Moths of North America website has more information on this species.

Wavy-Lined Emerald

This moth was resting on the house one morning in September 2013:bio_Synchlora_aerata

The Butterflies and Moths of North America website has more information on this species.

Eastern Comma

Eastern Commas are relatively common at Chert Hollow Farm; this one found its way into the greenhouse, where I photographed it one morning in late May 2014:

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American Lady

I found this caterpillar on May 27, 2014 on the ground not far from the chicken shed, brought it back to the house, looked it up in Caterpillars of Eastern North America, and identified it as a American Lady. It reportedly eats Pussytoes, so I fed it some; not surprisingly, there is a sizable stand of these near the location I found the caterpillar. The caterpillar formed its chrysalis after a relatively brief stay in captivity.bio_American_Lady_caterpillar

The adult emerged on June 5: bio_American_Lady_adult

It flew away before I was able to get a photo with its wings open.

Beautiful Wood-Nymph (aka Bird Dropping Moth)

I photographed this one day while picking okra. I had grabbed the camera to photograph a Spring Peeper that was hanging out on an okra leaf, and so I was on the lookout for other interesting critters, as well. When I saw this, my first impression was, “Hey, it is a bird dropping.” But it seemed too symmetrical, so I took a closer look, wondering if it was one of the caterpillars that mimics bird droppings, and to my surprise, it flew. After it settled down, I snapped this photo.

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Gold Moth

We’ve often found Gold Moth caterpillars in late summer/early fall on Crownbeard plants in front of the house. bio_gold_moth_on_crown-beard

Cross-Striped Cabbage Worm

bio_cross-striped_cabbage_wormThe Cross-Striped Cabbage Worm is a pest of brassicas, especially cabbage, broccoli, and brussels sprouts. We do see season-to-season and year-to-year variations in the total population size, as well as the population ratio between these and other cabbage worms (such as the Imported Cabbageworm). More often than not, the Cross-Striped Cabbage Worms are the most prolific here.

These caterpillars can quickly defoliate brassica plants, such as the Brussels Sprout plant shown below.

We use several strategies to try to keep damage within acceptable levels. We’ve had some success using shade cloth on hoops over fall cabbage beds to exclude adult moths and prevent them from laying eggs on the plants. Trap crops of collard plants, which are a favored food, can sometimes help, if we keep on top of controlling the populations on the collards plants. bio_cross-striped_damage_br_sproutsWhen preventative methods fail, we’ll resort to “digital control”, that is, using our fingers (digits) to squish the caterpillars. Repeated periodically with attention to life cycle timing, this can be a relatively effective method (though one that is unpopular among workers).

Though it is allowed for organic production, we have never resorted to spraying Bt (a bacterium that kills cabbage worms). We are even less likely to do so since discovering in 2013 that we also have a parasitoid wasp of the genus Cotesia that eats out the innards of some of the cabbage worm species. As usual, any pesticide, no matter how benign and targeted, has unintended ecosystem consequences, and we prefer methods that keep the beneficials (such as parasitoid wasps) working for us.

American Dog Tick

The adult American Dog Tick is one of the larger tick species at Chert Hollow Farm. Most of the time, we feel these crawling across the skin and pluck them off before they attach, because their size gives away their location. Even so, an occasional embedded tick happens. This is cause for concern, as ticks can carry a variety of disease-causing pathogens.

Populations vary greatly from year to year. Tick populations (in general) were very high in spring of 2013, when this photo was taken.

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Black Widow Spider

Black Widow females have a very distinctive look: a black, shiny body with bold red spots. The web appears tangled & unstructured.

The female Black Widow in the photo was hanging out on the inside of an infrequently used rusty bucket that had been turned upside down to prevent it from collecting water that would provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Instead, we apparently provided good habitat for a venomous spider.

The upperside has some red spotting:

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Ventral view with the classic red hourglass:

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The males look very different than the females (and are also smaller):

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2013 seems to have been a banner year for Black Widows here. Previously, we saw one maybe every year or two, but in 2013 we observed numerous specimens. We pretty quickly learned that chaotic-looking webs were a warning sign that one might be around. The chaotic web (see left part of the photo below) was what drew my attention to this egg sack on a ladder rung. There was a female behind the egg sack (out of view in this photo). The ladder had recently been brought into our bedroom, but it didn’t stay there long! Photo was taken outdoors.

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Monarch Butterfly

The Monarch is a showy, migratory butterfly that is dependent on milkweed as a larval food source. Unfortunately, populations are in serious decline. We saw fewer adult Monarchs in 2013 than any previous year.bio_monarch_butterfly

Monarch reproduction relies on milkweed, which, as its name implies, is a bit of a weed. However, we tolerate a moderate amount of it growing in our vegetable field because it has showy flowers, attracts adult butterflies, and is a host to Monarch caterpillars (below). Its deep roots plus our no-till methods together mean that milkweed comes back year after year in our fields.bio_monarch_caterpillar

After their larval life stage, Monarchs form a chrysalis, though not necessarily on the milkweed plant itself. One larvae traveled to a nearby Amish Salad tomato plant to pupate. (Clearly, Monarch reproduction is compatible with responsible agriculture.) An observant worker noticed this,  and we brought it indoors to observe. No adult emerged from this particular chrysalis, and we suspect that the chrysalis was parasitized.bio_monarch_chrysalis