Friday, September 26, 2014

European mantis ~ 09/26/14 ~ Pinnacles

I was pleased as Punch to find this mantid.  Usually, if I find a butterfly being eaten, it's more likely to be a crab spider chowing down.  Interesting to note, I rarely find mantids these days, even though they're my favorite insect (eh-hem, not Lepidoptera) as evidenced by my 2nd grade show and tell story.  It's funny, after all these years, I'm essentially doing show and tell with my blog.  Thanks to researching links for this post, I discovered that the numerous mantids I found as a child around the family farm in the Central Valley were Mediterranean mantis (Iris oratoria), another non-native.  I'll admit, it would be awesome to find a native California mantid (Stagmomantis californica) in this very remote spot (read: far away from any wannabe garden do-gooders).  Do you think there would be more native mantids around had we not inadvertently introduced exotic spp. and now purposely sell and distribute them for pest control?  They do eat each other, after all.  Nom nom nom.

European mantis details: 65mm long with white spot bordered by black on inside front coxa

Mantis religiosa in praying position

Thursday, September 18, 2014

hooded owlet ~ 09/18/14 ~ at home

Cucullia sp. (Hodges 10180-10214)

I have to say, Andy is incredibly accommodating to my insect-rearing whims.  Twenty years ago, my ex threw a hissy fit after I mentioned I wanted to bring home a couple silk moth caterpillars from class.  I never did.  I should have known right then that it wasn't going to work out.  Ha!  Anyways, Andy got home before I did and even though he was pressed for time to get to an evening meeting, he discovered Charlotte went on her walkabout and he went searching for her around the living room.  Oh my goodness.  He's seen me make these containers enough times that once he found Charlotte tucked under a cotton rug, he knew what to do.  Admittedly, he used an old gym sock instead of nylon (I changed it out before this pic), but he got the gist.  He said she held still for about 3 minutes and then in 30 seconds she was completely under.  That was way quicker than George's 10-15 minutes.  Plus, Andy added a little blue tab to show me exactly where Charlotte had dug herself in.  Good man.  In a few days, I may gently dig up George (on the left) just to document his turd shape with photos, and then return him to the soil.  I'll be setting these containers with papae outside for the winter so they'll develop naturally without the artificial influence of indoor warmth.  I just have to make sure to check on them come spring.  Sometimes I forget I even have them.  Oops.

ps 01/18/16 - Last year I dug up George and inadvertently tossed him over the balcony believing he was a compost chunk.  It wasn't until Charlotte emerged as an adult that I realized what I had done.  George and Charlotte were not smooth, turd-shaped pupae, as I had assumed they'd be.  Charlotte was a fuzzy, pill-shaped object.  As for George, I hope he ended up well.  I have pictures of the adult Charlotte and cannot determine the exact Cucullia sp.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

hooded owlet ~ 09/16/14 ~ at home

That's George above.  I introduced him in a post from 2 days ago.  I mentioned he was mobile. Very mobile.  I provided him and his cohort Charlotte rather tall flax-leaved horseweed (Erigeron bonariensis) stalks (the same kind I brought them home on), because I was hoping to avoid the daily chore of obtaining smaller, quick-to-wilt clippings from down the street.  This is all to say, I did not have them in a container.  I simply stuck the trimmed stalks in a heavy-bottomed vase with water and a cotton topper to prevent accidental drowning.  Yep, the larvae were loose and fancy free at home, in my home.

And, George made a run for it today.  Twice.  Argh!  At first, I thought he was just searching for fresher food.  He somehow managed to get off the table and onto the floor, but that was about as far as he got.  The second time he disappeared, with a plethora of just-the-right-sized leaves to munch on, it dawned on me he must be looking for a cozy place to pupate.  It took me an hour of carefully searching every nook and cranny (man, I have some serious dust bunnies behind the furniture) until I finally found him nestled in a silty groove of our sliding glass door rail.  Phew!  I worried that if he had found a way to get into my houseplant containers, he'd be lost for good.  Plus, I had vivid images of settling in on the couch to discover something smooshy stuck to my bottom.  Yuck.  Good thing I found George.

If I hadn't dug up the large yellow underwing pupa in my compost a few years back, I don't think I would have known to simply provide a little loose dirt.  I quickly cleaned out a couple containers (another for Charlotte) and dumped in a couple inches of slightly moist compost.  I inserted a crawling stick for later and then set George down on top of the dirt.  After a few minutes of playing dead from the traumatic handling, he started wiggling himself in short spurts and then pauses, head first into the soil.  Shown above was about halfway through.  Within 10-15 minutes, he had dug himself completely under.  I was kinda surprised at how quick he was, because I had never witnessed how this happens before.

While the colors are a bit washed out in my photo, George had already started changing colors, loosing the bright yellow center dorsal stripe and gaining a reddish-brown tailend that looks a lot like a sclerotized head.  Doesn't he look a bit like a millipede here?  Very cool.

Monday, September 15, 2014

humpback whale ~ 09/15/14 ~ Pacific Grove Shoreline Park

We've had an extraordinary showing of humpback whales in the Monterey Bay recently, and today was the best so far!  The Monterey Bay Whale Watch states 70 humpbacks were spotted in the a.m., with 79 midday, and 84 (a heck of a lot!) on a bonus evening tour (as is shown here with that whale watching boat that got way too close).  Most of the road (Oceanview to Sunset) along PG's Shoreline Park was unusually crowded with landlubbers and several seriously ginormous camera lenses that likely cost more than my car, all pointing towards the water.  It was a great show.  Without binoculars, we could easily spot 4 very active areas (lots of blows) that didn't seem to move much.  Usually, the activity drifts or disappears after a few minutes.  This apparently lasted for hours.  Very cool.

Kinda crazy, and just goes to show how ignorant I can be sometimes, but humpback whales are still listed as federally endangered.  Ya.  No kidding.  That surprised me.  They were delisted from IUCN's Vulnerable status to Least Concern in 2008.

Here are extra humpback whale links: SIMoN Special Status Species, Marine Species Identification Portal, Marine Bio, Society for Marine Mammalogy, and Wild Whales (out of British Columbia).

I should mention that there were also 200 long-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus capensis), with 1500 seen 2 days ago, September 13, 2014.  Amazing.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

hooded owlet ~ 09/14/14 ~ at home

hooded owlet moth caterpillar prolegs (+ aphids)
Cucullia sp.

Yesterday, we walked down Oceanview above the Rec Trail with hopes to spot and cheer on my cousin Bob while he ran the last leg of the PG Triathlon.  We found Bob in the race... and a couple brightly-colored caterpillars on the same tall stalk of roadside weed.

Cats were fresh on my mind, because I had just received an e-mail from Gordon Pratt explaining his techniques for raising tiny blue butterflies and essentially encouraging me to do the same.  Eh, I make for a rather lazy lepidopterist and generally only raise whatever I can easily find (read: large enough to spot from 5 ft. away!) and if I'm in the mood.  It's been a while since I've reared anything, the last ones being Genista broom moths as a pest management favor for J.  I've had moderate luck with larger leps in our relatively cool coastal climate (e.g., Lophocampa success and unidentified woollybear failure), but I haven't reared anything as small as blues (except for the accidental poop-shooting orange tortrix relative).  So, while I figure out the logistics for raising tiny cats (and whether I have the patience for such endeavors), I'm dusting off my rearing containers for a bit of practice with yet another larger caterpillar.

À la Gary Larson, here are the newest additions to our family (note: he/she designations are purely random)...

Those are her gorgeous black prolegs in the first picture above.  She was voracious and slightly smaller than her companion.

Slightly larger, less hungry, and definitely more mobile.  Go, George, go!  I quickly stuffed a cotton ball into the vase, so roaming George wouldn't drown.

I didn't measure either one (remember, lazy), but they were maybe 2 inches long.  They seemed to prefer medium-sized leaves off stems that could support their hefty stature.  Within a day, the single stalk I found them on was stripped bare, except for side supporting stems and wispy flower-bud tips, whereupon I ran down the street and collected 2 more stalks for food.  Oy!  I inadvertently brought home lots of other insects from the clippings (aphids, ants, an inchworm, and a syrphid fly larva).

Until I see their adult form, I can't really say which Cucullia sp. these are.  My ID search started with googling images of "zebra striped caterpillar".  No kidding.  Yep, super-scientific.  Not!  But, it works.  That took me to the zebra caterpillar (Melanchra picta), which gave me Hodges number 10293 and a decent starting point.  Btw, Moth Photographer's Group has a excellent series of caterpillar plates for North America.

Cucullia speyeri (Hodges 10190) looks like a superficial match, but Robert W. Poole indicates C. speyeri is not found anywhere near here.  I think he's the same fellow who wrote a Noctuid catalog, so he would know (but I'm not positive).  There are certainly enough look-alikes, here (various), here (thin yellow stripe on side w/ white prolegs and white bindi), here (Hodges 10191), and here (wide yellow stripe on side w/ facial freckles and white bindi, not laetifica), so it's hard to say if this one from San Diego on CalPhotos is correct.  The Cucullia adults are not much easier to tell apart.


It's because of the reported native host plant for C. speyeri, horseweed (Erigeron canadensis, aka Conyza canadensis), that I was able to track down the ID of this non-native < 4 ft. tall relative.  I checked the few flowers in bloom, and they definitely look like bonariensis, not canadensis, to me.  I'll try to take pictures of this plant in situ, as the one I have here was otherwise stripped of its leaves and didn't look like it normally would.  More to come...

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

acmon blue on naked buckwheat ~ 09/10/14 ~ Podere di Farfalla

mating acmon blue (male top, browner female bottom) on naked buckwheat
mating Icaricia acmon (aka Plebejus acmon) on Eriogonum nudum var. auriculatum

I mentioned in a previous mating acmon post on seacliff buckwheat from mid-July about how host plant associations cannot be assumed.  I'm trying to do a better job at documenting the butterfly, the plant, and the activity.  Here I found them on another type of buckwheat (one that was not evident to me back in July).  I was able to get a series of mating photos that made for a surprisingly graphic gif.  Unfortunately, after succumbing to a fit of giggles, I decided other people may not appreciate my crass animal p0rn humor (or it might get stolen and put on a site I would be embarrassed to show my grandmother, if you know what I mean).  And so, it's not included on Nature ID.  However, it was eye-opening to see how butterfly sexy parts actually fit together.  I never took such a close look before.

acmon blue laying egg on naked buckwheat
Icaricia acmon laying egg on Eriogonum nudum var. auriculatum

This is the true money shot for me.  Laying an egg on an identified host plant.  Although, as I witnessed this spring, females sometimes get their host plants mixed up.  No kidding.  It's apparently how insects regularly adapt to using introduced plants.  It's evolution in action.  At the time, I was encouraged to find the egg of my unusual sighting.  Ha!  I tried, I really did.  It's very much like looking for a needle in a haystack.  Miniaturized.  What's not always obvious from photos is exactly how small all of this is.  I seriously doubt I'll be able to get a clear picture of something as tiny as an acmon egg out in the wild, on a cliff, in bright sun, and the ever-present wind.  With my relatively recent need for reading glasses, I couldn't even see what the egg here looked like after the female did her quick drop off.  I'm starting to view television nature shows in an entirely different light now and not in a good way.  Instead of oohing and awing over nature, I'm wondering how the heck they managed to film whatever it is that they did.  Seriously.  Eh, I like my easy crappy photos.  So, on to the plant...


While I already suspected which buckwheat this was, I used the plant list for Podere di Farfalla to narrow down the possibilities of buckwheats, from 256 spp./var. found in all of CA to just 6, plus 4 more from nearby Garland Ranch.  I looked at all the possibilities, and more, just to make sure it wasn't something I hadn't heard of before.

oblong leaves along lower part of stem, wavy margin, spider webby on top, 
and solidly fuzzy below
(my descriptive words, nothing to do with plant keys)

The official CNPS list for Garland Ranch shows another of the 14 var. of naked buckwheat (geez, there's a lot), sometimes called hairy flowered buckwheat or Fremont's wild buckwheat (E. nudum var. pubiflorum).  I took a close look at the few available photos online, and I think the leaves here look more like auriculatum than pubiflorum.  Leaf shape more determinate over level of fuzz on top?  It's a close call, and I could be wrong.  If anyone knows better, please tell me!

a step-back view 
(See?  Crappy.  Bright butterfly sun and waving plants in the wind do not mix.)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Mormon metalmark ~ 09/04/14 ~ Pinnacles


Spotting a metalmark in flight out of the corner of my eye really gives the impression of a small grey butterfly, and I wondered at first if it was a blue or a copper.  However, the bright white spots are glaringly obvious once I can get a good line of sight on them.  I don't think there's anything else that looks remotely like them here.  They'll zip around the same area for a minute or two, briefly landing at different spots, before completely disappearing.  I even saw several pairs swirling in what seemed to be territorial chases, with one always quickly exiting.  I found one significantly larger metalmark, and based on published information, I'm assuming it was a female.  And therefore, I'm assuming the above smaller version is a male.  I could be wrong.

I'm thrilled to have gotten a halfway decent picture of this zippy little butterfly.  It's gorgeous (and surprisingly well-camouflaged - see below)!  I believe I saw my first metalmark two weeks ago on August 19, but I missed getting a better look as an off-duty ranger and his wife caught up with me on the trail and started a conversation.  I do much better tracking butterflies if I'm alone and without other trail travelers.  I have to laugh, because I recently overheard another hiker comment about how grouchy I was to her companion after they had passed me.  Sound really carries in the canyons.  Oh dear.

I found several Mormon metalmarks this day around separate CA buckwheat patches.  However, nude buckwheat (Eriogonum nudum) is the reported host plant for this region, so I'm not sure what it's doing on dried CA buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) flower stalks.  Certainly the nectar has all dried up.  There are a couple other buckwheats just starting to show buds in other locations, but I haven't ID'd them yet.  As a note for me later, I'm still not sure of the difference between the two reported CA buckwheat vars. in the area, polifolium or foliolosum.  I'm checking into it...

Find the Mormon metalmark among the CA buckwheat.

ps 09/10/14 - I've changed the ID above to foliolosum, even though I believe the hairier and grayer polifolium is also found in the area.