Tuesday, April 15, 2014

habitat ~ 04/15/14 ~ Pinnacles National Park - west

 Pinnacles National Park - west entrance

Are you tired of Pinnacles, yet?  I'm not.  The flowers are really starting to get their groove on, particularly the tufted poppies compared to 1 week before.  I met up with Paul Johnson and his kids this visit.  He showed me moths, and I showed him my butterfly highway (pics 1 & 2), which I'm considering extending down another trail (pics 3 & 4).  This is nothing official; it's for my own amusement to help me learn the local butterflies.  The lesson I took away from our tips and tricks is that I haven't been looking for lepidopteran host plants, which are often quite small with the tiniest flowers.  There's plenty of detail up close, but it's only been in the last year or so that I've started to need reading glasses.  Ugh, I'm still adjusting to this new visual experience and getting older business.

The thing for me about Pinnacles is that it's different enough from home that I really notice the changes between visits.  I'll take any spring green I can get this drought year, and it's a very pleasant low-stress and low-traffic drive to get there.  Given Paul's office is on the east side (here and here) and I prefer the west side, we don't always see the same things or at the same time.  He told me that most visitors to the east would have no clue so many wildflowers are blooming right now on the west.  Interesting.  I'm curious to see how things progress. 

white-lined sphinx ~ 04/15/14 ~ Pinnacles


Well, I won't win any photography awards for these photos, but it's good enough to show how impressively long its proboscis is and for an ID.  I've been casually calling these hummingbird moths.  Problem is no one knows what I'm talking about.  In my defense, I spotted what I believe was a Hyles lineata during a break in the rain at SFB Morse Botanical Reserve on February 28, which happened to be around the time when I also started seeing rufous hummingbirds on migration.  On an overcast day, the overall coloring for both the hefty moth and the tan bird are remarkably similar, and the name stuck in my head.  I have Paul to thank for correcting me when we saw another white-lined sphinx along the butterfly highway

Thanks to the blurring of memory through time, I had forgotten all about the clearwings (hey, if you don't use it, you lose it).  Back when I lived in OH, I was familiar with the hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe), which can have the more traditional green and red coloring of hummingbirds.  They were popular subjects of insect question calls to the museum and were frequently described as hovering like a hummingbird with a lobster tail.  Pinnacles has a different clearwing, the bumble bee moth (Hemaris thetis), formerly classified under the eastern snowberry clearwing sphinx (Hemaris diffinis).  I plan on keeping my eye out for them, because day-flying sphinx moths are fun to watch.

Greya moth ~ 04/15/14 ~ Pinnacles


Paul showed me this tiny moth nectaring on a woodland star.  In the sunlight, it has a lovely pearly sheen.  He said they can also be found with their butts stuck in there.  Some Greya spp. are known to lay eggs in the calyx, which also serves as an effective means of pollination for the flower.  Reportedly, the larvae feed on the developing seed, although later instars and other Greya spp. can also mine leaves. The Thompson Lab at UC Santa Cruz has been looking into the coevolutionary relationship between Greya moths and their host plants across western North America, including at Pinnacles.  The two reported spp. for Pinnacles are G. obscura (more info) and G. politella (more info).  Paul and I have been going back and forth over the ID of this particular individual.  My vote is G. obscura, but if questioned enough, I'll double-check ad nauseam.  I've asked opinions from others, and everyone has their own preferred way at arriving at an ID possibility:  wing pattern and size, behavior on specific host or nectar sources, dissection of genitalia, DNA analysis.

red-winged wave ~ 04/15/14 ~ Pinnacles

Paul had just finished telling me about another day-flying moth that looks like an x-large Annaphila, when one kindly obliged and landed in front of us.  It was roughly the size between crescents and coppers, which also look superficially similar.  The Annaphila I've seen recently are at least half the size of this.

ring-necked snake ~ 04/15/14 ~ Pinnacles

Paul is amazingly gentle when he catches herps.  I've never seen anything like it.  He'll just stop on the trail when he hears something rustling, look over, and then quietly pounce in one fell swoop with flat hands.  It looked like a Tai Chi movement.  He also got a rather large alligator lizard this way and showed us the stripes running down the middle of the belly scales and the light colored eyes.

The coolest thing about this snake is its odor.  No joke.  Right after Paul caught it, his fearless kids, who were downwind, made the funniest eww-gross faces.  As I moved in to take a closer look, I thought to myself, "Dang, someone has some really bad body odor."  Haha, it was the snake!  It smelled exactly like toe jam, or belly button jam.  Take your pick.  Paul said ring-necked and a couple other snakes release scent from their vents when stressed.  Wild.  I almost couldn't stop smelling my fingers after releasing this snake, as if it were my own version of the Flehmen response.  So weird.

I've commented on Nature of a Man and Dipper Ranch about how their area's ssp., the Pacific ring-necked snake (D. punctatus amabilis), looks tiny compared to what I remember of the dead one I found down at Rocky Creek.  I swear the dead one was as thick as my finger, not tiny enough to fit in 2 drinking straws, as Ken cleverly described.  But, lookie here, this is indeed very tiny and supposedly the same ssp. as Rocky Creek.  It could be a young one?  Or maybe I have a tendency to remember things as being larger than they actually were?  My recent discovery of the full-on macro, macro, mwahahaha mode may be messing with my sense of size, too, as is evidenced by this snake's pretty iridescence I uploaded to Flickr.  The ring-necked snake did not like my small point-and-shoot.  Every time I pressed the noiseless button, it would shirk its head away like it could see the blink of the camera eye.  Fascinating.  I really like holding snakes, but I also worry I could inadvertently harm the wild ones.