Sunday, June 30, 2013

Dragonfly Count at Springbrook

At Saturday's Dragonfly count and program 12 of us found 14 species of dragonflies and damselflies, including this female Widow Skimmer.

Identification is complex with dragonflies as the males and females look different, and often the young adults look different than the older adults.

 The only way to positively identify many of the dragonflies is to look up close and personal at the last or 10th segment of the male's abdoman.  Each species has a distinctive structure, which is how we were able to identify this male Midland Clubtail Dragonfly.

This gets pretty technical.  I enjoy the ones that can be easily identified from a distence.
Thanks to John Arthur for leading this program. He knows dragonflies well and seems to have an affinity for them, as this White Faced Meadowhawk Dragonfly landed on his beard during the hike.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Painted Turtle Lays Eggs

 Last evening at 7 PM this female Wester Painted Turtle decided a spot 20 feet in front of the nature center's front doors was the best spot to lay her eggs.

So in front of many onlookers, photographers,  and my camera, she ignored us and patiently dug a hole as far as her legs would reach into the ground.
 Turtles dig the cavity into the ground for their eggs with their hind legs.  They alternate with the left foot and then the right foot to make the largest nest hole possible.

Her right hind leg is a blur in this picture as she flings dirt up out of the hole.

She carefully places the dirt removed in a small pile behind the hole.  It took her about 45 minutes to dig the hole. 

 She immediately began to lay eggs once she was done digging.  In this picture her second egg can be seen  emerging from her cloacal opening under her tail.
 Here is the last egg as it falls on top of her others.  She laid 14 eggs in all.  It took less than 10 minutes for all the eggs to be laid.  In this picture the out of focus areas on the left and bottom are her shell and left leg.  The picture is looking a few inches down into the hole.  the top egg was about 3 inches below the top of the ground.

After finishing egg laying the female turtle immediately filled the hole in with dirt using her hind legs again.  In between each foot full of dirt she would press her bottom shell onto the fresh dirt to pack it down.  In 20 minutes she completed moving all the dirt and the nest site was as smooth as the dirt near by.
 Later in the evening I dug down to photograph the eggs.  Here is what they look like with all the dirt spritzed off.

It will take 60 to 90 days for the eggs to hatch.  The female will not return, but instead let the sun incubate the eggs.
With a bit of backlight, a yolk can be seen in the eggs.  Maybe there will be a chance to see the eggs hatch in a few months.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Monarch Caterpillar Changes to Chrysalis

 Here is the last picture I posted yesterday just after the caterpillar let go with its legs to begin hanging in the "J" position. 

The next picture shows how much change has happenned in 18 hours.
 Shortly before the transformation to chrysalis is about to begin the antennae become very limp, and the area where the caterpillar is attached to the silk button looses its form.

There is a lot of small rippeling movement here through the body as the change begins inside the skin.

Within an hour of the antennae going limp the caterpillar will straighten down out of the "J" position.
 Here the caterpillar has straightened down and a dark line is forming inside the skin where the skin's spiricles (breathing holes) are separating from the new Chrysalis's spiricles inside.

Within seconds of these two things happenning the skin will begin to split as can be seen in the next image.

For some reason the post will not let me write alongside the next picture, but as the skin begins to split the new chrysalis expands pushing the skin up the body.

As the new chrysalis emerges the skin is forced higher up toward the button that is holding everything.

The new chrysalis is wiggling back and forth quite a bit at this time
Here the skin is nearly off, but a delicate maneuver must happen first.  The new chrysalis has a terminal black end that must move from under the skin and probe for the silk button and attach itself before the new chryalis releases its hold on the old skin, which is the only thing that keeps it from falling here.

You can see the black probe (my name for this, I'm sure there is a more proper name) has just emerged from under the skin here.  It is at the top right of the new chrysalis.

I cropped and enlarged this portion of the image below.

Here you can see the probe easier, and the delicate hold that the old skin still has on the silk button.

Here the probe has pushed itself onto the silk button.  the new chrysalis wiggles in circles here to get the probe attached securely.

The probe is attached now, and the chrysalis continues to wiggle and releases its hold to the old skin, which causes the old skin to fall off, and makes a more secure connection for the probe.
Here the skin has fallen and the new chrysalis is completely independant.

This whole process took only about 2 minutes but must take a lot of energy for the chrysalis.  The spiracle breathing holes, the little horizontal slits, one on each segment of the abdoman, were opening and closing repeatedly while I was taking these pictures. Heavy breathing!

It is amazing to see how the future butterfly wings and antennae are already formed and can be seen so clearly. 

This on what was a walking eating caterpillar 24 hours earlier

The new chrysalis begins to get shorter and fatter.  It needs to work quickly before its new skin begins to harden.  So it wiggles and moves the wings toward the silk button.

More wiggling, but the definition of the wings and antennae is already beginning to flatten out after only 15 minutes.

Here is the chrysalis after only one hour.  It has stopped wiggling now, and the skin is taking on a hard shell like appearance.

Another post in a few days will show how the chrysalis changes with time.  But since I just took these pictures, we will all have to wait to see how it looks.

Still, it already is a beautiful emerald jewel like sculpture.  But it beathes.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Monarch Caterpillar Prepares to Become Chrysalis

 To become an adult butterfly the Monarch caterpillar must go through complete metamorphosis.  Which means it needs to go through a pupal stage to emerge as a butterfly. 

This Monarch caterpillar is preparing to become a chrysalis, its pupal stage.  First it creates a silk "button" to securely attach itself to as it goes through the very inactive chrysalis period.
 It makes the "button" with the silk threads that come from its mouth.  This process takes about an hour, as it weaves threads all around the plant stem to secure the "button" in place.
 Once finished the caterpillar turns its body around and attaches the last pair of pro-legs to the button.  It seems to be a bit like velcro.
Here the little hairs on the pro-legs can be seen.  The caterpillar wiggles this around until it is satisfied that it is attached properly.

Now the caterpillar quiets down for a few minutes, and then slowly begins to let all its true and false or pro legs loose from the plant stem.
 Here you can see that the caterpillar is only holding on with one pair of its pro-legs. 

It very slowly lets its body down and then lets loose with this last leg hold.
Now the caterpillar is in what is called the "J" form or position. 

It will stay in this position for about 18 hours while its internal body makes significant changes. 

This is its last act as a caterpillar.  At the end of the 18 hours, its skin will split and a beautiful chrysalis will be revealed.

The next post will show that process.

Monarch Caterpillar Growth

 This is the picture I posted about two weeks ago of the Monarch butterfly caterpillar just after it had hatched eating its egg.

Here the caterpillar is only 3mm long, but it started eating right away.  At 48 hrs old it had grown to 6mm long.

It does not have the bright colors yet to warn predators that it will taste terrible as it starts to eat the milkweed plants that are its food.
 Here the caterpillar is 10 days old and 25mm long. It had just shed its skin and was ready for a growth spurt.  Notice how big the head is compared to its body size. The head does not grow in between skin sheds, but the rest of the body does.
 This picture was 48 hours after the one above and it is now 45mm long.  It ate a lot in two days and became quite fat. Notice how much smaller the head is now than the body.
At this point it is full grown as a caterpillar, and starts wandering for a safe place to change into a chrysalis.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Beautiful Bloodroot Berries

Forgive the title, I gave in to the alliteration opportunity.  They really are not berries but seeds, as the pictures will show. 

 After the long winter we had here in Minnesota this year I enjoyed the Bloodroot when it bloomed, and I posted this picture on May 7th shortly after the last snowfall.

The Bloodroot flowers have now turned to seed pods, and the seed pods have started to open to show their fascinating inside.
 This picture shows the seed pod with backlighting, so the beries on their seedhead inside show through.

The seed pod here is a little less than two inches long, and is a yellowish-green color.

The pod splits along its long axis and opens to show the seeds inside, as can be seen below.
 Here are the seeds exposed with their "connections"  to the main seed stem.

It is the "connections" that caught my attention.  When I first saw them through the camera I thought they were little parasites or slugs or maggots of some kind. 

I watched closely for movement and then noticed that each seed has just one connection. and that it is a part of the plant.

But looking at the close up picture below shows that these do not look like any plant tissue I have seen before.
 This is the actual plant seed pod.  I didn't moisten it, spray it, open it, or change it in any way. 

To me each seed looks like a little apple, and the connection looks like a moist slug about to have supper.

The pod will curl open as it dries, and the "slug" connection will turn black, as the picture below shows.  the seed pod below was on another plant about a foot away from the one above.

The seeds dropped off with only a little bump, and each may become a new Bloodroot plant with flowers early next spring. 

Blue Wildflowers at Springbrook Now

 New wildflowers are blooming almost everyday at Springbrook.  Now seems to be the time for blue.

These Spiderwort flowers were blooming in the prairies where I took these photos yesterday.

The plants seem to be in the most difficult to grow places, one plant per location out in the open.

But they are great for the pollinators, and the bees really like them, for pollen and nector.
 The Harebells grow in bunches on the edges between the prairies and woodlands.  They are just starting to bloom, as many unopened blossoms can be seen.

They look inviting to pollinators, but while I was taking these photos nothing landed on them. Butterflies flew by to land on what must have seemed more productive flowers near by.

 These flowers withstand wind and storms out in the open, but they always seem delicate and fragile when I see them up close.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Red Headed Woodpeckers

 Red Headed Woodpeckers are not found at Springbrook but they are common in some areas of the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve on the north edge of the metro area.  Scientists and volunteers are collecting data on these attractive woodpeckers.  I took these pictures there today while documenting nesting activity.
 The males and females look alike.  Some of the birds are being banded using colored leg bands to learn about nesting habits. 

These two pictures show two different birds, the top one with a black and a blue band on its left leg, the other with a blue and a silver band on its left leg.
 The babies are hatching now in the woodpecker nests, and the adults can be seen bringing insect food to the young.

In a few weeks the young will be grown and leave the nest and the work of these hardworking parents will be over for the summer.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Early Summer Wildflowers at Springbrook

The Prairie Smoke has already finished blooming and is forming its signature seed plumes in Springbrook Nature Center's prairies where I took these pictures today. 

As the flower turns to seed it points itself to the sky for the wind to blow the seeds as far as possible.
 Each plume strand has one seed on the end by the flower head.  When many of these seed heads are raised together across the prairie it looks like smoke as the wind blows, hence the name.
 Right next to the Prairie Smoke the bright yellow Puccoon is starting to bloom with its large clumps of flowers.
The orange yellow  of  this flower is very bright and can be seen all across the prairie. 
 The tiny Cinquefoil flower is hiding near the Puccoon but is short and hard the see down in the grasses.  It only has one flower per plant and so requires some searching to find.

Five petals are on this flower as the name suggests and one more than the Puccoon.
 In the shade of the woods and along the borders of the prairie the Wild Geranium is blooming now, trying to catch up from its late start because of the cold spring we have had.
Near by the Wild Lily of The Valley is also blooming on the forest floor.  Its small mass of tiny white flowers in the shadows of the forest is a sure sign that summer is starting.
 Also on the forest floor and on the edges of woods is the bane of gardeners everywhere, Creeping Charlie!  But Springbrook does not mind this pleasant minty smelling plant.
 And last, the Dandelion, a long ago escapee from European settlers, is in its final stages of blooming.  This little flower is a boon to all the pollinators at Springbrook looking for pollen and nectar

And the seed heads are a geometric wonder and work of art waiting for a breeze or a breath to start the individual seeds on their journey through the air.