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Showing posts from February, 2012

Mission Complete: Skunk Cabbage

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A year ago, while I was in Costa Rica studying abroad, I heard about the mythical skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus. This magical plant was said to flower during late winter and early spring, and to even have the powers to melt snow around it and attract some of the first insect pollinators of the year.

After seeing some marvelous pictures of this legendary arum, I resolved to find this plant myself. Unfortunately, I was in Costa Rica. (Yes, I'm aware that this is probably the first time that sentence has ever been said.) By the time I returned to the United States, the flowers were gone.

But now, after an entire year, we're in the correct season and all the elements have come together to form perfect skunk cabbage weather. Today, my class schedule even worked out, resulting in my Lower Plants lab taking a trip to search for the prize.


Ladies and gentlemen: we have skunk cabbage!

As we entered an area with a natural seep to look for the cabbage, we were teased with the...."…

Insect Explosion: Parasitoid or Bird?

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When I first started to become interested in insects two summers ago, I had a lot of inspiration thanks to the Catalpa trees in my backyard. I've always loved Catalpas: their flowers bloom starting in June and are spectacularly beautiful. They also smell really great.

One of the insects that can be found on Catalpa is the Catalpa Hornworm (Ceratomia catalpae). This caterpillar in the family Sphingidae can grow quite large (~3 inches) and goes through boom and bust cycles. During the summer of 2010, it was definitely a boom year for this caterpillar, which provided me with ample specimens.


There are also ample caterpillars for parasitoids to have a field day. Braconid wasps are especially prevalent, resulting in many of the caterpillars dying as they become vessels for broods of wasps.
Here you can see a Braconid wasp crawling on the cocoons.
This was a common sight, so I got used to seeing it after a few days. But once I found one that looked dramatically different (even from the coco…

An Unfortunate Cicada

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I've been reading about cicadas and entomogenous* fungi lately, which reminded me of a picture I had from back in September when I was at the field station working on my capstone project.

*This is an awesome new word I learned today-- it means growing on or in the bodies of insects.


I found this annual cicada, still in its larval stage, before it emerged as an adult, with fungus growing from it. I was thinking that the fungus itself might have killed it, but that's tough to say for sure. The cicada could have died before the fungus came along, of course.


Still, it would be interesting if it was the fungus that killed the cicada. So many fungi associate with the roots of trees, upon which cicadas feed while they're underground. Maybe some species attack the cicadas to protect the tree. Someone should investigate that.

...but not me, currently. I'm focused on capstone for now.

Firefly Mimics - A Crafty Click Beetle

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I learned two things during my Investigative Studies Project last summer concerning mimicry:
 Fireflies get mimicked a whole lotIt's super tricky to separate some of the mimics from actual fireflies, especially when you get into the soldier beetles (family Cantharidae).A group I wasn't aware mimicked fireflies is the click beetle family, Elateridae. During my research I spotted a pretty example of one of the representatives from this family:



Unless you were to get on this click beetle's level, you would think it's a firefly. I'm quite pleased with this picture, though it could use a little more touching up later. Denticollis denticornis is this beetle's name, and it was making its way across a moss and lichen-covered log, providing a great background.
This is the only species in its genus in North America, and its mimicry of fireflies is a predator defense. I haven't found any information about whether or not the beetle itself is toxic, or if it's just get…

Winter's Zebra Assassins

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If you live in Ohio, you would probably agree that this winter has been a strange one. In the southeast, we haven't gotten much snow (much to my own chagrin). While this stops me from sledding down the available hills on campus, the mild weather at least means that you're more likely to encounter insects than you would be under two feet of snow.

A few weeks ago, on January 27th, a friend brought me a nice little surprise:


This little dude clad in zebra stripes is the assassin bug known as Pselliopus barberi. This species, like other assassins, is predaceous (just check out that beak!) and this one overwinters as an adult, explaining why it was found in January. It's not too large, just about 14 millimeters, but it's quite striking.

There are two species in this genus that you're likely to encounter often in Ohio: P. barberi and P. cinctus. P. cinctus is slightly smaller, and is a duller orange color. Before getting this one, I hadn't bothered too much with identi…

2012 Ohio Natural History Conference

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Columbus, Ohio was THE place to be this past Saturday, for one reason: the Ohio Natural History Conference. Yes, this meetup for natural history enthusiasts was indeed a blast and well worth the wait. This year's theme was citizen science, and all the presentations centered around that theme. There's never been a better time to be a naturalist, considering how easy the Internet is making it (especially if you're interested in Entomology).

This year was the 9th year for the conference, and it marked the 100th year of the Ohio Biological Survey, which sponsors the conference along with the Ohio Division of Wildlife. OBS publishes some great literature on the natural history of Ohio, especially the insects. It will be exciting to see the direction OBS goes in the next 100 years, and you can expect more great research coming from it.

Brian Armitage, former direction of the OBS, speaks about its history.
I was enthralled by every talk, it's extremely exciting to see the barrie…

Science Video Friday: Fungi Edition

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Fungi are pretty important. In fact, without fungi, forests as we know them probably wouldn't exist. Why? Because fungi form mutualistic relationships with plant roots that help the plant grow. There are a couple different ways that fungi can do this, but it has the same result: aiding plant growth and stabilizing the health of the plant.

Unfortunately, many people don't know about fungal-plant relationships and how important they are to the ecosystem, and fungi are shunned. Some mushrooms are considered pretty, but for the most part, fungi don't receive the recognition they deserve. Paul Stamets is working to correct this, and judging from this clip, he's doing an amazing job.


Caterpillar Life Choices

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I'm currently in a scientific imaging class so that I can learn how to take better insect pictures and use Photoshop. Some of the assignments are a bit bland, so I've been trying to spice them up a bit. Yesterday's assignment was to create a flow chart of....anything. With that free reign, I decided to tackle parasitoids and the tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta). After 20 minutes of a Twitter back and forth with Morgan Jackson and Crystal Ernst, I had a name for my subject: Randy. He had two paths to go down during his life--the choice was up to him.