Monday, December 22, 2014

The host with the most, part one

The bright, multicolored flowers of lantanas attract many insects to feed on the nectar they dispense.

A gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) visiting lantana flowers.
However, a number of other insects specialize on extracting nutrients from lantanas in other, more destructive ways.  Recently, I observed many lantana leaves that had been hollowed out, particularly along and around the veins.

A mined lantana leaf.
Although I did not see any of the leaf miners themselves, the pattern of damage was characteristic of the herringbone leaf-mining fly.

More lantana leaves mined by the larvae of the herringbone leaf-mining fly (Ophiomyia camarae)
Meanwhile, other lantanas were suffering from an even stranger affliction -- they had thick growths of miniature stems and leaves where they should have had flowers and fruits.

Lantana flower gall mites (Aceria lantanae) made this plant produce tiny stems and leaves in place of flowers.
In this case, bud mites were the culprits.  The mites had manipulated the plants into switching from producing flowers to growing more vegetative tissue, which had developed into galls enclosing the mites.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Browner than a berry

The glossy privets in the park are now drooping with large clusters of dark berries.  Curious whether anything was feeding on the berries, I inspected several bunches.  Although I did not find any sign that the berries were being consumed, I did discover one animal that had found another use for the berries: as a shelter.

A spider wedged in amongst a bunch of glossy privet (Ligustrum lucidum) berries.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Bad hair

Out for a walk after a storm, I did not find that any more dangerous trees had fallen.  I did, however, come across a fallen tree of the regular variety and something dangerous that seemed to have fallen out of a tree.

A late instar puss caterpillar (Megalopyge opercularis), known as a flannel moth as an adult.
It was a caterpillar covered in such a dense coat of hair that it initially looked like a moving scrap of fur.

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While these caterpillars look soft and furry, leading to the name "puss caterpillars", their appearance is deceptive.

The head and part of the body sometimes emerge from under the hair.
The hairs conceal numerous venomous spines capable of delivering an exceptionally painful sting.

The hair-line recedes.
Between encounters with fire ants and an upside-down jellyfish, I've had more than enough painful stings recently.  Fortunately, I was able to avoid any direct contact with the puss caterpillar.

It is more recognizable as a caterpillar from underneath.
Explore some more: Toxic "Toupee"

Monday, December 8, 2014

When a tree falls in the forest, it makes a buzz

When I found the downed tree pictured below, I was glad that I hadn't been underneath when it fell.  Then, when I inspected the tree more closely, I was glad that I hadn't been anywhere nearby when it fell.

A recently fallen tree.
The signs left inside the tree suggested that it had not come down quietly -- due to the colony of honey bees that had been living inside.

A piece of wax comb left in the hollow inside the tree.
The tree had been dead long before it had fallen, and the hollow inside it made an attractive spot for honey bees to build their hive.  If the bee colony had not already abandoned the nest cavity before the tree came crashing down, there may have been several thousand very agitated bees emerging from the wreckage of the tree.  However, by the time I came by, the cavity had been mostly cleaned out by opportunists...

One of several bug nymphs foraging in the hollow.
...with only a few bug nymphs left roaming over the bits and pieces of the bees' nest.

A close-up of another bug nymph.