Sunday, August 14, 2016

Myrmarachne formicaria

On Thursday, I saw an ant walking around on a houseplant in our kitchen. Ants are not generally welcome in my house, so I carried the plant outside to deposit the ant there, and somewhere during the walk from the kitchen to the door I realized... that's not an ant:


The mimicry was really excellent, but it was definitely mimicry. Not an ant, a spider! This is an ant-mimic jumping spider, Myrmarachne formicaria:


This is actually a non-native species, first introduced and observed in Ohio a decade or so ago, and its range is gradually expanding (it's obviously made it as far as central New York by now). And I don't know for sure what benefits this spider gets from looking so much like an ant; perhaps this disguise helps protect it from predators, or perhaps it lets the spider get closer to the creatures it hunts. Either way, I'm super impressed. Only the large quasi-iridescent mouthparts gave it away as not-ant:


And oh yeah, spider eyes!


Here's a brief video of this spider, because it was so amazingly ant-like in its movements, even waving its front legs around like a pair of antennae, completing the illusion:



So that was a cool surprise! How many more mimics can I find around my house?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Two Visits to the Park Preserve

I visited the Roy H. Park Preserve a couple more times in recent weeks in order to explore the northern part of this small, quiet, and absolutely lovely place. The preserve's northern trail winds through meadow and wetland, and along the forest's edge (another trail branches off into those woods, which are part of neighboring Hammond Hill State Forest). I'm thoroughly enjoying this preserve, and I found lots of interesting sights during my recent visits.

When I visited the preserve one morning in the last week of July, a (young?) Green Heron was hunting small fish:
 

The heron didn't appreciate that the trail brought me so close to its perch, and it soon flew off to find a new hunting spot:
 

A male Common Yellowthroat foraged next to the water:
 

An American Robin was chowing down on the berries of what I presume is an invasive bush honeysuckle:
 

Another robin landed on a perch just above my head, and I took the opportunity to admire this handsome bird up close:
 

A perfect little butterfly (some sort of crescent) sat on a perfect Queen Anne's Lace cluster:
 

A Muskrat passed quickly through the water near the boardwalk:
 

When I came back to this same part of the preserve this past Sunday, the Muskrat appeared again, this time pulling a large flowering Joe-Pye Weed stem through the water after it; the Muskrat dove underwater, and the plant went down as well, presumably into a den to be munched on:
 

I was very happy to see Red-spotted Newts swimming in the water; I love these little guys!
 

A juvenile male Rose-breasted Grosbeak made a brief appearance (again, in a honeysuckle), showing off its still rather patchy pink breast and black head:
 

A set of neat tube-like structures in a dry stream bed posed a bit of a puzzle, although my guess is that these are the work of a wasp or some other insect that's good at building things with mud:
 

So now I know that the Roy H. Park preserve is wonderful throughout, and the trail into Hammond Hill State Forest's woods was very inviting. I have a feeling I'll be back and exploring more soon!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Squash Vine Borer

I spotted this creature in my garden yesterday on -- where else -- some young squash plants:


This is a Squash Vine Borer (Melittia cucurbitae), and it's a moth, although it's certainly a strange-looking one. I've done battle with this creature's larvae in my past garden in Connecticut -- the squash plants died after that encounter, the insides of their stems eaten away -- but I've never gotten a chance to examine one of the adult moths up close before. I won't be too upset if these particular squash plants end up dying; they were wimpy things, planted too late, and anyway people keep offering me free zucchini because it's that time of the year. And so now I get to check out this really very cool moth, which walked so obligingly onto my finger and stayed there for an extended photo shoot. (In retrospect, I could have picked a more natural stage for this creature than my finger, but oh well.)


This moth is a wasp mimic, and it does a pretty convincing job. (It even carries itself in a a wasp-like way when it flies.) The bright orange is very striking, and I love those fuzzy back legs:


There's a lot of iridescence going on in the sunlight:


This is one fierce-looking moth:


I like my garden, but I also love moths, and this creature is just so strange and cool. I guess I'll just need to come up with some creative ways to keep its eggs and larvae off of my squash plants in the future!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Summer Warblers and More at the Roy H. Park Preserve

The area around Ithaca is so amazingly full of public green spaces -- between state parks and forests, Nature Conservancy land, Cornell land, and more -- it's hard to know where to even start! Yesterday morning, I decided to explore a small local nature preserve managed by the Finger Lakes Land Trust: the Roy H. Park Preserve. The preserve itself is only a couple hundred acres in size, but it borders much larger state forests and Cornell-protected land, so it's basically a slice in a rather huge expanse of natural area.

Before I even left for the preserve, I got to hang out with two Cedar Waxwings perched in a tree near my driveway; what a great start to the day!
 

When I arrived at the preserve, the parking area was serving as a concert hall for a Gray Catbird. I've missed these funny/loud birds!
 

The preserve itself turned out to be really wonderful. I saw no other people the whole time I was there, and there were so, so many animals around. The trail took me through fields and woods, including a lovely Quaking Aspen grove:
 

And a dark forest of conifers:


At one point, I stopped to watch an Indigo Bunting family -- I don't think I've ever seen baby buntings before! The female was dashing around feeding her rather large but still very demanding fledglings; the male kept flashing past, but I didn't see him contribute much to the proceedings. Here's one of the babies, posing for a quiet moment in between its cries for food:
 

And then while I was watching the buntings, warblers started showing up. I'd already heard Prairie Warblers calling somewhere out of sight, and Common Yellowthroats had been popping up at various points along the trail, but those are warblers I've met as summer breeders before, during my years exploring southern Connecticut, so they weren't totally unexpected. Now, though, warblers I think of as exclusively spring migrants came practically streaming in. A female Blackburnian Warbler! A female Chestnut-sided Warbler!


(Pardon the poor pictures, but I feel like I need something to prove that this weird summer warbler parade actually happened!)

A male Black-throated Green Warbler zoomed in out of nowhere (and I heard two males calling in the forest later on):
 

And then a male Magnolia Warbler!


So basically, this is a magical fairy-tale land where many of the beautiful little birds I think of as passing visitors (and therefore special/lucky encounters) actually come to live. And now I live here, too! Why yes, I'll take my May avian sights all summer long, thank you!

Later in the morning as I passed again through the same area, the bird activity had mostly calmed down, except that now the male Indigo Bunting was singing from the very highest perch possible. Tiny blue bird and big blue sky:
 

Butterflies and dragonflies were now flying all over the place, and I watched a bulky -- and very pink -- orb weaver spider manipulate a recent catch (I think this is a female Shamrock Orbweaver, Araneus trifolium):
 

Mmm, bugs:
 

Another spider (a male of the same species, if my ID is correct) crept around on a neighboring stem; I've never noticed spiders quite like this before, but they seem to have a thriving population in these fields:
 

What a wonderful morning walk. Have I mentioned that I really like it here? :D

Friday, July 15, 2016

Meeting the Neighbors

Our new apartment is a little ways outside of downtown Ithaca, surrounded by lots of fields and woods. It's really lovely. There are even a few small ponds on the property, right near our apartment. I love having easy access to ponds -- a luxury I haven't had since I was little! These ponds are surrounded by thick cattails, with lots of Red-winged Blackbirds in residence. And tons of frogs! So far I've seen only Green Frogs and Bullfrogs here, but there sure are a lot of them. I'd forgotten how big and impressive Green Frogs could be. This guy's bright yellow throat is especially striking:
 

His huge ears are very impressive as well (and their large size marks this frog as male rather than female); note also the ridges along the side of his back, which are characteristic of Green Frogs and absent in Bullfrogs:


Here's one of the big Bullfrogs that also lurk in these ponds:


We're meeting plenty of new neighbors outside of the ponds as well. A week ago, a bizarre hunter showed up inside our living room carrying her prey:


My best guess is this is a female Grass-carrying Wasp (genus Isodontia) looking for a place to stash the katydid she's prepared (i.e., paralyzed) as food for her future larvae:


She seemed to be carrying the katydid mostly with her mouth, perhaps with some help from her back legs. What an impressive bug. And what a strange sight:


Unfortunately, in the process of escorting the lady hunter outside, she lost her prey. And the next day, I noticed a new (paralyzed, twitching) katydid on the floor of our living room, and a wasp (the same one?) again buzzing around inside. There haven't been any further wasp-with-katydid sightings, so hopefully she figured out that our living room isn't the best place for a nest.

I've started a very small garden here, and even this little growing area is already attracting creatures. It's been very dry here, and as soon as I started watering the soil this afternoon a lovely Common Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus communis) showed up to gather water and nutrients:


I've never seen one of these butterflies before, and I'm really loving its fancy checkered wings and adorably fuzzy blue/gray upperparts:


It's certainly nice to see that there are so many creatures in our new neighborhood. I think this place will do very well as a temporary base while we keep our eyes open for a more permanent home!