Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Arrival of Spring: Take 2(?)

Assuming Spring was about to start when it was warm a few weeks ago was a miscalculation on my part. Between then and now, it got cold again, dumped a bunch of snow on Ohio, and now the weather is tantalizingly warm again. The question being, will it continue that trend?

Hopefully it will. It hit the mid-60s today, and the temperature tonight has hovered around 50 degrees. Would any moths be out? I turned on the light to see.


A few moths were out, and my hopes for the bug season rose again. It's difficult to describe just how antsy I get after the absence of insects all throughout winter, so finding anything after months and months is exciting.

This similar moth was also attracted to the light. I like how well its antennae show up in this photo, they're distinctly pectinate and large, meaning it's probably a male. Their larger antennae help them sense the female's pheromones so they can find each other for some hanky panky.

And of course, an early-season mothing attempt wouldn't be complete without an appearance of the Gray Quaker, Orthosia alurina. I would have gone with a common name more along the lines of Maroon Quaker, but whatever. This species showed up earlier in the moth, and it looks like this time it was sucking on the deck with its tongue. Delicious.

I'm excited to see what else I might find this season. I've got a small list of species I want to find, and I have a black light now! That should nab me some species I haven't found before.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Invasive Insects in Ohio: The Hemlock Wooly Adelgid

Globalization strikes again! The main invasive pests I've been hearing about in Ohio over the past few years have been the Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis) and Asian Longhorn Beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis), but I now have a new one to add to my list: the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid (Adelges tsugae). The Hemlock Wooly Adelgid (HWA) is a true bug in the order Hemiptera and is sort of like an aphid. Adelgids suck plant juices out of conifers, and HWA prefers hemlock trees, specially the eastern and Carolina hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis and Tsuga caroliniana, respectively). This is a problem.

HWA was introduced into the US from Asia in the 1920s, first in the Pacific Northwest, and then in Virginia in the 1950s. That was the start of its foothold in the east, and it spread to other states from there, including Pennsylvania and West Virginia. It didn't reach Ohio until 2001, and has spread into about 27 counties since then.

Unfortunately, in 2012 it was detected in my home county, Washington County. It was found in Belpre and Marietta, probably due to natural spread from nearby areas--possibly from across the Ohio River: Wood County, West Virginia has reported HWA. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources held an informational meeting about the HWA yesterday in Marietta to talk about its biology, risk to hemlock trees, and what the state is doing to stop its spread, so I attended and took some notes. The next few paragraphs are a quick summary of the meeting.

Eastern Ohio is where most of our hemlocks (T. canadensis) grow. Eastern hemlock prefers rocky sandstone gorge type habitats and is very shade-tolerant (so think Hocking Hills region). It can often develop into pure stands where it grows, but is also planted as an edge tree in more urbanized areas. It can act as a foundation species for an ecosystem, supporting many bird species (nearly 100 have been identified as being associated with eastern  hemlock in some way) and it can also strongly regulate aquatic ecosystems by shading streams.

Ohio's forests don't have many conifers. Most of the forests consist of deciduous trees, but eastern hemlock is one of our common conifers, which means HWA poses a real threat to taking out a good-sized chunk of Ohio's conifer trees. HWA can cause tree mortality in 4-10 years, less if the tree is stressed by factors such as drought. HWA feeds on the tree's leaves and can be detected on a tree by the white, waxy residue that covers its body (hence the "wooly" adjective in its name). Essentially, it will look like cotton candy or spider webs on the tree.

HWA has a complex life cycle, and only the first instar (life development stage) is very mobile. There are two generations per year, and the winter generation can produce egg sacs with up to 300 eggs. The complex life cycle makes it difficult to control by introducing predators, but there has been some success on that front and beetle introduction is seen as a long-term solution. Another control option is the use of insecticides.

When it comes down to it, the state agencies involved in invasive species management need the help of the public to do their job. Tackling the HWA is no different. This includes keeping an eye on the trees and reporting the movement of wood products in counties with quarantines. Otherwise, HWA can spread under the radar. Whenever it's reported from a county, it's usually because someone noticed something strange on their trees and called it in. For example, an infested site in Marietta was found because a college student fell out of a tree and brought down some infested branches with him.

There's not nearly enough funding devoted to detection and eradication of invasive species, so we have to do the best we can with the resources we have. For more information on the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, check out the links below. And if you notice something on any hemlock trees that looks out of the ordinary, report it!

Ohio Division of Forestry Fact Page
Ohio Department of Agriculture Fact Page

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Arrival of Spring

Both Saturday and Sunday were warm, reaching into the low 60s (degrees Fahrenheit), which caused some insects to burst forth from their winter hiding places, much to my delight.

 The Crocus flowers burst forth too!

I found a few beetles and bees during the day, but the night revealed a few more insects that were attracted to my porchlight.

The above moth is probably a grass miner moth in the family Elachistidae. It's furry and kind of cute, though the white spots on its forewings sort of look angry if you look at the dark spots above them.

No oatmeal here--this Gray Quaker, Orthosia alurina, is a moth I usually see in early Spring. This one arrived three days earlier than the individual I saw last year.

This wasp is only a day earlier than last year. It's in the family Ichneumonidae and is probably in the genus Ophion. The Ichneumons can be tricky and I need to double-check this identification. It's a very pretty wasp and is harmless to humans, instead being a parasite of caterpillars.

And finally, we have this pretty green caterpillar. It almost eluded me, camouflaging itself against a dead brown maple leaf. (Hey, it was dark outside and not easy to find small critters.) I think it's a Noctuid caterpillar. I moved the leaf after taking this shot and found another smaller individual on a blade of grass, had to be an earlier instar.

It was so exciting to finally see some insects out and about after this long winter. I'm already getting materials together to build a moth trap and mapping out places I want to go collect and photograph insects. Let's hope this warm weather continues!