Monday, May 21, 2018

Common Milkweed Hosting Larvae of Unexpected Tiger Moth

My first encounter with the Blue Jay Barrens population of the Ohio endangered Unexpected Tiger Moth, Cycnia collaris, formerly Cycnia inopinatus, was seven years ago.  My encounters with this species have increased each year since then, and this year is no exception.

Unexpected Tiger Moths are a milkweed dependent species.  Last fall, a few larvae were found on Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, growing in the narrow strip between my driveway and Water Garden.  When larvae of this species are ready to pupate, they move into the plant litter at the base of the host plant and pupate near the soil surface.  I am assuming that this is exactly what occurred last September.  This spring, the adults emerged and apparently laid masses of eggs on the young milkweed plants emerging at the time.

The larvae are present in numbers many times greater than what I saw last year.    The amount of plant damage occurring from feeding larvae is readily apparent.

Most of the feeding is occurring on the young leaves at the growing tip of the plant.  There are about 10 larvae working on the particular plant.

Plants with more larvae show more leaf damage.

There are at least 20 larvae working on this plant.  The milkweed can’t grow quickly enough to stay ahead of these ravenous caterpillars.

Many of the larvae are moving out to begin feeding on the older leaves.  This intensive feeding won’t harm the milkweed.  This batch of larvae, the first of two yearly broods, will soon mature and leave the plant to pupate.  The plant will recover and be ready to hopefully host another batch of larvae in August.


The video shows feeding activity in one of the areas of highest larvae concentration.  Click HERE to view the video on YouTube, which usually provides a clearer image.  Click HERE to view earlier posts concerning this species.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Barrens Garden

Eighteen years ago, as the first act of creating a water garden, I dug a large hole near my front porch. Approximately 55 cubic yards of material was removed from the hole and placed in a pile here, near the east side of my barn.  First came slabs of sod a couple of inches thick that were placed in the upper left-hand corner the above photo. Next came the removal of a half foot of clay subsoil that found a permanent residence in the upper center of the photo. Following that, I chiseled through 2 feet of fractured limestone bedrock and added that to my spoil pile. Over the years the material has settled down to become a solid fixture in the landscape.

After several years, the gravel area began to closely resemble the gravelly barrens found tucked away in some of the steeper hillside prairies of Blue Jay Barrens. I then began considering the idea of introducing into this gravel pile seed from some of the rarer winter annuals found growing in the gravelly barrens. My last year’s crop of captive Leavenworthia uniflora and Draba cuneifolia produced such an abundance of seed that I had plenty to invest in this new project that I am calling the Barrens Garden.

In July 2017, I scattered seed over the entire spoil pile.  The results did not disappoint. Shown above are some of the hundreds of rare Draba cuneifolia that resulted from that seeding.

Drabas and Leavenworthia are both members of the mustard family and their flowers show the standard four petal arrangement. These plants are annuals and will not survive past Midsummer. All of the plant’s energy goes into the production of flowers and seeds. Seeds that fall to the ground in June will begin to germinate in October or November. Rosettes of basal leaves will form and grow through the winter. Flower stalks and blooms typically arrive in April.

Leavenworthia uniflora usually follows the same growth pattern of the Draba, although a greater proportion of the seeds tend to wait until February to germinate.

In other wildflower gardens I’ve created, my primary problem is the habit of plants developing much more robustly than they do in their natural setting. It appears that I’ve managed to provide conditions in this Barrens Garden that closely mimic the natural conditions. Above are three Leavenworthia uniflora bracketing a standard dime. The basal rosettes are hardly much larger than that ten cent piece.


Here’s that same dime beside two Leavenworthia uniflora growing in the natural barrens. The size of the plants is almost identical to that found in my Barrens Garden. I have high hopes that this project is going to prove to be a long term success.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Split Season Wood Frog Breeding

During roughly the third week of February, the Wood Frogs of Blue Jay Barrens swarmed into the pond for their annual mating event. The behavior is typical for that time of year; however, weather conditions and the intensity of the mating activities were not what I have come to expect.


February 17 – Six inches of snow falls. February 18 – Temperatures struggle to reach the low 40s. Snow melts slowly and is nearly gone by evening. Wood Frogs begin to enter the pond. February 19 – High temperature reaches 75°F. Wood Frogs continue courtship activities through the day and into the night. February 20 – High temperature reaches 80°F. Wood Frog courtship activities can almost be described as frantic and continue through the day. February 21 – high temperature around 35°F. Three inches of snow falls. Wood Frogs have disappeared.

On March 28 Wood Frogs returned to the pond and were heard calling for the next three nights.  Weather was rainy and cool through the period.  This is the first time Wood Frog breeding activities divided in this manner.


The swimming frogs seem to pull in their eyeballs when swimming with head submerged.

In order to project the sound of their calls, the Wood Frogs inflate air sacs located on each side of the body.  The sacs act as resonating chambers for the call. In the above photo the frog is seen from behind, showing the twin air sacs in the foreground and the two bulging eyes behind.

Surface tension causes the water to curve and ride up the frog’s body. The water then reflects the sky and the surrounding landscape, making it difficult to see the frog itself. I wonder if this might afford the frog a degree of camouflage and protection from water level predators.


The short video above offers a view of a calling Wood Frog and a broader view of activity in the pond. The video can also be seen on YouTube by clicking HERE.