Friday, July 20, 2018

Eastern Hognose Snake

I recently had an interesting encounter with an Eastern Hognose Snake. The snake had gotten itself caught in the mesh of a rat trap that had been set in my barn. My primary concern was releasing the snake from the grip of the wire before it injured itself, so I only took it couple of quick photos before beginning the rescue operation. By snipping and bending a single wire, I was able to quickly release the snake from the trap.

Hognose snakes have a wide repertoire of harmless defensive actions that they employ when they feel threatened. This individual went through the entire routine. It began by flattening of its head and neck in an attempt to look more threatening. As I snipped the cage wire, the snake hissed loudly and produced a guttural noise that sounded almost like a growl. It struck repeatedly at my hands and arms, but its mouth was not open, so all I felt were taps from its nose. As I slid the snake’s body out of the trap, it imitated a death spasm and released a highly pungent poop that splattered on everything nearby. It was an unfortunate circumstance that, due to an ongoing severe thunderstorm, I was performing the rescue operation on the covered front porch of the house.

The next stage in the snake’s act was to play dead. It hung limply from my hand as I took it out for release next to the barn.

Upon being set down, the snake rolled onto its back with mouth agape. 

The above video shows the snake repeatedly rolling over onto its back after being placed belly down.

I left the snake draped around a piece of wood, upright but still looking very much dead. When the thunderstorm abated a few minutes later, I went out to check and found that the snake had moved on. Hognose snakes feed on toads. It’s for this reason that I have been constructing breeding pools in hopes of increasing the toad population. More toads mean more Hognose Snakes, and that’s what I would like to see.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Edwards' Hairstreak Butterfly Census 2018

Since I don’t actually count the butterflies or produce any type of tally, my annual observations of the Edwards’ Hairstreak Butterfly can’t really be called a census.  What I do is search appropriate habitat at Blue Jay Barrens to get an idea of current size and distribution of this uncommon butterfly.

Each year, I find butterflies in new locations and in concentrations larger than the year before.

Edwards’ Hairstreak Butterflies were quite rare when I first surveyed this property 33 years ago.  It took years before I found my first specimen.  Subsequent annual searches resulted in sightings of just a few individuals or, in some years, no sightings at all.  Now I can find that many or more sharing a single flower cluster.

One of my first management projects was to make the property more suitable to Edwards’ Hairstreaks.  I cleared Eastern Red Cedar from the fields to promote prairie like habitat, and encouraged the growth of Blackjack Oak, the Edwards’ Hairstreak preferred larval food. 

As habitat improved, the number of butterflies increased.  Nectar plants also responded to the management efforts and increased in number.  Butterfly Weed, a favorite of the hairstreaks, is now common in most areas containing butterfly colonies.

A few years ago it was uncommon to see more than a single Edwards’ Hairstreak on a clump of Butterfly Weed flowers.  Now the butterflies visit the blooms in masses.  There are 10 butterflies clearly visible nectaring on Butterfly Weed in the above photo.  There are still suitable areas not yet being utilized by the butterflies, so butterfly numbers have the potential to increase for many years yet.

The above video shows some Edwards’ Hairstreak nectaring action.  A few Honeybees are also trying grab some of the nectar.  Near the end of the video, one butterfly appears to headbutt another away from his flower cluster.  This video can be viewed on YouTube by clicking HERE.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Cycnia collaris Brood 2

Another batch of Cycnia collaris, formerly Cycnia inopinatus, is munching its way through the clump of Common Milkweed beside my front porch.  I’m assuming these larvae to be the offspring of the brood that showed up in May and went into pupation a few weeks ago.  That would make these larvae brood two .

More than a few of the brood one Cycnia larvae must have avoided playing host to Tachinid fly offspring and survived to adulthood.  I counted 69 larvae of this State Endangered moth species feeding on a single milkweed plant.  Additional larvae were present on many other milkweed plants close by.  As with the previous brood, it appears that the adults emerged from the leaf litter at the base of the plants and deposited a nice batch of eggs on plants readily accessible.

Larvae just recently moved onto the leaf on the left side of the photo.  They made the move after reducing the leaf on the right to a bare skeleton.

There’s not much tender young growth on the milkweed plants right now.  This doesn’t seem to slow down the Cycnia larvae at all.  The smallest larvae appear to have no trouble dining on the oldest and toughest of leaves.  The thick leaves allow the larvae to eat a lot without moving very far.  This sometimes results in a frass chain forming behind the larva.

Several severe storms have knocked down the milkweeds during the last few weeks.  Some plants have given up trying to right themselves.

The Cycnia females found the horizontal milkweeds to be just as desirable as those in a vertical position.  The larvae are quickly stripping the edible material from these leaves.  Having this action occurring right outside my front door has provided an ideal opportunity to learn something about the habits of this rare species.