Friday, August 30, 2013

Things to look for in September

Is it really that time of year again? Back to school and before we know it the leaves will be changing. Already the days are noticeably shorter. Make sure you stop and take a few minutes to enjoy the here and now.

Here are some of the things we like to keep an eye out for in September. Links are to previous posts on the Natural Capital.

What have you been seeing out in nature lately? Leave us a comment!

Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)
Photo credit: Metric X
The goldenrods in our yard are beautiful right now. Open sunny areas should be full of their yellow glow. Be sure to look closely for all the cool little critters that are attracted to the bright flowers.
common ragweed in bloom
Photo credit: oceansdesetoiles

Ragweed is also blooming: the scourge of the fall allergy sufferers of Washington, DC. Unlike goldenrod, which attracts all kinds of pollinating insects, ragweed relies on the wind to spread its pollen. I just wish it wouldn't spread it into my nose. Rain makes things better: those airborne pollen particles get sogged down and don't fly around as much.
Black Walnut Hulls
Photo credit: knitting iris

Black Walnuts are starting to fall from trees all over the DC metro area. They're a hard nut to crack, which could explain why they sell for $16 a pound. But they are prized by bakers for adding a special something to brownies and other treats. Pick up a few for yourself and see what all the fuss is about.

Mockernut hickory nuts
While you're looking for walnuts, you may also find hickory nuts. They've got a similar green husk but slightly smaller, with four divisions in it. The nuts of some species of hickory are much more edible than others.

pawpaw fruits
Pawpaws by dmitri_66

Pawpaws are the largest fruit native to the DC area. In groves of mature trees, you can find them littering the ground, ready for eating. Of course, you'll have to beat the raccoons and opossums to them. If you can find enough, you can make pawpaw-walnut cookies.

Chicken of the woods by girlguyed

Chicken of the woods is a hard-to-mistake and hard-to-match mushroom. I recently saw someone mention fixing it like buffalo wings...we may have to try that!

Male goldfinch by ehpien

Goldfinches live in the DC area year-round, but we seem to see more of them at this time of year as they come to feed on the seedheads in our flower garden. They're such a pretty little bird.

Spicebush berries by The Natural Capital

Spicebush is a common understory shrub in our local forests. In the early spring, it's got pretty yellow flowers. Over the course of the summer, the pollinated flowers transformed into little green berries. And soon, they will be turning bright red. Also, keep an eye out for spicebush swallowtail caterpillars, who you can sometimes found curled up inside a leaf. In my opinion, they're one of the best-looking caterpillars around!

Moth 17, Sandy Point State Park
Photo credit: David Heise
Moths are easy to look for at this time of year, partly because you don't have to stay up so late to do it. When life brings you darkness, look for things in the dark!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

LOOK FOR: Giant Silkworm Moths

A couple of weeks ago we were hiking in Pennsylvania and stumbled upon a large patch of wild highbush blueberries. Yum! But the real find of the day was this humongous caterpillar.

It's the larva of a cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia) -- one of the members of a subfamily known as giant silkworm moths (Saturniinae). Like their Asian cousins (in a related family), the caterpillars in this family all spin cocoons out of lots of silk. But no one has made a successful commercial venture out of raising them.

Below are the five giant silkworm moths you're likely to see in the Washington, DC area. Aren't they beautiful?

Luna moth
Photo credit: Geoff Gallice

American moon moth (Actias luna) caterpillar, final instar

Photo credit: Dean Morley
Luna Moth
Actias luna
Typical wingspan: 4.5 inches

Larvae eat the leaves of a variety of native trees including birch, black gum, hickory, persimmon, sweet gum, and walnut.

Luna is the Roman moon goddess. These pale green moths do almost seem to glow at twilight.

(More pictures of the life cycle here)

Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus) male - Batavia, Illinois
Photo credit: Jason Sturner

American oak silkmoth (Antheraea polyphemus) caterpillar
Photo credit: Dean Morley
Polyphemus moth
Antheraea polyphemus
Typical wingspan: 6 inches

Larvae eat the leaves of many shrubs and trees -- especially birch, rose, and willow, but many others.

In Greek mythology, Polyphemus was a cyclops -- a fitting namesake for a moth with big eyespots.

(More pictures of the life cycle here)

Promethea Silkmoth
Photo credit: iceberg273

promethea caterpillars
Photo credit: Andrea Janda
Promethea moth
Callosamia promethea
Typical wingspan: 3-4 inches

Larvae eat the leaves of native shrubs and trees including spicebush, sassafras, cherry, tulip tree, ash, and many others.

In Greek mythology, remember, Prometheus was the one who gave fire to humans and was sentenced to eternal punishment for it.

(More pictures of life cycle here)

Photo credit: Circeson

Tulip-tree Silkmoth Callosamia angulifera
Photo credit: Michael Hodge
Tuliptree silkmoth
Callosamia angulifera
Typical wingspan: 3-4.5 inches

Larvae eat the leaves of the tulip tree, which is common in our local forest -- but the branches are usually out of reach. Still, our caterpillar book recommends looking up at dusk to see them flying.

Cecropia Moth  W V
Photo credit: Linda Tanner

Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia)
Photo credit: Michael Hodge
Cecropia moth
Hyalophora cecropia
Typical wingspan: up to 6 inches

Larvae eat the leaves of many woody plants including maple, birch, apple, cherry, and others -- apparently including blueberry.

In Greek mythology, Cecrops was a half-man, half-snake born from the earth. He was the first king of Athens, and first to worship Zeus.

(More pictures of life cycle here)

Much of this info on host plants comes from a great field guide called Caterpillars of Eastern North America: A Guide to Identification and Natural History -- check it out!