Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Fireflies, Dangerous Cheese, and Making My Day

Great firefly photo from Bev

I've been scarce around blogland the past several days. That's mainly because a whole bunch of stuff is happening. On Thursday night, I gave my firefly talk down at the Midewin National Grasslands. This is a brand new talk for me, which meant that I spent a bunch of time early this week preparing the talk. Only after I agreed to do it did I remember that I don't actually have any firefly images. Fortunately, what I do have is some good friends in the blogosphere. Bev over at Burning Silo is a really great photographer and let me use some of her firefly images. Thanks, Bev!

Spo and I have been exchanging a couple of comments about bacteria in food- this prompted by a discussion of the suspect nature of sun tea, which never gets boiled. On Thursday night, a co-worker attended a cheesemaking class in Chicago. She's been interested ever since I brought some homemade mozzarella into work. Friday morning, she brought in a half gallon of raw cow's milk. Yay!! This is udderly new territory for me (sorry). You can't buy it here in Illinois, because as an unpasteurized dairy product, it's "unsafe." I've just spent the morning making more Camembert. Thanks, Jill!

Raw cow's milk

This is un-homogenized milk. You can see the cream floating at the top of the jar. I got an excellent separation of curds and whey. The curds seemed less fragile than the ones that I usually get from store-bought milk. Because this milk has never been pasteurized, I'm supposed to age it for a minimum of 60 days before I eat it. Otherwise, it's somehow less safe. Fine by me- that will have it ripe just about when I'm going out to New England to spend some time on Martha's Vineyard with Chilmark Girl. She wants to try some of my dangerous cheese.

Raw curds and whey. These were some of the best curds I've ever gotten.

Sometime late this week, I was told by Kathie at Sycamore Canyon blog that I make her day. she even gave me an award to that effect. I'd like to thank all the little people who made this possible. I'm also very touched that Kathie enjoys my blog so much. Thanks, Kathie!


Here are the rules of the award:

The rules for this award are:

1) Write a post with links to 5 blogs that make me think and/or make my day.

2) Acknowledge the post of the award giver (Thank you Kathie!)

3) Tell the award winners that they have won by commenting on their blogs with the news!

So who makes my day? This turns out to be hard, because so many folks' blogs make my day. If I have to do just 5, I will go with:

1. cedrorum at Mutual Causality. I really enjoy getting to chat with somebody doing ecological restoration in a different part of the country on an ecosystem that I've never even gotten to visit before. He's also a great guy and a good writer who should have a wider readership.

2. Rodger and Mark at RodgerDodger and Scuff Productions (note how I'm cleverly slipping in an extra winner here by giving the award to a couple who keep individual blogs). Rodger and Mark were some of the first folks that I became friends with entirely through blogging. I enjoy getting a glimpse into their lives and the nature that surrounds them in the Pacific Northwest. They also make great pickles and inspired me to get back into canning. And they have great musical experiences. Since I've known them they have gotten to see both the Tubes and Todd Rundgren in concert.

3. tr at From the Faraway Nearby. He showed up as a commenter on my blog just a few months ago. It's inspiring to hear tales from somebody who travels even more than I do. He's an awesome photographer and writer, has a fascinating blogroll, and even appreciates the joys of a beverage that contains bugs.

4. Homer of Homer's World. Homer's a really nice guy with a fascinating job as an archaeologist in Tucson. I enjoy hearing about his career and the city where he lives (one of my favorite spots anywhere). Plus, I secretly want to go to one of the pool parties he blogs about.

5. UrSpo of Spo Reflections. Blogging makes my day, so how can I not include the guy who got me into it? Spo and I have been friends for about a decade now, and I really enjoy much more regular contact with him through blogging.

Thanks, guys! You all make my day.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

How Many Legs Does a Caterpillar Have?

Looking at this picture, you might conclude that caterpillars have 8 pairs of legs- three pairs in the front, four in the middle and one at the back (if you're a bit confused, the head of the caterpillar is on the left in this photo). But wait, aren't caterpillars insects? Don't insects have 6 legs, not 16? Like all insects, this caterpillar has only 6 legs. Note the different shape of the three pairs of legs near the caterpillar's head. They're the legs. The remaining structures are not true legs at all. They're protrusions from the caterpillar's abdomen called prolegs. Much like true legs, they help the caterpillar grip onto surfaces like twigs, and aid in locomotion.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Rossellini Makes Short 'Green Porno' Films

Isabella Rossellini has done an amazing series of short films about mating habits of invertebrates. The YouTube is an interview with Rossellini, the link takes you to the shorts themselves. Semi NSFW.


Memorial Day Race Party

Each Memorial Day, Elgin sponsors the Fox Trot, a race that runs right past my house. I have a brunch each year and a few friends stop by to watch the race. I made bacon fontina pizza, bell pepper quiche and mimosas.

Bell pepper quiche. Inspiration by Homer.

Leon ran this year, and we all cheered him on as he ran by.

Go Leon!

Later in the afternoon, I grabbed my camera and went on a bug walk.

Hemipteran nymph subdues a small bee

Don't bother me. I'm busy pollinating the Solomon's plume.

Tiny hoppers about 1 mm long. I believe they're psyllids.

Hackberry butterfly caterpillar

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Late Spring Flora

A trip to the Fen yesterday rewarded me with images of flowers from late spring.

Bodacious bumblebee buzzes blooming betony

Small white ladyslipper - an endangered species

Wild hyacinth (Camassia scilloides).
Pablo recently posted a nice shot of a relative of this from Missouri

The blue wood phlox hardly bloomed at all this year. I blame the cold spring.

Golden Alexandars are everywhere this year

Jacob's ladder. One of my favorite spring wildflowers.

I can't do an entire Fen post without insects.
Baltimore Checkerspot caterpillars devouring foxglove penstemon.

Caterpillar Closeup. It's another Baltimore Checkerspot.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Skywatch Friday - Near Virga

I'm giving Skywatch a try. Sunset, Shoe Factory Rd. Prairie. May 20, 2008. This isn't quite virga- a few raindrops from these clouds are making it alll the way to the ground.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Upcoming Lectures

Hobomok Skipper (Poanes hobomok)

I have two upcoming lectures in the Chicago metropolitan area. On Thursday, May 22 at 7:00 PM (that's tomorrow!) I will be presenting a talk on Illinois' butterflies at the North Park Nature Center (5801 N. Pulaski Road in Chicago).

Next Thursday, May 29 at 7:00 PM, I will be lecturing at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie (follow the link and click on Calendar of Events). This talk is about fireflies. The pubic is invited to both lectures ($3.00 fee for Midewin lecture).


Monday, May 19, 2008

In Defense of the Powers that Be

About ten years ago in mid July, I was heading out the Fen. Near the parking lot, the trail crosses a small stream. A father and his grade-school aged son were standing on the bridge. Sploosh! They threw something from a cooler into the stream.
"Hi. What are you throwing into the stream?"

"My son took these crayfish home from his classroom at the end of the school year. We're setting them free."
The cooler contained several more rusty crayfish, an invasive species that's been causing lots of environmental problems in waterways around the country. I was concerned. Clearly the father and son felt that they were doing the right thing. They could no longer take care of their pets, and they were releasing them into a sanctuary where they would be, presumably, be happy. Fortunately, the father was readily talked into not releasing any more of the crayfish onto the nature preserve.

I appreciate the supportive comments that I got regarding yesterday's posting about my trip to the woodshed, but I need to make a confession here. My sympathies actually lie with the people who were expressing concern over what I had done. The Chicago area nature preserves exist in a very densely populated part of the world. The large number of folks that live here embrace an enormous range of views about nature and wildlife. Some of them are well thought out. Some have their basis in common misconceptions and are correspondingly flawed. Others have the potential to be downright harmful.

When I scattered seeds of an endangered plant on a nature preserve, I was doing so with a larger knowledge base than many people who might do something of this nature. It was an appropriate species for the habitat where I placed it. The fact that the consequences were mild suggest that this was taken into account. Still, we can't have rampant release of organisms onto these tiny remnants of Illinois' original ecosystems. I have no doubt that the consequences would be much more significant if I were to continue to flout regulations of this sort. That's appropriate.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

My Trip to the Woodshed

I’ve been the co-steward at Bluff Spring Fen since the mid 1908s. In that time, I have only run afoul of the agencies that oversee activities at the site once. The incident involves this plant species, the downy yellow painted cup (Castilleja sessiliflora).

DYPC grows on morainic hills, much like the kames that we have at the Fen. There are a series of really fine examples of these hill prairies out near Rockford, Illinois. DYPC is a rare plant in Illinois. In fact, the plant is formally listed as endangered in Illinois. One of the Rockford prairies where it grows, Rogers Prairie, is a beautiful example that remained unprotected well into the 1990s. In addition to a fine, diverse plant community, Rogers Prairie is home to a remarkable array of rare prairie insects. This rarity is not limited to prairie butterflies- Rogers is home to rare moths, leafhoppers, spittlebugs, and grasshoppers. As a result, a number of prairie entomologists were out doing inventories and surveys prior to protection of the site.

One day in about 1995, a friend and I were getting together. She was distraught. Somebody had bulldozed a single rut, one blade wide, up the side of the hill prairie. Naturally many folks were concerned. Fortunately this would be the extent of the damage that was incurred. My friend was lamenting the rich plant community that was damaged, and mentioned that there was even DYPC there. The plant was setting seed while she was there, so she gathered some from the dirt thrown up by the bulldozer. Having collected the seed (which she just happened to have with her), she now had no place to put it. My friend knew full well that I was on the management team of a site that had perfect habitat for this species.

I was in a quandary. We did not have permission to bring this species onto the site. Worse yet, it was a listed species, so the regulations are stricter. I decided that it was unlikely that anything would come of the seed. Rather than throwing it away, I took it off her hands and scattered it on one of our hill prairies, expecting that to be the end of the story.

Two years later, the first blooming DYPC showed up at the Fen, right where I had scattered the seed. It was healthy, vigorous, and located in a very prominent spot where everyone saw it. At that point, I really had to let people know that this was the result of a deliberate species introduction rather than a spontaneous emergence from the seed bank. My trip to the woodshed was quite mild (I was told to keep good records of this sort of thing, and not to do it again without permission). Fortunately for me, when it came time for me to request official permission to bring another endangered species, the swamp metalmark butterfly, onto the preserve, I received it with no hesitation. So apparently my transgression was not held against me. Today, we continue to have a population of DYPC at the Fen. It’s in bloom this week

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Circus of the Spineless #33 is seeking submissions

Got a great post or photo of an insect, arachnid, crustacean, or other invertebrate? Share the wealth- submit it to the May edition of Circus of the Spineless. May will be hosted at Seeds Aside, and submissions can be made to Laurent: seedsaside (at) gmail (dot) com

June's Circus will be hosted- gulp- here. I've never hosted a blog carnival before. Hope I don't hump the bunk (thanks, Thingfish).


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Papaipema cerina

Papaipema cerina (Photo by Ron Panzer)

Pablo and Dave have both recently posted pictures of Mayapples on their blogs. The photos triggered this memory.

Ron Panzer is my mentor in all things involving entomology on natural areas in Illinois. Sometime in the winter of 1990-1991, Ron mentioned to me that I should keep an eye on Mayapple plants while I was out and about. He was working with moths in the genus Papaipema (pa-puh-PEEM-uh). These are stem borers, and very fastidious about their host plants. Many species that are used are characteristic prairie and savanna plants, and so the moths are of interest. P. cerina uses Mayapples. Ron had been searching for this species unsuccessfully for a long time, and wanted to get some other folks out looking for it.

Fast-forward just a few months. Steve Packard, my mentor in all things involving ecological restoration, wanted Leon and I to take a look at a small plot of woodlot a couple of miles north of Bluff Spring Fen. The woodlot was slated for development, and he wondered if there was anything worthy of plant rescue.

Mayapple clone. Photo from the University of Southern Indiana website.

Memorial day weekend of 1991, several of the Fen volunteers stopped by the woodlot. It had a really nice plant community, and we did, in fact, do some plant rescue that included sharp-lobed hepatica and white trillium. There were lots of Mayapple clones on the site. I noticed several yellow or brown plants scattered in the clones of healthy green plants. I took my pocketknife and cut one off at the base. There was a small round hole about an inch from the bottom. I very carefully slit the stem open and found a stripy caterpillar inside.

I called Ron that evening. His first response was to get mildly upset. “I’ve been looking for that moth for ten years. What do you mean you found it the very first time you went out looking?” He came over the very next afternoon, and agreed that it was a Papaipema larva. We decided to rear up a half dozen caterpillars to confirm that it was indeed P. cerina.

Papaipema larva in a drilled carrot. This is not P. cerina, but a different species of Papaipema. P. cerina is striped from end to end, and does not have the unstriped brown band.
Photo by Ron Panzer.

Rearing Papaipema is fun. Ron worked this technique out with P. eryngii, a species that was thought to be extinct until he re-discovered it. It feeds on rattlesnake master, which is in the carrot family. Ron began using carrots to rear the moths on. He’d drill a hole down the length of the carrot and coax the caterpillar inside. Coaxing a caterpillar inside of a carrot turns out to be as hard as it sounds. The technique worked with multiple species in the genus, including cerina.

I spent the summer of 2001 feeding carrots to the larvae. When the adults emerged in September, we confirmed that they were indeed cerina. That winter, we applied for, and received, permission to translocate the species from the woodlot to Bluff Spring Fen. The whole project was described nicely in the chapter Transanimaling in the charming book Hunting for Frogs on Ellston by the late Jerry Sullivan. We are still able to find damaged Mayapples at Bluff Spring Fen, so the new population lives on. It’s a good thing, too. The woodlot is now a housing development.

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Monday, May 05, 2008


C'est un mois depuis que j'ai fait le premier fois un fromage Camembert. Aujourd'hui, mon Camembert est venu et coulant. Mon dieu, c'est magnifique! Et j'ai trois autres rondes!

Update. I got a bunch of email complaints about posting in French. In deference to those readers puzzled by my being transported to la belle France by my first attempt at making Camembert:
It's a month since I made Camembert cheese for the first time. Today, my Camembert is ripe and runny. Goodness, it's magnificent. And I have three other rounds.


Sunday, May 04, 2008

The First Sunday in May

First shooting star bloom of the year

Yesterday was absolutely miserable from a weather standpoint. It was windy, drizzly, and in the high 40s. I spent much of the day outside at the Fen, and, frankly, would have been happier indoors making cheese. I vowed that if today's weather was a repeat, I'd do just that. Fortunately, today was a beautiful spring day- sunny and in the high 60s. I went for a walk, camera in hand, out at the Fen. It was a Sunday of firsts.

Wood Betoney

We're seeing the first blooms of a lot of plants this weekend. I saw my first shooting star, first blue-eyed grass, and first wood betoney. I had already seen bird-foot violets, however this weekend was the peak of their bloom.

Bird-foot Violet

Slowly, the insects are returning, as well. On Friday I saw my first monarch. This is extremely early and it was a very worn specimen. I wonder if this might not be one of the very rare individuals that make it all the way back to Illinois from Mexico (most of them lay eggs and die in Texas and it's the progeny that make it back here).

Eastern Forktail - Female

I saw my first damselflies of the year today. Eastern forktails (Ishnura verticalis) are usually the first species of spring. This year was no exception.

Eastern Forktail - Male

I'd already seen (and photographed) a twelve-spotted tiger beetle this year, but wasn't entirely happy with the result. I did much better today.

Twelve-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela duodecimguttata)

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Book Meme

I haven't done a meme for a while. This one comes from Lemuel, who has been my primary meme source in life. It's also yet another excuse to get all geeky on everyone:
1. Pick up the nearest book (at least 123 pages).

2. Turn to page 123.

3. Find the 5th sentence

4. Post the 5th sentence.
I'm at the breakfast table right now. This is from the book sitting right next to me:
Within the genus Cicindela alone, numerous examples of this geographic pattern are found among species in the subgenera Cicindina, Ifasina, Lophyridia, Calochroa, and Cosmodelia.
Aside to Lem- I'm sure you now regret asking. My site meter will go into free fall at any moment.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

What We Are Fighting Against

It's been a rough morning in blogland. A bunch of folks are posting stuff that is elevating my blood pressure. The worst, via Andrew Sullivan
"When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [i.e. biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you," - Ben Stein.
I do hope that Mr. Stein and his relatives aren't taking any of their doctors' advice about their health care. After all, that's just evil, immoral scientists telling them what to do, and we all know where that leads. This isn't a potitical blog. I have talked about politics very infrequently here. But the assault from the right wing these days on reason and science cannot go unanswered. Mr. Stein, and his recent movie exemplify the lengths that those folks will go in distorting the truth lying in order to further their own agenda. It's easy to make accusations that somebody is lying. In Stein's case, the accusation has quite a bit of evidence supporting it however. Avoid at all costs Mr. Stein's miserable movie Expelled. If you must see it, at least check out the evidence about the profound untruths he is propagating at the webside Expelled Exposed.

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