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Dedicated to protecting and restoring Ellerbe Creek
Ellerbe Creek E-Zine (July 2015)

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Welcome to the bimonthly natural history update from the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association.  This update describes what to expect from the wildlife and wild plants in the watershed this month.  We hope you enjoy this feature.




On The Wild Side

Birds.− The melodious songs of most bird species begin to disappear this month. Yet some species, including indigo buntings and blue grosbeaks, remain indefatigable and continue to sing in hopes of producing their second brood.


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Blue Grosbeak in flight.


In July, remember to look for anting behavior, when birds carefully arrange themselves on top of an anthill or vigorously rub their feathers with an ant held tight in their bill. Summer and year-round residents that engage in anting include the yellow-billed cuckoo, mourning dove, common flicker, brown thrasher, and pine warbler.

 

Towards the end of July, crows, blackbirds, and robins sometimes begin to aggregate into their winter flocks.

 

Butterflies.− This month the flight of the common wood nymph is just beginning, so you see them newly emerged and relatively bright. Lucky observers may also see fresh Appalachian browns and tawny emperors.


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Common Wood-Nymph


In addition, naturalists and gardeners may notice large green caterpillars with black and orange markings munching away on flowers in the Carrot family this month, or you might see strange, greenish-brown cocoons hanging from plants (see video of the process). Most likely, you are witnessing black swallowtails (Papilio polyxenes) in either the larval or the pupal stage of development.

 

In fact, the black swallowtail is one of the most commonly seen garden butterflies, although this year local lepidopterists have observed a decline in sightings as compared to the last two years. Males are recognized by their jet-black wings lined with yellow-orange bands, a few blue spots, and a single black-eyed orange spot. The female is mostly black with lines of yellow and blue spots.


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Black Swallowtail

 

July also hosts annual butterfly counts across the country and in the North Carolina Piedmont. According to local zoologist Harry LeGrand, Jr., the cabbage white and orange sulphur butterflies that used to be so common, are often missed in the July count. LeGrand suspects that the continued loss of agricultural fields to urban development has contributed to the decline of these once abundant species.

 

Reptiles & Amphibians.− Keep an eye out for snakes and turtles this month. Water turtles, such as yellow-bellied sliders, laid egg in May and some may hatch towards the middle of the month.

 

Large choruses of Cope’s gray treefrogs, green treefrogs, bullfrogs, and green frogs can still be heard this month. Also, listen for nasal class of the eastern narrow-mouthed toads and eastern spadefoots. Cope’s gray treefrog froglets continue to emerge from ponds and wetlands this month.


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Cope's Gray Treefrog

 

Other Insects.− Cicadas and katydids will be chorusing in earnest this month. Cicadas mate at the peak of summer. Males make their distinctive sound by vibrating membranes in their abdominal cavity. After mating, females lay several hundred eggs at the tips of tree branches. Once the eggs hatch, cicada nymphs fall to the ground and burrow into the soil. Staying underground for two or more years, depending on the species, cicada nymphs feed on the juice of plant roots. Eventually these nymphs emerge as adults, abandoning the hollow shells of their nymph-hood.

 

Also, lookout for increased numbers of Japanese beetles, a pest that arrived from Japan in 1916 that damages more than 200 different plants species in North America.

 

This month, a number of large and fascinating beetles can be found in abundance. Some species you might see (with identifying traits in parentheses) include:

  • fiery searchers (up to 1.5 inches long, with greenish, lined wings)
  • Bess beetles (large black beetle with small horn)
  • Hercules beetles (army green with black spots; males have two horns -- one on the thorax and one on the head)
  • reddish-brown stags (reddish-brown beetles, with “antlers”)


Interested in learning more about insects this month? Check out the “wildlife profile” below on June Bugs in July!

 







In Bloom

Blood Root

Ever wonder why flowers come in such a diversity of shapes, sizes, and colors? They are meant to attract different pollinators. Orange flowers, like butterflyweed, and purple flowers, like purple-coneflower, primarily attract butterflies although other pollinators will visit these floral gems as well. Tubular red flowers with copious and sweet nectar, like cardinal flower and trumpet creeper, are very attractive to hummingbirds.

 

In Bloom:

SMALL-FRUIT AGRIMONY – Agrimonia microcarpa

SWAMP MILKWEED – Asclepias incarnata

DOWNY YELLOW FALSE-FOXGLOVE – Aureolaria virginica

AMERICAN BEAUTY-BERRY – Callicarpa americana

TRUMPET CREEPER - Campsis radicans

GREEN-AND-GOLD – Chrysogonum virginanum

WHORLED TICKSEED – Coreopsis verticillata

TICK TREFOIL(S) – Desmodium spp.

INDIAN-STRAWBERRY – Duchesnia indica

PURPLE-CONEFLOWER – Echinacea spp.

EASTERN DAISY FLEABANE- Erigeron annuus

NORTHERN RATTLESNAKE-MASTER – Eryngium yuccifolium

THOROUGHWORT – Eupatorium spp.

WHITE AVENS – Geum canadense

SCARLET ROSE-MALLOW – Hibiscus coccineus

ST. ANDREW’S-CROSS – Hypericum hypericoides

VIRGINIA BUNCHFLOWER –Melanthium virginicum

SUMMER PHLOX – Phlox paniculata

AMERICAN LOPSEED – Phryma leptostachya

BLACK-EYED-SUSAN(S) – Rudbeckia spp.

HOARY SKULLCAP – Scutellaria incana

STICKY ROSINWEED – Silphium glutinosum

STARRY ROSINWEED –Silphium asteriscus

AXILLARY GOLDENROD – Solidago caesia.

STOKES’-ASTER – Stokesia laevis

IRONWEED - Vernonia spp.


Wildlife Profile

June Bugs in July

 

In the Piedmont of North Carolina, adult June bugs (Cotinis nitida) are most abundant in July!


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June bug.


June bugs are quintessential summer insects and the stuff of childhood memories. According to a local veterinarian, “instead of walking a dog, I’d fly a June bug.” To fly a June bug, he would gently tie a 10-foot long thread around the back leg of the June bug. After an hour of enjoying the June bug’s bursts of flight, he would carefully untie the string and free the bug uninjured.

 

In June, adults begin to emerge in groups from the ground: They feed and the mate. In 1956, Constance Nicholas Patton described the mating ritual:

 

There were about a dozen green June beetles (Cotinus nitida) circling the palm and alighting now-and-then to rest. Occasionally one would dart off and describe a wide arc, about a food above the ground. Numerous individuals were flying slowly about 3 or 4 inches above the freshly mowed lawn. Following a zig-zag course, a beetle would circle back and suddenly drop to the turf and disappear.

 

Upon investigation of the spot where a beetle had disappeared, I found not one, but two insects. They were mating, the male clasping the female by means of the front tarsi, which were hooked around the anterior edge of the pronotum. A mating pair could be handled without disturbing it, which is unusual for so wary an insect.

 

After mating, females lay eggs into organic matter rich soil, which hatch into grubs (i.e., larvae) after eight to 20 days. The whitish, c-shaped larvae spend the winter deep (8 to 24 inches) in the soil. In early spring, the larvae move towards the surface, feeding and digging tunnels on their backs. In mid-Spring, the larvae transform into pupa. After 18 days as an inactive pupa, the June bug transforms into an adult and climbs out of the ground, beginning the full-year cycle anew.

 

June bugs can be a bit of a pest, feeding on ripe fruit (e.g., grapes) and young corn as adults and on the roots of grasses as larvae. If you are having problems with June bugs eating your plants, consider them as a back yard food crop: American Indians would roast them on hot coals, educing their “buttery, walnut” flavor.

 

Some people confuse June bugs with Japanese beetles (both types of Scarab beetles). Here are a few ways to differentiate them:

  • Size: June bugs are large (1 inch long) and Japanese beetles are smaller (a half inch long)
  • Coloring: June bugs tend to be mostly green, with bronze edges. Japanese beetles are usually green with bronze wing covers (called elytra) that dominate the visual extent of their backs. Japanese beetles also have tufts of white hair on the sides of their bodies.
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June bugs vs. Japanese beetles


References

Borror, D. J., and R. E. White. 1970. Peterson Field Guides to Insects of North America. Houghton Mifflin: New York, NY.

 

Cook, D. 2001. The Piedmont Almanac. Raleigh, NC: Barefoot Press.

 

Daniels, J. C. 2003. Butterflies of the Carolinas. Cambridge, MN: Adventure Publications, Inc.

 

Deane, G. n.d. “Bug-a-Boo’s or Grubs Up.” Available at http://www.eattheweeds.com/bug-a-boos-or-grubs-up/.

 

Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, and D. Wheye (1988). The Birder's Handbook. New York: Simon & Schuster.

 

North Carolina Cooperative Extension. n.d. “Green June Beetle” North Carolina State University. Available at http://ipm.ncsu.edu/AG271/tobacco/green_june_beetle.html

Patton, C. N. 1956. Observations on the mating behavior of the green June beetle, Cotinus nitida (Linn.). The Florida Entomologist 39(2): 95.

Wagner, D. L. 2005. Caterpillars of Eastern North America. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ


About the Author

Nicolette Cagle, Ph.D. is a passionate ecologist and environmental educator on the faculty of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University.

To learn more, please visit Nicolette Cagle's website.
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