Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lost Ladybug Project

When you're out and about this summer, keep your eyes open for ladybugs. Cornell University's Lost Ladybug Project is logging ladybug species throughout the United States. Cornell scientists are looking for native species of ladybugs which have become increasingly rare over the past two decades. You can become part of the project by photographing your ladybug finds and sending your photos to be recorded in Cornell's database.

My children were thrilled to learn they had found two uncommon dark forms of a ladybug known as Calvia quatuordecimguttata or the cream-colored ladybug.

For more detailed information on taking part in this project visit

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

No more robins

Sad news. Egg shells were scattered on the ground underneath the bush where the robins were nesting. A peek inside the nest revealed no eggs and no babies. The soft grass lining the nest had been pulled up. Most likely another bird, perhaps a crow, discovered the nest and ate the eggs. We'll wait and see if the robins come back to try a third time.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Mantis Babies at Work

The mantis babies are doing a great job ridding my garden of pests. Even though it's been raining on and off for days, we still manage to find some out in the garden, particularly in the rose bush and butterfly garden. These two mantises have a lot of work to do to rid the rose bush of aphids and leaf hoppers, but they're trying their hardest.

This one is devouring a juicy aphid it snatched off the morning glory.

The beautiful creature below is the devil in disguise. It's a scarlet-and-green leafhopper (Graphocephala coccinea), scourge of my flowering plants. Don't be fooled by that dazzling color scheme. All this little bugger wants to do is suck the life out of your plants. Devoid of sap, my rose bushes and rhododendron leaves have turned crusty and brown.
Before becoming an adult, the scarlet-and-green (or red-banded) leafhopper is neon yellow. This one was no match for a quick baby mantis. What else is ruining my garden? Treehoppers! The species we get, Entylia carinata can be identified by the notch in their back. They look just like thorns on a twig.
Our treehoppers are enjoying a mutually beneficial partnership with a local population of ants. While the treehoppers are capable of piercing and sucking in the sugary sap of plants, the ants jaws cannot do this. But the ants want a sweet treat, too! So they hang around the treehoppers waiting for them to excrete "honeydew." To return the favor, the ants protect the treehoppers, their eggs and young from enemy insects. Everyone wins (but me - now I've got ants and plant destroying insects!).

Eat up, mantids!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Robins Round 2

The robins are back for round two of nesting. There are three eggs this time. Instead of finding a new nesting spot, the pair decided to reserve their energy and reuse the first nest they built. My prediction was that they were going to move and build a new nest in a quieter location. Trying to nest peacefully next to a deck where there's a busy flow of kids running up and down the stairs is quite a challenge. Especially when people make frequent stops to peek at the occupants and coo, "Oh how cute!" (Yes, I'm guilty!)

Praying Mantis Babies

They're here! It's been a long wait - months in the refrigerator and about 7 weeks warming in the house, but one ootheca has hatched. This ootheca (egg case) was produced by a Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinesis). We tried counting and came up with around 200 little ones. We've let most free to make their way in the world (and hopefully eat up the aphids in my garden). The rest will be released by the end of the week after they make their debut at a couple of school presentations.
A big "Thank You" to teacher Jennifer Sheerin and her wonderful students at the Maria Hastings Elementary School for inviting me to talk about insects this morning. Everyone was so interested and asked great questions. I am looking foward to seeing some of the mantis pictures they drew.

This mantis is keeper of the snapdragons in our butterfy garden.

These tiny creatures, currently about 1-1.5 cm long, will grown to be 5 inches long by the end of the summer. They will mate (hopefully), lay their foamy egg case on a shrub branch, and die when the weather turns cold. After releasing hundreds of mantises last year, we found one as an adult in September. We kept her until December when she died after producing two egg cases. Her hunting skills were mesmerizing to watch, although it was rather gory to see her consume her prey while it was still alive. In this photo, "Mandy" is resting on my son's hand.

Yum, mealworms!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What's at the Pond?

My kids love the cemetery. Weird, right? It's actually a beautiful green place with two ponds loaded with life. We're there sometimes two days a week checking for exciting new developments both in the water and on land. It's a great place to bird watch. Our bird list includes Baltimore orioles, red-tailed and sharp-shinned hawks, mergansers, mallards, geese and king birds.

For the past two months, the ponds at West Parish Cemetery have been coming to life. When we stopped by in March hoping to glimpse egg masses, we were disappointed. Thick slabs of ice still floated on the surface, hiding any signs of life underneath. April and May, however, brought an explosion of pond creatures.

The green frogs, in particular, have been busy. This is green frog spawn, found in large sheets in the shallow water near the edges of the pond. Each tiny black dot hatches within 3-4 days, releasing a tadpole into a watery world. The egg mass can contain 1,000+ eggs.

My children and I took a few eggs home and watched the comma-shaped embryos grow and wriggle within the round globs of jelly. This picture was taken within the first days after the tadpoles emerged.

Here you can see the frilly gills on either side of their heads.

This two week old tadpole is using its raspy mouth to scrape bits of algae from the edge of the container. The tadpoles may metamorphose this season or overwinter in the pond and become adults next year. Here's one well on its way with back legs already developing. These larger tadpoles look very funny "standing" in the shallows on their fully developed hind legs.

Green frogs (Rana clamitans melanota) are common in the Northeast. The cemetery pond is a perfect breeding ground - a still, constant water source. The frogs breed from March through August, with the males arriving first to claim the best spots and entice females with their calls. Hear the male green frog's "come hither" call by clicking on this link:
Male green frogs can be identified by a large ear drum or tympanum which is bigger than their eye. Adult males also have a pale yellow throat. This guy has found himself a nice raft.

These green frogs feast on a multitude of insects and often bask on the side of the pond. Some actually refuse to move from their warm spots and don't seem to mind being gently stroked on the back.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Empty Nest

The trilling was unmistakable at 5 am this morning. My first thought was "Could the baby robins already be out of their nest?" Four robins hopped about the front lawn. Two were parents hard at work looking for food to fill their insatiable babies' bellies. The other two - one hovering near the adult male and the other with the female - were almost as big as the parents, but their throats and chests were marked with the spots of babyhood. When spooked, the young birds flew into the bushes or the low branches of a nearby tree.

Could these be the same babies I saw crammed together in their nest just last night? I ran down to the back deck and checked the nest. Empty!

What an amazing treat to have witnessed the growth of these two robin chicks. My first photo taken on May 2 showed a completely constructed empty nest. Next, two eggs were evident by May 7 and the first chick hatched around the 21st. The sibling debuted two days later on the 23rd. By the 29th, the two chicks were already feathered. I expected more of an awkward fledgling stage, but by today, June 3, they were out and about and doing quite well with their first flights. So much progress in the span of one month. Watch the progression on this slide show.

American Robins can produce 2-3 sets of chicks per breeding season, so these parents won't be resting for quite some time. Usually, they will construct a new nest in a new location. This first set of chicks will continue to beg for food from the parents and will remain within this area for the remainder of the summer.

Here are a couple of photos of the speckled chested chicks begging for food.