I was out looking for the elusive snow fly yesterday but found this, instead: an eastern stonefly (Allocapnia recta), a member of the Capniidae (small winter stoneflies). At least that’s what I think it is. Larvae are active during the winter, and adults can fly and mate even when temperature is in the teens. Pretty incredible to see them flitting around on a cold day when other insects cannot even move. At Hildacy Farm in Media, PA. Probably emerged from the nearby Crum Creek.
Here’s a photograph I took several years ago at the National Zoo’s “Think Tank” exhibit on primate cognition. Darwin Day is one week so I thought I’d share.
The text is a little hard to read so here’s transcription:
“This exhibit is about animal thinking. It contains some things you may agree with, some you may disagree with, and others that may even trouble you. Come explore and see what you think.”
The warning sign was crafted by Smithsonian staff to cater to snowflake creationists who complained about the “Changes over millions of years have resulted in today’s humans” panel that covered the age of the earth, human evolution, and how natural selection works.
The “see what you think” part suggests to visitors that the facts presented within are up for debate and thus shouldn’t undermine somebody’s alternative views about human origins or the age of the earth. But, of course, the warning signage undermines the experience for all visitors. I.e., a curious but uninformed visit might assume that the exhibits are just wild guesses about what might have happened. A shameful use of tax dollars, in my opinion.
Apple oak gall (Amphibolips confluenta or Amphibolips quercusinanis), backlit to show leaf-like venation. Second photograph is a cross section showing where the wasp larva develops. I’d love to know what the spotting does, if anything.
Cynipid wasps love oaks for some reason — over 3/4 of the 1300 species use Quercus as host. People argue about why that’s the case (e.g., Ronquist et al. 2015). Even Alfred Kinsey the sexologist weighed in, back in the days when he was obsessed with gall wasps.
Here’s a photograph of a narrow barklouse (Graphopsocus cruciatus) with a clutch of eggs. I was initially taking a photograph of the domed structure (more on that below), but then examined the photo on my camera’s LCD viewer and saw this tiny insect moving around. Which surprised me — it was December 18th, and cold. It wasn’t freezing, but certainly not a day I’d expect to find an insect out ovipositing. But apparently this group of insects (Stenopsocidae) are known to be active if there’s a random warm day in winter. I might go back in a few weeks to see what’s become of them.
Here’s a closeup of the eggs so you can see the silk that holds them down. I watched her apply this webbing (from labial silk glands) for about 15 minutes. Some species in this group are gregarious and can cover an entire tree in such webbing, which tends to freak out homeowners. I’ve only seen that in Puerto Rico, though.
I’m not exactly sure what the egg case is (antmimic spider? ground sac spider?), but I’m wondering whether the barklouse might have positioned her eggs near a potential food source. Barklice are reported to eat fungi, algae, lichens, plant tissue, and pollen, but there doesn’t seem to be much published on the species’ natural history or diet prefereces. I briefly thought the structure might be a slime mold like Enteridium lycoperdon, but then I saw (I think) white embryos or larvae through one of the two holes that seemed roughly chewed through the shell-like exterior. If you recognize the contents, I’d love to hear from you.
Many thanks to Ross Hill (Meford, Oregon) for identification, and to Edward Mockford (University of Illinois) for helpful references on the species.
Here’s a gooey, mysterious find from my trip to Mohonk Mountain House over Thanksgiving. It took me a while to identify, but I think it’s a stalked puffball-in-aspic (Calostoma cinnabarinum), an ectomycorrhizal boletes that is associated with oak tree roots. It has a number of amusing common names such as hot lips and pretty lips. This one was growing around a pine tree, so perhaps they are flexible about their symbiotic partner. It’s also possible that roots from distant oaks extended to this location (there are some leaves in the frame). But I think the former is more likely, partly because I found a paper (Bautista-Nava and Moreno-Fuentes 2009) that says they grow in pine forests in Mexico. But that paper is in Spanish, which I cannot read, so I could have that wrong.
After reading they were puffballs, I of course had to hike back to the site to confirm that. Sure enough, filled with spores.
I’d love to know whether the smaller blobs (most visible in the first photograph) have some supporting function. They apparently are part of the spore case and fall off as the fruiting body matures. But do they also mature into mini puffballs, too? If they don’t, I wonder whether they might act as egg mimics to attract vertebrates (squirrels? raccoons? birds?) that would then step on the larger fruiting bodies, releasing spores. Likely not, but I’m risking the speculation because they look exactly like fish or amphibian eggs, and most guides mention this similarity. In really weak support of this idea, some guide books say it is especially common near streams (where frogs, salamanders, and fish might be common). For those laughing hysterically at me, I would like to mention in my defense that fungi have evolved to mimic termite eggs on several occasions (Matsuura and Yashiro 2010), so it’s not completely without precedent. OK, you can keep laughing now.
Here is a trio of fruiting bodies approximately a foot or so away from the above location. They are in the process of emerging from the soil. The egg-like pieces are still attached underneath, I believe. Would be nice to capture the emergence and maturation on time-lapse.
If you can share any natural history on this species, I’d love to know more. Please leave a comment or email me.