…the sound of a chainsaw. Or maybe hedge-trimmer, mixed with chainsaw and leaf-blower. Here in good ole’ SE NC, you can’t go outdoors in October without a soundtrack of revving yard equipment. Squared-off hedges and precision edges are the goal. Never mind the cloud of exhaust enlivened by aerosolized pollen and animal turds. Fun times!
Here’s a clip we recorded of neighborhood sounds this morning, from our patio…
It’s been a busy storm season in the southern states. Harvey and Irma fumed and convulsed*, leaving victims across all genera and habitat. Since I can’t help it, I’ll mention some aggravating and/or culpable unmentionables…climate change, sea level rise, greenhouse gases, heat island effect, scientific censorship, global emissions, human population growth, consumption.
“Expansion always, in all ways“™ – this gem courtesy of Million Dollar Listing’s Ryan Serhant. (at left, in said listing.) In other words, the goal of nearly every organism. Thinking about this gross pervasive consumerist attitude while hearing endless coverage of various storm tragedies made for some negative head-space.
Anyway. Despite the weather and attitude, there have been some pretty cool yard sightings lately! We rescued some Lobelia puberula (I think…the perennial blue Lobelias make a confusing genus!**) from new development last year, and what were tiny plants returned this summer to become alluring (and also toxic) giants. Seriously. They are about 4′ tall, and have been covered in butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds since starting to bloom about 2 weeks ago. Since they have long racemes of flowers that start blooming from the bottom up, and seem to occasionally send out secondary racemes, this perennial has a LOOONNNGG bloom period.
At the end of August, we spotted this brand new Blinded sphinx moth, Paonias excaecata, hanging out on Atlantic white cedar, Chamaecyparis thyoides. The caterpillars of this species feast on a wide variety of plants, so who knows whence*** it came. And just in the last few days, some Painted buntings, Red-eyed vireos, and Veeries have been haunting the Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana and Yaupon, Ilex vomitoria, and feeders.
*Moil would be another good description, especially for Harvey.
** “Lobelia puberula is a polymorphic species with numerous forms (McVaugh 1936) that have been considered varieties by some authors (Fernald 1947).”- from Researchgate, KEYS, DISTRIBUTION, AND TAXONOMIC NOTES FOR THE LOBELIA (LOBELIA, CAMPANULACEAE) OF ALABAMA AND ADJACENT STATES, Daniel D. Spaulding, T. Wayne Barger
*** did you know that ‘from whence’ is redundant? I didn’t, until checking usage for this post…
Barrier islands are fantastic places to see fascinating plant and animal adaptations to dynamic, high disturbance conditions. St. George Island, located ~3 to 8 miles off of panhandle Florida’s (not really) forgotten Gulf coast, is presently about 28 miles long, with an average width of about 3/4 of a mile. It is part of a chain of islands that form the outer rim of Apalachicola Bay, one of the most biologically diverse and productive estuarine systems in the world. (the lower portion of the Apalachicola River basin was designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1983.)
Although St. George has been developed as a popular vacation spot, its ecology remains evident in natural areas across the island (various map links here), as well as many yards, roadsides, and ditches. These photos represent just a tiny cross-section of barrier island flora and fauna…
1. Whitney, Eleanor Noss., D. Bruce. Means, and Eryk Jadaszewski. Florida’s Uplands. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple, 2014. Print
…oh things ain’t what they used to be… – Marvin Gaye, 1971!
What was intended as an exercise in learning local ecology has become a documentation of its inexorable paving-over. Mostly in the name of more patio homes with 3-car garages, but also some strip centers (to buy crap to go in the garage), and a whole bunch of storage facilities (for the extra crap when the garage is full.)
Not far from here, one of the last chunks of wet pine flatwoods/sandy pine savanna, (or, ‘premier real estate opportunity’) is in planning to become a developer fantasy of multifamily housing and retail. It’s a place a few of us like to explore (trespass) to enjoy its incredible diversity of rare plants. birds, and other creatures. A few of the life forms found there might even be the last of their kind in this area. Any time of year is a good time to find something unusual and beautiful, especially if you are patient and enjoy squatting. And don’t mind biting or stinging bugs.
Like other remaining relic real places around here, this one is doomed for the grader. Efforts have been made with the owner, the county, and even various land trusts, but this little pocket just doesn’t seem to register as a keeper. And although wetland portions have been delineated, it is still possible to alter them with the right permits and greased palms. For the sake of visual record and posterity, here are some photos…
To honor an Am-ur-ikan tradition, maybe the owner will name the new development for what will be removed, plus a nonsensical ‘place’ word. As in Flytrap Plantation. Pond Pine Dunes. or Orchid Arbor. Perhaps some boutique-ish-looking price tags on the plants might help? On second thought, bad idea (and a big part of the problem to begin with) – isolating plants from ecological context for pure aesthetics devalues the magic of the assemblage. Fear would be a better motivator to leave this alone – there is no shortage of snakes… SSSSSS…..
i’ve got a feelin down deep in my adeagus that i just can’t lose…
– apologies to Lionel Richie and fans.
Persimmon beetles, Anomoea laticlavia, are members of Chrysomelidae, the leaf-eating beetles.
Guess where we found them? In addition to getting busy with each other in a variety of postures, they appeared (simultaneously, in some cases) to be making short work of young leaves of American persimmon, Diospyros virginiana. Persimmon beetles belong to the subfamily Cryptocephalinae, or Case-bearing beetles. They lay eggs that are enclosed in carefully constructed containers made of feces and other excretions. As the larvae mature, they open and flip the case, using it as a base to construct a more elaborate structure (or ‘scatoshell’) also made from feces and leaf detritus. (1,2,3,4)
Although records in NC are mostly from Persimmon, in other parts of the SE , this species is also associated with legumes (Fabaceae), oaks (Quercus), willow (Salix), and in the Great Plains, more specifically with leadplant (Amorpha). (1) In our yard, they also appeared to be seeking and eating Carolina cherry (Prunus caroliniana), and black cherry, (P. serotina), although in smaller numbers. They are not noted agricultural pests.
Many of the leaf-eating beetles (during their larval phase) are myrmecophiles – they have some association with ants. Anomoea spp. have been noted to eat ant detritus and humus. (4)
Baker, James. “Claycolored Leaf Beetle PDIC Factsheets.” Claycolored Leaf Beetle | NC State Extension Publications. N.p., 10 June 2015. Web. 11 May 2017.
Morphology and Systematics: Phytophaga, Richard A.B. Leschen, Rolf G. Beutel. Walter de Gruyter, Apr 1, 2014
Eaton, Eric R., Rick Bowers, and Kenn Kaufman. Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2007. Print.
Agrain FA, Buffington ML, Chaboo CS, Chamorro ML, Schöller M (2015) Leaf beetles are ant-nest beetles: the curious life of the juvenile stages of case-bearers (Coleoptera, Chrysomelidae, Cryptocephalinae). In: Jolivet P, Santiago-Blay J, Schmitt M (Eds) Research on Chrysomelidae 5. ZooKeys 547: 133–164. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.547.6098
Early last month, as many local plants began blooming a couple of weeks earlier than usual, the native Vaccinium spp. we’d planted as part of an edible perimeter started to attract a buzzing crowd. Blueberries and their close relatives produce dangling bell-shaped flowers that are pollinated by a variety of native bees in addition to honeybees. In SE NC, cultivars of Vaccinium virgatum (syn. V. ashei, known as rabbiteye blueberries (evidently named for the pinkish eyeball appearance of the fruit) are very popular. This southeastern coastal plain species, sometimes also called ‘swamp blueberry,’ naturally occurs in swamps and pocosins, as well as drier upland areas. (Weakley, 2015)
The March visitor to the flowering blueberry buffer was Hapropoda laboriosa, the Southeastern Blueberry Bee. This species is a member of Apidae, a large family which also includes honey bees, bumble bees, and carpenter bees, among many others. These are the longer-tongued bees that are more adapted for gathering nectar from deeper flowers. Southeastern Blueberry Bees, as their name suggests, are oligolectic – they collect pollen primarily from a single genus, although this species is also occasionally seen on other early spring-flowering species such as Gelsemium sempervirens, Cercis canadensis, and Linaria canadensis. (1) Southeastern Blueberry Bees collect pollen via sonication, or more descriptively, buzz-pollination’ – they vibrate their flight muscles while gathering nectar, shaking pollen from the anthers of the flowers.
The genus Hapropoda, aka Digger Bees, like most of the native bee species in the US, are solitary ground nesters. (2,3) Although a number of other species also pollinate blueberries, it has been estimated that a single female Southeastern Blueberry Bee can visit 50,000 blueberry flowers, producing 6000 blueberries that have a market value of about $20. (4)
Now that it is well into April, the blueberry crop is ripening, confirmation of successful pollination. Although the Habropoda are no longer in sight, other insects are taking notice of the blueberry plants.
Larvae of the Triton Dagger Moth, Acronicta tritona, and Azalea Caterpillar Moth, Datana major, also favor Vaccinium species, along with other members of Ericaceae. For the feathered members of this food web, these juicy-looking caterpillars may be more enticing this time of year than the burgeoning fruit…
*For more about native bees of the southeast, here’s a link to a nice publication produced by USDA Forest Service with the Pollinator Partnership.
Cane, J., Payne, J. A. 1988. Foraging ecology of the bee Habropoda laboriosa (Hymenoptera: Anthophoridae), an oligolege of blueberries (Ericaceae: Vaccinium) in the southeastern United States. Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 81:419-427.
Cane, J. 1994. Nesting biology and mating behavior of the southeastern blueberry bee, Habropoda laboriosa (Hymenoptera: Apoidea). Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society, 67:236-241.
Xerces, Society The. Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies. North Adams, MA: Storey Pub., 2011. Print
Cane, J.H. 1997. Lifetime monetary value of individual pollinators: the bee Habropoda laboriosa at rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium ashei reade). Acta Hortic, 446:67-70.
DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.1997.446.8 https://doi.org/10.17660/ActaHortic.1997.446.8
And phenology anomaly. In SE NC, it’s weird when strawberries bear fruit in February. Almost all of the species one expects to see in flower or courting regalia around April are already there, getting a head-start on what is looking to be a looong summer.
Here’s an early bird spring sampler from suburbia.
Is this our future? Check out this essayfrom the New York Times.
As the crow flies, Fort Fisher is about 25 miles south of our place, and at low tide, it reveals an amazing and unusual natural feature. The hard-bottom habitat emerging from sand at the south end of Kure Beach, often referred to as ‘Cape Fear Coquina’ or the Neuse Formation, is part of a system of sandstone and mudstone ridges that make up the nearshore edge of the Gulf Stream. (1)
A rushing stream that carves its way towards the retreating tide is fresh(ish) water, emerging from a portion of the Castle Hayne aquifer that reaches the surface. Flattened ledges are covered in various algaes, including Sea Hair / Enteromorpha spp., Sea Lettuce / Ulva spp., and, at noticeably lower elevations, a pinkish red seaweed we couldn’t identify. Shorebirds were having a field day (har!) , as were a few Forbes Sea Stars and Calico Crabs.
1. Frankenberg, Dirk. The Nature of North Carolina’s Southern Coast: Barrier Islands, Coastal Waters, and Wetlands. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina, 1997. Print.
SE NC is home to eleven species of Smilax, known collectively as the Greenbriers, or Catbriers. Members of this genus can be found in wet to dry sites, entwined in lower tree branches and scrambling over shrubs, though they are most often “noticed” when one has fish-hooked into your thigh. Smilax species don’t receive much love from the gardening community, but this tenacious group of lianas is a valuable wildlife resource, both as shelter and forage. All of the woody species in SE NC climb via paired stipular tendrils which are thigmotropic – they begin to coil in response to touch.
Female plants produce clusters of berries that are eaten by birds and black bears. The new shoots of some species are a forager’s delight, and when cooked, apparently taste somewhere between asparagus and green beans. (Haven’t tried this yet, but will provide an update when the spring shoots arrive.) Greenbrier is also a larval host plant for Spotted and Turbulent Phosphilas, Curve-lined Owlets, Copper Underwings, and Ruby Quakers (all moths – awesome names, eh?), among others. (1)
Large tuberous rhizomes of some species were eaten as mush, and were also used by the Miccosukee and Seminoles to produce a red flour or thickening agent called Conti Chatee. (2) Sarsparilla is a common name for a number of more tropical Smilax spp. that have a long history in herbal medicine.
Wagner, David L. Caterpillars of Eastern North America: A Guide to Identification and Natural History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2005. Print.
Small, John Kunkel. Manual of the Southeastern Flora. New York: Hafner Pub., 1933. Print.
Godfrey, Robert K., and Jean Wilson. Wooten. Aquatic and Wetland Plants of Southeastern United States: Monocotyledons. Athens: U of Georgia, 1981. Print.
The banner photo is a twilight view of Mexico, looking across the Rio Grande from our campsite at Cottonwood Campground in Big Bend National Park. The photo was taken on May 28, 2005, when we were moving to coastal NC from Seattle, WA via Cruise America camper. The cross-country journey included 11 National Parks, and as many or more state parks and wilderness areas. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to see so many national treasures. It was a reminder that the UNITED (?) States includes an AWESOME bio-geographical range to complement our cultural diversity. In nature, diversity is life.
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.” – Edward Abbey
The Rio Grande forms part of the border between Mexico and the United States. This portion of the river measures anywhere from 889 miles to 1,248 miles long. Like most rivers, it is dynamic – changing width, depth and path with the seasons. In our 3 days camped in Big Bend NP along the river, we watched all sorts of wildlife move along and across by foot, wing, and fin. It was a constant reminder that nature’s edges are shared resources, not defined by political boundaries.
Big Bend National Park was established in 1944, (along with the Civilian Conservation Corps) – part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal optimism. FDR was particularly interested a companion park in Mexico to promote peace and better relations. Although an international park has not yet become a reality, in 1976, the United Nations recognized the Big Bend area as an ‘International Biosphere Reserve.’ (1,2,3)
More recently, the Greater Big Bend Coalition has continued efforts to establish an international park, petitioning TX congressman Will Hurd, and previous Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell and President Obama in September 2016.
In any case, it is clear that Forty-five is not concerned about an apocalypse or any sense of future, because it inhabits a gilded egg that will have potable water, air-filtering systems, and and endless supply of Lays for sustenance. It is easy to get caught up in the comedy that comes from this idiocracy, but if you care about the future of the planet and humanity, it’s time to step up. Executive orders and new legislation that affect your life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness are arriving at automatic weapon pace. Call your congresspeople. March. Get even more involved with your local environmental non-profits.
RESIST.SAVE NATIONAL PARKS. SAVE SCIENCE. NO WALL. NO DRILLING.
Hey, community of Donald – sit on this.
suburban biodiversity in southeastern north carolina