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Crossing Paths: Amphibians and Springtime Roads

[The content of this blog is almost identical to a posting on the Farmscape Ecology Program Facebook page by Conrad earlier today, which we hereby make available to readers who don’t use Facebook].

We are on the tail of Winter or the cusp of Spring. The time of year for ice and mud, snow and rain. It is the season when the Woodcocks peet bravely on a rimey mornings and evenings, when male Red-winged Blackbirds look cold and lonely around frosty ponds, and when… the salamanders and frogs move across wet roads.

To understand why creatures like Spotted Salamanders try to cross roads, one has to understand that they have their own routes to follow – the paths that lead them from the upland forest where they spent most of the year to the vernal pool or other wetland where they will mate. These are paths they may have followed year after year (Spotted Salamanders can live a couple of decades), generation after generation; and yet, more and more, they are intersecting with our own asphalt causeways.

During the first wet and warmer nights of Spring, these creatures undertake their migrations. They appear as if by some mysterious flowering from the earth for one rarely sees them at other times of year. The salamanders are slow and determined and we are fast and determined – many die beneath our car tires. Frogs are quicker but more erratic, they too are often hit. This photo collection profiles some of what we have seen so far this year.

The DEC’s Hudson River Estuary Program has a valuable project to identify road crossings and encourage volunteers to help guide salamanders and frogs safely across the road, please check out their web site: http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/51925.html for tips and information on this citizen science network.

This year, the majority of crossings to breeding ponds has probably already happened in many areas, but the next warm, rainy evening may bring further movement, including some breeders returning to the woods. It’s not too late to take a flashlight, a reflective vest and, while mindful of your own safety, walk to a nearby stretch of wetland-bordered road and see who you can help across.

At the least, please think twice before driving out on such warm, wet evenings.

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No images of dark, wet roads at night, but this is a road on the morning after. This has been an ‘on again – off again’ Spring and, as happened on this date, a rainy evening eventually changed to a snowy night.

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By the time morning comes, there are usually no live amphibians left on the road, especially if the night got cold. But evidence of what has happened remains.

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In our area, Spotted Salamanders are usually the most common road-crossing salamanders, and we saw more than 30 last week, about half of whom were alive. These are long (up to more than 6”), lumbering creatures with bright yellow dots on a black (or, as early biologists, put it “subviolet”) background.

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They seem to look better on leaves than asphalt. There was also one greyish Jefferson or Blue-spotted Salamander amongst those attempting to cross.

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We also came across several of these last week, this is a Four-toed Salamander.

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Four-toeds are rarer or, at least, less conspicuous. They tend to be associated with Sphagnum and their ways seem more mysterious. Look for relatively small, slim salamanders, 2-3” long with a squared snout and an orange, herringboned back. The belly is a characteristic bright white with black dots.

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Frogs were also moving. We saw five or so dead Wood Frogs, but innumerable (50-100?) of these tiny Spring Peepers, perhaps a quarter to a half of whom were alive.

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Many of these creatures want to get to places like this – a woodland pool. Such pools tend to dry out in late summer, meaning that many predators, like fish and Bullfrogs, are absent. If they develop fast enough, the eggs of the road-crossers, laid during the early Spring orgies, will hatch into larvae that will grow into terrestrial juveniles who leave the pond before it dries.

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While I saw no eggs or adults in this pond over the weekend, these tell-tale, bread-crumb like spermatophores indicated that at least one ardent male salamander had arrived, perhaps several.

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Although our roads have surely upped the toll, Spring breeding has probably always been a dangerous time for these animals. One occasionally finds dismembered salamanders or frogs around Spring pools, perhaps indication that a passing predator, such as a Raccoon or Opossum, had a meal. Spotted Salamander do release a sticky white ooze that is said to be mildly toxic and might provide some protection.

These trotting fox tracks were going up a road where several salamanders had been run over, I don’t know whether that was coincidence or scavenging.

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Amphibians aren’t the only animals one is apt to see on wet roads, earthworms also come out in abundance.

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And the avian ‘road crew’ seems take advantage of this.

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I wanted to end this set of pictures with a Spring flower, but wild ones are still hard to come by in our area. However, this Skunk Cabbage was flowering in a nearby wetland.

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Posted by on April 9, 2018 in Farmscape Ecology, Nature

 

The Story of a Forest Stand.

Sorry to lead with a family snapshot, but there’s a story behind it. That’s me, around 1970, walking through the Red Pine plantation behind our house.

We moved to Canaan (NY) in 1970 and, as a young boy, one of my most vivid memories is of walking through a Red Pine plantation in the woods behind our house. The tall, straight, light-barked trees aligned in regular rows lorded over a clean and cushy covering of pine needles. The combination of surprising, all-encompassing symmetry and a feeling akin to walking on a water mattress made the experience other-worldly.

I did not at the time ask myself where that plantation came from nor where it might be going. Neither my parents nor I had any inkling of a ‘what should we do with it?’ sort of question. And yet, encapsulated in the history of that stand are the histories of many stands throughout the County and perhaps the region – the story of the forgotten tree plantation.

 

Land Classification Map from the 1941 “Columbia County Agricultural Survey”. The classification was apparently based on a tour of the County. Regions in “Land Class III and higher” were still in active, profitable farming; Land Class IIR was apparently borderline in terms of its farms; most farms in Land Class IR were abandoned or obviously declining. The green dot indicates the location of the Red Pine plantation mentioned in the text.

 

This map of the extent of agricultural decline across New York comes from Vaughan’s 1928, “Abandoned Farm Areas in New York”, Bulletin 490 of the Cornell Ag. Experiment Station. In most areas, the peak of farmland was around 1880.

 

Abandoned farmland reverts spontaneously to forest on a Gallatin (Columbia County) hillside in this 1935 image by Rogers McVaugh. Most of the County’s former farmland has returned to forest on its own.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, New York State land use visionaries, especially those in the eastern half of the State, had a quandary. For a variety of reasons (including the opening up of the fertile Midwest and a large-scale conversion to corn-based dairy), many former farm fields were being abandoned. For example, in 1925 it was estimated by Vaughan that New York had 4,500,000 acres less farmland than in 1880, the approximate peak of agricultural clearing. That amounted to about 15% of the State’s land cover, an area roughly equal to that of Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Dutchess, Ulster, Orange, Sullivan, Putnam and Rockland counties combined. In Columbia County alone, we estimate that improved farmland dropped by around 100,000 acres or more than 25% during the same period.

Reforestation was one way to fill this void. As Vaughan also put it, “The vast areas of idle land in the State are not only non-productive but they have a very depressing influence on agriculture and on the State as a whole…. In order that such land be kept from [unprofitable] agricultural production and still not remain idle and unproductive, reforestation has been suggested as the logical remedy.”

Perhaps inspired in part by German forestry, creating plantations became a focus of reforestation efforts. But what to plant? For several reasons, conifers seemed the logical answer: for example, White Pine was an eager old field volunteer, reflecting the ability of pines to grow on open land; pines tended to grow tall and straight in plantations; and the oft-erroneous vision of the primal pine forest perhaps helped to convince foresters of the long-term appropriateness and ease of growing such species. The State grew and planted millions of conifer seedlings. Between 1909 and 1952, over 790,000,000 trees were reportedly distributed. The vast majority of these were conifers, with White Pine, Red Pine, Scotch Pine and Norway Spruce prominent amongst them. Eventually, Red Pine was apparently favored over White Pine because it seemed more resistant to the pests and diseases that killed or, at least, distorted White Pine thereby reducing its timber value.

 

The distribution of seedlings as part of NYS reforestation efforts from the Atlas of Forestry of New York (1958?) by Neil Stout. A larger circle indicates a larger proportion of seedlings distributed.

 

European Larch is one conifer sometimes found in plantations. Unlike our other conifers, larch are completely deciduous and drop all of their needles every winter making them resemble dead snags.

 

Norway Spruce, a relatively common plantation tree, are distinguished by the characteristic drooping of the branches evident in this photo of an open-grown individual.

 

The White Pines lining this horizon could be those of a plantation, however, closer inspection would reveal that, in this case, they are probably old-field White Pine which spontaneously grew up in a former farm field. Both spontaneous and planted stands of White Pine are common in Columbia County.

 

Red Pine plantations can be identified by the red-barked trees evident in the first photo of this posting and the long needles grouped in clusters of two. Scotch Pine, another conifer sometimes found in our plantations, also has paired needles and red bark, but its needles are shorter and twisted.

 

Although pine plantations can be relatively low in diversity, some wildlife do like to use them for shelter, as evidenced by this string of deer beds.

 

While some of these plantations were on public land, many trees were distributed free to private land owners and plantations sprang up on farm fields throughout the region. However, as one prescient former DEC employee noted in 1959,

as every plantation owner knows (including the State of New York), with the trees in the ground the work has just begun. .. These plantations have got to be thinned out, just as you would thin out a row of radishes, if you want a good crop at harvesttime. … The problem – and it’s a very big one- is how to pay for these operations…. I can’t help wondering at times if reforestation, as an economic proposition, hasn’t been oversold, or at least misleadingly advertised to the general public. I’ve seen too many plantations, all over the Northeast, put in with a burst of enthusiasm, patriotism, and great expectations-and then left to take care of themselves when the time comes for somebody else to take care of them.

– Pieter W. Fosburgh, 1959, The Natural Thing: The Land and its Citizens.

Indeed, our landscape is now scattered with forgotten, decaying plantations. As the series of images below illustrate, my magical backyard Red Pine stand was no exception.

 

A 1942 aerial photograph, showing the future Red Pine plantation (circled) still as field.

 

In 1942 (above), the future location of that ‘home’ Red Pine stand was clearly open field, one of many in this well-worked landscape. Its microtopography suggests that, at least at some point, it was ploughed ground, not just hayfield or pasture.

 

By the time of this 1952 aerial, the plantation had been planted.

 

A landscape shot, probably from the early ’50s, with the young Red Pine plantation outlined.

 

By 1952 (above), however, the field had been planted to Red Pine, probably with funding from New York’s Forest Practice Act of 1946. The thick ‘head’ of trees suggest the seedlings had already been in the ground for a few years when that photograph was taken. An oblique view taken around the same time emphasizes how densely the trees were planted.

These trees continued to mature, and, by 1971 (below), they had formed a well-developed stand. The initial photo in this posting was taken at about this time.

 

A 1971 aerial of the stand at about the same time that the first photo of this posting was taken from within the stand.

 

In 1981, the plantation appears to have been generally intact, although a few holes are evident in the pine canopy.

 

A decade later (above), much of the stand was still intact, although holes had begun to appear. During the 1990s, a storm or storms tore apart the stand, breaking off many trunks. I don’t recall the exact meteorology but I do recall that, over a relatively short period of time, the stand collapsed, a startling glimpse of landscape mortality. By 1995 (below), most of the inner pines had evidently died, resulting in a configuration very similar to today’s.

 

A false-color image from 1995; the loss of mature trees from the core of the plantation is evident.

 

This 2017 image, taken during leaf-off, clearly shows that much of the former plantation is now composed of deciduous trees.

 

The mere ring of remaining pines in today’s stand (above) outlines a deciduous core. This too was a surprise to me. I had come think that pines begat pines, because their needles so acidified the soil as to rule out other sequences. However, if I were to have looked around me while walking through that 1970s stand, I should have grown suspicious – there were, in fact, no young Red Pines waiting to take their place in the slow-motion relay race of tree generations. Once the adult pines began to topple and light reached the ground, a flurry of deciduous trees started to stretch skyward. Today if one looks into the same stand where the initial photograph was taken (below), it requires imagination to believe it was ever a pine stand. True, a few incongruously tall and skinny Red Pines remain, but they are rapidly being enveloped by Sugar Maple and Black Cherry, together with lesser amounts American Beech, Red Maple, Hop Hornbeam, White and Red Oak, White Ash, and a couple of Hickory species.

 

A photo taken in the Red Pine plantation in early 2018. The main ingredient is no longer Red Pine, although a few of the edge trees are visible in the distance.

 

This should not have been a surprise. Red Pine is not a common tree in our area; McVaugh’s flora (digitized version courtesy of the NYS Museum), researched during the 1930s, described it as ‘rare’. It is a tree of dry sandy or gravelly soils, not of the loamy soils typical of our Canaan forest. As is true of many plants, that doesn’t mean that, given a head start as this plantation was, Red Pine can’t briefly prosper on a site, but it does mean that, without further human intervention, it will soon lose out to other species which are better able to persist. As a result, barring many new plantings, it is likely that Red Pine, despite its massive inoculation into our flora, will fade away over the coming decades. In fact, we are not sure we have ever found natural Red Pine in Columbia County, although, with a native species like Red Pine, distinguishing natural from planted is not always easy. Not all plantations are set in tidy rows that declare their origins. Aside from checking the soil beneath your feet (is it sandy/gravelly?), a glance at the ground cover may give a hint – according to Fergus (in Trees of New England: A Natural History), a plantation has the typical, pine-needles-only ground cover, whereas a natural stand will likely have populations of acid-tolerant plants such as Star-flower, Blueberry, and Canada Mayflower.

Many stand biographies similar to that outlined here likely exist in the County. We regularly come across fading plantations. They are bittersweet – on the one hand, a dilapidated plantation represents a plan and work that went unrealized; on the other hand, the determination of wild forest to dominate and slowly erase some of our handiwork is encouraging. The mixed forest that emerges will probably be home to a greater diversity of plants and animals than the mono-culture plantation.

And yet, we continue to use wood for paper, fuel and timber. Where should that wood come from?

While it is inconspicuous in some of the above aerials because of its deciduous trees, the plantation lot is bordered to the east by a much older forest that might help inform those questions (below). That adjacent stand had mature trees in the 1942 aerial, and its topography and botany suggest it was never completely cleared. A rocky creek runs through it, springing into being where a gentle dip in the field above it meets the forest land. This is an example of what we call ancient forest – forest that, while some of its individual trees were likely logged, was probably never completely cleared by humans.

 

A grove of mature trees is evident just to the east of the future location of the pine plantation in this 1942 image. That area remains in forest up to the present day.

 

A LiDAR image of the topography of the plantation and the adjacent forest. Note how the rocky stream bed ’emerges suddenly’ from the ploughed field north of it. Perhaps such a stream bed once wove all the way down the hillside but was erased by farming.

 

Looking up the rocky creek just east of the plantation; the ploughed field is visible in the background.

Ancient forests can contain relatively rare soil conditions and an unusual ground flora (although, to be honest, the narrow patch beside the plantation has few documented rarities). Although they are now embedded inconspicuously in a matrix of young, post-agricultural forest regrowth (below), such ancient forests deserve to be identified and given conservation preference. In our region, few if any ancient forest stands are primary or old growth forest, indeed many owe their persistence in the landscape to their role as farm woodlots. As such, some careful, continued use might be appropriate, although especial care should be taken to minimize soil disturbance and avoid the introduction of invasive species. However, the primary focus of wood production should be elsewhere in the landscape.

 

The greater landscape of the Red Pine plantation in 1942. Note the patches of mature forest (together with some evidently young forest).

 

The same landscape in 2015 – finding ancient forest fragments in such an extensively reforested landscape can be a challenge.

 

We believe that logging should be directed towards areas of post-agricultural regrowth and away from ancient forests and other ecologically sensitive areas. Today, plantation planting is relatively rare, and most timber management focuses on guiding natural regrowth. Managed timber stands are, by selective cutting, often shifted towards the production of high-quality Red Oak. Whether from plantation or managed stand, local timber production can help satisfy our demand for lumber and fuelwood, a demand that would otherwise require cutting elsewhere. However, this urge to be globally responsible (and, perhaps, to profit from our forests) should not be an excuse for ignoring the land’s history and ecology. In this context, I now regret that, while that Red Pine plantation was still healthy, we did not ask how it might be managed or harvested.

As illustrated by the story of this particular forest stand, we believe a community vision is needed for our land use. Without it, we can neither accomplish the local production that goes with being responsible for our own needs nor take the integrated, landscape-scale approach that is necessary for successful conservation. We cannot build the long-term commitment which forest management requires. The current composition of our landscape – its productive areas and conservation resources – is a largely accidental pattern, the product, in many cases, of individual hard work but not of an overall vision. There are important exceptions: the State and Federal governments make plans for the management of their lands and, to some extent, for their acquisition; some local municipalities having zoning statutes that reflect a basic vision of their communities; and land trusts like CLC and Scenic Hudson actively try to be strategic in the use of their resources relative to nature conservation, productive lands, and recreation. While such state and federal land purchases, land trust holdings, and zoning regulations all have an important role to play in shaping our landscape, the use of much land remains outside of the direct influence of these actions.

Alternatives exist for motivating (rather than enforcing) coordinated actions on private properties. For example, the New England Wildlands & Woodlands program, with its regional conservation partnerships (including one that encompasses Columbia County), seeks to encourage the formation of a regional vision and the orchestration of its fulfillment. More focused initiatives, such as the Bobolink Project, strive to link those physically capable of fulfilling a particular aspect of a vision (in this case, farmers managing grassland bird habitat) with those capable of incentivizing it. Such approaches may or may not have value here, but they illustrate the type of creative thinking and community-wide connections that could produce an effective approach.

The roughly 3.5 acres that encompassed both my magical childhood plantation and the adjacent area we came to realize was ancient forest are trivial in terms of their individual contribution to any larger vision as are my personal ties to the haunts of my youth. And yet, it may only be by gluing together actions across many such small lots and by helping individual land owners link their own memories and dreams with larger aspirations that we can assume greater responsibility for our own needs and for the conservation of the nature with whom we share this space.

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

Book of the Year – 1907: Water Wonders

How can it be possible for such exquisitely beautiful jewelled crystals to fashion themselves in the vast spaces of the heavens, among the clouds!

Jean M. Thompson, Water Wonders Every Child Should Know (1907).

(photo by Wilson Bentley)

The most important and profoundly human act of exploration is not its execution, but its conception; it is the dream of knowing.

The turn of the 19th century brought landmark advancements in the science of technology – the study of electricity, of flight, of automobiles. One could be pardoned for thinking that natural history, that grand pursuit of the 1800s, had become passé. However, even if eclipsed in scientific headlines, the exploration of nature still occupied many and, in fact, had flourished, if not in the ‘lab’, then in the backyard and farmyard.

Water Wonders Every Child Should Know by Jean Thompson was part of the canon of the Nature Study Movement. A popular educational movement pioneered in the 1890s, it focused on insuring that, in the age of industrialization, children did not lose sight of the nature around them. The Every Child Should Know series, for example, included books on birds, trees, wild flowers, and earth & sky. The book’s subtitle, Little Studies of Dew, Frost, Snow, Ice and Rain, illustrates the movement’s emphasis on getting out and looking (i.e., exploring). Like Jean Thompson, many figures in this movement were women at a time when professional scientists were mainly men. The Movement would dwindle as the century progressed, but it helped make the popularization of science a respected calling.

What brings this book to the fore at this time of year is that it is illustrated with photographs by Wilson A. Bentley, a Vermont farmer also known as the Snowflake Man. Much of Water Wonders is devoted to the ‘games’ that water can play as it freezes in snowflakes, hoar frost and other ice formations, and Bentley’s black and white photographs provide clear, sometimes dazzling, examples of those patterns. Jean Thompson visited him several times in Jericho VT and his ideas apparently permeate much of the book.

He was a country bachelor, she was an affluent NYC divorcee, and the visits were something of a local scandal. She explicitly juxtaposes their two worlds as she invites the reader into the snowy landscape,

Most of us have given little time or very serious thought to the study of the snow, and the marvelous detail which goes to fashion the individual snow crystal. In fact, if we live in crowded city, we are inclined to look upon a heavy snowfall as something of a nuisance…impeding pedestrianism and traffic, and thoroughly undesirable until cleared away.

But once outside in the open country we are inclined to gaze forth upon the pure expanse of snow-covered hill and plain, resplendent and dazzling as it stretches afar under the pale winter sunshine, with a more kindly, tolerant mood…

The book is a call to scientific reverie, to the devotion of time and thought to snow, for she continues, “when you have … studied for yourself the marvellous phenomena and detail of snow-crystal formation, you will doubtless ever after.. in watching the fluttering, swirling flakes as they descend, exclaim: Oh, the wonder and mystery of it all!”

While Thompson does an inspiring job of invoking the mystery, Bentley spent much of his life actively wondering about snowflakes. He not only pioneered snowflake photography but, by keeping careful notes on climatic conditions, began to associate particular atmospheric conditions with the formation of certain types of snowflakes (see, for instance, his 1902 paper). Each of the snowflakes pictured in the book comes with a mini-biography. For example, one photo caption reads, “These snow crystals are the product of a very great storm, and they travelled a long distance before reaching the earth. They were generated in a very high frigid altitude. When these singular snow crystals descended they fell in parachute fashion, the larger section downward.” How Bentley and Thompson knew the details of this biography is unclear, but whether or not they were 100% correct, Bentley’s observations and the ‘thought experiments’ that attempted to make sense of them opened up a new world, and Thompson realized and expressed its poetry.

Both Bentley and Thompson were “non-scientists” who, in some ways, bypassed the profession to bring nature directly to their followers.  This was not always well-received by full-time scientists and the tension is exemplified by early critics of Bentley’s photographs. Bentley took care to select flakes and even to manipulate photographs so as to highlight the most beautiful and intricate patterns. When others tried to replicate his efforts, they found that the vast majority of flakes were not fine symmetrical “jewels” but rather broken or misshapen bodies, and they called foul. In some ways, both sides were right: rather than being a random selection of flakes, the images in Water Wonders are indeed a careful, aesthetically-shaped collection of rarities, as Thompson herself noted. However, while explorers like Bentley and Thompson did have a responsibility to make accurate observations, they also had a responsibility to ‘sing the praises’ of what they saw. If it weren’t for the selection process, the images would not have been as awe-inspiring and, it is likely, many fewer people would have ventured down that first, dreamy step of snowflake exploration.

Ideas on snowflake classification and formation have evolved since 1907, but, for the most part, they are extensions rather than refutations of the book’s ideas. Current understanding holds that a snowflake begins life as a nubbin of ice on a tiny airborne particle such as a bacteria. Because of temperature differences, the air in the ‘vast spaces’ of a cold cloud can hold more water than that in the immediate vicinity of a growing snow crystal. The result is that water vapor in the cloud begins to accumulate as ice on the starting nubbins. The structure of the water molecule itself determines the shape of the initial base (a hexagonal plate), but the pattern of any individual crystal’s growth is the product of temperature, humidity and history. If the air is very dry and/or cold, for instance, the snowflake will likely fall to earth as a hexagonal plate or tube. If, on the other hand, the air is humid and only moderately cold, each of the six corners will begins to sprout a feather-like arm. As a flake travels through the clouds, it may well enter different temperature and humidity zones, each of which will cause the crystal to grow in new ways. Thawing and re-freezing may occur, and ‘rough seas’ may break flakes or glue them together. The huge diversity of snowflakes occurs because it is very unlikely that any two flakes will share exactly the same biographies during their trip to the ground.

When Jean Thompson and Wilson Bentley looked up at a snow-filled sky, they may not have seen all of this, but they saw much of it. However, exactly what they knew is, in some ways, less important than what they dared to imagine. That combination of observation and imagination, of rock and dream, is at the heart of exploration by young and old. It is as an embodiment of that, as a book eloquently beckoning children to walk into the mind of a true explorer, that Water Wonders is our nomination for Book of the Year 1907.

 

Interested in more information? Here are some likely leads:
The Nature Study Movement by Kevin Armitage, a thought-provoking book well worth reading.
The Snowflake Man by Duncan Blanchard, I’ve not read the book, but the author’s essays in the Snow Crystals newsletter are enjoyable (see especially vol. 14, the article “Jean Thompson in Jericho” for more on the scandalous visits).
For kids, Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Mary Azarian is inspirational – in fact, this blog posting was written because Martin and Azarian’s book inspired a young boy to create a gingerbread house honoring Snowflake Bentley.
I had difficulty finding a ‘one-stop shop’ for modern snowflake information. However, Kenneth Libbrecht’s page is a great place to start. This video, while more about snow in general, is certainly a fitting, enjoyable evocation.
Aside from the first snowflake, the photographs here are our own. Advances in cameras and lenses have now made it possible to photograph ‘wild’ snowflakes. There are worse things that one can do than spending a snowy day hunting for freshly fallen snowflakes trapped in spider webs or feathery seed heads!

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Encouraging Fall Flowers and their Insect Visitors on Farms in the Hudson Valley

Flowers are beautiful. Flowers are also necessary to produce many fruits and vegetables we like to eat. For example, there are no tomatoes without tomato flowers and no cherries without cherry blossoms. Additionally, flowers are a crucial resource for many insects, some of which, in turn, are beneficial for agricultural production.

In this blog, we want to share some late season images (most of them taken in late September/early October 2017) from the Hudson Valley, which illustrate different approaches to enhancing flower abundance on farms. While some of these approaches were the result of deliberate management to invite more flowers and beneficial insects onto the farms, others were more incidental. The photos were taken by various members of our team (see photo credits at the bottom) as part of a multi-farm study to compare the distribution of flowers and insects in vegetable fields and surrounding semi-natural areas. The pictures are from Hawthorne Valley Farm, the Hudson Valley Farm Hub, Ironwood Farm, and Hearty Roots Community Farm.

Hawthorne Valley Farm – Creekhouse Garden

Increased on-farm flowers through adjacent residential landscaping

Our program occupies one of the buildings on the farm, adjacent to a pasture. Since 2010, we have worked slowly, but steadily, to invite more species of native plants into the 1/2 acre yard around the house. The early years of that effort are described on the Hawthorne Valley Farmscape Ecology Program website.

This fall, the rain garden (where we collect the runoff from the parking lot), sported a mix of planted and volunteer native plants, such as New England Aster, Purple-stem Aster, Panicled Aster, Canada and Rough-leaved Goldenrod, Brown-eyed Susan, Obedience Plant, Indian Grass, and Big Bluestem.

View from the rain garden at the Creekhouse towards the barns of Hawthorne Valley Farm (photo by CKV).

The dryer roadside garden has several of the same species (they usually don’t grow as tall, there) in addition to Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint and Wild Bergamot.

A part of the roadside garden at the Creekhouse, featuring (counter-clockwise from bottom left) New England Aster, Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint, Brown-eyed Susan, Wild Bergamot, Big Bluestem, and Purpletop Grass (photo by CKV).

In the shadier areas, Heart-leaved Aster displays a last hurrah of summer with its dense lavender-colored flowers.

A dense patch of Heart-leaved Aster in a shady part of the Creekhouse Garden (photo by CKV).

Much of the former lawn has slowly been transformed into a native wildflower meadow, where New England Aster and Showy Goldenrod put on a spectacular show of colors in late September.

New England Aster and Showy Goldenrod both propagate readily from seeds collected in the fall and stored in a dry cool place over the winter (photo by CKV).

Migrating Monarch butterflies, of which there were a lot more this year as compared to the last few years, were thankful for the nectar!

Monarch on New England Aster (photo by CKV).

But not only the showy butterflies graced the garden with their presence. Honey bees were busily collecting nectar on the different aster and goldenrod species…

A Honey Bee with its pollen baskets filled to the brim, buzzing among the flower heads of New England Aster (photo by CRV).

… as did the native bumblebees.

A Common Eastern Bumblebee is approaching the flower heads of Panicled Aster (photo by CRV).

The less conspicuous small wasps where everywhere. Many of these smaller cousins of the dreaded Yellow Jackets are important beneficial insects for the farmer. Most of them are parasitoids, which lay their eggs into the larvae of other insects and thereby contribute to the biocontrol of pests.

A probably parasitic small wasp (photo by CRV).

Another group of beneficial insects are the hoverflies. Other than bees and wasps, which they often resemble because of their yellow and black markings, these flies do not sting. The larvae of many species are ferocious predators of other insects and also contribute to biocontrol of pests. The adults feed on nectar and pollen, and serve as pollinators. Here are images of three different species of hoverflies found on asters in the Creekhouse Garden.

Most likely, this hoverfly is Syrphus torvus, a common species whose larvae feed on aphids. This adult is visiting the flower heads of Heart-leaved Aster (photo by CRV).

Toxomerus germinatus, another species of hoverfly, visiting the flower heads of Panicled Aster (photo by CRV).

Drone Fly (Eristalis tenax), an introduced, migratory hoverfly, whose larvae are not predatory, visiting the flower heads of Heath Aster (photo by CRV)

However, not all flower visitors were interested in collecting pollen or nectar, or functioning as pollinators. This katydid was happily munching away on the white petals (ray flowers) of a Calico Aster.

A Katydid eating flower parts (photo by CRV).

Another creature was not interested in the flowers per se, but had set up shop to try and catch one of the abundant flower visitors.

A curiously-shaped orb weaver spider, most likely an Arrow-shaped Micrathena (photo by CRV).

 

Hawthorne Valley Farm – Hedgerows

Increased flowers by letting natural diversity bloom

Hawthorne Valley Farm has an abundance of hedgerows which separate the various pastures and fields. In the Spring, most flowers in this habitat are borne on the native (and non-native) shrubs that compose the backbone of these hedgerows. Late in the season, asters and goldenrods thrive along the unmowed edges of the hedgerows. Such “soft edges” between different habitat types or landscape features might appear ungroomed, but are very important for insect life. Unmowed riparian corridors and infrequently mowed wetlands can serve a similar purpose.

New England Aster of two varieties (purple and pink flowers) grow along the unmowed edge of a hedgerow at Hawthorne Valley Farm (photo by CKV).

Ironwood Farm – Old Fields Surrounding the Intensively Managed Fields

Increased flowers by allowing some former farmland to remain fallow

Ironwood Farm is a young farm reclaiming former farmland. Currently, the intensively managed vegetable fields are surrounded by old fields that have developed into perennial meadows, composed of varying mixes of native and non-native plants. We have observed an exceptional abundance of native bees in the vegetable fields of this farm and suspect that the surrounding old fields and their flowers may help support these bees, which then serve as pollinators in the vegetables. In addition, the Common Milkweed plants (note the large, oval leaves in the center of the image below) in the old field served as food plants for Monarch butterfly caterpillars, making Ironwood Farm a nursery as well as a stop-over for migrating Monarchs.

A goldenrod and aster dominated old field just outside the deer fence of the vegetable field at Ironwood Farm might contribute to the abundance of native bees we observed in the vegetables (photo by CKV).

In the fall, the flowers of New England Aster contrast beautifully with those of Canada Goldenrod in the old field (photo by CKV).

Earlier in the season, the old fields had many flowers of non-native plants, such as Knapweed, which nonetheless were very attractive to native pollinators.

A native bee nectaring on the flower head of a non-native Knapweed (photo by CRV).

Hawthorne Valley Farm – Corner Garden Cropland

Increased flowers through interspersed in-bed annuals

The Corner Garden near the school parking lot is a small, intensively managed vegetable field. The farmers are experimenting with augmenting the abundance of flowers near the vegetables by interplanting annual wildflowers (such as the pink Cosmos pictured below) within the vegetable beds. While some vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, zucchini, and squash have to flower before producing the vegetable we eat, others, such as lettuce, carrots, parsnips, chard, beets, fennel, kale, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kohlrabi don’t get to flower before they are harvested. Occasionally, when feasible within the crop rotation, left-over crops (such as the Fennel pictured below) are allowed to bolt and flower, adding to the abundance and variety of flowers in the garden.

Late season flowers in the Corner Garden are provided by a Cosmos plant which was interplanted with Fennel and the Fennel itself, which is allowed to bloom before the bed is seeded with a cover crop for the winter (photo by CKV).

Hawthorne Valley Farm – Corner Garden Borders

Increased flowers through perennial edge plantings

In addition, we have collaborated with the farmers to bring more flowers into the Corner Garden by establishing small plantings of woody and perennial native plants around the perimeter of the vegetable beds. On the right in the image below is an area that was planted in early summer (with the help of several volunteers) with New England Aster, Showy Goldenrod, Wild Bergamot, Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint, Butterfly Milkweed and Swamp Milkweed, all propagated from seeds collected at the Creekhouse Garden, in addition to some Yarrow and Lemon Balm plants. The abundant flowers of New England Aster (patch of purple flowers in image) became a true insect magnet in the fall, feeding migrating Monarch and Painted Lady butterflies, the Honeybees from the nearby hives, a plethora of native bees, hoverflies, and other beneficials, as well as the not-so-beneficial Cabbage White butterflies.

This planting was recently expanded (again with the help of several tireless volunteers) to incorporate a number of additional native wildflowers grown from seeds by volunteer Betsy Goodman-Smith. The perennial patch now also contains Purple Coneflower, Black- and Brown-eyed Susan, Anise Hyssop, Lance-leaved Coreopsis, Mistflower, Cardinalflower, Partridge Pea, Slender Lespedeza, and Purple Prairie Clover (the seeds for most of these species were donated by the Hudson Valley Farm Hub). We are looking forward to this wildflower patch providing nectar and pollen for insects all through the season, next year…

The expanding perennial native wildflower patch in the Corner Garden (photo by CKV).

 

Hudson Valley Farm Hub – Vegetable Fields

Increased flowers through bed-scale annual insectaries

In the large vegetable fields at the Farm Hub, the farmers experimented with several annual insectary plantings. The image below shows a section of the garden that had been seeded with Prairie Coreopsis in spring and was allowed to flower for a second time to provide late-season floral resources for insects.

An insectary strip of annual Plains Coreopsis integrated in the vegetable fields at the Hudson Valley Farm Hub (photo by CKV).

The Coreopsis insectary became a lunch stop for migrating Monarch butterflies. We estimate that at least 50 Monarchs were nectaring in this patch at a time.

Monarch butterfly on Plains Coreopsis in insectary (photo by DAC).

However, the Monarchs were not the only migratory butterflies who stopped to fuel up on energy-rich nectar. Painted Lady butterflies on their way to Texas and Northern Mexico were even more common than the Monarchs on the Coreopsis flowers.

Painted Lady butterfly on Plains Coreopsis in insectary strip (photo by DAC).

Other visitors to the Coreopsis flowers in the insectary planting included Sulphur butterflies, hover flies, and Honey Bees (all pictured below).

A variety of insects, other than the migratory butterflies, visited the Coreopsis flowers (clockwise from top left): Sulphur butterfly, hover fly (most likely Syrphus torvus), and Honey Bee (photos by DAC).

 

Hudson Valley Farm Hub – Test Plots

Increased flowers through field-scale planting of perennial native meadows

This spring, we established 4.5 acres of native meadow trial areas in flood-prone fields at the Hudson Valley Farm Hub. We are experimenting with two seed mixes (Mix A and Mix B; see below) to compare their success in establishing meadows without the use of herbicides on former corn fields. We also monitor their suitability for erosion control, soil building, and as insect and wildlife habitat. We received invaluable technical support on this project from the Xerces Society, who is collaborating with the USDA/NRCS throughout the US to help make farms more pollinator-friendly.

Seeding the native meadow seed mix into bare ground in mid May 2017 (photo by CKV).

Mix A is rich in wildflowers and might, eventually, be most attractive to pollinators and other beneficial insects. It is also quite expensive.

Mix B is rich in native grasses with some wildflowers added. It is more economical and might, eventually, lead to meadows that attract grassland breeding birds as well as a decent amount of beneficial insects.

By early October, some of the test plots are well on their way to dense and diverse native meadows. The vegetation is relatively low because the test plots had been mowed throughout the summer to discourage the annual weeds.

A native meadow test plot (Seed Mix A) in October of its first year (photo by CKV).

A closer look into this patch of meadow (seeded with Seed Mix A) reveals a mix of blossoms from Mistflower (light blue), Black-eyed Susan (yellow), and Blanketflower (red). The seedlings of about 20 additional native plant species are well established and have spent their first season developing a strong root system. They are expected to begin flowering next year. The seeds of a few species remained dormant for the first season and are expected to germinate next spring.

A native meadow established from seed at the end of its first season: the most conspicuous wildflowers are Black-eyed Susan (yellow), Mistflower (light blue), and Blanketflower (red) (photo by CKV).

A closer look at the late season flowers in the native meadow trial (photo by CKV).

Bees, wasps, hover flies, moths, and butterflies, including Monarch and Painted Lady, were visiting the flowers in these meadows, but in smaller numbers compared to the Coreopsis insectary, which had a much higher flower density.

Two very different species of hover flies: Drone Fly on Blanketflower (left) and Helophilus fasciatus on Black-eyed Susan (right) (photos by JM).

The Sulphur butterfly is one of the most ubiquitous butterflies on farms. Its larvae feed on clovers and alfalfa, and adults can be found nectaring on a large variety of flowers.

Sulphur butterfly on Black-eyed Susan (photo by JM).

An exciting observation was the Milbert’s Tortoiseshell butterfly visiting flowers in the native meadow trial. This is a northern species which, in some years, shows up in our region. This is our first sighting of this species in the Hudson Valley in more than a decade.

Milbert’s Tortoiseshell butterfly on Black-eyed Susan (photo by JM).

Hudson Valley Farm Hub – Medicinal Herb Garden

Increased flowers through blossoming herb crops

One of the farmers in training at the Farm Hub chose to experiment with the growing of medicinal herbs, this season. By mid summer, her herb garden was buzzing with bees and hopping with butterflies. The herbs were harvested by the time we took our last round of photos, so here are a couple of images from the herb garden in July.

The medicinal herb garden in July. In full bloom at this time were Toothache Plant (yellow), Calendula (orange), and Blue Vervain (purple) (photo by CKV).

It was particularly impressive, to see the Blue Vervain, a native plant of wet meadows, in a dense bed of obviously very happy plants in full bloom. The insects were all over them in July!

Blue Vervain in the medicinal plant garden (photo by CKV).

 

Hearty Roots Community Farm – U-Pick Flower Beds

Increased flowers through bee- and butterfly-friendly cut-flower beds

Another type of flower found on several farms this fall were ornamental plants grown for cut flowers. While ornamental flowers often originate from other parts of the world (e.g., Calendula comes from Southern Europe and Strawflower from Australia) and horticultural varieties bred to please the human eye often don’t provide much (if any) nectar and/or pollen for insects, we were happy to observe during our flower watches in the cut-flower beds of Hearty Roots Community Farm, that some species were very popular with the insects.

One of them was Zinnia, an easily grown annual which is represented in many flower gardens and a staple in cut flower arrangements. It is native to the Southwestern US and into South America.

A bed of Zinnia in the cut flower garden at Hearty Roots Community Farm (photo by CKV).

The Monarchs and Painted Ladies might “know” this plant from Mexico and seem to LOVE it! (Of course, the individual butterflies we observed here this fall have not yet been in Mexico, so their “knowledge” of Zinnia–if any–would be at the level of the species which have co-evolved with the nectar plants.)

Monarch butterfly on Zinnia (photo by DAC).

Painted Lady butterfly on Zinnia (photo by DAC).

Globe Amaranth is also often a component of locally grown flower bouquets, but its natural distribution is even more tropical than that of Zinnia, from Central into South America. Its flower heads are reminiscent of clover and seem to be very attractive to a variety of butterflies.

A bed of Globe Amaranth in the ornamental flower garden at Hearty Roots Community Farm (photo by CKV).

It was visited by some butterflies that are common resident species of our area farms, such as the Sulphur and Gray Hairstreak.

Sulphur butterfly on Globe Amaranth (photo by DAC).

Gray Hairstreak butterfly on Globe Amaranth (photo by DAC).

However, we also observed several butterfly species on the Globe Amaranth, which are resident in the southern US and only sometimes stray as far north as our region. These include the Fiery Skipper, Common Checkered Skipper, and Common Buckeye.

Fiery Skipper butterfly on Globe Amaranth (photo by DAC).

Checkered Skipper on Globe Amaranth (photo by CRV).

Buckeye butterfly on Globe Amaranth (photo by DAC).

 

Fortunately, there are many possibilities to enhance flower abundance and insect life on farms (and in your gardens!), whether it involves adjusting the mowing schedule of natural areas/field edges/surrounding old fields so that the wildflowers can blossom; allowing certain vegetables to bolt and bloom; planting flowering medicinal herbs or pollinator-friendly cut flowers; interplanting annual flowers with vegetables, either as individual plants, or in insectary strips; using flowering cover crops; or establishing perennial wildflower areas at the field or nook & cranny scale. Each of these approaches can help make the farmscape more diverse and alive. They vary in their scale and in the time and money investment they require, so think about what’s the best fit for your situation. Where there are suitable flowers, the pollinators and other beneficial insects will be rewarding you with their beauty and service.

We thank the farmers at Hawthorne Valley Farm and the Hudson Valley Farm Hub for their collaboration with the experimental establishment of native wildflowers. We also thank them, and the farmers at Hearty Roots Community Farm and Ironwood Farm for tolerating our research for the multi-farm comparison of the distribution of insects across on-farm habitats.

Photo credits: Dylan Cipkowski (DAC), Julia Meyer (JM), Conrad Vispo (CRV), and Claudia Knab-Vispo (CKV).

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2017 in Agriculture, Farmscape Ecology, Nature

 

A Belated Labor Day Posting – 1893/2017

This was meant to be a short Facebook posting for Labor Day 2017. Unfortunately, I was … err… working on Labor Day (fieldwork – got to ‘make hay while the sun shines’) and the blog rather outgrew the Facebook format. It remains a bit shallow for a true blog, but here it is!

Columbia County Shoe Salesman from http://oldcolumbiacounty.blogspot.com/.

 

Happy Labor Day – 1893.

In 1893, the celebration of Labor Day in New York was barely a decade old. We happened to stumble across the County’s labor statistics for that year and so now, 124 years later, in belated honor of Labor Day 2017, we present a brief glimpse of the County’s labor profile at that time.

As background, in 1890 the County had a censused population of about 45,557, with 51% women and 49% men. The workforce, having begun the century with a large majority of people working in agriculture, was now shifting more towards employment in manufacturing and services/retail. Although I don’t know how it played out in the County, ‘The Panic of 1893′ was a period of significant economic decline, with national business output estimated to have dropped about as much as during the Great Depression of the 1920s.

Employees of the Kinderhook Knitting Mill, from http://oldcolumbiacounty.blogspot.com/.

The County’s 1893 employment profile contains some intriguing tidbits – Hudson had one billiard room keeper, a Canadian in his forties; Copake had one gardener, an Irishman in his 50s; and one harness maker, a Dane in his 30s. Out of New Lebanon’s 187 farmers, only one was Afro-American and two were women. The entire County had two professional actors, one American man and one English woman, but eight professional photographers. There were more watchmen (18) than policemen (11). The county employed 61 cigar makers and three professional “billposters” but only one butler, one piano maker, one trapper, one lighthouse keeper, one gunsmith, one iron miner (a Swiss), one frescoer (a German) and one button maker (a woman).

Of the 14,541 people reporting their occupations, about half were either farmers or “laborers”, split almost equally between those two occupations. Each remaining profession accounted for less than 5% of the total work force. About quarter of all jobs could be described as some type of manufacturing (not including “laborers”), roughly 15% were in retail and services, 4% appeared to work as home/garden help of some sort, while a bit over 3% had jobs relating to transport (e.g., RR, shipping or other cargo movement). Teachers accounted for 1.4% of the jobs, and today’s ‘healthcare workers’ (i.e., physicians, druggists, dentists and nurses) totaled just over 1% of the workforce.

Only 14% of the official workforce were women, although they slightly exceeded men in the total population. (Obviously, many women were working very hard at tasks that were not, at that time, considered in tallies of labor statistics.) Women were, not surprisingly, unevenly distributed across the official professions. All reported dressmakers, milliners (aka maker and/or seller of women’s hats), seamstresses, and housekeepers were female, along with more than 99% of the domestics. Together, these jobs accounted for more than 40% of the women in the official workforce. Women also predominated in the professions of shirtmaker, cook, nurse, laundry worker, looper (a role in the manufacture of clothing), waiter, boarding house keeper, and teacher. However, several of the most common jobs were shared, at least in coarse categorization, with men. These included the well-populated jobs of machinery/equipment operator and mill employee. While women were not the majority, they were commonly working as artists (albeit only 15 people in the County listed themselves as professional artists), weavers, students, tailors, and telegraph operators. Finally, there were a few professions were men dominated, but women did appear, such as bookkeepers and clerks, bakers, merchants, farmers (out of 3290 farmers in the County, 70 were women). There was also one female physician and one female lawyer. The most common all-male jobs were “laborer”, carpenter, railroad worker, painter, blacksmith, butcher, teamster (e.g. ox driver), and mason, in that order. There were at least 45 other somewhat common professions which were also male-only.

Dutchess County farm workers, from https://www.hrvh.org & Historic Red Hook.

 

In terms of race, respondents were tallied as either “white” or “colored”. I believe most or all of the 344 “colored” people were Afro-Americans, although I am unsure how some other ethnicities would have been recorded. Chinese people were, apparently, considered “white”. The most common jobs for “colored” men were, in decreasing order, laborer (accounting for two thirds of all “colored” males in the workforce), butcher, farmer, hostler (one who took care of horses, often at inns), coachman, waiter, porter, cook and barber (of which there were five). “Colored” people were absent from most remaining professions, although they were also recorded in such jobs as clergyman, papermaker, fruit grower, carpenter and builder. “Colored” women were mostly employed as domestics, with a few also working as cooks, laundry women, housekeepers, and waiters.

Jobs also differed among nationalities. A total of around 2,350 respondents were not American citizens. The most common foreign nationalities were, in order, Irish, German and English, accounting for more than 80% of the non-native workers. Poles, Canadians, Russians, Scots, French, Swedes and Italians rounded out the top 10 nationalities. (Today, Germany, Jamaica and Poland are the County’s most common non-US countries of birth in the full population.) The most likely jobs differed somewhat amongst nationalities. For all except the Russians, laborer was the most common job; peddler was the most common Russian profession (followed by laborer). Farmer was often the second most likely job, although there were no Russian, Polish or Italian farmers recorded. In some cases, certain jobs seemed especially common for specific nationalities. These included Russian tailors; Irish cooks, policemen, saloonkeepers, and furnacemen; Chinese laundry workers (which was the only job recorded for Chinese men in the County); Polish mill operators; German bakers, butchers, shoemakers, and tailors; French wood choppers; and English spinners and brewers.

 

Comparative pie graphs of workforce composition. 1893 data is from the Eleventh Annual Report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the State of New York (1894) and 2011 data is from U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

I have not had time to do a detailed comparison with the modern workforce, but in 2011, the total workforce in the County was 32,161 (out of a population of about 62,000). As shown in the pie charts above, times have changed. For example, in 2011, only 3% of workers were in farming, while in 1893 that number was probably closer to one third (exact values are difficult to determine because “laborer” likely included jobs in both agriculture and manufacturing – in the figure I split laborers half/half between these two categories). Manufacturing likewise was substantially more important in 1893. Conversely, health care, which accounts for about 15% of the workforce today, officially made up only a bit over 1% in 1893. Government and retail jobs also seem noticeably more common today (although “government” is underestimated in my 1893 tally – I could not determine all the jobs which were governmental). The sex ratio of the officially surveyed workforce is much more equal today with about 52% male and 48% female.

We made the graph below several years ago from a slightly different data set, but, in closing, I think it serves to put the historical and modern data in general perspective. In 1893, as for almost the entire period between 1850 and 1950, the official County workforce was roughly equally divided between agriculture, manufacturing and retail/services (i.e., many of the remaining professions). Today, retail/services (including healthcare and civil service) predominates. This may make us less self-sufficient as a society, but may mean greater social care (e.g., health, fire, police and other such services) and, perhaps, greater buffering from local or regional impacts on food or production. It would be interesting to compare this graph to that of so-called ‘developing countries’ which are transitioning economically. But that is definitely beyond the scope of this posting!

A rough illustration of the composition of the Columbia County workforce over time from state and federal census data. Various assumptions are made in classifying historic jobs, but general patterns should be more or less accurate.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

In the Asparagus Patch.

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An early illustration of Asparagus from Duhamel du Monceau’s Traité des arbres et arbustes, vol. 1: t. 31 (1755); image from http://www.plantillustrations.org. Asparagus was among the earliest European vegetables to be brought to the New World.

As a child, the wispy, ferny fronds of wild Asparagus were always rather magical to me. It was as if the staid crop had let its hair down as it roamed the ditches and roadsides. It should not be surprising that Asparagus is widely feral; it has been here for a while. Asparagus has been recognized as a vegetable for millennia and apparently was planted in some of the first new world vegetable gardens, possibly because of its early-season arrival to the table, its hardiness and perennial habit, and its purported medicinal properties. In addition, its original native Western Europe seaside habitat may have preadapted it to road salt.

Asparagus was listed among the vegetables in William Penn’s colony in 1685. By 1747, Peter Kalm found it growing wild in various places, including along the Hudson north of Albany. Jefferson included abundant observations on its planting in his garden notebooks starting in 1767, and it was being sold commercially in New England in the same century. It was widely naturalized in NY by the early 1800s, and, by the mid 1800s, it was being grown extensively, including in 10-20 acre fields on Long Island for sale in NYC.

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A late 19th or early 20th century Massachusetts asparagus farm, from Hexamer’s Asparagus : its Culture for Home Use and for Market : a Practical Treatise on the Planting, Cultivation, Harvesting, Marketing, and Preserving of Asparagus. Large asparagus farms served major East Coast cities.

As is often the case with newly introduced plants, for many years Asparagus apparently had few enemies. However, in 1862 New York State Entomologist Asa Fitch began his annual report with this line, “Much the most important entomological event in our State the present year has been the appearance upon the asparagus on Long Island of an insect new to us in this country, and doing great injury to this important crop, threatening even its total destruction.” The Common Asparagus Beetle had arrived.

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The illustration that accompanied Asa Fitch’s 1862 description of the Common Asparagus Beetle upon its first recorded arrival to North America, from the 8th Report on the Noxious and Other Insects of the State of New York. Damage was apparently quick and extensive.

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The Common Asparagus Beetle in action, as illustrated in Hexamer’s work. The beetles seem to attack the stalk and head while the grubs appear to spend more time eating the leafy fronds.

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A sickly, beetle-damaged Asparagus stalk. Adults and grub feed directly on the plant, and extensive egg-insertion may stunt stalk growth.

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The Common Asparagus Beetle.

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On heavily occupied plants, the activity can be crowded.

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Mating Common Asparagus Beetles on Asparagus. The wet-looking scrapes on the Asparagus stalks are from its feeding.

After some research, Fitch concluded that the Common Asparagus Beetle (Crioceris asparagi) had probably landed on these shores some time in 1857 or 1858. He could offer little by way of control except, after dismissing the use of skunks (who did seem to enjoy beetle fare but were “in such bad odor”), the use of free-ranging fowl. For the next two years, growers apparently despaired but then a “small, shining black parasitic fly” appeared as a “deliverer” and the destruction abated somewhat. The mysterious parasite apparently then disappeared, and the beetle continued to spread, probably reaching our area (Columbia County, NY) around the turn of the century. In 1909 (see this paper), the parasite was  finally captured and identified as the small wasp Tetrastichus aparagi. Subsequently, and not surprisingly in retrospect, this wasp was found to be identical to T. coeruleus, a wasp known to parasitize the Common Asparagus Beetle in its native Old World homeland.

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A probable Tetrastichus coeruleus, the wasp that saved the Asparagus crop.

The wasp has not disappeared again, and it is apparently crucial to controlling Common Asparagus Beetles. Estimates are that it kills approximately three quarters of the eggs produced by this beetle. Interestingly, American economic entomologists, struggling with the late 19th century rampages of the Asparagus Beetle, seemed somewhat baffled that Europeans could not provide them with any adequate control measures. It now seems likely that, with this little wasp already ‘on the job’, Europeans rarely needed extra measures.

Before describing some of what is known of the life cycles of both wasp and beetle, it’s important to emphasize the fact that Asparagus is a perennial; it may produce a crop for a decade or more. Unlike the case with annual crops, asparagus fields are not being ploughed under and moved every year, and so populations of both pest and parasite can build up over several years.

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Asparagus is a perennial crop that may be harvested for up to a dozen years. This allows predator/pest communities to develop over time.

The Common Asparagus Beetle overwinters in the soil as an adult. These beetles then emerge in the Spring and begin to feed on the rapidly growing asparagus shoots. Soon, rows of their tiny, neat eggs begin to appear on asparagus stalks, (The only analogy I can think of for the appearance of the eggs is that of a school of shark fins cutting through an asparagus ocean… OK, that probably doesn’t help.) After a week or so, these hatch into black-headed, grey-bodied grubs who feed avidly for a couple of weeks then pupate in the soil for a dozen days or so, re-emerging as the second generation a bit more than a month after their parents. These beetles go on to produce another generation, and, it is those beetles or their progeny who then overwinter.

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A Common Asparagus Beetle grub together with eggs of the same species.

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Several Common Asparagus Beetle grubs on a young Asparagus frond that they have nearly stripped of its outside layer.

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A Common Asparagus Beetle among eggs of the same species. I’m guessing the yellowish egg is recently laid, but I may be wrong.

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Although egg laying on Asparagus should be the norm, this beetle decided to try grass. Since young larvae appear to travel in search of the appropriate Asparagus plant for feeding, perhaps these future hatchlings will make it to a nearby Asparagus stalk.

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Common Asparagus Beetles reportedly overwinter as adults in litter, under tree bark, and in the somewhat hollow stems of cut Asparagus such as shown here.

While the adults scar the surface of the large stalks and eat the ‘scales’ of the heads, the grubs seem to favor the finer vegetation of the branching asparagus ‘ferns’, and can quickly girdle and strip smaller plants. The action of the adults, while apparently not as immediately dramatic, can scar and stunt the asparagus shoots growth, sometimes causing the stalk to do a complete loop the loop and rendering them unfit for sale.

Meanwhile, the wasp has been passing winter in the pupae of the eggs it parasitized the previous year. It soon emerges and begins its work. One of the characteristics that apparently makes this wasp so effective in control is that it is not only a parasite, it is also a predator. The adult wasp both consumes and lays its eggs in (that is, ‘oviposits’) the beetle’s eggs.

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A sequence of shots showing the parasitic wasp approaching and sensing an egg, inserting its ovipositor in two different locations on the same egg, and apparently eating or at least tasting some of the content. The glistening circles evident on a couple of eggs are the insertion points. The ovipositor comes out of the central ventral portion of the abdomen, not the tip and is visible in a couple of the pictures.

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The somewhat deflated eggs visible in this shot may be the work of a hungry wasp, although I still need to insure that I can tell hatched from consumed eggs.

The wasp’s general behavioral sequence, based on the aforementioned early 20th century observations and a more recent European paper, is that a wasp approaches an egg and ‘sniffs’ or drums it with its antennae. It then makes the choice to eat, oviposit in, or reject the egg. Younger eggs seem to be favored for eating, while older eggs are favored for oviposition, although, on average, most eggs are rejected outright.

Egg consumption is an interesting behavior. Rather than simply walking up to an egg and taking a bite, the wasp seems to macerate the contents through rhythmical insertions of its ovipositor (see this video of the same wasp pictured here) and then lap up the contents. According to the above mentioned papers, actual oviposition involves a more tranquil insertion maintained for “several minutes”.

One last twist involves what happens next: the parasitized beetle egg hatches and the grub develops normally and pupates in the soil. This was clearly a head scratcher for early observers. But patience finally revealed the end result – the pupae never hatch, at least they don’t produce an adult beetle, instead, up to 10 wasp larvae emerge from the hollowed out beetle pupa. The wasp thus appears to practice delayed development, coordinating its own developmental rush to the pupation stage of the beetle. One possible advantage of this is that the young wasps can overwinter as larvae and/or pupae snug within the small underground cell originally created by the parasitized beetle larvae. The adult wasps then emerge in spring to renew the cycle.

The Spotted Asparagus beetle is commonly found with the Common Asparagus Beetle although, aptly enough, it is usually less common. The beetle in the lower image has decided to hang out on an adjacent weed rather than the Asparagus itself.
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The Spotted Asparagus Beetle usually puts its eggs on the Asparagus flower bud or berry rather than the stalk, so I’m guessing that is who laid these eggs, but I wasn’t present at their arrival.

The Common Asparagus Beetle and the parasitic wasp are not the only visitors to Asparagus. The Spotted Asparagus Beetle (Cioceris duodecimpunctata) arrived somewhat later and has not been as damaging. Its eggs are laid on the Asparagus berries, and its larvae apparently confine their feeding to that part of the plant. While often present, they seem to be generally less abundant than the Common Asparagus Beetle. Another species of wasp is thought to parasitize them. True Bugs sometimes also feed on the eggs, while the maggots of certain flies are known to bore into the Asparagus stems. In addition, passersby regularly alight on the Asparagus stalks, as they would on almost any piece of vegetation. There’s obviously a lot more going on here, but that’s enough for one posting!

Thanks to my colleagues at Hawthorne Valley Farm and the Hudson Valley Farm Hub for tolerating my snooping.

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This wasp, a different species from the one pictured earlier, spent a while excitedly clambering over a grub-laden Asparagus frond but, in the end, it just flew away.
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This fly was moving up and down an egg-spotted Asparagus stem, apparently cleaning up some of the spilled juices.
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So far as I saw, this fly never did anything but perch. Several fungus-filled fly mummies were found nearby. I don’t know the species of fly, but perhaps these were simply using the Asparagus’ high and handy perches.
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This nymph of a True Bug patrolled some egg rows, apparently (although not definitively) sucking out the contents of some of them… think food-filled balloons.
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And, amongst it all, a spider waited patiently; the Asparagus was as good a place as any for some hunting.
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This red mite seemed to be sucking on a beetle egg, but perhaps it was only imbibing nearby plant juices.
 
 

Columbia County Moths

 gr moth

 

At this time of year we have the opportunity to observe moths not only at our porch lights, but at flowers as well. A number of moths, including the American Ear Moth (Amphipoea americana) shown above, extract nectar from flowers in the light of day. However, most moth species await dusk or dark to come out from their resting places. Nectaring is not a behavior of all moth species. Some, like the famous Luna Moth (Actias luna) and other Giant Silkworm Moths, do not feed at all as adults and therefor have short lives. In Columbia County, we have just a brief period in spring where we may see the week-long-lived Luna Moth at rest in the forest, or by a porch light. Moths’ attraction to light is a bit of a mystery, but it may relate to their use of the moon for orientation. In any case, this attraction has allowed us to study Columbia County moths by using specialized lights to attract a great diversity of them.

 

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A Luna Moth seen June 2nd, 2016 in Austerlitz, N.Y

 

 

The Moth Tally

One would think that tallying the species of moths in a rural county in upstate New York would be a feasible task. Columbia County is about 650 square miles of land, largely composed of Oak-Hickory and Northern Hardwood (with hemlock and/or pine) forest types. Yes, there are swamps, rocky barrens, shrublands, meadows, farmland and various other habitats; and elevation ranges from about 10 ft. by the Hudson River to over 2,000 ft. at Harvey Mountain; but, it’s just another rural county in upstate New York. How many moth species can this place have?

Well, after two years of simply observing or conducting official moth surveys; asking my girlfriend to spend many a Friday night in the woods or by the house beside a moth light; the answer is that I have no idea. For now, our number is about 560 species of moths in the county (determined with the help of other accredited observers), but give it a week or two, and we may have 600 or more. Nearly every time out mothing, whether it’s a place I have surveyed before or not, I find one, two, or ten new species for our list. With no end to the tally in sight given the continued occurrence of many new species on each outing, I’m excited to see just how big this list will get and what the next survey will bring in.

 

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A starlit moth survey at an Ancram, N.Y. meadow

 

Being that moths are a very diverse group of insects, it’s no surprise that we apparently are far from determining their diversity in our county. Both moths and butterflies belong to the order Lepidoptera, the second largest insect order. There are about 13,000 species of Lepidoptera in the United States, with roughly 5,000 of them residing east of the Mississippi. New York has a long history of studying moths. In 1916, there were 2,304 documented species of moths statewide. The species list was the work of many observers, including entomologists Edward Doubleday, Augustus R. Grote, and Joseph Lintner, all who made considerable contributions to our knowledge of the state’s Lepidoptera; some 26 other observers throughout the state also contributed. A later estimate put the number at about 3,300 species statewide. Neighboring New York, John Himmelman, author of Discovering Moths, notes Connecticut as having about 2,300 species of moths.

To get an idea of what our total moth diversity might be in Columbia County, we can look at the results of some moth studies from smaller regions. Work at the 318 acre Hunt-Parker Sanctuary in Westchester County, N.Y. documented 450 species of moths from 2002 to 2005. Another study in several northwest Vermont counties used surveying as well as historical records and collections to assess moth diversity. They documented nearly 1,700 species.

Perhaps the most comparable assessment took place in the Ashokan region (the town of Olive, N.Y.) of the Catskill Mountains. The study took place over the course of three summers, from the spring of 1992 to fall of 1994. Instead of looking at the diversity of all moths, the study focused on the Sphinx Moth (Sphingidae) and Owlet Moth (Noctuidae) families. The region is quite close to Columbia County, about 20 miles south west. Elevation there ranges from about 700 ft. to 3,000 ft.; it hosts a large portion of the Ashokan Resevior, but otherwise is well forested with mixed development. The area is about a tenth the size of Columbia County. These researchers documented 358 Owlet Moth species compared to the 146 we have seen in Columbia County. If we make the assumptions that they saw all of the Owlet Moths present, that we have as many such species here in Columbia County, and that the ratio of Owlet Moths to non-Owlet Moths is constant, then we can roughly estimate Columbia County moth diversity at about 1,350 species. That number may be too high, as the Ashokan region hosts a variety of rare plants and has high elevation ecoregions that are absent here. Both of these characteristics may enhance moth diversity. However, that estimate could also be too low, because our study area is 10 times that of the Ashokan region. Either way, it gives us a ball park figure and suggests that we are not even half way there in assessing Columbia County moth diversity.

One difficult aspect of determining moth diversity anywhere is the much overlooked very small moths, called micromoths. Also known as microlepidoptera, these specimens represent a majority of moth species in the United States. The caterpillars of these small moths are unlikely to be seen by the human eye as most are endophagus (they bore into, or are hatched within, a plant’s stem, wood, fruit or leaves); some even feed on dead animals, fungi, or parasitize other insects; others are aquatic, feeding on algae in streams or waterlily in ponds and lakes. Because of their small size, there is relatively little known about micromoths. There may be undescribed species of them here in New York State, or even within Columbia County. We have seen a great number of these small creatures during our surveys, and we do our best to document them, but, even with the help of macro photography, it seems impossible to identify many of them due to their size and the limited identification resources.

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This micromoth, the Orange-headed Epicallima (Epicallima argenticinctella), is about 6mm in length. Its caterpillars can be found under the bark of elm trees

 

I have to admit, before I was introduced to mothing by wildlife biologist Conrad Vispo, I knew of three types of moths: the Luna Moth, the clothes moths (the ones you fend off with moths balls) and the ‘none of the above’, which were, in my mind, all gray and nondescript. It took only a survey for me to discover their beauty and diversity. There are endless colors, shapes, and textures; although all moths are covered by scales (Lepidoptera is Latin for “scale wing”), some appear to be fury while others are smooth and glossy. Some moths have patterns that are so artistic and unique that it is hard to imagine the evolutionary paths that made them. Our program has done some mothing with students, and they have made up their own names for some species we’ve seen, including the “Dragon Moth”, the “Jet Fighter”, and the “Strawberry-lemonade Moth”.

 

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The strawberry-lemonade themed Rosy Maple Moth (Dryocampa rubicunda) is common in Columbia County and can be seen in May and June

 

 

The County’s Rare Moths

There are moth species that we see in great abundances during our surveys, like the Tent Caterpillar Moth (Malacosoma sp.; there are in fact two species in our region) and the Common Idia (Idea aemula), whose caterpillars feed on dead leaves. On the other hand, there are rare moths here as well. A moth may be rare because their larval host plant is uncommon. In the case of the Barred Granite (Speranza subcessaria), an uncommon moth here, their host plants, Gooseberry and Currant, were deliberately removed from our landscape during the early 20th century. These plants were a threat to lumber production because they were an intermediate host of a disease that affected White Pine, a once economically important tree in Columbia County. Other factors, such as environmental pressures caused by pesticides, light pollution, development, invasive species, or deer herbivory, may negatively affect a moth species and contribute to its rarity. A third possibility is that a moth species is simply difficult to survey for and is therefore seldom noticed. For example, I have seen a number of Tomato Hornworm caterpillars in our garden, but I have never seen its adult form (the Five-spotted Sphinx Moth), even though I survey for moths around my home regularly.

Below are a few examples of Columbia County’s rare moths. In our many surveys, we have seen these species just once.

 

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The Finned-willow Prominent (Notodonta scitipennis) is uncommon both locally and throughout its range. Its larvae feed on Poplar and Willow. Although these plants are certainly abundant in parts of Columbia County, it remains to be a rare moth. Seen in Claverack, N.Y.

 

 

barred granite

The Barred Granite is not a regular sight in Columbia County. The moth flies for just one month. Their caterpillars are specialized and feed only on Gooseberry and Currant. Seen in Austerlitz, N.Y.

 

 

habrosyne

The wildly patterned Glorious Habrosyne (Habrosyne gloriosa) is uncommon throughout its range. What their caterpillars feed on is not known to science, but Rubus species, including Blackberry and Raspberry, are likely. Seen in Austerlitz, N.Y.

 

 

 

The Sphinx Moths

Sphingidae, commonly referred to as Sphinx Moths, is just one of many moth families; their species in our region represent only a small fraction (less than 4%) of our moth diversity. However, Sphinx Moths are conspicuous creatures. They are large, often strikingly colored or shaped; many species nectar from flowers and are able to hover in place, giving them common names like “hawk moths” and “hummingbird moths”. There are diurnal, crepuscular (active at dusk and dawn) and nocturnal species in our region. At 1,400 species worldwide, they are one of the best studied groups of insects in the world, partly due to their large size. In the northeastern U.S., there are nearly 40 Sphinx Moth species, of which we’ve documented 20 in Columbia County; with three subfamilies, two of them—commonly referred to as the Large Sphinx Moths (Sphinginae) and the Small Sphinx Moths (Macroglossinae)—are regular visitors to tubular flowers and can be seen nectaring during the day or at dusk. A third subfamily in our region, the Eyed Sphinx Moths (Smerinthinae), have scalloped wings and robust bodies; on their hind wings, most species have blue-filled circular spots resembling eyes.

 

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The diurnal Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis), of the Macroglossinae subfamily, nectars at a Monarda flower

 

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A Laurel Sphinx (Sphinx kalmia), of the Sphinginae subfamily, rests on goldenrod

 

 

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A Modest Sphinx (Pachysphinx modesta), of the subfamily Smerinthinae, shows its eye-like spots

 

Members of this group host the longest probosces (a tubular mouthpart used for feeding) of any moth or butterfly in the world. In 1862, after observing Madagascar’s large Star Orchid (Angraecum sesquipedal), Charles Darwin wrote, “In Madagascar there must be moths with probosces capable of extension to a length of between ten and eleven inches”. Darwin’s prediction was verified some 20 years after his death, when a very large Sphinx Moth, Xanthopan morganii praedicta (sometimes referred to as Darwin’s Moth), was discovered in Madagascar; it had a foot-long proboscis that pollinated the orchid’s lengthy nectar spur. The interaction between this strange orchid and its unique pollinator has become a classic example of coevolution; both specimens have reciprocally affected each other’s evolution and now rely on one another to survive.

Although there are no Sphinx Moths in our region that could pollinate such a flower, I have seen a Pawpaw Sphinx (Dolba hyloeus) in Austerlitz, N.Y. nectaring with a roughly 40mm long proboscis; impressive, but hardly comparable to that of Darwin’s moth.

 

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The nocturnal Xanthopan morganii of Madagascar uses its 12-14 inch proboscis to feed from the lengthy nectar spur of a Star Orchid

 

 

Attracting Sphinx Moths

A great way to attract certain Sphinx Moths is by providing their sought-after flowers in your garden or around your home. In my experience, the hands-down favorite native flower of a number of Sphinx Moths is Monarda fistula, commonly called Wild Bergamot, or Bee Balm. It’s native to every state in the contiguous U.S. except California and Florida, and the flower is also a favorite of many butterflies and other pollinators. The plant seems to prefer well-drained soils and a good amount of sun. If conditions are right and there is a good pulse of flowering, these Monarda patches can be incredibly active with Lepidopterans, including Sphinx Moths; depending on the species, one can observe them nectaring during the day or at dusk. Sphinx Moths like the Hummingbird Clearwing (Hyles thysbe), Snowberry Clearwing and Gallium Sphinx (Hyles gallii) will frequently visit Monarda in daylight hours. Other species, including the Pawpaw Sphinx (Dolba hyloeus), the Laurel Sphinx, and other large and small Sphinx Moths, can be seen nectaring these flowers at dusk. Small amounts of fresh manure will also attract some Sphinx Moths; they will consume liquids from the manure and extract the salts and amino acids.

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An Ancram, N.Y. Gallium Sphinx at a Monarda flower nectaring

 

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This Nessus Sphinx (Amphion floridensis) is extracting nutrients from manure at Hawthorne Valley Farm

 

 

Sphingidae Conservation

Entomologists who have been studying and observing moths for decades in the northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada unanimously agree that populations of the large-sized moths, including Sphinx and Giant Silkworm Moths, are collapsing. Species once present or even abundant just decades ago are now reduced or even absent from locales observed. There are various pressures that collectively are causing this decline, such as excessive deer drowsing, habitat destruction, climate change, light pollution, reduction of early successional habitats and other anthropogenic influences.

The decline of Sphinx and Giant Silkworm Moths has been occurring for a long time in the Northeast. In 1906, decades after the invasion of the nonnative and destructive (responsible for mass tree defoliation/mortality) Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar), a parasitic Tachinid fly native to Europe was intentionally introduced in our region. This fly then parasitized caterpillars not only of this invasive species of moth, but of a great number of native moth species as well. Because the Gypsy Moth’s caterpillars occur in forests for just a short while, during the remainder of the year the fly must seek out other caterpillar species to parasitize. Lepidopterists (those that study moths and butterflies) in our region from the 1950s to the 1970s witnessed firsthand the rapid decline of Giant Silkworm Moths and a number of species of Sphinx Moths due to this introduced parasitic fly.

In the 1920s and 30s, Columbia County was on the ‘front-line’ of Gypsy Moth control, many 1000s of pounds of insecticides were sprayed in hopes of managing Gypsy Moth populations. More recently, in the past couple decades, millions of acres of eastern forests have been aerially sprayed with insecticides to suppress Gypsy Moth outbreaks. Because these chemicals specifically affect Lepidoptera larvae, this spraying has had lethal impacts on various species of moth and butterfly caterpillars and is a serious threat to rare Lepidoptera in our region.

 

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An Austerlitz, N.Y. Gypsy Moth

 

 

We can get a glimpse of historical moth abundances by looking at old insect collections. The Farmscape Ecology Program was donated some preserved moths collected from Columbia County in the 1950s. There are several species in the collection that we have not seen here, not in my two years nor during Conrad Vispo’s previous surveying for moths. Two online resources that verify public reports of Lepidoptera sightings also have no reports of these moths in the county. These species include the Tulip-tree Silkworm (Callosamia angulifera), the Great Tiger Moth (Arctia caja), and the White-lined Sphinx (Hyles lineata). How common these moths were in Columbia County some 60 years ago is not known, but it’s a fair assumption that their populations here have either been extirpated or significantly reduced.

The most common Sphinx Moth in our Columbia County surveys by a long shot has been the Waved Sphinx (Ceratomia undulosa). It’s a very large moth (wingspan to 110mm) and has waved markings and some yellow scales throughout its body if you look closely. Their larvae feed primarily on ash trees, which face certain decline as the recently introduced Emerald Ash Borer infects a higher percentage of ash in our state each year. Although ash makes up only 6-7% of Columbia County’s trees, they are much depended on by a number of Sphinx Moths found in the county, including the Waved Sphinx, the Laurel Sphinx, the Twin-spotted Sphinx (Smerinthus jamaicensis), and other Sphinx Moths that may or may not reside here. There is an uncertain future for these moths in Columbia County.

 

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A Waved Sphinx caterpillar and adult

 

Columbia County, like in much of our region, has a deer problem. Whether in forests, meadows, or un-fenced gardens, it is clear that nearly everything in their reach is being browsed. This browsing is another threat to Columbia County Sphinx Moths, specifically to the Hemaris species, including the Snowberry Clearwing and the Hummingbird Clearwing. Although we see the diurnal adult clearwing moths nectaring at flowers, their caterpillars are dependent upon various woody and herbaceous plants of forests and meadows, including Viburnum, Honeysuckle (possibly native and non-native varieties), Hawthorn, and Dogbane. These are all relatively small plants. Because their larval host plants are generally low and easily reached by deer, the Hemaris larvae are more affected by these herbivores than larvae that rely on leaves of trees or taller shrubs.

When a larva’s food plant is stunted or killed by widespread herbivory, or anything for that matter, it reduces or removes a vital resource of that species, preventing the completion their life cycle. A Lepidopteran cannot successfully reproduce without access to its larval food plant, which then must sustain the caterpillar until metamorphosis; only as adults can they reproduce. It is hard to say the degree to which deer herbivory in Columbia County, which does seem excessive in certain habitats, is affecting our resident clearwing Sphinx Moths or other Lepidopterans that rely on low plants frequently browsed by deer. NatureServe, a network that assesses the conservation needs of western hemisphere species, notes that deer herbivory when in excess is a serious threat to both the Hummingbird and Snowberry Clearwing. The organization reports other pervasive threats, including herbicides and invasive plants that reduce the abundance of Viburnums and other larvae food plants relied on by these species.

 

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A Hummingbird Clearwing unfurls its proboscis for feeding

 

If you are interested in learning more about Columbia County moths, visit our webpage for a photographic list that we are frequently adding to. We would greatly appreciate hearing from any readers in our region who would like to share historical observations or collections (not for our keeping of course) of moths or butterflies from our area. Additionally, if you have any current observations that you’d like to share, or any questions, please contact me (dacipkowski@gmail.com). Below, I have listed some moth field guides for our region that are relatively inexpensive and are great resources for species identification and further reading.

 

 

Works Consulted

Ardetti, J., Elliott, J., Kitching, I.J. & Wasserthal, L.T. (2012). ‘Good Heavens what insect can suck it’ – Charles Darwin, Angraecum sesquipedale and Xanthopan morganii praedicta. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 169 403-42.

New York Department of Environmental Conservation. New York State Ash (Fraxinus spp.) Distribution: Percentage of Ash per Basal Area per County [Map]. <http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/71542.html&gt; (accessed August 13, 2016).

Himmelman, J. (2002). Discovering Moths: Nighttime Jewels in Your Own Backyard. Camden: Down East Books.

Kawahara, A.Y., Mignault, A.A., Regier, J.C., Kitching, I.J., Mitter, C. (2009). Phylogeny and Biogeography of Hawkmoths (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae): Evidence from Five Nuclear Genes. PloS One,. 4(5), e5719.

Schweitzer, D.F., Minno, M.C., Wagner, D.L. (2011). Rare, Declining, and Poorly Known Butterflies and Moths (Lepidoptera) of Forests and Woodlands in the Eastern United States. U.S. Forest Service, Forest Health Technology Enterprise Team, FHTET-2011-01.

Vispo, C.R. (2014). The Nature of the Place. Hillsdale: Adonis Press.

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

Wagner, D.L. (2012). Moth Decline in Northeastern United States. News of the Lepidopterist’s Society, 54(2), 52-56.

 

Moth and Caterpillar Guide Books for Our Region

 

Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America

This guide book by David Beadle and Seabrooke Leckie is an excellent resource for getting to know moths. It includes additional information for each species, including range, if it’s common or uncommon, and the larval food plant.

Caterpillars of Eastern North American

David L. Wagner’s caterpillar guide is an essential tool if you’re hoping to identify caterpillars you see in our region. If you know what kind of plant the caterpillar was on, this guide’s food plant index makes identification very easy.

 

Additional Online Resources

www.hvfarmscape.org/moths

www.bugguide.net

www.mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu

www.butterfliesandmoths.org

www.natureserve.org

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2016 in Uncategorized