Wake Audubon Blog

Imperial Moth – Look for larvae in autumn

i Oct 10th 1 Comment by

Imperial Moth authored by John Gerwin

This evening I nearly stepped on the dark larva pictured below. Glad I didn’t, as I might have twisted an ankle!  This is the caterpillar of an Imperial Moth. A few years ago, in early August, I found a recently emerged adult in our front yard, and I’ve attached a couple images of that. It’s a lovely form indeed. Depending on the light, the darker color varies in intensity but always seems to be some form of violet.  I believe this is a male, with so much violet.

The larva apparently comes in two flavors, and both are shown here. The green guy we found at Durant Park last year in late September.  Larva seem to be most common in September/October. I’m used to thinking of a “brown” form of caterpillar like this as a “pre-pupal” stage. This species pupates in the soil and I presume it was crawling across the parking lot to find some suitable soil. Instead, it now finds itself in a garden plot of ours out back!  (with nice loose, loamy soil and plenty of soft dead leaves).

On the latter few dark form images, the flash highlights the animals colors more than what we could see in the kitchen light. When we found it, it was already getting dark outside, so I don’t know what “natural light” would show – it’s dark to be sure but the greenish cast is there. The spiny knobs were definitely visible in any light. When it extended itself on the kitchen counter it was 5+ inches in length.

IN 1909 naturalist/author Gene Stratton Porter wrote a novel entitled “The Girl of the Limberlost”. Porter was considered one the most popular female novelists of that era – by the time of her death in 1924, 10 million copies of her various books had been sold. In the above mentioned novel, Elnora is a young (nerdy?) woman with a penchant for nature study.  Growing up fatherless and mostly alone in a poor rural Indiana setting, one thing she does is learn to collect and sell nature objects, including moths. I have not read the novel but apparently the Imperial Moth is prominently featured……….

A real treat!

2014 Wildathon

i Jun 20th No Comments by

Authored by Jeff  Beane

Wake Audubon’s Wildathon took place on May 5-6. This was the first year that we conducted our survey on a weekday. Our “24-Hour Dream Team” members were Jeff Beane, Ed Corey, Bob Davis, John Finnegan, Stephanie Horton. We counted all vertebrates.


Mon., 8:05 a.m. For the 8th consecutive year, we kicked off our event with Eastern Glass Lizards (three of them this time) at Carolina Beach.



We officially began our count at 8:05 a.m. on 5 May and ended at 8:05 a.m. on 6 May. Beane, Corey, Davis, and Horton participated for the entire 24 hours; Finnegan took a sleep break between ca. 12:30 and 5:30 a.m. Our search included portions of Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Hoke, Montgomery, Moore, New Hanover, Pender, Richmond, Robeson, and Scotland counties, NC. We began at 1208 Canal Drive (ca. 1.0 airmi. NNE Carolina Beach) in New Hanover County and ended on the Sandhills Game Lands WNW of Hoffman in Richmond County.The weather was mostly sunny and breezy, with temperatures slightly lower than average, especially at night; no precipitation; high temperatures in the 80sºF and lows in the 50sºF.


Mon., 1:58 p.m. Corey and Horton scan for more species from the Ft. Fisher-Southport ferry.

Techniques:  Most species were observed via visual and auditory searches, while walking and driving. Binoculars and a spotting scope were used to assist in viewing many species. Several species were taken in dipnets, seines, minnow traps, and drift fences; and several were found by turning logs, boards, sheet metal, leaf litter, or other surface cover. One bat species was confirmed via an Anabat detector. Several species were observed only as road-kills or otherwise dead specimens; these are noted by an asterisk (*).

Species Observed

Raja eglanteria  Clearnose Skate

Anguilla rostrata  American Eel

Brevoortia tyrannus  Atlantic Menhaden *

Umbra pygmaea  Eastern Mudminnow

Esox americanus  Redfin Pickerel

Esox niger  Chain Pickerel

Clinostomus funduloides  Rosyside Dace

Hybopsis hypsinotus  Highback Chub

Nocomis leptocephalus  Bluehead Chub

Notropis altipinnis  Highfin Shiner

Notropis chiliticus  Redlip Shiner

Notropis maculatus  Taillight Shiner

Notropis petersoni  Coastal Shiner

Minytrema melanops  Spotted Sucker

Noturus insignis  Margined Madtom

Pylodictis olivaris  Flathead Catfish *

Chologaster cornuta  Swampfish

Aphredoderus sayanus  Pirate Perch

Fundulus chrysotus  Golden Topminnow

Fundulus heteroclitus  Mummichog

Fundulus lineolatus  Lined Topminnow

Fundulus luciae  Spotfin Killifish

Fundulus waccamensis  Waccamaw Killifish

Lucania parva  Rainwater Killifish

Gambusia holbrooki  Eastern Mosquitofish

Heterandria formosa  Least Killifish

Menidia menidia  Atlantic Silverside

Chaenobryttus gulosus  Warmouth

Enneacanthus chaetodon  Black-banded Sunfish

Enneacanthus gloriosus  Blue-spotted Sunfish

Lepomis auritus  Redbreast Sunfish

Lepomis gibbosus  Pumpkinseed

Lepomis macrochirus  Bluegill

Lepomis marginatus  Dollar Sunfish

Lepomis microlophus  Redear Sunfish

Micropterus salmoides  Largemouth Bass

Pomoxis nigromaculatus  Black Crappie

Elassoma boehlkei  Carolina Pygmy Sunfish

Elassoma evergladei  Everglades Pygmy Sunfish

Elassoma zonatum  Banded Pygmy Sunfish

Etheostoma [flabellare] brevispinum  Carolina Fantail Darter

Etheostoma olmstedi  Tessellated Darter

Centropristis striata  Black Sea Bass

Morone americanus  White Perch *

Archosargus probatocephalus  Sheepshead *

Lagodon rhomboides  Pinfish

Leiostomus xanthurus  Spot

Micropogonias undulatus  Atlantic Croaker

Mugil curema  White Mullet

Necturus punctatus  Dwarf Waterdog

Ambystoma tigrinum  Eastern Tiger Salamander

Notophthalmus viridescens dorsalis  Broken-striped Newt

Desmognathus fuscus  Northern Dusky Salamander

Eurycea n. sp.  “Sandhills Eurycea”

Eurycea cirrigera  Southern Two-lined Salamander

Plethodon chlorobryonis  Atlantic Coast Slimy Salamander

Scaphiopus holbrookii  Eastern Spadefoot

Bufo [= Anaxyrus] terrestris  Southern Toad

Acris gryllus  Southern Cricket Frog

Hyla andersonii  Pine Barrens Treefrog

Hyla chrysoscelis  Cope’s Gray Treefrog

Hyla cinerea  Green Treefrog

Hyla femoralis  Pine Woods Treefrog

Hyla gratiosa  Barking Treefrog

Hyla squirella  Squirrel Treefrog

Pseudacris crucifer  Spring Peeper

Gastrophryne carolinensis  Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad

Rana catesbeiana  [Lithobates catesbeianus]  American Bullfrog

Rana [= Lithobates] clamitans  Green Frog

Rana [= Lithobates] palustris  Pickerel Frog

Rana sphenocephala [= Lithobates sphenocephalus]  Southern Leopard Frog

Rana [= Lithobates] virgatipes  Carpenter Frog

Alligator mississippiensis  American Alligator

Kinosternon subrubrum  Eastern Mud Turtle

Sternotherus odoratus  Eastern Musk Turtle

Pseudemys concinna [floridana]  River Cooter (“Florida Cooter” types)

Terrapene carolina  Eastern Box Turtle

Trachemys scripta  Yellow-bellied Slider

Anolis carolinensis  Green Anole

Cnemidophorus sexlineatus [= Aspidoscelis sexlineata]  Six-lined Racerunner

Eumeces [= Plestiodon] fasciatus  Five-lined Skink

Eumeces [= Plestiodon] inexpectatus  Southeastern Five-lined Skink

Eumeces [= Plestiodon] laticeps  Broadhead Skink

Scincella lateralis  Ground Skink

Ophisaurus ventralis  Eastern Glass Lizard

Coluber constrictor  Black Racer

Elaphe guttata [= Pantherophis guttatus, etc.]  Corn Snake

Elaphe obsoleta [= Pantherophis obsoletus, etc.]  Rat Snake

Farancia abacura  Mud Snake *

Nerodia fasciata  Banded Water Snake

Nerodia taxispilota  Brown Water Snake

Opheodrys aestivus  Rough Green Snake *

Pituophis melanoleucus  Northern Pine Snake *

Storeria dekayi  Brown Snake *

Storeria occipitomaculata  Red-bellied Snake

Tantilla coronata  Southeastern Crowned Snake

Agkistrodon contortrix  Copperhead *

Agkistrodon piscivorus  Cottonmouth *

Aix sponsa  Wood Duck

Anas platyrhynchos  Mallard

Branta canadensis  Canada Goose

Colinus virginianus  Northern Bobwhite

Meleagris gallopavo  Wild Turkey

Phalacrocorax auritus  Double-crested Cormorant

Anhinga anhinga  Anhinga

Pelecanus occidentalis  Brown Pelican

Ardea alba  Great Egret

Ardea herodias  Great Blue Heron

Bubulcus ibis  Cattle Egret

Butorides virescens  Green Heron

Egretta caerulea  Little Blue Heron

Egretta thula  Snowy Egret

Egretta tricolor  Tricolored Heron

Eudocimus albus  White Ibis

Cathartes aura  Turkey Vulture

Coragyps atratus  Black Vulture

Pandion haliaetus  Osprey

Buteo lineatus  Red-shouldered Hawk

Haliaeetus leucocephalus  Bald Eagle

Fulica americana  American Coot

Rallus longirostris  Clapper Rail

Charadrius semipalmatus  Semipalmated Plover

Charadrius vociferus  Killdeer

Charadrius wilsonia  Wilson’s Plover

Pluvialis squatarola  Black-bellied Plover

Haematopus palliatus  American Oystercatcher

Arenaria interpres  Ruddy Turnstone

Actitis macularia  Spotted Sandpiper

Calidris alba  Sanderling

Calidris alpina  Dunlin

Calidris minutilla  Least Sandpiper

Calidris pusilla  Semipalmated Sandpiper

Limnodromus griseus  Short-billed Dowitcher

Limosa fedoa  Marbled Godwit

Numenius phaeopus  Whimbrel

Tringa melanoleuca  Greater Yellowlegs

Tringa semipalmata  Willet

Larus argentatus  Herring Gull

Larus delawarensis  Ring-billed Gull

Larus marinus  Great Black-backed Gull

Leucophaeus [= Larus] atricilla  Laughing Gull

Gelochelidon [= Sterna] nilotica  Gull-billed Tern

Rhynchops niger  Black Skimmer

Sterna forsteri  Forster’s Tern

Sterna hirundo  Common Tern

Sternula antillarum  Least Tern

Thalasseus maximus [= Sterna maxima]  Royal Tern

Thalasseus [= Sterna] sandvicensis  Sandwich Tern

Columba livia  Rock Pigeon

Streptopelia decaocto  Eurasian Collared-Dove

Zenaida macroura  Mourning Dove

Coccyzus americanus  Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Strix varia  Barred Owl

Caprimulgus carolinensis  Chuck-Will’s-Widow

Caprimulgus vociferus  Whip-Poor-Will

Chordeiles minor  Common Nighthawk

Chaetura pelagica  Chimney Swift

Archilochus colubris  Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Megaceryle alcyon  Belted Kingfisher

Colaptes auratus  Northern Flicker

Dryocopus pileatus  Pileated Woodpecker

Melanerpes carolinus  Red-bellied Woodpecker

Melanerpes erythrocephalus  Red-headed Woodpecker

Picoides borealis  Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Picoides pubescens  Downy Woodpecker

Picoides villosus  Hairy Woodpecker

Contopus virens  Eastern Wood-Pewee

Empidonax virescens  Acadian Flycatcher

Myiarchus crinitus  Great Crested Flycatcher

Sayornis phoebe  Eastern Phoebe

Tyrannus tyrannus  Eastern Kingbird

Lanius ludovicianus  Loggerhead Shrike

Vireo flavifrons  Yellow-throated Vireo

Vireo griseus  White-eyed Vireo

Vireo olivaceus  Red-eyed Vireo

Corvus brachyrhynchos  American Crow

Corvus ossifragus  Fish Crow

Cyanocitta cristata  Blue Jay

Hirundo rustica  Barn Swallow

Progne subis  Purple Martin

Stelgidopteryx serripennis  Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Baeolophus bicolor  Tufted Titmouse

Poecile carolinensis  Carolina Chickadee

Sitta carolinensis  White-breasted Nuthatch

Sitta pusilla  Brown-headed Nuthatch

Thryothorus ludovicianus  Carolina Wren

Polioptila caerulea  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Catharus ustulatus  Swainson’s Thrush

Hylocichla mustelina  Wood Thrush

Sialia sialis  Eastern Bluebird

Turdus migratorius  American Robin

Dumetella carolinensis  Gray Catbird

Mimus polyglottos  Northern Mockingbird

Toxostoma rufum  Brown Thrasher

Sturnus vulgaris  European Starling

Bombycilla cedrorum  Cedar Waxwing

Geothlypis formosa  Kentucky Warbler

Geothlypis trichas  Common Yellowthroat

Icteria virens  Yellow-breasted Chat

Limnothlypis swainsonii  Swainson’s Warbler

Mniotilta varia  Black-and-White Warbler

Parkesia motacilla  Louisiana Waterthrush

Parkesia noveboracensis  Northern Waterthrush

Protonotaria citrea  Prothonotary Warbler

Seiurus aurocapillus  Ovenbird

Setophaga americana  Northern Parula

Setophaga caerulescens  Black-throated Blue Warbler

Setophaga citrina  Hooded Warbler

Setophaga coronata  Yellow-rumped Warbler

Setophaga discolor  Prairie Warbler

Setophaga dominica  Yellow-throated Warbler

Setophaga magnolia  Magnolia Warbler

Setophaga petechia  Yellow Warbler

Setophaga pinus  Pine Warbler

Setophaga ruticilla  American Redstart

Piranga rubra  Summer Tanager

Aimophila aestivalis  Bachman’s Sparrow

Melospiza georgiana  Swamp Sparrow

Pipilo erythrophthalmus  Eastern Towhee

Spizella passerina  Chipping Sparrow

Spizella pusilla  Field Sparrow

Cardinalis cardinalis  Northern Cardinal

Passerina caerulea  Blue Grosbeak

Passerina ciris  Painted Bunting

Passerina cyanea  Indigo Bunting

Agelaius phoeniceus  Red-winged Blackbird

Icterus spurius  Orchard Oriole

Molothrus ater  Brown-headed Cowbird

Sturnella magna  Eastern Meadowlark

Quiscalus major  Boat-tailed Grackle

Quiscalus quiscula  Common Grackle

Carpodacus mexicanus  House Finch

Passer domesticus  House Sparrow

Didelphis virginiana  Virginia Opossum

Blarina carolinensis  Southern Short-tailed Shrew

Corynorhinus rafinesquii  Rafinesque’s Big-eared Bat

Eptesicus fuscus  Big Brown Bat

Lasiurus borealis  Red Bat

Procyon lotor  Common Raccoon

Canis latrans  Coyote

Urocyon cinereoargenteus  Gray Fox

Sciurus carolinensis  Eastern Gray Squirrel

Sciurus niger  Eastern Fox Squirrel

Microtus pinetorum  Pine Vole

Peromyscus leucopus  White-footed Mouse *

Sigmodon hispidus  Hispid Cotton Rat

Sylvilagus floridanus  Eastern Cottontail

Odocoileus virginianus  White-tailed Deer


Fishes:  49

Amphibians:  23

Reptiles:  26

Birds:  135

Mammals:  15

Total Vertebrate Species:  248


Mon., 8:11 a.m. Minnow traps yielded Pinfish and several other species. Our hard work on fishes this year paid off.


Mon., 8:30 a.m. Green Anole makes an early appearance; Davis spotted this displaying male 25 minutes in.




Mon, 9:01 a.m. One of North Carolina’s most common snakes, this Black Racer at Carolina Beach was one of five turned up during the event.



Mon., 8:52 a.m. One of North Carolina’s smallest snake species, the tiny Red-bellied Snake is not often encountered during our Wildathons, but this year’s event turned up four. This red phase individual, found under a coverboard at Carolina Beach State Park, was the first snake we encountered.






Mon., 9:07 a.m. Most mammals are secretive and not easily observed. This Eastern Fox Squirrel at Carolina Beach State Park was one of two seen during this year’s event.


Mon., 9:23 a.m. North Carolina’s largest hylid, the Barking Treefrog is a species we often miss on our Wildathons, but this year we scored this adult, plus another calling, at Carolina Beach State Park.





Mon., 10:33 a.m. Birds, like this male Boat-tailed Grackle at Carolina Beach Lake, are always our most abundant and readily detectable vertebrate class.


Mon., 10:00 a.m. For flashy, it’s hard to beat a Painted Bunting. This banded male was one of several visiting the feeders at Carolina Beach State Park.




Mon., 12 noon. Gull-billed Terns are not the easiest species to get on Wildathons, but we observed several at Ft. Fisher State Recreational Area in Brunswick Co.




Mon., 12:17 p.m. Forster’s, Royal, and Sandwich were among the seven tern species we observed during the event.




Mon., 12:26 p.m. This Black-bellied Plover, at Fort Fisher State Recreational Area, was already in breeding plumage.




Mon., 1:20 p.m. American Oystercatcher and Whimbrel at Ft. Fisher State Recreational Area. We did fairly well on shorebirds this year.




Mon., 5:01 p.m. The Brown Water Snakes at White Marsh “hang thick from the cypress trees like sausages on a smokehouse wall.”




Tues., 3:06 a.m. A late-night run up into the Uwharries paid off with several predominately Piedmont species, like this Pickerel Frog, spotted (no pun intended) on a stream bank in Montgomery County.





Tues., 4:27 a.m. North Carolina’s newly designated State Frog, the beautiful Pine Barrens Treefrog, is uncommon, very locally distributed, and often difficult to find. This male was one of several heard calling in Richmond County in the pre-dawn hours.





            We counted only those species that we could positively identify to the agreement of our team. Big “misses” (species that we certainly should have observed, based on where and how we applied our efforts) included Snapping Turtle, Red-tailed Hawk, American Goldfinch, Atlantic Bottle-nosed Dolphin, and a few others. We recorded a few species not found on any of our previous Wildathons.

Our total species count of 248 was the highest of the 24-hour Dream Team’s 15 Wildathons to date (our previous record was 235, in 2013). For the 8th straight year, it was a pleasure to begin the event with Ophisaurus ventralis (we found three) at Carolina Beach in New Hanover County, in the backyard of the former home of the late Ms. Myrtle Curry, mother of team member Bob Davis. The last species recorded was Pseudacris crucifer, of which two tadpoles were dipped in a small pond on Sandhills Game Lands in Richmond County with less than a minute remaining. The cool weather and wind at night, and the lack of any precipitation, almost certainly hurt our chances with some amphibian and reptile species, and “road-cruising”—usually very effective for amphibians and reptiles—was less effective than usual this year. We salvaged five road-killed snakes (two Elaphe guttata, two Farancia abacura, one Storeria dekayi) for the collections of the North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences, and also collected some Notropis maculatus for the Museum. Many observational records for various species were added to the Museum’s files and the NC Natural Heritage Program’s database.

This was the first time in 15 years that we had attempted a Wildathon over weekdays, and we slightly preferred that to the usual weekend event (fewer people encountered, less traffic).

We dedicate this Wildathon to the late Jack Dermid (wildlife photographer extraordinaire, 1923-2014); to the late Renaldo Kuhler (scientific illustrator extraordinaire and possibly the most unusual person I ever met, 1931-2013); to all our sponsors; and to all wild, free things everywhere.

We thank everyone who pledged our team this year, especially in light of the difficult financial times. At this point, our pledged sponsors include Sunny Allen, Ronn Altig, Rudy Arndt, Jeff Beane, Brady Beck & Laura Teeter, Ann Bilobrowka, Art Bogan, Hal Broadfoot, Alan Cameron, Bob Cherry, Amanda Chunco, John Connors, Ed Corey, Bob Davis & Judy Morgan-Davis, Kelly Davis, Angie & Bill DeLozier, Tom Driscoll, John Finnegan & Stephanie Horton, Martha Fisk, Bob Flook, Jim Green, Jeff Hall, Diane Hardy, Andy Harrison, T.J. Hilliard, Linda Jones, Susan Kelemen, Kelley & Yancy King, Jane & Craig Lawrence, Greg Lewbart & Diane Deresienski, Roland Kays, Gerry Luginbuhl, Ellen Lyle, Jeff Marcus, Bob Oberfelder, Zach Orr, Chip Parnell, Jo Ann Parnell, Anne Porter, Linda Rudd, Annie Runyon, Jessie Schillaci, Melody Scott, Kim Smart, Don Stanger, Joanne St. Clair, Dorothy Stowe, Paulette Van de Zande, Peter Warny, Kari Wouk, and almost certainly some others we may have inadvertently left out.  Special thanks to Ed Corey for allowing use of his personal vehicle, to Nate Shepard for assistance with setting minnow traps in the NC Sandhills, and to the staff at Carolina Beach State Park and Ft. Fisher State Recreational Area for providing special access. Jeff Beane and Bob Davis provided lodging. Monies raised will be used to support the usual projects (Audubon’s Coastal Island Sanctuaries, local Wake Audubon projects, Project Bog Turtle, and Project Simus). Your generous support is greatly appreciated! You are the reason we keep doing it every year.

If you have not already done so, please send your pledges to the address below (or give them to any of our team members or to Wake Audubon Treasurer John Gerwin) as soon as possible. Make checks payable to “Wake Audubon” (or “NC Herpetological Society” if you want to donate only to those projects). You can also use the PayPal option on Wake Audubon’s website (under “donate” down on the left side of the home page), but please indicate that your donation is for the Wildathon, and let us know that you’ve paid via that option. Please contact one of us if you have any other questions.

We thoroughly enjoyed the event, and we are already looking forward to participating again next year. Sincere thanks from all of us!



Angle-wing butterflies

i Jun 2nd 3 Comments by

By John Gerwin

“Angle-wings” refers to a group of well-named butterflies with very angular edges to their wings.


Comma underside

I recently learned that there is reference to “Angel Wings” on the Internet, referring to butterflies, apparently these same ones. A typo no doubt.  But this reminds me that there are tropical butterflies with clear wings, often called, sure enough “Clearwing butterflies”.  I just photographed one species in Nicaragua, which I will include for reference.  To me, a butterfly with clear wings seems more like an angel. But, back to our geometrically-enhanced leps………….

The two common species of angle-wings around our area are the Comma, and Question Mark.  They’re quite similar to each other. Not in a punctuation-syntax way, but rather, morphologically. These are black and orange butterflies, with cryptic, darkly colored patterns underneath that blend in well with the bark of a tree (but not our orange house, as seen below).  It is the underside that best determines the correct syntax, er, species – a shiny crescent on a dark background with or without the diacritical point.  These species exhibit some variation in the amount of black on the upperside of the wings.  They are pugnacious little devils as well, “attacking” all manner of fauna that may walk or fly by too close (and they determine what is “too close”).  Comma and Question Mark larvae feed on nettles and elms; and the Question Mark will also feed on Hackberry.  Both butterfly species are regular in our area, but I see more Question Marks (perhaps a reflection of my general outlook on life).  Indeed, the April 2014 picture included below is my first Comma for the yard.  Adults of both species hibernate over the winter, and you can often find one out and about on a warmer/sunny winter day. Hmmmm, I wonder if anyone saw any angle-wings this past winter.  Notable, adults of these two species seldom visit flowers: they prefer to feed at rotting fruit, tree sap, and/or animal droppings (they would make fine….. well, never mind). Here are images of these butterflies.  Also included is a Question Mark caterpillar from the Uwharries – and, as mentioned, a clearwing species from Nicaragua. As far as I know, no one has described a “Semi-colon” or “Exclamation Point” butterfly – yet.


Comma, dorsal view                                    Comma, underside – note clear “comma”



Question Mark, dorsal view                        Question Mark, underside



Question Mark caterpillar photographed in the Uwharrie Mountains



Clearwing species of butterfly photographed in Nicaraqua

All photos by John Gerwin

Native Ground Bees

i Apr 4th No Comments by

Miner Bees Anthophora abrupta.

By Annie Runyon and Gerry Luginbuhl

Below  is a photo of a lovely group of the miner bee nest holes. They are active during dry weather for a short time right now. The males emerge, mate and then die soon afterward, leaving the females to rebuild these ground nests. They are active in the middle of the day, rather than morning-evening when it is cooler. Each female has a separate nest chamber. She’ll be busy laying her eggs, building little waxy walls inside to keep her offspring snug and bringing lots of pollen in to pack with the eggs for the larvae to eat. After all this labor she will not live long, but her offspring will develop over the year and emerge again next spring. They are solitary (although do build beside one another) and are not aggressive about defending their nests the way honey bees defend the hive. They are good early season pollinators … important members of our communities! Please don’t disturb them, they are only active for about a month.

Look closely and you can see one of the bees.

bee at nest hole

Bee at nest hole

Large group of miner bee holes

Large group of miner bee holes

Wintertime Reads – Three Good Bird Books for Gift-Giving

i Dec 5th No Comments by

By Annie Runyon, Board Member

This summer I received a beautiful gift. The Bluebird Effect, Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) written and illustrated by Julie Zickefoose. Ms. Zickefoose writes about her life with the wild birds she rescues and releases. She blends her own personal observations with natural history, using humor, words and art. Her sketches reflect her careful observation, and her watercolor paintings color her stories beautifully.

Reading The Bluebird Effect prompted me to reread two beloved older, but still in print, books about bird life with illustrations by the authors.

Joe Hutto’s Illumination in the Flatwoods, A Season Living Among the Wild Turkey (The Lyon’s Press, 1995) is a companion to the PBS Television Special My Life as a Turkey.

Bernd Heinrich’s Ravens in Winter (Vintage Books 1991) is one of many beautiful books written by an this extraordinary academic field biologist.

Each book offers careful observation, humor and thoughtful questions yet to be answered. Perfect for a winter’s evening read, and for a good gift.

Changeable Mantleslugs In the Trees

i Oct 4th No Comments by

by Annie Runyon (photos and sketches by the author)

Back in the fall of 2011, I decided to collect a few slugs and snails from my yard to study. I needed to illustrate “Slippery, Stealthy Slugs” written by Susan Carl for Wildlife in North Carolina magazine.

Top left to right: white-lipped globe snail, 2 three-toothed snails. Lower left to right: sow bug, and several three-band garden slugs.

The three-tooth snails laid a few eggs in the moss and I had tiny snails after a while. The white-lipped globe snail, Globe, was a bold explorer and loved to munch on mushrooms. The juvenile three-band garden slugs were speedy and devoured fresh lettuce.

One chilly evening in January 2012, I went outside to bring in firewood and discovered a handsome slug snuggled in the woodpile. I placed it in my terrarium. It was quite different from the non-native species I had collected.

Art Bogan, from the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, and Megan Paustian, from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, helped me identify this native as a changeable mantleslug, (Megapallifera mutabilis) … or Slide for short.

This is Globe.

The leopard slug  was too large, active and slimy to live comfortably in my small terrarium. After drawing, I released the leopard on a holly trunk.

This is Slide climbing onto a stick.

Here is a sketch of Slide’s face. 2 long eye-stalks look about, while 2 short stalks feel-taste-smell below. Slide’s face looks a bit cat-like, mouth closed.

Slide seemed upset by the other non-native slugs. Slide moved to a corner, produced copious slime, scrunched up and stank off!  So I put the slugs in separate terrariums, and soon released the non-natives. Slide and Globe lived peacefully together …

Changeable mantleslugs (Megapallifera mutabilis) forage for fungi and lichen in the tree canopy. I gathered fallen branches with fungi for Slide to eat. These native slugs shelter together in moist nooks and crannies in the trees and under logs on the ground. They stretch way out and twist all about; gliding up, over and under with grace. Mantleslugs sometimes contract into a hard lump when frightened. All slugs breath through an opening, called the pneumostome, located on their right side, shown in my sketch below.

On February 11, 2012 at midnight, Slide laid a cluster of eggs (more than 20) in my terrarium. Then she rested. (I figure I can call this hermaphrodite a female while laying eggs!) Next morning she stretched and nibbled on lichen. Slide laid more eggs on February 26, 2012 and on March 9, 2012 her first eggs began to hatch.

Slide lays her second cluster of eggs.

The first egg cluster hatches.   Baby slugs!

Slide and her babies, of various ages, eat together.

Slide continued to lay egg clusters for the next three months. Whenever the weather was wet and warm, I would release her babies onto my maple trees where other slugs roamed. I finally released Slide after she laid her sixth egg cluster. At midnight on May 4, 2012, Slide glided up a big wet maple and disappeared in the canopy. Her offspring are growing and doing well.

Slide’s offspring climb…

…and huddle together in the backyard.

Certain predators are happy to thin the backyard slug herd!

Look in mesic wooded habitats (well-supplied with moisture) for these handsome native slugs. In the morning after a rain, you may find them moving down the trees. During the night, look for them climbing up to search for food and mates.

Learning to Cope…

i Sep 3rd 1 Comment by

By John Gerwin

I have loved the song of the Gray Tree Frog for as many years as I can remember. And I have been not-so-secretly envious of our neighbors up the street, who have had 2-3 of them in their front yard for all the years we’ve lived here. But that was it for our neighborhood. Just a few frogs in their front yard, singing gloriously in weather like this year, but none elsewhere.  I was whining about this to Jesse one day and he said “Not a problem! I have 100’s of tadpoles. I’ll bring you some, and you can raise and release them.” And so he did, and so I did. It wasn’t difficult, as I had a few extra rain barrels, and all I had to do was toss some “fish food” into the water once or twice/day.  And so one of the barrels became the tree frog nursery.  By August, there were ~100 teenager frogs heading out into the world on their own. I was amazed when two days later I found a Garter Snake alongside the small pond we have by our front porch, which is where I had placed a few dozen of these youngsters. How do they know?

Over the ensuing two years, the gray tree frogs, and their namesake, expanded.  The species has been thought of as two species for a long time – frogologists have known of vocal and chromosomal differences for many years – and those in the know, well, knew.  Other than voice or genes, the two species are indistinguishable. But it seems only recently that all this has been formalized, and the rest of us now know “ours” as the Cope’s Gray Tree Frog.

We began hearing several individuals along the edge of our neighborhood lake last year. And this year, many more – sometimes I can hear six individuals calling at once. And, this year, we finally had some in our front yard. I was able to get a variety of pictures, and one decent video/audio of one singing away below my home office window.

This is clearly a great year to be a frog, and each night that we walk the dog, we are finding up to 5 species of frogs. And to our delight, these include both Cope’s Gray and Green tree frogs – we have found (and moved) at least 4 gray’s this year (vs. one in the previous 8 years). The Cope’s have a nice splash of yellow (or orange) in the groin area, which is, as you might expect, a bit tough to see unless you pry open some frog legs. Which is precisely what I did the other night, to get some pictures.  I was quite elated to get these images and just to be fondling another tree frog – they will often sit perched on my finger while I admire them. After finishing my frog groin exposé, I went inside to get ready for bed, which included removing my contacts. It was very soon thereafter that I was reminded that these tree frogs have a potent little, mucous-membrane irritating skin toxin – their way of saying “Hey, we hardly know each other!” “Mucous-membrane” would include the eyes; and boy did they burn for a while (about an hour).  All I could do was keep rinsing with cold water, and wait (oh, and complain vociferously).

I have found surprisingly little info reported on the Internet about the toxin itself. Indeed, via a “frog forum” where a few folks wrote in to describe their own membranous experiences, one person posted a link to a research poster from 2011 that claims to be a report of the first chemical characterization of the peptide contained within the skin secretion. That peptide is the main culprit. I found this intriguing to say the least.   There is so much for us to learn…….. Which could include listening to what your Mother told you – “please wash your hands before you…….”

I have included 4 images. There are a few more, which you can view at this link:

The link will take you to my Dropbox account where I have set up a folder for this blog. Included is the R-rated “thigh” shot (not to be missed….). I’ve also included a video with audio of a gray tree frog singing on one of our tables out front. This individual, also in some of the images, appears to be missing one (the left) eye. The video is ~50 seconds. The filesize is large at 25MB so can’t be attached!

We found, and I promptly fondled, another Gray TFrg tonight while walking the dog. Just sitting in the intersection of Melbourne/Ravenwood/Grove. I must say, the really blend in well with the asphalt. I moved it……. to the side of a tree of course.


i Aug 5th No Comments by

By John Gerwin

I love serendipity, especially when it involves nature.  One of my former field technicians, who worked for me for four different seasons, still lives and works in Raleigh (and pet sits for us now and then).  Sarah and Kathy are in a book club together, and Kathy had asked her if she would help pull some ivy vines. So the other day, Sarah drove over very early in the morning, and was rather excited as she came in, exclaiming “Come see this adorable moth on my car!”  So we did, and indeed, it was adorable, and then some. Adorable is a good word because this moth was clinging to a door, her car door, and had done so while Sarah drove from her house near Cameron Village to ours. Sarah proudly announced: “I drove really slow so it wouldn’t get blown off.”  Now, that’s a good field tech!  (But can you imagine the look from a police officer when hearing THAT explanation…..?).

When a moth, (or butterfly), emerges from its pupa and gets it wings stretched and ready, the animal is “fresh” and looks its best.  Over time, scales will be scraped off, the wing edges become a bit tattered, perhaps a bird has taken a chunk of wing out, and such an individual looks rather ‘weathered’. The moth on Sarah’s car door had clearly emerged recently, as it looked spectacular.

The images show an Oakworm Moth, a fairly common “species.” This individual is a female (and the “head” shot reminds me of something from Alice in Wonderland). Upon checking a couple good Internet sources, I found there is some intriguing uncertainty about what we call the taxonomy, and “relatedness,” of this and other similar species.  As we develop more sophisticated tools to study nature, and how species have evolved, our idea of what constitutes a “species” has evolved as well.

I couldn’t quite tell how many species of “oakworm” moths are in our area, but it looked like 3. They are in the genus Anisota. The one pictured appears to be the Spiny Oakworm type. I conferred with 1 entomologist with the Natural Heritage program, and this is the species he thinks it is.  He also relayed that this species prefers a drier oak-hickory forest, which would include Post Oak. Post Oak is a common oak around Raleigh, at least in Avent West and nearby neighborhoods.

Oakworm Moth larvae feed on a variety of oak species. Adults are seen in our area primarily from late June through August.  An interesting behavior is that other Oakworm males fly during the day; whereas the Spiny will fly at night, and thus is generally the only Oakworm that is attracted to lights.  Females will fly day or night but are often seen during the day, when mating typically occurs. Another interesting tidbit is that this moth is also a “silkworm moth.” So, it is related to the Luna, Cecropia and Polyphemus moths; and helps explain the “no mouth” look – indeed, it has no mouth parts for feeding.  Silkworm moths do not feed as adults. As adults, they live about a week during which time they mate, the females lay eggs, and that’s it.

THIS JUST IN!  Gerwin found a larva getting ready to pupate…cool, huh?

Adventures with Fungus, Crayfish and Chiggers

i Jul 8th No Comments by

By Brandt (Wake Audubon Young Naturalist since 2010)

Participation in the Young Naturalists Club’s outings has given me some of the best adventures of my life. Take the last excursion, for example. We went on an over-night trip to explore and camp in the Uwharrie National Forest, an ancient and almost mystical place in the center of our state.  Mr. Gerwin and Mr. Sean were our intrepid leaders.  Their knowledge about every living thing we encountered was amazing.  My favorite discovery on the trail was the purple coral fungus, clavaria zollingeri:

Isn’t it cool?  I read that it grows in coniferous areas all across Canada and southward in mountain areas.  So that’s why we found it in the Uwharrie’s.

At a stream on our first hike, Lily, The Fearless,  and Sean showed me proper crayfish holding technique. It was the first time I ever held a crayfish. Mr. (or Mrs.?) Crayfish was a good size for a beginner – not big enough to pinch hard:

Camping was fun. We enjoyed roasted marshmallows over the campfire. One of my marshmallows turned into a chemistry experiment as it reduced itself to a black mass of carbon – I guess I toasted it a little TOO long. We were all tired out from the day, but it was hard to get to sleep because some of the neighbors were pretty noisy until late at night. Around 5 am we had a surprise visitor. A whip-poor-will flew right into our campsite and landed on the picnic bench! He gave a rousing serenade before flying off again. He must have received word that we were all disappointed about not hearing any Nightjars during the YNC Nightjar Survey at Jordan Lake. He made up for that!

On Day 2 of our trip, we visited the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness area. That’s a nice unspoiled area; a place where you can escape the crazy, noisy, hustle and bustle of modern life. We saw a great specimen of a Hognose Snake:

Even in these mountains, it was getting hot and sticky by the end of the trail. We all felt like Roger, the guide dog puppy, and wanted to cool off in the stream:

The one thing I would have liked to have missed on the trip were the chiggers. I’m still itching! The whole idea that a mite too small to see can unleash enzymes that turn parts of me into its personal protein smoothie is just gross. Dealing with the leftovers of its stylostome “straw” in one’s skin is maddening, to say the least.  Next time, I’ll be ready with more bug defenses.

I’m looking forward to the next YNC outing to Grandfather Mountain. I love the Boone area. See you there!

(The Wake Audubon Young Naturalist Club offers youth ages 12-18 opportunities to explore nature together.  Monthly outings include environmental service projects, local bird walks and full-day adventures from the mountains to the coast.)

April Showers Bring May Flowers

i Apr 17th No Comments by

By Annie Runyon

I found these longleaf cones (flowers) at Harris Lake this past week.

You can see the cluster of purple male cones (or catkins) above, and 2 female cones growing below the pointy growing tip of a new branch.

Our longleaf pine sprouted its first catkins in our yard this spring.

It has joined with all the other neighborhood pines, mostly loblolly and a few short leaf,

releasing clouds of bright yellow pollen into the air.

Now we know it is the tiny pollen grains from the oaks, red cedars and hickories that are likely causing our allergies … but the pine pollens are the bigger, showy ones that we notice. AND people are grumbling. POLLEN IS EVERYWHERE! This abundance assures these wind-pollinated trees that their cones will produce seeds, and that new tree seedlings will sprout.

Perhaps this generous dusting of protein-rich pollen seeping into the soil with April’s showers will also help to fertilize and nourish all of the surrounding plants. Perhaps pollen is a spring tonic for the whole forest.