Entries tagged with “insects”.

I only know a few but found this to be a great tool that can help us learn: Ant and Bee observer cards from encyclopedia online!



Observer cards are designed to foster the art and science of observing nature. Sets are cards are organized around Families of plants, animals, and fungi. Each set provides information about key traits and techniques necessary to make accurate and useful scientific observations.

The tool is not designed to identify species, but rather to encourage detailed observations. Of course, identification can be possible with careful observations but the focus here is on the process of observing.

For example, if you set out to observe pine trees, what features, traits, and environmental factors are important to record? What photographs or drawings make your observations more informative?




Last May I was listening to a program on WAMU (88.5 FM) and The Animal House came on — the topic of the day was Stink Bugs.

The program is really well done and with Stink Bugs starting to enter homes again for hibernation, I thought this would be good timing to share it with you.

Click here to listen to the program: http://wamuanimalhouse.org/taxonomy/term/382/0


For those who remember the Conehead skits from Saturday Night Live, these are a different kind of coneheads……

Here’s an interesting insect.  I discovered it on our screen window today. It’s a katydid called a Slightly Musical Conehead.

Looking in Kenn Kaufman’s Field Guide the to Insects of North America, he says that this katydid has the longest “nose” of all our katydids and the males sing choruses together from thickets and similar habitats from July through September.

I wonder why it’s been named as being only “slightly” musical….. Well, you can decide. This site has a recording of its call: http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/walker/buzz/197a.htm


Yes!!  Like Carl Sagan used to say…. “Billions upon billions of…” (no, not stars, in this case) –INSECTS!!

Can you believe it!  Billions of insects are flying over our heads — up at altitudes of 3,000, 5,000 even 19,000 feet! They’re migrating, searching for food and mates, looking for new territories.

Here’s a fascinating movie clip by NPR (3 minutes long) that talks about this cool happening. Sorry I couldn’t embed the actual video but click the link and it’ll take you right there.  It’s SO cool!



Free program open to all who are interested in learning about the non-native marmorated stink bug which has invaded our area!

The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug ― Wednesday, April 20, 7:00– 9:00 p.m. at Ida Lee Recreation Center in Leesburg.  Join us at this free Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy program given by Dr. Tracy Leskey, entomologist at the USDA Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, WV.  Dr. Leskey and her colleagues are in the forefront of research into the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug.  She also co-chairs a special USDA working group composed of farmers and agriculturalists that is trying to find ways to respond to the serious economic and environmental problems this insect poses.  Questions: contact Laura McGranaghan at lmcgranaghan@loudounwildlife.org.

More free nature programs and field trips are listed on our programs calendar.


As we get out into our gardens this spring, we have a nice opportunity to do some native plantings. 

Native bees are one of our most important pollinators and they’re really incredible to watch. 

As you start observing them you’ll also start to recognize different species that we have here in Loudoun – there are lots of different species!

The Xerces Society has put together a nice tip-sheet on plants that are great for our native bees.

Beautiful for your garden, great for the bees!  You can download it here.


So, last Saturday we were at a picnic in Round Hill celebrating the nuptials of two dear friends.  As we stood in the field sipping lemonade at about 5pm, a number of us noticed all these flying insects.  They weren’t biting and were high enough over our heads that no one was bothered by them. So, we continued with our chats, hoped for some bats to come through and put on a show, and soon forgot about the insects.

The next day, I received an email through our Loudoun Widlife Conservancy yahoo group from Jim W asking if anyone knew about some insects that emerged around 4pm also in Round Hill. He wrote:

“we noticed hundreds of flying insects all throughout our yard, flying near the ground or as high as 10-20 feet above the ground. As we walked into our grass, we noticed lots (hundreds if not thousands) of mounds of ants (we think they were ants), as well as larger insects with wings among the ants. These clusters of ants and insects were everywhere it seemed. The winged insects among the ants were the ones that were flying around. We needed to leave, and when we got back home about 6:30, everything was gone.”

Then, we heard that another member, Beth A., had the same experience in Lovettsville, also on Saturday afternoon.

Curious, we called in the experts (Cliff Fairweather, Phil Daley, Joe Coleman) and inquired.

Cliff responded back with the answer to our mystery of what insects they were:

“I’m sure Phil has already answered the question, but the phenomenon Jim reported was the emergence of reproductive forms of ants. During most of the year, a queen ant produces sterile, flightless workers, but from time-to-time she produces a generation of flighted males and females that disperse in swarms and, if they survive, mate. The males die soon after mating and the females lose their wings. Like other social hymenoptera, fertilized females go on to found new colonies, assuming they survive and find a suitable colony site.”

Jim posted a photo on our yahoo group page for anyone interested: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/loudounwildlife/

Did anyone else notice this occurrance?


I watched an excellent NOVA program last night called The Lord of Ants.  It’s about the life of E.O.Wilson, one of my personal heroes and sources of inspiration. It’s called The Lord of Ants because of the research on ants that Wilson focused on but Wilson did more than just study ants, he made the linkage from ants to biosystems and teaches us about how life connects to life on our planet and the habitats that we have to protect. 

It’s recognized that we are currently going through a mass extinction and in this program he describes the impact (no, it’s not the end of the world, but the species and diversity of the world will change). With science, rather than emotion, E.O. Wilson makes a call for action in the hopes of saving diversity.

In addition to being really informative and inspiring, there are a couple of things that I especially liked about this program. First, it’s told by him in the present day so it’s current and real. The second is that the program weaves together not only stories that he tells about past research but also present day research that links the past with the present.  He then takes that to the next dimension: turning data into action, turning information into a discussion around the need to protect and preserve habitats. This is something that we strive to do through Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy so I especially grooved on that.

Another part of the program that I really loved was where he points out how you and I can get involved here at the local level. Environmental monitoring programs and activities like a BioBlitz that we do here locally are shown to connect into this big picture tying education and monitoring to conservation. He also talks about the Encyclopedia of Life, which I did a blog post on a week or so ago, and his vision for that.

E.O. Wilson is certainly one of the greatest naturalists of our modern days. I encourage you to check out this NOVA program next time it’s on or watch it online through the link above (it’s just an hour and is not dry at all) and pick up a book or two of his – they are both fascinating and often poetic.


Blue-Gray-GnatcatcherJoe Coleman led our bird walk at the Blue Ridge Center on Saturday and sent over this report with the highlights:

Eleven birders found 45 species on the regular monthly (every 4th Sat.) bird walk at the Blue Ridge Center in northwestern Loudoun County yesterday morning.  While it was pretty damp and foggy when we started due to the high humidity & the 2″ of rain that had fallen in the previous 36 hours, the rain held off though the sun never came out. 

The species we found included a Cerulean Warbler which was associating with one of several flocks of very active Cedar Waxwings that were busy eating fruit and fly catching, a few Eastern Meadowlarks around the farm, and several young Common Yellowthroats.  We started off in the scrubby fields around the Visitor Center, took the Farmstead Loop to the Piney Run Spur, crossed Piney Run on the Little Turtle Trail bridge, and then forded Piney Run where the Old Bridge Trail crosses it for a total of about 2.5 miles.
It was a pleasant walk where our biggest problem was that many of the birds stayed high in the canopy and those of us with eye glasses kept having them fog up.  Because of the heavy cloud cover there weren’t nearly as many butterflies as the week before.  However, we did find a fascinating caterpillar with long white hairs right after we crossed the Old Bridge Trail ford.  It turns out it was an early instar of a Black-waved Flannel.  The Princeton Field Guide to “Caterpillars of Eastern North America” writes “although they appear soft and harmless, flannel moth larvae are among our most well-defended insects.  Beneath the soft outer hairs are warts fortified with hollow, poison-filled stinging spines” – glad we were careful while looking at this fascinating insect.
Information on the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship can be found at http://www.blueridgecenter.org.   Information on the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and its many free public nature program can be found at www.loudounwildlife.org.

Here’s the full list of birds seen:

Green Heron, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Mourning Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Acadian Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, House Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Cerulean Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinalm Indigo Bunting, Eastern Meadowlark, House Finch, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow


Seven of us went out to Bles Park in Ashburn, Virginia on Saturday night for a fun night hike to look and listen for frogs.  This is just the second of such night hikes that we’ve done so far but they’re so much fun that we’ll definitely be doing more starting next spring when the frogs and toads are really out in force.

Pickerel_Frog_Bles_Park_8_8_09For our walk last Saturday, we started by gathering in the parking area, discussing the possible species that we would encounter and listening to recordings of their calls. Through past nature walks at Bles, we’ve identified at least six species of frogs and toads that are definitely at Bles, but due to the time of year, we were most likely to only hear three of them (Green Frog, Gray Tree Frog and Bullfrog).

So, off we went along the trail. Bill Roberson from the county’s Parks and Recreation dept came out as a resource for us in case of anything which was great since it allowed us to just focus on wildlife. The park certainly looks different at night but donned with headlamps and flashlights, we were able to spot all sorts of great creatures.

As we walked along, we encountered numerous (at least 20)  juvenile American Toads (toadlets) out hunting for dinner -  hopping across our path and hunting through the grasses. There were also quite a few millipedes out hunting along with some really interesting beetles.

We were hoping for a slight drizzle to get the frogs to call but it missed us and the frogs stayed pretty quiet except for a lone Green Frog that called from along the river. As we explored along the river, we saw a bat or two hunting over the water. By the size of it, I’m guessing a Big Brown Bat.  We’ll have to bring the bat detector next time. We also had Great Blue Herons flying over just as the sun was setting.

The big fun of the evening was spotting the many Pickerel Frogs along the river.  They would have been breeding in the early spring time so it’s no surprise that they were not calling out their funny snore but it was great to spot them and practice some night photography.

We wrapped up our hike at 9pm.