Saturday, August 8, 2015

A Miscellany of Interesting and Common Roan Mtn. Invertebrates

Green-legged Grasshopper (Melanopus viridipes)
Lots of interesting bugs are hiding and living on Roan Mountain, and there are several great naturalists there who can teach many others a love and expertise for invertebrates. Some insects and molluscs that I have learned from them or identified myself are favored by me over the vibrant  tropical rainforest bugs. You really just have to see what I mean. Take the colorful grasshopper in the picture above. They aren't one of the most amazing bugs, but a common and beautiful insect found near the Miller Farmstead and the Roan Balds, as well as other fields, in summer.
(Micrathena gracilis) Spined Micrathena
The Micrathenas (or Thorny-backed Spiders) are interesting arachnids that are some of the most common woodland spiders. It is easy to walk through one of their webs on a walk or hike, but luckily, they very rarely bite unless physically harmed. This allows a person to hold them (with caution, they still may bite). The reason for this is that their main defense is their spiky back, making a predator that bites into one feel like it is eating a chestnut shell.  Find these in deciduous forests almost everywhere in the Appalachians.
(Actias luna) Luna Moth
Luna moths are part of the Saturnid group, or the Royal and Giant Silkworm Moths. These are huge moths, usually with beautiful patterns. Males have feathery antennae, while females do not, and neither of them can eat as adults. At night, they are not that uncommon seen at porch lights or camping lanterns, as well as alighting on the back of a person's neck or in their hair, making the start of many a falsely accused bat myths. They can be seen in the day floundering helplessly on the ground or resting by hanging on the underside of a leaf. Even though they are graceful fliers in open air, taking off is not one of their strong points. A lot of saturnids are more common than the Luna Moth, which increases the odds of you seeing one.
(Papillio glaucus) Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
The tiger swallowtails are beautiful and large butterflies, another insect with a tropical appearance. Flying gracefully between trees and across glades, the butterflies most commonly identified are the yellow males. The females are usually black with a little yellow and blue, even though you can see yellow females. Earlier in the year, a hybrid with the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail can be seen throughout the Appalachians, called the Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail, a larger, paler butterfly. These beautiful butterflies prodded the Irish to make legend about them, saying that following one will bring you good luck. This is true to some extent, because these butterflies are relatively long-lived (up to a few weeks) and don't land often, its seems that something along that journey will be a good thing, whether worth the walk or not!
(Vitrizonites latissimus) Glassy Grapeskin
The Glassy Grapeskin is a sight to behold. A high elevation species, it likes cooler temperatures. Its favorite food is a dead carcass or sleeping or sick prey, whether other snail, invertebrate, or even something such as a mammal. It can also "bite" when threatened by scratching the calcareous plate against its captor's skin. This ridged plate is also used to scrape meat from its meal. It gets its name from its shell which is translucent, glossy, and almost rubbery like the skin of a grape, revealing the unusually blue skin of this snail. Its shell also is the only high elevation land snail shell to resemble the ocean-dwelling nautilus.
(Arilus cristatus) Wheel Bug
This is probably the least or 2nd least common bug on this post, so if you don't see one of these on your first adventure or trek through a field, it shouldn't surprise you. I added this for an introduction of the even more bizarre native bugs. These bugs are very beneficial to the garden, as well, eating stinkbugs and Japanese beetles because the defensive scents of these pests doesn't bother them. They are one of the largest true bugs (stinkbugs, squash bugs, etc.) in North America. The nymph, or young stage, is iridescent blue and an orange-ish red. It has no wheel at this stage, but its abdomen stands up vertically and has a crowned top. The adult is various shades of brown, with wings and a wheel. They are a type of Assassin bug, waiting for their prey to land, then slurping its insides out and leaving the exoskeleton. The picture above is of a vulnerable, newly shed adult. It has barely visible red and yellow candy-stripes on the abdomen, if you can't see them. But be cautious around them; their bite is supposed to be 10x worse than a hornet's sting. Plantain (Plantago spp.) is supposed to heal the bite.
Hope you enjoyed the post,
                                          Happy Trails, Critter Cade

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