Friday, June 28, 2013

Aquatic Invertebrates at Hall's Lake - A "4th Thursday" program with the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy

Yesterday I went out to the Hall's Lake Natural Area in western Isabella County to take part in the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy's 4th Thursday at Hall's Lake nature walk program.  I would be co-leading a program on aquatic macro-invertebrates with Doug Valek, retired Biology professor from Central Michigan University.  The property that we would be exploring is not currently owned by the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy, but is currently being held in trust by Larry and Judy Schaftenaar with the expectation that the CWC will eventually purchase the land to preserve it.  Larry and Judy currently allow public access to their parcel (which connects to the CWC's Kabana and Neely Preserves) except during deer hunting season.


This was my first time visiting Hall's Lake and I did not know what to expect so I arrived early to explore the property a little bit.  The property is almost entirely wooded and includes a mixture of Southern and Northern species.  After a few minutes exploring the area on my own, I heard Larry calling to me from the parking area.  He took me out to show me the wooded pond that we would be investigating - it is a kettle pond over a ridge from the main trail that I would never have known was there without Larry telling me.  He also told me about a wooden bridge across a slow moving stream further along the main trail.  I went along the trail to the bridge and Larry went back to the parking area to greet people as they arrived.  Eventually a total of 18 people were gathered in front of Larry and Judy's house (four more people would join us later in the morning for a total of 22).  After a short introduction by Doug Valek and myself, the group walked back into the woods and began sampling the pond water.  We eventually would sample in three locations (pond, stream, and lakeshore).  Below are some pictures from the day.

Retired CMU Biology professor Doug Valek (right) helps participants identify aquatic invertebrates

Gathered around a table for up-close views
A Water Strider on the side of a washbasin

The pond is the open area in the background - the center of the pond is filled with low shrubs.

The pond was full of Green Frogs (Rana clamitans)

Much of the forest floor around the pond was carpeted with Ground Pines (Lycopodium sp. - possibly L. dendroideum)

My favorite picture of the day - Ground Pine and Green Frog

Doug Valek helps some of the younger participants with identification.

Some of our finds  - (clockwise from lower left) predaceous diving beetle larva, damselfly nymph, dragonfly nymph, damselfly nymph, and predaceous diving beetle larva.

A listing of the different aquatic macro-invertebrates that we found.

For a copy of the identification guide that we used, visit the University of Wisconsin Extension Office website

So what was the highlight of the day for me?  For me it was finding Clam Shrimp.  I had never seen them before - unfortunately due to their fast movement and the low light, none of my pictures of them turned out.  Looks like I have a reason to go back.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

On Tattered Wings

This bee must be nearing the end of its life.  Check out the tattered condition of the wings (especially the left side).  Found on a Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) in the field behind our office 25 June 2013.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

We don't belong - Non-native plants in Mid-Michigan.

Sometimes it is easy to forget how many of the plants that we see every day do not belong in their habitat.  Below are a sampling of some of the non-native plant species that can be found naturalized in Mid-Michigan (and across much of North America).  How many of them can you identify?

Bittersweet Nightshade

Bull Thistle


Cow Vetch


Dame's Rocket

Spotted Knapweed


Bird's Foot Trefoil (yellow) and Ox-eye Daisy (right)

Corn Cockle

Crown Vetch

Deptford Pink

Everlasting Pea


Musk Mallow

Stork's Bill

Bladder Campion

Bouncing Bet

Hoary Alyssum

Queen Anne's Lace (Wild Carrot)

White Campion

White Sweet Clover

Black Mustard


Common Mullein

Common St. John's Wort

Fistulous Goat's Beard

Showy Goat's Beard

Moth Mullein

Rough-fruited Cinquefoil

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Monday, June 24, 2013

Native Species Profile - Orange-spotted Lady Beetle

The Orange-Spotted Lady Beetle (Brachiacantha ursina) is a lady beetle that is native the eastern United States and Canada.  Its range is roughly triangular in shape extending from South Carolina northwest to North Dakota and Manitoba then eastward to Maine and New Brunswick.  Mid-Michigan sits almost exactly in the center of this range.

The Orange-Spotted Lady Beetle is a small beetle that measures roughly 3 - 4 millimeters (0.11 - 0.15 inches) long and 2.1 - 2.8 mm (0 .08 - 0.11 inches) wide.  It is mainly black with orange spots on its elytra. It preys on scale insects (rather than aphids) and is often associated with Milkweed (Asclepias) plants.  Its larva live below ground and are rarely seen.

Orange-spotted Lady Beetle (Brachiacantha ursina) on Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Orange-spotted Lady Beetle (Brachiacantha ursina) on Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Basic Information

Orange-spotted Lady Beetle 
Braciacantha ursina

Size:  0.11 - 0.15" (3-4mm) long,  0 .08 - 0.11" (2.1-2.8mm) wide

Color:  Black with 5 orange spots on each elytrum

Habitat:  fields, pastures, roadsides, agricultural lands, gardens, often associated with Milkweed plants

Time Found: May - October (mainly June)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Summer Solstice

Today, at 1:04 AM EST,  Spring ended and Summer began in the Northern Hemisphere.  The moment this happens is known as the Summer Solstice.  The word Solstice comes from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still).  Today the sun has reached its highest position in the northern Sky, giving us our longest day of the year. 

The Earth rotates around its axis approximately once every 24 hours.  However this axis is tilted at 23.5 degrees from the vertical.  The points on the globe that the axis revolves around are referred to as the North and South Poles.  The axis is always pointed toward the same location in the sky.  The North Pole points toward the "North Star" - Polaris.

As the earth revolves around the sun, sometimes the North Pole is closer to the sun, sometimes the South Pole is closer to the sun.  When the North Pole is at its closest, we experience Summer in Mid-Michigan and the Southern Hemisphere experiences Winter.  When the North Pole is at its furthest, we experience Winter and the Southern Hemisphere experiences Summer. 

If you were to arise at dawn every day of the year and record at which point on the horizon the sun rises from you would be able to track the progression from the Summer solstice (in which the sun rises furthest North) to the Winter Solstice (in which the sun rises furthest South) and back again.  Tracking the postion of the rising sun was one of the earliest astronomical observations.  Many ancient monuments were constructed to act as solar observatories, recording the longest and shortest days of the year.

In honor of the Solstice...

A sunflower (photograph by Shara LeValley)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Program reminders for June 24th - 27th

If you are in the Mid-Michigan area there are several upcoming programs that might be of interest to you next week (24 - 27 JUN 2013).

First, as part of the Chippewa River District Library System Summer Reading Program, I am doing a series of programs at the five District libraries across Isabella County.  The theme of this year's Summer Reading Program is "Dig Into Reading".  My program is called "Dirt...Dig It!"  The first two presentations have already been completed.  The schedule for the remaining programs is as follows:

Veterans Memorial Library in Mt. Pleasant - Monday June 24th
Shepherd Community Library in Shepherd - Tuesday June 25th
Rolland Township Library in Blanchard - Thursday June 27th

All of these events are open to the public and are appropriate for all ages.  All events run from 4:00PM to 5:00PM.

Second, on Wednesday June 26th I will be working with staff and volunteers from the Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum to install  a Native Pollinator Garden in front of the Museum.  We will be planting a variety of Michigan native plants that are adapted for a full-sun prairie environment.  Most of these plants were left over from a previous project.  Other plants are ones that self-seeded in one of the gardens that we had previously established.  If you are in the area and available to help, bring a garden trowel and show up at the museum to help plant.  We are starting at 5:30PM and going until the garden is completely planted.

The final activity for the week is with the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy at its Hall's Lake preserve.  The CWC hosts its 4th Thursday Program at Hall's Lake every month throughout the Spring - Fall.  The activity for June is centered around aquatic invertebrates.  I will be co-leading this program with retired Central Michigan University professor Doug Valek.  This program is geared toward families with children.  The CWC does ask that participants reserve a space ahead of time by calling 989-644-5045 or emailing at

National Pollinator Week - Look at all the pretty pollinators...

Don't forget that this week (June 17th - 23rd) is National Pollinator Week here in the United States.  I have written several previous times about installing Native Pollinator Gardens (here, here, and here).  Many people plant gardens full of beautiful flowers and then never see an abundance of bees, butterflies, moths, and other pollinators.  That is because while many of the flowers sold at garden centers and big box stores can be excellent nectar sources, pollinator need more than just nectar to survive.  The component that most people have missing in their gardens is larval host plants - if you want a large variety of insects in your garden, you have to provide something for them to eat all stages of their life cycle.  Most cultivated varieties of plants do not provide food to larva.  Your butterfly bush is useless to insects except when it is blooming.  PLANT NATIVE PLANTS!  I cannot emphasize that enough.  PLANT. NATIVE. PLANTS. 

Now let's look at a few of the pollinators that you might attract.