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Mysterious bugs, scary spiders with glowing eyes, and ghostly cocoons.

- Curious about something you saw while walking in the woods?  Spot the coolest bug ever?  The prettiest flower and butterfly?  Stumble on a rock and found a fossil? Or was it? This is the place to show your discoveries and share in the knowledge of the natural world right outside our doors. Join in the fun everyday at The Daily Bucket.  
Round-up for month of October 2013
Since it's around Halloween, I thought why not do a creepy crawly bucket. After all, bugs are so alien to our human life forms, any one of them is frightening, ghoulish, macabre or take your pick!

Let's start with a Halloween bug all decked out in black and orange.

As usual I'm not sure what it is. It's not a Milkweed Bug (Lygaeidae family) or a Milkweed Beetle (Cerambycidae family) - at least it's not like the photos I see at Bug Guide or paging thru the web.

What I have noticed now after zooming in on these photos is that it metamorphosing. The first photo was taken 10-27. You can see how the body has little spikes on it. BG says this about true bugs: "Life Cycle - Gradual or incomplete metamorphosis (no pupa stage); juveniles (nymphs) resemble adults except they usually have reduced wings and are incapable of flight."

This photo is the next day 10-28. Spikes are gone and its exoskeleton looks to be hardening as the colors change. I know it's the same bug since it is in the same spot on the milkweed pod. You can also see a couple bits of frass in both pics. Right before I took this photo, it was sticking straight out from the pod. I actually saw it jump and tuck the lower end under! To be honest, I am not really sure which end is the head; I assume the top with the proboscis inserted to suck up that tasty sap.

Today on 10-31 this 1/4" bug looks much the same as Monday. I also notice that the legs are not showing. Weird huh? So, I am now committed to watching it everyday...

update - Mystery solved - a ladybug! thanks to GM in comments

Here's a "ghostly" image. I spotted this leaf while walking thru the woods. Luckily the leaf fell and landed upside down or I would never have seen it.

Like 1000s of others I ask the question - Cocoon or Egg Sac? My best guess is a moth cocoon as they are more likely to be elongate, as opposed to a spider egg sac. After taking it away for photos, I gently put it back in the woods, cocoon side down, in a spot safe from me rumbling around later this winter.

This green monster visited my backpack while I was out at Spring Canyon in western Gadsden County helping Ms. Helen restore her stand of longleaf pines. Another question - Grasshopper or Katydid? Caelifera or Ensifera? Didn't matching mole tell us about this in one of his buckets? Dang I forget...

Again to BG to see the Characteristics for Katydids:
* hind femora usually only somewhat enlarged (large femora of Caelifera)
* antennae thread-like, with more than 30 segments (fewer than 30 in Caelifera)
For Grasshoppers:
* antennae usually shorter than body

Guessing a Katydid (for now), didn't have a way to count the antennae segments without capture but they are long and the legs sure are skinny compared to grasshoppers. I do see lots of grasshoppers but they fly off so quickly.

During one of my web searches I came across this wonderful document called Grasshoppers of Florida. It can be viewed online or downloaded as a pdf. Not only does it have photos and descriptions of grasshoppers, but it also covers the various ecosystems in Florida. Ms. Helen's place is what they call High Pines with a steephead running thru it. Unfortunately the spring-fed creek got dammed up ages ago and half of the slope along it is underwater.

This is an open ecosystem, with longleaf pines providing a fairly open canopy and the soil covered with perennial grasses, commonly wiregrass. High pine areas have well-drained soil and may support oaks, especially turkey oak, at various densities.
This ecosystem is maintained by frequent but low intensity fire. High pine habitats support moderate to high densities of grasshoppers because wiregrass and other abundant grasses and forbs are good hosts for many grasshopper species.
If you care to read more about the natural communities in Florida, check out this from Florida Natural Areas Inventory. I read once that Longleaf Pine was the ascendant system in the southeast. Fire (as in what we call "prescribed fire") was used by native populations to aid hunting and gathering (no doubt learned by observation of nature) and was adopted by early European settlers but then lost out to modern agriculture, allegedly modern.

This bug-eyed beetle buzzed my head after we got back to the car. It landed on a tree at eye-level right next to me where I could see it despite the superb camouflage. Going by the sound, I really expected to see another of the big stinkbugs (over 2" with wings & legs open) that had been hovering around all day.

The latest Garden Spider that has taken up residence outside my door with a web stretching from the porch to the deck rail. Here it is briefly lit by the midday sun. Are those "white eyes" on its belly scary or what?

From our October chapter meeting of the FL Trail Association. Dave Cook, FWC Wildlife Biologist, brought in this little gator. Rayanne is not holding it very well despite it being eager to run away. And getting the gator back in the aquarium was a hoot as it did not want to go. It sensed the moment of release and decided to flee with lots of splashing attempts and lunging up the sides. Mr. Cook also brought in a 4' grey rat snake that was quite tame. Unfortunately for one lady curious enough to hold the snake, it crawled around her and up the sleeve of her shirt. I couldn't watch...

One last photo - my current mystery. The thick drifting of sawdust spread around the trunk of this tree (tulip poplar I think) is apparently from insects drilling into the dead wood up higher. Trees die, I know that, but what killed the small trees and understory in a big 20' circle around it? It's like one of the helicopters flying over every day dropped a huge bucket of herbicide in my woods. Hopefully I can get an answer on Saturday from the Florida Forest Service Plant Biologist as we travel to another volunteer workday.

And how was Halloween here? Alas no trick-or-treaters brave enough to stop by my lonely, dark and desolate woods way down at the end of the road. Oh well, I never buy candies anyways. Friday has a "cold front" coming thru to leave us with pleasant 40s-70s temps for the weekend. It's a grand time of the year here in North Florida. The wildflowers are awesome but most are going to seed. My fav, the Blue Mistflower, is still blooming tho.

And The Daily Bucket is now open for your thoughts and observations...

"Green Diary Rescue" is Back!

and posted every Saturday at 1:00 pm Pacific Time on the Daily Kos front page.

Originally posted to Backyard Science on Fri Nov 01, 2013 at 06:30 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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