Look now, look all around

pale green assassin bug Zelus luridus on red Japanese maple leaves
Okay, that’s probably not the best lyric to use in the title. It’s the beginning of the chorus from ‘Planet Earth,’ the first release from Duran Duran, but the very next line is, “There’s no sign of life.” I’m using it ironically, so it’s okay – in fact, I get bonus irony points because I think hipsters are dipshits. I’ll let you puzzle that one out…

fruit of weeping yoshino cherry treeI didn’t get out on my Earth Day quest for too long today, but I managed a few yard shots and a circuit of the nearby pond. On the Japanese maple very close to where I deposited the mantis the other day, my super-acute vision spotted the pale green assassin bug (Zelus luridus) seen above, despite its remarkable camouflage. If you’re having difficulty, keep trying – you’ll spot it eventually.

The parasites seem to be the most prevalent arthropods to be found, and doing a fair amount of damage to the new plant life in the area. The Girlfriend’s prize weeping cherry tree, purchased last year to decorate the front yard, produced a marvelous canopy of flowers this spring, much to our surprise, and even followed up with some fruit. These cherries are smaller than peas, so not exactly heading for the fruit salad, but as can be seen, something has been both damaging the leaves and trying out the cherries themselves.

parasite-damaged rosebudThis new rosebud is also showing the damage, producing a nice cutaway view, but this was the only one I found in this condition, so either the responsible party decided this wasn’t that palatable after all, or it was discovered by the birds in the area – we’ve got plenty of tufted titmice, and they like critters of this nature for food.

The likely culprits really aren’t hard to find, despite the next image. In two places in the yard we have what I believe to be silky dogwood trees (Cornus amomum,) which do not produce the broader four-petaled flowers that most people are familiar with, but clusters of tiny white flowers in a umbrella-shape or cyme, roughly 5cm across. The Girlfriend’s Younger Sprog describes the scent as, “wet dog covered in cat food” – she’s studying to be a professional wine taster and so knows all these technical terms. The flowers last barely any time at all, a few days at most, and so on the bare stalks I found the critter below.

inchworm camouflaged on old flower buds
In an S-curve through the center of the photo is the body of an inchworm, showing the dark dorsal stripe, and its head is tucked in right alongside a few buds at upper right – impressive, isn’t it? Most times, actually, they’re much easier to see, not only as bright green as the assassin, but often dangling on weblines from the trees – in my perambulations I’ve ended up with an untold number hitching a ride. And I’ve found several on the weeping cherry tree, removing them. I’ve also found them on the Japanese maple but they don’t appear to be doing any damage to that at all.

tadpole basking over shallowly submerged leaf
Yesterday at the botanical garden I found a couple of amphibians, both unidentified frogs; the one above was quite young as you can see, but how could I pass up that pic? I’m still keeping an eye out for treefrogs, though it remains a little early in the season for them yet.

unidentified frog at base of scouring rush
stinkpot musk turtle Sternotherus odoratus propped between two treetrunksOn today’s cruise around the pond, I espied this small turtle, likely a species known by the unsophisticated-yet-descriptive common name of ‘stinkpot’ (Sternotherus odoratus,) propped between two tree trunks not far out of the water. They have earned the name, and the other common name of ‘musk turtle,’ by their defensive trait of emitting a foul-smelling musk when threatened. Most aquatic turtles bask in the sunlight to warm themselves, so the position shown here isn’t necessarily unusual behavior, but I admit I was a little concerned that it had slipped and gotten wedged into the space and was unable to extricate itself. Usually, this is not at all hard to determine: turtles are typically quite shy and bolt into the water as soon as they suspect you might be dangerous. So, slowly to allow for as many photos as I could obtain, I started closing in on the little spud.

stinkpot musk turtle Sternotherus odoratus in closer viewNot a twitch, of its head or feet, even as I got right on top of it. I’m going to pause here to point out the bubble seen beneath it, a curious capture due to the gusty conditions today that also severely limited the amount of macro work I could do – check out the water in the previous photo as well. By now, I was far closer than any turtle would allow, and quite certain something was wrong. Even as I set the camera down (yes, it happens sometimes, hush) and reached for the amphibian, there wasn’t the faintest hint of consciousness, and I wondered if I was far too late. But when my hand closed on its shell, the turtle responded with a hiss and a sudden withdrawing of its head, and I believe now the little dude had fallen asleep in that position; even if it wasn’t facing me, their hearing isn’t that bad, so I’m guessing it was zoned out completely.

Of course, now that I had it in hand, I had to take the opportunity for a couple more images before I sent it safely on its way. With no one else around to hold it for a scale photo, I settled for resting it on my sandal; when describing these, I usually just tell people they look like hand grenades. You really want to be careful if attempting to handle one, though, since they have a wicked bite and the neck is surprisingly long and agile. This one was quite sedate, perhaps embarrassed over sleeping on the job, and only dashed off as soon as it was permitted.

stinkpot musk turtle Sternotherus odoratus propped on foot for scale

I close with another photo from yesterday, a spindly small tree in the backyard that revealed itself exuberantly this spring as a white azalea bush – I admit to being unaware of the cranefly on the back of the blossom that I chose to focus upon until after unloading the card.
white azalea blossoms with hiding cranefly

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