Thursday, December 11, 2008


We at the Audubon South Carolina are not above using corporate buzz words. Not only can we use the word, but we'll demonstrate the definition of synergy [a mutually advantageous conjunction or compatibility of distinct elements (as resources or efforts)].

In a previous entry, we noted some of the ill effects of light pollution and yesterday we noted the devastating effects of introduced species, usually via the introduction of non-native plants used in landscaping. Since moths fair better eating native vegetation and can circle human-generated lights until falling to the ground in exhaustion, planting native flora and reducing light pollution is a perfect example of moth-saving synergy! We've often found large sphinx moths on the ground of well-lighted soccer fields or the neighborhood park and thought it odd for the animals to expose themselves to predation while apparently having no fear of our close inspections. Obviously, they were too exhausted to attempt escape.

With today's rain and dropping temperatures, kids hoped for snow like that falling in Louisiana and Mississippi while adults chose not to visit the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp at the Francis Beidler Forest. During the lull, we took the opportunity to go on a swamp stomp and visit an old friend that we had not seen in years. Some wore waders and some only old clothing (jeans, t-shirts, running shoes) that are serving a second life as sexy, swamp apparel. Fortunately, the water temperature had not dropped as quickly as the recent air temperatures. We don't have an age for the Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) in the image, but with an average age in the forest of over 1000 years old, this specimen has seen its fair share of swamp stompers.

On the stomp back to the nature center, we discovered two species of caterpillars (staying on lepidoptera point) that have yet to be listed on our still-short insect list. The first is a slug called Nason's Slug (Natada nasoni) that eats American Hornbeam [aka Ironwood] (Carpinus caroliniana), American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), chestnut, hickory, oak, and other woody plants. Obviously, the "American" in the name gives away that the first two trees are native. There are a variety of native species for the other types of trees here at the Francis Beidler Forest. The stinging spines of this slug caterpillar are retracile with only the tips normally exposed. Be careful, those spines can be quickly deployed!

The second caterpillar species we spotted was the Yellow Bear (Spilosoma virginica) whose coloration is highly variable. This caterpillar is among the most common in yards and gardens (especially those yards with copious native plantings). The Yellow Bear is not a picky eater with many low-growing plants, woody shrubs, and trees in its diet. The yellow in the name comes from its coloration in early instars.

Image of Collis Boyd at cypress by Sarah Green; caterpillar images by Mark Musselman

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