Saturday, April 30, 2011


While mushroom hunting around Wooster, a few of us discovered what looked like a perfectly cylindrical dead leaf. But, a leaf it was not! As soon as I cut into the leafy shell, it literally came to life in a series of raspy gyrations that caused me to drop it and nearly lose it again in the leaf litter. Watch this video I took in the lab to see what I mean. If you look closely at the photos below, you can see eyes developing inside the dark brown thing in the middle.
In fact, it is the pupa of a giant silk moth, in the Saturniidae family. These are the largest moths in North America. Many Saturniids make drab cocoons and attach them to twigs to overwinter. But, this pupal casing was found in the leaf litter. Either way, the effect is the same, they look like un-interesting dead leaves. I've set up a hatching chamber in the lab, and we will keep our eyes on it to see if it emerges. We do not know what species it will be, but we do expect something large and extraordinary. Unlike this cocoon, the adults of this family are very showy! So showy that many confuse them with butterflies. The difference is in the antennae and resting wing posture. These moths have feathered antennae, and they rest with their wings horizontally over their backs. Butterflies have clubbed antennae and rest with the wings held vertically over their backs.

Here are pictures of the most recognizable species in this family, the Luna Moth (Actias luna) on top and the Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia) on bottom.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The beginnings of field season

April is quickly coming to an end and a few of us in the Gardiner lab are starting our field seasons in May. I've started building my field equipment to use in June, and things are finally on a roll with the help of a few people more apt at construction than I (add that to the ever-expanding grad school skill check list).

Yesterday we set out an aerial sticky trap prototype to catch ballooning spiders. Last night was a real test of its stability as the winds knocked down some trees in the area. The only issue was the sticky trap square turned 90 deg. when it should stay facing west.

Mary and I will be on our way to Lowe's today to buy more materials for building an additional 47 of these traps. I will place 2 of these in each site (which includes urban community gardens, vacant lots, and grasslands either converted from vacant lots or within urban park reserves). The goal is to determine how aeronautic spiders differ in abundance and diversity around the city depending on the site type and surrounding landscape.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


The lab has been bustling! Chelsea and I commute back and forth between Columbus and Wooster until June, while Scott, Ian, Caitlin and Mary hold down the fort. Lately we've been planning our supply lists, and will soon be placing orders and making visits to different stores for odds and ends. It all reminds me of playing Oregon Trail as a kid, and going to the general store to stock up for the big journey west.