Six-lined racerunner (Aspidoscelis sexlineatus) is the largest lizard in Minnesota. It occurs on blufflands and river terraces in the southeastern part of the state. It is found mostly on south-facing bluffs, in river floodplains, and on sandy outwashes. Populations tend to be localized and isolated. Minnesota does not give it a protected status but lists it as a Species in Greatest Conservation Need.
Adults are most active in the morning, bask on rocks in the afternoon, and spend the night in a burrow (sound familiar?). They move with short, quick, bursts of speed. They will eat most arthropods, especially grasshoppers and crickets, but also beetle larvae, ants, spiders, and mollusks.
When attacked by a predator, the racerunner will detach its all or part of its tail. The tail will continue to wiggle and distract the predator while the racerunner seeks cover. The tail will regrow but will not be as long as the original.
Of the three lizards native to Minnesota, six-lined racerunner is the largest. There are three light yellow or yellowish-green stripes on each side. This is the feature that gives the racerunner its common name and distinguishes it from the other two lizards in Minnesota.
There are only two species of praying mantis in Minnesota, Chinese mantis and European mantis. Neither is native to North America. The most common by far is Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis sinensis). It is native to Japan, China, North and South Korea, Thailand, and Micronesia. It was accidentally introduced in Philadelphia in 1896. It is now common in the United States and southern Canada east of the Great Plains, in California west of the Rocky Mountains, and in most of Asia. It is uncommon in the southern third of Minnesota, where it is at the northwestern extent of its range, and is absent from the remainder of the state. It is found in grasslands, meadows, agricultural fields, and woodlands, and at the sides of streams and rivers.
Chinese mantis are large predaceous insects. They eat anything they can catch, including insects, small amphibians and reptiles, and hummingbirds. They remain stationary with their legs raised up as they wait for prey. Though they have wings, females do not fly. Males can fly only short distances. Adults are active in summer until fall, when they are killed by the first frost.
Chinese mantis is distinguished from European mantis by its larger size, the pattern of stripes and shape of plates on the face, a bold green stripe along the edge of the forewing, and a yellow spot between the front legs.
Leafy spurge hawkmoth (Hyles euphorbiae) is a large exotic moth. It is native to Europe and western Asia. In the 1960s it was introduced into the United States to control leafy spurge, and separately into Canada to control leafy and cypress spurges. Hawkmoth populations are never large due to predation and disease, and they are susceptible to insecticides used to control grasshoppers. While the larvae can entirely defoliate a host plant, the damage to the host plant population is never significant.
Since its introduction, leafy spurge hawkmoth has spread widely and its range continues to expand. It now occurs in the northern United States and southern Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. It is found from late May through July in disturbed meadows and other grasslands with large populations of leafy spurge. Larvae feed on the foliage of leafy spurge and other members of the Euphorbiaceae (spurge) family. Adults feed on flower nectar. They hover like a hummingbird when visiting flowers.
Leafy spurge hawkmoth is identified by its large size; pale tan forewings with a slight pinkish tinge; a squarish, olive-brown spot in the basal area and another in the median area; an olive-brown post-medial band; and black peppering in the pale areas.
Hooked buttercup (Ranunculus recurvatus var. recurvatus) is a common woodland spring wildflower. It occurs in the eastern half of the United States and southern Canada. It is found in wet to moderately moist or sometimes dry woodlands, in woodland openings and trails, on banks of rivers and streams, and in swamps and fens. It grows in rich organic soil under light to medium shade.
Most members of the genus Ranunculus, including hooked buttercup, are poisonous. They cause blistering in the mouth and in the gastrointestinal tract when eaten. Handling the plants causes contact dermatitis.
Hooked buttercup is an erect plant. The basal leaves are large and are divided into three lobes. A few solitary flowers appear at the end of the stem between May to June. The flowers have small, pale yellow petals and are not showy. The fruits have a slender extension (beak) at the end. The beak is strongly curved, appearing hooked. This is the feature that gives the plant its common name.
Hooked buttercup is easily identified. The large lobed leaves and small pale yellow petals help with the identification. The hooked beak of the achenes confirm it.
Giant mayfly (Hexagenia limbata) is a large “common burrower” mayfly. It is very widespread, occurring in the United States and southern Canada from the east coast to the Great Plains and on the west coast. It is mostly absent from the desert and mountain regions in the west. It is the most common mayfly in the Midwest, and is common in Minnesota.
Larvae are found in organic, silty or mucky bottoms of lakes, ponds, and rivers, usually about three meters below the water surface. They feed on organic material suspended in the water. Immature adults are found on trees and bushes on shores near the bodies of water from which they emerged. Adults are found flying in swarms over land near the water body. They do not feed and live from just a few hours to a few days. Emergences are synchronized and can produce swarms so large that they can bee seen by weather satellites. Snow plows are sometimes used to clear dead mayflies off of roads.
Giant mayfly is said to be the largest mayfly in the United States. It can be more than one inch in length, not including two hair-like “tails” that can be equally long. The body may be yellow, yellowish-brown, brown, or even white. Aside from its very large size, giant mayfly is identified by the wing veination, and by the four-segmented end part (tarsus) of the hind leg.
Leonard’s skipper (Hesperia leonardus) is a large, late season, branded skipper. It occurs in North America east of the Rocky Mountains. It is listed as a Special Concern species in Minnesota, where it is declining due to habitat loss, insecticide drift from nearby croplands, and prescribed burning of managed prairies and savannas.
Adults fly from early August to mid-September. They feed on nectar from many flowers, including wild bergamot, heal-all, round-headed bush clover, asters, goldenrods, spotted knapweed, prairie ironweed, blazing stars, thistles, Joe-pye weed, and sunflowers. Larva feed on grasses.
There are three subspecies of Leonard’s skipper, two of which occur in Minnesota. The western subspecies, Pawnee skipper (Hesperia leonardus pawnee), is found in prairies in the west. The eastern subspecies, Leonard’s skipper (Hesperia leonardus leonardus), is found in dry prairies, savannas, open woodlands, and woodland openings in the east. The ranges of the subspecies overlap in eastern Minnesota, western Iowa, and western Wisconsin. In these areas the subspecies interbreed, producing “blended” offspring that are closer in appearance to Leonard’s skipper. The Leonard’s skippers in eastern Minnesota are all or mostly “blended”.
Northern broken-dash, Dun skipper, and little glassywing are called “the three witches” because their dark wings make it difficult to tell “which one is which.”
Northern broken-dash (Wallengrenia egeremet) is a small, dark, nondescript, grass skipper. It occurs in the United States and southern Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. It is most common in the northeast from Maine to Michigan south to Massachusetts and Ohio. It is uncommon but sometimes locally abundant throughout its range, including in Minnesota. Adults are found from late June to mid-August in open places near wooded or shrubby areas, including fields, pastures, meadows, woodland edges, gardens, and roadsides. They drink nectar from white, pink, and purple flowers, including alfalfa, red clover, dogbane, New Jersey tea, milkweed, and blazing star. Larva feed on the leaves of panic grasses.
The upper side of both wings is dark brown with pale markings and a brownish fringe. On the male the leading edge of the forewing is pale. The group of specialized scent scales (stigma) on the male forewing is black and is interrupted in the middle, like a “broken dash”. This is the feature that gives the species its common name.
Mossy Maze Polypore (Cerrena unicolor) is a widespread and very common bracket fungi. It occurs in Europe and Asia, and throughout North and Central America. In the United States it is common east of the Great Plains, uncommon in the Pacific northwest, and absent elsewhere. In Minnesota it is very common in the eastern half of the state, uncommon to absent in the western half. It is found year round in deciduous and mixed forests, on dead hardwood stumps and logs.
When growing on the underside of a log it looks like a pore surface that has lost its cap. When on the top or side of a log or stump it produces a semi-circular shelf-like or bracket-like cap. The upper surface is whitish to brownish or dark brown, but is often green due to a covering of algae. It has a broad pale margin and is densely hairy, sometimes velvety.
The pore surface is whitish when young, becoming smoky gray at maturity. The pores are slotted, maze-like. The flesh is leathery, tough and inedible.
Eastern harvestman (Leiobunum vittatum) is a common, large, easily recognized harvestman. It occurs in the United States and southern Canada from the east coast to the Great Plains. In Minnesota it is common in the wooded eastern region, uncommon in the western prairie region.
The body is golden yellow to dark reddish-brown with a large, distinct, dark figure on the upper side. In summer the figure contrasts sharply with the lighter background. As the season progresses both sexes become progressively darker. By mid-fall they can be almost black.
The legs are extremely long and slender. The patella is short and dark. There is also a dark band at the outer end of the tibia. On the female the legs are light brown with contrasting dark rings. On the male the legs are dark brown and less contrasting.
Roesel’s katydid (Metrioptera roeselii) is a small, short-winged, shield-backed katydid. It is native to Europe, where it is called Roesel’s bush-cricket. In 1953 it was reported at two locations in Quebec. These were the first North American records. It now occurs in southern Canada from Prince Edward Island to Manitoba, and in the northern United States from Maine to Minnesota south to Maryland and Iowa. Adults are found from late June through October in meadows and grassy fields, at the margins of pastures, and in ditches and roadsides. They require a moist area with tall grasses that is undisturbed by mowing or grazing.
Adults are ½″ to 1″ in length and usually dark brown, sometimes yellow, rarely green. The plate covering the first segment of the thorax is brown on top, black on the sides, and cream-colored around the margins of each side. There are three pale green or yellow spots on each side of the thorax. Most adults have short wings and cannot fly. In most years, only about 1% have long functional wings. In years with exceptionally hot summers there are more winged adults.