Juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) is a common and widespread moss with a worldwide distribution, occurring on every continent including Antarctica. In North America it has been recorded in every Canadian province and in every U.S. state except Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. It is common in Minnesota. It is found in a wide variety of habitats, including upland open woodlands, savannas, sand prairies, roadsides, trail sides, rocky ledges, and creek banks. It sometimes colonizes forest openings following a fire or a blowdown. It grows under full sun to light shade, in dry conditions, on acidic, gravelly or sandy soil, or on thin soil over rock. It usually forms loose to moderately dense colonies, and often forms extensive patches.
Juniper haircap moss stems are densely leafy. The leaves are narrow, stiff, and sharply pointed. They resemble juniper leaves. This is the feature that gives the species its common name. When moist, they are flat and they spread straight out in all directions from the stem. When dry, they fold upward against the stem. Male plants develop a flower-like, yellowish to reddish “splash cup”, allowing sperm to be dispersed by rain drops. The fertilized female plant produces a sharply rectangular capsule at the end of a long yellowish to reddish stalk. At maturity, the spores are dispersed by wind.
Early buttercup (Ranunculus fascicularis) is one of the first wildflowers to bloom in the spring. It produces glossy yellow flowers in April and May. It is found usually in tufts in open woodlands, woodland openings, savannas, prairies, pastures, farmyards, lawns, railroads, and roadsides. It grows under full sun to partial shade on rocky or sandy soil that is poor in nutrients and where there is little competing vegetation.
Early buttercup occurs in the United States and southern Canada east of the Great Plains. In Minnesota it is scattered to common in the lower third of the state, local and uncommon to absent in the middle third, and absent in the northern third.
Early buttercup is a small plant with relatively large flowers. The basal leaves are on long hairy stalks and are divided into 3 to 5 primary leaflets. The leaflets may also be divided into 3 lobes or secondary leaflets. The stem leaves are similar but smaller and less divided. The outer floral leaves (sepals) are flat, not folded or ridged. The flowers are yellow and glossy, and almost always have just five petals. The seed capsules have a long straight beak.
Common house spider (Parasteatoda tepidariorum) is the most common house spider in the eastern United States. It has a cosmopolitan distribution, occurring on every continent except Antarctica. In the United States it is common east of the Great Plains and west of the Rocky Mountains, uncommon between.
Common house spider is found in and around human dwellings, sheds, barns, and privies, in stables, under highway bridges, and in culverts. It appears year-round when indoors, but it cannot survive northern winters outdoors. Its web is often built in upper angles of rooms and in corners of window frames and doorways. It hunts at night, hanging upside-down in the middle of the web. During the day it retreats into a corner or a crack.
Common house spider is a medium-sized colorful comb-footed spider. The front part of the body is short, flat, highest in the middle, and yellowish-brown. The back part of the body is gray with white and dark markings. There is a dark horizontal line just before the highest point, white chevrons before the line, a white spot just behind the highest point, and dark chevrons behind the spot. On lighter individuals the markings are indistinct. On the male the abdomen is more slender. The legs are yellow with dark bands on the female, orangish on the male.
Elbowpatch Crust (Fomitiporia punctata) is one of many fungi that cause a disease known as canker rot. Cankers are open wounds or lesions on the trunk or a branch. With this species, the canker is takes the form of a brown “elbow patch.” It spreads flat on the surface of the substrate with no stalk or cap (resupinate). The outer (pore) surface is yellowish-brown or grayish-brown. The margins are yellowish-brown at first, eventually becoming black and cracked.
Elbowpatch Crust is a common and widespread wood decaying fungus. It occurs worldwide on every continent except Antarctica. In North America it occurs east of the Great Plains and in the Pacific Northwest. It is found in deciduous and mixed forests and woodlands. It grows on many hardwood trees and shrubs, including willow, ash, maple, plum, buckthorn, mountain ash, Siberian peashrub, and common lilac. It is usually seen on fallen trees and branches, but will also grow on live trees and shrubs. It causes white rot of sapwood and in some species also of heartwood. It can weaken a tree making it a hazard to buildings and people.
Orchard orbweaver (Leucauge venusta) is a sedentary, small, brilliantly colored, long-jawed orb weaver. It is one of the most common spiders in the eastern United States, but is less common in Minnesota, where it reaches the western extent of its range. It is found in forests, dense woodlands, woodland edges, shrubby meadows, gardens, and orchards.
The species name venusta is Latin for “beautiful” and it is easy to see why it was given to this spider. The abdomen is silvery-white with four pairs of dark stripes, a yellow stripe on each side, and often a pair of bright coppery-red spots toward the rear.
Charles Darwin collected this species in 1832 on his voyage of the Beagle. He named it Leucauge argyrobapta. Both names are from the Greek, Leucauge meaning “with a bright gleam,” and argyrobapta meaning “dipped in silver.” The specimen was lost after Darwin’s voyage back to London.
In 1973, as party of an experiment to study web building in zero gravity, two orchard weaver spiders were brought to the U.S. space station Skylab 3. After some time to adjust to weightlessness, the spiders constructed complete webs that were not much different than those constructed on earth.
Gordioidea is an order of parasitic horsehair worms. Larvae are parasites of insects, mostly grasshoppers, crickets, and katydids. They feed on and absorb nutrients from the gut of their host. It is thought that they influence the behavior of their host, bringing them near water when the adult is ready to emerge. Adults are free-living. They are found usually in freshwater habitats, sometimes in semi-aquatic habitats, or inside terrestrial hosts usually near water. They do not feed, but may absorb nutrients through their body walls.
Adults are very long, hair-like worms. They are usually 12″ to 16″ long but some can grow up to 47″ in length. The body color is purplish-brown to black in most species, tan in some species. There is a blunt head and a swollen tail, but there are otherwise no distinguishing features that can be seen in the field without magnification.
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.