Random Plant: Wild hollyhock

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Wild hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis, Malvaceae) photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

Wild hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis, Malvaceae) goes by a number of other common names including streambank wild hollyhock, mountain hollyhock,  streambank globemallow, and maple mallow. The flowers are similar in structure to other members of the mallow family and have five wide, overlapping petals. This particular species is unique for having broad, palmately-lobed leaves that appear maple-like.

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Wild hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis, Malvaceae) photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

After the flowers are pollinated and fertilized they develop into ringed, hairy, dry fruits that split apart to release the seeds when ripe.

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Wild hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis, Malvaceae) photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

These attractive perennial wildflowers can be found in mountain meadows, woodland openings, and along stream banks in the northwestern United States and southwestern Canada. The individual shown here was photographed near the Snake River at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

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California sea lion

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California sea lions (Carnivora: Otariidae: Zalophus californianus) resting on a buoy. Photographed 10/26/2013 near Ventura, California.

California sea lions (Carnivora: Otariidae: Zalophus californianus) are relatively common inhabitants of the Pacific coast of North America. They breed in the summer along southern California and the Baja peninsula of Mexico. After breeding ends many migrate long distances, ranging from British Columbia to southern Mexico.

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California sea lions (Carnivora: Otariidae: Zalophus californianus) resting on a buoy. Photographed 10/26/2013 near Ventura, California.

These marine mammals are excellent swimmers. They can reach speeds of up to 20 mph (32 km/hour) and dive to 900 feet (274 m) in pursuit of prey and escape from predators. They feed on a variety of fish, squid, and octupuses and are preyed upon by orcas and large sharks.

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California sea lions (Carnivora: Otariidae: Zalophus californianus) resting on a buoy. Photographed 10/26/2013 near Ventura, California.

When not breeding or hunting, these sea lions can often be seen resting on beaches, rocks, and man-made structures like docks and buoys. They tend to congregate more near areas of human habitation, perhaps because of the abundance of artificial resting places.

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California sea lions (Carnivora: Otariidae: Zalophus californianus) resting on a buoy. Photographed 10/26/2013 near Ventura, California.

Historically California sea lions were hunted for their meat and hides and later on were trapped for use in zoos, aquariums, and circuses. Since 1972 they’ve been protected in the United States by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, although some hunting permits are granted in limited cases where the sea lions harm salmon populations.

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Random Insect: Waved sphinx

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Waved sphinx (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae: Ceratomia undulosa) photographed 08/03/2014 near Palmyra, Michigan.

Like most other sphinx moths, the waved sphinx (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae: Ceratomia undulosa) is a rather large insect. The individual shown here was about two inches (50 mm) in length, and wingspans typically reach 3-4 inches (76-102 mm).

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Waved sphinx (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae: Ceratomia undulosa) photographed 08/03/2014 near Palmyra, Michigan.

This species gets its common name from the intricate wavy pattern displayed on the forewings. Individuals also feature a single, kidney-shaped white spot outlined in black on each forewing. Overall coloration varies quite a bit between individuals, and some are much darker than the one shown here.

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Waved sphinx (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae: Ceratomia undulosa) photographed 08/03/2014 near Palmyra, Michigan.

Waved sphinx moths are one of the most common sphinx moths in North America. They’re found east of the Rockies in and around forests and woodlots where host trees are present. Adults probably don’t feed, but their larvae can be found on ash (Fraxinus spp.), oak (Quercus spp.), hawthorn (Crataegus spp.), lilac (Syringa spp.), and several other species.

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Autumn comes to Michigan

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Au Sable River from Westgate Overlook. Photographed 10/10/2014 at Huron National Forest, Michigan.

Although the hardwood trees have begun to change color here in southeast Michigan, they haven’t quite reached peak color yet. For better color a friend and I drove north a few hours to Huron National Forest and spent a couple of days backpacking. Just shy of our destination we made a stop on the Au Sable River along River Road National Scenic Byway.

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Au Sable River from Westgate Overlook. Photographed 10/10/2014 at Huron National Forest, Michigan.

While hiking and camping out in the forest there were innumerable maples, aspens, and oaks that provided the full spectrum of fall colors.

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Big Marsh photographed 10/10/2014 at Huron National Forest, Michigan.

Numerous small lakes provided reflections of these colors in their waters.

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Unnamed pond photographed 10/10/2014 at Huron National Forest, Michigan.

As the frosty touch of winter moves south from here, I might have to take some time to follow it and enjoy these colors a bit longer.

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Little Trout Lake photographed 10/10/2014 at Huron National Forest, Michigan.

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Yellowstone National Park

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Lower Yellowstone Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Yellowstone National Park protects a vast array of spectacular and invaluable natural features within its 3469 square miles (8985 square km) in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. It contains the world’s largest collection of geysers as well as many other geothermal features like hot springs, fumaroles, and mud pots. Expansive mountains, canyons, and valleys harbor serene rivers and magnificent waterfalls. And across the dense forests and lush valleys, innumerable wildlife call this place home.

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American bison near Fountain Flat. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Although this region was known to various Native American tribes for thousands of years, it didn’t become known to European Americans until 1807. John Colter, a member of Lewis and Clark’s 1804-1806 Corps of Discovery Expedition, decided to leave the group during their return from the Pacific coast. Wanting to become a fur trader, he spent the winter of 1806-1807 wandering alone throughout the geothermal areas of what is now Yellowstone.

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Lower Geyser Basin photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

When Colter returned to civilization he told others about this land of “hidden fires, smoking pits, noxious steams, and smell of brimstone” but no one believed him. Many people mockingly referred the place from his fanciful stories as “Colter’s Hell.”

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Beryl Spring photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Subsequent exploration would vindicate Colter, however, and ignite a great deal of interest in the region. This interest would lead to the creation of the first national park in the world, and a new public concern for protecting the last few remaining wild places.

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Upper Terrace near Mammoth Hot Springs. Photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America…That the tract of land in the territories of Montana and Wyoming, lying under the headwaters of the Yellowstone River…is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale under the laws of the United States, and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people…”

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Roosevelt Arch at the North Entrance, dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. Photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

With these words the United States created the world’s first national park on March 1, 1872. The land in what is now Yellowstone National Park so impressed and inspired the explorers, artists, politicians, and people who witnessed or heard about it that they quickly worked to set it aside as a protected area for posterity. The concept of a “national park” had never before been conceived by mankind, but neither had the superlative features of this unique and wonderful place.

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Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin. The most beautiful thing I have ever seen in nature. Photographed 09/07/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Numerous geothermal areas decorate the surface of Yellowstone, fueled by the presence of a massive supervolcano beneath the surface. Mammoth Hot Springs, West Thumb, and the Norris, Lower, Midway, and Upper Geyser Basins are the literal hot spots in this park.

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Part of Fountain Paint Pot in the Lower Geyser Basin. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Each location features bubbling mudpots, steaming fumaroles, sporadic geyser eruptions, and crystal-clear hot springs colored only by heat-loving bacteria and the minerals upwelling from deep below.

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Black Pool in the West Thumb Geyser Basin. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Although many geysers can be found throughout Yellowstone, the most famous and most reliable is Old Faithful. This massive geyser erupts every 60-70 minutes like clockwork.

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Old Faithful Geyser photographed 09/07/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Away from these hot spots cooler waters prevail. The largest body of water is Yellowstone Lake, dominating the landscape in the southeastern area of the park.

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Yellowstone Lake photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Just north of here is Indian Pond, a calm and reflective pool often occupied by waterfowl.

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Indian Pond photographed 09/07/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

To the east of Yellowstone Lake is Sylvan Lake, a quiet corner sometimes frequented by grizzly bears.

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Sylvan Lake photographed 09/07/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Many more lakes and ponds can be found all across Yellowstone. Some are so small they don’t even have names, but are still worth a gaze when you happen upon them.

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Unnamed pond north of Golden Gate. Photographed 09/07/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

A number of beautiful rivers also crisscross the park. They include the Snake River to the south…

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Snake River near the South Entrance. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

…the Madison River to the west…

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Madison River west of Madison. Photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

…and the Gardner River to the north:

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Elk crossing the Gardner River near Sheepeater Cliff. Photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Along many of the forested waterways there are abundant elk (Artiodactyla: Cervidae: Cervus canadensis).

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Elk south of Mammoth Hot Springs. Photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

In late summer and autumn mature male elk can be heard bugling. Late in the season they spend much of their time herding their harems, fighting off competing males, and mating. What’s left of their time is spent eating and resting in the tall grass.

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Bull elk along the Madison River. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

The Yellowstone River is perhaps the most interesting watercourse in the park. Near Canyon Village is Upper Yellowstone Falls…

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Upper Yellowstone Falls photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

…as well as Lower Yellowstone Falls.

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Lower Yellowstone Falls photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Below the falls is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone:

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Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Further downstream is a scenic view of the Yellowstone River and Specimen Ridge near Tower Fall:

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Yellowstone River and Specimen Ridge photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Upstream the Yellowstone River also cuts through the middle of Hayden Valley, a wide grassy area near the middle of the park.

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Yellowstone River and Hayden Valley photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

This valley is only one of many places where American bison (Artiodactyla: Bovidae: Bison bison) can be found. Yellowstone was perhaps the only reason these magnificent creatures survived being hunted to extinction. After about 30 million bison were slaughtered during the nineteenth century, the last few hundred remaining individuals found a safe haven within this protected area.

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American bison in Hayden Valley. Photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Thanks to conservation efforts, today there are several thousand bison within Yellowstone’s borders. They’re so common here that herds occasionally block roads within the park, leading to “bison jams.”

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Bison jam on a bridge over the Yellowstone River near the Lamar River. Photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Rugged highlands are another abundant feature at Yellowstone. Sylvan Pass (8530 feet/2600 m) and Grizzly Peak (9948 feet/3032 m) dominate the gateway to the park from the East Entrance.

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Sylvan Pass and Grizzly Peak photographed 09/07/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Near the center of the park is Dunraven Pass (8859 feet/2700 m) and Mount Washburn (10243 feet/3122 m). This is one of the best areas in the park to see bighorn sheep.

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Bighorn sheep near Dunraven Pass. Photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

A lot of other wildlife can be found throughout Yellowstone, including mule deer…

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Mule deer near Sheepeater Cliff. Photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

…white-tailed jackrabbits…

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White-tailed jackrabbit near Mammoth Hot Springs. Photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

…pronghorn…

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Pronghorn near the North Entrance. Photographed 09/07/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

…osprey…

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Osprey along the Madison River. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

…and even bald eagles:

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Bald eagle along the Madison River. Photographed 09/07/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Although Yellowstone is only the eighth largest national park in the United States, it is still huge. The photos and accounts written here represent only three days of exploration, primarily along the park roads. Yellowstone contains vast areas of wilderness containing an array of additional natural features, wildlife, and scenic vistas. A person could dedicate their life to exploring this park and still not see it all.

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Sunset over the Firehole River. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

When the people of the United States created Yellowstone National Park, they set an example for the world on the importance of preserving remarkable locations for the benefit and enjoyment of mankind. Since 1872 the United States has established 59 national parks as well as over 300 other federally-protected places of national importance. Over 100 other nations have also followed our lead, creating approximately 1,200 other national parks around the globe. The historical importance of this remarkable park weighed on my mind from the time I first set foot in it at the South Entrance, and memories of it will be with me always.

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The author at the South Entrance. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Posted in Botany, Culture, Ecology, Geology, National Parks, Vertebrate Zoology | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Random Insect: Caddisfly

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Caddisfly (Trichoptera) photographed 09/29/2014 near Palmyra, Michigan.

Caddisflies (order Trichoptera) are often mistaken for moths (Lepidoptera) because they share a number of similarities. Like some moths, caddisflies hold their wings tent-like over their abdomens when at rest. Like some moths they are often attracted to lights at night. And like some moths they have long, thread-like antennae. Closer inspection, however, reveals a few key differences. While moth wings are covered in scales like butterfly wings, the wings of caddisflies are instead covered in fine hairs (the order name “Trichoptera” is Greek for “hairy wing”).

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Caddisfly (Trichoptera) photographed 09/29/2014 near Palmyra, Michigan.

Moths also have sucking mouthparts (proboscises) that are conspicuously coiled under their heads when at rest. They use these mouthparts to siphon nectar from flowers. Caddisflies instead have chewing mouthparts. Although most adult caddisflies don’t feed, these palpi are left over from their lives as aquatic larvae. Young caddisflies live in streams, lakes, and ponds, and most species construct cases out of available material to conceal and protect themselves. They use their chewing mouthparts to feed on detritus, although some species are predatory on other aquatic invertebrates.

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Caddisfly (Trichoptera) photographed 09/29/2014 near Palmyra, Michigan.

Finally (and this is a bit more of a generality) moths with thread-like antennae tend to hold them outward or backward. Caddisflies, in contrast, tend to hold their antennae directly forward.

Knowledge of these few details can help anyone become an expert on distinguishing caddisflies from moths. Next time you’re gathered around a porch light marveling at all the insects you can impress your friends. Assuming you enjoy gathering around porch lights to marvel at insects. Which you should.

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Plant-Insect Interaction: Ant on a shrubby cinquefoil

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Ant visiting a shrubby cinquefoil flower. Photographed 08/08/2014 at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.

Shrubby cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa, Rosaceae) is an important source of food for many insects. Its wide distribution, cold-hardiness, and relatively long flowering period make it a reliable source of pollen and nectar for a variety of bees, wasps, butterflies, and even ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae).

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Ant visiting a shrubby cinquefoil flower. Photographed 08/08/2014 at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.

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