Plant-Insect Interaction: Argid sawfly larvae on a hedge false bindweed

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Argid sawfly larva (Hymenoptera: Argidae: Sphacophilus sp.) feeding on a hedge false bindweed (Calystegia sepium, Convolvulaceae). Photographed 08/03/2014 near Palmyra, Michigan.

Sawflies and their kin are wasp-like insects with about 8000 known species. Larvae often resemble moth or butterfly caterpillars but can be distinguished by the presence of at least six pairs of prolegs. These stumpy, fleshy structures extending from their rear abdominal segments disappear when they undergo metamorphosis and become adults. They’re much shorter than the three pairs of “regular” legs that the insects retain as adults, but they do help the larvae crawl around.

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Argid sawfly larva (Hymenoptera: Argidae: Sphacophilus sp.) feeding on a hedge false bindweed (Calystegia sepium, Convolvulaceae). Photographed 08/03/2014 near Palmyra, Michigan.

Although sawflies are in the same insect order as wasps, their larvae behave much differently. The larvae of most wasp species are maggot-like and feed on paralyzed arthropods provided by their mothers. Sawfly larvae, in contrast, are more like moth and butterfly larvae. They actively crawl around on their host plants and feed on the foliage. Most species of sawfly larvae are pretty host-specific; they only feed on certain plants. Knowing the plant a sawfly larva is feeding on can help identify the genus or species.

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Argid sawfly larva (Hymenoptera: Argidae: Sphacophilus sp.) feeding on a hedge false bindweed (Calystegia sepium, Convolvulaceae). Photographed 08/03/2014 near Palmyra, Michigan.

The individual shown here is a particular genus of argid sawfly (Hymenoptera: Argidae: Sphacophilus sp.) that was feeding on a hedge false bindweed (Calystegia sepium, Colvolvulaceae). I let these “weeds” grow up on a fence in my yard to see what they would attract, and this interesting insect was one of the rewards.

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Glacier National Park

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Mountain view photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

Two mountain ranges, 25 alpine glaciers, and over 700 lakes contribute to the rugged and beautiful landscape of Glacier National Park. Located in northwest Montana along the border with Canada, this park preserves 1583 square miles (4101 square km) of soaring peaks, lush meadows, primeval forests, serene lakes and waterfalls, and a vast array of interesting organisms.

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Cataract Creek spilling off of Reynolds Mountain. Photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

The jagged topography of this park originated long ago. Between about 1.6 billion and 800 million years ago this region was part of a shallow sea. During that time thousands of feet of sand, silt, mud, and dead marine organisms accumulated, and pressure from overlying sediment slowly compressed these deposits into solid rock.

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Mountain view photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

In more recent time periods of collision between tectonic plates forced these sedimentary rock beds upward. From about 170 to 50 million years ago these slow but relentless natural forces pushed older rock bedding up and over younger bedding, thrusting it gradually toward to sky. Today the parallel bedding of the ancient marine sediment is visible in many of the mountains, including East Flattop Mountain near the outpost of Saint Mary:

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East Flattop Mountain photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

In the millennia since their uplift these mountains have been slowly eroded. Ice in particular has contributed most to carving these peaks into their present forms. Vast glaciers blanketed the landscape here during ice ages that ended about 12,000 years ago. Evidence for the sculpting they performed can be found in the U-shaped valleys…

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Mountain view photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

…glacial cirques

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Mountain view photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

…and numerous meltwater lakes that radiate outward from the highest peaks:

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Going-to-the-Sun Mountain and Saint Mary Lake near Sun Point. Photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

Today 25 functional glaciers can be found within this national park. As recently as 1850 there were about 150, and the disappearance of ice here is one of only many lines of evidence for climate change. It’s estimated that within the next ten or twenty years there will be no more glaciers at Glacier National Park.

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Jackson Glacier, one of the few remaining “permanent” ice fields left in the park. Photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

For the time being, however, these melting glaciers feed a variety of water features. Streams, lakes, and waterfalls speckle the terrain, providing unparalleled natural beauty. Avalanche Lake, carrying meltwater from Sperry Glacier and Gunsight Mountain, is perhaps among the most impressive:

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Avalanche Lake photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

Sunrift Gorge is worth the short hike:

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Sunrift Gorge photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

The view of Saint Mary Lake from Sun Point is gorgeous:

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Saint Mary Lake from Sun Point. Photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

The cobbles and distant peaks around Lake McDonald are worth a stop…

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Lake McDonald photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

…as is McDonald Creek which feeds the lake:

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McDonald Creek photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

Within these verdant environments are a variety of tall trees…

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Tall trees along the Trail of the Cedars. Photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

…as well as innumerable wildflowers:

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Unknown wildflower photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

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Unknown wildflower photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

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Unknown aster photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

Seventy species of mammals call these mountains home, including mountain goats (Artiodactyla: Bovidae: Oreamnos americanus)…

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Mountain goat near Logan Pass. Photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

bighorn sheep (Artiodactyla: Bovidae: Ovis canadensis)…

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Bighorn sheep near Logan Pass. Photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

ground squirrels (Rodentia: Sciuridae: Spermophilus sp.)…

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Ground squirrel near Logan Pass. Photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

…and even grizzly bears (Carnivora: Ursidae: Ursus arctos):

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Grizzly warning sign along Sun Point Trail. Photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

Glacier National Park is among the best in the nation and for good reason. The scenic and fascinating mountains, lakes, waterfalls, streams, plants, and wildlife make this a location rivaled by few, and important enough to attract nearly two million visitors annually. Although somewhat remote, it’s definitely worth the trip.

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Mountain view photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

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Random Plant: Pink mountain heather

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Pink mountain heather (Phyllodoce empetriformis, Ericaceae) photographed 08/15/2014 at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Unique to mountain meadows of western North America, pink mountain heather (Phyllodoce empetriformis, Ericaceae) can be found at elevations above 5000 feet (1524 m) from Alaska to Colorado. Forming low, dense mats of growth up to 16 inches (41 cm) in height, the evergreen foliage appears conifer-like. As with conifers the leaves are narrow and waxy, allowing the plant to conserve water in harsh environments.

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Pink mountain heather (Phyllodoce empetriformis, Ericaceae) photographed 08/15/2014 at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Pink mountain heather flowers in the brief alpine summer from June to August. The bell-shaped flowers grow in clusters at the end of stems and can appear any shade from pink to purple. The contrasting deep green foliage and bright pink flowers make this a gorgeous plant to encounter in the mountains.

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Pink mountain heather (Phyllodoce empetriformis, Ericaceae) photographed 08/15/2014 at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

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Wind Cave National Park

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Prairie near the north of the park. Photographed 08/17/2014 at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.

On the surface Wind Cave National Park looks a lot like the surrounding areas of South Dakota. Rolling hills and plains blanket a landscape filled with various plants and wildlife, but the real treasure of this park lies beneath the surface.

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View inside Wind Cave. Photographed 08/17/2014 at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.

With over 140 miles (225 km) of explored passageways, Wind Cave is the sixth-longest known cave system. On top of that, the thin and intricate tunnels also make it the most dense and the most complex cave in the world.

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Map of Wind Cave. Photographed 08/17/2014 at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.

Compared to the main areas of Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky and Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, the paths here are much tighter. Even the short Natural Entrance Tour requires quite a bit of ducking, crouching, and squeezing to get through.

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View inside Wind Cave. Photographed 08/17/2014 at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.

This subterranean labyrinth is most famous for being home to about 95% of all known boxwork cave formations on earth. These paper-thin and intersecting veins of calcite adorn many of the ceilings and walls of the cave. The calcite formed in fine fractures in the surrounding limestone and dolomite, and this softer rock was later dissolved by naturally-forming sulfuric acid. This left the resistant fins of calcite intact, hanging delicately from the surrounding surfaces. They’re essentially “negatives” of the cracks that once existed in the rock.

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Boxwork inside Wind Cave. Photographed 08/17/2014 at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.

Wind Cave also features other unique cave formations like frostwork, calcite rafts, and cave popcorn:

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Cave popcorn inside Wind Cave. Photographed 08/17/2014 at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.

If that wasn’t enough, many of the cave walls also display beautiful red and yellow coloration formed from the oxidation of metallic sulfide minerals:

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View inside Wind Cave. Photographed 08/17/2014 at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.

Back on the surface, the 53 square miles (137 square km) of this national park protects the largest remaining natural mixed-grass prairie in the United States. This environment provides a safe haven for American bison (Artiodactyla: Bovidae: Bison bison)…

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American bison (Artiodactyla: Bovidae: Bison bison) photographed 08/17/2014 at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.

pronghorn (Artiodactyla: Antilocapridae: Antilocapra americana)…

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Pronghorn (Artiodactyla: Antilocapridae: Antilocapra americana) photographed 08/17/2014 at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.

…and black-tailed prairie dogs (Rodentia: Sciuridae: Cynomys ludovicianus):

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Black-tailed prairie dog (Rodentia: Sciuridae: Cynomys ludovicianus) photographed 08/17/2014 at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.

Although rarely seen in the wild, a preserved specimen of the endangered black-footed ferret (Carnivora: Mustelidae: Mustela nigripes) can be found in the visitor center:

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Preserved black-footed ferret (Carnivora: Mustelidae: Mustela nigripes) specimen photographed 08/17/2014 at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.

The prairie also hosts various wildflowers including curlycup gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa, Asteraceae)…

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Curlycup gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa, Asteraceae) photographed 08/17/2014 at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.

…and wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa, Lamiaceae):

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Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa, Lamiaceae) photographed 08/17/2014 at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.

In areas with more moisture, various trees including cottonwoods, pines, and aspens can also be seen:

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View along the Prairie Vista Trail. Photographed 08/17/2014 at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.

Wind Cave National Park is a fascinating and beautiful place, both below and above the surface. The unique caverns, expansive prairies, attractive wildflowers, and photogenic mammals make this an excellent location to visit.

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Prairie near the north of the park. Photographed 08/17/2014 at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.

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Random Insect: White-spotted sawyer beetle

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White-spotted sawyer beetle (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae: Monochamus scutellatus) photographed 09/07/2014 near West Yellowstone, Montana.

Found throughout conifer forests of North America, white-spotted sawyer beetles (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae: Monochamus scutellatus) are economically important tree pests. They attack several species of pines (Pinus spp., Pinaceae) and spruces (Picea spp., Pinaceae) as well as balsam firs (Abies balsamea, Pinaceae), often causing significant injury and monetary losses from harvested lumber.

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White-spotted sawyer beetle (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae: Monochamus scutellatus) photographed 09/07/2014 near West Yellowstone, Montana.

Large adult beetles feed on needles and young twig bark, but the real damage is caused by their larvae. Mating and egg laying occurs from June to September, with females depositing eggs in holes they have chewed through bark on the thick trunks. After larvae hatch they feed on the wood, excavating galleries of tunnels as they move along. These wounds make the trees susceptible to infestation by pathogenic fungi that cause even more damage.

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White-spotted sawyer beetle (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae: Monochamus scutellatus) photographed 09/07/2014 near West Yellowstone, Montana.

The pitting and discoloration these beetles and their associated fungi cause both injures trees and negatively impacts the value of affected lumber. Insecticides are often used to reduce the beetle population, but in the absence of human intervention these insects have an interesting way of controlling their own populations. Cannibalism is a frequent occurrence among larvae. Whenever two individuals stumble across each other while excavating tunnels, one usually eats the other. Larvae suffer a 70% mortality rate just from natural causes like this.

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Random Plant: Shrubby cinquefoil

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Shrubby cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa, Rosaceae) photographed 08/08/2014 at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.

Shrubby cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa, Rosaceae) is a relatively common wildflower that is native to much of North America. As a cold-hardy plant it’s most often found across Canada and the northern United States, as well as mountainous areas of the west.

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Shrubby cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa, Rosaceae) photographed 08/08/2014 at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.

This deciduous woody shrub typically reaches three to four feet (91 to 122 cm) in height. It features stems bearing thin, reddish-brown bark that becomes shredded with age. The compound leaves grow in dense clusters and are covered in fine hairs. Each leaf has three to seven narrow leaflets, although five is most common. Yellow, five-petaled flowers emerge singly or in small clusters at the end of each branch and appear throughout the summer.

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Shrubby cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa, Rosaceae) photographed 08/08/2014 at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.

Because of its attractive flowers and cold tolerance, shrubby cinquefoil is cultivated as an ornamental for cooler temperate regions (USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 2-7). Over 130 named cultivars have been bred that feature various flower colors.

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Old Faithful Eruption

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

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