First Butterfly of the Year

I saw my first butterfly of the year today.  It wasn’t this one–I didn’t get a picture.  But it was a red admiral.


I never get tired of red admirals.

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Why Snails are Hard to Study

I mentioned in my last post that terrestrial snails are difficult to study because of the lack of good field guides.  That is only part of the problem.  Another issue is the names.  You key out a snail from a field guide printed in the 1940s and from one in the 1960s and you will get different names.   Plug the names into Natureserve Explorer and you will find something different.

That is to be expected.  But some snails that are obviously different have similar (or identical) species names.

One case in point:  In Iowa we have a snail called Hendersonia occulta.  This is a fairly famous snail, belonging to a different group of snails than the rest of Iowa’s terrestrial snails.   I don’t have any photos of it ( but I think M.J. Hatfield gave me a shell–I need to find it and photograph it).  Normally when scientific names are changed the genus name changes but the species name stays the same.

We also have a snail named Vertigo occulta.  At least I think we do.  I can’t find any mention of it in the scientific literature, but it is listed as threatened on Iowa’s T. & E. species list.  Same species name, very different snails (if there is actually a V. occulta)

We also have Heliodiscus shimeki and Discus shimekii, named after an Iowa botanist and malacologist.

shimeki underside

I think this snail and the snail on the bottom photo of my last post is D. shimekii.  I am not sure but I think they were the same individual–they were at least taken at the same time and location.

Two snails with species names that are similar, but not identical.

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Why Study Snails?

I recently received a copy of Land Snails and Slugs of the Pacific Northwest, by Thomas E. Burke.  I was both pleased and disappointed with it.

I was pleased because finally here is a good field guide to terrestrial snails.  I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of field guides to land snails anywhere in the United States that were published within the last fifty years.  And I would have fingers left over.  The photos are in color and of good quality, and as near as I can tell the keys are clear as well.

I was disappointed because the photos are mostly of empty shells.  How much could you get out of a field guide to birds that only had pictures of the bird skeletons or feathers?  Also, the range of the book does not quite cover my area.


Still, it is a start.  Far better than what existed before this book was published.

shimeki side

You can’t really identify a snail without getting a good look at the shell from several angles.

Snails can be quite frustrating to study, and the lack of good field guides is only a part of the problem.

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Wild Turkeys

It has been a rainy day today, but we were treated to a couple of turkeys walking through our yard.  Turkeys were extirpated from Iowa and were gone for many decades.  Some time ago efforts were made to re-introduce them and they are doing well.  It is not unusual to see them at other locations, but we haven’t seen them much on our property.



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Finally, some signs of Spring

Spring has been pretty slow around here.  Finally, a sure sign that it is here has shown up though.  The first crocus of the year has shown up in our yard.


They may be slow because of the deep frost layer we had this year.  Or maybe some got eaten by the many critters that have come around.

I walked to our pond.  Chorus frogs are singing loudly.  I think I can hear spring peepers as well, but they are fainter and I am not sure.

I have yet to see a butterfly although others have been seeing the occasional mourning cloak or eastern comma for about the last week and a half.  I did see two dragonflies, though–the migratory Anax junius.

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Odd Ways to Measure Success (or Failure)

Failure is a part of life.  Sometimes success is as well.  But both can be funny things.  One man’s success can be another man’s failure, and vice versa.

I have felt as if I am failing on multiple fronts lately.  But sometimes it is the fear of failure that keeps us going.

I will keep the discussion to three types of failure.  The first is if you want something and then do not put out the effort to achieve it.  The second is if you want something, and mount an all-out effort to achieve it, but fall short.  The third is if you work for something that you think you should want, but you realize you don’t really want it when you either achieve it or fail to achieve it.  Most of life’s failures fall into some kind of continuum between those three.

But I want to give an example of something I tried to achieve many years ago, and how I convinced myself that a partial success was a terrible failure.

both liverworts

This is photograph of two leafy liverworts was taken at Cedar Bluffs State Preserve in Mahaska County, Iowa.  I think the lower one is Conocephalum conicum and the upper one is Pressia quadrata.  At slightly different times in the spring, little structures will grow out of the base on stalks–they are the sporophyte portion of the plant.   These structures are extremely short lived, and are present for about a week in the spring.  I had hoped to get photos of this same clump, first with one, then the other.  I had success with one, but failed on the second.

So I beat myself up about it for a while.  There was never a real opportunity to go back and get the other photo–nature photography can be pretty time sensitive.

I still have the photo with the sporophytes, but it is medium format film, and the very expensive scanner I used to scan this photo is obsolete, and only works on the computer that is sitting on a shelf in the basement, not hooked up.

I probably will not attempt to take a similar photo in the future–Cedar Bluffs is about an hour and a half away, plus the half hour walk to the site where the photos were taken (half an hour when I used to be in better shape than now).

So was that success or failure?  A little of both, I think.  But at the time I was devastated, considering it to be a complete failure.

So we plug along through life, seldom succeeding completely, but seldom failing completely.   And our views about our own success or failure mellow with time.


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Late Spring

We are having a late spring here in Iowa.  About half a dozen people reported seeing first butterflies–mostly mourning cloaks–on March 30, which is the latest date for first reports of butterflies in the last several years.


I haven’t seen any butterflies yet this year, and this photo is actually a summer picture–mourning cloaks can be found flying all summer long.

I have taken photos of the first crocus to come up every year since 2010.  Most years that happens in March, although in 2011 it happened on April 3.  I haven’t seen any yet, and I don’t expect them to be blooming today, either.

We had an unusually cold winter with little snow cover.  Some construction workers I have talked to say the frost line went down to about six feet this year–usually it is between three and four feet here.

Spring will come, but it is slow this year.


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Day of Insects

Yesterday I attended the sixth annual Day of Insects at Reiman Gardens in Ames, Iowa.  This event pulls together people from all over who have a general interest in insect conservation.  Since it is at Reiman gardens, we also get to go inside the butterfly wing and look at the beautiful tropical butterflies.


These photos were taken with my phone–the quality is not quite what I would like, but the butterflies are very colorful.


I was too busy enjoying myself to take pictures of the event itself.  But there was a huge amount of enthusiasm, and great chances to talk to people I correspond with but see only infrequently, or in some cases had not yet met in person.

I think the final attendance tally was somewhere around 116 people.  I know there were people from Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.  More states might have been represented–those were just the ones I knew.

Thanks to the organizers of the event, and to the participants as well.  It makes me feel like I am part of something that is larger than myself.

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Indian Hemp

Indian hemp, Apocynum cannabinum, grows wild in our ditches.  It has a seed pod that is long and skinny and opens to release seeds that blow away with the wind.


It looks kind of milkweedy–in fact it is closely related to the milkweeds, and grouped with them by some experts.


Here is what it looks like in the July.





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Blue Sky and Clouds

We don’t get days like today too often.  Brilliant blue sky and puffy clouds.  Typical of cool (but not cold) spring or fall days.  I grabbed my camera when I got home from work.


I am out of shape and my camera skills are rusty.  I blame both on the cold winter.  But soon we will have some spring weather and more exciting things to take pictures of.


This foxglove beardtongue will have large white flowers in late May.

I can hardly wait.

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