More To See

Pandorus Sphinx Moth. Photo taken July 11, 2020. Lake Manitou

Many of us have had more time to spend at home or outside this spring and summer while trying to avoid Covid virus. I feel very fortunate and thankful that while being semi self quarantined, I have such a beautiful community, a lake and quiet surroundings to enjoy, being especially grateful in realizing that there are many who are so much less fortunate. Not only that, we are geographically positioned to miss out on hurricanes, flooding and wildfires.

In my travels, generally around my 1/2 acre homesite, I’m always amazed at how nature presents itself in different forms such as the moth pictured above. The Sphinx Moth is considered a common moth in our area but I can recall only seeing one or two in my life time. Here’s a link if you want to learn more about our Michigan moths:

With a little more time around the abode this summer it was a good opportunity to grow some tomatoes. All was going very well and the daily progress created anticipation of a juicy ripe tomato from the “fruits of the labor” until one day when the tops of the plants were eaten off. Upon closer examination there were some strange soft droppings resembling some kind of poo on many of the lower leaves, ruling out deer, at least yet anyway. In continuing the search it didn’t take long to find two overstuffed creatures. It was the attack of the tomato hornworms. You probably know them as Manduca quinquemaculata. While looking for more information on these 5 inch caterpillars, I found ebay selling a pair of them for $32.65.

Tomato hornworm. Photo taken August 1, 2020. Lake Manitou

Since we are on the topic of caterpillars, all summer I’ve been carefully growing milkweeds at my shoreline as a host plant in anticipation of a special caterpillar that only eats the leaves of milkweed. First, the butterfly deposits anywhere from 300 to 500 eggs on the underside of the milkweed leaves and within a few days the caterpillar emerges, having a feeding frenzy on the succulent leaves.

Lake Manitou August 10, 2020

The caterpillar then moves away from the milkweed and in a safe location, forms into a chrysalis. From the Chrysalis emerges the adult monarch butterfly with its unmistakable black-and-orange colors.

This past May on a day when the wind was blowing onshore, one of our observant neighbors spotted a fair amount of frothy foam at the water’s edge. Could it be suds from phosphorus detergent or foam from PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl)? Looking more closely, it appeared that the froth was only at the sandy shore where the water had a chance to run up and across the sand and then recede. A sample of the water and froth was collected in a bottle. The bottle was given a vigorous shake. The froth disappeared. If it were a soap detergent, it would have produced more froth or suds. If it were PFAS, the suds would have likely remained. The harmless non toxic and naturally occurring froth that is occasionally seen at sandy shores on a windy day is the result of the wind pushing the hard lake water (containing an appreciable quantity of dissolved minerals) over the abrasive silica sand. When the wind subsided and the wave action ceased the froth was gone.

Last March just after the ice departed the lake I noticed some vibrant green colored leafy materials washing up on shore. I didn’t believe it could be from a land plant as the ground was still frozen and nothing was growing at that time. They didn’t resemble anything I’ve ever seen on a spruce or pine tree. I hypothesized that it had to do with an aquatic plant, but they were so green it was difficult to believe they would be from an aquatic plant that had been thriving under the ice cover in frigid water temperatures. I took a few photos of the individual spheres and sent them to Dr. Jo Latimore who is an aquatic ecologist with the Fisheries and Wildlife Department at Michigan State University Extension service.

Within a few hours the mystery was solved as she identified the plant parts as that from a native aquatic plant called Common Bladderwort. Dr. Latimore identified the leafy spheres as a reproductive portion of the plant called turions which release themselves from the main plant and produce a new plant.

Larry Stritch of the US Forest Service writes, “Common bladderwort is an often overlooked, but remarkable aquatic carnivorous plant with highly divided, underwater leaf-like stems and numerous small “bladders”. The photo below is a portion of a mature plant. No need to be alarmed as they will not devour the kids. The plant traps and eat very small aquatic insects.

common bladderwort

Barry Rice photo credit.

Several years ago I had written about finding a few of these plants in Lake Manitou. Now it would appear that they have found a niche and are contributing to the diversity of our aquatic plant community. The root system helps to absorb fertilizers from the lake floor. They provide a food source to fish and help hold the lake floor in place, thereby reducing turbidity in the water, not to mention that they are a unique plant.

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