Tag Archives: Betula papyrifera

Hello Hungry Beaver!

Beaver Pond, also known as Langsford Pond, is located on the outskirts of Cape Ann’s Dogtown. Exquisitely beautiful and peaceful, the pond is teeming with life, habitat largely created by the relatively new presence of the North American Beaver (Castor canadensis).

Beavers were absent from the Massachusetts landscape from 1750 to the early 1900s due to deforestation from agriculture and unregulated hunting and fur trapping. In the early 1900s forests began to recover as farmers abandoned their fields to work in cities. By 1928, a Beaver was found in Stockbridge. The public’s enthusiasm for the return of the beavers abounded and in 1932 three additional beavers from New York were introduced and released in Lennox. Today, Beavers have rebounded to the extent that some controlled hunting is permitted.

Beavers are ecosystem engineers and the ponds they create become wildlife magnets. Think about just this one example of the ecology of a beaver pond: woodpeckers make holes in the dead trees engineered by Beaver activity, Wood Ducks nest in the holes created by the woodpeckers, and raptors hunt the smaller birds.

More examples of how Beavers benefit other species of wildlife include favored nesting sites of both the Great Blue Herons and Osprey are the dead treetops of older trees in beaver swamps. Local species of turtles, the Snapping Turtle and the Eastern Painted Turtle, benefit from abundant vegetation created by beaver tree felling, which causes the forest to regenerate. Snapping and Eastern Painted Turtles prefer standing and slow moving water and hibernate under logs and lodges of Beavers. Painted Turtles also use floating logs to bask upon.

Like Niles Pond and Henry’s Pond, Langsford Pond is another superb example of a body of fresh water close to a saltwater cove where the combination of the two ecosystems provides shelter, nesting sites, and an abundance of food. While at Langsford Pond, I often see Great Blue Herons, swooping overhead, coming and going, between feeding grounds at the head of Lobster Cove and the shelter found in the vegetation surrounding the pond. Today, December 8th, a juvenile was seen on the far side of the pond, as were numerous Wood Ducks.

Since 1999, Langsford Pond has been protected by the Essex County Greenbelt Association. When I was filming there in October and November it was wonderfully overgrown and somewhat difficult to access. Recently, vegetation has been cut back, which makes walking to the pond’s edge much easier. Disease bearing ticks are present.

Some favorite Beaver food, ferns and American White Birch (Betula papyrifera).

beaver-pond-langsford-pond-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithSimilar scenes as several in the film, only a month later without the vibrant fall foliage –“stick” season

beaver-lodge-beaver-langsford-pond-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithBeaver lodge from ledge above

Paint Factory Behind a Veil of Birch Leaves

Veil of Birch Leaves  Paint Factory ©Kim Smith 2013

I liked all the focal lengths and couldn’t decide which one to post–Paint Factory as muse.

Veil of Birch Leaves  Paint Factory  -2©Kim Smith 2013

Veil of Birch Leaves Paint Factory -3  ©Kim Smith 2013

Veil of Birch Leaves and Paint Factory  -4 ©Kim Smith 2013

Paint Factory Rocky Neck Gloucester

Rare Footage of a Luna Moth Taking Flight

 Beauty on the Wing ~ A Luna Moth takes Flight

My friend James, the facilities director at Willowdale Estate, sent a photo of a newly emerged moth on Sunday afternoon. He initially thought it was a paper napkin stuck to one of the lampposts, but upon inspection, discovered that it was a Luna Moth (Actias luna). With high hopes the moth would still be there, I dropped everything and raced over to Willowdale to photograph and film the moth. It is not that the moths are particularly rare, but that they are most often seen in flight at night.  Lucky me, to have had such a wonderful encounter with one of the most beautiful moths in all the world!

The Willowdale Luna Moth is a male of the species; you can tell by his bushy and feathery plumosa (or antennae). The female’s antennae are more thread-like. Notice too, just before he takes flight, how his body vibrates, which helps warm and energize the wings in preparation for flying.

Luna moths are members of the Saturniidae, subfamily Saturniinae. With a wingspan of typically up to four and a half inches, atypically up to seven inches, they are one of North America’s largest moths. Luna Moths are most often seen in the earlier part of summer in our region; this Luna Moth encounter took place on August 11, 2013. Luna Moths, like all members of the Saturn family of moths, eclose without mouthparts. They emerge solely to mate and deposit eggs of the next generation and live for only about one week.

Luna Moth larvae (caterpillars) feed on wide variety of broadleaf plants and different geological populations of Luna Moths are adapted to different hostplants. Northernmost populations most often feed on white birch (Betula papyrifera). More southerly populations feed on persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), hickories (Carya), walnuts (Juglans), and sumacs (Rhus).

The damage done by Luna Moth caterpillars on host trees is never significant enough to harm the host trees. Please don’t spray your trees with pesticides or herbicides!

Male Luna Moth Actias Luna ©Kim Smith 2013

A note about the music playing in the background ~

Ave Maria, Ellens Gesang III, D. 839, No 6, 1852, was composed by Franz Schubert in 1852 and is a setting of seven songs from Walter Scotts epic poem The Lady of the Lake. Performed by Barbara Bonney.

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Polyphemus Moth

Perhaps you may recall the photo of the wild silkworm cocoon that was posted back in April. I was becoming a little discouraged at the lack of activity and wondered if we should place the cocoon, which was housed in a terrarium and protected from the sun by our shaded porch, into full sun. My worries were for nothing because during the heat wave Thursday, sometime in the mid-morning hours, a gorgeous female Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus) emerged from her cocoon.

Female Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus)

The Polyphemus Moth is so named because of the giant eyespots ringed with yellow, blue, and black on the hindwings. In Greek mythology Polyphemus is the one-eyed Cyclopes and son of Poseidon and Thoosa; the name means “much spoken of” or “famous.”

The Polyphemus Moth has also transparent spots on the forewings. Antheraea polyphemus is one of North America’s largest moths with a wingspan of four to six inches. Like the Luna Moth and Cecropia Moth, the Polyphemus Moth belongs to the Giant Silkworm Family or Saturniidae.

Male Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus). Note the comb-like feathery antennae of the male, which are nearly double the size of the female. The large antennae can more easily detect pheromones released by the female. 

I was hoping a female would emerge, knowing that she would release pheromones, which would attract a male. Thursday night we set up the terrarium outside in a sheltered area around back. The following morning, sure enough, I discovered a perfect male specimen clinging to the back door. They don’t fly very well when their wings are not warmed sufficiently so he was easy to capture. I placed him into the terrarium with the female. Her abdomen is bursting with eggs and she had already begun to deposit unfertilized eggs everywhere—on leaves, her old cocoon, and the glass walls of the terrarium. That night I woke up every hour on the hour to try to photograph their mating, but I don’t think a pairing took place.

Female Polyphemus Moth with abdomen swollen with eggs.

She is continuing to deposit eggs each evening. Her abdomen is still quite swollen. I am keeping my hopes up that they will get it together so the male will fertilize her eggs and we can then rear the caterpillars! Both male and female emerge without mouthparts; they do all their eating in the caterpillar stage.

Polyphemus Moth Cocoon found on White Birch  (Betula papyrifera) April 1, 2012.

Update on Giant Silk Moth Cocoon

No exciting news yet to report on our Giant Silk Moth Cocoon. The leaves of the American Birch Tree are unfurling, but no movement within the cocoon.

Giant Silk Moth Cocoon

I am so excited to tell you about this wonderful find. I was walking my pooch Rosie on our usual route down to the harbor and, dangling at eye level from a tree that I have passed a hundred times this winter , there was this structure. Thinking it was what it is, I ran home and checked my Lepidoptera books, and it is the cocoon of a member of the Giant Silk Moth Family, Saturniidaee (not to be confused with the oriental silk moth, Bombyx mori, from which silk fabric is spun).

 Hanging from the tip of the American White Birch branch you could easily mistake it for a dry withered leaf, and that is exactly what the caterpillar has done, weaving the leaf around itself to pupate within. The cocoon is quite a good size, approximately two inches in length by one inch in width. The caterpillar pupates during the summer, overwinters in the cocoon stage, then emerges sometime in May or June. Giant Silk Moths live only for about a week. They mate soon after eclosing and then perish. Giant Silk Moths do not have mouth parts; all eating is done during the caterpillar stage.

Giant Silk Moth Cocoon

Several members of the Giant Silk Moth family of caterpillars eat birch leaves.  I am hoping (and it looks a great deal like) it is the cocoon of the simply stunning Luna Moth, however it could also be the beautiful Polyphemus Moth.

Luna Moth ~ Images courtesy Google

Polyphemus Moth ~ Image courtesy wiki