Midges swarm out of Lake Erie to take over Cleveland in June 2018

On June 3rd, 2018, Cleveland news stations began warning us that swarms of tiny insects were flying out of Lake Erie in numbers large enough to show up on radar! These small insects are in the genus Chironomus, and are commonly known as “midges”, “muckelheads”, and more colorful names. Most of their life is spent in a larval stage living underwater. But when the conditions are right each year, they emerge from the water and transform into their flying adult form. The adults fly around for the next few days to mate and start the next generation, and then they die off. I was able to get a closer look at them when they landed around my house and backyard in large numbers. Upon closer inspection, they are fascinating little animals. Here are a few photos to enjoy!

Midge looming over a leaf:

Midge rearing up on leaf

Midge under a leaf:

Midge hanging under leaf

Backlit midge under a leaf:

Backlit midge hanging under leaf

Profile view of a midge sitting on a leaf:

side profile of midge perched on leaf

If you enjoy these photos, you can click on them to purchase a print or a license to use a digital version.

More information on the midges is available from The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, and Cleveland.com has a neat story about how the midges affected an Indians-Yankees baseball game.

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My 13 Favorite Photos of 2016

My 13 Favorite photos of 2016

13: One Fish Says “No”: I took this photo while trying to get the hang of an underwater camera housing. I like how one fish stands out from the others.
One Fish Says "Nope"

12: Brood V Cicada: This photo shows the very first Brood V Cicada I saw in my life. I saw many more during the big Brood V emergence, but I was excited to find this first one.
Brood V Cicada

11: Bubblehead Gray Treefrog: I photographed this frog at the CWRU Farm.
"Bubblehead" Gray Treefrog

10: Spring Salamander in Hand: I saw this big adult in Allegany County, New York. I usually see larval spring salamanders at this site, so it was a real treat to see the adult.
Spring Salamander on hand

9: Spider Swinging in the rain: I watched this spider through several rain storms in South Carolina. It displayed an interesting rain-dodging posture.
Rain posture in yellow garden spider

8: Male unisexual Ambystoma: Most of the “unisexual” hybrid Ambystoma salamanders are females, but very rarely a male does show up. This is the only male hybrid Ambystoma I’ve seen after looking at thousands of them over several years.
Male hybrid Ambystoma

7: Predators causing smaller metamorphosis in toads: These two toads are the same age and metamorphosed on the same day. But the smaller toad grew up in an environment with predators, and the larger toad grew up without predators.
Toadlets come out smaller with predators

6: Underwater Eggscape: Playing with an underwater camera housing gave me a different view of some wood frog eggs close to hatching.
Underwater Eggscape:  Wood Frog Eggs

5: Cuban Treefrog in Cleveland: This invasive frog showed up in Cleveland on a shipment of plants from Florida.
Cuban Treefrog Comes To Cleveland

4: Trapped by the past (Mayapples):
Occasionally, Mayapple shoots will grow through old leaves and get trapped.
Trapped by the past I

3: Painted Turtles on a Log: Two little and one big painted turtle at the CWRU Farm.
Painted Turtles

2: Cricket Frog: I spotted this little frog in the Jean Lafitte National Park, near New Orleans, Louisiana.
Cricket Frog

1: Alligator: This was the first alligator I have seen in the wild in many years. Like the cricket frog, I saw it in the Jean Lafitte National Park. While watching the alligator, I had a great time talking with a person who grew up in the area. He told me stories of how he and his brother would go catch and release them, much like I do with frogs. He had a real appreciation for the creatures.
American Alligator

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Recognizing individual salamanders by their belly spots

One of the questions we are investigating in my herpetology lab is whether we can recognize individual salamanders based on the pattern of spots on their bellies. We have been studying a population of smallmouth salamanders (Ambystoma texanum) and unisexual Ambystoma salamanders. These salamanders have very distinct patterns of pale blue spots on dark gray to black bellies.

The photo below shows how these belly patterns can be used to identify individuals. Can you guess which of the photos with letters A through D matches the salamander at the top?

Individual Pattern Recognition

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Cuban Treefrog comes to Cleveland

A Caribbean frog showed up in Cleveland, Ohio, last week. A colleague stopped by my lab in the CWRU Biology Department with the news that an unusual treefrog had showed up in a Cleveland flower shop after hitching a ride from Florida. Of course we wanted to see this frog!

We immediately realized that it was a Cuban Treefrog (Osteopilus septentrionalis). Cuban Treefrogs are not native to the United States, but were introduced from Cuba. Since their introduction, Cuban Treefrogs have spread and become an invasive species that is harming native frogs in Florida. Cuban Treefrogs and other amphibians are frequently transported in shipments of plant and gardening materials. For example, I have received several reports of Pacific Chorus Frogs being moved around in Christmas Trees.

Here are some photos of the Cuban TreeFrog that visited Cleveland:

Cuban Treefrog Comes To Cleveland

Another veiw of the CLE Cuban Treefrog

Map Cuban Treefrog Florida to Cleveland Ohio

Map showing the distanced the Cuban Treefrog traveled from Florida to Ohio. Map modified from NationalAtlas.gov.

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Zombie Cicadas and the end of Brood V

As mentioned in an earlier post, I spotted my first BroodV cicadas in Warrensville Heights, Ohio (and entered the cicada observations into inaturalist). Using a helpful website on periodical cicadas, I was able to ID the Warrensville Heights cicadas as Magicicada septendecim, based on the thick orange bands on their abdomen and the orange color on their thorax behind the eye. Although this was pretty exciting, we only saw two living cicadas plus one cicada wing.

Magicicada septendecim

I didn’t see the full swarming of the Brood V periodical cicadas until a little later in June when I visited the Cleveland Metropark’s South Chagrin Reservation. Here is a video with the sound of their calls:

Some of the cicadas at South Chagrin were starting to die, and their orange-and-black bodies were easy to see on the ground and in the stream:

Brood V: After the ball is over

A couple days later I visited the Cleveland Metropark’s Bedford Reservation. Brood V Cicada calls could be heard scattered around the reservation, intense in some areas, subdued elsewhere. The cicada exuviae (shed exoskeletons from the larval life stage) were still attached to trees and other plants. I was struck by this shed cicada skin clinging to a vandalized tree:

Nearing the end: Magicicada septendecim

In other areas, there were huge piles of dead cicadas mixed with cicada exuviae. Not only can the huge numbers of cicadas provide a boost of food for forest animals, but the dead cicadas also fertilize forest plants.

Nearing the end: Magicicada septendecim

Nearing the end: Magicicada septendecim

Beyond the enormous piles of cicada bodies, I was most struck by how many cicadas were continuing the crawl and fly while missing big parts of their bodies (like their abdomen!). The two videos below show some of this “zombie cicada” behavior. I shared this with a colleague who is an entomologist & neurobiologist. He remarked that the “zombie” behavior emphasizes just how neurologically different insects are from people and other mammals.

A Brood V cicada with an empty abdomen:

A still-living Brood V cicada crawling on the ground as a yellowjacket wasp eats it.

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