Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Every year around this time we (the Biology Department at the Nature Museum) go on a department field trip. It is partly a specimen collecting excursion, partly a department bonding opportunity and partly a great excuse to hang out with like minded people and indulge in what many people would consider to be somewhat ' weird' interests. And before you start jumping to inappropriate conclusions, these interests are things like wading round in flooded ditches after dark catching frogs and toads or setting up a black light at night to see what insects are attracted to it - nothing more raunchy than that!
This year we went to Illini State Park. We left on Sunday lunchtime and got down there in about an hour and a half. If you haven't been, it is a lovely camp site on the banks of the Illinois River with all the necessary facilities, its a very scenic spot with beautiful big oak trees, prodigious bird life and resident woodchucks.
On the Sunday afternoon we stayed around camp, grilled out and then at nightfall Doug set up his black light. As you can see from the picture, this is a simple device, comprising a rope strung between two trees with a white sheet hung on it and then a black light hung in front of the sheet, powered by a large battery. Then it is simply a matter of waiting to see what flies in. In the picture Doug is photographing one of the bugs that landed on the sheet.

I managed to capture a reasonable shot of this beautiful Isabella Tiger Moth Pyrrharctia isabella (most people are more familiar with its caterpillar form, the wooly bear) but it is not an easy task. You know how moths are around lights, they never stop moving. That combined with the fact that because you have to stand in front of the light to get the shot you get constantly bombarded with bugs, you begin to see that only Biology Department crackpots would call this fun! I also managed to get a shot of an Eight-spotted Forester Moth Alypia octomaculata although, as you can see, it is not such a perfect specimen as the Tiger Moth.
After the battery on the black light had run out of juice we went out to explore the nearby ditches and check out the local night life! This proved to be very productive with four different types of frogs and toads spotted, and three photographed (by me anyway!) The first frog we spotted was a Green Frog Rana clamitans which is native to the Eastern US. It was very obliging and posed patiently for photographs before diving into the weed. There were several of these frogs all within a relatively short distance along the ditch. Next we found the ubiquitous Bull Frog Rana catesbeiana although it was rather a small specimen. Many people are not overly fond of this particular species because of their voracious appetite and their ability to consume pretty much anything that has the misfortune to get too close. And a crazy fact for you - two Bull Frogs were launched into orbit in 1970 on the Orbiting Frog Otolith spacecraft! Anyway we decided not to send this one into space and just left him, happily swimming in the ditch.

Our final amphibian encounter of the night was in fine voice and definitely on the look out for a mate. This is the American Toad Bufo americanus and as you can see from the picture he was working hard to impress the ladies! In fact we heard him long before we saw him. We could also hear masses of Grey Tree Frogs but unfortunately when we tried to follow their call we ended up almost walking into someones back yard! We decided that rather than run the risk of getting shot we would leave that frog for another night! So we headed back to camp for our final treat of the day. John, the fire-miester and Jamie the queen of smores got us all equipped with long toasting forks and we sat and roasted marshmallows on the fire - a perfect end to the day. Jamie is wearing red in the picture and wielding the toasting fork, John is on the far right, stoking the fire.

Photo Credits - CJT

No comments: