Saturday, November 21, 2015

It's the "rapid" Rapidan at the moment -- but I got some nice photos

Actually, it was pretty scary up there this morning.  The water was very high and very fast (see the photo below), and I had to stay close to the shore to look through the leaf packs.  Lots of pronggilled mayflies now, and a smattering of small winter stoneflies.  But I did find some insects that made for very nice photos.

The first, a Lepidostomatid.  I didn't keep it, so I can't be sure of the genus ID -- but it's probably Lepidostoma.  In any event, I couldn't resist taking some shots of that beautiful case.

Excellent photos of the adults in Ames' Caddisflies: A Guide to Eastern Species for Anglers and Other Naturalists, pp. 186-189.  I take it these hatch as the "scaly brown sedge" in March and April.  But at time of year, anglers at the Rapidan will be focussing on prolific hatches of "yellow sallies."

And the other treasure this morning -- the "golden stones," Agnetina capitata.   Since I reviewed the species identification of A. capitata in my entry of 9/7, I'll just point out the 1) setal row on the occiput, and 2) the presence of anal gills.

I found three nymphs in the leaf packs, and since I seem to find this species in a regular way at the Rapidan River, I'm starting to wonder just how "rare" it is.  Beaty's comment: "Listed by NC Natural Heritage Program as Significantly Rare (2010)."  ("The Plecoptera of North Carolina," p. 15).


The sunlight was great, but the water...roaring!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Surpise, surprise! Paragnetina fumosa at Buck Mt. Creek

And a very pleasant suprise.

I went to Buck Mt. Creek this morning with low expectations.  I was pretty sure that I'd see small winter stoneflies -- and I did.  I was hoping to see the common stonefly Acroneuria lycorias since this is the only place that I've seen it.  No luck with that species, but I still made out very well.

It's the common stonefly, Paragnetina fumosa.  This is only the second nymph that I've found.  The other was also at Buck Mt. Creek, on April 17, 2013 (see the entry posted that day).  That nymph was a bit more mature, but not a heck of a lot.  Still, the diagnostic features -- see below -- are more readily seen.

For the identification, I turn to Steven Beaty's "The Plecoptera of North Carolina," p. 18.  "P. fumosa -- nymphs ?? mm; frons with a pair of yellow spots lateral to the median ocellar spot, median ocellar spot often congruous with pale yellow transverse band near labrum; thoracic nota with complex and extensive pattern of yellow markings; yellow femora with one sometimes two distinctive dark brown transverse bands; abdominal terga 3-4, 5 with a pair of pale markings and 8 and 9 mostly pale; anal gills present or absent.  Common and widespread."

Let's have a look.  On this close up of the head, we can see 1) the "yellow spots lateral to the median ocellar spot," 2) how the median ocellar spot is nearly congruous with the yellow band near the labrum, 3) and the row of spinules on the occiput, typical of the genus.

For the abdomen --

easy to see the paired pale markings on terga 3-5.  We can almost see that the anal gills are absent (were it not for the silt on the nymph!), and we can see the transverse band (bands?) on the femora.

Paragnetina fumosa.  Sweet!


The small winter stoneflies were numerous -- 3-4 in every leaf pack that I picked up.  Still immature, but the wing pads are fully developed.  Most likely, Allocapnia pygmaea which is the most common species we see.


Our streams are finally dropping, but as you can see, the leaf packs are still pretty muddy from the high, fast conditions we've had of late.  Still, we should be able to start looking again.

Note:  On reflection, I think I misidentified the "transverse bands" on the femora.  On this nymph, I see one "full" and one "partial" transverse band on the femora.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Goera time at Entry Run in Greene County

Too much rain has been a real problem so far this autumn.  Two weeks ago -- or was it three? -- we were hit with hurricane rainfall, over 8 inches.  Then this week we had another 4 inches on Wednesday.  The small mountain streams have cleared and started to drop, but the water was still fast and high today in Entry Run.

Still, I was quite sure I'd see some Goerids -- "weighted case-makers" -- and I did.  And I got some good photos of this one, a Goera fuscula, a species on which Beaty comments: "Mountains only.  Rare with less than 15 BAU (Biological Assessment Unit) records."  ("The Trichoptera of North Carolina," p. 87.)  While I often see G. calcarata in other small streams, this remains the only place that I've found fuscula.

G. fuscula has two distinguishing features. 1) "4 pairs of sclerites on metanotum," and 2) "sternal thoracic plates distinct."  (Beaty, p. 87)  In this case, one set of the sclerites -- those on the right side -- show up clearly in one of my photos.

The "sternal thoracic plates" require a microscope photo.

I saw a fair number of Goerids today, but they're very hard to pick up.  The cases sit on the tops and the sides of the rocks, but they're not really attached.  It's either a clean pick with the tweezers or they slip to the bottom.

Saw a number of flatheaded mayflies.  The one that I kept for photos was Maccaffertium merririvulanum.

There are two Macs that we typically see in these small mountain streams in the winter: M. merririvulanum and M. pudicum.  M. pudicum has a distinct ventral pattern; on merririvulanum nymphs it's the dorsal pattern that gives them away.  They have distinct "V- shaped" light areas on terga 5, 7 and 8.  The marking on 8 isn't real clear in this photo, but I assure you it's there.


Two other insects worth noting today.  One is a tiny, tiny Lepidostomatid.  The case was so tiny that at first, I wasn't sure what it was.  Still, the photos turned out alright.  (The case measured 3.5 mm; the larva was only 2!)

Like that first photo since you can see the eye on the larva, and you can see that the larva has started to convert its case from one made of sand grains into one made out of sections of leaves.

The other find was a shocker.  I found two, tiny Ephemerella subvaria spiny crawler mayflies!  I was stunned.  This is the first time I've found this species outside of the Rapidan River.   The bad news is that I didn't get any good photos.  Nonetheless...


It was good to get out today.  Sunny and cool, and I love the drive up South River valley.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The beginning of fall at the Rapidan River

It still doesn't feel a whole like fall in Virginia, but the leaves are coming down in the mountains.  Lots of insects moving around in the leaf packs -- both stoneflies and flatheaded mayflies.

In the photo above, one of the stoneflies I'm always happy to see -- I've only seen it four times -- the Perlid (common stonefly), Agnetina capitata.  It's too uncommon to be assigned a tolerance value in North Carolina.  In fact, in 2010 it was listed as "significantly rare" by the NC Natural Heritage Program.  (Beaty, "The Plecoptera of North Carolina," p. 15)  But the Rapidan River is a high quality stream.

A. capitata -- lateral arms of M-pattern on head directed laterally; dark area between lateral ocelli sometimes lighter to median ocellus; dorsum of abdomen banded, posterior margins dark and with a triangular mesal area anteriorly projecting forming an apparent mid-dorsal longitudinal stripe; apex of tergum 10 light with dark pigmentation faintly continuous mesally, sometimes with a small median projection directed distally.  (Beaty, p. 15)  And remember, Agnetina nymphs have anal gills, and they have a thin setal row at the back of the head.

It's a young one.  We find mature nymphs in the spring.  Got a very cool photo when that nymph turned on its side.


There are still some Epeorus vitreus flatheaded mayflies around and also some mature, Maccaffertium ithacas.  I got a nice picture of one that was fully intact.

It kindly turned over so we could see the transverse bands on the sterna with the characteristic "anterolateral projections."


Also present in significant numbers, the "fall" caddisfly case-makers: the "humpless case-maker," Brachycentrus appalachia

and the "strong case-maker," Psilotreta labida.


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Updating the Isoperlas: a study forthcoming from Steven Beaty

There is exciting news for those of us intent on identifying the Isoperla Perlodids we find in our streams.   Steven Beaty will soon put online a summary of the work he has done on Isoperlas, detailed notes on where things stand at the moment.  The title -- "A morass of Isoperla nymphs (Plecoptera: Perlodidae) in North Carolina: a photographic guide to their identification," (Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Water Resources, Biological Assessment Branch, Raleigh).  It features photos of preserved nymphs, and photos on which are noted key features used in species ID.  I'll let you know when this comes out and where it can be found.  But since he has shared with me a copy of this in advance, I thought I might sum up the data that is important to us.

1. Photos and descriptions of the following nymphs are included.

Isoperal burksi
Isoperla davisi
Isoperla dicala
Isoperla cf. fauschi
Isoperla frisoni
Isoperla holochlora -- light form
Isoperla holochlora -- dark form
Isoperla kirchneri complex: I. kirchneri, I. montana, I. siouan, and I. tutelo
Isoperla lata/pseudolata
Isoperla orata
Isoperla poffi
Isoperla powhatan
Isoperla similis/pseudosimilis Groups: I. bellona, I. cherokee, I. pauli, I. pseudosimilis, I. reesi, I. starki, I. stewarti
Isoperla slossonae
Isoperla "Collins Cr" n.sp.
Isoperla "Mayo R" n.sp.
Isoperla nr. holochlora
Isoperla nr. transmarina
Isoperla sp. 10

Appended to the work at the end, photos and a description of Isoperla sp. VA.

2. Of special interest, the nymphs we've been calling Isoperla montana, Isoperla montana/kirchneri, and Isoperla montana group -- these (and the one at the top of the page)

are now labeled "Isoperla kirchneri complex."  This complex includes four different species -- kirchneri, montana, siouan, and tutelo -- but distinct species descriptions have not yet been made.  (Beaty notes, however, that "preliminary morphological differences between species are unproven but promising," p. 23.)  Nymphs of this complex are described in the following way: "head with irregular transverse M-type medial band, extensions back towards posterior ocelli variable, anterior frontoclypeus with 2 pair of small brown markings, some specimens with markings narrowly connected by brown lines or even widely coalesced into a larger brown area." (p. 23)

To wit...


3. Also relevant to recent entries I've posted -- the I. holochloras have been renamed: "Isoperla holochlora -- light form", and "Isoperla holochlora -- dark form".

light form

dark form

Beaty confirms what I have found -- that the "light form" is fairly widespread and found in the mountains and piedmont while the "dark form" is confined to the mountains.  He also notes, on the dark form, that the dark form "co-occurs with light form of holochlora but emerges 1-2 months earlier and when both forms are collected together, the dark form specimens will be much larger."  (p. 21)  That sums it up.

Related to I. holochlora is I. powhatan ("part of the holochora complex," p. 31).  The front of the head looks much the same.  However, the abdomen of powhatan is fairly dark, and the "ocellar spot" resembles an inverted U.  I can't say for sure that I've seen this, but I am intrigued by this photo I took on 5/31/11.

On "light form" nymphs, that ocellar spot is normally "sub-triangular to diamond-shaped" (p. 19).  I.e. like this


4. One more -- Isoperla similis.  We are now presented with two different groups: Isoperla similis Group, and Isoperla pseudosimilis Group.  In the former, we have three species -- I. bellona, I. cherokee, and I. starki; in the latter, four species -- I. pauli, I. pseudosimilis, I. reesi, and I. stewarti.   But no way is provided to tell them apart at the level of nymphs.  (Again, "preliminary morphological differences between at least some species are unproven but promising."  (p. 33)  Still, Beaty does confirm that "species in these groups appear to be restricted to small, cold, high elevation streams."  That's where we find them.

small headwater stream in Sugar Hollow in April

Entry Run in Greene County


5. So what are the species that we've found, to date, in our streams (Albemarle, Greene, and Madison Counties)?  Well certainly four of those listed by Beaty: I. kirchneri complex, I. holochlora -- light form, I. holochlora -- dark form, and I. similis.  Possibly I. powhatan, but I'm far from sure about that.  What else?  There are five more we can note.

1) Isoperla davisi

Beaty: "widespread but more common in Piedmont and Inner Coastal Plain." (p. 12)  Both of these nymphs were found in Buck Mt. Creek, the only place that I've found this species so far.  I think -- but don't know for sure -- that the spread wingpads on the second nymph are a sign that the nymph is getting ready to hatch.

2) Isoperla dicala

Beaty: "occur in small, cold, higher elevation streams of good or excellent water quality; uncommonly collected." (p. 13)  I've found them in Buck Mt. Creek and the Rapidan River.

3) Isoperla lata/pseudolata

Beaty: "found in high, cold, excellent waters (so far). ... relatively rare. ... may be pattern differences between lata/pseudolata but are, as of yet, unproven." (p. 25)  I've only seen one -- at the Rapidan River.

4) Isoperla orata

Beaty: "High quality, small to medium mid-elevation, cold water streams." (p. 27)  The first two nymphs in the photos above were found in the Rapidan River, the third was in Buck Mt. Creek.  I still think that nymph number one differs from nymphs two and three -- see the posts of 5/15, 5/21, and 8/26 -- but no distinction is made in this study.

5) Isoperla sp. VA

While this species has not yet been found in North Carolina, as Beaty says, it is "likely to occur." (p. 48)  He notes, "nymphs so far collected from small headwater streams from VA; along Blue Ridge Parkway (Bedford and Botetourt Co., D. Lenat), White Rocks campground on WV/VA border (Buchanon Co., V. Holland), and in central VA from the northern Piedmont (Albemarle Co., R. Henricks)."

In closing, I should note that Beaty adds a "Disclaimer" at the very beginning: "This manual is unpublished material.  The information contained herein is provisional and is intended only to provide a starting point for the identification of Isoperla within North Carolina.  While many of the species treated here can be found in other eastern and southeastern states, caution is advised when attempting to identify Isoperla outside of the study area.  Revised and corrected versions are likely to follow."

But it is a place to begin and gives us -- as amateurs -- a great source to use as we continue to search for these beautiful stoneflies.  Anxious for the new year to begin!  Three species -- frisoni, slossonae, and nr. holochlora -- should occur in the types of streams that I visit ("high quality, cold water streams").  I'll be looking.