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Philadelphus lewisii “Lewis’ Mock Orange” Hydrangeaceae

Missoula, MT
June 11, 2015
Robert Niese

This species of Philadelphus was discovered by Meriwether Lewis in 1806. It’s flowers and scent are reminiscent of orange blossoms, thus it’s common name, the mock-orange. Unlike oranges, these attractive shrubs produce dry, 4-parted capsule fruits that are wholly inedible. Their leaves, however, contain saponins and can be crushed to make a mild soap. They are a popular ornamental plant here in the eastern PNW and are the state flower of Idaho. Look for them scattered throughout drier slopes in the west, where they tend to grow singly or in small populations. Here in Missoula, they cover the hillsides with gorgeous white blooms at the beginning of summer, much like Amelanchier in the spring.

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Trachemys scripta elegans “Red-eared Pond Slider” Emydidae

Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle, WA
May 9, 2016
Robert Niese

Red-eared Sliders are a distinct subspecies of Pond Slider popular in the pet industry. Originally native to the southern US, these animals have been introduced to nearly every state including Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam. As such, they are on the IUCN’s list of the 100 most invasive species in the world. They have not yet been reported in Montana, Alaska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, or North Dakota. If you see a Red-eared Slider in one of these states, contact your state’s Fish and Wildlife department immediately. Here in the PNW, these turtles out-compete native Western Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta bellii) and the threatened Western Pond Turtle (Actinemys marmorata).

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Chrysis sp. “Cuckoo Wasp” Chrysididae

Missoula, MT
May 17, 2016
Robert Niese

Cuckoo Wasps are a massive, possibly polyphyletic group of parasitic wasps. More than half the members of this giant family are placed in the genus Chrysis (more than 1000 species!). Undoubtedly, in the coming years this genus will be stripped, split, and reorganized in favor of a more monophyletic and phylogenetically accurate set of genera. As their common name might suggest, cuckoo wasps lay their eggs in the nests of other wasps, and many specialize on a single host species. This lovely individual appeared to be waiting outside an old nail hole on the side of my house that was occupied by a cavity-nesting wasp of some sort.

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Calligrapha verrucosa “Warty Willow Leaf Beetle” Chrysomelidae

Missoula, MT
May 26, 2016
Robert Niese

Caught, in flagrante delicto, mating right on the beach! Egads! These indiscreet little beetles are relatively closely related to those Cottonwood Beetles I posted yesterday. Their genus name “Calligrapha” is a reference to the beautiful calligraphic script on the backs of many species. This species’s coloration is not quite as script-like, but it definitely still appears painted. I’ll post some portraits later! These beetles are most common in the Northern Rockies of Montana, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, but, according to some older sources, their range is far broader, stretching from Nebraska to California to Alaska. If you have photographs of these beetles please contact me to supplement our scientific understanding of their distribution!

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Chrysomela scripta “Cottonwood Leaf Beetle” Chrysomelidae

Missoula, MT
April 22, 2016
Robert Niese

These lovely beetles can spend their entire life cycles living off of a single poplar or cottonwood tree. Females lay their eggs in clusters on the undersides of leaves. Those eggs hatch and the larvae begin feeding on the leaf tissues until nothing but a skeleton of veins remains. Then, they pupate into adults which will continue the process of defoliating the tree by eating the thick veins and midribs left behind by the larvae. Some small saplings can be killed by a particularly hungry population of breeding Cottonwood Leaf Beetles. This species may not be present in the PNW west of the Cascades. If you discover them there, please let me know!

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Oxyopes scalaris “Western Lynx Spider” Oxyopidae

Missoula, MT
May 6, 2016
Robert Niese

Lynx spiders are some of my favorite arachnids! They’re stealthy, fast, agile and ferocious predators, some of which specialize on other spiders! Oxyopes scalaris is virtually the only species of lynx found in the PNW, however. It can be found in just about any habitat from the coast to the Rockies and as far north as BC. One additional species, the Striped Lynx (O. salticus) can be found along the coast from California through Oregon and, rarely, in southern Washington.

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Sympetrum illotum “Cardinal Meadowhawk” Libellulidae

Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle, WA
May 9, 2016
Robert Niese

There are quite a few species of red dragons in the PNW and they can be pretty tricky to ID. The redder individuals tend to be males, and, as they mature they often lose all other markings that might facilitate identification. This species is most easily distinguished by the two white dots present on the lower sides of its abdomen (barely visible here). Even in very red, healthy, mature adults, the lower margins of these white dots are usually still visible. Generally, Cardinal Meadowhawks can also be distinguished from other red meadowhawks by their reddish legs, diffuse yellow-bronze wings, and black markings at the base of the wings.

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Oemleria cerasiformis “Indian Plum” Rosaceae

Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle, WA
May 9, 2016
Robert Niese

Oemleria is a PNW endemic and is one of the first plants to leaf-out and bloom in spring. Later in the summer Oemleria will begin to bear ripe fruits which are purple with a large pit, giving them the name Indian Plums. Opinions vary on the palatability of these fruits. Some find them to be among the best in the PNW, while others find them too bitter. Generally, their astringency can be reduced through cooking and, as such, Oemleria fruits tend to be most commonly prepared in jams and pie fillings. Also, their bark is thought to be a mild aphrodisiac. Someone should try chewing on a few twigs and report back to us all.

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Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) Emberizidae

Blue Mountain National Recreation Area, MT
May 13, 2016
Robert Niese

These charming birds are relatively abundant and widespread throughout North America and are a quite underappreciated bird. Here in the west, they are generally only found in or around coniferous forests and pineland savannas, whereas their eastern cousins are a much more urban or suburban bird. Their song is a loud trill which, often to the chagrin of field ornithologists, varies substantially among individuals and can easily be confused with the trills of Dark-eyed Juncos, towhees, and many species of warblers.

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Ovis canadensis “Bighorn Sheep” Bovidae, male, 3 years old

Wild Horse Island, Flathead Lake, MT
September 27, 1961
col. Wesley Woodgerd (photo Robert Niese)

Bighorn Sheep were first transplanted to Wild Horse Island in 1939 and, from a herd of only 8 breeding adults, the population grew to be more than 200 strong. By the 60s and 70s, when Wesley Woodgerd was studying their herds, the maximum number of sheep recorded on the island at one time exceeded 240 individuals. This deformed young male was born around a time when the herd was likely suffering greatly from inbreeding depression which may have contributed to its odd schnoz. Alternatively, without any predators on the island, perhaps this individual was injured at a young age and managed to survive and develop this malformity from its wounds. Learn more about the Wild Horse Island Bighorn Sheep here.