The Temperate Deciduous Forest

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Climate:

The temperate deciduous forest occupies much of the middle of the Whittaker diagram, and to those of us who live here, it sure feels that way.  Rapid changes from cold and dry to wet and warm or to any of the other corners of the climate envelope are often swift and dramatic.  A favorite saying among the natives is "if you don't like the weather, wait a minute".  Of course, we are talking about climate here, not weather, but the principle remains.  Over the course of the year the climate will range from cold with precipitation in the form of snow, to hot, with precipitation in the form of rain.  Precipitation may vary with the seasons as well, with some seasons being wetter than others.

As the diagram indicates, the average annual  temperature ranges up to about 20 C down to freezing.  Precipitation ranges from around 50 cm yr-1 in the colder regions to over 200 cm/yr.  In Ohio, at least, we tend to have most of the precipitation fall in the spring and early summer, with late summer and early fall being dry.  We get rain or snow in the late fall and winter, depending on where in the state one is.  In northern Ohio, Lake Erie moderates temperature in the fall, resulting in a band around the lake where the first fall frost is noticeably later than it is a few miles inland.  Historically, this area (an similar regions in New York) have been good for growing grapes.  The (relatively) warm waters of Lake Erie are also responsible for lake-effect snows in the winter (until the lake freezes).  Air coming across the unfrozen water picks up moisture which falls as snow; this is particularly noticeable in the "snow belt" which extends from Cleveland to Buffalo - although sometimes that snow may fall as far inland as Pittsburgh.  On the other hand, spring comes late in northern Ohio as the now cold water of the lake puts a chill on things.  The cool lake waters do make for a cooler and less humid summer as well.

Southern Ohio has a different feel to it.  Snow is not as common in the winter, although a snowstorm or two is not uncommon.  Long stretches of below zero temperatures are not very common, and the norm is for the temperature to get above zero at least part of the day. The summers are hotter, and, at least along the Ohio River, much more humid. I grew up in Ohio and have lived in 4 different parts of the state.  The impact of global climate change has been noticeable; there is less snow and the winters are warmer than when I was a kid (and had to walk to school through 6 feet (2 meters) of snow, uphill both ways).

 

World Distribution:  

Temperate forests are found in the eastern 1/3rd of North America, in western Europe, in China, Korea, Japan and Australia (although the Australian forest is very different).  There is also a bit down in the southern tip of South America.  Note that the forest is shifted to the north in Europe; this is a result of the warmer temperatures there as a result of the Atlantic Conveyor (an extension of the Gulf Stream) that takes warm water from the Caribbean and equatorial Atlantic and sends it north - Great Britain is at a latitude where one would expect taiga to predominate instead of temperate forest if it weren't for the effect of the Atlantic Conveyor.

Temperate Deciduous Forest Distribution

      

 

Indicator Plant Species:

Oak (Quercus sp.)

Oak (Quercus sp.)

Dutchman's-Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

Dutchman's-Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

Oaks (Quercus sp.) (above) are one of the dominant tree species in the deciduous forest, at least in North America.  Many of the dominant species produce very large seeds; the large seed contains enough food to sustain the seedling as it grows up through the leaf litter into the shaded world of the forest floor.  Other important trees include hickories and walnuts (right); formerly the chestnut was a dominant tree until the chestnut blight was introduced and decimated this key species.  Maples, beech, sycamores and a host of other trees also play a role in the forest and we will meet some of them later.

Wildflowers, here represented by Dutchman's Breeches (above right) are also common in the forest, although they need some unusual strategies to survive on the heavily shaded forest floor.  Many bloom early in the spring, before the big trees have leafed out, and may shed their leaves and remain dormant underground through the remainder of the summer (and of course through fall and winter).

Other trees play a role in the succession leading up to a mature forest.  These trees are found in abandoned farm fields that are reverting to forest, or in clearings caused by natural events such as tornados, windstorms or fires.  Two examples are shown below; redbud (right) which is most noticeable in the spring when its pink flowers add a touch of color to the woods, and sassafras (below) whose interesting leaves and tasty extracts (made into tea) tend to draw our attention.

Sassafras Sassafras albidum

Sassafras Sassafras albidum

Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

Indicator Animal Species:

American Toad (Bufo americanus)

American Toad (Bufo americanus)

We'll ignore the big guys for now (deer, wolves, bears) to focus on a few of the smaller animals that can make good use of the resources available in the temperate forest.  The toad, above, is a denizen of the forest floor, where it feeds on the many invertebrates which themselves feed on the decaying leaves that abound there.  Among the most terrestrial of amphibians, toads still have a thin skin and depend on the high humidity (80-90%) of the forest floor to survive.  Box Turtles (above right) also thrive here (at least as long as they are not picked up and moved around, or run over by cars).  Like the toads, they also feed on the invertebrates of the forest floor.  More on them below.  

Ground squirrels like the chipmunk (right) or the arboreal gray squirrel (below) feed on the mast (the nuts and seeds) that fall to the forest floor (although squirrels are not above eating these on the tree itself).

Birds of all sorts make the forest home.  In particular, many songbirds migrate north to the temperate forest from winter stays in Central or South America.  The flush of insects in the spring, along with the long days of spring and early summer make it possible for the birds to raise more young.  The Yellow-breasted chat (Icteria virens) is typical of this type of bird.

Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus)

Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus)

Eastern Gray Squirrel - Sciurus carolinensis

Eastern Gray Squirrel - Sciurus carolinensis

 

Yellow-breasted chat - Icteria virens

Yellow-breasted chat - Icteria virens

Ecological Notes:

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Brown Township, Carroll County, Ohio

Brown Township, Carroll County, Ohio

The biggest ecological parameter in the temperate deciduous forest is the change wrought by the progression of the seasons.  In the summer (above), the forest is alive.  Long day lengths and warm temperatures lead to an explosion of productivity that rivals that of a tropical rain forest (overall yearly production in temperate forests is fairly close to that of tropical forests, remarkable since many of the trees in the temperate forest lose their leaves for about 1/2 the year).  The forest floor at this time may be barren, as most of the light is filtered out above.  In the fall (right) the trees pull back what nutrients they can from their leaves, and put waste materials into the leaves, which then drop off.  

The winter seems to be a desolate time, but under the insulating blanket of snow, temperatures may be at or even slightly above freezing, and a variety of organisms will be at work decomposing the fallen leaves and returning the minerals to the rich soil around the roots of the trees that shed the leaves in the first place.  The process of decomposition continues through the winter, spring, and into the summer.  

Early in the spring, flowering plants on the forest floor and smaller trees leaf out before the larger trees do.  Taking advantage of this brief period of sun, many plants on the forest floor flower and set seed; some become dormant for the remainder of the summer.  The picture below shows an explosion of Dogwood blooms; I have never before or since seen such a display, undoubtedly caused by particularly beneficial weather conditions that year in the early 1980's.  Alas, since that time many of the dogwoods have been afflicted by a fungus and such a scene may be a thing of the past.

Brown Township, Carroll County, Ohio
Brown Township, Carroll County, Ohio

Brown Township, Carroll County, Ohio

Brown Township, Carroll County, Ohio

Brown Township, Carroll County, Ohio

Threats:

It is no coincidence that a good deal of the human population is found in areas that once supported temperate forests.  The soils are rich and easily converted to agriculture.  The climate is warmer than the boreal forest, yet not so warm as the tropics.  One of the problems with the tropics is the prevalence of parasitic diseases found there, many transmitted by mosquitoes or other insects - and this is less of a problem in temperate areas where the onset of winter causes mosquito populations to crash.  So, the biggest threat to temperate forests is once again development and agriculture.  The image to the right is a satellite view of northwestern Ohio, showing Lake Erie and the heavily agricultural landscape of Ohio (actually, much of the land in this image was swamp before being drained).  The impact of the agriculture is also seen in the plume of sediments flowing into the lake through Sandusky Bay (center of the photo) and from the Maumee River (off to the left of this image).

Other threats to the forest come from logging; most of the trees here are hardwoods, which means they have a denser wood than most of the coniferous trees.  It also means they may grow more slowly, which means more pressure to cut the trees to maintain volume at the sawmill.

Acid Rain from coal-burning is another threat, as is global warming, which in particular may change rainfall patterns.

 

Tour:

Fowler's Toad (Bufo woodhousii fowleri)

Fowler's Toad (Bufo woodhousii fowleri) - West Lafayette, Indiana

Toad - American? Fowler's? Hybrid? Baxter State Park, Maine

Toad - American? Fowler's? Hybrid? Baxter State Park, Maine

Longtail Salamander, Eurycea longicaudata, Washington County, Ohio

Longtail Salamander, Eurycea longicaudata, Washington County, Ohio

We'll start with amphibians.  As mentioned above, the American Toad is frequently seen on the forest floor, but it is not the only toad there.  Fowler's Toad (above left) is told from the American Toad by the presence of 3 or more "warts" within each large black spot (The American Toad has but one or two per black spot).  The two toads hybridize, and I think the toad in the photo above right might be such a hybrid.  

The Gray Treefrog (below) is not a toad, although it has a warty skin.  It is actually a treefrog; its toepads give this relationship away.  The underside of the hind thighs are bright yellow; this is warning coloration to warn a predator that the frog's skin is poisonous.  The first line of defense is camouflage; the frog's normal perch is on a lichen-covered tree trunk, into which the frog blends well - but if disturbed, it will flash the yellow underside to warn off the predator.  BTW - there are two species of tree frog in Ohio which cannot be told by sight.  They are the Gray Treefrog and Cope's Treefrog.  Cope's treefrog has a faster call; the Gray treefrog has twice as many chromosomes as Cope's.  I don't know which species is pictured here.

Eastern North America is a world center for salamander diversity, with more species of salamander being found in the deciduous forests of the Appalachian Mountains than anyplace else on Earth.  The Longtail Salamander pictured here is typical.

Longtail Salamander, Eurycea longicaudata, Washington County, Ohio

Longtail Salamander, Eurycea longicaudata, Washington County, Ohio

Gray (or Cope's) Treefrog - Hyla versicolor,  Carroll County Ohio

Gray (or Cope's) Treefrog - Hyla versicolor,  Carroll County Ohio

Wood Frog eggs (Rana sylvatica),  Washington County, Ohio

Wood Frogs (Rana sylvatica) in amplexus, Washington County, Ohio

Wood Frogs (Rana sylvatica) in amplexus, Washington County, Ohio

Eastern Newt, Notophthalmus viridescens, Red Eft Stage - Marietta, OH

Eastern Newt, Notophthalmus viridescens, Red Eft Stage - Marietta, OH

More amphibians.  The Wood Frog is a truly terrestrial species restricted to the moist forest floor.  The only time it returns to water is early in the spring, and then only to breed.   They hibernate in the ground, unlike other frogs which hibernate under water.  This means that the Wood Frog is exposed to temperatures below freezing.  Although their bodies may freeze solid their cells are protected by glycoproteins which prevent sharp ice crystals from forming and damaging the cells.  One of the first frogs to emerge from hibernation, Wood Frogs have a unique call which sounds freakishly like a duck's quack.  The eggs hatch and the tadpoles develop in the temporary pools where they are laid.

As mentioned in the section on wetlands, the Eastern Newt also inhabits the forest, particularly in the Red Eft form.   The red coloration presumably warns predators of the poisonous skin secretions of the eft; it also makes decent camouflage on the forest floor - at least in the fall! This juvenile salamander roams the forest floor feeding on small invertebrates; when it reaches sexual maturity it turns green and returns to water to mate and live out its adult life.

Eastern Newt, Notophthalmus viridescens, Red Eft Stage - Marietta, OH

Eastern Newt, Notophthalmus viridescens, Red Eft Stage - Marietta, OH

Eastern Newt, Notophthalmus viridescens, Adult - Washington County, OH

Eastern Newt, Notophthalmus viridescens, Adult - Washington County, OH

Sassafras Borer (Oberea ruficollis) - Bradley Woods Metropark, Cuyahoga County, OH

Sassafras Borer (Oberea ruficollis) 
Bradley Woods Metropark, Cuyahoga County, OH

More warning coloration - this time from the insects.  The Box Elder Bug (right) has a bright red color that warns that it is distasteful.  This individual was laying its eggs on the side of a white Marietta College Van while we were on a field trip!  The Sassafras Borer is also brightly colored; presumably it has picked up some nasty chemicals from the sassafras tree it lived in as a larva.  Using a completely different technique, the bird-dropping caterpillar (above) looks like - well, you get it.  What's the last thing a bird would think about eating?  So disguised, the caterpillar is left to feed in peace on the surface of a leaf, leaving characteristic small dark spots where it has fed (Note: there are a number of caterpillars from various taxonomic groups that use this general disguise).  

Below:  Two views of a buprestid beetle grub.  These beetle larvae bore through wood of forest trees.   This protects the grubs from many predators (but not all, as we'll see later).  Wood itself is not very nutritious, so often these beetles are found in wood that is already rotting and which has a rich load of fungi and bacteria.  It is actually the fungi and bacteria that the beetles are feeding on in many cases.

Boxelder Bug (Leptocoris trivittatus)
Boxelder Bug (Leptocoris trivittatus) - Washington County, OH
Woodboring Beetle Larva - Buprestidae

Woodboring Beetle Larva - Buprestidae

Woodboring Beetle Larva - Buprestidae

Woodboring Beetle Larva - Buprestidae

Periodical Cicada - Magicicada sp.; Tippecanoe County, IN

Periodical Cicada - Magicicada sp.; Tippecanoe County, IN - Brood X, 1987

Periodical Cicada - Magicicada sp.; Washington Co. OH - Brood V, 1999

Periodical Cicada - Magicicada sp.; Washington Co. OH - Brood V, 1999

Periodical Cicada - Magicicada sp.; Caught by female Cardinal, Washington Co. OH - Brood V, 1999

Periodical Cicada - Magicicada sp.; Caught by female Cardinal, Washington Co. OH - Brood V, 1999

 

In terms of predator defense, perhaps nothing in nature is as spectacular as the swarming eruption of the periodical cicadas every 17 years.  Europe has nothing like this, and the first European settlers who encountered the billions of cicadas emerging from the forests around them were probably justified in thinking them a plague of Biblical proportions (the locusts in the Bible are actually a type of grasshopper which consume crops; the "locusts" of North America pictured here are better called cicadas).  

The strategy is simple - come out in huge numbers, numbers so vast that the predators won't be able to get all of you.  Then, since the predators are going to get a lot of you, and have a bumper crop of baby predators which will be waiting next year - disappear for, say, 17 years before coming out again.  That bumper crop of predators will be nothing but a memory by then.  That's exactly what these cicadas do, spending the 17 intervening years underground feeding on plant sap sucked out of tree roots.

There are 6 species in the genus Magicicada which emerge every 17 years, interestingly at any given place all of the individuals of all of the species are the same age.  Since the emergences occur in different years in different places, they are called broods to keep them separate.  In Marietta, we have Brood V, which emerged in 1999 and will come out again in 2016.  At Purdue University, Brood X emerged in 1987 and again in 2004.  I'm particularly fond of Brood V, having seen it as a child, as a graduate student, and finally as a professor.

 

Periodical Cicada - Magicicada sp.; Washington Co. OH - Brood V, 1999

Periodical Cicada - Magicicada sp.; Washington Co. OH - Brood V, 1999

The big Bucket O' Bugs above was collected (mostly by me) over a period of a few days in 1987.  As a poor graduate student I conned, er talked the department chair into paying me $500 to collect enough cicadas to last (we dissected them in entomology classes as large examples of piercing/sucking mouthparts) 17 years.  They cost 50 cents each from a supply house at the time; $500 represented a small savings to the school over that 17 year period.  I should check to see if anyone refilled the bucket in 2004....

The cicadas are very good food for a lot of wildlife; the female cardinal pictured was no doubt feeding a brood when this picture was taken.  There were probably a lot of cardinals around in 2000 as a result of the windfall of 1999, but I bet those cardinals in 2000 had a much harder time feeding their young - and probably raised a lot fewer.

Did you know you can make cicada tea?  It's just like solar tea, only you use cicadas.  Actually don't do that!  I'm just showing off a bottle of cicadas I collected in an hour's time in 1999, for much the same purpose I collected the original bucket o' bugs in 1987 - but Marietta is a lot smaller school than Purdue.

You may be wondering, if cicadas only come out every 17 years, why do I hear them every summer?  The answer, my friend, is that the cicadas you hear every summer are in a different genus.  These are the Dog-Day Cicadas (below).  They stay underground for only a few years and some of them come out every year.  Rather than overwhelming the predators they simply try to avoid them.  They are much better camouflaged than the periodical cicadas. 

Dog-Day Cicada, Tibicens sp. - molting

Dog-Day Cicada, Tibicens sp. - molting

Dog-Day Cicada, Tibicens sp. - molting

Dog-Day Cicada, Tibicens sp. - molting

Dog-Day Cicada, Tibicens sp. - molting

Dog-Day Cicada, Tibicens sp. - molting

These pictures show a Dog-day Cicada molting from the nymph stage to the winged adult.  The adult then flies into the treetops where the males advertise their position to females by making a loud buzzing sound (produced by rattling plates on their body and amplifying the sound with a hollow abdomen).  

Dog-day cicadas are preyed on by a variety of predators, but none is as interesting as the Cicada-Killer Wasp (below right).  These large wasps can sting and paralyze a cicada.  They then fly it home to their burrow (yes, they are that big), where they bury it with an egg on it.  The egg hatches out and the larva of the wasp feeds on the living flesh of the paralyzed cicada (keeping it alive keeps it from rotting).  You can read more about these insects in this publication from Florida, or on this web page from Marietta College alumni ('68) Dr. Chuck Holliday.

 

 

Dog-Day Cicada, Tibicens sp. - adult

Cicada Killer, Sphecius speciosus, Wekiva Spring, Florida

Cicada Killer, Sphecius speciosus, Wekiva Spring, Florida

Opossum, Didelphis virginiana, Sandy Ridge Metropark, Lorain County

Opossum, Didelphis virginiana, Sandy Ridge Metropark, Lorain County

Black Bear (Ursus americanus) - Lowry Park Zoo, Tampa

Black Bear (Ursus americanus) - Lowry Park Zoo, Tampa

Opossum, Didelphis virginiana, Sandy Ridge Metropark, Lorain County

Opossum, Didelphis virginiana, Sandy Ridge Metropark, Lorain County

 

The Black Bear was a common feature of the deciduous forest in North America, but hunting and destruction of the forests (Ohio went from 90 to 6% forest cover between 1787 and 1900) drove the bears from many of their native haunts.  They are coming back thanks to hunting regulations and recovery of forests.  Bears have been seen throughout southeast Ohio and one was even seen in the city of Marietta itself a few years ago.  These large omnivores consume a mixture of plant materials, scavenged animal remains, and occasionally even kill something to eat.  

The opossum is North America's only marsupial, and it is a relatively recent arrival from South America at that.  Traditional wisdom has it that when placental mammals reached South America they moved in and displaced many of the marsupials living there, and those displaced species then went extinct.  Not only didn't the opossum go extinct, but it turned the tide by moving north, and it is still doing so.  Some suggest that it is about as far north as it can go in places like northern Ohio.  I'm not sure how these things survive, quite possibly they are simply too disgusting for carnivores to eat, or more likely, we have reduced the native populations of carnivores to the point that even with humans running over a lot of 'possums with cars they are still able to survive.  All I know is that if you are working for the highway department you should never throw a dead possum in the back of a dump truck.  They REALLY smell.

Below:  As opposed to opossums, raccoons get much better press.  Most people find them cute, at least until they have to deal with one that's gotten into their attic, a favorite nesting place.  These nocturnal omnivores have a remarkably diverse diet, and the raccoon itself is a pretty smart animal.

Raccoon, Procyon lotor, Ohio

Raccoon, Procyon lotor, Ohio

Raccoon, Procyon lotor, Ohio

Raccoon, Procyon lotor, Ohio

A raccoon returning to its Fayreweather Hall (Marietta College) condo at dawn

A raccoon returning to its Fayreweather Hall (Marietta College) condo at dawn.  At this, it beat many of the students returning home

Black Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta, Monroe County, Ohio

Black Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta, Monroe County, Ohio

Black Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta, Monroe County, Ohio

Black Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta, Monroe County, Ohio

One of the more impressive snakes in the eastern deciduous forest of North America is the Black Rat Snake.  A predator of rodents, rabbits, birds and the like, this is a sizeable snake.  It is not poisonous, and has a lot more integrity, grace, charm and intelligence than the Northern Water Snake (proponents of intelligent design should be required to explain the Northern Water Snake).  As you can see, the Black Rat Snake will stand its ground.  Never admitting it's overmatched, it still gives its opponents their due respect, and those opponents return the respect.  This is a snake you can deal with.  I like them.

The forked tongue, visible at right, is the main organ of smell for the snake.  Whipped around in the air it picks up scent molecules, it is then returned to the inside of the mouth where a pair of Jacobsen's organs await.  These organs are lined with sensory cells and one tip of the fork goes into each of the organs, where the smells are analyzed.  Because the fork is tipped the snake can even tell what direction the smell is coming from.

Black Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta, Washington County, Ohio

Black Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta, Washington County, Ohio

Black Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta, Washington County, Ohio

Black Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta, Washington County, Ohio

Black Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta, Monroe County, Ohio

Black Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta, Monroe County, Ohio

Black Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta, Monroe County, Ohio

Black Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta, Monroe County, Ohio

Black Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta, Monroe County, Ohio

Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina, Washington County, OH

Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina, Washington County, OH

Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina, Washington County, OH

Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina, Washington County, OH

Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina, Washington County, OH

Here are some more pictures of another representative forest dweller, the Eastern Box Turtle.  Although they will venture into grasslands, pastures and lawns, these are forest creatures at heart; they require high humidity levels and lots of moisture-loving invertebrate prey - things like earthworms, slugs, snails and the like.  They'll also eat a Garter Snake if they have a chance, not exactly one of their most endearing traits, but what the heck.  The young hatch from eggs buried in early summer by the mother; they are carnivorous at birth but will eventually mellow into broader tastes, consuming a variety of plant material (especially berries and fruits) as well as fungi as adults.  Some can feed on poisonous fungi with no apparent ill effects, although humans which then eat the turtles get sick, which, IMHO, only serves them right. The box turtle is the only known dispersal agent for the mayapple, whose fruits (and seeds) it consumes (more below).  The picture below is for scale purposes only, once the female lays the eggs her involvement with her offspring is done, and the young give the adults wide berth lest they be eaten.  You can read a LOT more about box turtles on the Marietta College Box Turtle Pages.

Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina, Washington County, OH

Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina, Washington County, OH

Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia)

Magnolia Warbler (Dendroica magnolia)

Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia)

Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia)

Brown Thrasher. (Toxostoma rufum)

Brown Thrasher. (Toxostoma rufum)

Birds are often heard, less often seen in the deciduous forest.  As mentioned above, many migrate to the forests in spring when the flush of plant and insect growth make food easier to find.  A whole complex of birds, collectively known as the warblers (and to this frustrated observer, collectively is about as far as it goes, I find it hard to tell these apart) are representative of this type of migrant; most of the warblers are insect eaters and divide the forest up as to where they forage, what they eat, and when they look for it.  The two species above are the only ones I have pictures of. 

The Brown Thrasher lives up to its name by thrashing about in the underbrush to scare up its insect food.  Likewise, the Gray Catbird is aptly named; its call sounds like that of a cat, and it's grayCedar Waxwings eat a lot of fruit - more than most other birds, but one of my favorite activities is to watch a waxwing dart out repeatedly from a perch on a branch to grab insects.  They are named for the row of red wax tipped feathers on the wings.  

Cedar Waxwing  -  Bombycilla cedrorum - Monroe County Ohio

Cedar Waxwing  -  Bombycilla cedrorum - Monroe County Ohio

Gray Catbird Dumetella carolinensis - Bradley Woods Metropark, Cuyahoga County OH

Gray Catbird Dumetella carolinensis - Bradley Woods Metropark, Cuyahoga County OH

Bradley Woods, Cleveland Metroparks, Cuyahoga County, OH

Bradley Woods, Cleveland Metroparks, Cuyahoga County, OH

Bradley Woods, Cleveland Metroparks, Cuyahoga County, OH

Much of the deciduous forest in eastern North America is second-growth forest; that is forest that has regrown after the original forest was felled for timber or agriculture.  Often these forests are full of trees that are all the same age, but eventually a mix of tree sizes comes in.  These pictures are typical of this type of forest.  Bradley Woods Metropark (part of the Cleveland Metroparks system) is a low-lying maple swamp.  In the spring, much of the park is submerged or the soil is saturated with water; most of the trees are maples which thrive under these conditions.  These pictures were taken in late summer when some of the leaves were turning; you can also see that the undergrowth in the forest is relatively sparse; it is hard for plants to grow in the shade of the bigger trees.

The pictures below show two other examples of deciduous forest.  The Sinks of Gandy in  West Virginia lie in karst topography; a landscape of limestone rock where rivers disappear underground (sinks) and sometimes the caves collapse to form sinkholes.  The image below right is from Indiana.  While the species change somewhat from one area to another, the most important determinant of what species will be found in an individual patch of forest are details of the habitat, such as whether it is in a swamp or on a ridgetop or the direction the slope faces.

Bradley Woods, Cleveland Metroparks, Cuyahoga County, OH

Bradley Woods, Cleveland Metroparks, Cuyahoga County, OH

Sinks of Gandy, West Virgin

Sinks of Gandy, West Virginia

Purdue Entomological Research Area, Tippecanoe County, Indiana

Purdue Entomological Research Area, Tippecanoe County, Indiana

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods in Belmont County is an old-growth forest, one of the few remaining in Ohio.  It is located in southeastern Ohio in Belmont County.  The site has never been logged, making it a good place to see a climax forest.  These pictures are representative of the site.

Things to look for:

Lots of woody debris, particularly larger logs - on the forest floor.  These logs are repositories of nutrients and tremendous resources in the forest.

A diversity of tree ages, as indicated by trees of different sizes.

Trees topping out at 3-5 layers in the canopy instead of 1 or two levels in secondary growth.

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

More things to look for:

Mature forests will have a diversity of mast on the forest floor - acorns, hickory nuts, beech nuts, walnuts, etc. will all be found there.

A diverse collection of fungi will be breaking down the fallen logs.  Foresters hate to see something like this; in a managed forest a tree will be harvested before it gets old, or "salvaged" if it falls or is damaged before its time.  With the wood removed from the forest, there isn't a lot left for the fungi to do.

The forest floor will be uneven, with pits and mounds where trees have been toppled.  Long after the tree rots away the pit where its roots were and the mound of soil deposited as the upturned roots decay will persist.

Some of the trees will be really big and old.  Some of those will be of trees with valuable lumber.  If there are big, old, valuable trees present the site probably hasn't been logged.

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

When trees fall in a deciduous forest it creates a light gap where the sun can penetrate to the ground.  Often this area is quickly covered over as a profusion of plants take advantage of the sun; the sapling trees in the light gap compete to grow up through it and get their leaves out in the top of the canopy where they can get full sun.  

Other areas of the forest floor may be relatively bare as little light penetrates there.

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

root mass, Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

To the left is an upturned root mat, perhaps 8 feet in diameter.  This large tree blew open in a windstorm, opening up a light gap - and a patch of soil where its roots were - for the growth of different species.  A mature forest is a mosaic of these light gaps and other areas in various stages of recovery from former small-scale disturbances.  Managed forests are typically much more homogeneous.

You can read more about old-growth forests in this article by Brian McCarthy, an Ohio University botanist who studies Dysart Woods.

Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa sp.

Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa sp.

Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa sp.

Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa sp.

In the summer between the first and second year of my MS degree at the University of Akron I got bored a lot.  Sure, I spent a lot of time out doing my research, but the rest of the time seemed to drag.  All my friends had real jobs, so there wasn't anyone to go water skiing with.  When I got really bored I'd get a badminton racquet and go up on the roof to hit Carpenter Bees.  With a little practice, you could put some topspin on them.  They loved to bore into the wood under the eaves of my parents' house, and killing them with a racquet seemed to make as much sense as spraying insecticides. 

Carpenter Bees are basically bumblebees that decided to make their nests in wood rather than in the ground.  They have wide faces and really massive jaws to cut their way through the wood.  They lay eggs and provision the nest with pollen for the larvae to consume.  The 3 upper pictures are probably a male (with its white face); below right a female peers from a hole she has excavated - the hole is probably 1/2" (12.5 mm)  in diameter.  

If you look closely at the base of the wings on the male at the right you will see a number of tiny mites; a close-up of the mites is shown below.  These mites attach themselves to the bee and drink its blood; similar mites have been responsible for the decline of honeybees in the United States.

Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa sp.

Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa sp.

Mites on  Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa nigrita

Mites on  Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa nigrita

Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa sp.

Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa sp.

Collembola

Collembola

Dark-winged Jewelwing, Calopteryx maculata

Ebony Jewelwing, Calopteryx maculata

Symphyla

Symphyla

We think of dragonflies and damselflies as aquatic insects, and in fact the larval stages are aquatic in all but a few species.  Still, some species occupy very small seeps in the forest as larvae, and a number of species forage in the forest as adults.  A good example of this latter practice is shown by the Ebony Jewelwing (above).  These insects pass their larval stage in smaller streams.  The newly emerged adults fly into the woods where they feed and mature for several weeks before returning to shady stream banks to mate.

To the left, springtails (collembola) and symphylans (symphylans) are two small invertebrates found in the leaf litter on the forest floor, where they play a role in returning the nutrients of the leaves and fallen wood into the soil where it is again accessible to the trees.  Better known are earthworms, which constantly burrow through the decaying material and move organic material down into the mineral soil, and bring mineral soil to the surface.  This mixing, combined with the aerating effect of the earthworm burrows, makes forest soils much richer.  And, of course, there are a host of other organisms waiting to feed on any earthworms they can get - this would include the American Robin, whose scientific name has caused many a titter on junior-high nature walks.

Earthworm, Lumbricus sp.?

Earthworm, Lumbricus sp.?

American Robin, Turdus migratorius

American Robin, Turdus migratorius

Ground Pine,  Lycopodium obscurum

Ground Pine,  Lycopodium obscurum

Ground-cedar, Lycopodium digitatum

Ground-cedar, Lycopodium digitatum.

The club mosses are a group of primitive plants related to the true mosses.  Lacking such amenities as seeds, true roots and vascular systems, pollen, etc. they have largely been out competed by the flowering plants.  Still, they manage to hang on in a number of places, including the role of epiphytes in temperate rain forests.  In the deciduous forest, club mosses are most often found on the ground, as the two species of Lycopodium shown above were.  The spores of club mosses were long used by magicians as flash powder because they burn very quickly due to their small size and high oil content.

Flowering plants, of course, have solved the problems of reproducing on land, where there often is not enough water for sperm to swim from the male flower to the egg.  Pollen allows the male gametes to be carried, first on the wind, later by animals, most often insects.  Showy flowers are the plants' way of attracting the attention of animal pollinators; the reward is nectar (and some of the pollen, which is protein rich).  Greater Lobelia is a good example of a showy forest floor flower; but the mayapples are perhaps more iconic.  The umbrella-shaped plants cover the forest floor in the spring.  Plants may have one or two umbrellas; the one umbrella plants will die back to sport two umbrellas the following year.  The two umbrella plants, on the other hand, will produce a flower which will in turn attract pollinators.  Eventually a seed-containing fruit will develop; the fruit is toxic to many animals and the only known dispersive agent for the mayapple is the box turtle (which, being a turtle and all, probably isn't the fastest means of dispersal).

Great Lobelia - Lobelia siphilitica

Great Lobelia - Lobelia siphilitica

 

 

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)

Downy Woodpecker,  Picoides pubescens - Old Woman Creek National Estuary, Ohio

Downy Woodpecker,  Picoides pubescens - Old Woman Creek National Estuary, Ohio

Downy Woodpecker,  Picoides pubescens, Bradley Woods Metropark

Downy Woodpecker,  Picoides pubescens, Bradley Woods Metropark

It wouldn't be the woods without woodpeckers, a few of which are shown here.  Of course, as explained earlier, they are after beetle larvae (above) living in the decaying wood of standing trees (snags).  With specially reinforced heads and a lot of aspirin, the woodpeckers bang their beaks into the wood (which, as it is often rotting, isn't as tough as it would first appear).  Long barbed tongues then work their way to the grubs, which are speared and eaten.  Woodpeckers will also eat insects they catch outside the wood, and they will even eat berries, as the Downy Woodpecker above left demonstrates.  

Woodpeckers also provide another valuable service by excavating holes in trees; they use some holes as nests and these large holes will often serve as nests for other species of birds - and a few mammals - in subsequent years.  To the left a flicker pauses near a hole it has excavated in a sycamore on the Marietta College campus; below, one of our larger woodpeckers, the pileated.

Standing dead trees, snags, are an important resource in the forest, serving as food for beetle grubs, a feeding station for woodpeckers, and a nesting site for many species.  One of the problems with modern forest management is that it all too often removes snags to salvage the wood.

Northern Flicker - Colaptes auratus,  Marietta College, Ohio

Northern Flicker - Colaptes auratus,  Marietta College, Ohio

Pileated Woodpecker  - Dryocopus pileatus

Pileated Woodpecker  - Dryocopus pileatus

Orange-striped Oakworm (Anisota senatoria)

Orange-striped Oakworm (Anisota senatoria)

Coreidae - Washington County, Ohio

Coreidae - Washington County, Ohio

Milkweed Tussock Caterpillar (Euchaetes egle)

Milkweed Tussock Caterpillar (Euchaetes egle)

More insects.  The coreid bug above, is a predator and perhaps the model for some of the bugs in Starship Troopers.  It does pierce its prey and suck out the insides; no word on whether they get any smarter as a result. Caterpillars of all types abound in the forest.  Often they specialize on a particular plant since they may have to overcome plant defenses which vary from plant to plant.  Thus the Oakworm will have to overcome the tannins of the oak leaf and the Milkweed Tussock Caterpillar the glycosides of the milkweed plant.

The hickory horned devil is a large, hot-dog sized caterpillar with a number of big spines.  It feeds on walnut and a number of other plants in addition to hickory; they are often spotted in the fall after they drop to the ground to look for a place to pupate over the winter.  Normally they are out of sight in the top of the trees.  

The Luna Moth is another large forest dweller.  Large moths like this are attractive targets for bats (moths fly at night; the hair on their bodies helps them retain internal heat as they cannot obtain heat from the sun as butterflies do).  To help them avoid bats, Luna Moths have ears in their abdomen which allow them to hear the ultrasonic sonar of the bats.  Upon hearing the bats, the moth either flies away, or, if the bat is near, drops to the ground.  Some moths can even "jam" the bat's sonar by producing clicks of their own.

Hickory Horned Devil  - Citheronia regalis - Marietta, Ohio

Luna Moth- Actias luna - Marietta, Ohio

Luna Moth- Actias luna - Marietta, Ohio

Eastern Tent Caterpillar, Malacosoma americanum

Eastern Tent Caterpillar, Malacosoma americanum

Eastern Tent Caterpillar, Malacosoma americanum

Eastern Tent Caterpillar, Malacosoma americanum

The Eastern Tent Caterpillar is a common sight on ornamental trees in the deciduous forest each spring.  Hatching from eggs glued to the tree bark the previous year, each spring the caterpillars emerge to feed on the rapidly growing leaves, often of trees like cherry.  The caterpillars spin a silk used to build a communal retreat in the crotch of the tree.  The larvae spend their days here (surrounded by their frass (feces - look at all the black specks)).  They move out to feed on the leaves at night, when there are no caterpillar eating birds about.

Another leaf feeder uses a very different strategy.  The walking stick hides in plain sight, disguised as a twig.  They remain motionless during the day, and become more active at night.  These individuals were photographed at the Ohio State University Insectarium.

Eastern Tent Caterpillar, Malacosoma americanum

Eastern Tent Caterpillar, Malacosoma americanum

Northern Walking Stick (Diapheromera femorata)

Northern Walking Stick (Diapheromera femorata)

Northern Walking Stick (Diapheromera femorata)

Northern Walking Stick (Diapheromera femorata)

Washington County Outdoor Education Center

Washington County Outdoor Education Center

Monroe County, Ohio

Monroe County, Ohio

Eastern Screech-Owl Otus asio

Eastern Screech-Owl - Otus asio

The pictures above show two aspects of the deciduous forest. The hillside in Monroe County (in the Wayne National Forest) was photographed in late summer when the trees were just beginning to turn.  The different colors are indicative of different species, thus you get a feel for the diversity of trees on that hillside.  Diversity in the temperate deciduous forest pales in comparison to the diversity of the tropical rain forest, but is greater than the phrase "oak-hickory forest" or "beech maple forest" would indicate.  The other photo above shows the nearly closed canopy of a second-growth deciduous forest.

Owls are forest creatures that hunt at night.  Their primary prey are the rodents which in turn feed on the forest floor.  

Another predator on small rodents is the Copperhead (below).  While the owls use their ears to locate prey, copperheads use a small pit, visible in the photo below between the eye and the nose.  The pit is lined with cells sensitive to the infrared radiation given off by warm-blooded prey.  Of course, the copperhead also is able to inject poison through two hollow, retractable fangs at the front of its mouth.  What should you do if you are bitten by a copperhead?  

Great Horned Owl - Bubo virginianus - Archbold Biological Station, Florida

Great Horned Owl - Bubo virginianus - Archbold Biological Station, Florida

 

Copperhead Snake - Agkistrodon contortrix - Lowry Park Zoo, Tampa

Copperhead Snake - Agkistrodon contortrix - Lowry Park Zoo, Tampa

Bird's-nest Fungi - North Ridgeville, Ohio

Bird's-nest Fungi - North Ridgeville, Ohio

Fungi play a critical role in recycling nutrients in the forest.  Trees are largely made of cellulose, a material which few organisms have the necessary enzymes to break down.  Termites and their symbionts, bacteria, and most importantly, fungi, are among those organisms which can break down wood.  As the fungi work their way through the wood, they weaken the wood, making it easier for large animals like woodpeckers to shred, and making it easier for organisms like beetle grubs to chew through.  In fact, the presence of the fungus actually increases the nutritional value of the wood and the fungal hyphae contain enzymes and other proteins as opposed to the wood, which is mostly carbohydrates.  And, don't forget that the fungi are active on and in the soil, breaking down leaves and roots.

The fungi we see are only the tip of the iceberg; most of the fungus consists of tiny strands (hyphae) spreading through the wood or the soil.  Only when it is time for reproduction does the fungus produce a fruiting body, which appears on the surface for the sole purpose of propagating spores to spread the fungus to new areas.

The Bird's Nest fungus (above) is an Ascomycete or cup-fungi.  The unique fungus shown here grows its spores in packets in shallow bowls arranged on the surface of the soil (or mulch, in this case).  When it rains, water falling into the bowls splashes out violently, spreading the spores.  The mushroom (below) and the morel (below right) are examples of Basidiomycetes, or club fungi (the terms sac-fungi and club fungi refer to microscopic structures, not the big structure we see, but in these cases cup and club are also descriptive of the fruiting body).  The morels in particular are also examples of mycorrhizal fungi; they form symbiotic, mutualistic associations with plant roots.  The fungus helps the plant obtain nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, etc.) and water; the plant transfers excess sugars produced by photosynthesis to the fungi.  It is interesting that in Ohio, efforts to revegetate reclaimed strip mines with forest trees failed until it was recognized that one reason the trees were dying in the effectively sterilized strip mine soil was that they lacked mycorrhizal symbionts.  It is common practice now at tree nurseries to inoculate the seedling tree roots with the appropriate fungi.  BTW - morels are really good eating!

Morel (Morchella sp.) - Morgan County, Ohio

Morel (Morchella sp.) - Morgan County, Ohio

Squawroot (Conopholis americana) - Sandy Ridge Metropark, Lorain County, Ohi

Squawroot (Conopholis americana
Sandy Ridge Metropark, Lorain County, Ohio

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)

The squawroot (above) may look like a fungus, but it is actually a flowering plant.  It is parasitic on trees, usually oaks, and gets its energy by tapping into the oak's roots.  It betrays its true nature when it comes time to reproduce, however. I'm not sure about squawroot in particular, but other related plants are often self-pollinating and thus don't even need showy flowers to attract pollinators.  The squawroot is a distant relative of the magnolia.

Black Walnut (above right) is an important tree in the deciduous forest in its own right, but it also has some emergent properties that call for special attention.  Its hard, dark wood is extremely valuable (though my wife does not like its turning qualities), and the nuts are tasty (I find them better than their English cousins).  One of the most remarkable aspects of the black walnut is its allelopathy - its leaves drip hydrojuglone (the roots also exude it), and this chemical helps kill other plants - competitors - near the black walnut.  I distinctly remember learning about this in college and having a flash of insight as to why nothing ever grew in the end of our garden under the walnut tree!  Read more about the black walnut and allelopathy here, and our discussion of alleopathy in the desert here.

Wild grape is one of the few vines in the temperate forest (as opposed to the tropical forest, where vines are plentiful).  

Below, flowering plants tend to flower in the deciduous forest before the bigger trees such as the oaks leaf out.  In Marietta, Oaks may not be in full leaf until June, while many of the wildflowers will be out in April and May.  One of the more spectacular is the Large-flowered Trillium; some hillsides may be covered with them (below right).

Wild Grape

Wild Grape

Toothwort (Cardamine angustata)

Toothwort (Cardamine angustata)

 

Large-flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) Washington County, Ohio

Large-flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) Washington County, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Dysart Woods, Ohio

Indigo Hill, Washington County, Ohio

Indigo Hill, Washington County, Ohio

Sandy Ridge Metropark, Lorain County, Ohio

Sandy Ridge Metropark, Lorain County, Ohio

Some more odds and ends here.  Above, a high vantage point on Indigo Hill shows the forest at the beginning of autumn; the photo of the canopy at Dysart Woods once again reminds us how the tall trees filter and change the light as it reaches the forest floor.  Left, a maple swamp in northern Ohio is a distinct habitat within the deciduous forest.  Here, water sits on the ground well into the summer; this has a profound impact on the community; and many wetland species - even dragonflies - make this habitat home.

Poison Ivy is a vining plant often seen in the forest, particularly along trails.  An oil in the sap,  urushiol,  causes an allergic reaction and a lot of itching.  Some great pictures of the rash are here.

Turkeys are also creatures of the forest, where they feed on a variety of plant materials including tubers, fruits, acorns and grasses, as well as insects.  The wild bird is thinner, warier and a lot smarter than the domestic ones we eat at Thanksgiving.  Turkeys are a popular game bird. They can fly, and they roost in trees at night.  I have seen them doing this in suburban Cleveland, for example.  The domestic birds don't fly, and dropping them from a helicopter is not a good idea.

 

Poison Ivy - (Rhus radicans)

Poison Ivy - (Rhus radicans)

Wild Turkey  - Meleagris gallopavo

Wild Turkey  - Meleagris gallopavo

Carroll County, Ohio

A view out the classroom window of my high school - you can see how such a setting would turn one towards biology. Carroll County, Ohio

Ichneumonid Wasp Ovipositing - Gibraltar Island, Ohio

Ichneumonid Wasp Ovipositing - Gibraltar Island, Ohio

Population control, insect-style:  We've seen about enough of the grubs (above) but I put this one back in so I could talk about a predator of this grub other than the woodpecker.  The Ichneumonid Wasp (above right) walks across the surface of a tree trunk, "listening" for the vibrations caused by a grub feeding in the wood below (as the grub chews, it snaps wood fibers, causing vibrations).  The wasp localizes the vibrations and sinks its slender, threadlike ovipositor several inches through the solid wood to inject the egg (and a paralyzing agent) into the grub.  The eggs hatch and the larvae consume the grubs.

Another example of parasitism from the forest comes from a caterpillar and wasp duo, only here the wasps are tiny compared to their prey.  The Catalpa Hornworm, a relative of the tomato hornworm often seen in gardens, feeds on the leaves of Catalpa trees.  Small braconid wasps of the species Cotesia congregata locate the larvae on the tree and sting them, injecting their eggs.  These eggs hatch into larvae which feed inside the caterpillar, avoiding vital organs.  Nearing maturity, the larvae bore their way out of the body wall (below), often causing droplets of hemolymph to seep out (below right).  The larvae soon spin a ring of silk on the outer body of their host; they attach themselves to this silk and complete a silk cocoon around themselves (a cocoon just begun is shown below, along with a completed cocoon).  Eventually, the multitude of larvae which had been living inside of the host emerge and spin their cocoons, and the host is reduced to a deflated, withered husk anchored in place as the adult wasps mature inside the cocoons until they are ready to emerge and seek out new caterpillar hosts.  An interesting sidenote:  Similar wasps prey on the tomato hornworm and have been shown to inject not only eggs but a virus which inactivates the immune system of the caterpillar host (sound familiar?).

Technically, the insect parasites mentioned above are better termed parasitoids, as they kill the host, while a true parasite usually does not.

 

Catalpa Hornworm - Ceratomia catalpae, Canal Fulton, Ohio

Catalpa Hornworm - Ceratomia catalpae, Canal Fulton, Ohio

Catalpa Hornworm - Ceratomia catalpae, with emerging larvae and pupae of Cotesia congregata

Catalpa Hornworm - Ceratomia catalpae, with emerging larvae and pupae of Cotesia congregata

Catalpa Hornworm - Ceratomia catalpae, with emerging larvae and pupae of Cotesia congregata

Catalpa Hornworm - Ceratomia catalpae, with emerging larvae and pupae of Cotesia congregata

Catalpa Hornworm - Ceratomia catalpae, with pupae of Cotesia congregata

Catalpa Hornworm - Ceratomia catalpae, with pupae of Cotesia congregata

Catalpa Hornworm - Ceratomia catalpae, with emerging larvae and pupae of Cotesia congregata

Catalpa Hornworm - Ceratomia catalpae, with emerging larvae and pupae of Cotesia congregata

Adult and pupal Cotesia congregata

 

Adult and pupal Acrolyta mesochori - it turns out that the adults which emerged from the pupal cases shown above were not Cotesia congregata, but members of a different family. Cotesia is in the family Braconidae, while these tiny wasps are in the family Ichneumonidae, and are most likely Acrolyta mesochori. Acrolyta mesochori is a hyperparasitoid, that is, it parasitizes a parasite. In this case, adult females of Acrolyta mesochori managed to lay eggs on or in the larval Cotesia congregata, probably after they emerged from the caterpillar but before the pupal case was complete. The Acrolyta mesochori larvae then fed on the Cotesia pupae and eventually emerged from their pupal case.
Sycamore Lace Bug (Corythucha ciliata)

Sycamore Lace Bug (Corythucha ciliata)

Cranefly (Tipulidae)

Cranefly (Tipulidae)

Sycamore Lace Bug (Corythucha ciliata)

Sycamore Lace Bug (Corythucha ciliata)

Craneflies (above) are large flies whose larvae develop in damp forest soil or in water.  They may look like huge mosquitoes, but they do not bite humans - or other animals for that matter.  The adults' only purpose is to mate and find a place to lay eggs.  They may often be encountered hanging on leaves or twigs in the coolness of the forest.

The Sycamore Lace Bug (right) is a more injurious species, at least if you are a sycamore tree (which not many of us are, admittedly). These bugs attach themselves to the leaves to suck out the sap.  They can also be found under the bark of the sycamore.

The Oak Treehoppers (which were actually on a sycamore when they were photographed, below) likewise suck plant juices from their host.  Their bodies give them the appearance of thorns from a distance.  This presumably protects them from birds, but I also wonder if it doesn't protect the host plant as well, as deer or other browsers might decide to leave a thorn-covered plant alone.  What do you call a parasite that also protects its host?

Oak Treehopper - Platycotis vittata - Marietta, Ohio

Oak Treehopper - Platycotis vittata - Marietta, Ohio

Oak Treehopper - Platycotis vittata - Marietta, Ohio

Oak Treehopper - Platycotis vittata - Marietta, Ohio

Millipede

Millipede

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

Millipede

Millipede

The picture of the swallowtail above is gratuitous; I really wanted to talk millipedes here.  Millipedes are an important part of the forest floor community.  Unlike predaceous centipedes, millipedes are usually detritivores, feeding on the decaying material on the forest floor.  The name millipede means "thousand legs" but of course millipedes do not have 1,000 legs (nor do centipedes have 100 legs for that matter).  The key characteristic separating millipedes and centipedes is the fact that the former have 2 pairs of legs per apparent body segment while centipedes have but one pair per segment.  Millipedes also have bodies which are more rounded.  They do not have the poisonous jaws that centipedes have, but many species protect themselves by sequestering poisons within their bodies and they advertise the poison with bright colors.  Some species use cyanide as a poison. 

Land snails are restricted to moist habitats, and the interior of a deciduous forest will do fine.  Such snails are threatened by acid rain as it dissolves their shells and carries away calcium that they need to make a shell in the first place.  In fact, loss of calcium from the soil is one of the main ways acid rain negatively affects forest.

Millipede

Millipede

Land Snail

Land Snail

Katydid (Tettigonidae) - Monroe County, Ohio

Katydid (Tettigonidae) - Monroe County, Ohio

Katydid (Tettigonidae) - Monroe County, Ohio

Katydid (Tettigonidae) - Monroe County, Ohio

 

Katydids (above) add a particular magic to the temperate forest late in the summer with their nocturnal mating choruses.  The buzzing of katydids is among the most sublime music on the planet.  The call of the male katydids is picked up by ears on the tibia of the front legs (above right); the ears are not on the "knees" as is often stated, but they are pretty close.  With some well-studied species one can determine the temperature by determining the rate at which the katydids are calling.

The nuthatch, below, has some woodpecker-like traits, particularly in the arrangement of its toes.  It is very comfortable clinging to a tree trunk, and it is usually found working its way down the trunk searching for insects under the bark (another bird, the brown creeper, usually works its way up the trunk).  Moss and lichens (below right) may cover any exposed surface in moister areas of the woods, including tree trunks, fallen logs, and rocks.

White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis - Indigo Hill, Washington County, Ohio

White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis 
 Indigo Hill, Washington County, Ohio

Moss and Lichens - Washington County, Ohio

Moss and Lichens - Washington County, Ohio

Handsome Bush Cricket, Phyllopalpus pulchellus, Washington County, Ohio

 Handsome Bush Cricket, Phyllopalpus pulchellus, Washington County, Ohio

 

Pelecinus polyturator - Washington County Outdoor Education Center

Pelecinus polyturator - Washington County Outdoor Education Center

Paper Wasp - Polistes sp. - Avon, Ohio

Paper Wasp - Polistes sp. - Avon, Ohio

The Handsome Bush Cricket does live up to its name, and its scientific name is both alliterative and descriptive (it means beautiful leaf palps, the latter referring to the paddle-shaped mouthparts).  This is another of the detritivores on the forest floor.  The Pelecinid Wasp, with its long abdomen, looks a lot fiercer than it is.  The long ovipositor is stuck down into the soil to parasitize the grubs of June Beetles living down there.  These solitary wasps don't sting humans (at least I don't think so).

 

Likewise, the Pinching Bug (actually a beetle) below looks like it just might be a biter, but the large mandibles are used by the males to wrestle with other males.  The serious feeding in this species is done by the larvae, which are wood-borers feeding in downed trees.  Many of our largest beetles also come from grubs which live in downed trees; another reason to let at least some trees fall and rot in the forest.

Pinching Bug (Pseudolucanus capreolus) - Avon, Ohio

Pinching Bug (Pseudolucanus capreolus) - Avon, Ohio

Pinching Bug (Pseudolucanus capreolus) - Avon, Ohio

Pinching Bug (Pseudolucanus capreolus) - Avon, Ohio

Pseudoscorpion - Washington County, Ohio

Pseudoscorpion - Washington County, Ohio

Pseudoscorpion - Avon, Ohio

Pseudoscorpion - Avon, Ohio

Pseudoscorpions are amazing little (really little) creatures.  They may be encountered under the bark of a tree, in a decaying log, or in the leaf litter and humus on the forest floor.  In all of these situations they are predators, feeding on other small invertebrates such as mites (the one above right was on my basement wall).  They do have pincers, but lack the paralyzing skin of a true scorpion (they are pseudoscorpions, after all).

The pillbug (AKA roly-poly, sowbug, Isopod) is another soil invertebrate; they play a more direct role in the breakup of leaves and other fallen material however.  You are probably aware that many species can roll themselves up into an "armored" ball when threatened.  

Tiger Beetles (below) are among the most fascinating and often collected beetles.  Many have bright metallic colors, all are predators that run after and seize their prey.  The larvae are predators too, ambushing prey from burrows dug into soil such as that along a riverbank.  Look for these insects in sunny patches and on beaches.

Pillbug, Armadillidium vulgare - North Ridgeville, Ohio

Pillbug, Armadillidium vulgare - North Ridgeville, Ohio

12-spotted Tiger Beetle, Cicindela duodecimguttata, Washington County, Ohio

12-spotted Tiger Beetle, Cicindela duodecimguttata, Washington County, Ohio

6-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata) - Indigo Hill, Washington County, Ohio

6-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata) 
Indigo Hill, Washington County, Ohio

Raccoon, Procyon lotor

Raccoon, Procyon lotor

River otter, Lutra canadensis - Cleveland Museum of Natural History

River otter, Lutra canadensis - Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Otters in a forest?  Probably not, but River Otters in Ohio have been found ranging far from the streams.  Apparently they are willing to go walkabout to get at the fish in fish farms, even those far removed from a sizeable stream (no doubt the smell of the fish travels downstream).  I couldn't resist another raccoon photo, ditto for the Yellow Warbler.  The one here looks a little like the Mad Bluebird in the famous photo, but this one is merely ticked off about flying into a window some time earlier.

The Red-shouldered Hawk isn't mad, but alert as he scans the surroundings for prey such as small lizards, large insects, and a variety of rodents.  More of a forest bird than the Red-tailed Hawk, the Red-shouldered hawk is also fairly tolerant of close human approach.

The Dog Stinkhorn is another fungus that, while found in the forest, is best known for its embarrassing appearance in one's mulch beds.  It is awkward explaining that you have a fungus instead of an excited male dog (buried on its back) in your flower bed.  But, once again the fungus is only doing the work of recycling dead trees (in this case, dead trees chopped into mulch).  The fruiting body really stinks, and has a sticky slime on it that is full of sporesInsects are attracted to the stench, land, get coated with spores, and fly off to disperse the spores.  The Yellow Warbler is typical of the forest birds that in turn feed on insects.

Red-Shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) - Florida

Red-Shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) - Florida

Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia)

Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia)

Dog Stinkhorn Fungus (Mutinus caninus) Marietta, Ohio

Dog Stinkhorn Fungus (Mutinus caninus) Marietta, Ohio

The Barbara A. Beiser Field Station is operated by Marietta College in Washington County, Ohio.  Named for Barbara Beiser, Valedictorian of the Marietta College class of 1949,  the field station occupies 2000 feet of riverbank on the Little Muskingum River about 5 miles east of the college campus. The approximately 70 acre site has a variety of terrestrial habitats including mature deciduous forest, successional forest and old fields on a landscape that ranges from flat river terraces to steep forested slopes with rock outcrops. A number of wetlands including seeps, springs, streams and small floodplain ponds are also present. The station is used for a number of purposes. Classes such as Flowering Plants, Field Biology Techniques, Lower Plants, and Zoology all use the site. Special field trips are arranged for bird watching, visits to the ponds during the salamander and frog breeding seasons and spring wildflower viewing, to name just a few.

 

Visit the Field Station Here

Learn more about the amazing snake-mimicking caterpillars at the Beiser Field Station! 

More on Forests - Forests in Europe

If you want to see more high-quality pictures of organisms from the temperate rainforest and other biomes, click here!

If you want to know more about Marietta College's Biology and Environmental Science Program, click here!

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