Monday, July 2, 2012

Major Announcement: The Launch of Maryland Biodiversity Website

Hey everybody, I'm very excited to announce the launch of the Maryland Biodiversity Project.  Bill Hubick and I have created a new web application that will explore all of Maryland's vast natural communities.  The main goal of the project is to have a repository of species checklists where each organism will have photos and information on range, habitat, and identification.

We already have over 3000 species listed including all the mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and freshwater fishes.  Invertebrates listed include all of the butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies, and crayfish.  Other groups represented include the Silk, Sphinx, and Tiger Moths, all the ladybug species, the robber flies, and all the Tiger Beetles.  Also included are all of Maryland's freshwater bivalves. We have roughly over 50% of all of Maryland's wild plants already listed with groups like orchids, violets, and the 246 species of sedges all represented in checklist form.

The website is growing fast and each day sees new photographs and species being uploaded.  Many species still do not have photos, but as the project grows we hope to have most species photographed with all the pertinent information represented.

Without the help of many of Maryland's leading nature photographers this website would not be possible.  Thanks to those already supporting the project during the initial design and testing

As Bill has written on the Maryland Biodiversity website:

"The Maryland Biodiversity project will only reach its full potential with support from the many exceptional naturalists that explore Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic. We welcome the contribution of photos/audio, and are interested in ideas or new data sets you might have.

Sharing photos will be the most common way to get involved. We link to photos on existing web site sites, and all photos used will display full credit and a very obvious link to your web site. The Contributors page lists all photographers, their web sites, and the number of photos used so far. Maryland photos get preferential treatment, but we will use photos from the wildlands surrounding us to ensure we build a full collection."

Here's how you can help:
  • First, please consider donating to American Bird Conservancy and/or the Maryland Important Bird Area (IBA) program. Our collective top priority has to be ensuring all of the species cataloged on this site are still here for generations to come.
  • Please do not send us photos as attachments or promote the use of any specific photo. We are committed to objectively assembling a high quality collection of photos, and explaining our decisions on individual photos would be stressful and exhausting.
  • Please DO send us a link to your photo site and specify one of the following: 1) Open use welcome for MD Biodiversity project, or 2) that you're interested in sharing, but please check in before using any specific photos. We always provide photo credit and will never offer use of your photos to outside parties.
  • If you have a collection of digital images you'd like to share, but no web site, we can work with you to get a CD or set up a Google Docs folder.
  • If you have a large web site and want to highlight photos that you think are especially fitting for the project, feel free to create a "MD Biodiversity" or "MDB" gallery.
Bill and I are very excited about this new project and we hope that it brings new insights into the plants and animals with which we share our wonderful state of Maryland.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Celithemis Dragonflies of the Mid Atlantic Region

Some of my favorite dragonflies belong to the genus Celithemis.  Flying throughout the summer, these showy dragonflies are called Pennants.  In the Mid Atlantic region there are eight species and they are usually fairly common if you seek them out in the correct habitats.  Below I will describe all eight species.

Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa)

Photo:  Calico Pennant, Wayne National Forest Services

Calico Pennants are arguably the most common of the Celithemis dragonflies.  They have a long flight period that ranges from May into September depending on the locale.  They can be found throughout the Mid Atlantic around lakes and other bodies of still freshwater.  Males are easily distinguished from other pennants by the extensive red wing coloration and the red diamonds on the black abdomen.

Photo: Calico Pennant, Steve Collins

Females are a little more tricky but still fairly easy to identify.  Females are colored black and yellow.  The wing pattern is the same as the males but the color is much more yellow and the abdomen diamonds are also yellow.

Photo: Calico Pennant, Jim Brighton

The only other female pennant with black wing tips is the Halloween Pennant.  That said, the wing patterns are way different and with a little practice the two species can be easily differentiated in the field.

Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina)

Photo: Halloween Pennant, Vicki Deloach

Halloween Pennants are also common dragonflies that are found throughout the Mid Atlantic.  Their flight period is a little later than Calico Pennants with flights starting in June through the beginning of September.  Unlike the Calico Pennant their wing markings are smaller and more spread out across the wing.  Males are typically more reddish than the females which usually have a more brownish yellow tinge.

Photo: Breeding Halloween Pennants, Douglas Mills

In the above photo the male is the top bug and you can see the more reddish coloration compared to the dingier looking female.  Like most of the Celithemis dragonflies Halloween Pennants can be found around freshwater lakes and marshes.

Photo: Halloween Pennant, Steve Collins

Ornate Pennant (Celithemis ornata)

Photo: Ornate Pennant, Steve Collins

Ornate Pennants are small Celthemis that in the Mid Atlantic are found from New Jersey south through North Carolina.  Not nearly as common as the previous two species, Ornate Pennants can be found in still freshwater lakes and marshes with lots of vegetation.  Unlike Halloween and Calico Pennants, Ornate Pennants lack extensive wing markings, but they are very similar to Amanda's Pennant.  Amanda's Pennant has the same type of wing marking but unlike the Ornate Pennant the wing marking goes almost all the way down to the lower wing edge.  As you can see in the above and below photo Ornate Pennants have a definite clear area between the bottom of the wing and the beginning of the wing marking.

Photo: Ornate Pennant, Steve Collins

Like the other pennants, the males are more brightly colored with reddish wing markings and red diamonds that run down a black abdomen.

Photo: Ornate Pennant, Steve Collins

Ornate Pennant is also known as Faded Pennant and in Maryland they are know to hybridize with Martha's Pennant.

Amanda's Pennant (Celithemis amanda)

Photo: Amanda's Pennant, Steve Collins

In the Mid Atlantic, Amanda's Pennants are only found in North Carolina.  This species is the smallest of the Celithemis.  They frequent vegetated freshwater lakes and are only found along the coastal plain. As noted above, Amanda's Pennant is very similar to Ornate Pennant, but a good look at the wing marking should allow the observer a positive id.  

Photo: Amanda's Pennant, Bill Hubick

As you can see in the above photo, the wing markings almost extend the entire width of the wing unlike the Ornate Pennant which has a noticeably larger clear area between the wing markings and the bottom edge of the wing.

Photo: Amanda's Pennant, Mary Keim

Like many of the other pennants, the male has deep red wing markings and red spots down a black abdomen.

Red-veined Pennant (Celithemis bertha)

Photo: Red-veined Pennant, Dan Irizarry

In the Mid Atlantic, Red-veined Pennants are only found in North Carolina and extreme southeastern Virginia.  More common on the coastal plain, these bright red pennants can also be found less commonly in the piedmont.  They prefer very shallow vegetated small lakes.  Red-veined Pennants can easily be identified by the bright red veins on the leading edge of their wings.

Photo: Red-veined Pennant, Steve Collins

Unlike the previously mentioned species, Red-veined Pennants do not have extensive or large wing markings.

Photo: Red-veined Pennant, Dan Irizarry

The above photo is a young male whose coloration hasn't changed to the deep red of an adult.  Females are very similar in appearance except they typically lack the dark wing vein coloration.  Females look similar to the other yellow female pennants except they lack large wing markings. A female Red-veined Pennant has two small round areas on the lower wing that hug the abdomen.  This should differentiate them from all other female pennant species.

Banded Pennant (Celithemis fasciatus)

Photo: Banded Pennant, Steve Collins

Banded Pennants are one of my favorite dragonflies.  Unlike the other pennants described above both the male and female have a more blue black coloration.  Banded Pennants can be found through the Mid Atlantic at lakes and ponds.  The males blue body with extensive wing markings is diagnostic which makes identification very easy.

Photo: Banded Pennant, Vicki Deloach

The female Banded Pennant has yellow spots that run down the abdomen along with yellow on the thorax.  This color scheme coupled with the extensive black wing markings is unique and once again makes for easy identification.

Photo: Banded Pennant, Steve Collins

Martha's Pennant (Celithemis martha)

Martha's Pennant is a small pennant with a more northerly range than most of the Celthemis pennants.
With a few records from Virginia and only a couple populations in Maryland, Martha's Pennant becomes very common in New Jersey and then once again becomes uncommon in New York and northward.  Like the Banded Pennant, the male has a blue body but only has two wing markings that hug the abdomen on the lower wing.

Photo: Martha's Pennant, Steve Collins

Female Martha's Pennants are more yellowish with yellow on the sides of the thorax and yellow spots that run down the back of a black abdomen.  The females wing markings match the males in size but are more yellow in coloration.

Photo: Martha's Pennant, Steve Collins

Like most other pennants they can be found at still freshwater lakes with lots of vegetation.

Double-ringed Pennant (Celithemis verna)

Double-ringed Pennants can be found from New Jersey south through the Mid Atlantic into the Carolinas and beyond.  Like Banded and Martha's Pennants, the Double-ringed Pennant male is all blue, but is different in that the bug has two very small markings on the lower wings that hug the abdomen.

Photo: Double-ringed Pennant, Steve Collins

As you can see in the above photo, the wing markings are very small.  Double-ringed Pennants have the smallest wing markings of any of the Celithemis pennants.  The female and young males have one distinguishing feature that is unique and makes for easy identification.  They have two yellow rings around the abdomen.  This feature is easily seen in the photo below.

Photo: Double-ringed Pennant, Dan Irizarry

I would like to thank all the photographers who made this post possible, especially Steve Collins who graciously opened up his photo coffers for the taking.  Please go to their websites and check out their incredible photography.

For more information on Dragonflies in Maryland I highly recommend Richard Orr's website which contains great photos and a wealth of checklists --

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Invasive Species - Rusty Crayfish (Orconectes rusticus)

Normally when one thinks of invasive species the large showy in your face species come to mind like Garlic Mustard, House Sparrows, or Snakeheads. But some invasive species most people would never notice.  The Rusty Crayfish is one such species.

Rusty Crayfish, Ashour Rehana

The Rusty Crayfish is an aggressive species of crayfish with a voracious appetite.  This species of crayfish eats almost anything.  Here is a list of the Rusty Crayfishes diet; small fish, fish eggs, other species of crayfish, aquatic worms, snails, leeches, fresh water molluscs, aquatic insects like mayflies, stoneflies, midges, other crustaceans, decaying plants and animals, bacteria and fungi, and live aquatic plants.  The Rusty Crayfish is a serious omnivore!  The metabolism of the Rusty Crayfish is much higher than our native species of crayfish which causes the Rusty Crayfish to have a much stronger appetite. When surveys were done in the Monocacy River watershed where the Rusty Crayfish was first observed, no other crayfish were caught during the study, but down river of the Rusty Crayfish population many native crayfish were observed.  Of all the horrible impacts that the Rusty Cray can have on the environment, the two things that bother me the most are that they eat aquatic vegetation and they eat fresh water molluscs.

Rusty Crayfish, Ashour Rehana

Rusty Crayfish eat aquatic vegetation by pulling the plant up by its roots.  This completely kills the plant.  Entire stretches of streams can become plant free causing erosion and water quality to plummet. Once riverbeds are free of native aquatic plants non-native species have an easier time of taking over.  Explosions of invasive plants like Eurasian Watermilfoil usually follow in the footsteps of a Rusty Crayfish introduction.

Eurasian Watermilfoil, Wiki pages

In Maryland over 70% of the native freshwater molluscs are endangered.  Most of the time we can blame water pollution for our molluscs problems, but when you add an over eager, super hungry, demon crayfish to the molluscs problems they don't really stand a chance.  This scares me greatly.

In June of 2007 while conducting stream surveys along Marsh Creek, a tributary of the Monocacy River, Maryland DNR discovered the first Rusty Crayfish in Maryland waters.  Soon after the Marsh Creek population was discovered another population was found along Conowingo Creek in the lower Susquehanna River.  Recent surveys have found them at the mouth of Antietem Creek on the Potomac River.

So, how did they get here.  From everything that I have read, it sounds like the crayfish migrated south from Pennsylvania following the Monocacy River.  The Susquehanna and Antietem Creek populations may have been caused by fisherman.  Rusty Crayfish were once regularly used as bait.  Unused bait could have been thrown overboard as a means of disposal.  It is now illegal in Maryland to have Rusty Crayfish in your possession.

Range map of Rusty Crayfish, University of Minnesota

As you can see from the above map, the Rusty Crayfish is native to certain parts of the Ohio River and its tributaries, but it has spread throughout the east and even into certain portions of the western United States.  

Rusty Crayfish, University of Michigan

Recognizing this alien species is really easy.  Even though the Rusty Crayfish can come in many different colors (like many crayfish) there are a few distinguishing marks that make identification rather easy.  Firstly, the rusty splotch just forward of the tail and above the legs on the carapace is diagnostic. Other distinguishing marks include claws that are relatively large and smooth that lack any large bumps and the tips of the claws have black bands. 

Rusty Crayfish, University of Michigan

Maryland DNR asks that anyone who discovers a Rusty Crayfish to catch the animal and freeze it.  Make sure you write down the exact location of where the crayfish was discovered and contact them as soon as possible.  Lets hope that we can contain this invasive species and that it doesn't reek to much havoc on our sensitive freshwater streams.

I would like to thank the Universities of Michigan and Minnesota for allowing the use of photos and maps. Their websites contain lots of information that I haven't discussed that is very interesting and scary.

The military even has a website about the Rusty Crayfish's destructiveness.

Most states that have Rusty Crayfish invasions have detailed websites.  Maryland's is especially informative.

Finally, I would like to thank Ashour Rehana for his great photos.  His Flickr site can be viewed at 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

New Photo Site

For the past seven years I have used Smugmug to host my nature photography.  Smugmug is a great platform for the world to see your photos.  The freedom the website allows their subscribers is wonderful and their tech support is excellent. Over the past year I became very disillusioned with my Smugmug site mainly due to the amount and quality of the photos that I had posted.  I would become lost and frustrated on my own site.  So, over the past couple weeks I have created a new site that is hosted by Picasa.  I have cut the amount of posted photos by half and I feel the site has a very clean and organized look.  To view my photos go to

I hope that everyone that goes to my site will enjoy the photographs as much as I do.  Below I am going to post my favorite photo from each of my galleries on my Picasa photo website.

Gray-hooded Gull - Paracas, Peru.  From my Birds Gallery.

Big Horn Sheep - Guanella Pass, Colorado. From my Mammals Gallery.

Black Racer - Caroline County, MD. From my Reptiles Gallery.

Northern Cricket Frog - Caroline County, MD. From my Amphibians Gallery.

Viceroy caterpillar - Hart Miller Island, MD. From my Butterflies (minus skippers) Gallery.

Silver-spotted Skippers - Tuckahoe SP, MD. From my Skippers Gallery.

Himmelman's Plume Moth - 1000 Acre Heath, ME. From my Moths Gallery.

Gallinipper Mosquito - Talbot County, MD. From my Insects Gallery.

Blue-faced Meadowhawks - Caroline County, MD. From my Dragonflies Gallery.

Painted Damsel - Parker Creek, AZ. From my Damselflies Gallery.

Late Lowbush Blueberry - Garrett County, MD. From my Trees and Shrubs Gallery.

American Climbing Fern - Anne Arundel County, MD. From My Ferns and Fern Allies Gallery.

Seaside Amaranth - Worcester County, MD. From my Flowering Plants Gallery.

Large Twayblade - Garrett County, MD. From my Orchids Gallery.

Northern Pitcher Plants, Wicomico County, MD. From my Carnivorous Plants Gallery.

Sunset - Flamingo, FL. From my Landscapes Gallery

And finally because they are both new daddies.  From my soon to be made People Gallery, Bill and Hans from 2007 at Monteverde, Costa Rica.

Once again, my new photo site can be viewed at

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How to Identify the White Violets of the Mid Atlantic Region

I have received many requests asking that I continue with the identification of the rest of the violets of the Mid Atlantic.  I had to choose between the nine species of white violet or the 34 species of blue violet.  I chose the easy way out and decided to continue with a post on how to identify the white violets of the Mid Atlantic region.

One of the first identification points to look for when identifying violets is to see whether the plant is stemmed or unstemmed.  Stemmed means that the flower and leaves share the same stem.  Unstemmed means that the flower and leaves have their own individual stems.  Of the nine white violets that grow in our region only two species are stemmed.

Viola canadensis (Canadian White Violet)

Photo: Viola canadensis, Gravitywave

Viola canadensis is a stemmed violet that is very easy to identify.  It is one of the taller violets, ranging in size from 6 -14".  The yellow center of the flower is diagnostic as is the purplish coloration on the back of the top petals.

Photo: Viola canadensis, Jim Brighton

Viola canadensis is absent from the coastal plain but can be found in the piedmont and mountains of all the states in the Mid Atlantic region.  It is endangered in New Jersey.

USDA state map for Viola canadensis

Photo: Viola canadensis, Kent McFarland

Viola striata (Striped Cream Violet)

Viola striata is our other stemmed white violet.  It is easy to identify because the flowers are heavily bearded and do not have yellow centers or purplish backs to the top petals.

Photo: Viola striata, Jim Brighton

Viola striata is very uncommon on the coastal plain and becomes more common in the piedmont and mountains throughout the Mid Atlantic region.

USDA state map of Viola striata

The remaining species of violets are unstemmed.  We will start out with the two toughest species to identify Viola blanda and Viola macloskeyi.  These violets are very similar with only slight differences.

Viola blanda (Sweet White Violet)

Photo: Viola blanda, Stan Lockwood

Viola blanda is a small unstemmed violet that grows in rich woodlands throughout the Mid Atlantic.  The small white flowers typically have the top two petals reflexed and twisted.  

Photo: Viola blanda, Squamatologist

Another important identification point is that the stem of Viola blanda is usually reddish.  The leaves of Viola blanda are cordate.  Cordate means heart-shaped unlike the leaves of Viola macloskeyi which are more ovate to orbicular. Ovate means shaped like an egg and orbicular means very rounded.  

USDA state map for Viola blanda.

Viola blanda can be found sporadically on the coastal plain and becomes more common in the piedmont and mountains throughout the Mid Atlantic.

Viola macloskeyi (Northern White Violet)

As stated above, Viola macloskeyi and Viola blanda are very similar.  Viola macloskeyi is very small, unstemmed, and typically grows in wetter environments than Viola blanda. It is a violet of bog edges and the website Northern Ontario Flora states that this violet especially likes to grow in wet alder thickets.

Photo: Viola macloskeyi, Tom Palmer

Unlike Viola blanda, the stems of Viola macloskeyi are mostly green but they can have red hints.  The upper flower petals of Viola macloskeyi are not twisted but can be reflexed.  The leaves of Viola macloskeyi are more ovate/orbicular than cordate, meaning the leaves are more egg-shaped/circular than heart-shaped.

Photo: Viola macloskeyi, Tom Palmer

Viola macloskeyi is found throughout the Mid Atlantic region.  In North Carolina and Virginia it is restricted to the mountainous regions.  North of the Mason Dixon Line it can be found from the coastal plain through to the mountains.

USDA state map of Viola macloskeyi

Viola renifolia (Kidney-leaved Violet)

Viola renifolia is another small unstemmed violet that is very similar to the previous two species. But, Viola renifolia has one characteristic that sets it apart.  It has hairy leaves. Sometimes only the underside of the leaf is hairy.

Photo: Viola renifolia, Cindy Kilpatrick

In the Mid Atlantic region Viola renifolia is only found in Pennsylvania and New York.  The USDA website lists this violet as extirpated in Pennsylvania, but on the PA Natural Heritage website they list the violet as endangered.

USDA state map for Viola renifolia

Viola lanceolata (Lance-leaved Violet, Bog White Violet)

Photo: Viola lanceolata, Corey Raimond

Viola lanceolata is really easy to identify.  The leaf shape, long and narrow, is a diagnostic feature that easily separates this species from all the other white violets in our region.

Photo: Viola lanceolata, Andy Firk

This plant is always found growing in wet areas such as bogs and ditch edges.  It is most common on the coastal plain, but can also be found in the piedmont and mountains from Virginia north into New England.

USDA state map for Viola lanceolata

Viola x primulifolia (Primrose-leaved Violet)

Photo: Viola x primulifolia, Anita363

The Primrosed-leaved Violet is a common hybrid of Viola lanceolata x Viola macloskeyi.  It is often found in the same habitats as Viola lanceolata.  The distinguishing characteristic of the hybrid are the shape of the leaves.  The leaves are always longer than wide and typically narrowly egg-shaped with a wedge-shaped (cuneate) base.  This leaf shape is diagnostic and will easily differentiate this hybrid from the other white violets.

Photo: Viola x primulifolia, Patrick Coin

Viola x primulifolia is found throughout the Mid Atlantic from the coastal plain to the mountains.

USDA state map of Viola x primulifolia

The last two species of violets are typically not white but have white forms that are occasionally found.

Viola sororia abliflora (White form of Common Blue Violet)

Photo: Viola sororia albiflora, Frank Mayfield

The white form of the Common Blue Violet is occasionally found among the more common blue forms of the flower.  This violet can easily be differentiated from all the other white violet by looking at the small spur in back of the flower (shown in the photo below).

Photo: Viola sororia, Amadej Trnkoczy

As you can see in the photo, the spurs of the violet are reddish green.  The spur is the reddish rounded part of the above flowers.  In all the other white violets the spur is white or whitish yellow.  Viola sororia is found throughout the Mid Atlantic and is one of our most common violets.

USDA state map of Viola sororia

Viola pedata form alba (Bird's-foot Violet)

Viola pedata is another violet that can come in many different colors including pure white.  It is a large violet often found in dry areas where other violets do not typically grow.

Photo: Viola pedata, Peter Gorman

The leaves of this violet easily differentiate it from all the other white violet species.  The leaves are typically divided into four or more lobes and resemble a bird's foot.  This violet is found from North Carolina through to Pennsylvania.  In New York it is very rare with only a few populations.

USDA state map of Viola pedata

I would like to thank all the photographers who made this post possible. Please go to their websites and check out all their cool photos.

The USDA website where I procured the maps for this post can be found here.

The BONAP website was also used to glean geographic information for each of the species in the post.