Firefly Moth – Spring Is Ending!

After a long, cold winter I am enjoying the hints of heat and humidity that come with a Japanese summer. I would rather be uncomfortably hot than uncomfortably cold. Sweating is a nuisance, but the cold weather is painful at times.

I took a break from my nature website this school year. My camera broke and it was a busy year. Recently I repaired the camera and am back to noticing the natural world around me. Today I saw this beautiful firefly moth (Pidorus atratus) at school. It was fluttering around the bicycles outside of the cafeteria. It is often seen in the daytime and gets its name from the small bright red head with black body, which to some people, resembles a firefly.


A firefly moth against the wall of the school. 


Last month I spotted this (Neptis pryeri) on the way to school. We have a tranquil walking path between houses in our neighborhood and residents have planted flower gardens along both sides. It is a rich environment for nectar, hence, lots of butterflies.


Neptis pryeri (Sailor Butterfly) 


Common Hedge Blue – A sign of global warming?


On my bike ride in the Meiji no Mori Minoh Quasi-National Park, the forested hills overlooking our town earlier this week, I stopped to take some photographs of the newly planted rice seedlings in a paddy. While I was jumping across an irrigation canal to get to the edge of the paddy, I spotted a bright blue butterfly. I managed to take a photo of the Common Hedge Blue (Celastrina puspa). They are commonly found in tropical countries and with global warming, they are expanding their distribution northwards. The excerpt below comes from The Asahi Shimbun Until the late 1950s, they were only found in the southern Japan, near Kagoshima, the southern part of the island of Kyushu. They lay eggs on azaleas, a common hedge and garden flower, and have moved north as more are planted. I hope to get a photo of the bright blue top side sometime.

In some instances, humans have a hand in directly transporting creatures northward from their original habitats.

In July 2008, Masaya Yago, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Tokyo’s University Museum, attempted to capture insects with a net by a pond on the university’s Hongo campus in central Tokyo.

He ended up with a common hedge blue, a butterfly that is normally found much farther south. It turned out to be the first confirmed recording of that insect in the Kanto region. The butterfly takes its Japanese name, Yakushima Rurishijimi, after a World Heritage island in southwestern Japan.

The common hedge blue could only be found in areas from Kagoshima Prefecture and further south or the southern tip of the Kii Peninsula until 1958. But it gradually began to expand its horizons northward.

Once the insect reached Suzuka, Mie Prefecture, famed as a production center for azalea bushes, the larva and butterfly eggs attached to the azalea likely reached the University of Tokyo campus as the plants were transported for sale throughout Japan.

While no confirmation has yet been made of the common hedge blue setting up permanent residence in the Tokyo area, the possibility cannot be discounted as global warming takes hold.

The situation is more dire for wildlife that normally thrives in colder climates.

With average temperatures on the rise, a move north or to the mountains is the only way for many species to survive. But because Japan is an island nation, there are limits to northerly travel.

According to one estimate, at least 22 species of butterfly, or 10 percent of the total in Japan, could become extinct over the next century.

Spring Flowers in Osaka


Ground Orchids in my garden

Late April/early May is one of my favorite times in Japan. The weather is absolutely perfect for this brief time. Besides the sunny blue skies and cool breezes, flowers are in bloom all over the city. In my garden hedge around my home, Ground Orchids (Bletilla striata) have come out again during Golden Week. They are an unusual orchid in that they are terrestrial and are hardy. They are also known as the Chinese or Hyacinth Orchid. They are rare in the wild, although they are native to Japan, Korea and China.



Royal Azalea on the edge of the bamboo forest trail behind the school

The Royal Azaleas (Rhododendron schlippenbachii) in bloom in the forested hills of Minoh, like the one above. In Japanese they are known as Tsutsuji. The cultivated version of azaleas forms many of the hedges in parks and along roadways in Osaka.




Soundtrack of the Japanese Summer: Cicadas


Cicadas are very common in East Asia and they form the soundtrack for the Japanese summer. I took some time this week to record the sounds of the abura zemi (Oily Cicada) (Graptopsaltria nigrofuscata). They are called oily because of the oily sheen on their wings or that they sound like something frying in oil. They are one of the most common 8 or so species of cicada that annually metamorphize to the adult stage from mid-July to early September. On any tree in the neighborhood, they can be seen, singing away all day. One finds dead cicadas everywhere at this time of the year.

The audio below is from the Kasuga shrine in our neighborhood. I recorded there because of the abundance of trees and the lack of sound interference from cars.

Cicadas are a passion for many people in Japan. This website has recordings of all the calls and the Japan Times featured the species in 2002. Thanks to Allana for taking the photo of an oily cicada in Kyoto last week.



Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly


I photographed a Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio troilus) last night in the Nescopeck State Park. My family was doing a formal photographic portrait, photos to come later on the family blog, and in the garden near the ranger station, several swallowtails were feeding on nectar. This spicebush female is identified by the blue color in the tail, while males are a bit more green. The photograph captures their unique characteristic of fluttering while feeding. Most butterflies are still while drinking nectar.


The name Spicebush comes from one of the host plants associated with it. However, the swallowtail does lay eggs and feed on many members of the Lauraceae family. They are found only in eastern North America, from Florida to southern Ontario. The species does not make it to my home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.


Queen Anne’s Lace 

I also captured this Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), or Wild Carrot. This is the wild version of the domesticated carrot. Like its cousin, the root can be eaten, but only when young. The leaves can be eaten as well in small quantities. It is native to Europe and is naturalized here in North America. Several states have labeled it a noxious, invasive weed.

Birding in the DC Suburbs

35964256756_c2ae7ed02d_cThe Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalisis one of my favorite birds. We were fortunate to have a pair nesting in the yard of our friend’s house we were staying with in Kings Park, Virginia, one of the suburbs of the Washington DC metropolitan area. Being a good father, the male was often around the nest and I photographed this proud dad in the morning. It is the state bird for seven states and two American sports teams. The striking red color gets everyone excited about birding, including my family. The females are not as colorful but have the nice crest and red accents. They range from southern Ontario to Mexico and from Texas, east, only absent from the Rockies and Pacific Northwest.


The American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) is also a striking bird. This male was feeding on a thistle-like bush in my friend’s garden, near the nesting cardinals. The Goldfinch is found in every US state and the southern Canadian provinces. It is the state bird of three states and with the male’s bright yellow spring plumage, I can see why. They are the strictest vegetarian bird in the world, exclusively relying on seeds and fruits for its diet. Like the Northern Cardinal, they are a common backyard bird.

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation does a good job of preserving ribbons of land on sides of creeks and rivers. There was a long trail of woods following a creak in the neighborhood. On my morning bike ride following my wife running, we spotted a fox, which you can see through the bushes, although my camera focused on the leaves in front of it. The fox spotted us coming at it while on the trail and after stopping for a short time to check us out, deftly it went into the bush and crossed the creek to evade us. Our friend warned us to not leave the gate open in order to protect her chickens…  This Washington Post article confirms their presence in DC.



Can you spot the fox behind the bush? 


On my next trip to the Washington, I hope to explore a bit of the Chesapeake Bay and some of the coastal environment.

Appalachian Nature



An American White Water Lily in the rain. 


During breaks in my studies, I explored the state parks of the Poconos. The Poconos are one of the distinct geographical and cultural regions in the huge Appalachian mountain chain. The Poconos are located just north of the Lehigh Valley, where I am studying. The Appalachians were once as high as the Rockies, but being much older, they have eroded through time. They are still beautiful and formed quite a barrier for early American settlers to cross into the rest of the country. The Poconos are full of resorts and it is a popular tourist destination because of its proximity to the big population centers in New York and New Jersey. I am staying in the highest borough in Pennsylvania, Freeland, and although being close to Bethlehem, it has a very different feel.



An Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) waits for us to leave Lake Francis parking lot. 


On a rainy Friday morning, I took the kids on a hike in the Nescopeck State Park. The state started buying properties in 1971 and today it is a nice little natural area, which in time will become even wilder. Without the state preserving land, the entire region would be private homes, as people have the desire to live in the country, surrounded by trees in 1-acre plots. In my opinion, I think people should live in towns, near one another so more land can be conserved as forest.


Wild Turkeys have been reintroduced to the park. 

No blog post on the northern Appalachian region would be complete without a photo of the Rosebay Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum). It is the dominant plant of the central Appalachians. It forms a dense understory, inhibiting other plants from growing. Rosebay maintains its foliage year-round. It is a fascinating subject of study because scientists are unsure if it is retreating or spreading due to human interference. Due to less precipitation, it is dying out in elevated areas, but due to the lack of indigenous burning, it seems to be spreading into areas that it never colonized. When there is a lack of large trees, it forms a thick mass, and early settlers called them “Laurel Hells” or “Laurel Slicks” because it was so hard to go through. They are also known as the mountain laurel, but this is also the name of a similar species.


We also spotted lots of Red-spotted Newts (Notophthalmus viridescens) on the trails. Only adults were found on this trip. A couple of years ago we found the “red eft” juvenile stage specimens as well.


Getting to know the Appalachian region is stimulating in my a desire to hike the famous Appalachian trail someday…