Nature Observations from Naoshima

I recently spent three days on the island of Naoshima, one of the thousands of islands in the Seto Inland Sea. Naoshima is only 3 miles square (14 kilometers square) and a 20-minute ferry ride from the mainland city of Tamano. I was not impressed with the variety of birds, most of the same birds I see in my neighborhood. We did find many beautiful insects however and they are featured in this blog post.


Japanese Luna Moth at the Benesse House Museum 

My daughter spotted this Actias artemis (luna moth) on one of the pieces of modern art in the Benesse House Museum. Actias genus moths are known luna moths and this species which is found in Japan, Korea and China is very similar to the North American Luna Moth. As you can see in the photo, they are named “luna” or moon moths because of the moon-like shapes on the wings. To me it looks like an elephant with the long tail acting as the trunk. In the adult stage, they only live a few days/weeks. With the damaged wing, it looks to be on its way to dying.


I finally captured a photo of the Pied Skimmer (Pseudothemis zonata). I see them all the time around ponds throughout the city in the summer. They are found all over Asia,


On a walking trail on an undeveloped part of the island, there were hundreds of spiderwebs I kept walking through. I stopeed to take this photo of the Cucumber Green Spider (Araniella cucurbitina). 


On Gotanji swimming beach there were many moon jellyfish (Araniella cucurbitina) washed up on the beach. In the harbor I noticed thousands of them as our ferry was leaving for the mainland. The four circles are gonads. It is difficult to identify the different species of Araniella and we’ve seen them on Awaji Island.


Sea Roach (Ligia exotica)

On the rocks near the sea I saw hundreds of these “cockroach-like invertebrates. They turned out to be sea roaches, an isopod that is common around wharfs and rocks near the ocean around the world.

Of course I couldn’t let a nature blog post go by without a bird photo. This Japanese White-eye surprised me on the trail and posed momentarily for this photo. It is native to Japan and was a common cage bird species here.



Minoh Japan Nature

I have my camera working and with summer almost here, more time to get out into nature and appreciate the flora and fauna of Japan! I took a few photos on my bike ride on Saturday up into the forested hills of the Minoh Quasi-National Park.



I love mushrooms and while stalking the melodious call of an unknown bird, I stumbled upon this bright orange specimen. It looks like a member of Laetiporous genus, the famous “chicken-of-the-woods” in North America. Laetiporous are non-gilled and as this specimen was found, grow in rotting wood. The bright orange threw me off because it is usually associated with something poisonous or bad-tasting as a warning to predators. I am not sure if this is correctly identified, but if I see it again I’ll take home some samples and try to identify it closer. They are known as “chicken-of-the-woods” because they are supposed to taste like chicken.


View of the hills from a trail leading up the mountain

For the first time in a while, I saw many deer in the park. I rode up a little-used trail and they were making noise in the brush often. I spotted three sika deer (Cervus nippon)  crossing a trail below me from a lookout point. In much of their range in Asia they have been hunted to extinction, but they are thriving and are actually a nuisance in Japan because of overabundance. Deer survive in civilized places because citizens leave them alone and preserve habitat for them. They bring memories of my childhood in Michigan.


Sika Deer are one of the few species that maintain their spots into adulthood.

On my way back home, I rode through the rice paddies that dot my town of Minoh. A Grey-headed Lapwing (Vanellus cinereus) was loudly screeching and flying in circles over me. Lapwings are loud, but this one was probably protecting a nest somewhere near.


Grey-headed lapwing

Finally, I took a short video of two Eastern Spot-billed Ducks (Anas zonorhynchafeeding in the same rice paddy. They are members of a sub-family called “dabbling ducks”. Dabbling ducks feed on vegetable matter on the surface or flipping over from the surface. The rice fields hold a surprising amount of wildlife. I guess where there is water, there is life. In the video below, you can hear the lapwing in the background.

Spot-billed ducks feeding in rice field



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) 

Gray Wagtail

34581081333_596d10a921_cOn my bike ride Saturday in the Minoh National Park I spotted a group of Grey Wagtails (Motacilla cinerea). It was a picture perfect day, literally, and from my bike, I photographed the bird on the telephone wire above the road. The gray wagtails are found in Europe and Asia with distinct populations.

The Asia subspecies, race robusta, breeds in Korea and Japan and winters in South East Asia. They nest near running water and have a diet of insects. They are called gray because of the color of the wings and back, despite the strong yellow on the belly. There are two species of similar birds called yellow wagtails (east and west) which have yellow on the throat.

This is the first time I’ve spotted the gray wagtail, both in the Europe and Japan and I am pleased to add it to my life list.


Black Pine Beach on Awaji Island

catching moon jellyfish

Numerous moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) were floating near the Keino Matsubara beach on Awaji island yesterday. In the video, Oliver is holding one. The four purple circles are the gonads. The tentacles of the moon jellyfish are so fine that they cannot penetrate human skin so as you can see, they are safe to touch. They are found all over the world and I’ve seen them in the Mediterranean, Atlantic and now the Seto Inland Sea.


One of my favorite trees in Japan is the black pine (Pinus thunbergii). They can grow in the harsh region of a beach and provide a stark contrast to the sun, sand and sea. The Keino matsubara beach features a stand of 50,000 trees, planted as a wind break and beach preserver against erosion. The light is so beautiful under the trees and Ocean, Oliver and I spent a delightful afternoon among them. We noticed the long needles are in bundles of two.


There was a small group of Oriental Greenfinches (Carduelis sinica) feeding on the ground underneath the trees. They were quite active and looked to be feasting up some type of seed.


Spring Insects

I snapped some photos of various insects the past couple of weeks. We are in mid-spring (late April – early May) and there are many more bugs out and about. The photo above is of an assassin bug which we saw in the evening at a friend’s house. It was about the size of my thumbnail. The assassin bugs are a large, cosmopolitan family (7,000) of the order of “true bugs” or hemiptera.  They are terrestrial, ambush predators that are known for a painful sting with a long probiscus (underneath this specimen and cannot be seen). They also can be identified by the striped flanges on the abdomen.  The most famous assassin bug is the vinchuca a South American bug that is a vector for Chagas’ disease.

I spotted this flower chafer beetle in a park in Nishi Suita, a suburb next to hills of Minoh. Flower chafers are a 4000-species family of scarab beetles that are known for diurnal visits to flowers to eat pollen and nectar. When I tapped the stalk of the flower, the beetle quickly flew away.

Finally, due to my work in the Eco Club Junior at school, students always point out insects and creatures they see at school. Above is a hawk moth that I photographed in the courtyard of the school. There are over 1,700 species of hawk moths in the Sphingidae family. They are large moths best known for rapid and sustained flying ability due to their thin wings and streamlined bodies.

Cicadas – Symbol of the Japanese Summer

One of our initial impressions of Japan were the loud sounds of the cicadas. Our first couple of days were in the Senri Hankyu Hotel in the suburb of Senri Chuo. It is next to a long bike/running path and the sound was almost deafening. They were all over as well and the kids and I were catching them often and I can see why children here like to hunt them and keep them as temporary pets. In doing some research, I found this highly informative website. It is Japanese here also,. The cicada is known as the semi and they are very common all throughout the country, even in the cities.

There are 35 different species of cicadas in Japan, out of the 2000 worldwide and 650 in south east Asia. If would have known there was such a great website, I would have looked more closely at the cicadas and see how many we could have identified. I will definitely do this next summer and for the rest of the month.