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Archive for August, 2010

Beavers – Welcome to a photographic journey through the woods, fields and marshes of New England

It’s hard to know who enjoys these last hazy, lazy days of summer more, humans or beavers…we may have to put on a few more layers in a few months, but at least we aren’t facing being sealed under the ice until spring.Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my book Naturally Curious, which is being published this fall.

BEAVERS

It’s hard to know who enjoys these last hazy, lazy days of summer more, humans or beavers…we may have to put on a few more layers in a month or two, but at least we aren’t facing being sealed under the ice until spring.


Pickerel Frog – Welcome to a photographic journey through the woods, fields and marshes of New England

Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my book Naturally Curious, which is being published this fall.

PICKEREL FROG

There are two frogs, the pickerel (Rana palustris) and the northern leopard frog Rana pipiens), which look and sound somewhat similar. Both have long, snore-like calls (the northern leopard frog often has a “chuckle” at the end of the snore, which the pickerel frog lacks). Fortunately, if you can get a good look at the frog in question, identification lies within your grasp. The pickerel frog (in photograph) has dark, rectangular spots arranged in two rows running down its back while the northern leopard frog has rounded spots, usually outlined in a lighter color, irregularly covering its back. Of the two species, only the pickerel frog has bright yellow/orange coloration on the inside of its thighs. The pickerel frog has skin secretions which are toxic to many predators, but apparently not pickerel, for it derived its name from the fact that anglers had good luck when using pickerel frogs as bait for this fish.


Sumac Galls – Welcome to a photographic journey through the woods, fields and marshes of New England

Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my book Naturally Curious, which is being published this fall.

RED POUCH STAGHORN SUMAC GALLS

The colorful red pouch galls found on staghorn sumac are aptly named for the pink blush on their exterior. They can be anywhere from marble- to ping pong ball-size, and usually become obvious in late summer.  Inside the thin walls of this gall is one big hollow cavity, teeming with tiny orange aphids (Melaphis rhois). 


Katydid – Welcome to a photographic journey through the woods, fields and marshes of New England

Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my book Naturally Curious, which is being published this fall.

SWORD-BEARING CONEHEAD KATYDID

Insects are divided into about 30 major groups called orders. One of these orders is Orthoptera, which includes grasshoppers, crickets, katydids and a few other close relatives. Although many katydids look like grasshoppers, they are more closely related to crickets. Katydid antennae (like those of crickets) are at least as long as their body, and usually considerably longer. Males produce species-specific songs, made by rubbing together structures at the base of their forewings. If in doubt as to whether you have found a cricket or katydid, count the number of segments in the last section of each leg – katydids have four, crickets three. One group of katydids is referred to as “coneheads,” because their heads develop into a pointed or rounded cone. The only coneheaded katydid commonly found in the Northeast is the Sword-bearing Conehead (Neoconocephalus ensiger), pictured in the accompanying photograph. The male’s song is said to sound like a distant, fast-moving steam locomotive (in case anyone reading this is familiar with what a steam engine sounds like). They are capable of giving a mean bite, so be careful if you find one and handle it.


Scent Glands – Welcome to a photographic journey through the woods, fields and marshes of New England

Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my book Naturally Curious, which is being published this fall.

SCENT GLANDS

Many mammals have scent glands which they use to mark territory and advertise their presence to other members of their own species. These glands are often located around their mouth, eyes, paws and genital area. While deer have inter-digital glands located between their toes, members of both the cat and dog family have scent glands located on the pads of their feet. When these animals walk, they leave a scent trail on the ground, dispersing pheromones that convey critical information to members of their own species, such as their sex, age, reproductive status and health. While it is common knowledge that members of the weasel family, including skunks, weasels, mink, otters, martens and fishers, have anal scent glands, the fisher and marten also have scent glands on the metacarpal pads (large pad behind toe pads)of their hind feet. In the photograph, note the scent glands (dark spots) located on the metacarpal pad of a fisher’s foot.


Mycorrhiza – Welcome to a photographic journey through the woods, fields and marshes of New England

Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my book Naturally Curious, which is being published this fall.

MYCORRHIZA

Did you know that 95 % of all plants have access to nutrients and water they obtain only through a relationship with fungus? (A fungi are now considered closer to being animals than plants.) The mutually beneficial association between fungi and plants is called mycorrhiza. Fungi, lacking chlorophyll, cannot photosynthesize, so they connect (through their underground filaments, or mycelium) with the roots of plants that do make food, thereby obtaining needed sugars and starches. The plants benefit by having the additional fungal surfaces to absorb nutrients through; this association has also been found to benefit plants by increasing their resistance to diseases as well as drought.


American lady – Welcome to a photographic journey through the woods, fields and marshes of New England

Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my book Naturally Curious, which is being published this fall.

AMERICAN LADY CATERPILLAR

American lady butterflies are far more beautiful than their prickly larval stage would lead you to believe. Look for these caterpillars on plants in the Aster family, especially pussytoes and pearly everlasting, both of which are favorite foods. Often I have found the white flowers chewed into tiny bits and glued together with silk to form a shelter within which the caterpillar feeds. The photograph shows such a shelter dissected in order to reveal a resident American lady caterpillar as well as a recently-shed skin beneath it. Soon this caterpillar will form a chrysalis, pupate and emerge as an adult butterfly which will soon migrate south for the winter.


Hackberry Galls – Welcome to a photographic journey through the woods, fields and marshes of New England

Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my book Naturally Curious, which is being published this fall.

HACKBERRY GALLS

There are many species of hackberry trees, and they have many different galls — abnormal plant growths caused primarily by aphids, flies, wasps, mites and fungi.  Eggs are laid on leaves, twigs and buds, and the larvae bore into the plant, which reacts by forming a shelter which also serves as a food supply for the developing larva living within it. Most of the galls found on hackberry are produced by midge flies and occur on leaves. Depending on the species of midge (each species produces a different-shaped gall) they can resemble buttons, witches’ hats, or pin cushions.  Inside each of the galls pictured on this hackberry leaf is a psyllid louse larva which will eventually pupate and emerge as a winged adult.


Tobacco Hornworm – Welcome to a photographic journey through the woods, fields and marshes of New England

Many of the caterpillars that possess horns, eyespots or hardened buttons are classified as sphinx or hawk moths. Anyone growing tomatoes is probably familiar with the larva of the Carolina sphinx moth (Manduca sexta). Green, with seven diagonal white lines along its sides and an orange, red or pink horn, this caterpillar feeds on the fruits, flowers and leaves of tomato plants, deadly nightshade and other members of the nightshade family. The tomato hornworm, which it is sometimes mistakenly called, is actually a close relative (Manduca quinquemaculata) which has eight “V” –shaped white markings resembling chevrons, instead of straight lines. It feeds on the same plants as tobacco hornworm, and metamorphoses into the Five-spotted Hawk Moth. Both of these caterpillars overwinter as pupae underground, and emerge as adult moths in the spring.

Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my book Naturally Curious, which is being published this fall.

TOBACCO HORNWORM


Heron Chicks – Welcome to a photographic journey through the woods, fields and marshes of New England

Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my book Naturally Curious, which is being published this fall.

GREAT BLUE HERON CHICKS ABOUT TO FLEDGE

Great blue heron chicks are brooded and fed by both parents. Between 8 and 10 weeks of age, most nestlings take their first flight, but unlike the fledglings of most other birds, great blue heron young return to their nest to be fed by their parents for the next three weeks. These two chicks are very close to taking their first flight, and are obviously vying for their parent’s attention.


Monarch Eggs Hatching – Welcome to a photographic journey through the woods, fields and marshes of New England

Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my book Naturally Curious, which is being published this fall.

My book, Naturally Curious, is finished and on its way to the printer...due out sometime mid-October! While this blog is continuing, new entries will not be an every-day occurrence. You can count on several a week, however! Today’s topic is Monarch Eggs Hatching. Four days after they are laid on the underside of a milkweed leaf, monarch eggs (smaller than grains of rice) hatch. The newborn larva does not resemble the yellow, black and white striped older larva – it is less than 1/8th of an inch long, quite transparent and has a totally black head. The first meal a monarch larva has is its own eggshell; it then moves on to the “hairs” on the underside of the milkweed leaf, and eventually consumes the leaf itself.

MONARCH EGGS HATCHING


Red Eft – Welcome to a photographic journey through the woods, fields and marshes of New England

Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my book Naturally Curious, which is being published this fall.

RED EFT

Did you know that every red eft salamander you see wandering the forest floor inhabited a body of water for the first two to five months of its life? This salamander goes by two names, will have resided in two habitats during its lifetime, and be two different colors. An olive-green salamander called an eastern newt hatches from an egg in the spring, and resides on the bottom of a pond for much of its first summer. After shedding its gills and developing lungs, the young salamander crawls out of the water and turns an orangish-red; during this stage of its life it is referred to as a red eft. This is its most toxic stage (to predators); thus, the warning red coloration. In two or three years the eft will revert back to its original green coloration and return to a nearby body of water where it will live out the rest of its life. It is once again called an eastern newt. This is the time of year when it’s possible to find miniature red efts that have recently become landlubbers, such as the one photographed this morning posing on a penny.


Pelecinid Wasp – Welcome to a photographic journey through the woods, fields and marshes of New England

Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my book Naturally Curious, which is being published this fall.

PELECINID WASP

If you see a shiny, black, slow-flying wasp with a disproportionately long abdomen crawling on your lawn in late July, August or September, you should shout for joy. It is North America’s one species of pelecinid wasp, and it is a parasitoid – an insect with larvae that complete their development at the expense of a single host organism that is killed in the process. Using her long, flexible abdomen the female pelecinid wasp lays her eggs in June beetle larvae (which are busy consuming plant roots beneath your lawn). These eggs will hatch into wasp larvae that will devour their host, thereby decreasing next year’s June beetle infestation.


Molting – Welcome to a photographic journey through the woods, fields and marshes of New England

Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my book Naturally Curious, which is being published this fall.

MOLTING

With birds, molting refers to the loss of old, worn feathers and the growth of new ones. All adult birds molt at least once a year, many twice, a few three times and very rarely four times. Typically, one of these molts involves all of the bird’s feathers (some molts do not involve wing or tail feathers), and it commonly is the molt which occurs now, after the breeding season is over. When you think about it, the timing of this “prebasic” or “postnuptial” molt makes a great deal of sense. Growing new feathers takes an inordinate amount of energy; food is plentiful now, the demands of breeding are over and migration has not yet begun. It is the perfect time to find feathers on the ground, such as this barred owl wing feather which was lying in a nearby field this week.


Ant Farming – Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods and marshes of New England

Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my book Naturally Curious, which is being published this fall.

ANT FARMING

One of the more common sights in a milkweed patch is milkweed leaves covered with both aphids and ants. It turns out that they are not there by chance, but by design. The ants are said to be “farming” the aphids, which come to drink the juice of the milkweed plant. The ants follow, close on the aphids’ heels, and keep guard over the aphids so that no harm befalls them; in return, the aphids, after being stroked repeatedly by ants’ antennae, exude a sweet droplet from the tip of their abdomen, aptly named “honeydew,” which the ants consume with apparent relish. A very satisfying relationship for all, as each species benefits from the other’s attention.


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