An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Egg laying

Praying Mantis Egg Case

12-9-13 praying mantis egg case 057In the fall, after mating, the female praying mantis lays up to 400 eggs in a frothy liquid produced by glands in her abdomen. This one to two-inch long mass is attached to vegetation, often grasses and goldenrod stalks, about a foot or two off the ground. The frothy structure hardens, providing a protective case for the eggs. In the spring, miniature (wingless) mantises, called nymphs, will hatch from this egg case. When hatching, the nymphs appear all at once, crawling from between tiny flaps in the case and then hanging from silk threads about two inches below the case. Within an hour or two, after drying out, they disappear into nearby vegetation.

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Willow Beaked-Gall Midge

10-30-13 willow beaked-gall midge   047Now that most of the leaves have fallen, it’s a good time to look for galls that form on woody plants. Willows are host to a great number of gall-making insects, including tiny flies called midges. The most common species of willow gall midge is the Willow Beaked-Gall Midge, Rabdophaga rididae. In the spring, after mating, the adult female midge lays an egg in a willow bud (often terminal) that is just starting to expand. The egg soon hatches and the larva burrows deeper into the bud, which causes the bud tissue to swell and form a gall, usually with a “beak” at the top. The larva remains inside the gall through the winter, where it has a constant supply of food (the interior of the gall) and shelter. In the spring the larva pupates, and an adult midge emerges and begins the cycle all over again. Some gall midges are crop pests, but willows are not significantly damaged by the Willow Beaked-Ball Midge.

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Grasshoppers Mating and Laying Eggs

9-23-13 mating grasshoppers 137Grasshoppers typically mate in late summer and fall. If it’s a short-horned grasshopper (pictured), the smaller male mounts the female (female long-horned grasshoppers mount the males). The male short-horned grasshopper often remains riding the female for long periods in order to ensure paternity. When the eggs are fully formed, the female pushes the ovipositor at the end of her abdomen ½” to 2” into the ground and produces a glue-like secretion that cements the soil around the egg mass, forming a protective “pod.” Each pod may contain 25 to 150 eggs, depending on the species of grasshopper. Grasshoppers which deposit masses containing few eggs usually lay more pods to compensate. A female may lay as many as 300 eggs which overwinter and hatch in the spring.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


Wood Turtles — Aquatic & Terrestrial, Depending on the Season

8-6-13 wood turtle2 046The Wood Turtle’s (Glyptemys insculpta) common name comes from the resemblance of each segment of its top shell, or carapace, to the cross-section of a tree complete with radiating growth rings. Unlike other turtles that favor either land or water, wood turtles reside in both aquatic and terrestrial habitats. They require streams and rivers for spring mating, feeding and winter hibernation, but also require terrestrial habitats for summer egg-laying and foraging. In slow moving streams and rivers (see photo insert) they feed on fish and insects. On land, usually within 300 yards of a stream, they forage for snails, slugs, berries and mushrooms. Wood Turtles are known for stomping their feet on the ground in order to presumably mimic the vibrations of rain. Earthworms then come to the surface, and the turtle snaps them up.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


Damselflies Laying Eggs

damselfly laying eggs2 354The two damselflies in this photograph have mated, but the male is still clasping the back of the female’s head so as to guard her and prevent her from receiving the sperm of another male before she is through laying eggs. Damselflies lay their eggs both in the water as well as in plants. The pictured female (bottom damselfly) is in the act of using her ovipositor (thin black structure at tip of abdomen) to puncture a cattail leaf and insert her 1 mm- long egg into the plant tissue. If you look closely, you will see holes in the leaf blade above the hole she’s currently making, where she has previously laid eggs. Thousands of these holes may be drilled and eggs inserted into them during her brief life.


Red-shouldered Hawks Nesting

red-shouldered 008Male red-shouldered hawks put on an impressive courtship display for females. The male enacts a “sky dance” in which he soars while calling, then makes a series of steep dives toward the female, climbing back up in wide spirals after each descent, before finally rapidly diving to perch upon the female’s back. After copulation, the female lays her eggs in a nest which she has most likely used for several years. It is usually located below the canopy but more than halfway up a tree, generally in a crotch of the main trunk. Both male and female hawks build or refurbish the nest, adding fresh evergreen sprigs to it throughout the nesting period (eastern hemlock in pictured nest). Females do most of the incubating and brooding of the young, with the male providing food. The nestlings pictured are roughly two weeks old; in three or four weeks they will begin to climb out on branches away from the nest, in preparation for fledging.


Common Loons Nesting

6-13-13 loon on nest 457Generally speaking, Common Loons return to northern New England from their coastal wintering waters sometime in April or May. Males and females pair up after they arrive at their ponds, and several weeks later they breed and build a new nest or renovate an old one, with the male choosing the actual nest site. Successful nests sites are often reused from year to year, especially if the male returns. Protection from wind, waves and predators is paramount. Because their hind legs are positioned so far back on their body, loons are awkward walkers, at best. Thus, they usually build their nest adjacent to water so that they can easily slip onto and off of it. The nest is constructed during the day by both adults and is made of vegetation that the loons collect close to the nest. A loon often sits on the nest while collecting material, stretching its head down into the water in order to retrieve vegetation which it then places on the nest. Two eggs are laid, usually between mid-May and early June. After being incubated by both parents, the eggs hatch in roughly 28 days. As this photograph indicates (egg just visible below loon’s body), material continues to be added to the nest during incubation.


Snapping Turtles Laying Eggs

6-11-13 snapping turtle eggs IMG_8932It’s that time of year again, when female aquatic turtles, including Snapping Turtles, are leaving their ponds to lay eggs. You are looking between the front and hind legs of a Snapping Turtle in this picture. The 30 to 40 eggs she’ll probably lay look like ping pong balls, only slightly smaller. As each egg is laid, she moves her front foot back to meet the egg, in what looks like an effort to ease it gently down into the pile of eggs below. When finished, she will bury the eggs and return to her pond. In three or four months, the eggs will hatch, and usually the young turtles emerge and head for the nearest pond (sometimes they overwinter underground). The sex of the turtle that hatches from each egg is determined by the temperature the egg was while it was incubating underground.


Hermit Thrushes Nesting

5-21-13 hermit thrush nest 222Hermit thrushes, Vermont’s state bird, are typically ground nesters east of the Rocky Mountains (west of them, they tend to nest off the ground) and often, as in this case, choose a nest site that is in a patch of Lycopodium, or ground pine. Usually a branch from a nearby tree, a fern, or some other taller vegetation provides cover and effectively conceals the nest. The female hermit thrush builds the nest and begins incubation after the last of her three or four eggs is laid. Twelve days later the eggs hatch, and twelve or thirteen days after that the young fledge.


Wood Turtles Laying Eggs

5-10-13 wood turtle burying eggs IMG_3717Congratulations on correctly identifying the trails as being made by turtles! Even though you did not have the benefit of knowing their width, many of you took a stab at the naming the species of turtle that made them. Hats off to Jason, who correctly identified them as wood turtle trails, especially as it is relatively early in the season for them to be laying eggs.

Two female wood turtles (so-called because of the resemblance of their top shell, or carapace, to wood), were on their way out of a shallow wetland to dig into soft sand about 6” deep and lay their (4 – 18, usually 8 or 9) eggs. The size of the footprints, tail drag and 7-inch flattened shell path help to identify these trails as those of wood turtles. Although you can follow the tracks and see exactly where the trails end, it would be hard to detect that excavation and egg-laying has taken place at these sites, as the holes have been filled in and smoothed over with the turtles’ bottom shells, or plastrons. Predators with a good sense of smell, such as foxes, raccoons and skunks, however, have very little trouble locating turtle nests. Research shows that 85% of wood turtle eggs and hatchlings are lost to predation. The wood turtle population is in decline in the northeast in part due to human development which not only decreases wood turtle habitat and increases the number of people collecting these turtles, but also increases the number of predators. (The wood turtle in the photograph has just laid her eggs and smoothed over the nest site in front of her head by walking backwards over it while pressing her plastron to the ground.)


Spring Peepers Mating & Laying Eggs

spring peepers mating DA8A0504The mating season for spring peepers lasts two months or more, and judging from the sound that is coming from ponds and woodlands these days and nights, it is in full swing. Once a singing male is successful in attracting a female, he mounts and clasps her while depositing his sperm on her eggs. She lays up to 800 eggs, either singly or in small groups, on plants within the male’s territory. The frogs remain joined (a position known as “amplexus”) for up to four hours. After egg-laying and fertilization is completed, the female peeper returns to the woods; the male remains at the pond and resumes singing.


Spring Peepers Emerging

4-8-13 spring peeper2 IMG_7463Sitting on top of the snow, still as a statue, a spring peeper gathers strength to make the long trek to open water, where, if it is a male, it will exercise its voice for the first time in many months. Like the gray treefrog and wood frog, spring peepers can freeze as solid as a rock for several months during hibernation and then, on a warm day, thaw out in a few hours and resume a normal, active life.  The formation of glucose and ice crystals that form outside of cells enable this phenomenon to occur.  Once hibernation has come to an end, peepers seek out wetlands, vernal pools and ponds to breed and lay eggs before they return to their home on the forest floor.


Spider Egg Sac

12-10-12 spider egg sac3 IMG_6616As a result of many years of evolution, spiders have developed the use of different silks produced by seven glands for various functions (ballooning, webs, wrapping prey, dragline, egg sac, etc.).  The tubuliform gland is responsible for the large diameter silk fibers used in the construction of egg cases.  Unlike other silk glands, which synthesize protein throughout a spider’s lifetime, the tubuliform gland synthesizes silk for only a short time in a spider’s life, just before eggs are laid.  This silk is synthesized only by female spiders, and is the stiffest type of silk, which makes it a very protective covering for eggs. The pictured overwintering spider eggs had three layers of protection:  bark (the photo is of the underside of a piece of loose bark), an outer silk cocoon covering the egg sac and the egg sac itself – a tough layer of silk covering the eggs. (Reluctantly I opened the sac for the sake of an educational photograph, and did my best to re-wrap the eggs.)


A Great Christmas Present!

If you’re looking for a present for someone that will be used year round, year after year, Naturally Curious may just fit the bill.  A relative, a friend, your child’s school teacher – it’s the gift that keeps on giving to both young and old!

One reader wrote, “This is a unique book as far as I know. I have several naturalists’ books covering Vermont and the Northeast, and have seen nothing of this breadth, covered to this depth. So much interesting information about birds, amphibians, mammals, insects, plants. This would be useful to those in the mid-Atlantic, New York, and even wider geographic regions. The author gives a month-by-month look at what’s going on in the natural world, and so much of the information would simply be moved forward or back a month in other regions, but would still be relevant because of the wide overlap of species. Very readable. Couldn’t put it down. I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about the natural world, but there was much that was new to me in this book. I would have loved to have this to use as a text when I was teaching. Suitable for a wide range of ages.”

In a recent email to me a parent wrote, “Naturally Curious is our five year old’s unqualified f-a-v-o-r-I-t-e  book. He spends hours regularly returning to it to study it’s vivid pictures and have us read to him about all the different creatures. It is a ‘must have’ for any family with children living in New England…or for anyone that simply shares a love of the outdoors.”

I am a firm believer in fostering a love of nature in young children – the younger the better — but I admit that when I wrote Naturally Curious, I was writing it with adults in mind. It delights me no end to know that children don’t even need a grown-up middleman to enjoy it!


Snail and Slug Eggs

Snails and slugs are very similar, except for a slug’s lack of a shell.  Both are hermaphroditic, possessing male and female reproductive organs.  In some species an individual may behave as a male for a while, then as a female. In a few species, self-fertilization occurs. Some species mate and lay eggs in the spring, some in the fall. Most snails and slugs that hatch in the spring can begin egg laying in the fall. The eggs of both snails and slugs are tiny, white or cream-colored, round and laid in roughly one-inch diameter clusters of 30 or so eggs. Look for these clusters under rotting logs, where they are protected from drying out as well as from freezing.  (Remember to place the log back exactly as you found it.)


Praying Mantis

Between being able to swivel its head nearly 180 degrees, and having two large compound eyes and three simple eyes, the Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa) misses very few insects within reach.  Due to its green or brown coloration, the Praying Mantis is well camouflaged as it lies in ambush or stalks its prey.  Spines, tooth-like tubercles and a claw near the tip of each foreleg enable this predator to have a secure grasp on the moths, crickets, grasshoppers, flies, and other insects it consumes.  (A Praying Mantis in Pennsylvania was photographed successfully capturing a Ruby-throated Hummingbird!)  The pictured female is heavy with hundreds of eggs she will soon lay in a foam case she whips up.


Inside View of Leafcutter Bee Cell – Larva and Pollen Supply


Leafcutter Bee Cell

Congratulations to those who recognized yesterday’s Mystery Photo!  The tiny green cells are made from the leaves of almost any deciduous trees, and are cut and folded by leafcutter bees (Megachile genus). These solitary bees are about the size of a honeybee, but are much darker, almost black. They construct cigar-like nests (often in soil, holes in wood made by other insects, or plant stems) that contain several cells. After gathering and storing a ball, or loaf, of pollen inside the cell, the bee lays an egg and seals the cell shut. When the egg hatches, the larval bee feeds on the pollen and eventually spins a cocoon and pupates within it. An adult bee emerges from the cocoon and usually overwinters inside the cell. In the spring the bee chews its way out of the cell. Leafcutter bees pollinate wildflowers, fruits and vegetables and are also used as pollinators by commercial growers of blueberries, onions, carrots and alfalfa. (Photo submitted by Jan Gendreau.)


Broad-necked Root Borer

This impressive egg-laden, 2-inch long female Broad-necked Root Borer (Prionus laticollis) was attempting to lay her eggs when I discovered her. She repeatedly extended and retracted her ovipositor (pointed, egg-laying structure at tip of abdomen) in an attempt to probe the packed dirt in my driveway, but finally moved on to softer soil. Female Broad-necked Root Borers insert clumps of eggs into the ground. When the eggs hatch, the larvae tunnel downward to feed on the roots of a variety of shrubs and trees. In the spring they pupate, and adults, such as this female, emerge. This whole life cycle is thought to take three years.


Ruffed Grouse Eggs Hatching

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If you stumble, as I did, upon a female Ruffed Grouse whose eggs have recently hatched, be prepared for her fury! When I entered nearby woods, the mother charged at me with her crest raised, tail spread and ruffs (black neck feathers) erect. (Her chicks had dispersed prior to this, well hidden by their camouflaged down.) Fiercely protective, female grouse with young are known for their aggressive behavior. A large grouse might weigh two pounds – to tackle a human weighing more than 50 times as much as oneself is pretty impressive.


Moose Flies and Moose

My recent quest for finding moose was successful – and my most striking observation, other than their imposing size, was the presence of a multitude of flies on and around the hindquarters of every moose I saw. I assumed they were deer flies, but they didn’t appear to be bothering the moose and research revealed that, in fact, they were moose flies, Haematobosca alcis. These flies can be seen throughout the spring and summer in dense swarms over and on the rumps of moose — five hundred or more may accompany a single moose. Unlike most other biting insects, both male and female moose flies feed on their host’s blood. Although not considered a serious pest (moose tend to pay little attention to them), moose flies may be responsible for sores often found on the hind legs of moose. It is thought that female moose flies may be stimulated by gases released by the moose when it is defecating, after which the female flies descend and deposit eggs into crevices in the moose’s scat.


Mystery Photo

Thanks to Charlotte Carlson of Sunapee, NH, we have a new Mystery Photo! Do you know whose eggs these are? Tomorrow’s photo will identify their producers.


Wood Turtle

Wood Turtles (named for the woody appearance of their shells) are primarily river and stream-dwelling reptiles. They forage for food on land near streams, where, at this time of year, they also lay their eggs. Like most turtles, female Wood Turtles seek out sandy soil in which they dig several holes (to confuse predators) and choose one in which they usually lay seven or eight eggs. Their diet consists of both plants and animals, with berries and mushrooms at the top of the list. Earthworms are also a favorite, and their method of attracting them is a sight I would like to see — they stamp their front feet alternately in order to get earthworms to surface from their underground burrows. The Wood Turtle population in New England is in decline (collecting has greatly reduced their population) and any sighting of this species should be reported to state Fish & Game as well as, in Vermont, the Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas.


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