Commas are a group of butterflies also known as anglewings (for obvious reasons). There are several species of commas in New England, all of which have a silver mark in the shape of a comma underneath each hind wing. Like mourning cloaks, these butterflies overwinter as adults in bark crevices, logs or other protected spots. You often see them in the woods, where they feed on tree sap, mud, scat and decaying organic matter. When perched with their wings closed, they are extremely well camouflaged and easily mistaken for a dead leaf.
A male mourning cloak butterfly basks in the sun on an eastern hemlock while its dark wings act as solar collectors, warming the hemolymph (a circulatory fluid analogous to blood) in the wing veins and returning the warmed fluid to the butterfly’s body until it reaches a temperature sufficient for flight. This butterfly has just emerged from hibernating in a sheltered spot, such as behind loose bark. Because they overwinter as adults, mourning cloaks are one of the first butterflies to be seen in the spring. The adults mate and lay eggs, and the caterpillars that hatch from the eggs will metamorphose into adults in June or July. After feeding for a short time, the adults become dormant (estivate) until fall, when they re-emerge to feed and store energy for hibernation.
The round “ball” that is often present on the stem of goldenrod plants contains the overwintering larva of a fly (Eurosta solidaginis). A year ago an adult female fly laid an egg in the stem of the goldenrod plant. The egg hatched and the larva proceeded to eat the interior of the stem. As it did so, the larva excreted chemicals which caused the plant to grow abnormally, creating a ball-shaped “gall.” If you were to open a goldenrod ball gall today, you would probably find an overwintering larva (if a downy woodpecker or parasitic wasp hadn’t gotten there before you). Within the next few weeks the larva will pupate, and as early as April the adult fly will emerge from the gall, having crawled out the passageway that it chewed last fall. An inflatable “balloon” on its forehead allows the fly to burst through the remaining outermost layer of tissue at the end of the passageway. The adult fly lives about two weeks, just long enough to mate and begin the process all over again.
March 22, 2013 | Categories: Adaptations, Animal Architecture, Arthropods, Diptera, Flies, Insect Signs, Insects, Insects Active in Winter, Invertebrates, Larvae, March, Metamorphosis, Pupae, Woodpeckers | Tags: Eurosta solidaginis, Goldenrod Ball Gall, Goldenrod Gall Fly | 8 Comments »
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!
November 23, 2012 | Categories: A Closer Look at New England, Adaptations, Amphibians, Animal Adaptations, Animal Architecture, Animal Communication, Animal Diets, Animal Eyes, Animal Signs, Animal Tracks, Anti-predatory Device, Ants, April, Arachnids, Arthropods, August, Bark, Bats, Beavers, Beetles, Bird Diets, Bird Nests, Bird Songs, Birds, Birds of Prey, Black Bears, Bogs, Bugs, Bumblebees, Butterflies, camouflage, Carnivores, Carnivorous Plants, Caterpillars, Cervids, Chrysalises, Cocoons, Conifers, Courtship, Crickets, Crustaceans, Damselflies, December, Deciduous Trees, Decomposition, Deer, Defense Mechanisms, Diets, Diptera, Dragonflies, Ducks, Earwigs, Egg laying, Ephemerals, Evergreen Plants, Falcons, Feathers, February, Fishers, Fledging, Fledglings, Flies, Flowering Plants, Flying Squirrels, Food Chain, Foxes, Frogs, Fruits, Fungus, Galls, Gastropods, Gills, Grasshoppers, Gray Foxes, Herbivores, Herons, Hibernation, Honeybees, Hornets, Hymenoptera, Insect Eggs, Insect Signs, Insects, Insects Active in Winter, Invertebrates, January, July, June, Lady's Slippers, Larvae, Leaves, Lepidoptera, Lichens, Mammals, March, Metamorphosis, Micorrhiza, Migration, Millipedes, Mimicry, Molts, Moose, Moths, Mushrooms, Muskrats, Mutualism, Nests, Nocturnal Animals, Non-flowering plants, North American River Otter, November, October, Odonata, Omnivores, Orchids, Owls, Parasites, Parasitic Plants, Passerines, Plants, Plumage, Poisonous Plants, Pollination, Porcupines, Predator-Prey, Pupae, Raptors, Red Foxes, Red Squirrel, Reptiles, Rodents, Scat, Scent Marking, Seed Dispersal, Seeds, Senses, September, Sexual Dimorphism, Shorebirds, Shrubs, Slugs, Snails, Snakes, Snowfleas, Social Insects, Spiders, Spores, Spring Wildflowers, Squirrels, Striped Skunks, Toads, Tracks, Tree Buds, Tree Flowers, Tree Identification, Trees, Trees and Shrubs, turtles, Vernal Pools, Vertebrates, Vines, Wading Birds, Warblers, Wasps, Waterfowl, Weasel Family, White-tailed Deer, Winter Adaptations, Woodpeckers, Woody Plants, Yellowjackets, Young Animals | Tags: Christmas Gifts, Naturally Curious, Naturally Curious by Mary Holland | 2 Comments »
This past summer there seemed to be more giant silkmoths than usual, including Cecropia Moths (Hylaphora cecropia). (see http://naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/cecropia-moth-2/ ). Assuming many of these moths bred and laid eggs, and that most of the larvae survived, there are probably a large number of Cecropia cocoons in our woods. Even so, it is not an easy task to find them, as they are so well camouflaged, and are often mistaken for a dead leaf. Cecropia caterpillars spin silk and fashion it into a three-inch long, tan cocoon (giant silkmoths make the largest cocoons in North America) which they attach lengthwise to a branch or stem. There is a tough but thin layer of silk on the outside, which protects an inner, thicker and softer layer of silk on the inside. The caterpillar enters the cocoon through loose valves it makes in both layers, which are located at the tip of the cocoon’s pointed end. Shortly after the larva crawls inside both of these layers, it pupates. Its skin splits, revealing a dark brown pupa. For the rest of the winter and most of the spring, it remains a pupa. In early summer it metamorphoses into an adult moth and exits the cocoon through the same valves through which it entered.
November 5, 2012 | Categories: Adaptations, Animal Adaptations, Arthropods, Caterpillars, Insect Signs, Insects, Invertebrates, Lepidoptera, Metamorphosis, Mushrooms, November, Pupae | Tags: Cecropia Moth, Hylaphora cecropia, Saturniidae | 2 Comments »
Although it’s fun to try to predict the severity of the coming winter by the amount of brown on a woolly bear caterpillar (the more brown = the milder the coming winter, according to folklore), the coloration of any given woolly bear caterpillar has more to do with its diet and age than the coming weather. The more a Woolly Bear eats, the more frequently it molts, and each time it molts a portion of the black hairs (setae) is replaced by brown ones. A Woolly Bear can molt up to six times — the best fed and oldest woolly bears, which have molted the most number of times, have the widest brown bands. (After overwintering as caterpillars, Woolly Bears pupate and emerge as small, brown moths called Isabella Tiger Moths, Pyrrharctia isabella.)
October 17, 2012 | Categories: Arthropods, Caterpillars, Insects, Invertebrates, Larvae, Lepidoptera, Metamorphosis, Molts, Moths, October | Tags: Arctiidae, Pyrrharctia isabella, Woolly Bear | 2 Comments »
September 26, 2012 | Categories: Adaptations, Arthropods, Insect Eggs, Insect Signs, Insects, Invertebrates, Lepidoptera, Metamorphosis | Tags: Gnorimoschema gallaesolidaginis, Goldenrod Spindle Gall | Leave A Comment »
The Giant Swallowtail (Papilio crestphones) appears to be extending its range northward into Vermont. It was first confirmed here two years ago, and more sightings have been made each summer since then. The Giant Swallowtail is the largest butterfly in North America, with roughly a 4-6-inch wingspan. Because of the caterpillar’s preference for plants in the citrus family, this butterfly is generally is found further south. However, Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum americanum) is found in northern New England, and it is a member of the citrus family. With this food source, and increasingly warm winters, the Giant Swallowtail may be here to stay. The larval stage, or caterpillar, is as, or more, impressive as the adult butterfly. Its defense mechanisms have to be seen to be believed. The caterpillar looks exactly like a bird dropping (it even appears shiny and wet), making it appear unpalatable to most insect-eaters. As if that weren’t enough, when and if it is threatened, a bright red, forked structure called an osmeterium emerges from its “forehead” and a very distinctive and apparently repelling odor to insect-eaters, is emitted.
September 8, 2012 | Categories: Adaptations, Arthropods, Butterflies, Caterpillars, Defense Mechanisms, Insects, Invertebrates, Larvae, Lepidoptera, Metamorphosis, Mimicry | Tags: Giant Swallowtail, Papilio, Papilio crestphones, Prickly Ash, Swallowtail Butterflies, Zanthoxylum americanum | 1 Comment »
Most tussock moths, such as this Hickory Tussock Moth (Lophocampa caryae), are densely covered with hair-like structures called setae that bear microscopic barbs. Many people are sensitive to these setae and get an itchy rash if they handle a Hickory Tussock Moth. Even touching the cocoon of a tussock moth can cause irritation, as the setae are woven into it. Many tussock moths display warning coloration with their black, white, red, orange or yellow setae. What looks like two Hickory Tussock Moth larvae in the photograph is actually one adult caterpillar (left) and its shed skin (right). You can find these larvae feeding on hickory, walnut, ash, oak and many other trees in the woods right now. After spending the winter pupating in a cocoon in the leaf litter, a small spotted, tan moth emerges.
September 3, 2012 | Categories: Adaptations, Arthropods, Caterpillars, Cocoons, Defense Mechanisms, Insects, Invertebrates, Larvae, Lepidoptera, Metamorphosis, Molts, September | Tags: Arctiidae, Caterpillars, Defense Mechanisms, Hickory Halisidota, Hickory Tussock Moths, Larvae, Lophocampa caryae, Metamorphosis, Setae, Tussock Moths | 1 Comment »
The American Lady larva is very distinctive with its branched spines and white bands across its abdomen. One of its favorite foods is Pussytoes, a member of the Aster family. The larva feeds inside a shelter it makes by tying up several leaves with silk. In the photograph, the larva has incorporated the flower heads of Pussytoes into its shelter. Not only is the larva feeding and growing inside this 1 ½ ”-long cavity, it also shed its skin. To see an adult American Lady butterfly, go to http://naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com/2012/07/08/american-lady-common-milkweed-pollinia/ . Soon after the larva forms a chrysalis and pupates, a butterfly emerges and starts its migration south for the winter.
August 17, 2012 | Categories: Arthropods, August, Butterflies, Caterpillars, Insect Signs, Insects, Invertebrates, Larvae, Lepidoptera, Metamorphosis, Molts | Tags: American Lady, American Lady Butterfly, Antennaria, Asteraceae, Asters, Insect Diets, insects, Invertebrates, Lepidoptera, Nymphalidae, Pussytoes, Vanessa virginiensis | 1 Comment »
Tobacco Hornworms, Manduca sexta (often found feeding on tomato plants and confused with Tomato Hornworms, Manduca quinquemaculata) are often the target of a species of Brachonid wasp that parasitizes beetle, moth, fly and sawfly larvae. The adult wasp lays her eggs inside the hornworm with her long ovipositor. The eggs hatch and the wasp larvae feed on the caterpillar. Eventually the wasp larvae emerge and form white pupa cases on the skin of the dying hornworm larva, inside of which they transform into winged adults. Braconid wasps are extremely good at locating hornworms, even when there are very few to find. Because they parasitize hornworm, cabbage worm, aphid and gypsy moth larvae, Braconid wasps are considered important biological control agents. If you want to discourage Tobacco Hornworms in your tomato patch, allow the wasps to complete their metamorphosis – this accomplishes both the demise of the hornworm, as well as an increased population of Braconid wasps.
August 11, 2012 | Categories: Adaptations, Arthropods, August, Hymenoptera, Insect Signs, Insects, Invertebrates, Metamorphosis, Moths, Pupae | Tags: insects, Manduca quinquemaculata, Manduca sexta, Metamorphosis, Parasitoids, Tobacco Hornworms, Tomato Hornworms | 3 Comments »
Of the multitude of discoveries that every summer offers us, one of the most magical is that of a Monarch Butterfly chrysalis. While locating a Monarch larva is not all that difficult, especially when they are as prolific as they are this summer, finding a chrysalis doesn’t happen all that often. Most butterfly chrysalises are a rather drab brown, but the Monarch’s is a beautiful green which serves to camouflage it in fields where the caterpillars feed on milkweed and eventually pupate (form a chrysalis). The Monarch caterpillar, when mature, usually seeks a sheltered spot under a leaf or branch where rain will not cause the silk button by which it hangs to disintegrate. The chrysalis in the photograph is attached to a blade of grass which was anchored with silk to another blade of grass in order to make it more secure. No matter how many I’ve seen, each one still takes my breath away.
August 4, 2012 | Categories: Adaptations, Arthropods, August, Butterflies, camouflage, Chrysalises, Insect Signs, Insects, Invertebrates, Metamorphosis, Pupae | Tags: Butterflies, Chrysalis, Danaus plexippus, Lepidoptera, Metamorphosis, Monarch Butterfly, Pupa | 2 Comments »
Ants go through complete metamorphosis, passing through four stages (egg, larva, pupa, adult). Like honeybees, there are queens, female workers and male drones in an ant colony. The female worker ants have a series of “jobs” that they perform in a certain order. A young worker spends the first few days of its life caring for the queen and young. After that she maintains the nest and eventually forages for food. Like most insects, ants lack grasping forelegs and compensate for this by using their mandibles as “hands.” When the nest is disturbed, workers rush to rescue the eggs, larvae (depicted in photograph) and pupae by clasping them in their mandibles and transporting them to safety. They also use their mandibles to carry food, construct nests, and for defense.
August 1, 2012 | Categories: Adaptations, Ants, Arthropods, August, Hymenoptera, Insects, Invertebrates, Larvae, Metamorphosis | Tags: Ants, Arthropods, Colonial Insects, Drone Ants, Hymenoptera, Insect Metamorphosis, insects, Invertebrates, Mandibles, Metamorphosis, Social Insects, Worker Ants | Leave A Comment »
If you’ve never heard of a Spongilla Fly, you’re not alone. We don’t see its larval stage, as it lives under water, where it feeds exclusively on fresh water sponges. You can find these sponges living in the still waters of large rivers, lakes and wetlands. The beautiful silken net, as well as the small cocoon inside the net, are created by a Spongilla Fly larva after it crawls out of the water and chooses a spot on land on which to pupate (in this case on a seat cushion). The entire structure is less than ¼” in diameter.
July 31, 2012 | Categories: Arthropods, Cocoons, Insects, Invertebrates, July, Metamorphosis, Pupae | Tags: Cocoon, Insect Metamorphosis, Metamorphosis, Net-winged Insects, Neuroptera, Pupa, Sisyridae, Spongilla Fly | 4 Comments »
It appears that this may be a good year for monarchs in the Northeast, as with very little looking, you can find their eggs as well as young monarch caterpillars. Look on the underside of the top leaf or two on young milkweed plants – these leaves are tender and monarchs often lay their tiny, ribbed eggs there (usually one per plant) as they (leaves) are ideal food for young larvae. The first meal a monarch larva eats is its egg shell. It then moves on to nearby milkweed leaf hairs, and then the leaf itself. Often the first holes it chews are U-shaped, which are thought to help prevent sticky sap (which can glue a monarch caterpillar’s mandibles shut) from pouring into the section of leaf being eaten.
July 20, 2012 | Categories: Adaptations, Arthropods, Caterpillars, Insect Eggs, Insect Signs, Insects, Invertebrates, July, Larvae, Lepidoptera, Metamorphosis | Tags: Asclepias syriaca, Common Milkweed, Danaus plexippus, Insect Diets, Insect Eggs, insects, Lepidoptera, Metamorphosis, Monarch Butterfly | 4 Comments »
July 18, 2012 | Categories: Adaptations, Arthropods, Hymenoptera, Insect Eggs, Insect Signs, Insects, Invertebrates, July, Larvae, Metamorphosis | Tags: Insect Metamorphosis, insects, Mud Daubers, Organ Pipe Mud Daubers, Trypoxylon politum, Wasps | 2 Comments »
July 18, 2012 | Categories: Adaptations, Arthropods, Hymenoptera, Insect Eggs, Insect Signs, Insects, Invertebrates, July, Larvae, Metamorphosis | Tags: Hymenoptera, Metamorphosis, Organ Pipe Mud Dauber Wasp, Organ Pipe Mud Daubers, Predatory Wasps, Solitary Wasps, Sphecidae, Trypoxylon politum | 5 Comments »
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.)
July 6, 2012 | Categories: Adaptations, Animal Signs, Arthropods, Bees, Egg laying, Hymenoptera, Insect Eggs, Insect Signs, Insects, Invertebrates, June, Leaves, Metamorphosis, Mystery Photo Submissions, Plants | Tags: Bees, Hymenoptera, Insect Metamorphosis, Leafcutter bee, Megachile, Megachilidae, Pollinators, Solitary Bees | 1 Comment »
June 13, 2012 | Categories: Arthropods, Beetles, Bugs, Insects, Invertebrates, June, Larvae, Metamorphosis, Pupae | Tags: Complete Metamorphosis, Harmonia axyridis, Insect Metamorphosis, Insect Predators, Ladybird Beetles, Ladybugs, Metamorphosis, Multicolored Asian Ladybugs | 4 Comments »
NOTICE: I will be away for the next week in northern Maine, trying to photograph the largest member of the deer family. Blogs will resume on Monday, June 11.
June 4, 2012 | Categories: Arthropods, Caterpillars, Insects, Invertebrates, June, Larvae, Lepidoptera, Metamorphosis, Moths | Tags: Caterpillars, Cecropia Moth, Giant Silk Moths, Hyalophora cecropia, Larvae, Lepidoptera, Metamorphosis, moths, Saturniidae | 4 Comments »
June 1, 2012 | Categories: Adaptations, Animal Adaptations, Animal Diets, Arthropods, Bugs, June, Metamorphosis, Plants | Tags: Cercopidae, Clasirptora, Froghoppers, Hemiptera, Insect Adaptations, Insect Metamorphosis, insects, Metamorphosis, Spittlebugs | 3 Comments »
May 3, 2012 | Categories: Amphibians, Crustaceans, Larvae, May, Metamorphosis, Predator-Prey, Salamanders, Vernal Pools | Tags: Ambystoma maculatum, Aquatic Larvae, Crustaceans, Larvae, Metamorphosis, Salamanders, Spotted Salamanders, Temporary Woodland Pools, Vernal Pools | 1 Comment »
There are many species of tussock moths, and in their larval, or caterpillar, stage, most are covered with tufts of hair-like setae, some impressively long. The female rusty tussock moth, Orgyia antiqua, is flightless, so after emerging from her cocoon, she stays put, releasing alluring pheromones and awaiting the arrival of a male suitor. After mating, she lays up to several hundred eggs on top of her empty cocoon and then dies. The flat-topped, cylindrical eggs (with a dark depression on their top) overwinter, and as soon as leaf buds start opening, the eggs hatch, with ready-made meals inches away. Larvae feed on the leaves of birches, oaks, crabapples and black cherry, among others. Pictured is an egg mass on an apple leaf.
April 3, 2012 | Categories: April, Arthropods, Insect Eggs, Insect Signs, Insects, Lepidoptera, Metamorphosis | Tags: Insect Eggs, Insect Metamorphosis, Insect Signs, insects, Lepidoptera, moths, Orgyia antiqua | 6 Comments »