An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

September

Queen Ants Mating & Removing Wings

ant removing wings2  095Ants are social insects and live in colonies consisting of one or more queens, female workers and males. In most species the non-sexually mature female ants are wingless; only the males and the queen(s) possess wings. Periodically, often 3-5 days after a heavy rain, the winged ants emerge from the colony in large swarms in order to mate and create more colonies. Swarming behavior is usually synchronized with other nearby colonies, so large numbers (hundreds or thousands) of winged ants suddenly appear. After mating, the males die and the queens shed their wings and use the remaining wing muscles as a source of nutrients during the early stages of colony development. The shedding of wings is not a passive activity. The pictured ant is in the process of removing her fourth and final wing. She held each wing down with one leg while pulling it out with another. She then crawled off, leaving a pile of wings behind.

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September Snub-Noses

9-1-14  juvenile amphibians IMG_5078Frogs and toads that hatched from eggs laid this past spring are now two to four months old, and are growing rapidly. Like snakes, frogs and toads shed their skin as they grow — unlike snakes, they eat their skin. Periodically toads and frogs stretch their bodies and then pull their loosened skin off in one piece, much like we pull off a sweater. Using their feet, they then stuff their skin under their tongue and swallow it. When frogs and toads are young and growing fast, they usually shed their skin more often than when they are older and their growth slows down. Not only is their skin a valuable source of nutrients and protein, but if it’s eaten, there is no sign left behind for predators to find.

Most young toads and frogs, with the exception of the Gray Treefrog, look like miniature adults. (Gray Treefrogs are emerald green in their youth, unlike the mottled gray/green adults they will become.) There is one characteristic at this stage that they don’t share with their elders, however, and that is their snub noses. If you’re wondering if the frog or toad you saw is a small adult or a youngster, take a closer look at its nose! If it’s unusually short and blunt, there’s a bit of growing left to do.

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Common Loons Molting

9-30-13 molting loon MH_20091004_214955_3Loons begin a full body molt (minus their wings) in the late summer and early fall, prior to migration. The black and white breeding plumage of adult loons in summer is replaced by the gray-brown of winter. This process typically begins at the base of the bill and spreads across the head and over the upper back. The process of molting can extend through migration on into December.

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Spider Spinnerets

9-30-13 black and yellow sp. spinnerets2 IMG_4897Responses to yesterday’s Mystery Photo ranged from immediate deletion by a reader (due to the unappealing nature of the photo), to guesses including “bee butt,” “caterpillar mouthparts” and “deer tick.” Most responders, however, guessed correctly – the photograph was of the spinnerets of a Black-and-Yellow Garden Spider, Argiope aurantia.

Most spiders have six spinnerets — organs located on their abdomens from which silk is extruded. The individual spinnerets move independently yet in a highly coordinated manner. Each spinneret is dotted with many tiny spigots, through which various types and thicknesses of silk are extruded. The strong muscles that move the spinnerets also force liquid silk through the narrow spigots. This pressure, as well as external pulling by the spider, rearranges the liquid silk molecules into a solid but flexible thread. Although spider web silk is only about one millionth of an inch thick, weight for weight, it is stronger than steel (but not as strong as Kevlar). Unlike in the Mystery Photo, the spinnerets in this photograph are extruded and in use.

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Canada Geese Migrating

9-25-13  migrating C. geese2 224This is the time of year when the honking of migrating Canada Geese can be heard as the familiar V-shape formation passes overhead. Many of these birds have a long, arduous migration and they need to conserve as much energy as possible. The V-formation that they fly in enables them to do so, in that it greatly boosts the efficiency and range of flying birds. Geese flying in a V-formation have slower heart beats than geese flying solo, and they can achieve a distance of 71% greater than single birds. The birds in front make this possible by enduring the most air resistance and, at the same time, improving the aerodynamics of the birds behind them by reducing the drag by up to 65 percent. The geese are constantly rotating positions in order to share “flight fatigue.”

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Wild Cucumber Fruiting

9-24-13 wild cucumber2  IMG_4085Looking more like a miniature spiny watermelon than a cucumber, the fruit of Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) grows on an annual vine that can reach a length of 15 to 25 feet. The genus name Echinocystis comes from the Greek echinos for “hedgehog” and cystis for “bladder”, appropriately describing the prickly fruit. The puffy, spherical-to-oblong, green fruits with long, soft spines grow up to two inches long. Despite its common name, Wild Cucumber fruits are not edible, and can cause burning reactions in some people. When ripe, the fruit turns brown and dries up, bursting open at the bottom, ejecting four large, flat, black seeds.

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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.

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