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Archive for July, 2010

Beetles – 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.

MILKWEED LONGHORN BEETLE

Two milkweed longhorn (named after their long antennae) beetles were busy mating on the edge of a milkweed leaf this morning. Born last summer from eggs laid on the stem of a milkweed plant, the beetle larvae proceeded to feed on the plant’s stems and roots. When fall approached they burrowed into the ground where they spent the winter; after pupating this spring they emerged as adult beetles. Look for holes in the tips of milkweed leaves, left when these herbivorous insects feed. One of their more endearing features is the fact that when they are disturbed, milkweed longhorn beetles are capable of making a squeaking noise by rubbing rough spots on their thorax, or middle section, together. For information on just about anything you could find on a milkweed plant, including milkweed longhorn beetles, get yourself a copy of “Milkweed, Monarchs and More,” by Rea, Oberhauser and Quinn. It’s a gem of a field guide to insects and other invertebrates found in a milkweed patch.


Monarch Caterpillar – 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.

MONARCH CATERPILLAR

It’s that time of year again! Monarch egg- and caterpillar-hunting is one of my favorite past-times, as anyone who has read my children’s book, Milkweed Visitors, probably knows. Unlike last year, when they were in short supply, monarchs seem to be on every other milkweed plant this summer. Because this is the only stage in which they have chewing mouthparts, monarch larvae are basically eating machines – by the time they split their skin for the 5th and final time they will have increased their body mass by a factor of 2,000. This week, for the first time, I witnessed a monarch caterpillar (see photograph) consuming not a milkweed leaf, but a flower bud.


Warbler – 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.

CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER FLEDGLINGS

Adult chestnut-sided warblers have just that – chestnut sides. While the male’s chestnut markings are more prominent, there is a streak of chestnut on the females’ flanks as well. This year’s young, however, lack the chestnut sides, making identification challenging, to say the least, for this birder. Thanks to David Sibley's GUIDE TO BIRDS and Kent McFarland's (of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies) expertise, I was able to confirm that the bird I photographed is a first year male chestnut-sided warbler! Earlier this spring you may have enjoyed the “pleased – pleased- pleased to meet you!” song of the courting adult males.


Indian pipe – 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.

INDIAN PIPE

Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) is one of our more common non-photosynthesizing flowering plants. Because it has no chlorophyll, it is white in color and depends on fungi for its nutrients. Interestingly, the fungi that Indian pipe attaches itself to are, in turn, attached to trees in order to obtain their nutrients, so indirectly Indian pipe lives off of photosynthesizing trees. This parasitic plant communicates its pollination status to insects via the erect stance it assumes once it’s been pollinated (until then it nods its flower head).


Wool Carder Bee – 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.

WOOL CARDER BEE

My daughter, Sadie, happened upon this female wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum) and managed to photograph it in the act of “carding wool” this week in Massachusetts. The male wool carder bee sets up his territory and protects the nectar and pollen of the flowers in it from other insects, in the hopes of attracting a female wool carder bee. If he succeeds, mating takes place, after which the female scrapes hairs off of plant stems and leaves (often woolly lamb’s ears or other similar fuzzy plants) within the male’s territory. As she collects the hairs, she forms them into a ball (look between the legs of the bee in the photograph) and flies with it to a cavity which she lines with these hairs. The cavity consists of several cells, in each of which she deposits pollen collected from her mate’s territory as well as an egg, and then seals the cell. When the egg hatches, the larval bee will have a soft bed and a meal awaiting it.


Beavers – 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.

SUMMER BEAVERS

Summertime…and the living is easy – at least for beavers. Very little lodge repair and dam-patching goes on. In fact, very few trees are even cut. At this time of year, beavers often feed on the tender sprouts of aspen, willow and birch, as well as grasses, sedges, water lilies and berries. Eating, sleeping and grooming make up most of their lazy summer days and nights.


Clearwing Moth – 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.

HUMMINGBIRD CLEARWING MOTH

So many readers mentioned another sphinx moth, the hummingbird clearwing moth (Hemeris thysbe), after yesterday's post that I decided to put a photograph of it on my blog today, rather than save it for another day. Both the gallium sphinx moth and the clearwing were feeding on milkweed nectar yesterday afternoon. Because of its colors, as well as its hovering behavior, the hummingbird clearwing moth is often mistaken for a ruby-throated hummingbird as it drinks nectar from a variety of flowers. In its larval stage, it is a beautiful lime-green caterpillar with a prominent “horn” on its hind quarters.


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

The gallium sphinx moth is also known as the bedstraw hawk moth. Many gardeners are familiar with the larval stage of the tomato hornworm, also a member of the hawk moth/sphinx moth/hornworm (most sphinx moth caterpillars have a “horn” on the end of their body) family. The moths in this family are often fairly large, and are known for their rapid, sustained flying ability. Some species of hawk moths can fly as fast as 30 miles per hour. Some, including the gallium sphinx moth, are able to hover in midair while they feed on nectar from flowers (milkweed flowers in this photograph). This hovering ability is thought to have evolved only three times in nectar feeders – in hummingbirds, certain bats and hawk moths.

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.

GALLIUM SPHINX MOTH


Cicada – 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.

CICADA

We all know the high-pitched insect song that comes from tree tops when the weather gets hot and humid – these “hot weather bugs” are male cicadas – bug-eyed, one-to two-inch long insects that create their courtship song not by rubbing wings or legs together, as crickets and grasshoppers do, but by contracting abdominal muscles over and over, creating clicks that coalesce into the song we hear. We don’t often see these insects when they are adults, for they live way up high in the canopy. We also don’t see them in their youth, for cicada nymphs spend the better part of 2 – 17 years underground (depending on the species), feeding on root juices and shedding their skin periodically as they grow. Eventually they emerge, climb up a tree or shrub, clasp the bark and procede to split and shed their nymphal skin for the final time. It is these skins that we occasionally find on vegetation (see photo). The winged adults mate and the female deposits her eggs in a slit she cuts in the bark of a tree. When the eggs hatch, the larvae simply drop to the ground and begin burrowing.


Rainbows – 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.

RAINBOWS

Whenever there are water drops in the air and sunlight shining from behind them at a low altitude angle, there’s the possibility of seeing a rainbow, and yesterday’s brief storm provided such a gift for some observers. Look in the opposite direction of the sun when conditions seem right for a rainbow to form. For those whose thoughts turn to a pot of gold when they see a rainbow, your imagination will have to suffice. If you attempt to get to the end of a rainbow (where the pot of gold is supposed to be) you will never get there, as the rainbow, due to an optical effect, will always move further away.


Black-eyed Susan – 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.

BLACK-EYED SUSAN

Like all members of the Composite family, the black-eyed Susan is not the single flower it appears to be, but actually hundreds of tiny, fertile, brown flowers surrounded by a ring of sterile yellow flowers at their base (which we call petals). The yellow ray flowers act as banners to attract the insects necessary to pollinate the central brown disc flowers so that they can produce seeds.


Spider with Prey – 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.

SPIDER WITH PREY

Fields, especially uncut fields, are filled with all shapes and sizes of insects this time of year, making them a very productive habitat for hungry spiders. This orb web spider, still wearing the morning dew, had met with great success by the time the sun’s rays reached its web.


Chicory – 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.

CHICORY

The cornflower blue of the roadside chicory (Cichorium intybus) flower is unmistakable. Like its close relative, the dandelion, it belongs in the Aster family; what we refer to as one blossom is actually composed of many flowers, all flat “ray” florets. It is found primarily in poor soils, where it doesn’t have as much competition from other plants. Just about every part of this plant is edible. Young leaves have been cultivated as greens. The root of chicory is roasted, ground and flavored with burnt sugar to make a drink resembling coffee. Young roots are also boiled and eaten like carrots as well as used for medicinal purposes.


Spittlebugs – 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.

SPITTLEBUGS

Inside those little white bubbles of froth that you see on the stems of plants in the summer dwells an immature insect called a spittlebug. In the fall, female spittlebugs lay their eggs on plant stems, where they overwinter. By June and July, spittlebugs are everywhere you look. If you gently push aside some of the bubbles in one of the frothy masses, you will find a young spittlebug nymph. It is busy sucking up the plant’s sap and pumping out excess water combined with air and body secretions, which form the bubbly mass that protects and keeps the spittlebug from drying out. When the flightless nymph has matured it makes a new shelter of somewhat gelatinous bubbles. These bubbles dry up to form a protective dome in which the nymph molts to a winged adult, leaving its nymphal skin behind (see photograph).


Hairy Cap Moss – 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.

HAIRY CAP MOSS

The green spores of Hairy (some say “Hair”) Cap Moss (Polytrichum commune) are maturing now, and can be seen by removing the “hairy cap” and prying the top off.


Partridgeberry – 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.

PARTRIDGEBERRY

Partridgeberry (Michella repens) is a perennial, evergreen vine that creeps along the forest floor, brightening it with both its white flowers as well as its red berries. The flowers of partridgeberry usually occur in pairs, with the ovaries of the two flowers fused, so that only one fruit develops from two flowers (both flowers must be pollinated in order for one fruit to form). If you look closely, you can see two dots on each scarlet berry, indicating the fusion of two flowers. Because the berries have a low fat content, they resist rotting and persist through the winter, providing a food source for ruffed grouse (hence, its common name), foxes, raccoons and deer. Although they don’t have much flavor, the fruit of partridgeberry can be eaten by humans – you can sometimes detect a hint of wintergreen.


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

I want to make readers of my blog aware of the fact that I am waist-deep in the process of proofreading NATURALLY CURIOUS for the final time, and it is taking up most of my day, leaving little time for photographing or writing. Because of this, my blog entries may not be posted every day, as I have tried to do (with better results some weeks than others). I apologize, but by the end of the summer, I should be in full gear again. Thank you for bearing with me.

GREAT BLUE HERONS

The great blue heron is the largest and most widespread heron in North America. If you are an early riser, and know of a pond or river that great blue herons frequent, you can often find them perched on logs or banks early in the day, standing stock still, waiting for an unsuspecting fish to swim by. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, great blue herons often congregate at fish hatcheries, where the majority of the fish they consume are diseased. Apparently sick fish swim nearer the surface of the water, where they are more easily accessible to the heron’s spearlike bill.


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

Many of the images and much of the information in this blog can be found in my book, Naturally Curious, which is being published this fall.

COMMON RINGLET

The common ringlet, a member of the brush-footed butterfly family, is in the sub-family Satyrinae, otherwise known as Satyrs. Most Satyrs are brown, medium-sized butterflies with striking round spots on their wings. Common ringlets usually fly close to the ground, stopping frequently to drink nectar from flowers. They are one of the most common butterflies in the northern hemisphere. Look for them in fields and other open areas.


Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchis – Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods and marshes of New England

Many of the images and much of the information in this blog can be found in my book, Naturally Curious, which is being published this fall.

EASTERN PRAIRIE FRINGED ORCHIS

Eastern prairie fringed orchises are found not only on prairies, which New England has precious few of, but also in bogs. It’s flower spike consists of 5 to 40 white flowers, each of which has a three-part fringed lip less than an inch long and a nectar spur which is about 1 to 2 inches long. Hawkmoths pollinate the nocturnally fragrant flowers of this member of the orchid family while inserting their long tongues into the nectar-bearing spurs.The eastern prairie fringed orchid is on the U.S. List of Endangered and Threatened Species. The decline in the population of this orchid is due primarily to the loss of habitat from the drainage and development of wetlands.


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

Many of the images and much of the information in this blog can be found in my book, Naturally Curious, which is being published this fall.

YOUNG SKUNKS

Striped skunks give birth sometime between late April and early June in most of New England. At birth, young skunks’ eyes are closed, they have little hair, and don’t hear until they are two weeks old. Now, two months later, they are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Weaned from their mother, this year’s young are starting to disperse, heading off on their own to find insects, small mammals and fruit to dine on. During a late afternoon walk through a field yesterday, I was treated to the sight of an 6-inch long young skunk, already stamping its little front feet and raising its tail in a show of tremendous courage when approached by a much larger, two-legged admirer.


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

Many of the images and much of the information in this blog can be found in my book, Naturally Curious, which is being published this fall.

COMMON LOOK CHICK

Common loon chicks are born with dark, sooty down which lasts through their first three weeks; it is then replaced by the brownish-gray down you see on this 24-day-old chick. Soon, juvenal feathers will start to appear on the chick’s head, which some people feel don’t exactly enhance its beauty.


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

Many of the images and much of the information in this blog can be found in my book, Naturally Curious, which is being published this fall.

COMMON WOOD SORREL

Look for this 2” – 6” inch tall edible plant flowering on the forest floor. Its white blossoms lined with pink stripes are unmistakable. Its heart-shaped leaves as well as the flower close up at night and on rainy days. Native Americans used its somewhat sour leaves as an aphrodisiac, to cure mouth sores, to alleviate thirst, cramps and fever. Like broccoli and spinach, the leaves of wood sorrel contain oxalic acid, and are thought by some to add a certain zip to salads.


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

Unlike humans, snakes do not have separate upper and lower eyelids that open and close. Their eyelids are fused into transparent scales over each eye, called spectacles or eye caps, that protect their eyes from dust and other particles while helping to keep them moist. When a snake outgrows its skin and sheds it, the outer layer of the spectacles is shed as well. The new, larger skin that is revealed when the old skin has been shed comes equipped with new spectacles.

Many of the images and much of the information in this blog can be found in my book, Naturally Curious, which is being published this fall.

SNAKE SPECTACLES