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Archive for September, 2011

Netted Stinkhorn

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The way I discovered this netted stinkhorn fungus (Dictyophora duplicata) was the same way flies find it – the odor emanating from it is much like that of a decomposing body.  This odor comes from the spores of the stinkhorn – the  slimy, olive-green matter on the head, or top portion of the fungus.  When mature, the spores have a fetid odor which successfully lures insects to the stinkhorn.  They eventually depart from the fungus, and procede to disperse the spores that stuck to them far and wide.   Although it’s not too discernible in these photographs, netted stinkhorns derive their name from a fishnet-like veil, or skirt, below the head of the fungus.

 


Small Milkweed Bugs

This time of year you can often find many orange and black bugs on milkweed leaves.  If they are black with an orange “X” on their forewings, they are small milkweed bugs (Lygaeus kalmii).  This combination of colors, which many insects that feed on milkweed have, warns predators that, due to ingesting milkweed toxins, red and orange insects may be bad for their health.  Adult small milkweed bugs feed mainly on milkweed seeds, but they also consume the nectar of a variety of flowers.  In addition, they occasionally prey on insects, such as the ant in the accompanying photograph.


Anthocyanins

Red maple leaves can already be seen scattered on the forest floor.  Their red color, as well as the purples of autumn foliage, come  from a group of pigments called anthocyanins.  Unlike carotenoids, pigments which produce yellows and oranges and are present in leaves year round, anthocyanins are produced towards the end of summer.  At this time phosphate, which has been helping break down the sugar that the plant has made during the warmer months, begins to decrease in the leaf, and this triggers the production of anthocyanin pigments.  The amount of anthocyanin produced is, in part, determined by the weather — cool and sunny days, and cold, but not freezing, nights all but guarantee brilliant foliage. Let’s hope the temperature drops a bit in the near future!

 


Mosquitoes

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Mosquitoes are as thick as I have ever seen them, a fact which was brought home to me when I stood still for an extended period of time photographing an eastern chipmunk.  The chipmunk had moments of stillness as well, and was equally plagued by mosquitoes.  There were often clouds of these insects around both of our heads, but in this photographic sequence, you can watch one lone mosquito (near one of the chipmunk’s ears) fill up with the chipmunk’s blood.  While male mosquitoes feed on nectar, females feed on both nectar and blood.  After the female mosquito digests the blood, her eggs develop and she lays them in still bodies of water, after which she searches for another source of blood.    


Millipede Mystery

This morning I discovered the exoskeletons of nine millipedes clumped together at the top of a rotting stump.  They were covered with slug slime, with said slug still at the scene. Presumably its stomach was full of millipede innards.  If anyone can explain this phenomenon to me, I would be most grateful!


Blinded Sphinx

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Sphinx moths (also known as hawk moths, and the larvae as hornworms) are a group of long-tongued moths that possess the most acute color vision of any animal. The larvae possess a “horn”, eyespot or hard button on their abdomen. (The tobacco hornworm and tomato hornworm are sphinx moth larvae.) The larva of the Blinded Sphinx moth (Paonias excaecatus) is the most common sphinx moth larva in many of New England’s woods.  Its bright green color and granulated skin may camouflage it amongst the leaves of the oak, hop hornbeam, cherry and poplar trees that it eats, but when crawling on the forest floor, as this one was, it’s hard to miss.  The larva burrows into the soil in the fall and pupates. An adult moth emerges the following summer and mates, but does not feed. This moth ‘s name refers to the fact that the small blue spot (or “iris”) on the hindwing has no central black spot (or “pupil”)  and is therefore “blind.”  The spots of the similar Twin-spotted Sphinx (Smerinthus jamaicensis)  has a black “pupil” which allows it to see.  p.s. Old habits die hard — I will continue to post whenever time allows!


Naturally Curious Kids

 I want to share some exciting news with readers of my Naturally Curious blog and Facebook page! For the next year or so I will be working on a new book, NATURALLY CURIOUS KIDS, which Trafalgar Square Books will be publishing in 2013.  While I am looking forward to this project, it means that I won’t have the time to continue to make daily postings on my Naturally Curious blog or Facebook page.  Daily walks, photography, research and composing posts – even short ones — consume much of my time, and in the coming months that is time that I will need to put into my new children’s book.   Please note that I will continue to post entries (how could I stop sharing my discoveries?), they just won’t be as frequent – perhaps once or twice a week.  I hope you will continue to follow them and enjoy the outdoors as much as I do. I look forward to sharing my new book, and the photos I capture in the course of its development, with you in the days ahead.   (The curly-headed cutie is my daughter Sadie, 25 years ago…)