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.
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!
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!
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…)