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Archive for October, 2014

Predaceous Diving Beetles Remaining Active

10-9-14   p. diving beetle 143While meadows and fields are experiencing a sharp decline in insect life at this time of year, one habitat where insects remain active in the fall and often through the winter is ponds. Among the year-round active pond invertebrates are Predaceous Diving Beetles, which can still be observed as they row through the water, intermittently surfacing to thrust their abdomen above the water line in order to procure a bubble of air from which they breathe. Their middle and hind legs are fringed with long hairs, making them efficient at rowing through the water in search of prey or detritus to eat.

Predaceous Diving Beetles lay their eggs on and in plants above the waterline in early spring. When the eggs hatch, the larvae drop into the water. Mature larvae crawl out of the water to pupate in damp chambers on the shoreline. They emerge as adults and re-enter the water, where they remain active through the winter, under the ice. (Water Scavenger Beetles look a lot like Predaceous Diving Beetles, but they stroke first with one leg, then another, not simultaneously like Predaceous Diving Beetles, and they come to the surface of water head first to secure air.)

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Ruffed Grouse Preening

ruffed grouse preening IMG_3515Birds have up to 25,000 feathers, and most birds preen, or clean, waterproof and align their feathers, several times a day. Ruffed grouse, as well as most other birds, possess an uropygial gland, or preen gland, on their rump. (Some types of birds, including owls, pigeons, parrots and hawks, lack an uropygial gland and instead have specialized feathers that disintegrate into powder down, which serves the same purpose as preen oil.) The preen gland produces a waxy substance that helps waterproof feathers and keeps them flexible.

Ruffed grouse reach back and rub their beaks on this gland, and then distribute the wax on their body and wing feathers by stroking them toward the tip. The grouse grasps a feather near the base and draws it through the partly close beak, nibbling as it goes. This distributes the wax and cleans parasites from the feathers. In order to preen its head, the grouse must rub it on other parts of its body. Preening is usually done in a fairly open setting but with a degree of overhead protection, so that the grouse can watch for terrestrial predators, while being protected from hawks and owls.

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Leaf Mandala

Mark Council's leavesOnce in a very great while someone with an eye for beauty and a special connection with the natural world gives us the gift of his or her creativity. Mark Council is a Vermont treasure. You can see more of Mark’s indescribably beautiful leaf mandalas on his Quiet Light Photo Imagery Facebook page. His seasonal photograph gallery can be viewed at his website http://www.quietlightvermont.com.

From the artist’s mouth: This world is so breathtakingly beautiful. All too often we fail to see it until that beauty hurls itself into our consciousness, and then everything becomes extraordinary. When this happens, that’s when I know I’m in the vortex..


Winged Female Woolly Aphids Leaving Sumac Leaf Galls

10-29-14 sumac leaf galls IMG_7549The sac-like galls found on Staghorn and Smooth Sumac are anywhere from marble- to ping pong ball-size, and usually become obvious in late summer when they often acquire a rosy pink blush. Inside the thin walls of these galls is one big hollow cavity, teeming with tiny orange woolly aphids (Melaphis rhois). In the spring, female aphids lay an egg on the underside of a sumac leaf, causing the plant to form an abnormal growth, or gall. A number of parthenogenic generations are produced inside the gall, and then in late summer or early fall, the winged females fly to patches of moss, where they establish asexually reproducing colonies. According to biologist D.N.Hebert, these colonies produce the males and sexual females responsible for recolonizing sumac each spring.

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Beavers Finally Get Their Due!

Just in case some of my blog readers didn’t see this N.Y.Times article this morning…email-big mamma's bottom incisors   IMG_6686http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/28/science/reversing-course-on-beavers.html?emc=edit_th_20141028&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=55091267&_r=2


Eastern Tamaracks Turning Yellow

TAMARACK 050Eastern Larch, Larix laricina, is also known as Tamarack, the Algonquian name for the species which means “wood used for snowshoes.” This tree strongly prefers moist to wet sites in acidic soils and is a common sight in northern New England bogs. Eastern Larch is the only species of conifer in New England that drops all of its leaves/needles every year. The needles are borne on short shoots in groups of 10–20 and prior to falling off, they turn a beautiful golden color.

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Common Loons Migrating

10-27-14 common loons migrating2  146Most of the eastern U.S. and Canada Common Loon population shifts from freshwater inland breeding locations to coastal marine wintering areas, although some remain at inland freshwater sites throughout winter. Research shows that the very large loons in Maine, New Brunswick, and eastern New Hampshire do not migrate far and primarily overwinter in the Gulf of Maine, while smaller loons from other New England and New York breeding populations migrate to Long Island Sound south to New Jersey.

Some Common Loons begin their diurnal migration to their wintering territory in late summer, but most loons leave their breeding territory in September (high latitudes) and October (low latitudes), and arrive at their destination by the end of November. Breeding pairs and their offspring do not migrate together. Parents generally migrate first, usually separately; young remain on their lakes after adults have departed, until near freeze-up, and often migrate in groups. Although they often migrate singly, common loons do form groups (in some places, hundreds or thousands of birds) on large bodies of water before and during migration. These are referred to as staging areas. When migrating over land, loons can reach an altitude of a mile and a half; over water they usually fly within 300 feet of the surface of the water.

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Porcupines Entering Winter Dens

porcupine IMG_2597During the summer, porcupines are almost always found out in the open. At the end of October/beginning of November porcupines den up for the winter in the Northeast, with up to a dozen porcupines sharing the same den. While some adult males will spend days at a time in a conifer, most porcupines seek out rocky crevices in which to spend the day, with a smaller number finding shelter in hollow trees. Porcupines are hardy creatures – while dens do protect porcupines from heat loss, they contain no insulation, the entrances are open and the porcupines don’t huddle together for warmth. In addition, porcupines emerge from their dens to feed at night, when outside temperatures are lowest. (And yes, that is porcupine scat that is stuck in/on the porcupine’s quills.)

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Black Vine Weevil Larvae Crawling Deep Underground

black vine weevil 150Black vine weevil larvae overwinter in the soil. In the spring, the flightless adults emerge and feed at night on the outer edges of leaves, causing the leaves to have a notched margin. They mate and lay as many as 500 eggs in the soil near the base of host plants. The larvae hatch in a week or two and feed on plant roots until cold temperatures drive them further underground. The larval stage is quite destructive, especially to landscape plants such as rhododendron and azalea. Female black vine weevils have the ability to reproduce parthenogenetically. Fertilization of eggs is required to produce males, but no males have been observed in North America. (photo: adult black vine weevil on Jack-in-the-Pulpit fruit)

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A Variety of Beaver Lodge Designs

10-20-14 beaver bank den 080Beavers are hard at work refurbishing their mud and stick lodges in preparation for the coming winter, when their movements will be restricted and they will spend both days and nights inside their lodge. When we think of a beaver lodge, we picture it in the middle of a beaver pond. This was not always the case, however, and still isn’t today. The earliest and most primitive beaver lodges consisted of a burrow in the side of a high bank with the entrance under water (see exposed bank lodge entrance in photo insert). The next advance was the addition of sticks and mud piled over the top of the bank as added protection from predators (see photo). Eventually beavers started building a complete lodge on top of the bank which had an underwater entrance. The most advanced design is the lodge we most commonly associate with beavers — one that is built up from the bottom of the pond and is completely surrounded by water. It requires the greatest amount of work but offers the greatest amount of protection to the beaver.

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Cinnabar Polypore Fruiting

cinnabar polypore WITH LABEL 082It is very hard to miss a fruiting Cinnabar Polypore (Pycnoporus cinnabarinus) fungus due to its electric red-orange coloration (on both upper and lower surfaces). It is in a group of fungi known as polypores, which usually grow on dead trees, are shaped like shelves, not umbrellas, and have many tiny holes, or pores (as opposed to gills), on their underside, where the spores develop. Cinnabar Polypore is also known as White Rot Fungus, as it breaks down lignin and cellulose in dead trees, causing the rotted wood to feel moist, soft, spongy, or stringy and appear white or yellow. Look for it on dead cherry, birch and beech trees.

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Snow Geese Migrating

10-22-14 snow geese IMG_4105Snow Goose migration peaks from mid- to late October, as they travel from their breeding grounds on the western shores of Greenland and most of the eastern Canadian Arctic down the St. Lawrence Seaway to their coastal wintering areas (from Massachusetts down into North and South Carolina). In years past, the Dead Creek WMA, a 3,000 acre waterfowl refuge at the southern end of Lake Champlain in Vermont, used to be a primary staging area, where thousands of Snow Geese would stop and refuel in agricultural corn and grain fields on their way south. The sky would literally turn white with landing geese. Unfortunately for Vermonters, while some Snow Geese still stop over at Dead Creek, many now migrate further west, down through New York state, where apparently there is a more abundant supply of grain to feed on along the way.

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Funnel Weaving Spiders Spinning Last Webs of the Year

10-16-14 funnel weaver web 045A number of unrelated spider families in North America spin webs with funnel-shaped retreats. These spiders are all referred to as funnel weavers. The spider lies in wait in the funnel, and when an insect flies into or lands on the web, the spider rushes out, checks to see if it is prey, and if it is, bites it. Its venom is fast-acting, and as soon as the prey is largely immobile, the spider drags it back into its funnel to safely consume it out of sight. Many species’ funnel webs are horizontal, and found in grass and bushes, but others are vertical. Like most spiders, funnel weavers are nocturnal. Many species die in the fall, but a few live a year or two. If you find a funnel web inhabited, it is likely to be a female. Males spend most of their life wandering in search of a mate, and after finding one and mating a few times, often die.

Funnel weaving spiders are docile and non-aggressive, and their bite is rarely as bad as a bee sting. Funnel weaving spiders are sometimes referred to as “funnel web spiders.” True funnel web spiders are not found in North America, but in Australia, where their bite is considered harmful.

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Red-winged Blackbirds’ Diet Changing From Insects to Seeds

blackbird on cattail  118During the breeding season, insects make up the bulk of a Red-winged Blackbird’s diet, but during the rest of the year, plant seeds are preferred. While the seeds of ragweed, corn, oats and smartweed are more staple food sources, cattail seeds are not overlooked. At maturity, and under dry conditions, the cattail spike bursts, releasing the seeds (some estimates are as high as 228,000 seeds/spike). When this happens, blackbirds take advantage of the easily accessible source of food, but the minute size of each seed (.0079 inches long) means obtaining a meal is a labor-intensive endeavor.

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2015 Naturally Curious Calendar

10-10-13-14   2015 Naturally Curious Calendar 842I have had a number of inquiries about whether or not there will be a 2015 Naturally Curious calendar, and I’m happy to say that there will be. If you would like one, you can place an order via email (mholland@vermontel.net). The subjects on this card stock calendar are: January – Snowy Owl; February – American Robin; March – Striped Skunk; April – Eastern Chipmunk; May – Red Fox kit; June – Polyphemus Moth; July – Common Loon family; August – Gray Treefrog; September – Beavers; October – Pitcher Plant; November – Moose; December – Blue Jay. Many, but not all, of the photographs have been used on this blog. The cost is $30 (includes shipping) and I will send you my mailing address when I confirm your order. Calendars will be mailed upon receipt of $30.00 and your mailing address. Makes a great Christmas present! Thank you so much.


New England Aster Providing Bees with Late Season Nectar & Pollen

10-13-14 new england aster & bumblebee 356At a time of year when nectar and pollen sources are few and far between, New England Aster provides many species of bees with food. This composite seems designed specifically for easy pollination. Its open, wide flower shape provides a flat surface for insects to land on, and because the nectar and pollen are not hidden deep inside the flowers, both long- and short-tongue bee species can easily access them. Unlike honeybees, bumblebees do not have a large store of honey in their nests, so they need pollen and nectar throughout the season. Thus, the few flowers such as New England Aster that blossom as late as October are visited frequently and in large numbers. (Only the queen bumblebee overwinters, but the workers continue collecting nectar and pollen up until they die in late fall.)

New England Aster flowers close at night, when there are fewer pollinating insects flying. If an unusually cool period arrives during the time when New England Aster is blooming, the blossoms also close. Although it may seem that the aster is losing pollination opportunities during a cold day, bees are not very active in cool weather.

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Dead Man’s Fingers Fruiting

10-10-14 dead man's fingers 082When it first appears above ground in the spring, the club/finger-shaped fruit of Dead Man’s Fingers (Xylaria polymorpha) appears powdery white from the asexual spores that cover its surface. As it matures, it acquires a crusty, black surface. This is the sexual stage. The interior of the fruiting body of this fungus is white; just inside the outer surface is a blackened, dotted layer containing structures called perithecia which hold sacs of sexual spores. Dead Man’s Fingers, unlike most fungi (which release their spores in a few hours or days) releases its spores over months or even years. It can have many separate “fingers” and sometimes the fingers are fused, causing it to look somewhat like a hand. Look for this fungus growing on hardwood stumps and logs, particularly American beech and maples.

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Crickets Courting, Mating & Laying Eggs

10-10-14 cricket  003In late summer and autumn, crickets court by rubbing their forewings together, a practice referred to as stridulation. At the base of each forewing is a specialized vein with a series of hard “teeth,” or ridges – the “stridulatory file.” Only one is fully functional, and in crickets, it is usually the one on the left wing. On the inner, lower edge of the right forewing is the “scraper,” a sharp, hard projection that rubs against the file when the cricket opens and closes its wings during stridulation. In most species,it is the male crickets that “sing,” but both sexes have “ears,” or tympana, on their front legs. After mating, the female cricket deposits her eggs in the soil or in plant tissue, depending on the species. (Photo: female field cricket- note long ovipositor at tip of abdomen between the two sensory organs called cerci, which is lacking in male crickets)

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Muskrats Constructing Lodges

10-8-14 muskrat lodge3 012Muskrats, in addition to digging bank dens, also build lodges in which to live. Muskrat lodges resemble beaver lodges, but are usually much smaller (up to eight feet high, and four feet wide) and are made of vegetation, not sticks, like beaver lodges. Most lodge construction occurs in May and early June, and again in October. Typically they are built in no more than two feet of water. A single dry chamber (entrance below, chamber above the water line) houses a pair of muskrats, and often several litters of young (the mother adds a chamber for each litter). Even though the walls of a muskrat lodge are up to a foot thick, mink, foxes and coyotes often dig into them in the winter. Two or three smaller versions of a lodge, called “pushups,” serve as protected feeding platforms.

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Hermit Thrushes Migrating & Stopping Over to Refuel

10-7-14 hermit thrush  092The Hermit Thrush is often one of the last thrushes to leave its breeding grounds in the fall — peak migration is between the end of September and the middle of October. High pressure, clear skies and wind from the north usually produce many sightings of this bird at this time of year. Unlike many other species of thrushes that winter in Central or South America, the Hermit Thrush is not a long distance migrator, and does not cross the Gulf of Mexico. Approximately one-third of all migratory flights end after only two to three hours of flight. Typically it makes several two-to-six-day stopovers to refuel before reaching its wintering grounds in southern U.S. and Mexico.

The Hermit Thrush is a nocturnal migrant, often departing roughly half an hour after sunset (over half of departures occur within 60 minutes after sunset and none after midnight) with most flights ending about 40 minutes before sunrise (none later than 20 minutes before sunrise). (Flight information from Birds of North America Online)

Inadvertently, the person responsible for my being able to photograph a Saddleback Caterpillar was not mentioned in yesterday’s post. Many thanks to Rick Palumbo for his extraordinary help with this endeavor.

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Saddleback Caterpillars Preparing to Pupate

10-6-14 saddleback moth 006There is a group of moths (family Limacodidae) which are known as “slug caterpillar moths” due to the manner in which they travel during their larval stage, secreting a semi-fluid silk from their ventral pores as they move. These caterpillars come in all sizes and shapes. Among them is the Saddleback Caterpillar, which is much more colorful than the brown adult moth it eventually turns into. Saddleback Caterpillars are best known for their stinging (urticating) spines. Reputedly far worse than that of a bee, the sting of the Saddleback Caterpillar may be the most potent of any North American caterpillar. The larva’s bright colors serve to warn predators of its toxicity. Soon these caterpillars will be spinning cocoons (which can contain spines, as well) in which they will pupate until emerging as moths next spring. (Thanks to Rick Palumbo for photo op.)

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Autumn

10-3-14 loon on fall water IMG_0386

Go, sit upon the lofty hill,
And turn your eyes around,
Where waving woods and waters wild
Do hymn an autumn sound.
The summer sun is faint on them —
The summer flowers depart —
Sit still — as all transform’d to stone,
Except your musing heart.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1883

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Redbelly Snakes Giving Birth & Heading For Hibernation Sites

10-2-14 red-bellied snake2 IMG_0980Redbelly snakes come in two colors – brown and gray, both of which have red bellies. About a foot long, this secretive snake tends to inhabit woodlands with small openings and lots of cover. Mating takes place primarily in the spring after emerging from hibernation, and females give birth to 1 – 21 young in the late summer or fall. Mass migrations of redbelly snakes take place in October and November, when these snakes travel to their hibernation sites. Redbelly snakes often hibernate in groups of their own and other small snake species, taking refuge in anthills, abandoned animal burrows and old building foundations.

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Black Widow Spiders

9-29-14 northern black widow spiderBlack widow spiders have been found in every state. They are a lot less numerous in New England than further south — their abundance is inversely related to the latitude — however, the northern black widow, Latrodectus mactans, (pictured) is here. According to Dr. William Spear, a noted arachnologist and provider of the information in this post, a black widow in northern New England would need a very sheltered site, such as the south-facing walls of buildings, south-facing sides of ditches, or perhaps even in barns and sheds, in order to survive.

The web of the northern black widow is a rather small (for the size of the spider) messy tangle, usually constructed close to the ground. The spider is generally not found on the web, but in a silk-lined pocket to one side and above the web. The silk of widow spider webs is unusually tough, and with experience one can learn to differentiate it from other spiders’ silk just by testing the web with a stick or pencil.

If knowing that black widows cohabit your state causes some discomfort, rest assured. Their bites are very rare and almost never fatal. The few fatalities that have been recorded are generally from children or persons weighing less than 100 pounds, or with precarious health. (Photo taken by Evan Kay in North Pomfret, Vermont in September, 2014; submitted by Caroline Robbins)

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