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Archive for April, 2016

Cellophane Bees Emerging & Mating

4-20-16  cellophane bee  205Cellophane bees are one of the first bees to emerge in the spring, sometime between March and May.  These solitary bees nest underground, often in close proximity to one another, with each female digging her own burrow off of which she creates several individual brood cells.  Each cell is lined with a cellophane-like secretion which is applied with her short brush-like tongue to the walls of the cell.  She then fills the lower portion of the cellophane sac with pollen, nectar and some glandular material, lays an egg and seals the cell with more cellophane-like substance and a bit of sand for a cap.  The female then goes on to repeat the process and digs another cell.

The egg hatches and the larva grows throughout the summer, feeding on the supply of nectar and pollen contained within the cell.  The larva metamorphoses in the fall and overwinters as a pupa inside the natal cell, emerging as an adult on a warm, sunny spring day.

Males, which emerge before the females, can currently be seen patrolling the area where last year’s burrows were constructed, flying just an inch or two above the ground, searching for emerging females digging themselves out of the ground.  When a female is spotted, she is often bombarded by one or more males, creating quite the cluster of bees.  One male prevails, mating takes place, and the cycle continues.

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Pickerel Frogs “Snoring”

4-28-16  pickerel frog IMG_9429Pickerel Frogs emerge early in the spring from their muddy, pond bottom hibernacula, and mate in April and May in the Northeast. As part of the mating ritual, males call to attract females, with the calls resonating inside their internal vocal sacs located between their tympanum (ear drum) and foreleg (unlike Spring Peepers and American Toads, whose vocal sacs are located directly under their mouths).

These low-pitched calls resemble short “snores.” Occasionally Pickerel Frogs call from under water, but even when they are above water, their calls do not carry very far, frequently making it difficult for human ears to hear them.  Their call is similar to that of the Leopard Frog’s but lacks the short grunts of a full Leopard Frog call.  You can compare these two calls (and several others) by going to http://langelliott.com/calls-of-frogs-and-toads-of-the-northeast/ (Sound recording © Lang Elliott – langelliott.com)

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Spring Beauty: Claytonia caroliniana

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There is a correction in the scientific name of the pictured Spring Beauty in today’s previous post:  it is Claytonia caroliniana, not C. virginica.  Both species are found in the Northeast and their flowers are similar, but their leaves are not.  C. virginica‘s leaves are narrower and more grass-like than C. caroliniana‘s, and do not have petioles (which C. caroliniana‘s leaves do).  Thank you, Sue Elliott!


White and Pink-flowered Spring Beauty

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Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginica, is a familiar and welcome spring ephemeral that carpets the forest floor at this time of year.  Within a population, its blossoms range in color from white to a deep pink. You don’t usually find a range of colors within a given population, as one color is often more successful at reproducing and it eventually becomes dominant, while the other colors are eliminated.

There is a reason why both colors of Spring Beauty continue to flourish within a given population.  A red pigment interacts with two chemicals (flavenols) to produce the range of color.  Plants with a high percentage of flavenols produce white flowers.  These flavenols are a deterrent to herbivores, so in years when there are lots of slugs, white-flowered plants are more successful in producing seeds.  This would lead one to conclude that eventually pink-flowered plants would diminish in number.  However, white-flowered Spring Beauty is also parasitized by a type of fungus called a rust, Puccinia mariae-wilsoniae, which causes orange spotting and often serious deformation of the plant (see photo).

Thus, in years when slugs are numerous, white-flowered Spring Beauty flourishes and produces seeds.  In years when slugs are not numerous but fungal infection is high, pink- flowered plants reproduce more successfully.  This sporadic success of both white and pink Spring Beauty is why we continue to find them both in the same population.

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A Gardener’s Favorite Beetle

bronze carabid 161Ground beetles (family Carabidae) are fast moving beetles, many of which are predators with specialized diets.  One ground beetle (Cychrus caraboides) eats only snails (its head and thorax are very slender, allowing access to the inside of a snail’s shell).  Another, Harpalus rufipes, limits its diet to strawberry seeds.  Loricera pilicornis uses bristles on its antennae to trap springtails and mites.

The Bronze Carabid, Carabus nemoralis, (pictured) uses its large curved mandibles to crush and slice through prey – it will eat or try to eat just about any invertebrate, but specializes in capturing and eating slugs. Its hardened forewings, or elytra, have a coppery sheen to them, and parts of its thorax and the edges of its elytra are iridescent purple. This nocturnal, introduced, flightless, one-inch-long beetle resides throughout the Northeast and is already actively pursuing slugs.

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Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers Drilling Wells & Lapping Sap

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Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have returned and in between sending their Morse code messages, are drilling into over 1,000 species of woody plants to obtain sap.  At this time of year, sap wells are drilled into xylem tissues (transport water and nutrients from roots to branches) to feed on sap that is moving upward; after deciduous species leaf out, sap wells tap phloem tissues (transport sugars and other nutrients made in the leaves to other parts of the tree).  Unlike sap drawn from the xylem which contains from 2-3% sugar, phloem sap may contain 20-30% sugar.

Sapsucker tongues have a fringe of hair-like projections along the edges which enable the sapsucker to lap up the sap that accumulates in a well (“saplapper” would be a more accurate name for these woodpeckers).  Recently a female sapsucker landed on the trunk of a nearby Sugar Maple and tapped eight wells.  She then spent the better part of the afternoon inserting her brush-like tongue into the wells and drinking the sap that collected.  The entire time she was drinking sap, she was constantly (8 times per hour) evacuating a stream of clear liquid (as opposed to the typical uric acid excreted by birds).  Apparently much of what goes in must come out.

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Eastern Bluebirds Nesting

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Eastern bluebirds are preparing for the first of the two or three broods they will raise this summer.  Contrary to what those of us who clean out our bluebird boxes have been led to believe, Cornell Lab of Ornithology states that experiments show preferences for nesting boxes containing old nests. In a paired experimental design bluebirds chose boxes containing old nests in 38 of 41 cases in which boxes with old nests were paired with empty ones.  Scientists conjecture that this may be because the old nests often contain wasp larvae, an easy source of food for the bluebirds.

Females build their nest over several days.  Grasses and pine needles are gathered from the ground and delivered to the nest box.  Fine grasses, horse hair and turkey feathers often provide the soft, innermost lining of the nest.  While the male enters the box during the nest-building process, perhaps to inspect, he does not actively collect material or participate in the building of the nest. Once the 3 – 7 eggs are laid, the female spends the next two weeks or so incubating them.  She then broods the young for about a week, and both parents provide them with food for up to three weeks after the young have fledged. (Thanks to Jeannie Killam and Terry Ross for photo op.)

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