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Archive for July, 2017

Heartfelt Thanks To All My Readers

e-kit with mother IMG_4483Several times I have been brought to tears in the past week by the thoughtfulness, generosity, kindness and compassion shown by so many Naturally Curious readers. I owe you such a debt of gratitude. Many of you don’t know me, much less Sadie and Otis, yet your response to our situation was immediate and magnanimous.

I had every intention of writing to each and every Naturally Curious reader who has given to Sadie’s and Otis’s fund. However, there are an enormous number of you, my free time is quite limited, and many of the gifts are anonymous, so I decided to write one note to all of my readers, hoping that I will reach every single person who has touched our lives in the past few weeks. I hope you understand my lack of an individual response to every donation and kind thought.

Thank you so very, very much. Every penny will be spent on necessities, and gratitude will be felt every day for what you have done for us. Both Sadie and I are deeply humbled and overwhelmed by your generosity. I feel my NC posts are not nearly worthy of the outpouring of love and support that you have bestowed upon us. You have given back tenfold, and I shall never forget your incredible response. Sadie, Otis and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You have touched us so deeply. I simply cannot believe the extent of your compassion and generosity; there are not adequate words to thank you.

With enormous gratitude, Mary


Leaf Beetles

7-14-17 dogbane beetle 168

There is a group of 1,500-plus beetles in North America known as “leaf beetles.” They all have an expanded and two-lobed/heart-shaped section of their leg just above the claws. These lobes bear specially modified hairs which help these plant-eating beetles walk on plant stems and smooth leaves. The majority of leaf beetles are specialists, feeding only on a single species of plant or groups of closely related plants. Many leaf beetles are considered pests, including the Colorado Potato Beetle, Spotted Cucumber Beetle, Striped Cucumber Beetle, Spotted Asparagus Beetle and Northern Corn Rootworm Beetle.

 One of the most striking leaf beetles, and one that is not a “pest” is the Dogbane Beetle (Chrysochus auratus), so called because its diet is restricted to the leaves of Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium). Its distinctive iridescent green, copper, green and blue body is hard to miss. (Photo: Dogbane beetle on Dogbane)

 

 


Can Young Skunks Spray?

 

7-13-17 baby skunk 169

When under dire stress, adult Striped Skunks will employ their two anal glands and anoint a perceived threat up to 16 feet away (with the wind’s help) with their potent musky spray of butyl mercaptan. (This same compound is used as an additive to natural gas (which is almost odorless) to enable its detection by smell when natural gas escapes or leaks from pipes.)

Often it is assumed that very young skunks do not have this capability, and for the first seven days of their life, they don’t. However, musk is present in a skunk’s anal glands at birth and can be emitted on day 8. The pictured skunk (and its three siblings) were rescued after their mother was killed by a car, and as you can see, thanks to a positive experience with the nurturing hands of its rescuer (Lou White), it is not interested in utilizing its defense mechanism to defend itself against an admiring naturalist. (Photo by Lou White)

Naturally Curious represents a passion for learning and teaching about natural history that I am fortunate enough to be able to pursue. If and when the spirit moves you to support my tiny contribution to your day, I would love for you to donate to a fund that was set up to support my recently-widowed daughter and her two-year-old. If you choose to contribute, you may go to https://www.plumfund.com/financial-hardship/sadie-brown-otis-brown-fund. Thank you so much.


Rose Pogonia Flowering

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We are at the tail end of the flowering season for Rose Pogonia, (Pogonia ophioglossoides). Although it also has the common name Snakemouth Orchid, the species’ name, ophioglossoides, comes from the Greek word for snake (ophis) and tongue (glossa), referring to a perceived similarity to Adder’s Tongue Fern (Ophioglossum pusillum), rather than a snake’s mouth.

The petals of this exquisite orchid have a delicate fragrance when fresh, reminiscent of red raspberries. The lower petal, or labellum, is deeply fringed and bearded in the center with yellow bristles. Rose Pogonia grows to a height of about two feet, and there is a single narrow leaf near the middle of its stem. Look for it in sphagnum bogs, fens, wet meadows, and acidic swamps. Although Rose Pogonia is pollinated by a number of different species of bumble bees, a white crab spider on the labellum looks like it has captured a much smaller insect that was visiting this particular flower.

NOTE: Sadie and I are overcome by the incredible generosity of Naturally Curious readers. Truly, there are not words to express the gratitude we have for each and every one of you. You feel like our extended family. A thousand thanks from Sadie, Otis and me. You have touched our hearts deeply.

Naturally Curious is the embodiment of my passion for learning and teaching about natural history.  If and when the spirit moves you to support my tiny contribution to your day, you can donate to a fund that was set up to support my recently-widowed daughter Sadie and her two-year-old, Otis.  If you choose to contribute, you may go to https://www.plumfund.com/financial-hardship/sadie-brown-otis-brown-fund . Thank you so much to those of you who have so generously done so.


Sadie Brown and Otis Brown Fund

The correct link for the Sadie Brown and Otis Brown Fund is  https://www.plumfund.com/financial-hardship/sadie-brown-otis-brown-fund. I may have inadvertently made a typographical error in my initial post today. Thank you again so much.


My Absence

7-26-17 Sadie and Otis3 029Thank you so much for your patience and understanding regarding the lack of Naturally Curious posts for the past two weeks. My son-in-law, Waylon, died suddenly and unexpectedly two weeks ago, leaving my daughter Sadie and her two-year-old son, Otis, on their own. I never knew how much a heart could ache.

Because I am technologically challenged, posting remotely from Boston was beyond my capabilities and because I will be living in two places for the immediate future, posts may be sporadic for a while and I apologize. With a little help from a computer-savvy friend, I may manage to post when I’m away. Know that I will do my very best.

A fund (The Sadie and Otis Brown Fund) was set up by Sadie’s incredible friends to help her with the expenses that she will face in raising Otis. (Sadie and Waylon had no life insurance, and Sadie’s job as the recycling coordinator for the city of Melrose, MA just about covers her daycare expenses.) I would like to ask that if you’re ever considering donating to my blog, you consider giving to this fund instead: https://www.plumfund.com/financial-hardship/sadie-brown-otis-brown-fund. Thank you very, very much. Naturally Curious posts will resume tomorrow.


No Naturally Curious posts for the next few days

Due to a family emergency, I will not be able to post for the next little while.  Thank you for your understanding.  I will resume as soon as possible.


Blinded Sphinx Moth vs. One-eyed Sphinx Moth

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Moths in the family Sphingidae are commonly called “hummingbird” (for their habit of hovering as they feed on nectar from flowers), “sphinx” (the larva holds its legs off the surface and tucks its head underneath, resembling the Egyptian Sphinx) or “hawk” (they fly with great speed and precision) moths.   Most are fairly large, with some species having a wingspread of up to 5” or more.

One group of sphinx moths is referred to as the “Eyed Sphinx Moths,” two of which are the Blinded Sphinx Moth (Paonias excaecata) and the One-eyed Sphinx Moth (Smerinthus cerisyi). The derivation of their respective common names can be easily ascertained by examining the upper surface of their hind wings. The Blinded Sphinx Moth has a single blue eyespot on each hindwing, whereas the One-eyed Sphinx Moth has a round or diamond-shaped black spot (“pupil”) in the center of each blue eyespot. The Blinded Sphinx Moth is light brown, whereas the One-eyed is a violet-gray. Both moths have scalloped wings that are held elevated and slightly away from the body. They are nocturnal, and regularly visit lights in small numbers. Their life is short, and adults of both species do not feed.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.

 


Common Loon Chicks Riding High

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Why do Common Loon chicks ride on their parents’ backs for the first two weeks of their life? There are several reasons. Loon chicks leave their nest as soon as their downy feathers are dry; if they stayed in their ground nest, they would be very vulnerable to predators on land. For the same reason, they rarely return to their nest.

Like many young birds, loon chicks can’t immediately regulate their body heat.  Many birds brood their young in the nest, providing them with warmth and shelter.  Common Loon parents brood their young on their back (and under their wings). On windy, cloudy, cool days, the chicks are nowhere to be seen, huddled under their parents’ wings. On calm, sunny days, they are in full view.

Although they can swim immediately after hatching, loon chicks are very buoyant and have difficulty maneuvering. Predators such as Bald Eagles, Common Ravens and gulls are quick to prey on young loons that have no parental protection. In addition, predatory fish such as Northern Pike and Largemouth Bass are a threat. Once they are several weeks old, the chicks are not only bigger, but they are more mobile and can avoid predators more easily.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.

 

 

 


Leech Bite Clarification

7-7-17 snapper with leeches IMG_9090Today’s Naturally Curious post stated that leeches have a chemical anesthetic which prevents the host from feeling a leech’s bite. I have since learned that there is no scientific proof of this, and substantial proof that it is not true. As reported, it is possible, and even likely, to feel a leech’s bite. In addition, as Ruth Sylvester pointed out, hirudin is the anticoagulant, not the non-existent anesthetic! So sorry. Reference: http://bdellanea.blogspot.com/2008/07/myth-busters-leech-anaesthetic.html


Mystery Photo I.D. – Leeches feeding on the blood of a Snapping Turtle

IMG_1812Leeches are segmented worms (annnelids) which feed predominantly on blood, although some species do eat insects. Of the 700 species of leeches, 500 inhabit fresh water, as opposed to salt water or land. Blood-sucking leeches are common parasites of many freshwater vertebrates including turtles, amphibians and fish.

Generally speaking, leeches of the genus Placobdella are commonly found on turtles. Bottom-dwelling species such as the Common Snapping Turtle, Mud Turtle and Musk Turtle usually have more leeches than other turtles, and they are often attached to the skin at the limb sockets. Aerially-basking species such as Painted Turtles often have fewer of these parasites, possibly because basking forces leeches to detach in order to avoid desiccation.

A leech can ingest several times its weight in blood from one host before dropping off and not feeding again for weeks, or even months. Leeches inject hirudin, an anesthetic, to keep the hosts from feeling them break the skin. They also inject an anticoagulant to keep the blood from clotting so that they can feed. Although leeches (especially large ones) can be a significant health detriment to smaller animals, they are not harmful to most large animals, such as Snapping Turtles.

Some of the most common predators of leeches include turtles, fish, ducks, and other birds. Map Turtles allow Common Grackles to land in basking areas and peck at leeches clinging to their skin, and minnows have been seen cleaning leeches from Wood Turtles in the water. At times turtles bury themselves in ant mounds to rid themselves of these pesky parasites.

For those readers who may hesitate before going into a leech-laden pond, it may be comforting to know that leeches are mainly nocturnal. (Photo by Jeannie Killam)

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.

 


Mystery Photo

IMG_1812Can you identify what is in this photo?  Submit answers on the Naturally Curious blog site, under “Comments.”  I.D. will be provided tomorrow!

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


American Toad Parotoid Glands

7-5-17 parotoid gland - A.toad 055

One of the adaptations that allowed the first amphibians to spend time on land was their skin, as it helped prevent them from drying out. It also served as an effective defense mechanism.

The skin of the American Toad contains multiple glands, both mucous and granular. Mucous glands are scattered all over a toad’s body and secrete a transparent mucus secretion that acts as a lubricant in water and also helps keep their skin moist on land. Granular glands contain a toxin that deters many predators, and is a toad’s main way of defending itself. (In addition, the toxin also protects a toad’s skin from microorganisms as well as helps repair wounds.)

Sometimes clusters of granular glands form a pad, or “macrogland.” American Toads have two such pads, or s parotoid glands, which are located behind their eyes. When threatened, a toad adopts a defensive stance, inflating its body and standing with its hindquarters raised and its head lowered, a position which makes its parotoid glands the first thing that an attacking predator encounters. The secretion from these glands generally induces very serious inflammations of a predator’s eyes or digestive tract, as well as vomiting. Some predators are immune to this toxin, while others, like the American Crow, have figured out a way to prey on toads without consuming any poison — it punctures the toad’s skin with its beak and then pecks out the toad’s liver without ingesting any toxin.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.