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Archive for July, 2018

Maybe A Great Year For Monarchs?

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I have no idea what the status of monarch caterpillars is in other parts of the country this year, but at least in parts of Vermont and New Hampshire, they are plentiful!  Two on one plant — just like the old days! (Thanks to Sadie Brown for NH input.)

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Bird’s Nest Fungus Fruiting Bodies Maturing

7-25-18 bird's nest fungus IMG_2701The observant eye may have spied what look like miniature bird nests filled with tiny eggs growing in gardens and wood chips this time of year.  They are a type of fungus that forms fruiting bodies that employ a “splash-cup dispersal” mechanism in order to disperse its spores.

The nests (peridia) serve as splash cups; when raindrops strike the nest, the eggs (peridioles) are projected into the air.  In some species, each peridiole is attached to the inner surface of the cup by a slender, hollow stalk which contains an inner, coiled, threadlike “funicular cord.” The fragile outer layer of the stalk is easily ruptured, thus releasing the inner, coiled cord. When wet, the cord elongates greatly and may reach a length of 6-8 inches. The base (hapteron) of this elongated cord is very sticky and adheres readily to solid objects after it is released from the cup. Like a wad of glue, the sticky cord base strikes a solid object, such as a nearby plant, adheres to a branch, and as the peridiole continues in flight the cord expands to its full length. Then the peridiole winds around the branch where the hapteron has become attached and is suspended in the air. Upon drying, the peridiole splits open, releasing its spores.

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Eastern Black Swallowtails Laying Eggs

7-23-18 black swallowtail female laying eggs_U1A2171Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) butterflies are mating and laying eggs.  The female Eastern Black Swallowtail can appear quite frantic as she visits multiple host plants just long enough to leave a very tiny, spherical, pale yellow egg before heading on to the next plant.  In the wild, Queen Anne’s Lace, Wild Parsnip, Golden Alexander and Poison Hemlock are favorite host plants; in vegetable gardens you frequently find larvae (if you should miss the eggs) on dill, fennel and parsley.  Entomologists have found that host plant odor is one of the cues involved in the Eastern Black Swallowtail’s choice of where to lay eggs.

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American Bur-reed Flowering

7-23-18 bur weedAmerican Bur-reed, Sparganium americanum, is an aquatic, perennial plant that grows two to four feet high and looks a lot like a grass due to its narrow leaves (but isn’t).  This member of the Cattail family grows in shallow water (up to a foot deep) in marshes and along muddy shorelines.  The flower stem forms a zig-zag pattern with flower clusters at each stem juncture.   The large, spherical female flowers are located on the lower part of the stem, with the smaller male flowers at the top.

Considered an important plant for conservation purposes, American Bur-reed has the ability to remove nitrogen and phosphorus from wetlands.  It can help prevent eutrophication by lessening the buildup of nitrogen (often from agricultural land) and phosphorus (households, industry) from runoff.

American Bur-reed spreads rapidly through its underground root systems of rhizomes, and is relied upon by many birds as an important source of food.  Waterfowl, including Mallards, Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, Greater Scaup, Buffleheads, Canvasbacks, American Wigeons and Blue-winged Teal, consume the seeds, as do Soras, Virginia Rails and Wilson’s Snipe. Muskrats eat the entire plant. (Thanks to Kay Shumway for photo op.)

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Abbott’s Sphinx Moth Larvae Maturing

7-23-18 Abbott's sphinx moth_U1A2632The larvae of sphinx moths, commonly called hawk or hummingbird moths, are easily recognized by the horn, eye spot or hardened button that is near the tip of their abdomen.  Most readers are probably familiar with the larval stage of tobacco and tomato hornworms (Carolina Sphinx Moth and Five-spotted Hawk Moth, respectively) which are found on tomato plants. A less observed sphinx moth, Abbott’s Sphinx Moth (Sphecodina abbottii), can be found on grape and Virginia creeper vines.  As a larva it molts several times and assumes three different appearances by the time it pupates.

Abbott Sphinx Moth larvae start out green, with a horn near the tip of their abdomen, like most other sphinx moths. However, when they are about half-grown, they turn blue-green and the horn develops into an orange knob (see inset).  In the last stages before they pupate, the larvae molt and the knob turns into an “eye,” complete with a black pupil and encircling iris.  The finishing touch is a white reflection spot that makes the eye appear moist and shiny.  At this point, the larvae may be either brown with a “wood-grain” pattern (resembling grape vines, a host plant) or brown with ten pale green saddles along the back (thought to resemble grapes).  Pictured are the second and third stages of a brown “wood-grain” Abbot’s Sphinx Moth larva.

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Land Snails Eating

7-20-18 snail_U1A2042While there are some terrestrial snails that are omnivorous and even carnivorous, most are herbivorous.  Each species has a diet dependent on its size, age, habitat and individual nutritional requirements.  They all must feed on foods that include significant amounts of calcium in order to keep their shell hard.

Those species that are herbivorous consume a variety of plants, including the leaves, stems, bark and fruits, as well as fungi and occasionally algae.  They do so in an unusual way. Snails have an organ in their mouth with rows of tiny teeth, called a radula.  When the food reaches this structure that looks like a sack, the teeth do not cut or grind it like human teeth would. Instead of being chewed, the radula scrapes the food and breaks it down before it passes through the esophagus to continue the digestion process.

The tiny teeth on the radula suffer much wear and tear as time passes. Therefore, they are continually replaced by others. Not all species have the same number of teeth. Some have rows with just a few teeth, while others have hundreds.

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Great Blue Heron Chicks Enjoying Home Delivery

7-18-18 gbh chicks & parent IMG_5874Great Blue Heron chicks spend roughly two months in their nest before fledging, during which time they are totally dependent on both of their parents for food.  During the first week after their eggs have hatched, the parents return to the nest after foraging and stand on the rim while placing regurgitated food into their chicks’ open beaks.  By the second week the chicks grasp the adult’s beak briefly when the parent arrives with food, and by the end of the third week the chicks are pulling the adult’s beak into the nest, which they continue to do until they fledge.  Occasionally chicks reach into an adult’s open beak to get food, but most of the time the parents put the food into their offsprings’ beaks.

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