An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Archive for April, 2020

Whirligig Beetles Active

Congratulations to Stein Feick, the first person to correctly identify the Mystery Photo as a Whirligig Beetle!  You usually see this aquatic beetle swimming around and around in circles on the surface of a pond searching for prey. A unique feature of most beetles in this genus is their divided eyes.  Each eye is completely separated into two portions (see photo). One portion (dorsal) is above the water line and the other (ventral) is beneath the water on each side of their head, allowing them to see both in the air/on the surface of the water as well as under the water.  The dorsal eyes have a limited field of view, so these beetles rest one of their antennae on the surface of the water to help them detect any motion caused by prey.

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Mystery Photo

Can you identify this Mystery Photo?  Hint:  In all likelihood if you’ve visited a pond, you have seen one.  If you think you might know what this creature is, go to the Naturally Curious blog site, scroll down to “Comments” and enter your guess.  The mystery will be solved on Wednesday, April 29th.

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An Ingenious Recycler

Recycling is the process of converting waste materials into new materials and objects.  In the natural world, agents such as fungi and bacteria that turn dead plant and animal matter into air, water and nutrients come to mind.  If you broaden the definition of recycling to include the re-use of material, however, many more organisms come into play.

Some humans continue to feed birds in the spring after Black Bears have emerged from their dens.  The bears have not eaten for four or five months and once their digestive system adjusts, they are extremely hungry.  Available bird feeders are often raided by hungry bears at this time of year, and end up discarded on the forest floor with the seeds they contained ending up inside the bears’ stomachs.  Eventually the bears defecate and their feces contain little else but the husks of sunflower seeds interspersed with intact seeds.  Keen-eyed Black-capped Chickadees are very quick to take advantage of these recycled sources of protein.  (Check the Chickadee’s beak closely.)

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Trout Lily Flowering

Although at this time of year you often find the pollen- and nectar-consuming Red-necked False Blister Beetle visiting Trout Lily (also known as Dog-tooth Violet and Adder’s Tongue), bees are its most common pollen collectors. When a bee visits a Trout Lily flower, it usually removes half of the available pollen in one visit. After packing it into its pollen baskets the bee heads directly back to its hive to unload the pollen. Unfortunately for the Trout Lily, this hampers cross-pollination, as it severely limits the amount of pollen that reaches other Trout Lily flowers.

As compensation for the pollen-collecting habit of its apian visitors, Trout Lily has two sets of anthers – one set opens one day, the other opens the next, preventing a bee from collecting all the pollen from a given flower in one day, giving other insects the opportunity to cross-pollinate. (Photo:  Red-necked False Blister Beetle on Trout Lily.  Note beetle is on unopened anther; opened anther is to left of beetle.)

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Black Bears Emerging From Dens & Ejecting Fecal Plugs

This may look like Black Bear scat to many viewers and it is close to being just that, but technically it is a fecal plug.  A plug differs from scat in several ways.  Rather than passing through and out of the digestive system, it remains in the lower 7-15” of a bear’s intestine for four or five months, while the bear hibernates.  Unlike feces, which consist mostly of waste from digested food, a fecal plug, due to the length of time it spends in the intestine, contains a considerable amount of intestinal secretions and cells that have sloughed off the inside of the digestive tract.

Usually you find hair and bedding as well as recently-eaten indigestible food incorporated into a plug.  Prior to hibernation, Black Bears engage in grooming — licking and swallowing their fur and the leaves, etc. that are caught in it.  These indigestible materials end up in the plug.  During winter bears shed the calloused soles, or footpads, of their feet and it’s not uncommon to find pieces of them in a plug, as well.

Most plugs measure 1 ½” to 2 ½” in diameter and  7-15″ long. Fluids have been absorbed from the plug by the intestinal walls, leaving it quite dry and hard, and it has very little scent. If you happen to know where a bear has denned, the surroundings are a prime location for finding a plug, as the bear ejects it soon after emerging from its den in April. (Thanks to Andy Rowles and Erin Donahue for photo op.)

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Please Stay Safe

I consider myself so fortunate that COVID-19 has not diminished my ability to pursue my  passion, and I’m sure all of you are celebrating the gifts of nature during these trying times as well.   I hope all of Naturally Curious’s readership stays safe and is gifted with daily spring discoveries.  It’s reassuring that despite what humans are experiencing right now, the rest of the natural world continues its annual re-awakening without missing a beat. (Thank you to Ginny White for my favorite face mask.)

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Crayfish Mating

Crayfish mate in the early spring and females carry the fertilized, developing eggs inside their bodies for 4 to 6 weeks. These developing eggs are then transferred to the outside of the female’s body and glued with a sticky substance called “glair” to the female’s tail. The eggs then hatch by the end of spring.

One of the more interesting facts about crayfish copulation is that it is preceded by a relatively unusual courtship ritual.  Females release a steady stream of urine in order to attract a mate. Their urine is an aphrodisiac, attracting numerous males.  When males approach the female she responds aggressively, fighting the males in a quest to find the most fit one to mate with.  The female only stops resisting if the male can flip her over so that he can deposit his sperm on her underside.  (Photo by Owen Astbury)

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