An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide – maryholland505@gmail.com

Archive for September, 2020

Taking Orders For 2021 Naturally Curious Calendars

Orders for the  2021 Naturally Curious Calendar can be placed now by writing to me at 505 Wake Robin Drive, Shelburne, VT  05482. The calendars are printed on heavy card stock and measure 11” x 17” when hanging. There is one full-page photograph per month. The calendars are $35.00 each (includes postage). Please specify the number of calendars you would like to order, the mailing address to which they should be sent and your email address (so I can easily and quickly contact you if I have any questions). Your check can be made out to Mary Holland.

Guaranteed orders can be placed up until October 30th. Orders placed after this date will be filled as long as my supply of extra calendars lasts. (To be candid, I have had so many last-minute requests (after the deadline) in past years that I have not been able to fill all of the orders, so if you want to be sure of having your order filled, I encourage you to place your order before October 30th. I hate to disappoint anyone.)  Calendars will arrive at your door in early December in time for the New Year. Thank you so much!

 


Ant Queens & Males Swarming

Ant colonies consist of one or more queens, female workers and males.  In most species, only the males and queens have wings.  Periodically the winged ants emerge from the colony in large swarms in order to mate.  Swarming behavior is usually synchronized with other nearby colonies, so large numbers (hundreds or thousands) of winged ants suddenly appear.  After mating, the males die and the queens chew their wings off and use the remaining wing muscles as a source of nutrients during the early stages of establishing a colony.

(Photo:  A swarm of ants gathering as they emerge from their ground nest. The pictured (inset) ant has removed three of its four wings and is in the process of removing the fourth wing. Thanks to Alice Trageser for photo opportunity.)

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.  (NB:  The “Donate” button on the Naturally Curious blog is currently not working. If you would like to donate to this blog, you may send a check made out to Mary Holland to me at 505 Wake Robin Drive, Shelburne, VT  05482.)


Snapping Turtle Eggs Hatching

Every fall, roughly three months after they’re laid, snapping turtle eggs hatch. Like many other turtle species, the hatchlings’ gender is determined by the temperature at which the eggs were incubated during the summer. Eggs at the top of the nest are often significantly warmer than those at the bottom, resulting in all females from the top eggs, and all males from the bottom eggs. In some locations, the hatchlings emerge from the nest in hours or days, and in others, primarily in locations warmer than northern New England, they remain in the nest through the winter.

When they emerge above ground, the hatchlings, without any adult guidance, make their way to the nearest body of water, which can be up to a quarter of a mile away, and once there, seek shallow water. Eggs and snapping turtle hatchlings are extremely vulnerable to predation. Predators include, among others, larger turtles, great blue herons, crows, raccoons, skunks, foxes, bullfrogs, water snakes, and large predatory fish, such as largemouth bass.  Older and larger snapping turtles have a much easier time fending for themselves. (Photo: newborn snapper)

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.  (NB:  The “Donate” button on the Naturally Curious blog is currently not working. If you would like to donate to the sustainability of this blog, you may send a check made out to Mary Holland to me at 505 Wake Robin Drive, Shelburne, VT  05482.)


Slugs Mating

Monday’s post stated that the nature of the activity the slugs were engaged in was undetermined.  Since then it has come to my attention that had I been truly “naturally curious” and popped the bubble of slime, I would have had the rare opportunity of seeing two entwined slug penises.  Here is a descriptive quote describing slug reproduction.

Like all slugs, those in the genus Arion are hermaphrodites (possessing both male and female sex organs). They can reproduce either by self- or cross-fertilization, depending upon conditions and habitat stability. When two slugs mate with each other, they each simultaneously play the role of both sexes, exchanging sperm with their male genitalia. At times, the male sex organs of two slugs become entangled during mating and the slugs may bite them off in order to free themselves, a not uncommon sacrifice known as ‘apophallation.’ From then onward, the apophallated slugs are only able to reproduce as females. Arion subfuscus mates in the mid-to-late summer. Several days after mating, slugs will lay hundreds of 3-4 mm eggs in the soil, and die shortly thereafter. Although there is no parental care in this species, the eggs are imbued with a caustive agent called miriamin that serves in a large part to protect them from predation. In around a month, the juveniles hatch as small, pale-brown versions of their adult selves. They typically take at least 4-6 months to achieve sexual maturity, mating and dying themselves before the new generation hatches from the eggs.” (https://www.projectnoah.org/spottings/1952620518)


Slug Slime

Most of us who have encountered slugs know that if you handle one, the slime it produces on the lower surface of its body persists on your hands even when you wash them with soap and water. (If you let the slime dry and rub your hands together, it will come off in small beads.)  Slug slime contains water, mucus and salts. It keeps a slug’s skin moist, preventing it from drying out, and aids in locomotion.

Slug slime changes as the slug moves. Initially it has the consistency of a liquid gel.  It is solid at rest and turns to liquid under pressure.  A slug sticks part of its body to the ground with its slime, uses its muscles to move its body forward, and then pulls its body away from where it was stuck. More slime is released and the process is repeated.  It’s interesting to note that slugs are strong enough to move without the aid of slime, but nonetheless are always producing it.

Slug slime has its good and bad points. Scientists are studying slug slime properties in their search for a better surgical adhesive. Most substances are either flexible or sticky, not both, like slime.  On the other hand, there are some aspects of slug slime that are not all that appealing.  In addition to being next to impossible to remove from your hands, slug slime can carry rat lungworm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis), a parasitic roundworm that mainly lives in rodents such as rats and can infect slugs (and snails) that come into contact with infected rodent feces.  This disease can cause a form of meningitis which is prevalent in Southeast Asia and tropical Pacific islands.

(Photo:  Two slugs & bubble of slime. Nature of activity not determined! Thanks to Alice Trageser and Mary Landon for photo opportunity.)

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. (NB:  The “Donate” button on the Naturally Curious blog is currently not working. If you would like to donate to the sustainability of this blog, you may send a check made out to Mary Holland to me at 505 Wake Robin Drive, Shelburne, VT  05482.  Thank you!)


Owlet Moths Laying Eggs

One morning multiple 1”-2” white blotches appear on the screening of your porch or windows.  They weren’t there the previous day, so they had to have been deposited during the night.  What nocturnal creature is responsible and what exactly are they?

A close look reveals that each white patch consists of hundreds of minuscule white balls – eggs that an insect must have deposited.  Their size, shape and coloring indicate that they were most likely produced by Owlet Moths or noctuids, members of the Noctuidae family.  Owlet Moths make up over 25% of all butterflies and moths — there are 75,000 known species worldwide with thousands yet to be identified. Most adults are a fairly drab shade of brown and are well camouflaged with lines and spots that resemble tree bark or bird droppings. (Moth coloring often resembles the bark of the food plant its larvae prefer.) Owlet Moth larvae are relatively hairless and are referred to as cutworms or armyworms (they can occur in destructive swarms and cut the stems of plants). Several species are serious crop or garden pests.

A majority of the moths in this family are nocturnal and are attracted to light.  After mating, female Owlet Moths produce between 300 and 1,500 eggs, depending on the species.  Newly laid eggs are spherical and often cream color but may turn yellow, orange, pink, red or gray within a day. Those laid this fall will overwinter and larvae will hatch in the spring.

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.


Caspian Terns Migrating

Caspian Terns are the largest terns in the world, with a wingspan of up to nearly five feet.  It’s hard to miss their large orange bill, but you’re not likely to see one in most of New England except during migration. (One exception is the Lake Champlain Islands in Vermont.)  A few weeks after fledging, juvenile and adult terns gather at feeding sites near breeding areas and migrate south in stages.  They sometimes migrate individually and sometimes in families or larger groups. The last of the migrants are passing overhead in the next few weeks, heading for overwintering sites along the Atlantic and Gulf coastlines.

(Photo: The Caspian Tern flies over the water with its bill pointing down, looking for fish. When it locates its prey, it plunges into the water to capture it, sometimes submersing its entire body.)

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.


Eastern Gray Squirrels Preparing For Winter

Eastern Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) eat about two pounds of food per week.  Nuts and other seeds are at the top of the list, but fungi, berries, bird eggs and nestlings, tree buds and sap are also consumed.  Because they stay active in winter, Eastern Gray Squirrels must store food in the fall in order to survive the colder months, and this food must be viable for the duration of the winter.  They are what are called “scatter-hoarders” – they bury each nut separately, not all in one spot. After digging a hole 1-2 inches deep with its front paws, the squirrel places a nut in the hole and forcibly puts it in place by pounding it into the ground with its front incisors.  It then fills the hole with soil and covers it with leaves.  A combination of memory (experiments found that this works for about 20 minutes) and after that, scent, allows squirrels to relocate a portion of their cached nuts.

Hickory nuts are the food of choice for Eastern Gray Squirrels, in part because they have twice the calories of an average acorn.  They also store well over winter, as they don’t germinate until spring.  As the accompanying photograph shows, Eastern Gray Squirrels, before burying the nuts (in this case, Shagbark Hickory, Carya ovata), methodically remove the fragrant husks, leaving a pile of small pieces of husk on the ground. It’s likely this practice developed in order to prevent competitors from smelling, digging up and consuming the squirrel’s winter food supply.

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.


Chirping Thermometers

The evenly-spaced chirping notes of the male Snowy Tree Cricket (Oecanthus fultoni) greet our ears nightly at this time of year.  Named for its pale color and tendency to be found in trees, vines and shrubs, this cricket is well known for its ability to convey the temperature to anyone who can count the number of chirps it makes in 14 seconds.  Add “40” to this number and you know how hot or cold the evening is in degrees Fahrenheit.  The relationship between the air temperature and the rate at which crickets chirp is called Dolbear’s Law.

Crickets make chirps (stridulate) by rubbing a structure on the top of one forewing wing (scraper) against wrinkles (file) on the underside of the other forewing.  To find a Snowy Tree Cricket that is stridulating, check the underside of branches and leaves.  A living thermometer awaits you there.

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Highbush Cranberry

The bright red fruits (and reddening leaves) of Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum opulus) are starting to appear.  Contrary to that which its name implies, this shrub is not a cranberry – it is a Viburnum, a member of the Caprifoliaceae, or Honeysuckle, family. The fruit resembles cranberries, matures in the fall like cranberries, is tart tasting, and is rich in Vitamin C like cranberries, all of which most likely contributed to its common name.

The fruit is acidic and persists through the winter.  It is more or less a “last resort” food source for birds, but those birds that do eat it prefer to do so after the fruit has been frozen and thawed, which reduces the acidic content.  People also consume the fruit in the form of jellies, jams, juice and smoothies.  A recipe for juice, from http://www.ediblewildfood.com follows:

Highbush Cranberry Juice

Ingredients

3 cups water

2 cups highbush cranberries (they can remain on the wooden umbels so long as they look healthy)

2 cups orange juice

1 tsp. maple syrup

Instructions

Bring water to boil then turn stove off. Place the berries into the water and slightly mash. Let sit 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, thoroughly strain. Allow this cranberry liquid to thoroughly cool. Once cool, add the orange juice and maple syrup; stir. Store in fridge up to 5 days.

 

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.