An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

July

A Killdeer’s Diet

8-4-17 killdeer2 049A1132Ninety-eight percent of  a Killdeer’s diet  consists of animal matter.  Beetles, insect larvae, earthworms, grasshoppers and crayfish make up the majority of what a Killdeer eats. In the summer, adult beetles (see photo) and beetle larvae make up almost half of what they consume.

Much of the time we observe Killdeer they are running, stopping, waiting and then running again. This is typical feeding behavior. Another method of obtaining food consists of patting the ground or the bottom of a pond in shallow water with one quivering foot. Killdeer also engage in probing into mud and chasing prey, and they have been known to follow tractors in search of earthworms.

Food normally passes through a Killdeer’s digestive tract in about two hours, but the spore-bearing structures of some ferns that it eats take five to sixty hours. All birds have gizzards, where food is ground up. Some birds swallow grit to aid in the grinding process, and the Killdeer is one of them. It has been proposed that the sporocarps take longer to pass through a Killdeer because they are retained in the gizzard where they function as grit.

 

 


Leaf Beetles

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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?

 

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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.


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.


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

7-10-17 common loon and chick IMG_4179

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.