An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

July

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

7-11-17 sphinx moths-1

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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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Snapping Turtle Nests Raided

7-3-17 raided snapper nest 001Female Snapping Turtles spend a lot of time and effort finding suitable sandy soil in which to dig their nest and lay their eggs. Some turtles have been found laying their eggs as far as a mile from the nearest water source. Once she has laid her eggs and covered them with soil, the female snapper returns to her pond, leaving her eggs to hatch on their own, and the hatchlings to fend for themselves.

It is estimated that as many as 80 to 90 percent of all turtle nests are destroyed by predators, weather conditions and accidental disturbances. Most of the damage is done by predators – skunks, raccoons, foxes, crows, among others. Most nests are discovered by smell, and most are raided at night. The fluid that coats the eggs, that is lost by the mother during egg laying or is lost through breaks in the eggs, produces a smell that is easily detected by predators. While a majority of nest raids happen within the first 48 hours of the eggs being laid, studies have shown that predation occurs over the entire incubation period (June – September). The pictured Snapping Turtle nest was dug up and the eggs consumed 10 days after they were laid.

If you are aware of a spot where a turtle dug a nest and laid eggs, you can try to protect the nest from predators by placing either a bottomless wire cage or an oven rack over the nest site, and putting a heavy rock on top. The tiny hatchlings will be able to escape through the openings but hopefully, if the rock is heavy enough, raccoons and skunks will become discouraged and give up trying to reach the nest.

The next Naturally Curious post will be on 7/5/17.

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.