For the past six to eight weeks, young striped skunks have lived off their mother’s milk, but now the time has come for them to learn how to provide for themselves. The mother teaches her four to eight young by taking them all out at night to learn how to forage for insects and small mammals. Should you encounter one of these small, furry creatures, do not be fooled into thinking it is too young to spray. Musk is present at birth, and can be released at the ripe old age of eight days. (Thanks to Don Westover and Lou White for photo op)
June is giant silk moth month, when these giant-bodied/winged moths in the family Saturniidae emerge. Perhaps the most familiar giant silk moth is the Luna Moth, Actias luna. One of the largest moths in North America, its wingspan measures 4 ½ inches. If you see one of these beautiful creatures, you are witness to its very short adult lifespan. After emerging from their cocoons, Luna Moths live for only about a week, during which time their sole mission is to mate. Like many other ephemeral insects, adult Luna Moths have no mouthparts and thus, do not eat.
Congratulations to Naturally Curious readers for their familiarity with Eastern Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor) toe pads! This is the easiest time of year to find these amphibians, mainly because of their habits. During the fall, winter and spring treefrogs are usually silent, unlike the summer, when males can be heard calling their melodic trill from bushes and trees near bodies of water after the evening air temperature rises above 59°F. Because they are nocturnal, well camouflaged, and hibernate in the winter, you don’t often come across one except for the warmer months when males are calling. The colors of an Eastern Gray Treefrog (brown, green and pearl-gray) vary with the colors of its background and environmental factors such as season and humidity, but shades of gray are most common. Their green color is more prominent during the breeding season and in young frogs.
When hunting insects, or when disturbed, treefrogs can leap great distances and, thanks to advanced toe pads, when they land they can cling to practically any surface, including vertical branches and leaves that are wet. A very low angle between the toe pads and substrate as well as mucous glands located in channels between the hexagonal pattern on a treefrog’s toe pads have inspired the design for treads on car tires.
You can listen to an Eastern Gray Treefrog’s call by going to http://langelliott.com/calls-of-frogs-and-toads-of-the-northeast/ (Sound recording © Lang Elliott – langelliott.com)
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Pitcher plants are known for their unique, insect-trapping leaves, but their flowers are just as unusual. Their petals are a deep burgundy color and attract pollinating flies by looking like raw meat. The sepals, usually green structures that protect the bud and then become inconspicuous when the flower opens, are leathery and remain long after the petals fall off, well into winter. The pistil, or female part of the flower, has a typical ovary at its base, where seeds are formed, but the style (stalk-like in most flowers) expands into a large, star-shaped umbrella. This umbrella becomes the lowest part of the flower as it droops downward in its early open stages and collects pollen that falls off of the anthers surrounding the ovary. The stigmas, where pollen must land in order for pollination to take place, are located on the five points of the star-shaped style, where visiting insects land. A pitcher plant is designed to be pollinated by pollen stuck to the body of the insect before the insect descends onto the lower platform section of the style, where it crawls around gathering nectar, and inadvertently, pollen. (Photo: Northern, or Purple Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia purpurea.)
A visit to a pond will usually include sightings of dragonflies and the more delicate damselflies. Both of these types of insects are in the order Odonata (Greek for “tooth,” referring to the serrated jaws of the adults). They are separated into two suborders, due to their wing shapes and sizes. The wings of dragonflies differ in shape and size (hind wings are broader than forewings), whereas damselfly fore and hind wings are similar in shape, with the hind wings sometimes being smaller.
In addition to wing differences, damselflies have eyes that are separated by more than an eye’s width, whereas dragonfly eyes either touch or are separated by less than an eye’s width. Damselflies are smaller and more slender than dragonflies and perch with their wings closed over their abdomens or held slightly spread. Dragonflies at rest hold their wings out flat or downward. In addition, dragonflies are more powerful and acrobatic in flight than damselflies.
Although these differences distinguish them, damselflies and dragonflies do have many similarities. Both are carnivorous, both spend most of their lives as aquatic larvae, and both lay their eggs in or near water.