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Hummingbird Clearwing Moths Pollinating Flowers

The Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) is a familiar sight to anyone with a garden full of beebalm, phlox, verbena or butterfly bush.  Clearly named after its similar appearance and hovering behavior to hummingbirds (as well as its partially transparent wings where scales have fallen off) this day-flying moth is an excellent pollinator.

Because its tongue, or proboscis, is so long, the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth can reach nectar located at the base of tubular-shaped flowers.  If you look closely at this photograph, you’ll see a tiny clump of pollen near the base of the moth’s proboscis.  The structure of the Beebalm (Monarda sp.) it’s visiting is such that the stigmas (tips of the pollen-bearing male structures, or stamens) projecting from the upper lip of the flower are located where the moth will come in contact with them as it inserts its proboscis down into the flower’s nectaries. Hummingbird Clearwings carry their proboscis rolled up under their head and unfurl it when approaching a flower. (Thanks to Sally Fellows and Terry Marron for photo opportunity.)

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Blue Cohosh Seeds Ripening

This is the time of year when Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) comes into its own, brightening the forest floor with its fruit-like seeds which bear fleshy, blue seed coats. Botanically speaking, these blue structures are seeds, not fruits. A fruit is the seed-bearing structure in flowering plants that is formed from the ovary after the plant flowers, while seeds are formed from ovules, the structure that contains female reproductive cell of plants. Because the ovarian wall of a Blue Cohosh flower is shed during the early phases of seed development, the fruit can be considered a “naked” seed.

We think of gymnosperms (conifers, cycads, ginkos) as having naked seeds, lacking both flowers and ovaries, and flowering plants as typically having ovaries which develop into seed-containing fruits. The exposure of the seeds as in Blue Cohosh is an unusual condition for flowering plants. By bearing its seeds openly, Blue Cohosh is vulnerable to predators that would eat the seeds. The plant counteracts this vulnerability with the toxicity of its seeds, which are poisonous to many species including humans, under certain circumstances. (St. Olaf College Natural Lands)

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A Monarch’s First Instar

Monarchs, like other butterflies and moths, undergo complete metamorphosis — they have an egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult stage. During a monarch’s larval stage it eats almost constantly, pausing only to shed its skin. The period between each shedding of the skin, or molt, is called an instar.  Monarchs have five larval instars and during their larval stage grow to almost 2,000 times their original mass.

The first meal a monarch larva has is its eggshell and it quickly moves on to milkweed leaf hairs.  Soon thereafter it begins to eat the leaf in earnest, often making an arc-shaped cutting. 

During this first instar, which typically lasts one to three days, the larva’s appearance changes considerably. When it hatches, the monarch larva is pale green or grayish-white, shiny, and almost translucent. It has no stripes or other markings. It’s about 2 mm long, with front tentacles appearing as tiny little bumps. Its back tentacles are barely visible.  By the end of the first instar it begins to have a pattern of black (or dark brown), yellow and white bands, and the 6mm-long body no longer looks transparent and shiny.

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Gray Treefrogs’ Self-cleaning Toe Pads

Scientists have discovered that the angle of the toe pads and a secretion of mucus are involved in a treefrog’s ability to stick to wet, smooth leaves, rough, dry trees and other surfaces. They also allow the toes to “self-clean.” 

To make their feet sticky treefrogs secrete mucus. They increase their adhesion by moving their feet against the surface of what they are clinging to in order to create friction. As a frog moves across a surface, its feet accumulate dirt, which impedes its ability to stick to the surface it’s walking on. Scientists have discovered that the mucus combined with this friction-creating movement not only allows the frog to adhere to the surface but simultaneously rids their feet of accumulated dirt and debris as they walk.

This remarkable adaptation may provide a design for self-cleaning sticky surfaces, which could be useful for a wide range of products, especially in contaminating environments such as medical bandages and long-lasting adhesives. (Thanks to Janice Perry for photo opportunity.)

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Ambush Bugs Ambushing

This Eight-spotted Forester Moth, Alypia octomaculata, didn’t have a chance once it decided to feed on the nectar of this Queen Anne’s Lace flowerhead. Hidden below the tiny white flowers waiting patiently for the next unsuspecting visitor was a Jagged Ambush Bug (Phymata sp.). The moth alighted, started drinking and suddenly the ambush bug grabbed the moth with its powerful front legs, injected an immobilizing and digestive fluid, and then drank the liquefying nutrients from the prey’s body. Unlike spiders, which have a pair of fangs, ambush bugs have their mouthparts arranged into a single straw-like beak (visible in photo). As is evident, ambush bugs often capture insects much bigger than themselves.

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Beavers Grooming

Beavers spend an inordinate amount of time grooming themselves (and each other). Both inside their lodge and on land a beaver tucks its tail between its legs, sits up on its hind legs and spends up to an hour at a time fastidiously combing through its fur often multiple times a day. 

Both front and hind feet are pressed into service.  The two inner toes on each hind foot are modified for grooming – the second toe has a “split nail” with a nail and a horny growth between the nail and the toe which has a finely serrated upper edge that serves as a fine-toothed comb.

Grooming serves two purposes.  One is to remove debris from the coat, from algae to burrs and parasites.  The other is to waterproof the beaver’s coat. A beaver applies an oily substance from its anal glands to the outer layer of hair with the help of its toes, thereby preventing its inner, denser, underfur from getting wet.

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Caspian Terns Feeding

Watching a Caspian Tern (our largest tern) feeding in deep water is a lesson in persistence and grace.  Flying back and forth it circles the water below, its bill pointed down as it searches for fish. A Caspian Tern’s dive is impressive. Once a tern sees a fish it hovers briefly, flexes its wings and then plunges straight down like a bullet.  When it hits the water, it typically completely submerges itself.

Most fish captured are consumed on the wing, unless they are delivered to offspring. Fish bones and scales are difficult for terns to digest; they solve this situation by casting one or two pellets a day that consist of these indigestible parts.

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Did you know…

…that mating butterflies face away from each other? (Photo: mating Banded Hairstreaks)

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Ospreys Continue To Add Material to Nest Throughout The Nesting Season

The nesting season for Ospreys is well underway – chicks appear larger by the day, and before long they will be fledging.  As advanced as the nesting season is, Osprey nests are still being reinforced with material retrieved by the adults. 

The pictured Osprey took off from its nest, swooped down to a nearby roadside and scooped up a sizable clump of mowed grass with its talons which it then delivered back to its nest where its mate was sitting with two chicks.  Even late in the nesting season all manner of material, not all of it natural, is added to Osprey nests – among other things, paper, plastic bags, rope, nylon mesh bait bags, dried cow manure and beach toys have been documented.

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Green Lacewings: Active Pest Controllers

Lady Beetles and Praying Mantises are well known to be excellent pest controllers, but there are other insects that are equally beneficial, including Green Lacewings. These distinctive green insects with golden eyes and lacy wings feed mostly on nectar, pollen and honeydew (a sweet liquid excreted by aphids). However, in their larval stage (when they resemble miniature brown and white alligators) they are referred to as “aphid lions” due to their voracious appetite for aphids and other soft-bodied insects.

Lacewing eggs are as distinctive as the larval and adult stages. Each is perched on the tip of a hairlike stalk that is about ½-inch long.  Entomologists believe this helps reduce cannibalism of the eggs by sibling larvae. 

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