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Sunday, August 19, 2018

Watermelon for Butterflies

Want to know what we have in common with a red-spotted purple butterfly? 
We love watermelon! 
I was walking in a field at a small farm in New Jersey and came across a broken watermelon that was being feasted on by three red-spotted purple butterflies. 
Lots of kinds of butterflies like overripe fruit and would love to dip their long curly tongues into your leftover watermelon rinds to drink the sweet juices. The same goes for your cantaloupe rinds, overripe peaches, and whatever other fruit waste you are about to throw away. Just put the fruit in a shallow dish with water, if you want to discourage ants, or no water if you like ants. The dish will make it easier to pick it up later to discard. Place the dish near cover and you are likely to attract a variety of lovely butterflies like the red-spotted purple, monarch, painted lady, and more. Click to enlarge.  
Yay! Summer! 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Appreciating August

A ripe watermelon in the field. 

"If it could only be like this always -- always summer, always alone, the fruit always ripe and Aloysius in a good temper..." 

Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

Blackberries! 

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Dog Day Cicadas

Dog day cicadas like the Neotibicen tibicen pictured above are chirping outside right now and have been at it for a few weeks. They are named for the dog days of summer when they appear. The dog days, traditionally early July to early August, are called that because the dog star, Sirius, appears in the predawn sky at that time. And the dog star is called that for being the brightest star we see in the constellation Canis Major -- the great dog. Click to enlarge. 

Here is my favorite cicada haiku. It's by Matsuo Basho

"The cry of the cicada
Gives us no sign
That presently it will die." 

Click here to read a previous blog about the lives of dog day cicadas. 

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Eastern Tailed Blue Butterfly

I have seen a lot of eastern tailed blue butterflies lately, like the one above. They are small butterflies with a wingspan of about an inch, that's across when open, so sitting like this it's only about half an inch tall. You have to get close to see details. Click to enlarge. 

My favorite detail is the ringed antennae, alternately black and white. Pretty! Also note that it has a small thin "tail" on each hindwing; when perched the butterfly typically moves its hind wings and the tails move up and down. The butterfly also sports three orange dots on the lower surface of the hindwing. Eastern tailed blues are legume specialists. The females lay eggs on a variety of leguminous plants like vetch and clover for the caterpillars to eat.

Eastern tailed blues usually perch with their wings closed. This guy would not open up all the way -- but you can see his nice colors. Males are blue on top and females are brown or gray above. 
And they can eat head down! 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Grasshopper

A female red-legged grasshopper, Melanoplus femurrubrum. Click to enlarge.
Seeing this grasshopper reminded me of this poem, by Mary Oliver. 

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean -- 
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down --
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes. 
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. 
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what the prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down 
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, 
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, 
which is what I have been doing all day. 
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life? 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Starling Snack Time

I was walking in Central Park in New York City the other day when I heard the big gray baby starling on the right making a squeaky racket, clearly saying "Feed me! Feed me!" in starlingese. Click to enlarge. 
Parent found a tidbit! 
There you go. 
All the way in. 
More please. Back to picture one. The parent walked, found food, and fed, while the baby screeched for as long as I watched. A starling parent's work is never done. 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Caterpillar Envy

A few weeks ago a friend of mine who lives nearby posted a picture on Facebook of a caterpillar like the one above. What a cool caterpillar! Was I ever jealous! Then a few days later this one showed up at my place. So, yay! I got my own! It's the caterpillar of the white-marked tussock moth, Orgyia leucostigma. It has four humps of bristles on its back, two flashy "horns" on its (red) head end, and a tufted "tail." Click to enlarge. 
Male white-marked tussock moth caterpillars eventually become grey moths with a white spot on each forewing. No surprises there. But females are wingless and flightless. The female has a swollen abdomen and stays near her empty cocoon to mate when a flying male arrives. She lays her eggs nearby. I'm combing the plants where I found this caterpillar in search of such a female. If I find one, you'll see it here.