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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Autumn Leaf Edition


"How beautifully leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days."
John Burroughs
Click on the photos to enlarge. 








Sunday, November 5, 2017

Thread-waisted Wasp

The season for photographing insects on flowers is coming to a close. Here's one of this year's last  -- the lovely thread-waisted wasp, Ammophila procera, shiny black with silver streaks on the thorax and a wide orange band around the center. Halloweeny color scheme, right? Click to enlarge.
This adult is drinking nectar at flowers but these wasps start life on quite a different diet. After mating, the female digs a burrow in soft ground or sand and then captures a caterpillar or other insect and stings in into paralysis. She places it inside the burrow, lays an egg on it, seals up the burrow, and leaves. A meal of fresh caterpillar will be waiting right there when the larval wasp hatches.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Halloween Edition

Happy Halloween! Gotta love the decorations everywhere. Click to enlarge.

I am seeing lots of animals out there, mostly skeletal, like this bird.
And this bony parrot on the pirate's shoulder.
And lots of mammals, too. I think this is a wolf a-howling.
A rat.
A cat.
A dog.
I even see an occasional horse. The thing about Halloween mammal skeletons is they have ears. Bony ears. Go back and look. Ears make them easy to identify but would not be found on real skeletons. Google a few.
But this spider skeleton is the funniest I've seen because spiders, being invertebrates, don't have any bones inside at all, just rigid exoskeletons. Now that's scary!
And I wish all the humans a fun Halloween!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Green Bees

Metallic green bees are among my favorite insects. I saw these glittering in the autumn sun yesterday as they gathered food from goldenrod flowers. These little native solitary bees nest in the ground, sometimes near each other in aggregations but the females separately supply their brood cells with eggs and provisions of pollen to feed on. There are lots of green bees out there right now getting the last of the year's pollinating done. 
Click to enlarge.

Here's something Ray Bradbury said about bees in his novel, Dandelion Wine:  
"Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don't they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers."

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Another Bubbling Fly

I saw this fly today while walking in a park in Moorestown, New Jersey. Click to enlarge and you will see that it is blowing a bubble. As I watched, it blew the bubble about twice as large as pictured above and then sucked it in and then blew it up again and sucked it in three times! Then it flew away. It's the third insect I've found bubbling.
 I wrote blogs previously about a fly and then a bee I saw bubbling. There are theories about why they do this but no agreement. Based on the number of times I've seen it in just a few years I'm beginning to think it must be common -- or else I'm just freakishly lucky.  You can go to my bubbling insect blogs by clicking on this sentence.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Happy Columbus Day!

A holiday is a good time for a day trip to the country. Seems like Autumn is coming slowly and subtly this year, yet cicadas are calling loudly and there's a constant hum of crickets in the woods. Reminds me of this from E. B. White in Charlotte's Web: 

"The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last for ever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into autumn – the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change."

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Carnivorous Plant Edition

I've been in the New Jersey pine barrens a few times recently, at Whitesbog in Browns Mills and at Brendan T. Byrne State Forest. While I was there I saw three kinds of delightful carnivorous plants: pitcher plants, sundews, and floating bladderworts. The picture above is of a group of pitcher plants. Click to enlarge.
The soil in the pine barrens is poor in nutrients. Up to the challenge, these plants supplement their diets, especially with nitrogen, by trapping insects. Those little pitchers contain water and digestive enzymes. When an insect enters a pitcher it is guided down and in by downward facing hairs on the interior surface which prevent its escape. It eventually falls in and its soft parts are dissolved and consumed.
This lovely but dangerous pitcher beckons with insect-attracting red lips. Pitcher plants and sundews grow in acidic conditions near water with lots of sun. You can find them by slowly walking along the shore of a pine barrens pond.
This sundew plant has sticky drops of liquid on its leaves that can trap an unwary insect and hold it while the leaf slowly curls around and then digests. If you search you can sometimes find empty empty insect victims still stuck to sundew leaves.
This is a floating bladderwort. The spoke-like arrangement of leaves at the water surface is inflated and floats the plant.
Underwater leaves have bladders that can trap tiny aquatic creatures using a trapdoor system activated by trigger hairs that respond to the touch of prey. Amazing, no? You will find these floating in still water.
Cranberries grow in the New Jersey pine barrens, and blueberries too; both are cultivated and can be found growing wild. It is worth a trip for the plants alone and the ecology is fascinating. In fact, a pine barrens special edition is coming soon.